S02E04: The latest episode of The Big C, set appropriately on Halloween (which, despite the show’s location of Minnesota, seems to be a beautiful day), attempts to push each of its characters to his or her breaking point. The notoriously stable—at least on the outside—Cathy begins the episode in her standard optimistic, humorous demeanor. She looks forward to her clinical trial with eagerness. Paul, on the other hand, is shaken up about his wife’s condition, demands from his own comically ambiguous job, and the holiday in question: Halloween apparently something Paul—who has come a long way from the motorcycle-riding borderline-alcoholic in a static adolescence to whom we were introduced at the beginning of Season One—finds frivolous and idiotic (and clearly, scary). Meanwhile, Adam deals with unwanted compassion from Emily, the classmate with whom he has been cheating on his girlfriend, and Sean thinks he’s losing his mind when he surmises that the deceased Marlene is haunting his house.
“Those are some hairy strands of DNA our shithead parents tried to stream together.” – Sean
Sean’s drastic evolution, thanks to his bipolar medication, has rendered him a pretty uninteresting character. In real life, I’d never recommend someone wean off antidepressants because he was becoming “boring,” but when it comes to a TV character, I’m all for an amplification of the manic side. Sean’s storyline in this episode, coated in his battles with the ghost of Marlene alluded to in this clip, really covers his desire to become a “better” and “more stable” man for his girlfriend and unborn child. He even pleads with the ghost towards the end of the episode to “let him be sane” (which he is—turns out it was an owl in the attic…I don’t know why the thought of something like that didn’t occur to this supposedly highly intelligent character). Although the journey of Sean to better himself is not one without value, the means by which this episode expresses this seems pretty forced and simplistic. The bulk of his onscreen action is played for comedy, which is suddenly expected to hit home once he wells up and begs the ghost to leave. Sean seemed to have the most potential in Season One, but is slowly becoming a medication joke (consider last episode as well). It’s doing a great disservice to his character.
“You have to be a really bad driver to hit someone in a parking lot.” – Buddhist guy
This moment in the episode is the beginning of the tipping point for Cathy. Her optimism comes from the presence of a concrete plan—but everything about this strange guy (a fellow member of the clinical trial), who later on claims to be a devout Buddhist despite his clearly sadistic sense of humor, represents the fact that she’s not in control. He dives in front of her car and mocks her in front of the other patients. Around this time, Cathy has booted Paul from the trial waiting room due to his negative energy, and has begun to realize that she’s a lot more lost than she thought. She calls him when she discovers she lacks an insurance form necessary to start the trial, but he is busy (after an excessively Sorkinian walking-scene with his coworker) getting fired—this is his tipping point, naturally, and hopefully the root of some good storylines to come. At the trial, Cathy begins flipping out and finally wins the sympathy of the Buddhist, who explains to her that everything is working out the way it’s supposed to, just not the way she wanted or expected it to. The next day, her trial begins, and she seems to have taken comfort in the company of the Buddhist, who is seen undergoing a text beside her—and, in a gesture of kinship, offers her an earphone.
Adam’s story, albeit brief, does also give hope for something worthwhile in the future. He snaps at a bully in class, and then at Emily for offering him sympathy, telling her that she means nothing to him (causing her to snap, as well). Adam has been succinctly wasted as a human being thus far—it didn’t even seem like he was in denial, he just seemed to be in a show that didn’t involve a mother with Stage 4 melanoma. But now, it seems like he might be beginning to slip. Hopefully, this transforms into something organic.
This episode left us with a few things to consider: where will Paul’s unemployment take him and Cathy? What next will we see of Adam’s latent emotional turmoil? Will Sean ever redeem himself as a character?