Breaking Bonaduce 2, 11/19/06 - Prison Reform
We’ve made it through a season and a half of Breaking Bonaduce, the reality show in which former child star, former radio DJ, Danny Bonaduce allowed cameras in to film nearly every aspect of his life. Last season, that included steroid, alcohol and prescription drug abuse, flirting with other women, and jealous rages against his wife when nothing improper had taken place. This season it’s included a trial separation. So where are we today? Back in Dr. Garry Corgiat’s office, unfortunately.
Dr. Garry, looking as orange and blush as any healthy pumpkin, deems this stage in the Bonaduce marriage “a new epoch”. Danny brings it down to earth again: “Let’s not cover things up. I still have to come home to my guest room, of my own home. My children watch me sleep downstairs. But the goal is to get out of the guest room and into my wife’s arms and heart, where I belong. The goal is to become the man who deserves to be there.” Take that, Dr. Garry. Don’t try and outverbalise Danny. You’ll never win.
Gretchen’s reaction? She laughs. She explains she was just thinking she’d have to come up with a term like “DM”. “Demilitarised zone?” Danny asks. No, Danny. I’d say you’re by far the most verbally subtle in the room. Ready? Gretchen changes her acronym to: “BM, Before Maniac. And AM, After Maniac”. What a strange way to react to your spouse’s vowing to repair your marriage. By all means, label him a maniac; mock his efforts. To his credit, Danny shrugs this off and even jokes along. “I like BM,” he says. “I think BM describes everything that’s gone on here. Just a huge Bowel Movement.”
Annnd...cue tape. The intro tape plays, as every week. Danny’s perpetually perched atop that same ledge.
Cue celestial music, and a chiron stating we’re looking at Danny’s apartment in Hollywood, California. It’s a tall, white, nondescript building. And by the way, Hollywood proper isn’t exactly a great address to live in. In fact it was in Hollywood where Danny once lived in an alley behind Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Great memories that’s gotta be bringing back. Anyway, we see Danny in bed; he’s shirtless, smoking a cigarette that’s half-burnt down, and he’s reading a Daily Affirmation Bible. This is the type of positive thinking manual often handed out in AA. Each page has a date, and a Bible scripture quote combined with some commentary under it. It’s designed to get the person in a positive frame of mind each day.
Next, we’re shown a vacancy sign outside that building. I take that to mean Danny’s on his way home. We see a bridge; I’m not sure where there is a bridge in L.A. since there’s precious little fresh water here. But, maybe it’s symbolic. Danny’s supposedly going into brand-new territory in life. He’s sober, and he’s going to try his best to “be the man who deserves to be” in Gretchen’s arms. Remote and distant?
At any rate, we’re back in counseling: a solo session, between Gretchen and Dr. Garry Corgiat (Ph.d!). Gretchen is in long sleeves. Okay, so I was wrong about the Aeon Flux costume. I can admit it. Anyway, Dr. Garry is already “expressing trepidation” about Danny’s promises. I love how Dr. G is sooo unbiased. “Do you think that’s gonna work?” Dr. G asks Gretchen of Danny’s stay in the guest room. He all but says, “Why are you doing this? Why not just toss him out?”. But he can’t quite tip his hand that much. So he’s dropping hints and trying to lead her in that direction. “I don’t know,” Gretchen sighs. She says she thinks it’s safer for him to be in the guest room than “left to his own devices”. Dr. Gar says “tell me more about that”. It doesn’t really make sense to me either, Dr. G, unless now that she’s decided she wants Danny back, she wants to keep an eye on him. “He’ll be less likely to screw something up where there’s no coming back from,” Gretchen answers. Ah. She’s saying if he cheats again, he’s out.
The Old In/Out
Car scene! Gretchen’s in her white SUV van thingy, and is vowing (to us? to the camera?) that if she has to ask Danny to leave one more time, then she will “file papers” that same day. “There will be no revolving door - you’re in, you’re out, you’re in, you’re out,” she says. She goes on to add that this would not be good for her, for the kids, “or for him either”. “Either he’s in and then he’s in, or he’s out and that’s that”. Well I’m glad she’s clear on that one.
Danny just can’t catch a break in that crummy apartment. He’s alone trying to load up his belongings - on his back, under his arms, and on top of his one rolling piece of luggage. It isn’t working. First, a paper grocery bag of books and music slowly falls to the floor, rips and spills. “Auuughghh!” he growls as he tries and fails to catch it. Danny picks up the many items that have fallen on the floor, and scoops them into a laundry basket. This is all so much like moving day at college. Only a man of his means shouldn’t be living this way. I feel embarrassed for him. Danny finally gets situated again, and wheels his luggage down the hallway. Phew. So far, so good. But, nope! Fate isn’t that kind. Danny turns the corner of the hall to get to the elevator...you guessed it. The white laundry basket tips, then falls off completely - spilling everything he’d packed into it. The contents spill all over the outer hall. It doesn’t really look like a hall I’d want my belongings strewn all over. Danny hears the thud and the suitcase stops rolling. “OHHHH!” he groans. I can’t blame him. How much more humiliating can things get? Well - this is Breaking Bonaduce. So - probably a lot.
