In Search of Pygmies
Air date: February 14, 2000
Summary/Review by Josh Bermont

Skip summary and go straight to Josh's "Bits and Pieces"

Ally pulls up to a red light in her car, bobbing her head and singing along to the music on her radio. She glances into the car next to her and sees that the driver, an extremely handsome young man, is smiling at her. Grinning to herself, she pauses to compose herself and turns back to commence flirting...only to find that the man's car has pulled ahead of her, his pleasant face replaced by the death's-head grimace of an ancient man with appallingly loose dentures. She recoils, horrified. As the light turns green and the young man pulls away, Ally puts on speed and follows him to the next red light, muttering, "Figures. If I get lucky enough to meet a half-decent guy, he flees the scene." She pleads with him from her car to look into his rearview mirror and see her, and when he doesn't, she finally decides to attract his attention by any means necessary. She steps on the gas, smashing into the back of his car. She gets out and apologizes, sputtering a lame excuse. "We should exchange fluids...PAPERS!" she corrects herself immediately. He raises an eyebrow, saying that he thinks she hit him on purpose to get his attention. Embarrassed, she scoffs at this, saying, "If I wanted to get your attention, I could have just leaned on my horny...HORN!" she groans, digging herself in deeper. She claims that the head trauma has made her confused, and he smiles.

Meanwhile, Ling walks down the sidewalk casually. She is followed by Fish, who spies from the shadows, doing his best "Mission: Impossible" impression and generally making a clumsy ass of himself. He watches as she gets to a corner with a red blinking light and pauses...then puts on a pair of chic black sunglasses, extends an instant retractable white cane with a red tip and crosses against the light, whacking the pavement with it dramatically as cars screech to a halt around her and blare their horns. Fish runs after her, dodging angry motorists and calling out to her. At the other sidewalk, she greets him and he catches his breath, observing with astonishment that she pretended to be blind and that there are real blind people who would find that offensive. "It's not like any of them saw me!" she replies. He asks where she's going, and she tells him that she's going dancing. When he reacts, thinking that she's found someone else, she says it's not what he's thinking, grabbing his arm and dragging him along.

Back at the traffic accident, Ally tries - - with all the subtlety of a flying hammer - - to find out where he works and if he's married. "You DID hit me on purpose," he says, irritated. "Why would I want to go out with a woman who runs her car into me?" She sourly mutters that she's beginning to wish he was a pedestrian. He laughs dryly, then asks why he shouldn't call the police in case she sees another guy she likes and decides to attack him with her vehicle. Steamed, she goes on the defensive, saying that she slammed into him because he looked like a cute guy without a criminal record and that, because she's almost thirty and good men are hard to find in Boston, she was willing to run him down. She says that he's just acting upset because he knows that she'd have him wrapped around her little finger after just one date. He tells her that she's crazy. She replies that the best women are, and leaves him to gaze after her incredulously.

Elsewhere, Ling escorts Fish into a nursing home's hall, where senior citizens are dancing to "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Several of the old men see her and immediately leave the women they're dancing with, rushing over to greet her. She smiles at them and singles one man out, a charming older gentleman with bright eyes wearing a bow tie, and introduces him to Fish as her best friend, Marty. They go out to the middle of the dance floor together, and as they dance, she asks him why he seems more tired than usual. (As she talks to him, Fish charms the older ladies by laughing with them and fingering their wattles.) Marty tells Ling that he's being kicked out in two weeks...the head of the nursing home, Lucy Taylor, says that his stories are agitating the other residents. Horrified at this injustice, Ling seeks her out and confronts her, saying that he's eighty-two years old and that kicking him out is an awful thing to do. Lucy says she has no choice, that he's creating a disturbance and that because of him, the other residents can't sleep. By way of example, she points out an old man in the hallways carrying a baseball bat and looking around nervously; when she asks him why, he says that he needs it to defend himself in case the pygmies attack. When she asks who told him that there were pygmies in the nursing home, he says that Marty did, and that, "If Marty says it, it's so." Lucy looks at Ling pointedly, raising her eyebrows.

