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.

80 thoughts on “Normal Is A Loaded Word

  1. Santa Traugott

    Sometimes it seems to me that what Louisa wants, and means by normal, is that he will somehow fit in with the village — quirky as its residents are, nevertheless, they have their own mores and customs and he violates every one of them. She does often seem to feel that she has to stick up for him and defend him, and that must get tiresome. She urges him on to change his practice manner (‘Have a laugh”), behave like a proper head teacher’s husband and attend school events, give speeches, etc. I think you can see her in earlier series, chivvying him to try to fit in better.

    In the non-wedding episode, her friends (Roger and Pauline and her bridesmaid) are shown as poking fun at Martin, and wondering what on earth she sees in him. I think that this teasing hit on a sore spot for her, and contributed to her decision not to go through with the wedding.

    But that does conflict with the part of her that recognizes what is unique and valuable, that draws her to him.

    So, I would wonder if that has not been part of the push-pull all along — his “wrongness” for the village is troublesome for her, even as she is strongly attracted to him on other grounds.

    Maybe the word I am thinking of is “conventional” — part of her wants him to be conventional, at least according to the norms of that village.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Since you have decided to place the focus of the meaning of normal on what Louisa may mean by using that term, rather than what the writers may be thinking, I think we need to look at how her view of Martin has evolved over the 7 series. When she told him the folks in Portwenn want a doctor with a good bedside manner, it was very early in their relationship and pretty soon after he first came to town. Now it’s been 3-4 years since that time and both Louisa and the town have grown more accustomed to ME and his personality traits. She has been proud of his medical skills on numerous occasions; she knows he acts differently towards her than towards anyone else; and the town has had a chance to see him in action. They wouldn’t have lined up down the street to see him before he is scheduled to leave if they didn’t hold him in high regard. I really doubt she still wants him to be “conventional” at this point.

    I do wonder if she says her parents are “normal as you like” because she wants them to have been more conventional. She claims she didn’t need them after the age of 12 anyway, which most of us would definitely disagree with. So, in a way she may be projecting what she would imagine as a good marriage/good parenting onto her marriage after having had such a dysfunctional experience with her parents’ marriage. What they show us is Louisa expecting Martin to share her life by attending school functions, helping with JH, and taking JH to music group because she has a meeting out of town. What happens is ME tries to be social but flubs both conversation and invitation skills, which is both funny and unsurprising. However, at the music group he becomes an object of respect and admiration after he diagnoses a cataract in a child’s eye. He is the talk of the town for a good reason this time.

    I would think what she misses continues to be the intimacy and affection that should be a part of being newly married. It was there during and after the wedding, it lasted to some degree through the school performance and even during the dinner, but once his haemophobia returns, Louisa finds herself shut out by him and that has always been the thing she most dislikes. Things go from bad to worse by the end of S6.

    For me the thing that is most atypical in his behavior is having trouble recognizing Louisa’s emotions, and that has often been the last straw for her. I think that is why they bring that back during the unfortunate end to JH’s birthday party when Louisa is clearly upset that everyone has left under such a cloud and appeals to Martin on a personal level. She is near tears yet he still responds with “you’re upset,” as if he’s not sure.

    Besides, what she says in E8 is she’s been obsessed with people being normal, not just Martin. That seems to be a distinction we should not overlook as well as a curious comment. After all, there aren’t many people in Portwenn who qualify as normal, which is my general argument.

  3. Santa Traugott

    Well, as you know, I fully agree that the idea that his not being “normal” was Louisa’s problem with him came out of left field. I thought that it was very clear at the end of S6 that, exactly as you say, she was deeply disappointed with his inability to carry the weight of emotional intimacy that marriage implies, and she didn’t know if she could continue living that way. I also have always felt that she did not really believe he could change in that respect, and she came back from Spain thinking that the marriage was probably not salvageable, but holding out just a shred of hope and not yet willing or able to completely foreclose the possibility that he could change.

    But they had to give her some kind of trajectory, I guess, and a season of focusing on Martin working on his own problems with intimacy perhaps didn’t seem to have the same dramatic impact of having Louisa come to understand that she had problems too.

    Or maybe the idea was just to stretch it out, by not having Louisa recognize that he was actually trying to be more open and affectionate with her, and have her focus on her idea that he was not “normal.” I don’t know — I just think it was a curveball.

    By the way, why that realization (that she, like everybody else, has some “issues”) should make her more prepared to tolerate the difficulties of being in a relationship with him, is not clear to me. Equally, she might have said, oh, I see. The fact that I need men to disappoint me to live up to my expectations, is maybe why I picked Martin in the first place. But now that I know this, I can discard that old script and look for a relationship that will be more emotionally fulfilling and less disappointing.

    But I am trying to understand what the writers would have us understand what Louisa is thinking about when she talks about “normal.”

  4. DM

    Like many, if not most viewers, the ending of S7 and E8 gave me pause with the unexpected contention where Louisa’s tells us, “I think maybe I’m a little bit obsessed with everyone having to be normal….” And then like many of you, I began recalling and replaying occasions through all the series when we’ve been shown otherwise, episode by episode. I considered each instance of past series where that term “normal” and its synonyms and various euphemisms are used and prepared a reasonable distinction for each. Then I looked at the interwoven storylines of this latest series and weighed each character’s motivations and pondered, “Then why did she say it?” The answer, that is the short one for now, is:

    because Louisa lied.

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    What you’re saying then is that either the writers (in this case Jack Lothian and perhaps PB)chose to have Louisa come up with something that was utterly inconsistent with all that we know about her in order for Louisa to be the one to admit having made a mistake this time, OR they gave us a Louisa who throughout S7 reacted differently than we have come to expect, was unable to forgive Martin no matter how hard he tried to impress her, and, in the end, lies to his face that he’s never let her down and that she has been obsessed with everyone being normal. Surely they could have had Louisa confess that she’s been mistaken after coming to some more acceptable realization! Whew! Both of those options are disturbing and make me even more unsure that having an eighth series is a good idea!!

    That last scene is so unnecessarily confusing because of the dialogue. I guess we’re all supposed to be so content that they profess love for each other and kiss that we don’t really try to make heads or tails of what they said prior to that point!

  6. Santa Traugott

    Well, I think this is a little harsh in this sense: they pointed throughout the series that it would be Louisa who would come around, and have some sort of epiphany, akin to what Martin had at the last nanoseconds of S4 and S5 (and maybe S6). The therapy was clearly designed to be a way to point out to Louisa that she had issues too. And Louisa was laser-like focused on what she considered Martin’s “abnormalities” — his blood phobia, what she spitefully labeled his OCD, as well as his propensity for eating fish. So that was the clear setup for the basis on which she would come around.

