Monday, September 19, 2011

'The Big C's' Clock Runs Out On Lee & My Ability To Keep A Dry Eye While Watching...


Damn you, Jenny Bicks and Darlene Hunt!

I thought experiencing the shocking death of Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) in the first season of The Big C prepared me for your eleventh hour twists. The fact that you gave The Hollywood Reporter an interview admitting three people, one of whom was a series regular, would die before the end of the second season should have eased the blow even more. But even though I fully expected Hugh Dancy's Lee to be one of the three, the impact was still a bullet to the heart that had my own lungs gasping for air as hard as his were in his final moments.

And this one wasn't even the season finale. Getting me earlier and earlier every season, showrunners!

When we learned that Lee's body wasn't reacting as positively to the treatment as Cathy (Laura Linney)'s was, that should have been the first sign things were taking a turn for the worse for him. But he remained pretty healthy (at least looking) throughout subsequent episodes. He coughed more, but he still ran, and he seemed to be in pretty good spirits, or at least at peace with his situation. It was Cathy, and the audience by extension, who didn't get to grieve for him until the last possible second.

But that wasn't what hit me the hardest. When it was Lee's time to go, he made his call so he could say his good-bye; Cathy came over and sat with him; he coughed some more; and he sputtered out. That was it. That was it!? That is not how people die. I mean, in movies and on television it is, but not in real life. Not when they have a terminal illness. That is what we should all hope happens. Even if Cathy wasn't ready-- even if the audience wasn't ready-- Lee was. And at least he didn't suffer (that much).

Yet when I sat down to watch, I couldn't help but slide into Cathy's shoes and feel the anger and hurt at how quickly he was gone. I couldn't tell if I was affected so hard because Cathy didn't get to make her own peace with the situation; she had barely made up with him when she went over to his place or if because residual issues from watching my own mother shut down at a much slower rate made me resentful that he-- this fictional character-- got to die with his dignity still intact. As someone who always looked to pop culture, especially television, for examples on how life would, let alone could, be, I couldn't help feeling somewhat betrayed-- somewhat let down. Lee's death, while poignant, poetic, and beautifully crafted, was just not indicative of the horror cancer, when incurable, wreaks. And in that recognition, the tears became about what could, or should, have been.

Did I want to see Lee wither away slowly over the course of episodes, Cathy losing her own hope in the process? Of course not. Did I understand that by Lee dying as quickly as he did it served a greater purpose as a direct message to Cathy in her story, about her own journey and the way she must treat the precious time she has left? Of course I did.
Life is a ticking clock. That should be the first thing to be learned from The Big C. You never know when your clock is going to stop, but you can bet on the fact that it will be at a time you didn't expect. But when it happens, it is still harsh. I imagine there is no way it wouldn't be.

And I'll admit it: I expected Cathy to walk out of Lee's apartment, head home, and find her husband on the floor after having suffered a heart attack or seizure of sorts from doing too much cocaine. I expected him to be the last in the trilogy of deaths (hey, they really do come in threes!). But had that been the case, I really don't think I would have recovered at all.

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