Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch – “The Pen” (S3, E5)

Welcome to Seinfeld: The PTBN Series Rewatch! On a regular basis, Justin Rozzero, Aaron George, Andrew Flanagan and Jordan Duncan will watch an episode of TV’s greatest sitcom and provide notes and grades across a number of categories. The goal is to rewatch the entire series chronologically to see what truly worked, what still holds up today, what feels just a bit dated and yada, yada, yada it will be a great time. So settle into your couch with the cushions flipped over, grab a Snapple and enjoy the ride!

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Best Character

Justin: I may have to cheat and have a six way tie for this one. I think it was easily Elaine’s best episode as she was featured heavily, took on the physical comedy and just shredded it across the board. Jerry was top notch too, acting as the compass through which everything ran through, running point and narrating the absurdity. He also had some great lines. Morty and Helen were brilliant, just ripping through their shtick with precision, oscillating between sniping at each other, fretting over the pen, bitching about the Klompuses, trying to be helpful but also being destructive at the same time, all while prepping for Morty’s big day. It was a real tour de force. Uncle Leo came charging in at the end and would have sealed this category in a lesser episode. And finally…Jack. From his decimal detail in settling up for dinner to his wavering over the pen to his closing roast of Morty, he kept the strong guest star torch burning bright. We all win in this one!

Aaron: It was really a dead heat between Jack Klompus and Elaine so I decided I was going to let their behavior at the banquet decide this one for me. While Jack was good in his role of emcee, Elaine high on pain killers screaming about STELLA seals it for me. Her fit in the bedroom while trying to sleep was eerily accurate to me at the highest levels of discomfort. We tend to view Kramer as the physical comedian, Elaine never fails to make me laugh whether she’s rushing a man out her door or tossing and turning. Her delivery in every other scene was bang on and she really helped hold this episode together for me.

Andrew: Jack Klompus, without a doubt. Elaine made a strong push at the end, but his performance is the one that stayed with me. It’s all good, from the needling of Morty to the discussions about who should get the pen, but the scene that sealed it for me was the impromptu roast at the ceremony. He delivers the jokes with such glee, like he’s really enjoying this moment of power over Morty. I loved it.

Jordan: Elaine. She was amazing throughout all of this. Thought about giving it to Helen or Morty, but the final scene with Elaine high off muscle relaxers sealed it. “Steeeellllaaa!!!!” She had the physical comedy with her back problems, the goofiness of the final scene and her torture with the heat. Even the final act where she is told she has to stay another five days is pretty fun, as she gets the Costanza treatment, so to speak. In an episode where everyone is great (even Uncle Leo appears!), Elaine still comes out ahead – it’s like being the All Star Game MVP. They seem to have really figured out that Elaine shouldn’t be a character who is surrounded by deviants because she’s the female, but that she’s just another one of the gang.

Best Storyline

Justin: The pen. No doubter here. It was the straw that stirred the drink of absurdity and exposed just how screwed up everything in this community is. It busted apart friendships, ruined a tribute banquet and led to nonstop gossip and hate. Without, the charade would still be going on to this day. TAKE THE PEN!

Aaron: The pettiness that goes on in retirement communities takes this one in a walk. They steal each others tape, they gossip about the most trivial things and spend the remainder of their lives yearning for the problems of their youth. While not your typical storyline that has a beginning middle and end, the overall theme of the elderly trying to out-nice one another while hating everyone on earth is hilarious.

Andrew: The pen storyline is perfect Seinfeld; all the petty rivalries and animosities hidden beneath polite society, exposed by a dispute over a simple writing instrument. That’s some good pen.

Jordan: The pen and all the chaos it produced. Jack immediately starts telling everyone that Jerry took it from him, and people come running to Helen’s house, whose reaction is terrific. Morty then calling out Jack for taking the pen back was funny as it led to a sponge cake battle and the GREAT REVEAL that it was JACK who took the scotch tape! This was like when a light went on in the hatch on the first season finale of Lost!