    So if you want to define his mental health issues as “abnormalities” — I shudder at that but I think that’s the story’ view — then yes, maybe she came around to the idea that everybody has mental health issues, including her, and therefore, she could accept that it was OK for Martin not to be “normal.” I still think that was a non-sequitur,or a conclusion that really doesn’t make much sense, but apparently the best they could come up with, once they made the choice that the situation could only be resolved by the last couple of sentences of dialogue. Anyway, I think the theme of the series was designed to be, that Louisa comes to terms with the idea that Martin is not going to be what she wanted him to be, but she wants to be with him anyway.

    Maybe the use of the word “normal” was just a rationalization on her part, or a summary in her mind of what had been the stumbling block?

    At any rate, the blood phobia and fish eating were never the real stumbling blocks, and I think that’s why it feels so false. But dealing with his emotional unavailability would have been much trickier dramatically, and anyway, that had been shown to be more or less resolved with Martin’s breakthrough at the end of S6, and Louisa’s apparent rejection of that possibility by her flight to Spain.

  7. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Santa, you’re so right that they set it up such that those of us who have been watching the show closely were pretty sure that we would see a successful resolution in the last episode and probably in the final scene. But the fact that we’re groping around for a way to explain how they reached that point is a real letdown. It truly is surprising that they claim this was the best written of all the series.

  8. Santa Traugott

    Your last sentence points to what I think is the most interesting question here: what choices did the writers (creative powers that be, otherwise CPB) think they had for a way forward after S6, and for a way to sum up the denouement?

    I wonder if it’s not so much that it was badly written, but that they had boxed themselves into a corner, and their choices were more limited, dramatically, than we might think.

    If you think that they decided that the main thing they wanted to accomplish here was to bring Louisa around, she having apparently chosen to reject or ignore any signs of emotional breakthrough on Martin’s part, then one path forward was to have her learn that everybody, including her, is flawed, and that therefore she should be less judgmental and more tolerant of his idiosyncracises. It seems to me that summing this realization up as “normal” is not so far off base.

    What other dramatic choices might they have made, for a story arc? People have certainly suggested that there were a lot better ways to go, but so far, I’ve just not been convinced.

  9. Abby

    Santa, I think your use of the word “conventional” instead of “normal” fits better with Louisa’s world view. “Proper” might also fill the bill. An example is her interactions with Erica over the art lessons. Erica wanted to teach the children to be open and creative, while Louisa wanted the conventional fields and flowers. [I grant you that Erica stapling the stuffed animals to the board was a bit much.] It seems to me that Louisa has spent her life trying to overcome her embarrassment with her unconventional family-of-origin by molding herself into a “model citizen”.

    Now, you might say that much of her behavior has in actuality been anything but conventional throughout the show, but, since human beings are full of inconsistencies and contradictions, I think there is reality in her inconsistencies regarding convention. She has been playing the strong, secure, and independent woman for as long as we’ve known her. That is the role she sees as “normal”, “conventional”. She desperately wants Martin to follow conventional social norms, something which he is not very good at, and she is embarrassed when he falls short.

    So, I think what BP is trying to show is simply that Louisa finally gets that she too is a troubled, unconventional soul. With this understanding, she is finally (we hope) able to accept Martin for his “unusualness”. They could have achieved this in the first few episodes, but unfortunately they chose to drag it out.

    Now, I know that another issue between them is Martin’s difficulty in reading and expressing emotions. But, methinks that is a topic for another day.

  10. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I can’t believe you think there are very few alternatives they had available to them, and I am not about to suggest others. However, what I would hope is that they sat down and thought about what could happen with the characters after they chose the route they took in S6. If they are writing each series by the seat of their pants and have not thought through where they want to end up by the conclusion of the show, that would be a stunning oversight!

    One thing I would definitely have liked them to have pursued is how the childhood events that we have been given throughout the length of the show were finally acknowledged and somewhat unraveled by Martin and Louisa. That we start S7 with all of that out of the picture and Martin’s major depression simply gone has really bothered me. The one mention of how Louisa’s childhood might have impacted her adult life seems to have had some effect on Louisa by the expression on her face, but I would have thought they would have done more with that. When she returns from Spain she says she has been thinking about what to do with their marriage the entire time she’s been away, yet the only idea that occurred to her is that they should live separately? There are just too many loose ends that stay that way.

  11. Santa Traugott

    My view is just that the routes that people such as us are interested in, e.g., exploring more about how their childhood experiences might have impacted them, would have led to more time in therapy sessions than they were willing to spend, or thought dramatically appealing.

    It goes back to one of the points you’ve made and that I agree with — therapy was only a framing device and little real use was made of it, except perhaps to point to certain themes.

    Yes, the idea that the only way to save their marriage was to live apart until somehow Martin became “normal” (apparently) was idiotic. But having decided that although he had changed or was willing to try to change anyway, and she didn’t recognize or believe it, that was probably the only thing they could come up with to keep them apart for longer than the first week after she returned.

    I didn’t say it made much sense, any of it. Just that I’m trying to reconstruct how and why they made these choices, assuming they’re neither careless nor dim-witted. They may well underestimate portions of their audience, though.

  12. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    There he goes again…we have to be accurate procedurally. Either the therapist friend was not consulted enough or they chose to modify the advice, but therapists would not think much of the therapy!

    There are plenty of 54 yo actors getting work. He does have a very nice setup though. Can’t beat taking every other year off and possibly throw in a trip for a documentary.

  13. mmarshall

    Ha! I’ve thought this idea, too, because several things they say to each other seem mistaken. I realized that I expect characters in this kind of “wrap up the season” moment to be saying soul-bearing things to each other and to be perfectly accurate and amazingly insightful. But what if they’re thoughtful, but still hiding in their emotional crooks and insecurities? Maybe they would feel like saying nice things, but not quite succeed. Or maybe they would say nice things to be nice, but not really believe everything they are saying (like Louisa saying he had never let her down. Perhaps at that moment she wanted that to be true!).

