Psych – “The Polarizing Express”
“Are you dating Dwayne Wade? That doesn’t even make sense. He’s with Gabrielle Union.”
USA has been celebrating this epsiode for months, even making sure to name-check it in the early press releases for this season. The It’s a Wonderful Life episode. Surprising with so many theme episodes in Psych‘s oevre (Halloween horror movies, Jaws, Hitchcock, Twin Peaks) that it hasn’t hit on this before for a holiday episode. Maybe it’s just that we’re at a point in the series that it feels it can do surrealism and the audience will follow.
What’s interesting is the way they decided to do this. This wasn’t the same as A Christmas Carol or the movie that keep on giving to Frank Capra’s estate. Except for a heavy-handedness Psych affords itself when discussing anything serious for its characters, Shawn’s journey of self-discovery shared very little with the visions of the lesson-learning protagonists of the time-honored holiday fare. You might call it too hokey or too goofy, too parodic of It’s a Wonderful Life for it to make sense. But I’m actually going to defend the perspective.
Everything is catalyzed by another episode dealing with consequences of Shawn’s disregard for protocol. Obviously, this is the thing that allows Team Psych to maintain their ruse (beating the detectives to the punch under the guise of being civilians) and is part of the procedural process, so much so that the fact that they get into places they shouldn’t be in gets elided (as the more boring and assumed parts of procedurals tend to do). That this is (finally?) problematic for the storyworld could also make it problematic for the characters. How can Shawn pick apart the evidence before the police if he can’t access it first? It’s an interesting struggle that hints and some development in Shawn and Gus’s future.
Let’s face it: what leads to Shawn’s suspension and the issues SBPD have had with Team Psych over the past couple of episodes will hit a reset by season’s end, during next season’s premiere at the latest. But Shawn’s willingness to adhere (mostly) to protocol for this episode (after his catharsis) is an interesting step if they decide to carry it forward. Can Shawn become a legitimate detective now that it’s not just Henry pushing him in that direction? Juliet could have influence, too, and these threads of maturity — are we seeing the themes of a series in its twilight?
The thing with this show is that we can’t really tell. The series has a tendency to plaster over these kinds of threads in an attempt to not deal with them at all lest we get something more serialized. I mean, can you imagine tuning into a show about a smart-aleck psychic detective for the first time only to find him struggling with becoming legitimate? How disappointing would that be?
Besides, take a look at his visualized internal struggle.
Shawn is lead through the internalizations of his personal relationships by Tony Cox, playing his super-ego, his entry based on a Shawn’s recent viewing of Bad Santa. I would’ve preferred being led around my imagination by Lauren Graham. Then again we probably wouldn’t get anything done. Anyway, the show is quick to point out that it’s part of the carnival feel to Shawn’s quasi-narcissisitc interpretation of his universe. Now, I’m no character from House so I can’t really levy my Psych 101 on the show, but the ridiculous imagery throughout his dreams relate to the way Shawn communicates with the world.
On a superficial level, Shawn communicates in media references, sarcasm, and comical juxtaposition. While that equally bonds him with Gus and isolates him from the rest of the world, it is how he is most comfortable dealing with his life. So it makes sense that it’s also how he deals with his feelings. Spencer is also externally full of himself and demonstrates that that is how he sees himself (or at least makes him see himsef as Mr Cox points out out insecure he is). His father is a comical, almost Michel-Gondry-inspired version of the term “falling apart,” despite Henry’s continued discipline exhibited in various facets of his life (Shawn believing himself to be that which gives his father purpose). His best friend is reduced to a campy, one-dimensional sit-com role (Shawn feels Gus is defined by him). And Lassiter, the Potter of this version, is portrayed as a violent, less German Colonel Klink (though he is the only one that Shawn remarks might be better off without him: “At least he’s respected”).
Interestingly, Juliet is akin to a superhero in Shawn’s imagination. On the surface, she’s portrayed as Heather Locklear’s character in TJ Hooker (and noted as such in the episode), but she is also above the danger she’s in. As her car skids on the driver side, she rolls her eyes at her shrieking partner. She dives into enemy fire. She yells at the police officers that come late as her back-up. Without Shawn being around, she never would’ve left Miami (since Shawn is the reason Cuthroat Bitch is no longer Lassiter’s partner), would never have become detective, and, instead, is a supercop in southern Florida. Shawn’s presence is a good thing for her. This sequence offers something else that’s interesting: tinted in the grainy, sepia-toned footage that usually represents Shawn’s memory of evidence, Shawn has a moment with Juliet in the skidding police car where they touch fingers through the backseat cage. Even in a journey like this, Shawn’s mind tends to wander. In fact, is mind still cranks on the evidence submitted to him subconsciously even while surrealistically dealing with his interpersonal relationships.
As simple as the guy likes to portray himself, he is very gifted and his mind is constantly working. Though his catharsis might not be as impactful to anyone else, how it plays out is very representative of Shawn’s inner-workings. To me, that’s the true struggle of this episode. They could’ve written it in a way that demonstrated a more conventional catharsis, one that more closely matched those by Ebeneezer Scrooge or George Bailey. Instead, they stayed true to the character and showed what would be cathartic for him: something a little more screwball but laced with epiphane.
The episode ended the way most episodes of Psych end when they’re supposed to mean something: melodramatic and dangerously close to operating beyond their tone. The stand-on-the-car-and-testify thing was a little (a lot) over the top but we forgive it because it’s a holiday episode (Christmas specifically) and that’s what Christmas is all about: the swelling of emotion to the brink of being overdramatic and putting crooks with vaguely Slavic/Russian accents in “San Quentin.” And with the season finale coming up next week, we can be sure to see a similar type ending (probably not the accent unless Yin is from Romania).
- December 16, 2010