Last night’s 30 Rock featured three characters struggling with personal truths. With Avery Jessup’s (Elizabeth Banks) long-awaited release from indentured servitude as a newscaster in North Korea, Jack (Alec Baldwin) was forced to deal with the reality that he made out with her mother in her absence. With an opportunity to have the Southern Tourism Bureau sponsor her wedding, Jenna (Jane Krakowski) was forced to confront her southern roots as a girl from Toilet Swamp Cove. With Criss’ (James Marsden) plans for home improvement and yoga, Liz (Tina Fey) struggles to become comfortable with her role female breadwinner.

The episode begins at an Air Force base where a guilt-stricken Jack embraces the wife he hasn’t seen in a year, a woman forced to smoke Korean cigarettes as her only option for protein. Rescued from her forced labor as a news reporter for the ridiculously-censored American News Channel (where she was forced to report things like the US credit rating: Fart minus), Avery is safe, and we find her co-anchor was rescued as well: Scott Scottsman, a reporter from Scottsdale who went to North Korea (in order to find a former baseball player who turned out to still be in the States) and was captured. Through their mutual struggles, Scott and Avery seem to have a connection that makes Jack uncomfortable, partially because they share inside jokes like the Korean motto, “Remember, there is no weekend.”

At Liz’s apartment, Criss is determined to prove his worth by remodeling to the tune of ten grand, including the addition of an intercom in the (possibly) future nursery. The only problem is his life savings amounts to two hundred bucks, and he can’t skimp on the job because of safety concerns; namely that the walls are filled with electrocuted mice. Liz offers to dip into her 401 K, an option Criss doesn’t have. Both seem to be uncomfortable about their clearly-identifiable, non-traditional gender roles.

In her dressing room, Jenna asks Tracy (Tracy Morgan) who sponsored his wedding. He’s not sure; possibly Fanta and the police because they were both in attendance. Jenna’s sponsor: The Southern Tourism Bureau, which is convenient because her and Paul (Will Forte) were planning on having a plantation wedding already. All they require is that she be in a commercial in return. Although she does have southern roots (and her hair psychic Leonardi insists she’s a down-home girl), there’s one problem: she’s completely lost her accent, and although she thinks her current attempts suffice, Kenneth (Jack McBride) and Tracy (who is just glad it’s her “dream” wedding because he did not want to attend) know the truth. What follows is a reverse My Fair Lady sequence where Kenneth and Tracy try to take the sophistication out of the city girl and return her to her roots as a white trash belle.

At home that evening, Jack’s nerves are getting to him – he’s riddled with guilt, which he projects onto Avery in his supposition of her relationship with Scott Scottsman. Even baby Liddie is weary of Avery: “she asked me who the dye job is.” Jack insists not much has changed since she left (except “there’s an iPod 3 and they worked out the bugs on Mitt Romney 4 – he’s not killing hobos at night anymore) and everything will be back to normal as soon as he throws her a “thankschristmasvaleneasterween of July,” party, taking care of all the holidays she missed in one night. Despite his denials and simultaneous attempts to tell her, Avery insists that whatever happened while she was gone is forgiven, which makes Jack even more paranoid.

The next day at work, Liz goes to the only other female breadwinner she knows – Jenna – to ask for relationship advice about money. Jenna says it’s great – “gender role reversal is such a turn-on” – and tells Liz to embrace the fact that she wears the pants – even if her hips make it difficult. Liz decides to listen, after all, feminism promised two things: fatter dolls and an end of gender roles.

Jack works out his problems the same way he always does – by pouring a scotch, sitting in his office, and picking Liz’s brain. He is disturbed by how nice Avery was in forgiving him because she’s famous for holding grudges, including the fact that she’s still mad Al Gore stole George Bush’s internet idea. Because “soccer, jazz, and infidelity (are) three things no one wants to talk about,” her readily available forgiveness must mean she cheated too, so Jack hatches his plan: he’ll use his indiscretion to get her to admit her’s – “and the game is afoot.” Liz questions the normalcy of his plot, but Jack reassures her, “psycho-sexual mind games is our normal.” Later Jack tells Avery he kissed a woman – but she still isn’t phased.

At her apartment that evening, macho Liz returns home wearing her new fedora, a ridiculous symbol of her breadwinning. When she presents Criss with the check for 10 grand and patronizes his want to chip in, Criss freaks out at his emasculation – including his frustration with the “Criss Point” system that Liz came up with. She insists she thought he liked the system, but he says it was only because liking the system earns him more points. Perhaps Liz should live with and become pregnant by someone who can be more of a man.

The next day, Tracy goes to Jenna’s dressing room and asks, “are you crying because there aren’t rolls for actresses in their 40’s, nor should there be?” Jenna says no, she’s crying because she lost another sponsor – an English muffin company – because her southern roots, now summoned, refuse to recede, including impulses like “throwing natty light cans at cop cars.” Perhaps she’ll have to be satisfied with who she is, designer shoe knock-offs and all.

Criss’ emasculation causes him to go into damage control mode and immediately take his hot dog selling business to a more lucrative corner near 30 Rock and Fox News – whose own Greta Van Sustren, Criss reports, “eats hot dogs like Slimer.” The only problem is, the corner he’s chosen already belongs to grown men in Sesame Street costumes who charge tourists for pictures. Elmo and the gang show up and start beating Criss, but both Liz and Jenna come to the damsel-in-distress Criss’ rescue, beating Henson’s creatures with fists and fake shoes. And that’s just the stroke of luck Jenna needed; her used-as-a-weapon shoes are mistaken for the real thing when the clip hits the internet, and the instant boost to her popularity helps Jenna realize something: “I’m a fake designer shoe – flashy on the outside messed up on the inside.” The realization isn’t contagious; at episode’s end we still aren’t sure about the stability of Liz and Criss’ relationship.

Thank goodness Jack and Avery don’t suffer a similar fate; when Jack admits to Avery everything that happened while she was gone (including his kiss with her mother, including his fantasy of an adult Dora the Explorer), Avery declares victory – by doing nothing but forgiving him she got him to admit every discretion, big and small, so that they could officially be back to normal, a process that could’ve taken years otherwise. Jack is delighted: “I thought I was playing you and you were playing me the whole time.” He decides they should renew their vows and Avery agrees – they need a new blender anyway. Liz tries to interrupt with her complicated problems, but no one is listening – love is simple, a fact you don’t need to wear pants to realize.