Marlene slaps Cathy across the face when she admits to having the affair with Lenny, and even Cathy admits somebody needed to do it. Preferably four episodes ago, but you know. Across the street at Cathy's is Rebecca -- the Cynthia Nixon college roommate, who is now looking like Gollum all the time -- who gets a stern talking to from Cathy about how they're not actually friends and that even if they were, she's not allowed to sleep with the homeless brother. Rebecca tries to be better "friends" with Sean, which horrifies him because she's Satan and he's, you know, bonkers. He decides to eff with his sister by teaching her class the stuff They don't want you to know, so of course the kids love him, because he's wonderful.
Paul whines to Rugby Slut about the divorce and generally gets his slobbery Boxer jowls all over everything in the bar, so they go back to his sister's place to fuck in his sister's waterbed, and if you can think of anything else sad to put in this paragraph, go ahead. Dead kittens. Meryl Streep punched in the face for no reason. Unicorn with AIDS.
Andrea tells Cathy this amazing story of her life that is based on the novel Push by Sapphire, lets on that she knows about the affair with Lenny, and then drops out of summer school, essentially because Cathy and her whole family are assholes. Cathy goes on a little home visit and it turns out, of course, that Andrea's family is black Leave It To Beaver. Like, Cliff and Claire would think they're kinda bourgie.
Cathy goes to black people church to watch Andrea at choir practice and annoy the old ladies, but then on her way out, brutally rebuffed, she sees them changing the marquee to something about "second chances," and gets a horrible, terrible, no-good idea about how maybe she should go buy a big old black lady hat and wear it to black people church and make some black people friends and generally just ruin everything for everybody.
Marlene comes out of the closet about being into God and Cathy tells Adam to apologize to Andrea if he did something to her, so then Cathy heads off to church in her big stupid hat and makes a big stupid ass of herself begging them to pray for her. But the more of her misdeeds she relates, the more vulnerable and human she acts, and pretty soon they just feel sad for her because she's such a dick and clearly aware of the fact, so then they do pray for her.
Andrea forgives them both and goes back to summer school, where Adam's penance is to lick her locker. Rebecca, still looking just grizzled, just pan-fried with peppers and onions, tells Cathy some story about pants and then they're friends again, as long as Rebecca doesn't promise to be anything other than what she's been trying to be lately.
For her last deed, Cathy takes a jar of olives to Paul -- in lieu of an olive branch -- and for the tenth episode running, steels her girt to tell him about how she has cancer. Rugby Slut pops up and is like, "Awkward!" and Paul gets preemptively self-righteous about how dare Cathy yell at him for sleeping with Rugby Slut, and then ladies and gentlemen, it's the moment you've been waiting for, the moment you thought would never come, the moment where everything changes and the bottom drops out. He goes, "You fucked somebody, so I fucked somebody too, and what do you have to say about that?"
And Cathy Jamison's answer is: "I have cancer."
Adam Jamison's accident has become every accident, and his concussion has become every concussion, he will ever have. His mother worries, wants to keep him in bed, wants him to physically shrink in size and to become invulnerable; his mother wants to take him by the heel and dip him in the river and make it so that no one and no thing can ever hurt him.
In this his mother is no different from any mother; in its futility his mother is no different from any mother. No mother can ever fully protect her children, whether she is alive or dead. It's a beach you keep swimming for until your last breath but you'll never really reach it. The best you can hope for is that when the time comes for them to hurt it will be somebody else doing the hurting. Nobody wants to hurt what they love.
"I don't want you to end up like one of those football players that didn't listen to their doctor, and now it's ten years later and they don't know how to make toast." Adam promises that his agenda included sedate activities, video games, nothing along the lines of professional football. "It's not like I'm gonna go outside and like bang my head against the curb," he says, and promises to wear a helmet in Brad's living room. She knows he's joking but she wishes he weren't joking.
In the moment before her wounded son walks out the door, out of her life and through the door, just for the afternoon, a sharp pang settles in her chest. Sometimes the world moves very quickly and in these times even small things can seem large. She rushes to her son and points a camera at them both, trapping another moment. This time, she manages to capture their faces. Kissing him, on the cheek, as the shutter snaps and his eyes close, in adolescent irony and the luxurious shame of gratitude. They seem happy, in the photograph: No different from any mother or any son or any family that ever lived, no different from any other person who will live forever in a photograph.
Marlene is painting her house, rejuvenating the world around her, cleaning and clearing and making room in her life for this new family, these people across the street who have moved into her heart and made it operate again. The young and beautiful woman only a little further from death than herself; the boy with the anger she recognizes; the brother, who lives to shock his sister but could be the biggest prude of all. Nancy is learning about her place in the world, as her brother is learning to separate himself from it and the noise, as her son is learning of its existence. Marlene thought she was in it but that was before this family. Before she realized how dark and late it had gotten.
Casually as she can Cathy tells Marlene that Paul has demanded a divorce; more casually than that Cathy tells Marlene that she's been having an affair. Marlene's sympathy turns to righteous anger and she slaps her friend across the face. She sings a song that Cathy can hear, finally; she sings a song for family.