The first half of Desperate Housewives’ seventh season has seen a welcome return to form for the residents of Wisteria Lane, with a much greater focus on the lives of the four central characters.
The actions of the revenge-motivated Paul Young – providing the impetus for this year’s overarching story arc – and the newcomer Renee Perry have helped spice things up on everyone’s favourite suburban street, ensuring that the housewives’ lives never get too comfortable. Yet again, the Lane is proving anything but a safe and uneventful place to live.
Tough times for the Housewives
Of our four favourite suburban housewives, Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria Parker) has certainly had the meatiest storyline so far this season, as she and Carlos discover that Juanita is not their biological daughter, having been accidentally swapped at birth with another couple’s baby. It is a fantastic example of the series’ ability to reach back into its own continuity and take a throwaway gag – the stick-thin Gaby giving birth to such a chubby daughter – and turning it into a rich vein of drama.
As a mother, she goes through an emotional rollercoaster over these first ten episodes. Knowing the trauma it will cause, Carlos initially keeps the news secret from her. But Gaby soon discovers the truth, and quickly realises that if she doesn’t track down the other family that she will always be mentally chasing her ‘lost’ daughter. After hiring a private eye to track down Hector and Carmen Sanchez she finally meets Grace, who turns out to be her Mini-Me. The two families grow close, but on Thanksgiving Gaby’s impatience leads to Hector being exposed by the police as an illegal alien. The Solises give Carmen and Grace safe harbour at their house, but when Carmen threatens to go on the run Gaby foolishly reports her to immigration, only to have a change of heart at the last instant and swap places with her to give the Sanchezes time to escape. With her biological daughter heading for Texas and Juanita uncovering the truth, the Solises are clearly heading for a traumatic future.
As ever, Eva Longoria Parker has played both the dramatic and comedic extremes of Gaby’s selfishness and selflessness superbly, allowing us to maintain our sympathy for the character even when she is doing the most reprehensible things.
Bree Van de Kamp (Marcia Cross) starts the season divorcing Orson Hodge (Kyle MacLachlan), and soon becomes involved with her much younger decorator Keith Watson (Beverly Hills 90210 and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles‘ Brian Austin Green). This relationship, which I initially feared would do little more than echo season one’s Gaby/John the gardener affair, has blossomed nicely. Initially slow and played primarily for laughs – Bree can’t keep up with Keith’s sexual appetite, then starts going through menopause – it has evolved into this season’s slow-burning soap opera plot, as Bree tussles with the issues of having children in later life, getting engaged, moving in together and the unwanted attentions of Keith’s father, Richard (a wonderfully against-type turn by The Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville‘s John Schneider). There’s not much original here, but it’s lovely to see the for-so-long uptight Bree letting her hair down and having some fun for a change.
It has been a tough half-season for Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher). Having been forced to move off the Lane by financial problems, she has gradually become increasingly peripheral to the series’ central plots. To raise cash she dabbles with a sub-soft porn internet site – a tiresome storyline which goes on at least three episodes too long – which eventually drives Mike (James Denton) to take a job in Alaska for six months. And although, in desperation, she takes a job as Lynette’s nanny, without Mike, Julie or her dead ex-husband Karl to bounce off, she has become little more than light comic relief. I can’t help but feel the character has completely run out of steam. It’s no wonder Teri Hatcher has been making noises about leaving the series.
By contrast, although lacking a long-running arc, Lynette (Felicity Huffman) and Tom (Doug Savant) have been the focus of a number of shorter but hard-hitting plots, each of which has tested and then reaffirmed the strength of the Scavos’ marriage. They have had to cope with Tom’s postpartum depression, the revelation of his mother’s Alzheimer’s and Tom’s feelings of emasculation at his wife’s hands. On a lighter note, we have also had Lynette substituting oregano for Tom’s medicinal marijuana and the discovery that her husband is, er, well-endowed. But with the secret of Tom’s prior relationship with Lynette’s college friend and new neighbour Renee Perry now little more than a slip of Susan’s tongue away from being out in the open, it looks like the strongest relationship on Wisteria Lane will be tested again.
A new neighbour, and a returning one
With Edie Britt and Katherine Mayfair gone, Vanessa Williams joins the cast as Renee Perry, a character who, initially at least, appears to be equal doses of Edie and Wilhelmina Slater, her Ugly Betty über-bitch character. She arrives on the Lane hiding her impending divorce from her unfaithful basketball star husband – a back-story which echoes Eva Longoria Parker’s real-life travails – and manages to provoke and then make up with each of the housewives in turn. More interestingly, however, we discover she and Tom Scavo had an affair before he got together with Lynette, and that she still holds a torch for him – a fact which she indiscreetly spills to Susan after a drunken night out. No doubt this dangling plot thread, which has slowly come to the fore in recent episodes, will explode spectacularly some time soon.
As for Paul Young (Mark Moses), his unsettling return to Wisteria Lane as a bitter man seeking retribution on the neighbours who turned their backs on him, is at first creepy, and then increasingly sinister. We discover that he has a new wife, Beth (Emily Bergl), who turns out to be the daughter of his nemesis Felicia Tillman, the woman who framed him for her own murder. And it is revealed that he is quietly buying up houses on the street, so that he can push through a vote to open a halfway house for ex-convicts right in the middle of the Lane.
Which brings us nicely to the mid-season cliffhanger.
The ‘disaster’ episode
Traditionally, Desperate Housewives has entered its mid-season break with a ‘disaster’ episode which results in at least one fatality. In recent seasons we have had a supermarket hostage situation, the tornado which killed Victor Lang and blinded Carlos, a fatal fire at a club, and the plane crash which killed Karl and put Orson in a wheelchair. This year, with cunning sleight of hand, a riot which breaks out at the opening of Paul’s halfway house puts the lives of Susan, Juanita, Lee, Bob and Keith in jeopardy. However, each emerges unscathed (although apparently Susan’s injuries will have longer-term repercussions). But, just as you are starting to wonder “Is that it?”, the final scene sees Paul strolling triumphantly along the Lane in the early hours of the following morning, where he is shot by an unknown assailant. Whodunnit?
It’s a cracking end to what has overall been a solid return to form for the series, after a sixth season which had a decent overarching mystery in the Fairview Strangler but ended up focussing too much on uncovering the secret of the Bolen family. With the Paul Young, Bree/Keith and Gaby/Grace storylines ongoing, the Tom/Renee backstory primed to come to the fore and Susan’s post-riot injuries likely to bring her back into the fold, there should be plenty of drama (and comedy) to see us through to the season’s end.
Desperate Housewives: season seven ratings (out of 10)
7.01 Remember Paul? – 7
7.02 You Must Meet My Wife – 7
7.03 Truly Content – 7
7.04 The Thing That Counts Is What’s Inside – 5
7.05 Let Me Entertain You – 7
7.06 Excited and Scared – 7
7.07 A Humiliating Business – 6
7.08 Sorry Grateful – 5
7.09 Pleasant Little Kingdom – 7
7.10 Down the Block There’s a Riot – 9
Overall – 7/10