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Monday, May 6, 2013

Review / Refresher The Big C Hereafter Premiere

Article first published as Review / Refresher The Big C Hereafter Premiere on TheTVKing.

When last we see Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney), she is sailing away on a boat with a man named Angel (Michael Ray Escamilla), allowing her loved ones to believe she is dead. As THE BIG C’s final season, four hours that are subtitled HEREAFTER, begins tonight with “Quality of Life,” we learn that scenario is a dream had while Cathy is rescued from drowning and hospitalized, and, five months later, Cathy is back at home, slowly dying.

It’s a little disappointing that much of the story seen in the previous season finale didn’t actually happen. And yet, taking the selfish way out, sailing off into the sunset, leaving her friends and family behind, makes Cathy unlikeable. It’s a fantasy, not one to really be explored.

THE BIG C HEREAFTER doesn’t take long to find its footing, getting fans right back into the story. Cathy is going through the depression stage of her grief, and while her family is as supportive as they can be, she tells her therapist (Kathy Najimy, King of the Hill, Sister Act) that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to. This is Cathy pre-emptively cutting herself off, preparing to die.

It’s hard to blame her for her pessimistic attitude. Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) is much more attentive to her needs, but it’s probably because of his guilt at almost letting her drown, and he is vocal about being grossed out by Cathy’s biological issues. Paul (Oliver Platt) isn’t pushing for a divorce anymore, but he’s sleeping on the couch, hanging out with his perky, annoying new assistant, Amber (Liz Holtan, Man on a Ledge), and ignoring offers of sex from Cathy. And she doesn’t want to burden her son, Adam (Gabriel Basso), or new college student, Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe), whom she hopes will live their lives.

However, Cathy’s inability to be open with her loved ones is not helping her or them. How can she draw on them for support if she won’t tell them what’s going on? How can they properly deal with what’s happening if they aren’t kept in the loop?

The pressure finally gets to be too much for Cathy, and, spurred on after a discussion with Dr. Sherman (Alan Alda), who is now also undergoing chemo, she decides to blow off some steam at the most inappropriate of places – school – much to Principal Schuler’s (Connie Ray) dismay.

As cringe-worthy as it is when Cathy pulls off her stunt with the loudspeaker, she delivers a lot of truths. She urges the kids to do something that makes them happy, while admitting that teaching is not her real calling. She also laments about the broken school system, where teaching to the test is not nearly as important as actually learning. These are valid concerns, while not being anything new, and it’s nice that she gets to express them, her final message to her students, whom she does care about, no matter what her opinions are of the educational system.

It’s disappointing that Schuler tries to prevent this, especially after pushing so hard to get Cathy to quit. After all, Cathy is dying, shouldn’t she get her final wish? Yet, seeing it from Schuler’s point of view, Cathy does cause a lot of trouble, and the speech she does make isn’t completely innocent, so I don’t know that I would want her to speak to the students, either.

Thankfully, Cathy doesn’t stay miserable and lonely through the entire hour. She is making her way through the seven stages of grief, being around step four at this time, and she does rebound when her
anti-depressants finally kick in. She is able to enjoy being with Sean, lean on Andrea when they both need each other, and give Adam the best birthday of his life.

The way that Cathy will go out, and I do think that THE BIG C HEREAFTER will end with her death, is going to depend fully on her relationships. She’s had her fun, striking off on her own and doing things separate from her family. Now it’s time to reel herself back in and rebuild those bridges. She does a great job with most of the people in her life in “Quality in Life,” especially Adam, who she shares his best story with her yet, but she still has some work to do before the end.

Will Cathy survive until Adam’s graduation, more than a year and a half away? I don’t know, but it seems like the perfect bookend to the series, even if they do a mock ceremony before his class actually walks across that stage.

Cathy is making her peace, and this is helped by the comforting company awaiting her on the other side. Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) and her dog, Thomas, are part of “Quality of Life.” They are what will make Cathy’s passing hopeful and sweet, rather than just sad. Their presence here points to a happy ending, even if the cancer wins, rather than just a teary demise.

Paul, however, is still the odd man out. Even while everyone else rallies around Cathy, he keeps a bit of distance between himself and his wife. It has to be incredibly hard to deal with a dying spouse, and I don’t pretend to know what he’s going through, but this needs some resolution. Maybe in life there isn’t always closure, but I really want Paul and Cathy to make up before she goes. They still care about one another, and with so little time left, they should reconnect in the ways that brought them together in the first place, even if only at the last minute.

“Quality of Life” is heartwarming, satisfying return for a series that is about to go out, like its main character, on its own terms. THE BIG C HEREAFTER airs Mondays at 10p.m. ET for the next four weeks.

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