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Classic Television Rundown: Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode 2: "Mandi/Randi"

Nip/Tuck
Season One, Episode Two: "Mandi/Randi"
Written and Directed by Ryan Murphy
"There's a big difference between changing your outlook and changing your life, Sean." -Liz
And how quickly do I find myself agonizing over what grade to give an episode of Nip/Tuck. It's amazing that after hating a show for so long and then going back to the episodes you told yourself that you loved at one point, you can see just how easily it was for Murphy to chop (pun intended) the show into the fragmented and ugly mess it soon became. Take the first season's second episode, for example, "Mandi/Randi", whose centerpiece is a really well-developed and poignant (for N/T anyway) metaphor about the nature of relationships and change and how the two concepts often seem to be at odds with each other. Practically everything in this episode is carefully sculpted, a fresh blend of the subtle and realistic and the hyperbolic and melodramatic to hammer home a very worthwhile point. Everything, that is, except somehow already repeating the will-Sean-and-Julia-get-a-divorce plot device (that will wear itself out repeatedly over the course of the series) just after the first episode. But before I get ahead of myself, let's break down the episode to help yallz remember it.

As a welcome continuation from the pilot's main purpose, to show Sean and Christian experiencing life-changing revelations specifically regarding their profession and identity (in that order), we first see that the practice of McNamara and Troy have gone and hired themselves a psychologist to screen patients before performing plastic surgery all willy nilly on anyone. Of course Sean, not being a psychologist, and Murphy, like so many writers having a staunchly cynical view of psychotherapy, it doesn't turn out to be all one might hope it to be. Sean wants his newest employee, Dr. Pendleton (played by character actor Kevin Chamberlain), to simply be his yes man for whenever he has a crisis of conscious taking on a client who seems a little trigger-happy in their quick fixes for self esteem issues, but the doc fails to meet his expectations when he says that giving a dude with an already giant johnson another enlargement procedure just might be the thing he needs to finally enact positive change in his life. Chamberlain delivers this overly simply line of explanation with such mysterious aplomb that it hints he might get off on this whole plastic surgery thing just like the patients (and the doctors, to a certain degree), saving the scene, and when Sean fires Pendleton before the episode's over, it's one of the more forgiving moments of the man's impulsive drastic behavior.

Unfortunately, it's possibly Sean's only understandable lashing out of the episode. The rest musters up such a dislike for the character that it's hard to think Murphy ever wanted us to like him. But I often think, like I do in this episode, that while he's so concerned with giving Christian a fair shake (because he's supposed to be the loathsome Lothario from the get go and constantly dealing with it) that he forgets that just because Sean is a family man doesn't mean he's instantly sympathetic. Instead, we only see the Sean upon meeting with the therapist of twin clients (doesn't need Pendleton's approval here), who tells him that the titular twins Mandi and Randi should go under the knife because they are at a crossroads (college) and it's the perfect time for them to start fresh as new people rather than continue being treated as the same person, takes it as a sign that he should leave his wife while yelling at her for not changing. Douche-chill, am I right? Arguably Sean doesn't realize his hypocrisy and one of his biggest flaws is that he's unaware of his naive self-righteousness, but the pilot was so busy stirring up drama between Sean and Julia with outside influences (never got to go to college, Matt's adolescence, Christian's advances) that we never get to see that simmer; we only get the explosion, thus decreasing our sympathy for the dude.

If you can't tell yet, I'm silently comparing N/T to Mad Men, which I am aware is completely unfair, but I feel like Pete and Don are a good analog to Sean and Christian, with the notable exception being that Pete started realizing how much of an asshole he was pretty early on, and just accepted it. Sean just keeps wallowing in his blind shrine of himself and his desire to start a new life that he can never really follow through with. One thing that did make up for his crudeness was that when he and Julia finally stopped fighting and started effing, it was clear that this wasn't just lazy scriptwriting. Sean really does love Julia, and he's always trying to reconcile that feeling with the fact that he feels stuck everywhere else in his life, and Julia maybe doesn't love Sean, but she's still hot from her non-triste with Christian, so she's gotta do something with that energy. And here, Joely Richardson shines once again, doing a weird shakey hang over the shoulder thing that communicates Julia's longing for desire mixed with permanent anxiety so well that we are able for a moment to forget about Dylan Walsh's unpleasant droopy face.