    I’ve also wondered, what does Louisa really think is “unusual” about herself after this season and the therapy? The therapist suggested that her perception of love might mean leaving, or that any who loves her may end up leaving her. Does L connect this to her tendency to flee in difficult situations? I think that at the heart of Louisa leaving Martin was a power struggle and her needing to always feel in control and in charge. In S6 they struggle back and forth with common early-marriage issues — working on top of each other in the kitchen, care for the baby, tidiness differences. Before the marriage they had struggled with “who’s in charge” issues — naming the baby, deciding the christening date. I think both of these kinds of issues are at the heart of their power struggle and control issues. Both have been very used to being in charge and controlling their environment to help them function productively within their personal emotional struggles. When she finds herself unable to be in control, Louisa flees to try to regain control. She fled the wedding in S3, fled to her mother’s house in S5 and to fled to Spain in S6. She hasn’t figured out how to stay and work through issues. S6 also finds Martin spiraling into depression and while this is disconcerting to her, frustrating and disheartening, it brings out her compassionate side. She communications more with Martin in those 3 episodes than in many others, trying to ask him the reasons he thinks his blood phobia has returned, offering to talk about his father dying and mother arriving, discussing a family get-away. She doesn’t flee until the frustrating Sports Day when Martin, acting less depressed than more like his old inflexible, obstreperous, maddeningly intractable self, actively defies her wishes and usurps her control of the school event. Losing control is Louisa’s breaking point. The Sports Day was where these two’s deepest insecurities came to a head, I think — L. needing not to be abandoned in her moment of need. ME needing to have his world under his control. In S7 we see the depression of ME’s S6 ignored, but I think L is still defensive and guarded because he somewhat abandoned her in her moment of need and that changed their relationship for her.

  14. Oliver

    I think they wanted to get the character to recognize for herself that she possesses the ability, and has the power within her, to be happy in this marriage. Happiness is important to her, and I admire her for continuing to pursue it. That’s why the character doesn’t simply “accept” Martin for who he is, and tip toe around so that she doesn’t make too many demands on him.

    It makes sense to me that a person whose parents abandoned her in the way hers did looks at the outside to determine what is normal and what is not. She wanted people to look at her birth family from the outside and decide that they were a “normal” family. She fought to the end defending her father about the stolen money, despite all evidence pointing towards his guilt. She continued to rely on her mother to babysit her son despite all the evidence pointing towards Eleanor’s unreliability. She saw other families and from the outside they seemed normal, and she assumed that they must be normal inside as well.

    She carried this pattern of thinking into adulthood and into her marriage. It got her through childhood and helped her cope with her difficult circumstances, and the embarrassment and hurt that her parents caused her to feel. The strategy doesn’t work so well with this unusual man she loves and who she constantly thinks is going to leave her.

    The concept of “normal” comes into play as the mechanism through which she recognizes her inner strength. She has witnessed herself thinking that being “normal” is the only way she will find happiness. The therapy helped her to recognize that happiness can happen outside of the parameters of normal. She also recognizes that “normal” really doesn’t exist, even within herself.

    Series 7 brought it all home for me in terms of Louisa’s character. It explained a lot of her behavior from previous seasons. It is very deep and complex. The character deserves to be happy, and not just settle for the sake of the marriage. I think Caroline Catz may have fought long and hard for this character to keep her from being a shrew and a nag. The character has a lot more depth than that.

  15. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m very sorry I have been too busy to respond until now. What you say includes many interesting ideas, such as many times people say things that they want to be true even though they know there is quite a bit of fallaciousness to them. We could suspect that Louisa has finally reached a turning point by E8 and is ready to make major adjustments in her thinking. What troubles me is that we are working hard to find a way to explain her behavior rather then being given any clues as to how she may have arrived at those decisions. It’s one thing to leave the door open to multiple interpretations and another to leave things so cloudy that the action and dialogue provide too little for us to make good sense of what the characters do.

    For example, when Danny reappears, Louisa tells Martin a variety of reasons for not having told him that Danny was coming. We, as viewers, might have all sorts of reactions, some of them supportive of Louisa, some not. But, whatever we think, we have evidence to support our conclusions. When you speculate that Louisa may be shading the truth because she may still be hiding in her “emotional crooks and insecurities,” you are doing your best to arrive at a rationale without a shred of evidence. In fact, when she says she thinks she’s been obsessed with everyone being normal, we can’t find a way to substantiate that.

    I really agree with your assessment of Louisa in S6 and her effort to break through Martin’s defenses. I agree that there was a deliberate attempt to demonstrate her sympathetic side and she was met with one roadblock after another. Your notion that Martin was taking control from Louisa at Sports Day is a great point. She has been foolish enough to ask him to speak to the students, perhaps in a misguided attempt to get him involved with the community again and to have him participate in her life, but his unexpected obduracy undercuts what she was aiming for and does take control from her. Even though I think she should have known he would not be a good choice for speaking in front of any group because he’s never done well with that before, she was justified in thinking he would want to promote exercise as something good for their health.

    As much as it makes sense for Louisa to be wary of the duration of Martin’s new approach to their marriage, S7 sustains that hesitation by means of all sorts of unlikely hurdles. It’s hard to swallow that Louisa’s gratitude for Martin coming after her and then saving her life utterly disappears despite her decision to return from Spain. Added to that is her admission that she spent the entire time away thinking about what to do, came back to Portwenn and Martin with James, only to live separately and find it hard to confide what her thoughts have been. They have trouble talking on many occasions, but they can do it at times. There would have been no better time than when she once again returns to Portwenn, particularly since she has been so sympathetic in the past.

  16. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thank you for your comments Oliver. As you say, happiness has been important to Louisa throughout this show. At this point, Martin considers making Louisa happy a priority, and we should guess that he has finally accepted how much that matters to her.

    I am a little doubtful about how much Louisa thinks Martin would be likely to leave her. So far she’s been the one to leave every time. At first he packed up and planned to go back to London, but actually never got very far. Then, she was planning to move with Martin to London. To me it seems very improbable that he would leave. He has, perhaps, abandoned her emotionally, and that might be worse than physically disappearing. When he ultimately is missing, she has to decide whether he might have fled and she finds that unlikely.

    I am impressed that you see the therapy as having had something to do with helping her “to recognize that happiness can happen outside the parameters of normal.” I would love to think that the therapy led to some insight into her own mindset, but the little we see makes it hard for me to reach that conclusion.

    I, too, find Louisa a deep and complex character, and I think CC did a lot to create a character with so much depth. I guess I struggled more than you to find good explanations for her behavior in S7 and, like many of us, you are doing a great job of coming up with rationales when there wasn’t enough substance to help us get there. I was particularly fascinated when I read that MC thought CC would enjoy having Louisa come to the realization that she might be somewhat to blame for the difficulties in the marriage. Unfortunately, they didn’t show us very much of that process.

