Dr. Karen Kim is the best thing about Mistresses—itself the best thing about Alyssa Milano—and she is also a complete, person-killing disaster. These two facts compliment each other, which you wouldn't expect. As of this week's episode, Karen is an escort. At least a bad one. She has previously been: an accomplice to insurance fraud, an accomplice to homicide, and yes a mistress.
The stress continually brings out the best in her, and gives us all the glory of Yunjin Kim's particular kind of mania, which finds humor and sense in the outrage that having it together is about the craziest thing you can do.
I do not know if I even remember all of Karen's bad decisions. Let's start from the top:
Season 1, Episode 1
Karen falls in love with one Thomas Grey, who looks and acts but does not endure quite like John Schneider does usually. Thomas is one of her patients, so Karen sleeps with him and then helps kill him, because of love. The composite parts of this plan make sense from afar, but not together. The entire enterprise is guileless (moral) and also Elizabeth Grey is terrifying, like hello.
AND THEN Karen deletes her patient files on Thomas. It is a physical act, her shredding the files and also her dragging the icons on her computer into the recycling bin. (There's something I think to the idea that in season 4, a spurned NSA agent will manage to track down these digitally deleted files down in the cloud somewhere and use them to incriminate Karen because the police state, man, but that is also so next level that it's basically inevitable.)
Season 1, Episode 4
Karen falls for Sam, the son of her former patient who we'll remember has died after sleeping with her and then she gave him a lot of morphine. (The series intentionally dices up the chronology of these discrete acts so that it does feel as though she's killing Thomas and fucking him all at once.)
Sam almost immediately begins to flirt with Karen and then almost immediately begins to stalk her. He redefines the already blurry line between cute and crazy. He is the line, personified, if you want to get metonymic about it.
Season 1, Episode 5
Dead Thomas' wife Elizabeth, hallowed be her name, radiates instability. She makes crazy requests like requests only come in crazy flavors. But Karen doesn't seem to vibrate on her same frequency. Verbs like to forge (as in, Let's forget documents on behalf of Elizabeth's dead husband!) trip none of Karen's wires. The simplest way out of this whole mess, wherein Karen doesn't know everything that Elizabeth knows about Karen's affair and so goes along with her instructions to avoid the police, is to kill Elizabeth. It's equally as amoral but requires much less paperwork. Instead Karen lies. She lies and lies. Which gets her no closer to grieving the man she loved and no farther away from the woman he hated.
Season 1, Episode 8
Karen tells Elizabeth that she thinks Sam has issues—that he is maybe a little too. This is technically true and sound psychological counsel. She tells Elizabeth for no other reason than that the woman can spit this back in her face: "Maybe you should tell him you were screwing his father: That should break the spell."
Season 1, Episode 11
Karen, embroiled in a legal affair that could ruin her career and her life (since the two are always one and the same), decides to be honest. She assumes the truth of the whole situation will set her free; that it will absolve her; that she somehow can't taste the impossibility of the truth (that woman's dead husband loves me; she killed him) as she's saying it. Karen has never watched any show like Mistresses before. Karen doesn't know how to behave in situations like this.
Season 1, Episode 13
In this order: Karen invites an obviously deranged Elizabeth into her home, offers to feed her more alcohol after Elizabeth pulls out a gun, and then hides her 911 call in the liquor cabinet. (Which is maybe the best decision she's ever made, when you squint at it through her cockeyed moral prism.) Sam shows up. Karen lets them at each other.
PICTURED: Jacob, the kind of man Karen does not fall in love with, even after a whole season of will she/when will she make sexual contact with her hot coworking therapist. (Karen's not looking at his smile; she's looking at his platonically perfect jawline.)
Season 2, Episode 1
Apropos of nothing, Karen decides that she is done with therapy. Time, in the absence of any actual progress, has healed all over her wounds. Scabbing is not a thing, I guess. Psychological wounds do not scab! Apropos of everything, Karen goes out of private practice and into the ER because hahaha "trauma" is her middle name.
Then Karen schleps all/most of this baggage onto her new patient Anna, who she intends to rescue from encroaching mental oblivion, which is a bit like the trapped boy tossing a rope back up the well to Lassie.
Season 2, Episode 4
Dating is hard. You know what isn't hard? Being an escort—an enterprise that, while ideally leaving few emotional/legal ties to your escortees, requires mental dexterity of a very Julia Roberts order. Karen would literally have to take off all of her skin and be someone else for this to work, which she hasn't yet figured out how to do. So she does this instead. Karen keeps on doing!
[Images via ABC]