It's fair to say that no one really wanted to witness Lindsay Lohan go down in flames during her big Oprah's Next Chapter sit-down last night, but Winfrey took the opposite tack, and gave Lohan a giant pass.
Perhaps we expected too much of Oprah Winfrey. Her last major interview, which aired this past January, was with Lance Armstrong, the disgraced competitive cyclist who had nowhere to go but down, and Winfrey, with her probing questions and willingness to get out of the way, let the admitted doper hang himself with his own rope. ("In answering truthfully, Armstrong exposed the egomaniacal worldview that made his actions possible," Willa Paskin at Salon wrote.) Winfrey's Lohan interview, however, was going to be different: Lohan, we were told, wanted our empathy. She may have gotten it, but she certainly didn't give much in return. ,
Though the network, via a promo, purported to ask tough questions, Winfrey, who is no stranger to effective interrogation — she famously went after and dissembled fabulist author James Frey in 2006 — did not so much as challenge her starlet subject. In fact, it seems that Winfrey's interests rested not in any real attempt to get at the truth but to make the tabloid fixture appear as healthy and stable as possible. (Winfrey's network is producing a docu-series on the troubled 20-something, set to air next year.) Two instances in particular stood out. At one point, early in the interview, Winfrey asked the actress to identify the "Shawn" she was referring to when discussing her legal troubles in the interview with Oprah. (For anyone who has been following Lohan's travails, "Shawn" is Lohan's longtime lawyer, Shawn Holley.) As Lohan explained, "[Shawn] is family to me. She's been through a lot with me and she's stood by me. And I just love her. She has such a great spirit. She really cares about me and she just wants the best for me." The show then cut to a commercial break, with no mention that, earlier this year, Lohan threw the beloved Holley under the bus, firing her and then rehiring her. Winfrey's reluctance to press Lohan about that relationship was strange: Wouldn't this falling out have added layers to the conversation? Might Lohan's response provided insight into how her behavior hurts those around her? We'll never know.
Also disappointing were Winfrey's lack of clarity or curiosity about The Canyons, the recent film co-starring porn actor James Deen, in which Lohan played a female involved in a steamy love triangle. Although Winfrey brought up Lohan's on set reputation for "acting out," Lohan tried to dismiss the allegation, adding that people are "surprised" when she shows up early. Lohan's characterization of herself as responsible is at odds with numerous reports, like the January Stephen Rodrick feature for the New York Times Magazine, which chronicled the difficulty of making a movie with the actress, and recounted her oft-lateness. Winfrey let all of this pass.
What did get Winfrey's attention? Lohan's vacation plans. In the final moments of the hour-long interview, the media mogul expressed her concern over Lohan's plans to vacation in Europe, that apparent hotbed of dangerous substances and sin. Though Lohan clarified that the purpose of the trip was for "meditation and yoga," Winfrey continued to push back on the idea, explaining that, for the alcohol-addicted Lohan—she admitted her addiction in the interview—going to Europe is equivalent of the food-addicted Oprah visiting a potato chip factory. At the conclusion of the interview, a title card appeared, explaining that Lohan had ended up canceling the trip.
Winfrey's implication, it seems, is that if Lohan continues to work with Winfrey and the OWN network, she will make better choices. But last night's interview made it clear that Winfrey will try to save Lohan in the most superficial way possible. Lohan didn't really have to confront her problems, she simply had to cancel a vacation to redeem herself in Oprah's eyes. And though Oprah may not be an expert in substance abuse and recovery, her willingness to allow Lohan to gloss over her ongoing issues demonstrated that she has neither the actress's, or the audience's, best interests at heart. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Lanford Beard noted that at the beginning of the program Winfrey said the conversation is about "your truth," adding: "And I’m here to help facilitate that." But, as Beard suggested, that is "exactly the problem." The interview may have been Lohan's truth and Oprah's truth, but it was nothing that any of the rest of us would recognize as actual honesty.