SNARK WEEK RECAP: North & South (1985), Episode 4


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Because I live to entertain, and because I make bad life choices, I have decided to recap 1985’s Civil War classic, North and South. Look for a new episode recap each day of Snark Week, and enjoy the frosted lipstick!

Guys! Two things!

1) I am literally working on these recaps as Snark Week unfolds, so thanks to everyone who has commented here or on Facebook saying they’re enjoying these! Your enjoyment makes my suffering worthwhile.


FYI, this episode spans 1854 through 1856. Not that anyone involved in the costumes seems to care.

We begin with the Northern Clan visiting the Southern Clan, and there’s a ball at Swayze’s plantation, and THE COSTUME DESIGNERS WENT NUTS!!! Best of all is Perfect Blonde, who obviously has been too decently dressed, because someone raided the Dynasty wardrobe. She looks like a mash-up between Princess Di and Krystle Carrington:

North and South 1985 ep 4

HOOR RED, acetate taffeta, glue-on rhinestones, Leg Avenue gloves. AND WHAT IS THAT GIANT SILVER THING ON HER HEAD??!!

VIRGILIA is in a slightly more subdued color, but decided to raid the 1980s equivalent of Claire’s for ALL THE RHINESTONES:

North and South 1985 ep 4

Poly baroque satin falling off the shoulders, ALL THE MALL JEWELRY, ALL THE HAIR, check out the dumpy extra (red arrow) in back! Ha!

Tits is full Sad Trombone, with sleeves that look like the 1830s went to space and A CRYSTAL HEAD NECKLACE:

North and South 1985 ep 4

You see that kind of neckline/sleeves… in the 1830s. It usually doesn’t involve so much shoulder or boob. LOVING the LAVENDER nylon lace gloves. And, HEAD NECKLACE.

Slutty Brunette went for lace and a sprinkle of what looks like rice in her hair:

North and South 1985 ep 4

Lace, teal, don’t see much except her bridal/1870s hair and BANGS. HOW HAVE I NOT RANTED ABOUT THE BANGS YET.

Sweet Blonde went for all my 13 year old southern belle fiddle-dee-dee fantasies in one ensemble. Can’t you just HEAR THE ACETATE?

North and South 1985 ep 4

I swear this was inspired by Cinderella’s first dress design. Also, BANGS. AND ALL THE PLASTIC PEARLS IN EXISTENCE.

Right, plot! VIRGILIA sneaks out for a smoke (OOO BADASS) and a peak at the slaves, where she runs into Grady, coachman for Slutty Brunette’s fiancé.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Virgilia just needs a boyfriend with a motorcycle!

Slutty Brunette is into Billy (younger brother of George). To make him jealous (there’s no logic here), and to one-up her sister, she takes the rando flirting with her sister out to the barn and fucks him in the cotton. Billy spots them and is horrified (“AIEEEE! SLUTTY!”), she is traumatized to be found (wait, weren’t you trying to make him jealous?), but then is quickly returned to her sluttiness by the rando groping her.

Side note, while most of the accents in this thing are shitty, Slutty Brunette’s annoys me the most. I’m no expert in South Carolina accents, but she says things like “gel” instead of “girl” and it grates!

North and South 1985 ep 4

Right. This is totally typical 1850s unmarried female behavior.

Billy and Sweet Blonde get closer. Slutty Brunette is peeved.

North and South 1985 ep 4

“Oh Billy, my bodice may be ill-fitting but I put rice in my hair just like my slutty sister!”

VIRGILIA has been SO GOOD this entire time. She’s out riding with one of Swayze’s slaves, played by Forest Whitaker, and they get caught in the rain. She tries to talk to him about running away, but he’s all “aw shucks miss I just want to gits you home!” Luckily, she runs into Grady, and within 0.35 seconds concocts a plan to 1. send away Forest Whitaker, 2. stay overnight in a nearby barn with Grady, and 3. shag Grady.

Okay, and now I pontificate for a bit: I am sure there were mixed race couples in the pre-Civil War era, both North and South, and I’m sure that some of them were white women with black men. I would guess they would be amongst the poorer people, but sure, there probably was more than one upper-class white woman who was in love with an enslaved African American or free person of color. However, Virgilia has spent about 3 minutes around this guy before she is all heaving bosoms and parted lips. So, her hotness for this guy totally reeks of White Savior Complex and “I’ll show everyone just how pro-abolition I am!”

