'Army Wives': I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV

Sterlingkbrown_armywives_240 Roland Burton is an excellent doctor. We know this because they told us so throughout the entire first season of Army Wives. This is a man who has received national acclaim for his work counseling patients through post-traumatic stress disorder. He's a man who, as soon as he decided at the end of the first season to look for a job elsewhere, was instantly offered a new job at Northwestern and presumably could have had his pick of places to go. In short, this is a guy who knows what he's doing.

So what exactly does it say when one of Roland's best friends is suddenly dealing with some post-traumatic stress, but abjectly refuses to seek counsel from him? Strange, right? But that's exactly the case we've got on our hands. Claudia Joy is hurting, badly, but rather than seek help from a respected and trained professional who also happens to be a great friend, Claudia Joy would apparently rather seek support from a mysterious stranger.

As it happens, Roland isn't even the only medical professional here whose professional expertise is falling by the wayside as somebody else assumes that role instead. Denise is a registered nurse, but you wouldn't know it from her behavior in this episode, in which flirting rather than nursing seems to be her priority. In the meantime, Roxy ends up acting like more of a nurse than Denise does. Roxy takes care of Betty, dishes out medical advice on Betty's fight with cancer, and ends up bedside looking after Betty as she prepares for chemotherapy. So to recap, in this series there's both a doctor and a nurse, but others are taking over the roles of doctor and nurse instead.

The case of Claudia Joy refusing to turn to Roland for support is especially interesting. Is she operating under the presumption that everybody on post is sure to gossip about her, and so even though she should theoretically trust Roland she still worries that if she talks to him, people will undoubtedly in turn begin to talk about her? Or is it simply a matter of pride, in that Claudia Joy still believes that she should present an invincible face to the rest of the post community, that she should be strong because that's what everybody else needs?

But she's not going to be able to hide forever from dealing with the issue. Bill Cobbs shows up and asks to have a word with her. I say Bill Cobbs,Arm203_billcobbs the actor's name, rather than a character name, first because the character never officially gives a name, but more so because the character is basically a repurposing of every other TV guest role Bill Cobbs has played in the last decade, since at least his episode in the first season of Six Feet Under. He's playing the same role he typically plays, as a wise old man straddling the bridge between life and death and using his elderly wisdom to help younger people come to grips with mortality. (And fulfilling a vaguely racist archetype in the process.) If you saw his episode of October Road last year, it's basically a carbon copy of the same role.

Except this time, he's a ghost or an angel or something else otherworldly. And Claudia Joy eventually picks up that he isn't really of this earth. "You're not real. I'm not talking to you," she asserts. No matter; once a ghost/angel shows up he's awfully hard to get rid of. Bill Cobbs keeps pressing Claudia Joy that she needs to really accept what happened to Amanda, and needs to be able to open up to her family, because they really need her to be the wife and mother she is capable of being. Claudia Joy, ever the strong woman, never really caves in and admits her trouble; instead, she more or less tells the guy off and does things at her own speed.

Fortunately, while Claudia Joy hasn't bothered to check in with Roland, Emmalin has instead. After a particularly excruciating effort to learn how to drive a stick, Emmalin throws a fit and sulks away from the driving lesson, only to stumble past Roland. Roland isn't officially back at work yet, so maybe some remedial post-traumatic counseling with Emmalin is just the practice he needs. It's like a rehab assignment as he works his way back from his injury.

"You know, I used to feel safe here. On post. But now I can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. I mean, some guy wearing that uniform blew up my sister," Emmalin admits. She talks about the feeling of insecurity, the feeling of wanting revenge, and most importantly, the feeling that she doesn't really have any connection to her mother anymore as Claudia Joy just walks around like a zombie. "It's like I'm not even part of the family anymore," Emmalin laments.

Emmalin and Claudia Joy finally do catch up with each other, for the closest thing to a heart-to-heart since they lost Amanda. Emmalin admits how sad she was to not really be able to talk to Claudia Joy when she really needed to, and it's a conversation that prods Claudia Joy to realize that she needs to move forward with her life. And with that, Bill Cobbs gracefully departs.

