There’s a plethora of Halloween-linked programming. It’s been going on for days. On Thursday, such network shows as Superstore and Grey’s Anatomy will have Halloween-themed episodes with frights, ghouls, skeletons and such. If you really want creepy chills, though, you can watch Fox News spread strange conspiracy theories.
But the most frightening thing you can possibly encounter is a seriously malfunctioning mind. That’s the mind of Marnie (Charly Clive), whom we meet at the beginning of her story when she’s merely waiting for a bus somewhere in Scotland. She’s taking the bus all the way to London, to escape.
What she’s escaping is laid out in Pure (streaming on CBC Gem), one of the darkest, strangest series to emerge from the Britain or any other country in recent years. She can’t actually escape, mind you, because what scares her stays in her head.
Marnie suffers from a very distinct type of obsessive compulsive disorder. Oh, it’s a very specific form of OCD. She doesn’t arrange things obsessively or hoard, or wash obsessively. She thinks about sex, and specifically she sees sex unfolding all around her in sudden flashes of disturbing images. It’s called Pure O, and it has made Marnie’s life a living, embarrassing-to-her, hell.
“Nobody wants a pervert for a daughter,” she says after fleeing her mystified family. And she’s deeply worried that she is, in fact, a pervert. There’s nothing pervy about the series, though. Marnie’s story isn’t entirely fiction. The basis is the very real Rose Cartwright who wrote memoirs about living with the condition. Cartwright has written that, “Aged five, I’d climb the walls, terrified the Bosnian conflict would come for my family.” Then in her teens, she began to have disturbing images of sex intrude into her mind daily. And Marnie’s journey in the series is treated as a very dark comedy, a journey with many bumps and twists, but always about a chilling mental condition.
Clive – this is her first TV role after a short career in theatre and stand-up comedy – is beguiling as Marnie, all vulnerability and worry masked by desperate good cheer. The comedy is there, for sure, especially in an early sequence when Marnie, after a suggestion by doctor that she’s gay and repressing it, goes to a lesbian bar to see if she can find out something about herself.
If you come to Pure for the nudity and brief but bizarre sex scenes – there’s one stunning scene of an imagined orgy in a subway car that’s more bacchanal-from-hell than erotic – you are very unlikely to be turned on. There is plenty of wit in Marnie’s inner-monologue about her life and what she sees. But the only thing being exploited is the wryness of her self-awareness. The series also manages to drill deep into the matter of mental health and the difficulty of finding help and understanding. She has a psychological disorder that disturbs her, but she cannot name it and others are ignorant about her state. She’s incredibly alone. What she needs is a diagnosis. She keeps wondering to herself what can be wrong with her, telling herself, “It’s like a sixth sense, except I don’t see dead people, I see naked people.”
Along the way to understanding, Marnie has adventures that are treated as comedy – she tries to laugh at herself. Yet for all its absurdity, Pure is very dark. Not the conventional recommendation for Halloween, but entrancing in a cockeyed way. And an education about a horrifically difficult mental state that’s terrifying in a manner that can’t be matched by anything else airing right now.
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