|Episode no.||Season 9
|Directed by||Andy Ackerman|
|Written by||Peter Mehlman & David Mandel|
|Original air date||November 20, 1997|
"The Betrayal" is the 164th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. This was the eighth episode for the ninth and final season. It aired on November 20, 1997. The episode is colloquially referred to as The Backwards Episode due to its use of reverse chronology, starting with the final scene and playing in order backwards. The episode can be played in "correct" order (chronologically) on the DVD release of season 9.
This episode presents a backwards narrative, beginning with the Castle Rock Entertainment logo in reverse (but has the music in forward) and goes from the final scene to the first scene.
Jerry and George are walking down the street (while George is wearing Timberland boots) and they run into Nina (Justine Miceli), an old girlfriend of Jerry's with whom he's never slept, because there was never an awkward pause during which he could make a move. Elaine receives a last minute invitation to Sue Ellen Mischke's wedding in India. Given the late arrival of the invitation, Elaine assumes that this is an "unvitation" and that Sue Ellen doesn't actually want her to come. Sue Ellen will be marrying Pinter Ranawat, whose name seems familiar to Elaine.
George asks Jerry to call Nina about setting them up on a date and realizes he must wear his Timberlands (because wearing them causes him to seem taller) every time he sees her. Jerry and Nina suffer an awkward pause in their conversation, causing them to have sex on Jerry's counter. Elaine meets Pinter's parents, Usha and Zubin Ranawat, who try to convince her not to go to India for the wedding; they aren't going themselves and dislike India. While at Jerry's to talk about the incident, Elaine discovers that he and Nina have just slept together. She and Jerry agree that they must keep this from George, as he will take it personally.
Elaine buys tickets for herself, Jerry, George, and Kramer to India to spite Sue Ellen by showing up at her wedding. When she returns to Jerry's to give everyone their surprise tickets, Kramer refuses because he must resolve the curse put upon him by FDR (see below). George promptly takes the ticket for Nina, and Elaine and Jerry immediately become awkward, afraid that their secret will get out. Jerry temporarily escapes talking with George by going with Kramer to Newman's. Noticing Elaine's odd behavior, George goes with her to Monk's and gets her drunk on Peach Schnapps. While under the influence, Elaine reveals Jerry and Nina's encounter to George.
Elaine, Jerry, George and Nina arrive in India, where Elaine discovers that Pinter is a man she has slept with and that they are the only people from the United States who are attending the ceremony. Jerry makes Elaine drink schnapps to find out why George is acting bitterly towards him. George finds out that Jerry slept with Nina and that Elaine had slept with the groom, a fact that George shouts out during the wedding ceremony. Sue Ellen calls her wedding off when she finds out, and Nina reveals she hates George and isn't interested in Jerry, and only came for a free trip to India. Jerry, George, and Elaine return from their disastrous trip to India that they don't want to talk about to Kramer. It is revealed that, two years ago, Elaine indeed dated Pinter (whom Elaine knew as "Peter") and Jerry tells George and Susan that Nina might be the one. He is very impressed when she mentions something he's never heard of, called "e-mail".
Meanwhile, Kramer attends FDR (Franklin Delano Romanowski)'s birthday and FDR gives him the evil eye right before blowing out the candles on his cake. Kramer confronts FDR about his birthday wish, which is for Kramer to drop dead. Kramer tries to get Newman to use his birthday wish to protect Kramer from dropping dead. When he finds out that Newman didn't use his birthday wish to save Kramer from FDR (instead using it to wish for a date with a supermodel, which in fact comes true), Kramer scolds him, while Jerry sits by him, explaining he only came "because of George". Kramer tries to out-wish FDR by wishing on a shooting star, throwing coins in the fountain, pulling out eyelashes, and even pulling a wishbone. In the end, Kramer and FDR settle their scores with a snowball. It is revealed that Kramer hit FDR in the back of the head with a snowball two years earlier. At the end of the episode, a flashback, taking place eleven years earlier, shows how Jerry met Kramer (whom Jerry calls Kessler, the name on the buzzer) and tells him, "What's mine is yours." This explains why Kramer will frequently go uninvited into Jerry's apartment later on.
"The Betrayal" alludes overtly to Harold Pinter's play (and film) Betrayal. The debt to Pinter's play appears in the episode's title, "The Betrayal", in the use of reverse chronology, which mimics a prominent feature of Pinter's play, and in the choice for the first name of the groom, Pinter Ranawat, whose wedding Jerry and his friends travel to India to attend. The episode develops motifs relating to the theme of betrayal, exposing various betrayals in the plot. In one segment of this episode, Jerry betrays George by having sex with George's girlfriend, Nina, while it turns out that Elaine has previously had an affair with Peter, named Pinter in India, who is marrying her rival friend, Sue Ellen Mishke. The backward chronology begins in India, ending in Jerry's very first meeting with Cosmo Kramer in his apartment, eleven years earlier.
