One of the things I fear most in writing episode-by-episode TV criticism is Stockholm Syndrome. At some point, when you’re down in the weeds with a show, you just have to start believing it’s worth your time, and that can lead to writing off a lot of flaws that maybe shouldn’t be written off because of one reason or another. This is different from writing about a troubled show trying to find itself. I find that process genuinely interesting to write about, and I think it’s one of the best uses of this particular form. What I’m talking about is when you’re writing about a bad show or even a mediocre one, and you eventually get so attuned to its rhythms that you’re not even sure if it’s bad anymore.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I liked tonight’s A Gifted Man much better than the two episodes that have aired since the pilot, but I’m not entirely sure how to explain why to you. I can’t say that it fixed up my problems with the show because all of them—particularly the dry, procedural nature of the show—remain. I did find one scene legitimately good, no questions asked, and it was, once again, a scene where Anna and Michael went over their relationship and talked about how, yeah, they had some good times, but they also had some shitty times. I thought the revelation that Anna was a great doctor to her patients but could be lousy when it came time to have enough money to be able to pay the bills was a nice flipside of her do-gooder nature, which has threatened to upend the show entirely. And I also liked the idea that Anna’s imprisonment on Earth—imprisonment extended by Michael, mind you—is closer to Hell than it is to Heaven.
The problem is, again, these aren’t things you can build a TV show around. The action at Clinica Sanando, which finally boasts Michael as a staff member, when it was clear he would be headed there weeks and weeks ago, was particularly boring, what with new doctor That Girl From Twilight (okay, she’s Rachelle LeFevre; I just wanted you guys to think I was cool and hadn’t seen Twilight) trying to help out with a family whose mother had just driven her car through the front wall of the clinic. Granted, the clinic’s insurance became a plot point in the episode, but doesn’t it seem like, y’know, losing your front wall would be more of an issue than this episode treated it as? It just was painted as another thing that Anna replacement Kate would have to deal with in an ever-mounting pile of indignities. Which is cool and all, but it’s not exactly the central air going out.
That said, I found myself kind of enjoying the action back at Michael’s space-age clinic o’ fun, even if it was unrelentingly goofy. His patient is an Indian-American teenager who reveals to Michael that he doesn’t just have headaches, like he’s told his parents; he hears a voice, a voice that gets louder and louder as Michael tries to fix what’s wrong with the kid. Turns out he’s got a small tumor containing the remains of a twin he absorbed in the womb. And this is all well and good and nicely icky for a medical drama, but what really makes this simultaneously absurd and fascinating is the idea that this twin is actually haunting our teenaged pal, keeping him from focusing like he needs to so he can be a doctor just like Mike. (He wants to be, he wants to be like Mike.)
And because this is A Gifted Man, of course the kid is haunted by the spirit of the twin he absorbed in the womb. And of course Michael’s sister, Julie “At Her Julie Benziest” Benz, is going to overhear him consulting on the case over the phone. And of course she’s going to decide to get her shaman pal involved. And of course he’s going to decide to cleanse the boy—against his father’s wishes, mind—in the back room at Clinica Sanando, where he’s doing carpentry work to fix up the front wall. And of course he’s going to trap the never-existent twin in a crystal and then help him move on to the other side, in a bonfire ceremony that Mike, Jr., is prohibited from attending until his father—in an about-face that makes no sense whatsoever—says, “We’ll see,” because the story needs a happy ending.
And, yeah, that’s all pretty fucking stupid. I mean, let’s be honest. It makes no logical sense, and it once again strands Margo Martindale with nothing to do. But I also liked the sheer preposterousness of it, including the notion that eventually Michael’s gonna set up shop at Clinica Sanando and have a shaman right next door to deal with ghost-related issues. (You know this is the series finale.) And, most of all, I liked the friendship between the kid and Michael. In particular, I thought the scene where Michael told the kid about his life was a nice, poignant one, even if it reeked a little too much of, “We’ve gotta get people to care about this guy and quick!” I chuckled at the fact that Michael’s experiences in Alaska seem to have been drawn entirely from the writers hastily looking up Wikipedia photos of Alaska to see what might be there. (He sutured up a wound caused by a polar bear and delivered an Inuit baby in a real igloo, yes he did!) And I groaned when the woman listening in said, “Oh, I thought it was great!” or whatever because the show didn’t need to underline that we were supposed to give a shit.