Also, I have no idea whether or not she’s sexually experienced, but I feel like for someone of her class level and gender, jumping into bed with someone she’s not married to would be a Big Deal. There is also the issue of the “black stud.” They make a big point of Grady saying that he’s doing this because he wants to, but basically it reads as Virgilia being hot for him simply because he’s a slave, not because of who he is as an individual.

They make a plan for Grady to run away.

North and South 1985 ep 4

HOOOR red can only mean one thing, amirite? Glad her spackle survived all that rain.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Insert abolitionist gang sign.

Swazye and George “rescue” Virgilia, she is all thanks, and embracing her new slut status by going red and sparkly black:

North and South 1985 ep 4

“I have tasted the forbidden delights of interracial sex, and now I’m alll red, alll the time!”

North and South 1985 ep 4

Daw, I do like ivory and black, even if it’s got that acetate sheen! Quick, set your irons to low!

The next day, Slutty Brunette’s fiancé turns up to accuse Virgilia of helping Grady run away. Swazye and George start defending her, Slutty Brunette recounts how she saw Virgilia and Grady in the cotton barn, Virgilia goes all “yeah, I did it, what you gonna do?” Needless to say, Northern Clan departs immediately.

North and South 1985 ep 4

So the main issue I have with this number, besides the fact that it doesn’t look 1850s (where are the dropped shoulder seams? wide sleeves?) is it seems like they sewed in a bad attempt at a chemisette and called it good. Also, those sleeve puffs — what, are we in 16th-century Florence here?

North and South 1985 ep 4

Virgilia also gets a sewn-in clunky chemisette thing, plus plastic cameo! Frizz that hair, girl!

North and South 1985 ep 4

Sweet Blonde rocks the pink…

North and South 1985 ep 4

THE FIT ON PERFECT BLONDE’S BODICE: NOT GOOD. Plastic Cameo is all couch fabric. Northern Mom just looks like my mom, which continues to weird me out. Her name is Inga Swenson, and my mom is partially Danish, so I think that’s why.

Tits arrives at Low Rent Ricardo Montalban’s (her dad) house just in time for him to die. She has a sad, even more so when pops informs her that one of her grandmothers (on mom’s side) was a black slave.

North and South 1985 ep 4

The whole bolero-jacket thing is so 1860s, and it’s all VERY slim-fit.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Once again, Maum Sally has the most period-appropriate fabric and dress! Also, as another commenter pointed out, points for the tignons (head wrap) which are 1. period and racially appropriate, and 2. done in interesting and attractive ways!

We cut to Philadelphia, and apparently Virgilia has MARRIED Grady. The problem, again, is that it all seems so token-y. I mean, I’m glad there’s finally an African American character with more than two lines, but he’s there to prove just how hardcore Virgilia is, not so that we can understand his experiences and motivations.

Reader Dora H*ckin K. said it perfectly in a comment on my first recap: “As if the Civil War was this tragic misunderstanding between two groups of mostly-nice white Americans — a war in which black people had no role except as an issue.” I’m not saying it’s not valid to tell a story about white people who lived through the Civil War. But this whole production reeks of “EPIC STORY, TELLING BOTH SIDES OF THE CONFLICT” — with a big, gaping side (or more) left out: what about enslaved people’s experiences? What about free people of color’s [FPOC] experiences?

In this scene, a FPOC has come to ask Grady to speak at an abolitionist meeting, which both Grady and Virgilia are furious about, because this guy is yet another of these “don’t bring up violence!” types. Virgilia goes off on some fire and brimstone rant about how this all needs to end in blood and then we’ll string up the wimps like FPOC abolitionist, because fuck them all!

The problem I’ve been having all along with Virgilia’s strident abolitionism is it makes her position seem extremist. Sure, there were people at many points on the spectrum of pro- and anti-slavery. But since she’s the main one to speak for abolition in this series (OK, so Perfect Blonde has her once scene where she asks nicely and politely if she can work for the Underground Railroad), it basically makes abolitionists look like war-mongering assholes. It’s all part of the reductionist bullshit that paints slavery as an institution as not so bad, because hey, nice people like Swayze are slave owners! And really, it’s all about states’ rights, right? GAG VOMIT THROW THINGS

North and South 1985 ep 4

Virgilia found her boy-with-motorcycle and, in the process, lost her hot rollers. And corset. Nice modern Talbot’s blouse, too.

