The fifth housewife

In the "Desperate Housewives" finale, Mary Alice returns -- sort of -- and Wisteria Lane gets more twisted than we'd ever hoped.

By Choire Sicha

Published May 23, 2005 8:11PM (EDT)

Desperate Housewives could be "Blue Velvets" Act II.

INTERIOR, A FORMAL DINING ROOM. It is 20 years later. Through the window, we see a lawn, a white fence, and firemen floating by, waving in slow motion from the back of their truck. BREE, as pale as an ice sculpture, is polishing her silverware set. Her lips are pulled tight, her face is too thin -- but her house is immaculate.

Well, at least it could have been.

Last nights season finale stomped mercilessly through suburbia like, well, that thing in the jungle in "Lost." And the Fearsome Hausfrau Four are now officially five: Mary Alice, the dead one, has reappeared to settle her remaining corporeal business -- the central mystery of the first season, the events surrounding her season-opening suicide. To the finales credit, it coughed up almost as much plot as youd get if you held Aaron Spelling upside down and shook him vigorously.

"There is a motive to every mystery," began one of Mary Alices usual  and appalling -- voice-overs. "An answer to every question." And "All you have to do is take a closer look." And "Love, laughter, friendship and, sadly, secrets." Sure, sure.

Mary Alice, it turns out, is actually named Angela -- and, even before she found quiet, peaceful (ha ha) Wisteria Lane, she was, she says, leading "a life of quiet desperation." She took out trash, made breakfasts for her husband, Paul, and worked in the evenings at a hospital. Wow, that is quiet and desperate! The mass of (wo)men, apparently, lead lives of little errands and casual consumption.

But we knew that, or we wouldnt be watching a network that literally cannot air programming for more than five minutes without a commercial break for Coors or Quiznos. FIVE MINUTES! Its disgusting and outrageous! Wont someone do something?

Anyway. This chick named Dierdre shows up; apparently Mary Alice knows her from when she worked at a drug clinic or something. Dierdres all cracked out, and needs money. "Youre using again, arent you!" says Mary Alice/Angela. Mary Alice opens the door to show her out, but Dierdre says, "Ill sell you my baby."

Her husband is opposed, but Mary Alice gives him the hand -- literally, "Stop in the Name of Love" style -- and slowly closes the door.

First of all: what? Exactly how hard is it for a suburban white couple to get their hands on a baby -- even one of those admittedly more expensive little white ones? Is that the crack whores old standby for cash -- barge into any random persons house and grandly announce, "YOU MAY PURCHASE MY WOMBFRUIT!"?

Long story short: Zach, the troubled pseudo-foundling son of the suicide Mary Alice, had been named Dana by his mother Dierdre, which clears up some of the shows earlier misdirection about a dead baby girl in the family named Dana. (Or, as he puts it to Susan later, as he holds her hostage: "I never had a baby sister! Im Dana! They stole me and changed my name! Everyone lies to me!")

But back then: "We were as happy as any family could be," Mary Alice v.o.s. "Until one night, three years later, when there was a knock at our door. And I was desperate once again." Mary Alice, perky with her kicky new name on Wisteria Lane, is chopping vegetables. There is talk of putting in a pool. But at the door, its Dierdre, the baby-selling junkie-whore! Over coffee -- Hazelnut Belgian Cafi? Suisse Mocha? Havana Guano? Which International Coffee could it be? -- "I spent a lot of my fathers money hunting you down," says Dierdre. "I kept our little secret. As you can see, Ive gotten myself cleaned up."

"You cant have him," says Mary Alice. "If you think Im giving my baby to some junkie youre crazy." Someone is called a self-righteous bitch. "LEMME SEE YOUR ARM," says Mary Alice. (And this is where you start wishing one of the other Housewives were dead instead, because this Mary Alice chick is totally fun-nuts!) Paul throws Dierdre off the stairs. She beats him rather wanly with a poker. Mary Alice puts her hand over her mouth, in that time-honored "Housewives" gesture of shock and ethical transformation.

