Laughter/Comedy

Following my post on “Laughter and Civility” several months ago I have been trying to deconstruct what makes us laugh and build a convincing argument that it is appropriate to identify Doc Martin as a dramedy with an emphasis on comedy. For me this was a worthwhile endeavor because I am fascinated by the various philosophical views of humor and laughter. (I also find it important to place shows in the proper categories because I believe we don’t give enough recognition to the impact comedy can have on our views of all sorts of topics.)

In writing about Doc Martin I have often referred to other TV shows that combined serious topics with intentional efforts to be comedic. These included M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. In the above mentioned post one important commenter (DM) noted an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that deserved to be included. Every one of these exceptional shows addressed very important issues while also making us laugh. While there is an argument to be made that The Sopranos and Breaking Bad leaned more toward drama than comedy, the others were definitely designed as comedies first, and I believe strongly that Doc Martin was too. My position on this does not in any way diminish the significant contributions to our discourse on socially relevant concerns addressed by these shows.

In my effort to develop a convincing argument on this subject, I used my usual academic resources and I watched the recent series on CNN about The History of Comedy, and I checked out some other discussions on YouTube. What follows is my attempt at collating all of this information and providing you with a few references to my sources.

My “go to” source is often A Handbook to Literature because it distills terminology into its basics. It seems pertinent to note that in this reference book comedy is identified as “a lighter form of drama that aims primarily to amuse and that ends happily. It differs from farce and burlesque by having a sustained plot, weightier and subtler dialogue, more lifelike characters, and less boisterous behavior.” Furthermore, the Handbook states “in general, the comic effect arises from a recognition of some incongruity of speech, action, or character…Viewed in another sense, comedy may be considered to deal with people in their human state, restrained and often made ridiculous by their limitations, faults, bodily functions, and animal nature…Comedy has always regarded human beings more realistically than tragedy and drawn its laughter or satire from the spectacle of individual or collective human weakness or failure.”

The Handbook also defines comic relief as “a humorous scene, incident, or speech in the course of serious fiction or drama…that are used to provide relief from emotional intensity and, by contrast, to heighten the seriousness of the story.” (We can easily see how in S6 Penhale’s survival exercises were inserted for that purpose. [IMO the story had gotten so somber that Penhale’s antics ended up simply being intrusive and tiresome.] In S7 Mrs. Tischell’s preparations for a romantic dinner relieved the lack of intimacy between Martin and Louisa and heightened the seriousness of that absence. And those are just two of many instances where comic relief is used in this show.)

CNN’s series of episodes that looked at the history of comedy broke it down into 9 episodes so far, with each having a particular theme. The one named “The Comedy of Real Life” seemed the most pertinent for my use and really reaffirmed what the Handbook had to say about comedy dealing with people in their human state. CNN asserts that comedy consists of real life events just twisted a bit, and that comedians bring everyday experiences to the front burner. In addition, it declares real life funny because it’s relatable and viewers realize that many of these situations have happened to them too. They quote Norman Lear as saying “there’s nothing more interesting than the foolishness of the human condition. It takes the comedian to find the moment that helps people laugh at themselves.”

In this episode they also declare that being likable is not believable and there’s no comedy in likable. Furthermore, they contend that outcasts can be lovable. Thus, flawed characters are the essence of comedy.

Insofar as subject matter is concerned, they quote Jerry Seinfeld as saying that romance gives people instant vulnerability and that marriage is rife with comedy because it strains credulity that two people want to make a commitment for life. Apart from that, relationship material is never finished because there are so many ways to be with somebody.

So when Doc Martin begins with the flight to Newquay in which Martin Ellingham quickly reveals his social ineptitude by staring at Louisa Glasson, they are immediately taking advantage of the comedic aspects associated with relationships, and the show continues to build on that quality. Soon they add conflict between these two characters as well as physical humor.

We may experience some sympathy for the pain associated with much of the bodily abuse suffered by several of the characters in the show, but the fact remains that humor is often derived from misfortune including pain. We also often laugh at someone’s clumsiness, including in real life. To substantiate this position I would refer you to President Gerald Ford and his actual falls down (or up) stairs and what fun we all had watching Chevy Chase exaggerate his clumsiness in SNL skits. This brings me to a YouTube video TED talk of a TED talk that stood out to me in that it condensed the study of what makes us laugh into a short presentation. In particular the speaker’s reference to falling down the stairs clarifies what turns that into something we laugh at. As long as the fall is benign and does not involve a violation (as defined by the speaker), the act is funny, and meant to be funny. Of course we can extrapolate from a fall down the stairs to any action that might injure someone but turns out to be harmless, e.g. hitting one’s head, being shot at, jumping through a window or climbing out of one, getting a foot stuck in a trap, slipping off a chair, etc., etc. I would add that feeling nauseated or having any sort of benign illness fits that category as well. It’s funny when the headmaster runs into the water with Martin chasing after him because no one gets hurt; it’s not funny when Holly slips on a wet rock and injures her back. (Then again the aftermath of both events are funny, i.e. Martin being dripping wet while Edith drives by and Holly staying at Louisa’s and Martin attempting to show some sympathy.)

To augment this position I give you a segment of a Dick Van Dyke Show episode If you don’t laugh while also understanding the points he’s making about comedy, I will be surprised. Moreover, I don’t think any of this has changed in the last 50 years. It’s been true from the earliest days of comedy and remains true today. I am quite sure the writers of Doc Martin and Martin Clunes himself are aware of all of this and use it to make this show satisfy the characteristics of a comedy.

The whole premise of Doc Martin is supposed to be funny. A surgeon with haemophobia who is also socially inept and clumsy and decides to move to a small town and practice as a GP is immediately filled with absurdities that would make us laugh. I like to think that the hedge of defining comedy as a lighter drama is sufficient to satisfy us all.

Some thoughts on Hemaphobia

After hearing Ruth tell Martin that his hemaphobia could be related to his experiences as a child, I started thinking about the way his hemaphobia is handled in this show. As Ruth says, M’s hemaphobia is a psychosomatic condition that arose while he was doing surgery, something he loved. As a result, he quit surgery and moved to Portwenn to be a GP. Obviously, his fear of blood is not conquered by the move because we see him throw up numerous times and faint once after he is exposed to blood. As far as I can tell, these two reactions are pretty common among hemaphobics. Of course the comedic value is great because a doctor who has trouble with the sight of blood is so incongruous. More than that, though, Ruth has now brought up the likelihood that his parents and something in his childhood may be at the root of this disorder.

Many viewers, including me, have thought that series 6 was much darker than we were used to. After E1 & 2 the series takes a turn mostly because Martin’s hemaphobia returns in E3. He had thought that he had overcome it, and when he operates on the caravan owner in E1, there is no sign of it despite a tremendous amount of blood. It’s not surprising that when he takes blood from Robert Campbell and feels a surge of nausea, he’s disturbed that he has fallen back into that condition. Thereafter Martin has many scenes where he’s sitting in the dark looking forlorn and somewhat lost. He has trouble sleeping too. In short, he seems rather depressed, a condition that often occurs concomitantly with hemaphobia.

Instead of blaming Louisa and their relationship difficulties, it may make more sense to look to his parents and some childhood trauma, possibly between the ages of 4 and 6, since that’s when Ruth noticed Martin became a more withdrawn boy. He’s now had a son of his own and that in itself could have brought up subconscious memories/repressed memories from his own past. Then his mother returns and he’s horrified to have her there and around his son. We see him appear pretty unhappy when he looks down onto the beach and sees Margaret with Mike and James. I could definitely imagine some flashbacks of something that happened in his childhood appearing in series 7.

Both Ruth and Louisa want Martin to seek help from a psychiatrist to overcome the recurrence and hopefully put the matter to rest. He isn’t comfortable talking to anyone in his close circle, and he’s had difficulty confiding in the psychologist he went to before. He tried to desensitize himself without success. Really there are not many other options other than trying psychiatry or hypnotherapy. I’d love to see them try hypnosis on him, but it’s hard to believe it would work with him. Who knows, we might be surprised! Now that he’s banished his mother from his life, perhaps he can have a breakthrough with Louisa’s support. To me, she’s been trying everything she can think of and would be thrilled to be included in any effort he makes to change in any way.

Originally posted 2013-12-07 19:26:25.

More about the kitchen table

I’ve written a post about the use of the kitchen table throughout DM and how it functions as the primary setting within the Ellingham household and even circumscribes Martin’s interactions more. After watching series 6, I think the kitchen table as a setting should be revisited, especially once Margaret appears. One important feature of a kitchen table is its central connotation of a gathering place for the family. We eat there together on an informal basis, but we also consider it a place to reconnect and talk to each other. One reference calls the kitchen table “synonymous with family time and real conversations.” It’s because of this sort of association that Margaret’s frequent appearance at the kitchen table becomes a co-opting or appropriating of that important space, and her stay at Martin and Louisa’s home is even more intrusive as a result.

Margaret arrives in Portwenn about midway through S6 E6. After startling M with her presence at the front door, she walks directly to the kitchen and sits at the kitchen table. M immediately asks her about his father’s death and funeral and Margaret right away appears disingenuous. She attempts to act sweet and caring, but her true disposition comes through nonetheless. We are pretty quickly suspicious of why she decided to return. It’s quite clear that M does not want his mother to stay with them, but L offers anyway and Margaret readily accepts. She’s still sitting at the kitchen table when they return from switching J to their room and making up a bed for her. At this point, she is checking herself in a compact mirror in a symbolic nod to her narcissism. The next morning Margaret is already in the kitchen when L comes downstairs with J. Marg. sits at the table while she and L make small talk. She hasn’t been in the house one day yet and she can’t help showing her mixed feelings about M. She asks L if M listens to her, which could also be a way for her to determine what role L may play in her plan to extract money from M. She also reveals that she and M haven’t been close and she doesn’t entirely blame M; she says she is also to blame. She tells L she’s glad that L can see her side when L says she understands, another attempt to win over L. But her normal disposition appears when she has no interest in feeding J and wants to have her coffee first. M has absented himself the previous evening and gone to bed early and he absents himself again the next morning when he stays in his office rather than joining the family in the kitchen. L goes looking for him and he comes into the kitchen and feels compelled to take a plate from the table. Margaret grabs his arm and he drops the plate when he recoils from her touch. Her only comment is that at least the plate wasn’t a good one, another slur towards M. M has no interest in spending time with Margaret, but she wants to talk with him. Her next comment to L is that he looks tired. When L notes that M hasn’t been sleeping well, Margaret tells her he didn’t sleep well as a child either and “always cried himself to sleep in the end.” Margaret seems to realize that this recollection is disturbing to L and explains that this treatment was normal for those days and now she would do things differently. Once again her comments sound unconvincing. A few minutes later, Mike arrives and is introduced to Margaret. He shakes hands with her while she remains seated at the table. Margaret only stands when L is walking out the door and she wants L to think she is interested in holding J. She hands J to Mike as soon as L leaves.

The kitchen table has been the setting for L’s first introduction to M’s mother and L never sits down with her, nor does M. Margaret’s presence at the table changes it to a place of awkwardness and disquiet. Her attempts to use it as a place for conversation have failed miserably and instead it becomes an unpleasant setting. In fact, there is never a time in the last 3 episodes when M or L sit at the table with Margaret.

E7 starts with L bringing M a breakfast tray into his office, deliberately avoiding the kitchen and kitchen table. She’d like to have breakfast just with M. But M is totally unreceptive to either eating breakfast or her effort to convince him to take some time off and spend it with her and J. L returns to the kitchen where Margaret sits at one end of the table and J sits at the other. L has to ask Marg. to move her cup so that she can extract her paperwork, then she gets ready to leave early. By this time M has come into the kitchen but their only interaction has to do with Sport’s Day and his promise to hand out the awards. L leaves M with Marg., but M is occupied with putting J in his stroller. Once again Marg. shows her lack of involvement in M’s childhood by falsely remembering that he once won an award for sports. M corrects her by bitterly telling her it was for chess. Next Marg. tells him he looks awful and asks if he’s lost weight. She follows up that comment with “What will your patients think when they see their doctor looking so poorly?” Once again she has both criticized and demeaned him while sitting at the kitchen table. M walks out and Marg. coldheartedly returns to reading the newspaper and ignoring J. But the damage has been done and M immediately weighs himself in his office.

Margaret’s day doesn’t get much better when she is confronted by Ruth while taking J for a walk. She angrily returns to the kitchen with J, pushing the stroller haphazardly and alarming Mike who is waiting. She is rebuffed at M’s office door when she tries to talk to M. Of course that day is filled with many troubling events including the military sending officers to find Mike who’s gone AWOL and L being hit by a car. There are scenes in the kitchen with Mike, but none involving Marg. sitting at the table until the next day when M brings L home from the hospital. When they arrive home and walk through the kitchen door, Margaret is sitting there drinking some wine. She looks nicely dressed and it’s hard not to imagine that she has plotted to use this opportunity to get M alone. But she can’t help herself and first tells L that she looks dreadful. L takes the high road and doesn’t answer her, although there’s no question that Margaret is only adding insult to injury. This time L leaves M with his mother and says she’s going to bed. Margaret is so lacking in sensitivity and insight that she wonders if M would like to go out to supper. Not only is M in a state of dismay over L’s intention to leave with J the next day, but also he is holding J. It’s hard to know what Margaret is thinking, except we know that it’s only about herself. Margaret’s moral bankruptcy that Ruth mentioned earlier is certainly in evidence here.

In E8 M first sees Margaret when he comes back from visiting Ruth and he finds Margaret sitting at the kitchen table reading. Margaret once again gets Louisa’s name wrong and notes that she saw L leaving earlier. She slyly tells M he’s lucky she’s there for him which prompts M to finally ask her why she came. Margaret puts her book and her glasses on the table and tries the “mea culpa” route of admitting that she made mistakes and said some very unpleasant things the last time she was there. Indeed, she was sitting at the kitchen table that time too. She claims she wants to apologize and also tell him that his father wanted Martin to know that he loved him. M is unconvinced by these remarks and moves around the table to stand directly in front of Margaret. He’s standing while she’s sitting and this puts her at a distinctly inferior position. Ruth has certainly made M more alert to his mother’s approach and at this point, M doesn’t believe anything Margaret says. Margaret attempts to rescue herself but only digs herself deeper into her lies and M calls her on the lying. Finally she must reveal she’s there because she has no home or money and wants M to help her. She even thinks he owes her because she’s his mother. However, M tells her he has no intention of giving her any money and wants no further contact with her at all. His reaction brings out Margaret’s vindictiveness and she stands up to tell him that he always was an awkward, strange little boy and she’s not surprised his wife walked out on him. This time her cutting words don’t achieve their intended outcome and he simply tells her that he wants her gone when he gets back from seeing a patient.

The next time we see Margaret she is at the airport leaving as ordered, although she has taken M’s clock, which was the one thing of value he had from Joan. The kitchen table has finally been vacated by the dastardly intruder.

Originally posted 2013-12-07 16:13:24.

The Inevitability of Change

This seems like as good a time as any to mention a couple of articles about personality I’ve recently read. They take up the subject of whether we can change our personality, a subject that has occupied a lot of space on this blog.

Naturally, we have discussed this a great deal because of its apparent importance in Doc Martin. In the show, we have many occasions in which various characters argue people can change, people don’t need to change, people must change, and finally that we are who we are. (Please see the many posts on change on this blog for a fuller engagement with this topic.)

I have also noted that it would be rather strange for a therapist to believe that people can’t change because there would be no use for therapy if that were true. Since Ruth Ellingham is a therapist, and even more importantly one who treats the criminally insane, she would be expected to believe strongly that therapy can make an impact that reduces the likelihood of more criminal behavior, ergo it can change a person’s tendencies. Her conviction in the value of her vocation is reinforced when she reacts to Caroline’s query as to whether she truly believes therapy works by saying she wouldn’t have spent her life doing it if she had any doubts.

Nevertheless, she, in particular, gives us mixed messages by telling Louisa that people don’t change, only to later tell Al he writes his own story, and then tell Martin that he must change or lose Louisa.

In addition I have claimed that we all change over time whether we try or not. All sorts of things in life impact us, especially family and having children.

Well now we have these two articles that inform us that we not only can change our personalities, especially if we have therapy, but we inevitably change over time. (In the second article personality is defined as “‘an individual’s characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior, together with the psychological mechanisms—hidden or not—behind those patterns,… quoting psychology professor David Funder’s definition.'”

Indeed, as of this year we now have a report that states “in an analysis of 207 studies, published this month [January] in the journal Psychological Bulletin, a team of six researchers found that personality can and does change, and by a lot, and fairly quickly. But only with a therapist’s help.”

For the record, there are some who differentiate between traits that are genetically programmed and traits that are socially induced. Either way, it now seems that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that we can change our personality, or at least how we “present ourselves.”

The other article is much less equivocal about change. It states: “The longest personality study of all time, published in Psychology and Aging and recently highlighted by the British Psychological Society, suggests that over the course of a lifetime, just as your physical appearance changes and your cells are constantly replaced, your personality is also transformed beyond recognition.”

We must conclude, therefore, that whether Louisa or Martin believe it or not, they are changing with every year, and even without therapy. Furthermore, Louisa may not have to actively mold Martin into someone whose personality doesn’t offend her; he may convert to that person gradually over time anyway. And Martin may discover that Louisa is changing her approach as they continue to live together without any intervention on his part. Hell, she may have already changed tremendously by the end of S7!

Originally posted 2017-03-05 15:56:26.

Being There

Surprise!

I have found an article that I had to add to our discussions. It’s been a long time since I felt the urge to write anything, but the NYTimes pricked my interest once again. In an opinion piece in last Sunday’s Review section I read an article that brings another perspective to the posts we’ve had about Mindfulness and Happiness.

Is happiness achieved through being in the moment or through dreaming and letting our imaginations transport us to places filled with pleasant thoughts and memories? Even though I have never tried the practice of Mindfulness myself, I can look at this situation from both sides. If we lose the moment, we can never get it back, and even if the moment involves washing dishes, as the writer of the piece does, there’s a certain Zen sense about the act. On the other hand, allowing one’s mind to wander to places that are filled with cheerful memories or scenes is certainly one way the mind can get us through a mundane day, or even a terrible day.

It’s hard to argue with the article’s declaration that: “On the face of it, our lives are often much more fulfilling lived outside the present than in it. As anyone who has ever maintained that they will one day lose 10 pounds or learn Spanish or find the matching lids for the Tupperware will know, we often anticipate our futures with more blind optimism than the reality is likely to warrant.

Surely one of the most magnificent feats of the human brain is its ability to hold past, present, future and their imagined alternatives in constant parallel, to offset the tedium of washing dishes with the chance to be simultaneously mentally in Bangkok, or in Don Draper’s bed…” Our lives would definitely be a lot less joyful if we weren’t able to fantasize.

