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.

How’s the Therapy for You?

We have now come to the end of S7 on AcornTV, and that means I feel free to publish my thoughts on a number of things about it. Here is the first of several posts:

During the promotion for S7 marriage counseling/guidance was brought up as a key facet of how Martin and Louisa would be dealing with their marital problems. Since “Doc Martin” is a dramedy, we would be surprised if there were a lot of lengthy counseling scenes; however, in the operating room scene at the end of S6 we heard Martin tell Louisa that he needed help from her to become a better husband. Prior to that we heard Ruth tell Martin that if he wanted to get Louisa to return to him, he would have to work hard to change. It didn’t seem like too much of a leap to expect some real effort to use marriage guidance to improve their marriage.

We have been through 6 series that have contained many medical emergencies and lives saved. We’ve learned about a myriad of rare medical disorders and all have been treated properly by Martin Ellingham with an expertise that demonstrates his superior medical knowledge and skill. We would expect no less from any depiction of marriage counseling. Sadly, that is not what we get. The following is my view of the marriage counseling and where it disappoints. Whereas we can learn about how to diagnose and deal with a variety of medical conditions from watching this show, we should not accept what we see in S7 as a good representation of marriage therapy. (Abby and Santa, regular participants of this blog, reviewed what I wrote and provided me with feedback and their professional experience. Abby is a practicing therapist who sees married couples for counseling and Santa is a retired therapist. They have written some previous posts on psychological aspects of the show and its characters.) This post is intended to focus on the accuracy of the therapy sessions first. I will add a few thoughts on the purpose of the therapy scenes at the end. Please bear with me on this because it’s going to be a long post.

In series 7 each episode includes a brief look at therapy sessions. We have to keep in mind that what we are shown is only a couple of minutes of each therapy session that is scheduled for one hour. I would like to think that what they choose to show us is the most important exchange of each session, but no 2-5 minute interlude can give us a sufficient amount of information. We are left with many unknowns about the therapy. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s fair to excuse the problems with how the therapy is depicted simply because of the brevity of what we’re shown.

Our first introduction to the therapist recommended by Ruth is that she conforms to how Ruth described her, i. e. she is a no nonsense, direct person who has set standards and practices and will not change them for anyone. She demands that Martin shut off his phone and leave it at the entrance to her office; she tells him that being late for any reason is unacceptable and could lead to a termination of their sessions; and she won’t be deterred from treating his problems by any questions he poses about her background and reason for being in Portwenn. She won’t allow him to usurp her role as leader in this setting. These rules seem a little too rigid because he is the only doctor in Portwenn. According to Abby, it would have been better for them to clarify what constitutes the kind of emergency that would be an acceptable reason for him to arrive late for a session. Dr. T wants him to make therapy a priority and the act of discussing this issue would be a good way to convey that message.

Her approach appears to work well with Martin and he exposes more of himself to her than we’ve heard him tell anyone else, including Louisa. He recognizes that due to his being an unwanted child he has an inability to form adult attachments; he exhibits poor communication skills; he has unrealistic expectations of others, and a blood phobia. Of course he’s done his homework and decided what her diagnosis will be, but she is quick to brush off his easy judgement and makes clear that therapy is not like surgery; it’s a process. Although Dr. T appreciates Martin’s effort to arrive at a diagnosis, she doesn’t dispute it. Abby notes that “the first order of business, other than taking a history, is to establish a therapeutic alliance.” We can now look forward to watching the process proceed. We have set before us a series of issues that Martin has delineated and that we would assume will be how Dr. Timoney will plan her therapy.

Dr. Timoney begins quite understandably with asking Martin what he is coming to her for. He tells her, after asking her about herself, that he wants his wife to return to him, that he wants her to be happy, and that he blames himself for her unhappiness. Dr. Timoney’s first command for Martin is she wants to meet Louisa. That seems reasonable since Louisa plays an important role in the direction of the therapy. On the other hand, Martin probably has no idea when Louisa will return and appears to have neglected to tell Dr. T that important fact. Fortuitously, Louisa returns soon after, and that night over dinner Martin has a chance to inform her that he’s been seeing a therapist and that she wants to meet Louisa. Luckily, Louisa agrees to meet Dr. T even though she has some reservations. She figures she’s going to shed some light on Martin’s problems for Dr. T. In other words, we start therapy on tenuous footing including that as far as we know Martin has only seen the therapist once prior to Louisa’s return, due to time constraints he needs her to agree to see Dr. T on the same night that they are reunited, and he tells her nothing about his session with Dr. T.

When Louisa meets Dr. T for the first time, we see her enter the building but it appears that we pick up the conversation sometime after it begins. By the time we are brought into the conversation, Louisa is in the act of explaining that Martin has a hard time expressing his feelings, although she’s sure he loves her. Louisa then makes some derogatory comments about Martin’s parents, all deserved. She is especially clear that Martin’s mother is very cold and that she can understand why Martin is emotionally repressed. When asked about her parents, Louisa identifies them as normal, but she does reveal that her Mom left home when she was 12 and that her father was incarcerated when she was a child.

Since the show has made a fairly consistent effort to inform us of the childhood traumas of both Martin and Louisa, we have been led to believe that these are critical to the formation of these two characters. We’ve met all four parents over the years and, through a dream sequence that Martin has one early morning after James has been born, and probably triggered by a butterfly crib mobile, we know that Martin has suffered from the harmful effects of a bad tempered father when he was young. We also know that he’s been punished by being locked in  a space under the stairs and by physical means, and that he wet his bed until he was 11. Thus, when the counseling sessions begin with Dr. T learning some intimate tidbits about their parents, we anticipate more inquiry into the parent/child dynamic. Childhood is when the most significant impact on our lives occurs and we deem it crucial to this couple. But that is not to be after all.  Dr. T does not pursue this line of analysis and we do not hear her ask much about their childhoods after this. At the very least a good therapist would have explored how these experiences may have negatively impacted how Martin and Louisa relate to each other. The best therapy would have delved into their childhoods and considered how these experiences shaped them.

Instead, even though Dr. T wonders whether there is some connection between how Louisa’s relationship with her father might correspond with how she deals with Martin, she decides that it would be best for them to enter couples therapy. There is no transition during which she looks into Martin’s individual concerns. Since he made the initial contact, she might have wanted to probe more deeply into Martin’s feelings about why things were difficult before Louisa left. What does that mean anyway? Moreover, we see Louisa immediately resist the notion of couples therapy. We also note that Louisa is not receptive to the suggestion that both parties may be in some way responsible for the problems. Nonetheless, Dr. T moves on with couples therapy without a second individual meeting with either of them. Once therapy transitions to couples counseling, the objective changes. In couples counseling it is the marriage that is effectively the client and not any individual. The mission is now to set goals for the marriage to reach a satisfactory level of success for this couple.

Our introduction to couples therapy with Martin and Louisa begins with E4. When we join the conversation, Martin and Louisa are already seated facing Dr. T and Martin appears to be answering a question about whether he thinks environment has a strong impact on personality development in children. For some reason he mentions that his parents would leave him with his aunt every summer as related in some way to his conclusion that environment is important. Once again, Dr. T does not follow up and asks nothing about his relationship with his aunt or about what visiting her might have meant to him. (From what we’ve seen, we would think that it was a very positive experience during which he received the love, affection, and acceptance he had been missing at home.) He has mentioned that he was an unwanted child, which is pretty significant, but has left out the abuse and neglect he suffered. Most therapists would have wanted to know what brought him to the conclusion that he was unwanted. But here Dr. T moves on to asking Louisa if she’s uncomfortable. (Abby writes that she would have asked Louisa what it was like for her to hear what Martin is revealing. She notes that “it is important to develop empathy between them” and that Dr. T’s question about Louisa looking uncomfortable could have been a good way to transition to this. Unfortunately there is no follow up that takes place.)

Both Martin and Louisa look uncomfortable, and the seat they are asked to use certainly seems very hard and stiff itself, but also they are estranged and have never been extremely prone to overt expressions of affection, especially in public. Martin asserts that he appreciates Louisa, which is more evidence of Martin trying to change and become more expressive. This leads to Dr. T asking whether Louisa considers Martin appreciative. She rightly says that to her he is usually quite nice but not so much to others. Dr. T appropriately cuts Louisa off once she gets going on listing all the things she finds troubling about Martin, and we get the impression that Louisa has a lot of pent up criticism about him. It may be a sign of Dr. T’s observational skills that she notices their self-containment and asks them to list three positives about each other. Louisa is able to produce three things fairly quickly, and they are telling in that they are rather impersonal: Martin is a good doctor, he dresses smartly, and he keeps the house tidy. This last item is strange to find on Louisa’s list because she usually isn’t so happy about it. Then it’s Martin’s turn and his list is much more personal: Louisa is a good and caring mother, she’s active, and she’s very beautiful. Their choices represent well what is important to each of them. For Louisa Martin’s outstanding medical ability has always been preeminent. She is also attracted to his outward appearance and professional attire. After that she seems to struggle for a third thing to add. For Martin Louisa’s interest in being a good mother is preeminent and why he has nothing to say about her achievements as headmistress. Being active matters to him on a health level, and we know he has considered her beautiful from the moment he first saw her. Louisa seems flattered despite the omission of her ability as a headmistress.

What follows is an assignment to hug three times a day and say something positive to each other every day. As I wrote in my post on Hugs and Kisses, this assignment makes sense because it asks them to add physical touching, and that can be extremely effective in bringing people closer. It also requires them to think of something they can say to each other that should be complimentary. It switches the emphasis away from the negative.

As always, we know that watching Martin and Louisa hug three times a day will be both amusing and endearing, and it is. This was precisely what I hoped therapy would do for the show and this couple. By the end of E4, we see a lot of progress even though Louisa still struggles to find something positive to say to Martin. Therapy is making a difference despite being relatively lacking in thoroughness.

E5 starts with Martin already having a bad day due to an unpleasant confrontation with a young girl and being shadowed by Buddy. They arrive a bit early for their therapy session and are seen waiting in their car by another patient, something they both appear to dislike. Dr. T asks about how the hugging assignment went and Louisa answers that Martin has trouble with spontaneity. Martin immediately accuses her of the same. But we are quickly off to Louisa asking about doing something with Martin’s blood phobia. Louisa has finally raised that condition with Dr. T.  because she would like to redirect therapy to make it about Martin. At this point, according to Abby, most therapists would acknowledge the importance of Martin’s haemophobia but make sure the hugging exercise wasn’t neglected. There was too much material involved with the hugging for the therapist to simply move on without spending more time on it. Dr. T can’t really address the haemophobia specifically with Martin if she is focusing on the marriage, but she suggests the blood phobia is connected to Martin’s desire to be in control, and despite his disagreement with that, she sticks to her analysis and gives them another assignment. (There is some dispute here about the origins of the haemophobia because we’ve heard Ruth tell Martin that this sort of phobia often has roots in childhood trauma. Abby would be inclined to agree with Ruth even though Martin certainly has control issues. As a person who needs to feel in control, Martin probably felt safe until the event that brought on the blood phobia took place. The onset of the phobia was enough to bring on significant anxiety and make him terrified. Since then, he has found a way to maintain control, but each time the phobia reappears, it reminds him that he isn’t in control and he is thrown into another state of fear.)

This time their assignment is for Louisa to take charge of an activity and Martin must do whatever she asks of him. The odd thing about this is that he’s trying to do even more than that already and has chosen to live in an unsavory place so that Louisa and James can stay at the surgery. He also offers to bathe James regularly and to take care of James when Janice is unavailable. He’s very cognizant of not impinging on Louisa’s privacy and treads lightly around her. But both Louisa and Martin agree to this assignment without objection either.

The picnic Louisa chooses as her activity is disrupted by Angela Sim having a mental breakdown at the beach and that breaks up the family occasion. On the other hand, Louisa is grateful that Martin was there to help Angela and the episode ends with both of them entering the surgery together, which should be a good sign. Then again, there is no mention of how that assignment went to our knowledge but we join the session near the end this time. (Abby finds this assignment strange because Dr. T should have noticed that both Louisa and Martin have control issues. Louisa has tried to take charge of most of the sessions. “If she gave them this assignment to show how Louisa sets Martin up, then why wasn’t the assignment explored the next session?  Why did you choose a picnic?  Is it something you thought Martin would like?  What food did you pack?  Were there things both of you like?  So much valuable material that could have been gleaned from a discussion like this.”)

Once again Dr. T decides to give them another assignment which entails going on a date together. Dr. T makes a valuable contribution when she comments that Louisa may equate love with being left alone, since her parents left her when she was a child, and now she has fallen in love with a man who she says she didn’t think would last in Portwenn. Her comment that Louisa sets Martin up for failure is also so that she can continue to be disappointed in him. Abby notes that Dr. T was planting seeds that she hoped would germinate either during therapy or afterwards. Each time in the world of Dr. T’s therapy, however, there is so little follow up that we can only be frustrated, and that shows poor practice methods.

It is here when Louisa admits that falling in love with Martin was not a conscious act in any way connected to how she might conceive of the emotion of love. Perhaps that is a nod to the incomprehensibility of choosing Martin as the man she wants to marry. We can’t explain what leads us to fall in love and love is rather mystifying. Again, as far as we can tell, Dr. T just leaves that hanging too.

Dr. T provides very few guidelines for the date so it’s particularly nice to see Martin bring flowers for Louisa, make reservations at the location where they first met and make special note of that. They have a slightly tense conversation about Louisa’s impression that Martin wouldn’t last 5 minutes in Portwenn. Then Martin brings up Danny and confronts Louisa about telling Danny about their private lives, but Louisa is honest in her answer and quick to apologize. For me her behavior is conciliatory and she hopes to have a nice dinner. The disruption comes when Louisa takes a call from Danny that causes her to feel compelled to leave. It is understandable that she would leave her phone on to be available for any calls about James, but she should never have accepted a call from Danny, and he should never have called her.

When Dr. T sees them next, Louisa describes the dinner date as a disaster, but that seems a pretty extreme appraisal. Again, Dr. T does not ask Martin to venture his own feelings. Martin’s anger at Louisa for divulging their marital problems to Danny is not similarly played out with Rachel. Time and again Dr. T allows Louisa to be the one to give her evaluation of each exercise with no effort to balance what she says with what Martin thinks. Quickly Dr. T comes to the conclusion that Martin and Louisa should make a list of what they like about being on their own, and tells them they should not consider a decision to separate as a failure. (Abby can’t help having a strong reaction to this procedure, and I decided to include it all: “This scene is so far from good practice that I cringe at the thought that people will think this is what therapy is.  First of all, she doesn’t explore why Louisa found that date to be a disaster.  ((Santa would add, “If there’s anything that’s not typical of therapy, it’s letting pass a pregnant comment that ‘it was a disaster.'”)) She didn’t elicit Martin’s view on the evening.  She didn’t explore the entire assignment:  How was the date arranged?  Who asked whom?  Did Martin pick her up?  How did that go?  What was the drive like?  Where did they go?  How did they feel sitting at the table with each other?  What did they talk about?  Where did the evening break down?  Was there a better way they could have handled it?  There was so much that could be gained from such a post mortem that it is frustrating for me to see it just dropped.  And then to suggest they think about the positives of being separated after such a short time leaves me just dumbfounded.  One might wonder if she was using reverse psychology here, but that would be a very dangerous game.”)

It is also very bad practice to have never explored the history of their relationship and the course of their short marriage. We have no evidence that she ever has tried to investigate these areas.

What we have then is several short-lived efforts to spend time together, hardly any review of what took place during those occasions, usually a willingness to hear only one person’s assessment of the assignment, and ultimately a suggestion that perhaps saving their marriage is not such a good idea, and that that would not be considered a failure.

The final time Martin and Louisa go out to see Dr. T takes place after Dr. T’s car accident and head injury. She acts very erratically and chooses an exercise for right there in her office. It seems a bit silly as she asks Martin and Louisa to march in place. We can no longer take her seriously as a therapist.

When we make a final survey of the therapy, it is hard to be very impressed by it. The length of time they spend going to therapy as a couple is probably 5 weeks. Over that period Dr. Timoney has learned that both Martin and Louisa had childhood experiences that were damaging and are likely to have caused some residual harm. In Louisa’s case she has concluded that Louisa interprets love as being intertwined with being cast aside; we don’t know how she looks at Martin’s childhood. What she thinks about Martin is that he likes to be in control. She notices that they are self-contained, at least around her. Hopefully she also realizes that Louisa has a good deal of bottled up anger toward Martin based on how easy it is for her to express criticism of him. She should also notice that Louisa is usually the first one to give her impression of how each assignment went, and that she often does not reciprocate Martin’s efforts to offer compliments. We see almost no follow-up after Louisa disparages each assignment, and there is very little probing of either Martin or Louisa. Without asking for more information, how can you trust that what’s reported is accurate? (I would argue that it isn’t accurate or reliable.) Needless to say, I would expect a therapist to inquire why Louisa is so angry at Martin and possibly elicit from them what it would take for her to be able to get over her strong vexation with him. It seems clear that Louisa is the barrier to any reconciliation. Furthermore, as Santa notes, “they were never coached in how to talk to each other, which I would think would almost immediately have been identified as a significant issue for them.” Martin has admitted to having poor communication skills. We know that this show is built on Martin and Louisa being unable to complete most conversations for many reasons. It would have made sense to address that.

There are many other problems with the therapy and its short term basis. Most therapy lasts for several months, not several weeks. The marital troubles have built up over a fairly long time and dealing with them cannot be expected to work so quickly. Certainly, any couples therapist would do her best to find a way to keep the couple together, especially since that is why they have engaged her. To give up and advise them to separate after such a limited time trying to help them, would be a sign that this therapist is lacking in proper skills and not gifted as advertised. Both Santa and Abby concur on this point.

(As often happens, I read an article in the NYTimes that seems pertinent and wanted to share it with you. It’s helpful that the article provides both sides of therapy and this therapist is loathe to end therapy when she feels there is still much to work on. Importantly, she notes her own failures in treating this patient and hopes to be given another chance to help. Unlike Dr. T, she does not tell the patient that she is an extremely challenging case and she never implies that the situation is hopeless. What Dr. T says is extremely unprofessional, according to both Abby and Santa. To quote Abby: “You do not tell a couple that they are the most challenging case you have ever come across, especially when the therapy has not been successful.  This is very blaming, and in a more sensitive client could induce shame.  It is important to end with something positive, if only with an invitation to return when and if the client feels the need to do so.” Santa adds: “We understand dramatically why she said it — to build suspense about whether they can reconcile — but it’s just dumb.” Having this doctor behave in an obviously grossly unprofessional manner and say something plainly stupid puts in question how Ruth portrayed her originally. Maybe this therapist wasn’t such a good choice after all.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t write anything about how the therapy sessions function as a plot driver. Anytime a particular activity is used repeatedly, it’s worth determining how it contributes to the plot. In this series each episode except for the first one begins with some interaction with Dr. Timoney; therefore, the therapy sessions are given some importance. The key role each session has is to tell us what the episode will be about;  it drives the action. Another way it operates is to get this couple into the car together and spending at least one uninterrupted hour together. On the other hand, the time spent in therapy substitutes for the more valuable use of time during which they could have talked to each other. Dr. T both creates a space where they can express themselves, something they have trouble doing, and interferes with their ability to relate. If she used the time wisely, she could lead to a greater closeness between them. Finally, like any other outsider, Dr. Timoney brings another character into the village and into Martin and Louisa’s lives. She challenges their preconceptions and unites them, even if it is at her expense.

Alternatively, Dr. T is unknown to the town until she crashes her car; Ruth knows of her but they don’t seem to have interacted much based on their coincidental meeting in the pharmacy in E7; and no one other than Morwenna and Ruth knows that Louisa and Martin are seeing her until she tells Sally after her head injury. This time the outsider stays one. Even her departing scene is exceptional because they make a joke of it, although at least they agree.

