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'Black Box' recap: Curious cases of phantom limbs and beautiful (faux) visions

Season 1 | Episode 6 | “Forget Me” | Aired May 29, 2014

We know what happened to Catherine’s mother: She too suffered from bipolar disorder and committed suicide by walking into the ocean. Damn. So, what about Catherine’s father? Time to find out.

The show opens with Catherine sitting in traffic, in a taxicab. She hears a familiar jazz song on the radio and immediately flashes to her childhood: a happy memory of her father playing the piano. She snaps back to the present and asks the cabbie to turn the radio off.

First patient alert! At The Cube, Catherine meets with a high-ranking-looking military guy. He thanks Catherine for helping with this case — a young man, Capt. Moran (Tom Pelphrey). She meets with Moran and asks him to raise his right arm, and then his left. It’s clear he’s in excruciating pain as he lifts his left, missing (from the elbow down) arm. Moran appears ashamed for being “crippled by something that isn’t real”; however, Catherine assures him that the phantom sensations are very real and very common. Moran is distraught, but Catherine is hopeful for a fix.

Docs-in-training Ali and Leo are back this episode. Last we saw Leo, he had just had brain surgery, and now he’s now in recovery (eight days later). The pair of docs are walking and talking outside in the cold (clearly, this was intended to air in the fall or winter). Leo is obviously anxious to be back at The Cube, but his memory is muddled a bit. Ali takes note (as always).

Will is sitting in his restaurant with a guy who presumably works at the joint too — his boss, maybe? Anyway, the guy praises Will for his latest review in some important magazine, then asks about the “sexy hostess” (troublemaker and fling Delilah). Will says he’s going to let Delilah go, but the guy lets on that he knows about the infamous hookup. Firing Delilah now could lead to legal issues. Oh, and apparently Delilah told this guy that Will professed his love for her. Okay, this chick’s going to get crazy — and not in a brilliant Catherine kind of way.  

Second patient alert! Catherine meets with Beatrice (Trini Alvarado, The Frighteners), a legally blind lady who recently had a nasty fall. The quirk? Since her fall, Beatrice will occasionally see quite clearly. But she doesn’t see what’s actually there — it’s more like she sees beautiful visions (e.g., a snow leopard in her hospital room). Catherine orders a tox screen and a head scan.

Catherine finds herself alone in the elevator with Dr. Bickman. Boldly, Bickman asks about their hookup a few weeks prior. Catherine says it was meaningless sex, a mistake, but Bickman can’t stop thinking about it. He taunts her a bit and they almost kiss before she pulls away.

black box - ep 6

Joshua and Catherine

That evening, Catherine and Will head to her brother’s house to have dinner. They hear Esme play the piano; ask how her new school is going; share some wine talk; then bring up Catherine and Joshua’s father, Hunter. Big mistake. Hunter is in town — playing at some local club — and wants to see the family. Catherine wants nothing to do with him. She flashes to childhood, at her mother’s funeral, where she witnesses her father walking out that day. And not coming back.

Back at their apartment, Catherine delves into her daddy issues with Will. She says her aunt raised her and Joshua. They would occasionally see their dad at Christmas or during summer vacation. He would bring unwanted gifts and leave again shortly thereafter. Catherine reiterates her disdain when she says, “[My father] played no part in my past. Why should he be in my future?”

The next day, blind patient Beatrice walks with a nurse in the hospital stairway. Beatrice stops to take in the scenic — and faux — mountain view she sees in front of her. Because Beatrice is elated by her visions, the nurse lets her stay for the view.

Capt. Moran meets with Dr. Bickman and therapist Dr. Farrah Mahmoud about the phantom arm sensations. Bickman suggests different surgery options, only to be shot down. Been there, done that. Dr. Mahmoud suggests his pain could be related to the accident’s details. Her recommendation is therapy.

Doc-in-training Ali attempts to talk to a busy Catherine about Leo’s memory deficits. While Catherine tries to reassure Ali that Leo — like all brain surgery patients — is going to be confused for a while, both women appear to lack confidence in Leo’s prognosis.

It’s now test time for Leo. He meets with Bickman, who checks Leo’s scar and proceeds to quiz him on certain medical lingo. Leo avoids answering and becomes argumentative. They play a “10-word test,” which Leo fails miserably. A very matter-of-fact Bickman tells Leo that he might need to rethink his future in medicine. Ouch.

