Boy to the World
Air date: December 14, 1999
Summary/Review by Josh Bermont

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It's Christmastime, and the apartment is decorated appropriately. Colored lights blink cheerfully, wreaths are hung from the walls with care...and Ally adorns the tree like an oversized ornament, having stumbled while placing the star on top. She hears Renee enter and stands perfectly still, absurdly hoping she won't notice - - Renee stares in bewildered amusement for several seconds before blurting out, "It's come to this! You're humping the TREE!" Laughing, she helps Ally down, expressing her surprise at Ally's yuletide spirit when the holidays are the loneliest time of the year. Ally has a date with Jason Roberts (alias "Drip Chin") and she's already getting the Ick. She asks Renee to come along. Renee refuses at first, then agrees to go if Ally will bring John Cage along. As Ally considers this, there is a knock at the door; Ally goes to investigate, and stands stunned as a bevy of apathetic carolers drone Christmas tunes like some red-and-green-garbed cast from "Night of the Living Dead." Ally and Renee look at each other, the holiday spirit bleeding out of them.

The next morning, the lawyers at Cage/Fish & Associates are sitting around the table as Richard rattles off the day's business. He ends by saying that his uncle has died and that he's having some difficulty with the church in the matter of the memorial service - - his uncle had "a distaste for short people," and the church objects to that fact being included in his eulogy. John is troubled, and asks if they can take a moment. They oblige, and Richard asks Billy if he will consult with the minister. Once the meeting is adjourned, Ally invites John to dinner with her, Renee and Jason Roberts, and he accepts.

Billy and Richard go to talk with the pastor, who will not budge from his position. He says there must be limits; he cannot allow Richard to get up and "unload" on short people in his uncle's name, particularly when there are many diminutive churchgoers among the congregation. Richard reminds him that his uncle's dislike for short people is what made him come to that particular church (he was disturbed by the vertically-challenged pastor at the other church), and that his money practically helped build the church...bigot or no, they owe him this final vindication.

At the table, the four lawyers sit uncomfortably in silence. Finally, John leans over and asks Ally if this is a "double-date" scenario, rather than just a casual outing. She bashfully admits that it is. Renee coyly suggests that Jason take a bite of his salad to liven things up a bit.

The judge at the hearing cannot believe the facts of the case regarding Richard's uncle. Billy tries to persuade him that his odd prejudices helped shape the person he was. "A bigot," the judge observes. Billy points out that Richard has no intention of endorsing his uncle's behavior, merely including it as a part of who he was. The judge agrees that it is his right to say whatever he will about his uncle in the eulogy, but asks why he must force a church to act as a forum for it, submitting that the courts are setting precedents these days to protect civil liberties and discourage discrimination. "This whole political correctness thing is out of control!" Billy argues. "First we say you can't act with prejudice, then we say you can't have prejudice. Now we're saying, you can't even talk about someone else's prejudices! This isn't civil's censorship!"

Back at the offices, Richard tells Billy to file a ten-page brief. Billy balks, saying that they've taken it to court and they've taken this silliness far enough - - when Richard pulls rank, a confused and upset Billy questions his love for his uncle, saying that what he's doing isn't a tribute and accusing him of wanting to trash his uncle. Richard loses control, yelling at Billy to shut up. He stands quivering, trying to compose himself as Billy watches in stunned silence. "This is what he wants, Billy, this is what he wants and don't you ever accuse..." He stops himself from blurting out the final word, finishing, "...him, of not wanting it." Billy watches him leave, not knowing what to think.

Later, John asks Ally if they can go out again, saying that he enjoyed the evening. She tells him that would be wonderful, and goes on to say that she's sure Renee would love to go out with him again. His face falls, disappointed; he didn't know that he was there as Renee's date, rather than Ally's. He locks himself in his office with a sign taped to the door, saying, "DO NOT DISTURB - CHAGRINED."

The verdict is in. The judge - - a short man himself - - says that he has thought at great length about this case, and has come to the decision that although laws should exist to discourage discrimination, people are entitled to their prejudices. "If somebody is stupid, or believed stupid things," he says, "it has to be permissable at that person's funeral and say, 'He BELIEVED these stupid things!' But this totem pole political correctness thing...that's stupid. And at my funeral, you can say that I said that," he adds.

That evening, Ally find John standing in his office, brooding. When she asks how long he's been standing there, he pauses, then asks her with some difficulty, "Do you find me short?" He says that he is troubled by Richard's uncle, pointing out that there is an unconscious discrimination against short people and that most women wouldn't consider dating a man who is shorter than they are. She tells him that there are many who would, and he asks if SHE would. Unsure of how to respond, she admits that if he wasn't her boss, she probably would. He smiles, and quietly asks if he can be left alone.