Back at the Cage/Fish firm, John frowns at this, saying that pygmies are a peaceful people. Ling says that it can't be fair for the nursing home to evict him with no place to go, especially since most of the residents enjoy his stories. Fish reads the rules of the home, pointing out that the administrators of the nursing home have the right to force a resident to leave. "You know, I've always believed that, in a prior life, I was a pygmy," John muses. Ling wants John to go with her to a hearing, saying that there's no way the home can legally do this. As she leaves, John says again, "Pygmies are a peaceful people, it's the aborigines who are vicious..."

In the receptionist area, Ally finds Dennis, the handsome man from the crash. He's come to apologize, and to ask her to have dinner with him. She agrees, smiling.

At the hearing, Lucy is telling the judge that Marty has convinced several of the other residents that a tribe of cannibalistic short people are prowling the hallways. And that's not his only story, she says. He's weaved fantastic tales of a "Long-Faced Ghost," supposedly a man who was murdered in a nursing home, who walks the night in search of his missing dentures. Just last week, he organized a drag race in the hallways for the wheelchair patients. There have been stories of dragons, cyclops monsters, ghosts..."And you don't even want to PICTURE the 'Nude Olympics!'" she assures the court. Marty smiles to himself, remembering. When Ling reminds Lucy of the wonderful things he does for the nursing home - - organizing dances, singing and playing the piano for the other residents - - she concedes that he does a lot of wonderful things, saying that he is a very nice man and that she herself is quite fond of him. But Lucy feels that perhaps there's a larger issue...she thinks he might not just be telling stories, that he believes the things he says and has bouts of delusion. And if this is indeed the case, the nursing home is not the place for him to get treatment. She also feels that Marty's stories are dangerous because many of the patients suffer from dementia, and he is generally making it impossible for her to run the nursing home.

At dinner, Dennis tells Ally that he is an oncologist, primarily in the field of research rather than dealing with actual patients. "So basically, you're cute and you cure cancer," she observes. He says that he doesn't have a girlfriend, that he doesn't get out much because dating scares him. She coyly answers that it's no more dangerous than, say, driving a car. He chuckles...then guffaws...then begins a hideous laugh - - part squeal, part snort and part sobbing gasp - - that sounds like a donkey being molested. Ally recoils in disgust. As he recovers from his bout of gruesome hysteria, she cautiously continues the conversation, saying that it's the first time she's ever hit someone with her car to get a date. "And no man has ever...rear-ended me, either," she says, flirtatiously. He immediately begins braying with laughter once again, to her horror.

The next morning, Ally is telling Elaine about how awful the laugh was, saying that it was like a cow giving birth and that she spent the rest of the evening talking about AIDS, the Holocaust, or Linda Tripp just so he wouldn't laugh. Elaine says that he's a gorgeous bad could it be? Ally tells her that, if she had heard it, she wouldn't want to see him again either. Just then, a man steps off the elevator with a huge delivery of flowers for Ally from Dennis. She moans in disappointment.

Back at the hearing, John Cage is asking an old woman on the stand if she carries a laser gun. She smiles and says that she does...she uses it to shoot pygmies. When he asks if she really believes that the nursing home is infested by pygmies, she tells him that a nursing home is a sterile, humorless place where old people go to die. But with Marty, it can become a colorful and adventurous place; the residents fight dragons, hunt pygmies and have wheelchair races! In his seat, Marty nods, smiling.

Ling, John and Richard are consulting with Marty. They want to put him on the stand, but John stresses to him how important it is that he not come off as..."Crackers," Richard finishes. John explains that, since Lucy Taylor claims she cannot control him, he must appear controllable and generally normal before the judge. Ling asks him if he can act like one of those boring "reasonable" people, just for one day. He frowns, telling her that he hates to waste even one day. "Your days at this home will be numbered if your testimony doesn't go well," John assures him quietly. "Trust in that."

