For two seasons, Lynette Scavo has been perhaps the most pulled-together resident of Wisteria Lane, where the "Desperate Housewives" head for their finale on May 21. While Susan has gone through romantic disasters to rival a Harlequin romance, Bree has lost her husband, and Gabrielle has cheated on hers, Lynette and Tom's marriage has stayed relatively intact. In fact, Lynette has served as a source of strength for the other women on Wisteria Lane, offering sound advice and a shoulder to cry on when needed.
Sure, the Scavo kids (Parker, Porter, Penny, and Pepsi, or something like that) are P-shaped maniacs. But after a few nanny-daycare shakeups, the tykes appear to have settled down to a much quieter reign of terror. At least they're too young to be sleeping with their parents' paramours, à la Bree's son, Andrew, or whacking a neighbor over the head, as Bree's daughter Danielle did to Betty Applewhite. Unlike what happened to poor Edie and Susan, no one has burned down the Scavo home. And no one is bloodily trying to frame them for murder via finger-amputation, as the getting-more-creepy-by-the-hour Felicia Tillman just did to pretty-creepy-himself Paul Young.
No, the Scavos, up till now, have mostly wrestled with the more mundane world of work woes. Frustrated with life as a stay-at-home mom, Lynette ended up working at the same ad agency as her husband Tom, he quit to try the stay-at-home dad life for a while, then rejoined the company.
Lynette's grappled with a childless boss who seemed to have it in for her as a mother, worked to start up an in-office daycare center, and managed to get said childless boss fired for sexual grappling with another employee. But her biggest work problem has involved the man she both works and lives with, husband Tom.
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Scavo vs. Scavo
As anyone who's attempted to work with a loved one can tell you, dealing with a close relative or friend in the business world can try even a saint's patience. Working with a loved one can double the waking hours spent together each day — twice the time for disagreements, for words misinterpreted, for knock-down, drag-out fights.
Even when Lynette and Tom were working separately, they clashed. Lynette sabotaged a promotion Tom was in line for and the betrayal he felt reverberated for months. She finally made him a deal: She'd agree to try and work at the same company with him, under the condition that he never, ever bring up that issue again. So far, he's held to that promise.
But work has been far from a bed of roses for the Scavo two. They've ended up battling for dominance in the boardroom, and it's sometimes carried over into the bedroom. "It's hard for a guy to not feel in control of any part of his life," Tom bluntly told his wife. Lynette's been understanding, to a point, but she's not one to hide her frustration. Tom and new boss Ed's frat-house antics led her to pull a stunt of her own, in which she ate an entire pound of a client's raw bacon.
But Lynette and Tom might have been able to continue working together until the Clan of the P Bears headed off for Penn State or Pepperdine or Parsons or Princeton, if not for a technological slip-up on Lynette's part. Instant-messaging from work with an at-home Tom, she typed a sexy message without she was sending it to their boss. She quickly apologized for the message, and for most employees, that and a horrible bout of embarrassment would have been the end of it.
But Lynette Scavo is not most employees, or most people. Instead of apologizing and slinking back to her desk, she encouraged Ed to start sending sexy messages to his own spouse, Fran. When a nervous Ed fled, Lynette sat down at his desk and played cyber-Cyrano. When Fran discovered that the messages were from another employee, Ed lied and blamed Tom so he wouldn't have to fire Lynette. He then set about finding a reason to fire Tom, which came rather easily when Tom punched him in the face.
Secrets of the Scavos
The Scavo marriage, it seems, has more problems than just the fact that their kids are the wild children of Wisteria. During a first-season episode in which Tom's father (played by Ryan O'Neal) visited, viewers learned that he knew a secret about his son's life, a secret that involved Lynette. The secret was not revealed or even revisited until late in the second season, when Ed told Lynette that Tom's expense reports seemed to indicate he was having an affair with a woman in Atlantic City. She then tailed him, saw him in what appeared to be a compromising situation, and took the kids and fled their home.
It was, to say the least, a very "Desperate Housewives" way to reveal a possible affair. On another show, Lynette could have overheard a phone call, discovered an email or a receipt, or even heard Tom talking in his sleep. But in the Scavo world, where problems seem to either revolve around the office or the offspring, viewers are expected to believe that a man as seemingly intelligent as Tom would actually put roses and theater tickets for a girlfriend on his company expense report. (In much the same way, most shows facing an adoption crisis would have the parents duke it out in court, on "Housewives," Gaby and Carlos did that briefly, then just took the baby and ran.)
It's possible, of course, that "Housewives" could be setting up a giant "Laverne and Shirley"-style mishap here, where it just looks as if Tom is cheating, but really the woman is his long-lost sister! Or his cousin! Or his Avon lady! But at this point in the Scavo relationship, a bait-and-switch like that would ring truly false. For almost two seasons, Lynette and Tom have played solid backup singers to a cast of crazies. Even when their plots moved into the realm of the extreme (the eating of the raw bacon, Lynette hiring a co-worker to pretend to abduct her son), there was always a sense somehow that they were day players.
Scavo plots have long been secondary to actually moving the engine that is "Desperate Housewives" through the course of a season. Sometimes they were comic relief, sometimes they were support staff, but rarely did they control the A-plot of any one particular episode. Bree's psychotic children and murdered husband, Gaby's penchant for hunky gardeners and baby woes, Susan's endless pratfalling and Mike-mourning always took center stage. Even the deceased-from-episode-one Mary Alice and the new-in-season-two Applewhites had creepier, more serious plots.
The second season of "Housewives" has been criticized for not living up to the promise of season one. Viewers and critics have rightly pointed out that the season seems less coherent than the first. The Applewhites were introduced to much fanfare, then disappeared for weeks. Felicia Tillman and Paul Young's Itchy and Scratchy-like revenge plot weave in and out almost as often.
But the writers could still have a trick or two to play. The season finale has a chance to move the Scavos from being just background players with funny kids and hectic jobs, shaking up their seemingly enviable lives as was done with Bree in the first season when Rex died. If so, then what some are calling a sinking ship of a show might right itself just in time for summer.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor.
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