Chasing Life Episode Review 1×04 – “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”

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Leo The Liar Turns The Tables on April As Her Secret Sickness Begins To Take Its Toll in New Episode of ABC Family’s “Chasing Life”

It was always going to be a big leap of courage for April Carver to reveal her illness to anyone: especially given how hard she’s worked to keep it a secret from her family, friends, co-workers and gorgeous new boyfriend. But things took a turn for the unexpected in this week’s episode – entitled “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” – of ABC Family’s edgy, refreshing new drama “Chasing Life”, when April joins a cancer support group, only to discover that Leo Hendrie – the arrogant son of the politician she is profiling – is also a member of the group.

It’s a tough call for April, who finds herself caught: use the group to gain strength, support and a better understanding of her leukemia via other cancer sufferers, or make good on the massive professional opportunity in front of her, in Leo. Is it just too much of a chance to pass up by not asking him whether he might be able to get her into his father’s campaign launch? As if that we’re enough to complicate matters though, April also facing the possibility that Leo – who knows she’s sick – and Dominic, who doesn’t, may come face to face. Could a stray word from snarky, self serving Leo reveal to Dominic what she has been hiding from him all this time?

And over all this of course lurks the first of her major medical appointments: a biopsy so George can test her marrow to find out the severity of her sickness. Will she be able to cope with the results of what may come? Or perhaps, more importantly, will she be able to cope with the pain, fear and difficulty that is almost certainly is coming, alone? Indeed as we head into this week’s episode, it appears that this is the exact danger April faces if she does not tell the people that matter to her that her time left with them may possibly be limited.

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The Angry Young Man

From the moment they introduced Leo into April’s life, we kind of knew that he would ultimately come to cause some kind of sparky emotional friction for April: not just as a journalistic topic, and not even just as a person, but as a specific kind of person: one who, for all his faults and failures, would be able to make much more sense of a situation that to date, has left April feeling absolutely lost. So when Leo contrast him with Dominic – who understands her much better emotionally and logically, but yet still remains oblivious to her sickness –  you realise that we’ve really been gifted here: with two men who, in their separate relationships with April, both carry a different but important understanding of who April is as a person: albeit either of them from opposing ends of her emotional spectrum.

April: “Are you seriously competing with me over whose diagnosis is worse right now?”
Leo: “Oh gear down. I thought we were cancer friends now. Or at least until one of us kicks it.”

For his part, Scott Michael Foster’s portrayal of the smug, careless and inhibition free (it would seem) Leo Hendrie, has been refreshingly more tart and sharp than I had expected of this character when we first met him. He’s a smug, self-absorbed, jaded, angry and manipulative young man, and that’s frustrating: even though we know that may be a by product of growing up with a skirt chasing politician as his father. Basically he’s an ass, like so many other people in the world can be at times. He’s also an ass who just happens to have cancer.

April: “Why would you go out of your way to manipulate me like that? Especially when you know that I’m sick too.”
Leo: “…That’s the beauty of being sick: there’s no room for anything but the truth.”
April: “Here’s some truth: you’re an ass.”

I like the challenge that’s being put to us here, particularly in that when it comes to something like cancer we seem to forget that the person with it is still there and functioning, and has not in fact simply been replaced with a disease. It’s yet another example of how the writers seem to be making a conscious decision to say to audiences “No: your physical and mental barriers are not who you are. They’re something you’ve got, and really we’ve all got something less than welcome lurking inside all of us.” It’s very honest in how it helps us to separate death and the actual, gritty process of living: genuine honesty about life as it is, and I love that. It kind of makes me feel, as a viewer, that the writers respect me enough to tell me the truth kindly but still without sugar coating it.

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Everyone Has A Price

For all the witty banter, there’s something quite in-your-face about the underlying contents of this episode. Particularly in the case of Leo, but also to an extent in April: that whole idea of using your disability or mental health issue to manipulate others – whether consciously or unconsciously – in order to get them to feel a certain way towards you, that you might ultimately get your own way. In that sense, for all the good points he raises at times, it’s actually really hard to like Leo consistently, predominantly because of just how selfish he is. Is it a condition of his illness, perhaps: a fearlessness that gets borne out of a belief that life is too short not to a) tell people how you really feel, and b) get your kicks wherever you can. Is that it? In all honesty, I don’t know at this point, purely because for my part I’m torn but still incensed by the fact that regardless of whether he’s dying or not, it doesn’t give Leo the right to be a smug, narcissistic asshat to whoever he wants, just because he feels like it, without stopping to honestly evaluate the consequences.