Danny loads everything into the trunk of his red Pontiac, and again we have a...car scene! “I have really mixed feelings about this,” Danny monologues to the camera. “I wanna go home, but I’m not comfortable with this decision at all. I don’t know how you go back to being the head of the household after suffering a two month time-out.” Ah, thanks again, Danny. Ever the performer, he’s just provided us with a framework and some exposition.
A Hero’s Welcome
Still without a helper, (where is his Sober Support Group now, hmmm? Or couldn’t someone have hired a guy? Or does he just like everything made as difficult as it can be?) Danny grunts as he carries his belongings up the steep stairway into his home. “Daddy’s home!” Gretchen calls from off camera. Isabella comes over and gives Danny a kiss on the cheek. Danny’s Chinese crested - a dog they have had for years - runs around his heels and barks. It doesn’t sound friendly. Still going through the mansion with his white plastic laundry basket full of items, Danny asks Gretchen if she took the garbage out even once while he was gone. “Once,” she agrees. One of their assistants plays a guitar. Oh yes, that’s real helpful. Gretchen keeps sing-songing, “Daddy’s hoome”.
As Danny drops his belongings on the floor of the guest room, we see Isabella is waiting to talk to him. “What’s up, baby girl?” Danny says. They both say they missed each other, then Isabella whispers, in a way only 12 yr. olds can, “Guess what?”. Danny whispers back, as if it’s a child’s game: “What?”. “Mom says you won’t have to live in the guest room forever,” Isabella informs him. Danny turns away and looks sad. This is the type of thing that adults would understand but not a child. Clearly, Gretchen’s been telling Isabella things to pacify her and calm her down. Danny knows the score immediately, and just says, sadly: “We’ll see baby. It’s all up to your mom”.
Fun With Arts And Crafts
“Go show Daddy your art work,” says Gretchen and pushes Dante toward his father. Is it a crayon drawing of a house and family? No. Is it a trace drawing around his hand, made into a Thanksgiving turkey? No. This being the Bonaduce household, it’s a Xerox print of Dante’s little behind. Danny laughs, and holds the Xerox up for the camera. He seems thrilled. “That’s my son’s heinie, right there!” he enthuses. “Come see the other ones upstairs,” Dante requests as he pulls on Danny’s arm. What - there were other ones that didn’t make the grade? Dante begins showing Danny several Xeroxes strewn around the playroom floor. Always one to up the ante, Danny shouts, “Come on, let’s go Xerox my penis!”. Dante, being 5 years old, of course, giggles at the ‘bad word’ and follows Danny out of the room. Danny shushes him and warns, “Don’t tell mom!”. Gretchen hears giggling and asks what’s going on. “Nothin’!” Danny says. Hey - who’s the five year old? Dante shields his eyes as Danny, well, puts his stuff on the Xerox machine glass, and puts the lid down. As the machine apparently warms up, Danny chortles: “Hey, that’s kinda nice. Heh-heh-heh”. Okay, now I’m thinking maybe Gretchen knew what she was doing, sticking Danny in a Hollywood and Franklin apartment building, far from the kids.
As Danny buckles up again, he jokes, “If this comes out lookin’ puny, we’re not showing it to anybody”. Little Dante is right there as the paper comes out of the machine. He doesn’t seem to know what to make of it. He has no apparent reaction. Danny does. “Ohhh! It’s stretched and pulled and horrible!” he chuckles. Dante chuckles along simply because his father is laughing. “Go give that to your mother,” the Passive Aggressive Spouse of the Year says. “What is that?” Dante finally asks. Danny: “It’s my finger. Go give it to your mother.” “Thath you penith,” Dante lisps. Danny chuckles, takes the paper and heads to the kitchen, where Gretchen was last seen emptying the dishwasher. She’s still there. Danny hands her the Xerox. He claims Dante made it for her. Dante is in the kitchen by now too - oh, what a cozy family scene - and shouts out, “It’s a photograph of dad’s penith”. “Looks like a turkey neck!” Gretchen describes helpfully. And especially with Thanksgiving coming up - I’m wondering just what kind of nightmares Dante’s gonna have. Dante turning into a turkey? Who knows. Anyway, The Man Without A Boundary says, “That’s because it’s stretched all out to get it in there. If you’d make it grow, it’s much more attractive”. Great. Now Dante’s gonna have nightmares whenever someone reads him Jack and the Beanstalk.
