Nip/Tuck (Season 5.2) – A Review

“Deeply Superficial”

Nip/Tuck is what it is. It’s an over-the-top look at our culture’s fascination with physical beauty, how it defines (and traps) us, and how no pretty the outside it, there is no covering the deep scars of untreated wounds. The season 5.2 DVD set picks up right after the events of the (mid-)season finale, picking up right after Sean McNamara’s (Dylan Walsh) attack from his former agent. The season continues to mine the lives and characters of this broken collection of folks. Not ready to face his life, Sean decides to fake his recovery, pretending to be paralyzed below the waist. All too ready to face his death, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) seeks to find his replacement to help Sean and pursue a marriage with their lesbian-except-to-marry-Christian anesthesiologist, Liz Cruz (Roma Maffia). In the mean time, would be true love to Christian, former drug addict and porn star Kimber (Kelly Carlson) returns with Christian’s grand-daughter in order to have plastic surgery done on the toddler (injections of botox to correct her “thin, villainous lips” so she can pursue a modeling career).

“Now you are perfect.” –Kimber

We live in an image based culture. From the moment we turn on the television, pick up a magazine, turn on the computer, or step out the door, we’re told what is pretty, what is the sexual ideal, what is stylish, what is beautiful. We forget that there is truth and goodness in beauty, one that we recognize without having to be told (much less needing it plastered all over magazine covers). Beauty should touch a primal chord within us, captivate us, and spur us to adoration, even worship.

“If I could just find joy in my life. Or maybe one day feel human again.” –Budi Sabri (Chi Muoi Lo)

A lot of people live their lives never fully convinced they are loved as they are. Never be able to love or unable to receive love, or allow ourselves to feel and accept love without strings attached or pre-requisites. They are so starved to be loved, they go to desperate lengths to fill that hole. Time and time again, the characters try to stave off the travails of the human soul, the loneliness and sorrow; and fill a hole, desire, and thirst only God could satisfy. They looking for affirmation, validation, appreciation, affection from friends, family, or fans; not realizing that they can’t look for their true self there.

“Even I, in this body, am a true expression of God.” –Budi Sabri

One particularly interesting case the doctors are presented with is that of Budi Sabri, a man with a virus that causes warts to break out all over his body. “All he’s known is pain and isolation” and his condition (and his hope) touches a chord in all of them. He is a reflection of what they all feel (and perhaps what they look like) inside. So the doctors take it upon themselves to try to get him to look and feel human again.

It is critical to not be defined by the past, but to always be working toward who we were meant to be. And live in the hope of becoming whole. We’re all wounded healers, broken or rather, incomplete. In the midst of pain, agony, and infection, we are to encourage one another as a fellow patient and in so doing become part of the healing. When our spirits are wounded, we speak words of resurrection. We offer new hope and new life. We invite one another to live a new kind of life, one where we are continually surrounded by Jesus’ transforming love.
As Nip/Tuck prepares to enter its final season (again, another show guilty of sticking around at least one season too long … Smallville says what?), the storylines and surguries only continue to get stranger as the characters have all but been exhausted. In what episode, the writers all but concede that they didn’t know what else to do with Christian besides kill him off. Despite its multitude of flaws, it has just enough left in its tank to limp to its finish line.

Nip/Tuck (Season 5) – A Perfect Lie

“Make me… beautiful. Perfect soul. Perfect mind. Perfect face. A perfect… lie.”

Nip/Tuck is one of those shows that I started watching then lost track of after season two. Season five came out on DVD and despite having not watched the show in a while, it was as if I hadn’t missed an episode. The season has the feel of being a jump on season and the show takes advantage of the opportunity to reinvent itself.

It retains its over-the-top sensibilities. Our two stalwart plastic surgeons, the brains, Dr. Sean McNamara, and the body, Dr. Christian Troy, have relocated to Hollywood and have experienced a bit of a role-reversal. Sean gets some play, landing on a television show that mirrors—more ridiculously over-the-top than—Nip/Tuck while stealing Christian’s spotlight, the spotlight Christian assumes he deserves. In one move, the show gets to skewer reality television and Hollywood’s obsession with deeply superficial beauty.

