I take these Getting On reviews very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I braved Thanksgiving traffic to voyage from SF back to LA in order to watch the latest episode. (My folks don’t have HBO.) And boy, what an episode!
We kick off with Dr. James discussing stool. Her obsession with old lady poop has morphed from a subject of research, to a topic which—at least during this episode—I realized might be of some personal import to Dr. James.
Her work seems to be paying off, though. In the first few moments of episode four we discover that James has been invited to a stool conference. A poop party, if you will. Her excitement can be matched only by her disdain for Patsy’s social programs. Chief among these activities is Patsy’s Christmas card decoration content. After Patsy reminds the nurses about the contest, Dawn approaches Pats. She tells him that she’s left her credit card in his car. His response is cold. He tells her he’ll return it as soon as he can, and shrugs off any further attempts at conversation. As soon as he leaves, Dawn reveals that they have just spent the weekend in La Jolla, in an attempt to get over last week’s pregnancy fiasco.
Now, remember, DiDi and Dawn’s friendship has recently been tested by a number of different situations. Things are tense between the two. Dawn asks about DiDi’s relationship with her husband. She does this, mostly, I think, to change the subject away from her embarrassing run-in with Patsy. Dawn says that she’s glad she’s not pregnant. She insinuates that having kids ruins the magic. DiDi replies that she doesn’t feel that way and then, in all her wisdom, chooses not to call Dawn out on her bullshit. While on an unnamed errand, however, DiDi runs (quite literally) into the handsome Dr. Parker Owens (LaMonica Garrett). The two exchange a moment and suddenly DiDi seems to begin to question her earlier opinion.
Meanwhile, back in geriatrics, Dr. James and her residents make the acquaintance of Denya Thorp (Carrie Preston) and her mother, Lorraine Thrope (Jo Farkas). Denya is a 50 year-old hippie who suffers from a terminal liver and kidney disease. She has six months to live. While Denya makes her living as a new-aged healer, her mother seems solidly conservative. The two do not get along, though they share something of a shorthand; whenever one gets stressed, the other will make an I love Lucy reference. The relationship between Denya and her mother is very complicated, and incredibly nuanced. They seem not to be able to stand one another, but, when in need, the other comes to the rescue.
While DiDi and Dawn work on the Christmas card competition, Dawn shows her an “intimate selfie” that she took while on vacation with Patsy. For the first time this season, the two seem to really get along. This little reunion is short lived, however, when James kicks them off the computer, and co-opts it to download files from her research. As she and her assistant, Dr. Cesario (Joel Johnstone) are downloading the files, Patsy walks by with a brand new flat screen TV. James confronts him about the cost and insists that it’s her hospice money, which is being used for Patsy’s programs. James is then summoned by Denya, who tells her that she just wants to die. She asks Dr. James to up her morphine dosage to lethal levels. The camera pulls back to reveal Lorraine on the couch. When James asks her what she thinks about Denya’s desires, Lorraine says “I’l be fine” before storming out of the room. Denya begins to tell James about her life. The gag is that she doesn’t realize how bored James is, but the truth is that it’s also sort of sad. Her life sounds adventurous and full of wanderlust, but also really removed from any real accomplishments.
Back at the nurse’s station, Patsy confronts Dawn. Apparently, one of Dawn’s intimate selfies has accidentally been emailed to the Christmas card competition. When Patsy shows Dawn the picture, she blanches. She insists the vagina in question is not hers, but that of an eighty year old woman’s; Dr. James has accidentally sent out one of her vulva photos. Paula Pepperell (Patricia Scanlon) is called upon, and insists they must identify the vagina and apologize to it’s owner. Dr. James scrutinizes the photo, and suggests that it might be the elderly patient Birdy. However, when they apologize to Birdy and present the picture to her, she laughs. “This isn’t mine. Mine is as big as a bucket!”
What I appreciated most about this episode was how tender it was. Two moments towards the end stuck out as particular examples of how these sweet scenes get you to like even the most unlikable of characters.
The first is with Dr. James. After discovering that Denya does not have six months to live but, in fact, has an even shorter time, she approaches Denya and suggests that she return home. Dr. James says that if Denya chooses to go home, she’d have her mother and a nurse, but that she would also be in charge of her own morphine tank so she could determine how much morphine she took. Essentially, James is arranging for Denya to commit suicide. Dr. James so frequently appears to be the neurotic control freak who follows all the rules. But despite her outward demeanor, she clearly cares very much for her patients.
The second moment occurs between DiDi and Dr. Owens. Though the two have exchanged eyes all episode long, DiDi has some reservations. She’s married. She has kids. She’s scared, I think, of going after what she wants. Finally the two are trapped together in the break room. They flirt a little and then, in one heartbreaking moment, they do a little dance. Then, she leaves.
I am endlessly surprised at how human this show can get. People do things without Aristotelian motives or Hollywood outcomes. People just… do. Just like in real life.
Leland Montgomery is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and contributor to Paste His new web series, God Particles is now online.