Ethical Dilemma of the Week

Justin: Should Jerry have returned the pen? Fuck no. Let them gossip! An offer is an offer and Jerry tried to turn it down initially but Jack kept pushing it on him. And why would Jack even offer the pen anyway? Of course there is a chance Jerry may accept! Jerry should have taken that pen back to New York and written his bits about dogs proudly from the comfort of his back.

Aaron: Should Jerry have taken the pen in the first place? Jerry really didn’t seem to even want the pen, but it seems there was no arguing with Jack so what exactly was he supposed to do? I think we’ve all been forced to take something we didn’t necessarily want from someone old, so I can’t really fault Jerry. Especially after Jack told him to “do him a personal favor.” I guess the solution is never talk to the elderly.

Andrew: Should Elaine have taken the bedroom when Helen first offered it? It would have saved her the back issues, but I just can’t see accepting that offer. You’re already inconveniencing these nice people by staying in their home, now you’re going to take their bed too?

Jordan: Jack should have just rounded up and paid Morty $20, plain and simple. That kind of cheap, penny-pinching behavior is a recipe for never having a split bill again. I have been in this situation where a bill was split and the other party insisted they didn’t have Coke. It is a putrid, evil thing to do to a friend to save a buck, and I hope Morty never went out to dinner with Jack again.

Relationship Scale (Scale 1-10)

Justin: The friendship between the Seinfelds and Klompuses was clearly very, very shaky heading into this one. It seemed like it would take just one off color remark or gesture to split it apart at the seams, and Jerry was the one to pull the final thread. Morty clearly was ready to pop at any minute. It started with the scotch tape, carried on to the dinner reimbursement check and crested with the regifting of the pen. It is too bad these couples need to remain neighbors because this relationship is dead…or maybe not since they are all old and crazy. Relationship Grade: Elderly/10

Aaron: Morty and Helen really are the perfect picture of a couple that’s been together so long that they only way they can show affection is by fighting tooth and nail over everything. Underneath the screaming, yelling, violent hand waves and passive aggressive looks lies a relationship that has stood the test of time and will continue to beat until they both die in some sort of explosion. Relationship Grade: 8/10

Andrew: Why is Jerry traveling with his ex? To visit his parents, no less? Was scuba diving so hot in the early 90s that Elaine would be excited to fly to a Florida retirement community to try it? These two are sending some very mixed signals, and I don’t like it. Relationship Grade: 0/10

Jordan: Helen brings up the Jerry and Elaine thing again, but the less said about that, the better. So let’s talk about the true Romeo and Juliet of this episode – Leo and Stella. Jerry coming to Florida for his father is one thing, but Leo travels for his brother-in-law?? What a guy! And Stella willingly gives up a Golden Girls episode as well? These people are true saints. As they walk in arm in arm, the love radiates from them. In the cesspool of relationships that is the Seinfeld world, Leo and Stella remain steadfast, loyal and supportive of one another. Also, their son works for the Parks Department! Relationship Grade: JERRY, HELLO!/10

What Worked

Justin: The running gag on the air conditioning was great; Helen’s over eagerness to please is fantastic, including the ever increasing downplaying of what they need and require; Jack Klompus is amazing across the board and played to a tee; Jack gifting the pen will live on in infamy; The condo politics were spot on; Elaine’s back problems with the sofa bed is super relatable and perfectly played; Jerry condensing the length of the vacation to comfort Elaine always makes me laugh; Evelyn asking where the “new pen” is, followed by Helen’s double take was awesome, especially since it implies that Jack’s wife started chirping as soon as they left the apartment; Jack and Morty arguing over pen, sponge cake and scotch tape; The scene at the dinner was beautifully played by everyone, with stoned Elaine, sunglass wearing Jerry, bitter Jack roasting Morty and the great Uncle Leo laying it in about Jerry’s material and pushing Cousin Jeffrey as always; Elaine and Jerry being forced to stay in Florida for another five days because of Elaine’s back was a nice way to wrap things up.

