Season Finale: Being Erica – “The Importance of Being Erica”

“The Importance of Being Erica”

December 8th, 2009

Going into its second season, Being Erica was a show about one person. But, with a slight expansion of its universe, the show had the potential to become about people beyond Erica, for her journey to become less about her own problems and more life’s problems. The show’s therapy conceit, driving characters to revisit their past in order to offer perspective on their lives, isn’t something that is isolated to one character, and in some ways Erica revisiting her greatest regret (her brother’s death) meant that the show would need to find its emotional core elsewhere. Erin Karpluk will always be very charming, and the show’s structure is a nice procedural element to drive the show forward, but Erica no longer had a “purpose” all season, and at times it felt as if the season was actively ignoring the expansion of its universe (which I found really intriguing) in favour of telling stories that, well, didn’t matter.

The season’s solution to this problem was to introduce Kai, a futuristic barista with a deep secret, and to spend two episodes delving into Dr. Tom. And while the latter resulted in a real tonal shift for the show that worked to its advantage, Kai didn’t work in the beginning like the show wants to believe it did at the end. Sebastian Pigott is a decent actor and a solid singer, able to pull off the role in a way that makes us invested in Kai’s journey, but the show was never consistent on what that journey meant. The show never let us see Kai’s journey through a perspective other than Erica’s, never allowed us to relate to him in a way that makes his story stand separate from his relationship with Erica. And yet, until the end, Erica never felt logically connected to Kai beyond their shared therapy strategies, and the story just never clicked in the way it could have.

“The Importance of Being Erica” is a strong finale that wants to pretend that the show figured all of this out, and that the season worked in a way that led to Erica’s emotional and career realizations. That’s stretching too far, but it’s another sign that even in its occasional problems there is a very good show that occasionally comes to the surface here (and that, if the show learned its lessons, could dominate in the third season).

If you take this finale at face value, this season has been about Erica’s personal journey disconnected from her first season goal (of getting a job and a boyfriend) to become about self-actualization at a level that transcends current woes and becomes about where she really wants to go in life. This is a theme that the week’s flashback, as Erica heads back to Grad School and realizes that even without a nasty email she wasn’t meant to be a part of the academic profession, and is captured in that final moment where Erica’s desire to take a risk runs against the grain of Ethan’s life plan. The result is an emotional breakup, and one that’s about Erica realizing how far she’s come even when suffering through something painful and unpleasant. Therapy, as Kai learned this season, isn’t about fixing a problem but about opening the patient’s eyes, which can either offer a path to happiness or show you something heartbreaking that you can no longer ignore.

I liked all of these elements of the episode, but to suggest that they reflect the season as a whole is simply false. The show fell into a rhythm where Erica and Ethan’s relationship was just accepted as healthy and normal, and efforts to introduce sexual dysfunction or other oddities never clicked with the more serious side to Erica’s journey. Ethan’s “safeness” has always been present but it’s never been problematized, so for it to so suddenly emerge against Erica is something the show has concocted more than something the show has developed. While the show has always gone off on tangents in the past, a story like this one was only relevant once Erica was fired, and because there has been very little Erica-related drama at River Rock this season (extended instead to Reagan Pasternak’s Julianne) even that didn’t feel momentous enough to bring on this sort of life change. They can say that this season was about Erica finding her inner self, but I couldn’t tell you half of her “flashbacks” off the top of my head, and I guarantee you they weren’t cohesive enough to suggest this sort of fundamental change.

But, because we like Erica and because Karpluk is so skilled, we buy Erica’s emotional journey even if the show didn’t develop it as it seems to want to believe it did. The problem with Kai’s storyline, however, is that we don’t know him very well, and more importantly we didn’t know him at all before he was first introduced. The fact that our only real interaction with Kai early on was his interaction with Erica meant that, when the show tried later in the season to have the character stand on its own independent of Erica, there was a sense that he had no connection to the overall narrative. The season wasn’t about Kai and Erica, it was about Erica who happened to be interested in Kai. And yet, I thought Kai’s stories with Erica (like the future narrative, and the “do-over day”) were actually kind of forced, introducing a romantic interest that wasn’t actually necessary (other than to manufacture more drama for Erica and Ethan) to really bring these characters to life.

If the show had been confident enough, I think we could have met Kai and Dr. Fred independent of Erica, and had their stories develop independent of one another early on before converging in a way that felt more natural. As it was, Erica felt like a distraction from the real purpose of Kai’s journey, which only became apparent late in the season and thus lacked any sort of resonance when it finally happened. And because that was all from Erica’s perspective, as she had that legitimately interesting moment when Kai goes from friend to complete stranger as the future Kai leaves our present, it feels like it was just a way to build Erica as opposed to a compelling story in its own right. When they showed that lengthy montage of Kai and Erica’s time together, it felt wrong: this wasn’t Erica’s story, it was Kai’s story, and even if the long-term ramifications are more on Erica’s end for our purposes I felt like Kai got the short end of the narrative stick too often for the scene to feel as momentous as it could have. If Erica and Kai’s journeys were developed separately, but converged naturally, this could have felt like a pivotal scene, and an episode like the flashforward could have felt like a significant leap forward for the narrative – however, ultimately, it didn’t, which is symptomatic of the show’s limited aims but still kind of frustrating.

In the end, I like what the story did for Erica. There has been much speculation all season that since we began by journeying into Dr. Tom’s past (learning that he was an emotional wreck who needed therapy in his own right before becoming a therapist) and later saw Dr. Tom in a therapy session with Nadyaa, that the show’s logical progression is to have Erica become a therapist. And in “The Importance of Being Erica,” we actually saw her sit across the desk from Kai and do her best Dr. Tom impression, which is more than likely the sort of self-actualization that Dr. Tom spoke of when Erica returned to the “Hallway of Ugly Doors” (which neatly echoed the old title sequence, in a random aside). And I think this is a good path for the show to take, the idea that Erica is now in control of her own universe enough to try to use her experience to help others. Karpluk is often at her best when Erica is the most overextended, so the idea of balancing a challenging new career, a newly open love life and added responsibility in therapy is the sort of thing that could really shake up the show moving forward (should it move forward – CBC, after all, hasn’t ordered a third season and likely won’t until they hear if SoapNET is interested).

But again, I could sit here imagining a ton of intriguing scenarios for a third season that will probably all be ignored. For example, I’d love if Tyron Leitso (who is now in that awkward “ex-boyfriend/former good friend” position on the show) stuck around as opposed to moving to another city, and perhaps became a patient in his own right. I’d love if the show were willing to branch out beyond Erica and show other characters (like Sam, or Erica’s parents) flashing back to previous events in their lives to take some of the weight off of Karpluk. And yet, I don’t think the show is willing to go that for, which I find to be its greatest flaw. The show has never had trouble with execution so much as it has had problems with ambition, which effectively makes the argument that for all of its desire to be like Erica, Being Erica is actually more like Ethan than it realizes.

For the season overall, I’d say the show coasted too often on Karpluk’s performance. The first season was so much about Erica’s life, her family, and her failures in life that it was inherently personal in a way that this season was never designed to be. And yet, by refusing to stray too far from Erica for more than a single episode, the show was never really able to develop a narrative anywhere near as compelling as Erica’s first season journey. And while I thought the finale was a very strong episode with a strong emotional core, it was an emotional core that didn’t feel like a consistent part of the season, and that lays an uncertain future that could be amazing but is more likely to be a slight alteration of formula before settling back into a groove.

If we get that third season, I am very curious to know what’s behind that door; however, at the same time, part of me thinks I already know too well.

Cultural Observations

  • As a Masters student at the crossroads of a PhD and writing personal statements about why I want to follow this path, this episode felt like it was screaming “No, stop, reconsider your life!” at me during its flashback. As a result, those scenes sort of irritated me, although they did put my own occasionally strained relationship with my advisor into context.
  • I wanted more Wilde references in the episode, so I’ll make one of my own: at times, Kai felt like the show’s own Bunbury. There, I feel better now.
  • I have to presume that, considering Tyron Leitso is considered to be a “good guy” after Wonderfalls and that Ethan and Erica have been set up as an ideal couple, their relationship will likely be mourned by some viewers. I’m not of the mind that their relationship was sacred or anything, but it’ll be hard to see Erica jump back into a dating pool.
  • However, it will allow the show to have its male rear nudity (which you can always see coming on CBC based on its suddenly appearing “Warning: this programming contains nudity” tags) outside of its flashback sequences, which will feel somewhat less forced (for those of us watching on CBC anyways – it might feel really natural on SoapNET).
  • Curious if anyone is really interested in following Pigott’s music career after this: “Alien Like You” wasn’t good enough to justify the in-episode hype, but it was catchy enough. Admittedly, there were times when I wish they’d just never shown him sing and hired someone with a bit more acting experience, but being able to actually show Kai doing what he does best did pay off the few times it happened, so props for that.
  • Thoughts on what’s behind the door?
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16 Comments

Filed under Being Erica

16 responses to “Season Finale: Being Erica – “The Importance of Being Erica”

  1. Heidi

    I like your analysis, but I disagree that we were ever supposed to accept Erica and Ethan’s relationship as healthy and functional. In fact, I thought that was an astute reflection of how, in a relationship, you try to ignore the niggling “details”–e.g. sexual compatibility–and compromise on their priority. I felt issues like his sexual hangups and general blandness kept cropping up all season long, and were problematic in that they were never really resolved because they were so fundamental to his (lack of) character. As she said, Erica’s been trying to ignore that little voice for awhile now, and Ethan’s unwillingness to support her career direction was the breaking point, because he was originally part of what it meant for her to follow her dreams.

    Like some of the other characters on the show, Ethan is underwritten, but compounding that, there’s zero romantic chemistry between Erin Karpluk and Tyson Leitso. Perhaps the writers recognized this and decided to ignore it for awhile, allowing these characterization and casting issues to fester–similar to the way Ethan and Erica’s relationship played out on screen. So for me the finale came full circle in a satisfying way.

    On another note, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve really grown to like Julieanne. I think she’s a better friend for Erica than Judith at this point, and way more fun to watch.

  2. Pingback: TV, eh? » Review: Being Erica season finale

  3. GRH

    I absolutely love this show. I think each of us can identify with Erica, Dr. Tom, Kai and Ethan, I know I can. All of the characters stuggle with their own demons, however having them and admitting them are not always one in the same. This show made me want to face mine. It also made we want Dr. Tom as a therapist. I try to live by the rule that to be happy in life and love, you first have to be happy with yourself. Its not always that cut and dry. I just hope this show lives to see another season or 10.

  4. allisonhiro

    I finally got around to watching the finale, and I’ve got to say, I disagree with this review.

    First and foremost, I think Sebastian Pigott has been the single most valuable addition to the cast this season, and it is largely because of him that I have enjoyed Season 2 more than Season 1. I watched him on Canadian Idol years ago, and I couldn’t believe it was the same person. I really think Pigott stepped up and made Kai not only believable, but easy to relate to (and of course, seriously hot). We were lucky enough as viewers to become familiar with both his past (our present) and his future.

    Beyond Kai though, the second season helped propel the narrative beyond Erica’s life to address many of the more perplexing areas of therapy. Last season was more like a procedural – yes, Erica’s life progressed, but you could pretty much count on the same formulaic episodes every time. This season, every installment was fresh, different, and focused on a variety of characters. I would argue that it’s unfair to condemn the second season for having too much focus on Erica, when the writing has branched out with characters like Dr. Tom, Kai, and even Dr. Frank, while still incorporating Erica, something the first season never even considered. This seemed like a natural next step – focusing entire plotlines on characters and drama unrelated to Erica would have caused a loss of focus.

