Give A Gifted Man this: At least it’s trying some new bullshit to go along with its old bullshit. When patient-of-the-week Monica’s ex-boyfriend P.J. wandered up to her, talking collegially with Michael about getting birth control at Clinica Sanando so she could continue doin’ it with her new boyfriend Alex—he didn’t go to her school, but he was such a good artist—it was pretty obvious P.J. was going to shoot her. That’s the only reason he was coming up to her with a whole act of television left. But at least the show was doing something different from its usual formula. (When the gunshots went off, I briefly worried that Monica’s kidney was going to be used to resolve our Political Drama Of The Week, but then remembered that had just been solved. So she was literally put in jeopardy because the writers needed to fill another 10 minutes of screentime.) I can’t say that this was the freshest trick in the book, but at least it was a new trick.
Sadly, the rest of the episode was right back to being muddled. The immigration storyline, which involved Michael and the Clinica gang having to fight to give a boy much needed surgery before ICE deported him (and, look, I know that bureaucratic decisions can seem pretty heartless, but is there genuine precedent for ICE doing this?), was at least trying to take a stab at more interesting political storytelling, but it was also defanged because anything interesting about the story—which would have involved an exploration of how the Obama White House has deported far more illegal immigrants than the previous administration, as covered in this week’s Frontline—was shunted off to the side in favor of making ICE a bunch of all-purpose villains who were defeated by Michael and Zeke looking into the old man’s eyes and defeating him with the power of love, sort of like the climax of A Wrinkle In Time.
I don’t know that the show needs to do blatantly political storylines where Zeke and Michael (or Anna and Michael) argue the traditional left-wing and right-wing positions of, “The people need help!” and “But how are we going to pay for it?” (can’t you just imagine Patrick Wilson sinking his teeth into that?), but it’s already so close to just doing a weekly debate on issues like lack of health care access in different classes or income inequality or immigration policy that it might as well just go ahead and do it, you know? It would be a little wonky, and it would probably struggle with being terrible, but at least it wouldn’t be such a mediocre piece of TV that felt like it was resolutely uninterested in committing to any one approach that wouldn’t feel like a cut-rate House with a ghost in it.
Speaking of that ghost, the show also took a big step back in how it used Anna this week. Week in and week out, the scenes with Anna and Michael are the best thing about the show, and that continued to be true this week. But week in and week out, they seem like they’re out of a different show entirely, one that’s more interested in the legitimately emotional side of things, instead of coming up with bullshit conflicts designed to tug on our heartstrings every five seconds. The Anna portions of A Gifted Man are designed to show us how Michael is progressing in his movement from “gifted” man to “good” man, a man who’s genuinely trying to reach out to his fellow human beings with compassion and spirit. The problem is that Patrick Wilson—whatever his strengths or faults—is not terribly good at playing someone emotionally closed off from the world. Tellingly, the only person it seems like Michael’s ever been a dick to in his life is Anna, which is why the scenes between the two of them are the only ones that have any spark to them.
Put another way: Michael got pretty mad at Zeke and Kate for not telling him that the boy was wrapped up in an immigration kerfuffle tonight, and he acted like he was going to quit the clinic after all he’d done for them. This was schmuck’s bait—a conflict that will never come true because it would damage the premise of the show—sure, but it also didn’t seem terribly convincing coming from Wilson, who puts on a wounded pout but one that lets you know that, sure, he’ll come right around to forgiving you, baby, if you just give him a little time. Also, Clinica Sanando is a much more interesting world than Michael’s practice already, and it only continues to get more interesting with every week. With Zeke and Kate hanging out there and with Anton always repairing something or other like that house painter on Murphy Brown (those of you with Wrinkle In Time and Murphy Brown on your AV Club reference bingo cards must be awfully close by now), the place feels like a TV setting. The sterile clinic, with its revolving door of potential new stars, does not. It mostly just seems like a place for Margo Martindale to walk up, look sad, and count residual checks that will probably never come.
This week’s potential addition to Michael’s practice: Eriq LaSalle as a neuro-psychiatrist. (I didn’t know there were any other kinds! Hey-o!) LaSalle, who’s a good actor that it’s nice to have back on TV, mostly gets involved in the Monica storyline, and he shoulders his share of the terrible dialogue burden—my favorite is when Alex comes into the room where Monica is recuperating after the gunshot, and her dad says something like, “Are you the guy who’s in love with my daughter?” and LaSalle says, mostly just to be a Butt-in Betty, “Sounds like you both are.” But there’s also not a clear function for his role beyond the writers panicking about how much more interesting Clinica Sanando is than what they already have.
My advice? Cut bait on the Holt Clinic. Martindale’s said she was a nurse back in the day. Bring her over to Clinica Sanando, where she’ll have a lot of fun goofing around with Pablo Schreiber. Then make the role of Anna more about giving someone to help Michael learn the ins and outs of his new job running a free clinic, which will integrate the good stuff about her half of the show much more skillfully too. At least it will be a different kind of medical procedural from what we’re used to on TV, and it’s what we’re used to on TV that’s dragging this whole show down.
- Those of you who had “She’s married!” in the “Why Dr. Kate and Michael can’t be together right now” sweepstakes can collect your prizes out back after the show. I did really enjoy how incredibly bored her husband seemed by the whole thing.
- Man, P.J.’s an overdramatic son of a bitch, isn’t he? “Why won’t you love me?” That’s a little overwrought, kid, even for the girl you’re about to gun down.
- The scoring on this show—by the inimitable W.G. “Snuffy” Walden—sounds like what happened when he decided to parody himself. It’s all way too dramatic, until it’s abruptly soft piano music.
- Unintentionally homoerotic line of the night: "Did any of the candy you ate last night taste weird or feel weird in your mouth?"
- Line that proves Patrick Wilson has a secret idea how poorly this has all turned out and is just trying to make the best of it of the night: "Diagnosis: 17-year-old girl."
And now, the continuing adventures of Frank Fisticuffs, in an excerpt from the new Frank Fisticuffs novel, Frank Fisticuffs in Pocatello Ransom:
(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?)
The burns covering his left arm had hardened into a kind of map of sorrow and anger, a map he traced the lines of with his fingers every night to remember that Margaret and his baby were fighting for their lives in a hospital in far-off Idaho, a map that reminded him of all of the poor babies who had died in the explosion. “Who puts a bomb in a nursery?” he said to himself. His driver, who had already assured him, “No English!” mutely nodded, as if Frank’s fury crossed international boundaries.
The rain hammered onto his head. He avoided the tropics at this time of year, if he could, but he had only one lead, and that lead was a former maritime lawyer for the United States Navy turned pirate turned irascible old coot.
He gave the driver $250 to stay, and the young man seemed thrilled to wait out the storm in his car, rather than drive through the busy streets of Bangkok looking for another fare. He pushed through curtains of rain toward the houseboat, blinking through the drips tumbling down from his beloved Seattle Mariners baseball cap.
“Byron Lawton!” he yelled, barely audible above the rain. “I’m looking for Chim…”
He was silenced by the shotgun blast over his left shoulder. The shotgun blast from behind.
He turned, pale as a ghost, hands raised to the air to see Byron, leaning on his one good leg, cackling and aiming the gun at him from the side of the cab. Next to him, the driver propped him up.
“Well, well, Frank. Good to see you. To think of all the cab drivers in Bangkok, you just happened to choose Khemkaeng. My lover.”
Frank stopped, cursed his stupidity. Of course that was why Lawton had moved to Thailand. And he’d been driven right into the trap.