All in all, we are given a pretty dim view of therapy. Santa states, “As both Abby and I have said, therapy isn’t really all about the presentation of illuminating, penetrating insights by a therapist, but that is the impression that you get.” Indeed, therapy is depicted as unsuccessful and it is the random thoughts of a variety of characters, many of them dimwitted, who appear to be of more value. The art teacher tells her daughter she loves her as she is; Mrs. T makes a few pointed comments about marriage to ME; and Janice tells Louisa she knows Martin better than anyone. Finally, Mrs. Winton conveys the power of love and commitment despite being in a rather crazed state. The message seems to be to trust in the folksy wisdom of people around you rather than in professionals, a position we wouldn’t expect from a team that has been characterizing Martin, and some other doctors, as professional, highly knowledgeable and capable of saving lives.

(Oh, one last thing…we hear Martin advise patients to seek counseling several times throughout the show and that appears contradictory to how therapy has been handled in S7. What good is it to have someone evaluated if you have very little confidence in the process? I’m not sure what to make of that exactly, but his view that Mrs. Tishell would not have been released unless the professionals were sure that she was under control is certainly disproven. By the end of S7, Sally seems to have arrived at some place of acceptance that Clive is who she should be with, but she never stops stalking Martin and making inappropriate comments to him. The evidence against therapy is stronger than that in favor of it.)

 

Originally posted 2016-08-02 09:05:10.

Hello Doc Martin TV show lovers!

Hello all fans of the Doc Martin TV show! I know there are a lot of you out there all over the world and I want to connect with you! I’m starting this blog because I can’t believe that I couldn’t find any site where there was an in-depth discussion about the show. I’d love to get a lively discussion going about all sorts of subjects. Please write comments!!

Originally posted 2013-08-05 15:37:33.

More on British and American TV

As you can probably tell, I haven’t been finding much to write about lately. However, I recently read something in the April 25th issue of The New Yorker magazine, which is “The Entertainment Issue,” that I felt was worth mentioning.

The article I was reading is about the British writer/actor Sharon Horgan and her comedy “Catastrophe” whose second season just began streaming on Amazon. It’s about an Irish woman played by Horgan and an American man played by Rob Delaney. They have “a six-night stand in London, accidentally conceive a child, and then try to make a life together.” Horgan sounds like a dynamo who is filled with ideas and has written several TV shows. Sarah Jessica Parker chose Horgan to write a show for her because she has an “‘affection for the dark, sad, and ridiculous that reveals itself in painful circumstances.'” Apparently Horgan believes funny and grim describes all her work. (Brits prefer the word grim to dark.)

But the part that especially interested me because of the constant debating about whether British TV is better than American TV (especially on Facebook) is when the article gets into the regular exchange of shows between our two countries. To quote the article:

There’s another way to understand what has happened to American comedy in recent years: it has become more British. The hallmark of the British sitcom is a quasi-unbearable protagonist who is an Everyman, only insofar as every man can laugh at him. The unrepentant snob Basil Fawlty, the beastly glamour-pusses Edina and Patsy, the fatuous narcissist Alan Partridge, and the thirsty buffoon David Brent: these classic British characters are all flawed in the unapologetic manner of contemporary edgy American comedies.
U.K. sitcoms tend to be darker than American ones, encouraged by a powerful public broadcasting system whose aim is to serve the varying tastes of taxpayers, not the upbeat preferences of advertisers, and by a national psyche fixated on the immutability of the class system, not on a dream of self-improvement. Americans believe that things will get better. Brits laugh at how things stay the same. To become a hit in the United States, “The Office” not only had to transform the tragic, grating boss into a less tragic, less grating, more well-meaning boss; it had to cast off the message, central to the British original, that work is where you go to waste your life.
Still, trade moves in both directions across the Atlantic. American series frequently air in the U.K. Four years ago, Phil Clarke, the head of Channel 4’s comedy department, felt inspired by the dramatic elements of American series like “Louie” and “Girls,” and set out to commission similarly sophisticated narrative sitcoms. To Clarke, “Catastrophe” is a kind of hybrid, “aping what you did in the States” in terms of mixing drama, comedy, and season-long story lines, “but also plundering some British comedy traditions, mostly of hatred, self-loathing, and repression.”
Horgan’s career reflects the increasingly porous nature of these national styles. “Pulling” is the epitome of the grim British comedy. Two attempts to adapt it for American television failed. “Catastrophe” is a series about two likable characters who do not quite seem so on paper. Based only on a script, it is possible to imagine an interpretation of “Catastrophe” that veers dangerously close to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In the final episode of the new season, Sharon enthusiastically lectures Rob, “Not everyone has to like you. You’re not a puppy. You’re an adult man with a wife. Honest people who tell people how they feel when they feel it have people not like them. O.K.? That’s what I do. I have earned the right to have people dislike me. I am very happy to have people not like me!” (“No shit,” Rob replies.)

“Catastrophe” is a true hybrid with both American and British actors and attests to the fact that TV producers/writers/actors believe both countries make valuable contributions to the medium. The quality works both ways and how the channels operate plays a part in what succeeds. It’s time to stop thinking one is better than the other; they are synergistic.

Originally posted 2016-04-20 18:17:42.

Good Grief! Or Fear, Loss, and Time

Our blog supporter, Santa, has noticed that there is a significant theme of loss running through this show. I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t picked up on that, but now that she has mentioned it, I certainly can see much evidence of it. In the case of Doc Martin, we have to consider the amount of loss, with its concomitant sense of grief in all its forms, as one way it incentivizes us to sympathize with the main protagonist as well as others who experience loss in the show. Although we can identify many characters in this show as having experienced significant losses, I want to focus mostly on Martin Ellingham as a means of investigating how loss is both subliminally and overtly accentuated and most likely forms the basis for how viewers become dedicated to the show. The regular inclusion of the experience of loss impacts viewers emotionally such that they find themselves receptive to the relationship between Martin and Louisa as well as Martin and the town. (I think the idea of loss is cunningly used to also make viewers more likely to tolerate the behavior of other characters in the show too.) As caring people, we are inclined to pity characters who suffer in some way.

Once I started thinking about the occasions of loss in this show, I began to notice that each series contains at least one example of loss for Martin Ellingham. S1: ME arrives in Portwenn after losing his ability to perform surgery. At the same time he has lost his home and his daily routine. S2: ME thinks he has lost his chance to have a relationship with Louisa because Danny has displaced him. Then, when things seem to have gone his way and Danny leaves, he goes one step further and insults Louisa by accusing her of stalking him, curtailing the likelihood of being in a romantic liaison with her. His parents come to visit and he is forced to realize that they never wanted him and they have no respect for him. Therefore, he could be said to have lost any illusion that his parents care about him, although we know he continues to believe his childhood was fairly normal. S3: He subverts his date with Louisa and once again loses her. He manages to win her back, but the series ends with her telling him she doesn’t want to marry him after all and she departs for London. S4: He appears to have lost any chance at reuniting with Louisa, especially after she sees him with Edith when she first returns from London. He certainly loses his chance at a job as a surgeon in London by still being unprepared and by giving it low priority, and then because he changes his mind. S5: Joan dies and he loses the aunt he had a strong attachment to. Once again he loses whatever family harmony they had developed when Louisa leaves after he neglects to consult her one too many times. S6: He loses control over his blood phobia and his emotional stability, and he once again loses any close feelings he’s had with Louisa as he sinks into depression. S7: He loses his home and his hope for recuperating his marriage. His concern for Ruth and effort to prevent her from leaving by rushing to the train station shows how much she means to him and that her departure would mean another loss for him.

In general the losses he suffers are ones most associated with family, either his childhood and his interactions with his parents or the times when he tries to create a family of his own. We can even link his original onset of haemophobia and his consequent departure from surgery to family in that the reason he could not perform surgery was the realization that a family and a real person were involved. Edith and he had been engaged at one time only to have her terminate the relationship; now Louisa has become his love interest, but their efforts to connect are cut off over and over again. We could say that ME longs for the family he never had.

We can start with the loss of his childhood, which may have begun immediately after his birth. We know his mother rejected him at the outset, that he was treated harshly from an early age including punishment by being locked in small spaces, that he was sent away to school at age 6 3/4, and that he wet his pants until he was 11. We are pretty sure he got no affection from his parents, and Ruth has noted that he went from an active and engaging little boy until the age of 4 to a withdrawn and quiet young boy thereafter.

They’ve made so much of his childhood and his summer stays with Aunt Joan that we can hardly ignore their effort to make a connection between those circumstances and how he behaves as an adult. However, what seems to be at the core of all of these scenes during which we either see or hear about what went on in the Ellingham family is they were all fundamentally rejected by their parents. We especially gain some insight into Ruth’s childhood when she first tells Louisa that her childhood “gifted her with a chronic case of social awkwardness…distant mother, overbearing father, a succession of quasi-sexual encounters at a very young age” and a tendency to alienate or overshare. Later she mentions that she was never allowed to call her father “Daddy.” That must have been true for Joan and Christopher too. Furthermore, both Joan and Christopher have had troubled marriages. Joan went the route of an extramarital affair while Christopher simply spurned his wife. Among the three siblings, there is only one child, Martin. Kind of says a lot right there! On the other hand, if Martin had a cousin that would have complicated the story unnecessarily. This way we have parents who rejected him, an aunt who loved him but whose influence was limited due to his parents and their Victorian ideas, and another aunt who is equally unemotional and repressed as he is but can relate to him on a professional level. Later Ruth becomes more personal and more protective of him, but by then he is in his forties. Whatever contact he had with his extended family involved losses — loss of summers with Joan and lack of regular interaction with Ruth.

As a result of all of the information we’ve been given about Martin and the Ellingham family, I think we have to put some thought into how loss in this show is heavily placed on family and parental rejection. Therefore, rather than look at loss from the perspective of death, despite death being a factor here too, I want to introduce a different angle from all the theories related to death and dying.

The theory that has really intrigued me is that of Ronald P. Rohner, professor Emeritus of Family Studies and Anthropology at the University of Connecticut. He has developed the PARENTAL ACCEPTANCE-REJECTION THEORY or PART which grew out of cross-cultural studies he’s done to determine how children cope with parental rejection. In an article entitled “Introduction to IPARTheory,” several pertinent statements stand out beginning with “many rejected persons close off emotionally in an effort to protect themselves from the hurt of further rejection. That is, they become less emotionally responsive. In so doing they often have problems being able or willing to express love and in knowing how to or even being capable of accepting it from others.” We have certainly seen ME protect himself by using distancing methods like medical speak or inappropriate comments. He rarely leaves himself open to accepting expressions of concern or love from others. Aunt Joan can grab a hug now and then, but Martin is usually very uncomfortable with it. And any time Louisa tries to demonstrate her feelings for him, he is quite edgy or embarrassed. (As always I want to remember that much of his behavior is meant to be funny, and it makes us laugh to hear him make remarks that are clearly so off-putting. Here I’m just trying to apply some rational thinking to it as well.)

The article also notes that “insofar as children and adults feel their attachment figures don’t love them, they are likely to feel they are unlovable, perhaps unworthy of being loved.” In addition, this research asserts that “rejected individuals develop a fear of intimacy.” This exact sentiment seems to get played out when Martin is told by Ruth that he doesn’t think he deserves Louisa and when Martin is unable to confide in Louisa. (Adult attachment figures are usually romantic relationships. In 1987, “Hazan and Shaver argued that adult romantic relationships, like infant-caregiver relationships, are attachments, and that romantic love is a property of the attachment behavioral system, as well as the motivational systems that give rise to caregiving and sexuality.” (A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research by R. Chris Fraley | University of Illinois))

Martin seems to have carried over his childhood attachment issues into adulthood, which is not always likely to happen. Studies also quoted in the above overview note “attachment styles in the child-parent domain and attachment styles in the romantic relationship domain are only moderately related at best.” I cannot expect that the writers of this show would have looked up any of this and simply may have made an educated guess that Martin’s experiences in childhood would lead to having problems with attachment in adulthood. Regardless of the exact conditions, Martin and Louisa’s rocky love life is connected to their childhoods and their relationships with their parents. The loss and recovery dynamic they go through time and again could easily be associated with their latent insecurities due to their perceived rejection during their childhoods.

That the Doc Martin writers, et. al. planned for the members of the Ellingham family to show signs of suffering from these sorts of repercussions is unlikely; however, we can retrospectively observe how some of their behavior fits the theory. (My personal position is that much of the development of these characters comes post-hoc. They started with the irony of a surgeon who can’t perform surgery due to the sudden onset of a blood phobia, and who moves to Portwenn to be near his aunt with whom he spent several nice summers, and who is skittish about fitting in. After the first series, they realized his behavior needed some sort of origin and bringing in the family would add conflict as well as more sympathy for him.)

All of the older Ellingham generation show different levels of coping skills. Martin’s behavior has some signs of Asperger’s, but PARTheory points out an alternative diagnosis: reaction to being rejected. More than anything, however, the Ellinghams are a family in which loss plays a significant role and they have compounded the losses encountered by Christopher, Joan, and Ruth by passing those on to Martin. The family heritage is filled with doctors along with emotionless misfits.

Martin does suffer some loss through death too. The biggest blow would have been from Joan’s sudden death. He may try to comfort himself by judging her age as within expectations for lifespan, but she was the only source of affection for him apart from Louisa. Although she is replaced by Aunt Ruth fairly quickly, Joan had been the one member of his family who had had some history with him. Her death leaves him more than ever in search of a family circle. It isn’t long before he abruptly learns about his father’s death. In both cases, Martin is given no time to adjust to the news. The loss of his father intensifies the loss of control he feels from the return of his haemophobia and he retreats even farther into his protective cocoon. Nevertheless, even when he is in the doldrums in S6, he considers his family to consist of his wife, his son, and Ruth. That he essentially chases Louisa away and finds himself alone again after she leaves for Spain with James, accentuates the losses he has engendered in his life.

Whenever there is loss, it is usually accompanied by grief, or a grieving process. The stoic in Martin Ellingham never exhibits much behavior associated with grief with the exception of the scene following the concert date when Louisa decides to end their dating, and some scenes in S6, e.g. when he sits in the car with James while Louisa is in the hospital and again when he becomes tearful after the operation on Louisa. In those two occasions his emotions get the better of him and we are intended to empathize with the pain he experiences from knowing that he has come close to losing Louisa. The sight of ME struggling with his feelings pulls at our heartstrings, and it may be the best reason to have taken such a dramatic turn in S6.

I have already mentioned Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her 5 stages of grief in a previous post. She expressed her theory in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying. The five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are self-explanatory I think, and we should keep in mind that not everyone goes through each stage and the stages may be experienced in a different order. They were primarily developed for people who had been given a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Her theory has been supported by other studies, but, not surprisingly, there also have been studies that have modified it or come to other conclusions. George Bonanno argues there are four trajectories of grief: resilience, recovery, chronic dysfunction, delayed grief or trauma. And Susan Berger, Ed.D., LICSW, has identified 5 ways we grieve. In her model there are nomads, memorialists, normalizers, activists and seekers. I think both of these theories can add dimension to our basic understanding of grief.

Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, did his work in the early 2000s. He’s credited with using scientific studies to support his theories and with replacing older notions about grief with the demonstration that most people exhibit a lot of resilience following a loss. Resilience surfaces even when people face extreme stressors or losses, which contradicts the stages model of grief. His article “Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience” explains his theory.

Following the loss of control over his haemophobia, Martin’s ability to handle the arrival of his mother is compromised. Her news of his father’s death, and her imposition on their home life, are rather traumatic. Due to the adjustments Martin has had to make to having a wife and child, perhaps his depression is more like PTSD and that’s why it doesn’t last into S7. (Admittedly, I am groping here, but it’s fun to speculate.)

Berger notes that most people fall into the category of nomads, and Martin could easily fit into that group. We could also make a case for him as a “normalizer.” He doesn’t have many friends, but he has decided to emphasize family first and then the community, mostly consisting of Morwenna, and possibly Penhale and Mrs. Tishell. They all contribute to returning his life to its former state.

Other losses registered in this show are:

  • Louisa essentially has lost her mother and father during childhood. She has lost her job in Portwenn and in London. She has felt the loss of having the occasional closeness she has gotten from Martin. So many times he’s told her he can’t bear to live without her, he loves her and will always love her, he thinks she’s beautiful and a caring mother, etc. However, he has also shut her out time and again, treated her disrespectfully, and embarrassed her in front of others. He’s also shunned many of her efforts to be affectionate. She can’t help but be confused and disoriented by his erratic behavior towards her.
  • Joan has lost her association with Martin when he was a child. She’s lost her husband and her relationship with her brother is very strained. She is on the verge of losing her farm and possibly her car/driving privileges. The loss of her farm would be devastating to her. Some of her friends have died and her lover, John Slater, is terminally ill. She’s a fighter, but her life has been very tough.
  • Ruth has never had much of a family life and her attachments to siblings appears fragile. Moving to Portwenn has meant losing her life in London and her professional interactions. At least she takes trips back to London to refresh herself from time to time. She has probably gained a few things too. She has never had as close a relationship with a relative until she establishes herself near Martin, and this has led to becoming close to Louisa and others in the town. But her constant refrain is that she isn’t ready to stop working, and continuing to work now means traveling. By the end of S7, we see a Ruth who may be thinking of being more active at the B&B rather than attending more conferences.
  • Bert has lost his wife and then his fiancée, and now he’s lost his home. He flits from job to job with little attachment to any of them — perhaps until this new plan of making whiskey. His most recent venture, the restaurant, has had many ups and downs until failure finally overtakes it.
  • Mrs. Tishell has lost her dignity and her mind. Her husband’s long absences mean that she is alone much of the time and she doesn’t seem to have any friends.
  • Al struggles to find his way. He’s lost his mother, although his father did a good job of filling that void. He’s abandoned many ideas and he’s lost in love. He may now have lost his independence from his father.
  • Penhale has lost his wife, his brother, and has a lonely existence. This new attraction to Janice seems pretty pathetic and destined to go nowhere. Once we hear that she’s been married 3 times at such a young age, we can’t expect anything reliable to come of her potential romance with Joe.
  • Many townspeople have lost much. There are many broken families, and several have had deaths in their families.

All in all, for a comedy/dramedy, we have a lot of loss in this show. It’s fascinating to consider how they have managed to make us laugh while depicting characters with so much deprivation. It does make for a show with an undercurrent of misfortune that I would speculate causes viewers to feel closer to the characters. At the same time, the tribulations are varied enough and often arise from such zany circumstances that we can’t help but find them funny. Bert’s restaurant certainly made me think twice before eating out!!

 

 

 

Originally posted 2016-03-18 16:10:42.

Professional Opinion v. Folk Wisdom

After writing so much about the poor representation of professional therapy in S7, I want to say something about how Doc Martin weighs in on the reliability of professional advice as opposed to that of all sorts of other people in Portwenn. Part of the problem with making such distinctions is that there could be many reasons why those decisions were made by the powers that be. I think that one very likely reason is that Martin Ellingham’s skills need to be differentiated from the other professionals. His medical knowledge is supposed to appear superior to any other doctor or nurse.  As a result we see him berate and humiliate other doctors and nurses. One reason we may see various residents of Portwenn make comments to him (and Louisa) is that small towns are like that. His neighbors can hear the baby cry or they quickly know about any altercation. Many times Louisa finds out about something Martin did by hearing from someone in town. He’s a prominent person in the town and eventually becomes a part of life in Portwenn. The townspeople begin to offer unsolicited advice as a way to reassure him even when they ought to be aware that he won’t be very appreciative of it. Indeed, that adds to the humor — his general irritation with anyone giving him advice is only further evidence that he is abrasive and unwelcoming. So, we recognize how the advice coming from either professionals or non-professionals works as an integral part of the character development and plot. On the other hand, the preponderance of examples of really clumsy, deficient, and blundering professionals seems to me to demonstrate a bias against professionals. Meanwhile, the number of times we can point to when non-professionals provide insightful and meaningful counseling also gives us pause and makes us wonder if the position of the show is that professionals are suspect and should rarely be respected, and regular folks, the uneducated but replete with life experience types, are the ones to listen to.