I understand that Mindfulness Therapy does not preclude the ability to use our imaginations, and it’s important to remember that the idea of applying it is usually accompanied by a need to find a treatment for troubling and intrusive thoughts. Wikipedia, that somewhat suspect but relatively reliable source states: “MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) functions on the theory that when individuals who have historically had depression become distressed, they return to automatic cognitive processes that can trigger a depressive episode. The goal of MBCT is to interrupt these automatic processes and teach the participants to focus less on reacting to incoming stimuli, and instead accepting and observing them without judgment.” We aren’t talking about the day to day humdrum of life; mindfulness is a way to help people in distress.

In looking back on a previous post about Mindfulness published on 12/17/2014 and titled “A Look at Mindfulness,” I was reminded that Santa referenced an article she found on Huffington Post. In that article they state: “Earlier this year, a review of 47 studies showed that evidence of a positive effect of mindfulness on managing anxiety, depression and pain had been proven across a number of clinical trials.”

The author of the op-ed in the recent NYTimes is applying her skeptical view to her daily activities rather than to any serious psychological conditions. She may have a point in relation to the overuse of Mindfulness in our quotidian lives, but when it comes to dealing with the debilitating symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain, we might challenge her doubts.

Nevertheless, a bit of cynicism is acceptable. Anything, or any therapy, that becomes too embedded in our daily lives deserves to be questioned to some degree. Every protocol has its day, and its value, but we know nothing works for everyone. Can we really expect to see Martin Ellingham engaged in periods of Mindfulness in this show? What we tend to get in Doc Martin in terms of therapy are snippets of honest to goodness hints of techniques that could work, but they are truncated by improper execution. We cannot anticipate more than that.

In closing I think it’s fun to note that one of the memorable quotes from the movie of the same title as this post is “Life is a State of Mind.” The main character of the movie is a man who lives totally in the present while those all around him project all sorts of things onto him. His state of mind is entirely different from everyone else’s and he appears happy while they are wrestling with all sorts of decisions. I’m not arguing that he’s in a state of Mindfulness, yet being in the present can have its limitations.

Originally posted 2016-11-30 22:12:12.

The definition of Family

In S4 E5 Joan is angry at Martin and yells at him after leaving the Wenn household that he doesn’t have his priorities right: “We’re family, Martin, that must mean something, even to you.” He answers that her behavior does not fit his definition of family, and she responds, “Your definition of family isn’t even in the dictionary, Martin!”

I was surprised, to say the least, that Joan would say something like that to Martin after Martin (in S2 E6) sold his apartment in London and used the money to pay off his father so that Joan wouldn’t lose the farm. When Martin tells his father his plan, he says he doesn’t want Joan to be grateful to him because “she doesn’t have to, she’s my family.” Joan finds out and thanks Martin, but here we are not so long after that, no more than 2 years perhaps, and Joan is accusing Martin of not being dedicated enough to family. By the last episode of series 6, Martin’s mother tries to guilt Martin into giving her money, and this after telling him she never wanted him, treating him terribly throughout his life, and returning to disrupt his life again. She pulls the “family” card and tells him they are the only ones left of their family, but he isn’t so easily persuaded and says that his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth. A pretty strong slap in the face for her even though it doesn’t deter her from her original reason for coming. The larger question, however, is how to define family both in general and in this show.

The definition of family is not easy to determine. In fact, there are many definitions listed in dictionaries, and the definition has changed over time. There are all sorts of ways to define family: conjugal, nuclear, extended, stem, domestic group with its phases. Some cultures privilege the mother’s role, others privilege the father’s role. There are viewpoints based on biological relationships versus kinship, or the social interactions that are important in our lives. What we can generally agree upon is that family is made up of people who are related to one another by blood or marriage and who should have a special loyalty to one another. We would probably all agree that the family unit grows to include long term relationships with adopted children, caregivers, friends, and even animals. For example, Mr. Cook is sad due to the loss of his green finch Freddie; Malcolm thinks of his pigeons as family; Stewart is attached to his invisible squirrel Antony; and the Flints have their stuffed animals as well as their German Shepherd.

The theme of series 2 could be called “Family Matters.” Episode 1 is about Danny’s return to Portwenn from London to check on his mother. Families are now more likely to be living apart and distance plays a role in how they function. Episode 2 concerns Mrs. Cronk’s hands being burned, leaving Peter without adult supervision at home. Neither Louisa nor Martin really wants to care for Peter, but he can’t stay alone. Peter wants to stay with Martin and that puts Martin in the position of needing to manage a twelve year old. This episode, therefore, is about the problems single parents encounter when they have no family members nearby. It is also about the rules governing childcare when people who are not the child’s parents take on those responsibilities. E3 is mostly about family and siblings. E4 is about the breakup of Caroline and Tom over what he considers a dramatic change in her behavior. It’s a misunderstanding due to her undiagnosed diabetes, but he moves out and she’s angry and distraught. E5 takes on the problem of alienation of affection, this time homosexual. Phil cares about his wife Helen but has fallen in love with a man and causes her a lot of anguish over his infidelity. E6 is huge because of the appearance of Martin’s parents after a seven year period of no communication, and because Martin’s father is Joan’s brother and their relationship is strained to say the least. Then, of course, there’s the extremely devastating comments Martin’s mother makes to him and the ridicule his father uses against him. E7 is really more about friendship, but the notion of family through marriage is involved in that Julie and Mark are engaged, yet she is less concerned about his welfare than Pauline and Louisa are about Al and Martin respectively. Julie is an opportunist and sees Mark as her ticket to evading capture, but there are plenty of cases of people being duped into marrying and having to deal with the consequences thereafter. E8 takes on the matter of parenthood with Julie being pregnant with a baby fathered by some stray man and making an effort to identify Mark as the father. It raises the question of what happens to those children born to totally reckless women who would be likely to make horrible mothers. It also refers to Julie’s mother who is looking for her because she’s dying. Perhaps her mother just wants to know where she is since she’s had such an unstable life so far. Who knows what kind of family Julie came from? E9 has Louisa’s Dad Terry returning to Portwenn after a long absence. He has a bad reputation in town because most people are convinced he stole money from the charity for the Lifeboat. Louisa’s been defending him, but it turns out he’s been lying to her and he finally admits he stole the money. Louisa has some good memories of her childhood with her Dad and also memories of false promises. Apparently he took care of her after her mother left and that, no doubt, means a lot to her. The jig is up when Louisa asks him if Joan is lying too. Terry rationalizes that he had gambling debts, but it’s the fact that he allowed Louisa to look like a fool to the whole village that bothers her the most. She tells him to leave at that point. When Joan tells Martin about the incident, she comments: “It’s a funny thing about families…loyalty is but a step away from delusion.” Not a very good endorsement of loyalty. Family members reflect on the whole family and that can cause all sorts of difficulties. We want to defend our family members and believe in them, but they can be major disappointments at times. He also has another man with him who acts like a surrogate son and who similarly makes him look pretty foolish.

Episode 3 is the one that has the most to do with family. There aren’t many families in this series that have siblings, but this episode includes a few, and also takes up the question of biology v. kinship in regard to Bert’s paternity. Al talks to Joan about his concerns related to his mother. She tells him that Bert’s been his father and that’s all that matters. At first that doesn’t clear things up for Al and Al keeps asking Bert for his birth certificate because he wonders about an affair his mother had and whether Bert is actually his biological father. Bert admits that he and Al’s mother had troubles for a while and he left. But when he gets the nerve to look at the birth certificate, it records Bert as the father, which satisfies Bert but not Al entirely. Back at Joan’s, Al once again talks to Joan about his questions concerning Bert’s paternity. He asks Joan, “What if I’ve been calling a stranger Dad for 25 years?” She tells him, “Let’s just suppose that he’s not [your biological father]. What are you going to do? Are you going to walk away from him? Or, are you going to ignore him? Or you might perhaps think about how he’s been feeling all these years, not knowing, and the fact that he’s kept loving you.” By posing these alternatives, Joan brings up the complicated enigma of the definition of family. How important is it that you are a blood relative? Bert is a much better father to Al, even though he might have some lingering doubts about his biological connection, than Martin’s father has been to him, despite no paternity fears. Towards the end of the episode Al finds Bert fishing and they remember a time when they went fishing when Al was ten years old. Al jumped in the water to get the fish and Bert dove in after him even though Al could swim better than Bert. Bert has always been there for Al. Isn’t a person who is devoted to you and nurtures you someone you should consider family, no matter what the biological reality is?

In the same episode, Mark Mylow’s sister Sandra comes to town and sets up her herbalist business in Mark’s house. It’s obvious that Mark is not happy to have his sister living with him. She’s intrusive and rude and at one point Mark comments to the doc, “I know you can’t choose your family, but there’s a line.., people shouldn’t cross it, that’s all I’m saying.” At that moment Sandra comes down the stairs demanding that he help her move a piece of furniture. She also takes Mark’s radio, probably because she doesn’t like when he plays the radio. It’s great that Mark notes the oft repeated observation that we can’t choose our family. We have to deal with the family we are born into, or become attached to by all sorts of ways (adoption, fostering, happenstance, etc.). Also, our blood relatives can be difficult to deal with, and DM certainly brings that point out. Ultimately, Mark stands up to Sandra and throws her out of his house, much like Martin will do to his father in S2 E6, and Louisa will do too. They’ve crossed the line.

Another part of this same episode involves the story of the Flint family. Wallace and Paddy Flint are sick, probably with salmonella, and Martin decides to visit their home because it seems to be the only way to find out the source of their illness. It’s clear there’s something very strange about their household, in particular the father Victor. Sometime later in the day Martin bumps into their father walking through town and Victor accosts him. Once he calms down, he tells Martin that if Martin had a wife and children he’d understand. Victor can get violent at home at times too and the boys appear scared of him. It turns out Victor Flint has been masquerading as his wife Doreen ever since she abandoned all of them 8 years earlier. The sons have been covering for him because they know he’s been doing it for their benefit. Once Martin finds out that Victor sometimes turns into Doreen, Wallace tells Martin that “he was just trying to look after [his father], after all of us.” His Dad first started the charade when his wife left because he thought the boys might be taken from him. Wallace continues, “he just wanted to make us like a normal family, like everyone else.” So what’s a “normal” family? It’s funny to think of this family as normal in any way, but beyond the humor is a serious subtext. As a single parent, a father may not be considered capable of taking care of his children. Moreover, Victor doesn’t think his boys will be fine without a mother. Obviously he makes things worse by trying to be both. It’s the obverse of Bert’s situation with Al. When Al’s mother died, Bert took over with no hesitation and took on the role of both mother and father competently; when Doreen left, Victor sank into a psychotic state and turned their home into a place of unpredictability. He’s taken away their sense that their home is a sanctuary.

Series 3 contains a fair amount of family related episodes, including the odd family that moves in next door to Louisa and uses relatively little discipline with their son. Not surprisingly, the boy becomes a menace in town. Then there are the Saul sisters whose family history includes a love triangle and some apparent underlying anger issues. Sister Janet is abusive under the guise of providing care. There are several others, e.g. the Colonel and his philandering wife start things off, Elaine’s father’s decision to marry someone she doesn’t like, the McLynns, the Dibbs, Penhale’s brother’s visit. All bring up many common things families must address – extramarital affairs, covering for one’s spouse, being letdown by a once envied sibling.

But it’s series 5 that finds Martin and Louisa setting up a household together and bringing home a baby. Martin seems to experience the love for his child that Roger Fenn had earlier told him about. There’s also Joan’s death followed by Ruth’s arrival, Penhale’s wife Maggie appearing out of the blue and reviving dormant feelings, and Bert and Al continuing to have tension between them due to Bert’s inability to handle money well. Al bails him out but jeopardizes his own integrity. Then Louisa’s mother surprises them when she arrives unannounced. She’s never been very reliable and that hasn’t changed. She’s the best of the four parents, but that isn’t saying much.

Families are a trial, a joy, a disruption, and a comfort. They are a social unit that has been around as long as humans have been around. They can see us through difficult times, although there are other times when they may make our lives miserable. DM shows us all the ins and outs, ups and downs, rewards and perils of having a family. In doing so, it once again engages us in thinking about these matters, something I find provocative and important.

Originally posted 2013-11-22 03:17:44.

Bert’s wedding plans

The whole side story of Bert and his relationship with Jennifer has been a curiosity to me. It’s sweet that Bert revives an interest in a woman he knew a long time ago and might have even married if he hadn’t met someone else. But I wasn’t really sure what the point was in having this other love story in the series. In fact, I was sort of annoyed by the distraction. I even thought this secondary story was another way to avoid putting too many demands on Martin Clunes while he recovered, much like we speculate the storyline about Penhale’s survivor course might have been. However, now I’ve been thinking about it more and come up with something a bit more useful.

I think Bert’s interaction with Jennifer leading to his proposal should be seen as a counterpoint to how Martin has been handling his desire to be with Louisa. Of course, the Bert and Jennifer thing is much briefer, but here’s how I think it may work:
Jennifer comes to town unannounced after a long absence. Bert sees her and is surprised that she’s returned. He immediately approaches her and invites her to stay in his house instead of the Crab and Lobster. Even though he plans to have her pay for her lodgings, his real reason for offering her a place to stay is to have time to talk and rekindle his relationship with her. She’s happy to be asked. While she stays with him they get to know each other better and they confide in each other. It isn’t long before he asks her for a date and she accepts. Mrs. Tishell returns and Jennifer knows that as soon as Mrs. T is given permission to work unsupervised, she’ll be told to go somewhere else. Bert hopes to find something for Jennifer in town so she can stay on, but that doesn’t work out. A short time later Mrs. T gets the letter allowing her to run her business alone again and Bert is faced with the real prospect of Jennifer leaving. Al makes it clear to Bert that if he doesn’t want Jennifer to leave, he must act. And act he does. He tells the taxi driver to bring Jennifer to a quiet spot away from everything where he is waiting to ask her to marry him. He has the ring and he removes his hat as a formal gesture. It has all the hallmarks of a romantic proposal. Jennifer is duly surprised and impressed, and accepts.

If you look at it this way, Bert has handled his interplay with Jennifer the way we would have liked to have seen Martin treat Louisa. Louisa was a much tougher woman to convince when she first arrived back in Portwenn, and may not have accepted an offer by Martin to stay with him, but many people in the town thought he should have asked. At least once L has the baby, M asks if he can stay with her, and she is very happy to have him. Once they stay together, they develop a close connection and series 5 has many nice scenes while they all live together. M is the one who changes his plans to leave Portwenn first during series 5, but since Bert’s scenes with Jennifer occur during series 6, I think we can relate them to how M should have handled L’s decision to depart. If M does not want L to leave, which he certainly does not, he could have made some sort of romantic gesture or offered to drive her to the airport and cancel surgery that day, or he could have even asked the taxi driver to take her someplace where he could have been waiting. To me, L appears hopeful that M will say something loving when she’s standing behind the closed door to the bathroom and M is on the other side. But, despite his evident pain, he can only muster that his first patient has arrived. He offers to drive her only after the taxi is already there and he has a waiting room filled with patients. L knows he always feels a responsibility to his patients and isn’t about to be shut down again by asking him to choose her over his patients. (Ironically, M cancels his patients for 2 days when L is hit by the car, but he would not have voluntarily closed the surgery.) As it turns out, M is in no shape to see patients that day and Morwenna ends up canceling patients for the day after all. M goes after L due to an emergency, but he could have shown L his priorities without the emergency. Isn’t that what she’s looking for? She’d like to see him do something for her/with her without being asked or forced.

Originally posted 2013-11-17 18:29:13.

S6 E1 and its funny scenes

The first time I watched S6 E1 I found it funny but I was more caught up in the wedding and the romance. But then I viewed it again when thinking about how Jack Lothian had written both E1 and E8 and found many points of comparison. I also realized how funny many of the scenes were and thought it would be very amusing to do a post that puts these funny moments in some order. It’s almost impossible to avoid writing down every scene in the episode, there are so many I find funny, so bear with me.

The way the episode’s humor proceeds is best divided into three categories: A. Funny aspects of the setting and atmosphere; B. Funny events and comments related to Ruth and her night with JH; C. Funny interactions between Martin and Louisa. Each of these divisions includes some hilarious moments, in my opinion, and I thought I would try to rate them according to a system of mildly funny, very funny, and funniest of all.

A. The beginning of the day contains all sorts of set-ups that are mildly funny:
1. Martin once again starts his wedding day by seeing patients. He still can’t take the day off. Not only that, but he’s doing a gyno exam! What a lovely way to prepare for a wedding.
2. When Morwenna sees him, she doesn’t think he’s changed his clothes. Kind of a riff on how he always dresses the same.
3. Penhale has been calling Martin and continues to act as though he’s the best man even brushing off Martin’s shoulder, something that Martin finds annoying. Penhale can’t help himself and still checks to see if Louisa has arrived and says he doesn’t have the ring and he can be trusted not to run off with the bride.
4. The Vicar is rather sardonic when they’re waiting for Louisa to show up. He may still have some resentments toward Martin from the first wedding preparations. Whether that’s true or not, it’s funny to hear him tell Martin that one groom waited 3 hours before realizing that the bride had run off with the best man and then start whistling and checking his watch.

The next background event that is mildly amusing is the moment when the Vicar asks if anyone has an objection to speak now and baby James cries. Then Ruth says “out of the mouth of babes.” It’s a snicker moment.

After the wedding the mildly funny moments are: Martin hating the confetti, Bert and Al eating the food and discussing its quality, Penhale breaking the wine glass before his speech. (Personally I found Bert’s interruptions of Penhale’s speech irritating more than funny, although I would not have liked to hear all of Penhale’s jokes either.) Other mildly funny aspects are: Louisa never taking off her veil, Bert telling Martin and Louisa about spending his honeymoon naked, and Martin checking the bed in the Lodge.

The very funny moments that have to do with the circumstances surrounding the wedding are:
1. Bert driving off without giving them their suitcases and Louisa telling Martin they can rough it for one night. Boy was that an understatement!!
2. The caravan owner asking them about their fancy clothes. It’s hard to imagine that Louisa could be wearing anything but a wedding dress, but they explain that it’s their wedding day and this is their honeymoon. The man congratulates them while pointing a rifle at them.
3. The man keeps yelling “Edna” who he explains is his dog and a good judge of character. (That’s funny in the sense that Martin is being judged by a dog, and because Edna is a dog and not the man’s wife.)
4. Next they have to mend the chicken coop and the man repeats the phrase “You broke it, you fix it,” which is a paraphrase of “You break it, you own it” used by Gen. Colin Powell and others about Iraq.
5. Martin has now fallen twice and will fall one more time before the night is over. That’s particularly pertinent because the caravan owner calls Martin a “clumsy git.” He’s also called Martin a moron. I doubt Martin’s been called either epithet very often. It’s hard not to laugh now that the tables have been turned on Martin.
6. The final scene when Martin and Louisa return home covered with dirt and blood and are invaded by all the principles who are shocked by their appearance. Their only explanation is that it’s not their blood and they’re all right. Of course someone shows up and needs medical attention, plus the commotion would not be complete without the barking dog.

