A perfect episode of Ugly Betty has just the right balance of slaps and smiles: physical comedy, intriguing plot twists, Big Issues, topical humor, and real emotional moments. Add a killer final shot of Betty blissfully doing the Molly Ringwald bop to Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself" and voilà: Betty has finally hit its stride again, five episodes into its fourth season.
Even the show's trademark wipes are superior this week: Amanda and Matt Hartley shrink and dissolve into an elevator button; Betty's face splits down the middle as it morphs into an unzipping garment bag. The latter is an apt metaphor for Betty's mental state: She's thrilled to be an editor, but still torn up by all the big changes. As soon as she admits she'd like to reconcile with Matt, the self-avowed womanizer moves on, bringing a new girl to a charity party honoring Wilhelmina's work with Tibetan orphans. (Marc explaining how that unlikely goodwill came about leads to one of the sharpest exchanges of the season.) Betty assures Matt she's fine with him dating by awkwardly flailing "I'm more than cool with it, I'm freezing with it. Brrr!" A welcome flash of pre-beautified Betty.
Daniel has moved on, too. Natalie isn't just his grief-group buddy anymore. She's his new assistant, literally replacing Betty while transforming from Trash & Vaudeville to Dolce & Gabbana overnight. And like so many things in the fashion world, Natalie isn't what she seems: She's trying to place a wedge between Daniel and his friends, keeping him active in the Community of the Phoenix, which sounds a lot like a religion that rhymes with Schmientology. There's talk of "phase" exercises and "brain drainers" who create unnecessary drama, ruining Daniel's "clarity." Need more proof the show has no clue what to do with this character, who's already acquired (and lost!) a child, wife, and transgender brother?
But there's plenty of drama this week. The detective investigating the disappearance of Nico's boyfriend, Jonathan, tries to blackmail the Slaters. While doggedly protecting her daughter, Wilhelmina learns she's been duped, and that Detective Castelar is not actually Detective Castelar. But she doesn't know the rest yet: He's Nico's very-much-alive boyfriend, and the two are conspiring to squeeze Wilhelmina for cash. Evil scheming, evidently, is a hereditary trait.
And Claire reveals another Meade Family Secret: She had an affair with Cal Hartley while she was still married, and gave their love child up for adoption — and now she wants to find her lost son. Daniel, who discovers Claire and Cal kissing and flies into a rage, can't find the will to reconcile with his mom, but Betty apologizes to obnoxious Natalie, forgives Amanda for trying to set her up with men via a Craigslist ad ("Hombres, are you into plus-size chicas?"), and makes nice with Matt at the Style Cares party at Wilhelmina's house. (The lack of Suzuki St. James at this event is a crime.)
Betty's not better than everyone else; she's just better at following her heart. She loves feeling needed, being true to her friends, and a good Billy Idol song. And we love her for it.
After Elton describes Natalie's style transformation as "'goth girl' to 'caftan-wearing old widow from Boca.'"
Rickey.org asks the question we all should be asking re: Claire's accidental pregnancy during the Hartley affair: "What? How did no one realize she was pregnant and gave the baby away?"