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The gang was just ever so happy to be back in New Jersey. They ran up the stairs. The girls jumped on their beds. The guys humped their beds. The guys humped on their beds. "Vinny immediately jumps on my bed to dry-hump me, just like old times," said Pauly D rhapsodically, like an old Middle European monarch recalling his days at the academy. Ronnie said, "I feel like I was at boarding school, and America's my mother, and I'm coming home to my mother right now." (Quick mental image: Young Ronnie, a hairy child-gorilla dressed in a prep-school coat-and-tie uniform, carrying a lunchbox in one hand and a sign that says "Potty Trained" in his other hand, crying on the front steps of his boarding school while his mother drives away in a Dodge Caravan, and his mother is America.) The duck phone Quack-Quack-Quacked. Deena burped. Snooki exclaimed that no one could take her bed, because she peed in it last year. As if Snookified egesta would stop anyone! "Egesta" means "excrement," and speaking of which, The Situation said, "I'm the happiest I've been in awhile. I can breathe. I can smell the smog. I love it." You might laugh, but that's exactly what Thomas Jefferson said when he returned to America from his Ambassadorship.
This is almost certainly going to be the last essential season of Jersey Shore. It's almost certainly not the last season, period. Even if the series continues to bleed viewers, even if everything remains pretty boring, even if Pauly D jumps ship for his spin-off and Snooki kickstarts her acting career and Uncle Situation retires to a lifetime of litigation, MTV can almost certainly draw a couple more seasons out of Ronnie and Sammi and Deena hanging out with a young gaggle of juiceheads, New Mutants-style. That's to be expected. In the modern world, all media franchises last at least three cycles too long. But for those of us who are interested in the real, primal Jersey Shore saga -- the story of a group of young people and one 45-year-old man who sought success, achieved success, and then found themselves utterly incapable of dealing with their success -- I'm pretty sure this fifth season is the closest thing to genuine conclusion that we're likely to get. This is The Return of the King; all that follows will just be mere Silmarillion.
Certainly, the stage feels set for a final reckoning. Boss Danny invited the gang out for drinks, which is strange, because usually Boss Danny drinks alone to counteract the pain of having to interact with the cast of Jersey Shore. But it turned out it was a surprise party, featuring guest appearances from all our favorite supporting players. J-Woww's knight-in-shining-armor Roger! Snooki's douche-in-douching-douchery Jionni! Vinny's handsy Uncle Nino! Snooki's friend with low self-esteem, Ryder! And, to top it all off, we witnessed the first onscreen appearance of a character who has become a central mysterious figure in the show's universe: The Unit.*
*Note: I'm aware that The Unit might have appeared randomly in an earlier season as one of the various Shore friends who tend to cluster around the corner of the screen. But I think it's fair to say that -- after all the build-up he received in season 4 -- his appearance on last night's episode had all the dramatic weight of Orson Welles standing in the doorway in The Third Man. Which, by the way, "The Dramatic Weight of Orson Welles" would be a great name for a failed punk-rock band.
NEXT: Unit and the Special Victims. (Which, by the way, is a great name for a failed neo-Motown soul quartet.)
9:00 PM ET Jan 6, 2012 by Laura Hertzfeld