If you've ever gotten your hands on a human biology type of textbook and pored over all the types of mental disorders the genetic lottery can splash into your brain chemistry like a hellish Spin Art machine (like face blindness, holla at me Brad Pitt), you'll be drawn to the premise of Black Box, a "limited series" procedural focusing on the sort of brain problems that make for unsettling visual effects. YES, let's use CGI in decadent, spicy ways like Taco Bell for eyeballs! So far, so great.
Now meet Catherine Black, brilliant neuroscientist who works at the Cube Center For Studying Brain Stuff who is referred to (like, 200 times) as the "Marco Polo" of the brain, because while the little gray cells are still uncharted territory she's gotten the farthest in her field. It's House but for brains.
Also like the character House, Catherine is an addict, except she's addicted to going OFF her meds. This chart-toppin' neuroscientist is bipolar, babies! And once again like House, she's difficult; in the pilot she cheats on her Perfect Fiancé with a stranger, then rhapsodizes about how brilliant she is when she's unmedicated the way a jazz man might describe his first fix: "I was flying I mean I was on fire daddy-o breathing stars and living large like a Van Gogh all aglow my brain made of dope" ...like, gross.
That having been said hey, progressive: a difficult female lead! Usually network shows are like "SO SORRY about this female lead BUT she's amazing/adorkable/more-a-deadly-weapon-than-a-woman AND secretly doubts herself so she's not threatening. You will forgive her for not having a dick we promise." But she is not that lady, she's Lady House! Right?
Well no, because unlike House Catherine does not disarm people with her rapier wit and then blind them with her science. Noooo, Catherine/Kate is a neurological luminary who is regularly chastised by her closest family and friends for her bipolar behavior (dancing like Stewart in stairwells, slappin' Big Gulps out of bystander's hands). And she co-signs all their disapproval as eagerly as a poor kid signs exploitive student loans. (Personal issues, sorry.)
"Who Are You" was a perfect example of everybody being Very Disappointed with Kate and her being like, "...As you should be."
Last episode ,Kate finally told Perfect Fiance that she cheated on him with a rando, so he made her breakfast in bed and told her he'd had retaliation giddyup time with a 20-year-old hostess at his restaurant. Kate acts even more maturely by looking this hussy up on her phone and later visiting Fiance's restaurant to be like "BTW? I am Perfect Fiancé's girlfriend and I'm a DOCTOR! "
She then lustily makes out with Perfect Fiancé in a commercial kitchen, inches from food being prepared for paying customers. This is 100% a health code violation guys! Hairnets are the one law no one protests. Also bad news that she is accepting / turned on by their intimacy being disrupted.
To perfectly mirror the alienation of a partner maliciously cheating on you, the Cube is focused on CapGras Delusion this week, which an Exposition Intern explains is when people think someone they love has been replaced by a doppelganger impostor. Creepy! Fascinating! Oh babies, this world is full of heartbreaking nightmares, and some of them can reach out and break us before our tender little hearts have even formed.
It's illustrated by a gorgeous blonde lady who insists her equally adorable brunette wife is actually an impostor, so the crew makes her wear a helmet with 600 blue wires sticking out of it like one of those noodle hats for noncommittal Juggalos. When Brunette talks to her from another room via speaker they can basically map hearts coming out of Blonde Wife's head. But when Brunette Wife runs into the room Blonde Wife is suddenly like "Eff you. I don't know you, take a hike." Tragic! Feels!
But then in the next scene, CapGras was played as broad comedy when a guy accused his French poodle of being an impostor? This transition had possible psychopathic tendencies. From my "personal circle" brushes with mental illness, shit is funny in inverse proportion to its zaniness.
The other big dramatic-visual mental disorder down at the Cube was a Zumba aficionado who could only see the right side of everything, which was dramatically illustrated by exactly half the screen getting all Photoshop smeary whenever things were shot from her POV. She showed up at the hospital with half her face made up, and her public unkemptness scared the stuffin' out of Kate's Secret Daughter.
BECAUSE YES: Kate has a Secret Daughter she gave to her brother and his wife to raise, because she didn't want to be a bipolar parent like their mom. Kate adores Secret Daughter which is a big problem for Regan, the adoptive sister-in-law. Secret Daughter's in that phase of teenhood where you bully your mom like you're about to jump her into a gang of your love and acceptance, and Regan is furious Kate gets to be exempt from the teenage rebellion. Secret Daughter thinks Auntie Kate is brilliant and can pull off sheer-insert blouses, but when Regan tries it she's the frumpiest frump in Frumpton. Secret Daughter has the same rubber-band-on-wrist-snapping tic that Kate does, and is making a fan video about Auntie Kate's cool job, all of which is making Regan very possessive of Secret Daughter. Regan is portrayed by the very brilliant Laura Fraser so I hope they round her character out way past this jealousy thing. You don't hire Yo-Yo Ma to play a kazoo! Wasteful.
In the fullness of time we learn the lady who keeps seeing the world half normal /half-as-tho-through-a-mini-magnifying-glass-from-a- Cracker-Jack-box got TB from the homeless shelters she works at. This is deduced when she fist bumps Black Box's Dr. McSteamy, another difficult genius/brain surgeon who Kate has had adulterous giddyup times with (and continues to flirt with because what Perfect Fiancé won't know can't hurt him). The TB was the problem! Now they can fix it! Also, Dr. McSteamy Homage's character is fixed: he met the patient while doing free surgery at her homeless shelters! What a nice guy! The doctors can now forgive him for selfishly showboating earlier, by saving both a mom and her baby via emergency C-Section. (Big OR faux pas.)
Annnnnnd because CapGras is incurable, we learn that our adorable married couple have found a work around: Brunette will walk behind Blonde 24 hours a day, 365 days a year so she exists only as a voice, and then meet face to face as strangers to have sex, because Blonde Wife really gets off on cheating, and Brunette has low self-esteem I guess. This thematically mirrors how Catherine kind of got off on having her insecurity validated by Perfect Fiancé cheating, and for the fifth time in three episodes she tells him "I really don't want to get married! I'm so crazy I dance when there's no boom box!" but he's like "I will stay steadfast like a rock until I wear you down into accepting the marriage and family you have no interest in creating." Hmmmm. HMMMMMM.
Look, there's theoretically tons of potential in Black Box: it's committed to doing interesting visuals like having people's heads explode multiple times, and is exactly the kind of "edgy for network" that feels delightfully safe and cozy. But in a meta twist, the main character's personal drama is sort of detracting from the cool premise of her work life? If she's going to be a happier person as an unrepentant bitch, I'd like to see that happen, rather than sit through her continually apologizing. Like yes, unrepentant bitchiness mixed with high medical competence will ... help society, in ways we can't even imagine. Like a single butterfly, flapping its wings in a really bitchy way.