Monday, September 16, 2013

Season 3, episode 5: The Pen

“What is going on in this community? Are you people aware of what’s happening? What is driving you to this behavior? Is it the humidity?” - Jerry

The Pen is the second episode of the series that doesn’t feature Michael Richards as Kramer and the first that doesn’t feature Jason Alexander as George. Jerry and Elaine are the only two principal cast members in The Pen and as a result the episode doesn’t feature any interconnecting B or C story, which was really unusual for the show after the first season and a half. After the episode was shot, Jason Alexander went to Larry David and told him never to leave him out of an episode ever again.

Many people, including Jerry and Larry, count the Pen among their favorite episodes. I’m not sure where it’s going to wind up in my own rankings but I can understand why they think so highly of it. The Pen has some of the best work on the show in building the most humorous situations from the most inconsequential and ridiculous social slights imaginable: possibly because of the setting for the episode; senior communities. Jerry’s back and forth’s with his parents, Helen and Morty, are classic and never more so here, where their timing and tone are perfect.

The episode begins with Jerry and Elaine arriving at Jerry’s parents’ Florida condo community for an event for Jerry’s father, where their tardiness has already flustered Helen:

Jerry - “We had to wait 35 minutes in the rent-a-car place.”
Helen - “I don’t know why you had to rent a car, we could have picked you up.”
Jerry - “What’s the difference?”
Helen - “Well, you could have used our car.”
Jerry - “I don’t want to use your car.”
Helen - “What’s wrong with our car?”
Jerry - “Nothing, it’s a fine car. What if you want to use it?”
Helen - “We don’t use it.”
Morty - “What are you talking? We use it.”
Helen - “If you were using it, we wouldn’t use it.”

Making a mountain out of this mole hill is the running theme for the seniors. Of what consequence is it that Jerry rented a car? Or that he didn’t get insurance. “How could you not get insurance?” Morty asks. No matter what the situation is they always have some rhetorical remark for it which just exacerbates the most minor of incidents on an exponential scale.

When Elaine feels badly about taking Helen and Morty’s bedroom, Helen insists she takes it and has several reasons she should escalating on the absurd.

“I’m up at six o’clock in the morning,” she says after Elaine turns down her offer. “I can’t kick you out of your bed,” Elaine replies. “We don’t even sleep,” Helen insists. “It’s a sofa bed you’ll be uncomfortable,” she continues. “What about you?” Jerry asks. “Why should I be comfortable?...I’ll sleep standing up.” Morty responds. These people are out of their minds.

Helen and Morty’s neighbors, Jack and Doris, arrive. With him Jack has ‘The Pen’. It’s an astronaut pen: It writes upside down. When Jerry expresses a passing interest in it Jack offers him the pen. Jerry doesn’t want to take it but Jack is insistent. “Do me a personal favor and take the pen.” Jerry takes it, reluctant but happy in having the pen. Not 5 seconds later Helen has to interject. “Whadya take his pen for?” she says in that motherly tone. This sets off a whole thing about how Jerry shouldn’t have taken the pen even though it was offered to him. Elaine can’t help but just shake her head at the entire situation.

After a night of not being comfortable in the sofa bed, Elaine wakes up with back pain, ruining her plans to go scuba diving with Jerry. Jerry goes anyway but comes back with burst capillaries.

And as Helen had predicted, everyone in the community has heard about Jack giving Jerry the pen. Another neighbor comes over and asks about the pen straight away. And Helen receives a phone call: “Oh, hello, Gussie… No, Jerry wouldn’t do that… Jack gave him the pen.”

So Jerry gives Jack the pen back which sets Morty off. “You’ve got a hell-of-a-nerve taking that kid’s pen.”

“Do you think I take everything everybody offers me? Yesterday you offered me sponge cake. Did I take it?” Jack says.
“You said you didn’t want it!” Morty yells.
“Of course I wanted it! I love sponge cake!” Jack yells back. Now Jerry is the one just shaking his head.

So the Seinfelds and Elaine must attend the dinner for Morty with he and Jack, who is MC, now hating each other. Because of the burst capillaries, Jerry wears sunglasses the whole time. And in order to be pain free, Elaine takes muscle relaxers (but waaaay too many of them). At the event, Elaine is completely whacked out on pills and when Jerry introduces his Aunt Stella (Uncle Leo’s wife!) she begins the craziest Marlon Brando impression: “Stella!!! STELLA!!!!!!” And it just gets worse at the event as Morty doesn’t take to kindly to Jack’s roasting of him and confronts him over the pen incident. Chaos erupts as the two fight and Jerry tries to calm everything with his routine.

“Have you noticed how they always give you the peanuts on the plane?” Jerry begins. “I’d rather have a bottle of scotch!” the disembodied voice of Larry David yells out.

The end result is the community threatening the Seinfelds with expulsion from the community for unruly behavior. And Elaine’s back is too painful to travel on for another five days; stuck in the heat…and the humidity…

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