Aaron: They really nailed the doting parents here. They can’t accept Jerry’s help and constantly worry about him spending his money or finding his way. I’ve had that conversation with my dad where he gives me directions for what feels like an hour. He won’t stop busting my balls about insurance. He’ll sit on the floor if it means me having a chair. I get Morty Seinfeld, MY DAD IS MORTY SEINFELD. There’s also something innately true and brilliant here about creating our own problems when we have none. Jack Klompus was fantastic. I’m a big fan of arguments that escalate to anger quickly and we get a bunch on them here. “Oh course I wanted it! I love sponge cake!” could probably define our childhoods as relates to our relatives. The fact that the whole retirement community seemed to come unraveled because Jack gave Jerry the pen was very funny, especially Helen having to take phone calls about it. The single best part of the episode for me though was Larry Davis screaming offstage, “I’D RATHER HAVE A BOTTLE OF SCOTCH!!!” So much anger in that man. So many laughs for me.

Andrew: Briefly, the social commentary is what works. I love the idea of all these unspoken feuds between the residents of Phase II at the Pines of Mar Gables. There’s some really good ensemble acting, from Helen and Morty to the Klompuses to all the other residents. And I really, really, loved doped-up Elaine, just killing her scenes.

Jordan: I gave Elaine best character, but let’s not forget the awesomeness of Helen Seinfeld, who had the line of the episode: “I hate her like poison!” Her passive aggressive behavior is incredible, and Morty is terrific as well. While I love George and Kramer, I like that they didn’t feel the need to go back to New York to give them a subplot. The Florida visit was enough to carry the whole episode. The entire pen exchange was kind of funny, but they payoff where Jerry gives it back and Morty immediately goes after Jack for taking the pen is terrific. Jack loves sponge cake! The Seinfeld’s insistence that it wasn’t hot in their home is a classic grandparent move. The sun could literally set in their living room and they’d think the AC doesn’t need to be on. I also like the absurdity of the fact that everything spiraled out of control over a PEN that you can write upside down with – is it so hard for Jerry to just sit up in bed when he has a joke? The Uncle Leo appearance was terrific, as expected. He both insults and compliments Jerry for being on Carson, but saying he needs new material and that Jeffrey is funnier than him. So many good character moments and lines.

What Didn’t Work

Justin: Jerry’s blazer and shirt combo is a disaster; the fake outside background was really obvious and terrible looking; nothing else missed here, this was a gorgeous episode across the board.

Aaron: I think the episode was hurt a little by not having Kramer and George. If for nothing else to see cheap George, cheap Morty and cheap Jack have some sort of cheap-off. Evelyn would have surely benefited from Kramer being there as he would have no doubt banged the shit out of her to the sound of African drums.

Andrew: I have some issues with the writing. Why was Elaine along for the trip? Maybe it’s better they didn’t have some clunky exposition to explain it, but it still bothers me. I also didn’t love Jerry’s “What is going on in this community!” speech. I understand wanting to drive the point home, but that kind of outburst doesn’t play to Jerry’s strengths and it could have been done better. And finally, I don’t like to see missing main cast members; while there is clearly no room for Kramer and George in this episode, neither logically nor in screen time, it still sucks to not have them around.

Jordan: I think Jerry’s red blazer was stolen from Elaine’s season one wardrobe, and Elaine may or may not be wearing the same red jacket later in the episode!. Also, if it’s SO HOT in Florida…why is he wearing jeans and a tucked in shirt? Put on some shorts or stop whining, Jerome! The whole eye thing which caused Jerry to wear sunglasses seemed really pointless. Everything else is pretty great.

