Can you really call it wish fulfillment when it involves terminal illness? Imagine Eat Pray Love, but with cancer instead of Javier Bardem. I know I talked about this last week, but I'm starting to wonder if there's a limit to how much You're pretty cool, Mrs. J you can buy with a Stage IV diagnosis. It's mostly hypothetical, though, because even without the tacit White Mom/Tawonda! approval signifiers, Mrs. J is still very fucking cool. She deserves all the backslapping she's gonna get. (And speaking of, whence that livid scar down her back? Guess Cathy's done hospital time before now, which makes her compartmentalization about all this even easier to understand.)
So this episode is mostly concerned with her awful son and keeping him from going to soccer camp, since six weeks is now a very long time, in the hopes of rehabilitating him into a person you don't want to throttle. Other missions include her continued bold stance against fat acceptance (w/r/t Precious); running around naked as much as possible; continuing to harass the old lady across the street with a burgeoning jealousy for her elderliness; and clothing her insufferable/wonderful brother, who spins a amazing tale of incestuous desire and faces off against Precious in two scenes that must be viewed to be believed.
A couples' counseling session with Oliver Platt almost leads to backyard sex, but of course he fucks that one up -- much better goes Operation No Summer Camp, which is accomplished by making Precious drive so she can shoot down the schoolbus with a paintball gun until it pulls over. Sidibe steals her second scene of the night by eventually boarding the bus as backup, armed and wearing a Bonnie Parker/Tanya Hearst beret.
While the "woman of an age discovers her body as though for the first time" thing can often get Ephrony, it's not just the total hotness of Laura Linney that makes this theme in the episode so inviting (although it helps) -- rather, it's the complicated relationship with the hot young "dermatologist"/oncologist that does it, managing to present Cathy's body as about seventeen things at once -- broken machine, beautiful landmark, young and old at once, full of memories, full of desire, undiscovered country, brutal enemy, et c. et c. -- and then setting Cathy up to manage a convergence of all of them. Which, if there's a central mystery to this show, it seems reductive to say it could possibly lie anywhere else.
But just as Cathy's surrounding people are so uniformly wacky/nuts that it makes her innate Laura Linneytude not just earned but valorous, the way every scene is about her body while never being quite about her body makes Cathy's journey uniquely universal: A liminal, negative-space place for all of our bodies -- from crazy dirty brother to angry fat Precious -- and all the locations, inside and out, that we still can't quite admit we're scared to go.
Adam is never going to pick up his dirty clothes no matter how many times his mother Cathy asks him to; she's been asking him since he was old enough to dress himself, and because she was lazy in a particular way, she didn't force it. She picked them up herself because it was easier, not because it was harder, and now she feels that preserving his inclination toward being a slob has in fact done him a disservice in the larger arena of life.
Her actions, Cathy explains, have consequences. He's waking slowly, hanging half off the bed as he always does, still too sleepy to even understand what she's saying, but they do just the same.
"And what's worse, I've done a disservice to your future wife. I'm a teacher, who can't teach my son the importance of basic neatness and courtesy. It's almost funny, isn't it?" She asks herself. "Not really," she answers herself, and leaves his bedroom. All his scattered clothes piled in a bin, under her arm, out into the yard, where the fire is already going.
Finally awake, squealing in that way he won't be doing much longer, Adam Jamison finds his mother in the yard at the edge of a very deep hole, at the bottom of which is a safe and neutral couch with wine-stained cushions, which is currently on fire. A fire into which his mother is tossing the scattered articles of his clothing, one by one. She'll burn him strong. He's going to soccer camp tomorrow, for six weeks. She invites him to track down his uncle but he runs away, crabbing and shouting. Cathy smiles.
"I love you, Adam!"
The ashes have spread across the neighborhood. Neighbor Marlene appears, still looking as lovely and put-together as she has since the day Cathy called her a cunt, with ashes in her coffee cup and a mouth that tastes like cigarettes. Cathy laughs and promises the fire will go down soon, but Marlene likes to yell. "You can't just burn a fire in a residential neighborhood without a permit!"
Cathy invites her to call the cops again, informing her that Marlene's cost her three months waiting for permits now. "Should be done by Christmas, though. Which will make my pool more of an ice rink. Why don't you come on by for a skate?"
Marlene grumbles that Cathy just wants her to break a hip. Yes, but that's a deadlock, so she's sad for a moment and then reboots it. Cathy smiles up at her on the deck, invites her inside for better, fresher coffee. No ashes. Marlene stomps away again. Cathy smiles, correcting her from the fireside.