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DVD cover for the first season of Nip/Tuck The third season of Nip/Tuck closed Tuesday with two episodes (or one two-hour episode shot as two) that—in case anyone had any doubts that this wasn’t the case—demonstrated why the series casts the nets of sexual identity further than any other show on television—and almost as far as real-life, in its most extravagant moments, manages to cast it. If you’ve not yet begun to watch Nip/Tuck, then let me introduce you to the characters—there’s no better way to get a sense of what the series has been doing this season and last. At its most basic, the series is a soap opera about two plastic surgeons in Miami and the myriad ways their practice equals their family life, and vice versa. First, the doctors:

  • Christian TroyPlayed by Julian McMahon. At series beginning Christian Troy was a philanderer defined by sexual conquest and money. One explanation for his actions is that he was abused by his foster father. Nevertheless, he is also surprisingly sensitive; moreover, he is loyal and caring. In other words, he is the scoundrel with a heart of gold. This season he swore fidelity to Kimber Henry (see below), but sadly, fidelius interruptus: Kimber left him at the altar.
  • Sean McNamaraPlayed by Dylan Walsh. In keeping with the difference between appearance and reality, Sean McNamara, the better surgeon of the two, is forever seduced by domesticity. He will choose a lie, especially if the lie is that of a “normal” family, before he will accept difference. He is regularly made both to live and to face the lie: Over the course of the series, his marriage has dissolved, he has had desperate sex with a blow-up doll (of Kimber Henry—again, see below!), he has offered to join the Witness Protection Program as part of an elaborate instant-family fantasy, and he has surgically reconstructed three of his son’s friends/acquaintance/lovers.

To venture outside the world of the plastic surgeon, you venture into truth, perhaps, but also violence; yet to stay in the world of the plastic surgeon is to live in a world of lies and, yes, violence too. The doctors, however, are easy to summarize. So, too, is Julia McNamara, Sean’s ex-wife (played by Joely Richardson): she is a character who has been caught in Sean’s fantasies and is working to free herself of both. Around these three the series works in large part because it partially develops possibilities that their actions, especially to and for each other, have consequences. Christian, for example, had sex once with Julia, and from that came Matt, Julia and Sean’s 17-year-old son. No one, however, knew of Matt’s parentage until he was 16, and much of the series’ second and third seasons were spent exploring what that revelation means to the characters.

Admittedly, the series is inconsistent in terms of the consquences it explores: for example, in the first season the doctors killed a man and fed him to alligators in the Okeefenokee swamp, and that only had limited lasting effects, and none, certainly, in terms of conscience; likewise, after Matt drove over a fellow student in the second season, he never admitted to the hit and run, but he had Sean reconstruct the girl’s (against her mother’s wishes), and that was the end of it. For both crimes, there has been little retribution, no justice, and the only witness served is dramatic. Such crimes of injury are painfully frequent in the show and are remarkably unextraordinary. As I see it, these crimes are left behind because to valorize them over other “crimes” (vanity surgery, for example, or objectifying sex) is to insist that they are more serious transgressions against people than, for example, unrealistic norms of beauty.

Which brings us to this just-finished season. It has been one caught up in four plots (with regular episodic digressions). 1) Christian and Kimber’s commitment; 2) Sean and Julia’s divorce; 3) Matt’s forays into “transient homosexual tendencies” (Aside: thanks to the Vatican for the terminology) which isn’t really homosexuality, just sexuality; and 4) the “Carver,” a serial mutilator who managed at some point during the season also to put a biography up online and whose tagline is “Beauty is a curse on the world.” All four plots converged Tuesday night in such a way that it’s best to return to the character sketches now.

