Ugly Betty originally made its star unattractive but lovably bold to prove a point: Life is about learning to be comfortable being yourself. Now the show is on to part two of the lesson: Life is a journey to discover the true nature of that self. Betty isn't ugly anymore, and now her mind is catching up with her makeover — and she's not the only character undergoing a massive transformation during what's shaping up to be one of the series' most thought-provoking seasons yet.
In an attempt to prove she's not boring and dependable, Betty goes on a bender of (kinda) bad behavior. She dares to approach her sister Hilda's ex, neighborhood thug-stud Bobby Talercio (CSI: Miami's Adam Rodriguez), and requests stick-shift driving lessons under the guise that it's for the "Fearless" issue of Mode.
But it's not as simple as that: Betty is looking back at her own awkward high-school years via her nephew Justin's new experiences (more on that later) and reexamining her relationship with her sister. The tables have turned for the Suarez girls: Hilda's dating straight-laced Archie, and Betty is hanging with the bad boy. The harder Betty tries to break out of her box ("Why do people think they know me so well?" she asks Bobby), the more it reminds Hilda how much has changed — and that change isn't always comfortable.
Daniel, for one, is so lost over the death of his wife, Molly, that he guzzles Community of the Phoenix water and recruits Amanda to join a weekend retreat to help find her self-worth. The Teflon-brained receptionist chortles at phrases like "energy group" and dares to tell Daniel what everyone is thinking: The Community is crap. But the Phoenix have their claws in too deep: Daniel is desperate to reunite with Molly by achieving "Level 5," and we leave off with him drinking pungent tea used by South American shamans. If he's sipping the potent hallucinogen ayahuasca, Daniel is in for a bumpy, pukey ride.
Another conflicted Mode editor, Wilhelmina "never cover up a murder for your daughter" Slater, is strapped for cash to pay the blackmail bill, so she sacrifices her entire career to find Connor Owens — and the money he stole from the magazine — via a very public resignation announcement. But with a flip announcement (a little too curt to be believed), Claire Meade announces circumstances have changed: Connor is dead. Devastated, Wilhelmina crumples and weeps against her office door, concluding another Emmy-worthy week for Vanessa Williams.
That would have been the episode's most emotional moment had it not been for a heartbreaking scene stemming from homecoming — an event that gave Hilda grief as a student because dad Ignacio forbade her from attending as a pregnant teen (was he protecting her or ashamed?). Marc steps in and encourages Justin to get in on the joke at school to defuse homophobic ribbing. So when the jocks crown him homecoming queen, Justin gives a cheeky acceptance speech, passing the crown off to his mom. But back at the house, Justin behaves like a typical teen, backing away from his family with a defensive, "Mom, it's a joke — I'm just playing along. I'm not gay."
Is Justin gay? He still may be. But the show makes a great point: Why are we trying to force a 15-year-old kid out of the closet anyway? Glee tackled a similar topic this week as out-and-proud Kurt sought to protect his dad from gay taunts. That's one version of gay-teen life. But it's refreshing to see Betty embrace another take. Not every teen is ready to put himself in a box. And as this week's episode skillfully showed, adults aren't anxious to set their identities in stone either. Life's a journey, not a destination. Somebody pass the ayahuasca.
Ugly Betty News praises the show for finally nailing the Betty-Hilda sibling rivalry — and for bringing a little testosterone to the season with Adam Rodriguez.
Rickey.org wants to roast Daniel's beaded Phoenix necklace over an open fire. Amen.
EW counts down the nineteen best quips from this episode, including Amanda's response to Daniel's speech on what he gave her during their brief relationship: "Thanks. I feel better. And at least I'll always have that cold sore."