Friday, December 23, 2005

Nip/Tuck: The End of Year Three

Nip/Tuck is a show that always entertains, but rarely rises to the level of great television. It's a show that despite being for "mature audiences" is at times very immature. It's so concerned with shocking the audience that it frequently sacrifices narrative integrity. In theory a neo-nazi forcing someone to cut off a transgendered man's penis is pretty shocking, but in reality, it doesn't even come close to minor scenes on Six Feet Under, such as Ruth slapping Claire in the season premiere of year five. It's because the Six Feet Under shocks are rooted in our knowledge of the characters rather than societal taboos. So, Kit and Quentin having a semi-incestuous relationship barely registers, whereas Billy's awkward confession of love to Brenda at the end of year three is disturbing because it's happening to people we really care about.

I'd compare it to telling a story in real life. There are some stories that are hilarious and work just as anecdotes, regardless of whether you know the people. Then there's some stories that work in a specific circle, but just bomb when you tell it to strangers. It's because you inevitably care more about events that happen to people you know, and I feel like the Six Feet Under or Buffy characters are the equivalent of friends or family, whereas the people from Nip/Tuck are people you see occasionally, but don't know that well. So, they need this outrageous stuff to make up for the fact that you don't really care about the characters.

The only really strong emotional bond I care about on the show is between Christian and Kimber, and the scene with them in the hospital is heartbreaking because we see Christian completely open emotionally, getting rejected and hurt by Kimber. It's tough to watch, depriving you of the hero role we were hoping for Christian. Christian is always interesting, it's the McNamaras who frequently induce boredom or disinterest.

The episode as a whole played pretty well, the carver revelation wasn't particularly shocking, though the "He has no penis" thing was pretty funny, largely because the way she delivered the line sounded exactly like Bill Murray's delivery of "Yes it's true, this man has no dick" in Ghostbusters. I think the odd thing about the show is that it should in theory be about ultra glamourous, slick people, and that's when it works, but they constantly bring in these grotesque images, as if inducing guilt for enjoying the beautiful. Being a huge fan of Wong Kar-Wai, I'm partial to beautiful people in stylish environments suffering, and the constant nasty images get a bit annoying after a while.

The most striking thing about the episode for me was just how sadistic it was. This season, they've done a bunch of intercutting parallel scenes, advancing them simultaneously. It's something that has potential, but usually doesn't work. In the previous episode, it made no sense to disrupt the drama of Sean and Julia's discussion of the baby by intercutting it with the story of two people who had only just appeared in this episode. Here, parallels are presented between the ordeal that Matt goes through and the ordeal that Sean and Christian undergo. This makes narrative sense, the intercut climax was used brilliantly by Lucas in Empire and Jedi to build tension in each narrative line, however here the effect is something different.

So much time is spent on this graphic torture that it really crosses the line into emotional sadism towards the audience. There's definitely merit in making the audience uncomfortable, but these scenes dwell in those emotions for so long that I became numb to them and started to view it solely as a bizarre act of vengeance on the characters that they'd created. It was like they hated them so much, they wanted them to suffer this prolonged torture with no apparent narrative purpose.

Now, I'm a huge fan of both suffering characters and torture in films. Oldboy is one of my favorite movies, but there it was done with style, to build the narrative stakes, here it was so prolonged, it became an end in itself. In a film, you're not as attached to the characters, so the torture is more removed, but here they've been with these people for three years, it felt odd to put them through this awful ordeal. It's similar to the feeling I got from 'That's My Dog' in Six Feet Under, it's just this unnecessary punishment on the character.

So, the show enters season four with something of a return to the status quo, and once again leaves this season's year long guest stars off on their own, liberated from the chaos they wreaked on the lives of McNamara/Troy. This was definitely the show's weakest year, though this episode basically cleared the deck, and moved us into a new status quo for next year, or rather an old status quo, the same one the show had when it began. What's to come next year? Who knows, I'll watch, but it's not a situation where I really care. As long as Christian and Kimber give it a go, there'll be something worth watching.

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