S02E05: Unlike the past few, this episode of The Big C doesn't have a central theme that underlies each character's plotline. A different, more Seinfeldian formula is employed, which melds the stories of Cathy & Paul and Adam & Sean respectively.
Cathy and Paul begin the episode together with a conversation that roots both of their plotlines to come: Cathy is heading to her clinical trial (and, as we find out once Paul leaves the room, to hock some of her jewelry to pay for medical expenses since Paul lost his job) and Paul is meeting with a friend to discuss a job opportunity about which he is so optimistic that it is laughably foreshadowing of the failure to come.
"I've learned how to detach from people, and things, and expectations. Letting all of that go makes me feel..." -Lee
"Full of shit?" -Cathy
The bulk of Cathy’s action in the episode is at the side of the Buddhist nutjob we met last week, whose name is apparently Lee (for those who don’t remember, he’s her fellow clinical trial patient who jumped in front of her car for a prank and then antagonized her in front of the rest of the patients, but made it up to her by helping her get a bottled water—now they’re best friends). He accompanies her to the pawn shop as a “body guard” of sorts. Following a heavy discussion of mortality, the two find themselves in a mugging, and in a display of appreciation for irony only plausible in television, laugh in the mugger’s face. I suppose this isn’t out of character for either of them: Cathy developed a dark sense of humor since the beginning of the series, and Lee is off his rocker. The mugger is surprisingly complacent, though, and decides almost instantly, “Well, if they’re going to laugh at me, I don’t want their money!” I know this is a tiny bit of minutia really only meant as a comic exacerbation of the pair’s literal and emotional proximity to death, but it took me too far out of the realm of reality to give it credit.
Moving right along, Cathy and Lee spend the rest of their day drinking wine together at Lee's home—the sexual tension was palpable from the moment the door was opened, but unlike with Paul’s situation, the payoff was a reversal of expectation: after Cathy finally assumes that Lee is hitting on her, she reacts aghast, only to learn that he is gay. It is in the moments preceding this that Cathy realizes how much she fears a desolate death, and wants her husband and son by her side until the very end. This is just one of those reveals that doesn’t seem to be revealing much; it’s always been understood that she feared a desolate death, and more so, that she wanted nothing but closeness to Paul and especially Adam. The show introduced a new confidante, implying that Cathy would confide something equally new; but we saw nothing of that notion. Just the same old The Big C, repeating its basic mantra.
Meanwhile, Paul has a disappointing discussion with his friend regarding jobs. Paul opens the episode by declaring his unwillingness to take any steps back by accepting jobs lesser than the one he previously held (vice president of some department of something where people wear a lot of suits…to be honest, the show never really made up its mind in whether they wanted to portray him as a corporate stooge or an arrested-adolescent frat-boy).
"Let me let you in on a little secret: babies don't give a rat's ass about accessories." -Sean
An interesting pairing of characters is pioneered this episode: Sean and Adam. Sean spent all of last week trying to prove himself a good father for his unborn daughter, and that theme pervades into this week’s episode. He starts out the episode pleasant and upbeat, as he has been for a couple of weeks, and approaches a few young mothers in the park to discuss parenting with them. Sean fashions a few old rags into a baby harness and wants to try it out on a real-live baby before using it on his own. Finally, we see the old Sean again. The ladies insult his “invention” and call him crazy, so Sean goes into knee-jerk antagonism and turns into the hostile, anti-establishment kook we knew and loved from the get-go.
At the same time, Adam is exploring his sex addiction that the show has given him in lieu of character development. After his girlfriend turns down sex again, he phones a dominatrix prostitute (advertised in the local paper) and has her pay a visit to his empty house. Once it turns out he cannot pay her, she becomes violent, and he doesn’t know what to do. Thus, he drags her across the street to seek aid from his Uncle Sean.
This is where Sean’s second season arc (thus far) culminates, and enjoyably so. Sean successfully deals with the hooker by citing obscure legalities and employing his proud skill of bartering. It seems that what this episode is trying to instill is that Sean will be the best parent when he is being Sean: the drugged-out, happy-go-lucky Sean is worth nothing, but the Sean who knows how to deal with hookers and antagonize people will be the father he aspires to be. The episode also does a good job of not beating you over the head with that message; its subtlety, especially in connection to the theme of last week, remains impressively intact and therefore effective.
The final moments of the episode have Cathy meeting Paul at an electronics store, where he has swallowed his pride and accepted a job working on the floor. He says it’s just a starting point, but it shows that his wife’s well-being is more important than his ego. It's pretty sappy, but what were they going to do? It’s a “good people” show.
Things to consider: will Paul advance to a level of prosperity? Will Adam ever deal with his grief non-sexually? Will we ever see Alan Alda again?