On ''Tell Me You Love Me,'' Katie is afraid of her own sexuality, even when she's alone; plus, Carolyn hits Palek below the belt, and Jamie breaks it off

By Karen Valby
Updated September 17, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Doug Hyun
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”Tell Me You Love Me”: Katie goes it alone

When the majority of Law & Order: SVU episodes open with a close-up of a raped and mutilated woman’s body, it seems odd to me that a scene featuring a married couple having awkward sex — dimpled thighs, smushed balls, un-soap-operatic finishes — should create a stir. Yet reading over the message boards last week, it struck me how much the sheer overtness of sex on cable TV, the decision to show the act instead of fetishize or glorify or demonize it like the majority of Hollywood entertainment, so offended some. It’s true that sex is at the center of Tell Me You Love Me, but isn’t it, or shouldn’t it be, somewhere near the core of everything? Dirty sex, lousy sex, dutiful sex, loving sex, no sex. Sex! And isn’t it nice once in a while to see sex examined as something loaded and serious and emblematic as opposed to getting the Hooters-style treatment on a network sitcom like Two and a Half Men? My friends who tell me they don’t have the time or energy for TMYLM because it’s exhausting or boring or a buzzkill to watch couples fight — them I get. But I’m a little lost by folks who object to the show on moral grounds, frothing at the untitillating sight of a married couple making out.

Stepping inelegantly off that soapbox, I turn now to the entirely unerotic scene of Carolyn marching out of the bathroom as if to battle. ”I’m surging!” she called down to Palek, rallying her troop of one to the bedroom. His face falling like someone who’s just been reminded to take out the trash, he looked longingly at his sandwich, snuck in another bite, and trudged upstairs with a crumby mouthful of turkey baloney to try and make a baby. Scenes like this are what prompted my beloved Joy Behar on The View to label this show as pornographic during a recent ”Hot Topics” session? Maybe for sandwich lovers. But it’s hard to imagine this show inspiring any businessman to turn the lights down low in his hotel room, crack open a mini-bottle of Scotch, and risk having the pay-per-view charges spotted by the expenses department.

Carolyn raged on this week, sniffing her mimosa for alcohol like a bloodhound at brunch with her equally aggressive sister. When Mason, the perfect name for the bitchy younger sister you’re competitive with, left the table in exasperation, Carolyn turned to Palek and spat, ”If she gets pregnant before I do, I’m going to kill myself!” Palek, the weaker of the couple, a good-looking hawk with a majorly weird mommy, finally nutted up and risked his wife’s wrath when he announced in therapy that, in fact, sex is a drag these days. Carolyn shot him a great warning look, her jaw cocked threateningly, before storming out of the office. His sin was dividing their united front against outside probing eyes, and for that, she dropped at his feet the news that she got tested behind his back and her reproductive organs are in dandy working condition. A control freak of the highest order — ”no piccata! and no veal! and no white sauce!” — she is a fascinating bitch, and still my favorite character on the show.

A red ribbon then goes to Ally Walker’s Katie, who this week, on the advice of TMYLM‘s white-haired Yoda, tried to get in touch with her sexual side, divorced from her identity as a wife or mother. Kudos to the set designer who lined the walls of Katie and Dave’s home with photos of the family, insistent reminders of motherhood everywhere she looks. The episode-ending scene of Katie’s awkward, furtive search throughout her empty house for a safe place to sneak a masturbatory moment was brilliant. She drew the shades and lay down awkwardly on the bed, looking like a timid 15-year-old with a boyfriend upstairs in the parents’ room while the party rages on downstairs. While she sadly gave her boob an awkward brush, a stuffed bear stared dumbly at the ceiling in the chair next to her. There are little eyes everywhere in this house, mirroring back the shame she feels when it comes to her body.

Her husband, Dave, betrayed by his wife’s evident distaste for sex (how many nights in their relationship do you think he’s heard ”not tonight, hon”?), her ability to put on a happy face for the kids but not for him, her confessions to another person about their intimate failings, tried to win her over with a car. Or guilt her out of therapy by bringing up the financial expense. Or intercept her before she crossed over into the therapist’s office by calling her for last reassurances that she did indeed love him. His inability to accept their issues, and Tim DeKay’s brilliantly weathered face, which pleads for the comfort of denial, is great. But the show will kick it up a couple gears once he dares to sit on the couch, and I hope that happens soon.

NEXT: Agony and Ecstasy

So, all this good, satisfying stuff I’m rehashing? To me, scenes with the younger couple were as droopy-making as Jamie announcing halfway to climax that she knew Hugo was flirting with the waitress. Well, there goes whatever hope I had of finishing strong. I know one’s response to the couples on the show is a litmus test for your age (33, in my case). I get that there are 20-somethings out there who probably smack their foreheads in recognition of Jamie and Hugo’s travails. But my days of stumbling around a football stadium goofy on Ecstasy are behind me. (Aging is sad, isn’t it?) I get that watching your significant other flirt with a hot Austin babe with skinny arms is destabilizing. I get that the idea of a life where you fantasize about a coffeemaker with a timer instead of the hot waitress at breakfast is terrifying. Still, snoozefest. We need some major movement with this couple, a shift one way or the other out of the realm of paranoia and jealousy. It seemed at the end of the episode that the wedding is off. (Their drug-dealer buddy won’t get a refund for his gift, will he?) And what with Luke Kirby being billed as a guest star in the credits, perhaps it is Jamie alone who will wander into the therapist’s office, looking for a clue.

And now, the therapist. I love her and her theories about ”bed dread,” and she clearly is getting better action from her ravenous man than any of the other ladies. But that goofy message she left for a former lover (?) was tedious and silly. Could it be true — are our therapists as messy as the rest of us?

Until next time, tell me what you think: Are Hugo and Jamie really broken up? Which couple do you find yourself most intrigued by, and are they in your age range? Would you give the Emmy to Sonya Walger or Ally Walker?

Episode Recaps

Tell Me You Love Me

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