Tig Notaro, John Rothman.
When death happens on TV, it’s often a grandiose event, the centerpiece of a Very Special Episode or a last-second cliffhanger in a season finale. Not so with One Mississippi. This is a show about death in all of its frustrating mundanity. The precision with which it handles life after death is its greatest strength, but also the thing that makes it tough to binge. All six episodes were released on Amazon Prime at once, but One Mississippi is a show that needs to be broken up and chewed on, or rather, taken in small, manageable sips like one of Tig’s probiotic shakes.
In the middle of the night, Tig breaks a shelf while foraging for toilet paper. The commotion wakes Bill, and soon enough he’s telling Tig the details of her mother’s fatal fall (including, adorably, that Caroline had stayed awake to watch Jimmy Kimmel because “he was [Tig’s] friend”). Tig is trying to understand the exact circumstances around her mother’s death, but there isn’t much to understand. It’s just an awful random thing that happened.
Tig opens a letter addressed to her mother from the hospital — it’s a survey about her stay. (“Were you satisfied … or did things not go so well because you died?”) Tig, unhappy with her KCRW replacement while she’s away, calls her station manager back in Los Angeles and offers to record her show remotely. She decides to use the poorly timed survey as the basis for a story, and sits in the closet recording a reading of, and commentary on, it.
Later, while sorting through Caroline’s old things, Tig and Remy debate who should take their mother’s engagement ring. Brooke and Tig have only been together six months, and it’s been a tragic six months, so the state of their relationship is still pretty unclear. And anyway, Tig’s newly inherited car is already stuffed full of her mother’s old belongings. She’s got more than she could ever possibly fit.
Once again, Tig imagines her mother is still alive, this time fawning over photos of giraffes in the living room. When reality strikes again, Tig and Bill notice blood spots on the chair where Bill found her. Bill wants to throw it away — “It’s morbid and unsanitary,” he says — but Tig wants to keep it. Bill stipulates that she at least has to move it out of the house, and Tig struggles to push it outside. She slumps on the lawn in exhaustion and is found by Bugsy, a family friend who insists that she knows all of Caroline’s old secrets. She tells Tig that Caroline had been praying for Tig, and that’s why she was spared from dying of cancer. Bugsy explains that God has a plan for everyone, but also he’s like a father who appreciates the “kids who call him.” That’s why you’re supposed to pray. Bugsy then tells Tig that her mother loved her dancing and singing … two things Tig doesn’t do.
Bill expresses concern about Tig’s health while she tries to stomach a healthy smoothie that Brooke’s nutritionist friend recommended. Tig insists that she wants to fix the shelf she broke despite Bill’s insistence that he doesn’t need her to do it. Less handy is Remy, who is still working through the home renovation he started three years ago. He reveals to Tig that he’s been very into Civil War reenactments, and that the drill she needs is broken.
Bill does some research into C. diff and finds a digestive-disease specialist in New Orleans who can see Tig that day. The doctor suggests a “fecal transfer,” a phrase which conjures in Tig a scene that looks like a circus adaptation of The Human Centipede. She insists that she can’t do it, but Bill tries to convince her that she should take the doctor’s advice. He’s been doing a lot of research; in his particularly idiosyncratic way, he’s worried about Tig. Later at home, Remy tells Tig about how regular Bill is, and it’s clear that Bill wanted to be Tig’s fecal donor. When they start laughing about it, Bill gets genuinely angry: “It’s not a joke, it’s your life.”
In a flashback, we see Bill nervously holding the ladder for Caroline as she tries to get the kids’ toys off the roof. Cut back to the present day, where Tig tells Remy she no longer needs protection because she’s an adult. But their mom was an adult, too. Adults die.
Tig decides to clean her mother’s blood off the chair. She finds Bill on the front porch, and apologizes for hurting him: “I don’t blame you for what happened to Mom, and I’m sorry if it felt like I did.” It’s clear Bill isn’t handling grief well, but he can’t articulate his emotions well enough to tell Tig why she doesn’t want Caroline’s old chair. Tig then asks if Bill has ever had tuberculosis — she seems to be considering him as a donor after all.
Tig and Remy take the chair to Bugsy’s house, where she sits in it alone, watching TV.
As “Effects” illustrates, no one in One Mississippi is good at saying what they mean or expressing how they feel, but the show is careful not to blame them. Life is hard. Death is hard. We have to be gentle with each other, and this is a show that meditates on the tiny ways people try to care for themselves and each other. I especially love Bill’s practical protectiveness. In films and on TV, dads are often presented as goofy, overgrown kids or unapproachable pillars of mystery and wisdom. I’ve known far more dads, my own included, who are wonderful, sturdy guys with larger emotions than they are always comfortable expressing.
Although Bill is the character whose methods of grieving are most often called into question, One Mississippi is most concerned with Tig herself. Her attitude toward death — her mother’s and the very real possibility of her own — is, if not flippant, then certainly arch. What’s unclear at this point is if she’s reluctant to take her illness seriously, abjectly unable to, or if this actually is her best course of action. No one on One Mississippi is comfortable sitting around feeling sorry for themselves, but maybe that’s not what any of them need to do to move on. Their challenge is pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, and our challenge as viewers is to forgive them if they can’t.