First Impressions

Black Box

Aired on: ABC

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            I have seen a number of promos for the new dramatic ABC television series entitled Black Box.  The idea of a prominent doctor who works on the brain hiding a secret psychological disorder was intriguing to me and I couldn’t wait to check out the premiere episode on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 10pm EST.

            Black Box stars Kelly Reilly as Catherine Black, a famous neuroscientist with a secret - she suffers from bipolar disorder, often known as manic depressive disorder.  When Dr. Black is taking her medication, she is in total control of her feelings and performs brilliantly in her field.  However, when Dr. Black decides not to take her meds, she becomes out of control and sexually driven. 

            Hiding her secret from the world is something that Catherine Black has been learning to excel at, but not something she can do alone.  Helping her is her older brother Josh (David Chisum) and Psychiatrist Helen Hartramph (Vanessa Redgrave).  But hiding her mental illness becomes more and more difficult as the stresses of the world begins to close in on her.

            Desperate to avoid becoming like her mother, a woman whose bipolar disorder driven pain eventually led to her suicide, Catherine Black has been trying to be the exact opposite of the woman.  Instead of being a stay-at-home wife and mother, Dr. Black has become the top scientist in her field.  Instead of getting married and having children, Dr. Black has enjoyed a single life, spoiling her niece (Siobhan Williams) and enjoying a relationship with her chef boyfriend Will (David Ajala). 

            Unfortunately, when Will decides he wants more out of his relationship, Catherine Black decides the pressure is too much.  She goes off the meds, partly as a reaction to the stress and partly to show Will, who previously was unaware of Catherine’s diagnosis, just what she can be like when at her worst. 

            We later learn that Catherine has a habit of going off of her meds, believing that doing so offers her the greatest kind of high and the utmost clarity, allowing her to view her cases outside of the box and find better ways of solving their problems.  Her constant wings between “normalcy” and manic behavior cause a strain in her family and eventually put her job and life at risk.

            I quite honestly don’t know what to say about Black Box.  As I sat watching it, I found myself wondering just how much staying power it would have.  I mean, mental illness is a very real thing and the disorder Dr. Black suffers from can be quite debilitating.  That being said, I’m not sure how much of a secret bipolar disorder can be if the subject keeps going off meds and behaving in the way Dr. Black behaves.  How could no one at work have noticed her erratic, manic and utterly sexual behavior? 

            Or maybe that is the theme of this series - to not only show what bipolar behavior entails and offer the viewers interesting scientific brain studies through Dr. Black’s numerous cases.  Maybe Black Box is supposed to not only shine light on the mental disorder, but also show viewers that it can be overcome…to take the stigma away from the disorder and show that people suffering the disorder can become quite productive members of society.  Maybe the show’s main focus is to start a debate between medicating someone into “normalcy” or providing different solutions to bring about a “normalcy” that the patient can live with.  I think that it’s the lack of focus in the show that will eventually be Black Box’s downfall. 

            And yet, it was intriguing enough to make me want to watch another episode and find out just what Black Box is intention really is.  Perhaps this show will be one of those brilliant series that makes the viewer think outside the box about things they always thought they understood.  Or maybe it will just flop out of existence.  Only time, and another episode or two, will tell.


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