The show has included a fairly large number of medical professionals throughout the years, and when you look at them, most are quite incompetent. Among the doctors who can be listed as questionable are Adrian Pitts (S1), Dr. Milligan (S4), Diana Dibbs (S5), Colin Westmore (S6), and the doctor who treats Louisa after her car accident (S6). Adrian is the pits with an even worse bedside manner and attitude than Doc Martin and an insulting treatment of his female coworkers. Dr. Milligan (who may be either a psychiatrist or a psychologist) seems lost and has transgressed patient confidentiality by talking to Edith about Martin and admitting to accepting her suggestions. Diana Dibbs is clearly an anxious mess who abuses drugs, unethically shares her drugs with patients, writes prescriptions without proper examinations, and doesn’t realize she has Cushing’s disease. Colin Westmore is obviously out of his league and much too novice and hesitant for anyone to have confidence in his abilities as a surgeon. The doctor with no name who treats Louisa has neglected to check her adequately and is unaware that she has a DVT, which can be life threatening. (Dr. Timoney in S7 is definitely not a medical doctor; however, like Dr. Milligan, she is quite lacking in therapeutic skills and struggles to deal with marital problems. She eventually divulges confidential information and acts unstable.)

We should put Edith in this category as well because as much as she appears knowledgable about her field, she misses the diagnosis of diverticulitis and would have rushed into unnecessary surgery with little compunction. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, she also unethically asks Louisa about her sex life when gestation age is determined by a woman’s last menstrual period not when she last had sex. In fact, her sleazy demeanor while undermining Louisa to Martin makes her appear petty and disturbingly unscrupulous.

Then there are the other professionals, e.g. the Vicar, the Constable, the Chemist, and the Doctor’s Friend. Most of these are also depicted as compromised in some way. I appreciate the humor, of course, but still it’s hard to overlook the general tendency to denigrate the professionals. The Vicar is a drunkard, both Constables have major hangups: Mark is very insecure while Joe has been phobic and is buffoonish, the Chemist has her Martin obsession and medicates herself to the point of psychosis, and the Doctor’s Friend…well, he’s about as unctuous and repellent as possible. Louisa easily catches him distorting his negative appraisal of Martin with opinions from suspect residents of Portwenn.

In addition, we are presented with a group who we could consider professional, but who occupy a sort of grey area between actual professionals in their fields and pseudo-medical professionals. This list includes people like Sandra Mylow, the Herbalist, Anthony Oakwood, a research psychologist, Janet Sawle, a scientist, Molly O’Brien, the midwife, and Angela Sim, the veterinarian. They are in fields related to medicine and consider themselves qualified to make medical recommendations; however, we find their training and expertise lacking. Sandra earns Martin’s disdain when she willingly provides potions for people she’s never met, not to mention the fact that he considers her type of medical care akin to trickery. Anthony Oakwood is arrogant and his study of psychology is belittled when he excuses his son’s behavior with the jargon of a researcher rather than a parent. He’s the stereotype of a pedant and stunningly out of touch with reality. (We might have thought Martin’s tendency to be engrossed in medical journals and medical terminology could have ended up giving them something in common, but Martin has no respect for this egotistical Ph.D.) Janet Sawle is presented as a mad scientist concocting who knows what in her basement, and Molly O’Brien takes extreme positions about women’s health. Once again she’s a caricature of a midwife with few redeeming characteristics. It doesn’t take long for Louisa to dispense with her once she needs real medical care for a UTI. (There was a point during this scene when I thought “they” were making fun of the serious scenes between Martin and Julie Graham when Julie plays a midwife in William and Mary and gives birth to her baby in a birthing tub.) And, finally, who can take a homeopathic veterinarian seriously? Not only is it patently absurd that anyone can understand dogs by running their hands over their bodies and sensing a deep connection with them, but also she medicates herself with dog medication and becomes hallucinatory. I guess we could say she learned her approach to medicine from her father, who, by the way, is also remembered as mostly incompetent. His best treatment plan was giving Stewart placebos for his PTSD.

All of the above might be considered credentialed in some form and, therefore, people from whom we might expect unsolicited advice. Oddly enough, however, there isn’t much worthwhile advice emanating from the professionals listed above. For the most part the doctors with whom Martin interacts need his advice and have nothing much to say that might help him. The two medical doctors who stand out from this crowd of relative losers are Edith and Ruth. Edith focuses on Martin’s blood phobia and seems determined to rid him of it so that he can move back to London. Her motive Is mostly selfish because she wants to reignite a romance with him; nevertheless, she is helpful in confronting the phobia. What she suggests doesn’t work, but at least she gives it a whirl. She also tries to discourage Martin from losing heart about leaving Portwenn by telling him he’ll feel much better once he gets to London. (Of course this takes place after he has been pretty forthright about not wanting to be with her and she is unwilling to accept that.) Ruth is another matter. As both an aunt and a doctor, she tries to balance her medical advice with personal concern for him. She seems unconvinced at first that marriage is a good choice, although she does what she can to get the marriage off to a good start. She recommends seeking therapy to conquer his blood phobia in S6, does her best to get rid of Margaret, who she knows could only be there to cause trouble, and she continually tries to smooth things with Louisa. In S7 she finds a therapist she believes will be a good fit for him, convinces Louisa to participate in the therapy sessions, and checks in from time to time to see how he’s doing.  Of the medical professionals, she is the only one who offers useful advice even if we later decide that her suggestion of Dr. Timoney turns out to be a bust. Although she says a few contradictory things about whether people can change, I think her best advice comes when Martin is desperate for some guidance after Louisa leaves for Spain. Ruth first asks him if he wants to be with Louisa and then answers his affirmative response by telling him he must change and that he will find that harder to do than most. (Ruth gives others some good advice too. She tells Penhale he can attract more friends by being more complimentary; she tells Al to write his own story and stop delaying; and she tells Margaret to leave Martin alone.)

On the other hand, all of the aforementioned pseudo medical professionals have no qualms about giving advice to Martin. Sandra tells him he should consider doing more for his patients than prescribing medicine. Janet Sawle is suspicious of modern medicines and too many antibiotics, although her reservations are complicated by the uneasy relationship she has with her ailing sister. Molly O’Brien expresses popular concerns to Louisa about the overbearing demands of too many male doctors on their female patients and the hazards of using too many antibiotics. Naturally, her advice to ignore Martin’s recommendation to take antibiotics for Louisa’s UTI backfires and Louisa spikes a fever. (Both the Sawle case and Louisa’s condition point out that the fear of antibiotic resistance is sometimes carried to extremes and there are times when antibiotics are necessary.) Moreover, Molly’s portrayal of women being victimized by their male physicians is particularly offensive to Louisa. She considers herself well equipped to handle Martin and her life. Angela Sim’s advice to Martin mostly arrives through the vehicle of Buddy who she channels as if she is a dog psychic. She tells Martin he and Buddy have unresolved issues. In a scene reminiscent of the one with Sandra Mylow in S2, she also tells him he’s small minded because he can’t think outside the box of routine medical treatments. Later she tells him that “Buddy knows how lonely and unhappy you are, and he wants to help you. You must let him into your life. You need Buddy. You need to accept him.” At this point she starts to appear off-kilter, which could be construed as undercutting her advice. While she’s right that Martin is lonely and unhappy and needs help, hearing that from a dubious source will not have much of an impact on Martin.

But what happens throughout each series is many occasions when we have non-professionals who have no hesitation offering their opinions and advice to either Louisa or Martin. These include relatives, employees, patients, and so-called friends. Some stray townspeople jump into the advice business from time to time as well. Top on the list of non-professionals who have their own notions of what Martin should do is Louisa. Aunt Joan never holds back either. Bert can say some remarkably insightful things. Al, all the receptionists, Roger Fenn, John Slater, Muriel Steel, Danny, both Eleanor and Margaret, Mark Mylow, Peter Cronk, William Newcross, Wallace Flynt all give advice at some point. Even the fish monger, neighbor Mike Chubb, the dry cleaner, and caravan owner Bellamy take a turn. We can’t leave out Pippa, Erica Holbrook and Annie Winton either. In fact, the American Tourist has some words of advice for Martin before she leaves.

Louisa’s advice starts at the intake interview to determine whether they should hire Martin Ellingham as the next GP in Portwenn. Before the interview ends, she warns Martin that the Portwenn community prefers a doctor with a good bedside manner and she will be keeping an eye on him. Along the way she encourages him to have a laugh, to be friendlier to Mark Mylow, more talkative, less smarmy, more proactive, and to say something nice to her from time to time. She also wants him to be more involved with James, more interested in participating in her activities, and more sensitive to his family members, e.g. Ruth’s birthday or Margaret’s visit. Her best advice, in my opinion, is that sometimes people are different and that’s what makes us love them. I also like her advice to Martin when he’s planning to turn in Peter Cronk in S7. She becomes the Louisa we’ve known before and wants Martin to consider the impact Peter’s mistakes have already had on him before bringing in someone who follows the rules so strictly as Penhale often does.

Joan is filled with ideas of how Martin should behave. She’s happy to have him living nearby, but still seems to treat him as if he’s a young boy in her care. Since she’s the mother he never had, he allows her a certain latitude that others don’t have. Therefore, he accepts her criticism, judgements, and encouragement along with her casseroles. She wants him to pursue Louisa only to reach the conclusion that they are “chalk and cheese” and can never get along together. Later, when she finds out Louisa is pregnant and Martin is the father, she expects him to take an active role during the pregnancy despite any resistance from Louisa. She also tells him to remain a part of James’ life even if he leaves for London as planned. And during the broadcast of Louisa’s labor and delivery, it’s Joan who cheers him on to express his love for Louisa. She is disappointed in him when he takes too harsh a stand with patients and uses sarcasm on occasion to correct him when she thinks his behavior is out of line, for example when Helen Pratt dies or when Muriel Steel acts demented or when he insults her friend who caters the concert. Joan is by far the most outspoken of his relatives and quick to comfort him as well as to upbraid him. She certainly makes him think about what his next step should be. Her best advice in my book is telling him a child needs a father even if that father is far away. (Joan gives Al great advice too when he’s troubled by whether Bert is his biological father. She reminds Al that Bert has devoted his life to taking care of Al and whether he’s his biological father or not should not matter. We can speculate all we want about why they have Joan give such insightful comments about fathers — her father was awful, her brother is a rotten father, and she is a woman with a big heart — but her advice sets these two men straight.)

Amongst the best advice on the show for me is that given by Bert in S1E1 when he tells Martin “You need patients and we need a doc. Now we don’t all have to love one another, do we?” That comment makes Martin stop and think, and he changes his mind about leaving. Martin learns about the aged when he takes care of Muriel Steel. She dislikes his condescending manner, puts him in his place, and then comes around to realizing that being at a senior citizens facility is actually quite pleasant. Simultaneously, Joan suggests to Martin that it was her fears that had prompted Muriel’s hesitations about moving, and he seems to learn a lot about growing old. I really like Mark Mylow’s comments when his sister is visiting about being stuck dealing with people we don’t like because they are family. I also enjoy the advice Martin hears from the fish monger after Louisa has left him in S5: “No shame in cooking for one…Nobody cares about me. I might as well sit around all day in my “Y” fronts…You just hang on in there Doc. What’s for you won’t go by you.” Again, Martin gives that some thought.

The conversation Martin overhears between Pauline and Al about another couple that “he’s too shy; he’s always waiting for the girl to make the move. He’s always waiting for permission, and when you give him permission, he messes up” functions as advice and leads to Martin changing course with Louisa.

What are we to make of all these sources of advice throughout the show and their place in the storyline? Can we simply dismiss as humorous and irritating the many times when all sorts of people suggest some lesson to be learned to Martin? There are obvious pearls of wisdom mixed in with the random comments we hear. Roger Fenn tells Martin that becoming a parent introduces one to a whole new kind of love; and Erica Holbrook shows him that mothers can adapt and accept their children as they are. Mr. and Mrs. McLynn, Clive and Sally Tishell, and Jim and Annie Winton give us a few good thoughts on commitment and love. When we look back over the 7 series, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that they are making the point that each of us have life experiences that teach us more than any insights we can learn from professionals. After surveying the characters from all 7 series, the evidence seems pretty clear that the doctors come out badly. With the exception of Martin and Ruth Ellingham, the doctors give deficient to awful advice, have generally terrible attitudes towards their patients, and are treated as inexperienced and often poorly trained.

Expert advice isn’t always reliable and over time the experts reassess and may change their positions. However, if the expert advice tends to be given by inferior figures, we can’t really consider that a fair representation. Homespun wisdom isn’t always wrong either, but I balk at a 26 year old woman who has been married 3 times already guiding Louisa in any way. It’s funny, but once again undercuts the show’s generally positive appraisal of lay people’s advice.

If nothing else, this exercise has given me a reason to recap some of my favorite dialogue. I’m sure I’ve missed some of the moments you’ve liked the most. I look forward to hearing from you on this topic.

Originally posted 2016-03-03 18:12:38.

Children’s Fascination with Death

I am planning to write a post on another subject very soon. It is taking me longer than I’d like because at the moment I am preparing to give a lecture on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, which is a very hard book to distill into an hour long talk.

Anyway, my husband and I spent a half hour in our 6 yo grandson’s kindergarten class last Friday trying to impart some information about the brain. We brought a plastic model of the brain that we could split into two parts, like the two hemispheres of the brain, and we brought the wires that are used to capture the electrical impulses of the brain on an EEG. We thought we’d have a discussion of how our bodies, and especially our brains, operate by the use of electricity contained in our brain and nerves.

They had heard from other parents/grandparents about the heart and circulatory system, and remembered a huge amount about that.

My husband, the neurologist, told them that the brain controls everything in the body. After a series of questions about whether the brain controls our blood, and our fingers, and legs, and…their teacher said everything means everything. What happened next, however, just stunned us. First one 5 yo asked what caused his grandmother’s face to look so crooked as he scrunched up his face to mimic hers. My husband did his best to explain in a very basic way what might have happened to her. But then several kids wanted to know if it’s the brain that stops when we die.

We were bombarded with questions about death for the rest of our stay to the point that I wondered whether we could talk about a less morbid topic, like how fast the brain processes sensations like touch, or whatever. The teacher rescued us by saying time was up, but I came away impressed with how fixated on death these kids were. Next I thought about the brief scene during the school trip in S7 in which Barney keeps asking whether his classmate is going to die.

I know that kids come face to face with death when a pet dies, or when they see a dead animal on the road, or when a family member dies, but I was not expecting the deep fascination with death I encountered in that classroom. Although Barney’s constant return to the question of whether his classmate is dead, or will die, was probably nothing more than another oddball part of the scene that has ME once again pushing little kids around while also once again saving someone’s life, it also exemplifies the preoccupation with death that children have. Barney and his classmates are much older than my grandson and his classmates, but that preoccupation clearly starts early in some cases.

It turned out that there was a death in one of the children’s family that precipitated their questions in the kindergarten class, but it was quite an eye opener for us. Kids say the darnedest things, as Art Linkletter once remarked.

Originally posted 2016-02-21 09:59:00.

What about Buddy?

In talking about Farce I realized I left out an important character — Buddy! His role in this show is so similar to the role of Bob in the 1991 comedy film What About Bob? that I just had to write something about the dog. Plus, we need to lighten up this blog!

If you’ve seen the film, you know that Bob (played by Bill Murray) is an obsessive patient who his psychiatrist (played by Richard Dreyfuss) cannot shake. Like Buddy, nothing Dr. Leo Marvin does can stop Bob from reappearing, including something he calls “death therapy,” or taking Bob to the woods and wrapping explosives around him with the express purpose of blowing him up. Of course, Bob escapes. But Bob never stops coming back and driving Dr. Marvin nuts. He never takes the “hint.” (BTW, that film is very funny and worth seeing.)

In Doc Martin we could call Buddy ME’s nemesis if we use its original meaning: “distributor of fortune, neither good nor bad, simply in due proportion to each according to what was deserved.” In mythology she is an avenging and punishing power of fate. Another meaning is “the just balancer of Fortune’s chance…and the punisher of hubris.” Nemesis is also “one from whom there is no escape.”

I am not going to make too much of this connection other than to say that Buddy fits the notion of the avenging and punishing power of fate by having landed in Joan’s possession. Once Joan brings him to Martin’s home (first where Louisa was living and then at the surgery) and he is introduced to Martin, the little dog gets attached to him. There is no escape.

We can attribute Buddy with all sorts of meanings, e.g. loyalty, determination, tolerance, doggedness. But maybe we should just think of Buddy as a cute ball of fur that is a constant irritant that never stops irritating. In S7 somehow Buddy manages to find his way into the back seat of the car and into ME’s cottage bedroom; he’s also constantly underfoot. We have no idea where he lives now and he surfaces mainly when Martin is nearby. He, too, has taken on a farcical nature. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Buddy as frequently in previous series as we do in S7, and no matter what the circumstance, Buddy avoids all efforts to discourage him.

The dogs have all been used for humor in this show, including the Yorkshire owned by Mrs. Wilson, and the German Shepherds owned by the Flints and, in this series, the Wintons. This time, however, Buddy’s strong attachment to Martin becomes a fixation. Anyone with a dog always craving so much attention would become fed up, especially since the dog is of no help whatsoever. He manages to find Martin at the Wintons, but disappears never to be seen again. He catches up with Martin only to be dropped from the rest of the action. I don’t think there’s a hidden message in how Buddy’s role plays out; he’s just completed his purpose in the series — a nuisance sprinkled with a soupçon of devotion.

Originally posted 2016-02-12 15:26:25.

Farce

In deference to one of my most loyal readers and commenters, Santa, I am writing this post to explain why I have started calling Doc Martin a farce. The actual designation I had suggested we should use previously was dramedy, and I have written a long post about why this show satisfies that label. For the first five series, maybe five and a half, I was under the impression that this show was written to reveal truths about the human condition through the application of dramatic events couched in comedy. By the end of series 6, much of the comedy was gone, and the show had taken a turn towards drama, especially in terms of the relationship between its two main characters, Martin and Louisa. Now that we’ve completed series 7, I think the show has taken another turn, this times towards farce. It has had elements of farce in previous series too.

Farce is merely a sub-genre of comedy. Classical farce created comedy out of the most basic human impulses–the desire for pleasure and the fear of pain. It is often defined as a light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot settings, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect. Today’s farcical playwrights create exaggerated characters and place them in ridiculous situations.

What is an exaggerated character? The two standouts in Doc Martin are Mrs. Tishell and P.C. Penhale. Mrs. Tishell is a chemist who takes her profession seriously, but her obsession with Martin overshadows anything to do with her conduct in her place of business. Once he walks through the door or passes anywhere near her window, she quickly expands into slapstick behavior and overstated facial and physical expressions. She gets her face much too close to Martin’s, acts as though they have a special connection, and makes a fool of herself regularly. The whole town has now reached the conclusion that she’s a “nutter.” Penhale, the constable, is also more of a stereotypical Keystone Kop who takes the least prudent route to solve a problem. He often bumps into people and things in his zeal to catch up to Martin or someone else. He is obviously incapable of recognizing the meaning of what others are saying to him, at least at first, and he acts without thinking, often finding himself in awkward positions. There’s an intruder in the house? Run around the back and jump through a window, falling on his face in the process. Everyone’s trying to find an abducted baby — climb up to look in the window just as there is progress being made to rescue the baby. In S7, he runs after a carriage as an heroic effort only to discover there’s no baby in the carriage; or, he climbs in a window Martin is trying to use to escape then finds his taser is useless. As Ruth asks Martin in one episode, “Is he really a police officer?” We get the same sentiment from Louisa in S7E8 when she tells Penhale directly that they need to call the police, the real police.

