Season 3 Episode 18

The Other Shoe

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Mar 20, 1990 on ABC

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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  • While beginning her fight with cancer, Nancy meets a woman with cancer and finds herself experiencing inner changes.

    You don't "get cancer" until you "get cancer". That seems to be the issue Nancy struggled with from the moment she was diagnosed. Friends, family, they can sympathize and worry and cry and volunteer for cures, but until you have cancer, you just don't "get it." The friends of thirtysomething are good people who are truly terrified with what their friend is going through and coming to grips with the fact that she could very well die. Elliot is dealing w/ the fact that the life he has just recovered may be ripped from him again, this time through no fault of his own. Michael even has an extra stake from watching his father die of cancer. But none of these 6 people have ever had cancer and that means that no one can honestly know what Nancy is going through. As she stated so succinctly, right after her diagnosis "No one will let me talk...they all want me to be this gracious cripple..." (Paraphrased of course) but it was really true. Nancy has almost always been painted as a partial victim. She has always been expected to be the "gracious cripple", even when it was an emotional cripple. A victim. Victim of her husband & bad marriage, victim of her own fears and meekness, victim of cancer. But being diagnosed, it actually allowed her to get some balls! And no one in her group of friends gets that. Early in the episode, Nancy & "the girls" go shoe shopping & Nancy tries on a beautiful pair of boots. The salesman says they are some astronomical price and they all do a double take. Nancy hesitates, because they are so decadent. The man assures her that the boots will last her a lifetime. Nancy says that doesn't say a whole hell of a lot for your shoes and starts laughing. Hope and Ellyn exchange uncomfortable glances. What Nancy is saying is so clearly inappropriate and does nothing to comfort them and make them feel, silently even, that it will all be alright. And that's really what they want from her. "Gracious cripple.." No one gets it.
    Until she meets Beatrice.
    Beatrice has cancer (ovarian also if I recall). She's further along in her treatment and has lost her hair, it seems. Beatrice doesn't seem to care for the "support group" she's attended, where she meets Nancy. A lot of positive thinking stuff. But Beatrice has cancer. Beatrice gets it. She even points out that Nancy's friends probably don't get the jokes and Nancy has to admit that they don't. This marks the beginning of some small changes in Nancy. Nancy is at Beatrice's house with 2 of Beatrice's friends, who also have cancer. Somehow the talk turns to La Boheme and Nancy tells this charming story of her parents taking her when she was little and how Nancy had yelled out to the players in the middle of the opera. And by the time Nancy is done with the story, Beatrice and the others are applauding Nancy. Nancy this vibrant woman, adept storyteller. Nancy gets to shine. Nancy gets to be the center of attention. Anyone familiar with thirtysomething knows that that doesn't happen very often. And it's exhilarating, you can tell by the look on her face. She loves this. All these people appreciate her & think she's funny and bright and none of them remember her curled up in the fetal position when Elliot walked out. And they all have cancer so they GET IT! Later in the episode, Nancy is getting ready to go out for a night on the town with Beatrice & the gang. It's almost funny how unnatural this feels in thirtysomething world. These people are not ALLOWED to go out, unless they are with their partner and another couple from within the group accompanies them to a restaurant or a kid-friendly venue, (i.e. the park, the museum, the zoo). If you venture out without your partner, then you still must be accompanied by 2-3 members of said group, generally of the same gender, although that can be negotiated. It's seriously like a group by law! Watch the episodes and you'll see!
