With Vinny still gone, this episode begins the way we imagine Paulie feels inside: in deep, deep sepia. But, as he has strong-lotioned the color of an old-timey portrait, it's also the way he feels and smells on the outside. Normally the way MTV music supervisors pump emotion into their reality shows like corn feed into foie gras ducks can be a little grating. But because we've developed a Liberian warlord's ability to not feel human empathy for many members of this particular cast, it's helpful to have that "Peter and the Wolf" kind of thing here, where it's like, "A French horn? Uh-oh, something dangerous is about to happen" or "A folk rock song about death? Time to be sad."
Pauly heads to the club, Vinless and Vinconsolable, and begins to inform the roommates. As much of a bummer as this is, it's like watching that scene from 101 Dalmatians where all the farm animals pass on the fact that the puppies have been kidnapped. (Although, from the looks of Snooki's impotent blackout eyelids, you may as well have told her that Vinny is running for president.) Deena, the house stoic, clearly needs a good bathroom cry. "He was like my soul," she weeps. Ha-ha, Deena. If that were true, he would have left two seasons ago.
Meanwhile, Situation is unfazed and is using weird grocery metaphors about picking up women. "I'm like a shopper at a store, I see something I like, I'm like, 'You come with me.'" It's a good metaphor, because this is probably actually how he shops. I can just picture him standing in the middle of a Publix trying in vain to talk a can of Hormel chili into his basket. Why u no get in basket, Hormel chili?
Pauly takes home a brilliant Italian linguist (in honor of … Vinny? Some how? Let's not explore that). JWOWW climbs into bed with a roll of paper towels (kind of a "huh?" but let's be real: prudent in this house). Deena beds down with her sorrows, and Mike actually uses a condom with a French toast enthusiast. MTV bleeps "doggy style," which once again reminds us that we are watching cable television's last bastion of restraint.
But, no time for tears. It's Mike and Pauly's birthdays, and so of course, it's time for Team Meatballs to get obliterated in broad daylight. While doing body shots in what I think is not a bar but an actual bumper car arena, they bump into Deena's sister Joanie. They also meet a gay guy, whom Deena treats like a koala with highlights. "You're gay, right? I love gay men! I can hang out with gay men! You can get hammered and you don't have to worry about giving them a BJ." Uh, speak for yourself, some of us went to art school. Then Deena calls herself a fruit fly and MTV adds another gay character into Awkward out of guilt.
Snooki narrowly escapes being arrested for public intox, because she prefers to use gay people as ski lifts. They get into a cab but somehow end up right back out again at Aztec, where some of the best dancing I have seen since a 1989 Pizza Hut commercial in which a guy raps about thin crust. A man in a basketball jersey actually vogues! For like ten minutes! I did not dream this.
The girls get home looking vogued hard and put away dead — Deena, specifically, whose hair looks like a shower drain at a gym for bears. Pauly, his transformation into the human Seinfeld track complete, says something like, "You must have been going mah map wap HOO." Look, we know you're grieving, but please, please: never scat. After about 1942, it just makes people uncomfortable.
Anyhow, they struggle with Deena's hair, which appears to be full of carpet and, I'm gonna say buttons? "My identity is tearing off at this point," she moans, which is sort of apt. I'm serious, I'm 90 percent certain that this is one of those vestigial twins with teeth and bones and feelings. She goes off to deep condition. "Guidette may maw wahn!" shouts Paulie, and we all wince like young people at a jazz bar.
The roommates head out, continuing to talk about Vinny as though he is dead. "In honor of Vinny, I'm rocking skinny jeans," says Ronnie, which I believe is Auden. Also, Ronnie in skinny jeans: OH DEAR.
Of course, our old friend Unit is at Karma, and he's brought his bizarrely shaped head and a friend who shouts in monosyllables like a Hanna-Barbera monster. Maybe he and Paulie can jam? Skeeedelop bop wap please don't.
