Review: Shrinking – 1×05 – “Woof”

If you‘re here for the first time, I now created a landing page for all my episode reviews of Shrinking. 

Derek and Liz‘s marriage continues to be flawless. No notes. We open the morning after episode 4, with Jimmy coming over to Liz to tell her that Gaby and her were right about Alice having a crush on Sean. Liz gets Gaby, who slept over post boozefest, to gloat with her, until Jimmy reminds her she needs to get home to pick up Paul on her way to work. He‘s on the phone with his daughter about a birthday present for his grandson, and when he mentions the carpooling in passing, he suddenly has to make up excuses – because of course, he still has not told her about his Parkinson‘s. As we learn when Gaby finally shows up, Paul woofs when he gets really angry at people, giving the episode, written by Bill Posley,  its title, and cementing my plans to call my future dog Harrison Ford.

“Marriage is an institution that was created back when people died young. It was built on landownership and procreation. These days it is mainly used to subjugate women and sell air friers.”

This week is the first time we see both Gaby and Paul with their patients. She deals with a couple of bickering newlyweds and struggles, given her own fresh divorce, and goes to seeks advice from Paul, who has exactly the kind of  romantic view of marriage that you expect him to have. While she would ideally want a Black mentor for herself, she notes that when she was in grad school, all her professors were cranky old white guys. (Unfortunately, that‘s still pretty much true for all of academia, I speak from experience.) So given the options, she does lament the fact that she does not have the same relationship with him that he has with Jimmy. She calls him out when he later asks for help with one of his patients, hilariously referring to it as “u up?”energy – she has no interest in being his emotional bootie call either. It‘s good to see the show address the racial dynamics at play here, although we have yet to see it do a deeper dive into these issues; I wonder if the show will find time to get around to it.

Brian finally gets a proper subplot of his own, also dealing with marriage, and it‘s definitely one of the better examples of queer representation on TV I have seen in recent years. The only plotlines a lot of queer characters still tend to get either involve trauma (the „bury your gays“ trope is alive and well) or coming out narratives (some of them better, some of them worse); even in queer-focused shows. Here, we learn about Brian‘s past as he opens up to Gaby without much scandalization – he was “the gayest boy in Texas”, struggled to come out until after college, and his religious parents still don‘t accept him. It‘s a very well-known, almost trite narrative in fiction, but it‘s also an incredibly common one in real life, especially for his generation (and notably, Urie is from Texas himself). He wants to propose to Charlie, a plan he‘s long hatched but never went through with, because he‘s not taken a big risk since. Things always go his way, as per his mantra, simply because he‘s avoiding being hurt at all costs.

His past is holding him back, but he‘s learning to move forward – the narrative tissue connecting all of this episode‘s plotlines. It resonates with me deeply, because I am surrounded by other queer people at my clinic, and for some, their issues directly stem from systemic queerphobia. And for me, where I would say it is not per se the case, it‘s still true that it‘s also not something I can ever quite shake. I am and will always be a bisexual woman in a world where a lot of people either vilify me, sexualize me or simply struggle to accept my existence, and this is not something I will ever be able to change. It‘s background noise more often than not, but pretending it does not affect my life, and especially my relationships, would be living a lie. It also does not mean Brian can‘t live a happy and fulfilled life with his partner, hopefully soon husband – an equally important storyline to see on TV, still.  But it wonderfully addresses the more mundane aspects of how systemic discrimination affects queer people even in a society that has become largely accepting of a white cis gay man like him.

“I‘m scared. I‘m afraid she won‘t see me the same way she used to, so I won‘t be just her father, I‘ll be the sad old man that needs to be taken care of. I know it‘s bullshit. I‘m stuck.”

Meanwhile, Sean‘s Dad is trying to be in touch with him, and Jimmy encourages him to meet up and solve their issues, as he tries to do the same with Paul. He gives him the advice in his own kitchen, after he comes back home to him and Alice hanging out again. While it works in the moment, the blurring of boundaries between him and Sean are clearly not sustainable, something Sean recognizes again in a later scene, and finally decides to move out – although the decision is a further attempt at avoidance. Alice ditches class to go for a walk with him, and he climbs a water tower to dangerous heights, making her worry about him. While this is info Jimmy otherwise would not have, it‘s perhaps also another sign that he may endanger her or others more broadly with his reckless behavior; he definitely is endangering himself. He is triggered by his Dad framing his medals, something he continues to struggle to open up to Jimmy about, but eventually does with Paul – he does not feel like a hero, even hates himself because of the things he was forced to do on tour in Afghanistan. Perhaps the solution here will be for Paul to take on Sean as a patient instead, so he does neither lose the stability of a safe home nor a good therapist – Paul seems to hint at it as he leaves.

At the end of the episode, Paul himself then finally calls his daughter to tell her about his condition. His voice trembles. But he moves forward.