If the major broadcast networks could learn anything from HBO’s approach to greenlighting programs, it would be this: there’s value in giving the show’s creators/writers the confidence of knowing that low ratings won’t prematurely end a season of television. Sure, shows such as Carnivale never reached the end of their overarching story, but HBO never pulls the plug midseason. And while a network such as NBC might have canceled Tell Me You Love Me after two or three episodes, they would have missed out on the subtle storytelling that has reaped benefits in the second half of the season.
Of course, NBC might have also been a bit peeved by all that pesky full frontal nudity, but that’s a separate issue altogether.
Let’s see how our couples fared this week, shall we?
David and Katie
The David and Katie we saw this week were as much a surprise to us as they were to themselves. Suddenly and unexpectedly freed from parental duty thanks to their kids sleeping over friends’ houses, they found themselves alone. The shock was nearly orgasmic for the two of them, and I use "orgasmic" purposefully because nearly a nanosecond after they realized they could do anything they wanted together, they immediately split apart: David to his TiVo, Katie to her bath.
Thus, once freed to be sexual, they chose to continue their chaste lifestyle, thanks in part to Dr. May’s suggestion in last week’s episode that they ignore sex. And indeed, that advice seemed to pay dividends for the couple. Ironically, it’s allowing them to rediscover each other as sexual beings: whether it be David seeing Katie in the tub or Katie catching various glimpses of David’s nether regions. A normal (read: inferior) show might show these two suddenly making like adult film stars upon the site of a bare bosom or buttocks, but Tell Me has been consistent in showing just how difficult it is for these two to rediscover their pre-parental selves. To ignore that would do a disservice both to these characters as well as to the audience.
Being around other adults also seems to have strengthened their own relationship. Surrounded by nominally happy couples at a Little League coaches’ brunch, David and Katie identify which seemingly happy couples are actually as content behind closed doors. Their estimate? Very, very few. And Jeff’s late-night meet-up with his co-worker Jeff confirmed just how good his married, parental life is in contrast with his very needy, very bipolar officemate.
All of these led to the moment that proved to me that this couple had truly turned a corner: in bed, after his encounter with Jeff, David tells Katie, "I’m in love with you." So far as I can tell, this is the first time such words have ever been uttered in that order. "I love you" has permeated the dialogue (hell, even the title), but this slight shift has seismic importance, I believe. Saying the three-word variation has importance, no doubt, but this show’s demonstrated just how shallow those words can be as well. They are said so often as to lose importance amongst these characters, a placeholder to displace silence. But David’s declaration did more to bridge the gap between he and his wife than any amount of therapy could ever hope to accomplish.
Which means, knowing this show, that something terrible is about to happen to these two, some last hurdle to overcome before truly getting on the right path back to each other.
Palek and Carolyn
Oh, you two crazy kids. And in Carolyn’s case, I might literally mean crazy.
Rather than deal with the fact that a year’s worth of Sex On Demand (as Palek calls it, or as many single people with more than basic cable call it, "On Demand") produced nary a pregnant Carolyn, Palek decided last week to sell the house of a thousand discarded pregnancy tests, in an effort to bury both the memories of that horrid year and an effort to close the book on any attempts on their parts to ever be children.
Carolyn, on the other hand, nominally agrees with Palek’s plan to sell the house, but naturally doesn’t wholeheartedly agree. The two of them argue over the ability to find a new place in the proposed 20-day escrow, but what they are in fact arguing about is their trouble conceiving a child. It’s Palek’s desire to move as far away from the bullet he feels he’s avoided and Carolyn’s inability to truly leave the possibility of motherhood behind her. The 20-day move clearly can’t be the issue: by my count, they only have eight things in their entire house. It’s so Spartan that it could have been one of the 300 at Thermopylae.
Things turn ugly in only the way "Palek + Carolyn + bedroom + slight difference of opinion" can turn ugly: Carolyn rejects sex due to her being tired, prompting an outburst from Palek (wondering why he had to have sex for a year whenever she wanted to, but she can’t return the favor), which prompted an outburst from Carolyn (wondering if Palek ever cared about her or fatherhood), which prompted a nice touch the show is uncanny in showing: a passive-aggressive tug on the sheets by Palek, one final "screw you" as he removes the sheets from Carolyn’s side of the bed. This encounter led these two to the absolute precipice of their relationship to date.
