Mark Wilding on "Superfreak"...
Original Airdate: 10-7-10
I think one of the worst things you can tell a writer is write what you know. Or a close corollary of that – write about your life. If you put my life on a movie screen, the audience would demand their money back. They wouldn’t just walk out of the theatre, they’d stampede the ushers in their rush to the exits. Unless the ushers, bored to death themselves, had already quit their job and gone home. As much as I really enjoy my job – I feel EXTREMELY fortunate that I get to work with a lot of fun people every day – my life itself is relatively boring.
It’s divided into spending forever driving on the freeways, going to some event at my kids’ schools where none of the other parents talk to me, playing the occasional frustrating round of golf (Why aren’t I better than this?? I’ve been playing this sport for 40 years for God’s sake!!), having the occasional run-in with a rude department store clerk or bank employee and going out to dinner with my wife. I like my wife so that part’s less boring. She’s also kind enough to back me up after I’ve had my run-in with the rude store and/or bank employee. Although, now that I think of it, she’s probably getting a little bored herself with my long-winded, self-justifying accounts of those run-ins.
Little bits and pieces of my life do occasionally show up on Grey’s Anatomy. Derek’s taking up golf. I lobbied for that. I also suggested he and Mark hit golf balls off the hospital roof last season. I didn’t suggest the Derek storyline with his estranged sister – that was Shonda’s idea -- but it was an easy story for me to identify with. I have a little sister who’s ten years younger than me. We’re not estranged, far from it in fact, she’s great. But, like Derek and his sister Amy, our dad died when I was 15 and she was five. He wasn’t shot. He had a heart attack. And ever since then I’ve wanted to protect her from what’s out there in the world. After all, that’s what older brothers do. Protect their little sisters. Because the world doesn’t always make you feel good about yourself. In fact, more often than not, the world makes you feel like you don’t belong. Like you’ve missed out on the joke. Like you’re, yes… a freak.
Yup, that was the theme of my episode. Freaks. Because basically we are all Treemen. Physically, we may not have the warts but metaphorically we sure as hell do. Especially when I go to these damn school functions where nobody talks to me. Nobody! And, by the way, it’s not like I don’t make the effort – I DO! I ask the other parents about themselves and their wonderfully accomplished and oh so brilliant children (I’m never this sarcastic with them, I promise) but, even then, even with all the effort I’m putting into the conversation, they start looking around like they want to talk to someone, ANYONE, but me!! THEY CAN’T LOOK AT ME. Yes, suddenly I’M A TREEMAN!! At a PTA Meeting!!!
By the way, most of you probably already know this -- the Treeman is based on a true story about a guy whose warts have grown so out of control he looks like, well, a tree. If our depiction of him wasn’t gross enough for you, you can go to YouTube and watch him in his home in the Philippines. You can also watch the operations to remove all his warts and disturbing-looking growths. In my episode though, the story is really about his long-suffering wife (played wonderfully by Jolene Kim; kudos also to the angry Treeman in my episode – Art Chudabala -- he was great. Also extremely patient, it took our make-up department FIVE HOURS every day to put on all those warts and growths). Emotionally, the story plays on Mark when Mrs. Treeman wonders if love is enough to keep a couple together. That even though you desperately love someone, you’re at such different points in your life, it just can’t work. Which is a very sad realization for Mark when it comes to Lexie.
Meantime, Lexie’s doing her very best to empathize with the Treeman. After all, she’s been in his shoes. For the first couple of episodes she was the one everybody in the hospital was staring at. We never comment on Lexie’s state of mind until the end of the episode but, after being committed, Lexie thinks the world sees her as kind of a freak. Or as she puts it – “a psycho running naked down the hallway.” But even her empathy for freaks can’t prevent her from having a thing about warts. By the way, when we were coming up with the story in the room, one of the writers was so grossed out by even the mention of warts, we had to call them puppies. Which, yes, made this writer a little bit of a freak. And yes, this writer has given me permission to use her name. This writer was Krista Vernoff. You know how Bailey jumped ten feet back when she saw the spider? That was Krista every time we mentioned warts. Sorry. Puppies…
The other love story we got to play in the episode was Teddy with the trauma shrink, Andrew Perkins. Teddy gets to have her freakishness explained to her near the end of the episode. What’s her problem? Simple. She chooses men who aren’t available! Bam. Wouldn’t it be great if somebody could do that for us in our every day lives? Maybe some helpful parent would tell me that the reason the other parents at school functions turn away from me is that I’m boring. Or that I’m such a brilliant conversationalist they feel they can’t keep up. Yeah, I like that one. I’m going with that one for now.
The nice thing about having a big cast is that you get to mix and match the characters in a hundred different ways. You don’t often get to see Derek and Cristina together in a story line – they’re not tremendously fond of each other – but she did save his life. We hadn’t played any of the fallout from that yet this season. We got our chance to do so in this episode and it made me wonder why the heck we don’t have these two actors together more often. Patrick and Sandra were FANTASTIC together. Of course, the sad part of the story was that despite Derek’s best intentions, Cristina is nowhere near healed. At this point she might, in fact, be the biggest freak at Seattle Grace. Her PTSD is crippling. The question remains --will she ever come back from what happened?
Finally, there’s the subject of April’s virginity and the fact it makes her feel like a freak. I’m happy with the way we handled the story. Callie once called Seattle Grace high school with scalpels. When the other residents find out about April, they react the way high schoolers might react – with some incredulity and a fair amount of cruelty. Which is what makes April’s speech at the end so affecting. Her virginity ISN’T drinks conversation. And she points out that, after this shooting, they’ve all become freaks in their own way. It’s how they cope. Which is why I think I play golf. It helps me escape, if only for a few hours, the things life throws at me – the long drives to work, the run-ins with store clerks, the indifferent reception by private school parents. And as frustrating as the sport can be, it’s also really really hard. Most people can’t play it well. Most people feel less good about themselves when they’re out on the course. And I guess that’s what I like about it so much. Because when that many people feel they can’t do something, you’ve joined the brotherhood of golfing freaks. And it doesn’t matter how good you are, at some point, anyone who’s every played the game has walked off the 18th hole feeling like a failure. There’s camaraderie in our ineptness. And for that, I am profoundly comforted and more than a little grateful…