Paul is not dead!
The season 3 premiere of The Big C was very quick to address the Season 2 cliffhanger that left viewers thinking the Jamison family patriarch (Oliver Platt) had died of a heart attack. This shouldn’t surprise anyone; just as quick as the series can tug on the emotional heartstrings, it can do an about face and tickle the funny bone with the latest in zany, humorous adventures for our protagonist, Cathy (Laura Linney).
Paul’s survival means we’re in for a bit of role reversal: He’s now the one with a life-threatening condition, while Cathy, who is responding amazingly from the clinical trials and is deemed healthier (for now), will have to care for him.
To make light of this new setup, we learn Cathy has decidedly taken on another personality, frequenting bars under the name of Alexis, pretending to fellow patrons that she’s a martini-drinking, cigarette-smoking widow.
Given all of the wacky things she has done since the first season, it’s hard to say if Cathy deliberately created Alexis or if her mind has taken the sickness baton from her cancer. Either scenario is viable; she’s understandably been through a lot in the last year or so. I can’t say that I’d spawn a new personality having been dealt the same set of cards, but The Big C does have to toe the comedy / drama line when it needs to.
Elsewhere in the Jamison world, we find Adam (Gabriel Basso) actually being the reasonable one, his hooker-hiring days apparently behind him. With everything happening to his parents, you’d think that he’d be the most screwed up out of all of them. But he might be the most level-headed and is now focusing on the power of prayer to help out his mom.
As for Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), he’s doing his best to move on from breaking up with Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon) and the loss of the baby. But he has a new reason to get his act together: Cathy has asked him to be Adam’s guardian in the event both her and Paul die. I suspect that he will take this very seriously, any time he’s asked to care for someone else, he has risen to the occasion.
Overall, the premiere succeeded in resetting the mood and bringing the show back on the comedic side of the drama / comedy spectrum. And, as usual, Linney makes Cathy and endearing and humorous hero to root for.
Though now that we’re three seasons in, one has to start wondering what The Big C’s endgame is.
Periphery characters like Marlene and Lee have forced Cathy to face some harsh realities and learn a lot about herself in the process. But it took their deaths to get to that point. It’s too early to tell, but you have to wonder if Season 3 will employ the same morbid approach?
You also have to wonder if the writers chose the other fork in the road and had Paul die. Conceptually, it could’ve completely put the show in uncharted territory, though I suspect watching Cathy grieve (moreso than she has already) would’ve negated any subsequent attempts at humor. For now, things are working fine with Cathy having newfound hope and being able to do what she needs to manage all the emotions that come along with having this terrible disease.
Regardless of how crazy the Jamison family antics get, there’s also big elephant in the room: Will Cathy ultimately get better? Is this all an exercise in futility for a protagonist that will eventually curl up and die? Certainly, the show is more about the journey of life rather than the inevitability of death, but I’m sure a large portion of the fan base is hoping that Cathy at least walks out of this thing alive.
The next episode of The Big C airs Sundays at 9:30PM on Showtime.