For me the funniest moment of the overall scenes surrounding the wedding is when Martin and Louisa are driving off in the old limo and Martin stops the car so he can tear off the cans tied to the rear bumper. I don’t know how planned the actual scene was, but I found it extremely funny when Martin’s feet get tangled in the rope and then he grabs the rope and throws it in Penhale’s direction making Penhale duck to avoid being hit. Everyone laughs and Penhale holds up the cans. To me, that could have been an outtake but they kept it in.

B. Ruth and the humor surrounding her:
Much of what Ruth tells JH is quite funny.
1. We first see her feeding JH, but he’s not interested and has food all over his face. She tells him he’s bordering on the anti-social and that the food is delicious. After she takes one bite, however, she can’t help grimacing and telling him she stands corrected — the food is disgusting. (Baby food would not be too enticing to most of us.)
2. Soon she’s trying to get JH to go to sleep and tells him sleep aids neural development. Not only that, but all the other babies are doing it at that time and if he doesn’t, he will fall behind the other children. It’s great to see her talking to a small baby as if he’s capable of understanding logical arguments, and her position is he should be worried about how he looks to the others. Just what most mothers try to avoid.
3. As she’s walking around the kitchen with JH and he’s finally beginning to fall asleep, the lights go out and she just says “Bugger!” We’ve all been there at one point or another with babies.
4. Ruth calls Al for help. By the time he shows up she’s lit numerous candles so she has some light. Al walks in and asks what the problem is and Ruth can’t help showing some exasperation. “The lights have blown!” she says, with a look of disbelief. Then Al asks a few questions as if he might know something, but eventually tells her that even with the right tools he wouldn’t be able to fix it.
5. Soon Penhale looks in and wonders if he’s missed the seance. Naturally he tries to fix the problem but injures himself instead. Now Bert appears and Ruth sarcastically tells him to join the group since everyone else is there. No one in the house is helping in any way, and Penhale’s wounded forehead becomes the focus. Ruth tells him her medical advice is to “stick a plaster on it and shut up!”
6. Luckily Al knows to call Mike Pruddy and he fixes the electrical short. He also tells Ruth that JH is teething and finds some vanilla essence to soothe him. Her immediate reaction is “This isn’t the 16th century. He’ll need an analgesic (medication is her first solution).” But the vanilla works and Ruth now says she could cry “if she hadn’t been raised to show no emotion.”

But the funniest moment with Ruth is after Mike puts JH to bed and she tells him that he’s a very competent man – a rarity around there. Mike has his doubts but Ruth reassures him by saying he could be “an agoraphobic schizophrenic.” Mike smiles and says, “We can always look on the sunny side!”

C. Finally we have to look at the many funny moments between Martin and Louisa:
First the mildly funny moments –
1. The first big moment between Martin and Louisa comes when M sees L at the entrance to the church. He’s thunderstruck and they just stare at each other until L starts motioning him to walk back down the aisle to the Vicar. M finally gets it and does the walk.
2. Once L arrives at the altar, L tells M she was late because of her hair and the Vicar has to tell them to stop talking. (Her hair problem is something that women often struggle with and it’s funny that she uses that as her reason for being late.)
3. M does not stick with the proper protocol and skips some vows, puts the rings on quickly and without letting L put his on him.
4. At the wedding M agrees to dance the first dance but L steps on his foot. When asked if she’s ever had lessons, L admits she has not and M isn’t surprised.
5. They make it out of the wedding and agree to spend a night in a lovely, isolated lodge. They have a few romantic interactions and this time there’s no one to interrupt them. However, M can’t help responding to L literally when she says “whatever you say.” He tells her he didn’t say anything. He follows that by telling her he’ll light a fire.
6. L asks him why men always want to light a fire. She wonders if it’s a caveman thing but changes her mind when M explains the intricacies of getting a good fire going.
7. They have a few minutes during which M actually makes a small joke. But it’s a start and L is amused. The moment is short-lived because pretty soon the room is filled with smoke. M puts the fire out with the champagne and the fireplace explodes spewing soot into his face. They have to leave the building coughing.

At this point the humor picks up and we go from mildly funny to outright hilarious:
1. M hands L her shoes and sets out to find a phone. L would rather stay at the lodge, but can’t convince M. She tries to make the best of it by thinking a walk could be romantic, but not the way M decides to proceed. He’s walking so fast she can’t catch up, especially since she’s wearing her wedding dress and heels. Then he tells her if they stick to the path they can’t go wrong and she responds, “Of course, because nothing about a long distance hike in a wedding dress is at all wrong.”
2. Soon L tells M they’re definitely going the wrong way, but he’s still not certain that’s true. (Here he’s acting like a typical man who can’t believe he doesn’t know what direction to go in.) She explains they’re now in the middle of a forest and he corrects her that it’s actually a wood.
3. Eventually they reach a stream and M has to acknowledge they might have taken a wrong turn. L refuses to wade across the stream so M tells her he’ll carry her. He has trouble picking her up but ends up carrying her piggy back. (At least they’re holding each other!)
4. The trip across the stream is very funny because L picks this moment to ask how M imagined they’d be spending their wedding night. He says, “Not like this! This was a mistake. We should be at home.” Their conversation continues as he wades across the stream with L on his back. M had not wanted a honeymoon and L had agreed, but the reason she agreed turns out to be because she didn’t want to drag him off and have him complaining. Now M wants to know if L actually did want a honeymoon and she baffles him when she says she wanted him to want one. Like most men, he’s totally lost and cannot understand that logic. This exchange is how many married couples bicker and can’t help but make us laugh.
5. L has reached a point of frustration and agrees that this was a big mistake and she’s ready to find a phone and be done with the night.
6. As she’s stomping off, M tells her she’s being unreasonable because she agreed to one thing when actually she wanted another. This prompts L to pose a hypothetical scenario of an elaborate wedding and honeymoon, but she doesn’t complete it because M falls down a hill and she loses track of him. After she runs down to help him, they hear someone yelling. M is alarmed, but L is 99% sure it’s a farmer yelling at foxes. At least that means there’s someone nearby to ask for a phone.
We then go through the scenes where they meet the caravan owner and M falls again, this time into the chicken coop. The man tells M he’ll have to fix it and M starts to gently knock the pole into the ground. When the man insults M, L has the gumption to say that “good manners cost nothing.” Of course that leads to the man calling L a little “doolally.”
7. The man decides he would be better off fixing the post himself but ends up swinging and missing and dislocating his shoulder. (When the man puts his rifle down to pick up the sledgehammer, L takes the rifle and tells the man he owes M an apology. She’s motioning so much with the rifle that M is nervous around her.) M tells the man he’ll soon be in severe pain, at which point L tries to soften the comment only to have M confirm he meant what he said.
8. The pain relents briefly and M explains that endorphins have reduced it, but it isn’t long before the man says he’s running out of endorphins (which sounds funny coming out of an earthy man). He asks L to get him some whiskey and as she goes inside to look for the bottle, the man tells M he knows what he’s thinking – he’s jealous because he wants a caravan of his own. M responds sarcastically, “Yes, that’s just what I’m thinking.”
9. M fixes the dislocation and feels pretty smug about it, pulling down his cuffs and saying “It’s a simple procedure.” L says, “Well done Martin.” But immediately after that M’s clumsiness returns. He backs up, falls over the dog, and brings the awning down on all of them. (It’s like what we’ve always been told, don’t get too arrogant because the moment you think things are going well, something bad happens.)

You may have noticed that I did not fully describe one major scene between M and L: the one where M corrects L about whether they’re in a forest or a wood. I left it out because I consider that scene by far the funniest of the episode and possibly of the entire series. I absolutely love the realistic badinage between M and L. First L says, “Seriously, is that your argument, we’re going the wrong way and the best you can do is split hairs over whether it’s a forest or a wood?” At this point they hear a noise and M says (in an increasingly angrier voice, “Hallo, who’s there? Show yourself. I want this to stop. This is my final warning.”) Suddenly a pony appears out of the dark and M jumps. L can’t help herself and says, “You’re really not the outdoor type.” (We can even look at this as an inside joke again because MC likes animals, and horses especially, and seems to be an outdoor type in real life.) The pony trots off and they walk a few more steps before L shouts to be careful. M jumps again but this time L is joking. She tells him she thought she saw a rabbit and didn’t want him to get a fright or get into a confrontation. She mocks him, repeating, “This is my final warning. Show yourself.” She laughs and again says, “Final warning.” He tells her he was only trying to protect her, but for me this is a perfect scene because it’s light, it’s a wonderful example of how M can be so stiff and L can just have a laugh, and L is doing her best to have some fun during this crazy wedding night.

The above includes so much that I’m almost giving a rundown of the entire episode. As with the last episode of S5, this episode is so well written and conceived it deserves to be thoroughly appreciated. It’s rare to find such good dialogue that includes so many good lines. I suppose it would have been hard to reproduce this sort of interaction for every episode, but I’d like to see more of it. I think Jack Lothian should write the entire series 7!

Originally posted 2013-11-16 18:26:03.

Addendum to Jack Lothian post

In watching S6 E1 again, I noticed that during the walk in the woods Louisa runs down the hill where Martin’s fallen and says, “Catch me if I fall.” He does catch her as she reaches him and I suddenly realized that could be a foreshadowing of when she gets hit by the car and, next episode, has an AVM. Martin definitely catches her when she falls at those times. That is basically what marriage is about, he falls and she goes after him trying to comfort him, then she falls and he catches her. Very nice metaphor!

Originally posted 2013-11-07 13:53:15.

Marriage as an Institution

Marriage. What does it mean? Who gets married and when?
In DM we have none of the issues of cultural differences or religious differences that can often impact marriages and decisions to marry. What we have are two older adults who have never been married falling in love and trying to decide whether to marry. Marriage is a bond between two people and should be a lifetime commitment; some sites link the term marriage to permanence. For many men and women marriage is a difficult decision and marriage rates reflect that. This show not only illustrates the problems confronting this particular couple, but also couples in general. Finding the right man or woman is the first step and the longer one waits, the harder that gets. Apparently Martin had once thought he wanted to marry Edith, but that possibility encountered likely opposition from Aunt Joan and then Edith chose her career over marriage and moved on. Once burned, twice shy as they say, which is to say that Martin is certainly not about to jump into marriage too fast next time. He’s also not much of a lady’s man and wants someone with a combination of attractiveness, intelligence, and sensitivity. We know he wants all of these traits because no one of these is sufficient to get his attention. Mrs. Wilson is pretty but narcissistic, Mrs. Tishell is intelligent but not attractive, and Edith is certainly not sensitive (or attractive, if you ask me). Louisa has not had many good prospects from the looks of things, and she’s smart to be selective, but after a while it may be harder for a woman to know when she’s met the right man. Louisa appears to want a man who’s accomplished, not too religious, and a little unique. As with many couples these days, their own parents have not been good role models for successful marriage. Neither marriage was happy and Martin and Louisa have born the brunt of that. As a result, they are both probably looking for someone who will be faithful and reliable.

The first reason that prompts Martin to ask Louisa to marry him is that he has spent close to two years yearning to be with her, and dealing with intermittent intrusions in his efforts to get together with her, until he finally can’t stand it any longer. The show deliberately puts Martin in situations where he foils his own chances, e.g. he tells Louisa she has bad breath after their first kiss, insults Danny to Louisa because of jealousy, compliments Louisa and tells her he loves her only later to accuse her of being infatuated with him, and ultimately ruins a date and passionate kiss by telling Louisa she’s being too emotional. That comment finally causes her to tell him she doesn’t want to see him anymore, which deeply troubles him to the point that he can’t sleep and can’t concentrate at work. Somehow we keep rooting for Martin and Louisa to get together despite the obvious miscues, or maybe because of them. It’s not until Louisa’s friend Holly hurts her back and then falls on a glass bottle that Louisa and Martin join together in an effort to rescue Holly, and they are given an opportunity to lower their guard. Even though this is an awkward time, Martin asks Louisa to marry him and tells her he can’t bear to be without her, and we finally have a romantic moment. On the other hand, the proposal of marriage occurs at a point when both Martin and Louisa are frazzled. Louisa accepts and they spend the night together without regrets, however, the proposal and acceptance seem very impulsive. In addition, the time they have between the decision to marry and the availability of the church is so short (maybe 3-4 weeks) that there really isn’t a lot of time for them to fully contemplate the implications. Could that be enough time? I’m sure it’s worked for some people, but making a lifetime commitment to someone is probably more likely to work out well if both parties have had enough time to think it through. We do see a few sweet moments while they plan the wedding,e.g. dinners with both loving exchanges and occasional slips (like breathing strips for snoring), a kiss on Louisa’s balcony.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long to date before marrying, but there seems to be some consensus that 1-4 years works best. The first time they plan the wedding, they call it off claiming that both of them are unsure they would make the other happy. On the day of the wedding they have been bombarded with all sorts of reasons to have reservations: the usual vicar is a drunk and falls and breaks something; the other clergyman Martin approaches hates weddings and forces Martin to check a pig’s anus before he’ll agree to do the ceremony;the dry cleaner gives Martin the wrong clothes; Louisa’s maid of honor hurts her eye and gives birth to her out-of-wedlock baby; several friends of Louisa give her reasons to hesitate; and ultimately both Martin and Louisa have a brief chance to catch their breath and come to the same conclusion that they should wait. The die seems cast throughout the episode. Beyond the absurdity of all of the obstacles here in the way of a successful wedding, we should probably give some thought to the notion of how best to prepare to be married. Maybe even if a couple is in love there should be a sort of cooling off period so that they can be under less pressure.

The next time comes when Louisa returns to Portwenn 6 months pregnant and Martin, being the moral man he is, reflexively asks her if she wants to get married. Louisa immediately says no as she has no intention of trapping Martin in a marriage even though she wants him to demonstrate an interest in her. It is only after the baby is born and they live together for a few months that they finally decide the time is right. Once again an emergency medical procedure brings them together: Tommy’s methanol poisoning and then the birth of the baby. And once again their relationship makes another step forward as a result. (Is this any way for a couple to keep reconciling?) Of course, their relationship goes through one more crisis when JH is abducted by Mrs. Tishell before another reconciliation during which Martin seems to understand that Louisa needs some affection and expression of love from him. In my opinion, women universally feel insecure and like to have some affirmation of love periodically. Men probably want that as well but aren’t quite as needy perhaps.

In DM, Martin and Louisa are traditionalists concerning marriage in that they get married in a church, Louisa adopts Martin’s last name, and neither has ever been married previously. They are modern insofar as their baby is born before they get married (in the United Kingdom 47.3% of births were to unmarried women in 2011), Louisa breastfeeds but plans to keep working (she expresses milk so she can give the baby breastmilk when she’s away), and they share the responsibilities of caring for JH pretty equally and hire a childminder for when they are at work. Martin is somewhat retro in that he wants Louisa to quit her job and stay home with JH, but her strong objection to that makes him adjust quickly and he is remarkably willing to share the responsibilities of taking care of JH. There’s no doubt that their first months of marriage are more difficult because of the demands of having a baby and all of the stresses that accompany that. For Martin and Louisa, JH both brings them together and causes some strife as they deal with getting him to sleep, feeding him, determining which of them should sacrifice time from their job, and finding a childminder they both like. All very typical married couple problems.

We don’t see too much of the household duties causing difficulties. They seem to share the grocery shopping and cooking to a certain degree, they both do some cleaning up in the kitchen, and they both change diapers. We don’t see any bathing of the baby, washing clothes, folding clothes, house cleaning, or other mundane chores except for buying nappies and some pharmaceuticals. They are also lucky that they can walk most places because they only have one car, something that could be a source of discord. They don’t seem to have much closet space (or space of any kind), but that hasn’t been a problem so far either. In short, many of the typical marital disagreements are not a part of this show.

But the biggest source of marital difficulty is what causes their greatest turmoil: lack of communication. We’re all aware that women like to talk more than men and that’s been proven by research. (I think you could ask most women and they would say that their husbands universally have trouble talking about things that bother them. It seems like the Y chromosome contains the gene for being taciturn.) However, communication comes in both verbal and non-verbal forms. With Martin, Louisa gets neither much of the time. And as his hemaphobia and insomnia become more problematic, he gets more withdrawn. She’s already told him how important it is to her that he tells her something nice now and then, but Martin has so much trouble expressing those feelings. How wonderful it would have been for him to tell Louisa how he considers her and James his family (as he tells his mother), or how much he, too, misses her once she goes back to work. How much would it have meant to her for him to tell her that his hemaphobia had returned and it was really upsetting to him. He could still say, as he does to Ruth, that he expects it to go away again. But Louisa would have felt that he had confided in her. And wouldn’t it be nice if her kiss on the cheek when they’re in bed would have been reciprocated? These are the little things that mean so much for every marriage.

Martin has never told Louisa much about his childhood, nor has he told her what his mother said to him the last time she visited. What Louisa knows about Martin’s childhood comes mostly from what she’s discerned from the side comments he’s made throughout the years about being punished by being paddled or locked in a confined space. She’s also seen the pictures of a morose little boy and heard about his being sent away to school at a young age. Without much information, she is hard-pressed to grasp his constant battle to overcome his hesitation to open up to her. Martin really doesn’t know much about Louisa’s childhood either, although he knows her mother is something of a loose cannon and Louisa and she have had trouble relating before. As with many marriages, both of them find it hard to remember they both bring a lot of baggage into the union. Their ability to communicate with each other would be greatly enhanced by setting aside some time each day to be together. In season 6, E1 we saw them interact congenially, if at odds at times. This episode is a good microcosm for what marriage can be like and how it can all be resolved lovingly in the end. Sometimes Martin takes charge, sometimes Louisa does, but in the end they walk arm in arm meeting adversity as a team. Unfortunately Martin is not likely to suggest time together, and Louisa tries to pierce his armor to no avail. Therefore, it’s not too surprising when they have a blowup in E7.

The first year of marriage is certainly one of major adjustments for any couple. For an older couple with a baby it’s even more fraught. Marriage consists of constant adjustments and compromises, and it’s those who accept that and roll with it who have enduring relationships. Martin has shown some pretty impressive willingness to try to accommodate Louisa’s wishes when it comes to the care of JH and even her position as headmistress, and Louisa has made an effort to be sympathetic, express concern, and try to draw out Martin. Martin wants to learn to be a better husband and Louisa seems to be open to making another effort to keep their marriage together. Plus, we have another medical complication that brings them together. It can’t get much worse than Martin having to operate to save Louisa’s life! Marriage requires work and theirs requires possibly more work than most. Their travails have been condensed into a short span of time which makes it all seem so disconcerting, but their vows to each other were made with seriousness and will most likely help them persist.

Originally posted 2013-11-04 14:58:47.