Epiphany In D Minor
Now what Dr. Garry lives for all week every week...Danny’s solo appointment. “My life’s changed 400 times since I saw you last” Danny informs him - not exaggerating at all, I’m sure. “Really,” Dr. G says with a straight face. Well, semi-straight. He does ask Danny to elaborate. Danny launches into a monologue about he and Gretchen going to church together for the first time in a long time. Dr. G frankly looks bored throughout. He really seems to have some sort of antipathy towards Danny. I think Dr. G’s just humming an old Broadway score inside his head, whenever Danny talks. But for our benefit, I’ll transcribe what Danny said. Because I happen to think he was being sincere. “It was a sermon on divorce. Gotcha! Divorce is out. We’re gonna spend 90 minutes on why you’re stuck with me. And that’s not what I got at all, of course. I got ‘You cannot divorce your partner and be in good standing with God and be a good Christian, unless your partner’s done this’. And of course, I’d done them all. And Gretchen looks over at me and says, ‘Do you hear that they’re talking to you?’. And I said, ‘Yes. I do.’ At first I thought they were talking to her, telling her to go. But then I got - they’re talking to me, telling me ‘You don’t have to be like this. You haven’t sunken so low that you are beyond reprieve.’ I got that, right?”
I’d like to interject here. I think what Danny was talking about was this: He had a spiritual epiphany. Nothing less. The ‘person’ telling him he was not beyond reprieve was God. This was Danny telling his therapist that he’s had an realisation: He’s worth saving. And how does Dr. Garry react? He catches himself nearly nodding off, and mumbles sleepily: “What do you mean, you got a reprieve at church? You mean you’ve been re-embraced by the church? You feel like you belong there?”. No, Dr. Garry. I really don’t think Danny was talking about something as mundane as being socially accepted by the cool kids in the parish. I know what Dr. G’s referring to: Church cliques exist and can be snappish and gossipy, and judgmental, even. He’s thinking Danny means they haven’t snubbed him, so he feels okay going back in.
But no, Dr. Gar! This is a real breakthrough, and you’ve missed it. Danny is talking about, he felt God was talking to his soul. He felt that God was saying, "you’re not past redemption". And in that moment of illumination, Danny agreed. And that he found some sort of respect for his own existence. But I can understand Dr. Garry Corgiat Ph.d finding it hard to ‘buy’, especially since Dr. Garry Corgiat Ph.d seems to have made up his mind that Danny is an abusive husband and perpetually lying addict. Danny stops going out on a verbal limb. He meets Dr. Garry halfway. One thing about Danny, too; he’s eager to please. And at the first sign of disapproval (by anyone, really) he aims the first punch at himself. So, he goes along with Dr. G’s view of this. “I do find solace there” he begins. Dr. G apparently hasn’t noticed that Danny didn’t answer his question. “And the fact that I got a reprieve...” (This still is so important to Danny that he has to at least finish his thought) “...at church...kind of makes me feel like Somebody’s watching”. Get it now, Dr. Garry? Your patient just had a breakthrough, found his 'Higher Power', and you didn’t even notice.
After a segueway image of a stone angel and a sunset - here we are with Danny and Gretch as they smoke ciggies in front of a fireplace in their hilltop abode. They’re sitting on the floor and staring into each other’s eyes. Danny asks Gretchen a legitimate question: “How do you attain being the head of the household again, when you’ve suffered a really long ‘Time Out’ in front of the kids?”. Gretchen frowns. “Yeh, but they don’t...think anything...” she stammers out, a bit annoyed. “But I do. It seems weird,” Danny snaps, then catches himself. Pre-Boston trip, Danny might’ve launched into a rant at this point, trying to manipulate the situation. But after that trip and the 2-month separation that followed it, he reins himself in. “But I told you that, in the beginning. We’ll just gut it out,” Danny says as they both blow smoke into the fire. “I think that kind of thing can be no more jarring than my behavior has been, certainly.”
And now Danny’s in his guest room. The room is really more like a cell. The bed's sides nearly touch the walls. The small dresser with Tv atop, nearly touches the foot of the bed. It’s a bit odd for a 47 yr. old man whose work has paid for the mansion he’s been ostracised from. A maid given these quarters would quit. But, these are the terms his wife has set down, and he’s more than willing to abide by them to win her affections. Gretchen appears in the doorway. Danny takes the chance to ask her what he should do about the cable box, and how to arrange a few things in the room. She replies he can put the cable box on the floor and he’ll have to stand up to change channels. In this cramped space, that will mean getting out of his bed and standing within an elbow’s reach of the Tv, every time he wishes to change a channel, turn off the Tv, or mute the sound. Danny figures out a solution: He’ll attach the cable box to the Tv top with some velcro. His wife sing-songs in her ‘mommy’ voice “whatever you think will work” and picks up his dirty laundry off the floor. It’s so clear that she just does not see him as a romantic partner any more. But on we go...
