Wednesday, February 08, 2006

TV Review: Medium: "A Changed Man"

Another fine episode of Medium aired during Monday night's NBC line-up, this one entitled "A Changed Man," written by Bruce Miller and directed by Lewis H. Gould. The story found our favorite psychic, Allison DuBois at a medical imaging center at the same time as a kindly copy store owner named David. While waiting to get her own MRI, Allison experienced terrifying, grainy home movie-like, subjective-point-of-view visions of David cruising the streets for prostitutes, taking them home, making love to them, and then suffocating each with a pillow. Allison became convinced that he had hidden the bodies in the desert, and set about establishing his guilt by locating the missing prostitutes.

But the twist (and there's always a twist on Medium...) was this: One night, five or six years earlier, David's nightly murder ritual had been unexpectedly interrupted by a break-in. The prostitute he was sleeping with, Jade, had arranged for her pimp to follow them to David's house and rob David blind. So before David could even raise the pillow to suffocate Jade, he was caught in an altercation and shot - at point blank range - in the head by the pimp. Miraculously, David survived the encounter...but with no memory whatsoever of his previous life (including his seedy existence cruising the streets and committing murder...). Jade got her life straight, changed her name to Angela, re-introduced herself to David, and married him...unaware that he had ever been a killer.

Allison learns all of this information and backstory and comes to understand that the man who picked up girls off the streets before doesn't really exist anymore. He's gone, replaced by a normal guy who runs a business and loves his wife. She asks Joe, "are we really just the sum of our memories?" and that's the territory the episode explores. Furthermore, Angela, David's wife, must now confess to him that she knew him before visiting him in the hospital, that she was once a prostitute. The story ends in a desert "filled with secrets; filled with corpses," as David must confront a past he doesn't even remember, and take responsibility for the terrible crimes of a man who now seems like a stranger.

The "B" plot on Medium's "A Changed Man" involved the specifics of Allison's MRI and brain scan. Turns out she has a peanut-sized gray spot on one lobe. This tangle of extra veins has been there since birth, and is a typical feature of epileptics. Joe immediately suggests that it is this DuBois Angioma, as he calls it, that may be responsible for Allison's "auditory and visual ephemera" - in other words, her visions. This theory isn't proven however, when only one of the DuBois kids, Bridgette, proves to have the angioma too. Since both Ariel and Bridgette have experienced psychic-like visions, the angioma clearly isn't the source.

"A Changed Man" is likewise named because of its opening - and terrifying - scene. It's a normal school morning at the DuBois house and Allison is staggering about the kitchen getting ready for work while Joe cooks breakfast for the girls at the stove. When he turns around to face her, it's not Joe standing there, but an eerie doppelganger, a stranger. Similarly, the girls aren't really the girls, but similar-looking interlopers. This is the incident that takes Allison to the imaging center in the first place, and it reminded me of all those old black and white Twilight Zones in which a man wakes up only to find that his life isn't real, that his friends look different, or that nobody remembers him. This was a great way to start the episode, but I kind of wish the episode had followed through with it a little more.

Still, Medium is compelling television every week, and "A Changed Man" is no different. It raises pertinent questions about love, romance, memory and the human spirit. Without memories, are we different people? Or are we genetically programmed to react a certain way to certain stimuli? I think Joe would like to believe the latter, which is why he so desperately hopes to prove the existence of the DuBois Angioma. But like so many aspects of human existence, there are no easy answers regarding either psychic powers, or criminal behavior.

Finally, as always, I enjoyed the kitchen sink reality of Medium. The DuBois family is not wealthy, and I appreciated how the episode began with Joe on the telephone, arguing with a recalcitrant insurance company about his health plan. So often, those of us outside TV Land have to go through the exact same thing, and too often on TV, the characters there don't have such realistic problems. They live in a "perfect bubble" of designer clothes, Pier One furniture and endless resources. Not so on Medium, and I like it. The psychic stuff is a lot easier to take because the rest of the program is so solidly grounded in reality.

When's the Medium box set coming out?

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