Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 206, “Intervention.”
For most of This Life‘s second season, Oliver Lawson’s (Kristopher Turner) problems have been overshadowed by his sister Natalie’s (Torri Higginson) terminal cancer diagnosis. But last week, Natalie learned she is in partial remission, and in this week’s new episode, “Intervention,” written by Alison Lea Bingeman, Natalie, Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith), and Matthew (Rick Roberts) finally confront Oliver about his deplorable living conditions — with unexpected results.
Bingeman says the Lawsons have a “blindspot” about the cause of Oliver’s troubles, but “layer upon layer” will be exposed as Season 2 continues.
“I think with his compulsion to work and his rather obsessive personality, more will be revealed about that,” she says. “It’s a very watchable journey.”
Bingeman joins us by phone from L.A. to tell us more about Oliver’s intervention, Natalie’s deliberate choice to stop being a victim, and the special bond between Caleb (James Wotherspoon), Emma (Stephanie Janusauskas), and Romy (Julia Scarlett Dan).
The centerpiece of this episode is that wonderful, revealing intervention scene. Where did that idea come from?
Alison Lea Bingeman: We came up with it in the story room, so it was a group effort. I can’t really claim authorship of it. But the idea being, it’s like when a family gets together and there’s this elephant in the room, which is a brother’s dysfunction, and they’re thinking that it’s drugs, that we have to address it, and how do we do it? It’s how the Lawsons do that in their own kind of dysfunctional way.
The family addresses the situation with Oliver because they believe he’s in denial about his drug problem, but, in fact, what’s interesting about this is that the issues go quite deeper than that, and it’s more about a family denial.
Matthew was having a tough time adjusting to his post-separation life in this episode. What’s going with him?
What’s interesting about Matthew is that he has a hard time accepting the way that things are, and he’s having a hard time accepting the consequences of his own actions. What’s interesting to explore with that character is how we do these sort of run arounds, and how if we’re not getting what we want, how we try alternative means to get what we want. He wants someone to see him and to appreciate him, and really what Matthew needs is to appreciate himself.
I liked Matthew’s interactions with Beatrice (Victoria Sanchez), especially the scene where he rubs her shoulder, and she shoots him down with, “Really?” It was funny, but it also forced him to sit with his own discomfort.
I know. [laughs] It’s like he’s not getting the affection from Nicole, so he’ll try it with Beatrice, and she’s like, “Are you kidding me?” And so he’s really left alone again with his own sense of longing.
Maggie and Raza (Hamza Haq) seem to be developing a real trust. Is Maggie conquering some of her intimacy fears?
I think that Maggie is trying to negotiate a new life and a new kind of intimacy for herself, and she’s kind of stumbling through it.
Natalie found out she’s in partial remission last week, which threw her for a loop. How would you describe what’s going on in her head?
If you look at the entire series up until now, it’s about her working toward acceptance that there’s no hope, and for the first time in this entire series, there’s a glimmer of hope. And here’s she’s been preparing herself, girding her loins for the opposite, so what happens when there’s that reversal? You think you’re going to be overjoyed and jumping up and down, but it kind of throws everything into question again. And I think that’s a very real response, and now that there’s a chance to not deal with those life and death issues, what’s the day-to-day look like? And sometimes that’s hard to look at because she’s been in kind of this crisis management mode for all this time, and now she’s got to pull it back to the day-to-day living. Sometimes that’s a challenge.
Which you demonstrated through the seemingly simple decision of whether or not to buy a new car.
Yeah, that’s the metaphor. Because what happens if your car breaks down? Two weeks ago, who cares? Because you may not need a car in a month or two. But now you have to look at things a little more long-term. And what does a new car mean? Do I have car payments? Do I pay for it with cash, or do I save that for the kids? We didn’t really get into the details of that decision, but that’s what implied by getting a new car.
During the invention, Natalie’s siblings told her she’s been playing the victim for a long time. She then meets up with David (Louis Ferreira) about his custody plans and ends up sleeping with him. Why did she choose to do that?
I think that what is going on in her story is that she is rattled by what her siblings tell her, and that she has identified with being a victim for many years. In this episode, she steps outside of that and she takes things on, not because she has the right solution, but because it’s her impulse in the moment. And her impulse in the moment is to sleep with her ex-husband, and she does it. We wrote that, specifically, that it’s something that she brought on. It was her decision. So there’s no victim there, and it’s a step out of that role. And it wasn’t a big seduction either. It’s like it just was what it was. It just happened, just like that.
We got a bigger glimpse of David’s life with his second family in this episode. Where is that headed?
Here’s a man who left his family, and he started another family. And now his first family, he wants them back in his life. It’s like those two families converge in this season, and his responsibilities to each one are going to be in conflict.
It was interesting that the adult siblings melted down in the invention scene, but, in contrast, Caleb, Emma, and Romy bonded in their scene together. Why was that important to show?
I think it’s that the siblings are there for each other. And I think what’s underlying that is that, whatever is happening with these adults, these kids are going to be okay because they have each other and that there’s a strength in that. That really is, I think, very foundational to the series, that love and support they have for each other. They’re siblings and they always have their conflicts, but I think with these kids–and I think it’s very true with kids who have lived through trauma–that they tend to rely on each other. There’s a closeness there that you wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise.
Because, first of all, their father left them, and Caleb took on the role as the primary man in the family, and we see the consequences of that and what that does to him. But you also see how he’s there for his two sisters and how the two sisters are there for each other as well. And it was very important to see Romy get over her panic attack. Remember how we saw that she was almost undone in the previous season? Here, she’s able–on her mother’s urging–to do the exercises, and she’s actually able to pull herself through it.
And what about Emma?
It’s very interesting to watch a teenage girl try to reinvent herself, and then she really doesn’t like her reinvention. She thinks that’s what she wants, but when she does it, she looks at herself and thinks, ‘This isn’t who I want to be.’ That’s what Emma’s going through. She’s trying to find out, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do I want to appear in the world?’
What can you tell viewers about upcoming episodes?
I think, as usual with This Life, expect the unexpected. That’s what makes this series so interesting and fun, and I think what sets it apart from other series is that we really strive to go to unexpected places with our characters.
This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.