Jack Lothian, Writers and Actors Redux

I planned to write a post about marriage next, and I still plan to write that; however, I feel inspired to write a post about Jack Lothian’s writing again first. My previous post about writers and actors in August gave a fairly detailed review of the final episode of season 5, which was written by Lothian, and I mentioned several other episodes written by him that I admired tremendously. In season 6 he is credited with writing episodes 1 and 8, the first and last episodes. To the best of my knowledge, the practice of writing a TV show (or a film for that matter) begins with determining the arc of the story for the season. I have to say that in the case of DM it’s quite a bit easier for the writers, producers, etc. to come up with an arc because there are only 8 episodes. For many of our series in the US, there are as many as 22 episodes for each season. In that case, there would be a story arc, but it would probably allow for changes along the way. Over the course of the season they have time to make adjustments if something doesn’t seem to be working as planned. At any rate, when I look at season 6 of DM and the two episodes Jack Lothian wrote, I wonder if he wrote them at the same time because I notice so many points of comparison. (As I’ve said before, I always believe that writers know what they’re doing and write with a consciousness of what they’re writing and intention to include what we see.) Of course you won’t be surprised to learn that I think they are by far the best episodes of this season due to the writing. But they also contain many aspects that connect them to each other and form a nice sense of coherence between them. I will even go so far as to say that episode 1 is my favorite of the season and possibly even of the entire series. I say that because I find it has romance, an impressive range of emotions, and so much humor that I can’t help but laugh out loud at many things that happen. When I first saw episode 1, I thought the series was off to a great season 6 because it was continuing to captivate us with that combination of romance and humor while keeping the characters complex. E2 kept my hopes up too, but then they took the show in a more downward and serious trajectory than I would have ever expected. I have now watched the whole season again and continue to be disappointed that the character of Doc Martin becomes so troubled by his psychological issues that he loses the clumsiness and the sort of naivete that he has had previously. By E6, when Margaret shows up, he’s already headed for trouble. Her appearance only makes things worse, but we do see some light in E8. (I understand if Martin Clunes wanted to shake things up a bit and maybe even wanted to show more of his own range, but for me the show could have stayed in the mode of the first two episodes and found a way to give him those opportunities too. Caroline Catz should have none of those complaints this season since Louisa was put through the wringer and she handled everything she was asked to do with tremendous skill.)

Back to the main reason for this post: comparing E1 and E8…
-The key points of comparison are that in both Martin asks for Louisa’s help, and in both he says “I’m sorry” to Louisa.
In E1 Martin needs Louisa to help him with the makeshift surgery he performs on the caravan owner who gets cut by glass when the unstable awning falls on him. Despite the man threatening them with his rifle, they don’t want him to die and Martin tells Louisa he can save him from bleeding to death, but “I need your help.” In E8, Martin leans over Louisa before performing surgery on her to save her from potentially bleeding into her brain and tells her, “I think I need your help” because he’s never been married before and he doesn’t seem to be very good at it, and he’d like to learn so he can be much better at it.
In E1 Martin says he’s sorry to Louisa as they’re walking up the dirt road with the man they operated on in a wheelbarrow. He knows their first night of marriage wasn’t exactly the kind of night she’d been hoping for. Louisa doesn’t think Martin needs to apologize and tells him the night is certainly one they’ll never forget. In E8 Martin tells Louisa he’s sorry after he kisses her goodbye. The kiss is awkward because he kisses her on the cheek when she wants to kiss him on the lips. He has also told JH he’s sorry for everything that’s happening.
I think repeating these two interactions ties the two episodes together subtly and nicely. That Martin acknowledges that he needs Louisa’s help is always welcome because he has so much trouble ever looking to others for anything. It’s also meaningful for him to apologize because that, too, is a sign everything hasn’t gone as well as he’s wished and he’s willing to admit it.

-Both also include Martin performing surgery and operating on the carotid artery.
In E1 the caravan owner’s carotid is nicked by a shard of glass. In E8 Martin uses the carotid artery as an access point to reach the AVM and complete the embolization. The carotid artery provides the brain with oxygenated blood which is essential to life. By using it twice, its importance for human life is emphasized and Martin’s ability to operate on it safely and successfully is reaffirmed.

-Ruth plays a significant role in both episodes and Al’s relationship to Ruth is important in both.
In E1 Ruth takes care of JH so Martin and Louisa can have a night alone. While they’re having all sorts of adventures throughout the night, she’s also dealing with an unsettled baby and the loss of electrical power in the house. She calls Al to come and fix the electrical problems only to find out he doesn’t know what to do. He does, however, know who to call and Mike Pruddy fixes the power problem and settles the baby. In E8 Ruth clarifies for Martin what he must do to save his marriage to Louisa. She also listens to Al’s proposal to start a bed and breakfast on her farm and determines that his idea is viable, giving him the best boost to his confidence he’s had in along time.
Ruth is a unifying force for Martin and Louisa in both episodes as well as the person in Al’s life who makes him feel important.

-I would go so far as to say that Martin is somewhat overcome at the wedding that he is now married to Louisa and that same sense of dismay plays a part in his inability to say and do the right things to keep her from leaving in E8.
At the reception following the wedding Martin stands apart from Louisa admiring her from across the room. His face reflects a man who is incredulous that he is married to the woman he’s been adoring for many years. In E8 he puts Louisa and JH in the taxi and watches as they drive away with something of the same look of incredulity on his face, but now it’s due to being utterly unsure what to do.
In a way the fact that Martin still appears so disbelieving is further evidence that he has lots of work to do on himself.

-Morwenna and Penhale fill the position of liaisons between Martin and Louisa in both.
In E1 Morwenna holds the baby during the wedding ceremony and then stands between Martin and Louisa as they discuss whether to leave or not. Rather than being an intrusion between the newlyweds, she forms a link and helps Louisa convince Martin to stay a little longer. Penhale wants to be Martin’s best man and makes sure he has a flower for his lapel. He looks for Louisa to arrive and later gives a wedding speech that celebrates both Martin and Louisa as important to the community. Both Morwenna and Penhale see the married couple off. In E8 Morwenna walks in on Martin as he’s doing an EKG on himself. She is one of the few people aware that he’s been running tests on himself. Then she watches in disbelief as Louisa leaves with JH. There’s a definite moment when her expression is telling the doc to do something to stop Louisa, but as usual he doesn’t get it. Penhale is the one who drives Martin to the airport so that he can stop Louisa from flying. He also convinces the security guard to let Martin pass and takes JH from Martin once they get to the hospital.
Martin may not acknowledge it, but these two dependable people enter his life at very important moments and matter a lot to his bond with Louisa.

A minor, and lighter point of comparison is that there are scruffy older men in both. There’s no need to make too much of this, but having these two men — the caravan owner in E1 and the folk singer in E8 — is another way to tie the two episodes together. In both cases, the men start out annoyed by Martin but end up grateful to him. In both cases, Martin extends himself to help them and his behavior demonstrates a fundamental quality of caring in him.

For me both episodes had some very funny moments, although E1 was by far the funnier of the two. In my opinion it may be the funniest of all the episodes so far and I will try to convince you by giving a rundown of all the funny moments in another post.

Originally posted 2013-11-01 21:23:57.

Medical questions related to Episode 8

All along I have been watching this show with a keen interest in both the medical and psychological conditions it addresses. I’m also learning a lot about the system of medical practice in the U.K. In this last episode I have found that our system in America has some significant differences from the one in the U.K. Let’s review what happens medically during this episode….

Louisa is leaving with her arm in a sling due to a broken collarbone. She’s on anticoagulants because she has probably had an embolism after suffering a deep vein thrombosis. She doesn’t have a cough anymore so I suppose we are expected to think her embolism is not causing any problems. (It’s somewhat unlikely that the cough would have cleared so quickly.) Martin advises her to drink a lot and try to stretch her legs during the flight, and she seems to be following his advice as we see her drinking something before getting on the plane.

The serious medical events happen once Martin opens an envelope containing Louisa’s brain scan, most likely done following her car accident. The word “scan” is used without saying whether it’s a CT or MRI. CTs are most commonly done after trauma because they are better at picking up bone fractures and bleeding, but an MRI would be more likely to indicate the existence of an AVM. (My husband thinks the scan looks like an MRI and the dye Martin mentions called gadolinium is used with MRIs.) Martin calls radiology and asks them to check the scan they have to see if they see the AVM too. Although it’s impressive that they answer quickly and do what he asks immediately, that could happen. Next he calls Louisa to try to stop her from getting on the plane, but she is in no mood to talk because she has a headache (a sign that she’s feeling symptoms from the AVM). Martin knows he has to prevent her from getting on the plane and hops in his car to race to the airport. While driving he calls the hospital to tell them he’s going to need an operating theater to be prepped for emergency surgery, and he wants it to be ready in one hour. This demand sounds pretty outlandish since he’s a GP in Portwenn and has never done any surgery at their hospital; however, when I checked, I discovered that in UK “the most important privilege conferred upon a Registered Medical Practitioner is that, unlike unregistered doctors, he or she may perform any duties as a physician, surgeon or other medical officer:

In any hospital, infirmary or dispensary not supported wholly by voluntary contributions;

In any prison;

In the navy, army or air service;

In any other public establishment, body or institution; and

To any friendly or other society for
the provision of mutual relief in sickness, infirmity or old age.”

This is very different from the US where the hospital has to have a doctor listed as on the staff and having hospital privileges before he/she can utilize the facilities of the hospital and the staff. Presumably, the hospital in Truro knows Dr. Martin Ellingham from Portwenn because he has referred patients to them and, from the way the young surgeon reacts, his reputation precedes him. (My husband has called ahead to ERs here in the US when we were in cities away from our hometown and requested they prepare for a patient, and they have never argued with him. So in emergencies, a call from a physician in the US will be taken seriously.)

Martin manages to get security at the airport to allow him to get Louisa off the plane (which is harder than working with the hospital), rushes her to emergency where they are waiting with a wheelchair, and the next scene shows him in scrubs preparing to go into surgery. He meets the very novice surgeon who he locks in a closet because he doesn’t consider him experienced enough, and once again we wonder how he could simply walk into the surgical suite and not be questioned. (The young surgeon apparently doesn’t report what Martin does to him, but he’s probably smart not to anger Martin who has the standing to make his professional life difficult.) I suppose Martin takes charge in such a way that they don’t wonder about his authority, and they may have heard his name before just as the intern had. From what we can tell, the embolization is handled pretty accurately, although it’s more common to use the femoral artery than the carotid artery as a point of entry (but this is based on US practices). In addition, in US either an invasive radiologist or a neurosurgeon would be most likely to perform this surgery, but a vascular surgeon could do it. The operation is an emergency procedure and that would mean that it would be ethically permissible for Martin to operate on his wife, unconventional but acceptable. He is clearly the best surgeon on site and should, therefore, do the surgery.

Following the operation, Louisa says her head hurts a little but she could be feeling pretty good under most circumstances. However, it would be somewhat unusual for her to go home the same day. Patients in US usually stay overnight at least so they can be observed.

The other medical situation that takes place in the show is the use of the defibrillator on Caroline. All of what happens there is also quite accurate. They do it under the supervision of a doctor, they do CPR correctly while waiting for the defibrillator, they get the pads on properly and in time, and they shock her such that her heart starts pumping again.

To sum up, most of what we’re shown appears to be accurate for the UK but different from the US in some ways.

Originally posted 2013-10-25 17:10:03.

Some takeaway facts

What do we know after watching episode 8:
1. Martin wants to stay with Louisa and once again make an effort to change.
We primarily know this because he really doesn’t want her to leave, he tells Ruth outright that he wants to be with Louisa and Ruth tells him he must change for that to happen, he apologizes to the patient he ditched in his office because he was too distracted and distraught to listen to him, he intends to make a reservation to fly to Spain but then he discovers Louisa’s AVM, and he tells Louisa when she’s on the operating table that he needs her help – the last 3 things are acts he would not usually be inclined to do.
2. Being in the operating room gives Martin confidence.
He still vomits from the sight of blood, but he can continue the operation. His first bout of hemaphobia came up when he met the family of the patient – this time the patient is family and he says he’s not worried about the operation because he’s done it many times before.
3. Martin and Louisa agree that there is work they must do on their marriage. They can’t go back home and be a couple without making some changes and they plan to do that.
4. James is important to Martin and being a father matters deeply to him.
Martin apologizes to James and has a close moment before Louisa and James leave. Martin always tenderly touches James and pockets his toy frog because he cares. Martin remembers the bottles in the bathroom and always remembers that James needs to be cared for no matter what else is happening.
5. Margaret is morally bankrupt and utterly bereft of any feeling for anyone but herself.
Her history speaks for itself, she lies repeatedly (about her reason for coming, about her feelings for Martin, about his father’s cause of death, about why she’s leaving, about the gift of the clock), and her comments about Martin to Louisa are devoid of any sensitivity or motherly concern for her son.
6. Louisa still loves him and wants to be with him.
Even though she’s leaving, she seems hesitant at several moments and might have reconsidered if Martin had had the wherewithal to say something like he has said before, e.g. “I can’t bear to be without you,” or “I love you.” She defends him to Margaret at the airport and says she’s not sure what she’s doing. (This admission is very pertinent because Louisa is really just as unsure as Martin about how to function in a marriage.) During the prep for surgery, she looks at Martin in her fog and finds him appealing, plus her expression is very sympathetic to him. And at the hospital after the operation she wants to know where her husband is and thanks him for coming after her. She still wants him to know that they can’t return to the relationship as if nothing has happened, but she seems ready to go home.
7. Louisa is some sort of superwoman.
During this series, Louisa has been forced to trudge through the woods in her wedding dress wearing fancy shoes, fallen at the caravan, somehow gotten through a makeshift operation where blood spurts all over her, stayed up all night only to make it home and be concerned about James. Then she walks into a glass door and gets a deep cut on her forehead, which seems to heal very quickly. As time goes on, Martin falls deeper into his funk and she has trouble finding a way to reach him. Finally she is hit by a car where she somehow only sustains a broken collarbone and some cheek abrasions, although she hits her head on the ground and the car hits her on the right thigh. Impressively she feels able to get up and leave the hospital after a one day stay even after she develops a deep vein thrombosis with probable embolism to the lungs, and she doesn’t just go home with all these injuries, she plans to fly to Spain with James after one evening at home. She walks out of the hospital quite normally, no limp or slowness of gait. The next thing she undergoes is an emergency surgery of an AVM the day she plans to fly (only 2 days after her car collision), and yet she’s sitting up in bed following the operation looking pretty fresh. I want to know her secret!
8. The writers of this show don’t have much respect for nurses.
Early in the series Martin finds a nurse derelict of duty because she doesn’t make sure a patient in the nursing home takes her medicine. The nurse at the hospital where Louisa is coughing doesn’t get off the phone when asked questions, can’t answer simple questions, and ignores her patient. In the final scene of the series, the nurse doesn’t know that Louisa is the surgeon’s wife even though they have the same last name and Martin seems to be well-known for his surgical expertise.
9. Ruth is the aunt who will be the resource Martin and Louisa can turn to. She is also the one person in the village who can relate to everyone. Joan may have been more overtly loving to her family and neighbors, but Ruth solves problems with a calm assuredness and endearing wit. She’s the family member who Martin can relate to best because she has medical training, doesn’t mince words, and knows what he’s been through since childhood. She knows Margaret’s toxicity before Martin does and tells her to leave first.
10. Al has finally grown up and found a way to separate from his father.
Although Al still tries to help his father early in the episode, he does so with lots of resistance. His idea for a business comes without help from his father and he pitches it on his own. He also shows his ability to take on challenges when he runs to get the defibrillator and shocks Caroline’s heart back to life. His maturation has been a long time coming, but we’re finally seeing a man and not a boy (as his father always calls him). We’re also pretty sure that Al and Morwenna are involved, as Ruth notes, because they work together to resuscitate Caroline and obviously care about each other.
11. Mrs. Tishell has now become a laughingstock in the village. Her fixation on Martin and how she acts around him clearly irritates everyone and they mock her. In the last episode she almost takes on the clown role that Penhale has occupied.
12. Joe Penhale may be the comic relief in many episodes, but he also often comes through when he really needs to. He is very helpful in finding Mrs. Tishell in the last episode of series 5, he helps Ruth get into Mr. Moysey’s house to find the leak, he diverts the MPs when they’re looking for Mike, and in this episode he convinces the security guard at the airport that he must allow Martin to get Louisa off the plane.
13. Morwenna is the most evolved of all the characters.
She started out a flighty young woman who couldn’t keep a job and has now become a responsible and reliable receptionist who also knows how to handle the doc.

Originally posted 2013-10-24 14:58:32.

Season 6, episode 7 and the continuing themes

At the 18:07 mark and then again at the 34:19 mark of episode 7 we see a sign on a wall in the background of the scene that reads SECRETS. That, to me, is telling and is the theme of the episode. This episode is very well conceived and executed and begins with Martin hiding his fears about his own condition from Louisa, not being willing to discuss his feelings about his parents and not revealing to Louisa why he can’t go on holiday, Ruth being unsuccessful at prying from Margaret why she’s really in Portwenn, Mike having hidden that he was AWOL from the army and then trying to run without an explanation, and the MPs at first not telling anyone why they’re searching for Mike. Both Al and Joe try to keep Mike from being taken by the MPs by deceiving them.

Secrets, deception, and hidden motives are all methods of controlling one’s surroundings, and that has been one overarching theme for much of series 6 as well as an integral feature of the show (as I mentioned previously in my post about change). This episode magnifies how hard it is for people to change and how that stagnation seriously impacts everyone’s lives. The pivotal scene related to the idea of change/control occurs when Mike has gone to his apartment to pack and leave and still has James with him. It is then that we learn that he is AWOL from the Royal Army because they wanted to “fix” him and his OCD and make him “normal.” But Mike considers the OCD to be part of who he is and doesn’t want to be fixed. Martin shows up at Mike’s apartment looking for James and wondering what’s going on. When Mike explains why he left the army, Martin asks him,”If it wasn’t a part of an order, would you like to feel more in control of your actions?” and Mike answers “Yes.” Martin tells him “the army has a duty of care to you and it’s your decision if you take it or not.” That convinces Mike to turn himself in. This conversation makes it clear that once Mike determines for himself that he is the one deciding to face his demons, he is taking control of his behavior and his life and fighting the control his OCD has over him. Of course, what Martin is telling Mike is what he should be applying to his own situation. It is clear that Martin would like to be more in control of his actions and that he should seek therapy.