Obviously Martin Ellingham is also exaggerated. His stick straight posture coupled with his uniform of suit and tie under all circumstances, his tendency to shout at Morwenna or patients in the reception area, and his overall confused demeanor are signals that this is not a typical man. His clumsiness is meant to accentuate his awkwardness, but adds to the slapstick nature of his behavior. He pours wine on himself, gets wet on numerous occasions (in his suit of course), and slips and falls regularly. He has been known to find himself in ridiculous situations, e.g. in the woods without a shoe accompanied by a psychotic park ranger, or rappelling down a cliffside to reach a patient. In this series, the boat rescue has him jumping into the water wearing his suit again, looking for a missing child in the woods where he walks through water again, falling and slipping in mud, and being chased by a dog after trying to put the car into a skid as if he’s some sort of secret agent or something. Another exaggerated reaction is when he places his hand on his heart and looks completely shocked by Louisa appearing in her bathrobe, or by Mrs. Winton pointing her gun at him, or when Mrs. Tishell appears at his front door. The very repetition of that gesture tells us it’s slapstick.

In S7 we also have Angela Sim, whose behavior is extreme in several scenes; Danny, who plays the guitar rather than search for a missing boy under his care, or who regularly invokes the Lord; and Erica Holbrook who staples students’ beloved stuffed animals to a board and tells them they’ll get over their marked sadness, or faints several times. Even Dr. Timoney could be considered extreme in that she’s very impersonal at first, never actually tries to probe Martin and Louisa’s difficulties, and then becomes loopy after hitting her head while careening down the narrow streets of Portwenn. To me these are all cartoonish characters whose primary purpose is to appear ridiculous.

Janice, the new child minder, is another case. Although she seems to do a decent job with James, she is quite a ditz and our first introduction to her makes clear that she is. She enters the kitchen and asks which one of them is James. Even a ditz should find it easy to identify the child! She acts rather childish herself for the most part, although we see some signs of actual thoughtfulness on occasion. Still, the overall impression of her is that she looks ridiculous and acts ridiculous.

By the time we reach the final episode, which, if you read this blog, you know I considered very cartoonish, I was having trouble taking anything very seriously. Was Mrs. Winton ever going to shoot Martin? No. Ruth is the only one who actually shoots the rifle, and when that happens, her reaction is also exaggerated, especially for her.

Identifying a comedy as a farce is not a slur. If you check the list of television shows considered farces on the Wikipedia site, you’ll see many of the best shows ever on it: Seinfeld, Frasier, I Love Lucy, Hogan’s Heroes, Night Court, and many others. However, noticing all these farcical features of Doc Martin has made me arrive at a different place in regard to how seriously they want us to examine this show. Their message seems to be that S6 got too solemn and now we’re just going to have fun, string out Martin and Louisa’s reunification, and be a source of entertainment. We (that is, all of us dedicated fans) just have to adjust our thinking and reach a level of acceptance commensurate with Louisa’s.

Originally posted 2016-02-09 12:04:31.

People Make Mistakes

In this post I want to look at the main characters and determine who has grown, or changed (which has been the operative word in this series), and who has shown almost no development throughout the show. I am not necessarily arguing that each character should change, or that a dramedy is built on characters changing and developing, but since we’ve had the matter of whether people can change surface numerous times throughout the years, I think it’s worth looking at the key figures for signs of change. (Here we go again…the topic of change and a long post. I am guilty of being longwinded!)

Our core ensemble consists of Martin, Louisa, Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, Bert, Al, Morwenna, and Joe Penhale. I think we’ve spent enough time discussing whether Martin can change, has changed, should change, doesn’t need to change, etc., etc. We’ve spent some time on Louisa too, although we might want to linger a bit longer on her. However, we have hardly touched on the other characters, and it seems fitting that we look at them.

Ruth is someone who has been a curiosity for some time. We’ve mentioned that she equivocates about whether people can change. At one point she tells Louisa people don’t change; at another point she tells Al that he writes his own story and he’s in charge of his life, and then she tells Martin that if he wants Louisa to stay with him, he’ll have to change. She acts convinced that he can make the necessary changes. Furthermore, as I’ve written in the past, as a psychiatrist, she must be convinced that people can change. It might take some medication combined with therapy to institute change, but there would be no value in working with the criminally insane if one had no hope they could change.

How does Ruth behave in terms of change in her own life?

  • The most significant change for Ruth has been moving to Portwenn from London, but London isn’t totally out of her system yet. She returns to London regularly and in S7 she considers taking a job in London. We never hear of any friends or colleagues in London, and she has family and friends in Portwenn, but Ruth is very much a loner. Her supposed propensity to share too much is rarely in evidence. (Perhaps the one time she could be said to have done this is when she mentions the christening date to Louisa. But she would have expected Martin to have made those arrangements with Louisa. She also offers some advice about boarding schools despite the apparent difference of opinion about them between Martin and Louisa.)
  • She learns to do things around the farm, but hires Al for most of the work. At one point she serves a chicken for dinner and divulges that she killed it when she ran over it (something that would be unlikely to happen in London). In S7 she grabs a mouse without hesitation. She has fended off two intruders on her property:  former patient Robert Campbell, and next door neighbor Michael. Both are armed, yet Ruth is calm under pressure. Presumably working with the criminally insane has given her good preparation for these events. Although we haven’t heard of anything like this happening in London, we have to expect Ruth is pretty self-sufficient, both in London and in Portwenn. Nevertheless, the second intrusion shakes her up a bit and she moves into town.
  • She is often in denial about her own medical conditions, or hates to admit she has any problems. This trait continues through S7 when she neglects to mention the symptoms of Polymyalgia and Giant Cell Arteritis just as she had before when she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s.
  • Work is important to Ruth. When she moves to Portwenn, she writes a book. As time passes, she continues to work and often protests that she wants to keep working despite aging. She is often called on to consult and in S7 delivers a paper at a forensics meeting. However, her recommendation of Dr. Timoney ends up being a dubious choice.
  • Ruth accepts being in a small town means being questioned on the radio and dealing with goofy constable and cantankerous neighbor in town. Her willingness to agree to being put on the spot by Caroline shows some modification of her behavior to suit her location. She is usually quick with advice to her in town neighbor Mr. Moysey, to Penhale, and to Martin and Louisa. Unlike her sister Joan, though, Ruth usually waits to be asked before dispensing her opinion. (One of the few times when she decides to take action without being asked is with Margaret. The scene with Ruth and Margaret is phenomenal and we’d like to see more of that.)

During S7 Ruth had much less than expected interaction with either Martin or Louisa and much more with Bert. I, for one, thought she would once again be the voice of reason who sets one or both of them straight. When S7 begins, we see Martin desperately appeal to her for help with getting Louisa back and she helps by referring him to Dr. Timoney. Later she convinces Louisa to attend the therapy sessions. Otherwise there is only one other point at which Ruth participates in their efforts to reunite: when she asks Martin how things are going as they walk to the birthday party. Here she is doing something slightly out of character by bringing an elaborate birthday cake to the party, and Martin expresses serious doubts as to how much progress they’ve been making. Nevertheless, her advice is fairly minimal. As she did with Margaret, I would have loved to have seen Ruth confront Louisa to ask what she wants from Martin. If Dr. T wasn’t going to handle that in therapy, then by all means give that job to Ruth.

Instead, what we see in S7 is a Ruth who is trying to manage her own life more than be a source of comfort and guidance to Martin and Louisa. Her interactions with Bert show her equivocating again, but this time it’s about Bert staying on her property and distilling whiskey. Ultimately, Ruth appears to decide that the only way the B&B with Al is going to be profitable is if they can offer a specialty whiskey along with fishing trips. Whatever research she did to confirm Al’s numbers that fishing will bring in lodgers has been supplanted by Ruth’s new affirmation of liquor, an activity I would have never guessed she would support.

So has Ruth changed? Well, she has adapted to living in a small town with all the lack of dirt and noise, but with the unavoidable interactions with the townspeople. Her life is now filled with country living intrusions like unsophisticated radio talk show hosts, preparing freshly killed chickens, and helping with family affairs (babysitting, dealing with Margaret, birthday cakes). Otherwise she continues to be an independent woman trying hard to fend off the aging process and any tolerance for slowing down. Martin still seeks her out as a person he can talk to, but rather infrequently, and I had the sense that Ruth’s concerns about being marginalized in her old age were justified based on her role in S7. (I felt Eileen Atkins’ vast acting ability was underused in S7 and she was given very few opportunities to showcase her skills.)

The next most important members of the ensemble are Bert and Al. Sadly, neither of them have been able to shake their typical behavior patterns. Bert can’t make a success out of the restaurant no matter what promotional events he tries, his love life falls apart, and his newest idea of making whiskey seems doomed too. Al can’t catch a break. He always needs to fall back on the help of his friends in the community and his father. The fishing/B&B venture seemed headed for some vindication of his abilities, which are primarily centered on working with his hands, assisting others, and being a nice guy. But he’s not afforded much of a triumph in this series, and he finds himself back in the same rut he’s been in all of his adult life.

The one poignant scene they give Bert and Al is after Al finds Bert in his camper van out on a hillside. Al rightly expresses surprise that Bert continues to have an optimistic outlook on life after all his recent losses. He sees the Large men as failures, but Bert looks at the world through the lens of “things could be worse.” We have to admit that one advantage of living in the country is being able to view the expanse of earth, sky and sea from where they sit. From that position there are infinite possibilities, and with a few nips from his flask, Bert is ready for new challenges — or so he says at the time. Of course, once reality sets in and he finds his best source of income would be to be a plumber/handyman again, his outlook isn’t so rosy anymore.

By the end of the series, Bert’s optimism has been rewarded and he’s ready to establish a new franchise with his name on it. “Seldom right, but never in doubt.” He hasn’t changed, doesn’t want to change, and probably never will. Al hasn’t changed despite trying, and his prospects of change are dim. He better get used to working with his Dad if he’s going to stay in Portwenn.

Joe Penhale is also quite stagnant as a character. He’s overcome his initial psychological disorders of narcolepsy and agoraphobia (and possibly acrophobia) fairly easily (which probably means they reconsidered those as worth continuing and decided against them). He’s mostly dense, or unable to clearly decipher what others are saying to him, with some exceptions. He wants to be seen as a figure of authority without really earning it, but he’s a nice guy and does his best to help when people find themselves in a pinch. His personal life is relatively lacking even though he has been married. Since appearing on the show in S3, Joe has consistently retained his mixture of inept policing coupled with a desire to befriend everyone. He is basically a static and stock character, and, as such, can be counted on to stay the same.

The final 3 characters we should look at are the women, Mrs. Tishell, Morwenna, and Louisa. At first blush Mrs. T seems to be rather static too. Throughout the length of the show her most prominent attributes have been her neck collar and her obsession with Martin. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot rid herself of either of these. When ME first arrived in Portwenn, it was amusing to think any woman would be consumed by an attraction to him. His behavior was anything but appealing. In time her obsession became a personality tick, and then it became utterly grating. But still it persisted. In S7 Mrs. T is back to her usual excessive self, overly obsequious and accosting Martin at every opportunity. However, when Clive returns and is so apologetic and contrite, Sally reconsiders. We finally see her modify her behavior a bit, although even in the final episode she is still hovering around Martin’s front door, neck collar in place, ready to pounce. She’s done a little evolving, but we can’t yet call it a major shift.

Morwenna may be one of the most changed characters. Our introduction to her made her seem like a fairly unreliable worker, lacking in skills or sense of responsibility. Once she lands the job as Martin’s receptionist, however, she develops into a hard worker who is dependable and eventually very capable. Elaine had been quite a disaster, Pauline was feisty and ambitious while exhibiting some notable foibles, but Morwenna has learned to handle patients well, manage the office and Martin proficiently and discreetly, and become someone quite trustworthy. She’s a stable force in a village filled with unpredictability. While Pauline was generally honorable, she betrayed Martin’s trust for her own amusement several times. We can’t imagine Morwenna sending out pictures of Martin in a compromising position, spreading rumors, or broadcasting Martin and Louisa’s conversation over loudspeakers in the town square. She can still be amusing, but her ethics are unimpeachable. He wide-eyed look masks a pretty shrewd young woman.

Louisa is the character that most confounds us. What they have done with her in S7 is to convert her from a strong, independent woman who generally sees herself as the glue that keeps the village together to a woman whose interaction with the village is curtailed and whose involvement with the school takes a backseat to her personal concerns. Throughout the show Louisa has defended the children, the parents, the various members of the town, extended herself to help many townspeople manage problems they encounter, and stood up to authority when necessary. She, and the school, are the opposite tentpoles to Martin and the surgery building. The town is suspended between these poles and the harbor is where the twain meets. When Louisa walks across to the surgery, or when Martin goes to the school, we often see sparks fly. But then Louisa moves into the surgery with Martin and the two poles find a meeting place for a while. We can’t have too much tranquility, and their home becomes a battlefield eventually. School papers are misplaced, baby clothes and toys take up space, and the baby conflicts with seeing patients. Two working parents vie for the upper hand and child minders and grandmothers intrude on any privacy. For most of the show, Louisa would be described as tough but gentle; perhaps strong yet needy. Now in S7 she’s become harsh, unyielding, and distracted from much to do with the school. There are no scenes inside the school, and the one school event included takes place outside and primarily on a hill not far from the surgery building. Her life is now mostly at the surgery.

Louisa’s hair and clothes are also indicative of how she changes over time. In the early series, Louisa is young, energetic, highly motivated to be the headmistress and do her job well, and ready to find the right man. We are often treated to watching her walk away, ponytail and pocketbook swinging as she goes. She wears jeans or other relatively informal clothes indicative of a carefree young woman enjoying life. She is also playful with Martin, kissing his cheek in passing and encouraging his interest in her. What happened between S5 and 6 is hard to deduce, but their hand-in-hand departure during the last scene of S5 followed by their decision to marry, can’t help but make us think their time together went well. However, in S6 and 7, as the reality of how the marriage is going, and the demands of dealing with a compromised husband and a child, combine with the responsibilities of managing the school clouds descend on her. Her lightheartedness and good naturedness take a beating. Where once she stroked Martin’s cheek and expressed concern for his feelings, now she tends to become both resentful and filled with self-recrimination. Her clothes are now more adult and somber and reflect the change in her social status to wife of the GP as well as headmistress of the school. In S7, Louisa’s hair and clothing indicate a change to a more severe and repressed woman. CC has gorgeous hair, and in other series she has worn it down a few times, but only once in S7 – when she brings Martin his clock when he’s sleeping in the nursery. That occasion also leads us to think there’s a chance she might stay and talk. But that is a false premise and her casual appearance leads to nothing. The ponytail is now longer and swings less, and her clothes are much more severe. Things have lightened somewhat since S6, and Louisa wears brighter colors, but now she is serious and protected.

(After watching the series, I had the distinct impression that among the ways in which we are given hints about the forthcoming reconciliation is that Louisa’s clothes often complement Martin’s in color. Nevertheless, Louisa is no longer a young ingenue; she is now a grownup in every way.)

Another change we can’t ignore is how Louisa now handles Martin’s missteps. During the first 5 series, Louisa is not dissuaded from wanting to be with Martin despite many insults: her breath smells bad, she’s stalking him, her perfume smells like urine, she must be emotional because she’s menstruating, she snores at night and keeps him awake, she needs to lose weight following the delivery of JH, and the many times when he disparages her job or her school, as well as the frequent occasions when he neglects to consult her about decisions to do with the home or the baby. But now, in S7, no amount of compliments can persuade her to allow him back in the house. This is both a reversal of how Louisa has reacted previously and, therefore, quite a change; but also, it is another example of how Martin being “normal” has never been an obsession of hers. We can only accept that declaration under the narrowest of conditions, i.e. that she has only been obsessed with normality in Martin and others since she returned from Spain. If we believe this, we must also believe that her time spent in Spain led to her return with the unspoken, and possible subconscious, proviso that she could only accept a reconciliation if he adopts “normal” behavior, and the people of Portwenn do too. That would be a provision that would be impossible to satisfy, and it is, until she comes to the realization that it is once Martin gives her an ultimatum. (Again, I feel like I have to contort myself into this explanation because it is not verifiable at all. At most it is only after Louisa makes the uncanny comment that she has been obsessed with people being “normal,” that we are in search of when this obsession began and how it first manifested itself. Otherwise, we are truly blindsided by this proclamation and can only find evidence to the contrary.)

Louisa has forgiven many gaffes by Martin, but she’s no longer in a forgiving mood in S7. Perhaps the only person she forgives in S7 is herself when she notes that she’s made a terrible mistake during their conversation in the final scene. Is she back to being the caring and kind person she once was? Did she come to the realization that she needed to change and not Martin? All rather hard to know except that if we take her at her word, even if we can’t really find a way to validate it, she has.

In the end the show appears to be as equivocal about change as Ruth. People don’t change, but sometimes they need to change, and it’s up to each of us to write our own story. Louisa changed, found out the change didn’t work out well for her, and now wants to rewrite her story. Luckily she has that prerogative within the scope of a story written for TV. (I’m done writing about change now. You can all breathe a sigh of relief!)

Originally posted 2016-01-30 18:56:43.

The Formula and Where It Fails

I’ve been waiting for DM’s post, but figure I can jump in here and try my hand at explaining what I think are the problems with S7 that make us so unhappy with it.

Despite all the proclamations that they don’t want to repeat themselves, there are some definite rules they stick to when writing each series. I have already mentioned the formula used throughout the seven series of either bringing Martin and Louisa together by the last episode, OR of separating them by the last episode. The general rule is that if the series begins with Martin and Louisa together, they will end up apart by the conclusion of E8, and vice versa. S3 and S6 find them at odds by the final act, while S2, 4, 5, and 7 all reach their climax with Martin and Louisa together. Clearly, the tendency is to have most series end with them together.

We also know that Louisa always returns to Portwenn and that none of the primary characters ever leave for long, unless they leave for good. Due to this pattern, we are certain that Louisa will reappear in S7, and that the fact that Louisa and Martin are separated in the first episode of S7 will be likely to lead to them being back together by the end. (There are many other reasons to think that, including the likelihood that a dramedy wouldn’t end with a divorce or decision to separate, and because throughout S7 there are many hints that lead us to the conclusion that this couple will stay together. These hints include Louisa wanting Martin to help her look for a new place to live, her objecting to being called anything but Mrs. Ellingham, Louisa telling Martin the house where she and James live is his home and he should be able to come whenever he likes, that she puts the dish towel back on its hook even when Martin isn’t around, that she tells him it feels nice to hug him and spontaneously hugs him at the end of E4, and more.)

Another key element that has been the hallmark of the interaction between Martin and Louisa throughout the seven series is the constant interruptions of their conversations. In S7 this ingredient is taken to its limit and maybe to the point of absurdity. We start with Louisa in Spain and a 3 week span during which she hasn’t spoken to Martin, then he gets up the nerve to call her only to get her voicemail, she tries to call him back and never manages to connect. This string of lack of intercourse continues relatively unabated until the final episode. The rare occasions when they have a chance to talk without interruption (their dinner on Louisa’s first night back, her visit to his room on the first night, or the various times they are in the car together; the times when he’s leaving the house at the end of the day) never lead to any valuable discussions. (I get it, we viewers are supposed to be frustrated by the many missed opportunities, and it’s supposed to be funny. But there is a point when plausibility flies out the window!)

There is also regular use of the appearance of some outside figure coming to town that tends to unify Martin and Louisa. The figures of this type who matter the most are the ones who appear in many episodes or sometimes the entire series: Danny, Edith, Eleanor, Margaret, Michael, possibly Mrs. T and James Henry. Also, there can be tangential, or secondary characters, who unite them, e.g. Peter Cronk, Mr. Strain (the headmaster), Mr. Coley (the school janitor), the Oakwoods, Mrs. Wilson. In S7 we might consider Dr. Timoney as the outside force engaged to unite them, but her neutrality works against that, and they are too tentative around her to create any real conflict. Since we are aware that conflict is essential to plot, we expect each episode to have some conflict. However, it’s when the conflict seems manufactured and incomprehensible that we bristle. One example for me is the whole Danny situation. There’s absolutely no logic to the notion that Louisa would be interested in renewing a relationship with Danny, and it’s hard to imagine that her agreement to help him with his school group would have been designed to stir up jealousy in Martin.

