In the last episode of his current series, Altered States, he interviews the mother of a pregnant woman giving up her baby for adoption. When the former describes her feelings, she says: ‘When he is born, it’ll be like a death in the family’. That is real, raw poetry from a mother and future biological grandmother who’s been wrestling with this heartbreaking idea for months.
The daughter is 20 year old Jessica, who’s sure of her decision despite aggressive arguments with her mother. Theroux also visits Patricia, a woman with a difficult background choosing which family would be best for her baby, as well as the adoptive parents she considers. And there’s Isaiah, a 10 year old adopted boy who wants to reunite with his birth mother.
Louis Theroux with 10 year old Isaiah, who was adopted as a baby
Many of Theroux’s documentaries have an element of uncertainty attached to them, simply as a by-product of real life. There’s plenty of that in Take My Baby, which fits perfectly with the situation. Theroux investigates the ‘Open Adoption’ programme in Southern California, essentially a pick-and-choose process for the mother whose expenses are covered up until they give birth – costing the adoptive parents up to $40,000 to facilitate.
But what if the mother changes her mind? It’s very soap opera, seemingly simple, but the reality is complicated. The endings for these people aren’t fulfilling and we’re left in a unresolved fug. And that’s exactly as it should be.
Theroux is especially interactive in this episode, being wonderfully cordial with the children (he’s himself a father of three), even riding Isaiah’s scooter down the road. He's an expert in building trust.
However, although it’s his trademark format, there are times when Theroux feels too present in the frame during the more poignant moments. When Isaiah finally meets his birth mother, they embrace each other with such feeling and it’s hard not to cry at that union – until the camera pans to this smiling, spectacled Brit with his hands in his pockets. It’s a funny moment, but weakens the emotional punch.
Nevertheless, Take My Baby is a fitting end to a strange, upsetting, and enlightening series. It pulls Theroux into unpredictable directions, especially the last 15 minutes which almost feel spontaneous, and we’re happy to ride with him. ‘Till next time, Louis – we’ll be waiting.
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On 25 Nov 18, 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM