TV's Medical Center sells
sexual self-determination

by Sheila Wawanash

from Jump Cut, no. 16, 1977, pp. 29-33
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1977, 2005

In a two-part program that first ran about a year ago, (1) MEDICAL CENTER presented the delicate and controversial issue of transsexuality, an indication of the media's response to "relevance" and of the self-conceived role of prime time genres like the doctor show. According to David Boroff, such TV drama, which is in the general class of the "problem play," derives from

"a long and honorable literary tradition-that of middle class domestic drama… Theater has largely abandoned that large middle area of common experience which was its metier. TV, on the other hand, has become almost doggedly homiletic…The burden of teaching Americans how to live was assumed by the regular series, which week after week relentlessly tackled the domestic problems that beset Americans." (2)

Domestic problems have changed rather drastically since Boroff made these remarks in 1966. The content of the program in question challenges the codes and mores of sexual ideologies and even such an institution as domesticity itself, though not quite in the manner that "deviants" have done in actual social relations. The television treatment still presents its didactic thesis in terms that are acceptable to the dominant culture which comprises both its own milieu and that of its constituency. In spite of the potentially radical nature of its subject, MEDICAL CENTER gets little further than we might have anticipated — which is to say, squarely situated in the ethos of progressive liberal values, reinforcing sexual roles and expectations in a way that raises some fairly obvious questions and provides some equally obvious answers.

After watching the first hour, I was rather more uneasy than the experience seemed to warrant. I began to interrogate and to anticipate. A number of issues that seemed peripheral began to seem significant. Though I wouldn't go so far as to say that the overt content proved to be a red herring, I came to the conclusion that there was another related level here of meaning in the presentation of that overt content. Flow I think that this level may be more socially and culturally important because it addresses a more common set of preoccupations and rests in an even more pervasive set of contradictions than does the issue of transsexuality.

In teaching English to foreign students, we call English the "target" language; we acknowledge that we are also teaching cultural contexts and assumptions that must be related, by degrees of identity and difference, to those of our students. Both the term and the concept are applicable to the case of this TV program, insofar as the "target" language revolves around the motivations of, and attitudes towards, a transsexual. But another character is also a target in this instance, and another set of social relations would seem to require a specifically ideological elaboration in interpreting the program's meaning. This character is a professional woman, unmarried but sexually involved with at least one man. And I propose to look closely at the language that articulates her role, and particularly at the extent to which her role is an unconfessed determinant in the underlying logic of the argument and its representation.

I want to reconstitute the "message" of the program, starting with a premise and a conclusion. My premise is that overt content does not in itself constitute "meaning," however zealously a well-intended theme might be pursued on the level of didactic intent. (3) In one sense, my analysis simply bears out Philip Elliot's proposition, "What is said is the unplanned product of following accepted production routines within established organizational systems." (4) One aspect of the media's "organizational system" (and, not so incidentally, a hospital's as well) is the dominance of men in positions of power. Thus it would seem an inevitable consummation, however devoutly we might not wish it, that this program speaks with a forked tongue if not a double standard with regard to the entry of women into the boardrooms of professional activity.

Between the program's premise and the conclusion as I have stated it here, there is a shift in "topics" that corresponds to a shift between our paying attention to two different characters in the drama, the transsexual and the woman doctor. This is precisely what I first vaguely felt that the program was doing. When I examined certain features of the narrative and its mode of representation, however, the pattern took a definite shape and confirmed my sense of how such a shift is actually effected. The project of analyzing this shift also led me towards a more workable understanding of such terms as code, combination, redundancy, and overdetermination, if only because I had to work with them to specify the program's way of speaking. Something more than the thrill of detective work and confirming suspicions, or of situating myself within the current terminological and theoretical arenas, provided me with a motive for presenting the results of my analysis.