Palek’s immediate path led him to the same clothing store from the show’s fourth episode. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
My impression of his trip to the clothing store is that it was anything but accidental. He tells his foreman that he will get coffee on his own, signaling that this store is near the place he normally gets coffee. One could easily assume he walks past this clothing store on a weekly if not daily basis, sees that particular female employee in there, knows her hours, and went in specifically to feel attractive as a physical entity once again.
Well, for once, I was utterly and completely right, and since my track record at predicting such things is so poor, allow me to gloat. OK, gloating’s over.
Palek’s ready to jump ship, leave the marriage, and maybe start up with someone who smiles at him, rather than berates him. Someone who builds up his self-worth rather than tear it down at every possible chance. Salesgirl stands in for all that is possible outside the confines of Carolyn, and it’s vastly appealing to him at this point. There’s no house, there’s no happiness, and there’s no child: nothing left to bind them together.
Well, except maybe the kid part.
As I’m sure many of you picked up long before I did, nearly every scene involving Carolyn pointed to the fact that she would be pregnant by episode’s end. Now, you tell me, dear readers: what was that look upon Carolyn’s face at the end? Joy? Horror? Both? God bless Sonya Walger, who puts on an acting clinic each week on this show. I think the cast is uniformly strong, don’t get me wrong: but I think the marriage between actor and character in this particular case is just so strong that it allows Carolyn to simply shine while others glow.
Nick and Hugo and Jaime
Whoa, Hugo! Looking more Mark Ruffalo than ever!
Yup, we have out first bonafide triangle on the show, and thus the first triangle in the recap. Hugo shows up out of the blue, looking literally like he’s been in detox (the word he used to describe time away from Jaime). Detox lasts approximately thirty seconds around Jaime, who first makes him cry, then mothers him, then sleeps with him, and if all of that sounds really, really wrong, then, well, you’ve accurately assessed these two.
Maybe tear-stained nookie does it for you, people, but it sure doesn’t for me. And it’s clearly not something you want to base a new relationship on, as evidenced by Jaime calling Nick the second CryBaby Hugo left for work. I half-expected her to call Mason to mock his histrionics, but Jaime had some of her own histrionics to enact herself.
What’s clear about all three in this triangle is that they intensely loathe themselves, and as such, masochistically enter into dramas that they have enacted before with other people. The fact that Nick said, "I should walk away now," more than once just proves these people are working off internal scripts: they manipulate the dramas of their lives to stage certain scenes, and in a way enjoy the drama that ensues. They actually ENJOY being the victims in their own productions.
In these modern, hysterical operettas, each party fashions him or herself as the flawed protagonist, doomed to be alone at the end as the curtain draws and/or the newest Coldplay single blares out their inner misery. But make no mistake about it: these people thrive on these dramas, and consistently seek them out. Nick mentions his ex to get Jaime in bed. Jaime confesses her infidelity to Hugo as a way to further alienate him. Hugo leaves his shirt on Jaime’s door to complicate her current relationship with Nick. All three have competing narratives and no stage manager, which means this will all lead to chaos and pain and $80 shirts everywhere.
Dr. May and Arthur
So, that was the whole point of the John storyline? Really?
I liked her bit about "endings need to be handled with as much care as any other part of a relationship," but given the fact that John was built up almost as much as Keyser Söze, I guess I figured this would stretch out a bit more.
Now, ostensibly, things are potentially not completely over between Dr. May and John, but it sure seemed like it, right? Dr. May’s reasoning was interesting: essentially, she needed the illusion of a better life with him in order to maintain her life with Arthur. Thus, she was "with" John without having to cheat on Arthur, and for a while, such illusion sustained a less than perfect marriage. In her not-yet-twilight years, however, she and Arthur have grown closer together, with John’s existence perhaps the last stepping stone before real contentment. And since her life with Arthur has ended up so wonderful, she can thank John for his unwitting help, but do so while gently crushing any hope of his that the two of them could ever be together.
Sounds just like Jaime’s approach to relationships, except completely not.
With only three episodes to go, how would you handicap the chances of these couples staying together? What WAS that look on Carolyn’s face? Do you think Hugo just went home after therapy to eat a pint of ice cream and watch "Steel Magnolias"?
For more TV reviews and analysis, check out Ryan at Boob Tube Dude.