I remember that the first time I saw this episode, it freaked me out. Elaine and Jerry having sex again? Especially the manner in which it comes about, which is apropos of nothing. I always thought of Seinfeld as the "no hugging, no learning" show but this is an episode with a little bit of actual, honest, emotional discussion. But really, "The Deal" is just brilliant. Sure, its "friends with benefits" concept might seem like old hat now, but I'm sure it was more of a refreshing idea back in 1991. What's even smarter is that the whole episode was Larry David's way of getting around NBC's incessant demands that Jerry and Elaine hook up—I guess they wanted a big plot they could try and sell to audiences.
David, correctly, had no interest in turning Elaine and Jerry into Sam and Diane, but he realized there was still something in having the two get together for an episode and trying to remove typical relationship issues from the equation. Seinfeld and Louis-Dreyfus' chemistry is great here, especially in the opening scene where they stumble on Cinemax (or what have you) and the idea of having sex pops in their head. They carefully, diplomatically, construct the terms of their deal—no calls the day after, no sleeping over, no goodnight kisses (it's "bourgeois," sez Elaine)—but we know it's doomed from the beginning. "We go in there, we’re in there for a while, then we’re back out here!" Jerry says of the act, in the typically clean approach Seinfeld takes to all things dirty, but obviously sex complicates everything.
George gets to play the fun role of the skeptic in this episode, acquiring the superiority Jerry usually has about his relationship dramas. "Where do you get the ego? No one can do it, it can’t be done," he says. Kramer is just disturbed, but Jerry, in his supreme arrogance, believes it can be done. We know that he's kind of an OCD guy at this point, so it makes sense that he'd try to exert more control on the sexual side of his life too. But the rules of the game don't hold up too long, as Jerry tries to leave Elaine's (first-sighted!) apartment after a liaison and she reacts negatively. I like that there's no real judgments here—sure, Jerry's just trying to follow the rules he set down, but I feel some sympathy for Elaine about how casually he's treating things. Elaine could easily have become the villain of the episode and she doesn't.
That's mostly because Jerry's next move is a real fuckup: stumped by every gift he sees ("A bust of Nelson Rockefeller," suggests George; "too…gubernatorial," says Jerry) he gets her cash for her birthday. $182! Kramer, meanwhile, remembered that Elaine wanted a cute little wooden bench, so he comes off as the hero. It's an excellent use of Kramer, because his perfect gift-giving is weird, but loveable, as well as an unintended irritant to Jerry. Those are all the major facets of his character, at least at this point. Although I do understand George's bafflement at Elaine wanting a bench for her birthday. "What, like at a bus stop? Like a park bench? Who puts a bench in their house?"
Jerry and Elaine's subsequent "breakup," on the bench, contains the aforementioned shocking little moment of emotional honesty when Elaine admits that she can't go back to being friends with Jerry after the collapse of the deal. Usually on Seinfeld even the grossest, most insane, farcical situations are forgotten or brushed off within minutes, so it's nice to see the chink in Elaine's armor. And Jerry's, too: "Who doesn't want this [friendship], that [sex], and the other [a relationship]?" He asks. "You," Elaine replies, completely correctly. Jerry goes to correct her, but he really can't.
Of course, despite this little moment, the events of this episode are brushed under the rug. I think it was intended as a series finale of sorts, because Larry David refused to accept the show would be picked up for a third season. Instead, it wasn't even aired as the season two finale (NBC's scheduling of this season really baffles me) so it must have been extra-confusing to see Elaine and Jerry together, seemingly for good, at the end of this week and then have it not mentioned ever again. But as a bizarre "what if" episode, it's pretty great.
And so, we move onto season 3—the first full season, the first to be nominated for the Best Comedy Series Emmy, the first with the logo in place at the beginning of episodes, really the beginning of Seinfeld's undisputed run as the best, most popular show in America. Weirdly though, neither of these two episodes are that good—they're not terrible, but compared to what's coming up, they feel like small potatoes.
"The Note," like "The Deal," has a storyline that now feels pretty well-worn, in this case George's gay panic over being massaged by a handsome blonde man and his resulting queasy feelings about it. I suppose that, again, it must have been a lot smarter and funnier then, but unlike "The Deal," it only got half-hearted laughs out of me now. All credit for those laughs really has to go to Jason Alexander, who's just great as sexy masseuse Raymond makes him take his pants off. Michael Richards is usually thought of as Seinfeld's physical comedian but Alexander conveys his embarrassment and confusion at having to disrobe very perfectly without getting too exaggerated. His broken-brain dialogue is wonderful too: "The hamstring." "Korea." "How?" "The hamstring." "How did you hurt the hamstring?" "Hotel."
