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.