Marshmallows For Dinner
Apparently Danny is still allowed into the main parts of the house; he just can’t sleep in the master bedroom. Because now we’re treated to a dinner scene Chez Bonaduce. They’re having spaghetti, rolls, salad, some canned soda, and there’s a regular ol’ bottle of Ranch dressing on the table. They seem to be eating while seated on the floor, around the coffee table in the living room. As Danny takes a sip of his root beer, Gretchen mentions that she and the kids watched the movie Rent recently. The musical in which all of the cast are drug addicts and dying of AIDS? Well, who needs Disney movies. “It was saaad,” Isabella tells her father. “I cried. So did Sam. So did mom.” Danny belches loudly. Dante looks at his father in kind of a shocked way. Then, predictably, begins mimicing his dad’s behavior. They trade belching sounds back and forth. Then Isabella goes in for the kill.
“It would make you cry, too, Dad. Considering how soft you’ve gotten.” Danny, busy shoving a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth, just pauses and laughs. Oh, the things kids say! Giving Isabella the benefit of the doubt, Danny asks her, “What did you just say to me?”. “Marshmallow!” Isabella teases. Still going on the assumption the kid doesn’t quite know what she’s really saying, Danny repeats: “It would make me cry considering how soft I’ve gotten?”. This is where all this little girl’s resentment and anger over the past two months comes out. Misdirected, of course. By now it’s obvious Danny’s feelings have been hurt. Being 12, Isabella only knows that she’s hit pay dirt, and she’s being listened to closely. So she smiles. Danny leans in, forgetting about his spaghetti for the time being. “Emotionally I’ve become soft?” he asks, a small quaver in his voice. “She’s joking, dad!” Gretchen calls out nervously. Comic Relief Toddler Dante screams out a huge fake laugh. No one else is laughing. “Are you hearing this?” Isabella’s father asks her mother - likely hoping someone would step in to defend him. Not in this household, Danny.
All this time, Isabella’s just sizing her father up, a firm set on her mouth. Then with perfect timing, Countess Isabella Bonaduce, his firstborn, leans over to twist that knife a bit deeper. “Marshmallow soft,” she whispers slowly; dripping poison off those syllables with the panache of a Borgia. I’m sure that’s the child’s misplaced anger at seeing her father accept the apparent indignations her mother has meted out. Her father was her hero just the way he was; and now he’s behaving like some meek, unknown person. It’s bound to be frightening and confusing for Isabella especially, who’s at a key time in her own development. She’s just about to hit her teen years, and she needs her hero intact. Her dig at him was really a question: “Where’s my father?”. But of course, the way she went about it only wound up sticking a needle right into his heart. And it punctured what was left of his manhood. Danny takes in what was just said and looks lost and shocked. Can he have fallen much lower in the hierarchy in his own home? Gretchen just smiles at him sadly. Well, at least she feels sorry for him - even if she can’t find the muster to stick up for him, let alone to verbally reprimand their 12 yr. old.
Danny’s Version of Being Tenderised
And so what is Danny’s solution to this affront? Well, he goes right back to the lessons of his childhood. Tender is only what your face is after a good pummeling. Men are never soft or weak. Are you tough enough, Danny? How much can you take? There has been enough said about Danny’s childhood and his mistreatment at the hands of his father that I can go out on a very short sturdy limb here, I think, and say this: He is about to recreate his childhood. When in doubt, he’ll prove to himself he can take it again. He got through his childhood with as much sanity, and as physically intact as he did, by doing two things: Physically, by proving himself he can be pushed past his limit and take it; Mentally, by telling himself the man who should love him really did, because Danny himself was no good and so the man was punishing him rightly. That’s a short description of Alice Miller’s books on childhood development - Someone please, send Danny a stack of them.
It’s painful to watch Danny’s reasoning and solution to all this dilemma of “is Danny soft”. He’s driving his red car somewhere and stating definitively, “I will not tolerate weakness! That’s where I draw the line.” Think real hard, Danny. Where have you heard that before? As if he can absorb testosterone through the air, Danny clutches his gym bag and climbs the stairs to a boxing workout space. He hits the speedbag, warming up. He then takes his turn at the heavy bag. His form is good, but the bag barely moves, and there’s almost no sound as his swings land. Another man is training: But this man’s punches land on the heavy bag the way a freight train would crash land against a brick wall. The man is heavyweight champion Justin Fortune. This man is built like a old freight train and his arms seem spring-loaded. As Justin calls Danny over for a demonstration, Justin is hitting the heavy bag. Danny smiles, watching: “That hurts!”. “It’ll hurt when you wake up,” Justin says. And he’s not smiling.
