The Big C s4 ep 3; s4 ep 4

Well, we got there. Weirdly, for most of its life The Big C was regarded as a comedy for Emmy and Globe purposes (Laura Linney won the Emmy for her season 4 performance, but this time it was in the “best miniseries” category); weirdly, because it was never that funny, even at its best. The Good Wife and Scandal, for example, both “dramas”, are much funnier. And there wasn’t much to laugh about here, either; any humour was very much of the gallows variety, as we moved towards Cathy’s death.

Episode 3 was, for my money, the better of the two: after Cathy failing to recognise Paul at the end of episode 2, we jump forward a couple of months, with Cathy deciding that it was time to go into a hospice. There’s a bit of heavy-handed moralising at the expense of a young nurse, and Paul is so flat-out useless that Adam resorts to physical violence. Cathy then absconds from the hospice for long enough to wear, to a fashion show, the dress that Andrea designed for her, and on one view this might have been the ideal place to end the series.

On we went, though, into the finale, which jumps forward another four months. I actually thought that Cathy was looking a little healthier at the start, but perhaps not; her insurance only covered four months of hospice stay, so by outliving expectations she was giving herself an unexpected problem. Thus Cathy moves back home to die, giving everyone the opportunity to rally round one last time.

The show has not, however, always known what to do with its cast, and this continued to the end: John Benjamin Hickey as Sean, for instance, spent most of seasons 3 and 4 pursuing storylines which were at best irrelevant (the kidney) and at worst downright irritating (the “thrupple”) and Andrea was just there. On the other hand Gabriel Basso’s value to the show increased over time, and by season 4 he was quite possibly The Big C’s male MVP. It’s no coincidence that the most affecting moments of these episodes – the relocated collage in episode 3 and the graduation in episode 4 – belonged to Basso, who might well go far.

By the end, though, we’re given a suitably downbeat passing for Cathy, a tantalising glimpse of the afterlife that we’d probably wish for ourselves – are we supposed to conclude, I wonder, that her therapist was also a hallucination? On reflection, I can’t recall her interacting with anyone apart from Cathy –  and a feeling that, after the desperately poor season 3, the show pulled itself together and gave us a moving and dignified finale. Together with the patchy but interesting season 1 and the decent season 2, then, the show probably ended up in credit. Apart from Linney’s performance, what I might remember most is that clock on the hospice wall in the final two episodes measuring Cathy’s life away, second by second, tick by tick; we’ll all hear it soon enough.

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