I Love Lucy S2 E20 – The Black Eye
Original Air Date: February 16, 1953
Happy New Year, Ballers!!! I thought this week’s episode was about keeping your resolutions, but I was wrong. That’s next week, and this week it’s about getting punched in the face. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty solid metaphor for 2018 so far.
So yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but TW: domestic abuse. That’s right, I Love Lucy needs a trigger warning. In all seriousness, I promise there were women in 1953 who curled up sobbing after this episode. It really embodies the “WTF” that started this whole project.
For this is a tale of four idiots, a dissertation in garbage people. My husband watched the episode with me, mouth agape as mine, and just quietly asked, “How was this televised?”
Now all that said, there’s no actual abuse shown. But somehow the fact that they got around that and still found a way to haunt my daydreams makes it even worse in a way. And while I’m all for jokes, I don’t make fun of trigger warnings, and I don’t think they’re for snowflakes. Survivors shouldn’t watch this episode.
OK! FUN STUFF! Let’s get started (puts on her gas mask).
We open on Fred and Ethel trying to enter the Ricardos’ apartment. They bang the doors into each other’s faces, complaining and arguing. They’re like the White House staff these days, but Fred and Ethel have more progressive values.
Ricky is worried they’ll wake the kid. You know, maybe you should be more worried about how your landlords (and likely anyone) can constantly go in and out of your apartment without asking? Like, get a lock?
This is another flashback episode, and it starts with 5 minutes of Fred complaining the door hurt his head. If you can imagine a feather stroking a bowling ball, that’s how hard the door hit Fred. Besides, it’s someone else’s door and even as landlord, you’re trespassing. Just thank Ricky for not suing you and go home.
In the flashback, Lucy is terrifying herself with a scary book. It’s reminiscent of Lucy Thinks Ricky Is Trying to Murder Her – one of my very favorite episodes.
LUCY: Mumble mumble “dismembering the housekeeper, disposing of the body in the garbage disposal” mumble mumble.
She’s true crime obsessed! If this woman lived to hear the My Favorite Murder podcast, she’d lose her mind. Our girl would spend all day knitting Karen and Georgia ill-fitting murder socks and baking inedible murder cakes.
Ricky wants to read the book, too, so they decide to read it together. But Lucy can’t read unless she sounds it out, and Ricky can only read in Spanish. Suddenly their problems make so much more sense! They’re illiterate. No wonder she ordered 700 pounds of meat by accident back in season one.
They decide to solve the problem by her reading it aloud. And she reads as “aloud” as possible:
LUCY (reading): YOU HATE ME DON’T YOU?! DON’T YOU!!!! (acts out punching)
Just then, Ethel and Fred approach and hear Lucy behind the door, reading from the book. It sounds quite clearly like abuse, even though it’s actually very innocent.
ETHEL: We can’t just bust in on them at a time like this!
You bust in on them when they’re eating dinner, nursing their baby, and presumably when they’re having sex. But sure, why not let this one slide. If you go in there right now you might have to stop a man from beating his wife. You’d have to rename the show, it would be a whole thing.
So instead, Ethel calls from her apartment to say they’re coming up, and she offers iodine.
ETHEL: This is Ethel… your friend… who you can turn to in a moment of crisis.
That’s like saying “Requiem for a Dream… the movie… which you can turn to in a moment of depression.” Going that route will only make things worse, I promise.
Ricky tosses the book to Lucy and it hits her in the face. Her eye starts to turn black, and of course that’s when Fred and Ethel arrive.
LUCY (joking): Ricky slugged me.
RICKY: Yeah I finally decided to BOOM, let her have it.
And here’s where it gets extra weird: Fred and Ethel storm out because Lucy refuses to deliver a long monologue about how Ricky hit her. Ethel is personally offended they won’t entertain her with a melodrama, so she just…leaves. But she comes back the next day, thrilled to get a really “juicy story.” She couldn’t sleep because she was so excited to hear about how Ricky grabbed Lucy’s hair and punched her in the face (I’m serious – that’s in the episode).
ETHEL: You know how wild those Cubans are when they’re mad.
Earlier in the episode, Fred says something similar:
FRED: She should know better than to dare that hot-blooded Cuban.
This episode is one of those Get Out moments when pasty people are like “OMG I had no idea such wholesome, polite white people could be so gross” and everyone else is like “Really? We’ve been telling you for 400 years.”
Lucy gets tired of Ethel’s prodding and finally tells a story of how Ricky beat the shit out of her. In the story, she cowers and begs for her life, and then he laughs and kicks her. She acts it out in a scene I personally felt earned the TW.
Ethel treats the brutal assault story like a maple bacon donut:
ETHEL: Oh this is even better than I expected!
She wants to know what made Ricky so angry, so Lucy says she told Ricky she’s in love with another man.
Now to be fair, in this scene, Vivian Vance isn’t given the chance to be a good person. Her lines are so bad, they don’t give her room to play an empathetic human being. It’s like that time SJP was forced at gunpoint to star in Sex & the City II because why else would a living goddess have agreed to that dumb-as-bricks movie.
Outside, Fred runs into Ricky on his way to rehearsal.
FRED: I wasn’t really sore with you, I was just going along with Ethel.
Fred explains he knows exactly how Ricky feels. He tell Ricky he should be a man about it and apologize.
FRED: If you give her a chance to brood, it’ll cost a lot more than flowers.
So it’s really a budgetary issue. Ricky explains that nothing happened (because nothing did) and walks off. So Fred takes it upon himself to send Lucy flowers on Ricky’s behalf.
OK so let’s recap: Fred’s going to buy flowers for his friend, an abuse victim, to convince her to stay with the man who Fred believes just beat her senseless. Who is this guy, Bob Weinstein?
FRED (signing): Darling I love you, I love you, I love you. Eternally yours, Fred.
He realizes too late that he signed with his own name, so he runs home.
Ethel took the flowers to Lucy’s place and now wants to check them to find out who Lucy’s in love with. Meanwhile Fred wants to get to the card to remove his name, but he ends up hiding in the closet.
Ethel is so excited to find out Lucy’s mystery lover! She’s completely bathing in that happy energy you can only feel when your best friends’ marriage dissolves into nothing.
But the card says Fred’s name!!! Fred comes out of the closet, and Ethel hits Fred in the face with the flower box. He runs out with a black eye, sees Ricky, and punches him in the face.
Can’t we just Game of Thrones this thing and kill off the entire Mertz family?
The next day, Fred comes in with a black eye from the flower box and says he believes them now, that you CAN get a black eye from a book. Because he gave one to Ethel when he threw a book at her.
Honestly how do you make this episode funny? It wasn’t funny then, it isn’t funny now. It’s like in those cooking shows when they hand all these amazing chefs a moldy octopus and are like MAKE A DESSERT and they do but, like, it doesn’t look that amazing because they’re chefs, they’re not all-powerful stove-demons who can change the laws of chemistry. That’s this episode and me.
MAKE A JOKE, JO! Well ok but also here’s the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.
Join me next time for S2 E21: Lucy Changes Her Mind. And follow WTF Lucy on Facebook and Twitter!