Once in a Lifetime
Air date: September 28, 1999
Summary/Review by Josh Bermont

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

Ally's first date with the Biscuit is approaching, and she can already feel the sense of imminent disappointment that comes from a gruesome dating experience - - that unmistakable gut feeling known as "the Ick." As they do stretching exercises on their apartment, Renee points out that she hasn't even gone on the date yet. But Ally is nervous about dating her employer, especially a boss as notoriously oversensitive and emotionally fragile as John Cage. If she cancels the date, she's convinced he'll take it as a sign that there's something wrong with him, and she doesn't want to be responsible for his self- esteem taking a terminal nose-dive. "Which is worse, blowing it or not standing a chance?" Ally asks. Renee says she doesn't have the answer to that. "But what we both DO know is that the Biscuit has a nose for the truth, so you'd better be straight," she growls ominously. Desperate for a way out, Ally considers just going out on one date and making herself seem so boring that he'll lose interest. Renee points out that, if she really cares about him, she needs to be honest...Ally has to dump John Cage.

The next day, Ally runs into John and there is a moment of extreme tension between the two before they are herded into a meeting to discuss the cases currently being handled by the firm. As Richard describes the first case (a woman's lawsuit against a fast food chain because she believes their "crispier, tastier french fries" stole her idea), John fidgets in his chair with a grumpy expression on his face, finally blurting out, "That's just stupid, Richard! Speed it up! Next." This decidedly un-Cage-like behavior prompts curious glances from the other people in the room...nevertheless, Richard moves on to the next case, a scenario in which famous artist Seymour Little wants to marry but his son feels that his fiancee is only after his wealth. Shaking his head in irritation, John waves this case away as well, ejaculating, "Balls, balls, balls! Move on!" His friends react, shocked by his uncharacteristic and ill-tempered outbursts.

Richard pulls the distracted Cage into his office, furious at the blatant disrespect he displayed during the meeting. John gives a bland apology, offering an explanation. "I feel a waffle," he murmurs. "She's retreating. Something has occasioned her...emotional recalcitrance." When Richard asks whether John has kissed Ally yet, he admits that he hasn't, due to his fear of being perceived as too eager or a "predator." Richard scoffs at his partner's ignorance, saying that women want men who take initiative, who show aggressiveness. Before Cage can protest, Richard pulls him into an intimate embrace and massages his neck sensually by way of demonstration. "Women need to feel dominated, even when they say they don't...for God's sake, KISS her!" he hisses intensely, drawing the uncomfortable Cage closer as Georgia enters unseen and watches. Richard holds Cage's face passionately, looking deep into his eyes and saying, "You're mine. You feel my dominion. And you want to surrender to it." He holds Cage for a moment, then snaps back into reality, sending him out with a staccato "Off you go." Flustered - - but naturally, not entirely surprised by his partner's erratic (erotic?) behavior - - John leaves, greeting the bewildered Georgia.

John sees Ally in the office again and decides to follow Richard's advice. He takes her by the shoulders firmly, saying, "Dinner. Tomorrow night. Eight. We'll go right from here." Caught off-guard, she agrees, and he leaves...forgetting to remove his hands from her shoulders and nearly pulling her to the floor clumsily.

Later, Ally meets with a skeptical Billy in the unisex bathroom. When he implies that he doesn't see it working out between them due to Cage's innate peculiarity, Ally gets defensive. "I happen to like 'odd,'" she says defiantly, then cringes as they hear one of the toilets flush. They are taken by surprise, positive that all the stalls were empty when they came in, and they crouch on the ground to peer under the door - - as they look, the diminutive shadow of John Cage falls over them on the floor. When they tell him what they were doing, he says that he was the one who did it, showing them his remote control toilet flusher. He demonstrates proudly. "Sometimes people leave in haste, forget to flush," he explains. "Other times, there are residual remnants. I like a fresh bowl." When Billy asks why he doesn't just flush it manually beforehand, John replies, "My regularity's easily thrown. Unclean bowls...trouble me." He enters the toilet, leaving Ally to reflect bitterly on just how MUCH "odd" she can cope with.

Meanwhile, Elaine is talking to Richard about her concern for John, trying to convince him that - - even though his intentions were good when he gave John the confidence to ask her out - - Ally is out of his league, and he's only setting himself up to be hurt. "When guys like John set their sights that high, they just end up pinching their heads," she says. Richard goes to talk to John, and sure enough, he is pinching his head among the shelves of legal reference in anxiety about the date...specifically, the kiss. "I secrete excess saliva," he says, embarrassed. "It could save my life, should I be lost in the desert. On a date, it's debilitating." Sympathetic to John's plight, Richard advises him to talk to Billy.

