It’s one of the first lessons we learn as children: the world is based on a system of give and take. You can’t just take all the time; you have to give something back every now and again. And it is this notion that informs ‘Burt Landau’, an episode all about giving and taking, which- thankfully- hits more than it misses. But some quite uneven characterisations slightly undermine the episode, most notably Sean.
The episode begins with a pro-bono case, but as the boys operate, Liz collapses. She is examined and is told she needs a kidney transplant but she is ridiculously far down the donor list. Showing some altruism, Christian suggests that both he and Sean will get tested to see if they are a match and can give Liz one of theirs. Christian sadly is not, but Sean is. And that freaks him out. He initially lies to Liz and Christian about it but, when Matt is tested and is found to be a match, confesses all. But as Liz points out at the end, he is only a five out of six match for her- she finds a six out of six in a very unlikely form, and has the transplant anyway. Of this storyline, it is good that the writers have finally decided to have Matt behave like a decent human being for once. Roma Maffia plays all her scenes wonderfully- my heart really went out to her when she tearfully explained that she was banned from her father’s funeral- and has a brilliant and warm rapport in her scenes with Rosie O’Donnell, who returns as Dawn Budge.
Sadly it is Sean’s characterisation that is all over the place here. He bordered on the whining and utterly selfish, which irritated me. I know it’s quite easy to say ‘yes, take my kidney and reduce my own life expectancy to help a friend’ and another thing to do it. But writer Brad Falchuk didn’t do Sean any favours by having him blatantly lie about being a match and then trying to justify it by saying he can’t be out of action, as Conor’s surgeries are coming up. Firstly, he doesn’t have to operate on Conor. (In fact, ethics aside, is it legal for a surgeon father to operate on his own children?) Secondly, knowing the stress of this situation, surely Liz would understand him wanting to not go through it. Yet when Matt offers his own, he tries to stop him. It just doesn’t ring true with the character that has been established and I’m just wondering if there’s a good reason behind it that will come apparent as the season progresses. As it is, it still sticks out as not usual Sean McNamara behaviour.
Meanwhile, Christian has his hands full with the situation with Burt and Michelle. Fed up with acting as Burt’s surrogate, he snaps and says it’s over and Burt threatens to tear McNamara/Troy to pieces if he won’t continue. Michelle tries to calm Christian down, saying she will handle the situation. Later, Burt calls both Sean and Christian into a meeting, where Christian believes they’re due to get fired, but it is revealed that Burt has had a stroke and is paralyzed down one side of his face. He wants them to fix his face. When lab results discover that Burt had taken Viagra, Christian confronts Michelle, suggesting she deliberately gave it to her husband in order to kill him. Michelle is affronted by this and Burt admits that he took it himself and it was worth it. This seems to be the final nail in the coffin for Michelle and Christian. Drunk and despondent, Christian goes to see Kimber under the pretence of wanting to be ‘audited’ (a Scientology process) and charms his way into her pants. Silly, silly girl. The next morning, he’s quite clear: he doesn’t care about Kimber’s pseudo-religion and only said what she wanted to hear so she would sleep with him. Kimber is distraught and Christian just brushes it off, until Kimber slaps him hard across the face. And, boy, does he deserve it! Christian has always been an arrogant and self-serving but, here, he is particularly loathsome and undoes all his good work by being nice to Liz. But then why was Kimber so naïve as to think he had changed? So Kimber takes her revenge by sleeping with Matt (who had previously tried it on with her and she’d rebuffed him). And that is wrong on so many levels- she was nearly his stepmother!
During Burt’s surgery, Burt goes in to cardiac arrest and there is a subtle moment, nicely played, which suggests that Christian might just let him die. But he doesn’t. He saves him. Toward the end, Christian tries to get Michelle to put Burt into a convalescent home but she says she will look after him. With any luck, this will be the end to Michelle and Christian- it’s getting much too samey now, despite a great performance by Sanaa Lathan as the conflicted Michelle. Larry Hagman gets precious little to do, but does it well. Kelly Carlson plays a blinder as Kimber; her reaction to Christian the morning after was impressively well done.
The final story strand brings back Dawn Budge, who won a completely obscene amount of money on the lottery. She’s been ear-jacked; her ear has been sliced off with a cutthroat razor to obtain her beautiful and expensive earring. Sean and Christian debate certain options with her but the one that appeals to her most is to have a new ear grown for her. At the genetics lab, we get to meet a little bald mouse called Vincent- who has Dawn’s new ear growing out of his back (a take on a real-life case a year or two ago). He’s kind of cute in a weirdly hideous way. Dawn seems a little affected when she realises that Vincent will not survive the surgery but goes ahead anyway- and there is a wonderful and totally appropriate use of music during her surgery, Don McLean’s beautiful and poignant song ‘Vincent’. As she recovers, she meets Liz and the two women bond. Dawn comes to realise that the money hasn’t made her happy and she’s a little lonely. How she ends up getting tested is beyond me, but it turns out Dawn is a match for Liz and gives Liz a kidney. Rosie O’Donnell makes a very welcome return to the show, Dawn’s crass blend of airs and graces yet still being utterly redneck is nicely done but here the character is developed, more rounded (excuse the pun), and we get to see the sadness behind her situation.
All in all, an interesting episode, not one of the better ones of the season to date but still had some intriguing ideas.