TV Wednesday - Olive Kitteridge - Episode 2
For April 2019, I will be watching Olive Kitteridge, directed by Lisa Cholodenko, whose work I have always admired if not loved.
I relate so much to Olive Kitteridge after this episode. Though she has a heart, and she does care about the people that she loves, she is antisocial to a fault and, quite honestly, socially awkward. Often this type of character is played for laughs in comedies, and she definitely gets quite a few of them, especially when she is criticizing her future daughter-in-law and her family in a not-so-veiled manner. But before her son’s wedding happens, she runs across her son’s former classmate Kevin Coulson (Cory Michael Smith) whose mother had bipolar disorder and whom we we saw earlier in the series as a child.
Olive’s interactions with Kevin is the best part of this episode. Nothing escapes her notice, not the gun that Kevin had planned to kill himself with, nor the owner of the donut shop falling off the cliff during her conversation. For a woman who doesn’t have a lot of tact, she has a lot more restraint that one might think since she doesn’t call Kevin out immediately for his suicidal tendencies. She realizes that Kevin needs his space but also that he can’t be too alone. We learn so much about Kevin just by his interactions with people at the wedding. He even says what most antisocial people want to say to the groom, “You don’t have to keep talking to me.” Kevin understandably can’t get out of his own head, especially since it seems that he has some sort of mental condition of his own in which he hallucinates random, nature-related things, such as Olive’s head turning into an elephant head.
The rest of the episode is strong, if not entirely novel, since the mother-in-law who has issues with her daughter-in-law’s family is well-trodden territory. It is important to see Olive out of her element, otherwise the show would run the risk of limiting her character to just her external characteristics. The show goes into cringe comedy when literally everything that she does is either inappropriate or misinterpreted such as when she scolds the flower girl for picking wild flowers. Again, McDormand is so good at playing both the warmth and the coldness of her character that even when she is being patently ridiculous (eating nuts at the wedding ceremony), it is totally in character for her.
This episode only makes it more mysterious why we see Olive preparing to take her own life at the beginning of the first episode especially when she is so good at seeing other people’s problems and helping them out. However, seeing a crack in her facade goes a long way to clarifying that mystery.