  17. DM

    Which is precisely the response a spontaneous, unexpected, contrived, plot device for extricating a story painted into a corner of an otherwise hopeless situation ending by a fairly reliable character typically engenders. Nothing is resolved, no actual conflicts are allayed; it is an improbable, uninspired, lazy, cynical, use of writing trickery, whose sole intent is to avoid moving the story forward– which is why the use of deus ex machina is so roundly reviled in fiction.

    I do have a lengthy comment to support that argument for your consideration, that I’m hoping to organise and post in the next couple days (probably in parts). Hopefully there are some open minds left to why S7 left us feeling queasy after we’d so long enjoyed the prior series– but I’m convinced that that’s where the story and storytelling has come to 🙁

  18. DM

    Ha! “Medically accurate… it has to be accurate procedurally,” is such a rather silly contention especially since most of us would accept what is reasonably plausible.

    My experience had me question the medical depiction in S7E7-8 of Mr. Winton’s goiter (the enlarged thyroid) which a recent opportunity to speak to an endocrinologist had him concurring was very poorly diagnosed (perhaps there’s not a law against that, but rather uncharacteristic of Doc Martin). For a goiter to enlarge in a matter of days, as Mr. Winton attests, most certainly means it is cystic (filled with a fluid) rather than a matter of weeks for even a fast developing malignancy (a semi-solid mass).

    The Doc also fails to take a blood test to check for thyroid function, which is standard procedure for determining its nature and strategy of how to proceed following whatever the results of the ultrasound scan. Since over 90% of goiters are non-cancerous and the likelihood of a seafood diet (high in iodine for proper thyroid function) and no palpable swelling of the lymph nodes, the Doc should have been dubious about the initial hospital results (as is his wont) or done more to appease the Wintons’ fears and concerns.

    Nonetheless, only once the Doc sits down to review the hospital results once Louisa and Penhale arrive too (the whole plot’s purpose of kidnapping him and holding him at gunpoint), does he inquire, out of nowhere, about the “biopsy report(s)”?! An ultrasound scan is not a biopsy and this is no mere confusion or continuity error. An ultrasound scan is not invasive, but a biopsy is– even if it is a minimally invasive fine-needle aspiration biopsy done typically at multiple sites (i.e. nodules) without local anesthesia. Which considering both Mr. and Mrs. Winton’s anxieties, again the supposed motivation for their extreme measures in this episode. Finally, even an extremely large goiter compared to that of Mr. Winton’s can be very uncomfortable and make swallowing difficult– but, “…to stop him from breathing altogether,” is just *not* medically possible.

  19. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I tiptoed around what you came out and said: the fact that they wanted a happy ending and they decided to string out the episodes and then use a contrived situation to bring the story to the point where Martin and Louisa reunite is pretty close to the exact definition of deus ex machina, and very disappointing. I realize this is a dramedy and there was a high likelihood of a good outcome; however, we have become accustomed to much better quality. For goodness sake, they give themselves two years!!

    The other day I told another Doc Martin fan that I had just seen a quote from Alan Rickman about Harry Potter and a conversation he had with Jo Rowling about the role he was asked to play in it.

    “[She] persuaded me that there was more to Snape than an unchanging costume, and that even though only three of the books were out at that time, she held the entire massive but delicate narrative in the surest of hands.”

    A great writer knows where the plot is going and knows when it’s time to end the story and how it should end. This goes for all writing and is something I suspect has been missing in Doc Martin lately. When they decided to let ITV determine how many series they should make and went from series to series developing storylines, they gave up creative control. They could have thought through the story arc for the entire show after series 2 or 3, if they didn’t feel secure enough to expect it to be recommissioned until then. But once they knew it was popular, the best approach would have been to have looked ahead and planned for the series to come. It’s true that some shows have been ended prematurely, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a plan for continuing.

    I look forward to reading your lengthy comment. I’ve been working on something along those lines, but I know you’ll come at it somewhat differently. I’ll add my thoughts to yours.

  20. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Again, I totally concur with you and have been very annoyed by the constant assertion that British shows are required to be medically and procedurally accurate. Why MC feels it’s necessary to repeat this claim, I really don’t understand. It’s not true in this show, or in some others I’ve seen, and your thorough analysis of Mr. Winton’s case is excellent evidence.

    Apart from proving there is no such mandate, the way they handle the Winton case undermines the superior care ME generally provides and once again convinces us that the writing for this series was not up to previous levels. ME has had lapses before, but in this case we want to believe he truly regards the opinions the Wintons have gotten from the consulting doctors as reliable. He questions most other reports. Why not this one? Only because that would take away the need for him to be lured to the Wintons and the successful outcome of the makeshift operation.

  21. ED

    My view of series 7 was that the main theme centered on Louisa’s struggles with normality, particularly with Martin. She shows ambivalence when applying her model of being normal with him. We have learned that Louisa is attracted to Martin because he doesn’t fit this status quo model of normal. On the other hand, she complains and wants to change, as well. She admits that she was “obsessed” with the concept normal, but also says he (martin) has no social skills at all.

    Here is my question; was it really normalcy that drove Louisa away, or was it Martin’s indifference? Examples: She moved out of the surgery in series 5 because Martin was inconsiderate. That is, he did not consider her feelings when he scheduled JH’s christening, his decision to plan JH’s education and his refusal to try to conform. In series 6, she left mainly because she got fed up his coldness and unwillingness to consider her feeling.

    Anyone agree with this?

  22. Santa Traugott

    I think a lot of us feel that the “normal” concern in S7 came somewhat out of left field. Certainly, I definitely thought that it was his withdrawal from her and their marriage in S6 that led to her leaving him.

    From the creative team’s point of view, resolving his withdrawal and persuading her that he was emotionally available, probably seemed not enough of a hook by which to prolong the agony until the last minutes of the last episode (which appears to have been their overriding goal). Because, he had already had a breakthrough, and it would have been consistent with where he was at the end of S6, to show him being much more open and loving. So it seems like they decided that they had to give Louisa a whole other reason not to reconcile, and that was her concern about his issues, summed up as “normality.” I think they showed her trying to focus entirely on his issues, and her anger about them.

    Here’s where I would like to have been a fly on the wall, so I could understand the story they told themselves, if any, by which this made sense. Of course, it could have been a completely cynical move. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt though.

