This Life 205

This Life writer Maxim Morin dissects Natalie’s “Scanxiety”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 205, “Scanxiety.”

For a season and a half, This Life‘s Natalie Lawson has been living under the assumption she is dying. However, in Sunday’s “Scanxiety,” co-written by showrunner Joseph Kay and Maxim Morin, Natalie received encouraging test results from her drug trial–and discovered her fate may not be as certain as she believed.

“We wanted to allow [Natalie] to realize what this new normal is, and what that is is a new chance at life, at a longer life than she thought she was going to have,” explains Morin. “So that’s really exciting, but with that comes the kind of Spiderman responsibility of being true to what the story is about and what the show is about, which is, ‘How do you live your life in the face of uncertainty and mortality?'”

“Scanxiety” is the first writing credit for Morin, who was This Life‘s script coordinator in Season 1 and got bumped up to junior story editor in Season 2.

“It was scary, it was fun, and I would do it again,” he says of writing the script.

Morin joins us by phone from Toronto to tell us more about his debut episode and what Natalie’s surprising test results could mean for the rest of the season.

You co-wrote this episode with Joseph Kay. What was that like for you?
Maxim Morin: There were a lot of things we were trying to get across, and I felt–and we all felt collectively in the room–the pressure to showcase it. It was scary in that way in one respect, but it was also super freeing, because [Joseph] will never admit this, but he’ll teach you things you don’t even know you’re being taught in the moment, but then you’ll reflect on it, and you’ll be like, “Wow.” Those are what I like to call his John Keating moments. They’re so not intentional or conscious. He’ll just be very, very open to new ideas and the whole room is that way. As a collective, we hear each other out, and we respect each other’s ideas. We’re able to express ourselves in the places where we’re designated to write.

Natalie doesn’t find out her test results until the very end of the episode. Was there a conscious effort to build the audience’s tension and anxiety by making us wait the entire episode alongside Natalie?
When you have this kind of illness, a lot of the time it’s hurrying up and waiting, you’re going to go on this treatment and then we just kind of have to wait and see. And we wondered, how do people wait? How do you wait for that piece of news in that envelope or in that file folder sitting in a hospital or in a clinic in a doctor’s office? How do you wait for that? And so we wondered how Natalie would wait for that, and what we discovered is that there’s no good way to go about this. This was her way, just to do what she had planned, because obviously the news of whether this treatment was going well or not well was going to exacerbate all the tension that’s been building up this season. That idea of waiting that you touched on was something we were really cognizant of and we were really curious about.

The scene where Tia admits to Natalie that she isn’t ready to die is pretty raw and real. What were discussions like in the writers’ room regarding that moment?
The development of that scene, the room had to look at how they themselves would deal with or would act like or say in the face of imminent death. And so it got really personal, and it got really emotional. And I think what we collectively agreed upon, or definitely could relate to was this idea that, no matter how prepared you are, no matter what steps you have taken–and Natalie and Tia have both taken a lot of steps, as we’ve seen–there’s no way for you to be completely at ease at the end. Discovering that collectively as a room was really intense but also really, really rewarding. And that scene took a lot of work by committee to try to get it to a place where it felt authentic and true.

Natalie gets very good news regarding her clinical trial, learning she’s in partial remission and could possibly even survive. What should viewers expect from her health going forward?
Natalie and her entire family have been living in this one mode for such a long time now, for a season and a half basically. They’ve been living in this bunker of, ‘The pillar of our family is facing life’s biggest challenge’, and once that air is lifted off this idea, once that certainty is lifted, how are they going to react, knowing full well that they’ve spent so much time planning and organizing around this idea that Natalie will no longer be a part of this family? How are they going to react to that? I think it’s not as black and white as, ‘Okay, this is good news, so we should all be happy about this and make life go back to normal, as it was before the diagnosis.’ I don’t think there is a normal anymore for the Lawsons.

Matthew and Nicole are moving forward with their separation, and Matthew moved into his new apartment. Where is his head now that it appears his attempts to save his marriage have failed?
Matthew has always been a fixer, he’s always wanted to repair the damage that’s been done, no matter how much more damage it will create. Internally, he believes he’s doing the right thing, and I think Nicole gets an air of that when she goes to Beatrice’s house. The plan is misguided–completely misguided–he’s just trying to yield the result that he’s just trying to do the human thing here and be a father to his son. And now that Matthew’s thrown the Hail Mary pass with terrible results, he’s ready to move on with his life a little bit.

There are flashback scenes of teenage Maggie witnessing her parents fighting. Why was that important to portray now?
I think Maggie has always had this trouble with intimacy. In Season 1, we explored that a lot with her polyamorous relationship. In the end, she kind of diverted away from that potential intimacy. And this season, she’s created this false relationship with this guy, that is basically the opposite of intimacy. And we really want to narrow in on this point of, ‘Well, how’d she get that way?’ Because Maggie is super singular in that way, almost to the point where it was difficult to see where these things came from, and I think we really took a step back, really went into her past, dug through that, and we started to ask, ‘Well, what must of it been like to live in this household?’

What we kind of fell upon and discovered and talked about was this idea that she grew up in a place that was an intimacy vacuum, so to speak. And I think in that scene, we get just a little snippet of that experience. We realize that Janine and Gerald’s marriage was not perfect. It’s at a different place now, but back then it was not perfect. And I think it informed the way she related with this idea of intimacy moving forward. We just wanted to give the audience a glimpse of why she is the way she is.

Maggie and Raza end up sleeping together. What’s going on with them?
What happened at the end of the episode is they connect physically, they have sex, and these are two people who have shown each other one of their cards in the hole, so to speak. Raza admitted that his parents don’t know about the marriage. He’s sharing a slice of himself. And Maggie has been an open book since the start of their fake marriage. So these are two people who have kind of shared a lot with each other, aren’t afraid to tell each other what they think, but still have that respect for one another that Maggie feels she isn’t getting from the rest of her family . . . But what will happen–and is more a marker of their relationship, their fake marriage building into something–is this idea of how much more vulnerable they’ll be with one another, and that takes us to surprising places.

Oliver used an unconventional approach to get his art in front of Alexis. Is this a step forward for him?
He got what he wanted from that situation, which was just to be seen, and so that was a small victory for Oliver. I think for us, the viewer, looking down at this we’re like, ‘What are you thinking? You’re like putting all your stuff in there, setting up your installation.’ For a lot of people, that would be grounds to call the cops, and a lot of people would have. But to Oliver’s credit and to his art’s credit, she took a moment and she looked at it and I think there was a glimpse there where we’re with her and we’re like, ‘What is this exactly? I don’t know, but it’s kind of cool.’ So I would argue that it’s almost a little bit of a victory for him even though the means he took to get there were very misguided.

What was your favourite part of the episode to write?
Can I say the entire fourth act? I just love it. The whole back quarter of this episode for me, it evokes the best things about this show for me. I mean–especially when [Natalie] is sitting with Dr. Lyle and getting this news–everything from the direction to the sound to the dialogue to everything, it really just sings in that scene. It’s just so simple. We stay on her, we see her reacting to this news, and we’re just still. Everything is just still. And from there, we kind of launch into this wonderful sequence of letting go. And when she returns Jude the cat, and you have “Downtown” by Majical Cloudz playing overtop, it’s hard to retain any sense of straightfaceness, you know? Bye, bye composure. It was a pleasure having to work on every part of this episode, and it’s a credit to the writers on the team, the crew, obviously the cast, the director. I’m really proud of it.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.