Troubled Waters
Air date: November 22, 1999
Summary/Review by Josh Bermont

Skip summary and go straight to Josh's "Bits and Pieces"

Ling and Nelle are talking in the unisex about Billy's "big change." When Ling asks why his behavior is such a big deal, reminding her friend that women change hair color all the time, Nelle points out that when MEN change their hair it's because they are going through some sort of crisis. Ling curtly observes that Billy is incapable of crisis, having "all the personality of a nail...minus the sharp end." The toilet flushes behind them, and the New Man himself - - Billy - - struts out, wondering aloud why neither of them have learned to check under the stalls before speaking about someone. Nelle teasingly asks him to show her the "boo-boo" so she can kiss it and make it better. Billy tells her he's tired of the way she treats him, asking if it's to titillate him or just to offend Georgia; she smiles coyly, saying that since Georgia's not there, it must be to titillate him. Smirking arrogantly, Billy tells her that if she wants to turn him on, she should try acting more mature than a high school sophomore. She slinks forward...and brings her knee directly into his groin, causing him to double over, his theme song slurring like a radio low on batteries. "Junior," she whispers to him triumphantly. He grunts in pain, running from the unisex.

Meanwhile, Georgia is meeting with the suave mystery man, George, in the bar. She asks him what his wife thinks of him staying out so late at night, and he tells her that she thinks he's just working late, observing that he should go before it gets TOO late. When she asks if they can meet tomorrow, he reminds her that tomorrow's Thanksgiving. He gets up to leave...and lingers, looking into her face. "If your husband were to catch you kissing another man, that'd make him pretty jealous, wouldn't it?" They lean forward slowly, looking into each other's eyes, and kiss.

At the lawyer's usual bar, Georgia rushes in, asking her friends if they know where she can get a turkey at the last minute. "How could a wife forget Thanksgiving?" Fish asks. "It's only the biggest cooking day of the year. How often does a woman get a chance to shine outside the bed?" Ally invites her and Billy over to her place for Thanksgiving dinner and refuses to take no for an answer, saying that she and Renee are already having her parents, Elaine, Nelle, John and Whipper. Fish and Ling sulk until Ally, feeling guilty, finally invites them.

The guests start to arrive at the apartment for Thanksgiving. When Ling comes in with Richard, she immediately locks horns with Whipper, making rude comments until the older woman finally asks, "What did I ever do to you? Can I ask you that?" Tensions flare all over the room - - Nelle starts trying to moderate the fight, Renee snaps at her for trying to make rules in someone else's house, Ally frantically works to break it up, John stutters to Poughkeepsie, and Elaine gleefully watches the ruckus. Enter Billy and Georgia, and things are temporarily smooth once again. Ally's mother arrives, and Ally introduces her to everyone, saying that she probably remembers Richard Fish from when she visited the college. Her mother frowns, then says, "He's the one who kept touching my neck!" Both Ling and Whipper balk at Richard, then turn on each other, bickering furiously. Peace is briefly re-established, however, when Ally's father walks in, locks eyes with Georgia...and freezes. She stares back like a deer caught in headlights.

It's George, from the bar.

He recovers quickly, saying that she looks exactly like the daughter of a client and it stunned him for a moment.

Later, as Elaine and Billy sing karaoke to "Swing on a Star," Georgia slips away to Ally's room. George follows her, trying to calm her down and saying that now that it's certainly not anonymous between them anymore, they'll end it immediately with no harm done. "We sat next to each other in a bar," he says quietly. "We kissed." Suddenly, they hear the door close behind them and turn to see Ally standing in the doorway, shocked. They immediately try to explain, but Ally is too upset to hear it, telling Georgia to get out so she can talk with her father. Georgia exits, leaving George alone with his daughter's accusing eyes. Appalled, she asks him if he cheats on her mother...he doesn't give a straight answer at first, saying that he doesn't owe her one, then confesses that he had one affair after Ally had left for college. He asks Ally to give him a break and she explodes, saying, "No! You don't get one! You have affairs on mom, you kiss Georgia in bars, you don't get a break!" George's eyes widen as he looks past Ally to see his wife standing in the doorway, and frustrated, he asks if there's anyone else who hasn't heard. Ally's mother says they should just catch everyone up right now, going out into the living room and announcing to Billy that his wife kissed her husband. Ally asks everyone to leave; Richard asks if he can take the turkey, while Ling surrepitiously starts gathering all the food she can carry out of the apartment. They evacuate, and Ally is left alone with her parents.

