Episode 2/7/05 -Ghostbusting in the Null Zone
Welcome back to the concluding episode of the Farrell-Levy swap. It’s a landmark night, folks; against all odds, this plucky little reality show will attempt to answer the questions of the ages. You know, big stuff, like, is there life after death? If so, are we floating around in a state of emotional bliss, or are we forced to hang around the corporal world enough to get annoyed at obnoxious houseguests? Take a deep breath and rally your courage, but not for the reasons you’d think; it turns out this episode is not for the easily bored. And frankly, the ghosts are not a bit scary...but the living provide some hair-raising moments.
Remember Last Week, When We Met These Families? Yeah, They’re Back
Coming off the adrenaline of witnessing a “figure” outside her window, Janet is nervous at night. She is convinced that spirits are trying to contact her in the house, or maybe *gasp* they followed her across country. It’s hard for me to understand this worldview, so I can’t provide any insight into her thinking, except to say, at least she’s got a solution. Who you gonna call? I can’t believe I just typed that. Sing along, people: Ghostbusters!
In New York, the weather has turned snowy outside, and in the Farrell household, the occupants are just as frozen. Marybeth describes the Farrells as silent, cold, and sullen. She herself is looking miserable, lonely and homesick.
Marybeth takes action: she organizes a family outing to a local skating-rink-slash-arcade called the Family Fun Center. Despite donning neon-wheeled rollerblades for a spin around the rink - wouldn't that be a hoot? - it’s painfully obvious that no one is having fun. Brian is the first to quit, and soon all the kids plus their dad have given up skating, leaving Marybeth out on the floor by herself, just circling, circling. She wears a pained expression; is she mad at being deserted?
No, she’s not. Marybeth isn’t wired to resent others, so she shoulders the blame for the Farrell’s lack of enthusiasm, saying the problem is that she hasn’t connected to them. The family is quiet and somber, and she hasn’t found a way to relate to their style yet. Silly me, thinking that the ones over eighteen could have been polite enough to smile once in a while when Marybeth herself is certain their lack of facial expression is to be blamed on her failure to connect.
Marybeth remembers that Brian and his mother are at odds about his tattoos and piercings; so she initiates a casual conversation with Brian about the plethora of tattoo shops in Seattle. Brian has an expressionless look I recognize, something along the lines of show no emotion until you figure out what the crazy lady is trying to do that bespeaks many years of having one’s dreams shot down, dragged across the pavement and stomped on for good measure.
But Brian begins to open a little bit when Marybeth asks to see his room. He’s hesitant at first, but is won over by her spontaneous, genuine enthusiam about his artwork, which is covering every inch of wall space and is even tacked to the cross beams on the ceiling. While Brian looks slightly incredulous that this conventional, granola-looking woman isn’t making a sign of the cross with her index fingers, Marybeth emotes over his drawings, paintings, and tattoo designs. Telling him he’s “quite the artist - what a gift,” she adds that if she were his mom she would have his work framed and hanging in the living room. She points out that he’s got his tattoo designs all ready, he could walk into a shop and be ready to go. Brian admits in the manner of someone confessing a shameful secret that his mother hates his work, as if Marybeth might change her opinion at the news. “That’s ridiculous, it’s bizaarre!” exclaims Marybeth. Brian looks gratified; I think Marybeth just made a friend for life.
Brian tells us that he expected Marybeth to be “weirded out,” but he was surprised when she wasn’t at all - not one bit! As for Marybeth, she confesses that it’s not like she’s into tattoos or anything; she just knows that as a parent, you find “what lights their fire” and you support it. Fostering independence in your children - what a concept. Is it too much to hope that Janet sees the effect of Marybeth’s visit to Brian’s room without dismissing it as beneath her notice? I’m crossing my fingers here.
