It’s a little surprising that someone as self-aware and emotionally stunted as Liz Lemon hasn’t already driven a third of the Upper West Side’s therapist population to career change, suicide, or torrid, doomed affairs. Although, as we’ve already seen this season, that’s Jack’s role, and he relishes hearing about her “life,” to a point. But once she starts tugging at that thread, there’s no stopping the unraveling, and the effect is viral — everyone she opens up to is then forced to confront their own sublimated demons. And just as the previous 30 Rock episode two weeks ago saw all the characters collectively reliving their college glory days, this one throws them into a shame spiral of armchair psychoanalysis, with unsurprisingly similar results. No one is safe.
When Liz asks Jack what makes men get bored in dating situations, his response — “Questions like that” — is, as ever, true and lacerating, but for once, it’s not enough. Nor was Jenna’s anti-marriage justification (“Relationships are like sharks, Liz — if you’re not covered in bite marks after intercourse, then something’s wrong”) particularly satisfying. Liz needs more counseling than Jack can offer and he’s tired of talking this much to a woman he’s not even sleeping with.
Kenneth, however, understands that God gave us two ears and only one mouth because listening is twice as important as talking, so when he delivers to Liz the message that Carol has been unreachable for five days because he doesn’t have cell reception at his Daytona Beach layover, Liz unloads about how that fat fraud Santa was the first man to ever betray her, and afterwards, she feels actual catharsis. Liz in turn tries to convince Jenna that she’s trying to sabotage her relationship with her female-impersonator boyfriend Paul by hoping they mark their six-month anniversary with a leaked sex tape because she’s afraid of commitment.
Jack is appalled that Kenneth, with his tiny brainpan, is Liz’s therapist, and she doesn’t seem to notice that her story about her adulterous Uncle Harold has caused Kenneth to have a psychic break. Now it’s Kenneth’s turn on the couch, to put his mental burden in Jack’s mind-vice so he can crush it. But Kenneth’s story about his own Harold (“Please be a human,” Jack pleads, to no avail), the lost father-pig he wound up eating for his $300 travel fare to New York — “Even the face, in case of a tie” — proves so disturbing that Jack’s prediction of a chain reaction of mental anguish proves true. Jack succeeds in convincing Kenneth that this trauma made him what he is today: the lowest-paid employee of the last-place network in America, but this breakthrough comes with a cost. Jack is next. At this late date in 30 Rock’s run, Alec Baldwin’s reaction shots shouldn’t be anything to marvel at, yet his mix of horror and sympathy at Kenneth’s revelations turn what could have been a pretty rote rehash of Kenneth’s hick backstory into proper belly laughs.
Tracy, however, is beyond the capabilities of conventional analysis. His “son” Donald returns looking for capital for a new ill-conceived business venture — a Times Square theme restaurant called Staples showcasing battles between unlicensed Japanese movie monsters. Jack tries to convince Tracy that Donald, even at the tender, impressionable age of 43, needs to be more independent in his ventures and not rely on his father’s generosity, even though Microsoft, the microbrewery that serves frogurt, sounds like a winner. But after Kenneth’s story triggers memories of Jack’s father berating him during a botched third-grade science-play speech, Jack urges Tracy not to turn his back on Donald, that a parent’s role is to support a child, to tell him he’s smart even if he goes to Arizona State. Jack’s inspiring soliloquy comes in the form of his third-grade “I am a protein” scene, delivered without flaw, and with just the right touch of regressive Boston accent, and everything is right in the TGS world again. Which is to say, highly dysfunctional and doomed to fail.