‘The Big C’ Recap: Sexual Healing

S02E03: Every show does it sooner or later, especially serio-comedies of The Big C’s breed: the sex episode. The episode that explores the sexuality of every individual character and each established pair. Last night’s episode jumps right into the theme in the opening scene: Cathy’s cancer robbed her of sexual hunger, while her husband Paul is starving. Cathy, ever unwilling to be the victim, offers Paul utility sex midway through the episode, but Paul refuses to put her through it. Naturally, he finds another outlet for his frustration…

“So, your parents were assigned to some sort of missionary position—missionary work!” -Paul

Sean and Rebecca have their own odd sexual theme going on throughout this episode, involving, primarily, Rebecca’s insecurity about her sexuality as a result of Sean’s new “alertness.” First of all, Sean, sometime between the events of last week’s episode and this one, began taking medication for bipolar disorder. The result: he’s super-happy all the time now, and gains Monk-like powers of observation. The latter quality inspires him to point out “flaws” in his girlfriend’s appearance, which, unsurprisingly, makes this woman, already hanging by a thread in terms of emotional security, go a little nuts. Setting aside the ludicrousness of the whole idea of “the new Sean,” the timing of this storyline should have been reworked. When it was suggested last week that Sean would begin taking bipolar medication, that gave hope for a whole bunch of interesting, veritable storylines — side effects, or frustration and confusion with his new feelings — but they took the cheap route, and just made him more annoying to Rebecca. This problem is solved as soon as he reveals to her, “I love you anyway.”

Despite his age, Adam is not exempt from sexual storylines. In fact, last night exhibited a repeat of his former unfaithfulness to his girlfriend (to whom he apparently hasn’t revealed the truth, since she’s still happily with him). After unsuccessfully attempting to woo her into sex, it is serendipitously thrown in his lap by some girl in the hallway who seems to be getting her kicks off of fooling around with the new “it guy,” as she puts it. The thing that bothers me most about this is that in both cases of his infidelity, Adam was not the pursuer. The forces of the universe seem to be throwing him into situations where sexual acts with strange girls are available. This sort of makes him just a lazy, hedonistic jerk, whereas his pursuit of multiple sexual partners might actually build up some interesting character development that could have something to do with his emotional turbulence regarding his mother.

And that’s my real qualm with this episode, and with the progression of the series: Adam, Sean and Rebecca don’t seem to be reacting in any way to Cathy. While building full and complex supporting characters is very important, the show is still about The Big C, and this theme should play a constant role in each of their lives. Instead, it’s just something thrown around and joked about by Cathy and Paul, while Adam has gratuitous sex with oddly willing girls and Sean takes magic happy pills and enjoys a sitcom relationship with Rebecca. A break from cancer as the sole focus of an episode is fine once in a while, but let’s hope the show doesn’t forget what it is about.