What makes “Les Lucioles” so great is that it is a quintessentially Suburgatory episode, overly concealed blemishes and all. It’s a fantastic little boutique bonbon box, a delicately, hand-wrapped surface containing an exquisite something you can’t find anywhere else. Even at series low points, like this season’s beauty pageant, Suburgatory is unmistakable. Everything from the titles to the quirks tie into central themes or animating ideas. Showrunners talk about their shows being personal all the time, whether its Lauren Iungerich pouring her heart and history into Awkward. or Matthew Weiner confessing his most private thoughts through Mad Men. But almost nothing on television—I probably shouldn’t have mentioned Mad Men—is as unified as Emily Kapnek’s suburban dramedy, from the cartoonish plots to the colorful design to the fanciful blend of high-culture aspiration with low-culture pleasures. It all fits right into Suburgatory’s personality. Lisa dancing down the aisle flanked by her parents to Rich Homie Quan’s “Type Of Way” is just right for this show. It’s funny, it’s bold, and within the context of Lisa and Malik’s strange Chatswin coupling, it’s even touching.
It’s smart to dedicate the penultimate episode to Lisa and Malik so the show can focus on them without worrying about stealing spotlight from Tessa and George. The Altmans still get their due. But this is about Lisa and Malik having their dream wedding, bathing in good omens, surrounded by their families. The main obstacle is that Malik’s family votes to cut him off if he gets married, and Malik calls their bluff and leaves the house. That’s where George comes in. Since he knows a thing or two about paternal estrangement—those shots of bearded George sitting alone in that brown house make for some vivid flashbacks—he hopes they change their mind. “It’s not worth it.” How does a (well-off, mild-mannered, American dream) parent deal with something like this? Suburgatory loves those questions. I don’t even have kids, and I think Lisa and Malik should wait. Remember, this all started because Lisa thought she needed to lock it down—which is to say she realized Malik could do better than her (which comes full circle in “Les Lucioles” in an oblique, incredibly satisfying way ). But what George has learned, and what he’s passed onto Mr. and Mrs. LaFreak, and what Suburgatory itself is conveying, is that kids make mistakes and parents should be there to support them anyway. The episode lets Tessa look happy but a little uneasy, and it lets Dalia interrupt the big moment, but it also lets Lisa and Malik have their moment. It’s a powerful blend.
“Les Lucioles” is structured as a bunch of little scenes mixing up the characters, really establishing this sense of the whole (busybody suburban) community. So there’s Tessa planning the whole thing with the Shays. There’s Dalia, donating a certain amount of reception stuff in exchange for her position as Queen Of Honor, and Dallas, who believes she’s a wedding jinx and so is vowing not to attend. There’s Malik asking George to walk him down the aisle in a sad, shadowy scene in the Altman kitchen. The visuals say a lot: Look at Ryan Shay’s appearance, just standing there with a partly unbuttoned shirt and an untied tie and no jacket, sweetly staring at Tessa. He’s an ad campaign for romance. When June pulls Tessa aside to yell at her, she doesn’t settle for just inside the big, open Shay house. She pushes her into a cramped bathroom.
What’s more, “Les Lucioles” churns up these characters. There are a few tear-jerking moments of continuity, most notably Sheila telling Lisa that Malik landed in the tall grass and Lisa and Tessa’s bedrock friendship chat at the end. But there are subtler revelations, too. Dallas’ whole subplot derives from low self-esteem. When Lisa looks out her window into the beautiful backyard, we finally get a sense of how delicately hand-made this wedding is. The sparklers, that French song, the fireflies—excuse me, “les lucioles.” It’s her dream come to life.
