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Classic Television Rundown: Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode 7, Cliff Mantegna

Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode Seven: "Cliff Mantegna"
Written by Brad Falchuk
Directed by Scott Brazil
"Sometimes people can be too honest." -Megan

Somehow the sexiest episode of Nip/Tuck thus far in my reflection of the first season is also the creepiest. But as I've hinted at throughout this series of posts, I have never quite been able to tell when Ryan Murphy and co. are commenting on the lustful inclinations of society and how much they're just indulging in their lust-tooth, so to speak. With "Cliff Mantegna", I found myself pretty wildly oscillating between both opinions, which may itself very well be the show's ultimate goal, which while questionable, is undeniably compelling television. In addition, I watched this episode at work after hours, which just made me feel all the more dirty afterward, which goes back to my desire to give the show props and also banish it altogether.

There's really no other conclusion to come to, if you ask me, when you begin your episode with Christian and Kimber role-playing and going at it in his car one moment, followed by Kimber getting fed up with trying to fulfill all of her partner's kinky desires, exiting the car, only to have a slow pan of Julian McMahon's subtle chain reaction of facial expressions, which communicate more than a post-coital scene in a sports car should ever successfully communicate. And to top it off? He regains his composure, simply driving back up to the object of his desire, telling her to get back in the car...which she does almost without a flinch.

It's a nice metaphor, really, for where the show's aiming to go as a whole in its first season, forcing its characters to face their shortcomings and give their egos a reality check, only to allow their self-aggrandized power win out, hopefully (crossing fingers) to repeat the process in the future with more revelatory results. In showing how alternately vulnerable and invincible Christian (and even Sean, in a simultaneously much less subtle and much more aggravating way) can be, we are given the space to both sympathize with despise him, but nevertheless remain curious enough to stick with him for a few more episodes. Especially when this one ends with quite the plot-mover/shocker: he is and has always been quite madly in love with Julia, his best friend and partner's wife.

And this is the other clincher that makes "Cliff Mantegna" work so well on the good-sexy end of the spectrum: Joely Richardson. Her performance here is the best yet of the season, largely because she gets a lot of time to spend mugging for the camera, both as Sean's wife, Matt's mother, Jude's love interest, and now, Christian's unattainable Juliet. More than anything though, here's where she truly becomes her own character, with her own neuroses and dimensions, not all having to do with Sean for once. But since that's her primary reason for being a character in the first place, let's start there: I love that Sean and Julia don't fight much here, but rather try to work idly by each other while each pursues their individual interests. That writer Brad Falchuk (one of the show's key authors, also one of Murphy's main henchmen for Glee) uses a "three-way intervention" scene for humor, pathos/deepening of Matt's character, and the dryly highlight the main differences between Julia and Sean shows just how dense and morally gray Nip/Tuck can get when it's trying to not just shock and awe. Here Julia comes off as straitlaced but confused when she tries to talk with the parents of the girls who's Matt caught gallivanting with, whereas Sean comes off as overly open-minded and confused. They have commonality, but are on too different wavelengths to actually work together as parents.

And what does Julia have her eye on? Jude, the British-Indian student that she studies with a little too often, who isn't too shy to invite her classmate to a swingers party that, incidentally, Christian also invites Kimber to in another effort to spice up his newly monogamous sex life. Jude is a very problematic character for a number of reasons, not even the first of which is that he just happens to be into whatever strange thing Julia is not into but Christian and/or Sean definitely are into, so that the jealousy/love triangle works out exactly the way it needs. But hackneyed plotting aside, the twisty coincidental turns are mapped just loosely enough to distract us from analyzing it too much. Julia convinces Sean to hire Jude as an intern, but Christian helps him find an excuse to fire him when he suspects him of encroaching in on Julia: he saw him at that very same aforementioned swingers party with a Troy/McNamara patient, a big no-no. Bad thing is that Jude now has leverage, because somehow he inferred that when Christian saw him with the 40ish blonde at the party, he could have sworn it was Julia, and since he's just as protective of Julia as Sean is, he must be jealous and therefore in love with her.

It's quite the stretch, but McMahon plays the reaction to the just-competent Phillip Rhys so quietly emotional that we can't but believe that Jude's far-fetched accusation is indeed true. So when the episode goes just one scene too far (as they are wont to do, being the edgy program they are) and actually has Christian and Julia kiss, it's both frustrating and maddeningly exciting, because it opens up a whole new array of messy possibilities for the two main characters, and once again we cross our fingers that it won't splay out onto the screen too quickly, though we know it will, because, you know, it's Nip/Tuck. But that's for another week.

Obviously there's little focus on Sean's idiocy-of-the-week here, and that's part of what makes it a better episode, as they're taking a break from that. However, still reeling in jealousy and also super antsy about the prospective new relationship with breast cancer survivor Megan (who he's now hired as his chiropractor - real nuanced, guys), Sean once again goes in for a kiss, this time with the camera cutting away mid-embrace, suggesting that perhaps something else went on in the back-cracker's office, if you catch my meaning. Having two halves of a married couple cheat on each other in a single episode is a bit much, but with how melodramatic they're seemingly wanting to get, they manage to make it more "wow" and less "ugh" with the actors they've chosen in at least half of the equation.

Oh and the case of the week, Mr. Cliff Mantegna himself, was a cautionary tale about the swinger lifestyle, which Julia declined and Christian/Kimber exited, due, one can assume, to its creepiness. Mantegna is a swinger with man-boobs that he'd like removed so he can be a more successful poly-amorous playboy, but when Christian offensively gets him a free STD blood test ("just to be safe, based on your lifestyle"), turns out dude's got Hep C. So much for getting prime time TV to advocate Eyes Wide Shut shenanigans!

Grade: B

Nip/Tuck is available to watch on Netflix Watch Instantly.

Other Memorable Quotes:
  • "A jockey doesn't want to come home to see his girlfriend dressed up like a horse!" -Christian, to Kimber, dressed up as a sexy nurse upon his arrival home
  • "You can't just be the good guy, Sean, handing out prophylactics and slapping him on the back for his conquests." -Julia
  • "Well you know what they say: for every beautiful woman, there is a guy that is tired of screwing her." -Christian, to Sean, as he complains about being married
  • "Being open-minded isn't a cure-all, Sean." -Megan
  • "There was a documentary in which a man named Marilyn Manson said if he could say anything to the kids of America, he wouldn't say anything. He would listen." -Sean, during the three-way intervention
  • "Trust me honey, being on alimony isn't being unemployed." -Lexi, one of the girls' mothers
  • "There's a big difference between monogamy and fidelity, Jules." -Jude
  • "If I'm going to do this one-woman thing, it can't be with just...one woman." -Christian, upon entering The Scene

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 12:39 AM |  

    Me gusta el video.

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