    Elliot seems aghast that his wife is leaving without him. She puts on her boots she ended up buying (you go girl!), mentions something about getting a shiny, red sports car for her birthday coming up, because seriously, how many more birthdays will she have, what with her dying of cancer and all? And it's just like she's invigorated by this acceptance that "Maybe I'll die..." for once it's not gloom and horrible "my children" which it is and should be sometimes. It's honestly like "F*&% it!" and Nancy's new friends allow her to feel that and express it. They take her to a drag club, then Nancy & Beatrice go lay on a car and scream as planes fly overhead. Nancy is screaming that the cancer is hers and it's the most important thing that has ever happened to her & you can hear her screaming at all her friends and her husband because they are scurrying around not sure what to do without Nancy, "the gracious cripple". Now of course, this new found freedom and power has its drawbacks. Nancy's son Ethan wants to do a sequel to the book he & Nancy had published and she agrees. But later on he finds that she has finished the book without him and turned it into more of an "issue book" dealing with her own fears and excluded Ethan completely. Ethan is devastated, although the amazing kid who played Ethan, Luke Rossi, I think, always plays it very Eeyore like. "Why should I be surprised? Life sucks and always has and always will, so of course Mom went ahead without me..."
    Nancy also goes a little crazy at a dinner party at Hope and Michaels (I think Elliot dragged her there for deprogramming after she dared to leave the house without an approved thirtysomething chaperon to go to the drag club!). Nancy is just going on and on about the environment and carcinogens and how they don't really know how much is genetic and how much is environmental and hey, since Leo Steadman died of cancer, that means Michael and Melissa could have it too. And of course if it is genetic, hey 3 year old Janey and the baby in Hope's stomach could have it too! Everyone is stunned. Nancy did go a little far, but EVERYONE in that group had times where they went a little far and said things that were not acceptable or intentionally hurtful. Because this was Nancy, it was twice as bad. "Gracious cripple".
    It all may have played just a little over the top. Nancy finishes a story without Ethan. Okay, it's not like she beat the kid and stuck him in a closet in some fit of chemo rage! She snapped at her friends and suggested their unborn child might have cancer. Okay, that's bad, but really, is it the things Nancy said and did that were so bad to the other characters or was it the awkwardness of leaving their own comfort zone? When Nancy isn't being a martyr, then something is rotten in Denmark! Elliot and Nancy have it out because she finished the book without Ethan. Nancy arguing that she needs a personal project to communicate her feelings. Elliot agreeing but saying that this project had to include Ethan. Elliot finally says that Ethan needs to know he did something, in the event that Nancy does die. He also finally admits that Ethan doesn't understand cancer and doesn't get it, but he then points out that Ethan knows all about his mom getting cancer. That Ethan does get and cancer or not, it's Nancy's responsibility, as Ethan's parents, to let Ethan help her and to protect him a little. Elliot is correct of course (hey! Elliot is right! And mature! This whole episode is shaking up all basis of reality!) and then Nancy goes to see Beatrice. Suddenly, Beatrice is saying things that frighten Nancy. Nancy acknowledged that the cancer was the most important thing that had happened to her, but Beatrice wants to take it a step farther. She says the cancer is like a gift or a blessing, that Nancy's real friend was the first cancer cell and that the cancer gave them all power. Nancy argues that she wants to live (Okay, it's not quite as Susan Hayward as all that) but this is the greatest moment. In the midst of the screaming and crying and fighting, Beatrice looks Nancy squarely in the eye and says "Nancy, you're dead already."
    She says it so evenly, it's really chilling. Nancy high tails it out of there as Beatrice begins to hyperventilate. No hugs, no long good byes, no bringing Beatrice around to see her side. No scene of Nancy back at her support group meetings and seeing that Beatrice has had a change of heart. Beatrice came into Nancy's life and shook it up and then she's gone. Did she die? No one ever found out. That's the realism of the show I speak of so often. (Does anyone read these but me?) :)
    So it's wrapped up neat and tidy after that. Nancy throws out the book and tells Ethan they will work on the story together and Elliot rents a sports car for Nancy's birthday and she tells him she feels lucky. But again, the great thing about this show, is that Nancy's not done fighting cancer and Nancy's not done exploring her emotions and different issues that come up. There are a million different things that come up when you have cancer and Nancy is far from through with her journey. The thing is, it really does feel like she's shed some of the "victim". She'll be strong when she needs to be, she'll feel self pity, which she is entitled to, she'll be angry and confused and grapple with different things, but Nancy feels a little less like a "gracious cripple" with each passing episode.
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