It feels incredibly strange reviewing Joy Kringle at the beginning of April. We're so far from the festive season, it does seem a little weird. However, a Nip/Tuck Christmas promises something special. And we get an interesting tale dealing with secrets and lies and the consequences of these, set over the holidays. Some especially good music and one of the best visual images ever seen on the programme add to a moving- if a little overwrought- episode.
The patient-of-the-week is Joy Kringle who, with her husband Wes, are the Santa and Mrs Claus at a local mall. Joy wants liposuction to get rid of the last fifteen pounds as, in an attempt to help child obesity figures, they want to portray a leaner, sexier version of Santa. There's some amusing banter about elves being indentured servitude and the bill going to the North Pole, but there's a darker edge to it; Wes and Joy could never have kids and it ruined the holidays for them. As Joy undergoes lipo (to the tune of 'The Hallelujah Chorus' from Handel's Messiah), Christian hits something in her abdomen which could be a hernia or a tumour. They get permission to open her up and make an interesting if gruesome discovery- a calcified foetus. Christian has to break the news to her. A calcified foetus (or lithopedion) is a real medical phenomena, which occurs when a pregnancy is not diagnosed and the baby dies but is not absorbed into the body or passed out. It is left to calcify and can go undiagnosed for many years. She can't believe it at first, but then asks if she can see it. This is quite a weird image, as she cradles the jar with her dead baby in it quite tenderly. She is worried about telling her husband. Predictably, he goes crazy and wants to know who the father is, because it can't be him. Joy admits to sleeping with their eighteen year old assistant seventeen years before and the child must be his. Wes freaks out that their marriage has been a lie, and Joy is honest with him. Not every day is Christmas. Sometimes she feels frumpy and middle-aged and as far from Mrs Claus as you can get. Wes won't accept this and decides to go solo. At the end of the episode, Wes comes in with a new young woman who he wants to give a special Christmas present to: a new set of double Ds! There are some nice moments in this storyline, but it all seems a little over-the-top.
Another person contending with dark secrets from the past (pun intended) is Matt's neo-Nazi white supremacist girlfriend Ariel. Disgusted that an all-black nativity has been put up at the school and desperate to preserve the whiteness and sanctity of the holidays, she and Matt steal the nativity to paint them white. As they do it, she gets nervous that people can see the black beneath the white. Matt tries to placate her, but Ariel begins to panic. She confesses to Matt that she did some research into her family and discovered that her mother's great-grandmother was black. This makes her mother an octoroon (one-eighth black) and Ariel herself one-sixteenth black. Whilst to most normal people that wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference, Ariel is worried that her dad will freak out if he found out. She is worried that she will start to turn black and begs Matt to get some skin bleach so she can make herself whiter. She seems absolutely deranged at this point. Matt does smuggle some industrial-strength skin bleach from De La Mer but instead suggests that Ariel speaks to a psychologist. She really acts like a spoilt child, grabbing the bleach and slathering it on her face. She tells Matt to leave, which he starts to, but then the bleach starts to burn. Matt puts her under the shower then takes her to Christian to see what damage has been done. Luckily, there isn't much. Christian is still pissed off with Matt and says he's going to bill him for the consult. Ariel's father comes to pick her up as Matt has called him. He tells Mr Alderman the truth about Ariel's heritage and her fear that he will reject her if he found out, but Ariel lies to her father and tells him Matt told her to bleach her freckles. Predictably, Mr Alderman believes his daughter and accuses Matt of spreading 'hateful lies' to save his own neck. Mr Alderman suggests that Matt should stay away from Ariel. As Christian relaxes later on that evening, Matt turns up with an IOU to pay off the debt for Ariel's consult. Christian invites his son in and they have a bit of a bonding session. Matt admits it was easier not knowing that Christian was his father, but he's adjusting to the idea. As is Christian. There is another strong performance by Brittany Snow as the hysterical Ariel, and John Hensley actually has more to do than mope about and be sarcastic- and proves he's not a bad actor in the process. Again, a bit OTT in places (Ariel's reaction to her heritage is completely off the scale) but enjoyable.
The remaining storyline deals with Julia and Sean. At home with her children (including Annie!), she is preparing Christmas treats but feels faint and collapses. She goes to see Sean who gives her a flu shot. She admits to doing a lot of stuff at the spa and could just be run down. Sean admits to missing the whole Christmas fuss but Julia tells him that her Christmas is just going to be another day with Matt at the Aldermans and Annie away. He asks about Quentin but gets told that they're no longer together and that Quentin doesn't work at De La Mer anymore either. Sean suggests running a blood panel to rule out anaemia, which they do. Julia turns out to be pregnant. Sean visits her at her apartment and tells her. She can barely believe it and tries to figure out when it could have happened. Sean assumes that Quentin is the father. Sean makes a suggestion that Julia could get rid of the child, but it's not something she wants to deal with at the moment and asks him to go. Christian tells Sean that he's spoken to Quentin (who only has one small scene, but a good one, when he gets his due money from Christian) and that he and Julia never slept together. That leaves the conundrum of who the father is. He calls her but hangs up as he's chicken. She calls him back and he asks what she's doing on Christmas Eve. She tells him she has an 'appointment' and he offers to drive her. At the abortion clinic, as the rain begins to fall, the two of them wait for Julia's appointment. She is just about to fill the form in when she admits what most half-attentive viewers will have picked up about halfway through: it's Sean's baby. She is called and goes in but decides she doesn't want to go through with it, just as Sean is about to go in and stop her. They want to keep the baby. They leave the clinic hand in hand. This final scene is incredibly emotional and played so well by both Joely Richardson and Dylan Walsh. It is made all the more better by a great use of music- Aaron Neville's sublime version of my favourite Christmas song 'Oh Holy Night'- and a truly arresting final image. As the rain falls, the white paint starts to run off the freshly-painted nativity figures, revealing the truth of what lies beneath.
There is much to like in this episode; the final five minutes or so is almost perfection. But there's also a lot in here which is flabby padding and too soap-opera-esque (thinking specifically about Wes and Joy's showdown, for example). That said, it's an interesting experiment for the writers and producers to conduct. We always knew that a Nip/Tuck Christmas would be just as weird and screwed-up as any other time of the year. And we were right. Enjoyable, but far from transcendant.