30 Rock Recap: Rest in Peace, Colleen

Photo: Ali Goldstein/NBC
30 Rock
Episode Title
My Whole Life Is Thunder
Editor’s Rating

Rest in peace, Colleen Donaghy. You were 87 years young, 14 in demon years, and you went out of this world like you came into it: wearing a hat.
(Does anybody still wear a hat?)

Tonight’s 30 Rock contained a few things we all probably expected: the fallout from Ms. Elizabeth Lemon getting married without inviting alleged best friend and self-proclaimed moon of the universe Jenna; some transitional stuff to move us into the rest of the season; and a good bit of letdown owing to the fact that it’s not the Liz-Criss wedding episode anymore.
It also had some lovely surprises, including two super-solid Lost references; plenty of guest stars crowding onto the final-season lifeboat (Will Ferrell as Bitch Hunter!); and the revelation of what Jenna looks like under grocery-store-milk-aisle lighting. The latter was a truly Gollum-esque sight, far worse than Liz in HD, and proof of something I’ve believed since high school: She who controls the light board controls the world.
But the one thing about tonight that none of us (who don’t read spoilers) saw coming was the sad passing of Jack’s harpy mom, Colleen, played for seven seasons by the great Elaine Stritch in perhaps the most lovingly drawn New York City in-joke this show ever generated — and yes, I’m counting tonight’s Chuck Scarborough/Sue Simmons bonanza. Colleen was the kind of woman who could provoke a Buddhist monk into whipping a battery at her, who would conceive a child simply because Dragnet got preempted, and who always insisted upon traveling on Pearl Harbor Day to, and I quote, “show the Emperor we’re not afraid.”
She was also relentlessly demanding of Jack, whose career success, as reflected through her mirror, now looks like one long overcompensation. (“My lifelong quest to please that woman is what made me the man I am today: The man who in 1984 wore a tuxedo so well he broke up the Go-Go’s.”) But every time Colleen/Stritch appeared on the show, she and Jack/Baldwin made us believe that somewhere beneath the squabbling, the sabotage, and the various trips to the hospital both acted and actual, they really did care about one another. I kind of wish Jack’s eulogy for his mom — featuring a “Danny Boy” flute solo and an appearance by Kermit the Frog — was somewhere on the Internet in its entirety. I’d probably pay to watch it.
Meanwhile, Jenna was pissed as H-E-double-vibrators at Liz. Seems she had her surprise wedding all ready to go when she found out Liz had gotten hitched, so as retribution for stealing her wedding thunder, she set about concocting a secret plan (SECRET PLAAAAAN) to restage it during the awards ceremony for 80 Under 80, honoring Liz and other women in entertainment who aren’t Betty White. But after a heart-to-heart with fellow honoree Gayle King about life in the shadows of an overbearing best friend, Liz met Jenna’s onslaught of selfishness head on (cue the klieg lights), and in the end, Jenna wound up throwing her surprise wedding in the one place where no one was likely to mind: at the tail end of Colleen's funeral. “I promise to always pour antibiotics all over your penis before you staple it to anything,” vowed Jenna to Paul, as Reverend Gimp, Kermit, and the 30 Rock family looked on. I didn’t get quite as emotional as I did last week.

Tonight’s other subplot — in which Kenneth was angry because Hazel broke up with him so Tracy tried to cheer him up by hiring Florence “Clorox” Henderson — was neither here nor there, but it did give us an interesting line to think about in the context of the larger story. Kenneth loves TV, he said, because “the people you care about never leave, and the bad guy always gets what she deserves.” I’d like to raise a final toast to Colleen, whom I think we all cared about, but not in a queer way, and even if I wouldn't necessarily call her a bad guy, I'd say dying in a horse-drawn carriage next to her son might have been exactly what she deserved. So in light of that, here are your ...
Odds and Ends, Colleen Donaghy Memorial Edition 

  • “A blue spruce? What time do the mariachis arrive?” —Colleen
  • “I have a few things I want to say to you before I meet the Grim Reaper, who is black, I assume, what with the hoodies he wears.” —Colleen
  • “I was watching television and they started interviewing an Asian Santa Claus, and my arm went numb.” —why Colleen had a black eye
  • “My father did not kill dozens of Germans so that his daughter could die in a van.” —why Colleen didn’t call an ambulance
  • Colleen: “Don’t talk to me like that Jack. I breastfed you for nine years.” Jack: “Those are terrible last words.”
  • “One of these days, you’re going to turn around and I’m going to be gone, Jack. Just like that.” —Colleen
  • Finally, there was this, from Kenneth: “Where else but real life would a millionaire movie star care so much about a hillbilly janitor that he would spend two days trying to cheer him up? You can’t do that on television, because if you did, no one would watch.” Enjoy your respective holidays. Assuming we make it through the Mayan Apocalypse, we’ll see you back here in 2013 for the final five.