    Here’s a way to think about it that makes some, albeit limited, sense to me. Let’s say that Louisa has always had reservations about whether she could live with this man, without trying to change him, presumably in the direction of something she would consider “normal.” But she’s very conflicted about this. She recognizes his good, even heroic, qualities. She’s almost magnetically drawn to him. When things are going well between them, when he’s emotionally available and at least trying to relate to her, she can overlook the things about him that upset her. When things go south, though, she remembers all the things about him that “are crap” and how resistant he is to any kind of change of behavior.

    So I think her journey in S7 is just as Caroline Catz said — towards relinquishing the idea that she can or SHOULD change him, and realizing that if she wants him, she very largely has to accept him as he is — or at least the man he was at the beginning of S6. Which is what it seems to me that he had returned to, with perhaps a few improvements.

    If you take her statement about normality to really mean, we all have issues and flaws, me as well as you. We are who we are, largely. If my choice is to accept you as you are, or be without you, I take you as you are.

  23. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thanks for making a brave attempt at redeeming the comment Louisa makes about wanting everyone to be normal. I’m still trying to put together my argument on where this series went off the rails. One thought I have is that most of us who have been watching this show knew that S7 would likely end with Martin and Louisa back together AND that it would not be until E8. Therefore, we were interested in finding out how they would get them there. We also learned from previews and interviews that couples therapy would play an integral role and we were anxious to see how they would employ that. With all that foreknowledge, we looked forward to watching the characters develop, grow, learn, while the many elements of past series coalesced.

    Most of that did not materialize. But since I think there must have been some planning, I want to look at the series in greater detail and try to figure out what happened.

  24. Santa Traugott

    I’m still of the opinion that, to be at the place where she apparently was at the beginning of S7, Louisa must have spent her three weeks in Spain brooding over the many ways that Martin had failed her, and the many ways in which he was “unusual” and irritating, embarrassing, annoying, and difficult to live with. In other words, not normal. I think she would more or less have to do this to justify to herself this rather impulsive action that put her marriage in (even more) danger, and also, hurt Martin deeply. And she can do this, because she’s away from him and the pull he exerts on her, even against her will.

  25. DM

    [Thank you, Karen for offering up this cosy coterie for sharing our various notions for enjoying and understanding this little story known as, Doc Martin. Thank you too for all your hard work to keep it going and providing and welcoming new ideas and viewpoints – DM]

    I would suggest that a more worthy word and concept in place of the loaded word “normal”, is unique. Martin is unique, as is Louisa. People are unique. Being unique, or fulfilling one’s authentically unique individuality is a psychologically healthy process, as long as it doesn’t concede to merely playing a role. It is also a lifelong process but hardly an easy one– just ask any teenager. Yet one’s uniqueness or individuality or becoming a unique individual, does not and should not preclude one’s physiological needs, safety and physical well-being, needs for love and belonging, and the need for one’s self-esteem– to which I would add explicitly, one’s ability to get along with others– and yes, even to be happy.

    At the very end of series 7 Louisa tells Martin that, “I think maybe I’m a little bit obsessed with everyone having to be normal…,” asserting the premise that Louisa’s realisation of her “obsession” (or major preoccupation) with being “normal” (and its various connotations) resolves the discord, present since at least the end of S6 (if not before), that has prevented (or significantly impeded) Martin and Louisa from living together in reasonable harmony as man and wife in S7 (if not beyond). Hopefully that is an accurate statement of the premise and not an overstatement of what we’re being asked to believe. From what I can gather, this premise actually derives from three propositions, that 1) Louisa is “obsessed” with “normal” because her parents and upbringing were not, 2) Louisa is “obsessed” with “normal” because she falsely believes that she herself is, and 3) Louisa is “obsessed” with “normal” because she believes that Martin has to be *. Therefore despite what both we and Martin are told, consider some of what we have been shown throughout the series:

    When Louisa first discovers both Martin’s vulnerability and his haemophobia in S1 she responds, “Maybe the truth is that people like Peter, they’re never going to quite fit in. They’re never going to quite be ordinary. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. And maybe that’s why we love the Peters of this world.” Louisa shows us this is what she means by the same compassion and acceptance and understanding for Peter, as she shows Martin by the romantic connection that immediately follows.

    In S2 Louisa shares with Martin, “You’re a bit different from the rest of us… I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I quite like the way you are.” She says this to Martin nonjudgmentally and shows her frustration to its being callously misconstrued by Martin’s suspicion of some ulterior motive.

    Louisa tells her father in, On the Edge after Martin’s characteristic cringe-worthy introduction, “Martin’s alright. He’s just… just… he’s just different,” and then is shown following him back to the surgery after the confrontation with the review board (where he’s taken refuge with his clocks) to earnestly plead with him, “Look, I know that you’ve never really fitted in around here and I know that you’ve never really tried and you’re not interested in doing so, and I’ve always tried to understand that about you because, well… that’s just you, that’s what you’re like. But I don’t even think that this is about that….”

    The very word, “normal” is used by Louisa herself (the first occurrence?) after we are shown the new headmaster acting strangely during the interview for her old job in S4E2. When she tries to tell Martin that something is amiss, Martin obtusely presumes a baser motivation until she clarifies bluntly with piqued gesticulation, “He’s not normal.” Ironically, this is one example amongst many that arguably shows that if anyone has an “obsession” with “normal”, it is Doc Martin– as it is his compulsion to attempt to apply it to everyone in every circumstance in a pathological sense. From the “mad” headmaster to Uncle Jimmy in the same episode with “unnatural” and not “normal” levels of steroids in his blood, to Joe Penhale, to Angela Sim, to countless others that medically, neurologically, or psychologically present as not “normal”– including strangely attractive women sitting across an aeroplane seat subject to intense probing for something, anything, that is not “normal”. Ironic yes, but certainly by no accident, considering that by S7E8 that the focus upon “normal” has been redirected to Louisa.

    At Louisa’s impromptu baby shower, she again defends Martin against the harsh criticism of some guests by telling them, “…I mean he has his problems, with commitment and intimacy. Sure, yeah he has his problems, but you know, who hasn’t?” and then is shown gesturing most sharply at herself. Then there are the various scenes where it is Louisa who is taking Martin to task for his intolerance and overreaction to others and their not “normal” behaviour as in the scene at the pub where James Henry is born when she overtly remonstrates him, “People make mistakes, they make a mess of things… it’s called being human, Martin!

