Drawing the Lines
Air date: October 19, 1999
Summary/Review by Josh Bermont

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Pre-nuptial agreements...that optimistic and legally-binding document, a cornerstone of marital bliss. It is just such a matter that brings Marcy Hatfield (the future ex-wife of one Jason Hatfield) to the offices of Cage/Fish & Associates in the biggest - - and potentially, the most profitable - - case of the firm's short history. "The prenup limits are $600,000," Richard chatters. "Hatfield's worth over $18 million. We would take over one-third of everything over the contract." During the all-important initial meeting with Marcy Hatfield, however, disaster strikes...John's nose begins to whistle persistently, with all the subtlety of a pan flute solo. As the other lawyers stifle their nervous giggles and Mrs. Hatfield tries to ignore it, John attempts to mute the noise by sniffing and massaging his nose. Finally, as a last resort in quieting his melodic septum, he slowly and methodically begins exploring the contents of his nostril with his finger, to everyone's horror. The client grows visibly uncomfortable.

Later, we find Billy staring into the mirror pensively in the unisex. He is picturing himself in an elegant black suit and tails, like a gallant Prince Charming from a fairy tale, waltzing with Ally in a beautiful ballroom. When she comes in and sees him looking in the mirror, she asks him what's wrong...he answers defensively ("I'm just looking in the mirror! Men do it too, you know!"), and she gently reminds him that he always does this when he's bothered about something. He says he's fine and she decides not to press the point, going into one of the stalls. Billy leaves, and Georgia walks in just as Ally says, "You know, usually when you looked in the mirror like that, it was something about me. So I figure it must be a problem with Georgia, and I can understand why you wouldn't want to share that, but I am totally here for you..." She opens the stall door and her hair stands on end as she sees Georgia leaning against the sink.

The Cage/Fish legal team meets with opposing counsel and the smug Jason Hatfield. His lawyers offer a hundred thousand above contract; Georgia and Ally stand their ground adamantly, saying the settlement is unacceptable and threatening Hatfield with humiliation if the marital "grievances" - - namely, repeated infidelity - - come out in a court case. "Who do you think the jury's going to like, Mr. Hatfield?" Ally asks, staring him down coldly. "And whose side do you think your children will be on if your womanizing comes out?" Georgia adds to this by speculating how his new wife will view his extra-curricular activities. But Hatfield is unfazed by these threats. "She knows my past," he says, confidence oozing from every pore as he gets up to leave the room. "And she knows my future. And it won't include any of you." This confrontation shakes Mrs. Hatfield, and she is uncertain about whether she wants to proceed. Ally and Georgia try to convince her to stick it out, even though it may be difficult. "The only way for us to improve on the prenup is to promise them an ugly fight," Georgia says. Mrs. Hatfield understands this and stiffens resolutely, setting her jaw in determination for the battle ahead.

When Ally walks in on Billy in front of the mirror again and asks him about it, he explodes. "Why can't I just look into a mirror? Why is everything about YOU?" he growls. When she reacts, confused, he immediately corrects his Freudian slip... "--or Georgia! Why is everything about you or GEORGIA? Why can't I just look into a damn mirror?!!?" He stomps out, leaving Ally alone to reflect on this strange behavior. Several seconds later, he comes back in, facing her nervously and telling her that he's been troubled lately because he misses her...he misses making love to her. "It's not a good feeling to be married to a person, who I AM in love with," he says desperately, "and still not be over another." She tells him that she doesn't know how to respond to this, and he assures her that he wasn't looking for a response, he just wanted to let her know what was going on.

Ally spends the night wondering if being friends with Billy is a good idea in the first place. Renee tells her that it hampers her emotionally - - that, as long as she's working with the man of her dreams, she won't be able to have a successful relationship. The next day, at the office, Billy comes into Ally's office looking for Georgia and they talk about what was said. Ally tells him that, even though honesty is a good thing, there should be boundaries in their friendship.

Meanwhile, a bombshell awaits Ally and Georgia in Richard's office in the form of some particularly flammable photographs of the libidinous Mr. Hatfield, engaging in vigorous pre-marital coitus with someone OTHER than his new fiancee. Richard suggests that they extort Hatfield, but the two lawyers feel wrong about such tactics. "Lawyers play cards," Richard says firmly, "and this one is in your hands. You'll play it." Sure enough, Ally and Georgia use the photos as leverage to checkmate Hatfield...even though it makes them feel like slime.

At the end of the day, Ally wanders the offices and finds Billy. He tells her not to worry about using the photographs. "We should only hope that's as dirty as our hands get on this job," he tells her. She says she's been thinking about their decision to put limits on the intimacy of their friendship, and that she doesn't think putting boundaries on how much they tell each other is wrong. She grimly suggests that they "free-fall with the truth, and hope we both survive," and he agrees.


* I've got a lot to say here, and it's in no particular order, so bear with me...

* I must admit that, even though I still feel icky about this whole half-hour concept, it is getting much better. It started out very jumbled, but now it's a lot more coherent and watchable as a show. Nevertheless, it was still a bit disjointed with the Ally/Billy scenario and the lawsuit. I know we're all holding our collective breath for Monday!

