You'll Be Seeing Me
When last seen, Allison (Patricia Arquette) was suffering from a brain tumor and doing her best not to have surgery. As her devoted husband Joe (Jake Weber) worried and did his best to save her life, she was more interested in preserving her “gift,” the one that for five seasons on NBC had her dreaming of murder scenes. A onetime paralegal, Allison found her calling, as it were, in helping to catch killers (apparently plentiful in Phoenix) if also complicating her home life.
That was then. Now moved to CBS, Medium opens its sixth season—with an episode uninventively titled “Déjà vu All Over Again”—hinting strongly that Allison’s lives, professional and personal, have changed drastically. For one thing, she’s lying in a hospital bed unable to breathe without assistance. She looks pale and hollow, and Joe, watching her, is distraught (this indicated by his beard as much as anything). “She’s been unresponsive for months,” observes a doctor entering from the rear. “It’s not living Mr. Dubois. It’s not life.” When she starts telling him that his insurance company refuses to pay any longer, he sighs. “I understand,” he says, “I have no choice. I can’t afford to keep her alive.”
Before Medium slides into abject topicality, however, it stops and starts again, in a way that will be both familiar and just a little bit new, a nice sort-of in-joke for viewers who have followed the Duboises over from the Peacock. That the show now comes after Ghost Whisperer in CBS’ Friday night line-up may be less nice: though both Allison and Melinda see dead people, their methods and milieus are wholly dissimilar. The pairing suggests that the Eye Network’s scheduling suits don’t appreciate the nuances (or even the obviousness) of their differences, or worse, that they don’t understand the series’ fans. Pretty girls and ghosts, you know, seen one, seen ‘em all.
The rest of Medium‘s season premiere episode, however, reveals that it has not been turned into anything like that other show. As Allison struggles to make her way back, she is dealing with the aftereffects of last season’s trauma, emotional and physical. When Joe insists during yet another breakfast table conversation—including brief and excellent input from the always excellent Bridgette (Maria Lark), arguing with big sister Ariel (Sofia Vassilieva), now assigned to drive her to school—that nothing is “back to normal” anymore, Allison disagrees, with her usual dark humor and deep insight. “Everything is back to normal, on the left side of my body, anyway.” Joe knows as well as you do: she is not going to be slowed down by a little paralysis on the right side.
What is worrying her is that she’s not dreaming. Joe’s pretty fine with this, as he believes his wife’s work with the police and District Attorney Devalos (Miguel Sandoval) was often dangerous—not only to her but also to her daughters on occasion. Allison is horrified by the loss, however, and grasps at small suggestions that “it’s coming back.” When she feels what she calls “this little flicker in my head, like seeing a teeny tiny piece of the future,” she’s thrilled. She seems especially happy with the seeming difference in the new process—she’s not dreaming, she tells an increasingly flummoxed Joe. The event she saw in her mind was, she says, “never. It was going to happen, I didn’t allow it to. Just like I saw a dream I know I’m going to have. I didn’t want to have this conversation.”
The many threads of trust and logic that inform this “conversation” about time, memory, and illogic are vintage Medium. Allison is never quite able to put her visions into perfect language, or even to explain to herself what she sees. This is what makes her dreams so compelling, as they are rarely exactly what they seem. The visual track and the emotional track, the seeming proof and the understanding, tend not to match, such that the series’ ongoing thematic focus is the effort to decipher, to make sense of nonsense, to find time and place and motive in images—specifically, in TV images of this working woman’s private and public experiences. The ambiguity of her interpretive process becomes yours, and the meaning produced is regularly less interesting than that process. It’s a TV show about watching TV, as this can be metaphorical for living.
On one level, this problem is the episode’s focus, as Allison and Lee (David Cubitt) work a murder case. Now, as Allison’s visions are looking forward in time (as opposed to seeing what happened already), she faces a Philip-Dickian dilemma. How can she prevent a crime that hasn’t happened, she wonders. Ever practical and trying to keep legal, Lee puts the kibosh on that notion: “You can’t lock someone up for something he hasn’t done yet.” Allison knows better, but it doesn’t quite matter, either. Short of turning vigilante, she’s got limits in her work.
As is often the case, Medium here connects a few storylines, as Allison’s concern with work informs Joe’s. Concerned about finances, he’s thinking he ought actually to get a job. She resists, noting (apropos his season four development of solar cell amplification, and thus his change in identity from aerospace engineer to inventor), “You have a job, thinking up brilliant things.” Though he tells a classroom full of students on Career Day that being an inventor is a great job (“As long as you remember to bring your brain, the whole world is your office”), he tells another story to Allison. “I miss seeing people every day,” he says, “or people other than my kids in the rearview mirror when I drop them off at school. I miss drinking coffee that I didn’t have to make myself. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss commuting a little.”
You can’t quite believe he’s saying it either, but he’s describing a current and increasingly pointed cultural quandary as much as his own existence. Work is a social environment as much as a way to make a living, a source of identity and site of community: when Joe loses it, he misses it as much as Allison does. They both head back, in this sixth season, to worlds where they might be unappreciated or celebrated, but where they can understand themselves in relation to others. Work is where Allison finds herself, even if that self remains in flux.