Episode grade: B+
Roger and Francine are a volatile and unpredictable combination. Just last week, we saw how Francine could be little more than an enabler of Roger’s worst tendencies, serving as little more than a springboard for his antics. Other times, like tonight, we see how Francine can put on a new persona with Roger and become almost as crazy and dynamic as him. The “widow game”, where both she and Roger dress up as grieving widows, allows them the freedom to get away with pretty much anything, from test-driving Lamborghinis on an active airport runway to burning down sandwich shops that don’t comp them avocado.
However, the fun and games come to a screeching halt when Francine comes face to face with the wife of one of Stan’s colleagues who she finds out was killed in the line of duty. Without her husband, she’s been reduced to putting on a taco costume and dancing while flipping a “99¢ Tacos” arrow, and Francine realizes that that could easily be her. The revelation shocks her so much that she decides to attend a widow support group just to see what life would be like if Stan were gone. The counselor takes pity on Francine, whom she believes to be actually widowed, and recommends that she apply for a job at the diner across the street from her marketing firm. (Naturally, she also asks our other grieving widow Roger — “I’m a female” — to work with her as an executive at the marketing firm, setting off his own amazing little Mad Men tangent.)
Francine decides to take the diner job, and when Stan returns from his mission and finds out what she’s doing, he’s baffled by it. In a rather unusual act of supportive lucidity, Roger helps Stan to realize the soul-searching that Francine’s going through, and manages to make amends with her by putting on his own grieving widower persona and showing her how much it would devastate him if she were the one to die. Then, after Stan easily defeats three robbers that conveniently show up, Francine realizes that Stan’s actually really good at what he does, and that alleviates her fears enough so that the two of them can skate away from her job on a trail of Stan’s projectile-vomited clam dinner.
It’s kind of funny to think that the Roger and Francine pairing took so long to become a useful plot device. Here we are in the show’s thirteenth season and it’s turning out the kind of stories you’d expect from a much younger, fresher show. It wasn’t all that long ago that the two of them could only produce the kind of uncomfortable, awkward pseudo-sexuality that we saw in season six’s “Merlot Down Dirty Shame”, when a very inebriated Roger tries to kiss Francine, then spends the rest of the episode sabotaging her so she can’t tell Stan about it. The first really significant pairing of the two, in season three’s “Camp Refoogee” where they pretended to be a dysfunctional married couple while Stan and the kids were away at “camp” in Africa, was only marginally better. Now it’s become one of my favorite combinations. Amazing how such a long-running show can continue to find new veins to mine when they care enough to keep looking.
Meanwhile, Steve and his friends are back to their hilariously childish make-believe mode, pretending to be flamboyant professional wrestlers in a wrestling ring in Steve’s basement, with Klaus serving as announcer. Even the most minor bodily contact is unwelcome, however, as it’s not about the fighting but about the pageantry (a.k.a. the boys are wusses). Without warning, however, Principal Lewis comes out from behind the water heater and proceeds to beat the crap out of the boys in order to take Steve’s championship belt for himself. It’s a rather bizarre turn, and somewhat unsettling even for the notoriously unbalanced Lewis to be pummeling his own students in one of their own basements, but it’s so over the top (and full of glorious Steve shrieks) that it earns the laughs it’s reaching so far to get.
“She disappeared like ghost… another perfect American spy operation.” “Uuuuuughhhh…”
“Hmm. Now you’re just dangerously close to me calling you a pussy.”
“I saw Bunny Sanders and she was dressed like a taco!” “Fashion is a playground, Francine. Just because you lack the balls to mix it up, doesn’t mean you have to knock someone else for taking a risk.”
“Oh my god! You’re our principal!!” [Steve shrieking]
“It’s too bad your psychologist, Dr. Penguin, is on a book tour, because his new book touches on this very subject. It’s called <i>Coping a Feel</i>.”
“Looks like you’re out of weapons!” “I don’t need one. I had the clams!” [Pukes robber into the path of a moving semi]