Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Psychic With a Bad Memory

Or: Massaging "Medium" For More Meaning

The second episode of “Medium” began with sex. Lots of tight close-ups of skin on skin, hands moving over body parts, some perfectly lovely male shoulders and female stomach. Then the cops arrived, shouting that the male partner of the tryst had 30 seconds to answer the door, which struck me as the worst coitus interruptus I’d ever heard.

In come the police, the guy is arrested, and the woman turns out to be dead. Eeew! How gross is that?! I was amazed that the cops didn’t notice any funny odors, and actually considered the possibility that the woman might be under-age, which would explain her complete lack of movement under the covers.

Don’t you just love when TV makes sure you feel guilty for enjoying a little erotic moment?

Oh, I kid “Medium” because I do actually find it a watchable program, but boy, does it ever have its head screwed on funny. Here’s the gist of this week’s bad guy. He’s a serial killer who keeps the dead bodies around so he can fuck them for up to two weeks after he kills them. Now, I’m no expert on necrophilia as a fetish, but traditionally, I believe, the sex stops being good within a day or two.

Television needs to keep topping itself in an effort to make us all even more scared than we should be. (And, one of these days, I’ll focus one of these essays on my recent realization that almost all the crime dramas of the last few years are putting all their efforts into cracking murders of the upper classes as if these accounted for more than a tiny fraction of what actually happens in the U.S.) So, I’m used to hearing about sicker and sicker murderers, but how far over the top did they think they had to go to come up with a guy who has sex repeatedly with dead bodies for two weeks?

As I explained last week, “Medium” could easily have been created by an adjunct of the Justice Department, because this was all in the service of making a case for the death penalty. We’re not gonna dramatize any of those messy, confusing death penalty cases where there may have been extenuating circumstances or the defendant had a lousy lawyer or holy cow, may have been innocent. Nope, we need something everybody can agree is disgusting, inhuman, and worth killing, and I think this pretty much comes as close as possible to being such a thing.

Alison Dubois, our heroine (as played by Patricia Arquette, who is bringing a nice combination of pluck and confusion to the role) was hired last week by the District Attorney, but she hasn’t been asked to do anything yet. Now, he calls her in to his office so he can grill her once again – for those who missed the last episode – on just what she does, and make sure to remind her he doesn’t really believe in it, but he’s willing to try anything. After a jury couldn’t agree to lethally inject a chain-saw murderer, the D.A. wants Alison to help find jurors who won’t consider even for a second the possibility that this guy doesn’t deserve to die.

I have to admit, the whole politics of jury selection thing was pretty interesting. Since the days of “Perry Mason,” we’ve been used to the occasional challenge of a juror, but I didn’t realize just how complicated things could get. With or without a psychic, the D.A.’s office gets a whole bunch of files on potential jurors, and somebody tries to eliminate the ones who won’t be likely to vote their way. (Same thing goes on, presumably, on the defense side.) The fun of the game comes when the D.A. can find somebody the other side thinks he doesn’t want, or somebody the other side will challenge because they think the D.A. doesn’t want this one, and other options just as confusing to spell out in a simple sentence. It reminded me of some of the gamesmanship involved in my rotiserrie baseball draft each spring.

Anyway, Alison does her job, and manages to read the true feelings of several potential jurors, so the death-fucker gets to get injected. Yay for Alison. Now, there is a moment of drama thrown in when they introduce the possibility that it may have been the wrong guy on trial. Alison sees things in dreams, and she saw several dreams of this guy carrying on with his corpses. But, she never saw the real guy’s face until the jury gave its verdict – apparently, she never thought to check out any newspaper or TV coverage beforehand – and when she did, it was a different face from the one in her dreams.

Okay, I’m thinking, maybe they’re throwing us a curve ball, and they will let us see Alison as a somewhat more complicated character with the possibility of being wrong thrown in. Maybe they’ll explore issues of guilt here, and make a statement about the death penalty that isn’t quite so obviously right wing. Nope, it was just TV being cute. It turns out that the face in her dreams was that of the guy on the menu of an Italian restaurant Alison and her husband have been frequenting of late. There were a couple of instances set up early to prove she doesn’t always remember things properly, so she realizes she’s a “psychic with a bad memory.” And, we can all chuckle knowingly that, heh, heh, the bad guy will die.

A word about a sub-plot which took place at the restaurant. But, first, a shorter word about the relationship between Alison and hubby Joe (Jake Weber). If there’s anything that makes this show above average, it’s the interplay between these two. So often, husbands and wives on TV conform to rigid expectations, and never seem to have a past outside the documentation of this week’s episode, or a life outside the confines of the plot. These two seem to actually be attracted to each other, mind and body, and they seem to have worked out ways of interacting with each other and the rest of the world that are subtle but fun to watch. For example, this week, we saw Alison demand sex from Joe when he came home from work because she was in a good mood. Then, afterwords, as they drive on their way to a party, we saw their post-coital glow disappear with some ill-chosen questions by Joe. And, we saw them work out of this problem without really eliminating it with some well-chosen statements from Alison.

Any way, I’m rambling on and I haven’t gotten to the sub-plot. The writers decided to have Alison and Joe join Joe’s co-workers and their spouses at weekly dinners. One of the co-workers was raving about his wife’s discovery of a cure for a young boy who refused to speak. Apparently, she decided to lock herself in a cabin with him for days on end without allowing any sleep or food unless he actually asked for it. In the re-telling of the story, the boy eventually gave in, and his first word turned out to be “Jesus.” Now, she was going to go to New York for a conference of behavioral psychologists to present her great break-through.

I don’t know how familiar you are with the current Administration’s distrust of science, but this played right into it. In the real world, nobody gets to present any findings based on one example. The scientific method requires replication, and this woman didn’t have any. So, “Medium” is trying to poo poo the methodology of science itself by showing us that it’s all just theories, and that any other explanation could be just as good.

And wait until you get a load of the explanation that was offered. Alison listens to this story, and gets a reading on the truth. It turns out the woman did fall asleep, despite her husband’s denial of this happening. And, it turns out the woman happened to be wearing a shirt with several buttons undone, so her cleavage was especially prominent, and she was lying down in such a manner to appear ready to be photographed for a 2005 edition of a Harold Robbins novel. So, naturally enough, the boy, who appeared to be about 12 or 13, was incapable of maintaining silence in the face of such glorious ta-ta’s, and he cried out, “Jesus,” waking her and convincing her she knew what she was doing.

See how deftly they tie up a lack of respect for science with a little bit of sexual bullshit? Why, oh, why, would this theoretically intelligent woman locked in a cabin with a boy of this age open her shirt to his gaze? Because, I guess, she’s not really interested in reality, but is instead some sort of slut overstepping her bounds, assimilating herself into man’s world, and pretending she was proving something by doing it? Heck, I don’t know. It’s all rather muddled and confusing.

I’m not going to write about every episode of “Medium,” but if they’re all full of stuff like this, I just might.


Blogger Kitten said...

I'm pretty sure there were no shots of a female body in that opening scene. If you recall, when the woman was revealed, she was in a terrible state of decomposition.

Lovely shots of female stomach came in the scene where the guy was caressing the freshly smoothered sunbather.

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