Toast And Tea
Meanwhile, as if to show how diametrically opposed the male and female are in this family - the Bonaduce femmes are having tea - at “Priscilla’s gourmet coffee house”. Gretchen, in one of her cowboy hats, and Isabella, in hoodie jacket, cowboy boots, and jeans, sip tea at a small round table near shelves of pink picture frames, teacups, and other froufrou gift items. “Are you glad Daddy’s back?” Gretchen asks her daughter. “Mm-hm” comes the obvious answer. Gretchen: “Gooood.” “I cried every night he was gone,” Isabella says, and the tone is odd; it’s like two girlfriends having lunch and discussing other people. “You know that,” Isabella adds. She really doesn’t want to let her parents get away with anything; it’s just that the situation is beyond anyone her age. “Yup, I do,” Gretchen allows, but tips her head so that her hat covers her facial expression. As ever when Isabella outsteps her place, Gretchen seems a bit annoyed.
“I still think it was the right thing to do,” Gretchen says. Who is she asking permission from? “Nooo, it wasn’t” Isabella shoots back. “Don’t you think...” Gretchen begins to ask her firstborn, but Isabella interrupts: “The right thing to do was go to double therapy” she counters, with a wisened nod of the head. This is where Gretchen should gently assert her place as the adult, and say that they will discuss everything later, but there are some things that are between mommy and daddy. Gretchen just looks abashed, though, and says they tried that. “Triple therapy!” Countess Isabella advises. Oh, gosh. Words fail.
Back at the man club, Danny’s suited up in his gloves and protective headgear. Apparently he’s arranged to spar with Justin Fortune, who’s roughly twice his size; and the guy seems more made of steel than flesh. Danny’s trainer is advising him to keep his arms up. Yeh, and his legs running out the front door, I’d say. But no, Danny steps into the ring. Justin’s facial expression denotes that he’s serious as a heart attack, and not about to - no pun intended - pull any punches. This is no joke to Fortune, it’s his life. Danny wanted a beating - he’s about to get one. That is just what happens, as Justin Fortune easily dodges all of Danny’s swings, and lands punch after punch...mostly to Danny’s face. Justin doesn’t seem to even break a sweat. Meanwhile, Danny reaches, but his fists don’t land. Danny’s swaying on his feet, but determined to stay upright. There are brief pauses while his trainer checks on him, but Danny lasts in the ring with Justin for three rounds. In the end, he says, that’s all he wanted: to prove that he could take a beating. The match finally ends, and Justin sends out a parting gift: He knocks Danny down. “Welcome to Boxing 101,” Fortune says. That’s one fortune cookie you could’ve read right away, Danny. Why’d you need to do that?
When Danny arrives home, Gretchen professes alarm and perhaps a bit of turn-on at his wounds. There’s that old primal nurturing instinct coming out and becoming confused with physical bonding. If Danny were savvy he’d let her tend his wounds. But I’ve forgotten: This was not for Gretchen at all. This was for Danny. So instead of accepting her tender care, he’s still playing tough man, joking about the way his face looks, and refusing her offers of a bag of frozen peas for his nascent black eye. But this makes it a more perfect mirror of his childhood. Did he receive care and consolation after beatings, then? I venture a guess they were in short supply. Instead, he ended up idolising the ‘hard man’, his father, and has actually professed thanks for the way his father hardened his mettle as well. The day he takes a long look at how well that adaptation has served him and the ways it hasn’t, he will feel rage toward his father, instead of idolising him. Only then can he truly begin healing and becoming a whole, well rounded person, who doesn’t fear his emotions or being ‘soft’. Only then will he have better control of his decisions and actions, and only then will those more consistently be healthy choices. But as long as he feels he must be in constant control of his emotions, and that the measure of a man is how long he can stand while being beaten senseless by someone twice his size...he’ll be a leaf in the wind. And, guess what? Nothing is softer (or less self-controlled) than that.
The thing is too - it doesn’t end there. Danny has kids. And kids learn, if not by experience in this case, by observation. And sure enough, he goes straight into the room where little Dante is watching cartoons, and informs him “Daddy just got his a** kicked”. Danny kneels in front of Dante to make sure the child has a closeup view of his pummeled face. Dante, of course, just looks confused. And a little sad. “Awww,” he says. Danny asks Dante to kiss his face to make it better. It seems to me that Danny may be trying to change, but is not sure what to change into. He has no guidebook, no road map. Who’s going to give him one?