In S7 they reversed much of the behavior typical of Martin and Louisa, and we could say that about Mrs. Tishell as well. Despite having had a conversation with Louisa in S6 in which she tells Louisa that she would like to start fresh and leave her past actions behind, no sooner is Louisa in Spain but Mrs. T starts meddling in Martin’s life. It’s déjà vu all over again! In terms of the series, now Louisa is the one with insurmountable barriers, Martin is the one who moves out, Louisa seems unemotional and unaware of Martin’s efforts to reconnect, Martin does his best to be conciliatory.

At the end of S6 we had certain expectations and were led to believe that several outcomes were likely. We saw Al hug Ruth when she demonstrated confidence in him and gave him her thumbs up on the B&B idea; we heard Ruth assume that Al and Morwenna were a couple; and we saw Margaret leave with the clock Martin got from Joan’s possessions. Most of all we heard Louisa defend Martin to Margaret, admit that she isn’t sure what she’s doing, and later thank Martin for coming after her and performing serious surgery on her. In addition we saw Martin shocked into action and remorse after Louisa is hit by a car while running after him, stunned by the realization that Louisa is planning to leave again, and ultimately motivated by Ruth to confront his mother, tell her to leave, apologize to a patient, and make plans to follow Louisa. In the final scenes we see Martin tell Louisa he needs her help to be a better husband, become emotional in the bathroom stall following surgery on her AVM, and agree that they can’t go back to the home life they had had prior to her departure.

If the past is prologue, as it has been in previous series, our expectations would be that Louisa might not leave at all following the surgery, and they might go back to Portwenn with a plan to seek marriage counseling and try something akin to communicating. We also would not be surprised if Louisa asked Martin about Margaret (and the clock), and we might have heard Martin tell Louisa a bit more about his childhood and his relationship with his parents. Furthermore, we would see Al develop the B&B, with some major hiccups along the way, and his friendship with Morwenna would evolve into something more substantial.

Instead, we begin S7 with Louisa in Spain despite all signs pointing away from that (including her need to recuperate), Martin left alone and not even in communication with Louisa, and Mrs. Tishell back to interfering in his life. Al and Morwenna are not dating, and his B&B is not ready for occupancy.  None of our expectations have been met, although we can still be fairly sure that Louisa will return. Furthermore, Martin’s first session with Dr. Timoney includes a sort of laundry list of behaviors he has identified in himself, i.e. he has trouble with intimacy because he was an unwanted child, he’s not good at expressing himself, he has unrealistic expectations of others, and he has a blood phobia. Once again, this recitation of difficulties leads us to believe that Dr. T will address these. But she moves on to couples therapy without any sign that she has made the slightest effort to discuss any of these issues. Once couples therapy begins, Dr. T’s method is to employ weekly assignments rather then probe their backgrounds at all. Insofar as intimacy problems are concerned, Dr. T suggests a hugging exercise that includes saying something positive to each other every day because she notices that they are too self-contained, but this assignment seems to come from an effort to have them be more demonstrative and complimentary with each other and is only a first step towards breaking down any emotional obstacles. Since the therapy always involves moving on from one assignment to another with no follow through, none of the assignments build on the others. (E4 is a particular tease because it ends with Martin and Louisa hugging after agreeing on a course of action about Peter. But what happens is  Louisa tells Dr. T that Martin has trouble with spontaneity and they proceed to the next assignment. Surely there were some residual good feelings after those events!)

The episodes have very little connection to each other. Even the possible appeal of Al and Morwenna is downplayed and only comes up in 3 episodes. Al’s B&B was a storyline that I awaited with great anticipation because he had been so thrilled to have Ruth support his idea. But the best they could do with it was give Al one couple and one fishing trip. The entire situation was one fiasco after another with Al doing his best to be the gracious host. The only other time Al has anyone stay at the B&B is when the children from London camp on his property. His services are barely needed. Besides, he never planned to use the grounds for camping. When Ruth finally decides to invite Bert to build a whiskey still in the shed, Al is stunned and not very pleased. He’s been trying to get away from working with his father and now has to accept being forced to share the success of this venture with his father. If we stick with the premise that none of the primary cast ever leaves Portwenn, then we would not expect Bert to leave. Nevertheless, I had hoped he wouldn’t be working in conjunction with Al again. I felt both letdown for Al and as though they had betrayed a trust. As in most of Al’s jobs, we could not suppose that this one would go smoothly, but he worked hard to come up with a business plan and I thought we’d see him make a pretty good stab at it.

Most of the new characters added little to the storyline and seemed extraneous. Because the main reason people are watching is to see Martin and Louisa get back together, all the other storylines became unimportant. A holistic vet who is taking the meds she gives her dogs never develops into anything worthwhile, even when she tries to convince Martin that the dog is a good judge of character. If they had wanted to freshen things up, they should have resolved the Martin and Louisa issue earlier in the series and followed that with further therapy and conflicts. Alternatively, they could have made better use of the therapy sessions and done something worthwhile with the information we’ve been given about the difficult childhoods these two have weathered. It makes little sense to me to have introduced us to all four parents, made much of how Martin’s traits and phobia stem from his childhood, and strongly hinted about how much Louisa’s childhood caused her to become the independent woman she is, and yet barely touch on that in S7.

When I reviewed the conventions of Dramedy that I posted in June 2014, a few things jumped out at me as important to remember:

  • Some of the cinematic elements of Moonlighting, one of the first TV shows to be considered a dramedy, were borrowed from Warner Bros. cartoons—clearly comedies. As you know, I consider E8 filled with cartoonish elements and there are other episodes that contain cartoonish features as well.
  • Human dramedies usually have a subplot, the only type of situation comedy that does. The subplot is often comic, underscoring the main, more serious plot. In all cases, the subplots underscore comically and thus intensify the main plot. As expected, there is a theme in virtually every episode of S7 as there should be in a dramedy, but most of the subplots do not intensify. The exception is Clive and Sally. Clive’s desire to resume his marriage with Sally is a subplot that intensifies the primary plot, and is very much on the comedic side. But for the most part in S7, even the themes are often perfunctory and smack of being placeholders. It’s too obvious that we are going to have to wait until E8 for Louisa to reunite with Martin.
  • There are several segments to each dramedy: complications, crises, climax, and denouement.
    “The complications are based on the theme but involve character or action. They are new developments in the problem that require the characters to examine their own thinking or take an action that opposes or supports their point of view on the theme.” One significant  feature missing from S7 is the complication segment. Therapy should have led to Martin and Louisa going through the act of examining their own thinking. If therapy didn’t accomplish this, then we ought to have seen it through conversations between these characters and others. The one time we may have an inkling that something like reconsidering a position takes place is when Ruth tells Louisa that by going to therapy sessions she can make her views known. As a result Louisa drops her resistance to therapy; however, nothing that happens in the sessions appears to get her to reexamine her views about Martin. It’s only after some possible self-reflection and being put on the spot by his ultimatum that she has the startling revelation that she’s been obsessed with everyone needing to be normal.
  • The transients in a human dramedy have two purposes: 1) they are the source of most of the primary problems, either as the creator or the bearer of the problem; and/or 2) aid in finding and/or applying solutions to the problem. The former is most common. Here S7 disappoints again because the so-called transients in this series create very few problems that need solving. Angela Sim, Steve Baker, Sigourney Weaver’s American tourist, and even Rachel Timoney are sideshows. They flit in and out with barely any significance to the overall story arc. You may think it’s wrong to put Rachel Timony on this list, but she’s neither the source of their problems nor aids in finding a solution to them. She is merely a plot device. The two transients that have some import are Erica Holbrook and Danny.  Erica Holbrook contributes the idea that “We Are What We Are,” and tells her daughter she will love her without trying to change her. These notions reinforce what turn out to be the main themes of the series. Danny makes comments to Martin and Louisa that cause them to reexamine their commitment to each other and rediscover their sense of loyalty to each other.
  • Finally, “although the dramedy is often very funny, it is not because of a deliberate striving for laughs no matter how they are gotten.“ In S7 I had the distinct impression that there were many instances of striving for laughs, especially the pratfalls. Both the time when Martin falls down the stairs while brushing his teeth so that he can answer the phone, and the time when he slips in the mud of the pig pen while trying to help Dermot stand up struck me as deliberately striving for laughs. MC may like to punish ME, but Ellingham’s clumsiness used to be an integral part of his behavior and not so conspicuously added on.

By the end of S7, we might conclude that the theme for this series is acceptance. Forgiveness plays a role, but acceptance fits more comfortably. Therefore, we should be looking for examples of scenarios that fit that theme, and we find some. We can identify several episodes that follow this convention, but some that do not.  I would place E3 in this category because its theme appears to be something to do with communication, but the secondary story is more about the series’ theme of acceptance than about the importance of talking. I also find E4 lacking in thematic congruity because its theme appears to be emotional responses and concern yet the Peter Cronk story has more to do with superciliousness. E5 is all over the place and its theme could perhaps be listed as control; however, we have to stretch to associate the holistic vet with control unless her inability to stop Buddy from escaping would qualify as loss of control. I acknowledge that her self-medication causes her to be out of control, but this episode is one that has a cartoonish aura about it. Anyway, the antics of Angela Sim are rather distracting as are several editing faults that have Angela and Penhale looking quite dry after having tangled in the surf. With all these mixed messages the coherence of each episode is just not nearly as strong as in previous series to me.

In my opinion, we have reached a point in the show when the drama portion has overshadowed much of the comedy. I wanted the comedy to be reinstated in S7, but not as overt physical humor. Until they resolved the Martin and Louisa question, no silly Penhale nonsense or artificial accidents created by Al was going to get a laugh from me. I am surprised they thought we would be amused by puerility, and that we would happily accept tortuous action along with inconsistent episodes. I won’t deny that I enjoyed watching despite all of the above problems. On the other hand, I am deeply disappointed in the deterioration of the caliber of the storylines, the lack of novelty, and the writing and, as a fan, feel obliged to point them out.

 

Originally posted 2016-01-20 21:41:41.

Normal Is A Loaded Word

Here we are at the end of series 7 trying to dissect what the interpretation of normal is after hearing Martin describe the situation they’ve been in as “unusual” (another word for abnormal),  then hearing Louisa tell Martin “it’s all unusual, isn’t it?,” and then having Louisa follow that with “I think I’m a little bit obsessed with everyone having to be normal, and people aren’t, are they?” When Martin agrees that people aren’t normal, Louisa asserts that he’s not; he’s unusual. Once again Martin concurs.

After this conversation, during which the adjectives “unusual” and “normal” are placed in opposition, it is hard not to wonder what to make of how these terms are bandied about. Louisa’s confession that she has been obsessed with everyone having to be normal has never been obvious to us before. In fact, time and time again she has been the one to observe that some people are different and that’s fine and something we love about them. When watching Martin force vodka down Tommy’s throat while calling him a selfish pig, Louisa tells Martin that “People make mistakes, people make a mess of things. It’s called being human, Martin!” Rather than characterizing Louisa as being obsessed with people being normal, throughout the show we have been led to believe that part of the reason she has been attracted to Martin is due to his differences.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the subject of what we consider normal has been discussed by psychologists and sociologists since those disciplines were founded. Indeed it was Émile Durkheim, the father of sociology, who suggested some relatively radical ideas about societal norms, and they converge with what we might call acceptance of aberrant behavior. Durkheim actually viewed crime and delinquent behavior as a normal and necessary occurrence in the social system. He proposed that crime led to reactions from society about the crime. These shared reactions were used to create a common consensus of what individuals felt were moral and ethical norms by which to abide. Thereafter, these commonly held norms and values led to boundaries and rules for the society.

In traditional societies, the collective consciousness ruled, social norms were strong, and social behavior was well regulated. In modern societies, common consciousness was less obvious and the regulation of social behavior was less punitive and more restitutive, aiming to restore normal activity to society.

Durkheim is also associated with the term anomie, which is a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” It is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community. When solidarity is organic, anomie is impossible. (The way I understand this idea is that when an individual has the autonomy to determine how to behave, there is no likelihood of feeling over regulated. Over regimentation causes a sense of anomie because there is likely to be resistance to rigidity. In other words, people need to believe that there is some fluidity or flexibility to rules.) Norms need to adapt naturally. As used by Émile Durkheim and later theorists, anomie is a reaction against or a retreat from the regulatory social controls of society.

In psychology there are two famous names associated with the study of normality, Freud and Jung. Freud’s understanding of pathology was based on intra-psychic processes rather than the transgression of social norms. Freud viewed a normal person as someone for whom the preconscious and the unconscious were not in conflict or who was “free from neurosis.” Neurosis for Freud is a psychological state characterized by excessive anxiety or insecurity, often compensated for by various defense mechanisms.

Jung, a man whose work we have applied when looking at the Myers-Briggs personality test (MBTI), stated “the normal man is a fiction” because there is no individual who is identical to the collective norms, i.e. that “every individual is an exception to the rule.” Normality is not a particular psychic state but an overall pattern that encompasses a wide range of emerging psychic states, including peculiar ones.

Thus, when Dr. Timoney responds to Louisa’s question about whether struggling is a normal part of the process of therapy by saying “Well, normal is a very loaded word,” she’s being quite acute. Sadness, guilt, rage, disappointment, confusion, doubt, anxiety and other similar experiences and states are all expected and normal, given the nature and demands of life.

In this context Louisa uses “normal” as related to regular, common, typical. I’d propose that rather than use the word “normal,” which is a protean term, or “usual/unusual,” which are too vague, we ought to use typical and atypical. If we conceptualize behavior as typical for a certain setting, time, occasion, it puts us in the mindset of considering it representative, and even paradigmatic. Martin’s been atypical his whole life even though he thinks of his childhood as healthy and expresses a certainty that he was typical of most boys in his early years.

The mutable nature of the word “normal” is apparent when Louisa uses that term upon her return to Portwenn in S4. When she meets the new headmaster, she notices that he has odd mannerisms and tells Martin that he’s not normal. Martin responds with a different meaning of normal — what’s not normal to him is that Louisa hasn’t told him about the pregnancy. Ultimately, it turns out that what’s really abnormal about the headmaster is that he has porphyria, which is abnormally high levels of porphyrins.

In S7 we are introduced to the notion that normal refers to conforming to social standards of behavior. Louisa says her parents are “normal as you like,” which to her means they were acting in fairly typical ways for parents to act. In Portwenn, and in the larger society, broken marriages and dysfunctional families may have become “normal.” We don’t see many happy marriages in Portwenn so perhaps Louisa is right that her parents are “normal.” However, abandoning one’s daughter when she’s 12 years old seems atypical and out of the ordinary, and having a father who goes to jail is also irregular. We have all come to accept that Portwenn is populated by a lot of quirky people, or is it really just like any town, anywhere? Everyone is atypical and an exception to the rule. And if this is so, then Martin is no more atypical than anyone else. Indeed, by S7, he’s reached a status of being much respected in Portwenn. Annie Winton makes clear that his medical expertise is held in such high regard that she does not trust anyone else’s opinion. Martin does not disappoint her either. He’s saved so many lives in Portwenn, and with great modesty, that his demeanor no longer bothers anyone.

If Louisa was determined to have Martin conform to social norms, she only had to look around her to realize that Portwenn society had already embraced his aberrations.

Portwenn is both similar to and the opposite of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegone, “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve.” The town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

The history of Lake Wobegone includes the motto of the town seal that says Sumus Quod Sumus, or “We Are What We Are.” That this phrase becomes the final sentiment of Doc Martin seems particularly striking in that a small town in northern Minnesota has arrived at the exact same summation about psychic norms as a small town in Cornwall.

What’s normal? We can make a case that just about anything can be.

 

 

 

Originally posted 2016-01-12 21:30:36.

Normal Post Removed

Yesterday there was a premature publication of a post on the topic of normality. I am at home again now and will work on a proper discussion of the topic and publish it ASAP.

I am embarrassed to have published it before it was ready. I guess there’s a first time for everything!

Now back to the drawing board!!

Originally posted 2016-01-10 08:06:19.

Happy New Year!!

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and let you all know that I am still traveling.

I sincerely hope you all have a great 2016. I hope to write some posts again very soon, but I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get a chance. Please don’t give up on me!!

Cheers!!

Originally posted 2016-01-01 11:38:39.

It’s Not a Myth?

I am having trouble finding the necessary amount of time to write another post even though I have several in mind. I will try to write one more before Xmas.

In the meantime I thought I’d post this article about the fight or flight response. It seems it’s been modified to “freeze, flee, fight.” So when Aunt Ruth says the fight or flight response is not just a myth, we might actually have to correct her!

Originally posted 2015-12-19 12:27:51.

Is Reconciliation Boring?

Although I have several other posts I plan to write soon, I had to write this one first.

Throughout S7 I read comments from several actors in this show that claimed that once Martin and Louisa reconciled and the “will they/won’t they” theme was resolved, the show would become boring. These statements are also voiced on the Bonus Features of the series 7 DVD. This stance seems founded on the notion that once the marriage has gained solid footing, there would be no way to develop conflict of the sort that creates good plots. I totally disagree with this position and am ready to do my best to argue against it.

I want to substantiate my view by the use of examples from past series of DM and from reminding all of us of past highly rated shows in which married couples in TV dramedies/comedies sustained audiences by using marital conflicts while also addressing important social and interpersonal topics. We all consider Doc Martin a show with excellent writing and acting, and we are dedicated viewers because of its quality. I find it hard to believe that writers of this caliber would be unable to think of first rate plots once this one was resolved.

There are many ways to add conflict to a marriage without forcing the issue of whether the pair will stay together. We’ve spent 7 seasons/series using that trope and it’s reached its “use by” date. It became stale at the beginning of S7, and the decision to prolong its resolution until the last scene of the final episode meant that S7 became filled with delaying tactics. Despite the assertion from Martin Clunes and others that S7 was, in their minds, the most well written of all the series, I did not consider it as excellent as S5. For me the most significant reason I was not as impressed was the fairly transparent effort to string out whether Martin and Louisa would reunite. As compared to S5, which I will go on record now as ranking the best of all, we viewers were forced to watch a lot of scenes with secondary characters and new characters that did not contribute to the primary plot. Instead we spent time with the holistic vet who hallucinated due to self-medicating, or Al having silly problems with his first guests at the B&B, or Bert once again struggling to serve dinners that would bring in more business to his floundering restaurant. All of these storylines came at the expense of seeing more of Martin and Louisa dealing with their difficulties.

In S5 we started with Martin joining Louisa as they took their baby home from the hospital. What ensued was the many demanding aspects of having a newborn who keeps everyone up at night, confuses and disrupts home life, and needs care when his mother returns to work. The introduction of Louisa’s mother Eleanor added the dimension of her relationship with her daughter and how it related to Louisa’s approach to parenting, as well as how she might be reacting to Martin. (The introduction of two new characters, Ruth and Morwenna, added welcome changes that have had enduring consequences.)

Eleanor is a character who brings into play how work impacts childrearing, how mothers provide role models (both positive and negative), and how difficult it is to reach a level of objectivity when one is confronting one’s mother. For me the contrast in mothering between Eleanor’s attitude and Louisa’s was used to great effect. When Louisa decides in E6 that she can’t stay with Martin, we have been through a series of conflicts between Martin and Louisa that involve the caretaker of the school along with Martin’s disdain for the school, the naming of the baby that includes his tacit disapproval of Louisa’s social status, and his neglecting to include Louisa in several major decisions about their lives as a couple. But it is only two episodes later when Mrs. T has her breakdown, abducts the baby, and Martin and Louisa join together to find him. S5 ends with their reconciliation in what I consider a tour de force conversation between Martin and Mrs. T with Louisa prompting Martin.

Throughout S5 there were many conflicts between this couple that reminded me of typical tense conversations between married couples. To me these were amusing as well as great embodiments of real life situations that we can all learn from. As Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR, said in a recent interview, we turn to literature and film as a means to hear someone speak really personally and have it affirm our experiences. We don’t need artificial impediments to having a couple stay together to engage in the consideration of important topics that impact us all. What S7 could have done is put Martin and Louisa in therapy where they actually learn something about each other, decide to reunite by E6 or even earlier, and then continue to battle their basic inclinations and demons until we arrive at some sort of agreeable place.