George starts by trying to explain to his wife that it wasn't an affair this time, and they start fighting. When Ally asks if her mother knows about her father's affair, he says that she does, and that he knows about HER affairs, too. The wind is knocked out of Ally, and she confronts her mother. "I had one, little, tiny retaliatory...fling, after I found out about your father's!" she says to Ally. "I don't even consider it an affair!" When George says she's splitting hairs - - she carried on with another man - - she yells, "I carried on with a penis! A man just happened to be attached!" Ally asks if they still love each other, and they tell her that they do, but their words lack conviction. When her mother says that maybe Ally should just stay in her little dream universe, where everything is ideal and perfect, Ally snaps. "A dream world is when I walk into my bedroom, close my eyes, and see a unicorn! Reality is walking into your parents' room as a three-year-old child and seeing you in bed with another man! I know the difference!" Her mother is speechless, and George looks like a piano has just been dropped on his legs. "Don't make fun of my fantasy life, mom," Ally says coldly. "You inspired it."

Ally sits in her room later, staring into the mirror and remembering the good times with her father as a child. Her mother enters behind her, trying to explain why she had the brief affair so many years ago. Ally will not listen. Her mother quietly says that, in all these years, she's never asked her daughter for help...but she needs it now. George has just asked for a divorce.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gang have gathered around a table elsewhere to eat their Thanksgiving dinner. Ling verbally goes for Whipper's throat once again - - unable to take it anymore, the former judge gets up and leaves, telling Richard that they need to talk in private.

Back at the apartment, Ally and her parents are having it out once again. Her mother admits that the first affair WASN'T just "an attached penis"...she actually fell in love with another man, but she broke it off because she had kids. Confused and upset, unwilling to let her parents get divorced because they have a responsibility to her to live happily ever after for as long as she's alive, Ally says that they will all go see her therapist and work it out.

But Ally isn't the only one confused and upset. Whipper is pleading with Richard to explain to her what's going on, whether he's still with Ling, how things stand between them. True to form, Richard says, "For companionship, or emotional support, there's nobody like you. You're like a soul mate. But when it comes to what's really important in a relationship..." When she asks what that is, he tells her: "Sex." She listens dumbfounded as he describes how, when he comes home after working all day, he could stay up half the night talking and laughing and sharing feelings with someone like Whipper and there'd be no time for sex. But she isn't fooled by his Fishisms - - she's seen him act this way before, hiding his emotional insecurity with abruptness and apathy. "I hope you get what you're looking for with Thing," she hisses angrily, "but when you do, don't come running to me." She storms out, and Richard goes after her.

Ally and her parents are in Tracy's office. The dubious therapist rehashes all the gory details with all the personality of a talk show host, casually insulting George. When he gets up to leave, she grabs her handy remote control and pushes a button. His section of the couch slides forward, knocking his legs out from under him and preventing him from leaving. Tracy says that the couple needs to concentrate, not on their relationship twenty-six years ago - - when Ally found her mother in bed with another man - - but their relationship NOW. "Our relationship is based on a foundation, a history," George explains. "And if she was sleeping around back then..." His wife reacts angrily to his words, and another family squabble ensues. Ally's mother accuses George of being unfaithful long before her transgression...when he put his feelings for Ally so far above hers.