At the funeral, Richard delivers the eulogy, saying that his uncle was very much like a father to him. Before he died, he had made it clear that he didn't want tears or embellishment at his funeral, he didn't want to be praised as a saint...he just wanted people to "tip their hats," and remember him as he was. "He was good, bad," Richard says, his voice strained and cracked with emotion, "caring, insensitive, loud...charitable...liked some people for silly reasons, disliked others for sillier reasons. He said life's just a stupid game, it doesn't matter what you do, what you have...if you're loved in the end, then YOU win." His voice barely above a whisper, he finishes by saying, "He won." He sits down, and the pastor takes a deep breath of relief...and reacts with horror as the choir - - led by Lisa's raucous gospel - - belt out a rendition of "Short People Got No Reason to Live." The congregation gets up to dance, John sinking deeper into his seat and covering his face with his hands as Ally watches sympathetically.

Back at the office, Ally catches John going up the stairs and invites him out on a real date. He accepts, and she leans over to kiss him on the cheek...mistletoe hangs overhead. She walks away as he stands for a moment, beaming with surprise and happiness before continuing up the stairs.

And as Georgia and Billy walk home together, cuddling up close and watching the Christmas shoppers pass by with their excited children, a solitary Richard Fish stands in the snowy cemetary and reverentially places flowers on his uncle's grave.


* My mother always says that, at her funeral, she doesn't want anyone to paint an unrealistic picture of her as some kind of saint because that's not really honoring her. This hit home for me when I witnessed the funerals of my grandparents and heard eulogies that had absolutely no basis in truth. So to a certain degree - - while I don't feel like mentioning a person's FAULTS is necessarily the way to achieve this - - I can understand the uncle's wishes, and why Richard felt so strongly about it. The way I see it, truly honoring someone is recognizing the good qualities that they HAD rather than inventing ones that they didn't. And this doesn't just apply to the dead, either. To truly love someone is to accept their flaws and appreciate their wonderful traits, rather than attributing qualities to them that they don't have in order to create an ideal, because then it's the IDEAL you're in love with, not them.

* Once again, we catch a glimpse of the amazing Richard Fish in all his humanity...fragile and insecure, tortured, all alone at the end of the day. I used to think that Fish's dysfunction was that he simply never examines himself, but now, I see that this isn't the case at all. He isn't ignorant of his own psyche and motivations; he actively shuts himself off to metacognition, really consciously forcing himself to stop himself every time he starts to look at who he really is because he's terrified of what he'll find if he goes too deep. He'd rather not know what's inside - - and thus, on some level, hold out the hope that maybe there IS more to him than abrupt apathy and cold Fishisms - - than find out for sure that his facade is truer than he'd like to believe, that maybe it's not that he doesn't CHOOSE to be sensitive...but that he simply can't. Even though I may sound like a broken record, I think this may be one of the most brilliant, tormented, utterly human and perfectly-crafted characters I've ever encountered in fiction.

* I remember when this episode originally aired, and it seems to me that the judge's speech at the end was abridged in this. Which is sad, because there was a lot of truth in it, I thought. Political correctness has served its purpose, and now it's becoming absolutely ridiculous and serves no purpose. One of the wisest things I ever heard was a man who, after being chided for referring to someone as black, said, "America seems like the only country in which stating a simple fact is frowned upon as bigotry!" Black people, for example, know that they're black the same way that blond people KNOW they've got blond hair. Do we make judgments or form opinions based on this? Of course not. But a nation walking on eggshells scares me, because it's exactly what causes nerves to be slowly frayed on a daily basis, and I think we all know that society's attitudes move in pendulum much longer before disgruntled and disenfranchised people (white AND black) see a surfeit of political correctness as a reason in and of itself for racism? Sexism? Homophobia? Where do we draw the lines?

* One more thing, and I'll go...I apologize for the lack of "Bits & Pieces" last week, I've been under a lot of pressure lately and, as fate would have it, I suddenly found myself in the grip of a terrible writer's block. Besides, most of my opinions were about The Billy Scenario, and I just got so exhausted talking about the issue. I've been championing his cause for a long time now for a lot of reasons - - much to the astonishment and dismay of fans whose opinions are otherwise - - and sometimes, it just seems like an uphill battle, y'know? I was tired of being controversial, and decided to take a week off. :-) So I figured, just keeping my mouth shut was better than voicing an opinion simply out of feeling I "had" to, particularly if I wasn't feeling 100% up to it. Still, thanks for your patience!

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