Breakthroughs and breakdowns on 'Tell Me You Love Me'
A show like Tell Me You Love Me requires patience on the part of the viewer. And that patience was paid off in grand fashion in this, the show's fourth episode. The groundwork laid in the first three episodes is finally starting to move past mere exposition and into real drama. While secrets are still being maintained, and no one on the show has fully opened up to each other, the show is finally shining a light on the wounds these characters keep so closely guarded.
The theme of this week's episode centered around monogamy, with each of the show's main characters dealing with the topic in their own way. The specters of other lovers hang heavily upon the multiple protagonists to the point that these unseen (and often plain old imaginary) others take up a physical space: namely, the space between Katie/David, Carolyn/Palek, and Jaime/Hugo.
David's decision to attend therapy with Katie sets off a chain reaction of events that both rattles the very foundation of their marriage and yet gave them the best odds in Vegas of making it through Season 1 intact as a couple. At first, their lies and misdirects towards Dr. May felt almost like a verbatim version of Carolyn and Palek's initial session with her, only David reached Palek's epiphany point much sooner.
To watch Tim DeKay and Ally Walker play this scene was to watch a master acting class. Their strength lies not only in how they deliver dialogue, but in how they physically present themselves onscreen. To understand their body language is to understand their characters, and these are two characters ostensibly close but immeasurably distant; these are characters who smile so they don't have to cry; these are characters who want so badly to reconnect but forgotten each other's touch.
And why are they this way? According to David's absolutely epic rant, it's the fault of their family: the daily grind of providing for their children and all the hard work, messiness, and business that goes into that effort negates their existence as a physical couple. While Katie's response ("Our entire life...THAT is what you just trashed!") seemed to contradict this thesis, she later admitted to him that she wished she'd gotten pregnant later in their marriage, thereby confirming his opinion the being parental and being sexual is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to pull off simultaneously.
Now, as for whether or not this is true is to me a touch irrelevant, but the boldness in even suggesting such a thing in a mainstream show is incredibly daring, and perhaps even a bit brave. I mean, can you imagine a similar sentiment being aired on Heroes, for example? I just can't imagine HRG pointing to his wife and saying to Claire, "You know, I used to hit that all the time, but then you came along and destroyed our libidos." Everyone, including Mr. Muggles, would be horrified.
But Tell Me goes there, and it's the kind of thing that I was hoping for at the start of the show. While I hope for a happy resolution to their issues, I applaud them and the show for even bringing it up in the first place.
While David and Katie made incremental, painful progress this week, Carolyn and Palek took the easier, "see no evil, hear no evil, buy Blackberries and suits and pretend there's no evil" route. All you need to know about Carolyn and Palek's status can be derived from their purchases this week. Purchases for themselves, not each other. Purchases to make themselves feel better, not each other. Carolyn's Blackberry can be seen as a way for her to impose order on a universe rapidly spinning more and more out of control, and Palek's suits can be seen as a way to re-install virility after Carolyn's 800th emasculation of him since the show's premiere.
Carolyn is possibly the scariest character on television, and I do mean that as a compliment. Her steely-eyed smile always betrays the constant threat of violence, a wild-eyed grin that indicates that even she doesn't know why she's doing half of what she's doing. We know she wants to get pregnant, but do we even know if she wants to be a mother? These are, after all, two separate things, and I'm not sure if she thinks about anything past the moment when a pregnancy test comes back positively. Perhaps a year ago, she thought of the two as intertwined, but that causality has long since been discarded, with the singular goal of pregnancy being the only thing on her mind.
Palek, for his part, seems to have resigned himself to the fact that Carolyn views him as a malfunctioning sperm donation device that occasionally talks. 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.
It's hard to tell whether her fawning over him was genuine or mere salesmanship, but I don't think that's the point, mostly because I don't think Palek cares one way or the other, to be honest. The suits are a way to shield himself as well as clothe himself. After all, he needs protection from the bombardment of calls from Carolyn's new Blackberry. He also needs a shield to protect his masculinity, thanks to a new revelation.
The revelation in question is that ten years ago, Carolyn had an abortion. This pregnancy's heretofore unknown existence drives a huge wedge between the couple, driving them to guilt, shame, and expensive gift buying. (Palek's emasculation continues with the knowledge a man other than himself got her pregnant.) Carolyn goes so far as to contact the father of her aborted child, himself a married father of two. Carolyn's main purpose in this meeting seems not to inflict guilt upon him (shocking, I know), but to ask him what she was like before she turned into the person we know now. It was a striking moment, one that shows Carolyn with at least a modicum of self-awareness.
This self-awareness, however, is exactly why I think she's so terrifying. It would be one thing if she just steamrolled over everyone without realizing the damage left in her wake. But she knows what she does, but looks helplessly around her, almost like a toddler looking at the broken cookie jar, with an "I did that?" look on he face. But instead of learning from these mistakes, she compounds them, all in the name of a goal she herself is mirthlessly attempting to achieve.
If I were Palek, I would have asked if the suit came in charcoal grey as well.
If any couple on this show has been defined by issues surrounding monogamy, it's been these two. Hugo made a return to the show, albeit briefly, this week, after his absence last week, and looked like a completely different person. He spoke of his time with Jaime "like being on drugs," and I wasn't sure if it meant literally or figuratively, because they seemed to like their drugs, these two. Hell, he even looked clean and sober in this scene, thanks to his "generic middle-school teacher" outfit.
By the time Jaime ended up in therapy at the end of this week's episode, she told Dr. May that she had been "acting out." But really, had she been? She got a tattoo, which isn't "acting out" so much as "really lame." My mother has a tattoo, for crying out loud. She wasn't acting out when she did that. (Maybe the symbols on her tattoo said "I am Jaime and I am acting out" in some language I don't understand.) In addition, she ordered a piping hot order of kitchen sex with one of her co-workers, which if anything is unsanitary. I mean, this scene screamed Gordan Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares versus "acting out."
After having newly tattooed, health-code violating nookie, Jaime rejects the advances of Nick, played by Ian Somerhalder of Lost fame. Always good to see Boone getting some work, and it was nice to see him try to sleep with someone who wasn't his stepsister. Now, if Jaime had been truly acting out, she would have thrown him down on the ground and tattooed his body with her tongue, but instead, she tells him to back off due to her "toxic" nature. Great, so Jaime takes her cues from Britney Spears songs?
I'm thinking that Jaime's melodramatic statement is purposefully ironic, and here's why: the big revelation in her storyline tonight was that she herself had never been able to maintain a monogamous relationship. In short, her dismissal of Hugo was either insanely hypocritical or insanely masochistic. In the first case, Jaime's approach might mimic that of a thief who lives in constant fear that others are trying to steal from him. In the second case, Jaime's self-loathing could have been projected onto someone who possessed the same qualities as her, but could own up to them in a honest way she herself could not. It remains to be seen whether this newest round of therapy (the latest of many rounds, it seems) will finally allow Jaime to confront herself, since that confrontation needs to happen before she can ever hope to see Hugo again.
Did you think this episode stood out from previous ones? Which of the couples currently interests you the most? And what would you get tattooed on your wrist after a particularly painful breakup?
For more TV reviews and analysis, check out Ryan at Boob Tube Dude.