More about the kitchen table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *