‘The Big C’ Recap: Goldilocks and the Bears

Last night’s episode of The Big C, “Goldilocks and the Bears,” attempts to return the plotline (at least loosely) to the direct attention of cancer. The episode opens with Cathy worried about the lack of effect the clinical trial is having on her. Sean accompanies her to the doctor’s office for the trial, and after antagonizing the nurse for using antibacterial, he rattles off a list of side effects that the paperwork suggests Cathy might be undergoing—she has none of them. Cathy is, in fact, frightened by this news, taking it to mean that the medication is not having any effect on her. The nurse suggests she is stressed (as indicated by her high blood pressure), so Lee, Cathy’s gay cancer friend, always in earshot, offers to take her to his acupuncturist.

“She’s missing the one thing I look for in a husband.” – Lee

Later, Lee invites Cathy and Paul to a gay bar (enticing Paul with the idea that he’d be very popular at this specific bar—which he does indeed turn out to be). The whole reason for the bar setting was to showcase Lee in his natural setting: he has quick anonymous sex with a stranger whose phone number he tosses away once the man has his back turned. Apparently, the series is taking to characterizing Lee as a contrast to Cathy. Though both suffering from the same disease, they are reacting in opposite ways: Cathy is latching onto her husband, her son (or attempting to), her brother and his future fiancé, and her foul-mouthed student. Lee, on the other hand, is refusing a significant connection with anyone—curiously, except for Cathy. Plausibly because he knows she is dying too, so he won’t have to leave her behind (for very long).

In a B-story, Paul’s coworker Mick takes Andrea on a date, which, despite Adam’s attempts to sabotage, goes smoothly. Adam claims to be acting out in reaction to last week’s events (wherein his mother revealed to his girlfriend that he got crabs from a hooker), but he’s always subtly shown some sort of affection for Andrea. Sean attempts to talk him through the pain, but the two end up more comfortable playing video games with one another.

The end of the episode exposes the intimacy of the relationship between Cathy and Lee, despite their conflicting sexualities. Cathy talks to Lee on the phone while she is in the bathtub, interrogating him about his choice to dispose of the man’s number earlier. Lee proposes that they forget about the issue at hand and embrace the moment, more or less: in a strange scene, he talks Cathy through manual self-pleasurement (that’s as clear as I’m comfortable being) over the phone. Afterwards, she is clearly conflicted, as she begins seeing Marlene again. The ghost of the Season 1 regular eases Cathy through the events of the episode: perhaps she and Lee are soul mates, as are she and Paul and she and Marlene. Cathy comes to grips with this spiritual feeling. As she does, she realizes that one of her fingernails is chipping, and she is overjoyed. This is one of the side effects of the clinical trial: it’s finally working.

The show’s return to cancer as a vehicle for the story arc is definite appreciated, as is the brief return of Marlene. Sean seems to be back in full swing to his antagonistic self which, although exaggerated and often unbelievable as a human being, is preferable to the interim Sean we saw earlier this season. Finally, I propose they are working up to some Andrea-Adam love arc; the only reason this would be worthwhile is if Andrea is able to get through to Adam over how he needs to contact his feelings about his mother’s cancer.