Roger Silverstone has suggested that of all the popular media, TV is the most ideological in that it proceeds on the assumption that it "defines the boundaries of common sense from within its cultural centrality." (5) However, we can refuse to be passive about such "common sense" and "cultural centrality." Critical "readings" of popular TV and film productions have an end that is not simply personal or cultural introspection. Pam Cook has commented on the radical potential in carefully examining "trash" like exploitation movies:

 "The overt manipulation of stereotypes allows us to see what language is at work; myths are revealed as ideological structures embedded in form itself … Insofar as any stereotype represents the attempt to produce a universal popular language, equally valid for everyone, it is a political fact, and the desire to struggle with it marks the wish to change from the old to the new: to subject the timeless 'Truth' to the process of history. If we attempt to deny the reality of the stereotype, to bypass the forms of the language of the dominant class, we place ourselves outside the historical struggle, in the realms of the ideal world of narcissistic identification."(6)

While the exploitation genre uses the conventions of a conservative and generally "sexist" ideology, a TV series like MEDICAL CENTER inverts a good deal of the formula in its emphasis on liberal and progressive values. It is more difficult but I think no less crucial that we criticize such a liberal genre, but neither of these generic formulae or "languages" can be adequately dealt with and dismissed as producing the simple homologies of "false consciousness." Fredric Jameson has remarked that "the presence of some Utopian content even within the most degraded and degrading type of commercial product" provides clues as to how we might deal with such products as cultural facts and ideological phenomena. (7) What he is suggesting is that a radical demystification of mass culture's "pseudo-gratifications" is itself powerless unless it recognizes the social reality of the sources and tensions that give rise to collective fantasy. Both Jameson and Cook are defining the same problematic, but it is displaced and heightened in my project. In a "liberal" TV program we deal with a production that is neither directly exploitative nor degraded, (8) so that one of the first effects is that the critic's posture of rather easy superiority is denied us. More interesting and provocative proofs often reside in the more complex puddings, however. More than one "language" is at work in this program, and one of them is a more or less secretive one in the dynamics of sexual representation. The covert manipulation of sexual stereotypes, beyond the program's overt challenge to our attitudes towards a "deviant," demands an even more rigorous analysis if we are to distinguish what constitutes the program's political facts, its Utopian contents, and its ideological bias.

An element of socio-historical evolution might be discovered in the very titles of the doctor show format. The older series — BEN CASEY, DR. KILDARE — concentrated on their stars, and much of the dramatic impetus was provided by a conventional interaction between an avuncular controlling figure (an older doctor or the head of the hospital, the police commissioner, the principal of the school) and the more impetuous young professional. The formula that absorbs the challenges to vested authority is not discontinued, but it does shift as we move through THE INTERNS and the provocatively titled DOCTORS AND NURSES, which finally admits women but only to assign them their secondary role in the professional hierarchy. In MEDICAL CENTER, the profession, the workspace, and the collectivity are designated as the primary focus, with the result that a fundamental (though unequal) dialectic emerges between the individual and the institution that functionally defines him or her. There is a paradigmatic split in the conception of character into the "public" or professional and "private" selves, which is also seen in the production values. Guest stars are as prominently featured as the regulars, and the drama is not confined to the hospital itself. (9)

This particular episode opens on a domestic scene, as Joe Gannon (regular) and Jessica (guest star) sit around his apartment in bathrobes and discuss their past and present feelings about one another. They are resuming an old affair, and this obviously heterosexual encounter is complicated by the fact that it is also a professional relationship. The lovers are both doctors, and the mobility of her position had enabled Jessica to run away from the relationship after its initial phase. Oddly, there is no suggestion that her moving to another city might have been imposed by her profession, which interpretation would be more accurate in light of the difficulties that couples generally encounter when the ambitions of two professionals require accommodation.

