2.13 The Deal
Jerry and Elaine resume an intimate relationship, but non-romantically. George scoffs at the idea that this can succeed…
Along with The Chinese Restaurant, The Deal marks the zenith of the second season. It’s also somewhat atypical of the series as a whole. Contained within are both serious exchanges between characters and heartfelt emotion, areas David and Seinfeld were sworn off (“No hugging, no learning” being the show’s mantra).
Larry David’s premise starts from a point not all that far from a Castle Rock (the production company that made Seinfeld) comedy released a couple of years earlier, When Harry Met Sally. In that movie, the question was posited “Can a man and a woman just be friends, or does sex always get in the way?” David pushes it one step further, and asks “Can a man and woman who are friends have sex and keep their relationship strictly on a friendship basis?” NBC had been making noises that they wanted Jerry and Elaine to get together, and David had no interest in bowing to their whims until he recalled an event in his life (doesn’t he always?) that gave the idea some mileage.
He’d tried the “friends who have sex” arrangement with an ex-girlfriend, and George’s ridiculing of the scheme (“Where do you get the ego? No one can do it. It can’t be done”) reflects a similar resignation to certain natural laws between the sexes as the Billy Crysal-Meg Ryan starrer. The result sees the series engaging male-female relationships with a new rigour. If Jason Alexander initially played George as a Woody Allen type, this is a plotline you could easily see that writer-director coming up with (some have accused When Harry Met Sally of being a fairly undisguised rip-off of Annie Hall, although I think that does it an injustice).
The episode concludes with Jerry and Elaine as an item (Kramer: Boy, I really liked the two of you much better when you weren’t a couple). David saw it as no big deal as he was convinced there would be no third season (he was scared enough at the prospect of coming up with the 13 episodes for this one, so the 23 commissioned provoked real tears of anguish). Seinfeld, ever the optimist, assumed that they would continue and therefore he and Elaine would remain an item. It was during the hiatus that he repeatedly heard audience feedback on the subject; a “resounding no”. Elaine and Jerry would have sex again, but under much less game-changing circumstances.
Rightly, the opening scene between the pair is regarded as one of the best pieces of scripting the series has seen. Discussion of a subject by omission would reach its most magnificent with the Season Four episode The Contest, where the wager revolves around the avoidance of self-gratification for as long as possible. Here Jerry and Elaine are channel surfing (Robert Vaughn in the fantastically titled The Helsinki Formula) when Jerry objects to watching naked people (Elaine: Been a while?) The trickle that begins the conversation (Elaine: What? What was that look?) soon becomes a torrent as the pair, having broached the subject (“We know the terrain. No big surprises”), interrogate the ins-and-outs of how they will make it work. They come up with a series of full-proof rules (no calls the day after, sleepover optional, no kiss goodnight), which quickly prove to be full of holes.
Jerry backpedals in the opposite direction from anything overt affection, such that he gives Elaine cash for her birthday (“What are you, my uncle?”) and writes an inappropriate greeting in her card (“Pal? You think I’m your pal?”). Elaine in turn objects to Jerry up-and-leaving after intimacy. The resulting scene, where Elaine tells Jerry she can’t go back to just being friends, so forcing his hand, is distracting in its sincerity. It’s an anomaly for the show and, while it works, you can’t see this happening in anything other than a period when Seinfeld was finding its feet. Seinfeld and Louise-Dreyfus play both the comedy and heartfelt well (although the former has noted how out of his depth he felt, relieved that he wouldn’t have to go back there), but it can’t be denied that this is more the sort of breast-baring that you’d expect from, say, Friends.
Both George and Kramer are obviously less significant in this scenario, but they each get a great moment in the Sun. George’s vicarious interest in Jerry’s sex life is further indication of he hangs onto the coattails of his friend and covertly idolises him (as does his gift of money to Elaine, exactly half of Jerry’s present). This culminates in a furious outburst, demanding juicy details as he has nothing to live for.
Then there’s Kramer. For all his “pod” behaviour, he’s a lot quicker than his friend when it comes to crucial relationship details (“Cash? That’s like something her uncle would give her.”) Louise-Dreyfus singled out the Yeats quote (“Think where man's glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such a friend”) as summing up the show’s interactions but, like the ultimatum Elaine gives Jerry, this territory of earnestness is somewhat uncomfortable; in draw attention to such matters there’s the risk of negatively impacting the cynical exterior the series thrives on, and devolving towards the environment of that other show I just mentioned (I do like Friends, but they’re chalk and cheese on an emotional level). Fortunately, this would be a one-off.
Jerry doesn’t seem to suffer much of a setback from his root canal surgery, does he? I’m surprised they’d even throw dental problems at a character who prides himself on his personal hygiene and general finickitiness. This is the first appearance of Elaine’s flatmate Tina, who Kramer will have a memorable liaison with the following season. Siobhan Fallon does a great job of making her tremendously annoying, like nails on a blackboard.
Jerry: Why shouldn’t we be able to do that once in a while if want to?
Elaine: I know!
Jerry: I mean, really. What is the big deal? We go in there. We’re in there for a while, then we come back out here. It’s not complicated.
Elaine: It’s almost stupid if we didn’t.
Jerry: It’s moronic!
Jerry: The idea is to combine this, and add that.
Elaine: We just don’t want to take this and add that.
Jerry: And I don’t see why sleep got all tied up with that.
George: What’s the deal with Aquaman? Could he go on land, or is he just restricted to water?
Jerry: I slept with Elaine last night.
George: Oxygen! I need some oxygen! This is major!
George: You ask me here to have lunch, tell me you slept with Elaine, then you say you’re not in the mood for details? Now you listen to me. I want details and I want them now! I don’t have a job, I have no place to go. You’re not in the mood? Well you get in the mood!
Jerry: I may be getting too mature for details.
George: You see, you got greedy. I know less about women than anyone in the world, but one thing I do know is that they are not happy if you don’t spend the night.
Elaine: Cash? You got me cash?
Jerry: No good?
Elaine: What are you, my uncle?
Kramer: Cash? That’s like something her uncle would give her.
Jerry: What do you want?
Elaine: This, that and the other.
Elaine: This, that and the other.
Season Two Rankings:
2. The Deal
3. The Statue
4. The Revenge
5. The Jacket
6. The Heart Attack
7. The Phone Message
8. The Baby Shower
9. The Busboy
10. The Pony Remark
11. The Ex-Girlfriend
12. The Apartment
13. The Stranded