Assuming Ugly Betty wasn’t paying homage to a Rush live album, the lines from Shakespeare’s As You Like It that lent the show’s fifth-to-last episode its title liken personal tribulations to theatrical drama. Appropriately, on one of the show’s best-written and acted episodes ever, the show plucked some cues (and stars) from the stage to help explain how Betty and Justin Suarez are learning to connect their outer personae to their true inner identities — how to play the role of their lives. And here’s the headline: Fifteen-year-old Mark Indelicato bravely kisses another teenage guy on prime-time TV. Is it too late to ramp up that Save Betty campaign?
There’s more than enough drama to go around this week: Wilhelmina is hilariously sidelined in the hospital with a perforated ulcer, Claire whisks Tyler off to Paris to meet his transgender sister, Alexis, and Amanda struggles with being caught between the two Meade brothers — but Betty and Justin take center stage, literally and figuratively. Betty falls for a nerd-hunk of a playwright named Zachary Boule (Wicked and Next to Normal’s Aaron Tveit) whose work explores reinvention. (“That’s everything I’ve been doing this year,” Betty gushes. We know.) Because she’s profiling Boule for Mode, she wants to keep their budding romance a secret; little does she know, so does he, because his $500 haircut and rep for dating models is keeping his career afloat. (Cue one insidery dig at Gossip Girl: Boule is supposed to have dated one of the show’s stars; Tveit guested on the series in real life, and America Ferrara famously eye-rolled Blake Lively.) Betty discovers his deception, decks him in public, and then weeps to Hilda that she fears the moment when her braces will come off, because she won’t be able to blame them for any failures in her life. In the spirit of wise monologues, Hilda lets this one rip:
Somehow you got it in your head that this is your story, but you gotta let that go. You’re starting to come up with a whole new story for yourself. You are who you are, and the sooner you’re okay with that, the sooner you see what I see, the happier you’re going to be.
Her self-empowerment speech is overheard by Justin, who just had an extremely dramatic encounter of his own. After telling Betty, Hilda, and Marc that he likes a fellow theater student named Lily, he kisses her in an onstage scene, then admits to himself (and new friend Austin) it didn’t feel quite right. After some awkward flirting with Austin, he and Justin kiss and the look of confusion and relief on Indelicato’s expressive face captures the murkiness of the moment perfectly. Watch the historic scene below. Props to Carol Kane for her brief cameo as the theater instructor, a role that was once rumored for Liza Minelli, which would have made the scene ten times gayer.
This season of Betty has been more about personal development than ever before — even Marc and Amanda have grown into fully formed characters with consciences to match their acid tongues. Betty’s beautification seems inevitable, as does Justin’s journey of self-discovery. That’s why it’s even more refreshing to see the show let Vanessa Williams’s Wilhelmina Slater continue on as a raging bitchaholic. “You swore you’d die before you ever complimented a Suarez ensemble,” Marc reminds her before she swoons and hits the ground. “I had an epiphany last night,” she announces after chatting with her downtrodden hospital roommate. “I know what I want, and it’s not Mode. It’s Meade. I want the whole damn company. No more nice Willie.” Every good production needs its wicked witch.
After Elton’s Michael Jensen breaks down Justin’s closet door and rightfully heaps praise on Michael Urie for his scenes as a gay mentor.
Rickey.org’s Loonyluna wonders if Justin’s neon green pants were trying to tell him something.