As for the many highly regarded shows that we can turn to for examples of marital strife that are both entertaining and identify important issues of their day, here are a few I would include:

I Love Lucy from the 1950s, in which Lucy wants desperately to perform like her husband. Lucy and Ethel experience many a laughable antic just to get Ricky’s attention. In the process of all the physical humor and absurdity, we also confront a mixed marriage and an immigrant’s change in status, the loyalty of friends, the awkwardness of family interactions, the difficulty of women trying to work outside the home, and the birth of a baby boy. There was no need to place the marriage in peril to find plenty of situations that qualified as conflicts that drove the plot.

The Honeymooners from the early 1950s. Hopefully this classic is one most of you are also familiar with. Ralph and Alice are a working class couple living in Brooklyn who often verbally joust but never actually become violent, and who generally make up by the end of each episode. Ralph’s anger would be replaced by short-lived remorse, and he would then apologize for his actions. Many of these apologies to Alice ended with Ralph saying, “Baby, you’re the greatest,” followed by a hug and kiss. In this show the travails of a couple having trouble making ends meet are brought to light. Ralph regularly comes up with money-making schemes that fail and at one point Alice has to find a job when Ralph is laid off.

A personal favorite of mine was Cybill, which ran for 4 seasons from 1995-1998, won many awards including 2 Golden Globes, and was canceled prematurely for no apparent reason. It had between 10 and 12 million viewers for most of its existence. Cybill has been married twice and has two daughters. She is divorced at the time of the show, however, both of her exes are still very much a part of her life. The show took on many women’s issues as well as neuroses, mother-daughter relationships, and female sexuality. There was plenty of conflict going on in the house while the women coped with handling the men and the daughters.

When we get to 2005, we can mention the TV series Parenthood which received strong reviews and lasted 6 seasons. Most critics thought the writing and show got stronger with each season, and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker “cited its ability to be warm and sentimental without being dumb” as one of its strengths. It also had a strong soundtrack. There were many marriages as part of this show with a plethora of conflicts because the show revolved around three generations. The Braverman family faced a variety of hardships that require compromise, forgiveness and unconditional love. The show was nominated for many awards and won several of them.

Currently House of Cards contains a devious married couple whose marriage is not at risk even though there is infidelity and all sorts of chicanery. As I’m sure most of you know, the show deals with ruthlessness and power, especially in politics. It’s been wildly popular and received many awards. (It is based on a British show of the same name.)

I would also include Reggie Perrin because he is in a secure marriage while being disenchanted with his life. (Reggie Perrin is quoted as saying: “My marriage is like an aircraft’s black box. It’s mysterious, but completely indestructible.”) Since Martin Clunes plays the lead role in this remake, I probably don’t have to say much about it.

The above shows are certainly not an exhaustive list, but they are a good representation of the conflicts that could be sources of successful plots without any sign of any marital on again/off again dynamic.

I found the push-pull of the Martin and Louisa relationship highly entertaining and compelling for the first five series and had thought the conclusion of S5 had put it to rest. When S6 began with the wedding, I felt the show had taken the best route, but the steady decline into depression and moroseness of that series made me shake my head in disbelief. The effort to recuperate the show and its humor in S7 is a welcome reversal, but the interminable delay in Louisa’s decision to invite Martin back into the home was not necessary to keep viewers engaged and became harder and harder to tolerate. We understand Louisa’s hesitations and hurt feelings, but surely she would have relented before two months had passed. She’s tough throughout the previous series, yet she’s never been this hard to convince before and we’re hard pressed to accept that after hugging Martin regularly in E4, she would continue his exile from the family.

 

Originally posted 2015-12-15 11:31:45.

New Developments in Happiness

I am planning to return to writing posts very soon. Things in my life have settled down somewhat and my mind can return to topics concerned with the show.

In the meantime, I thought I’d mention this article on happiness which at least questions whether being happy has anything to do with longevity. We’ve looked at how happiness can affect health and how a sense of well-being is considered important in most countries, so this article seemed pertinent.

I will do my best to get some more ideas organized for next week. Thank you for your patience.

 

Originally posted 2015-12-10 06:39:29.

S7E8 – Back to the Future

I guess it’s about time I say something specifically about E8. It’s too bad the therapy was such a disappointment, and was a failure in so many ways. Nevertheless, somehow Martin and Louisa do find their way back to each other in E8 and it’s worthwhile seeing how that is accomplished.

I’ve already established that Jack Lothian is the writer I consider the best on this show. In my opinion his episodes are the most well conceived and demonstrate outstanding knowledge of story writing as well as of literature. He has written several of the opening and closing episodes of many series, and I believe he methodically connects themes and actions in these first and last episodes to create a coherency that operates on many levels. The last episode of S7 is another example of his striking ability to allude to classical works of literature as well as many other forms of storytelling while consummating the characters in both humorous and complex ways. Each series ends with dialogue that is ambiguous yet satisfying. I enjoy the process of analyzing what he’s doing as he coordinates the action and the dialogue to achieve a successful outcome, plus I get to laugh a lot.

That S7 would end with a reconciliation seemed inevitable to me because I could not imagine this show not completing its mission as a dramedy. If S6 had been the last of the series, it would have been a transgression of all that the show had worked to develop for the previous five series. S7 had to redeem it. In fact, my view is that Lothian includes reminiscences from both S5E8, S6E1, S6E8, and S7E1 in S7E8. He also sustains the primary themes we’ve come to expect, i.e. the difficulty Martin and Louisa have communicating with each other, whether people can change, and the importance of Martin’s skills as a diagnostician and surgeon in saving people’s lives while also keeping his relationship with Louisa alive.

S7 begins with Martin waking up in bed alone wishing he can find a way out of the predicament of losing Louisa. Similarly in the final episode we begin with Martin waking up in bed alone, and hoping again to get out of the predicament he’s in. (BTW, I haven’t figured out how he fell asleep. Was he given a sleeping potion? Otherwise it is doubtful Martin would have felt like sleeping with his mouth duct taped and his hands tied to the bed. He hasn’t been sleeping well in his cottage and now he’s in an even stranger place. But never mind; we can let that go.) It doesn’t take long for him to figure out how to release himself from the bed. He then goes through a series of comedic escape antics including tiptoeing like Sylvester the Cat across a loft area while below Annie Winton speaks to Louisa on the phone and doesn’t see him, making his way down the back stairs and overhearing Jim Winton talking to his son as he sits on the bed, and hiding when the son looks up after he hears a noise. All of these actions have a cartoonish air about them. (FYI, Sylvester shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy. He often sneaks around while his owner “Granny” talks on the phone. In this episode Martin never stops trying to escape from the house through doors and windows. Martin’s persistence is reinforced by Mrs. Winton’s comment that “when you love someone, you never give up.”)

In this mostly amusing and never very convincingly dangerous episode, we also have shades of myths and legends, possible totems from voodoo, and a couple of chase scenes with the last one ending at the entrance to a mine reminiscent of Westerns, including an empty whiskey bottle as a clue. We’ve sometimes speculated that this show is playing with the tropes of Fairytales, and I’ve written about how they undercut those tropes. I’ve wondered as well if they were having some fun with the popularity of the Harry Potter series. Although we don’t have any real witches, goblins, or wizards in this episode, Martin tells Mrs. Winton that he’s not in the business of miracles, he animatedly gesticulates as if he’s casting a spell while denying that he’s a wizard, and says that he can’t conjure a cure. (I must say here that many patients do think doctors can perform miracles and cure almost anything, and some treatments almost seem miraculous. In this episode, we could be tempted to call Martin’s ablation of Jim’s neck mass a miracle.) Ruth has told Louisa that the fight or flight response is not just a myth. Thus, we have more than enough allusions to the mythical and magical than we need to recognize its place in this part of the story.

During this episode Martin is required to leave Portwenn and drive into the wilderness where danger lurks. As Martin approaches the Winton’s front door, the camera lingers on a gargoyle type sculpture. For me this figure looks most like a Griffin, a legendary creature that is a mixture of a lion and an eagle, both kings of their species. The Griffin has been used in literature, most providentially in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack Lothian had this in mind. In Dante’s allegory, after Dante and Virgil’s journey through Hell and Purgatory has concluded, Dante meets a chariot dragged by a Griffin in Earthly Paradise. Immediately afterwards, Dante is reunited with Beatrice. Dante and Beatrice then start their journey through Paradise. We could call Martin’s stay at the Wintons a journey through Hell/Purgatory that ends in being reunited with Louisa (Beatrice) after which they begin their journey together in the Earthly Paradise that is otherwise called Portwenn. (Like Martin, Dante carried his love for Beatrice throughout his life. She represents beatific love.) Allegory, myth, folktale, cartoon, take your pick.

This episode also recollects the scene in S6E8 in which Martin races to the airport in Penhale’s Jeep to rescue Louisa. This time it’s Louisa rushing to rescue Martin and asking Penhale to drive. Both times Penhale delays due to a humorous interruption; with Martin it was his costume, with Louisa it is a useless conversation with Buddy. Ironically, if only Buddy could talk, he could have led them to Martin. Buddy is most like the loyal, but powerless, sidekick at this point. Both times Penhale is somewhat helpful while being his usual oddball self. The scene with Louisa and Penhale sneaking around the Winton house and stopping to discuss the meaning of raising a fist reminded me of the three stooges and is a funny interlude in what is supposed to be a serious rescue effort. Then Penhale tries to enter the house through the bathroom window while Martin is trying to leave through the same window. When they are discovered, Penhale’s taser has not been recharged and is worthless. Now we’re in the zone of comedic Westerns during which a gun is jammed and won’t fire at the crucial moment. (They’ve associated the taser with Westerns with the music they use in the episode where Joe first receives it. In S5E8 Ruth told Joe he isn’t Clint Eastwood, and now we have reconfirmation of that!)

We also have a connection to S7E2 in which Martin is surprised by Louisa’s appearance and says he wasn’t expecting her so early. Well, the Wintons aren’t expecting Martin so early either, and the fact that he is so prompt leads to more trouble and the loss of his medical bag. Martin’s medical bag has been his constant accessory throughout these series and we would think the Wintons would consider it important, but as in S6E1, he’s able to improvise. He also recuperates his image by helping their injured German Shepard as opposed to wanting to euthanize Buddy. And Mrs. Winton’s comment that he has a gentle touch recalls the one made by Barry in E1 when ME discovers that he has a condition that needs immediate medical attention. He tells Martin he considers him a good guy.

Furthermore, in E1 Morwenna speaks of playing the role of a victim needing to be rescued, which of course is exactly what Martin does in E8. Martin is even wearing the same suit and tie in both episodes, and now that I’ve seen E8, Ruth’s comment in E1 as she looks at a picture of Martin wearing a tie as a child that Martin has literally not changed is true in more ways than one.

It is this episode that most reflects the title of E7, “Facta Non Verba,” because here we have actual deeds that speak louder than words. The deeds begin with Mrs. Winton calling the doctor’s office and demanding that he come to her house, which he dutifully does. Next she holds him at gunpoint. He makes an attempt at escape only to run into Clemo Winton who simply takes him back to the house. Meanwhile, back in Portwenn, Louisa has put together a lovely meal with a lot of Martin’s favorite foods. This time she isn’t going to serve him sausage or scotch eggs. She obviously is already planning to make this a reconciliation dinner. Here is another occasion when Martin and Louisa’s efforts to talk are interrupted. In E1 they are unable to connect due to poor reception and Dr. T’s rules cause Martin to miss Louisa’s 4:30 call; in E8 the Wintons disrupt their scheduled conversation. (Throughout this series they continue to be interrupted whenever they attempt to talk in any meaningful way. I should mention that comments on the blog post about therapy point out that any talk they might have had would probably have gone poorly anyway, which is even more evidence that any move they make to have a long talk ends in failure.) Martin doesn’t show, no talk ensues, and Louisa is determined to find him.

When she comes up empty handed the following morning, she calls Mrs. Winton who claims Martin left the previous evening, then she finds Penhale and they retrace Martin’s steps to the Wintons. Louisa will not be stopped from this point on and notices Martin’s shoes, finds his car, and confronts Mrs. Winton.

So we have the deeds leading up to Louisa finding Martin and Martin really trying to read the notes from the oncologist, and finding a possible mistake in the diagnostic procedure. Soon we have more action when they look for Jim Winton and find that he has left his bed. They figure he’s headed to the mine and they all run after him. Martin suggests Louisa stay behind several times, but this time Louisa won’t let Martin out of her sight and tells him “I came here to get you and I’m not going home without you.” Ahh, more indication that Louisa has decided to have Martin move back in with her.

I would say that during this episode Martin experiences many moments during which he has a lack of control. However, no matter what they demand of him, he manages to maintain some semblance of control, either by trying to reason with them or by being unwilling to buckle under while they point a gun at him. In a sense, he retains control regardless of their threats because they need him. The only thing he can’t control is Louisa’s actions, and his uncertain answer to Ruth at the end of the episode is evidence of this.

it is also quite noticeable that throughout the episode Martin and Louisa refer to each other as “my wife” and “my husband.” Not only should this identifier matter to Mrs. Winton because she is so dedicated to her husband, but also it reinforces their commitment as a couple. We’ve heard Louisa correct people many times during this series when they neglect to call her Mrs. Ellingham, an indication in my mind that she sees herself as Martin’s wife. In this final episode, that moniker is given precedence when Martin frequently is heard alluding to his concern for his wife. I find it interesting that the Wintons have one child, a son, and that parallels the Ellinghams. I wouldn’t say that Martin and Louisa find any solace in watching the loyalty and care Clemo Winton has for his parents, but it’s amusing to see Clemo try to hug Martin for saving his father’s life. What will Martin do when his son reaches out to hug him?

A final example of how this episode connects to previous ones is the procedure Martin completes on Mr. Winton’s neck. Mr. Winton’s surgery takes us back to S6E1 when Martin and Louisa carry out surgery on the caravan owner’s neck. This time the surgery is much less bloody, but there’s Martin with a makeshift scalpel cutting into a scruffy old man’s neck while Louisa assists and grimaces. In both cases the men survive against all odds and Martin comes away as the hero. Moreover, Martin and Louisa act as a team again.

We are also reminded of the talk Ruth and Martin had sitting on a grassy hill during the last episode of S6 where she explains to him that he has to change to get Louisa to return. Here Louisa comes to the realization that she doesn’t want him to change. He has acted on Ruth’s counsel throughout S7 only to discover that Louisa has concluded that she loves him just the way he is.

Louisa tells Martin that she thinks she has been obsessed with wanting people to be normal. As Dr. T said to Louisa, “normal” is a loaded word. Louisa has told Dr. T that her parents are normal, but now she acknowledges that her idea of normal is complicated and that everyone is unusual in some way. There is no true “normal.” Instead of wanting a “normal” husband, she understands that she should embrace his personality traits regardless of, or especially because of, their uniqueness. “We Are What We Are,” as Erica Holbrook has written for art class.

Martin agrees that he is unusual, and then we get his admission that he has tried but it just seems to make things worse. At first his remark seems very ambiguous. What has he tried and how has he made things worse? He may not have made things better, but his actions have hardly made things worse. (I do not think he is referring to trying to change how he feels about Louisa. Despite the ambiguity of this statement, it makes more sense that he’s talking about his effort to express himself in therapy sessions and to demonstrate to Louisa that he is working on his skills as a spouse.) I think they both say partial truths in this final scene. Louisa tells Martin that he’s never let her down, which he has, and Martin thinks he’s made things worse by trying to be a better husband. Once again he is assuming the blame and she is overstating or exaggerating what has happened between them.

For me the key confession they make to each other is when Martin tells Louisa, “I’m never going to change the way I feel about you,” and she answers, “I don’t want that.” What is an unmitigated fact is that his love for her is something he won’t change and can’t change (and he’s even powerless to change), and she admits that she doesn’t want him to change in that regard. She’s glad to know that his love for her will never change, and we all know she’s tested that.

By the end of this episode we are pleased to hear Louisa respond in kind to Martin’s assertion that he loves her. She hasn’t said it often enough.

We also see the other major characters all find a satisfying conclusion to their plights. Sally has made a new commitment to Clive, Bert is back in business with Al (which may be better for Bert than for Al), Al’s Bed and Breakfast has been given new life and he’s headed for another relationship with the doctor’s receptionist, and Morwenna has gotten her pay rise while Martin has averted another showdown with a disgruntled receptionist.  Portwenn can now return to its previously calm state. It looks like Penhale will be staying on and continuing to keep the place safe. And that’s a wrap!

images

(Not for the blog, just for this series. More posts coming soon.)

Originally posted 2015-11-20 06:55:03.

Another Take on Introversion

Well, not many of you were very interested in contributing to my post on Depression, but that isn’t going to stop me from taking another stab at Introversion!

So today, as happens on many Sundays, I was reading the NYTimes and saw an article of interest. This article is one I enjoyed because of its new twist on another subject we’ve been writing about for some time, introversion. The author, a columnist and contributing editor from the Greater Boston Area, considers whether using the excuse of being an introvert is really just a rationalization for simply being rude. I particularly liked the part where she notes:
“Society has a rich history of people seizing on social evolution as an excuse for bad manners. From the Romantic poets to the transcendentalists to the Summer of Love hippies, many have rejected a supposed facade of good behavior in favor of being true to their inner nature. Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections.”

One reason I like this part is because she references the Romantic poets, many of whom wrote about sitting around, like Coleridge, under Lime Trees thinking about life, or transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau, who took himself into the woods to think about life, and then there are the hippies who also liked to muse about life while being one with nature. All of the above indulged in high minded philosophical ideas by withdrawing from society, believing they had reached a more astute concept of our world. In other words, they had pretty good impressions of themselves as a result of coming to the conclusion that social interaction, and following social mores, was accepting the dictates of others rather than being true to themselves.

In a later paragraph, the author takes a somewhat critical view of introverts when she says: “self-indulgent introverts [risk] crossing the line into antisocial behavior.” Since we’ve spent so much time determining what it means to be an introvert, and learning how all personality types fall on a spectrum or continuum, I find her identification of introverts as self-indulgent a form of indictment. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that they can be perceived as antisocial. It means something that some synonyms for antisocial includes terms like unfriendly, reclusive, standoffish, and even sociopathic.

We need to draw a distinction between the personality trait of introversion and being labeled as antisocial. However, there is a hazard that what is a personality trait to one person could appear to be acting unfriendly to another.

For a simple explanation of how some introverts function, I found this site helpful. There is something identified as Introversion.

And now we have the case of Martin Ellingham. There are signs that he falls somewhere on the Introversion scale. Similarly, there are signs that he is also rude and antisocial. We know he likes to withdraw into his house to read and work on clocks; but we also know he is willing to go to parties or out for a drink or dinner if the right person asks him (namely either Louisa or one of his aunts).

Finally, Dell’Antonia takes up the notion of control or self-determination, another one of our favorite subjects, when she states:
“I may be naturally reserved, and more comfortable alone than I will ever be in a crowd, but I am not at the mercy of my nature. There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others.”

Maybe she’s right…some of us may be hiding behind the guise of introversion when we are really more concerned about ourselves than others. Perhaps introverts should force themselves to join in more, and perhaps they would like it if they did.

There is an aspect of ME that falls under the category of self-aggrandizement. He thinks he’s better than the idiots and ignoramuses living in Portwenn, and he feels perfectly justified telling them so. We laugh when he tells someone they would be stupid not to listen to his advice (or have been), but it is offensive at the same time. When they frequently call him a “tosser,” they are literally telling him he is being selfish and inconsiderate. Is that the writers telling us this character is simply rude? I mean, we have to be honest and admit that he crosses the line fairly often.

What do you think about this view of introversion? If there are still psychologists and social workers reading this blog, please let us know what your reaction is. (I know, I’m deliberately nudging you to respond. Still, I am interested.)

