Desperate Housewives returns to our screens for its seventh season, which means a welcome return to America’s most dangerous residential road, Wisteria Lane. This is the street which has been struck by a tornado, where women are strangled, mown down by teenagers or electrocuted by power lines, and where planes crash and eco-terrorists blow themselves up – not to mention the number of residents who have been harbouring ghoulish secrets over the years. Seriously, why does anyone still live here?
As is the series’ habit, the closing minutes of season six marked some significant shifts for our main characters. Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman) gave birth to her fifth child, Paige, while being held hostage. Susan and Mike Delfino (Teri Hatcher and James Denton), beset by financial problems, rented out their house and moved off the lane. Bree Hodge (Marcia Cross) was blackmailed into giving up her business and dumped by her husband Orson (Kyle MacLachlan). And Gabrielle Solis (Eva Longoria Parker) helped save the Bolen family from the murderous Patrick Logan (the horribly miscast John Barrowman), but was then taken aside by Bree to be told a terrible secret. And then, to top it all off, we discovered that the man who had rented out Susan and Mike’s house was none other than Paul Young (Mark Moses), their former neighbour, who had just been released from a life sentence after being framed by Felicia Tillman (Harriet Samson Harris) for her own murder.
Are you still with me, or do I need to start drawing diagrams?
Whereas the transition from season four to five saw us jump five years into the future, the shift from season six to seven brings us full circle, with the ‘mystery of the season’ revolving around original character Paul Young, and the other characters being forced in some way to confront their past. This is reinforced by the episode’s opening sequence, where we see both Mary Alice Young (Brenda Strong) and, briefly, Rex Van de Kamp (Steven Culp) in flashback.
Bree is effectively back where she was at the beginning of season two: recently single, having signed away her catering business, and feeling generally quite depressed:
Orson: So are you going to be okay?
Bree: Let’s see. I’m getting a divorce, I lost my business, and I’m sitting here trying to remember why I quit drinking. I’ve had better Mondays.
The news that Orson has already moved on to a new relationship doesn’t help her spirits, and she is soon ripping down the wallpaper in her house, determined to start anew, leading her to meet decorator Keith (Brian Austin Green from Beverly Hills 90210 and The Sarah Connor Chronicles), a potential love interest with more than a faint hint of Gaby’s affair with teenage gardener John.
Bree also sets out to confess to Gaby that it was her son Andrew who had killed her husband Carlos‘s (Ricardo Antonio Chavira) mother in a hit-and-run accident several years before, putting her friend in a difficult position:
Bree: I’m so sorry. And I realise I should have told you sooner.
Gabrielle: No! No, no, no, you shouldn’t have told me at all!
Gabrielle: Now I have to tell Carlos, and he’s going to kill Andrew, and then he’s going to have to go to prison, so thank you for sending my husband to prison, Bree. Nice work!
Meanwhile Carlos, now missing his trademark beard, learns a terrible secret himself which he resolves to withhold from Gaby: that Juanita is not their real daughter. You just know that the secrets in the Solis household won’t stay that way for long. It’s a bit soap opera-ish, but the Gaby and Carlos double act has been the strongest over the years at mixing drama with moments of genuine slapstick, so I’m okay with that.
Susan, Mike and their son MJ are facing up to the reality of moving off Wisteria Lane into somewhat less salubrious surroundings:
MJ: This is where we’re going to live?
MJ: So are we poor?
Mike: If you field this one, I’ll tell him where babies come from.
Resolving to clear their money problems as quickly as possible, Mike offers to take a job on an oil rig in Alaska, but Susan talks him out of it and ends up taking up an unconventional sideline – performing housework in lingerie for a webcam audience – to rake in extra cash. This feels a lot like a one-note joke; hopefully we will soon move on from it.
Lynette, dealing with the arrival of her fifth child, also has to contend with the visit of her old college friend, the super-rich Renée Perry – Ugly Betty‘s Vanessa Williams – who, on first impressions, appears to be just reprising her role as Wilhelmina Slater in a different setting. Their banter is one of old friends, but with a definite undercurrent:
Lynette: Renée was always the one with the fashion sense. Before I met her, I’d never even heard of Gucci or Prada – or chlamydia.
Renée: She just kept wearing those parachute pants, lesbian rumors be damned!
As we discover, all is not well in Renée’s life, as she has just been left by her baseball-playing husband. And, as the teaser for next week’s episode suggests, she seems to share a secret past with Tom Scavo (Doug Savant). Renée certainly seems set to play the role of agent provocateur, just as Edie Britt and Katherine Mayfair did before her. I wish the writers had made more of an effort not to turn Renée into Wilhelmina Mark II, but I’m hoping her characterisation will become a bit less one-dimensional with a bit of air to breathe, and that this story will allow us to see Tom in more than his usual role of punch-bag and comic relief.
Speaking of Katherine, she is gone from the Youngs’ old house, paving the way for Paul to repurchase it, with definite suggestions that he has plans to make the housewives’ lives hell for leaving him to rot in prison. And how exactly will the deliciously creepy but now incarcerated Felicia bring about her own plans for revenge on him? Paul’s bitterness seems a bit far-fetched, given that his neighbours all thought he was a murderer at the time, and this plot-line feels like it needs a lot of work to make it both credible and interesting.
Nonetheless Desperate Housewives, as ever, delights in weaving references to its own gloriously ridiculous soap opera continuity, and delivers its usual share of brilliant throwaway lines to keep casting these familiar characters in a new light, such as Renée’s revelation about Lynette:
Renée: It’s just hard for me to reconcile this suburban housewife with the girl who had a threesome with two of the guys from the rugby team!
Remember Paul? is not the series’s greatest episode by any means – its season premieres have always tended to focus more on set-up than pace – but it does crackle with energy, puts all the pieces into play and sets up a number of (mostly) interesting story threads for us to enjoy unravelling over the coming weeks. The formula is a familiar one, but then isn’t it nice to feel you’ve really gotten to know the neighbours? Welcome back, ladies.
Rating: 7.01 Remember Paul? – 3.5/5