THIS: Dependence Day
July 4, 2016
Hell is other people only if you’re living with yourself. The segmented psyche is a tool of every artist, and a device of everyone who has ever played a role in their daily existence. We need to draw a line between projected versions of ourselves and the private personality behind art’s filter; and behavior that we think is “not like us” is calming, and convenient, to think of as the actions of some other person.
A character in The Big Chill famously remarked that rationalizations are more important than sex, because no one could last as long as a week without a rationalization; we tend to think of “amends” — state apologies for past persecution, personal reparations to those we have wronged — as the restitution that clears the slate, but with grievances and contrition neatly tallied more than really resolved, things can get darkest after the new dawn.
This is a realization behind the insistently unsentimental Maron sitcom on IFC. The show has always chronicled an emotionally authentic parallel reality; everyone appears under their own name, from star Marc Maron to story editor Dave Anthony to an ensemble of actors who rotate through the standup, sitcom and talkshow spheres like phantoms in a serial dream. This season Maron has retold the one about its headliner’s addiction, bottom-hitting and recovery, adapted from his real-world youth to a midlife disaster safely displaced into the show.
It’s been deservedly acclaimed as wrenching hilarity from its principal’s insight into its protagonist’s lack of perception, and the bromides and boredom of the recovery revolving-door. But to anyone who’s had addicts in their family or circle of friends (or in the mirror, so I guess I mean everyone), rehab is like a penitentiary spa visit, one of the commercials between segments of the actual story. Sheltered commentators like NPR’s Terry Gross, whose traumatic imagination is clearly too narrow, have spoken of how hard-to-watch the Maron character’s descent and delusion is; I only started to shiver once he was out the other end of “treatment.”
By episode nine of the current season, he’s a boarder at the opulent home of Anthony’s character, who has gone from squalid schlub to Hollywood playa with a cable show and a brain-surgeon wife. Here there be spoilers, but how can I help myself: Maron has consented to go into counseling, where he runs into his first ex-wife, who now is a psychotherapist; Anthony berates and abuses his staff while coming home to submit to B&D by his spouse every night; Maron begs some explanations from his ex at the clinic (can he get better; was she even a little devastated when he tanked their marriage), and betrays a confidence of Anthony’s at the dinner table in a way that ensures more retribution from the dominating brain-surgeon. When Anthony asks, “Why would you say that?” and Maron, with a faraway smile on his face and in a breathy, cold whisper says, “I don’t know…”, it’s scarier than the episodes where he was skimming painkillers from terminal patients (and even funnier).
After being unhelped by his student shrink and told by the exasperated ex that he can’t and won’t break out of his cycle, Maron comes home to be dominated by his doctor host and then feels much better. This makes his inexperienced junior-therapist quit upon hearing it, after which the ex reassures him, and he starts an apology that keeps veering back to what appealed to him about the woman he cheated on her with. He then obtains confirmation that he “mattered” by indeed hurting her, which snaps her back into recognition of his supreme narcissism and reminds her to leave the room and his life.
The show’s not over, but it hits a philosophical peak with this episode: “Dave” is dependent on his tantrums at work and current wife’s theatrical abuse at home; “Marc” relies on validation of various kinds from his own long-since abandoned partner, and cannot resist saying things which get himself stuck and others into trouble, and is a permanent dependent on hosts he can’t stand. The material addictions are minor compared to this thematic insight into obsessions that submerge our best selves. None of the characters are willing to brave the genuine humiliation — and plausible redemption — that the real Maron undergoes by having himself be portrayed in this way, and the only “hero” who emerges is his TV-ex, Steph, the one character able to break the spell of what she would like to have (Mark’s compassion and growth) and knows is not worth waiting for.
To be a person who needs people is a source of mutual strength that acknowledges what we lack; not the weakness of ceding control to a finite substance or high-maintenance self-image. This year I marked the 20th anniversary of my kid sister’s fatal accidental overdose, and mourned with the world as it lost an artist who should have made it to his second half-century, but stayed a bit too private a person for just a few hours too long. This past month the UK’s voters chose to shatter the bottle on a country set adrift from the community of civilizations, and we may each wall ourselves up as well. To be able to walk away from something is a lot different than to insist on walking alone.
MORE POSTS by ADAM McGOVERN: OFF-TOPIC (2019–2020 monthly) | textshow (2018 quarterly) | PANEL ZERO (comics-related Q&As, 2018 monthly) | THIS: (2016–2017 weekly) | PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HELL, a 5-part series about characters in McGovern’s and Paolo Leandri’s comic Nightworld | Two IDORU JONES comics by McGovern and Paolo Leandri | BOWIEOLOGY: Celebrating 50 years of Bowie | ODD ABSURDUM: How Felix invented the 21st century self | CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM: C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Data 70 | HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM: “Freedom” | KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Captain Camelot | KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Full Fathom Five | A 5-part series on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World mythos | Reviews of Annie Nocenti’s comics Katana, Catwoman, Klarion, and Green Arrow | The curated series FANCHILD | To see all of Adam’s posts, including HiLo Hero items on Lilli Carré, Judy Garland, Wally Wood, and others: CLICK HERE