Johns asks Billy for advice on how to kiss Ally, saying that women's perception of the first kiss as an indicator for the man's potential as a lover has him "fraught." Naturally, Billy is annoyed. "Truth is, John," he says, "as senior partner, it doesn't make a lot of sense for you to be dating associates!" John replies that he had only intended to date ONE, but he appreciates Billy's candor nonetheless...after which, he returns to his place of solitude between the bookshelves, massaging his temples.

Ally is in her office, her head down on her desk as she wails to Renee about what a disaster this date will be. Renee grudgingly agrees that Ally's previous plan - - making herself seem like a horrible boor, thus causing John to lose interest - - may well be the only course of action. "Think you can be self-centered and narcissistic like life is all...about...you?" Renee asks. Ally says she will try, the irony of Renee's words lost on her.

We cut to the familiar sight of John in the unisex, dancing and lip-synching to Barry White in front of the mirror. Richard exits one of the stalls and sees this, asking him if he's ready for the date. When John says he has decided not to kiss Ally, Richard asks Elaine to help him convince John that it's a grave mistake. Elaine tells him his grim salivary problem is easy to fix - - all he has to do is pull Ally into a passionate kiss, sucking her tongue and thus swallowing his slobber (and hers too).

That night, Ally and John meet for their big date. Trying to implement her plan, she immediately begins babbling incessantly to him about her hair and makeup all the way to the bar. But as her perception of the date becomes increasingly nightmarish, she realizes that he's actually having a good time and redoubles her efforts on the way home. Finally, he questions her about why she's talking so fast. When she tells him it's because she's distracted by a case she's working on about a man who's still in love with his dead wife, saying she's "a sucker for unrelenting love," he tells her HE has unrelenting impulses - - when she reacts, confused, he braces himself and kisses her hard on the mouth, performing the "sucking" technique with all the tenderness and sensuality of a Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. Unsure of how to respond to the awkward situation, she retreats nervously, telling him she had a wonderful evening and calling out, "Goodnight, buddy!" from the door to her apartment. This hits home, and he is convinced that he has ruined things by being "untoward."

The next day, he meets Ally in the office, telling her he's replayed the date several times in his mind and has realized that her behavior was intended to make him lose interest in her. She tells him that sometimes, she just knows that it's not a good match, even when she's not sure exactly why. She tells him that they call it "the Ick," saying that even though it sounds negative, it really means "just not meant to be." When she tries to go through the reasons for it - - that they work together, that he's too nice and she needs someone who will treat her badly -- he suggests knowingly that she's in love with someone else. Ally is tongue-tied, denying this and reminding him that she isn't even seeing anyone else. He is silent, and when she asks if he's okay, he hides his disappointment, quietly observing that his remote control flusher is jammed.

Later, when Richard eagerly pulls John into his office to give him new advice on kissing, John tells him that he and Ally have decided to be "just friends." Richard tells him that this is nonsense, saying that any friendship between a man and a woman is based on sex. But as John protests this view indignantly - - saying that he doesn't even want to date Ally, that she's not his type, that it's better to be friends - - there is an unmistakable lack of conviction in his voice betraying that fact that it's not Richard he's trying to convince...but himself. Sensing how hurt and upset John really is, Richard doesn't press the point, and John leaves the office quietly to rebuild his ego with dignity, in the privacy of the bookshelves.


I guess I'll just stick to ONE bit and piece, this being the first episode and all, to comment on how this "new series" has struck me thus far and my impressions.

Frankly, I'm rather disappointed. While I do feel that it's interesting to see the clipped scenes, unused footage and omitted story arcs we may have missed in the original, the format of this "innovation" troubles me. It seems significantly watered-down, and even fairly superfluous when we've got the real thing to tune into on Monday nights. True, taken at face value it may seem like a weekly double-dose of the characters we love, but condensing an hour-long triumph into a half-hour sitcom seems to drain the spark, the vivacity of David E. Kelley's vision, leaving us with something substantially less satisfying and, at times, even fairly tragic to bear witness to. The hour-long installments of "Ally McBeal" are flawless...cut away any aspect (especially the parallel court cases, the overlapping strands of storyline in each episode, the equal amount of time devoted to fleshing out each individual character), and the perfection is marred. Also, now that we're two years into the ongoing storyline and comfortably rooted, "Ally" seems like it's going to really confuse us about where we are and what's going on. It's not always an easy show to follow, with constant references to previous episodes and each flowing from the events of the one before, and it could be quite easy to become lost just when we were sure we had everything straight. In short, it seems like this show is needlessly taking a prime time slot away from a potentially good NEW show. However, this was only the first episode, and my point of view may well change as the show continues.

Not to mention that with the number of commercial breaks interrupting us constantly (two in the first twelve minutes?!!?), it's a wonder the networks don't get more bomb threats. Kidding. Bygones.

All "Ally" summaries are by Josh Bermont. You can email him at poiznpen@shore.intercom.net.

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