This Close: Who We Are

"I guess I'm here because I'm the deaf girl in the office... I never actually thought of myself like that, until now."

A miserable experience on a disability panel highlights the gaps in Kate’s life and relationship – and provides the opportunity for us to take a deeper look at Michael's life.

This is an episode about struggling to find your identity and your path in life when the world seems determined to confuse that journey. This episode also gives us a closer look at Kate. Michael may have very obvious signs of not being happy with his life, but Kate's life isn't exactly rosy either.

We're introduced to Kate's working experience. She has One of Those Bosses (think Devil, wearing Prada.) Kate is working in the mainstream world, without ASL interpreters, which means most of her work life is a mess of guesswork. The show tries to portray this accurately by adding static and a whole lot of gibberish, hopefully giving hearing audience viewers a taste of the uncertainty. Making things worse, Kate discovers (I guess she should be grateful!) that she's been assigned to present at a panel. She has no idea what the topic is or why she's been assigned. Making it much worse, she discovers it's a disability panel; artists with various disabilities have been invited to share how they've 'conquered' their 'challenges.' This type of confusion is painful to watch, maybe because it's something I myself struggled with.

Kate's reaction to this panel is important as a tool to help us understand her character. Like Michael, she's trying to make it in the mainstream, and has been making compromises along the way, usually in terms of accessibility where Michael's adjustments are in terms of content for his graphic novels. At first she's chagrined because she has no idea it was a 'disability panel' and didn't see the relevance to her work. As the panel wears on, however, a quick Q and A session helps reveal that Kate's compliance with the world has essentially left her in limbo, with no clients of her own at the PR agency, doing work she doesn't care about, with a career that can best be described as stagnant. She starts the episode looking like a functional fake; she ends the episode with serious doubts about what she's done and where she's going.

Meanwhile, Michael has a meeting with his own boss – who's a Devil-wearing Prada Pusher of her own. Where Kate tries to keep her head down and go with the flow, Michael is open about his problems with writer's block and the work process. He receives an ultimatum from his harried, pregnant boss, but finds himself still unable to work. As a visual metaphor, he needs to put together furniture for his new home, but is able to assemble furniture no more than he's able to assemble words and pictures.

During all this, we learn that Danny's been hiding unemployment and has been looking for work, spending his days playing video games, dressing up in fancy suits in the AM to take them off the minute Kate goes out. Kate has no idea. This, and Kate's own experiences during the day, drive them in two opposite directions. Danny doesn't seem to get where Kate is coming from at all. He doesn't understand her disquiet with work, or why she isn't celebrating being on a panel representing her job. He probably feels that if you have a job, you ought to be grateful. Kate's head is whirling from her experience being pigeonholed by her boss and by the panel. Meanwhile, the minute Michael arrives, he begins to sympathize and empathize, emphasizing how much Danny himself can't understand. Danny later reveals how much he resents the part of Kate that Kate gives to Michael. Danny disappears to go to a bar – and Kate, interestingly, doesn't even notice. I really don't feel good about this couple. That being said, I think Danny becoming vulnerable and revealing his unemployment might be a path they could take which might help them.

While Danny's drowning sorrows at the bar, Ryan mysteriously appears –Michael's ex, in the most car-salesman jacket I've seen in a while! It turns out that Ryan's been trying to help Danny look for work, possibly with ulterior motives: Ryan wants to try to see Michael. Danny waves him off, but Ryan convinces Danny go to take him back to the table so Ryan can give some sort of attempt to reconcile. Still not sure what Ryan's done – but Michael was clearly miserable and afraid. Michael's response to Ryan is to get drunk. He basically passes out on a toilet then struggles home. I personally dislike Ryan after this episode – and I'm not too sure about Danny, either.

Like I said, this is an episode about finding your path in life. For Deaf people, in work and in relationships, that pathway often involves navigating these perspectives. Kate's had a dose of reality splashed in her face, a body of water which Michael himself has been swimming through. It remains to be seen how Kate will deal with this – and if Michael can find healthier coping strategies with his life/work struggles.

Seen in the Scene

Passing for hearing is something a lot of us have done in the community. Kate is a character recognizable in the Deaf community. Lots of us start working and we don't ask for accommodations. We don't want to be 'special' or 'inspiring.' We want to be good at our jobs and have authentic responses to our work.

We have another interpreter slyly interpreting where no interpretation is expected; in this case, Michael's editor curses when she feels a contraction, then says "Really?" when the interpreter signs "motherfucker." It's fascinating, but true – often people seem to assume ASL interpreters 'know' what to interpret and when not to. I think it has more to do with people who can speak being used to controlling the depth of communication.

Michael attempting to drink beer and collapsing his couch was hilarious.

Danny's name sign is close to the sign for 'red' – possibly a reference to his hair.

Danny's typical of a new signer, but it's no less painful for me to watch. You can tell for yourself. At one point he signs "Yesterday, today, thrilled" – three points of meaning for a long sentence. If Kate is trying to pass in her relationship, she's going to get frustrated soon.

What's up with Michael's t-shirt in the restaurant? He looks like he just had an encounter with Spot from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Read in the Captions

Michael: I don't have a beginning. I don't have anything.
Dorinda: Look, you know I adore your guts but I'm gonna have to be completely blunt with you just so that there is no misunderstanding. If you don't submit a new book by the time I pop this baybe out, then you're going to owe us $30,000. OK?

Kate: I think it's great. I'm really happy that all of you are here. You came to learn from our stories. That's great. But then what? NOTE: English translation says "You move on from this and we fade back into the shadows. ASL however is a little more harsh - "You just push us back into the darkness." I like the ASL version better. To be honest, it doesn't even feel like it is our stories that we're telling. It's more like the stories you want us to tell. You focus on our disability but not on who we are.

Michael: You know you're always going to be the deaf girl, right? Whether you're in line at Starbucks, trying to get out of a parking garage, or at home with Danny, you're always going to be the deaf girl. You just need to figure out how to make that work for you.
Kate: Wow, someone's wise tonight.
Michael: Someone smoked a fat joint.

Ryan: I may have fucked up, but you gave up. When you're ready to talk, let me know.

Danny: I know Michael needs you right now, but it's been you and me and Michael for months. I'm sorry... I just, I want a little more you and me time.

Overall

This was much stronger than the first episode – I truly can't wait for the next episode. I think the show is learning to balance its need to teach people about an oppressed, marginalized community with the more generic need to entertain – it's really well done. Five out of five apology bracelets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really appreciated your review, thanks!