HBO Max’s British Dramedy “Pure” Is the First Time I’ve Seen My OCD On-Screen

I’m standing on a subway platform with my hands stuffed in my coat pockets. I’m watching a man kick his feet along the edge. I think about pushing him. I think about his scream. I think about how I’d try to help him back up. Or wouldn’t. Maybe I’d step on his fingers as he tried to crawl out. Maybe I’d laugh. I take my hands out of my pockets and press them against my forehead as if I could tear the thoughts out of my skull. A woman walks by me and I imagine us fucking on the platform. I worry that I’m about to grab her. I stick my hands back in my pockets pressed hard against the lining of my coat. I hear the train approaching and I wonder if it would be better for everyone if I just jumped.

The year is 2014 and I’m convinced I’m a monster.

When we meet Marnie, the protagonist of Kirstie Swan’s series Pure, she’s consumed with these kinds of thoughts. She doesn’t understand them. Like me, she assumes she’s a monster.

After a toast at her parents’ anniversary party turns into the mental image of an incestuous kiss, she flees her Scottish town to disappear into the anonymity of London. But her small town charm isn’t so quick to leave and she begins making friends — and potential lovers — everywhere she goes.

First, Marnie meets Amber, a lesbian who works at a women’s magazine. Marnie thinks the source of her relentless sexual thoughts may be latent queerness. But things with Amber — and her roommate Joe — don’t work out no matter how much Marnie drinks. Then she goes to a sex addicts meeting where she meets Charlie — an actual sex addict — who offers her friendship and an alternate diagnosis. She has OCD.

Marnie initially laughs this off. She’s a mess. How could she have OCD? Like so many of us, Marnie’s perception of OCD has been shaped by media, and in media OCD has traditionally been linked to hand washing and cleanliness. But the more Marnie learns, the more she realizes that the kinds of obsessive intrusive thoughts she’s been having are, in fact, due to OCD. As she navigates new — and confusing — relationships with Amber, Joe, and Charlie, as well as old relationships with Shereen, the too-nice woman letting her crash, and Helen, her triggering hometown bestie, Marnie takes her first steps towards managing her OCD.

Marnie’s mix of chaos and charm never grates because actor Charly Clive lends her an authenticity that’s impossible not to love. The supporting cast is great as well and considering Marnie’s queerness is potentially short-lived, it’s nice the show continues to spend time with Niamh Algar’s Amber as she agonizes over a new situationship. Despite the small number of episodes, the supporting characters of Pure are given time to develop as the show explores several of the moral questions that Marnie’s OCD is forcing her to confront.

My only frustration is how often discussions of sex in Pure link genitalia to gender. Considering Marnie is a cis, ostensibly straight woman from a small town, it doesn’t feel unrealistic coming from her, but my experience of the world is shaped by my OCD and my transness, so the sheer number of occurrences stung in a show that otherwise brought me comfort.

I write a lot about representation, but I was somehow unprepared for how meaningful it would be to see my brain portrayed on-screen in such thorough detail. It’s not just that Marnie’s OCD manifests like mine. It’s the way the show portrays her experience of the world with mental flashes that overwhelm the character and the viewer. It’s an effective device that really captures the disorder — as does Marnie’s anxious narration. By pairing that visceral portrayal with thorough descriptions of OCD, the show becomes a teaching tool as well as a delightful dramedy.

There’s a reason why I’ve never written about my OCD before. There’s still a lot of stigma and considering how often trans people are characterized as predators, I feel hesitant to provide possible ammunition. But a show like Pure can do so much to educate. It can educate those who know nothing about OCD and those who experience it every day, but have no idea that’s what’s going on.

I learned I had OCD because I was taking a documentary class and someone made a film about their experiences. It had gotten so bad, and I had no idea what I was going to do, but then I saw someone on-screen describing my exact experience. This moment changed my life — and possibly saved it. I’m certain Pure will provide this revelation for some, provide recognition for others, and well, it’s still just a really good and gay story about a 20-something trying to figure out how to be a good person. I think everyone can relate to that.


Pure is now available on HBO Max.

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew has written 114 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. I really appreciate this! I was just thinking recently about just how incredibly inaccurate pretty much….all? representation of OCD has been in the television and film I’ve watched. I experience OCD similarly to how you described and it would mean a lot to me to see that on screen. Will definitely check this out, thank you.

  2. I really enjoyed Pure, series 2 was planned but cancelled :( but it’s based on a book of the same name by Rose Cartwright which I believe may finish off the story? Also if anyone’s in the UK I believe you can still watch it on 4od (from Channel 4 who aired the original series) or Netflix.

  3. The authenticity of this post almost brought me to tears. Earlier in the year I had a massive OCD crisis where intrusive thoughts plagued my every moment, the feeling of imagining myself committing something monstrous and being convinced that I was the worst type of human alive is so excruciating beyond explanation. This is the first time I’ve read or seen an accurate portrayal of OCD representation in the media. As soon as I read the top paragraph where you outlined some of your intrusive thoughts I felt a mixture of relief and gratitude finally knowing that I am not the only one.

    It’s so difficult to explain it to people who don’t understand so I am so grateful for this series, and you.

  4. Thank you so much for this, Drew. A few years ago a therapist suggested to me that the thoughts that were ruling my life were actually a result of OCD. I wrote down “Pure OCD”, went home and looked it up. Y’all, the Wikipedia page on pure OCD felt like someone had reached into my head and put all of my intrusive thoughts down on the page. Realizing that I was not a danger to myself and my intrusive thoughts were not a monstrous person fighting to get out of me was the single most intense and validating experience I have ever had in therapy. OCD used to control every minute of my life and now I know how to manage it. I’m glad to see there is at least one genuine representation of OCD in media. Maybe if I had seen something like this decades ago I would have gotten help sooner rather than think I was alone.

  5. Omg this sounds amazing!!! My Intrusive Thoughts terrified me until a friend randomly sent me a link to Maria Bamford’s YouTube series (all about her own Intrusive Thought OCD)…it pretty much saved my life (well, that and a bunch of therapy).
    I’m so excited there’s another show out there that can help sufferers but a name to what they’re experiencing!
    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences Drew. It’s a really scary and vulnerable thing to talk about and I really appreciate you!

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