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The Big C, “There’s No C in Team” (1.03)

“I don’t know you people. I didn’t ask for you to take me on as your pet project, and I sure as hell don’t need to be judged by you.” – Cathy Jamison

A review of the third episode of The Big C, written by Jenny Bicks and directed by Michael Engler, coming after the jump…

There is something to be said about a show where I watch every episode 2-3 times within a week of its airing. There’s just something engaging about The Big C; it’s funny, heartfelt, meaningful, and packed full of fantastic performances. Even when the show stumbles – and “There’s No C in Team” feels like a bit of a stumble – it’s not hard to rewatch and enjoy.

In the previous two episodes, Cathy spent all of her time running around, trying to make things happen. She hits a snag here, because all of her ideas are either completed or stalled: Paul’s out of the house, but still constantly waltzes in to yell at and/or attempt to seduce her; her plan to spend time with Adam merely alienates him; and her work with Andrea is merely in maintenance mode, as the work to be done now is the girl’s own. Not to mention her pool, which is merely a pit in her yard with the burnt husk of a couch in it.

And so, with no more big gestures left to make, she’s forced to pay attention to the fact that all of her personal relationships, not exactly perfect before her diagnosis, are stagnating now. She spends the first half of the episode being systematically rejected by everyone in her life, which makes her realise that she has no support system in her life. Nobody she can talk to, except her doctor, which doesn’t really count because he’s part of “cancer”, in a way. And so, coming across one of his pamphlets in her purse, she goes to the support group.

It’s funny, because the support group seem to be at the same place Cathy was in the pilot: cancer is a wake-up call to change your life, inspiring you to do crazy and amazing things. The Cathy of the pilot would have nodded right alongside them. But this is the Cathy of episode three: The Cathy who has, in fact, made those big crazy gestures and gotten very little out of them. Throwing Paul out of the house may have felt like a step towards independence, but he still seems to be there every day, just more colourful than ever. She barely sees her son, despite her intent to “raise [him] so hard [his] head spins. She has no pool. Andrea seems to be making some progress, but not nearly enough. She wants to fix everything in her life by having desserts and liquor for dinner, but she’s finding that you can’t just ignore the ‘you’ that you were before diagnosis. Cathy may be forward and addicted to speaking her mind now, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and she’s not quite sure how to do it.

So she lashes out at the group, her stalkers, “Team Cathy”, because they don’t get it. She got through the honeymoon phase and everything isn’t magically better; not only that, but she doesn’t even get the empty platitudes that the dying can look forward to, as she refuses to tell anyone about it. So she tells them that cancer sucks, and it’s destroyed her life, and that anger is good for her. Because when everyone else in her life is connecting to everyone but her (take a look at the dinner table scene, which was supposed to be about her but nobody noticed, yet again), what does she have left?

Until Thomas the dog follows her around, revealing to Marlene that Cathy is hiding cancer.

Dogs can sense more than people let on, and there have been many stories about animals ‘sensing’ cancer and following the dying around. So the moment where Marlene figures it out was well-built to, and it finally gives Cathy someone to talk to; Cathy, who continually told everyone she was dying in ways they couldn’t understand. And maybe, Cathy will realise that in order for her to get her people to be Team Cathy, she may have to tell them, even if that seems like cheating – because the changes she wants to make, she wants to make them, not be pledges out of reaction to her cancer. At the very least she now has someone to talk to about it.

Cathy’s best moment may have been the big dinner, where she uses her homeless brother and his hippie girlfriend to help Andrea quit eating bad food. On first watch I read it as Cathy misreading the room, but it was easy to see the second time around that she completely expects what happens: her brother says exactly the disgusting things about pigs-in-a-blanket she expects, which very well could effect Andrea’s ability to eat without thinking about exactly what she’s consuming. Very well played, Mrs. Jamison.

As for the episode as entertainment, this was an excellent episode with some parts that rubbed the wrong way. Particularly the tandem bike, which makes symbolic sense but is a clunker of a metaphor. It leads to some funny, but much like last week’s paintball bus attack, it feels a bit forced. Also, the support group, whose ‘humour’ grated very intensely, despite that being the point of them.

But other than those two points, the show was great. Particularly Gabourey Sidibe, who is the show’s MVP as the hilarious, yet very real, Andrea. Every scene she was in was a pleasure, and the hints of her potential friendship with Adam are actually quite exciting. Could the show not afford to make Sidibe a series regular, or are we looking at a potential exit for the show’s best character? Perhaps the money people were waiting to see how she turned out; if so, we should be hearing about her promotion any day now, as she’s routinely the funniest in a very good, very funny cast.

All in all, still the most entertaining half-hour (or more, considering I commonly rewatch every episode) of my week. Very interested to see what happens now that Cathy’s revealed her secret to someone without the world imploding.

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