The next morning. Joe, now situated in his office, meets with Pat, who is an old male friend and a former associate at Medical Center. Except for the difference in their sex, Pat's introduction to us in several respects parallels Jessica's. Joe remarks that Pat looks "thinner." Pat amends this to "softer" and reveals his decision to seek "sexual reassignment." He states that he has already completed the hormone phase and wants Joe's help so the surgery can be performed at Medical Center. A terminology so inoffensive and hygienically medical also strikes a specifically TV note. Nothing so blatant or threatening as a sex change is suggested. Rather these words imply that the entire project of transforming sexual roles is a kind of Mission Impossible. Unhappy as a man, Pat wants desperately to try again as a woman. Even his name seems to be chosen for its androgynous potential; such choices are relatively important in a medium weighted rather heavily on the side of its soundtrack and verbal content. Pat says he loathes himself. Yet he chooses the sex whose self-loathing and powerlessness and desperation have been historically enforced by the very patriarchal prerogatives, especially embodied in the medical (and media) establishment(s), which he must confront and persuade before he can "escape."

Pat seems to imagine that becoming a woman would ratify his implicit idealization of the female sexual role. Neither he nor the narrative suggests that there might be more to being female. The narrative gives no more thought to the role of socialization than to the possibility of doctors' giving up their professional prerogatives, and the whole question of the extent to which biology has justified women's oppression as much as their idealization is significantly begged by its absence. Appropriating biology as the major determinant of sex roles would, however, give audiences a way to accept Pat's position in this encounter. The dramatic details do suggest that the situation is something other than an irresolvable subjective dilemma, but they do not suggest that a solution might indeed be to transform sex roles.

What Pat wants is simply to transfer from one side of the great divide to the other. Pat's hormone-induced "femininity" is manifested by his touching breakdown, his tears and the assertion that he's "never wanted anything so much," and his manipulation of his friend's emotional and professional attachments in the interests of his goal. It's a challenging part for an actor and a significant dramatic conception. Pat's claims are recorded with eerie persuasiveness as the deeply resonant male voice intones the passionate — that is, extra-rational and thus female — conviction. Since this voice is, moreover, familiar to the TV audience as that of the representative father of THE BRADY BUNCH, the expression of the wish here underlines its departure from the norm. Wavy hair and "sensitive" eyes, faint tremors in the voice and coyly lowered lids, the fleeting smiles and tears — all of the gestures that denote the "feminine" are amplified by a calculated distance in the close ups and by such a characteristic physical attitude as that in which Pat is seen cowering slightly in his chair, shoulders rounded, looking as though he expects his fully male colleague and friend to hit him.

Joe, in contrast, is shown as mobile, walking around Pat's chair and the room. His first reaction is anger. He turns away from Pat and is framed in a window. Movement and an isolation that is concomitant with the use of visual framing here act as dominant subcodes throughout the two episodes (we might recall Ford's use of them in THE SEARCHERS, where they are also attached to a sexually based system of significance), and they specify reactions of anger, amazement, and aversion in the first of the two hours, inverted to acceptance in the second.

Yet another element is sketchily suggested here. Pat virtually flinches from a blow that is not, at least not physically, administered. Variations and inversions on a subcode of touch become a principal means of designation, and all these elements are featured in the series of confrontations that make up the dramatic whole. Pat has a wife, a son, and a sister-in-law (Jessica). After Jessica is told about the situation by Joe, she immediately rushes to a door where she stands, framed, while she explains that Heather (Pat's wife and her sister) will need her. When Pat informs Heather, Heather backs out of her chair and runs upstairs as Jessica comes in the front door.

Steve, the son, overhears Heather and Jessica talking in the garden, and seeks out his father with a demand for a yes or no answer to what he thinks is an incredible situation. When Steve gets what he came for, he flings open the door by which he had just entered. Yelling "Freak!," Steve leaves Pat standing helpless in the open frame, unable to pursue his son as curious bystanders block his path. In every case, Pat's attempts to embrace those he loves and to explain his decision are literally shrugged off. Even Joe becomes untouchable merely through association with Pat, and for being "on his side," as Jessica puts it. Thus not only the marriage between Pat and Heather — that had been interrupted by Pat's two years in South Africa(!) — but the heterosexual relationship that has just been resumed between Joe and Jessica are jeopardized.