When Al takes Mike to the nearest Army post to turn himself in, it is dark and the scene looks ominous with a German Shepard as well as 3 soldiers guarding the gate. Al does what he can to be encouraging, but the setting establishes that what Mike has ahead of him is daunting. Nevertheless, Mike takes the steps toward the gate with some resolve and will, we believe, address his problem with OCD (and with his departure from the Army). This dark and foreboding setting is of a piece with the many other dark scenes in this 6th series. I’ve been troubled by the frequency of Martin sitting in the dark staring into the night and thinking. We can only assume that he’s trying to figure out how he can reestablish control over his phobia and his life. His insomnia is also a side effect of being depressed and he needs help with his depression too. OCD often arises out of an effort by the person to institute control over his/her environment, but ultimately takes control and leaves the person with the sense that he/she is out of control. Phobias are similar in many ways. If one thinks that avoiding a particular thing, e.g. spiders, blood, the outdoors, will prevent them from feeling anxious, and that avoidance leads to a reduction in the anxiety, then the avoidance behavior becomes reinforced. Breaking that cycle is what therapy is meant to do.

During this episode, Martin is shown pondering what’s been happening on several occasions. After Louisa’s accident there are two occasions when he involuntarily falls asleep and awakens to find himself disoriented and disheartened. It’s not surprising that he falls asleep at odd times since he’s been pretty sleep deprived for a while. Lack of sleep along with the depression may also be the reason his behavior at Sports Day is so different from other events Louisa has asked him to attend. Usually when Louisa enjoins him to do something, Martin agrees and tries to handle it as well as he can (e.g. headmistress panel, dinner out, taking James to music time, etc.), but this time he’s not as conciliatory and she finds it embarrassing and infuriating. The whole idea is rather ridiculous since he’s never been good in front of a microphone (think very first episode when Caroline wants him to speak to the town, or Aunt Joan’s funeral) and Sports Day in elementary school was probably painful for him as a child. Louisa should never have asked him to be the special guest and he should never have agreed to do it. Unfortunately, this mistake ends very unhappily and inspires both of them to give some thought to their relationship. We can’t be sure what he is thinking while sitting in the car with James outside the hospital, but he appears to have a sentimental moment when he takes James out of his car seat and holds him up. I could imagine he’s thinking how foolish it was for him to have handled the awards the way he did and prompt Louisa to be so angry with him. Of course that’s speculation. Whatever he’s thinking, it’s serious business and it doesn’t appear that he has any idea that Louisa will decide to leave. As usual, they handle this difficult circumstance the way we’ve become accustomed to: he applies his medical knowledge to her condition while she departs.

It seems to me that he needs regular “wake up calls” to jolt him out of his typical mode of behavior, and she needs to understand that his silence and inability to talk about his problems and thoughts is not in any way related to how he feels about her. Since we know that Ruth will reaffirm his ability to change in the final episode, I expect to see another effort on his part to appeal to Louisa’s better instincts and that Louisa will hopefully recognize that he needs her, loves her, and wants desperately to be a good father to James. He will admit in some way that he struggles to control his behavior, and possibly she will agree to stop leaving. These changes may not be easy to make, but we can hope they will try.

Originally posted 2013-10-17 23:22:38.

What is happiness?

The writers of Doc Martin may not be trying to get into the philosophical definitions of happiness, but the fact that finding happiness is very important in the show certainly makes me want to interrogate it. At the end of season 3 when Martin and Louisa decide not to marry, Louisa tells Martin that he wouldn’t make her happy and Martin responds that she wouldn’t make him happy either.Then in season 6 episode 7 Louisa again tells Martin that she isn’t happy and that she isn’t making him happy. He is flummoxed and can’t understand why people always care so much about being happy. That comment, in turn, bewilders Louisa and she simply gets up to leave. Putting aside the problem I have with Martin saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy when he’s spent so much time and effort wishing he could have her in his life, and being miserable when it looks like she has rejected him, we can’t help wondering what would make them happy.

If Aristotle is right and “eudaimonia (Greek for happiness) actually requires activity, action,” and that “eudaimonia, living well, consists in activities exercising the rational part of the psyche in accordance with the virtues or excellency of reason. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulfilling work at which one achieves well-earned success,” then Martin’s concept of “happiness” is likely to stem from practicing medicine. However, in recent years the psychologist C. D. Ryff has highlighted the distinction between eudaimonia wellbeing, which she identifies as psychological well-being, and hedonic wellbeing or pleasure. Building on Aristotelian ideals of belonging and benefiting others, flourishing, thriving and exercising excellence, she conceptualized eudaimonia as a six-factor structure:
-self-acceptance
-the establishment of quality ties to other
-a sense of autonomy in thought and action
-the ability to manage complex environments to suit personal needs and values
-the pursuit of meaningful goals and a sense of purpose in life
-continued growth and development as a person
Under this scheme, both Louisa and Martin would struggle to feel a sense of well-being. In particular, Louisa seems to hate not having a sense of autonomy, and she has previously wondered about her sense of purpose. During series 6, we see that she is happy as a mother and is depicted as taking great joy in having a child, and she appears to have a purpose when it comes to being headmistress at the school. What she doesn’t have is the affirmation or reassurance that she is succeeding as a wife and companion. Her autonomy is perhaps compromised most by her inability to get Martin to do almost anything she suggests. He won’t go see a psychiatrist, he won’t talk to her about his concerns, he doesn’t like to participate in most activities, and he doesn’t want to take a holiday with her. Martin seems lost when it comes to feeling in charge of his situation and has not really reached a place of self-acceptance. Obviously his upbringing has a lot to do with this. He feels most comfortable at home and in his routine. On the Ryff scale, he has autonomy but not much else. He does seem to have achieved some sense of well-being from having a wife and child, although at times we’re not sure about that.

I think Martin is right to question why happiness is such a significant feature of life to most people. We can’t be happy all the time. What we need is an overall sense that our home life is satisfactory, that our social lives are fulfilling, and that we have a sense of success in some aspect of our lives. The home life is the one in doubt in this series and Louisa cannot find that place where she is in a comfort zone, while Martin hasn’t really pondered whether his home life is how he’d like it to be. Surely having his mother in the house has changed their home life tremendously. It was somewhat rocky before, but now they have very little time alone and his mother is demanding and quite judgmental. I don’t care who you are, when your mother criticizes you, it hurts.

Marriages all have ups and downs, although this marriage has not been allowed to have many ups so far. Talk about no honeymoon!! Poor communication is often the reason for marital discord and boy is this marriage dealing with that! Ruth can talk to both of them and they are lucky to have someone like her to turn to. They need an intermediary and an opportunity to work together in some way. Go take a walk with James, take a drive somewhere for a couple of hours, go have that picnic Louisa dreamed of (without the earthquake), build something together, whatever. Even if something crazy happens it would still be something they did together and would not take Martin outside his comfort zone. I think they could both be “happy” after that. Louisa’s injury has a chance of bringing them together. We’ll see what happens.

Originally posted 2013-10-15 17:31:57.

The kitchen table

We all know that the kitchen tends to be the likeliest place in any house for people to congregate. The Ellingham kitchen is certainly where most of the action takes place in this show. Actually, it’s the kitchen table where most of the action takes place!

In addition to being the place where Martin prepares and eats food, it’s where he talks to Louisa, Edith, his mother, and Bert. It’s where he finds Pauline kissing Al and where he first kisses Louisa. It’s where he packs his things when he expects to move to London and where he gives Louisa the engagement ring. Later, he changes James’ diaper on a pad on the table, and Louisa does too. It’s while sitting at the kitchen table that Martin looks overwhelmed by the commotion and noise in the kitchen, and it’s over the kitchen table that Martin confronts Mike about his OCD. Louisa tries to use the kitchen table as a workspace but Martin objects — at least when it’s mealtime. The kitchen table functions as a means of keeping Martin and Louisa apart or as a setting to bring them together.

Many times, Louisa comes to the back kitchen door to talk to Martin and they sit at the table. She talks to him about her forthcoming interview for the school headmistress job while sitting across from him at the table, and it’s where he first professes his love for her. It’s also where he’s sitting when they have an altercation and he sits looking dumbfounded when she tells him she has to leave towards the end of season 5. In season 6, the kitchen table is where they entertain and where that dinner goes very wrong.

Although they have a perfectly nice living room, it’s rare that they use it. Martin has been shown sitting on the couch maybe 3 times in 6 seasons, and Louisa not at all. The house is small and their need for space comes up several times, but they’ve circumscribed the space even more by confining the action to the kitchen most of the time. Even when Ruth takes care of James, she stays at the kitchen table until she decides to lie on the couch to get some rest. Al joins her at the table, then Penhale joins them, and eventually Bert sits there too.

The kitchen table is a gathering place, an obstacle, a practical setting and a place where Martin has felt both comfortable alone and intruded upon at times. The kitchen table is often the place where families spend time together eating and talking so it’s not surprising that this show uses it as a frequent setting. But here it’s important because Martin dislikes going out and making him seem more confined in his own home stresses his social restraints. I’m impressed with the ways this one location has been used and find it pretty efficient for the filming of the show.

Originally posted 2013-10-09 20:04:55.

More on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In an earlier post I noted that “no treatment works for every patient and it may be that the difference in outcomes is only because of that variability.” I can now add that there have been advances in the understanding of who can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy as opposed to medication and you can read about it here.

Originally posted 2013-10-05 15:26:13.

Doctors, patients, and stalkers

After learning that Mrs. Tishell returns to Portwenn and will probably continue her fixation on Martin, I realized I should say something about doctors and the real experiences they have with patients/nurses/and the general populace becoming infatuated with them. We also can’t overlook the very real affairs doctors sometimes have with their patients. In addition, in a small town patients and doctors often interact on a social basis even if there’s no intimacy involved, but it can be awkward.

I know about this sort of thing because in the small town in North Carolina where my husband practiced medicine for many years we had numerous encounters of this kind. Sometimes I wondered if we were living in a mini Peyton Place! I guess you could say that doctors are in a position of authority and may often save patients from dire circumstances. Many times patients confuse concern for their health and welfare with other deeper feelings for them. Then there are the patients, like Mrs. Tishell, who have psychological problems and develop delusions that their doctor loves them. In Doc Martin it’s funny that this grumpy and rude doctor becomes the object of the chemist’s affection because most of the town thinks he’s obnoxious and calls him “tosser” and any number of other names. She, on the other hand, tries to impress him with her medical knowledge and does as much as she can to get his attention. He never gives her any reason to think he’s interested in her, but that doesn’t stop her from believing they have a close connection. She’s not really a stalker, but when she cracks and abducts the baby, she reveals how delusional she’s become. In Portwenn, like in the small town we lived in, women could be calling the doc at all hours of the day and night, or leaving him messages on his cell phone, or sending him presents (much like 15 yo Melanie does in season 1, episode 5). Then it’s up to the doctor to figure out how to get them to stop and it’s not always so easy. We shouldn’t forget Mrs. Wilson who also wants to get Martin’s attention and flirts with him. She even gets him to make a house call for a totally trumped up reason. In her case, his status appears to attract her, although she may just be intrigued with making a new conquest. Martin is not susceptible to her advances and his naivete keeps him from realizing what she’s up to. His naivete is probably the reason he never notices Mrs. Tishell’s efforts as well.

I found it very amusing and startling when Martin accuses Louisa of possibly having de Clerambault’s syndrome or Erotomania after their intimate conversation in season 2, episode 8 when he declares his love for her while under the influence of wine the previous night. Here he is staring at her through windows and following her liaison with Danny, and then being obviously relieved when she tells him that she and Danny have split, but he can’t handle it when she comes by the next evening to tell him she loves him too! (Once again the writers, or consultants are pretty amazing with their knowledge of medical terminology.) In their case we have a mutual attraction to each other that must jump many hurdles before and after they finally end up together. Louisa, nevertheless, has to decide how to manage going to Martin as a patient after they establish a personal relationship. Several times she considers changing to a doctor in Wadebridge because of how awkward it is to talk to Martin about her personal health problems. She signs up for prenatal care in Truro, although there are occasions when she ends up having Martin treat her during her pregnancy. Naturally it is odd and difficult to have Martin as her physician when she is unsure of their relationship and trying not to force him into a situation that she’s not sure he wants. Moreover, if they were married, he wouldn’t be her physician. Doctors (by law in America) don’t treat their own families, unless there’s an emergency and no other physician is available.

I can state unequivocally that socializing with one’s gynecologist or gastroenterologist is quite uncomfortable. He’s either done a gynecological exam or a colonoscopy on you and now you’re having a drink and making small talk. The doctors are professionals and do their best to just be friendly, but it’s kind of hard to forget that they’ve been up close and personal with you. I was often friendly with their wives too. How weird is that?

Alternatively, in our small town, there were several physicians who had affairs with patients. Of course, that is considered unethical and, in at least one case, the physician lost his license to practice medicine. But where do you draw the line? What if you are a doctor and you fall in love with someone who lives in your town and who happens to be a patient? In the case of Martin and Louisa, there is some grey area. Both of them are unmarried, they are consenting adults, and there is only one doctor in Portwenn.

But in most cases, Mrs. Tishell is a much better example of what happens. The delusional patient is set right by the doctor and hopefully receives treatment and overcomes her infatuation. Being a doctor certainly involves more than patient care!

Originally posted 2013-10-04 02:58:38.

Continuity problems

I have no idea if others have written about the two major continuity issues that have bothered me in this show. The strange thing is that I still suspend my disbelief because the episodes have to do with the relationship between Martin and Louisa and I want to make an exception. I’m going to mention them despite my willingness to accept them.

The first one comes in series 3, episode 5 after Martin has saved Holly’s life with Louisa’s help and admiration. Holly’s accident in Louisa’s kitchen has led to a large puddle of blood on the floor and Martin and Louisa make a little effort to pick up some of the pieces of glass from the broken milk bottle. Louisa tells Martin she’ll clean up the rest and then emotionally tells him he’s an extraordinary man. Martin grabs his medical bag and defibrillator and turns to leave. Then he has second thoughts and asks Louisa to marry him. She can’t believe her ears and asks him to repeat what he just said. He puts his stuff down, comes back in the house and once again asks her to marry him, telling her he can’t bear to be without her. She accepts his proposal and runs into his arms and that’s the end of the episode. The next episode begins the following morning when Martin is getting dressed in the same clothes as the day before while sitting at the end of Louisa’s bed. So what happened to the blood on the floor, and what happened to the rest of the day? It’s hard to believe that the two of them went their separate ways after this passionate scene and Louisa cleaned up the floor while Martin went to work and then he returned to spend the night. I would expect them to head upstairs directly following their embrace, and maybe I’m getting too particular, but leaving the blood on the floor when Martin has such a problem with blood makes me wonder. And telling Pauline to cancel the rest of his day is out of character for Martin and would lead to lots of questions from Pauline. It’s great to see that they spent the night together and that Martin is so caring when he repeats his marriage proposal and says goodbye at the front door, and I want to be happy with that, but I have a little trouble with the sequence of the day.

The other one is more significant to me, although it doesn’t change the fact that the episode is very special. It is the last episode of season/series 4 when Martin has packed up to move to London. When the movers carry out his things, he takes the Buddha figurine from them and places it safely in the right rear seat of his car, even putting the seatbelt around it. On his way out Martin stops to help Tommy the taxi driver’s wife Tatia who has collapsed during a dance performance. He realizes she’s suffering from methanol poisoning, gives her alcohol as an antidote, and then worries that her husband is driving Louisa to her hospital appointment and probably has the same condition. He rushes to catch up to them and places a bottle of vodka on the seat next to the Buddha. I find it hard to believe that Martin would put the bottle there in the first place considering he says the Buddha is valuable and there’s no question that the bottle is not secure there. On his way out, Martin has to swerve to avoid hitting a tractor and the bottle of liquor breaks over the Buddha figure. (There may be some symbolic value in that, but I don’t know what it is. The only thing I can come up with is that Buddhists reject alcohol and either the vodka spilling on the Buddha is a sign that Martin’s sobriety is compromised by his concern for Louisa or the Buddha’s value is not as important anymore. The figure remains an object in Martin’s office, which gives it some continued import. I’m at a loss! Maybe it’s just thrown in to mess with us!) So now we have vodka and glass all over the right rear side of the back seat.

Soon Martin finds the taxi off the road and Louisa in good condition, drags Tommy unconscious to his car, and drives off to get to the nearest pub. When we see inside the car, however, Tommy is sitting in the same seat where the Buddha had been and where the vodka and glass landed. Not a likely scenario, although good for filming since Louisa and Martin are talking and both are in the front seat and we can see Tommy behind Martin. Also, the right side of the car is the closest access point both at the scene of the accident and once they arrive at the pub.

Series 5, episode 1 starts at the hospital where Martin and Louisa have gone to make sure the baby and Louisa are doing well. Everything seems fine and Martin offers to take Louisa home. They leave and get in the car, Louisa in the left rear seat next to the Buddha, which now seems to be placed on a garment bag. So we haven’t forgotten about the Buddha but somehow the car doesn’t smell of vodka and the glass is gone.

I may be getting a bit technical, but I found these examples a little irksome and thought I’d mention them.

Originally posted 2013-09-30 20:17:05.

Psychological Conditions

There are many psychological disorders brought up in DM. OCD is the one that appears in two characters. In season 2, episode 5 Tricia Soames, a teacher Louisa has hired, shows signs of having OCD and eventually admits to DM that she has many of its symptoms. Then in season 6 Mike, the nanny, clearly exhibits typical traits of the disorder, e.g. excessive need for order, feeling unsettled if colors or pens are not lined up, etc. Although Martin is supposed to have Asperger’s, he appreciates Mike’s orderliness and has some signs of OCD as well. Asperger’s is often combined with some OCD traits and would also make it hard for anyone to have a close ongoing relationship (Note: I chose this particular performance because he does such a good job of beautifully describing what it’s like to have a severe case of OCD and also have a relationship.) OCD is often a method of managing feelings of anxiety and is listed under the constellation of anxiety disorders in the DSM IV (I haven’t seen the DSM V yet.) Whether Martin has Asperger’s was cleared up by Dominic Minghella on his own blog where he states that he intended Martin to have this affliction. The writers have done a good job of giving Martin many of the characteristics of Asperger’s. He has impairment of social interaction with a tendency to stiff body postures and facial expressions, very few peer relationships, lack of effort to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people, and lack of social or emotional reciprocity. His keen interest in medicine as well as in clocks fits the criterion of abnormal intensity or focus on a particular activity. His intense interest in medicine makes him a fabulous doctor, but it also makes it harder for him to empathize with his patients. Added to these are Martin’s need to always wear a suit and tie no matter what he’s doing (except sleeping). Then there are his hyperosmia (or heightened sense of smell) and his clumsiness, both typical criteria. Of course, some of these behaviors are used for comedic value — it’s funny when Martin doesn’t understand how to react to what people say or when he doesn’t smile at anything or get jokes. It’s also funny when his height and clumsiness have him hitting his head on low door frames or ceilings, falling up or down stairs, tripping into gulleys or other natural settings, etc. I would also argue that his clumsiness makes him somewhat more endearing. It’s hard to be austere when you’re bumping into things and falling down regularly. None of the above actually keeps him from handling medical instruments dexterously or from kissing Louisa lovingly, or even from being sexually compatible with her. And he somehow manages to run down narrow streets with only rare moments of bumping into people or things along the way.

