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The Big C: “The Darkest Day”

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This season’s finale of The Big C didn’t move me nearly as much as season one's finale did (I think last week’s episode was the biggest heart-wrencher of the year.) But in terms of plot, something much bigger may have happened tonight than in last year's finale, although I’m not sure I like the implications.

Overall, I didn’t think the entirety of “Crossing The Line” was as strong as many of the other episodes this season. As I write this recap, it feels like by and large, the episode was mostly just trying to get us to the big finish (no pun intended.) Sean is back home, where he tells Cathy that during his time away, he mostly tried to forget about Rebecca, working as a carny until he realized that he’s not as insane as he could be, and that, touchingly, he should use his sister as a role model of fortitude.


Cathy contemplates how watching Lee die was the best gift he could ever give her, since now she’s not afraid of dying. To honor him and to give her family something to cheer about, she decides to run the marathon. Paul’s not so excited, though: Between the race and Cathy’s opting to watch Lee die instead of going to Italy, he says that “each of your decisions keeps on taking you farther away from me.” He’s a little bit on-edge, though, having quit his job yet still dealing with frustrating insurance companies and all. After finding Paul face-down in the snow trying to hoover up some lost blow (Better Off Dead, anyone?) Cathy finally learns about her husband’s coke problem. I was surprised by how relatively lightly Cathy let Paul off the hook: Trying to cope with your wife’s cancer is one thing, but hiding a drug problem from your family, especially a habit that’s not particularly affordable, is something else entirely. Paul promises to meet Cathy at the finish line of the marathon, clean and sober, so that she can be running toward, not away from him.

The universe seems to be conspiring against Cathy running the marathon, however. It’s supposed to be record cold, and Dr. Mauer, whom Cathy visits after she sees he’s engaged, advises against it, plus the registration for the race is closed (personally I sided with the “rules are rules” lady who didn’t let Cathy in even after she threw down her cancer card). Finally, Cathy grabs Lee’s race number from his old apartment and heads out to run.

Sean, Dr. Mauer, and even Adam (who is invited to a party at Mia’s, who apparently has forgiven him) show up to support Cathy as she hobbles through the race, but Paul has decided to go renegade on the lady at the insurance company who denied his claim. After having done more coke, Paul shows up to the insurance offices, where the company is having a New Year's party, so he can give everybody what-for. Before he leaves, though, Paul talks about how he would have to move out of the house “because if Cathy goes first, I won’t be able to live where she lived, to smell her in our room, seeing the furniture the way she arranged it.” He heads out, out of breath and with his hand on his heart.

Delirious and right near midnight, Cathy finally staggers to the finish line, where she not only sees Dr. Mauer, Sean, Adam, and Paul but Marlene and Lee as well. “Everybody came!” Cathy says, but Adam says “Yeah, except Dad’s not here yet.” Paul’s still at the insurance company, having CPR performed on him by EMTs.


I cannot imagine this show without Oliver Platt’s steady presence, but if Cathy can see dead people, I can only assume it means that Paul’s big fat heart couldn’t keep up with his stress and drug problem (I think we all saw some sort of heart situation coming for Paul.) But did Cathy’s decisions this season take her away from Paul? Lee, the swim team, the marathon? I don’t think so: Aside from the drugs and his crappy job, their relationship was much better than it was in season one. Maybe Paul’s just temporarily dead, right? That happens, right?

It’s not exactly the kind of cliffhanger that has me excited for season three, since it is such a bummer. However, in the grand scheme of the show, if the first season was about denial (in the summer) and this season anger (in the fall/winter), what would springtime bargaining look like for Cathy Jamison?


I wish the finale had been as strong as the rest of the season, but in general, I’m so pleased by how much The Big C improved this season. I may not be the biggest fan of tonight’s episode, and I’m sad if this means less Paul in the future, but I’m much more confident in the trajectory of the show than I was a season ago.

Stray observations:

  • Is it a little weird at all how much Sean likes talking about vaginas with his family members?
  • Did Adam’s talk with Dr. Mauer portend anything for next season? He talked about potential brain and cognitive problems Cathy could develop from the disease. Obviously the fact that Cathy sees ghosts could be indicative of something like this, but it's not like we've seen other signs of her brain failing her, right?
  • And did Dr. Mauer seem somewhat skeptical about Cathy’s tumors shrinking?

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