The latter parts of this plot (George freaking out about an Evander Holyfield poster, George talking about men interrupting his masturbation fantasies) feel a little too lazy in this Larry David-scripted episode. Although I do like that he had the balls to bring up George jerking off this early on, even if it's shrouded behind winks and nudges. And, of course, Joe DiMaggio, whom Kramer sees in a donut place and the gang all see in Monk's, is a very handsome man.
What's much better about "The Note," and bodes so well for season three, is how the cast is just firing on all cylinders now, especially when they're together. Director Tom Cherones is happier to let them spend time playing off each other's lines—Elaine's silent face-making at Jerry while they fight over couch space, or Kramer's hilarious double take at George saying, "I've always been a stall man!" Scenes with just the four of them together are becoming more and more frequent, and there's an excellent balance of all the different types of comedy: Kramer's physicality, George's anguish, Jerry's pickiness, etc. And Michael Richards just unleashes a tour-de-force of silliness in his banging and yelping to get DiMaggio's attention. Sometimes it feels like the show indulges Richards' wackiness a little too much, but this isn't one of those times.
A subplot that doesn't quite work is Jerry terrifying his masseuse with talk of abducting children—who would ever be so terrified of Jerry? But I love his and George's reasoning behind why they talk during a massage. For Jerry, it's because he figures they're bored, and he wants to entertain them, being a comedian. George's reason is an even better insight into his character. "I feel guilty about getting the pleasure. I feel like I don't deserve it, so I talk. It stops me from enjoying it."
This episode is amusingly dark (in that exposure to George's inner thoughts sends a woman he's dating to a mental institution) but a little too manic and off-the-wall for my tastes, particularly in the Kramer subplot of him dating Tina. Of course, it makes sense that he'd date her, and the little things that annoy Elaine are funny, like him using the strainer to strain tomato sauce, but the bigger stuff, like the tribal dancing and the windscreen coffee table, are a little too broad, even for Kramer.
The "truth" of the title is what George's one-off girlfriend Patrice (Valerie Mahaffey, of Northern Exposure and later Desperate Housewives) gets when she asks the real reason he's breaking up with her. He gives her a tirade about how pretentious she is, which is as blistering as his earlier "it's not you, it's me" deflections were pathetic. The concept of the script, the first by Elaine Pope, is that this is so intense that it drives her into a depression and she checks into a clinic, but Patrice remains so breezy about the whole thing, I'm not sure if it works. She does seem genuinely crazy, though, especially in that she craves George's approval. That's always a good sign that you're crazy.
George is nonetheless shocked — "I've driven women to lesbianism before, but never a mental institution" — and Jerry is mad because she's a former IRS agent who was going to help him with his impending audit. I had trouble getting worked up about the plot here, really. Better was the mounting frustration of Elaine at Kramer's behavior and then her horror at him seeing her naked. I love how Louis-Dreyfus plays that revelation — like Alexander in "The Note," she gets across a bunch of emotions in just a few little looks at Kramer and Jerry.
Also good, of course, is George's horror when Elaine says he deserves the truth about himself. "Is there an odor I'm not aware of?" When she says he's "careful with money," a recurring gag that's been repeated more and more in recent episodes, George reacts with ridiculous, pathetic horror. "You should have lied!" The episode's truth arc, such as it is, builds to a weird climax of Elaine telling Kramer and Tina that they make a good couple, and it's a moment that doesn't work for a bunch of reasons. Mainly, seeing as Tina and (especially) Kramer are kinda shameless people, why would they react badly to more complaints from Elaine? It feels like a lazy way to tie up a rather loose idea.
Jerry and Elaine had sex 37 times when they were together.
I love every time Jerry and George talk about DC Comics. "What's the deal with Aquaman? Could he go on land, or was he just restricted to water?"
I also sympathize with George's disgust at Jerry outgrowing kiss-and-tell details of sex with Elaine. "That kind of growth really irritates me."
"The Deal" marks the first of three appearances for Tina, Elaine's colossally irritating roommate, played by Siobhan Fallon, who has a real talent for those kinds of characters (and lots of other kinds, too). She's back in "The Truth," obviously, and she shows up at least one more time.
"The Note" has a weird, scatty girl choir singing over the theme song, apparently at Seinfeld's request. NBC rightfully hated it and it never appears again.
George thinks he should be committed. "You get to wear slippers all day, friends visit, they pity you, pity’s very underrated. It’s good, I like it."
Bob Sacamano is mentioned again—his synapses were too big for electro-shock therapy.