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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The Big C s4 ep 2

The Big C has undoubtedly managed to rid itself of much of what made the last season, at times, so actively unpleasant. To start with this week, though, it looked as if what was left was melancholy and measured, but also a little boring, and I was wondering whether Cathy’s attempt to pimp her husband out to a dating group for cancer widows and widowers was going to become shrill and charmless, as Cathy’s schemes can often be. I’m still not very interested in Andrea or Sean; and while it seems reasonable for Adam to move on, given that the nice Christian girl he’s been saddlebacking (© Dan Savage) seems to be out of the picture, the apparent predictability of the storyline with his “geisha nerd” tutor had me rolling my eyes.

But round about the time that Paul – still the least plausible inspirational speaker on God’s earth, I’d say, and it’s no coincidence that we’re not actually getting to see any more of his “Flip That Switch” schtick – is being interviewed for breakfast radio in Detroit, and suddenly realises what he’s about to lose, the episode shifts gear. His Cathy-inspired “date” is actually rather sweet, and Cathy’s own reaction to it unexpectedly touching. And, in large measure because Gabriel Basso brings a freshness and likeability to the role of Adam, his part of the episode played out rather nicely. I was moved and amused, and this was the best episode of The Big C for weeks.

The Big C s4 ep 1

Final season, then, and Cathy’s dying. Unfortunately the episode got off to a less-than-propitious start, by throwing two of my pet hates into the mix.

Firstly, we learn that pretty much the whole of the final episode of the last season was a dream sequence of sorts; so no Angel, no net, no boat. And, secondly, Marlene is back. As I’ve said before, the reappearance of dead people is a device I particularly dislike, because it amounts to nothing more than writers having it both ways – look how courageous we are! We’ve killed off a major character!  Yet here she is to dispense some grouchy wisdom! And this time she’s accompanied by her dog, who has also just died. Yes: the ghost of Marlene’s dog. Her effing dog.

The episode picked up a little from there, although Cathy remains a bewilderingly unsympathetic character for much of the time. Perhaps I’m at fault here for wanting to sentimentalise terminal illness. I don’t know. Anyway, she’s on chemo, which is affecting her life in any number of unpleasant ways; ultimately she gives up teaching, although of course she doesn’t go quietly.

Paul, meantime, is going from strength to strength, as his implausible career as an inspirational speaker seems to be taking off (aided by a sensationally unlikeable PA). He’s still living under the same roof as Cathy, although there appears to have been a rift in the marriage prompted by Paul’s outburst towards the end of season 3. It’s nothing she doesn’t deserve, frankly. And Andrea is finding it hard to settle into college life, but then she’s at least ten years older than her contemporaries, judging by appearances. Perhaps she’ll end up in Glee with the other thirtysomething teenagers.

On the plus side, the relationship between Cathy and Adam seems to have eased a little, which is good. And – without wanting to make too much of my personal life – Adam is 16, watching his mother die of cancer; I was 17 when my father died of cancer. So I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find some of the scenes between Cathy and Adam rather affecting; Laura Linney and Gabriel Basso have a relaxed, charming chemistry. Linney, of course, is excellent (and Emmy-winning) throughout. By no means, then, the worst episode of The Big C, despite the beginning.