Smart, Smart Ghosts
No one expects FOX to shell out all kinds of cash for the rights to the Ghostbusters! theme, but did they have to invent their own boppy soundtrack to invoke the shades of Dan Akroyd in his coveralls and bulky backpack? With such a musical cue it can only be time for the professionals to stick their nosy equipment into all corners of the Levy farmhouse. They arrive, sans coveralls, which tells me the whole “sliming” thing was made up for the movie. But they’ll be cornering the spooks with their powerful light beams, taking care not to cross the streams, right? Guys?
Freelance Supernatural Investigations is the name of our brave trio of ghost warriors who will root out the resident spirits. The “tech guy” has a variety of official-looking equipment; which is misleading, since he admits to making his own devices. It’s not like they’re on sale at Radio Shack, you know. The “psychic” is the youngest of the group, looking like my own stereotypical mental image of a twenty-something goatee-wearing Seattle-ite. The “data analyst” is a thirty-something woman who follows the psychic around and asks him questions about his feelings. *sigh* How come the women always get the support positions?
The psychic feels “orbs” in a hallway, and comments that it feels like said orbs are pacing back and forth, back and forth. Orbs don’t have legs as far as I know, but picture the ancient computer game Pong and you’ve got the idea. The psychic crawls into an attic, and (prompted by the data analyst girl) relates that he senses feelings of dark, cold and panic. Are you sure those aren’t your own feelings, you big scairdy-cat? The psychic also lends his extra sensory perception to the temperature, which he comments is noticeably lower in one room. He notes that it could be attributed to an open window, although you can tell he was ready to ascribe it to a darker presence before he noticed the window was open.
The techie finds something significant in an upstairs loft, cozily outfitted as a play room. Waving some kind of wand over a foosball table, he proclaims that he’s found a “null zone”, which he’s never encountered before. Let me repeat, over the foosball table. Could the foosball table have borne silent witness to a violent crime of passion, forever imprinting the toy with the stamp of a tortured soul? Those cute little guys who stand in line with their teammates and just want to kick the ball, darnit?
Psychic Boy adds to the foosball paranoia by agreeing something is wrong, because his ears have been ringing since nearing the table. The techie adds that his mouth has gone dry. The lack of "negative ions" is freaking out the techie, since it's "literally impossible from what I understand," as he puts it. Dude, are you sure you just don't need new batteries? From a corner, Emma watches the pair incredulously. At first all the talk of ghosts made her nervous, but after watching those two in action, she’s not afraid of no gho-- sorry, sorry. It’s just so darn easy to fall into that song.
Janet was impressed with the ghostbusters, making comments about their professionalism and how excited she was to see them in action. The family sits down to hear the final thoughts, and Mark tells us that he doesn’t believe in these supernatural happenings; in fact, he’ll be watching Janet’s reaction (and laughing, you get the feeling. Laughing with great gusto.).
The psychics report that they feel there is a supernatural presence in the house, manifested by incessant pacing in the upstairs hall. The data analyst has captured an “orb” on her digital camera; the youngest boy studies the picture and concludes that the ghostbusters are drunk, since it’s clearly the reflection of the flash on a mirror. Wisdom from the mouth of babes - one more ancient concept explored in tonight’s episode.
The techie notes that the kind of energy they are detecting could be simply a reaction to change in the house. He explains that the spirits feel the love in the house and feel protective of its occupants; and that “if somebody steps into the house that’s not good,” they would start to show signs of resistance. Indeed! Janet looks stone-faced, but Mark is nodding and smirking. He notes that it’s the one thing the psychics said that made sense.
Building Up Brian
At Marybeth’s request, Brian takes her to the shop where he gets his tattoos - something his mother has obviously never shown the slightest interest in. Once there, Marybeth is full of questions for the shop owner and his staff, and soon she is watching a young woman get a tattoo on her ankle, making ooh and aah noises. But she’s got an agenda; soon she has chatted up the owner enough to ask how you break into the tattoo industry. Indicating the artist carving up the young woman’s leg, the shop owner says the artist walked in with sample of her artwork and asked to be trained in the art of tattooing. That’s the cue for Marybeth to introduce Brian and talk about his artwork, which she calls unique. She really pours it on thick, and Brian struggles to keep up the too-cool-for-school mask, but his mouth twitches a bit. He tells the camera later that he was blown away by Marybeth promoting him, when his mom hates his interest. “It’s a pretty cool feeling,” he says, with his barely-there smile. By the time they leave, the shop owner has agreed to talk to Brian about his work.