    Finally, if there is a Canadian programming god and Being Erica is renewed, I think we will get to see a bit more of what you’re asking for in the third season. Erica’s patients will allow for expansion into entirely new character’s therapy sessions (what we didn’t get with Kai). Unfortunately, it took an entire season of watching Erica’s flashbacks to believe the changes that we saw occurring in her life, so unless there is a spin-off called “Being Ethan”, I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.

    Anyhow, that’s why I disagree with you – I think the writers knew what they were doing start to finish, and the theme of the season has played out perfectly. The mysteries of therapy have slowly come undone, culminating in the hallway scene where we see Erica get an office of her own. Storylines all found satisfying closure, and though I’m sad to see the end of Kai, I’m hopeful that there will be many more lost souls to come through one of my favorite shows on TV.

    • Anne

      there is one thing i dont understand about kai and that is why he doesnt know who erica is when she goes to congratulate him.
      i know the kai erica knew went back to his present but i would have thought that he would have remembered her still, because wouldnt that have meant that kai wouldnt have remembered the last couple of week and it would have been like he was in a coma or something.
      I also feel that there is a loose end with him because i dont see what he contributed to erica’s life, yes he helped her learn some important lessons but thats is really all. he was in and out of he life in a season. they may have meant to do this though so that they could bring the character back and resolve the whole relationship between the two of them.

      also i have heard there is a great possiblity that there will be a season 3 and that they are in the early stages of planning and that Erin Karpluk is wanting to do a third. So at this point it is down to cbc to renew it. In my opinion it would be stupid of them not to because i live in england and this is the only canadian show i have heard of and it is being played in over 30 different countries all over the world.

      • W/R Kai’s memory loss – I think it has to do with the time travel continuity problem – the show went for an adequate but ultimately awkward solution. Basically, (post visit) Kai should remember everything that happened when future Kai was in his body EXCEPT for anything that hints at his therapy. Because if he has memory of people/events related to his therapy, then his past self would effectively know that at some point his future self has the ability to travel through time, which could itself cause the future to alter.

        The more interesting question is if (post visit) Kai remembers his relationship w/ Erica’s sister which, though unrelated to his therapy, could not have happened w/o his relationship with Erica.

  5. I really enjoyed the finale, and thought it pulled together the strands of the season that actually mattered. I suspected early on that most of the episodes this season were developed individually, rather than at some sort of “writers’ camp”, which made season 2 lack the consistency that season 1 did.

    I agree with what you said about Kai. He could have been made more important, a fault partly due to Pigott: while pretty, most of his appearances had the emotion of a brick wall. We never really had the chance to connect with him.

    As for what’s behind the door, the office idea is interesting, but it seems that, upon becoming a therapist, one’s ties to friends and family became virtually nonexistent. I think the show has so many great supporting characters that to have Erica start, literally, all over as a therapist would seem odd.

    And hasn’t it been hinted that the therapists are, er, dead? And if not physically dead, then dead in the metaphorical sense — dead to their friends and family. If Erica becomes a therapist, and the show was willing to dive into its sci-fi/fantasy roots, a storyline similar to that of Billie Piper’s character Rose Tyler in Series 1 of Doctor Who could occur (she vanishes from the normal flow of time, and her family thinks she’s been abducted or died).

    More thoughts about the season as a whole are on my website.

    • Paul, I think Erica could become a therapist without being dead – we don’t know about Dr. Tom’s therapist and Dr. Fred – we saw Dr. Tom jump off that building, so yes, we know he is dead. Who is to say that the therapists don’t walk through a door just like the patients and everything in their world stands still while they are in that realm, just as it is for the patients?