...Dr. Garry, who nods dismissively as Danny, perched on the leather sofa in the psychologist’s office, says he is “trying to be a new guy”. To be fair, it has to be difficult to take Danny seriously, when he’s got big red welts all over his face from a self-inflicted (via a professional, heavyweight boxer) beating. How can he be talking about change, when his face cries ‘self destruction’? Danny’s words and behavior really do sway and bob on the wind and are often, to the outsider, conflicting. Danny brings Dr. G up to speed: “Everything about me needs to fade away entirely. Gretchen’s got me in the guest room. And I’m on a spiritual path where a lot of people turn the other cheek. And I needed to know that in no way have they made me physically weak, that I hadn’t become less of a man because I am willing to take certain indignations that I wouldn’t take before. So, I just asked a heavyweight pro boxer to take me to the absolute limit of what he thought I could withstand. And I took it for three rounds.” The camera doesn’t even pan to Dr. G’s face, and it doesn’t have to. I’m sure he is incredulous.
It’s Better With Bowling
Gretchen has taken her kids to a bowling alley called “Pickwick Bowl” in Hollywood. She helps Dante roll a bowling ball down the lane. He can barely even carry it, but that’s not the first time these kids have been treated like grownups. No one helps him move toward the lane. He drops and pushes the ball. Gretchen cheers the barely-moving ball until it finally knocks over two pins by sheer willpower. She then high-fives Dante, but once again forgetting he’s five, not twenty-five, her force knocks him down, flat on his face.
We’re back in Dr. Garry Corgiat’s House of
Pancake makeup Psychology, as Danny continues his session. The Dr. asks Danny what it’s been like to be home. Danny’s reply: “Uncomfortable”, surprises Dr. G. I’m sure Dr. G expected some type of self-insight or emotional delineation, but Danny goes on to complain about the size of his guest room. Seeing that Danny meant ‘uncomfortable’ literally and physically, Dr. G loses interest and picks up his cup of - tea? Danny makes a fair point: He paid for the mansion. And now he’s been relegated to a tiny corner of it. He misses the master suite. Danny finds staying in the tiny guest room a reminder of “his punishment”. “I am not comfortable there, at all,” Danny reiterates.
So of course, we next see Danny in his ‘room’. He’s lying on the made bed, and the book he’s reading? “Life Application Study Bible”. Then, we see Danny driving to church alone. In a big warehouse-type room, two people stand onstage in an apparently non-denominational church. One reads The 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...”) aloud while the words flash on a screen nearby. This is all accompanied by a recorded chorus of Gregorian chants. Spiritual karaoke? It also strikes me that this is the psalm usually chosen for funeral sermons. And yet again it strikes me that Danny in the chair there, looks exactly like Vincent Van Gogh. The resemblance, the funereal psalm, and the sudden appearance of churchgoing Danny are all a bit disconcerting put together. I don’t doubt Danny’s spiritual conversion, but I doubt the foundation it is being placed upon. This is a lot of new territory at once. And without someone to show him a path that’s sturdy and, well, normal, how’s he going to make it? You can’t build very well, from the top down.
Back in his office for a Gretchen session, Dr. Garry is suddenly sounding like a true believer. He's saying Danny's change is profound; Gretchen agrees, though she is afraid to be disappointed again. Where was Dr. G’s support of Danny’s spiritual awakening when Danny was in the room? But now, with Gretchen in solo session, Gar waxes rhapsodic. Gar’s just telling Gretch what she wants to hear.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Any More
Danny is still obsessive, and still looking for a sympathetic ear. To be fair, he’s yet to find one. But he does have what my grandma would’ve called “A one track mind”. And so now he’s meeting his Pastor (Jim) at Mel’s Diner. This is a formica-tabletop, noisy, bustling theme restaurant (made to look like a 1950s diner). Is this the place for a spiritual counseling session? I’m wondering why here and why this topic. Danny’s in the shirt he wore earlier on his way to the boxing session, so if both happened in the same day that’s some wacky juxtaposition, Danny. Anyway...taking the chronology we’re handed, let’s move on. Danny’s telling his Pastor about how he hates being in the guest room. (Does it occur to Danny that he can bargain for better terms, but in an adult way - perhaps in counseling?) (Oh right, it’s Dr. Garry we’re talking about. Nevermind.) Danny makes with the quips, ever trying to win his listener over (no wonder he was so fond of radio). Pastor Jim just smiles patiently. After Danny gripes about the guest room some more, Pastor Jim makes with the counseling. “For you to have a happy home, part of that is you surrendering your life to Christ,” says the Pastor. Danny nods. “...And saying ‘God, I wanna be the man you want me to be - thus, the man Gretchen needs or longs for me to be’.” Danny nods again. “At the same time, she can’t punish you,” Pastor Jim continues. Danny’s silent, but the look on his face shouts, “Oh yes, she caaan!”. Then Danny does say “yes she can”. Pastor Jim rejoins: “Well she shouldn’t. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be abused, and neither should she.” This makes perfect sense, but to a person who earned a living beginning in childhood and who’s used himself or been used by others ever since? Danny’s face is totally blank. It’s clear he doesn’t even know what “no abuse” feels like. Pastor Jim was well intentioned, but may as well have been speaking Urdu.