On the "Audio Commentary" with David Mandel and Peter Mehlman, the development is quite different. The original story had Kramer going to India, but Peter Mehlman suggested - based on his own experience - that he attends a birthday party in which a person makes a wish. Mandel and Mehlman agreed, in part because of the lollipop gag and also having the character Newman involved, the storyline for Kramer is trying to avoid a birthday wish from FDR that he "drop dead". Mike McShane portrays FDR in the episode.
- George, staying in India for a few days, is trying to walk off the need to go to the bathroom.
- Before Elaine hands out the plane tickets, George and Nina are hanging out together; also noting the Timberlands he's wearing at the time.
- Kramer, coming back to greet Jerry, George and Elaine after the Sue Ellen wedding incident, bumps into a kid who gives him the evil eye before he blows out his candles on his birthday. Because of this, he runs out of the restaurant fearing it will happen again.
- On the plane, after George announces that "Jerry Seinfeld's a funny guy", Elaine tells Nina that she put the fact that Jerry and Nina slept together "in the vault." She then takes the pillow from the man next to her, who turns out to be "Vegetable Lasagna" (last seen in "The Butter Shave").
Jerry mistaking Kramer's name as "Kessler" is a reference to the "The Seinfeld Chronicles" where Kramer's character was originally named Kessler. The episode also gives us a clue as to why Kramer always helps himself to anything in Jerry's apartment.
Susan Ross, despite having died at the end of Season 7, makes a return appearance in this episode. She appears during a brief flashback to "two years earlier", during the time when she was still alive, and when she and George were engaged. She also provided the phrase George claims he owns: "You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister." In "Notes About nothing", this flashback supposedly took place between "The Secret Code" and "The Pool Guy" in terms of the timeline. Also at the time revealed by Peter Mehlman in the "Audio Commentary" and Heidi Swedberg in "Inside Look" that she already had her head shaved for another episode in a different show so she has to wear a wig for this appearance.
Vegetable Lasagna aka Magnus seen in "The Butter Shave" in a deleted scene makes a final brief appearance next to Elaine on the plane.
This episode's inclusion on the Seinfeld Season 9 DVD is accompanied by a special feature that allows the viewer to watch the episode front-to-back with normal chronology, preceded by a brief introduction from writer David Mandel. This "forward" version has never aired on television.
David Sims of The AV Club was "torn" in his review: "The Betrayal—which is played backward (down to cute meta jokes like having the Castle Rock logo be the first thing on screen)—is very much about its gimmick, and it wrings a lot of fun jokes from it, like Kramer's gigantic lollipop going from eaten to full, or Jerry saying 'bless you' to Elaine and a cut to 'three seconds earlier,' when she sneezes. The best meta joke of all comes right near the end, when we flash to two years prior and see a guest appearance by Susan, who implants the irritating catchphrase 'You can stuff your sorries in a sack, mister!' into George's head... Once you know the plot, everything feels a little less exciting... Still, one of Seinfeld's great strengths is its story craft, and The Betrayal is the ultimate example of that, since it's all about the craft." Cinematic Happenings Under Development called the episode "gimmicky" in a review of the Season 9 DVD: "We're also given the ability to watch The Betrayal in reverse, which turns it from a gimmick-based farce into a nearly likeable episode."
Paul Arras wrote, "The real fun of the episode are the jokes that show the effect before the cause, such as when George complains about a stomach ache and then the episode cuts backwards to him ordering clams casino at the coffee shop. Another fun example is when, after Jerry tells Elaine, "God bless you," the show cuts to Elaine sneezing. But the deeper effect of the reverse chronology is not too far from the reason Harold Pinter employed it... In this episode George, Jerry, and Elaine are particularly nasty. They all lie, cheat, and deceive throughout the story. Both Jerry and George get Elaine drunk to get information from her. Elaine goes to India to spite Sue Ellen. And the three end up (or start out, in the order of the episode) furious with each other. Behind the clever gimmick of The Betrayal is a particularly nasty story about fairly nasty characters, so perhaps its greatest triumph is the clever way it reveals the true nature of the show's characters."
Ryan Gilbey of The Guardian wrote , "By its final season, it was referencing Pinter in The Betrayal, which was structured entirely in reverse. Keep that in mind next time you're watching Two and a Half Men. It wasn't only audacity that set the show apart... Only Roseanne Barr, whose own sitcom was broadcast during the same period, publicly took against the highfalutin rival show: 'They think they're doing Samuel Beckett instead of a sitcom.'"
- "The Betrayal". Episode Guide for Seinfeld. Sony Pictures, n.d. World Wide Web. 6 Feb. 2009. (Includes a video clip.)
- Sims, David (March 12, 2012). "The Slicer/The Betrayal S9 / E7-8". The AV Club. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
- La Pay, Trevor (December 3, 2007). "DVD REVIEW: SEINFELD SEASON 9". Cinematic Happenings Under Development. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
- Arras, Paul. "SEINFELD - Season 9, Episode 8 - "The Betrayal"". Watching the 90s: Television and Film Notes and Musings. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
- Gilbey, Ryan (30 April 2012). "Life After Seinfeld". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved April 11, 2013.