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30 Rock Recap: Hulk Hands and Irish Nonsense

30 ROCK -- "St. Patrick's Day" Episode 612 -- Pictured: (l-r) Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy, Sue Galloway as Sue -- (Photo by: Ali Goldstein/NBC)

Add St. Patrick’s Day to the list of holidays Liz Lemon hates. While the rest of the city is reveling in the streets, she wants to be inside laughing at clips of Angela’s Ashes and wearing head-to-toe orange in honor of William of Orange, inventor of the orange (or so says Yahoo Answers).

It could have felt a little repetitive of 30 Rock to do another holiday episode so soon after leap day, especially since that one was particularly inspired. But the tone last night felt very different from the leap day show. Instead of inventing zany new traditions, the 30 Rock writers had their characters confront the past and tie up loose ends. Dennis Duffy returned, Jack faced down his career problems, Kenneth realized he could never really leave TGS — basically, Mercury was in retrograde all over the place.

Now that Kenneth is a Standards & Practices bigwig, he’s giving Hazel all his old page duties, as well as the tail he had until sixth grade. Her job is to watch Tracy and Jenna, who have a history of causing disasters at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In one parade flashback, Tracy yells “Die demon” at a leprechaun while Jenna yells at him for not returning her calls.

Hazel immediately damages the fragile peace between TGS’s two stars by showing them a promo in which Jenna’s name is listed first. Within minutes, Jenna is threatening to replace Tracy’s dressing room lizard and Tracy is telling his iPhone, “Siri, kill Jenna.” (Siri replies quietly a few minutes later: “I killed Jenna Elfman. Was that right?”)

Hazel is a mess, not to mention a one-woman non-sequitur machine. At one point, she says to Pete, “God, live TV is such a rush! It’s like sex. But your husband isn’t looking at a picture of a bridge.” When she tries to fix things by assigning both stars numbers in the script, she only makes things worst. Jenna and Tracy each assume they’re Host No. 1, so they read those parts in unison and ignore the lines assigned to Host No. 2.

Watching at home, Kenneth wants to panic, but he controls himself and goes back to his TGS puzzle. When he calls, Hazel tells him everything is fine. But he knows better, so he pulls up in a town car outside 30 Rock with a sign for Host No. 2. Jenna and Tracy can’t figure out who gets the car, and their confusion turns into a heart-to-heart about fame. (Tracy admits that he tried to take over from Andy Rooney and it did not go well. Cut to him sitting at a desk: “When I was a kid, you could get a prostitute for $5.”) They’re both just insecure, they realize, and they stop fighting.

The writers can’t go out on St. Patrick’s Day because they all have such punchable faces, so they’re playing a fantasy board game at the office. It’s called Colonizers of Malaar and it’s from the makers of Goblet Quest and Virginity Keep. When Jack Donaghy hears about it, his business instincts immediately kick into gear, and he starts offering advice. Soon, he’s got a seat at the game table, but his strategizing isn’t going well. He’s trapped in a barren wasteland, his yak Rockefeller has smallpox, and none of his finely honed executive instincts can save him. It’s exactly like his job at Kabletown.

Horrified by his predicament, Jack flees to a church, where a priest tries to tell him about how St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland. Jack interrupts him, explaining that Ireland never had snakes. St. Patrick was just a poor kid born in the fourth century with limited prospects: “His only worldly possession was ... no snakes.”

But as Jack describes how St. Patrick became a success, he becomes inspired. He runs back to 30 Rock and demands that the writers sell him a fire spell that will turn his desert property into glass, a valuable Malaar commodity. He’s found a way out; he’s going to create something out of nothing. As he says this, echoes boom around the room. “Today, Malaar,” he concludes. “Tomorrow, Kabletown!”

Uptown, Liz is coping with the after-effects of a different Jack Donaghy speech. Earlier, he said to her in a language that was probably Gaelic, “I think someone needs to learn a St. Patrick’s Day lesson.” Liz thinks this was a curse, and sure enough, her ex-boyfriend Dennis Duffy has appeared on her doorstep. He’s got a bump on his head because he tried to steal beer from a Duane Reade. (“Some black guy cold-cocked me.” Criss: “Like a security guard?” Dennis: “I dunno, pal. I don’t see people that way.")

Criss wants to take care of Dennis with his EMT skills, which he picked up at Burning Man helping people who tried to hug cacti. But Liz just wants Dennis out. “Dennis Duffy is like the Terminator with cheaper sunglasses,” she explains. He’s relentless because he thinks he still has a chance with her. As if on cue, Dennis yells from the other room that there’s a lesbian movie on Showtime. “I know Dennis Duffy’s brain,” Liz goes on. “I saw some of it when he jumped on the ice during an Islanders game.” She tells Criss that Dennis will try to drive a wedge between them, then mention his fictional girlfriend to make her jealous. Since she knows his plan, she’s going to sabotage him.

Here’s how Dennis summarizes the end of his lesbian movie: “And Mark Ruffalo? He’s just going to do his own thing in the restaurant.” It’s a perfect The Kids Are All Right reference, and you don’t hear a lot of those. Then he mentions his improbable-sounding girlfriend Megan. Pretending to be jealous, Liz tells him, “I love you,” but it backfires. Criss knows what she’s doing, but he’s still mad that Liz can say “I love you” as part of a scheme, but can’t say it sincerely to her live-in boyfriend.

After Criss leaves, Megan appears. Not only does she exist, but she’s Dennis’s wife, and she seems like she was made for him — she’s running late because she passed out laughing on 69th Street. Liz accuses Dennis of being full of “Irish nonsense,” but he turns it back on her, pointing out that she’s the one who’s stubborn and emotionally repressed. “She’s been living with this great guy,” he tells Megan, “and hasn’t said ‘I love you’ yet.”

For once, Dennis Duffy is right. Liz shows up at Criss’s hot dog cart wearing Hulk hands, which are the only green things she owns, and apologizes for not being able to express her feelings. Says the drunk guy next to her, “Is now the time on St. Patrick’s Day when we talk about our feelings?” And it is!

Liz finally manages to get out the words, “I love you.” Says Criss, “I know.” It was suave when Harrison Ford said it in Star Wars, and it’s suave now. Liz is delighted: “You Solo’d me!” They high five, and then kiss, while someone behind them wearing a too-tall novelty hat pukes green beer all over the street. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everybody!

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC