Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Becoming Dr. Strange: Thoughts on episode one of season four of CBC's Being Erica

Image: Screen shot of character Erica Strange (played by Erin Karpluk) from CBC's Being Erica; original shot posted at Britts On blog


I've long been a fan of the CBC's (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's) adult television drama Being Erica, now in its fourth season as of yesterday's new "Doctor Who?" episode (clever title).


"Doctor Who?" was challenging though. It left me, and probably most loyal viewers, with initially mixed feelings - as it surely was meant to. In today's post I attempt to understand these. The post presupposes long standing familiarity with the show though, so newbies may want to skip this entry.

So: mixed feelings. They were provoked by the episode's surprising plot and arguably shocking character twists, Some may strike some as downright inauthentic. Not wishing to spoil the episode, all I ask is whether the show's writers are sacrificing the integrity of Erica's character in a now impatient attempt to drive the show's narrative logic home by season's end? I will try to answer this question by characterizing this logic as both spiritual and psychological, and by summing its operative belief system up as the necessity that each of us engage in a conscious struggle at becoming fully human. This humanizing process, the show emphasizes, is filled with both moments of joy and of pain. Yet growth ultimately leads the individual beyond the normal confines of the ego into a way of being that heals both the self and ultimately all else it encounters.


Heady stuff - for a prime time Canadian drama. 

But again, the question is whether the integrity of Erica's character is being subordinated to the show's spiritual and psychological logic? If so, it wouldn't be the first time character was subordinated to plot or theme in television history, as television characters often serve as  vehicles or foils for ideas or narrative twists. We may not approve, when this occurs. Yet, as experienced viewers, we are generally forgiving. After all, the medium of television is driven by fundamentally different forces than film or literature, for instance, are. We expect a good film or a literary novel to illuminate character and to subordinate narrative and conceptual concerns in the service of this imperative.


Now, despite my initial mixed feelings, it seems to me the often shocking plot and character twists in episode one of season four of Being Erica were justified. This is so because Erica is now a therapist training. Consequently, as her colourful therapist Dr. Tom puts it in the episode, her life now is driven by a new imperative: she must strive to become her patient. How is this to be accomplished? By surrendering the ego's self-regarding imperatives. This  permits both patient and therapist to experience a fully human encounter on equal footing. Or, to put the matter differently: Erica's character is rapidly converging with the show's narrative logic. Being Erica is about to become: Becoming Erica.