Speaking of which … Sweet Blonde is sad, because someone (coughVirgiliacough) sent her family a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and now she is worried that all Northerners will think Southerners are evil. Because, you know! Supposedly her family is nice to their slaves! So it’s all okay! (Note: I do not think that anyone is inherently evil, except, maybe, Hitler, but even then, complicated situation. However, an institution like slavery is inherently evil and fucked up, and no matter how nice or helpful or whatever someone is, it doesn’t excuse owning people).

North and South 1985 ep 4

This outfit just reads 1870s-by-1980s to me.

Poor Cousin Charles and Billy graduate from West Point! Everyone turns up for graduation (unlike Swayze and George’s graduation; I’d be peeved if I were them!). Swayze and George have been cooling it on the bromance, but this gives them a chance to reconnect. Slutty Brunette is clearly still into Billy, tricking him into kissing her, even though he’s totally into Sweet Blonde and the two have been writing letters.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Perfect Blonde looks appropriately vaguely-mid-Victorian, Northern Mom’s bodice fit is shitty. Did they forget the padded bra that day? Southern Mom is very vaginal, bodice-wise.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Both Perfect Blonde and Slutty Brunette are SO VERY 1870s with those long ringlets.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Okay, so Slutty Brunette’s outfit is faaaaaabulous, even if it’s more late-1860s than anything else. Stripes! Angles! Trim! Tassels! Back skirtings!

At an evening party at West Point, Billy proposes to Sweet Blonde (note: George asks Swayze for his permission, Swayze says “probably, but not yet,” he’s got some Southern/Northern emo issues to work through). MORE IMPORTANTLY, Slutty Brunette GOES FULL NYMPHO. Apparently someone (the novel’s author? the scriptwriters?) thought that things weren’t soap opera-y enough, so Slutty Brunette asks one of Billy’s classmates to take her to a classroom where she fucks him. She THEN complains that she wants more, he offers to go get more of his classmates, she says yes, and ends up with two handfuls of buttons, one taken from each of the guys she’s fucked. GUYS. I’m not saying premarital sex didn’t occur, but this level of “woot! let’s shag!” — especially on the part of an unmarried woman — is completely post-1960s sexual revolution. Also, she’s portrayed as a BAD SLUT (she talks about watching the overseers strip male slaves), not a woman embracing her sexuality, which is fucked up too.

Poor Cousin Charles finds Slutty Brunette and knows what happened and is appropriately disgusted, but Slutty Brunette just thinks it’s funny. Not like her reputation would be RUINED if ANYONE knew (like, uh, the 5 million guys she just fucked). Oh, and apparently all of this was somehow to get at Billy. Don’t ask me.

North and South 1985 ep 4

That shawl started life as a shower curtain, no doubt.

North and South 1985 ep 4

I spent this entire scene staring at Slutty Brunette’s earrings. I KNOW I had the same kind of beaded tassel earrings in the 1980s, and I think they were supposed to be vaguely Native-American-y … not Victorian. Also, apparently West Point cadets don’t wear shirts, and enjoy the chafing caused by suspenders on bare skin.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Back in South Caro, guess who’s knocked up? Yeah. Something tells me a woman who lives on a farm knows where babies come from, so again, RAMPANT PREMARITAL SEX IS NOT SOMETHING ANYONE WOULD DO LIGHTLY. Slutty Brunette goes to Tits to ask her for help in procuring an abortion. Tits offers to help, although the day before she and Swayze made a plan to run away together (there was tender shagging involved, I am sparing you; but I should mention that she told Swayze about her newly discovered racial heritage, and he was totes cool about it).

North and South 1985 ep 4

Slutty Brunette’s dress was overly structured, but I spent the scene waiting for Tits’s left boob to escape.

Tits, Maum Sally (hello MS! We missed you!), and Slutty Brunette head off into the swamp, where an African American healer-y type takes care of Slutty’s little problem. But when Tits gets home, David Carradine thinks she was fucking around, so he beats her up and locks her in a room for days on end. She misses her rendez-vous to run away with Swayze, and when Maum Sally tries to free her, David Carradine throws her down some stairs and kills her.