A single dramatic motif, disclosure of Pat's decision and people's reaction to it, makes up the major part of the first episode's narration. The decision challenges fixed roles and — with qualifications — sexual stereotypes. But the way the characters' response is portrayed reinforces the sense that those to whom the challenge is addressed are locked into sexual-political stereotypes, which go unchallenged. Even the challenger, Pat, is depicted in terms of a stock set of "feminine" gestures. Such notions and depictions of femininity are at the core (if they are not the cause) of double-bind situations and responses in which members of the audience as well as characters in the drama participate. Deviancy is linked with untouchability and isolation; in the drama, deviancy impels the movements of the other characters who back off from the situation in various ways.

Yet the audience is clearly meant to sympathize with the dilemma of the protagonist and to hope for an adequate resolution. The parameters of the problem can be seen in the use to which the strongest source of values in the show, its regular Joe Gannon, puts stereotypical notions as he faces the necessity of informing others. When he tells his chief, Joe notes that Pat never contributed to locker-room banter — "You, know, who did what to whom" — and thus Joe grounds his persuasive technique in stereotypes. And Pat himself calls upon essential femininity" to explain to his wife that he understands her and her pain only too well and that she and the family might have known about him all along because he had always needed time for introspection and "little chats" about their relationship.

The richest locus of contradictions, however, lies in institutional politics. A board of directors, upon which both Joe and Jessica sit, must make a collective decision about Pat. Although neither the board nor Pat want any publicity, the courage of one's convictions was one of the values that gave rise to the situation in the first place. In that both shun the threat of publicity, Pat's claims and those of the institution coincide. When Pat's state of mind and the irreversible nature of his chosen course of action are also broached, the board cannot even imagine any way to work out an active and actual equation of individual and institutional interests. Instead, the directors demonstrate "the first rule of politics: get the heat off yourself." (10) They pass the buck to Joe, making him fully responsible; they consent only to testing Pat's overall health. They enter into no real risks, and they (and we) are obviously prepared for the kind of deus ex machina peculiar to TV in general and the doctor show in particular when difficult social questions are at stake. When the tests reveal a coronary condition, the palpable relief of all concerned is indicated by a slight break in the indirect code of untouchability: Joe and Jessica, who have been continuing the quarrel they began in the committee meeting, suddenly take each other's hand as their chief informs them of the results.

The last segment of this episode partially inverts the dramatic formula. For one thing, Pat must learn the results of a decision-making process upon which he is dependent, much as others have been seen as dependent on his own decisions (this especially applies to Heather). After finding out, Pat himself enforces his isolation, since he asks Joe to leave. And, placed in a relation to his own dilemma that corresponds more to that in which he had earlier placed others, he now carries out the logic of consequent movement, seen in a highly conventional montage sequence, which also performs the summary and cliff-hanging functions required by the dramatic juncture. Pat is driving his car; the sequence is made up of close ups (his overwrought face, a foot moving from the breaks to the gas pedal), flash backs of traumatic moments, and mid-shots of two near accidents. A kind of private "chase" in narrative time as well as space, the sequence ends with the car going through a restraining barrier into a body of water. The episode ends with Pat in the hospital, Joe's patient after all.

When Joe questions him, Pat says that he was not attempting suicide but that it's an attractive idea since he's "spiritually dead" anyway, presumably because he now considers himself doomed to biological maleness. Both the extent to which he enacts the dramatic correlatives that have defined the responses of the "normal" characters, and his presentation in the next episode (he is more mobile and less made up, he even seems taller) would seem to lead into this non-resolution; but as Joe and his superior walk away (Are they always hanging around for mere car accidents?), Joe announces that he wants to go ahead with Pat's surgery, while his chief reminds him that the difficulties are now doubled, both in terms of Pat's condition and the necessity of persuading the other directors. Finally, we are left with the previews to next week's conclusion, which extend this set of contradictions. We see Pat slap his son's face twice for calling him "mother" — surely this flash of male aggression might announce his "recovery" — but we don't see the viewer's real object of desire in the voyeurist sense (will she or won't he), a shot of Pat after the operation.

