All that is wrong with the world…

March 9, 2010

The Genius of Nip/Tuck

Late on Wednesday night I watched the 100th episode and show finale of Nip/Tuck. As far as finales go it was very well done, wrapping up nicely and reminding us who the characters are and what they had been through while leaving us wondering what they will go through next. I started watching Nip/Tuck just as the show was finishing its fourth season, and I was taken with the show from the start.

On the surface, what seemed to be a generic cable drama using the premise of plastic surgery as a cheap gimmick turned out to be anything but. Nip/Tuck turned out to have some of the most interesting characters and situations out of any show in the last 10 years thanks to excellent writing with an intriguing storyline that spanned seven seasons.

One of the things I came to appreciate about Nip/Tick was it exposing the profession of plastic surgery in greater detail. I was aware that plastic surgeons did a lot of reconstructions from accidents or disabilities, but based on what I had been exposed to through the media had assumed the majority of work was vanity related. Many of Nip/Tuck’s episodes were taken from real life cases, with the medical cases on the show described by creator Ryan Murphy as being more than 90% based on fact.

There were so many cases with people having a genuine need or desire to look normal, cases that I never would have thought of nor expected would come under the umbrella of plastic surgery. There were also plane weird cases such as a white guy wanting to look Japanese to impress his girlfriend’s parents or a woman wanting to carry her dead lovers ashes with her in her fake breasts. Throughout all of these cases, even the mundane ones we got to know the patient and came to understand their desire to have surgery – justified or not.

One of the interesting and perhaps defining things about Nip/Tuck was the way the characters, and to a lesser extent people in general were portrayed. So often characters are shown to do something utterly appalling and yet understandable. Instances such as Matt allowing an innocent man to be executed if it meant his freedom, Christian marrying Liz just for his own comfort at her expense or Eden’s insane attempt to murder Julia.

The show excelled at showing some of the worst of what humans are capable of while still managing to convey how frail and pathetic we all can be. On most shows or even in most novels or films when people do the wrong thing, we generally are shown how this affects the people involved with a lead up to a resolution of some kind. On Nip/Tuck in the characters did appalling things on a recurring basis. All too often the victims were not even informed or aware, if they were it would be rare that they would get any restitution. Instead the focus was on the characters committing the acts and allowing us to see their struggle or lack thereof, motivation for committing the acts and any guilt or compassion they felt as a result.

I really appreciated that rather than the characters resolve their issues, for the most part they kept things to themselves. Everytime was see them on screen we are aware of what they have done previously and the baggage they carry with them which helps us to understand why they do what they do. As much as I would have liked to see confrontations based on some of their issues, I think I prefer that the characters have to live with their actions alone.

One of the other things that really stood out about Nip/Tuck was the relationship between the protagonists. Rarely have TV shows had such strongly developed lead characters as Christian Troy and Sean McNamara. Together they have a remarkable bond developed over decades. Their relationship seemed to be defined by a necessary dependence on each other, supplemented with deliberate deceit and betrayal. From watching these two men over seven years, as well as their past via flashbacks it appeared that while they have a mutual trust and respect for each other, they did not necessarily like each other all that much. These two became so intertwined so early on that they became unable to imagine life without each other, despite them never stopping to realize they don’t necessarily like each other.

The supporting characters were also strong characters with their own development and story arcs in their own right, and yet they still primarily served the development and growth of the main characters. As interesting and well done as it was to watch Julia mature and slowly desire to leave Christian and Sean or see Liz develop and explore her desire for a relationship, these developments were important primarily because of the affect they had on Christian and Sean.

Forcing Sean to cope with his family life being shaken up and dissolved or Christian to accept responsibility for his past actions, while emotionally devastating allowed for character development generally not seen on other shows. In particular the Season 4 finale saw Christian and Sean move to LA for a new start. The season4 finale was one of the most interesting, with Christian having to face all of the women he had been with and since that was a large part of what defined him, takeing a long look at himself in the process. It was one of the few times we were granted insight into Christians mind, from his perspective.

Then there was the tragic case of Matt who became increasingly pathetic as the show progressed served as a good example to question how destructive an influence those two man can have on other people, and to what extent they affected Matt’s development. Likewise Christians relationship with Kimber which started with her being just another one of Christian’s women and evolved to be something far more intricate. Obviously Christian cared about her somewhat, but he rarely demonstrated this – To what extent did he contribute to her destruction?

I always found Christian to be the more interesting character when contrasted with Sean’s good guy persona. Being the child as a result of rape and not knowing who your father was, your mother wanting nothing to do with you while being abused as a child…that allows for a character that most people could not even start to relate to. Even so, throughout the series we saw some of what Sean was capable of and got further insight into his persona as a result. Were the terrible things he did a result of circumstantial pressures and the fact that all people are capable of doing bad things sometimes, or was it a result of Christians corrupting influence? Or a combination?

After everything we have seen Christian do and go through it is still almost impossible to know for sure if he has changed or not. We as the viewer are privy to more than anyone else in his life and it is still impossible for sure with good argument able to be made for either side. I think Christian’s character would be an ideal example for the more general argument of whether people can change at all.

I think it was very sad that the show had to end as it could have gone on for quite a while longer, with many stories yet to be told. That would just be unrealistic however, and I’m glad that we were able to get the seven seasons that we did, as I can honestly say I don’t recall thinking an episode was ever bad. As for the finale, I think it was very well done for what it was.

The finale allowed us to see all the family together for one last time which was nice, while ending with Christian doing something truly generous for Sean. Christian’s actions at the end showed that he genuinely does care about Sean (or just feel guilty? Selfish to the last?) by allowing him to move on in his life and help people in a way fulfilling to him. We saw Christian being true to form picking up a woman at a bar, almost exactly the same as how the show started.

Even though the finale had Christian and Sean separate, these characters are so inevitably and hopelessly intertwined in each other lives that we know they are going to be united at some point with more drama to follow. Will Christian be unable to cope and follow after Sean? Will Sean realize he has been irreversibly corrupted by Christians influence and not find his work as fulfilling as he anticipated? What will become of Julia and Liz? Unfortunately while we most likely will never know, it was amazing to get to know and see the characters as much as we did. Besides, there’s always a TV movie to hope for.

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