You know the unifying-theme vault for ‘Desperate Housewives’ is getting close to empty when the writers turn to the most clichéd symbol of female identity. Clothes appear to be solely superficial, but belie some meaningful scars – we get it. Tom and Lynette have authority issues in their marriage that are only exacerbated by their communal working situation – we get it. Susan is extremely clumsy, to the point of absurdity – we get it. Edie is a semi-sympathetic whore who will never claim a meaty backstory – we get it. Gaby does what she wants to get what she wants, in turn creating consistently hilarious moments – we get it, though we don’t mind being reminded of it. The very fact that ‘Desperate Housewives’ has become that easy to sum up is a testament to its increasing simplicity and tendency to recycle once-amusing story arcs. Now this is a development much more tragic than any dramatic scene the show has seen all season.

Susan’s unwieldy nature set Ian’s stereotypically English (and downright bitchy) mother on fire, before knocking her over with a door, and unwisely espousing her marriage technique of “divorcing the ass and seizing the assets.” The Hainsworth family is all about outward appearances. Susan caught Ian’s father trying on her lingerie, revealing his closeted transvestitism (wow, that doesn’t sound nearly as weird and out-of-place as it felt on screen), while Ian’s mother insisted he sign a prenup with Susan. Though the cross-dressing subplot did later prove important in Susan’s ploy to get Ian’s father to rip-up the prenup (the woman can’t open a door without seriously injuring someone, but she is perfectly capable of manipulating those around her), the Susan-Ian love fest with the questionably tragic meant-to-be-with-Mike undertones (the scenes with Mike and his therapist belong on the deleted scenes section of a DVD, not nonsensically interspersed within the episode) was more lackluster than it’s ever been.

Workplace amplification of the painfully staple Scavo marital issues has been a motif since Season Two and, since then, nothing has changed, characters included. Lynette had some quasi-amusing bitchy preaching moments, but her feud with Tom over the restaurant’s prison-orange t-shirts was simply not enough to carry their dramatic presence over the episode. Lynette’s teary discovery of an unconscious Tom (he threw out his back) was an empty climax. Her decision to step down from the managerial position may have just been put on a hiatus longer than Marcia Cross’s (which, by the way, is really hurting the ‘Desperate’ dynamic).

Edie’s quickly paced obsession with Carlos hinged on his chemistry with her son, and, though Nicollette’s well-delivered monologue felt mildly consequential, Edie’s subsequent conquest in bed seemed like it was a return to her old slutty ways. Gaby’s dress snatching antics (she flawlessly pulled off a heist of Victor’s ex-wife’s couture wardrobe before being confronted by her with pepper spray) were moments of comic perfection, and Victor’s revelatory confession about the failure of his marriage was the only successful dramatic moment. Gaby’s adventures with clothes proved to be the only segment of the unifying garment theme worth watching. I’ve got a new theme for that near-empty ‘Desperate’ vault: hiatus(es). It can start by going on one, again.

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