The title of Monday night's episode was ''Butterflies and Bottle Rockets,'' which would be a good name for a punk rock band. Kate took Alexis, Hannah, and Leah on a vacation to Florida, and to the wildlife park Butterfly World. One dark-hued butterfly befriended the young girls. ''We should call him Black Velvet,'' said Kate, ''Because he looks like black velvet.'' ''Will he stay with me? Can we keep him?'' asked Alexis. Kate reached out to pet him, but Black Velvet flew away in fear.
Jon was running the asylum back at Casa de Gosselin. ''The little girls are in Florida, so I just have the boys today,'' he said, forgetting his two older daughters. ''We're gonna do destructive man stuff.'' That meant pulling out a fancy new bottle rocket. ''Forget the instructions, we'll look at the picture on the box,'' Jon said. Long minutes passed as one man and five children stared blankly at the picture on the box. Collin asked a perceptive question: ''Do you have the instructions?''
Inside of Butterfly World's bird sanctuary, Kate fed three birds. ''I need eight. I'll feel complete.'' That's pretty funny. Kate-haters, you have to admit that she's at least self-aware enough to poke fun at herself (unlike Emperor Bling Bling, Lord of Manly Earrings). Sure enough, the tour guide placed eight birds on Kate's shoulders. ''I'm telling you, they better not poop on me,'' Kate warned.
Next on the tour was the Bug Zoo, filled with creepy-crawlies and arachnids. The girls were like kids in a candy store. Kate freaked out and fled through the Fire Exit. Then, get this, Alexis followed her out of the Fire Exit, waving around a ginormous Millipede. ''I love how old they're getting, they can torture me,'' said Kate.
The Bug Farmers said they had never seen 5-year-olds get so excited about holding all the bizarre denizens of the Bug Farm. We tend to assume that the Gosselin kids will suffer all kinds of psychological problems because of their role on this show. But what if having to undergo such an intense level of scrutiny at such a young age has actually turned them into battle-hardened super-people? We need to send these kids into space or something.
Jon's Icarus-like quest to send his bottle rocket to the moon hit some stumbling blocks. The first launch only went a few feet in the air. Jon noted sadly, ''Even the paparazzi were like, what the hell is he doing?'' I get your plan, J.G.: you've already lost the kids, but you're trying to win the publicity war by performing elaborate stunts to impress us media vultures. If that's your plan, it's not working.
Up, up and awayFortunately, the rocket was soon soaring through the air. Satisfied that he had at last conquered the sky, Jon led the kids in a water balloon fight. We didn't get to see too much of the fight, but I assume that Joel cried.
That brings up an important point: this week's episode continued the trend of barely paying attention to the kids. When she took her trio on a hot air balloon ride, Kate gave us a nonstop charm offensive. She told us how hot it was in the balloon, and how hard it was to wake up early, and how silly she was for her choice of footwear. ''I had heels on,'' said our gal. ''It doesn't surprise me, I really only pack heels.''
Tee-hee! That's real cute, Kate! But save it for your talk show! Meantime, the cameras practically didn't notice her three children. I mean, come on! They had to wake up at dawn! They went a billion miles up in the air! In the old days, this would have garnered some fun moments, or a great Alexis line, at least. Instead, the camera paid so much attention to Kate's (fake?) self-deprecation vamping that we didn't even see which of the girls said, loudly, ''It's not fun! At all!''
This isn't just a problem with Kate: Jon's last few segments have basically been him playing with matches while the kids watch in awe. But just because the parents are paying less attention to their kids doesn't mean the show should ignore them, too.
All that said, I thought the end of the episode, with Jon teaching his kids how to swing a baseball bat, was pretty moving. Like all guys, I always cry over the combination of fathers and baseball.
Best sextuplet malapropism: ''Going in an air hot, air hot balloon.''
Worst moment for Kate the scientist: ''Whatever causes the thing to fly, it's hot!'' said Kate, regarding the hot air balloon.
Best moment for Kate the scientist: ''To keep up that many butterflies,'' Kate informed us, ''There has to be this lab, where there's gazillions of chrysalises.'' Another great punk rock band! And perhaps the title of Kate's autobiography?
I'll leave it to you to decide which parent came off worse Monday night. (I realize that Jon never necessarily comes off well, so it's really a question of whether Kate came off bad enough to make Jon look good.) But you have to admit: Butterflies, bottle rockets, balloon fights, balloon* rides and baseball? Those are all pretty fun.
*Yes, I think it's weird that both parents' segments involved some kind of balloon so soon after the brief wondrous life of Balloon Boy, but TLC wouldn't have cobbled this episode together at the last minute to take advantage of that. Would they?