North and South 1985 ep 4

Well what do YOU wear to a swamp abortion?

North and South 1985 ep 4

Bye Maum Sally! Sorry you turned back up just to be killed!

Two episodes left — what craziness awaits me?


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45 Responses

  1. Destinee Amber

    I have never seen North and South…never even heard of it before (I…was not around in the 80’s…), but now I’m tempted to find it just so I can be greatly entertained by this ridiculousness myself…

  2. bshaurette

    One of my favorite games is “where else have I seen that actor?”. I’m a General Hospital fan from way back, so I recognized Genie Francis right away, but I just realized that Poor Cousin Charles is also Perfect Tommy from Buckaroo Banzai (swoon).

    Count me among the fans of these recaps – I had no idea North and South was such a soap opera! Thank you for watching … so we don’t have to!

    • Tanya

      I’ve been saying to Spouse all week that the recaps are making me want to watch this trainwreck, but I kinda don’t want to cough up the $18 to do so. However, Perfect Tommy?! That sound might just be me trying to shove my credit card into the steamy dark underbelly of the Apple TV to get my fix.

      • Constance

        It is free on Youtube…but I cannot stand Kirstie Alley if that is her…

  3. thedementedfairy

    Y’know, I could have SWORN I watched this back in the day, but not a single thing is looking familiar. Maybe I read it? Ah well, the 1980s were lost to childbirth and sleepless nights…

    • Lady Hermina De Pagan

      Don’t forget that there were TWO rival Civil war mini series. North & South and The Blue & Grey. My Mother and Grandmother watched both. I remember that N&S was more soapy fun while B&G was better storytelling

  4. Siri Welde

    I love you guys! This is so funny. I remember watching N&S a couple of years ago and was left all ‘wtf’

    Let the snark flow
    Love from Norway

  5. Gosia

    You will laugh about me, but it was this miniseries that started my interest for period films and history of fashion and art. When I first watched “North and South” I was eight (of course my mom would send me out of the room when things were getting “hot”) and thought that the women in the series looked like beautiful princesses in their gowns.
    But on a more serious note, I just cannot imagine that a professional costume designer created these terrible costumes of her own free will ..

  6. Kelly

    If it weren’t for the presence of recognizable actors, this recap would make me think this is a high budget soft core porn of Gone with the Wind.

  7. picasso Manu

    And to think nobody forced us to watch this at the time! Anyway, I salute your courage under fire! And I remember that STD Georges sister, aka Virgilia, made me very uncomfortable at the time: She was just about the only one espousing the right side, but her literal Obsession with interracial sex, either hers or anyone else, was quite “out there”… Not only the white woman/black man thing had raised riots and killed a whole lot of POCs on rumors only, it was a nono for abolitionists… But hey, wasn’t the revival of the South and all their “values” (cough cough!) a big thing in the eighties?

  8. Terry Walker

    Just to clarify, Genie Francis’ Shawl started life as a Shower Curtain was the exact same lace used for my bridesmaid dress at my best friend’s wedding. Trust me when I say I was really happy she chose that option. The yellow southern belle dress that she made me try on (with the parasol) would have put me over the edge.

      • bshaurette

        I was never forced to be in one of those Southern belle weddings, but omg this is the look of every homecoming court every year I was in high school (Atlanta in the 80’s).

  9. Melinda

    Was there a huge SALE of neylon lace mitts around the shooting area? I see no other explanation for this horror… This is the best part of this series! Every dress looks 1840s-y, 1860s-y, but none 1850s-y! Oh, and hats: where are the derpy bonnets? It wasn’t a big hit in the south… R.I.P Maum Sally :(

    • Lady Hermina De Pagan

      Those nylon mitts are VERY on trend for 1985. That was during the Madonna “Like a Virgin” phase. you could get 3 for $5.00 in all the local flea markets.

  10. Bea

    I … saw this when it came out.
    And … then I went off to read the books.
    Unfortunately, the use of AA characters (whether slave or free) is about accurate for the books. Although Virgilia is not as strident and whacko in the books.