There are several other anxiety disorders presented in this series: hemaphobia, agoraphobia, panic disorders, trichophagia/trichotillomania (or hair eating and pulling), and PTSD. There are also a variety of methods of treatment mentioned for these, including cognitive behavior therapy, medications like Fluoxetine (better known as Prozac), and simply allowing the afflicted person to act out. Penhale has success with getting cognitive therapy for his agoraphobia, but Martin is only temporarily relieved of his hemaphobia by this therapeutic approach. We might think that Penhale is more open to any therapeutic approach and finds success as a result, while Martin is more conflicted about the efficacy of the treatment and whether he really wants to move to London and, therefore, the treatment isn’t as successful. Of course, no treatment works for every patient and it may be that the difference in outcomes is only because of that variability. (Mrs. Tishell has also been treated by cognitive behavior therapy and the rubber band she snaps on her wrist in series 6, episode 5 is a technique to pair a painful stimulus with being attracted to Martin. The fact that she has to snap it so often makes one wonder if the therapy hasn’t really been effective enough. Also, she has not voluntarily decided to do CBT and that markedly reduces the chances of its success.) CBT appears to be a popular treatment strategy in England and may be used more partially because it is less costly. (Just a guess.) Also, writer Julian Unthank sure knows a lot about CBT. Mrs. Tishell mentions guided discovery, validity testing, and keeping a diary – all methods used with CBT.

Ted’s trichophagia isn’t treated by any more than a possible procedure to remove the hair ball in his gut and moving to live with his daughter. Mrs. Cronk’s panic disorder is generally handled as hyperventilation and a personality quirk. And Stewart’s PTSD is accepted by the village and tolerated as understandable considering his military service. On the other hand, Dr. Dibbs treats her anxiety disorder with Fluoxetine, and that doesn’t seem to reduce her anxiety, but her condition is complicated by the fact that she has Cushing’s disease which can be accompanied by anxiety symptoms. In season 6, episode 4 we have Mr. Moysey and his hoarding due to depression but also the anxiety accompanying living on his own after many years of being taken care of by his wife. I know Ruth is quite perceptive when she tells Mr. Moysey that he probably started hoarding after he lost his wife and sister in one year and wanted to protect against any further loss by keeping everything. Nevertheless, I would postulate that he also has some anxiety issues. I should note that Ruth, as a psychiatrist who treats the criminally insane, would be accustomed to using psychotropic drugs. Criminals are not likely to be willing to undergo cognitive behavior therapy! Once again the inclusion of these anxiety disorders and the many forms of treatment is, to me, very insightful and demonstrates some in depth understanding of anxiety disorders by the writers.

Other psychological conditions mentioned in the first 5 series are psychoses either related to medication or genetic disease or poisoning, addiction (to gambling), hallucinations (probably due to Lyme disease and grief), bipolar disorder, and two hard to define but clearly abnormal behavior patterns. Mrs. Tishell brings on her psychotic break by taking a combination of medications, Mr. Strain the headmaster has porphyria which causes his psychotic break, and Mr. Coley has carbon monoxide poisoning that affects his ability to behave normally. Pauline falls victim to gambling and its addictive qualities. Mrs. Selkirk first appears to be suffering from hallucinations brought on by grief but actually has Lyme disease. Louisa’s father’s friend who ends up tying them all up and holding them at gunpoint is very unstable and clearly not taking his medication. His behavior is a pretty good example of what can happen when a manic-depressive has a manic episode and won’t take his Lithium. The two who are hard to pin down are Michael, the strange young man who steals Ruth’s hubcaps, and Victor Flint, the father who dresses like a woman and can be violent at times. They both have symptoms of mental disorders but their behaviors are not specific enough to clearly identify them. Victor’s symptoms are called a psychosis by Martin, but they appear to have elements of many different psychological disorders. It’s not really that important to pin it down exactly. Suffice it to say he’s got some mental derangement.

The plethora of psychological conditions in this show probably is representative of most locales. Mental disorders are surprisingly common in society. I don’t know exactly what’s in store for the final episodes of series 6, but I’d like to think that Louisa can be the sort of woman/wife who will recognize how to sympathetically deal with Martin’s continuing difficulties, especially his hemaphobia. As far as Mrs. Tishell, who knows? And nanny Mike is not likely to change much since his OCD doesn’t keep him from functioning well-at least so far.

Originally posted 2013-09-29 17:54:13.

Women’s issues, season 6

I want to move on to other topics, but women’s concerns are very much evident in season 6 so far. In episode 1 we have the wedding-finally. Louisa arrives late and is now getting married the way she wanted to originally insofar as she doesn’t have any bridesmaids and she really doesn’t need anyone to walk her down the aisle. Martin doesn’t have a best man, so they are matched evenly there. Of course, since it’s their wedding day, Louisa is making an effort to accommodate Martin. She does ask him to remain at the reception just a bit longer and he obliges. When they learn that the village has planned an overnight surprise and Aunt Ruth is happy to babysit, Louisa again implores Martin to accept and he does. Naturally the night does not go smoothly, although it has its lovely moments. One of the best is when Louisa turns to Martin and says, “Hallo, husband,” and he replies “Hallo, Mrs. Ellingham.” They kiss and Louisa says “Anything you say.” Not surprisingly, Martin takes her literally and replies, “I didn’t say anything.” But the point is made — Louisa is giving herself to him, something he’s been wanting for a long time. However, when the night becomes a series of mishaps, we enjoy a variety of exchanges between the two that are amongst the funniest of the series. Louisa is unable to keep Martin from looking for a telephone to get their clothes, but she immediately knows Martin is going the wrong way. In terms of her strength, she clearly disagrees with him about where the road is, she refuses to wade across the stream, and when he carries her, she brings up her true desire to have had a honeymoon. Her explanation for backing down during the planning stages baffles him, but most women can really relate to what she says. She went along with his choice of wedding and honeymoon arrangements because she wanted him to be happy. Nonetheless, she would have liked to have taken a honeymoon. She has mixed feelings.

As the night plays out, we see her make fun of Martin and his awkwardness in the forest (or wood), one of the funniest moments in the series, and also show concern when he falls. They are both protective of each other throughout the eventful night, but it’s Louisa who suspects the sound they hear is someone yelling at foxes, who takes the flashlight from Martin so they can read the signs outside the caravan, and who grabs the gun and tells the vagabond to apologize to her husband and fix the fence himself. She plays a very important role in getting them through the night, even helping with the surgery, and tries to look on the bright side as morning arrives. She tells Martin their wedding night will be a night they won’t ever forget — all of it. We can’t help but like her gumption and her positive attitude.

In episode 2 Louisa’s position of authority is evident in the way she leads the school assembly, and in her insistence that Martin go to the concert as planned and then try to be sociable. Later, after the dinner party goes pretty wrong, Louisa decides to confront Dennis, the President of the Board of Governors for the school, and talk things out. She won’t be shutoff by Dennis and unplugs his electrical tool so that she can be heard. This is bold stuff!

It’s nice to see a softer side of Louisa when she tells Martin she’ll miss him as she’s leaving in the morning and when she reminds him that it’s their 2 week anniversary later in the day. He doesn’t respond in kind, but there are a couple of nice moments.

Episode 3 finds Louisa dealing with the most troubling of issues working women confront these days — leaving one’s baby with a nanny. There was a time when children of wealthy families were usually brought up by governesses and the mothers didn’t seem to be conflicted about it. Now, however, women want to feel competent both at work and as mothers. The problem is when you’re at work, you want to be at home with your child and yet you still want to have a job. It’s especially hard to know that someone else is watching your baby grow and develop and you may be missing some of the developmental milestones. As with Louisa, mothers both resent and appreciate the care a nanny provides. In a sense, Louisa has a good set-up; she can simply run home when she wants. But we see that her work suffers to some degree because she’s distracted. There’s really no good solution and it’s not surprising that Louisa’s mood is affected.

The other strong woman very much a part of the 6th season is Ruth. Once again we enjoy her wit and good nature during the first 2 episodes. In the 3rd she has center stage and handles a very difficult situation with aplomb and steadiness. She’s not a woman who is easily shaken, even by a psychopath! As in the case of Michael who stole her hubcaps and pointed a shotgun at her, Ruth stays calm and knows the best thing to say at the right time.

So the women continue to impress and I expect the next few episodes will only reaffirm the stature of the women in this series.

Originally posted 2013-09-19 21:03:33.

Women’s issues, part 3

There are many strong women among the characters in this show, besides Aunt Joan and Louisa. I would include Mrs. Tishell, Edith, Ruth, Molly O’Brian (the midwife), Maggie, Elaine, Pauline, and even Morwenna. Many of the aforementioned are professional women who have regular jobs and behave self-assured. Mrs. Tishell runs the pharmacy very competently until she has an emotional breakdown in the last episode of season 5. She stays abreast of recent medical developments and would like to discuss some of these with the doctor. She is very efficient and can offer good advice when needed. She may consider herself a little too much like a doctor (a common concern between doctors and pharmacists), but she obviously wants to be well-informed. I think Doc Martin should be quite pleased that this little village has such a well stocked chemist who takes such a personal interest in providing him and the town with the proper supplies and medicines. She operates the pharmacy alone most of the time, although her husband shows up about midway through the first 5 series. Even after Clive appears, however, it’s his wife who takes care of business and who determines the direction of their relationship.

Edith Montgomery, the doctor and former fiancee of Doc Martin, is depicted as an unemotional and highly accomplished medical practitioner. We can even say that season 4 provides us with an example of a woman working in a man’s world, i.e. Edith as an M.D. surrounded by men and being as much of a hard-ass as any man could be. Perhaps this is a way of addressing the tales of female doctors being tougher than their male counterparts because they are trying to prove themselves. Her fire red, spiky hair and slender, relatively unfeminine figure always dressed in dark colors make her look somewhat daunting. (The writers could have been thinking of Cruella DeVille when they came up with her.) Certainly her approach to medicine and to Martin also reflect a very clinical and passionless manner. (Her personality stands in direct opposition to Louisa who is quite passionate about many things and who takes an interest in most of the people of Portwenn.) Edith attempts to take control of Martin in terms of his future and his effort to overcome his hemaphobia, and in the process she oversteps her boundaries with him. He no longer wants a woman like her, and she unwittingly puts an end to any possibility of reestablishing a relationship with him when she decides to make a hotel reservation for one room without consulting Martin and then removes her blouse to reveal a corset that to me looks like she should be in some sort of S/M setting. She looks like a dominatrix, which is really pretty appropriate. The fact that she has decided to reconnect with Martin when she knows he’s about to have a baby with another woman is rather hateful to me. I see it as another way for her to compete for something just to get the satisfaction of having “won.” She is a stereotype of a female doctor insofar as she fits the profile of driven, striving, dispassionate, and too concerned about showing up the men. I know there are women who are doctors and are like her, but there are plenty who are not. Nevertheless, she has to be called strong and independent, and she has to be added to the number of women in this show who are managing well on their own.

Ruth Ellingham, who is also a doctor, is another contrasting character to Edith while being comfortable by herself. She, too, has never married or had children and she seems very content to live by herself. She talks of being brought up in a family that didn’t allow emotions, but she’s very capable of assessing a situation and handling it well. She has an even temper and a cleverness that make her appealing. Whether she’s dealing with a couple of strange neighbors, Martin and Louisa, Al Large, or PC Penhale, she finds the right balance of straight talk and wit to have a good outcome. Her strength is in her calm demeanor and self-possession. She is a wonderful female character played excellently by EIleen Atkins.

Then we have Molly O’Brian, the midwife, who comes on strong and combative. She may be small in stature, but she packs a wallop. Midwives have become much more involved in births these days, even if the births take place at hospitals. Most work in tandem with OBs and seem to have a good working relationship with them. With Molly we are given a midwife who has some extreme views about where to have a baby and prenatal care. She fills Louisa with all sorts of antagonistic ideas towards men and doctors, and since Louisa is in a contrary mood, she internalizes what Molly says. In the process, however, the show takes on the concerns of mothers about avoiding medicines while pregnant and that hospitals are too antiseptic for having a baby. We all imagine giving birth in a quiet space with our own belongings and family around us, but many births do not work out like that. The fact is that having a baby is pretty risky and not every woman is lucky enough to have the process go so smoothly. Better to be safe in a hospital with the best equipment than risk the lives of the mother or baby. Louisa is a high risk mother due to her age, which makes Molly’s recommendations to have the baby at home in a tub especially foolish. Of course, it turns out that the baby is delivered outside of a hospital after all. At least there are EMTs in attendance as well as Martin, a highly capable doctor. Molly gets her comeuppance when Louisa’s urinary tract infection gets worse after Molly stops Louisa from taking the antibiotics she’s been prescribed. Louisa is, after all, pretty savvy and realizes in time that what Molly has been filling her head with is so much nonsense when it comes to her health and the baby’s. I doubt that most midwives have such anger towards male physicians and believe that Molly is an exaggeration for the purposes of the show. Nonetheless, she never backs down and is a female character who makes an impact.

Finally, we should look at the 3 receptionists: Elaine, Pauline, and Morwenna. Of the women in this show, they are the most alternative in their appearance and, at first glance, would not inspire much confidence in a doctor or his patients. As it turns out, though, Pauline and Morwenna are quite competent and Elaine manages to initiate the doctor into the village. Again, all three are confident and happy to have a job. Although I am a little surprised that Martin takes them on and allows them to come to work in their unusual outfits, they get the job done and sometimes impress him with their efficiency. Elaine doesn’t last very long but may be the reason Martin doesn’t ruffle feathers again by firing any of them. Elaine may not be the person he’d like to see as the receptionist, but getting rid of her proves to be a big mistake because the village turns on him. There are times when one has to respect the will of the people! Pauline and Morwenna are different cases. Pauline has her problems, but she always comes running with his medical bag when called by the Doc, and she wants to take on more responsibilities. She really becomes Martin’s right hand woman who knows him as well as anybody. She can make fun of him, argue with him and criticize him, but he depends on her and shrugs off her comments. (I also love it when she turns the tables on Ross, the town gigolo.) When Morwenna takes over, she surprises the Doc when she saves her granddad from dying by doing CPR. She’s pretty cool under pressure even when she assists on an operation. I think these young women are a good example of not judging a book by its cover. They all find a way to mock the Doc’s problem with blood, they all put up with his gruffness with a sense of acceptance and humor, and they all respect his ability. They may look flighty, but they are far from it and the writers have done young people a service by creating these characters.

This show may be called Doc Martin, but without the plethora of strong female characters, the show would be much less appealing. We need that interplay and it’s great that the writers realized that.

Originally posted 2013-09-13 20:43:15.

Some Cosmic Rationale

Hello, it’s me again. I actually came up with a post I thought was worth writing.

I’ve written a lot about happiness because it seemed a topic that kept coming up during the show. This post will be about the flip side: depression. Previously Abby and Santa suggested that the low mood Martin Ellingham exhibits in S6 looked to them like Major Depressive Disorder. (Research in the US and other countries estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of people have met current psychiatric diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder sometime in their lives, so it would be quite unsurprising for ME to have experienced a bout of it.) Not too long ago, Santa sent me an interesting article written by a researcher who looked at depression as an evolutionary adaptation that can be a helpful and useful way to react to various stresses in life. I finally got around to looking up more about this concept and have found some very interesting views related to it. (We would have to say that by S7 ME is no longer in a major depression. His MDD was short-lived.)

(Once again I caution us from assuming that the writers, et. al. had any notion that any of ME’s behavior could be assessed in this way. I just find it fun to see how we could apply these theories to this character.)

So let me review what hypotheses several well respected psychology researchers have noted:

In The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, “presents a compelling inversion of conventional wisdom.” In his book he refers to a variety of studies that indicate that “low mood narrows and directs our attention to perceive threats and obstacles. It also helps conserve energy, facilitates disengagement from impossible goals, and improves our capacity to detect deception and to assess the degree of control we exercise over our environment. Some studies even suggest that low mood can improve skill in persuasive argument and sharpen memory.”

That is not to say that depression is something we should all hope to attain. Rottenberg cautions that “depression can be a useful response in particular conditions, but it can also be a debilitating condition that mars quality of life and even interferes with evolutionary goals of survival and reproduction. The behavioral mechanism that helps us disengage from impossible goals can become a generalized condition that inhibits the pursuit of any goals, even perfectly attainable ones…Depression too can be both a valuable defense and a devastating vulnerability.”

(We shouldn’t overlook how serious this condition can be; however, this show does not allow the depression to reach the point of becoming debilitating to the extent that ME cannot function. To the contrary, when he’s at a very low point, the car hitting Louisa and the discovery of her AVM mobilize him pretty darn quickly.)

Rottenberg’s conclusion that depression can be useful is further confirmed by other researchers. For more than 30 years, UVA psychiatrist Dr. Andy Thomson (Med ’74) has been treating patients, and most often he treats them for depression. Thomson and his collaborator Paul Andrews, now at McMaster University in Canada, believe that depression is an evolutionary paradox. They, too, theorize that if it didn’t confer any advantages, it should have been selected against and occur only rarely in the population. In their view, “depression, psychic pain, alerts you to the fact that you have a problem, stops business as usual, focuses your attention,and can provide a signaling function that you need help.” “Basically, it forces you to think.”

In an article in Scientific American they argue that “depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.”

Furthermore, “many other symptoms of depression make sense in light of the idea that analysis must be uninterrupted. The desire for social isolation, for instance, helps the depressed person avoid situations that would require thinking about other things. Similarly, the inability to derive pleasure from sex or other activities prevents the depressed person from engaging in activities that could distract him or her from the problem. Even the loss of appetite often seen in depression could be viewed as promoting analysis because chewing and other oral activity interferes with the brain’s ability to process information.” In addition, “laboratory experiments indicate that depressed people are better at solving social dilemmas by better analysis of the costs and benefits of the different options that they might take.”

They have their detractors. Dr. J. Kim Penberthy, a clinical psychologist and associate professor in the department of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at UVA admonishes them that “ruminative thinking that accompanies clinical depression has been shown to impair thinking and problem solving…In fact, mindfulness-based psychotherapies directly challenge rumination in depression and have been found to be very successful in preventing relapse in clinical depression.”

Penberthy is clear that “clinical depression is conceptualized by clinicians and researchers as having a biopsychosocial etiology, meaning that it is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social—or environmental or cultural—factors.” She explains that people likely have some genetic predisposition to unipolar and bipolar depression, and these kinds of depression may run in families. But clinical depression has also been associated with early physical or psychological trauma, such as abuse or neglect, as well as repeated psychological insults later in life.

However, in contrast, Thomson argues that recovery may actually require ruminative thinking to solve the problems that trigger depression. Thomson says that evolutionary psychology is inclusive of biopsychosocial causes.