Originally posted 2016-09-25 15:29:48.

Aliens

S7E7 includes an invasion of outsiders to Portwenn. There’s Erica Holbrooke and daughter Bernadette, the new art teacher and her daughter; Inspector Salter looking to switch Penhale to a new, larger location; the American tourist who’s played by Sigourney Weaver, alien extraordinaire; the Wintons, whom we’ve never seen before, and intrude into Martin’s space; and, most importantly, Dr. Rachel Timoney, who previously has never shown her face in the village. (Perhaps all of her patients have been word of mouth.) Each of these newcomers disrupts the normal order of things, and that’s the point.

What is an alien but someone who is not normally seen in a certain setting. And this episode spends a significant amount of time asking us to think about the concept of normality. To a great extent normal is defined by what’s abnormal in regards to where we are situated, and the definition is constantly changing. When Louisa asks Dr. T if struggling is a normal part of the process, Dr. T answers “normal is a loaded word” and that is an understatement. Each community has its own norms, and every social setting does too.  Dr. T might have answered that many, if not most, couples go through various trials before they arrive at a place where they are comfortable with where their marriage is. Therefore, it is normal to struggle for a time. Instead she makes a point of mentioning that the term “normal” has strong emotional implications. Moreover, in “Doc Martin” normal is a loaded word due to the many quirky people we’ve come across, not the least of whom is Martin Ellingham.

In this show, we have accepted that Martin is different, or not normal by the standards used by most of us. He is rude, abrasive, and confrontational to most people. He has a tendency to say what’s on his mind no matter what the setting, which means he has no concern about insulting people. If he’s served canapés, he sees no reason not to note that they are “salmonella en croute,” and when Bernadette is practicing the violin, he gives a blunt appraisal of her ability, which is that listening to her play is excruciating and what she’s playing is not music. We have come to expect Martin not to conform to how most of us have been taught to behave, and we usually enjoy his peccadilloes.

Because his alternative behavior can offend Louisa, he has tried at times to modify his behavior, but he’s typically unsuccessful at doing that. Furthermore, she notices when he’s being artificially nice and finds it transparent and unnatural. In this series, he’s once again doing his best to show Louisa how much effort he’s making to accommodate her. So far his adjustments have done very little to convince her that they should reconcile, and we can see that he is troubled by this. It’s possible that he thought she would come around much sooner once she noticed his determination to set things right, but she is being steadfast in her decision to take her time before yielding. In E7 she once again sends him on his way without so much as a nod to his routine of putting James Henry to bed at night.

Besides Martin both Bernadette and Penhale are identified as different, or abnormal. Bernie’s mother considers her gifted in many areas and has separated her from her peers. Erica is prone to actively pursuing the unusual and her art classes reflect that. Louisa wants her to have the kids do “normal” art like landscapes and drawings of rainbows while Erica asks the students to “confront who we are as people” and express their true selves by mounting their beloved stuffed animals and dolls on a display board. She upsets the children and her daughter by imposing an exercise on them and asking them to give up what comforts them. It seems they all have formed attachments to comforting objects and, therefore, it is “normal” for them to hate being separated from them.

Penhale stands out from the norm because Portwenn has been crime free while he’s been on duty. We know that he has done very little to produce that outcome, and, if anything, he’s wanted something criminal to take place under his watch, but his record looks outlandishly perfect to his superiors. Would he be able to reproduce that outcome if he were to move to the larger city of Exeter? Our suspicion is no. His unusual results are based on the size and character of Portwenn and not on his expertise.

Nevertheless, Inspector Salter notes that the men on the 5th floor want to know who is 3021. And Erica wants to know who these children are. And Martin and Louisa want to know who they are and how they can reconnect. Even Bert wants to find his true identity.

Of course, our American tourist is out of place in Portwenn. She also adds to her alien nature by being manipulative, demanding, and too convinced of her own knowledge. She is impatient and wants her glaucoma drops immediately, then she questions Martin’s decision to examine her only to find out that her doctor prescribed the wrong medicine for someone with her symptoms. Even as a patient she’s different. Her decision to give Morwenna a book about being assertive as a woman reflects her own behavior and can be seen as an effort to change Morwenna.

The fact that there is no real “normal,” begs the question of how to judge what we should change. Not only does our concept of normality change, but also we need to know ourselves, as Erica implies. We need to revisit the idea of whether people can change, but for now, a hint about that is the words that are printed on the art class board: “We Are What We Are.”

The other thing I would say about this episode is that its title, “Facta Non Verba,” is, to me, hard to apply to this episode. Translated from the latin this phrase means “Deeds not Words” or can be interpreted as “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” But, instead, this episode elevates words to a status above actions, and much of the episode accentuates the importance of words. During the opening therapy session Dr. T asks Martin and Louisa to create lists, to write down what they consider good about being apart. Later she tells Martin that it is the act of thinking and writing the lists that is important. Their final interaction with her has them engaging in wordplay with Dr. T writing down the words they suggest. She also tells them that she’s both “all” and “right.” Isn’t this another reference to how we use these words, and to the ambiguity of words?

At the pharmacy Dr. T loses track of what she’s saying and she calls Ruth senile. Ruth corrects her, telling her she’s not senile, and we can probably guess that Rachel really meant to use a different word, perhaps senior. Rachel also has a fairly nonsensical talk with Penhale whose closing remarks are that her words have helped him by giving him someone who can relate to what he’s feeling. Words can have a powerful impact.

Finally I think it’s worth looking at the lyrics of “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” the song mentioned by Penhale while talking to Martin about whether he should take the job offer in Exeter. (As an aside, this song was written by The Clash, a punk rock band from the late 70s, early 80s.) The words sung by The Clash seem to be right on the mark for this episode. The last scene has Martin telling Louisa that he can’t live like this anymore and she turns to go into the house with a lot to think about.

Here are the lyrics to the song:

Darlin’ you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

It’s always tease tease tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine and next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on an’ let me know
Should I Stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An’ if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

This indecision’s buggin’ me
If you don’t want me, set me free
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?
Come on and let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?

Split

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay there will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-10 18:16:29.

Sally Forth

Episode 6 is not just about Martin and Louisa; Sally and Clive Tishell play an important part due to how they handle their marital reconciliation. After Clive returns in E4 and surprises Sally, their decisions about the future of their marriage are used as a sort of guide to a better marriage. What they do is pretty much a model for how a married couple should reconcile, and how it can be done without a therapist.

When Clive resurfaces, he immediately embraces Sally even though he’s been gone for a long time. He doesn’t hold back despite the circumstances under which he left. It’s Sally who is cautious about taking him back and has no difficulty confronting Clive about being gone. Sally is beside herself over Clive’s return and tells Ruth about it as soon as she sees Ruth passing the pharmacy. Ruth’s advice to Sally is to have a frank conversation with Clive, which prompts Sally to succinctly list what they should talk about. They should discuss where their relationship has gone in the past, and where they are going in the future, and whether it’s apart or together, and if it’s together, how they will do that. There’s not much Ruth can add to that! (I was reminded of Sally’s monologue in the final episode of S5 when she recounts the on and off again relationship between Martin and Louisa so bluntly.)

It doesn’t take Sally long to get around to having a talk with Clive, and she lays out her feelings quite openly. Clive is agreeable and admits he was worried about what Sally would say if he asked her, before he returned. Next Sally tells Clive she’s changed and is no longer the woman he married. He accepts that and asserts he would marry her all over again anyway. He immediately disarms her and goes farther when he says, “I’m here for you Sal, if you’ll have me.” Her anger is defused but she’s still only willing to let him sleep on the couch.

It’s not difficult to juxtapose this exchange with the one we saw between Martin and Louisa when Louisa arrived unannounced in E2. Not only do they struggle to reveal their true feelings, but also their discussion is filled with unspoken psychological baggage. Martin never disarms Louisa by opening his heart and declaring he’s willing to do almost anything to convince her to take him back. Louisa is also unable to speak openly like Sally about how Martin disappointed her. Instead their separation becomes more laden with what is left unsaid. It’s as though the message is that the act of communicating is the fundamental solution to marital problems and eliminates the need for outside intervention.

In E5 we watch Sally as she continues to prepare casseroles to put outside Martin’s front door. Clive catches her in the act of cooking, but instead of getting angry and accusing her of any wrongdoing, he tells her he doesn’t know what she’s up to and doesn’t want to know. He’s letting the past stay in the past. Furthermore, he once again takes responsibility for not having been more attentive and possibly causing her to turn to untoward behaviors. But he suggests trying to trust each other and move on together. His next comments are the most critical: he tells her he ran away when she most needed him, but he’s there now and came back for her. It isn’t long before Sally takes the big step of throwing out her next cooked meal for Martin Ellingham and all the containers she had stored for more meals to come. This act is hugely significant for Sally.

Once again we can contrast Clive’s confessions with the total lack of admission of fault by Louisa. She, too, left when Martin most needed her, and she, too, has come back now. However, she isn’t willing to leave the past in the past. Martin has told Dr. T that he trusts Louisa but telling Louisa directly would be more effective. Moreover, he wants them to move on together yet has trouble expressing that to her. Martin even denies feeling lonely in the final scene of this episode, reinforcing the sense we have that he continues to avoid acknowledging his true feelings. All of their repressed and unsaid sentiments are placed at the root of their estrangement. Both Sally and Martin have suffered through major psychological events. Psychosis accompanied by delusional disorder marked by self-medication and criminal actions for her. Haemophobia followed by self-treatment and Major Depressive Disorder for him. They are both damaged by these experiences but Sally is not one to repress very much, and that seems to be healthier.

Now here we are in E6 and Sally finds Clive doing his best to help in the store. Already Clive’s efforts to demonstrate to Sally that he is sincere about rekindling their marriage are reaping big dividends. She has dropped her resistance to his advances and is ready to invite him back into their bedroom. Soon Sally is preparing Clive’s favorite meal for dinner and herself for a romantic evening.

The idyllic dinner Sally plans is precisely offset by the dinner plans of Martin and Louisa, even down to the replacement of the wine glasses on the dinner tables. The two dinners are intercut such that we watch both couples striving to make the evening a success, but in both cases that is not to be. Both end with medical emergencies and what appears to be a reconfirmation of their dedication to their spouses. Louisa makes clear that Danny has overstepped his boundaries and Martin seems satisfied to hear her put Danny in his place. Meanwhile, Clive has had a heart attack from applying testosterone gel combined with taking a pill to help with sexual arousal and Sally is overcome with anxiety that he might die. The difference in the level of emotion between Sally and Martin is exaggerated for comedic value as well as to demonstrate her newfound passion for her husband as opposed to Martin’s revulsion for such overflowing of emotion and his well-measured response to Louisa’s outburst. It would be nice to see Sally lower her excitement level and Martin increase his.

Nevertheless, Sally and Clive have proven that a marriage can be revived with a commitment to talk to each other, to be open about what they want from each other, and to accept responsibility for the mistakes that both of them have made. Sally would probably be categorized as a character with a small role that has a big impact. Throughout the show Sally has mostly been used as a thorn in Martin’s side, much like the dogs that follow him relentlessly. This time her impact is played out in how she lets bygones be bygones. It’s nice to see Sally used as more than for comedic gestures. Of course, she isn’t totally over her obsession with Martin. But we’re getting closer.

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-05 20:08:02.

Phallic allusions

As you know, I am inclined to write about serious topics, or to write about topics in a serious way. But let’s have some fun! This post will be about what has become pretty evident over the years — there are lots of jokes/scenes about male genitalia.

For one thing, you better not become a constable in Portwenn because so far all of them have had troubles with their sexual organs. Mark Mylow had a small penis and no sperm, and Joe Penhale found an abnormality on his scrotum. Of course, in both cases, Martin Ellingham gave them a thorough exam. In Mark’s case he also made fun of Mark’s magic pills advertised to make him more virile, and gave them to Stewart as a placebo.

And that brings me to how often this doctor has examined male patient’s gonads. Besides Mark and Joe, we have the patient who has his testicles examined by ME by mistake — he was the wrong patient. Recently, in S7E1, Steven Baker has been taking steroids and EPO because he wants to keep up with younger men, and his employee actually has some form of testicular cancer. We witness Martin examine both Steven and Barry’s genitalia.

In addition we have some men with erectile dysfunction. One man’s solution is to use S&M techniques, while Edward just takes Viagra. The S&M becomes a little too abusive and Edward overdoses. We also have Pauline’s uncle who is struggling to get his wife pregnant and who turns out to be attracted to men.

Now, S7E6, we have Clive who has taken potassium bromide to reduce any sexual urges while on the rig. (This, BTW, is a old fashioned treatment AND a drug used in veterinary medicine, which is funny to me because of Angela and her abuse of drugs as a vet.) Now he wants to have sex with Sally, and doesn’t want to disappoint her or make her think she isn’t attractive to him anymore, so he applies testosterone gel on his chest and takes Sildenafil (the chemical name for Viagra). Clive overdoses too and has a heart attack. Martin accuses him of being obsessed. (Possibly the pot calling the kettle black?)

Hey, we have to feel sorry for all the men in little Portwenn dealing with these handicaps, and maybe there are many male patients who require attention to that area, and the show is only being medically accurate! In comparison, though, ME has only done one gynecological exam that I can remember. It’s just not as funny as dallying with the danglers I guess!

Finally we have the silly references to penises through the use of vegetables (eggplant and tomatoes) and sausage. I’m good with having some fun — go ahead, have a laugh at men’s expense.

We will return to our usual posts now!

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-03 11:04:45.

Reboot

The title of E5 is Control-Alt-Delete, and there’s no question that control is a major theme in this episode. Martin and Louisa are still jostling for control in their relationship; he has lost the little control over his living arrangements he had when a new neighbor moves in and bothers him; and Buddy continues to follow him everywhere. In fact, Buddy is the default for him in trying to regain some control and almost suffers the utmost penalty for it. But even here Martin gives in to Louisa’s demand that he abort his decision to euthanize Buddy, which leads to Martin seeking the help of an animal rescue person. Alas, she can’t control Buddy either and he is forever finding a way to escape and return to Martin. He’s the one living creature that won’t give up on Martin no matter what Martin does to him.

However, these three keys of the keyboard have more meaning than we might suspect. In terms of their use on a keyboard, they are the way to reboot a PC computer and were originally chosen so that techies working on computers wouldn’t mistakenly reboot a computer when they were working on it. So the keys one has to depress to reboot are not all located near each other. It requires making an effort to hit the correct keys to begin a reboot.

What does it mean to reboot something? We generally reboot our devices when there has been a malfunction and rebooting and restarting will return the device to proper order. It works with TVs, cars, as well as computers; pretty much anything that is mechanical. If we follow that scheme for this episode, and possibly for the series, we can see that there are a number of occasions when either relationships are rebooted or decisions are rebooted, i.e. they are reconsidered and reset. (As an aside here, I want to note that TV shows are also rebooted and this can mean the restarting of a series storyline that discards all previous continuity. We may need that in this show soon.)

In this episode Martin and Louisa try to turn around their relationship by having Louisa be in control of an activity. IMO she has taken control to a great extent already; nevertheless, this time it is she who has been told to make plans and Martin is required to follow them. Although we may consider her periodic “jokes” she makes to Martin a sign that she is being unkind, one effect of her joking is that he is put off balance by them. This time she first explains to him that she has chosen to throw a party and wants him to introduce himself to everyone because they may not have met him yet. He looks quite petrified at this suggestion, but since she has no real plans for a party of that kind, he is relieved to learn that her actual plan is a picnic on the beach. For me, her strategy of switching the party to a day at the beach is somewhat ingenious because a day at the beach sounds much more appealing to him in comparison to a party. (I would have thought she might have wanted to go on a picnic in a more secluded spot, but this is a TV show and they need the interface with a variety of other members of the community. Also, Louisa wants Martin to be more socially active in the village.)

When Louisa arrives at Martin’s door to start their outing, Martin tries to exert control by having made his own picnic food and Louisa is immediately disgruntled and tempted to call the date off. However, they reboot and Martin puts away his picnic basket while Louisa reassesses and continues with the date. Ultimately, of course, many interruptions occur and the date is anything but a nice family outing. Nevertheless, Louisa recognizes that there are certain circumstances that demand Martin’s intervention and he both protects her and James from wild and crazy Angela as well as getting to the bottom of Angela’s mental breakdown. In the end, Louisa acknowledges that she was glad he took control of that situation. They’ve rebooted but not really reset.

As a byproduct of this scenario, Angela learns that medicating herself with animal antibiotics is not very smart. On the other hand, she concedes that she will probably do it again because that is what vets often do. Reboot; no actual change.

The major reboot in this episode is the one between Clive and Sally. Here we have Clive literally telling Sally that he wants to start over and doesn’t want to know anymore about what’s happened in the past. Basically he’s saying he wants to do a “hard” restart, and act as though their relationship is new. He loves her and wants to do everything he can to convince her he’s sincere. She, in turn, responds by reconsidering her actions, chucks the casserole she had prepared for Martin despite his objections, and jettisons the casserole containers she has been storing. She appears to have made a decision to end her obsessive behavior and restart her marriage with Clive. We are all glad to see that happen!

Another pair who reboot their interaction is Ruth and Bert. At the beginning of the episode Ruth has given Bert notice that he must vacate her property. Finding out that he has an illegal still in his van gives her even more motivation to ask him to leave. However, later in the episode Bert brings her a sample of the whiskey he’s been brewing, she tastes it and decides it has promise, and soon she is giving Bert another two weeks to remain on her farm.

We might include Al and Morwenna renewing their personal connection, and we can probably add that Martin’s discovery that Kelly has seizures and not ADHD reboots the approach she should take towards her symptoms.

While watching this episode, and because it’s the episode that I walk through and that I watched while they filmed, I noticed they use several scenes twice. The two that stood out to me are when Martin walks down the alley toward the harbor and when he drinks a cup of coffee in the morning prior to leaving for work. They also repeat with little change the scene where Ruth talks to Bert outside his van. I’m just guessing here, but they may have edited this episode to essentially reboot certain scenes.

I find it is critical that Buddy is the one part of this episode that can’t be rebooted. He not only represents Martin’s lack of control over his life, but also how some situations resist rebooting. He exhibits dogged determination (pun intended). It’s hard to imagine that Angela can’t keep him from getting away from her so many times, especially in the final scene. But there he is running up the hill towards the surgery with Angela following. Buddy’s hounding of Martin is emblematic of his devotion. Rather than be put off from Martin, Buddy will not be deterred.

Much needs to be rebooted between Martin and Louisa. It’s a good metaphor for where their marriage is at this point.

 

 

Originally posted 2015-10-29 11:56:15.

Hugs and kisses

Now that Acorn has posted E4, we can turn our attention to the assignment of hugging 3 times a day. Dr. Timoney gives them that assignment after seeing them together for the first time. She precedes the recommendation by observing that they seem very self contained. At the time they are seated next to each other on a small bench, but Louisa has also said she feels a little smushed and asks Martin to move over. He has no place to move.

We can say there is some symbolism in that.

Also, Dr. T tells them that most couples touch in some way, possibly holding hands. I think that is a rather surprising remark to make to a couple seeking marriage counseling. They are evidently experiencing some tension in their marriage. If they were holding hands, that would be a signal that their relationship wasn’t nearly as imperiled as we would presume, wouldn’t it?

Interestingly, the one sort of touching they’ve done most throughout the show is holding hands. Holding hands, like most forms of touching, makes people feel closer to each other, and the times we’ve seen Martin take Louisa’s hand are definitely accompanied by both of them responding with pleasure, e.g. following the concert or after they’ve retrieved JH from Mrs. Tishell at the Castle.