The episode isn’t all magic and angst. Lisa opens the episode describing her vision for the wedding: “Did you happen to see the season-three finale of Game Of Thrones?” Cut to a reenactment, Lisa dressed in a long blonde wig crowd-surfing on a budget sea of untouchables. That’s when Dalia tells Tessa that money is no object, taking Lisa under her arm. Lisa’s head is still awkwardly cocked when she quietly tells Tessa, “Dalia has decided to be Queen Of Honor at our wedding. And I have decided not to die on this hill.” (The perplexed look on Jane Levy’s face is even better: “Why did you agree to this?”) Dalia makes the most of her position. When Dallas confesses she’s a jinx, Dalia wheels around and whines, “What?! You’re not coming to my wedding?!” It looks expressive in print, but it’s another of Carly Chaikin’s spectacular nasal monotones. The wedding itself is mostly sacred ground, but some suburban parody can’t help but crop up when the Shays are involved. They pass on Lisa’s information to Malik, including her dental records and her menses calendar. “The red dot indicates when the curse commences.” Even the specific diction has me cracking up.
As for those blemishes, too much is rushed past, for starters. Not George and Dallas. They’ve been a long time coming, even if the cuts to wide and back to medium short some of the electricity that Suburgatory is so good at building. If any comedy were meant to play in long, uninterrupted takes where you just stew in the emotional mix, it’s Suburgatory. But Tessa and Ryan exchange a single line of dialogue each. June gets more screen-time than Ryan. Then at the end we’re meant to be far more invested in Tessa and Ryan hooking up that the episode actually gives us reason to be. I get the sense that Tessa’s part in the event is supposed to be centrally about winning back Ryan, but that doesn’t actually come through. The reception is a whole evening of eating and mingling and dancing, but it’s summed up in this one forlorn look from Tessa to the crowd (Ryan dancing with June) as if that’s it. Then we have Dalia’s involvement, which is hysterical, even at its most selfish and inappropriate, but surprisingly tolerated by all involved. The first half of the season was so good at maintaining a serious grudge between Tessa and Dalia, but lately I’m not exactly sure where they stand, and why that’s changed. These are persistent structural and character issues with Suburgatory’s goofiness, its flexibility. It’s just that the show is so special they hardly seem to matter on nights like this.
- So, how does everyone feel about Lisa and Malik getting married? Parks And Recreation would never in a million years break up Andy and April, partly because it believes in their match and partly because it’s so proud of its gamble. But I could absolutely see Suburgatory breaking up Lisa and Malik.
- And what about George and Dallas? Were you shouting, “Finally,” or “Not this again,” or none of the above? I’m mostly curious to see how they course correct from last time, which is tangled up in whether or not the show was really, really double-dog serious about the way this season opened.
- Fred estimates the capacity of his backyard: “We hosted 60 nudes last summer for our bottom knockers event.” I know what you’re thinking, but bottom knockers are just a mature group of Christian potters who prefer to spin in the nude.
- Dalia on her dress, a bride-white fairy princess number: “It needs more tulle and 50 more feet of train and animatronic birds that sing my name.”
- Malik comes to George for advice. “Well, look, man, the wedding night doesn’t have to be about that. You know, you guys could just order in, watch a movie, and when it feels right…”
- Another example of the production bringing this episode to life: Tessa’s sitting in French class when all of a sudden the cool light gives way to warm yellows like we’re at a stage play and everywhere lovers begin flirting. “Where did that sexy janitor come from?”
- Mr. LaFreak: “Kids and their afros.” George: “Don’t get me started.” There needs to be a season four if only because we haven’t wrung nearly enough comedy out of the LaFreaks.
- Fred starts crying when Malik calls him dad. “I usually keep my emotions buried deep within my rectouterine pouch.”
- June accuses Tessa of looking extra cute in a scheme to steal Ryan back. “No, I always look this cute.”
- When she gets to the end of the aisle, Lisa finds Dalia standing there with her wand and tiara. “I didn’t know where you wanted me.” She eventually sits down next to Daddy Altman.
- George finds Dalia hiding behind a cypress. “You dressed this nicely to hide in the bushes?” “ You know I did.” Indeed. That is Dallas to a T.