After Emmalin has successfully talked with her mother, she comes back to see Roland to thank him for the help. Maybe this amateur non-office counseling is something that will last for Roland. Emmalin introduces her friend Lauren, saying she could use somebody to talk to as well. And then, in a montage at the end of the episode, she brings along another kid as well. Hmmm. I wonder what exactly they're doing here, laying the groundwork for Roland's career going forward. Joan's complete disappearance from this episode is strange, but it's actually quite interesting when juxtaposed against the idea of Roland finding a new calling -- it highlights the fact that Roland's life doesn't necessarily revolve around Joan, and Roland's career plans may not be tethered to Joan at all. Joan has always made that clear when it comes to her own life and career, but this might be something of a change for Roland.

Meanwhile, Roxy has officially taken in Betty, who's not exactly the world's sweetest houseguest. Betty continues to hate kids, which would be more notable if not for the fact that Betty appears to hate everybody. She does have news that the cancer is worsening, and the doctors have told her that she needs to start chemo or there won't be anything else left to start. While Betty continues to be really gruff and hostile, Roxy eventually wears her down. Betty ultimately admits that the reason she says she hates kids is actually a coping mechanism for her own sadness that she was never able to have kids of her own. With that, Betty's guard is let down, and she is willing to admit how scared she is of the cancer. She eventually heads in to begin chemo, with Roxy by her side.

While Roxy is playing amateur nurse, actual nurse Denise is drawn to a new patient. Corporal McCadden, or Mac, lost both his legs to an IED. Mac starts flirting with Denise like ... well, like a guy who's lost both his legs and so realizes he probably doesn't have much else to lose. If you're in that situation, I suppose you might as well go for it. Mac steps up the charm offensive with a series of sweet smiles, plaudits for how great Denise is, and the occasional self-deprecatory humor about his condition. Denise says not to worry, that the artificial legs he'll be getting will be something to be proud of. "You'll be the bionic man in no time," she coos. Don't remind me. I think I was the only person in America who really, really liked Bionic Woman.

Arm203_denise Denise takes a shining to Mac too, though it's not particularly clear at first if it's a mutual fixation or if she sees Mac as more like a lost puppy that she can take care of. Denise swings by Mac's room at night, long after she's done working, with a wheelchair to break him out of the hospital and let him enjoy a beer.

Mac is saying exactly what Denise needs somebody to say. Denise has always, for the whole run of the series, been dealing with this feeling of not wanting to be helpless. When the series began she didn't have a career of her own, and there was the Jeremy situation which rendered her weak and incapable of defending herself. In the interim, she has gotten her nursing degree and a job, but that feeling of helplessness returned in a big way with the bombing, when she froze. She's ashamed of her complete inability to react in a heroic way in the face of crisis. Mac smooth-talks her and says no way, that the person he sees now is strong, lively, and capable of doing anything. At the end of the episode, Denise learns that Mac is being transferred, at least temporarily, up to Walter Reed in order to get fitted for a couple of prosthetic legs. In the meantime, he gives the keys to his old motorcycle to Denise. Denise did say earlier in the episode that she rode when she was younger, but still, this is something I'm going to need to see to believe.

If you're not a professional question answerer, it's OK. Just fake it:

  • What should Roland do career-wise? Should he try to get his job back at Mercer, since stability and a steady paycheck will be important with a kid on the way? Or should he try to open up some kind of private practice where he might be able to set his own hours and better allow Joan to maintain her responsibilities?
  • Does it actually say something problematic about Claudia Joy that she's unable to really turn to her friends for support, and instead has to get help from some spirit guide?
  • Do you buy "Denise Sherwood, Biker Babe"? And do you like the road the character is going down, which promises yet more flirting with men other than her husband in upcoming weeks?
  • Are we OK with this week's Trevor solution, which is to have a single scene with him talking to Roxy via videoconferencing, though he doesn't appear until 54 minutes into the episode?
  • Betty uses the phrase "weak sauce" at one point. Since when does anybody under the age of 30 say that?
  • Is it really that important that somebody learn how to drive a stick? (If so, bad for me, because I sure can't.)