One Hundred Tears Away
Air date: October 11, 1999
Summary/Review by Josh Bermont

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A simple trip to the supermarket turns into full-scale psychological warfare as our favorite neurotic lawyer and a cranky middle-aged woman get into a fight over a canister of Pringles in the snack aisle. Upset, Ally accuses the woman of only wanting the chips because she saw that Ally was interested in them. The woman says she won't even dignify that - - then, just to twist the knife, she sneers triumphantly that SHE has the chips and walks away. In a spontaneous fit of immaturity, Ally puts her foot out to trip the other woman...and sends her flying head-first into the canned foods section, where an entire shelf of cleaning products falls on her head and renders her unconscious.

Ally's mortification doesn't end there. Later, when making her report in the police station, the officer accuses Ally of shoplifting a tube of contraceptive jelly. She tries to convince them that she had only put the embarrassing product into her pocket because she intended to pay for it at the checkout counter...the police respond to her concise argument by arresting her for theft.

Gossip at the Cage/Fish firm is inescapable, and when Ally returns to work, the whole office is buzzing about her brush with the law. The Board of Bar Overseers has suspended her license and scheduled a hearing to decide how to deal with her. Billy represents her at the hearing, arguing that she had been provoked - - but the judges are less interested in her "criminal" behavior than they are about her mental fitness. When she indignantly questions this, they proceed to remind her of a number of familiar cases and recent events in which her conduct was erratic at best, near-psychotic at worst. She tries to explain that there is a logical explanation for each event, but they interrupt her, saying that they will hold an evidentiary hearing to resolve this matter.

The judges call Elaine to give testimony about Ally's mental state. When they ask her whether she has any reason to believe that her employer is unfit to perform her job, she cheerfully answers in the resounding negative...but when they ask her if she remembers "making statements" about Ally, she becomes visibly less comfortable and says she does not recall. They remind her that she has been known to say that Ally was "on the verge of a nervous breakdown," that "she was two-thirds of a Rice Krispy...she's already snapped and crackled, and now she's ready to pop." Elaine weakly tries to explain, saying, "I said that in defense of her, to explain why she was acting so crazy!" Later, Elaine desperately tries to apologize to Ally, saying that she would never purposely undermine her. When Ally demands to know who Elaine said those things to, the secretary tells her that it was Whipper Cone - - she had wanted the judge to understand that Ally wasn't acting with any malice during the situation with Richard.

Furious, Ally visits Whipper in her quarters. The judge calmly explains that she "had no choice," that as a member of the Bar it was her duty to bring it to the attention of the Overseers if she believes a lawyer might be unstable. When Ally asks if Whipper thinks she's crazy, she replies, "No. But I don't think you have two feet on the ground, either." "You mean some people do?" Ally asks sincerely, genuinely concerned for the first time that she might have a real problem. It is clear she is at the end of her emotional rope.

Ally appears before the Overseers, more composed. She apologizes for her actions, admitting that she is under a great deal of stress and asking the Board to trust her when she says that, no matter what her personal struggles may be, the interests of her clients will never be compromised. As she says this, Whipper quietly enters the courtroom to watch. When the judges ask if she would object to a psychiatric evaluation, she becomes defensive and hostile...Whipper immediately comes to her defense, challenging the Board's definition of emotional instability. "A man acts passionate, we call him impassioned. A woman? She's emotional." The Overseers say that, as character witnesses go, Whipper is less than reliable and known for being "a bit of a kook" herself - - nevertheless, they promise to take her comments into consideration. Billy stands up to champion Ally's cause, saying that Ally is a woman who isn't afraid of being emotional and that this makes her the strongest person in the room. "And if you use your gavel to even slightly squash what makes her," he concludes, "you don't know her."

The Overseers Board makes their ruling, saying that two things have been made clear in these proceedings: that Ally has a devoted following of people who are willing to stand up for her, and that if they were to rule against her, she would appeal and they would be faced with the prospect of hearing her - - and her friends - - again. "As deterrents go," says the Board, "I can think of none more effective." By a unanimous vote, they rule not to suspend her.

Later, at the bar, they celebrate. Whipper apologizes to Ally for causing all this trouble, and the lawyer forgives her...she leaves the party, walking the streets alone as usual. "I know I've got it great, really," she says to herself in an inner monologue. "Good job, good friends, loving family, total freedom and long bubble baths. What else could there be?" From the look on her face, we can see that she's thinking of a whole lot more.


* Wow! Great advertising for Pringles!

* I think Richard - - though a bit player - - was excellent in this episode, particularly at the bar when they were celebrating together. Even though he's a loon and queer as a two-dollar bill (no homosexual reference intended), and that's largely why we absolutely love watching his outbursts and the overall undisguised abruptness of his very being, I believe his most human moments are in situations like these when we see that, even though he's greedy, obnoxious and largely a weasel, he's still very proud of his law firm and the people in it. His mentality of creating a united front against adversity in times of trouble, taking evasive action and acting as a unit whenever one of the members of his firm is threatened...there's something very warm about seeing that in his face, his voice, his manner.

* The legal genius of the Biscuit could have had Ally in and out of that Overseers Board hearing before you could say "It troubles me." I really missed him. ("Still in Syracuse," huh? Yeah, right. More like taking time out to make contemporary classics like "Baby Geniuses." Kidding. Bygones.)

* You know, even though I still love the entire "Ally McBeal" mythos and all of the characters (including Ally herself), I do happen to think that most of her behavior is fairly inexcusable and that the defenses we hear - - that she's a dreamer, etc. like in Billy's speech in this episode - - don't justify the way she acts. She has the same control over her impulses as a two-year-old, she's borderline psychotic, she's utterly egocentric, conceited and spoiled, and the way she acts doesn't make her "a dreamer" or anything so romantic. Lots of people "see unicorns," lots of people "buy lottery tickets" and "live in fantasy worlds," but none of that justifies the abominable way in which she treats people, often without any real provocation. (That poor guy in the street...jeez, if someone reacted that way to me in a similar situation, I'd be fairly pissed too.) Whenever she's miserable, which is pretty much every day, she uses it as an excuse to take out her personal frustration on someone who often doesn't deserve it, and people who do that and actually feel like it's acceptable really offend me. Still, it's all a part of what makes her such a completely human and perfectly-developed character, and for this reason I can't help but love her.

* You know, when she was talking with Billy in the bar at the end, I noticed something about the way Calista looks. She's a lovely woman, but she doesn't look like some kind of glamorous supermodel who just "happens" to be practicing law, and I think that's fabulous. More and more lately, I've been getting really tired of all the females on television looking like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine (which, quite often, they have) no matter what profession they're in...police officers, surgeons in emergency rooms, lawyers, everyone. (It's a flaw "Law & Order" has completely fallen into. To think, I used to love that show for its "gritty urban realism.") It clashes a little too much with reality, and even though I'm not the sort of person who feels that "showing all perfect women on television corrupts the young females of America," it's just becoming rather tiresome. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that suddenly we start casting the physical dregs of humanity (network casting call at the DMV!) or bar talented actresses who are handicapped by gorgeous features, or anything so drastic. I still absolutely adore with all my heart the vivacious and talented Jane Krakowskis, Courtney Thorne- Smiths and Portia di Rossis. They're truly special. But I also think our television screens could use a few more Calista Flockharts, Camryn Manheims and Edie Falcos.

* Controversial stuff. Why is it I suddenly get the feeling my popularity is about to plummet - - ?

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