They’re prisons! Man-made prisons. You’re doing time! You get up in the morning, she’s there. You go to sleep at night, she’s there. It’s like you gotta ask permission to use the bathroom. “Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?”
‘The Engagement’ opens on an interesting if overly ham fisted note, George seated in this apartment playing chess with his girlfriend. He’s overly arrogant at a recent move he’s made to which she almost immediately counters for the winning check mate. This deflating action prompts George to instantly begin break-up proceedings. It’s a strange line of characterization—even for George—as while he had shown severe emotional handicaps in previous seasons, most of them were the result of deficiencies in him and thus mostly sad in nature. The joke always ended with pie on George’s face, and was never this nasty (let alone blatantly misogynistic). Perhaps it’s a sign of things to come (Season 7 was the season that began the changes to all the characters that Seasons 8 and 9 would fully embrace), or perhaps it’s just a means to get Jerry and George contemplating the short-comings in their social lives in the episodes coming key scene. Whatever the reason, it sparks the entire season off in a manner not familiar to anyone who’d previously watched the show with an astute eye.
What does happen in the entirety of ‘The Engagement’ is of note however, and more in line with the classic Seinfeld ideology. In the episode we see Jerry and George come to the realization that they have focused on the banalities of dating and never reached the richness that it takes to be proper adult men. George’s most identifiable trait, and also the one most unrealized by show commentaries, is his deeply masked romanticism and spontaneity. Jerry is Jerry through and through; his claims of a “real change” will be bucked at a moments notice, or, in this case, the moment his next date eats her peas “one at a time”. While George is the George of ‘The Conversion’; a wandering neurotic looking to fill an incredible void in his life by any means or impulse necessary (and I’ve always believed that if he was in a different social grouping he’d be more able to realize these goals—similar to Elaine in ‘The Bizarro Jerry’). He’s truly a character trapped within the polar opposite forces of society (what he gets) versus what he so desperately wants (i.e. what he needs), so it’s no wonder that when a deal is actually made (and, for the record, I’m on George’s side here, it does certainly seem like a deal was struck between he and Jerry) he’s the one that runs headlong into real change. Of course, his change is fraught with the ills seen in so much of modern contemplation, namely the quick fix. What could change George is months, but probably years, of heavy mental lifting that he, still the product of Frank and Estelle’s treacherous upbringing, sidesteps for the easier fast food approach. Sitting for a peaceful afternoon on the pier he spots what he wants; mainly peaceful, loving interaction with another and decides that recycling a relationship from his past is the best means to achieve this. It’s doomed to failure (and George’s slowly growing distraught ridden face at the episodes end as Susan snuggles up against him as we hear the end music to a taped Mad About You is one of the Series lasting images to me) for this exact reason; he’s sought change from his past via a relationship in his past. It’s a weird paradox befit of George or anyone else so lurching towards necessary change but still carrying the baggage of a past in need of escaping from. One step forward traded for two steps back.
Elaine’s plot line is then a nice counterpoint on similar grounds. She sees herself put up against an impossible situation of urban life; an unsympathetic neighbor has let their dog bark incessantly for nights on end producing an Elaine on her wits end. She seeks the help of the series two resident goons, Kramer and Newman, to remedy the situation (Newman’s diatribe about his professional hatred of “mutts and mongrels” as a postal worker is particularly humorous). The hatched plan—to kidnap the dog then leave him in upstate New York after a small van driven jaunt—expectantly blows up in their faces and sees them all arrested. Elaine then, like George, laments that her life is in need of real change as she sits in the back of a police car. But unlike George, it’s a yearning coming from within in a very sudden manner, we’d expect George to say that he’s wanted change in his life since his youth. You’d expect it would be carried out within Elaine as well, as she’s shown herself to be a remarkably resilient and strong character up to then. It’s a shame then that the freelance writers that would pen the bulk of Seinfeld‘s remaining 2-3 seasons, don’t worry themselves with where Elaine’s head is as the episode closes.
The show also obviously concerns itself with Larry David’s not so hidden views on marriage, another source for many laughs. Always a largely sarcastic writer he saves many of his most pointed lines for the shows resident idler, Kramer. This creates an argument that may have merits, but will never see legitimacy when delivered by such an unrealistic marriage prospect. Jerry is easily swayed too, though he’s always been (on) the shallow end of the Series’ pool as well. What then can be said of marriage under the subversive Seinfeld lens? How about this: Elaine, a strong and respectable woman so desperately wants ‘in’ (and for some reason this ‘happiness’ continues to elude), with ‘in’ being a social status that the shows other strong, successful, respectable career woman, Susan (we should recall that she was once a high level NBC executive) achieves. A status that leads to conniving immaturity at her and then premature death to her. When Larry David would later say of the season, “I can’t believe I killed that poor girl!”, can he be clearer in his thoughts on the matter?