At one point in tonight’s episode, Cathy complains to Sean that he doesn’t seem to have a “filter,” which is kind of like someone on Mad Men telling Don Draper that his problem is that he always acts as if he’s trying to tell people want to think. Don is in advertising, so telling people what to think is what he’s paid to do all day. And Sean is on a show where every other character seems to suffer from verbal dysentery, which is how writers try to generate a sense that something “outrageous” is going on when their imaginative resources have been fully tapped and the characters they’re working with have become dried-up husks. The chief distinguishing feature of this bottom-of-the-barrel episode is that it includes so many plot twists that you can see coming from a mile away, yet do nothing for the show, so that by the time they actually happen, you’ve already had plenty of time to ask yourself, “Why am I still watching this slop?” You could just watch the first three minutes, anticipate where everything is going, shudder, and read a book instead.
To start with, there’s this Dave and Maxine business. The episode begins with Dave at Cathy’s house, talking about that southern exposure business, and delighting her with the news that the baby she’ll be adopting is a girl. There’s clearly something not quite right about Dave and Maxine from the start, an impression that is now being hammered home by having Cathy press more and more cash into their reluctant-seeming hands. When Maxine arrives, there’s a scene of her looking nervous as Cathy admires her pregnant belly; it might as well have a ticker running across the bottom of the screen so that any vegetables in the audience can keep up with the rest of us: “SHE’S NOT REALLY PREGNANT! IT’S A SCAM!!” The cruelty of what is clearly being done to Cathy is balanced out by the way she gurgles over how much she’d prefer a daughter to another son and says, “I’m so glad I’m getting a chance to do this again.” She doesn’t add, “And get it right this time,” but the subtext that comes through, perhaps not intentionally, is that she’s given up on her kid for good and hopes to spend whatever time she has left basking in the warm glow of a child who’ll love her and be grateful to her and not drive her crazy.
The truth starts to come out when Cathy attends a charity-raffle event thrown by Adam’s church group and sees that he has donated the car she’d set aside for him—with all the other goodies that she collected and stored away in the first season—to cover the important birthdays she assumed she’d miss back when The Big C was about someone who might actually die at some point. Weirdly, her first reaction to this discovery is to ask Adam, “When did you steal the key to my storage locker?” His glittering response is, “I didn’t steal it, I found it.” Like a lot of things about the show’s first season—starting with the idea that Cathy kept her illness a secret from her family—the future-birthday-gifts-stored-away scene wasn’t especially well-worked-out in terms of things like practical logic. Still, it was very sweet at the time, with Adam breaking into tears and not being able to tell anyone what he was feeling, just as his mother had felt when she first received her diagnosis. Everything about the raffle scene cheapens that, and while it may be meant to show how badly the relationship between Cathy and Adam has deteriorated since then, it’s an even better indicator of how this show has gone off the rails this season. In the end, Cathy one-ups Adam by hopping into the car and driving off with it, intending to present it as a gift to Dave and Maxine. Three guesses what she finds out when she shows up at their home unannounced.
If you’re just here for the ham-handed pervy stuff, the good news is that, tonight, you have your pick. Joy finally makes her inevitable play for Paul, inviting him to become her “fuck buddy” while they’re out on the road. Paul declines, but is later seen masturbating while watching a video of her touting a health-drink juicer, purring “Look at the way these juices just come squirting out.” As for Sean, he’s now firmly ensconced in a ménage a trois with the man he met on his gay-sex line and the man’s wife. “I’m dating a couple,” he tells Cathy, “which makes us a throuple.” (Someone was paid in exchangeable currency to write that line.) Better yet, the man’s name is Tim and the woman is Giselle, and you can’t have been watching this show long if you think Sean won’t see that as reason enough to refer to them jointly (and repeatedly) as “Gism.” On the plus side, Cathy’s favorite bartender, Lee Tergesen, has decided to help her deal with her anger issues by teaching her how to shoot. If she isn’t sure who she should start with, Showtime could put a ballot up online and let the fans vote.