I was a late-comer to Nip/Tuck. I have to admit, I’d heard of the show but I always thought it was a documentary type thing about actual plastic surgery. I didn’t realize it was actually a real television show and not some odd reality TV thing. Recently, a friend of mine gave me the DVDs of the first season to check out. At first, I wasn’t all that excited, but then I started watching and couldn’t stop. I ended up going through the entire series in a matter of just a couple months. Last week, the show wrapped up its run with its 100th and final episode. Unlike some other series I can mention (Battlestar Galactica, anyone?) I wasn’t left totally disgusted by the series conclusion.
First off, if you haven’t seen the series but are planning to, or if you got behind and wanted to catch up, you may not want to read on. I’m going to be discussing some stuff that may be better if you didn’t know so as not to kill the shock value as it happens. And trust me, there’s definitely some shock value. Nip/Tuck grabbed me right out of the gate in its first episode when the doctors, Christian Troy and Sean McNamara, do a facial reconstruction on a Latin gangster so he could hide from his boss for sleeping with his “girl.” Only later do they discover that the girl in question was mob lord Escobar Gallardo’s 6-year-old daughter. Escobar finds the guy in the McNamara/Troy operating room, has him killed and leaves the boys to clean up the mess and dispose of the body. A fitting start to a series with an endless array of dark and twisted plotlines, characters and goings on, plus it’s the beginning of a defining relationship for Sean with Escobar, who ends up as a recurring character, both in reality and in Sean’s delusions throughout the life of the show.
If you are looking for television with a strong moral compass, or a show where the main characters do the right thing in the end, this most definitely isn’t it. Every character on this show is severely flawed, selfish beyond reason and caught up in the pursuit of wealth, power and perfection that the lifestyle of plastic surgery in Miami (and later, Los Angeles) brings. Christian, oddly, seemed to me to be the most “honest” of the bunch. And by honest, I don’t mean truthful. Dr. Troy was a master deceiver, manipulating anyone and everyone including his best friend and partner Sean any time the mood struck him. He was honest in the sense that he was completely unrepentant about who and what he is. He may get caught pulling some sleazy trick on one of the people close to him, but he always took responsibility for it and always had his reasons, albeit selfish ones.
Sean was, to put it succinctly, bat-shit crazy. He repressed any and every part of his nature that didn’t fit into the great guy-husband-father show he put on for everyone, but in reality, he was every bit as self-centered and caught up in his own desires as Christian, only he could never admit it, or take responsibility. He was dangerously angry, delusional and codependent. Sean was also the world-class surgeon of the pair.
Sean’s wife Julia, now, I never cared for. Of course, I don’t think we as the audience were supposed to. She was always quick to be judgmental of every little thing every one else around her did, despite having the identical tendencies for self-absorption and self-destruction as everyone else. The big catch here was that Sean and Christian both knew Julia from their time in college, were both in love with her, even though Sean married her. Later on, we would find out that Julia hooked up with Christian the night before her wedding to Sean, and that interlude ended with the conception of Matt, who she readily passed off as Sean’s son for 17 years. She even suffocated a severely burnt woman she thought was her mother after telling her off only to discover that it wasn’t actually her mother. She did get back at Mom later, though, by planting a kilo of coke in her travel bag before a plane trip.
Unlike most of the others, Matt I did feel sorry for. He just seemed like a regular kid who kept getting blindsided by really screwed up stuff, like running over a classmate accidentally after taking some bong hits, and having an affair with a stunningly beautiful older woman who turned out to be the gold-standard for post-op transexuals. Imagine being a 17-year boy wrapping your head around that one. Later on, of course, Matt fell into the same pit of selfishness that held the rest of his family, going through periods as the boyfriend of a raging racist girl that ended up with her father forcing him to cut off another transexual’s penis at gunpoint, a meth junkie who had a home-made lab explode in his face, and a stretch in prison after dressing up as a mime to rob people at gunpoint, hand gestures and all. Even Sean and Julia’s actual children weren’t immune, with daughter Annie eventually suffering from an affliction where she pulled out her hair and ate it, leading Sean to have to remove a hairball the size of a large orange from her stomach. Even their younger son, Connor, was born with a birth defect leaving him with hands resembling lobster claws that Julia, inexplicably, wouldn’t let Sean.
Then there was Kimber. Kimber was a girl Christian picked up in bar early in season one, seducing her into having plastic surgery to make her a 10. This woman got passed around the offices of McNamara/Troy like a box of Kleenexes, first Christian, then Sean, then Matt, then Dr. Mike Hamoui (who was a short-term partner in the practice) then Christian again and finally Sean again before offing herself by jumping off Dr. Mike’s yacht in the middle of the Atlantic. She wasn’t the first woman Christian had led to an untimely demise, either. There was Gina, a sex addict who ended up HIV positive that Christian literally screwed to death, pushing her off a balcony to her death in the middle of hooking up.
The other long-term character, anesthesiologist Liz Cruz, was a lesbian just looking for some joy in her life. Her association with McNamara/Troy got her shot by Escobar’s men, she had a kidney stolen by a ring of organ thieves and a failed marriage to Christian when he thought he was dying from male breast cancer, all before finally earning a partnership in the practice.
And then there was the entire Carver incident of season 3, where another doctor who worked for McNamara/Troy turned out to be a serial killer, born without a penis, who took out his rage by attacking beautiful people, male and female, raping them with a strap-on and leaving them with The Joker-from-Batman-looking permanent smiles. And don’t forget Sean’s turn as a star on a Grey’s Anatomy-style TV show that ended with his agent, a psychotic woman with a teddy bear fetish, stabbing him several times in his own operating theater.
While the series finale didn’t have the suspense I would have liked, and there never the reappearance by the Carver I was hoping for, the show did end on the right tone. Sean, after losing his family to another man in London, and unsuccessfully replacing them with Liz’s soon-to-be child from his own donated sperm, was pushed into leaving the practice by Christian in an attempt to save his friend and two-decade partner from himself. Christian, fittingly, ended the series picking up another beautiful blond in the airport bar in the same manner in which he picked up Kimber years earlier, showing pretty clearly that he was who he was and things weren’t going to change. Even Matt, fresh from leaving his girlfriend at the alter when former lover Ava suddenly reappeared, ended up using his daughter Jenna (conceived during his brief marriage to Kimber) to convince Ava to take him with her to Europe. If there’s one thing that was constant throughout the series, not one of these characters ever learned a damn thing.
It was truly a great show, start to finish. No moralizing, no great meanings, just a group of people caught up in life, chasing their desires and having the money and the position to get out of problems that would sink most other people. Some of the screwed up stuff they did, to each other and others, they would get away with, some they wouldn’t, but when push came to shove, they would all inevitably find a way to save their own ass and worry about the consequences later. If that isn’t the perfect metaphor for early 21st century America, then I don’t know what is.
And the actual surgery sequences are amazingly realistic, too. If you haven’t seen this show, and you have a strong stomach and aren’t easily offended, I strongly recommend it. Just one thing, though: start at the beginning.