Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Fly Away" from The Big C

In this week's season three finale of Showtime's The Big C, the plot is all about getting away from the routine life so that one can finds oneself. Sometimes it takes stepping back to get a clear perspective, and that is the message of "Fly Away." The main cast has literally flown away to Puerto Rico for a much-needed vacation, where they blow the dust off and confront issues that have been brewing, as well as decide what direction to take their lives in next.

Paul (Oliver Platt) is deeply saddened by the death of Joy (Susan Sarandon), and takes comfort in talking to her fans about how he feels. Paul's growth as a public speaker, using his near death experience to inspire others, is a great turn of events for him, giving purpose to a sometimes meandering character. Paul is still struggling to come into his own until Joy passes on. This gives him the extra boost to really make it in the arena, and he is poised to take over her empire.

At the same time that his new career is taking off, though, his personal life is suffering. He has found out about Cathy's (Laura Linney) secret identity, Alexis, where she pretends that her husband died of a heart attack. This shakes him to the core, and seems awfully hypocritical after Cathy blew a movie deal for them because she didn't want to see "herself" die on screen. Maybe the Alexis charade helps Cathy to cope, but it does the opposite for Paul, driving a wedge between them. Which is probably why he goes up a hotel room with another woman, pretending to be "Brian," a man whose wife has died of cancer, both to even the score, and to see what it's like to do what Cathy has been doing.

It's hard to argue that Paul and Cathy have a healthy marriage, with stories like this. They are under a great deal of stress, of course, but is that really an excuse? Instead of leaning on each other for support, they seek it elsewhere. Now, it is reasonable to assume that they are in no position to support each other, given their various tribulations. But still, if they are going to work as a couple past the next year or so, there has to be a huge change in the way they relate to each other. Learn to trust and work together more, rather than continue this unhealthy path.

Adam (Gabriel Basso), while not heavily featured in "Fly Away," is figuring out how to relate to God. It's not surprising that he turns to a higher power. After all, his parents are a bit too preoccupied with their own stuff to really pay as much attention to him as they should. Not only does Adam have to deal with the worries about his parents' health, he also has to handle the stress of a fractured marriage. This is a lot for any kid to take. At least religion is (a little) less self-destructive than some other comforts he might turn to.

Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe) spends this entire season getting in touch with her African roots, wanting to change her name and wardrobe. But it only takes one conversation in a foreign land to help her to realize that it's not necessary to be so forceful in celebrating one's culture. Andrea should embrace all of who she is, and not just focus on one thing. This is a natural part of maturation for any young adult, and it's been nice to watch Andrea go through it, especially because her character is so confident that one often forgets she isn't fully developed yet.

Sean's (John Benjamin Hickey) story this year is all about the sex. He is a gay phone sex worker, then he is part of a doomed thruple. But in "Fly Away," his libido takes him away from his sister during a scuba diving expedition, and Cathy is lost. Sean shows some real anger and guilt in this episode, and that will surely continue into season four, sending him on a path where he shows more concern for his only sister, rather than just chasing tail. This is also a little bit of maturation, proving it's never too late to grow up.

Cathy herself has the most divisive story. Lost while diving, she ends up on a fishing boat with a man named Angel (Michael Ray Escamilla). Finding a strange sort of serenity on Angel's boat that she doesn't get from her tumultuous family, Cathy envisions a life with Angel that is less stressful. Considering that she recently gets news that her tumors are growing again, and she could soon be dead, this lifestyle greatly appeals to her. Why waste what little time you have left in a negative, poisonous situation? And so she rides off into the sunset with Angel (not in a romantic way; he's happily married), not returning to her family, or letting them know she's even alive.

This is a very, very selfish act. Of all the things that Cathy has done, this is the most cruel. The others will hear Sean's story and believe that she drowned in the ocean. What kind of memory does that leave them with? How will they find closure? Not to mention, what will it do to Sean's sometimes fragile mental state? Perhaps it is kinder to take herself out of the equation and let them move on, but the way in which Cathy does so leaves a very bad taste in one's mouth.

And yet, might this be the right path for her? Each of us only get one life, and it's easy to see why she wants an escape from her current reality. It's a vacation, to be sure, and not a permanent change. She will miss her loved ones, and want to return home. Of course, going home after doing this to them will be difficult, and make things even more rocky than they already are. Drama is sure to follow in spades. Which makes for a bad life, but great television.

The Big C has not yet been renewed for a fourth season, but it needs to be. It took a little time to find its stride, but the series really knows what it is now. Each season is also about a different stage of grief, of which there are seven, so the story isn't even quite half over yet. It would be a service to the fans to let the entire thing play out the way it is intended to be. Sure, season four's depression might be dark and hard to get through, but there are better things coming, and that inspiring message of hope should be enough to keep viewers coming back. Please give The Big C the chance to do this.

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