Look at these pictures. What do you see?
(Yes, a lot of overly tanned hardbodies trying to look tough. But wait! There's more!)
You know what I see? Season two, mapped out.
It should have struck me sooner, of course. When "Lost" was gearing up for its final season, EW.com's Doc Jensen dove in to decipher various cast photos to see what meaning he could glean from their Last Supper-esque staging. But I never considered "Jersey Shore" could play the same game.
I'm sure most of you saw all this much sooner, but bear with me. Season two, which reaches its midpoint tomorrow night, can be telegraphed perfectly by the photos MTV posted at season's beginning.
Look at that group photo again. Ronnie's as far away from Sammi as you can get. Angelina is off to one side, like an outcast. Pauly and Snooki are right in the middle, in the same positions they occupy in the house. Jenni is next to her girl Snooki, her back to Angelina; she and Sammi face off on either side of Snooki (foreshadowing, perhaps?). Vinny is, as always, off to the periphery.
And Situation? He's living it up in the background, looking happy to be alive.
Having seen the action unfold, it's easy to look into the other pairings and see that, had I taken any time six weeks ago, I could have guessed pretty accurately how this season was going to shape up.
(In my defense, who on earth would ever devote that much brain power to "Jersey Shore?" Although, having devoted thousands of words to the phenomenon this summer, I'm not exactly one to talk. ... Sigh ...)
Sammi and Jenni pose together, but aggressively, backs turned away from one another. From the previews of this week's episode, we know things take a dramatic turn for the worse in their relationship.
Jenni and Snooki, on the other hand, playfully have their arms around one another, smirking for the camera.
Angelina, Pauly and Mike strike a pose with her in front of them, looking dominant with hands on her hips. The dominant part may not be accurate -- she's been stomped like a bug at every turn this season, after all -- but the pic does illustrate the force of will that has put her at the center of this particular triangle at times.
Sammi and Ronnie? Naturally, their backs are turned to one another. They do not look happy. Makes you wonder if these were shot at the end of the season, and whether anyone had to be coerced into posing. For the cash they're making, probably not.
Is it telling Vinny is the only one not paired up? Poor Vinny ... "Jersey Shore's" very own Rodney Dangerfield.
Even the quartet group shots tell a story. The boys are living it up, not a care in the world, mugging for the camera.
The girls? Stiff and wooden, with what look like forced smiles (Yes, Jenni, I'm talkin' to you) and body language that screams GET ME OUT OF HERE.
Of course, I could be reading way too much into everything. But I don't think I am. But if so, it's just one more way in which "Jersey Shore" has burrowed its way into my brain.
It's been an ... interesting season thus far, one that apparently comes to a head tomorrow night, at least as far as Sammi and Jenni are concerned.
What's to come beyond that? Maybe we should go back to the photographic evidence to find out.