Which brings me to Christian. The reason Christian is fun to watch, despite how many terrible things he does and how many times N/T has to turn on the generic funky-time music when he gives a random hottie the half-smirk of death, is because he embodies what sets this show apart from any other. It isn't afraid to hedonistic because you trust that underneath all the skin, there is a beating heart that's just trying to figure out to whom it belongs. To be as base as possible: Sean has no allure and therefore he is not as engaging of a character on this show, it being full of neon lights and white beaches, as Christian Troy. When he nonchalantly brings Matt to a whorehouse disguised as a strip club to encourage him to pop the ol' cherry in an effort to "gain confidence, which is all that really matters" so that his girlfriend Vanessa is so into his charms that she won't notice his uncircumcised penis next time they're under the covers (are you with me still?), the character (and the actor I should mention, Julian McMahon) completely sell it somehow. It comes off a tad creepy as a viewer, but if you're able to put yourself in Matt's teenage shoes, you end up at the scene's finish surprised and impressed that Matt was able to resist the persuasions of the great Christian Troy.

The parallel between client and doctor in this episode smacks us on the head later when after the aforementioned twins' surgery, Mandi has a breakdown when she sees a male nurse making eyes at Randi and not her, whereas before if a dude hit on one of them they basically had no reason not to hit on both of them. "We want to be the same again," Randi pleads to Christian as she holds her bawling sister in her arms. At this moment you know Christian may not be thinking about his indiscretion with Matt, but rather how he's been half-trying to woo Julia (not to mention having hallucinatory visions of her when sexing it up with other ladies) now that Sean's packed up and moved out, and how it might be better for her to like both of them but only have one of them instead of hate one and wholly love the other. So instead of just not pursuing Julia, he does her (and us) one better: he has her "accidentally" walk in on him equally loving Randi and Mandi (see photo above). Here is another place where Christian shines, because that's obviously only one of many interpretations this parallel could suggest, proving that this character's psychology is a bit more complex and loaded than our friend Sean's, thus once again making him the satisfying character to watch.

Lastly, as the love triangle that will never end happens in the foreground, surely there's going to be characters that suffer from the fallout. But in the meantime, they are simply suffering from the fact that it's taking up all the screen time while their characters are being ignored. I actually think this is a pretty clever way of introducing soon-to-be-vital supporting members of the cast, such as John Hensley (Matt, who's responsible for this week's cliffhanger as he attempts to give himself the circumcision with the help of the family's surgical tools, a bottle of red wine, and an online tutorial - so much for the whole parenting/building confidence thing, self-obsessed love trianglers) and also Roma Maffia, aka Liz, who's responsible for my favorite quote of the episode, placed above. Her on-again off-again relationship with McNamara/Troy as their anesthesiologist is at times gripping and candid and other times forced and unwelcome. We'll see as I revisit her as a character, but her re-hiring after last week's crazy druglord shenanigans seemed like an excellent script moment, as she will often act as the show's voice of reason - someone who understands she has to take her lumps, but also is going to stand up for herself when the ish hits the fan. We'll see if my opinions of any of these characters will change as we go from here. Also I will be the lookout for Mandi/Randi's therapist, Dr. Santiago (played by Valerie Cruz of Dexter and True Blood), who at the episode's close is hired as the new psychologist for McNamara/Troy.

Grade: A-

Other memorable quotes:

  • "Once you get your sea legs, you can have a conversation with her about what your foreskin is and how it really won't affect her pleasure." -Sean, to Matt
  • "Just a bed, please. I'm a traditionalist." -Christian, to the tanning salon clerk trying to sell him extra services
  • "I believe in committing fully to change. It's the commitment that brings constructive results." -Dr. Santiago, in response to Sean's idiotic question "So you don't believe in half-measures?"
  • "It looks like a Shar-Pei. Are you part Arab or something?" -Vanessa, after getting to see Matt's you-know-what
  • "Au contraire, my little virginator." -Christian, to Matt
  • "That which nourishes me, destroys me." -Dr. Pendleton, by way of latin saying
  • "You made me forget there was ever another girl in the room." -Christian, to Julia
  • "She needs to know that evil exists." -Matt, to Julia when asked to not show Annie The Exorcist again

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  1. Blogger qualler | 12:15 AM |  

    Haha, I never realized that the Sean-Julia thing felt played out already in the second episode. I do think that Christian, despite being a sleazy egotistical, woman hating jerk, is likable because there is a heart deep down there.

  2. Blogger qualler | 12:19 AM |  

    One show that DOESN'T have a cynical view on psychotherapy is In Treatment! Gabriel Byrne forevah! Actually, I also don't think The Sopranos is cynical about psychotherapy itself, but is cynical about those who use it and are not able to somehow use it to actually better their lives.

    In a way, Nip/Tuck is more cynical because it is essentially ripping apart society's view of beauty as something deeply ugly on the inside. At least, it did that in the first couple of seasons, and then did stuff like have Rosie O'Donnell lick peanut butter off a dog and have a dude eff a couch. Granted, various episodes of the last couple seasons were actually pretty good, but it was not close to being as cohesive as a series as it was in the first two seasons. (Yes, I subjected myself to watching the last few seasons of Nip/Tuck. Why? I don't know.)

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