Asking Martin and Louisa to hug each day and say something positive to each other makes some sense. Dr. T is perceptive enough to notice that outward signs of affection are sorely lacking in this couple, and starting with that could break the ice. There is some truth to the idea that hugging, or any kind of physical touch, has a significant impact on humans. An article in Psychology Today lists three major benefits:

  1. Security. A lot of time has passed since the Harlow studies, showing that poor monkey babies prefer a cloth doll without milk as a mother substitute over a metal doll with milk [2]. Worldwide we agree that babies need to be held. There is evidence that adults who were frequently hugged and cuddled during early childhood display fewer stress symptoms than less-hugged counterparts [3]. Physical affection also alleviates stress reactions in adults who report less existential anxiety even when touched only briefly [4]. We are simply wired to find touch reassuring, as many studies of first impressions show [5].
  2. Positive Feelings. As adults, we can live without hugs, of course, but we do seem to be happier with them. We release the hormone oxytocin when touched, which elevates feelings of attachment, connection, trust, and intimacy. [6] When we’re hugged, we feel less lonely. I speculate that students feel less devastated by academic problems when well-hugged, well-assured, and well-bonded. Apparently, hugs facilitate social bonding and the experience of participating fully in this life, which, to me, is  true happiness.*
  3. Better HealthAnother commonly mentioned benefit of hugging lies in our improved health, as when we are touched our heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol are lowered [7]. Reach out and hug, and your life might not only feel better, but last longer.

It is the power of touch that has driven the worldwide movement to offer hugs to strangers that began in 2004. For more on this you can check out wikipedia. The idea is that we can bring the world together by offering hugs to random strangers. There has also been a study of strangers and kissing that you may want to watch. See here. If you watch this video, you can see that a kiss can cause just about anyone to let down their guard even though it is accompanied by some embarrassment. We don’t see that with Martin and Louisa at first, but later kisses elicit more loss of inhibitions.

Martin has clearly suffered from not being hugged and cuddled as a baby and now he finds hugging generally unappealing. Aunt Joan gets away with a few hugs, although sometimes Martin looks mighty uncomfortable in her arms. He usually avoids physical contact with others and recoils when they try to touch him. Louisa is the only person he wants to touch and wants touching him.

Thus, the assignment to hug is grounded in a bona fide effort to bring Martin and Louisa together by having them touch each other. At this point in their marriage they have grown apart to such a degree that physical contact has diminished to almost nothing. Once the assignment is given to them, they do not shrink from it. In my opinion, Louisa likes physical affection and it’s not surprising that she would be the first to initiate a hug. The first hug is awkward and they hug again almost immediately. The ice has been broken, although nothing is ever simple with them, and Martin once again ruins the moment by telling Louisa his watch is caught on her cardigan. Nevertheless, by then Louisa has admitted that she likes hugging Martin and that she isn’t going anywhere. (One of those hints that the marriage will recover.)

By the end of E4, Louisa decides to hug Martin one more time. This time Martin asks her if the hug is spontaneous or part of the assignment. For me that is the one problem with making it an assignment…how will anyone know if the hug comes from a sincere desire to be affectionate or is a way to fulfill the assignment. Not only does his question create some ambiguity to the end of the episode, but also it points out the uncertainty that still exists in their relationship. But hey, we finally get some overt affection from this couple and it’s something to enjoy even if it is short-lived.

Originally posted 2015-10-21 22:01:52.

Turnabout is Fair Play

One major element of S7 is the many ways in which the action in scenes involves a reversal of what has happened before. There has been a conscious effort to switch up many of the typical interactions amongst the characters. Their decision to present things in this manner leads us to appreciate that change has taken place. Some of these changes are positive, and some not so much.

One of the most significant changes to me is that Martin no longer works on clocks. We might speculate that he was very adversely affected by his mother taking the one clock that meant a lot to him and cannot bring himself to work on them anymore. On the other hand, it is precisely at this moment when working on clocks could be of some comfort to him. He’s alone again, he’s very unhappy that Louisa is gone again, and fixing clocks has always been a source of solace to him. It distracts him from his troubles throughout the other series. Could he have decided the clocks are interfering with his life and the time he could be spending with his wife and son? The fact that he no longer has clocks to work on never comes up.

Martin is trying to change and his efforts include thanking Louisa for a gift he doesn’t like; telling her he doesn’t mind the noise and disarray of the home; accepting the various assignments Dr. T gives them; and, especially, giving Louisa some very nice compliments. He says she’s a good and caring mother and very beautiful, that he misses her (as opposed to Louisa saying she’ll miss him when she leaves for work in S6, and that she missed him and James when she returns from work and getting no reaction or sign that her feeling is reciprocated), telling her she would notice if James had a rash or anything medical that might be important to notice, and instigating a hug.

We certainly can’t overlook that this time Martin moves out instead of Louisa leaving. It’s a generous offer and shows Louisa that he’s willing to sacrifice for her. It also keeps her nearby and gives him plenty of opportunities to see her. For her part, she is willing to stay at the surgery yet considers it his home. She tells him that he should be there, a sign that she realizes how strange it is for him to live somewhere else.

Now that she lives in the surgery, it is Louisa who makes coffee and offers it to Martin.  She also let’s Martin in the kitchen door. It’s particularly amusing to see Martin tapping at the kitchen window while Louisa sits at the kitchen table. It’s also funny that he is surprised by Louisa when she runs into the kitchen after her morning shower and he acts out of place. It was Louisa who previously seemed to be intruding at times.

We also see Louisa clean up the toys and the kitchen. She holds the toys in much the same way we’ve seen Martin hold them in S6. When Louisa cooks dinner on that first night, Martin does not try to wash the cutting board or take over in any way. He eats what she cooks and even suggests using additional seasoning, something he rarely considers necessary. It is also Martin who broaches the subject of their future and intermittently notes that their living circumstances are odd and not what he would prefer. However, it is Louisa who has the deciding vote on this and, like Martin at times in the past, she appears tongue tied when the subject comes up.

It is Louisa who determines who the next child minder will be. Meanwhile Martin has sought therapy and has been willing to let the therapist make the ground rules. He cooperates and tells Dr. T about his childhood. With Dr. Milligan Martin was very resistant and rude. When it is Louisa’s turn, she is more reticent and hesitates to admit her childhood was anything but normal. We are reminded that Martin used to be the one who described his childhood as perfectly healthy.

Martin suggests he has time to do things with JH. We’ve seen him feed James and play with him in his own idiosyncratic way, but now he offers to bathe James every day. Previously Louisa had to prompt him to do something with James.

In another significant change, Al has a home and Bert is in a camper van and unsettled. Al’s business is just getting started and hits several snags, but Bert’s has ended.

We are witnessing a variety of changes that make the case that change is possible. There is a difference between changing one’s personality and changing certain actions; however, we have to start somewhere.  Martin and Louisa’s convictions that people can change are played out in these early episodes by inverting how many of the characters we’ve come to know conduct themselves. They haven’t become different people and still exhibit many of their usual traits. Martin is still stiff and unsmiling and continues to be flummoxed by what Louisa does and says; Louisa has remained convinced that living apart can solve some of their marital problems and she is unwilling to give in too quickly. Other changes may be in store and this post will be updated to reflect them.

 

 

Originally posted 2015-10-20 18:40:06.

Failure to Communicate

Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start (to coin a phrase). I also want to make sure those of you who are in the U.S. and Canada aren’t upset by any discussions that go past what’s available on Acorn TV. As of Monday, Oct. 12, E1-3 will be viewable, so I will keep this post confined to those three episodes. We can always add more once we have additional episodes to watch.

Although E1 is entitled “Rescue Me,” and we can see how they arrived at that designation, I would submit they could have called it “Failure to Communicate.” They might argue that that would be too obvious, but for me it says a lot. This show is built on the constant inability of its two protagonists to communicate with each other. Many times they misunderstand each other. Sometimes that’s because they have trouble expressing themselves clearly or because they have trouble interpreting what the other person is saying. Other times it’s because they are interrupted. Then there’s the regular instances of Martin simply being lacking in insight and responding literally and undiplomatically to what Louisa says.

Their inability to talk to each other reached its zenith in S6 when Martin stopped talking to Louisa about almost everything. She never heard him tell his mother that his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth; she wasn’t there when he told his mother to leave or when he spoke to Ruth. Around her Martin was tongue tied at best, as in when he objected at first to taking James to the music group, and utterly stifled at worst. We don’t see him able to express himself to Louisa until he needs to race to the airport and take her off the plane. When he finally has an opportunity to say something to her from his heart, she is sedated and we’re never sure she can remember it.

We start S7 without knowing what happened once Louisa was released from the hospital, but we have to think that Martin never reiterated what he told her in the hospital or she wouldn’t have taken James to Spain. We know Louisa didn’t want to return to the way things were before she had the emergency surgery; however, it’s hard to imagine that if Martin had appealed to her to help him be a better husband, she would have left. Logic says he was once again unable to bring himself to tell her outright that he didn’t want her to leave and what he had finally done about his mother. Principally, the first episode emphasizes many communication impediments. Nearly everyone has many problems hearing and/or talking to others by phone, by radio, and in person.

Martin hasn’t heard from Louisa in 3 weeks. He brings himself to call her but has to leave a message. She calls back on the surgery phone and he can’t hear her. She texts that she has poor reception where she is, then she calls and he’s in a place with poor reception. Her final try to reach him by phone is when he’s with Dr. T and he doesn’t get her call. It’s heartening to see that she continues to attempt to contact him; and deliberately frustrating for him and for us that he never actually talks to her. Since she is so persistent we can’t help thinking that all he had to have done during those 3 weeks was to have tried to call her. Her voice messages and text message are all pleasant and conciliatory.

Martin also has been trying to reach Ruth without success. Once he finds her at home, he informs her he’s been calling her for days. When he manages to get across that he wants to start therapy, she doesn’t at first understand that he wants her to provide therapy for him.

Beyond the Martin and Louisa situation, there are several other times in this episode where there are communication hangups. Morwenna and Martin misunderstand each other almost from the outset of the episode. She wants to participate in the boat rescue event, she wants a pay rise, she wants to reschedule his afternoon patients, and he considers all of these things inappropriate and unnecessary. Then, when she’s crashed in an isolated bay and trying to reach him on the phone or the radio, Martin can’t hear her or she can’t hear him. The rescue squad has its problems too. It can’t reach Steve and the boat’s radio can’t get a message out for some time.

In addition to all this trouble communicating, Steve Baker withholds information from Martin and Barry. No one from the press knows what’s going on, and Martin disrupts their transmissions. Moreover, Al doesn’t tell Ruth the truth about the condition of the B + B, and Steve is forever telling Al to trust him while giving him no reason to do so.

The whole episode is truly a massive amount of failures to communicate. My assessment is that we start this series with this theme because it is at the crux of the troubles between Martin and Louisa and always has been. Furthermore, communication is the key to interpersonal interactions of all kinds and this episode magnifies that.

Episode 2 has fewer miscommunication examples; however, there are enough to sustain the theme of communication being at the heart of this series. Louisa shows up at the surgery unexpectedly, although Martin acts like he thought she would arrive later. Several of their conversations are interrupted, and when they do have a chance to talk, they are both very awkward. It’s clear that they are struggling to converse because the elephant in the room is the future of their marriage and neither one of them is ready to talk about it…until dinner. Even then, the tension in the air is inescapable. One of the truly meaningful exchanges between Martin and Louisa in this episode occurs when Martin is packing so that he can move out to please Louisa. His first attempt at telling her he likes having her and James back comes when he says, “You know I don’t miss the peace and quiet.” She needs clarification and he repeats that now that she’s back he didn’t miss it. What he’s saying still doesn’t make sense to her, and she asks him what he’s trying to say. This time he is clear and says, “When you and James weren’t here, everything was neat and tidy and quiet, and now that you’re back, it’s not, and that’s fine.” In this example, we get a glimpse of the effort Martin is making to express himself better and to make himself more vulnerable.

Martin’s first appointment with Dr. Timoney is a mixture of the doctor setting the tone and of Martin making real attempts to reveal intimate information about himself. Even at this early stage in the clinical setting, she knows more about Martin’s early childhood than Louisa, at least to the best of our knowledge. Still there’s a sense that there’s so much more she should find out and more probing is necessary.

In other parts of the episode we note that Al’s guest couple have very different ideas about what a fishing holiday should entail. He wants peace and quiet while she wants relaxation and time spent together. The two positions are very much at odds and lead to one mishap after another. The funniest depiction of inability to communicate to me is when Bert tries to tell Al he has no lobsters for dinner and ends up looking like he’s playing castanets.

But it’s in this episode that we start to see more withholding of information. The act of hesitating to say what’s really essential is just as important as anything that can be said outright. Sometimes silence means more than any words can convey. Lack of communication includes what we leave out and neglect to say. Many times during this and later episodes there are pregnant silences during which either Louisa or Martin or both don’t know what to say and just stare at each other. Ruth, too, withholds much about her symptoms, probably as much from herself as from Martin. It isn’t until Ruth finally can’t walk steadily and Martin prevails on her to go back home with him that she gives in. (Can we think that this scene presages what may take place between Martin and Louisa?)

[For those of you who are interested in literary theory, Jacques Derrida’s philosophy could apply here. Perhaps Derrida’s most quoted and famous assertion, which appears in an essay on Rousseau in his book Of Grammatology (1967), is the statement that “there is no outside-text” (il n’y a pas de hors-texte). For most of us this means that what is left out of a text is as important as what is left in. (I am being very reductionist here, but getting into Derrida is really outside the scope of this post.)]

It’s amusing that E3 is given the title “It’s Good to Talk” because this episode is once again filled with scenes during which communication, or lack thereof, is prominent. Bert has lost the restaurant and has received a letter from Jennifer breaking off their engagement, but he chooses not to tell Al anything about it and he’s very evasive with Ruth. Al does his best to avoid telling Ruth that business is bad, and later finds himself at a loss for words while on the radio. The entire secondary story about Dermot and Elise is filled with misunderstandings and much withholding of information. Their daughter Ellie has nothing but resentment towards her parents and they see no value in what she wants to do with her life. Interestingly, Ellie is a writer of songs that express her feelings. When direct communication fails, some turn to writing.

The radio station creates lots of opportunities for communication problems, but it’s most notable for the so-called “dead air” DJ Melanie has to fill. After all, what is a radio station without sound? And how often is “dead air” filled with so much meaningless babble?

Martin and Louisa are clashing and Louisa gives him a comeuppance he is stunned by. Later Louisa’s view of Dr. T is complicated by Ruth’s devious method of making Louisa think again about couple’s therapy. By the end of the episode Louisa first finds it hard to give Martin some praise for saving Ellie’s life even though she is obviously proud of her husband and makes a special point of telling James. On the other hand, she is the one to approach Martin with a conciliatory gesture of agreeing to couple’s therapy and telling him “it could be a means to an end or a new beginning.” This last scene holds out hope to Martin even though the statement is somewhat ambiguous.

It seems quite likely that communication will continue to be a major hurdle in Martin and Louisa’s effort to reunite. We see some improvement, and therapy should be a place where the therapist facilitates better communicating. In fact, as some of the therapists in this group have noted elsewhere, the best assignment Dr. T can give this couple is to talk about the things that have been a disruption to the marriage and about what they would like to see in their future together. Talking things out can often help. The show is built around intrusions that keep them from having a chance to express themselves adequately, but lately we have seen fewer interruptions and that’s a good sign.

[I want to add that we see another scene of forgiveness in episode 3 when Ellie’s mother, who has been acting angry at everyone actually tells Ellie she’s not angry at her and gives her a hug. She has decided to hire someone to help with the pigs until Dermot is well and not expect Ellie to do that work. She understands Ellie wants to write and sing songs. (It’s at least ironic that the song Ellie sings after her mother leaves is about how her parents care more for the pigs than for her, but she is singing from her heart!)]

Originally posted 2015-10-12 18:07:17.

Can’t Stop

We are now at S7E5 and I have noticed that there is a refrain going through this series. We have talked about the question of whether people can change, and that several characters (notably Martin, Louisa, and Ruth) think they can. In this series they have added the undercurrent of being unable to stop, whatever that can be construed to mean.

On at least three occasions that I can think of characters have literally announced they can’t stop. The first time is when Martin runs past Louisa near the school on the way to see a patient, she calls out to him, and he says “I can’t stop.” The next time is when Louisa is in a hurry to get to work after Janice has shown up late and she runs by Martin. She says “I can’t stop.” The third time I noticed is when Angela Sim tells Mrs. Tishell she can’t stop as she runs up the road to the surgery. Angela repeats this refrain a couple of times.

We can see that there is a literal reason for each of these characters to say they can’t stop. Martin has to get to a patient, Louisa has to get to work, and Angela thinks she has an urgent message for the doc. But repeating that phrase makes it stand out in a way that for me gives it more substance.

We know there are many issues related to control in this show. More specifically and immediately, we are now hearing from the therapist that she notices that Martin likes to be in control and she wants Martin to let Louisa control an activity. We may find that a bit jarring since we know Louisa usually has been the one to determine the direction of their relationship, but we also know that Martin’s behavior denotes significant problems with repression and a need to control his environment. The refrain of “I can’t stop,” therefore, takes on the meaning of lack of control and an inability to change.

In S6E1 I was impressed to hear Louisa say to Martin during a romantic moment “anything you say.” Of course, he responded “I didn’t say anything.” Nevertheless, for that moment at least she was handing over control to him. The rest of the episode, however, was a battle of who was in control. He walks off in search of a phone and with no thought about her difficulty in keeping up with him, she tells him they’re going the wrong way but can’t get him to stop, she refuses to wade across the stream and he carries her, she walks off in a rage because he never understands what she’s saying, they reach the caravan where she grabs the flashlight from him, soon she grabs the rifle and demands an apology from the caravan owner, etc., etc. By the end of the episode, they’re walking arm in arm and are back on equal footing. Nevertheless, who’s in control is a major stumbling block for them, and being unable to stop trying to do things their own way only ends when they work together to save the caravan owner’s life.

In this series we expect to see both of them make an effort to change so that their marriage can recover. But what if the hitch is they can’t stop…they can’t stop being who they are and acting out in their customary ways? There is always a point where we plateau or make little progress. It’s like being on a diet and losing weight consistently until the weight no longer drops off, and that’s when we have to dig in and not give up. We may have reached such a place with them at this stage in their therapy.

Bringing in the phrase “I can’t stop” at regular intervals reminds us that stopping is an important step in the process of changing. Martin has to stop being so closed off and so sure of how each day must proceed. He can’t follow the rigid sequence he’s always had while living alone and that he has gone back to in some ways now that he’s once again living by himself. We see him starting his morning with a cup of espresso, always wearing his suit and tie, marching down the street to work like clockwork, and going through his day as if nothing has changed. But it has changed, and now he’s seeing a therapist with Louisa and visiting Louisa and James, and he’s beginning to realize that he needs to accept more disruptions. Maybe Louisa likes eating sausage on occasion and he can’t expect her to want fish every day just because he does.

For her part, Louisa needs to stop assuming his problems are causing their troubles and accept that she now has to share space and make compromises for their marriage. She also has to stop expecting him to make dramatic changes in his behavior because that’s a long term process, as the therapist says. She has to take the trust he puts in her and reinforce it by her actions until he can relax and give in to her. We may never see that whole process, but it will hopefully be implied.

I took great interest in watching Mrs. Tishell throw away the food she cooked for Martin and then throw away all the containers she had bought in preparation for making him many more meals. She has been able to stop finally, or at least it looks that way. The preview of the next episode shows her telling Clive that he can rejoin her in the bedroom. He has offered an authentic apology including not wanting to know what she’s been up to. He simply wants her to take him back and give him another chance. As predicted by Luskin’s prescriptions for forgiveness, she has a positive response to that request. I have to admit that I had reached my limit with Sally Tishell’s obsession with Martin. This series they are using her for much better purposes and I appreciate that.

I hope to see Bert stop living on the good graces of his son and Ruth, Al and Morwenna stop being so worried about being a couple, and perhaps Penhale stop being so alone. Most importantly, of course, I hope to see Martin and Louisa stop erecting defenses and admit they both need to work on themselves and on their marriage. Mrs. Tishell is the first chink in the armor of feeling unable to stop. She shouldn’t be the last.

 

Originally posted 2015-10-07 11:47:21.