The subcodes I've mentioned narratively reinforce the notion that deviancy enforces isolation, given the nature of our socio-cultural sexual politics. Furthermore, certain characters are linked with one another to constitute a collectivity of "normal" responses that must be reoriented if the self-determining individual is to be permitted to act (the question of Pat's reinstatement in the social complex is not significantly raised). Three characters in particular must receive Joe's and Pat's didactic lesson in liberal tolerance, and there are narrative strategies that ensure their combination and utility as, in effect, audience surrogates. Television, of course, is a medium uniquely framed and embedded, both in the viewing situation and in its cultural content. We watch images of work and play, "adventure" and "home life," surrounded by the circumstances of our own lives and homes.

With the exception of four sequences, this first hour is confined to the hospital and Pat's hotel room, somewhat deflecting the potential threat to the audience in their own environment. The only two sequences in which Heather figures take place in her house and garden, and they seem to make her belong "naturally" to these settings at the same time as they activate a sympathy that is withdrawn elsewhere. In the second hour, when we no longer see her in this "natural" milieu, she is diagnosed by Joe as a neurotic. As Pat's wife, she is the character most directly involved in his decision. She is also the one least able to evade it in any real or productive sense, since her range of movement is restricted to the boundaries of her property (which probably doesn't belong to her anyway). Steve, the son, is as directly involved; the second episode shows him in "natural" settings that parallel, but in a wider range, those in which we initially see Heather. We see him by the sea, talking to Joe in a didactic interchange that clears up certain confusions; here the two characters go through a virtual litany of deviant terminologies — "Is he someone who…?", "That's a…" (we could call this the "situation method" of teaching deviancy as a second language, since the audience is clearly expected to benefit from the call and response drill pattern). We also see Steve in a more complex confrontation with Pat, in a mountain cabin where they had shared masculine pleasures in the past.

But Steve and Heather are balanced by a third character who is directly involved in a different sense. Skip Daley is a racing driver whose leg has been badly damaged in an accident, and whose best hope of recovery lies in Pat's professional expertise. Both his name and his occupation indicate his normal manly and social mobility. (In fact, there is the kind of redundancy we might note in the conjunction of Heather's name and the shots of her carrying flowers and sitting in her garden.) He is overtly "masculine" in his heavy-handed flirtation with a young nurse, and it is through Skip that the code of touchability is brought into the open, and through whom we can begin to discover its relation to sex role categories. He doesn't want Pat anywhere near him when he finds out about Pat's deviancy. But at that point Skip becomes untouchable himself; the nurse who has been giving him "her first bath" reads him the expected lecture on a broad mind and the separation of personal and professional factors and leaves him to finish washing himself. (11) Some of the double binds in the notions of male/female, deviant and normal, can be seen in the fact that intolerance produces the same set of relations as deviancy itself, even though it is defined as the normal response to deviancy.

And while Skip is actually outside the situation in which Heather and Steve find themselves, he is in some ways at the center of the sexual-political problem that divides the family across the gap of sex and age affiliations while it unites them in the family nexus. He is at least temporarily immobilized and, like Heather, dependent on the medical establishment in general and Pat in particular. But because he identifies so totally with male stereotypes he is, like Steve, threatened by the very idea of deviation from the male norm. Since he most clearly needs the program's didactic lesson, he could be seen as the most obvious audience surrogate. Yet he is the one least likely to be identified as such, and in effect we are placed in a relation that is about equidistant between Pat's values (that is, those of the "deviant" on one side and the "feminine" on the other) and Skip's (which are those of the "masculine" norm). Rather, it is Heather and Steve with whom we "identify." The linkage among the three characters groups them, however, and though there are distinctions and degrees in the manipulations of our sympathies, there are sufficiently repetitive effects between each of them that ensures that we will respond to them as a group. (For example, all of these characters, and only these characters, are blonde; we need hardly discount as an accident what acts as an overdetermination.)