Another Day, Another Panic
And another cup of tea for the incredulous Dr. Garry. Danny (in a different shirt, and without welts across his face, so some time must have passed) is still obsessing about being in the guest room. This time, he’s trying to figure out ‘what it all means’. Dr. Garry’s bemused look isn’t helping matters. No one has yet answered Danny’s panic in a language he can understand, so no one’s yet soothed him. And not being good at calming himself down, Danny will then obsess about whatever is bothering him. So this is what it sounds like when Danny wonders out loud what being in that guest room really means: “There’s only a couple things that I can imagine. One: ‘I’m gonna keep this guy in the guest room until he cheats again and then I’m gonna say ‘See you really won’t change, see ya, goodbye’’.” Dr. G interrupts: (speaking as Gretchen) “And then it’s not my fault”. “Right,” Danny agrees. (Is he really listening to Dr. G though?) Dr. G continues, “Do you think Gretchen is that kind of planner?”. Now Danny gets it. Dr. G’s still thinking on Gretchen’s behalf. “No,” Danny quickly says. And I agree, that wasn’t what Danny was saying at all. He’s just floundering trying to figure out if his wife still loves him or is merely punishing him, is all. That seems obvious. Unfortunately, it seems Dr. Garry sees everything through thick anti-Danny lenses. Danny says, I think sincerely, “I wanna hope that something real has a hold of me and I won’t do it. That my word is good enough”. Dr. G looks down, then nods. “The other thing is,” Danny continues, (if) “there is a time frame in her mind, or no time frame but certainly longer than mine, that I need to suffer ‘this much this long’, to come out even for the terrible things I have done. If that is the case, I can’t imagine that I’ll make that.”
Okay. Now at this point, I was thinking, this guy is really just asking, “What do you think doc? Does my wife love me at all, is she sincere about giving me another shot, or is she just punishing me?” And then I interpreted Danny’s concluding statement as: “Because once I sense that this is all about watching me squirm and there is no hope for me at all, I can’t imagine having the emotional fortitude to withstand that. I think that would crush me.” So, that’s one assessment possible. And what was Dr. Garry’s interpretation of all this? Listening to his comments on the show’s official website, where every week Dr. Garry encapsulates his feelings about the new episode, I heard from the doctor’s mouth: It’s Dr. Garry’s opinion that Danny is impatient and insensitive to Gretchen’s timetable. That Danny just wants to push things faster. That he wants things his way and he wants them now. While some of that may be true, I think it’s a bit harsh. I feel that Danny seems to be fighting against his lesser impulses where Gretchen is concerned, and is trying whatever she asks of him. Not all men would leave their own home when asked to. Not all would agree to go where sent. Not all would wait it out in a corner of their own home. All Danny is really saying - in his counseling session where such thoughts should be vented - is that he is finding this difficult.
And what, in the end, Doctor Corgiat, is wrong with that?
Dr. Garry ends this segment by asking Danny “What will happen if (Danny) can’t wait through this?”. Now Danny thinks Dr. G’s referring to what Danny said earlier, about Gretchen merely wishing to punish him. He thinks Dr. Garry is being sympathetic, and following through on Danny’s plaintive wonderings with a straightforward question. He isn’t aware that Dr. Garry has misinterpreted Danny’s “I can’t imagine I’ll make that” statement to mean Danny will not wait. (I know this because Dr. G said so, in his after-show comments.) Back to the episode: Danny’s forthright reply to Dr. G’s question (about what happens if Danny doesn’t last the wait) was: “I don’t know - I really don’t know. Girls, and booze, and then drugs, and then violence. I think my life would come back”. Dr. Garry’s comments on this (on the website, not to Danny) were as if this is what Danny actually wants to happen - when it seems obvious this is what Danny fears. He just doesn’t know how to avoid it happening. Dr. Garry’s deportment in the episode and comments on the website, made this clear: Dr. Garry does not understand Danny any more than you or I understand ancient Sanskrit. Because Dr. Garry took a statement - one I felt was a bare-bones self-assessment, and by the way, one not everyone could make of themselves...As meaning that Danny wishes for his old life back and will hop right to it if Gretchen doesn’t put out tout de suite, in the master suite. It’s astoundingly damaging and wrongheaded for a doctor to be so cynical about their patient. At that point it amounts to emotional bias and the doctor should either be made very aware of it and keep close tabs on those feelings, (with the help of their own therapist) or they should quit as that person’s counselor.
