Hello, turkeys! I hope you’re enjoying eating leftovers straight out of the refrigerator. We’ve known that Murphy Brown’s Very Special Episode About Immigration was coming since the moment Phyllis hired Miguel, a college dude whose DACA status has come up in all but one of his scenes this season. Like the casting call must have been “Male, 18-25, Latino, to play Undocumented Young Adult in Donald Trump’s America.” So when Murphy invites Miguel and his parents to her Thanksgiving dinner, well, I tried to reserve judgment. And you know what? This episode came out a lot better than the $350 turkey Murphy bought for the holiday! (The failure to produce an edible turkey was, like the coming of the Very Special Episode About Immigration, foreordained.)
Avery Brown will be home for Thanksgiving for the first time in many years, and Murphy is celebrating by forcing everyone to come join them for a home-cooked meal. Obviously the possibility of a meal cooked by Murphy Brown is alarming, so Miles and Frank both hope to sneak off of the set before she can bully them into it. Miles jabs the elevator button with increasing desperation as he tells Murphy that he’s already spending the holiday with his Aunt Cheryl. Alas, Murphy has a long memory: Aunt Cheryl died two years ago. “Shouldn’t you be starting to lose your memory by now?” Miles asks. Come on, Murphy entreats; she’s bought a $350 turkey. Pat Patel, who’s vegan, asks why she’ll spend $350 on a turkey but she wouldn’t chip in for a birthday card for Julius. (Julius!!!) “It’s just that there are lovely ones online for free,” she says, in the voice someone uses when they know that it’s tacky to order hot water at restaurants and bring their own tea bag but does it anyway.
Cut to Murph in the kitchen, standing before the $350 turkey and wearing the ludicrous turkey apron that came with it. Everyone thinks she can’t cook, but she’s sure going to show them! She puts in a call to the Turkey Hotline (via landline speakerphone, I’m charmed) and has an informative but bruising conversation with “Ken.” (It’s not his real name.) She’s pretty wound up about getting this right, but Ken puts her in her place: “It’s the turkey hotline, not the suicide hotline.” Has she preheated the oven? No. She opens the oven door to find the instruction booklet still wrapped in pristine plastic. Huh. How long will this take, Ken? Five and a half hours? Great, there’s the doorbell! “Uh-oh,” Ken says. “Your friends are here. Hope they like pizza. Happy Thanksgiving.”
“I don’t smell any turkey roasting,” Frank says, as everyone settles in. “Soooo,” Pat asks him, “are you excited to feast on a tortured creature who spent a short miserable life trapped in a cage with thousands of other turkeys,” grain, blood, etc. (I’m summarizing.) Murphy objects: “That did not happen to my turkey.” It grew up in Vermont and had its own room and free cable “and then … one bad day.” Anyway, Pat’s brought his own food: a soyball sub, soystrami, and soysage. Phyllis and Miguel arrive, bearing banana schnapps and all of the other alcohol she’s had trouble moving. Murphy realizes she’s forgotten to invite Miguel to dinner, but would he like to join them? No, he’s working with his parents tonight. Every Thanksgiving, they park in front of “one of those ‘recently divorced dads’ apartment buildings” and make a bundle. The taco truck is idling outside.
But there’s a snowstorm coming, Murphy says. Won’t they stay? They will, which is good, because you know and I know how these things work and we can stop worrying about whether Thanksgiving dinner will be saved. The suspense was killing me. Avery’s hoping that the taco truck portends turkey enchiladas or something, but then he finds out that Murphy’s cooking. “This is not good, who let this happen?” he asks. If you ask Frank, it’s Avery’s fault, “because she loves you and wants you to be happy and we have to pay for it.”
Cut to … well, we’re still the living room, but time has passed and Miguel and his lovely parents have joined us. Corky switches from football to the Thanksgiving Day parade, which reminds Phyllis of the good old days in NYPD Parking Enforcement. It reminds Frank and Miles of “stinkin’ Nazis.” Reports from the kitchen suggest that things are not going well. That’s it, Frank says. “The storm will never end, there will be no food, and they’ll find our remains here in the spring.” Pat Patel takes an ostentatious bite of his soyquito: “How sad for you.” Phyllis says “restaurant people” should sit down on Thanksgiving, but Maria bravely volunteers to help.