    Louisa’s character consistently demonstrates a trait of understanding, acceptance, and tolerance for people’s quirks, eccentricities, and idiosyncrasies toward Martin, herself, and not least for all the unusual characters that inhabit Port Wenn. This trait is unequivocally shared with that of Martin’s Aunt Joan– is that of no significance whatsoever? Aunt Joan consistently remonstrates her beloved nephew for not attempting to understand, accept, or tolerate others and never fails to show her annoyance and frustration with him when he does not. Is this a revelation that Aunt Joan too has always had an “obsession” with being “normal” too?! Has Aunt Joan developed this trait because she too (other than any proclivity for sexual relations on kitchen tables with men half her age) is unable to admit that she too is not “normal”?! Of course not, it’s the common trait of understanding, acceptance, and tolerance for Martin that is a testament to their love for him, and his for them.

    The premise of Louisa’s “obsession” with “normal” appears to be based upon the proposition that it is essentially because her parents and her upbringing were not “normal” (per the “aberrant” behaviour of her parents). Before considering that proposition, as is simply stated, consider what we have been shown in the brief glimpses of Louisa’s parents. When we meet Louisa’s father we are soon introduced to his untrustworthy and larcenous ways (perhaps not unlike Martin’s “morally bankrupt” mother and the incident which Aunt Ruth alludes, whether Martin is aware or it constitutes another shallowly buried family secret). Louisa is shown as being less than blindly loyal, even wary toward her father, but once evidence is shown to exist for her circumspection, she asks her father to leave (only to relent after she is assailed by her father’s mad lodger and partner-in-crime). Louisa is shown experiencing: hurt, yes; betrayal, likely; embarrassment, definitely– but “obsession” with “normal”? Louisa doesn’t show the intensity of shame or bitterness over her father’s untrustworthy behaviour which might typically be associated with the development of any such compulsion as that.

    When we meet Louisa’s mother we are soon introduced to her inconsiderate and selfish ways. Louisa is shown as post-partum vulnerable to sleep and care and less than trustful, even suspicious of her mother, but once evidence is shown to exist for her circumspection, she asks her mother to leave (only to relent it seems after being assailed by her mother’s codependent-seeking emotional manipulation). Louisa is shown experiencing: hurt, yes; intimidation, likely; anger, definitely– but “obsession” with “normal”? Louisa doesn’t show the intensity of humiliation or resentfulness over her mother’s manipulative codependent behaviour which might typically be associated with the development of any such compulsion as that.

    However, were Louisa so “obsessed”, why would she ever have stayed in Port Wenn? For many real or fictional people with problematic upbringings, moving away is a compelling solution that overrides other reasons. Louisa’s profession certainly provides for starting anew elsewhere– wherein she even returns to Port Wenn sometime after Uni. For that matter, if any such “obsession” still lingered, why not move to London to escape it and live in anonymity with her surgeon-husband who seemingly would want nothing better, with or without his own possible allergy for “normal”?

    Alas, there’s no way to prove a negative. And neither deductive nor inductive reasoning is available for such a premise. Yet if abductive reasoning were to be applied, even statistically, we’d have to question the inherent assumptions from real or fictional people, as in: do people with not “normal” parents and upbringings invariably become “obsessed” with being “normal”? With others being “normal”? With their spouses being “normal”? Do people with not “normal” parents and upbringings invariably become delusional as adults about themselves being “normal”? With others being “normal”? With their spouses being “normal”? What about contrapositive cases? Do people with “normal” parents and upbringings invariably become “normal” as adults and never become “obsessed” with themselves being so, others, or their spouses? A premise can be no less meaningless simply because it might be plausible.

    The writer’s have always interwoven ambiguity into the programme’s storyline(s). The writer’s have always interwoven ambiguity by cultivating logical fallacies and cognitive biases throughout the programme’s storyline(s) and thereby obscuring the story’s “show, don’t tell” maxim (or as is more often the case, “show versus tell”). This is an instance where they are cultivating the logical fallacy known as the post hoc fallacy (sometimes known by the full Latin phrase post hoc ergo propter hoc or “after this, therefore because of this”). This is a favourite fallacy of the writers (along with another fallacy indigenous to Port Wenn– the kipper, otherwise known as the “red herring”) since simply mentioning or referring to a word or concept is enough to sow ambiguity.

    Now we come to Louisa, who upon meeting Dr. Timoney for the first time in S7 tells her that her parents are as, “Normal as you like.” Could this cliché be the missing link that establishes what Louisa deep-down believes as insight revealed by Dr. Timoney’s withering brilliance as a patient and methodical trust-building humanistic client-centered therapist? Or is it merely indicative of Louisa’s feeble defensiveness and evasiveness? Louisa certainly does make a show of defensiveness when she visits Martin’s cottage later to make her silly denunciation of his, “…having to eat fish all the time” (although behavioural rigidity and psychological perseveration are symptomatic for causes of concern– and yet another topic never to be explored by therapy). Wouldn’t that be the simpler explanation as perhaps consistent with being caught unawares with the nature of the meeting as per, “…to meet [Louisa]… to facilitate the process,” without knowledge of, “…she had mentioned that [couples therapy] was an option”? Louisa does immediately retreat from that contention however, perhaps she’s not very good at it– or should that be indicative of Louisa’s delusion about her own sense of “normal” and ipso facto proof of her “obsession”? Probably not.

    Louisa’s character wouldn’t be alone with having a defensive reaction either. We routinely see Martin reacting as such– even in a medical context, as in S7E4 when Peter treats a ganglion cyst using the same by the book procedure that Martin himself has used in the past, (which even then was no longer standard practice). When he can’t refute Peter’s methodology or Martin-esque reasoning, Martin resorts to telling Peter to shut up and terminates him. Nonetheless, defensiveness or sensitivity to a threat, as applied to Louisa here is an example of an informal fallacy sometimes known as the guilt by association fallacy. Even Aunt Ruth is prone to act defensively as she is shown as a patient being reluctantly scrutinised during a medical examination in S7 (as is Aunt Joan back in S3).

    In the fragment of Louisa’s first meeting with Dr. Timoney after the segue from discussing Martin’s parents in S6, she makes the statement about her mother, “Mum left home when I was 12, but… I didn’t really need a mother by then, so… .” Could this really be what Louisa believes? Is this what is in store for James Henry at that same age? Again, it doesn’t sound very consistent with the “normal” maternal traits we associate a mother or a primary schoolteacher, for that matter. But is it consistent with the traits we’ve been shown about Louisa’s character? Martin’s character certainly doesn’t seem to think so– or should everything he says or shows about the subject be discounted because he couldn’t possibly know what is “normal” on the subject, given the mother and upbringing Martin endured?! Or does inference of the best explanation allow us to accept that Louisa was simply being defensive? Perhaps, we and Dr. Timoney would have raised our eyebrows less if instead Louisa had chosen her words to say, “[I’d] manage if [she] died”?