In other words, Dr. Garry does not believe a word Danny says. And you cannot have that feeling about a patient without any insight into why, and let it take root in you, and hope to help them. It just does not work that way. It’s tantamount to a parent who hates their child, hoping to raise a paragon of emotional health. I have a theory that psychiatric treatment is, in a crude description, re-parenting. It’s giving the patient a structure in which to grow up, basically, and become whole. Supporting their efforts to change for the better; normalising some things for them and making them aware that other things are harmful. Not outright, perhaps; but certainly somehow steering them in a healthy direction. It isn’t possible with that degree of animosity, and I feel Dr. G has this towards Danny Bonaduce. Conversely, the way Dr. G praises Gretchen and does not ever confront her on her own B.S. (which we all have), is not healthy either. There is no real therapy going on here; just sessions in which a Ph.d perpetuates Danny’s self loathing and Gretchen’s distant narcissism. It’s frustrating to watch. It’s like watching a seed fertilise and fall to the rocky ground. There’s no way either can grow in this context, unless through sheer force of will. I have more hope in this sense actually, for Danny than for Gretchen, simply because Danny’s will is a force of nature. When applied correctly. Problem is, no one’s telling him how or when or where to apply that. Not that he may ever lose his machismo, and other things that he’s adapted over the years to make him feel safer. An abused child never quite feels safe. They never quite feel strong, either. It’s no surprise Danny overcompensates. His anxiety is also no surprise, given that he was the breadwinner in the family (earning more than his father) while still in grade school. So why doesn’t Dr. Garry, Ph.d, seem to grasp any of these simple truths?
In short, Dr. Gar, how can you berate a man who is lost, when no one is bothering to give him a map he can read?
And for now, this man is seated cross-legged on his bed, staring at a Tv screen. With the iron bars on the bedframe and in the windows, this guest room really does call to mind a prison cell. Which is just how Danny has repeatedly described it. And like many prisoners, in many different kinds of prisons, Danny passes time by reading or watching television. He’s waiting it out, just like he said he would in Dr. G’s office. He hasn’t gotten reassurance from anywhere, but he’s acting in good faith for the time being. Gretchen sticks her head in the doorway “to check on” him. Gretchen enters the room, using her sing-song-y ‘mommy’ voice again as she asks him if the space heater is keeping the room warmer. Danny laps up the attention. “Much,” he says happily. They exchange a peck on the lips and an “I love you”. Gretchen might be a nanny checking on her charge, or a night nurse checking in on a mental patient. That’s the way her sing-song tone comes across. We’re shown the dvd title case: Danny is watching The Greatest Story Ever Told, the 1965 Technicolor life story of Jesus of Nazareth, directed by George Stevens. I thought everyone had seen this on television at some point by adulthood; but with the fast Hollywood life Danny’s led, maybe not. It’s sure a far cry from last season’s images of Danny, well, abusing about anything it’s possible to have an addiction to. Ending with cutting one of his wrists. But then it strikes me. People in prison, people at their lowest point when they don’t know which other way to turn, often do turn to religion. It can be a huge turning point, or just another disappointment when the release they were chasing does not realise. There is still the everyday to be dealt with, including other people.
If Danny approaches it realistically, he can have that deep and profound inner change that Dr. Garry privately ridicules him ever having. But if he’s hoping for obliteration in it, like in every other substance he’s chased prior, then it will instead become a mirror he will turn away from. It has the possibility of becoming another reflection of a damaged self he cannot bear to face. And then he may turn away from healing, like Hamlet from Ophelia’s innocent eyes. “Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered.” Still, with his honesty this episode, and with his giving something new a try...I am left for now with hopes for Danny. And therefore, for his nuclear family also. If only someone can help him.
As Gretchen notes his choice in film, he jokes, “Yeh it’s good but I heard he dies at the end”. Gretchen chuckles, and begins to leave, even taking the dog out with her. Danny’s alone. “Actually, I’m wrong; apparently he lives in the end, eternally,” Danny says quickly. I sense sincerity - he really is grasping for this; but I also sense he is like a kid hoping for the right answer. This reprieve...he’s also hoping for one from his jailer. His wife. Will she offer him the same type of acceptance and relief he is finding in his newfound faith? If I were placing bets, I’d place them firmly with the Nazarene.
“That’s right,” Gretchen sings as she exits. Her shift must be over. “I love you honeeeyyy” she calls over her shoulder. Danny asks her to leave the dog, “The only company I’ve got”. His pique then prompts him to once again complain about living in the guest room. “I’ve been bailed out of more luxurious locations,” he gripes. And like all good prisoners, quiets down and turns to the Tv. His face is impassive as he downs some cup o’ noodles and watches the film flicker before him. When will he be ready to end this dysfunctional life cycle, and be set free? When he realises he holds the key to his self-proscribed prison, himself. And then no one will be able to lock him in anywhere. Until that day, whether in this room or not, he’ll be trapped in a stifling cell, working on reform. Because prisons are not really made of walls, or rooms. In the end, the most stifling prison is ourselves.