Leaving the establishment, Marybeth asks if Brian is embarrassed by his bragging, and he admits that yeah, it was a bit embarrassing. Marybeth says that she has that right - it’s “a mom thing.” Brian grimaces momentarily, then the emotionless mask is back in place. Take that to mean: not for my mom, Marybeth.
You’re Still Here?
Back in Washington, Janet is preparing to leave the Levys. She tells Mark that she wants everyone in the living room so that she can make an announcement. “Ooh, I hope they don’t cry,” she tells us.
The children arrive, and she directs them to all stand in a circle and hold hands. She draws out the moment dramatically with some sighing, but inevitably, she gets around to her announcement: “I am going to remain smiling. I leave in thirty minutes. No tears.”
The family is silent. This was the big announcement? The youngest boy puts everyone’s thoughts into words, chirping, “That’s it?” Yes, it was, Janet tells him. “Can I go, please?” he asks, prompting his sister to smack him on the head. The family continues to hold hands while Janet wipes away tears, but they’re not catching. The Levys are smiling at the news, not sobbing, as Janet expected.
Janet says that the family touched her, and she hopes that she touched them as well. The tears are flowing, and she’s sad to say goodbye.
In New York, Marybeth hopes that she got to know the Farrell’s a little bit, and knows that she bonded with Brian especially. As she’s ready to leave, Brian pulls out a wrapped gift for her. It’s a simple paperweight with an inscribed poem, but Marybeth is visibly touched by the gift. She tells Brian he’s going to do great things with his life, and she’ll be proud to say she “knew him when.” The family is sad to see her leave, and Marybeth feels she’s learned a lot from them.
Mom, Meet Mom
The moms meet, with Marybeth setting the tone by opening her arms wide with a great big smile. She launches right in to praising Janet’s family, saying she felt welcome and that Janet must have missed them more than she realized. Janet rolls her eyes in response; she’s already put off by the comment that Marybeth was made to feel welcome.
Marybeth wants to hear about her family, and Janet runs down her delusional version of the weeks events: they had a great party (flashback of Janet’s embarrassing actions); she did the sculpting class and had a great time (if “a great time” means cutting out as soon as possible); Emma scored a goal in soccer (which she did, but Janet couldn’t be bothered to watch the game). Oh, and one other thing - I exposed your children to my paranoid beliefs about the supernatural, and scared them mightily. Well, she doesn’t put it quite like that, but Marybeth can read between the lines. “I didn’t want to indulge this kind of insane superstition,” Marybeth tells us, upon hearing of the ghostbusters. To Janet, she says getting ghost hunters to check out the house was a “crazy” thing to do.
Marybeth steers the conversation to her hot topic, Brian. She tells Janet he’s an outstanding artist, and that his abilities will take him far in whatever field he chooses, even the field of tattoo artistry. Janet is shaking her head and looking skeptical. She does support him in his art, she tells us, but as a parent, she can’t accept what he’s doing.
As tense mom meetings go, this one was a cakewalk. They both agree the money twist was difficult, and they skedaddle.
Back at home, Janet says that Dennis was thrilled to see her. She thought that her family would be over-the-moon to have her home, but concludes that they can’t be that excited or there would have been tears. The hugs, the smiles, the glad-your-backs were not enough, apparently. Brian, for one, has to be told to come out of his room to greet his mom, but the rest of the family seem happy enough at her return.
