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Classic Television Rundown: Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode 8, "Cara Fitzgerald"

Nip/Tuck, Season One, Episode Eight: "Cara Fitzgerald"
Written by Ryan Murphy

Directed by Jamie Babbit

"After all, aren't you in the business of lies?" -Father Mike, to Christian Troy

Here's where I usually get things rolling by starting with an excuse for not having written a Nip/Tuck review in a long time. Well, I'm not gonna this time. Instead I'm going to share with yallz that I'm finally at peace with the fact that while Nip/Tuck is not a great show (possibly not even a good show, even in these first couple seasons, which when I started this feature I still thought were near flawless), they have a certain effect when you watch them intermittently and also judge the episodes compared to each other rather than against David Simon-level gold standards of television. Because while even the biggest bombshell moments of the show come across as ham-fisted now, within the context of the world of characters and ridiculousness, they still pack a soap operatic wallop eight years after the fact.

This episode specifically is about as intimate, personal, and emotionally manipulative as they come, as it's the one in which we learn Dr. Christian Troy was molested by his father as a little boy. Now I don't remember if I was able to predict it when I watched "Cara Fitzgerald" for the first time back in the day, but if I didn't, I was pretty dumb. But rabbit hole conversations about twist endings aside, it didn't so much feel like bad plotting for a Shyamalan flick (and I still love Unbreakable) as much as informative and well-crafted (if not heavy-handed) suspense for Julian McMahon's character, especially considering what we already know about Christian. Whether or not we'll get the completely unnecessary "you see, you are an oversexed borderline deviant as an adult because of the sexual trauma you experienced as a child" speech from a therapist remains to be seen (I don't remember), but it's not even touched on here because it doesn't need to be. Also it leaves more room for the cheese and waterworks.

How does Dr. Troy come to admitting this revelation to Sean on a pew in a church as a priest is taken away in handcuffs? The way most people are able to finally open up about painful experiences from childhood, naturally - he turns in a child molester after threatening to cut his most vital arteries because he "knows exactly where they are," which reminds him of how he didn't have the power to do something so dominantly aggressive when he was little. Played by Jamie McShane of Sons of Anarchy fame, Father Mike is played almost too well in comparison to some of N/T's usual one-off guest appearances, especially because his character doesn't fit the show's mold. He comes in as your average McNamara/Troy client, wanting to get rid of a birthmark on his genitals because, as he purports, "my fiancee hates giving me head and I promised I'd get it removed for the honeymoon!" If it weren't for a look of judgment/hesitation on Sean's part, the twist that comes up later that he's actually a priest trying to get rid of the one piece of evidence that could put him in jail for pedophilia might not have worked. With another actor in any of the three roles, it could have been hackneyed, but Dylan Walsh's mediocre work is actually a godsend here, as he always makes that face, so it's just enough to make sense, but not so much that we could have predicted it. And McShane's reversal in the episode's second half is frighteningly impressive.

But back to Christian's confession (and yes, it's a Ryan Murphy show, so he had to confess in church, and he had to get Father Mike to confess to his sins and turn himself in while in a confessional booth) - one last interesting way in which it works so well is that Christian is barely a focus of this episode as a whole, which makes the last shot lingering on him and his broken confidence all the more haunting and effective. It doesn't divert attention like most shows would take advantage of, but rather reminds us of why we traipsed through all that Kimber/swinging scene/sex addiction stuff with him in the first half of the season. As we near the midway point, and we get a rather juicy and heady case of the week to also amp up the drama, coming back to Christian yelling "he raped boys!" at Sean when trying to convince him that something needed to be done when they realized they had just done plastic surgery on a pederast is a jolt above the melodrama and into the character's psyche. It's bold and way over the top, but if you're going to do a show this sensationalistic, if you tread the ground firmly yet sneakily, it will be effective. And it was.

Speaking of that case of the week, it's likely the episode's low point, as it usually is for most good shows that attempt to combine serial and self-contained formats. Actually as I'm typing this, I'm realizing that the Father Mike deal and also another with a Miss Greco, who wants to get rid of her nose because it reminds her of her father who molested her (okay, so maybe it was a theme suffering from overkill), were also one-off clients for Sean and Christian. Somehow, though, they don't feel as disconnected as your average self-contained plot because they lead distinctly into Christian's teary-eyed admittance. But the one the episode is named after really only has forced links back to either Sean (who's still dealing with trying to keep the secret of his affair with Megan, the breast cancer survivor, as he gives her implants and in-house psychologist Grace senses the two are getting their bang on) or Christian. Per the Six Feet Under & Law and Order formulas, we witness Matt & his friend Henry get high and accidentally run over a girl from their school named Cara Fitzgerald. Except instead of dying she goes into a coma, because corpses don't get plastic surgery (though I wouldn't put it past the later seasons of this show).

As can be expected, Matt feels awful throughout the whole thing and one of the subplot's only high points is the fact that for at least a handful of scenes of N/T we don't have to deal with Matt being a snot. He's genuinely remorseful, and John Hensley actually does a decent job at conveying this with his performance, and he wants (you guessed it) Sean to fix her face. Oh, why her face? Because when Matt hit her she was bending down to pick up some paper that skateboarders knocked out of her hand because she's a loser in school no one likes, so she looked up when the grill met her skull. And of course Matt and Henry were distracted because (other than being high) they were arguing about whether to listen to heavy metal or gangster rap. But wait, there's more! When Matt finally goes to the hospital to see that damage he hath wrought, it turns out Cara's family are Christian scientists, so they don't believe in surgery or medicine. Yeah, I hope I don't need to go into why this was all kinds of suck. Eventually Sean convinces the mom to let him work on her so her broken face bones don't hit her optic nerve and make her go blind. Apparently it didn't work for Murphy though, because all these years later and he's still blind as to how to write adolescent characters. Burnathon 3000!

Grade: A- (and that's a big minus)

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

Other Memorable Quotes:
  • "Would you like to see if your prayers are working?" -Sean, to Mrs. Fitzgerald before he takes off Cara's bandages
  • "Since we have medical custody, does that mean we have to pay for her college? -Christian, during Cara's surgery
  • "I thought I could get it all out, but I couldn't. I felt nothing." -Miss Greco, on the confrontation of her rapist father
  • "Are you ready to make a confession, father?" -Christian, in confessional booth with child molester Father Mike
  • "Whether you go to hell is up to you." -Christian, with another powerful/gaudy one-liner to Father Mike

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  1. Blogger qualler | 2:09 PM |  

    I remember being especially blown away by the "reveal" of Christian's sexual abuse, but then slowly disappointed by the fact that the show would never address them again and just get more and more ridiculous. I feel duped by Ryan Murphy more than anything. He better not screw up Connie Britton's career with "American Horror Story."

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