In the hospital hallway, Leo hurriedly leaves and Catherine notices. She immediately asks Bickman what he did. Bickman — once more in a rather insensitive fashion — relays Leo’s results. Again, Catherine is quick with the poignant lines in this episode when she fires back, “If you fix his [Leo’s] head and break his heart, that makes you a lousy man and a lousy doctor.” You tell ‘em, Catherine.

Elsewhere in the hospital, blind Beatrice sees another vision — a Great Dane wearing a tuxedo. It’s quite evident these faux scenes make her very happy.

With Catherine, Ali discusses Beatrice’s test results. Her psych evaluation is clear, but there was something on the scan that could be something (like MS). A nurse interrupts the two and says someone — “a busted rock star” — is here to see Catherine.  She peeks in the lobby, sees her father (David Rasche) and turns around.

Capt. Moran meets with Dr. Mahmoud to discuss the incident. He discloses a heartbreaking war story that involves guilt for letting his best friend die — all of which ends up being a lie. He says he has no guilt. It was just bad luck. He saved five men and is proud of his actions. He meets with Catherine and explains his disgust for therapy. She’s not giving up on helping him.

Catherine heads to Joshua’s work — woodworking of sorts — to apologize for their fight about their father and to ask for a favor. It’s then revealed that the two have very different memories of how their father left. While Catherine just remembers him walking out, Joshua remembers their father being forced out by their aunt. While their father wanted to take his kids on the road with him, the aunt wanted them to stay in place (where it was stable/familiar). She encouraged him to leave quickly, without goodbyes. Catherine still doesn’t see it that way.  Joshua wants her to consider coming to their father’s concert.

Later that night, as a little parental aside, Catherine and Will meet at a bar, where Will recalls his bad dad (an abusive alcoholic). Overhearing the talk, the elderly bartender relays a tender story about Will’s father in which he anonymously bought the bartender and his family a turkey every year for Thanksgiving.

Vanessa Redgrave alert! Redgrave is back as Dr. Hartramph, Catherine’s therapist. In session, Catherine talks about the father stuff. The good doctor is sympathetic and actually thinks sometimes it’s better to leaves things in the past — versus rehashing the memories. She tells a story about a former patient who was sexually abused. As a therapist, Dr. Hartrampth made the girl talk in detail about her molestation, and doing so led the girl to attempt suicide.

Catherine leaves the office and we see Dr. Hartramph close the window shade, revealing a long scar on her wrist. Secrets, secrets. So she was the young girl?

Later, Catherine meets with Capt. Moran — and she has a plan! She tells Moran that they need to retrain the brain, and pulls out a large wooden box with mirrors (made by Joshua).  By sticking his arms through holes in the box, he is given the illusion that his right arm is also his left arm — making him think that he has both arms.  Did that make sense?! Conclusion: The pain disappears! It’s just going to take some practice.

And now for the second patient wrap-up … Catherine tells Beatrice that she is clear to go home. There is actually nothing wrong with her.  Then what’s causing the visions? A particular syndrome where the mind misses seeing and fills the void with beautiful images. It’s not a disease; it’s a gift. Delighted, Beatrice looks out the window and sees an underwater scene with mermaids. Not bad.

Bickman is not done with Capt. Moran. In lieu of Catherine’s wooden box, Bickman had a friend reprogram a virtual reality game so that Moran can use that. It’s kind of amazing and — AGAIN — Catherine finds herself taken by Bickman’s smarts.

To make matters worse (or better?), Bickman and Catherine observe Ali working with Leo to repeat the word tests. He’s improving.  Catherine’s impressed with herself because she guilted Bickman into letting Leo work on his memory.

Hunter, Catherine's Father, played by David Rasche

Hunter, Catherine’s father, played by David Rasche

And back to daddy for Catherine. While Catherine is at home drinking wine, Esme and her parents prep for Hunter’s concert. Catherine ignores a call from her brother.  At the club, Esme waits a few moments to see if her aunt will show. She doesn’t — Esme enters the club — and then Catherine appears. While Esme and family watch the show from the front row, Catherine peeks at her father from the back of the club. Hunter sees her and she leaves.

I can’t help but compare Dr. Catherine Black to Dr. Gregory House. Both are brilliant; both had deep-seated personal issues. And while Catherine is quite a bit nicer, it was House’s acidic wit and bedside manner that made him fun — and interesting — to watch. Catherine doesn’t always pull the punches, but is she really interesting enough to root for?

Six episodes down, seven to go — and there’s a two-week hiatus until the next one. Are you sticking around?



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