That depression can be viewed as an advantageous adaptation could be applied to Martin Ellingham because he falls into depression after his home life becomes more chaotic and he has a recurrence of his haemophobia as well. He has seemingly previously protected himself from outside stressors by walling himself off from society and retreating into his home, as well as by sublimating his emotions by working on clocks. His attempts to limit his exposure to external forces have now come up against falling in love and all of the attendant demands on him. We have recently been noting that several times throughout the timespan of the show, ME has expressed an inability to control his feelings for Louisa. Therefore, throughout S6, we have a man who can’t control his sentiments for his wife, no longer has the upper hand at home, and has lost whatever limited control he had over his phobia. He has trouble sleeping, has stopped eating very much and their sex life appears to be nonexistent. (They have covered all the bases by including all of the ingredients mentioned by Penberthy of physical and psychological trauma coupled with abuse and neglect, and repeated psychological insults later in life.)

But if Rottenberg is correct, ME’s depression may be providing him with a means of improving his capacity to assess the degree of control he exercises over his environment. His depression also seems to give him time to think, as Thomson says. As Andrews and Thomson declare, “depression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving.” In a sense what ME does is ruminate and come up with a solution to his dilemma. He decides to seek therapy, and he makes up his mind to be as willing to make concessions as possible. The fact that nothing seems to work at first may be more due to the requirements of the plot than to what might have happened under real world conditions.

[BTW, here are some of the lyrics to Billy Joel’s song Pressure (from which I took the “cosmic rationale idea”):
Don’t ask for help
You’re all alone
Pressure
You’ll have to answer
To your own
Pressure
I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale
But here you are in the ninth
Two men out and three men on
Nowhere to look but inside
Where we all respond to
Pressure
Pressure]

Originally posted 2016-09-14 15:59:45.

Women’s issues, part 2

The pregnancy brings up all sorts of contentious women’s issues: marriage and unmarried parents, along with out of wedlock babies; making the decision to have a baby; single parenting; how to determine the best care during pregnancy and childbirth; proper disciplining of babies and children; and whether a woman should work during pregnancy or after pregnancy. Considering that most of the writers for this show are men, I’m pretty surprised that all of these women’s issues are given a very evenhanded treatment. (I do have to mention that when Martin and Louisa are planning to marry the first time, Joe Penhale tells Martin that women just want to be like men and that sounded a lot more like what most men think. Of course, that’s not true!)

So let’s start with Louisa’s initial decision to have the baby. (We are already going to have to assume that both Louisa and Martin decided to have unprotected sex twice. That’s a little questionable because of Martin’s inclination to be less than spontaneous, but the first time was supposed to be totally unplanned. The second time, Louisa expected to stay the night. But let’s not get too concerned about this circumstance because we know that even one time can result in a pregnancy.) Louisa is in London when she finds out she’s pregnant. She’s always wanted children, she still loves Martin, she’s past the prime time for a woman to have children, thus it’s unlikely she would want to end the pregnancy. Should she have contacted Martin immediately, after a couple of months, or when? Martin confronts Louisa about her decision not to tell him in season 4, episode 2, calling her high-handed and telling her she was just trying to score feminist points. She explains that she wanted to tell him but she expected him to want her to have an abortion. What a dilemma! It is a woman’s prerogative to let the man know, however, I bet if you ask most men, they would think they deserve to know early on and be a part of the decision-making process. In this case, it’s hard to know what Martin would have wanted Louisa to do. He says he would have backed her up if she had chosen to have an abortion, or whatever she had decided. But wasn’t she in a difficult position? Isn’t it likely that Martin would have discouraged Louisa from keeping the baby? After all, he isn’t a fan of children in general and he has not been planning to have a family. This sort of situation plagues women and is in our national consciousness regularly. It’s kind of nice to know the UK struggles with it also.

Louisa has returned to Portwenn 6 months pregnant and not only surprises Martin, she also surprises the whole village. She has chosen to return because she has lost her job in London due to the pregnancy and because she wants to be in familiar surroundings. We have to figure that she is hoping to rekindle her relationship with Martin too, especially when we see her response to Edith’s presence. His initial reaction is what we’d expect: surprise followed by “Do you want to get married?” Martin is nothing if not traditional and conventional. But Louisa has returned determined to handle things on her own and not be seen as a woman who has guilted the father into marrying her. She knows she’s made the decision to have the baby without telling Martin and she’s going to prove she can manage without his help. The villagers may think Martin ought to offer her a place to live or some money, but Louisa doesn’t want anything from him at the moment. She will go back to teaching and find a place to live and even prepare for the baby’s delivery by herself. Is she wrong to assume that Martin won’t want to be involved? Well, he may not have been planning to have a baby in his life, but throughout season 4 we see lots of evidence that he resents the assumption that he isn’t interested. He certainly cares about Louisa’s health and welfare, is stunned that she plans to be followed by doctors in Truro rather than by him, and would like to take her to her doctor’s appointments. Despite Edith’s immediate reaction that Louisa will have to take the baby classes by herself because the father won’t be of any help, I think it could have been lots of fun to see Martin participating in those classes and that he would have gone. Louisa, however, is bound and determined to be independent and Martin only makes her more determined than ever when he continually tells her she should not be working. He doesn’t want her to work much during the pregnancy and definitely thinks she should stop once she has the baby. Louisa doesn’t want to be a “kept” woman, meaning she doesn’t want to depend on Martin’s income, and she wonders why she’s the one who should stop working. He finds that ridiculous, but aren’t those concerns that many modern families must have? I thought we had gotten past this issue long ago, but it seems to have come back into our national discourse. We now have books about mothers staying home, or women trying to do too much. Mothers have been working through pregnancies for decades and most women simply keep doing what they’ve been accustomed to doing without any bad effects. Is the fact that this subject surfaces in this show a sign that there are still questions about whether pregnant women should work? How about mothers going back to work after delivering a baby? Women in most countries have successfully demanded maternity leaves and no longer lose their jobs either because of pregnancy or once they give birth. However, having rights does not necessarily mean society approves. We can see there are some villagers who are not pleased about an unwed pregnant woman teaching at the school, e.g. Jimmy, Pauline’s uncle, and some members of the school board. Clearly this issue is not entirely settled and the writers of the show considered it important enough to bring it up. Martin’s retro views are also at stake here.

Once Louisa has the baby and Martin has decided to stay in Portwenn a while longer, the show deals with dividing up parenting duties and, eventually, single parenting. (By the way, Martin’s pursuit of a job in London without telling Louisa is somewhat comparable to Louisa not telling Martin about the pregnancy. In both cases, they are torn by how to tell the other and when. And in both cases, the person in the dark is angry and thinks he/she had a right to know.) I don’t know about men or doctors in general, but I can say that my doctor husband would never have taken our babies to work nor taken them for a ride early in the morning to calm them down. The current climate in the US is more amenable to fathers helping with the children and many more do, and even when mothers are breastfeeding, fathers often get up out of bed and bring the babies to the mothers. That’s why I found the brief segment in season 5, episode 3 when Louisa is somehow sleeping through the baby’s crying and Martin shakes her awake to be so true to life. She looks at him with this irritated look as if to say “why don’t you get him?” But the moment is gone quickly.

Of course, Martin’s ideas of dealing with crying are also somewhat dated. He wants Louisa to let the baby cry for a while to teach him. Now we would be unlikely to let a newborn cry and think they will learn from it.

Ultimately, Louisa decides to move out because she begins to feel too disrespected by Martin. There are too many times when he makes decisions without checking with her, and there are too many occasions when he makes remarks about her job or the school that offend her. She once again tells people she can deal with life on her own, although she seems to have mixed feelings. Several times she asks Martin to help with childcare, which he generally agrees to without much resistance. We can see her waffling between protecting her pride and not wanting to let him go. Louisa is strong but realizes how important it is for James Henry to have his father in his life. It’s pretty clear that both Martin and Louisa let their egos and pride get in the way. Once again the writers have hit on exactly what often breaks up relationships, and the last episode of season 5 finally shows Martin willing to humble himself to win back Louisa. In their case, the baby has brought them together again and he has created a bond between them.

Originally posted 2013-09-12 20:03:39.

Women’s issues, part 1

I’ve decided to divide this topic into 3 parts because I have so much to say about it. The show addresses the issue of women being able to take control of their own affairs; the issue of women being employed, either at home or in a professional setting; the issue of women being capable of holding their own when confronted by men; and the issue of women not settling for anything less than what they really want. Then there are the issues surrounding pregnancy and childcare. I want to first discuss the leading women, Joan and Louisa, and end with a discussion of the many other strong female characters.

It’s hard to recall how many times Joan meets with adversity and comes out with her head held high. She tells Martin and her brother that she’s a survivor and she’ll find a way to manage whatever comes her way. That is not to say that she won’t accept help or that she prefers to be on her own; it is only to say that she is resourceful and confident and comfortable in her own skin. She is a very well-formed female character in that she’s been married, had lovers, runs a farm and an organic vegetable business, unceremoniously kills the chickens herself and cooks them, ministers to her neighbors, and stands up for what she believes in whether she’s confronting a man with a gun or Martin’s sense of morality. One topic that this show addresses that isn’t discussed much in any serious way in TV shows is that of sexuality in older women. Although Joan’s fling with a much younger painter is probably related to her estrogen implant, she is very clear to Martin that she is enjoying the physical and emotional aspects of her liaison with this young man and won’t give it up yet. When Edward enters her life, Joan is feeling her age and lonely and Edward gives her the attention she craves. I won’t deny that the vision of Joan and Edward having sex on her kitchen table is rather disturbing, and Martin’s sensibilities are definitely shaken. Joan’s thick ankles above her sensible shoes rhythmically rocking is an unsettling picture, but it serves to underscore her age. It’s also the only actual sex scene in the show. The point is made that sometimes you have to jump into life with both feet regardless of how that may tarnish your image, either in one’s own eyes or in the eyes of others. And age doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. I suppose Martin’s mother Margaret is another example of this. She’s leaving her husband for another man after many years of marriage and a loss of intimacy following Martin’s birth. She brings up the oft expressed notion that men may stop seeing their wives as lovers after children are born and start seeing them as asexual mothers instead.

Joan dresses in relatively masculine clothing most of the time and she drives her pickup truck unbothered by how it looks. She is the unabashed caregiver of Portwenn. When it comes to Martin, she both loves him faults and all and tries to guide him towards a fuller life. The fact that Martin has chosen to return to Portwenn means a lot to her, but she won’t let that stand in her way when she sees him behaving in a manner she doesn’t like. It is Joan to whom Martin talks the most and who gives him the straightest replies. She is, after all, an Ellingham born and raised even if she has been the least affected by their lack of social skills and general coldheartedness. Joan certainly has her soft and tender side, but she’s pretty clear that everyone deserves to be treated kindly unless there’s a reason she finds to act differently. To the best of my knowledge, Edith is the one person that gets Joan’s ire up, although Bert gets her going at times.

Louisa, too, is a multifaceted woman who won’t be messed around with and gives Martin all sorts of strong reactions while at the same time being soft and caring, apologetic and forgiving. Her internal strength and confidence make her a good match for Martin even if we viewers are not always happy with her responses. She has every reason to be impressed with Martin’s medical ability, but I am surprised by how often she expects him to come running (literally) when there is a sick child she’s concerned about, or when there are various other medical problems she must address at the school. She can be quite demanding at times before she and Martin have a personal relationship. After they begin their own dalliance, there are a variety of times when Louisa gets utterly exasperated with him and either tells him how she feels in no uncertain terms or walks away with her characteristic hand motions and facial expressions that reveal her frustrations with him. Some people find it hard to believe that Louisa would be interested in having a relationship with Martin, but for me the writers have given us plenty of reasons why she would be intrigued. One significant reason is the limited scope of eligible men in Portwenn. I mean, can you really see Louisa matched with any of the others? She’s in her late 30s, accomplished, and a take-charge woman. Mark Mylow has some potential, but he’s so desperate for a girlfriend that he’s kind of pathetic. Even Danny, who has a job of some status and has a level of education commensurate with hers, seems rather inconsequential somehow. I’m sure the writers chose to make the men in Louisa’s life unprepossessing so that Martin would look more appealing in contrast, but a woman like Louisa might like the challenge of taking on a man like Martin. She’s looking for someone who wants a woman who isn’t a pushover, and Martin definitely likes strong women if Edith is any indication. Louisa gives us some explanation of her attraction to Martin when she tells him in season 1, episode 6 that some people don’t quite fit in and aren’t ordinary, but that’s why we love them. Then in season 3, episode 3 we see Martin and Louisa acting in concert with each other and agreeing on several basics. A new couple has moved in next door to Louisa and they are bringing up their son, Sam, in a very undisciplined manner, out of the “mainstream.” By the end of the episode Martin and Louisa have agreed that it’s necessary to teach children the difference between right and wrong and that parents should make sure their children’s behavior doesn’t adversely impact others. They agree that they both hate cats, that Sam’s parents are extremely irritating and that Sam is suffering from bad parenting, and finally Martin momentarily slips and tells Louisa she’d make a lovely mother. Louisa is stunned by Martin’s frankness and flattered. We’ve already seen they are both attracted to each other. Why wouldn’t we believe they could make a good couple?

Louisa has made up her mind that she wants to stay in Portwenn and only leaves when she and Martin call off their wedding. She’s gone to college in London and knows what it’s like to live there, and she’s happier in Portwenn. She’s got a job as headmistress of the school for much of the series, plus she’s considered one of the prominent citizens of Portwenn who is one of two females on the committee to select the next GP. Portwenn is really her family since both her father and her mother have been largely absent from her life. Maybe their absence has made Louisa so self-reliant. As a woman, I revel in her frankness when she frequently stands up to Martin despite his intimidating demeanor. She emphatically tells him that his blood issues are not gossip but of concern to his patients, that he’s acting childish and self-centered by keeping himself an outsider in the community, dramatically tells off Martin’s previous student, kisses Martin but then throws him out of the car when he remarks about her bad breath. When she allows students to come to school even though they have signs of some contagious infection in series 2, episode 2, and Martin accuses her of risking more cases, she fervently defends her actions and distinguishes herself in the process. Furthermore, she later tells Martin she resents him “stitching her up” to the committee (or undermining her). It’s a scene that demonstrates her confidence and fortitude; we clearly understand that she can handle things herself and that trait continues throughout all of the series so that when she returns to Portwenn 6 months pregnant in series 4, episode 1, we’re not surprised that she plans to deal with her pregnancy and delivery on her own. Louisa’s strength is refreshing in a female and, of course, an excellent balance to Martin’s obduracy. The scenes when they go at each other spice up the show and give it the tension that keeps it lively and even more compelling.

Originally posted 2013-09-09 21:56:42.

Doctors and their medical practices

Once again I’m writing something else before writing about women’s issues. I felt pressed to write this first because I see that the first episode of season 6 will be aired in the UK on Monday night at 9 pm. I noticed in the trailer that was released that Doc Martin’s bedside manner (or lack thereof) is once again a major concern and I really want to discuss that.

Doctors in the US have a saying that patients are most concerned about the 3 As: first affability, next availability, and finally ability. Of course, this is simplistic, but it says a lot about what patients often use as a guide when dealing with doctors. Throughout this show Doc Martin’s gruffness, rudeness, and all around anti-social behavior have been a topic of conversation. At the same time, his complete dedication to doing the best job possible and his amazing ability to determine what is causing a patient’s symptoms have been topnotch. Over the 5 seasons he has diagnosed all sorts of unusual medical problems and often without anything more than his own keen observation and examination. I have been more than impressed that the show includes examples of Sjogren’s, Cushing’s, Addison’s, Reiter’s, Methanol poisoning, and Trimethylaminuria. There have been cases of HRT therapy leading to the growth of male breast tissue, glaucoma, allergic reactions galore, poor diabetes control leading to the person slurring her words and being accused of excessive alcohol use, and even the mixing of medications that can be dangerous if combined. Could one doctor be this capable of recognizing all these disorders? I think so, and I think the show does a good job of making Doc Martin’s ability incredibly believable. (I don’t want to neglect to mention that this doctor shows remarkable willingness to call an ambulance and that he is fortunate that this small village has such access to emergency services. It’s great to see a doctor who has no hesitation to call for help and that is another sign of a very capable physician.)

I do not think that all doctors are as knowledgeable as Doc Martin, but I think that there are some who are. I also believe that there are doctors who care as much as he does about medicine and devote themselves to their practice like Martin does. Many doctors are on call (or available day and night) at least some part of every week. I don’t see them running down the street to get to a patient in need very often, but they will meet a patient in the ER or their office when necessary. There are few doctors in America who will make house calls like Doc Martin does regularly, but they’ll talk to you on the telephone and make time for you at all hours of the day. And that brings up another part of being a doctor that accompanies this availability: interruption of their personal lives. Yes, in the show it’s amusing that Martin’s phone often rings at the most inconvenient moments, but that really happens in doctor’s lives all the time. Do people actually come up to doctors at the most inappropriate times to ask medical questions? YES! My husband has been disturbed at concerts, in restaurants, at the fitness center, almost any place he goes. Maybe the weirdest was while he was with one of our children while they were in the middle of a swimming meet. In a small town the problem is worse because it’s impossible to go anywhere without bumping into patients. One reason Martin may not want to go out is because of the hassle of encountering patients. Just look at what happens when Martin meets Louisa for dinner (or doesn’t get through dinner because of a patient), or wants to have a drink with her only to be taken aside by someone else. His directive to make an appointment may sound brusque, but it’s the best way to set some boundaries.

As far as bedside manner goes, establishing rapport can be important, but it’s probably more important in a large city where it’s harder for patients to get to know their doctors. In a small town where the patients are familiar with their doctors there’s a little more leeway. Nevertheless, Louisa makes a point of telling Martin that the people of Portwenn like having a doctor who becomes a part of the community and there is clearly a concern that doctors in England pay special attention to getting along with their patient population. Witness the “doctor’s friend” Gavin Peters who appears in season 2, episode 9 and says he’s a liaison between practitioners and the local medical committee. From what I can gather, all doctors in England are supposed to register with the General Medical Council and then be subject to reviews of their services. I’m sure most doctors don’t like this supervision and Martin is no exception. Gavin tells Martin that patient care is not only about proper diagnosis but that doctors also have a pastoral duty. I don’t know about the necessity of a doctor to minister to a patient, but the most important part of creating a good connection with one’s patients is being able to elicit information from them that can help in their care. Doc Martin seems to know the right questions to ask and generally manages to get a good read on what’s going on with his patients. His observational skills are his best tool. The one time he would have been been better off being more sympathetic was when Phil’s wife Helen dies suddenly in season 2, episode 5, and Aunt Joan let’s him know it. A patient’s death or serious setback requires some kindness from the doctor, I think. But don’t forget that Doc Martin several times keeps people from dying and a few of those cases are people he isn’t too thrilled about, e.g. Danny, Eleanor, and even Holly. Saving their lives demonstrates how doctors treat anyone in need no matter their personal feelings. You might think that Martin is simply treating the medical problem and not the person, but you have to expect him to have some thoughts about who he’s rescuing.