  11. Julie

    The series is pretty faithful to the book, interns of both Ashton’s idiopathic uttiness and Virgilia’s messianic abolitionism that really doesn’t take the souls of individual people of color into account.
    I read the books and watched the series whenI was in middle school and I thought it was the most amazing thing ever, both interns of epic story telling and periodcoatume.
    Now I see it for what it is: soft-core porn in JoAnn Fabrics sale fabric.
    (Anyone else worried for Virgilia when she lights up? Between the Aquanet and the acetate, one spark and she’d burn like a Fourth of July lighter-fluid-doused pile of briquettes!)

  12. Susan Pola Staples

    Tits` POC grandmother is so Yvonne DeCarlo, Clark Gable and a very young Sidney Poitier movie called Band of Angel’s.
    If Slutty Sister doesn’t clean up her act, she’s going to resemble the syphilis man in the first episode of The Alienist.

  13. Donnalee

    You always lure me in with photos that look like they’ve all gone goth, which I love, and then I stick around for the social commentary and prom dresses and hair–and thanks for no more smooch gifs today!

  14. Peacoclaur

    According to Wikipedia – this particular episode won a golden globe for its costumes.

  15. Tinny


    And dear lord, I’ve always found Kirstie Alley to be pretty, but in that pic just short of gang signs, she couldn’t possibly look more like a man in a dress -_- Was this an actual promo/publicity shot? If so, how did they not burn it? Was it the only photo they even took of the couple? Please understand that I say all of this as an absolutely non-photogenic person who (for real) looks either like a corpse or somehow f’ed up in 98% of photos. She’s a woman you can actually take actual, usable photos of. Why would they use this one? So many questions.

    Also, wasn’t it obvious why MS had to be killed off? She was the only one even remotely sensibly dressed in this sea of both highly flammable and highly questionable wardrobe choises. No matter how much she tried, she just wasn’t fitting in.

    • Cat W.

      I think the only reason for the gang sign picture is that riding hat. It’s too shiny and the flower is fake but I kind of like it.

  16. Alexandra Devidal

    I remember watching this on Sundays afternoon ( I am French and though I didn’t know most if not all actors, I knew the dubbing voices who voiced also my favorite cartoon and anime characters, just imagine the shock!) and it had quite the forbidden fruit taste due to all the naughty stuff going on ^^ But your articles make my day, really!
    About Slutty Ashton, I remember that in Gone with The Wind it’s mentioned that Southern Belles have no idea of sex before their wedding night, and though as you said they lived in basically updated bug farms and so dogs and horses mating, I guess they weren’t told about… Well about everything Ashton seems to know ( can’t wait to read your analysis of her evolution, it’ll be delicious)

  17. Nzie

    I guess I was jumping the gun on the last episode, because this episode demonstrates my point about the apparently quick skip to the sack so many characters seem to do. Brunette is just bizarre, but maybe the stranger thing is that apparently no one discovered her and her dozen or more guys? Despite being in essentially a public place, going missing from her family for a while, during daytime I presume)? And somehow this will make another guy jealous, instead of disgusted (in the morals of the day which, to be fair, only like 2 characters seem to give a shit about).

    But Virgilia and Grady… that really does make no sense—start a friendship, sure, discuss escaping, okay end up married later, could happen. But sex so quickly? During a party or what have you? And it makes even less sense for Grady to agree—African American men who “preyed on” white women (regardless of how consensual it actually was—or if they even did anything) would be lucky to escape with their lives. That is too big a risk for a barn shag; I have a hard time believing a slave would toss his life out the window for a woman he met that night who the minute he touched her would have enough to basically get him killed if she decided she didn’t like him.

    • Nzie

      Ok, I found this so implausible that I had to watch it. I’m not going to watch much more but at 25 minutes I’ve hit the party and the Virgilia/Grady thing.

      For the party, I know they’re making Brunette sex-crazed but that unsubtle innuendo was super cringeworthy and out of place.

      The Virgilia/Grady thing I guess is at their second meeting, where she ditches her other slave escort to park herself in a broken carriage in the rain with Grady, who raises all the right objections and then just… doesn’t care? And all the complications get brushed under the rug of him saying, basically, I’m doing this for me, too, not just you. But the whole thing was he basically guessed she was propositioning him, and she did seem more interested in transgressing racial boundaries than him as a person… it’s really just kind of objectifying, maybe a bit of a fetish. That’s really shitty considering the power imbalances.