The scene in the kitchen is so grim that Maria suggests that she just sell the house. “I am so in over my head,” says Murph. “Why can’t I admit that there are some things in life I’m just not good at?” Oh, honey, let’s make the stuffing. The women have a very sweet chat. “Your Miguel is a pretty great kid,” Murphy tells her, and she’s moved by the sacrifices his parents have made for him; living half your life undocumented sounds awful. Plus, raising Miguel while working full-time must have been difficult. Maria smiles: that’s something they have in common. They did their best, and you know what? Those boys “turned out to be pretty good.”
Back in the living room, the boys are ogling a picture of Frank’s cousin’s turkey. He’s so desperate that even Pat’s soy loin steak on a stick looks delicious. (Pat seems to have a bottomless Mary Poppins bag of fake meat). He’s sorry he mocked Pat’s vegan lifestyle, but this is too little, too late. “Damn it, Pat. I’m an animal, too,” Frank cries. “Where’s your compassion?” Avery tells them that his mom’s always been stubborn. “She gets it into her head that she has to do something and she cannot let it go,” which meant that craft projects ended with them both “glued to the card table.” That’s when Maria comes back into the living room with a grim look on her face: “I’ve done all I can. It’s in God’s hands now.” Then the Nor’easter knocks the lights out. “The Lord has spoken.”
Luckily, the taco truck is outside, and they can use the oven to finish the turkey! “I’m going to have to spatchcock it, though,” Maria says—cut the bird in half so it can be flattened. Murphy does not know this word, but you learn something new every day. And then … two Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers show up. Some nosy neighbor called the five-o about the taco truck. It’s got a cracked tail light, which these busybodies used as a pretense to run the plate. Now they’re here to take Maria and Carlos. But why are they all shoved in here? “What is this, a meth lab?” They assume Pat Patel must be Carlos because he looks like he’s Not From Here. That’s correct, Pat says. He’s from Ohio. (Haaaay, Akron!) “If you don’t get out of this truck, I will spatchcock you,” Murphy says, brandishing a spatula. Oh, Officer Reynolds says he read about that in Gourmet magazine!
Maria and Carlos have been hiding in the cab, but it’s no use. Avery tells Pat to start filming. Maybe that seems like an obvious move, but I definitely said out loud, “Ohhhh, that’s a good idea.” Is that because I’m an Old Millennial? Would a Young Millennial immediately know to start recording? Anyway. “What did they do except give up everything so I could grow up in a country that we thought was the most compassionate place in the world?” asks Miguel. (Let’s talk about how strong the U.S.A. America brand must be for anyone to still think that.) Officer Reynolds says, and okay, fine, this is sort of over the top, “Sorry, kid. We’re just following government orders.” As the ICE agents take Miguel’s parents away, Murphy’s yelling out the door that she’s going to do something about this. She’s going to be their worst nightmare. “I know immigration attorneys, I know judges. They are not going anywhere!”
At the end of the next day’s broadcast, Murphy goes off-script. She wants to tell everyone what happened to her friends. Pat’s video is up on the monitors. “I did everything I could to stop it,” she says. “I called in every favor, I pulled every string, but it wasn’t enough.” This is supposed to be one of the things she’s good at. This is what she learned to do while other people were learning to cook. But there’s no pathway to citizenship; there’s no line for Maria and Carlos to stand in. People, I’m moved. I’m moved over here! “Watching what I did yesterday might have given me a real reason to lose faith in my country,” she says. “I refuse to believe that we’ve become so jaded that we feel nothing when we see these human beings experiencing such heartache.” Her voice breaks. Candice Bergen is nailing the delivery. “There has to be a way to fix this,” she says miserably.
Post-Trump, Murphy’s preferred mode has been performative outrage. But the truth is that a posture of ironic distance doesn’t protect us from fear or sadness, and it can’t protect the people and places we hold dear. Flashing a picture of the president’s khaki-clad butt in lieu of a photo of a large Butterball turkey isn’t a real expression of power. (Oh, shit). Mistaking it for one may be why the earliest episodes of the show were so shaky; grandstanding in the White House Press Room only feels effective. But watching Murphy Brown learn the difference proves the worth of the reboot. Murphy Brown has hit its stride.
Misc. & Assorted
• Phyllis’s Valerie Solanas routine continues to delight me. The re-run of Real Cops on Patrol is a good one. (“That’s not a thumb! Why would an angry wife cut off her husband’s thumb?” Womp wommmmmmp.) When she tries to intercede with the ICE agents—she speaks the language of law enforcement, after all—we find out she’s met her match. Wouldn’t they rather be home with their families? “Are you kidding me? If I could deport my husband, I would.”
• In the last scene, Pat Patel’s got a jaunty pink kerchief. It is perfect. Also perfect: he’s just as into Real Cops on Patrol as Phyllis is.