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Stand By Your Mom

You really do have to hand it Sara in a lot of ways. It can’t be easy going back out into the veritable lion’s den of dating in the 21st century after years having been married: especially to a man she not only lost under tragic circumstances, but also one who had a famous identity and perception of self on his own. Indeed one kind of gets the sense that we’re seeing the after photo here of Sara’s emotional state; she really seems like the kind who would have, if she’s being honest, drawn much of her identity from the strength and health of the close relationships around her, as opposed to valuing who she is independent of her husband or their children. But there’s something really brave in her in all these new things she’s trying nowadays, like the tango course; there’s some chutzpah about her spirit, and even if she’s sometimes misguided and overbearing in how that motivation plays out, you really do feel yourself wanting to cheer this amazing mother onward as she searches with for the person she is, independent of anyone else’s thoughts, words, needs and deeds. I particularly liked the fact actually that neither of the girls made the dance lesson, only for April to turn up and see that Sara was fine – actually even having fun – on her own, and I think given April’s condition, that was something she really needed to see.

Brenna: “You know you’ve been a real bitch lately. Just because you have a job doesn’t make your life that much harder than anybody elses.”
April: “Sorry to say it Brenna, but it is.”
Brenna: “Okay I’m wrong. What else is new.”
April: “You want to know what’s new? I have cancer.”
Brenna: “That’s not funny.”
April: “No, it’s not. It’s really not. But if you don’t believe me you can call Uncle George, and he’ll tell you. In fact I’m going to go see him tomorrow for my first biopsy so he can tell me exactly what my chances are of not dying!”

Acting wise, for my part I love the saucy, brave, fun naivety that Mary Page Keller brings to this role. She’s kind of the Everymom in a lot of ways – a far cry from the mothers we would have seen on our screens years ago, when the TV and movie worlds were not interested in anything but filling that gap with versions of the mom we either loathed or absolutely wished we had. Keller’s Sara though – and her character’s journey towards knowing who she is: on her own, independent of the people she cares about – has this quirky, delightful kind of grace to her that is so charming and just makes you want to see Sara keep pushing forward, keep being brave. Now did it suck that her new boyfriend is actually a two timing jerk? Yeah. But at the same time in this we really got a sense that for all her bumbling, awkward, sweetly misguided sentences, Sara is actually capable of a lot of strength and survival. The best part here though? She’s not using that energy to push past grief any more: she’s doing it as a means of not giving up on life. If only she knew how inspiring that attitude would end up being.

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Pride Goeth Before A Falling Ill

Considering the lengths she’s gone to in hiding it from the people she loves, it was always going to be a big, raw moment when the truth finally came out from April to her family about the fact that she is battling a life threatening illness. And so it was with her big, angry and unexpected reveal to Brenna. April’s outburst here is in a lot of ways as expected as it is unexpected. On one hand, her sister’s selfish behavior would drive most of us mad, despite the fact that it’s easy to see why she might be lashing out. But ultimately Brenna is old enough to understand that decisions have consequences, so she really should realise that treating her mom with such a slack attitude is as wrong as it is unhealthy, for both of them. Herein though

Final Verdict
Final Thoughts & Questions…

 

George: “You really don’t like to let people help you, do you?”
April: “I’m here aren’t I?”
George: “I’m glad you seem to be taking these things more seriously. You’ve got to be careful about what you make your priorities, you know. Put the wrong thing first for too long and you won’t just be waking up at the wrong train stop; you’ll be waking up in the wrong life.”
April: “I feel like I already have.”
April: “Are you seriously competing with me over whose diagnosis is worse right now?”
Leo: “Oh gear down. I thought we were cancer friends now. Or at least until one of us kicks it.”
April: “You know I thought I had everything under control, and now I feel like I can’t do anything right.”
Beth: “We’re barely into this new chapter of your life; it’s bound to be a bit confusing.”
April: “How about debilitating?”
Beth: “Of course it is. But there is no-one more capable of rising to the occasion than you. Trust me.”