    There is a reason why the premise that purports to wrap up series 7 into a nice neat bow is questionable. For those of us who have watched closely and carefully all the series from the first to the latest, to hear Louisa tell us that this as the resolution and restitution of everything that’s happened since the end of S6, is a little surprising– until we begin to consider all the previous series that have shown us something very different. Then the ending we’ve just been given begins to seem like a spontaneous, unexpected, contrived, uninspired, lazy, cynical, cheat known as a deus ex machina, a shameless plot device that need not have any pretense of being plausible, because it just so happens to seemingly resolve and absolve the writers from the corner they have written themselves into since S6 **. Unless…

    The premise that Louisa is “obsessed” with “normal” and thus purports to resolve the ending for series 7 where Louisa tells us and Martin that, “I think maybe I’m a little bit obsessed with everyone having to be normal…,” is altogether inconsistent with what Louisa’s character shows us throughout the series. Our enjoyment and understanding of Doc Martin amongst its character’s conflicts, misunderstandings, and rife ambiguity is most readily examined (without resorting to… ahem, writing theses about them), by considering the story’s faithfulness to the maxim, “show, don’t tell.” In which case, we can reasonably conclude that:

    The premise is a false premise.

    Then why did she say it?

    Because Louisa lied.

    Which then ought to make us want to ask:

    Then why did she say it?

    * of course the word “obsessed” is itself a fairly loaded word and rather subjective which like “normal” is often used as a pejorative.

    ** an alternate deus ex machina the writers could have concocted to end S7, particularly after messing with our heads– and Dr. Timoney’s by dispensing with any further possibility for real therapy– is to have revealed that Louisa had suffered from Capgras Syndrome since her brain injury in S6 to cynically, yet equally plausibly, explain her wariness to move back in with an “imposter-Martin” and to pretend a mere resumption of the status quo. That usage of the same plot device would hardly have moved the story forward much either.

  26. mmarshall

    Thank you, DM, for a thorough and thoughtful post! I enjoy reading your analyses.

    A few of my thoughts: perhaps the writers showed, but didn’t tell us, that Louisa wants to reconcile with Martin, realizes something about herself, but can’t quite put it into words, or doesn’t want to put it into words, but wants to soften (as is her nature), love and be loved, and remove the walls she put up between them. But have they gone farther and show us one thing and *told* us (or had Louisa tell us) another?

    Perhaps they weren’t trying to neatly tie up a series completely, but leave us hanging once again. Or they wanted to appear to the casual observer to tie all up, but to close inspectors, actually left us unsatisfied, frustrated, questioning and wanting more clarification.

  27. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Your comment makes more than clear that throughout this show Louisa has been characterized as appreciating the differences in people and accepting them. The fact that they chose to have her say at the end of S7 that she’s been obsessed with everyone being normal can only be explained by taking an easy way out, or deus ex machina.

    As I think I’ve mentioned before, my husband is a neurologist. He can’t think of any syndrome caused by head trauma that would lead someone to have only one symptom, i.e. a new perspective on the importance of people being normal. Any head trauma sequelae would include other symptoms like slurred speech, or executive function problems, or imbalance, or memory problems. Louisa has none of these because they weren’t planning to blame her behavior on her head trauma at all.

    I don’t think Louisa lied either; what she says is bullshit (as defined by Harry Frankfurt in his wonderful essay “On Bullshit.”) She makes that confession simply because they didn’t develop the reasons for her unusual attitude upon her return to the point where they were able to reach a bona fide reason for her to apologize. Once again, if we follow their plan to reverse how Martin and Louisa have previously reacted to each other, we expect Louisa to be the one to apologize to Martin this time. They seem to have decided that in order for the reconciliation between Martin and Louisa to take place in the final episode, they had to make Louisa the intransigent one in this series. Nothing Martin does can alter her decision to keep him at a distance. Then they had to come up with some reason and the best they could do was a quick disclosure that she’s been obsessed with normality. We were looking for something more along the lines of “I’ve been too concerned about myself to see how hurt you’ve been.” We would have accepted something related to projection or displacement, but for some unknown reason they chose an unlikely and incomprehensible path instead.

    There are too many fans who have watched the show, and admired it for bringing up many valuable issues, for them to be surprised that the incongruity of Louisa’s remarks would not be noticed.

  28. Santa Traugott

    Great post, DM. I largely agree that Louisa’s admission that her concern with normality has been what has kept her from a reconciliation, is basically a “deus ex machina” — in the sense that it seems to be a plot device for which we were inadequately, if at all, prepared.

    Two quick points: In my view, people’s motives and attitudes are very often ambivalent. Louisa could be both generous and loving in her acceptance of Martin’s individuality, idiosyncrasies and quirks, and also to some extent, bothered by them. I think we have seen also throughout the series that she has sometimes attempted to change Martin, to bring him more into line with what she thinks of as conventional and appropriate behavior. Likely, living with someone’s quirks and foibles on a day to day basis, especially after the honeymoon is over, can become more problematic than anticipated, particularly when one is angry and hurt, and looking to rationalize an impulsive and destructive action, such as flight. So one point here is, that perhaps the real conflict in S7 was within Louisa and not between her and Martin.

    Second, if you are preparing to accept that someone is going to be different to your expectations, unique, or not normal, it very much matters what it is that you are now prepared to accept. If her acceptance of Martin’s foibles and “uniqueness” means that essentially, she is going to eat an awful lot of fish, and put up with his abrasive and off-putting behavior toward others, that’s one thing. If she accepts that he is uniquely repressed, permanently dysthymic, and hugely stressed by the demands of marriage, that’s another thing entirely. If accepting him as he is means she is never going to get basic needs met, then acceptance per se is not necessarily a good thing. I think what we are meant to believe is that she has come to understand that their connection is deep and solid, actually meets important needs and that is what is truly important. She can tolerate the rest, albeit with varying degrees of irritation and annoyance.

  29. Santa Traugott

    What I meant to say in my last paragraph is, it’s an open question to me whether Louisa’s “acceptance” of him as “unique” is a healthy decision or not. It may be true that he will never leave her, but will he ever be able to give her the affection and intimacy she craves (except in sporadic bursts, when desperate)? I think the jury could still be out on that, and besides, I don’t see how Louisa could possibly know that, having kept herself carefully separate from any possibility of testing this out.