In the office unisex, Ally grouses about her problem with the obnoxiously mirthful Dennis to a disbelieving Nelle. Ally says that maybe it was just the restaurant that made it sound louder, asking if she should go out with him again...when Elaine enters, saying that he's here. Ally tells her to send him in, asking Nelle to stay and hear him laugh so she can judge whether or not she's crazy. "I can tell you that now," she says, rolling her eyes. Elaine brings him in, and they make small talk; Ally introduces him to Nelle, and the three women proceed to try to make him laugh, without success. Just when they've given up hope, Elaine makes an offhand remark to Dennis: "Now you see why she has to run a guy over to get a date."

He laughs...a horrific noise, like a goat eating a chainsaw. The demonstration has been made.

At the hearing, Ling asks Marty if he likes to make up stories. He says that the nursing home can take away autonomy, dignity...but never the imagination. She asks him to confirm that he realizes that dragons, ghosts and cyclops monsters don't really exist. He hesitates, seeing the hopeful faces of the other nursing home residents in the courtroom, disappointment in their eyes. He sighs, saying that he realizes he has to say that to keep from being expelled. The judge sternly asks him if the pygmies are real. He looks at the nursing home residents, takes a deep breath, and says, "Yes, your honor, they are very real indeed." There is applause in the courtroom, quickly silenced by the judge. Panicking, Ling asks if he wants to be evicted. He responds as though speaking earnestly to a small child, saying that he doesn't want to be thrown out, but he can't lie. Suddenly, he hears a chattering sound, and sees a horde of fierce pygmies gnashing their teeth at him, approaching with spears. He starts to scream, jumping up from his chair and hiding behind the judge, clawing at him desperately. When the judge asks sharply what he's doing, Marty looks around and sees that there's nothing there...he stutters, saying that he thought he heard them about to come in. John lowers his head as Ling reacts, confused.

After the hearing, Marty explains to them that the residents all NEED to believe in the dragons, the pygmies and ghosts that make their lives fun and interesting. When Ling reminds him that most of them don't really believe, that they just go along with the game because it's fun, he tells her that if they heard him deny the pygmies there'd be no game. John assures him that if he's evicted, the world of adventure will end for them; they'll go back to being old people waiting to die. Marty says that they need him. Ling frowns, approaching him slowly...she knows that he really saw the pygmies, that he covered by saying he "heard" them so he wouldn't be exposed as crazy. He doesn't answer.

John, Ling and Richard plead with the judge to come with them to the nursing home that night. He refuses, stonily reminding them that Marty jumped on him to avoid marauding pygmies. "The issue you're deciding is whether he's a detriment to Collier's Nursing Home," Fish reminds him soberly. "Seeing him in the environs of that nursing home has to be despositive of that issue." There is a pause, and the judge agrees to give them thirty minutes of his time.

Dennis waits for Ally in her office, asking if she's ready to go out with him. Agitated, she asks him to sit down, preparing to break up with him. She begins by saying how terrific she thinks he is, but that it won't work out. His feelings hurt, he asks why...she refuses to tell him, but when he presses the point, she is forces to tell him that she hates his laugh. He is crushed. "I always thought I had a very infectious laugh," the oncologist says. She says that, if she was a friend of his, she would advise him to never laugh again. "You were desperate enough to run into me with your CAR!" he reminds her. "But not not desperate enough to put up with..." He pauses. "That's funny," he says, starting to laugh. She cringes. He leaves, still giggling.

At the nursing home, Marty is playing a beautiful, mournful song on the piano and singing to the other residents. Ling, Richard, John, Lucy and the judge watch him. Feeling awful, Lucy tells the judge that she doesn't deny what a wonderful man he is...but she must consider the other residents. As they leave the dance hall, the judge makes his decision. While he agrees that, if he were running the nursing home, he would sustain Marty's residency, he ISN'T running the nursing home; and neither are the three lawyers. Because Lucy runs the home, it is her decision, and if she feels that she must evict Marty, then that is within her legal right. Just then, the lights cut off, and Marty comes out with the other residents wearing hat s with flashlights on them. It's seven-thirty, and time to hunt pygmies. Ling catches Marty, and quietly asks him to come live with her, to protect her from dragons. He can still visit the home whenever he likes. His face falls, as he realizes what's going on. "I just wanted to give them something," he says to Lucy plaintively. "Who's going to take care of them now?"

