Since Season 6 of Deadliest Catch began a couple of months ago, it's been like watching the Bataan Death March because we as viewers knew that Captain Phil Harris died early this year. As always, he's had boat issues, but the Jake Switch of the first episodes between the Cornelia Marie and the Northwestern showed Phil's humanity and a care for his crew underneath the bluster. Comparatively speaking, Sig's single-mindedness may serve him well as a skipper, but even his brother, always his biggest supporter, is tiring of the constant, unrelenting grind on the Northwestern.
Though Captain Harris' hapless moments are more than occasional, this season we also saw major triumphs for him as a fisherman. His understanding of crab digestion, shall we say (okay, fart bubbles), led to an early strong haul, and the precision fishing he engaged in over the last two episodes is something that apparently few skippers try, let alone succeed in doing. Through it all his sons have brought him great joy, and annoyed the hell out of him. Jake, the younger son, joined the crew of his dad's ship a season before Josh did, but clearly Josh has always had it more together than his little brother, and as the seasons have progressed, we've seen him grow into more of a man while his little brother never seemed quite able to set aside his childish ways.
In last night's episode, his lackadaisical behavior turned into incoherence when his dad tried to use a more positive approach to instill a greater sense of responsibility...to no avail. Later, with just a few moments left in the episode, Captain Harris' vision blurred, his back ached, and he seemed ready to pass out. He left the bridge to get his pain pills from his bunk - only to encounter son Jake stealing them.
What followed was a blistering set-down of son by father, including disowning on one side and pleading on the other. As a parent who's lived through some dicey periods and experienced this sort of ranting and raving out of fear for a child's life, I could not turn away from the TV even though I felt uncomfortable watching such an intensely personal tragedy. At the end of the yelling, Jake confesses he is an addict, and the episode ends.
I understand that in next week's episode, Captain Harris will have the stroke that eventually kills him, and the remainder of the season will continue the long death march. Reality TV has rarely been so poignant and real as the last few moments last night on Deadliest Catch. Pathos-filled, surreal and shocking, yet not wholly unexpected as a result of the episode's structure, the pain took my breath away.