The Big C Season 4 Premiere Review: Cathy Lives

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The Big C S04E01: "Quality of Life"

Not gonna lie, I didn't particularly care for The Big C's third season. I even went as far as to say I didn't particularly care if a fourth season even happened. One of The Big C's greatest strengths, one that has been lauded from pretty much the beginning of its run, is the truthfulness of Cathy's narrative. Terminal diagnoses don't always inspire people to dedicate themselves to a favored charity, or to scratch items off of a bucket list, or to just be really zen and accep of everything, and Cathy's journey since her initial diagnosis has illustrated that with unflinching honesty. People aren't always nice, especially when they're dying, and that's fair, cuz they're, you know, dying and all. 

Season 3 suffered from reality getting a little too comfortable on the series, because Cathy Jamison is a fictional character and we're expected to cheer for her. When real people we know and love are faced with similar situations, we can be more forgiving and more understanding because they're real and we treasure them and when they're gone, we won't be able to just queue them up on Netflix and seamlessly slip them back into our lives; likewise, when our real-life loved ones are caught in less-than-graceful moments, those moments are often not presented for our entertainment. 

So over the course of three seasons, we applauded, encouraged, and understood Cathy's occasional selfish streaks until eventually, honestly, she became a rather unlikable character. When Cathy "played the cancer card" to crash a church bazaar or dig a pool in her backyard in the middle of winter or teach her students pretty much whatever she wanted, The Big C flourished with all of the intended feel-good lessons about living life to the fullest and blah blah blah, but once Cathy started to hurt the people around her who cared about her the most, and even, occasionally, seemed to enjoy it, The Big C became something darker than I think it was originally intended to be.

There's a book called The Fault in Our Stars by John Green where the titular character, who is also a terminal cancer patient, makes it abundantly clear to the reader that it's not her job to make them feel good about her shortened life. It's a perfectly valid point that The Big C has often tried to make itself—sometimes well, sometimes not as well—but even in The Fault in Our Stars, the narrator's intention was never to hurt anyone around her; quite the opposite, actually. 

So the good news is that Cathy is likable again. The bad news is only bad if you think the revelation that Angel and that whole heart-to-heart on the fishing boat was a hallucination brought on by Cathy's cancer metastasizing to her brain was a total cop-out. I'm not wild about it, but The Big C has always featured a slight supernatural element, with Cathy regularly interacting with those who've preceded her in death, so it's not a terrible stretch— and so far The Big C's limited, four-episode series conclusion, stylized as "Hereafter," has proven to be rather cathartic for those of us who've been with Cathy since the beginning.

Less boisterous opening credits accompanied the shift from a 30-minute format to a full hour, and when we caught up to the Jamisons and their extended family, Cathy was back in Minnesota, fresh out of brain surgery and gearing up for another round of chemo. It was five months after the incident in Puerto Rico, the eve of Adam's sixteenth birthday, and just a few days after Thomas the dog, Marlene's former pet, passed away. Cathy agonized over an appropriate epitaph for the pet, plotted the perfect birthday party for Adam, and clashed with Paul's new assistant, Amber, who proves that Paul really does have the worst taste when it comes to the people he chooses to surround himself with. 

Cathy had also continued seeing Angel, who she'd decided must be the angel of death. 

After learning that her doctor was undergoing treatment for cancer himself, yet refused to take a leave from work because he loved his job so much, Cathy was inspired to quit her job in a magnificent intercom-hijacking fashion, made even more glorious because along with Cathy, Paul, and Adam, Cathy's boss has suffered a bit of the bastardization treatment over the past season or two. She received no redemption, however. 

I was also delighted to see that Adam, while still recognizable as a young man who's seriously hurting while dealing with his mother's impending death, has returned as less of an odious little shit. He's flunking chemistry, but whatever, he's allowed—except that his mother has every intention of living until he graduates from high school, and he'll be throwing up a serious road block if he flunks chem.

When Adam canceled his party after an unfortunate bouncy castle incident, Cathy took him to the Birthday Bunker—the storage unit where she'd been stashing birthday presents for Adam that would last him well into adulthood—and made him open everything. Faced with the sad truth that she's going to die with chemo or without, and that the chemo is guaranteed to make her addled, ill, and unhappy, Cathy decided that she'll stop her treatment and live her remaining months with the sass, smarts, and sincerity that we initially fell in love with. 

I missed you, Mrs. J. 


What did you think of "Quality of Life"?



NOTES

– "Life is too short to have weird food rules." Preach!

– Paul's "Flip the Switch" lamps are so gloriously tacky. I need to own one. 

– Bouncy castles are cool for all ages. STFU, Adam.

– Oh Andrea, I have been on that bottom bunk. :(

– Sean and Cathy and the giant stuffed giraffe. Tissues. So many tissues. 

– Paul is STILL traveling? Is it a coping mechanism? I bet it's a coping mechanism. Everyone else has pulled their heads out of their asses. I'd hate for Paul to be the hold-out.

– "Thomas lived." Aaaand we're out of tissues.