Royal Pains – “No Man is an Island”

RoyalPainsTitle2

“No Man is an Island”

July 9th, 2009

Due to some thesis commitments, I’ve actually found myself doing something really strange: not only have I had no time to blog about television, but I’ve even found myself falling behind on watching it. Sure, I’ve gone through three seasons of Top Chef is about nine days, but watching new television just hasn’t been part of the game plan, which meant I just watched 10 Things I Hate About You, haven’t gotten to Warehouse 13, and was a day late getting to this week’s episodes of Burn Notice and Royal Pains.

And trust me, I’m as shocked as you are that the one show that shakes me out of my hiatus is Royal Pains, a show that two weeks earlier (before the show took a break for the holiday) had convinced me it was willing to settle for light and charming as opposed to something more substantial. However, “No Man is an Island” shocked me by emerging as a really compelling piece of television which did a lot of small things to bring to the surface intriguing characters dynamics, medical scenarios which start as one thing and evolve as medicine often can, plus a very Burn Notice/MacGyver piece of medicine from Dr. Hank.

It was the kind of episode that legitimately makes me think that these characters could eventually become their own less interesting but nonetheless entertaining versions of Michael, Sam and Fiona, a scenario I wouldn’t have predicted when the show started and that makes me more intrigued to see where the show goes from here.

The “case” itself was an intriguing bit of work, primarily because it did two things that I like to see in any piece of procedural medical narrative. First off, it was always changing: it starts off as a crazy pregnant lady, shifts entirely when Will the caretaker is injured, and then has to balance Hank’s legitimate concerns on both fronts as the expectant mother does her best to induce and Will begins to worsen and creating a legitimate medical emergency. It created a lot of suspense, and it was entirely possible for the story to go in a variety of different directions considering their situation. It should have been contrived (Oh look, a car accident! And the satellite phone broke in the crash!), but it managed to escape that fate.

This it achieved through the connection between the various storylines. Everything that happened in the episode seemed connected, a series of events driven by human reactions to this scenario. Evan getting onto that helicopter made me cringe, knowing how often his subplots have devolved into comic tangents, but here he was an important part of how Arlow weaved his way into the story, first being the one to crash the car and then eventually being the one to save the day. In both instances, the actions were Arlow’s (often based on things Evan had done or said), and there was something very natural about them: there really was a smile on Arlow’s face when he was operating the original joystick (well, not the original), and Arlow gave blood on his own volition (and against Evan’s insistence that this hadn’t been what he meant about finding a place to be a hero). Arlow’s storyline, coming out of his shell due to either the magic of the island or through Evan’s insistence, became an integral part of the medical crisis, allowing the show to avoid tangential storylines.

Even the storyline on the mainland, where Divya and Jill come into contact with one another and Hank is forced to consider an E.R. position at Hamptons Heritage, took place thanks to Hank’s phone call-forwarding to Divya. The legitimate tension between these two characters was quite logical: Divya’s background of having failed to land herself a job on two other occasions and living in subterfuge from her parents has finally found a peaceful respite, while Jill’s anxiety over both dating and potentially working with Hank has brought back her previous marriage as well as some general anxiety. In both instances, it was quite a humanizing little story, and one that never felt like we were being pulled away from the main story; instead, it was a series of events happening on consequence of the sudden excursion.

It was really the ideal kind of episode for a show like this. Firstly, it did awesome things like have Hank figure out people’s blood types using a silver serving tray, a trick that part of me wants to try with my own family if my father wasn’t a definite Evan when it comes to blood and fainting. But secondly, it surrounded that by making me really like Evan. Explaining more about his relationship with Hank, as the two of them were forced to band together following their father’s departure (leaving the door open, of course, for that father’s return since he appears to be quite alive), really made this HankMed experience into something of value for Evan; this isn’t just a vacation, it’s a chance for him to be the big brother in a way, and the episode did a fantastic job of bringing that to the surface.

Overall, it was just a really enjoyable forty minutes of television, and I’d suggest that anyone who’s been neglecting the show or decided to stop watching to give this one a chance – it’s made me a believer that the show has bigger aspirations than it first seemed. Hank, when turning down the job in the E.R., makes a very solid case for the show’s appeal, as he gets to know his patients as people in a way that he never would working in a hospital, and his integration into their daily lives has been refreshing when, as it was here, combined with some exciting events.

Cultural Observations

  • I took a lot of time to figure it out, but the actor (David Alan Basche) playing the expectant mother’s husband also played Josh’s sex addict agent in “Hard Ball,” definitely the best first season episode of NBC’s 30 Rock.
  • The show is in a tough spot when it comes to introducing recurring characters: I’d like to see more of Tucker, as well as the Grant family, but it would need to be done in the context of non-medical activities since what are the chances of medical crises happening twice while Hank was on the island? I want to see the show do this more since characters are such an important part of its structure, but the show almost works against itself.
  • Since I don’t think I’ll get to a blog post, I was mixed on the week’s episode of Burn Notice – it wasn’t bad, per se, and I liked Michael Weston (the actor, not the character) in terms of his commitment to the schizophrenic character, but the storyline was convoluted and the season’s tendency to bookend each episode with “Michael tries to be a spy and Fiona is annoyed about it” is getting tiresome. For an episode with alien conspiracy theories, it wasn’t particularly fun, which is how I like my Burn Notice (either on its own or mixed with more serious drama). This one was kind of just there.

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