  6. Michelle

    Good summary of the season. I also felt that some of the episodes felt choppier this year than last. My perspective is that the ‘writers’ got rushed and boggled when CBC cut them down to 12 episodes vs 24, so I’m thinking that we got ‘combined plots’ that would have been more developed and made a more comprehensive big picture. Also what would be likely here is that the writers aimed for creating a possible final Finale (on assuming the strong possibility unfortunately that they might not be renewed), and so decided to go back to the beginning and make it like it was supposed to be the ‘ending’ all along. And personally I think, a bit disjointedly they didn’t do to badly. I got it and in the universe of being Erica is made sense. First time she lost the job, the boyfriend, etc she crashed. A year (or so) later and she makes it through ‘the same scenario’. It was good and oh yeah it triggered some reactions in me as well – next day I choose a door – i’ve been on sabbatical for 2 years and up till the show’s ending couldn’t choose a door either. I will miss it, but it had a sense of completion to it and I can live with that ending, and yeah knowing I do know already what is beyond that door.

  7. fran barnsworth

    We differ in opinion, Pigott is an excellent actor and was why I watched this season’s Being Erica.

    Regarding your analysis, I find it offensive. From my perspective as a PhD myself, it was pretentious, pseudointellectual claptrap.

    This isn’t War and Peace you are dissecting. It’s a tv show. Your “Cultural Observations” no doubt send you into paroxysms of pleasure over the wonderfulness of your intellect, but I find them to be the musings of a boring, self aggrandising blow hard.

    Good luck in academia. You might find your “cultural observations” go down well there. Like Jeremy Fudd (PhD) from The Yellow Submarine, it may be the best place for you.

  8. B

    Behind the door is her office, as she must now be a therapist for someone else as she continues to learn herself. Much as Dr. Tom was a patient and now a therapist. And as referenced by Dr. Tom’s therapist, when she mentions something along the lines of “Erica still doesent know the deal yet?”

    • I think the assumption that Erica is walking into her office may be too obvious. I think she is walking into a new life in her partnership with Julianne. There are bound to be issues and challenges with the new direction she is taking and will need guidance from Dr. Tom (or that could just be my wish to have Dr. Tom still on the show as I love his character).

  9. Meika

    No offense, but i can’t even bother to address all the marks that i personally believed you misanalyzed. On the whole, i loved this season. I generally did not get the sense that they missed any major marks anywhere.

  10. Corey

    Great analysis, great insight. They say that there is a reason people come into our lives and once their purpose is served, they leave. That was the role that Kai played, to help Erica see the purpose of the therapy so she could wean off it. I agree, the Etan breakup felt awkward, it needed more time for the storyline to develop. But clearly, next season needs to be about Erica using her new-found independence to obtain success via the publishing company…..but will she still need to time travel to do that? Maybe this show goes off in an entirely new direction. I can’t wait for season 3.

  11. Han2k

    i enjoyed season 2, i did think kai character was just added to give the show a new love interested, i do feel like they could have developed Kai & Erica relationship more. i didn’t like his character at first but he row on me as the season went on. i think his character is there to show Erica that Ethan seem to be perfect for her on the surface but he can’t relate to the new Erica because she change compared to the person she was in season 1.
    i like this season 2 even though i think the storyline for Ethan & Erica was kind of rushed. i feel there could have been more development as far as the break up storyline, but i liked that they showed how having different opinion on life can mean you’re not right for each other no matter how well you get along or care for each other.

    when kai didn’t remember her I did think does that mean the whole storyline where he slept with her sister is gone to, because her sister had a crush on him & if her sister meet (new )Kai again does that mean he dose remember her too.

    i don’t think Erica will become a therapist just yet i think that what will end the show, it’s her ultimate destiny, but i think they only become therapist once they die.

    i think when she travel through the door it will be that she now decide where she will go back in time to her past like Dr Tom said he will let her choose her path of past regrets or future regrets. while he guide her.

    As for who Erica will end up with I getting the feeling that I got with Ally Mc Beal where she didn’t end up with anyone in the end Which in my own opinion would SUCK because I want her to end up with Kai.

  12. Anne

    I think she died on the 1st episode. Dr. Tom met her in the hospital. I think he is preparing souls for the hereafter and he went through the same process after he jumped off the building back in season 1. We create our own reality in our minds.
    I find it interesting. It doesn’t matter what really happened in the past; it’s what we believe and how we feel about it. Reprogramming our brains with beliefs that make us feel better and we can believe.

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