The second hour repeats several of the basic situations of the first (a committee meeting, confrontations between Pat and Heather and Pat and Steve) and displaces others. There is the meeting between Joe and Steve in which Joe assumes a share of the paternal function and Steve is placed in settings and interpersonal relationships that parallel Heather's in the first hour. Heather, on the other hand, is virtually relegated to the margins of the drama, with both her role and Jessica's reduced to something like frame narratives. In effect, as the role of the women recedes, the complexities introduced into the Oedipal patrimony emerge as the foreground. The people who are to be didactically manipulated and reassured become principally male. While it's hardly an issue to be flippant about, one feature of the implied lesson now sounds like the traditional myth of male camaraderie; "We can solve this little problem amongst ourselves as long as women know their place and keep it." Of course, this variation on the absolute division into sex roles can hardly resolve the contradictions of Pat's situation. Accordingly, the key of the episode is struck in its opening note in an interchange between Pat and Skip on the subject of virility. Pat asserts that self-pity and gender identification are "all in your head," which would seem to contradict the passion with which he pursues a body that fits his conception of himself. But Skip is shown as learning the lesson immediately, for in the follow-up scene he violates a stereotype by becoming a "grown man in tears" who is able to reach for his young nurse's hand. The signifying gesture of withdrawal in the first episode is thus picked up and its inversion begun.

 Concomitantly, if isolation and individual interactions had been the primary emphasis in the first episode, the social dimensions of the issue constitute the dynamics of the second. The three main scenes with Steve are motivated by another board meeting, in which Joe speaks of the need for sympathy in the individual case but also addresses the question of social responsibility and professional example: "We are doctors. If we can't feel compassion who can?" Jessica responds that there is more than one person's "psychological health" at stake. In holding Joe to the premises of compassion and social responsibility, she extends and partially displaces his argument. When she presents the family as an institution that must also be considered, if not protected, the board finds itself in essential agreement with her position (and with its own tendency to delay and conserve). Once more the board makes Joe responsible, and this time he must obtain the family's cooperation if the surgery is to be performed or even reconsidered.

Heather won't see or talk to anyone, though she appeared briefly at the hospital in an opening scene, "pleading like an idiot" with Pat, to put it in her own words. Joe diagnoses her as "neurotic," which leaves the decision to operate up to Steve. First Joe attempts to clear up Steve's confusion as to just what his father is and wants; in particular, Joe explains terms like homosexual, transvestite, and transsexual. Next Steve overhears some of the Medical Center staff. They are making some rather lame and vulgar jokes about Pat, of the "You wouldn't know to look at him, he's six feet tall" and "Maybe they can make two women out of him" variety. They might be orderlies and thus outside the dominant "class" of the medical hierarchy, or they might be interns, which would demonstrate the need for ideological reorientation in the younger generation of which Steve is also a member. Steve, smaller than any of this male group and alone (which is visually punctuated by the contrast between his civilian clothes and their hospital whites), charges into the gathering. His act establishes both his own foolhardy masculinity" and the negative — i.e., aggressive — variant of the code of male-to-male approachability.

The same combination is instrumental in the subsequent confrontation between Steve and Pat at the mountain cabin to which Steve retreats after his futile attempt to defend not his father but his own right to participate in the male social unit. At this point, Steve's defensiveness is revealed as a function of his own insecure gender identification. He's "not good at sports" and "reads a lot — poetry." In short, since he's afraid that his sexual patrimony is an inherited defect, he had resolved to kill himself. That he's only managed to get drunk on a six pack is a final ignominy. Pat's reassurance — "You're not like me" (delivery heartfelt, near tears for the only time in this episode) — is not enough and may even provoke Steve into goading him with the difficult and, given the situation, insoluble Oedipal dilemma. When Steve says, "You're not my father! Maybe you're my mother. Maybe I have two mothers" — Pat responds by slapping him — twice, and deliberately.

This scene is actually the first half of a double dramatic movement. Its reversal is delayed by a scene between Heather and Joe. Joe assures her that what had passed between Pat and Steve had been more than a "proof of love." Though this remains to Heather — and by extension to us — something of a mystification, it presumably implies that Pat has demonstrated that he might abstract himself as an individual from the fundamental determinant of his role as a father, but that the role itself is not thereby invalidated. By the next day anyway Steve has changed his mind about not giving his consent and seeks out his father in a scene that inverts both the confrontation in the first episode and the one we have just witnessed. Heather will go only so far as not to stand in Pat's way, but Steve has made a real and difficult commitment to the values of tolerance and the rights of individual self-determination. He acknowledges that his father must "do what you have to do," and they embrace over Pat's open suitcase in an eleventh hour reprieve, as Pat had been packing to leave Medical Center and seek the operation in a less scrupulous — and less safe — place.

