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Ugly Betty Recap: Brace for It ...

What would TV look like had Ugly Betty never existed? Had it never brought us the nontraditional hero Betty Suarez, an unfashionable, unsophisticated young Mexican woman whose good intentions can overcome almost any obstacle? Had it never tackled a teen's confusion over his sexuality with unprecedented honesty? Had it not found a mix of wry retorts and sincere moments that practically define the term dramedy? Those were the meta-questions the show posed last night while it had a little fun with the idea of a Pretty Betty with perfect teeth.

As Betty slumps into unconsciousness, Fairy Tooth Mother Najimy returns to show Betty what her life would have been like with perfect teeth. The resulting moralistic story line is a little too extreme: The rich are miserable, the pretty are mean, and the ugly are doomed. Worse yet, Justin never existed. In Bizarro Betty World, the Suarez family is rich from investing Betty's dental funds in a tech boom. Hilda's fat and engaged to the meat man, Ignacio is tan and has a gambling problem, and Betty two-timed Derek Jeter, earning her the tabloid nickname "Jeter Cheater." But all her success has come at a huge price: She's a bitch, like a mini-Wilhelmina without the drag-queen charm. "Underneath that perfect smile, you're ugly, Betty," Daniel tells her after realizing she's sabotaged him yet again. He also drops the bombshell, "I can't believe I ever slept with you, Betty." That's enough out of alternate-reality Daniel, thank you very much.

Ugly Betty only has three more episodes left, so it's as good a time as any to revisit its raison d'être, It's a Wonderful Life style. The only problem: The dream sequence in "Million Dollar Smile" is such a downer, it's downright uncomfortable. Betty's due to finally get her braces off, but a fire alarm at the orthodontist's office (enter guest star Kathy Najimy) mucks up her plan. So she takes her brace-face to the Guggenheim to rescue a photo shoot of something called the Million-Dollar Bra for Daniel — yes, such things do exist — and gets tackled by an overeager security guard after she yells up to her assistant pal by the nickname A-Bomb. (Imagine what that dude would have done during Animal Collective night.)

Betty's dream sequence ends at the Guggenheim, when she tries to right her wrongs by saving the photo shoot and tracking down the missing Million-Dollar Bra — which has found its way on to Wilhelmina's own chest. Betty awakens from the alternate reality and in a moment of déjà vu is convinced Willie has swiped the bra. Cue two awesome gags: Betty rips Willie's shirt off in one fell swoop, then clutzily gets her braces attached to the Million-Dollar Bra. Donna Murphy, guest-starring as the ice queen lingerie exec who last smiled "when Dick Cheney shot that guy in the face," laughs uproariously. Because let's be honest, braces attached to bra of diamonds is pretty much equivalent to Man Getting Hit by Football.

Betty's orthodontist materializes out of nowhere and removes the offending braces, freeing the bra and Betty of her albatross. She smiles broadly and everyone is dazzled by her big, white teeth. Is this what she really dreamed the moment would be like? Is this a satisfying conclusion to four years of metal mouth? After 40 minutes of creepy dream sequence, it actually feels a little clipped and unsatisfying. There's also only hints of the havoc Willie plans to wreak in the final three episodes: In a vulnerable moment after a small spat with his potential love interest Amanda, Tyler reveals to Willie he doesn’t drink.

As for the star of last week's groundbreaking episode, Justin has just a few lines, but they're quality ones. He phones up Austin, the boy he kissed in drama class, and leaves him an endearingly awkward message. In the final scene of the show, Austin shows up at the Suarez door and Justin looks exhilarated and petrified. With just a trio of episodes left, that's likely a combination of emotions the cast and fans can relate to quite well, too. Change is big, and it's inevitable.


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Rickey.org's Noelle has an entertaining take on Marc and Amanda in the dream world: "Is this Lost? Marc has a perm, a baby named Rosalita, and he’s the receptionist this time around. Amanda is pretty much the same person. I guess someone that fierce just can’t be changed."

Photo: Eric Liebowitz/ABC