The tribute continues when Pauly picks out a girl whom he thinks Vinny would like and brings her home to have sex in Vinny's bed. This is some real Breaking the Waves stuff here.
Back at the club, The Situation, who we now see has a cross shaved into the back of his head like St. Joan of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, tells Unit and the Grunty One that they're going to play a game with Snooki called "The Truth Will Set You Free." Yikes! Are you sure you want to play this game, Michael? But then, thank goodness! It's deus ex human growth hormone when Unit gets into a fight and they all disperse back to the house. Good thing, too, because they all have work in the morning. Ha-ha, work.
By which we mean, of course, that Mike hits on a Bosnian girl while Jen sleeps so deeply that she has to be woken via vuvuzela. The Bosnian girl buys some booty shorts and banters sexily about "grilled cheese … with no crust" like a Balkan Lauren Bacall with a purse full of Abreva and Snus.
Back at the house, they crowd onto a beanbag chair to duck phone Vinny, where Pauly tells Vinny about the girl he smashed in his honor. "I made her call me Vinny and everything," he says, but I don't really think that's who was playing Vinny that night, if you get the gay joke I'd be willing to make if I were Seaside HRC chapter president Deena.
That night at Aztec, everybody decides to shake off their Vinny-based sadness and latent Vinny desires and get down to the important business of celebrating Pauly. Bosnian girl is there, still hung up on Sitch's crustless grilled cheese, but he's more interested in Paula so he foists her onto poor Pauly. Deena brings a guy named Joey home and tells him very earnestly that she's not a nutcase while Pauly delivers an ultimatum to the Bosnian: Either she gives him the full Jermih or she gets in a cab. Pauly thinks it should be against the law for this Bosnian girl to not have sex with him. Is this the plot of that Angelina Jolie movie?
It seems the only person getting any tonight is Mike, who has brought home Paula, about whom everybody has generally nice things to say. Specifically Sammi, who observes, "She may be dirty and grimy and disgusting, but she's a nice girl."
But wait! The Bosnian is back. To hang out with Mike? Who is talking about wifing up with Paula? Oh, this poor Bosnian. She stumbled off in search of fried sandwiches and her dignity.
Thankfully, things don't stay bleak for long. Pauly's whole family shows up, with his barber in tow. He and his barber have the kind of tearful reunion usually reserved for YouTube videos about newly returned war veterans and their golden retrievers. There are a couple of really disturbing shots of Pauly au Naturale. He sort of looks like a caramel-dipped Joyce de Witt. The boys go out to birthday dinner, and the girls plan the surprise party by vetting strippers, and it's the only time in Jersey Shore history that the words "eminently qualified" ever spring to mind.
But, cue sad music, because Mike is upset that he's not getting his fair share of the birthday attention and storms off to passive aggressively nap in the middle of the restaurant. Here's a tip, Mike: If you want people to enjoy your company, maybe don't leave in the middle of dinner in a restaurant to nap? In the restaurant? Ronnie does the logical thing and pipes frosting all over him.
Alas, you cannot be cake and eat it too. The meatballs have decided to make a pastry effigy exclusively for Pauly, which, as he had one back at the restaurant, is an embarrassment of dessert riches. There's no Mike cake, probably because Carvel was out of both Fudgie the Unself-Aware Whale and Herpepuss. Mike mopes his way through the rest of the episode, doing a kind of sad capoeira on the patio. Having decided to be a villain and act villainous throughout the entire episode, he is suddenly upset that everybody sees him as a villain. Don't worry, Mike, you have the rest of your life to be shockingly ineffective. He ambles off into the sunset, and cue morose post-grunge.
"Dropping like flies," observes Snook. Flies, indeed!
Is it possible that we'll be short a Mike AND a Vinny? Or is this just another gambit for attention? As awful as Mike is, I really don't want to see him on a bus to Florida, yammering on about getting a real job only to realize that Unit has died next to him. I never thought I'd say this, but the house needs to work on its fly retention.