Only when this continuity and communality of male roles and values is to some extent resolved does the conventional doctor-show operation take place, with the full quota of busy backs, masked and inscrutable faces, clipped, tense dialogue, and the expressive oscillations of the EKG machines. When the graph levels out, the anticipated deus ex machina seems to have arrived; surely we have been led to expect a death both because of the cardiac problem and because of the extraordinary nature of what must take place in the camera's eye if Pat does not die here. But TV series and medicine seem to have made a great deal of progress from the old days of high drama and easy non-resolutions to facing potentially troubling social facts and effects. The emergency is handled with such quick competence that the operation is over before we are aware that our expectations have been averted. And after a short interlude in which Joe prepares Heather for an encounter with a "fully feminine" Pat — which is articulated, beyond the facts of the operation, by the change to women's "clothes, hair, makeup — the unexpected does take place, more or less in plain view.

 We watch Heather as she hovers anxiously in front of a closed door marked No Visitors (our own sense of suspense and voyeurist invasion heightened) and at the last minute removes her wedding ring. She opens the door; the camera adopts a "point of view" angle as we occupy her range of vision and, from a discreet distance, perceive a shadowy figure sitting in profile across the room. As she (Heather) apologizes for staring, Pat's voice offers a joking reminder that she (Pat) is going to start charging admission — which indicates that the most threatening change might lie in the need to use a different pronoun for Pat than the one we have been accustomed to. The camera approaches with Heather, and takes upon itself the courage of diegetic completion as well as the risk of being responsible for the voyeurist motive by actually showing its objective. Of course, Pat looks exactly like he did before the operation, but with a wig and makeup added (and he sounds exactly like he has all along, in a medium that is, as I have already observed, heavily determined in the direction of its soundtrack), but at least he doesn't look like anything on THE BRADY BUNCH.

And by carrying out the logistics of the code of sexual distance and approachability, the camera produces an effect of closure in this relationship that the characters themselves cannot. Pat and Heather make no physical contact; they are brought together more by the medium's ability to place them in the same frame than by any possible resolution of their past differences and future similarities. In one sense, they come together as two newly self-determining individuals, since Heather has found a job and rather pathetically projects an image of recently won self-respect. This self-respect is qualified, however, even literally parenthesized, by Heather's abrupt dropping of the smiling mask of labored goodwill once she is outside Pat's ambience before and after this meeting; alone, she still looks anxious and tense, as if she's barely holding on. In another sense, both Pat and Heather must now learn to cope with the actuality that separates them in their new lives.

As Heather leaves alone, the camera lingers on her baffled face as she closes the door behind her. The final shot repeats the exit motif for Pat, but from a distance that both reaffirms the code by which he has been represented heretofore, and takes us back full circle to the credit sequence in which an ambulance, shot from above, approaches Medical Center. The "point of view" in this angle is that of the doctors' offices. In this case it is Joe's office, where he and his chief are discussing Pat's future — "She can handle it" — as she leaves by a side door to avoid the press and takes a taxi "to practice medicine in another country."

In context and presentation, this program is a genuinely progressive text. But to say this is not to imply an automatic value judgment, either positive or negative. We might well consider at this point Colin McCabe's observation:

"The classic realist text cannot deal with the real in its contradictions … There is a level of contradiction into which it can enter. This is the contradiction between the dominant discourse of the text and the dominant ideological discourses of the time. The contradiction between the dominant discourses in a classic realist text and the dominant ideological discourses at work in a society are what provide the criteria for discriminating within the classic realist text. And these criteria will often resolve themselves into questions of subject matter. What is, however, still impossible for the classic realist text is to offer any perspectives for struggle due to the inability to investigate contradictions."(12)

Continued on page two of essay.