  • Kimber HenryPlayed by Kelly Carlson. Kimber Henry met Christian Troy at a singles bar in the first season. He gave her breast implants and a nose job, lifted her cheeks, did a lot of liposuction, slept with her for a few episodes, then dumped her. She vandalized his boat, became a porn star, became addicted to cocaine, gave Sean a blow-up Kimber Henry doll, had sex with Sean, then, after sex with Christian in his office, eventually settled with him. Perverse as her story is, it’s also a story of discovery. Her character began in insecurity; by this season, she was a confident businesswoman who sold more porn than anyone. But this season also emphasized what it was that made her confident: her body, which was for all purposes, artificially constructed. At her wedding to Christian, the Carver kidnapped her and brutally reversed all of the surgeries she had had. Tuesday, she declared that beauty was not a curse on the world so much as a curse on her. Kimber Henry ended season three as a woman who had once located her identity in sex and who may discover that it is in fact elsewhere.
  • Matt McNamaraPlayed by John Hensley. Matt’s story is the most tangled. After learning that his father was not his father but rather his father’s partner, he was seduced by his life coach, Ava (Famke Jannsen). However, none of Matt’s three parents approved of her after they learned that she liked to have sex with both her son and theirs. Moreover, they learned, at the end of season two, that Ava was not as she appeared: Ava was transgender. They made a deal to fully construct her vagina (so no one could ever tell) if she’d leave Matt alone—which she did by leaving for Europe. She also left in her house the corpse of her very conflicted, suicidal son, which this season Matt discovered rotting. What would any good parent do in such a situation? Why, reveal to Matt who Ava was. Poor kid. The only woman he had loved, and the woman hadn’t always been one. He questions his own sexuality: he picks up a transvestite, conveniently named “Cherry Peck,” but upon discovering the transvestite has not yet managed to remove her penis, beats her up. Then at school, he finds what he’s really been looking for: a girl who promises to show him that people shouldn’t hide who they are—that’s right! She’s a white supremacist. So, with the approval of her neo-Nazi father, they do white supremacist things, but eventually (and inexplicably) Matt discovers that he cares more about people’s insides than outs. Tuesday, he asked Sean to fix Cherry’s still-disfigured face, and they became friends; unfortunately, the jealous ex-girlfriend saw them together and told her daddy, who then forced Matt to castrate Cherry. (He first asked Matt to castrate himself, but how could he know that Matt had already tried it when he attempted a home circumcision?) Together, Cherry and Matt murdered the neo-Nazi. Matt’s narrative has been one in which he learns where beauty is located, but what he learns he only seems able to learn in violence.
  • Quentin CostaPlayed by Bruno Campos. As if a boy who believes he’s attracted to transsexuals isn’t enough, we finally have Quentin Costa. Sooner or later, Christian Troy’s raging sexuality would have to hurt him, and it did: the Carver cut and raped him at this season’s beginning. So he withdraws, and in his absence, Sean hires Dr. Costa, a handsome, smarmy man, to first he fill in for Christian and later for Sean. None of them get along. Quentin sticks his finger in Christian’s ass, and thus we learn he’s bisexual; Quentin has sex with a male patient in the post-op room, and thus we learn via Sean he’s unethical, and he is fired; as revenge, Quentin dates Julia, but he never has sex with her. Quentin is really quite masculine, but also he’s a bit odd. Are their differences merely petty? Well, Tuesday, it was decided that no, they were not merely petty. Quentin was the Carver! He cut everybody up, including himself: and why did he do it? What would possibly lead anyone to torture, to maim? Only one thing could cause a man to be so threatened by other men that he lashes out at them, to be so conflicted in his sexuality that he is attracted to all sexes, to be so caught up by perceptions of beauty that he mutilates women: he did it because he was born with no penis! Yes, that’s right! Dr. Quentin Costa, who could hold a scalpel, most of the time, pretty well, couldn’t hold his penis—because he didn’t have one! Quentin and his accomplice, his sister, escape to Europe, where, at the conclusion of the season, happy in his penislessness, he will continue his serial cuttings in peace.

Isn’t it great? Think of all the gendering fun! Nobody is safe! To venture outside the world of the plastic surgeon, you venture into truth, perhaps, but also violence; yet to stay in the world of the plastic surgeon is to live in a world of lies and, yes, violence too. The series’ first villain was a hypersexed, hypermasculine druglord of a man; its second, a transgender woman; its third, an ambiguously-sexed, but very gendered man. In no world are genders—especially male genders—safe; no sex is protected; no life is free of harm. Even though the writers have a penchant for bludgeoning the shows viewers with parallelism and, because of it, a bad habit of perverse moralizing, but in the process, they play an awful lot, and it works. Then, at the end of each season, the villain is exiled to Europe, which, in a weirdly traditional sort of way, seems right.



yeah, it’s a guilty pleasure.

i must defend the doctors, though, and point out that they didn’t kill the guy whose body they fed to the alligators. they had to despose of it because of the complicated circumstances that led to the guy’s death (his brother killed him while he was on the operating table to keep him from molesting little girls).

ok, i feel better now.

I stand corrected: I misremembered that plot point.

i saw a couple of episodes of this show during its first season and found it too trashy for even my non-refined (Buffy- & South-Park-enjoying) tastes. i felt dirty after watching. not that i’m trying to get all dobson or anything.

is this on cable?

yep, it’s on FX. it is unbelievably trashy, no doubt about it. actually, it’s gotten to be less so recently…still, i was a bit surprised to find this weekend that greg’s 14 year old cousin has been watching religiously. i don’t think his mom digs that too much.

Seasons 1 & 2 are also on the shelf at Blockbuster.

That the show has become less trashy is a matter of diminishment because the writers have made the principal characters more complex over time. But I attribute much of the trashiness to the soap opera quality of the series. It’s nothing like Buffy or Angel, shows whose deaths I still grieve…

was angel that good or that bad?

btw, a writer on buffy, was, yes, you guessed it, an evangelical.

as was the directer of hellraiser v, and a writer on that 70’s show, reads his bible every day, just to make it through the “blasphemy”

no doubt some christian is related to nip/tuck…i’ll post a link to the atlantic article shortly

Angel was that good. I don’t know that it ever managed Buffy-heights, but it came close, especially after the first season.