The four of them - - Ling, Richard, John and Marty - - walk together on the sidewalk. Marty says that he should start his own nursing home...and freezes, paralyzed with fear. He sees a pygmy snarl at him and run behind a fire hydrant. They ask what the matter is, and he says it's nothing. An entire horde of growling pygmies come out from behind the hydrant brandishing spears and run towards him, shrieking. Terrified, he screams and runs into the street. Ling starts to run after him, but it's too late; they look on in horror as a car squeals, and there is a horrible thud. He is sprawled in the middle of the street. Ling screams, her face distorted with sadness and pain, and rushes to help him. Richard pulls her away kicking and howling desperately, while the sensible John tells the driver of the car to call an ambulance, staring at Marty in shock and disbelief. The old man is not moving.

In the hospital the next morning, the three lawyers are slumped together in the waiting room, asleep. A doctor approaches in green scrubs and stands over them, waiting patiently; they stir, and ask for the news on Marty's condition. He says that the news isn't good. Marty is alive, but there is significant brain damage and his spine has been crushed. He's on a respirator, and if he lives, he will be completely paralyzed and unable to think. Ling starts off calm...she says she wants to know who the neurologist is, and then, her voice shaking and threatening to crack, she tells the doctor to get back in the room with Marty and work harder, instead of giving up on him because he has no money or family. She becomes hysterical, yelling and storming away.

Later, at the Cage/Fish offices, Dennis enters wearing a neck brace, followed by a man in a suit. Ally approaches, confused. He gleefully hands her a summons and a complaint, introducing the other man as his brother who also happens to be his attorney. "You deliberately hurt me from behind, Ally," he says, sneering that neck injuries are tricky. "I woke up this morning, and it hurt to laugh." Ally is upset, and stubbornly refuses to pay him a penny, but Nelle quietly suggests that they go into a conference room and make this go away.

Back at the hospital, John finishes speaking with one of the doctors and walks over to Ling, who is pacing nervously, and Richard, who is trying to comfort her. As he crosses the waiting room, he notices many of the other nursing home residents waiting anxiously. "Three more neurologists have examined him," John says softly. "He's not coming back, Ling." She refuses to accept this. John gently tells her that the respirator is the only thing keeping him alive - - "if you can call it alive," he says - - and that in his will, Marty named Ling trustee of his affairs. Ling sees what he is suggesting, and says she will never pull the plug on him...medical science is unpredictable, she insists, and they could come up with a way to fix him within a year, six months...the old woman who testified on the stand overhears this and interrupts her, asking to speak with her in private. She reminds Ling that Marty's feelings on what he wanted if this should ever happen were very clear; he wouldn't want to keep living on some machine, it's what they all fear the most. "This was a man who liked to fight dragons!" she says. Ling laughs at the memory, choking down a sob in spite of herself. "He could stare down a cyclops!" the woman continues. "Let him be with God, honey," she begs. "He loved you so much, and I know you loved him...he needs you to help him now."

"Twenty-five thousand?!!?" Ally gasps in disbelief. "Is that how much you get for breakups? You must be rich!" Dennis starts to laugh, and is immediately silenced by everyone in the room. Billy points out that it does seem a bit on the vindictive side. Ally begins to freak out, accusing him of WANTING her to hit him, that it seems a little convenient how he pulled his car in front of her, right where she was in a position to rear-end it! Dennis and his brother look at each other...and begin to laugh, snorting and braying together in a discordant symphony of ear-splitting cacophony. The Cage/Fish lawyers wince in pain. "Pay him! Pay him!!!" Ally says quickly, trying to escape the laughter. But it continues, echoing from the rooftops.

