Review: TNT television network’s suicidal “Proof” of nothing

The new 10-episode TNT series Proof seeks to engage the third most pressing question of all: Is there life after death?

The other two questions are, of course, “Are we alone in the Universe?” and “How the hell can we get rid of feminist shows like this?”

In Hollywood terms, one would pitch this hot mess as “Supernatural meets Dr. House MD,” or, alternatively, as a sort-of X-Files Lite.  Kyra Sedgwick, one of my favorite actresses due in part to her long marriage to Kevin Bacon, is an executive producer of the series who should consider getting back into acting.

In the series, Jennifer The L Word Beals plays Dr. Cat Tyler, a complicated (which is code for “bitchy” according to the movie Gone Girl), divorced (of course), and vegan (ditto) heart surgeon whose skill is scored highly by the women who try to suck up to her and “adequate” by the men who don’t. The Seattle hospital where she works is a futuristic model of technological coolness where women never talk about footwear nor wear any kind other than running shoes.

Clearly, the show is making a huge effort to appeal to men in an effort to sell us some nebulous theology devoid of sexual passion.

Dr. Tyler is abusive to her staff, family, interns, fellow doctors and boss (played with aplomb by the typecast nerdy black guy Joe Terminator 2 Morton). In the second episode, for example, when a brain-damaged man in her care is driven by her to threaten suicide by jumping off their 10-story hospital building, Dr. Tyler urges him to do it – 3 seconds and splat! Charming.

Interestingly, Beals, whose large, neotenous eyes make her look decades younger than her 51 years would imply, was recommended by David Duchovny for the part of “Dr. Scully” in the original X-Files but lost the part to Gillian Anderson. In the X-Files, Scully was hinted to be immortal, which ups the delicious creepiness of the real-world Beals’s seeming agelessness.  Since a 6-episode reboot of X-Files is coming to the Fox Network this fall, it is tempting to see Proof as a sort of preëmptive revenge porn for Beals.

No one can stand Dr. Tyler except terminally ill computer mogul “Ivan Turing” (Matthew Modine in an obvious nod to gay computer pioneer Alan Turing) who goes all 50 shades of bribery on Dr. Tyler – the apparently heirless Turing offers his entire fortune to Beals for one night of passion her seeking hard scientific proof that there is an afterlife (or not). Yup, that was a part of Scully’s job, too.

Scully, because she is immortal, will never get to experience the afterlife, or, perhaps the one moment of fading life when the dying realize that there is not an afterlife in any enduring, conscious way.

For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come…Must give us pause…

Finding scientific proof of an afterlife is a dubious (and I believe an impossible) enterprise. When the show’s writers wrote that it would take 3 seconds to fall 10-stories (30 meters) they were not being rigorous: at 9.8 meters per second squared of normal Earth gravity, impact with the ground would occur after just 2.4744 seconds, not 3. Imprecision like this is inherent in eyewitness (death witness?) testimony but the flailing supernatural bullshit of Proof did make me reflect on the implications of validating with certainty the question of the afterlife.

As Shakespeare noted in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, it is the uncertain nature of the afterlife that helps keep suicidal thoughts and actions at bay. Sure, living creatures have a moderate instinct for survival on both species-wide and individual levels but in times of trial suicides do happen.

Proof has yet to discuss religion – their to-date “afterlife for atheists” motif is nutty on a lot of levels – but religions that talk about the afterlife (or just death) deal with suicide in varying and interesting ways:

Catholics view suicide as a mortal sin and reject salvation or even consecrated burial for the bodies of suicides. Jump off the building, and you’re done, unforgiven forever..

Jews also reject suicide but encourage the living survivors to think about the dead person in the most positive possible way: changing their mind, and having regret before actual cessation of life: jump off the building, and in compassion we assume you changed your mind on the way down and forgive you for the act.

Buddhists have an even more nuanced understanding of suicide: reverence for life prohibits it in general but in certain cases those who commit suicide in an advanced state of spiritual enlightenment are not condemned for it. Jump off a building and we assess your level of enlightenment with compassion.

Islamists, of course, believe that suicidal martyrdom is the ticket to paradise. Crash into the building and you’re all good.

The validation of a determinate afterlife (even that there is not one) has implications for all people, religious or not, and might lead to more loss of lives than occurs now. An indeterminate afterlife, though unsettling, is, at least, not directly lethal in that no reward, good nor bad, is clear.

In the psychology of men, those who are broken of their will to live, cast out of family life by the courts, or define their worth by their ability to please women are at higher risk of suicide, and scientific proof that, say, death leads to warm family reunions – as suggested repeatedly by Proof – is both a mildly comforting hugbox to the bereaved and extremely dangerous to actual living families in cases where one family member falls into despair and decides to reunite everyone in death.

Luckily for now, science has a weak to non-existent grasp on the origin and meaning of consciousness and has no chance to understand the post mortem of the putative soul. While a technically dead patient might be resuscitated with unlikely knowledge gleaned from the afterlife, the validation of such is elusive and not reproducible as scientific proof.

You’d think a self-made billionaire might be smart enough to understand that.

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