Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Web Therapy: “Sister Act”

Illustration for article titled Web Therapy: “Sister Act”

After an episode all about the big picture of Web Therapy, “Sister Act” zooms in so close to Fiona that it forms a Magic Eye of Aunt Sassy. Fiona’s sister Shevaun goes season one by getting all three of her scenes out in a single episode, which takes up a majority of the time and gets Rachel Getting Married (or What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) in a hurry. There’s plenty of comedy, but it skews so dark that it’s a relief to see Gina pop up with the latest ditz jokes (for example, the brilliant scene title, “They all want to know about the STD investigation”). This week’s “I’m a survivor of abortion” (which is too absurd to be taken seriously), for instance, crosses too far into tragedy to land, and that’s the story about how Uncle Stan chose Shevaun for the inappropriate touching. It’s psychologically relevant, and “Sister Act” is nothing if not a window into how Fiona and Shevaun developed their current personalities, but the approach here is too disturbing to be funny. “I got to get it from Uncle Stan, not you!” is played as a laugh line when it’s clearly an example of serious damage (see: Precious, United States Of Tara, Lifetime) on a show that usually keeps the psychological concerns relatively light. Not only was I cringing too much to laugh, but it felt like a minor betrayal of the call for empathy in Web Therapy’s core critique. Are we supposed to see these characters as people or not?

The line is also taken seriously as the announcement for the stragglers that Shevaun is not as put-together as she seems. Web Therapy has its patterns, but every time a new character appears, I fall for the same tricks. Next to Fiona they all look totally normal—but then, so does Fiona at first glance—and then they start debating a statue, and Fiona’s delusion is indomitable. In fact, it’s hard to tell how much of her “blowing up” is in her head lately. She tells everyone that her schedule is full, but not one scene in season two has gone to traditional web therapy, as it were. The only hint that Fiona has practiced at all since meeting Austen Clarke is that frozen stream of a crying girl that Fiona minimized (now there’s a metaphor). Usually, the audience can see through Fiona as well as she sees through everyone, but lately, I’m not so sure.

Consider the three scenes with Shevaun. As Veep makes resoundingly clear, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is cut from the same comedic cloth as Lisa Kudrow, or at least a similar fabric; these two are masters of self-debasement. So by the end of the analysis, Shevaun all frazzled and sweaty, Fiona fresh from a nap, it’s apparent that the way Shevaun sees their childhood isn’t as objective as it seems. Clearly Fiona is a champion narcissist, and it’s hard to imagine her relationships with her family not contributing to that, but at the same time, Shevaun has an irrational need to seem objectively better than her sister in all ways (“I was adored; you were detested. I was beautiful; you were hideous. I was thin; you were obese. I was intelligent; you were… possibly mentally challenged.”), which likely bleeds into both her portrait of their childhood and her projection on how Fiona should be feeling. Seconds after saying Fiona was considered mentally challenged as a kid and a few minutes before saying that she's good with words, a desperate Shevaun calls herself “elegant” and can’t think of an antonym, to which Fiona supplies two.

Kudrow’s performance is impeccable, from the barely concealed eye-rolls to the patronizing mmhmms, and her breakdown is a startling change of pace. Fiona can even turn implacability into a weapon, using her lack of response to Shevaun to draw her sister even further out on that limb. In fact, Fiona’s survival instinct evokes Vic Mackey and Walter White, not least because Fiona gets what she needs from Shevaun and then cheerfully demolishes her life. That half-aware smile as Fiona reveals the soap-opera twist that she gained power over their mother’s finances and is now evicting Shevaun, her penniless artist husband, and their four kids is chilling. She doesn't even seem to realize how serious her "revengefulness" is. But like The Shield and Breaking Bad, Web Therapy follows a classic pulp format of digging out of one hole only to land in another, only on Web Therapy, all the action is conversation. In season one, Fiona keeps climbing the ladder, each new person sure to pull the plug on her venture but ultimately unable to. Now she’s even higher—on a national stage, if it’s indeed true that anybody cares about the wife of a U.S. Senate candidate—so it’s difficult to believe her sister playing analyst will actually fly with anyone investigating Fiona’s accreditation.

That said, the focus on Fiona reveals just how deep her hilarious scorn for the practice of therapy goes. She has always treated therapy like it’s beneath her, but “Sister Act” makes that abundantly clear, and adds to it Shevaun’s malpractice (“I keep telling you how you feel, and you keep telling me no,” she says at the height of frustration). I especially love how Fiona’s plan was to get her sister to sign off on her 15 hours of therapy without actually doing them and without Shevaun necessarily being a practicing therapist. “We have this bothersome campaign manager who said I’m gonna have to suspend treating my patients, because I guess technically it’s not legal.” Only because it’s not legal. She also keeps suggesting Shevaun prescribe pills at the drop of a hat, and as soon as Shevaun brings up a potentially painful childhood memory, Fiona the wannabe therapist protests, “I’m not sure where we’re getting with all of this.” Then comes the breakthrough—inspired by a jab at her appearance, naturally—and Fiona has no idea what it means and why her therapist won’t talk to her and why it could be helpful to confront the issue. Jerome tries to help, but Fiona shuts him out so repression can restore order to Fiona Wallice. It’s astonishing to see Fiona so sincerely lost, and “Sister Act” presents a smart flip-side to web therapy. All those patients Fiona treats—well, diagnoses—are real people trying to sort through their problems, and she’s just using them to help herself.

Stray observations:

  • Nice to see Gina again, and nicer still to behold her beautiful satirical dismounts: “Not having a job sucks ass. I don’t get money every week…”
  • Of course Fiona manages to work in some pro-Wall Street politics. Gina says, “I’m, like, hanging out with these losers who wanna go, like, occupy stuff.” To which Fiona replies, “Oh, yes, no, don’t do any of that.”
  • The tap-shoe talk and the DTF misunderstanding are hilarious, and DTF is another drop in the bucket of the show’s take on telecommunication culture. Fiona, of course, has no idea what it means. “Down to fuck,” Gina says. “I know Downton Abbey…”
  • Fiona is so deluded that she has no idea why people would already be asking about her and Lachman Brothers. “What questions would they have? My book’s not out yet.”
  • But you have to admit Fiona’s world is nice: “Honestly, all I can remember from my childhood are sun-dappled meadows and lollipops dispensed and rainbows, I don’t know, gamboling lambs.”