How delusional is Janet? She declares that “those kids” adored her, even made her breakfast every morning. Dennis is surprised that she didn’t cook for them, since Marybeth made breakfast for them - and homemade muffins, and homemade pizza, the kids chime in. Oh boy, now they’ve gone and done it. Janet grimaces and you can see she wants to snipe at the merry homemaking antics of Marybeth, but Janet limits her comments to polite nothings. Later, alone with the camera, she makes it clear that no one is going to pressure her into making homemade muffins. “The chief is back in town,” she declares.
Janet turns the conversation to what Marybeth said about Brian’s art, looking at him like she’s never seen him before. She seems incredulous that Marybeth liked his art. Brian mumbles that at least someone does, and Janet is incensed. She says she’s always supported his art - she even bought him a portfolio! (Those things are ridiculously expensive, so it’s not as silly as it sounds.) Brian mumbles a “sure, mom,” but Janet appears jealous of the impression Marybeth had on Brian. Actually, she comes right out and admits it, too. There’s quite an easy fix for this state of affairs, Janet.
Back on the West coast, Marybeth continues to show her nurturing spirit by hoping that her kids had such a great time that they didn’t miss her. *sniff* With a mom like that, I’m predicting a few tears at this reunion.
Marybeth’s homecoming is at night (oh the vagaries of time zones). When the taxi finally arrives, the family pours out the door, shrieking in excitement. Soon Marybeth is back with her chaotic, loud, laughing family, right where she wants to be.
That Annoying Twist
The Farrells aren’t too thrilled with the twist, except for Brian, who figures he will make out better with Marybeth’s allotment than he ever would with his own mother. Marybeth leaves the money as follows:
Marybeth concludes her letter with the thought that their home is always open to the Farrells. (Psst, Brian! She means you, now fly free as fast as you can!)
- The money is to be split evenly six ways among all of family.
Janet is upset that she has to share with her kids; she feels strongly that they have everything already, while she deserves a treat. Whatever you say, chief!
- Dennis’ portion to be put toward a new or used car (he looks pleased at the news)
- Stephanie: $500 for something fun, the rest for school
Stephanie says that her one hope was to receive enough money to get her belly button pierced, so she’s happy.
- Melissa: $500 for a gift she has dreamed of, the rest for school (another pleased look)
- ”Silent” Glen: his parents will “help” decide how to spend his portion (“No problem,” smirks Janet, but Glen looks decidedly glum at his mom taking over his funds)
- Brian: to be used toward a tattoo or piercing school
Janet looks upset, accusing Brian of “speaking to her.” She is angry that some woman can force them to spend money on tattooing. Brian tells her that not only did he talk to Marybeth about his dreams, he took her to the shop for a visit. Janet looks revolted.
- Janet: take the family to Hawaii. (Janet looks thrilled.)
On the other side of the country, the Levy family has just settled down and heard about the twist. WWJD, they wonder; in this case, what will Janet do? Sentence them all to an exorcism?
Janet signs her letter as Pretty Mommy Dearest J-Dog Janet. Smiles abound, and the Levy kids are thrilled with their windfall. All the awkwardness of the week is forgotten, and Janet is praised for trusting them to spend the bulk of the money as they see fit. It’s a Trading Spouses first!
- To each kid: $1,000
- To Mark and Marybeth: $1,000 each
- The remainder to be spent on something for the family (great news for the college tuition accounts)
I nearly clicked off my VCR, but happened to notice that we hadn’t reached a full hour. We couldn’t leave the Farrells without witnessing one more family blowout. Janet wants her family to go out to dinner, and by golly, she want her kids to be happy about it. “You can’t make us be happy!” Melissa screams, storming off. Brian comments that once his mother started in with the yelling, he could see that nothing had changed, and it was business as usual in their House of Constant Bickering.
His mother’s yelling can’t make him forget the impression Marybeth made on him, though, and he vows to keep in contact with her. There are plenty of opportunities to get that tattoo experience in Seattle, Brian. Get out while you can.
Trading Spouses goes on the road. No, really. A big RV is involved, and a child yodels. No, really.
Catch me on the yodeling tip, babe, at firstname.lastname@example.org