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Classic Television Rundown: Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode 5, "Kurt Dempsey"

Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode Five: "Kurt Dempsey"
Written by Lynnie Greene & Richard Levine
Directed by Elodie Keene
"If you're strong, it makes you free, and if you're weak, it makes you...you." -Christian
The ending of the opening scene of this episode is alone what makes this otherwise A episode an A- instead. In fact, maybe I'll just put that minus in parentheses because it's such a silly little contrivance that raises my ire that I feel like I'm almost being unfair, but if you hadn't been able to tell by now, we here at The Blogulator take our TV very seriously. You see, here we have an almost perfectly constructed set of both recurring and guest character story lines that relate just enough to each other to make it all beautifully coherent, but not so much so that it makes for a forced metaphor being retold with every scene. That, in essence, is what makes the perfect spine of an episode of a television drama with an ensemble cast.

So what am I boiling my blood about rather than just letting the praise swing forth with pendulous idolatry? Once again it is Sean McNamara. But instead of what I've been bitching about thus far in the Classic Television Rundown series (how much of his naive self-involved portrayal and development is intentionally challenging to the viewer vs. simply an obnoxious by-product unforeseen by the writers and/or Dylan Walsh), it's something a lot more facile. Inherently having a character so weaselly unsympathetic should be an indication that this is a show that doesn't need to stoop to the lowest common denominator, but the problem is that Nip/Tuck is as much about flash and attention-grabbing tactics as it is about twisty-turny character analysis. So when the episode's titular patient comes in trying to convince the McNamara/Troy partners that he loves his Japanese wife so much he's willing to do anything for her, even alter his face to look Japanese to try to fool her "traditional and/or xenophobic" parents, he has to ask Sean if he's never loved anyone this much.

But that's not enough. We of course also have to hold the camera on Dylan Walsh's face for a seemingly interminable amount of time as the lens zooms ever so slowly and his face quivers ever so maddeningly. But wait! That's not all! We the viewers are still so dumb that you best show Sean gently tilt his lantern-jawed mug so that he sees, if only for a moment, his wife Julia's picture on his desk. Do you get it? They're trying to get us to see that Sean's not sure if he loves his wife so much that he'd have plastic surgery for her! Or something! And by Jove, I would have turned off the episode just then if I didn't already know that this episode was gonna be a good one, because even though those six-ish seconds irked me to no end, I still cared about the other characters (particularly Christian and Julia) and was still indelibly fascinated by the two-faced persona of Sean McNamara, so I had to see it through.

Actually, after revisiting my notes on the episode, I feel I must not put that minus in parentheses. Because despite the brilliant parts, and there are many, the Nip/Tuck people decide to come back midway through the same forty-five minutes to the very line that begat one of the most horrendously piercing, most hollowly sculpted moments of the show thus far. Yes, when a second patient arrives to mirror the problems of our doctor protagonists, this time played by Andrea Zuckerman (or whatever the real name of the actress from the original 90210 is), and reveals that she was not in a car accident where only her nose was broken, but rather that she goaded her husband to do it with a hammer so that she'd finally get a plastic surgeon to say yes to operating on it (a perfectly shocking yet profound concept for a mirror), is wasted when it's resolved by the husband looking all dopey and saying, "Haven't you ever loved someone so much you'd do anything for them?"

Of course they haven't. That's why you're putting that line in the script. Twice.

Seriously though, check below for all the amazing quotage that comes out of such a wide spectrum of characters' voices in this episode. Pessimistic umbrage aside, there are some wondrous self-contained and ever-unraveling developments in "Kurt Dempsey" that really knock Christian's journey into high gear, from his flirtation with sex addiction (here we got to see our first glimpse of Gina, who we will come to largely love as the show's craziest and most interesting supporting character) to his incredibly loquacious demeanor that is equal parts horny teenager and existentialist madman. Then there's Julia miscarriage, which one could argue is a remnant from the show's first couple episode in which too much is crammed in too few scenes, but that Joely Richardson nails with such neurotic and lifelike aplomb that you truly feel as exhausted as she does throughout the whole ordeal.

Next time I swear I'll focus on the positive, but I swear when you watch so closely a show that is so mean-spirited and misanthropic, you can't help but dwell on the greeting card fizzies it tries to make you feel when all you want is more Christian Troy zingers.

Grade: A-

Other memorable quotes:
  • "You know what potential is, Sean? Nothing." -Julia
  • "Are you repeatedly flaunting this adolescent behavior in front of me because a woman has invaded your boys' club?" -Grace, to Christian
  • "The price is the same; the currency's--" -Christian "Changed?" -Creepy mom who begs to trade plastic surgery for sex and when that doesn't work a three-way with her and her daughter, in tandem, in one of the most disturbing scenes of the show thus far
  • "Under whose control? The anonymous sex-crazed sycophants who meet once a week to group-think their way out of desperation?" -Christian, in response to Gina's
  • "Well, doctor, I wouldn't expect you to believe in a higher power. You already think you're God." -Gina, in response to the above
  • "Now you can huddle in a group and face it one day at a time or you can be grateful that when your body rubs against someone else's that you explode with so much pleasure that you can forget even for a minute that you're not just a walking pile of ashes." -Christian, in response to Gina
  • "Do you even wanna have another kid? Or are you just glad to have another reason you can't go after what you really want?" -Matt, to his momma
  • "It's like a UFO sighting. It happened, clear as day, but no one'll believe it." -Grace, referring to getting a genuine apology from Christian Troy
  • "Aren't you? Just a little? Or is it easier to live in denial and vilify me?" -Julia, to Sean, after he asks incredulously "Are you saying you're relieved?" in regards to losing the baby

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  1. Blogger qualler | 2:30 PM |  

    Oh man, you are totally right about Sean being a big old doofus. My first go-through of this series deemed him necessary as a character to offset the rampant horniness of Christian but after reading your recaps, I'm starting to re-think that all.

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