Key Character Debuts

– Jack Klompus

Iconic Moments, Running Themes & Memorable Quotes

– We establish Helen’s overeagerness to please, to a fault

– “Look at the sun dried tomatoes…where were they five years ago?” – Jerry

– “Why do you need more friends? You have plenty of friends.” – Morty

– “$17.10 and with tax and tip…” – Jack “Alright, make it $20…” – Morty “It’s $19…45.” – Jack

– “You want to switch? I’m sleeping on a love seat, I got my feet up in the air like I’m sleeping in a space capsule” – Jerry

– “It’s one day…half a day really. You subtract showers and meals, it’s like twenty minutes!” – Jerry

– “Jerry, ya got thin…” – Evelyn “Too thin?” – Jerry “Oh, stop worrying about how you look!” – Helen

– “What happened to you?” – Jack “I got in a fist fight with one of the ladies at the pool” – Jerry

– “Of course I wanted it! I love sponge cake!” – Jack

– “What is going on in this community? Are you people aware of what is happening? What is driving you to this behavior? It is the humidity? Is it the muzak? Is it the white shoes?” – Jerry

– “What is what the sunglasses? Who are you, Van Johnson?” – Uncle Leo

– “STELLA! STELLA!” – Elaine

– “You need new material…I’ve heard you do that dog routine three times already…You should get your Cousin Jeffrey to write some material for you…” “What are you talking about, he works for the parks department!” – Morty “You should read the letters he’s written, he’s funnier than the whole bunch of you!” – Uncle Leo

– “This better be good, I’m missing Golden Girls for this” – Aunt Stella “< Fake Laughter > I hate her like poison” – Helen

Oddities & Fun Facts

– This is the first episode outside of New York

– Kramer and George do not appear in this episode; it is the first to not feature George

– Jerry’s rental car cost $25/day

– Uncle Leo apparently lives in Florida too

– Larry David can be heard as a voice in the crowd at the banquet

Overall Grade (Scale 1-10)

Justin: If you sat there before this episode and were told that there would be no Kramer or George, you would assumed it would be a stinker. But you would be wrong, because it was an epic. Jerry stepped his game up hard and led the way, with Elaine delivering her breakout episode, delivering in spades. The Florida group was fantastic as well, really filling in the gaps. The storyline was crisp and entertaining and was garnished with quick bits that everybody could relate to (the hot condo, the shitty sofa bed, having to attend a meaningless banquet). The material was endless for this one and they did a great job taking advantage of it. The fact that the Library and this episode were delivered back to back shows just how hot this show was about to get. Final Grade: 9/10

Aaron: I enjoyed this one, but it wasn’t the all-time classic I was expecting going in. It was extremely solid, but I really feel the exclusion of Kramer and George weighs heavily on my final score. There’s definitely some brilliance here, but I’m left wanting way too much more with this one. I can’t in good conscience rate it as high as something like “The Note” and that’s why I landed where I did. Final Grade: 6/10

Andrew: A very solid episode, with lots of funny material. Elaine really gets an opportunity to shine, which is nice to see. And the pacing is excellent, leading to the great payoff scene at the banquet. The episode suffers from not having George and Kramer around, but there are so many great guest stars to fill the void that it hardly matters. You can definitely see the show getting into a groove now, and is on its best run so far. Final Grade: 7/10

Jordan: Am I crazy for thinking they missed the boat on a Morty and Helen spinoff? I would watch every episode of a series about these people. Kramer and George aren’t in this episode – and it doesn’t even hurt it a little bit. This is a great sign because I feel like George has really carried the series so far, and it shows that Elaine has developed into a vital part of the cast. All the old people are terrific too, not just the Seinfelds. This entire Florida trip could honestly have stretched into a two or three episode arc and I would totally be fine with it. Let us see Elaine on the mend, Jack sneaking a bite of sponge cake while Morty isn’t looking, Helen slyly stealing the pen back, it all would have been great. This show is so good at making normal stuff funny – Helen refusing to turn on the AC while Elaine is dripping with sweat, then in the next scene she is covering herself with a sweater, rocking back and forth and shivering. Awesome stuff, and the fact that we got it after The Library is the best 1-2 combo we’ve seen yet. And we’re only in season three! I want to give it a 9, but I feel The Library was just a bit better, so I’ll deduct one point for no George and Kramer, even though I’m contradicting myself. Take the pen! Final Grade: 8/10

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.