“I study extraordinary brains so I can understand normal ones,” Dr. Catherine “Kate” Black says early in the premiere of ABC’s midseason drama Black Box — and the doc knows intimately of what she speaks.
Black, played by British actress Kelly Reilly, is a neurologist/neuroscientist respected for her top-level work in the field. But she’s also bipolar, a condition she regulates with medication — when/if she takes it — and hides from her co-workers and significant other, Will (David Ajala, Fast & Furious 6).
In a moment or two, you’ll have a chance to let us know what you thought about the new drama’s premiere. But first, a quick recap:
We meet Kate as she’s explaining a recent manic episode to her psychiatrist Dr. Hartramph (played by Vanessa Redgrave, Call the Midwife). The break, during which she had sex with a random sketchy dude and nearly tumbled off her hotel room’s balcony during a business trip, felt like “a freaking rocket ride,” Kate tells Hartramph… who points out that the ride ended with a crash, and that “normal” doesn’t necessarily mean “boring.”
“Do you want to be exceptional and dead?” the wise doc queries.
Back on her pills, Kate returns to her clinic and solves two cases: an elderly woman with dementia who hallucinates a friendly elf and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-bound teen who suddenly can’t stop drawing on the walls.
The sad old woman turns out to be better with her invisible pal; the adolescent is returned to his regular life by the removal of a tricky brain tumor, a surgery performed by the clinic’s smarmy new chief of neurosurgery, Ian “Bick” Bickman (Spartacus: War of the Damned‘s Ditch Davey).
Meanwhile, Will’s proposal triggers memories of Kate’s mother, who also was bipolar and drowned herself when Kate was 7. So Kate flushes all of her meds one night and then goes on a manic tear that includes boffing Bick and hurling her engagement ring at her flummoxed fiancé. She winds up in the ER in wrist restraints with her worried brother Joshua (David Chisum, One Life to Live) by her side.
We later learn that Joshua and his tightly wound wife Regan (Breaking Bad‘s Laura Fraser) are raising Kate’s daughter Esme as their own… which might have been more of a shocker if it hadn’t been the exact same plot twist NBC’s Crisis revealed at a similar point in its own premiere.
When Regan forbids Esme from hanging out with her unstable “aunt,” Kate makes tracks to the beach and calls Hartramph’s emergency line, asking for a reason not to stuff her pockets with stones and trudge into the deep.
“Your work is waiting,” Hartramph replies, and that’s good enough reason for Kate to pull it together and re-start her meds. After all, as she tells a patient, the brain is the ultimate mystery — “that’s why doctors call it the black box” — and she’s got plenty to do.
The father of series creator/executive producer Amy Holden Jones (Mystic Pizza) was a bipolar physician, which gives me hope that Kate’s plight will be handled with grace. That said, there were moments in the premiere that were very reminiscent of NBC’s campy — and quickly cancelled — Jekyll & Hyde takeoff Do No Harm. Future episodes, like Kate on that balcony railing, are going to have to step very carefully.
What did you think of Black Box? Grade the premiere via the poll below, then back up your choice in the comments!Follow @kimroots