But I also liked the idea that there’s some sort of wacky plan behind all of this. It’s always a problem to write off too much coincidence in a show like this to a higher power getting involved and mucking around with things. But at the same time, this is a show that tries to blend the spiritual with the mundane, so you have a greater leeway for that kind of material than you might on Law & Order. I’m not saying that God needs to get involved every week, but I did like the way the show found a very muted way to suggest that sometimes, in the Gifted Man universe, at least, a coincidence just isn’t a coincidence.
All of the usual problems remained, and the show still hasn’t figured out how to balance its political side with its spiritual side. (The latter got the focus tonight, while the former was mostly implicit in the fact that our Clinica Sanando patients weren’t sticking with medication because it was choosing between that or getting fed.) And, yes, maybe this is all Stockholm Syndrome talking, and this episode was just as bad as those other two (my wife didn’t seem too taken with it). I still laugh at the ridiculousness of this show as much as I legitimately enjoy it, but in the Indian family storyline and that scene with Michael and Anna, I saw the glimmers of something that could live up to that solid pilot. Not a medical drama, exactly, but also not a paranormal show, exactly. The show’s still a long way from rising out of its ER meets The Ghost Whisperer morass that it’s been stuck in, but at least it seems to finally be trying.
- Michael has somebody over for dinner once a week so the show can utilize the nice set it built to stand in for its apartment.
- One of the things I should hate about this show that I still kind of like is the fact that its New York City seems to house about two dozen people, who just keep running into each other whenever the plot requires it of them.
- Last week, someone was saying in comments that until the show overcame long stories where Michael couldn’t believe he was seeing his wife’s ghost—even though we know that’s the premise of the show—it would be stuck at a level of mediocrity, much like the old NBC sci-fi show Journeyman, which didn’t really take off until Kevin McKidd’s character accepted that, yes, he time traveled. I like this theory, and the show sort of half-proved it this week, as Michael seems resigned to having Anna pop up to irritate him at any given moment. (I know this is exactly what my wife and I would do to each other if one of us prematurely passed on and was given the option to return as a ghost.) But at the same time, Michael’s character continues to make no sense. The show keeps tossing him into scenes where he’s really pissed off about having to help out with Clinica Sanando, even though he’s obviously cool with doing it. Just relax, show. You don’t have to have him facing incredibly internal conflict every week. He’s got enough on his plate.
(Since no one’s going to read these reviews anyway, I may as well start burying excerpts from my never-to-be-published Frank Fisticuffs novel at the bottom of the stray observations. I mean, why not?)
Down the hall, he heard the rush of activity, the nurses and doctors desperately trying to revive Margaret. Beloved Margaret. Dead. Like so many before her. Like his mother. Like Anna.
Inwardly, he trembled. It wouldn’t do to show any tears, nor would it do to show rage. Deep down, he knew Drexler was watching him right now, probably popping pumpkin seeds into his mouth, letting out a throaty chuckle. He owned the Pocatello hospital system. It wouldn’t be such a stretch to own the security camera feeds too.
He pulled out a yellow legal pad he always kept close by, grabbed his trusty Bic. He began to make a list, letters big enough to be seen from the camera over his shoulder.
THOSE WHO MUST PAY
1.) Captain Byron Lawton, Esq.
2.) Chim-Chim the Reptile Man
4.) My father
He took a rage-filled breath then, steeling himself for what came next.
He underlined the word three times, then walked straight to the camera, holding the pad up to obscure his face. If Drexler was watching, he would surely know from which direction vengeance would hail.
From the corridor, the sound of footsteps. He turned, fighting stance at the ready. Just a nurse.
“Mr. Fisticuffs?” she said, obviously unnerved. “She’s going to be okay. Margaret’s going to be okay.”
Relief sagged through his body.
“There’s just one thing. She was preg…”
An explosion. Fire. Cacophony.
He passed out.