Ling enters Marty's hospital room, asking if she can speak to him first. The doctor agrees, and she sits next to his bed, her voice strained with grief. She starts to say something to him in Chinese...then stops, saying that she hopes this is the right thing to do. Promising to watch over the residents of the nursing home, she asks him timidly to watch over her as well. She takes a deep breath and stands, touching him gently one last time. The nurse enters, putting her hand on the machines. John and Richard stand uncomfortably, not knowing where to look, while Ling holds Marty's hand and looks into his face as the machine's bleep becomes faster, more insistent...and smoothes out into a flat line. They watch solemnly. Ling fights tears; Lucy looks on, her face sad, as John's fingers slowly move to the bridge of his nose and Richard turns away.

The residents of the nursing home return to its halls, weeping and remembering the magic that Marty brought to their lives. Ling walks the streets alone, hugging her coat close to her as though longing for his strength, the security of his arms. The expression on her face tells us that she isn't dwelling on his death...but rather, celebrating the glorious impact of his life.


* Well, this was an absolutely beautiful episode, definitely one of the better ones I've ever seen. Like all of the most wonderful episodes, it drew its strength from contrasts; it blended humor and poignant, heart-rending drama perfectly, it literally made us laugh hysterically one moment and made our eyes fill with tears the next. Also, like all of the best episodes, it focused on the subtler contrasts of characters we thought we had pegged pretty well...first John, vulnerable and painfully insecure, then Richard, a paradox too terrified of his own insensitivity to acknowledge his feelings, and now Ling...the vicious philanthropist, a woman who would take advantage of blind people without a second thought while on her way to volunteer at a nursing home. Here, we see a woman who is not only in constant contradiction to herself, but fully realizes it and doesn't feel the need to justify her actions or motivations to anyone, including herself. She cares about who she cares about, and doesn't care about anyone else, unless she happens to care about them. She refuses to live by an established pattern or set of rules - - even her own - - and lives wholly on impulse. But with this freedom, she has the ability to show not only indifference at will, but also a capacity for warmth and compassion that we always seem to forget about.

* Another interesting point struck me, Ally's comical traffic accident in contrast to the grotesque traffic accident that destroyed Marty.

* It was pretty cool that Craig Bierko guest-starred on the show! I know he's not what you might call a "big movie star" by any stretch of the imagination, but he's had major roles in some mainstream films and he DID star in The Thirteenth Floor, so it was groovy to see him in this episode! Oh, and he's also going to star in the Broadway revival of The Music Man this Spring...he's a very talented and underrated actor, so it should be pretty sensational! His laugh was PRICELESS! (Although the charming-gorgeous-intelligent-wonderful-date-whose-only-fault-is-having-a-la ugh-like-a-constipated-mule conflict had already been done on the sitcom "Empty Nest" about seven years ago. Did anyone else notice that? Did anyone else WATCH that show?) When he and his brother were both laughing in the conference room and it echoed over the rooftops, it reminded me so much of the brayings of the Sand People echoing over the dunes in "Star Wars" gave me chills!

* I know, I always harp on what a fantastic character Richard is and what a brilliant actor Greg Germann is in portraying him...! I thought his and Peter MacNichol's performances in this episode, though small, were worthy of mention. They both brought such sober depth to their roles in helping Ling; the way they reacted at the scene of the accident, and in the final scene, their individual reactions when the nurse was pulling the plug - - as though they were witnessing an execution - - were so subtle and genuinely human. In seeing the way John Cage handled each situation with Marty...reasoning with him during the case, taking charge of the accident scene, dealing with the doctors at the makes me wonder if, during his childhood, the Biscuit was forced to take care of a sick and/or aging relative. Perhaps this robbed him of his childhood, made him grow up before his time, and this in turn made him an outcast and insecure. Maybe I'm just reading too much into this as a writer, but the way he seemed to swing into action immediately, it just made me think that he had dealt with something like this before.

* The way the pygmies chased Marty into the's a macabre reference, I know, but it reminded me of the scene in Young Sherlock Holmes, where the man hallucinates that he is being attacked by demons and runs out into the street to be trampled by a horse-drawn carriage. Those pygmies were pretty damn scary.

* Well, that's all for now. I know I'll probably think of a bunch of things I should have said later. Meanwhile, feel free to e-mail me if you have a question, comment or suggestion, or just feel like sharing an opinion with me! I love hearing from readers! :-)

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