Wednesday, June 8, 2011

USOT Recap: Be My Problem

 "Go put the fun back in funeral."   Bryce

Whose funeral, you ask? Lionel's! And, as it happens, this show's. (The fact that Tara got sacked in favor of the ever-stagnant Nurse Jackie is just salt on the wound.) I literally don't know which piece of news to focus my sadness on. Like Kate says in this week's episode, "I wish we were the sort of people who could just get upset about . . . one terrible, horrible thing a day." A rational person would point out that only one of these events is really real, but damn it, I liked Lionel, and my growing affection for him was the kind that developed from initial feelings of discomfort and straight-up horror at his behavior; that kind of drastic shift doesn't generally happen to me. So yes, while I will likely spend more cumulative minutes mourning the loss of what, in my opinion, has been a layered, compelling and consistently dynamic show, my grief over Lionel takes center stage for the moment.

"Train Wreck" was heartbreaking in so many ways, I don't even know where to begin. It kicked off innocuously enough, with Tara having seemingly found a Bryce-proof way to keep her crazy pills down (she snorts them) and her inner teen terror at bay. It is only about a third of the way into the episode that the bomb of Lionel's fatal car accident is dropped, and not until the day of the funeral that Bryce shows up to wreak havoc on the family. Chronologically speaking, the heartbreak starts with witnessing Marshall's stoicism as he first tries to cope with Lionel's death and his bitter acceptance of his mother's inability to be there for himwhile effective, Tara's medication apparently turns her into a loopy, vegetative mess. The real tragedy of Tara, however, is that when she is on, she is on; she was the only one who was able to pull it together long enough to truly and beautifully comfort Marshall through his loss. The following scene where Bryce hijacks the day of the funeral is all the more hard to stomach in light of that moment. As for the final heartbreak of the episode, two words: the basement. Just... damn.

On  the plus side, Tara's most recent "rock bottom" does lead Marshall and Kate to come to an important realization: their mother is not their burden to bear. "Be my problem," Kate says to Evan in a gesture symbolic of her decision to move forward and leave the [dysfunctional] nest, at least figuratively. Marshall instead takes the literal approach, deciding to move, it seems, to New York in tribute to Lionel's memory as much as out of a personal sense of duty to himself.

The final basement scene/goodbye between Max and Marshall was nothing short of spectacular, with Max absolving Marshall of his family responsibility and Marshall expressing love and concern for his parents but realizing he needs to leave them all the same. (There's a great moment there where Max urges his grieving son not to lose his childlike wonder and innocence, yet Marshall's expression (and all of us at home) practically screams, "Who are you kidding?") This need to put distance between oneself and one's childhood is as real and relentless for Marshall as it once was for Claire Fisher of that other dark family dramedy, Six Feet Underfitting, seeing as how both characters underwent personal tragedies and eventually became the symbols of change/audience surrogates for their respective families/shows.

Arguably the most introspective Gregson, Marshall's recent change of heart regarding his mother's condition (or really, his growing ability to see it clearly) is more significant than anyone else's in that his character arc illustrates the evolution of the show itself from quirky comedy to complex meditation on mental illness, family, and identity. Season-one Moosh, who reassures Tara that her DID is the reason their family "gets to be interesting" is a million miles removed from present-day Marshall who is on the cusp of a real and bittersweet coming of age. I mean, really: How do you cancel this show?! On the other hand, if Marshall is indeed preparing to follow in Claire's footsteps all the way to Manhattan, perhaps it's somewhat appropriate that the Gregson saga will also end on a note similar to the Fishers'.

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