      And then she just admits to helping him escape? Forget the risk to her (it probably was a criminal offense). He had barely left—he was being hunted. Once you know one link in a chain you tug hard enough and you get the rest of it. It put him at risk.

      You really are suffering for us, Kendra. Shitty plot, shitty writing, shitty costumes, shitty hair, shitty accents. Who the hell thought this was a good idea? I feel really sorry for the 80s if this was the prestige tv of its day.

  18. A

    Wow, I have a feeling that in quite many cases the people who made costumes overshoot by good couple of decades! The top half of Perfect Blonde’s first red dress is quite perfect for 1895, though the skirt should be different. Virgilia and Blonde Mom (I never remember which mother comes from where) from the same ball should also feel right at home at that time, which doesn’t make their dresses good, of course. Virgilia’s red and black dress again has 1895 silhouette (what I can see of it) and her white high-necked dress is quite 1900s. So is Tit’s pink and grey riding suit – that bolero jacket and pointed waist (it should be a belt) is perfectly 1900s, even the colour scheme fits, although it’s wrong for a riding suit. For a walking suit it would be OK.

    One more thing – my expertise is more second half of the century and I’m not American, so I might have it wrong, but general rule was that young unmarried women did not wear much jewellery, and certainly not precious stones. Some pearls or turqouises would be fine, but what Virgilia is constantly bedecked with would be way, way too much. It would be probably considered vulgar for a married woman, but a definite no-no for an unmarried one.

    • Melinda

      Yesterday I searched for 1980s prom queen photos in pinterest, and I can tell you I had found exactly the same colored, same designed prom dress of VIRGILIA’s! Only the girl’s hair was more 1980s, than victorian-y :D I really recommend this to have a fun time!

  19. Mrs. D

    I was a huge fan of these shows/books in about junior high, as was my mom. It was one thing we enjoyed doing together. So here are a few insights:

    John Jakes, author of the books, is known for this type of salacious material. Think of it as Fifty Shades meets historical fiction. His Kent chronicles are very similar, and the sex-crazed female is a common trope.
    Virgilia is not of sound mind. Her crazed abolitionism is meant to contrast with Constance’s more personal approach. I think it’s meant to make a statement about making real change versus just putting on a show or something.
    Northern Mom was also the housekeeper in Benson, so another major TV star from the time period.

    BTW, LOVE the nickname “Tits” for Madeline. Perfection.

  20. Dora H*ckin K. (@omg_dora)

    OMG I am so proud to be quoted on Frock Flicks!!! Will hike my skirt up all day in homage.

    The Slutty Brunette subplot reeks of the “Southern women are always in heat” trope and that’s some pretty blatant exploitation for prime time TV! I wonder that they did not go full “black stud” with any of the male POC characters… well, there are a few more episodes to go.

  21. Janette

    there is simply no excuse for such poor costuming and appalling make up, not even in the 70s and 80s. Even low budget Aussie productions at that time made an effort to be historically accurate. I was working in a historical theme park in the early 80s. Staff turning up wearing make up were sent home. We had to have centre parted hair, wear bonnets and gloves when we ventured outdoors, high neck lines during day, under collars and under sleeves which made sense as they needed regular washing saving washing the entire dress which took a couple of hours to iron with an electric iron. Must have taken most of the day with flat irons. We were not wearing the correct amount of petticoats and only management got to have hoops unless it was for a special occasion. The costume department was responsible for costuming many Aussie films made at that time so I know that they were at least attempting to get fabrics which looked period appropriate. Wearing red was a no no, as was bold prints, synthetic fabrics and nylon lace. I made a couple of bonnets which had to be approved before I could wear them.
    Anyway enough of that. Once again, I have to say how much I am enjoying being appalled by these recaps.

  22. themodernmantuamaker

    Oh good lord, the fucked-up-ery of all of this! My favourite line from this post: 1830s goes to space. If I wasn’t already finished my tea I’d have spit it at my screen!

  23. Laura

    When you got to the graduation scene, I was almost impressed, thinking I was looking at a different show . ( The dresses looked almost historical though obviously in the wrong era). Thank goodness we went back to the what the heck in the next scene .