TLC: Story Basics

One thing that really struck me when started my first pass at Tender Loving Care all those years ago was how adult it seemed. I’m not talking about the nudey parts here; titilating the viewer with glimpses of boobs is more adolescent than adult. I mean that it was pretty much the only thing at Electronics Boutique 1Remember them? with a story aimed at people above the age of 16. The whole thing revolves around the suppressed emotions of a married couple. The central question isn’t “How do I beat the bad guy?” but “What is wrong with these people?”

At the start of the story, we have Michael and Allison Overton living in the shadow of a traumatic road accident six months previously. Allison has become extremely concerned with caring for her young daughter, Jody, who was hurt in the accident. In fact, she’s got a one-track mind, turning any conversation toward concern for Jody, and the player quickly figures out that she’s not just obsessive, but delusional: Jody is dead. 2At least, you figure it out if you have the least ability to read between the lines. The game acknowledges the possibility that the player is dim. Several chapters later, just after a flashback to the accident and our first glimpse inside Jody’s unused bedroom, a question-and-answer session asks if you had believed that Jody was still alive. There are three choices: “Yes”, “No”, and “I still do”. Michael humors her, and does things like say goodnight to Jody when his wife demands it, but clearly would rather not have to deal with the problem. Compounding his frustration, the couple have not had sex since the accident.

Sex is a big part of the story, in part because psychotherapy is a big part of the story. Allison has been seeing Dr. Turner (the host character played by John Hurt), but he brings in a colleague, Kathryn Randolph, who has had success in similar cases. Kathryn moves in with the Overtons, masquerading as a nurse for Jody in order to gain Allison’s trust. And hoo boy does she get it. Allison was resistant to the idea of bringing in a nurse, but once she meets Kathryn, they bond instantly — leaving Michael feeling all the more more excluded and ineffectual. He lashes out at Kathryn, desperate to regain some measure of control (and, with it, self-respect), but it’s a losing battle. She has to do what’s right for Allison, and it’s wrong of him to interfere with that, or even to refuse to cooperate in every way, right?

Well, only if the therapy is working. Michael doesn’t think it is. When Allison joyfully announces that Jody has started sitting up and talking, it seems to him like she’s just descending farther into fantasy. Maybe he’s right, or maybe he’s letting his hostility get the better of his judgment. Either way, Allison notices that he doesn’t share her feelings, and makes her displeasure known. So as far as Michael can see, Kathryn is not only ineffective at getting Allison to face reality, she’s also driving a wedge between them. To make matters worse, when he takes his concerns to Dr. Turner, he basically tells him to stop worrying. (In the frame-story, Turner admits that it was a mistake to dismiss his concerns so quickly.)

On top of it all, Michael has the hots for Kathryn — something she may be deliberately encouraging, albeit while taking care to maintain plausible deniability. Why would she do such a thing? Perhaps because she’s attracted to him, perhaps to make him more easily manipulated, more reluctant to dismiss her. Perhaps to make him feel guilty, to punish him for his role in bringing Allison to this state. There’s even some suggestion that punishing Michael is a subconscious motivation of Allison. But that hasn’t really been gotten into in the movie segments yet. Rather, it’s hinted at in the materials you find in exploration mode. I’ll get into that in my next post.

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1. Remember them?
2. At least, you figure it out if you have the least ability to read between the lines. The game acknowledges the possibility that the player is dim. Several chapters later, just after a flashback to the accident and our first glimpse inside Jody’s unused bedroom, a question-and-answer session asks if you had believed that Jody was still alive. There are three choices: “Yes”, “No”, and “I still do”.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 5 Jul 2010

    So far, so pretty much as I remember it. I’ll be interested to see how much your version of the story diverges from mine.

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