China Beach: Hello Goodbye (1991)
Season 4, Episode 16
What Makes A Woman Happy?
3 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The shrewdness of the series-finale episode took me a while to appreciate, as decades-long as the fictional time-line 1967-1985 itself. The premise seems simple enough, almost sophomoric: why did nurse-protagonist, cool-hottie, teflon-hearted-superwoman Colleen McMurphy end up with the guy she did? Veteran character-actor and generic nice-blob Adam Arkin plays her husband. They awkwardly meet three regular characters from her past at a reunion, and all are not-so-thinly-veiledly, shamelessly, still in love with McMurphy. Like a morality play, there's Dr. "Security" Richard, "Pretty Boy" Boonie, and "Manly Man" Dodger. Each in turn makes it plain, subtle or no, that his heart yet pines for McMurphy. Simple apparent answer: if only she could have found a man who combined the best of each of her flawed suitors. Is that why she rebuffed them all? Did she settle?

The men's-room scene seems about to propel milquetoast husband right down pathetic lane. He's so desperately trying to find his well-stalked wife that he's looking in the men's room? Does he expect to discover an illicit tryst of the most tacky form? Long pause builds the tension. But then that bubble pops in Whedonesque style when she answers "over here". What the? There she is in the last stall with the door open, fully matronly clothed.

Where the writing U-turns is his reaction. He does not shout in horror, what are you doing in a men's room. Nor does he clarion for retreat before shameful discovery. Instead he does something so ordinary as to be extraordinary: small talk. This elicits the calmest of incongruity-belying responses from the overstimulated McMurphy. By banal conversation he makes the moment sublime: these two have an understanding. The palpable audience tension starkly contrasts the character ease. The inevitable discovery sees our heroes coolly toasting some vintage dry wit, sardonic banter at the expense of a stunned young restroom patron. Here begins the answer, this is no ordinary couple.

Here we approach the heart of What A Woman Wants, or actually the oft-confused co-conundrum: What Makes A Woman Happy. It wasn't safety. Not good looks nor fun-lovingness. Neither rugged grit. And it certainly wasn't mere devotedness, which all suitors exhibited in abundance. Not even all these qualities combined. Here's what Colleen really wanted all along: 1. Don't judge me, accept me as I am and as I become. 2. Care about me, be proverbially there when I need it, and 3. Make me laugh.

Even the husbandly exit from the men's room scene is telling: he leaves a few seconds after a diligently-coaxed smile relaxes McMurphy's battle-furrowed brow at last. So this was her knight's chivalrous goal. For what other refuge is there from man's worst, as well as from mankind's worst? The worst of war's experience is not witnessing injury or death. It's not even cruelty, perverse savagery, indifference, nor incompetence. It's when those base emotions are so commonly amok as to reflect the same in the observer. It's not the calloused view down into the bleak abyss, it's the callous-evidenced complicity in having helped dig it. The only way out of an overload of abhorrence is the overdose of absurdity that is humor. And, quite simply, the man who delivered it won her heart. McMurphy knew this all too well when she left China Beach and left all her beaus behind. She ultimately answered the question of the series through her chosen's actions.
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