Oh, white ladies with problems. What would Showtime be without you? It's actually a fairly brilliant strategy at which we've arrived, come the millennium: Can't just talk about white people problems -- the Prius, the Wii, the unending battle of Pottery Barn v. Crate & Barrel -- without also giving them Great Big Real Problems, like cancer or a Mexican druglord or a huge drug addiction or God. I don't think it cheapens it, though. I think it does exactly what it wants to do, makes it okay to care about all of the problems without feeling like you're being sentimental.
So when Cathy learned she had a very short time left on this planet, she made some changes: Kicked her husband out of the house, flirted with her hot young doctor in a desperate attempt to get control of the situation, started telling her summer school students the truth, began to dig a swimming pool in the backyard. Refused to tell anybody; this is a secret, and a promise, she will be keeping for now.
Cathy marches on over to the nasty neighbor's house to tell her off, and ends up making a new friend of the only person she knows that's closer to death than she is. She makes a weight loss pact with Gabourey Sidibe, starts eating onions. Takes only so much of her son's shock-value pleas for attention before she's staged a little suicide scene of her own and then locked him in the bathroom so he'll stop being such a little shit. She even reconciles with hubby after a dramatically romantic moment involving an onion.
Luckily, Cathy is awesome or else this would be a very familiar story: Prototype Laura Linney playing prototype buttoned-up white lady with a Container Store fetish and a desperate need to connect and let her Freak Flag fly. But since Laura Linney is unmatched at playing Laura Linney Characters, there's so much more to it. She's funny, and brilliant, and real, and feeling about six different emotions at all times. I'd have to say Cathy's probably the most likeable person on Showtime right now, and not for want of deep complexity. But there's something so wise and funny and wild about her that it infects everybody, in every scene; like she's figuring out a joke and they're waiting for the punchline.
In fact, the only thing that goes wrong for Cathy today is that an ambiguous call from the prenominate doctor -- whom she's begun to date; it's not an affair at all, but not really just a friendship either -- sends her just-reconciled husband off into a tizz. She ends the evening making stains and hiding them under her couch cushions, kissing the neighbor's dog and weeping, in the middle of the dig that will one day be her pool but for now is just the kind of grave you can stretch out in. Or start a bonfire.
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Cathy Jamison wants a pool in her backyard. In fact Cathy has always wanted a pool in her backyard, but she wanted other things more. She got the things and now she's back to wanting a pool. The contractor is not sold on Cathy's pool, and when he explains the facts to her, she apologizes for how small her backyard is. He calls her attention to the shade tree, but she doesn't want that anymore either: She wants sun. Summer in Minneapolis doesn't last very long; this is the first day of summer in Minneapolis.
The contractor talks her into a deck, with a nice sunken hot tub and maybe a barbecue pit. He knows what he's talking about, so Cathy gives in: We'll do a hot tub, even if it costs double because she's skipping in line with the contractor. It's not exactly what she wanted, so Cathy changes what she wanted, on the surface. She is angry with herself for doing it and sad about the pool, but changing her mind is the sensible thing and then, if there is a problem Cathy can throw money at it until it goes away. Cathy Jamison is no stranger to compromise. She is, however, learning about the alternatives.
Paul's been sleeping on his sister's couch, for example; he appears singing the jingle for the pool contractor and making jokes about adultery. Paul is very confused about where Cathy has gone, why she is getting a hot tub in their backyard and where she is going. Paul has a huge knot in his back from sleeping on that couch. He doesn't take things very seriously, although he tries; there is no amount of joking around that could help this knot in his back from sleeping on the couch.
This is Paul's idea of a joke: "I thought we were saving for new closet systems. Catherine, I don't know who you are anymore!" It is also Paul's idea of an insult.
Cathy rubs the knot in her husband's back, which she put there, and Paul is grateful as a hound. One leg almost whisking the air. "Oh, get in there. Oh, honey, can we please fix this? I miss you so much. And I'm so sorry about what happened." (What happened is not the problem, but Paul can't know that; what happened could never be the problem because what happened was just Paul.) Cathy dodges him for another appointment with the dermatologist, who is not actually a dermatologist, which is really the problem. She married her husband because he was childlike. There was an innocence that she loved. Now she is fierce about protecting it; now she resents it because it must be protected.
What happened is not the problem; there is no problem with Paul, who is just fine. The problem is that Paul is just fine. He begs his wife Cathy to have dinner, at least; all he knows to tell their son Adam Jamison is that his mom's a "meanie," which is not a story that really hangs together -- or it wouldn't be, if her husband didn't talk that way all the time. Less for this reason than for the fact that her appointment is important, imminent, she agrees to dinner with her childlike husband.