I knew that if I looked hard enough, I would find it and, today, it has finally arrived. Just like Milkshake Duck, I have found something that makes human Gummy Bear Frank Catania an awful person: He eats scooped-out bagels. As he’s readying the boat so that he can take Dolores and the crew to meet everyone from Melissa’s house at lunch, Dolores tells him she’ll order his usual breakfast: egg whites and turkey bacon on a plain bagel. But before she can ring it in, he screams after her, “Scooped!” If you don’t know, this is the process where they dig all of the guts of a bagel out leaving just the chewy crust. It is, not to put it too harshly, an international war crime. Why even bother having a bagel if you don’t want to eat the best part? Also, if you only want half of the bagel, why not just order an egg white omelet with turkey bacon and skip the bagel entirely? How do the Jewish people, who invented bagels, even allow this to occur? Can’t they take this up with the U.N. Security Council?
Other than the disappointment that one prong of my favorite tripod has an abysmal breakfast order, there is little else to really recommend this episode. There is a somewhat interesting, though ultimately shallow, argument between Melissa and Joe, a debate that has really been going on for years now, and there is Nonno’s “celebration of life,” which did bring a tear to my eye. Then I remembered that all the emphasis on Teresa’s dead saint of a father is only being used to humanize her this season, and I fell for it again and then I felt like an asshole.
The Joe and Melissa fight starts in the dumbest of ways. Melissa is heading off to the bus after dinner and Joe’s mad because she didn’t wait to walk with him. “We used to be so attached,” he tells her in the Saran Wrap-lined vehicle, which has two other couples awkwardly pretending they’re not there in it. “You’ve turned into this independent businesswoman.” Melissa accuses him of being too needy. He tells her if she keeps talking, he’s never going to talk to her again. This is the kind of drunk fight that many couples have on the way home from a too-boozy dinner.
It continues in the house, where the girls rally around Melissa in the bedroom and the guys try to talk Joe down on the porch. His problem, he says, is that his idea of what a relationship should be like is based on his parents. He thinks they should spend all of their time together and that he should totally support his wife. He feels he had this relationship until about a year ago, which I feel like is “On Display” erasure somehow and I am not at all here for it. He says that Melissa has gotten “too successful” and that he calls fame “the devil” and it has gotten into her head. This is sort of two different arguments. Does he not like that his wife isn’t home for him as much, or does he think that fame is warping her somehow? If any family should know about the ravages of reality stardom it should be the Gorga/Giudices.
Melissa’s argument, to me, makes a lot more sense. She says that when they first met, she loved how close she and Joe were all the time and how he would never leave her alone. That made her feel like he wouldn’t cheat on her, like her father did to her mother. (It’s an inevitability that we all become our parents, just like it’s an inevitability that you will eventually buy an immersion blender and it will change your life.) But she says that she’s different now. She’s not that 24-year-old girl he married.
She’s right, we all change, we all evolve. When she says that a marriage is work, this is what she means. A long-term relationship is really meeting each other over and over again as life keeps changing each of you. It’s accommodating each other’s newfound differences, sometimes keeping those mutations in check, and sometimes embracing those variants because they keep the union strong. Joe can’t think of their union like some sort of non-eroding stone, a monolith to their romance. Being obstinate will leave you stuck and eventually alone as the world tumbles on without you.
The next morning the pair of them are sitting in the kitchen waiting for their donut delivery. Frank Catania can’t even eat bagel intestines and these two are ordering donuts while wearing the world’s tightest athleisure to show off their perfectly honed bodies? They have a tense conversation trying to resolve these issues, but this is the sort of thing you don’t get over with one chat. This is a therapy discussion. Get these two on someone’s couch and let them drag this relationship on to the next stage. Even air it. But Joe is not going to get over his “old school” notions of what family should be like because of one fight in a van.
We see this in two little vignettes. The first is on the boat on the way to lunch, where Joe has to announce to everyone that he and Melissa just had sex to prove that they’ve totally made up. He has to say it to the guys over and over again, not that he’s bragging that they banged, but that they’re whole again. Finally Joe Benigno says, “We get it. It’s just a little thing we have to work through.” Wait, did Joe B just say that Joe has a small dick? Is that the “little thing” Melissa “worked through?”
Next, when they’re at lunch, Joe concocts a plan where he’s getting all of these calls and texts the whole time and acting really weird. Then he and Frank go “talk to a guy about a horse” (the horse is steroids) and Realtor Gizelle calls four times in a row on the phone and Melissa answers it and when the person hangs up she calls right back. She knows something is fishy and then quickly figures out that Joe planned this whole thing and they’re trying to punk her into thinking that he was cheating on her after Teresa punked him by saying Melissa was flirting with a guy in Lake George.
In his confessional, he says, “She called back Realtor Gizelle. You know what that shows me? She’s jealous. She still cares.” Okay, that is some rotten truffle mac-and-cheese right there. How does your wife being pissed thinking that you could be having an affair prove her loyalty to you? She thinks you’re sketchy enough that you might actually be screwing some Realtor named Gizelle. I would much rather have a partner who trusts me implicitly and knows that if someone named Gizelle is calling me repeatedly that there is no way there is any salami-hiding happening whatsoever.
Finally it’s time for Nonno’s celebration of life and I just thought it would be, like, the cast on someone’s deck lighting those candle lanterns that float up into the sky. Nope, this was a whole deal with a caterer and flowers and a bartender. The only people who love a superspreader event more than the Jersey crew are the hard-partying Paul brothers and Cynthia Bailey’s wedding planner.
All of the families arrive for the party, including Teresa’s four daughters, all wearing white dresses that are so short that they make Joe Gorga look tall. Well, all except Milania who shows up in what is basically a white track suit with a tube top. It’s actually as boss as Boss Baby, which is less boss than Springsteen and more boss than Hugo. “Little” Frankie Catania also shows up with his arms absolutely torturing the sleeves of a white polo shirt. I’m sorry. I need a minute to, uh, scoop out my bagel.
There are lots of nice pictures of Nonno and there are two brand-new paintings of him, one done by a friend of Joe’s and one purchased by the Aydins that looks like it came straight out of Olan Mills in 1987. It’s a nice gesture so I can’t even hate on it. Finally, Gia gives a speech that she gave at the funeral (that only family could attend because of COVID restrictions). She talks about how Nonno is her best friend and how he lit up every room. I was hoping she would launch into, “I wake up in the morning, thinking about oh so many things,” but she did not. She looked down at her notes on her phone and wiped away her tears with square, manicured nails that looked like lacquered marshmallows. Then everyone dumped flower petals off the deck into the water, where they bobbed along the briny water like memories, like links to the past, like the scooped-out innards of so many bagels, hoping that one day they would be rejoined with the loved ones they lost.