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Episode: 5.4

Title: Altered Egos

Written by: Jeff Melvoin

Directed by: John Coles

Aired: October 11, 1993

Log line: Chris is disturbed that Bernard’s girlfriend, who is also Chris’ ex-lover, cannot tell them apart in bed; Joel is obsessed that he is losing his New York edge; Marilyn snoops through Dr. Fleischman’s medical files to pick a healthy man.

Listen to the podcast discussion of the episode here.

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In “Altered Egos,” all three story lines grapple with the idea of identity. For Chris and Bernard, their sameness suddenly turns sinister with the prospect that they just may be exactly the same, even “in the clench”; Joel finds himself being taken over by a neutered, laughing, cold-weather-clothing-talking version of himself; for Marilyn, the identities of her potential beaus are reduced to mere medical histories.

Yet the question of what comprises the self is central to this episode: is our self never changing, or always changing? Are we the same people we were five or ten years ago, or entirely different? Are we where we come from? Could our identities change with our environment?

There seems to be an unusually large number of mentions of animals in this episode. For Chris, who reads a passage about herring gulls from Robert Ardey’s book The Territorial Imperative, even animals have distinct selves and can tell each other apart.

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However, Chris and others also use animals to describe human identity and the way they conceive of themselves.

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Animals (and animal imagery) are used in this episode to disrupt human proceedings, from a civilized Michel Foucault talk at a Feminist Deconstructionist conference, to Joel’s pursuit of legal means to defeat Ernie the fix-it guy.

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We are invited to ponder the possibility of how our environment can change and shape our identities. This is shown through more animal imagery, of how humans have impacted the very nature of wild animals, from creating dumps for bears to play in, to fishing, to breeding dogs at detriment of their health, to taking elk into homes, to using their skins in clothing.

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In the end, however, our protagonists rediscover their identity, with Chris realizing that through love and attraction, he and Bernard are fundamentally differently wired. Joel rediscovers this old New York self through a little interpersonal conflict, a dash of anger, and a spoonful of misery. Marilyn is willing to give Ted another chance, finally realizing that a man on paper is not as important as a man in person.

The animal imagery also extends to this re-delineation of self: from the snake pit emerges the snake that has shed its skin to become a new snake.

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Songs from the episode’s original airing:

  • Laurie Lewis – Old Friend
    [Replaced in DVD version]
    Joel asks Maggie if she notices anything different about him.
  • Edith Piaf  – Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien
    [Replaced in DVD version]
    Final scene when Marilyn sits beside Ted.

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Themes / Recurrences: Identity; the past; love; family

The Good: We enjoyed all three of the guest characters this week: Bernard (who we always enjoy seeing), Ann (who gave us a glimpse into Chris’ “lost year”) and Ted (who seems so sweet that he might actually be too innocent for Marilyn). We also liked the small scenes in this episode, especially when Marilyn silently makes herself a bowl of soup and some toast and looks out the window.

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The Bad: One guest character we weren’t as fond of was Ernie, who seemed a bit too one dimensional. Sure, he only had one scene, but we expect quite a bit from the show’s writers.

The Notable: Chris reads from Dostoyevsky’s The Double and an earlier episode credited to this episode’s writer, Jeff Melvoin, was named after a Dostoyevsky novel, Crime and Punishment. 

On’s rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Shane’s rating: 8.5 out of 10.

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