Elsewhere, Georgia is talking with Billy about their marriage. She is realizing now that their problems were never about Ally; and when she kissed George, she admits, that was to get back at him. Growing up, everyone always classified Georgia as some kind of Barbie doll, and she's been fighting that image for a long time...and now that "the new Billy" has been talking about her that way, she can't handle it anymore. It makes her want to vomit. So she's given Billy this way out - - he doesn't even have to be the bad guy, which she knows he can't stand. He can walk away from her free and clear. He walks out of the room quietly.

Back in Tracy's office, George is defending his love for Ally. However, that still doesn't excuse the fact that he stopped showing affection for his wife...a point that's driven home by the way he keeps pointing out how he didn't have his affair while Ally was still at home. "How is that less of a betrayal to MOM?" Ally asks. George tells Ally that, when he was no longer as much a part of her life, it hurt him. Tracy says that George's relationship with his wife might not be fixable, but he must understand that he has a choice: he can come clean with his wife, or he can "go back to the bar" and try to pick up girls his daughter's age. He angrily says he refuses to be bullied by Tracy and gets up, dodging the moving couch and storming out.

Georgia walks into the room where the rest of the group is finishing Thanksgiving dinner. She asks Renee if she and Whipper will be hiring associates soon...and if there is a place for her at the firm. She asks Renee to think about it. Renee says she will, and Georgia leaves again.

Ally's mother walks in on her retreating into her head again, this time remembering the night twenty- six years ago when she found her mother in bed with another man. She tells Ally that she and George are going back home, but they'll be okay. "We'll survive, Ally," she reassures her. Ally asks if that's how she characterizes her marriage, that it "survived" - - her mother says simply that there are certainly worse descriptions. She apologizes sincerely, saying that no three-year-old should have had to see what Ally saw.

Billy walks down the Boston streets, as the "pig" verse of "Swing on a Star" plays in the background. He comes upon his new assistant - - they make small talk, and he invites her to have a cup of coffee with him. She agrees, smiling. Meanwhile, across town, Richard Fish runs up the front steps of Whipper's apartment to the "fish" verse of the song, knocking on the door. When she answers, he desperately tries to explain, saying, "I just don't see it! Not with you and me, not with...anybody! My married friends, they all seem to grow angry, the relationships don't work, they SEEM like work! They all have the same ending to them!" She asks if that's all he came to say; he pauses and stutters, obviously fighting hard to let himself speak the words...but cannot. She closes the door.

...and on another lonely street, Georgia walks alone, thinking...


What an episode to make my debut with! For once, I actually find myself speechless...however, a devoted fan has persuaded me to make the attempt at writing my impressions anyway, so I'll try.

How I feel about this episode cannot be fractured into short observations, not this time. This was a landmark for the "Ally McBeal" show. In this episode, we have seen deeper into Ally's life than we ever have before; we have seen the painfully human side of Richard Fish - - a horribly isolated, emotionally fragile young man crippled by his fear of vulnerability; and most importantly, we have seen Billy and Georgia finally come into their own as characters with depth and humanity, characters we really care about. Billy is a man finally at peace with himself (my controversial opinions about him are a matter of public record, thanks to Dana's message board), ready to start his life over again seeing through a new set of eyes. And Georgia? She is no longer an appendage, no longer the convenient piece of scenery who exists only as a plot device for the ongoing situation between Ally and Billy. She is her own woman now, and ready to establish herself as such. Yes, the conflicts between Cage/Fish and the fledgling law firm of Whipper, Renee and Georgia (an odd trio, to be sure, and worthy of their own show) are bound to be interesting, to say the least.

But to me, the most amazing thing about this episode was the accurate portrayal of marriage versus idealism...and that Kelley's bottom line remained the same: No matter how bleak the "reality" of marriage may seem, there's NEVER any reason to stop believing in the dream.

Bravo, Mr. Kelley...this is your masterpiece.

I'd like to thank Dana for giving me this opportunity to tackle the real "Ally McBeal" summary and review this week, and I hope I'll be able to do it again sometime.

Dana would like to thank Josh for writing this summary while she spent some much-needed time with her family in Texas! If you have any comments for Josh, you can email him at

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