Having speedily discharged her day-to-day moral code, she picks up a knife and stabs Dierdre right in the gut. Hot! Paul comes to. Dierdre falls to the floor, gurgling. Pauls forehead is bloody, as if hed walked into a very tall hamburger. "Oh, Mary Alice, what did you do?" says Paul. (Five people had credit for the episodes script, this might be a good moment to mention.)

Upstairs, Mary Alice empties the toy chest. Zach -- Dana -- wakes up. "Mommy needs to borrow your toy chest," says crazy Mary Alice. Later: "You said they were pouring the concrete for the pool tomorrow. Well put her in this." Paul, always practical: "She wont fit!" "Well make her fit," says Mary Alice. Seriously, bring us some Mary Alice back from the grave!

To satisfy their moral whatever-tude, they check Dierdre for track marks. There are none. But Zach is on the landing, looking down, and sees everything. They freeze in tableau. (Well, one of them is dead, but the two living ones freeze.)

And so Zach is disgruntled. His mommy killed his mommy!

Yes: hot mommy-on-mommy killing action. There is one thing about "Desperate Housewives": It put women back on television -- even if, in this case, one of them is a baby-coveting murderer and the other is a junkie mess. "Sex and the City," the previous reigning ensemble chick show, wasnt actually about women, as it was clearly about gay men with vaginas. (Apart from sitcoms, not since "Melrose Place," it seems -- although one could argue for "Sisters" -- have women ruled in this fashion.) But theres nothing homosexual about Mary Alice & Co. -- theyre thin, pale shades of people, maybe, drifting in a green-lawned Hades -- but at least theyre women.

There are other bits of womanly news from the finale. Alfre Woodard moves in, and wont allow neighbor and real estate agent and full-time slut Edie into the house. OH MY GOD, A TELEGRAPHED PLOT LINE FOR NEXT SEASON. (And poor Alfre. Well, whatever: ka-ching!) Bossy Lynette will go back to work. Slutty Gabriellas husband will go to jail. And poor icy Bree -- shes weathered her marriage problems, and, just as her husband is having a Pacemaker installed, he kicks it.

Or does he? Here are predictions for Season 2 early plot turns:

1. Brees husband, Rex, died, we are sort-of shown, believing hed been poisoned with potassium by Bree. But instead, let us imagine that the death is a scam concocted by Rex and his doctor. Fairly early in Season 2, after chasing Bree for a bit, theyll figure out its the pharmacist who screwed with Rexs potassium -- but not before we get at least three satisfying episodes of Marcia Cross as Bree eating a neighborhoods worth of scenery. Whoo! Let old crazy at it! Not since she snatched Jos baby on "Melrose Place" has Marcia really gotten to run amok.

2. Mike, Susans hot "plumber" boyfriend, who is also Dierdres former lover, and who spent this episode holding Zachs (adopted) father at gunpoint over the death of Dierdre, may in fact be Zachs father himself. Therell be a tense showdown in the premiere of the second season, in which Zach shoots Mike (Zach! I am your faaather!) -- probably in the shoulder or the thigh -- and then Mike is forced to reveal his Real True Self (hopefully while shirtless) to Susan, who will then go away for an episode and ponder whether she can really ever trust men, because, oh my god, wow, theyre all such, like, liars, you know? Which will be really boring, but manageable. (As long as Mike keeps his shirt off.)

At long last, the murderess Mary Alice narrates the end of the episode: "I not only watch, I cheer them on, these amazing women. I hope so much theyll find what theyre looking for. But I know not all of them will."

Mike pulls up to his house, where Susan cowers, and where Zach is waiting to shoot him.

"Sadly, thats just not the way life works," says Mary Alice. "Not everyone gets a happy ending."

Mike parks.

Thoreaus quote about desperation continues, incidentally. He goes on to say: "A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind."

"We were as happy as any family could be," as Mary Alice says.

The point being, of course, that our amusements contain evidence of our very real despair. The popularity of "Desperate Housewives," in fact, reeks of it.

Mike opens the door, and then he closes it.

Choire Sicha

Choire Sicha is the co-proprietor of, and at work on a nonfiction book for HarperStudio.

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