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Ugly Betty: Lights Out

Ugly Betty's plotlines this season veer from the outrageously cartoonish (Daniel Meade joins a cult; Betty dresses like a giant hot dog) to the grittily real (Justin Suarez battles homophobia at school; Claire Meade tracks down her lost son). Episodes that find a way to cleverly merge the two are always excellent, and last night the show recovered from its sluggish previous week with an energetic hour that was nearly as sharp as Marc's best line: "This ménage au moi has got to stop," he says, of feeling split between bosses Wilhelmina and Daniel. "I hate being in the middle. Unless there's a Gyllenhaal involved."

The linchpin of the episode is a brief blackout that, duh, ironically sheds light on what characters see in each other. But anyone who lived in New York during summer '03 will attest that the show severely underplays this device. Blackouts are chaos and lawlessness, milk going bad in bodegas and roving bands of drunk hipsters singing Strokes songs in the streets (at least, that's how we remember it). On Betty the power outage is merely a disruptive force. It breaks up a karaoke party Betty throws to bond with her neighbors, traps feuding Wilhelmina and Daniel in an elevator, nearly thwarts Marc's efforts to apply for a promotion, and forces Ignacio and Bobby Talercio to chat.

The second best part of the blackout story line was Betty singing R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" to a roomful of pissy tenants as the lights blow. The best part was the show finally finding resolutions to plotlines that were begging to be put out of their misery:

• Bobby calls out Ignacio for hating on him out of fear the Suarez patriarch will lose those who depend on him most should Bobby and Hilda start a new family. Ignacio validates Bobby's theory and by the time Hilda and Justin make it home, the men are pals. Suspicious? Maybe.

• Willie punches Daniel in the face! A couples' therapist (Amanda's idea, don't ask) advises Daniel to resolve his sexual tension with Wilhelmina; that plan backfires (for a million reasons — hasn't the show been here already a few seasons ago?), but the two come to a truce over their beloved shared assistant, Marc.

• Marc gets promoted! When a senior fashion-editor position opens, Marc channels Betty's ambition and applies. Willie chooses to reward his loyalty and talent by making him a junior editor. Her speech to Daniel about how Marc is the most important man in her life is truly revealing and touching.

• Betty is over Matt. In fact, she seems to miss human companionship much more than her beloved boyfriend who shipped off to Africa to do relief work.

The episode also labors to balance good news with bad. Hilda learns her pregnancy is ending early and unhappily because her baby has no heartbeat, but Justin gets into a prestigious acting class. Betty's kind heart leads her to innocently let two burglars into her building, but her Secret-esque devotion to positive thinking helps turn Marc's world around. And in light of all the pain and suffering in Betty's world (and the real one), her mantra of dogged optimism is worth repeating: "Have you ever tried, just once, to think happy thoughts?"

More Recaps:
Will Hilda and Bobby ever tell Justin about the failed pregnancy, wonders Rickey.org? Good question: He's had seriously little screen time this season since his big homecoming episode.

Photo: Courtesy of ABC