* Richard Fish never ceases to surprise me. I'd forgotten that aside from everything we know about him, he also happens to have a thorough understanding of the law and a brilliant and analytical - - if sometimes a little wacky - - legal mind. His speech about using the photographs to nail Hatfield was dead-on AND perfectly in character.

* There's something else I've noticed that kind of sets this spinoff apart from the original. Although the hour-long is called "Ally McBeal," I know most of the fans felt like most of the time the actual story was really about what was going on AROUND her, with the other characters. But this show, interestingly enough, seems to focus more completely on Ally herself as the central point of the story.

* Okay, folks...let me just say this, as a sort of public service announcement: I don't care if your nose hairs have hardened into cactus spines and the dried-up hobgoblins rattling around in your nostrils are whistling the chorus to "Hurdy Gurdy Man" on each exhale. Never EVER, under ANY circumstances, do you put your finger in your nose in public. If you do, you deserve to be disparaged with extreme prejudice. (Sweet Jesus, it looked like John was massaging his brain with his knuckles! Surely his legal genius should have prevented him from making such a gross error in judgment!)

* Finally, the network took the hint about all those ridiculously-spaced (and ridiculously LONG) commercial breaks! Perhaps it'll be a trend...nah, that'll never happen.

* People who drink coffee like Ally and Georgia were at the beginning...well, they scare me. Perhaps I'm a prude, perhaps I don't know how to have fun, perhaps I'm insecure and need to get in touch with my inner child or something. NOBODY should be having that much fun with a cup of java. I've heard of some peculiar fetishes in my time - - wattles, knee pits, sucking on fingers - - but this one's the strangest. Next thing you know, women'll be getting orgasms from using herbal shampoo...

* It's interesting, seeing how everyone looked in the first season...Georgia with long hair! Ally with SHORT hair! I'd forgotten.

* Did you happen to catch the little flashback, kind of like reverse-foreshadowing, in the scene when Billy leaves the unisex in a huff and then comes back in to tell Ally about his feelings? When he bent down to look under the stalls to make sure he was alone, it sort of mirrored that shot in the first episode of "Ally McBeal" showing how they met when they were nine years old and decided to sniff each others' butts the way dogs do when they meet each other. I don't know, I guess it sort of struck me. But speaking of Billy...

* You know, just recently I was making a crack to another fan about how the purpose of Billy and Georgia as characters was, basically, to stand around in beautiful clothes and create more problems for Ally. It was something that sort of confused me when the show added two additional characters (the now-essential Nelle and Ling) to a cast that already seemed too big for Kelley to completely handle...it seemed like, no matter how much the stories alternated between all the characters, it never seemed to settle on Georgia or Billy long enough to make them as familiar as the other characters. We never really saw what was going on with them in any significant way, we couldn't ever truly sympathize with them or get a "feel" for them. They became background, superfluous. When the story DID come to them, it seemed sort of contrived, almost like the writer wasn't really enjoying himself and was just going through the motions so he could get it over with and get back to dealing with the more entertaining characters. These two-dimensional stories would just irritate us and make us impatient. Billy - - a character with visible potential, a character a large part of us really wanted to embrace with the rest - - seemed especially neglected, so that whenever he DID show any emotion, he came off as a whining dork who never knew what he wanted. (I've seen the nexus of animosity dedicated to Billy on Dana's message board, so I know many of you agree. Come on...tell me that, whenever he tried to get sentimental, you didn't get kind of a hostile feeling in spite of yourself.) In my opinion, these two characters never really got a fair chance to become perfectly three-dimensional people like the other, quirkier characters we love so much. So you can imagine how overjoyed I felt when we finally got a chance to SEE Billy for the first time in this episode...what he fantasizes about, what hurts him, what he thinks and feels, what sets him apart and makes him tick. To me, he became human in this episode, someone I can identify with on a personal level. He has feelings, not cookie- cutter generic feelings but the more subtle feelings that have made the other characters completely believable even when they were outlandish caricatures. He has habits we might identify with, like staring into the mirror when he's confused or depressed; he's shy and conservative, he's sensitive and genuinely hurt by male stereotypes, and he often finds himself frustrated by life. (I think this is contrasted perfectly with the frustration of a male going through puberty - - trying to find his identity and express himself - - in the way Billy's voice strains and cracks when he gets upset.) He daydreams about old-fashioned romance, and when we see this, it pulls together his personality and transforms him from an uptight nerd into a normal, decent, soft-spoken, non-confrontational, stand-up kind of guy we can respect...we can imagine his background, we RECOGNIZE him. Gil Bellows is a wonderfully talented actor (how many of you remember him in "The Shawshank Redemption?"), and finally he's getting an outlet to really show us his character. But will we see more of this in the hour- long show? And will the vivacious Courtney Thorne-Smith ever get a chance to make HER character shine? I truly hope so.

* I want to thank you all again for all the support you've shown me since I started this job! Your e- mails always bring a smile to my face.

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

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