The other thing that’s significant is how much he believes in patient confidentiality. That point is driven home time and again when he refuses to discuss a patient with anyone else. In such a small town maintaining confidentiality is particularly paramount since pretty much everything that people hear gets spread around quickly, e.g. his hemaphobia, or that Phil Pratt is gay. Besides, doctors are expected to keep their patient’s problems private and most follow that dictum wholeheartedly.

What Doc Martin lacks in people skills he more than makes up for in diagnostic skills. And he does care enough to literally tramp through the woods in search of a sick patient, or climb a ladder and risk his own safety to reach a patient, or, worst of all, rappel down the side of a cliff to help a patient. Ok, there is some humor in seeing him go to these lengths, but at the same time, he is totally committed to taking care of these people. When Martin has outbursts where he yells at patients, it’s primarily a sign of frustration that he’s trying to help them and they won’t allow him to complete his exam or treatment of their problem. Once again most doctors experience this frustration; they just don’t run after the patients yelling epithets. However, they’re probably thinking exactly what Martin actually says. Furthermore, using the internet to diagnose one’s symptoms is something I believe doctors universally deplore. I think we all want to look up what might be going on with us, but there is a lot of information on the internet that is unreliable or simply wrong. When patients come to a doctor convinced that their symptoms are one disorder or another, doctors have to conquer preconceived notions as well as do their own exam. It often adds an unhelpful layer of complexity and Doc Martin’s disgust with this practice is very much in line with the approach of most doctors.

Ultimately, the people of Portwenn know they have a doctor who is dedicated to their care and I’m pretty sure his ability is more important to them than his affability.(Dr. Dibbs provides a counterpoint to this issue of affability versus ability. When she arrives in town, some patients she treats find her very pleasant and are quick to consider her a welcome change; however, it’s not long before her lack of ability becomes apparent, and by the end of her brief stay in Portwenn, the people are very glad to have Doc Martin back. Dr. Sim may have been just like that too – the people liked his affability, but his ability was sorely lacking.)

Originally posted 2013-08-31 02:58:12.

Writers and Actors

I’m in the middle of writing a longer post about women’s issues and just wanted to say that even though I totally admire the acting in this series, I think the writing doesn’t get enough recognition. As I once heard Robert McKee, the famous story-writing lecturer, say: without a script there is no movie (or in this case TV series). Although I think Dominic Minghella and all of the writers have done a great job of writing these episodes, I am particularly in awe of Jack Lothian’s episodes. My utmost favorite is the last episode of season 5 for so many reasons. The scene with the fish monger where he takes Doc Martin’s order and while wrapping the fish makes some very incisive comments about men who are living alone at Martin’s age, makes me laugh every time. Of course, the delivery is key and Martin Clune’s facial expressions make such a difference too, but the words he says matter the most, and they are brilliant: “No shame in cooking for one. Least you’re still shaving. That’s a good sign. Most men get to your age, nobody in their lives, throw in the towel. Hygiene’s always the first to go. It’s like they think ‘nobody cares about me…might as well sit around all day in my (underwear?).’ Tragic, that’s what it is Doc. You just hang on in there; what’s for you won’t go by you. Anything else?” In one quick exchange with the doctor looking at him as if he’s both annoyed and yet listening, the man has addressed Martin’s age, his change in relationship status, the way many men cope (or don’t), and once again brought up the issue of fate or whether we have the power to change ourselves and what happens in our lives. The closing question is a combination of “what else can I get you?” and “what’s ahead in your life?” Doc Martin has always gotten some clues about how to behave from listening to others and their remarks, and this dialogue certainly impacts him. Plus, I just love the humor in the fish seller going on about his observations to the doctor, who has never been the sort of person one would expect to be open to this sort of talk.

The latter part of the episode is also brilliantly written, from the moment Martin has to tell Louisa about the baby’s abduction to the ride in the car, to the scene at the hotel and finally at the secluded pseudo-castle where Mrs. Tishell has the baby. Louisa has once again left Martin because of her frustrations with mostly his lack of expression of affection and possibly even the dearth of overt signs of love and respect from him (something I plan to write about elsewhere). Martin has been struggling with being involved with the baby as a father while probably being unable to understand what he might consider Louisa’s volatile emotional fluctuations. Deciding to agree to allow Mrs. Tishell to watch the baby, even for the morning, is really something we would not expect from Martin. As a rule he has consistently ignored Mrs. Tishell no matter how many overtures she makes throughout the series, and he has turned her down before when she’s offered to take care of the baby. However, against his usual inclinations, Martin lets Mrs. Tishell take the baby with her because Morwenna is not showing any signs of being a good babysitter and Martin is sort of stuck. In the scene when Mrs. Tishell takes the baby from Morwenna we are reminded that Mrs. Tishell has never had children of her own, which makes it even more likely that she might form a delusion that the baby is hers. But it is following the combination of Mrs. Tishell going upstairs to look at her paper clippings about the Doc and taking the pills (Paroxitine, better know as Paxil, and Modafinil, generally used for greater alertness) that have been reinforcing her off kilter notions, filling a young couple’s prescription for free, getting angry at Joe Penhale for taking up her time and then giving him the wrong medication, and finally making off with the baby, that we as viewers know that she has lost her mind. The above actions coupled with the comments Clive makes to his wife, which clearly have a different interpretation for her than for him, are a very good demonstration of dramatic irony – we as viewers know about her pill popping and her infatuation with Martin while Clive has no idea and Martin is pretty much always clueless when it comes to things like this. We know that when Clive asks Sal whether she ever gets the feeling that “one day you’ll wake up and realize how much of your life you’ve wasted, how much you’ve let pass you by” she agrees because, empowered by the meds, she has now reached the conclusion that she must act. Clive unwittingly pushes her farther by suggesting the two of them buy an RV and “see the world,” which to him means driving to other parts of England. (We already know Sally has never been to London.) However, she has only one mission on her mind at this point and that is to find a way to get together with Martin. Clive’s comments once again lead her to take action and make off with the baby when he tells her “sometimes in this life, you want something, you’ve gotta take it.” So Jack Lothian’s writing has efficaciously established the sequence of events during which the dialogue markedly contributes to the action.

Soon Martin is off to tell Louisa about this new development and it is his turn to feel mighty chagrined, probably a feeling he’s rarely had. This time it’s Louisa who is on edge and dealing with difficulties at the school. Martin uses his usual cryptic means of explaining the problem, but nothing can keep Louisa from being upset once she hears that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. What PC Penhale says to Ruth as they watch Martin and Louisa run to the car expresses what most people would be thinking: she’s angry and worried all at once. In the car, Louisa’s comment that she’s not going to waste her energy getting wound up, she’s counting on Martin to get their baby back, makes it clear that despite their relationship problems, she believes in Martin.

Of course, the first place they look turns out to be wrong and this is where I started to think that Lothian was using Shakespeare as a source. I’ve always heard that most writing refers back to Shakespeare in some way, and this episode certainly fits that adage. (By the way, I recently heard Kevin Spacey being interviewed about his role in House of Cards and he said his character was based on Richard the III who speaks to the audience in Shakespeare’s play.) Here we not only have the misdirection during which there is much fumbling, but also the ultimate realization that the baby has been taken to a faux castle complete with billowing banner. Next, in case we haven’t already noticed the references to Shakespeare, we have Mrs. Tishell reciting excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, reaffirming her unhinged state of mind. We can see Joe Penhale as the comic relief or well-meaning fool that often plays a role in Shakespeare’s plays. I can’t help mentioning the funny conversation Ruth and Joe have as they walk quickly toward the castle. Joe is once again fantasizing about how he will be the hero and save the day while Ruth tries to inject some reason into his dreamworld by telling him he’s not playing in a Hollywood film and he’s not Clint Eastwood. (I don’t know if the original plan was to make this the last episode of the series, and I’m glad it isn’t, but it could have been because all of the major characters are gathered here: the doctor, the headmistress, the constable, and the psychiatrist along with the chemist; there’s drama, there’s rising action, and it has a satisfying ending.) Nevertheless, Joe once again is the fly in the ointment when he climbs the side of the building in an effort to help only to nearly foul up their efforts by revealing himself prematurely.

But it’s the repartee between Mrs. Tishell and Dr. Ellingham that is the centerpiece of the episode and Mrs. Tishell’s diatribe about Louisa and Martin’s relationship cannot be beaten. In one set of comments, she summarizes the essence of the entire show, seasons 1-5: “One moment you’re together, then you’re not. Then you’re getting married, then you’re not. Then she’s gone and then she comes back. Then you’re going, but you don’t, and then you have a baby and you’re living together, and then you’re not, and then you’re going away again, and then you come back here…I just can’t stand it anymore!!” She could be talking for the viewers! Clearly the relationship between Martin and Louisa has been the most important driving force that captivates us. For those fans who were upset when Martin and Louisa’s plans to marry fall apart, the ups and downs of the relationship have been trying. It’s hard not to wonder what could have made things work out better, and that’s one of the hallmarks of good writing.

Just like in season 3, episode 7, Louisa and Martin’s wedding day, everything seems to go wrong in this last episode of season 5. (Since Jack Lothian wrote both episodes, I think we can safely say that this episode is an intentional reprise of the earlier one.) The townspeople are sick with a virus causing Louisa to ask Martin to take care of James Henry and leading her to have no alternative but to rely on Bert to make lunch for the school. Naturally, Bert isn’t up to the task and Louisa has a mess on her hands. Into this difficult day steps Martin with the news that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. I think most women would be at their wits end, but Louisa manages to stay relatively calm. Luckily this time she is rewarded by a welcome outcome and the words she has wanted to hear Martin say for so long. Once again there’s no question that the scene owes a lot to Shakespeare and the conceit of a character talking while another is listening. Martin is talking to Mrs. Tishell looking down from above, but his words are meant for Louisa who stands in front of him out of Mrs. Tishell’s sight. Louisa prompts him to say that he’s a difficult person, hard to talk to sometimes, and an idiot (all things he has never been willing to admit before, and a sign that Martin is now finally willing to express his true feelings). Once he lets go, he really opens his heart and we all sigh along with Louisa as he tells her:”I think I’ve known how I felt since the first time I met you, from the first time I saw you…And I do hate Portwenn…But it’s where I want to be because you’re here, because of you, ’cause if I’m with you nothing else matters. What I’m trying to say is, I love you.” Those words are simply perfect because they also capture the trajectory of the show, express the love we viewers have been convinced was there all along, and settle the issue of whether Martin will stay in Portwenn or go to London. (By the way, this isn’t the first time Martin tells Louisa he loves her. The first time he says it, he’s drunk in season 2, episode 8.) But the episode isn’t over yet. Mrs. Tishell comes down and the baby is safe; however, she has a final declaration for Martin that he doesn’t understand what love is. Well, isn’t that the most important question? And doesn’t he dispel the notion that he doesn’t know what it is when he tells Louisa that nothing else matters and he sincerely loves her? He’s willing to stay in Portwenn and drop all his previous convictions just to be with Louisa. His final words are interrupted by Joe, typical of what happens throughout the show when Martin and Louisa try to talk to each other, but they are “I will always…” How would you finish the sentence? “Love you?” Almost certainly. (Can’t help thinking of the Whitney Houston song.) In other episodes we would not be surprised to hear Martin say something off the wall, but this time he’s figured out where he’s been going wrong and isn’t likely to make that mistake.

Jack Lothian is credited with writing several other episodes I deeply admire, e.g. season 4, episode 8 when Louisa gives birth and season 5, episode 3 when Louisa and the baby have moved into the surgery with Martin and Louisa tells Martin she wants to move to London with him. The highs and lows of his episodes and his ability to write very realistic and heartfelt dialogue are outstanding. The dialogue is also funny, which makes it even more appealing. Of course, the actors add their fabulous deliveries and expressions to the words, and that makes the scenes a tremendous success.

The writing on the show is generally excellent and I want the writers to know that I thoroughly appreciate what they’ve done.

Originally posted 2013-08-26 16:01:58.

What’s in a Name?

In this post I want to consider what Doc Martin’s writers have done with names in the show. Doc Martin himself is, of course, not happy with being called Doc or Doc Martin; he’d rather people use Dr. Ellingham. But throughout the show, most of the town call him Doc or Doc Martin with the exception of Mrs. Tishell who honors his request and uses his last name. And she, in turn, is generally referred to by everyone as Mrs. Tishell. Indeed no one uses her first name until her husband Clive returns. Edith only refers to Martin as Ellingham, and that seems to be her way of being both familiar and equivalent. To me, it is also the mark of someone who distances herself from the others in his life. (In a nice twist, Edith doesn’t remember Joan’s name and calls her Jill.) Louisa, on the other hand, prefers to use Martin when talking to him and we can’t help but see her as closer to him as a result. Louisa has been involved with deciding whether he becomes the new GP which gives her greater standing to use his first name, and she refers to him as Dr. Ellingham when in a formal setting. So we have the title of Doc, the first name of Martin, and the last name of Ellingham all being used in relation to the doctor. (I can say that in my experience, my husband wanted patients and staff to call him Dr. plus full last name because he had earned it and he felt it was the correct way to address him. His office manager/receptionist did use his first name when speaking to him directly, however.) Martin’s receptionists all default to Doc.

Despite the doctor’s own hangups about his name, he usually cannot remember any patient’s names. This is both humorous and realistic since it is not unusual for doctors to have trouble remembering patients’ names and they typically remember people by their conditions/diagnoses. (My husband can still tell you about a patient’s symptoms from years ago but could not dredge up the patient’s name if his life depended on it.) In the show, there are plenty of times when it’s funny to see the Doc use a variety of names for one person. Episode 6 of season 5 stands out to me because Doc M cannot get a handle on the school maintenance man’s name. Louisa reminds him several times that the man’s name is Mr. Coley, but Martin uses Mr. Creely, then can’t come up with a name, then calls him Mr. Munson. Of course there are many students whose names escape the Doc. Louisa, like most teachers, objects to not using the child’s name and reminds him that it’s Adam who has been throwing up or Elliott who has slapped-cheek syndrome. Martin refers to Elliott as “your boy” and his parents are insulted by the doctor’s off-hand treatment of their son and unclear answers. There are any number of other students/children who Martin refers to as “that boy” or something of that nature. To Martin, these names are unimportant; what’s important is getting the right diagnosis and treatment. On the other hand, the names of diseases, syndromes, or other medical problems are never hard for him to remember no matter how complex or esoteric. Those he remembers without even a slight hitch.

Of course, the naming of his own child turns into a major bone of contention. We don’t really get into which last name they plan to use except when Louisa notes as an aside that he will be using her last name. The fact that she and Martin aren’t married means that a last name will be another decision they’ll have to make. I find this concern quite contemporary, although the English may have more of a history with determining last names due to their royal family. In the last 30-40 years we’ve had women (and some men) retaining their last names, using their original last names professionally but not in their private lives, hyphenating their last names, or going the traditional route and using their husband’s last name.

But it’s the baby’s first name that gives Martin and Louisa troubles. It’s awkward (and funny) when Bert does the rather English thing of taking odds on what they’ll name the baby while Louisa is in labor, and Martin comes in 500 to 1. The name Martin never does enter their minds. The first thought Louisa has is to name the baby Terry after her father, a name Martin finds too common (both in terms of its social status and in terms of its frequency). Then we have the amusing scene in which Louisa deliberately calls the baby Albert, which makes Martin stop in his tracks. She frustratingly tells him they have to call the baby something: Steven, Paul, Michael, Elton, whatever. Does that mean Louisa just wants to settle on a name and isn’t too concerned what the name is? Hardly. When they find a time to seriously discuss the baby’s name, she battles with Martin over whether to use her grandfather’s name first or Martin’s grandfather’s name first. At least they’ve decided to use both grandfathers’ names. Ultimately, their conflict is resolved by Martin who reaches the conclusion that he should give in and let Louisa get her choice, but not without some discord. He’s made out the papers without telling Louisa and she justifiably (I think) resents that. So the baby finally has a name (James Henry) and Louisa feels satisfied that it’s the name she preferred.

A few other thoughts come to mind about names as they are used in the show. We have the family name of Wenn that appears to refer to the name of the town, and there is a woman whose surname is Braithwaite (a likely reference to Philippa Braithwaite, the producer and wife of Martin Clunes). Then there is the doctor’s third receptionist, Morwenna, who tells the Doc that she was named after a Cornish saint and who tells him the most popular boy names at the moment. In addition, Morwenna laughs disbelievingly when a patient tells her that her baby’s name is Boris. She realizes pretty quickly that she shouldn’t have laughed, but the point is that some names seem right and some seem wrong depending on the place and time. In fact, even Louisa asks Martin to refer to her as Miss Glasson when he’s at the school.

We can’t overlook the use of childhood names, names of endearment, or aliases. Louisa was called LouLou probably as a child and some of her friends from childhood still use it, e.g. Danny, Holly, and Isabel. Her mother calls her LouLou too. It’s more or less one of those names we never get past even if we aren’t too thrilled to be called by that name anymore. Those names sort of straddle the endearment category and the juvenile. However, sometimes turning a child’s name into something that sounds endearing doesn’t sit well and when Louisa’s mom calls James Henry “Jim Jim,” Louisa tells her right away that’s not his name. Martin’s Aunt Joan is called Auntie Joan affectionately by him many times and she calls him Marti. When she uses that shortened form of his name, we know it’s meant to be affectionate, but when John Slater, Joan’s former lover, calls Martin “Little Marti,” we recognize the condescending tone it takes on. The older man rubs Martin the wrong way, especially when he reminds Martin of wetting his pants as a boy. There is also the foreshortening of names, e.g. Mags for Maggie, or Sal for Sally, that is supposed to be a sign of affection. Then there is the complication of Mark meeting and falling in love with Julie only to find out that she has been known by several other names, and not for good reasons either. Her change of names is a sign of deceit and reveals her devious nature. The final comment about name use I would make is that stating a person’s name with a certain tone can indicate anger or frustration as when Louisa calls her mother “El-i-Nor” with a snarky edge to it. It’s all in the tone and the relationship of the name callers to their subjects.

What’s in a name? Well, family significance, status, collaboration, trendiness, even historical meaning. There’s also something to finding a name that can distinguish you from the crowd, and that fits you in some indefinable way. The most important essence of a name, however, is that it identifies you and your position. When people remember your name, it makes you feel valued. Using the proper title shows respect and not using it can be viewed as being inappropriately familiar. Your name places you in a culture and in a time period, and that sometimes can either assign prominence to you or stereotype you. (For example, I know someone whose first name is Osama, but he goes by Sam for obvious reasons.) Names are signifiers and, as such, are an important part of who we are.

Originally posted 2013-08-11 20:42:59.