“Where did this idea come from?” –Sean

We put on masks, masks that become part of us, ones we wear in order to interact with others and the world. Before too long, we become trapped by these false ideas of ourselves. These false selves, these lies of who we are and how we see ourselves, start developing when we’re young. How our families shape us, how we let our friends define us, the fronts we put up in order to appeal to potential mates. We may derive our self-worth from what we do, we’re of value because of how we behave or what we have. Or how we look. We have so lost sight of true beauty that the idea becomes twisted up so that one patient of McNamara/Troy can remark, “Beauty is an Olympic ideal.”

“Tell me what you don’t like about yourself.” –Sean/Christian

Each person walks through the doors of their clinic searching for something or trying to bring themselves back to life. They want to become real, find happiness, like themselves, find something to take away the pain, look for perfection, or search for something to make them feel complete. They want to be whole.

“We all make mistakes, right? We all just try to do better, be better people, overcome our weaknesses.” –Sean

One of the things that I wrestled with for a long time, even without realizing that this was crippling my spiritual walk, was the idea of perfection. The Bible seems to not only demand perfection, but it seems to imply that perfection is attainable now. Then someone pointed out to me that I had a screwed up view of “perfection.” When we read the word “perfection” through our modern mindset, we see the Greek ideal of perfection. We can’t attain that. Yet for most of my spiritual life, I was tormented by the guilt of failure because I couldn’t reach this goal of perfection. My life was littered with seemingly endless failures. But when you read perfection more through the eyes of the original audience, you find the Hebrew idea of wholeness. Being complete is something that we can attain.

“I feel like I’m being authentic for the first time in my life.” –Julia

The rest of the cast of characters are still floating around, little changed. Julia, the third figure in the Sean/Troy/Julia trinity is now gay(ish). Perennial hanger on Kimber goes from meth head back to her porn days. Sean’s son, Matt, continues his disastrous relational streak. Nip/Tuck continues to ride high on our cultural misogyny and sense of self-hate, taking a scalpel to the rotting underbelly of our unhealthy fascination with false ideas of beauty. It’s both uncomfortable and ridiculous. Just like the old days.

Nip/Tuck (Season One) – A Review

“Vanity of Vanities”

“Do what thou wilt.” (Aleister Crowley, occultist)

“To thine own self be true.” (Hamlet, Shakespeare)

“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man …Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another … Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” (Romans 1:22-26a)

What do these three ideas have in common? They are the underlying philosophies to the show Nip/Tuck. Riding the post-Sopranos wave of shows acting like they’ve discovered profanity and nudity in order to be seen as relevant and edgy, FX has just finished airing the first season of Nip/Tuck. Debuting to the fifth largest ratings for a basic cable show, FX continues to make a name for itself with another show in the same mold as The Shield (arguably the best show on television, one that also explores the moral ambiguities of a fundamentally corrupt cast). While it may aim to only be a bawdy, nighttime soap opera, a poor man’s Six Feet Under on Viagra, it puts a mirror to American culture and its unnatural predilection with beauty.

Dr. Christian Troy, played with cardboard charm, oozes smugness and unbridled egotism. His downward spiral to ever more degrading depths provides the spark of the show. Not since Ted Danson on Cheers has sex addiction been given so much play. He routinely seduces his patients, trading sex for free surgery. He’s willing to do anything for profit, including get in bed (metaphorically speaking) with drug lords. His idea of being a role model for his friend’s children: taking Matt McNamara to a strip club to give him confidence with women. And in a later episode, he takes him to a porn party where he contracts an STD. Only after taking a strong look at the trail of shattered lives and trashed feelings in his wake does he even wake up to the fact of the type of person he is.

Dr. Sean McNamara is the opposite side of the same coin. Neurotic and judgmental, he’s just as smug and self-centered as his partner, whether he realizes it or not. He tries to hold his disintegrating (because of his absenteeism due to his practice) marriage together through tepid displays of communication and affection. A too little, too late policy undermined by 1) his assumption that his wife is having an affair (which she was tempted to do) and 2) his using that assumption to rationalize his own affair.

But they love the children.

While the youngest child, his daughter, has no role other than to look cute on occasion, the older one, his teenage son, can’t escape the over the top plotlines. He becomes convinced that he’d lose his virginity if he were circumsized. Of course his second sex act involves the dilemma of a three-some with his oh-by-the-way-did-I-mention-I-was-also-a-lesbian-girlfriend.

The show explores the values of physical perfection, takes special delight with its (can we spell “misogynistic”?) cruelty. One scene in particularly stands out: when Christian takes a permanent marker to draw on a (nude) woman to illustrate her areas of imperfection. The show has a lot of shock for shock’s sake. Explicit sex, pushing the boundaries first mapped by NYPD Blue. Explicit gore, mostly found in their graphic surgery depictions. And explicit language, though even ER has had the reins loosened on their language. The unwritten rule is that quality justifies the excesses. But even through the muck heap of excesses, light can shine through.

The Consequences of Living in a Moral Vacuum

I have had this ongoing debate, albeit, mostly with myself, about whether this show has a moral center, or if the point of the show was to illustrate what happens when you have no moral center. The problem for our protagonists is that everything–the trappings of wealth, beauty, unlimited sex, peer respect–leaves nothing but ashes in their mouth.

Near the end of the season, a three episode story arc ran that encapsulated not only the problem with the characters in the show but the answer to their various dilemmas, if pursued. At this point in the show, Sean McNamara was elbow deep in an affair, pursuing what he was missing in his marriage. Julia McNamara was being tempted by her own possible affair. This left Matt McNamara with his only other adult role model being Christian Troy, who at the time was negotiating a trade of his current girlfriend for a colleague’s Lamborgini.

The episode arc opens with Matt and his Jewish friend, Henry, getting high while discussing God. Henry can’t light his bong because it was the Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, and the Law says that he cannot do any work, in this case, lighting the match. Matt wonders whether obeying these rules of conduct mattered, to which Henry says that “God doesn=t give a sh-t” about lighting a match, but he believes that if he obeys he will lead a “happy life and survive.”
Then on their way home, they perpetrate a hit and run.

Their victim turns out to be Cara Fitzgerald, a Christian Scientist and the founder of their school’s Christian Fellowship Prayer Club. Matt and Henry struggle with their sin and their choice to cover it up. After Matt convinces his father to perform pro bono reconstructive surgery, over Cara’s mother’s protestations, the duo join the Prayer Club (its only members) to find out what Cara remembers. Henry agonizes over his need to pay for what he has done, which he religion calls for. So he mulls over the possibility of changing religions, recognizing that he needs “a new faith, a new identity. One that reflects the real world we live in.” A faith where even bad things can be used to a good end.

“Does your God forgive criminals?” Henry asks Cara.
“We’re all sinners saved through Christ. So I guess the answer is yes.”

Off comes the yarmulke as Henry believes that everything happened so that he could discover the Kingdom of Heaven (though Cara ends up liking Matt over him, so Henry turns his back on his newly discovered faith. He goes back to Judaism and his need to confess and pay for what they’ve done).

Matt, also not knowing what to do with the burden of his act and seeing Cara and her mother’s faith, confronts his dad about why he wasn’t raised with any religious background. What was it that so overwhelmed the boys? The realization that they could lie to everyone around them, but they could neither lie nor hide from God, leaving them with the need to confess.

So the question could still be debated about whether or not the show has a mora
l center or if it is deliberately portraying how meaningless the beauty, wealth, unchecked sex, and circumstantial highs are. Because each character, once they had all of what society defines as the hallmarks of success, realized how unhappy they were and what truly mattered was relationships.