Tuned In

Tell Me You Love Me Watch: "Some Frustrating Language"

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SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this post until you have tested how easily a paper towel dispenser rips off a wall.

HBO / Doug Hyun

If you’re still watching TMYLM–statistically you’re not but I’ll keep posting, like the Omega Man talking to himself–you’ll notice that there’s less and less sex in every episode of My So-Called Sex Show. What you have left is the talk, which is both the point and the strength of this series.

The therapy encounter between Dave and Katie, in particular, is one of the handful of best scenes I’ve seen anywhere on TV this year. I’ve said a lot about the performances of Tim DeKay and Ally Walker before, but I don’t want to take away from the script (cowritten this week by Cynthia Mort and Anya Epstein). From beginning to end the scene was a textbook example of how a fight unfolds in a relationship. First there’s the tentative standoff–with Dave hanging his head like a third-grader in the principal’s office–and the space-filling talk about the anniversary. (“Great. Steak was great. Katie got me Tivo, which was incredible.”) Then Katie’s tears, and Dave–with that immediate urge to fix things–reassuring her. Then her prodding him, noting–correctly–that they both know nothing is great here.

And then the explosion. I wrote about DeKay’s performance in my original review, but I appreciate more details of the scene every time I watch it–not just his list of little, soul-killing tasks (cleaning the gecko cage, buying Cheerios) but how it seems to just rush out of him as if someone blew a hole in a dam. “When you’re comparing apple juice prices, and they both don’t even want to be in the — grocery store…”: There’s the slightest, not even aspirated hint of an “f” after that “the,” enough to show you that Dave wants to say “f_cking,” and yet, being Dave, represses it. And then he finishes, red-faced, staring wide-eyed as if he literally sees his terrible words in front of him and is amazed that they came out of him, and are not going away.

Ostensibly Dave and Katie are arguing about their sex life, or lack thereof, but really, like so many arguments in a relationship, this one is about language. Both Dave and Katie want the other to know what they’re saying without their having to say it. “I have steak hair” means “Say that you want me”; “Our anniversary was great” means “I’m afraid of what’s happening to us, and I don’t know what to do about it.” Dave, though he’s as bad about this in his own way as Katie, complains she’s asking him to read her mind: When she says “But what?,” he claims, “It’s some frustrating language for, ‘It’s your fault, I’m disappointed in you.’”

And then–the next we see them, they’re talking on the phone, Katie informing Dave that their son was sent home for lice and the family will need to be checked out. No coldness, no anger, just that same efficient partnership we saw at breakfast that morning. Because that’s commitment. Sometimes every horrifying demon and hateful thought you harbor comes pouring out of you. And sometimes you just have to go to work and pump the gas and get the car loan and feel through your hair for nits. You compartmentalize, because you have to.

You would think, because TV has trained you to think this, that the scene is set up to show that Dave and Katie are denying their problems, like always. But it’s not: this is actual love and functioning partnership. After all, they do have a lot on their plate: there’s a house to run, money to earn, a prematurely pubescent daughter to protect from environmental estrogens and that zombie army of strutting, texting teen girls in the ice-cream shop. What Dave and Katie need to do is not to miraculously become different people. They just need to somehow add “Talk honestly about our fears and problems” to their to-do list, somewhere between “Get the car waxed” and “Pick up de-lousing shampoo.”

And at the end of the episode, to their credit, they’re taking a stab at it. Lying beside Dave, Katie says that she wishes they’d waited longer to have kids, something close to blasphemy in their child-centric marriage. And the world doesn’t end; he knows she has a point. Then she asks him if he’s still attracted to her, if he’s ever had an affair. (She immediately says she doesn’t want him to answer, which, of course, means she does.) Never, he says. She asks if he’d ever want to. His response is no small achievement. His instinct should be to totally reassure her, fix things, and make the problem go away–Never! Why would I, when I’ve got you? Instead, he says: “Not in any real way. You know?”

She knows. He’s said a small, honest, human thing, and again the world has managed not to end. It may not be the world’s most romantic pillow talk. But it’s a start.