  30. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    What I think we have to determine is how far to go with our analyses. I have been writing this blog because much of what was depicted in this show I associated with real life situations and important insights into human behavior and interpersonal events. At this point we have covered a lot of ground and we’ve been spending more time discussing the ellipses in the writing, including the story (of course). I really like your point that “she [Louisa] has come to understand that their connection is deep and solid, actually meets important needs and that is what is truly important. She can tolerate the rest, albeit with varying degrees of irritation and annoyance.”

    Maybe like Gone with the Wind, where after Rhett leaves Scarlett she says “after all, tomorrow is another day,” and we fade out, we should just leave this story like that.

  31. DM

    The mention of Capgras Syndrome was strictly tongue-in-cheek. I imagined that had the writers concocted that form of a plot device, there would have been a deafening collective groan– or at least I would hope so and not allow them to get away with it easily. I’d imagine that if your husband is any sort of fan of medical fiction too, he spends an inordinate amount of time rolling his eyes at some of the oh-so-convenient medical explanations 🙂 (Panacea Disease?)

    I recognise that you and others are yet to be convinced that Louisa lied ;-). But the second part of that argument (shorter, I promise!) is far more compelling because I think it establishes her intentions (and rather succinctly the writers’ intentions too!) and is consistent with the rest of the ending as well as Louisa’s not knowing what else to do. You probably know too well how disappointed and cynical I became regarding S7, but nonetheless hope to yet assuage some of your own cynicism by assuring you that there was still some artfulness to be recognised in the writer’s work and development toward that end. There is a rhyme and reason that can be put together, although I don’t know if I’d go so far as you and perhaps Santa to ascribe specific machinations to the writers.

    I’m grateful for your reassurance that plenty of viewers doing a double-take on Louisa’s incongruous words, as I began to wonder as my last post grew and grew if I was really preaching to the choir. Or was I just in the distinct minority for vehemently rejecting them? Reading between the lines of some of these commenters after the initial surprise, was sort of an oh-well-I-guess begrudging assent– which I totally understand too. Maybe that’s what I’m trying to help with (an existentialist in a nihilistic world?). What is your present take on everyone’s pulse?

  32. Santa Traugott

    You know what, DM? I can see a line of thinking that supports the “Louisa lied” thesis. And that is, that she had got herself quite far out on a limb, and didn’t quite know how to climb off before Martin, in effect, sawed it off. He had basically given her an ultimatum (it seems to me) and she had to have some face-saving formula by which she could cave.

    Is that what you’re thinking? I’m not sure I can buy a fully conscious, deliberate lie, but I can see her first deciding that she didn’t actually want a divorce, which was what was about to happen, and grabbing at the first plausible story that went through her mind, maybe even believing in it. People are capable of almost infinite amounts of self-deception, I think.

  33. mmarshall

    DM, I keep chuckling over your “an existentialist in a nihilistic world.” Is it impossible to find total meaning in the Doc Martin universe? 🙂 I wonder if we really just need a sit-down, heart-to-heart with the writers and ask them what is really up in this world they’ve created! Did they really mean “obsessed with normal”? Are they messing with us? Is Louisa comfortable with this new line of thinking they’ve given her?? I’ve come to think of writers as just as much characters in the story as managers are players in a baseball game. They change the game; they are in a sense 99% of the game! I wonder if they’re chuckling at us trying so hard to figure it all out. In that last interview with MC that I read, he said, ” [American fans’s letters] are really intelligent, interesting letters that people write about character development and progression, when English fans just kind of say, ‘Can I have a signed photo? Thanks.’” Perhaps the English are just enjoying the angst E8 has caused us!

    p.s. I loved your post that grew and grew!

  34. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Actually, DM, I had the impression that you were pulling our legs a bit there. I just thought it would be fun to see if there was any chance that a “medically and procedurally accurate” show would be able to use a medical condition as an explanation.

    I am anxious to read what you came up with as support for why Louisa lied. As you have gleaned from many of my answers in the past, I have a problem with attributing motives to characters without any real evidence within the story we’ve been given/shown. Louisa hasn’t lied very often, if at all. Are you going to use her “jokes” about having planned a party for Martin as an activity, or about telling Dr. T that Martin was so desperate to see her he broke into the house as evidence that in this series she started to lie? If you would call those lies, then she is not a very good liar and immediately admits she’s just made a joke. Anyway, I’m looking forward to your argument for being convinced she’s lying when she tells Martin she has been obsessed with everyone being normal.

    I think there has been some sense that Louisa’s confession is far-fetched, but there are probably more people willing to accept whatever she tells him as long as they kiss and go home together. Among my friends who watch the show and know I have a blog I get far more people thinking I’m taking the show too seriously than that my blog is so informative. Most people watch shows for the amusement and entertainment they provide and don’t want to take them apart to such a degree. I understand that completely. This show is the only time I’ve done any sort of analyzing of episodes even though there have been other shows where I looked for themes, etc. I guess we get carried away to some degree, but then I’m not the right person to ask about that because literary analysis consists of going much farther into a novel’s story, sentence structure, and characters than most people would. I don’t read Madame Bovary to enjoy a tale about a young woman who marries and then has affairs; I read it to admire the free indirect discourse Flaubert used while telling the story, etc. That sort of reading both enhances my enjoyment of the book and ruins it because I can no longer just enjoy the story. I guess we all have to accept those facets of our training and expertise. My husband can’t look at someone without noticing how they walk and other minutiae about them. It just comes with the territory!

    And that is a very long way of saying that I have no idea if we are in the minority of viewers, although I bet we are, but we may be in the majority of the readers of the blog.

  35. DM

    Thanks, Santa. Good points on ambivalence for which we should all be grateful that we are watching characters and not caricatures. I don’t doubt that there’s much about Martin that contributes to Louisa’s annoyance– Louisa’s character wouldn’t be remotely realistic were she not. The same goes for exasperation. Louisa’s exasperation as James’ 1st birthday party went awry, was without recriminations, but was a very good example.

    Much of that daily stuff has little to do with change (or personal development) than it does about changing how we interact. More than Martin and Louisa’s inability to communicate with each other is their inability to negotiate with each other that’s most problematic. Most successful relationships involve successful negotiations, if only by implication, especially during that first year of marriage. Yet the absolute worst negotiation in which to engage, is where one or both parties, can’t or won’t state what it is they themselves want. Forget about what the other party wants, forget about what you want the other party to want, begin by figuring out and stating what it is that you yourself want.

    Karen has long directed our attention to “change” and “learning” at the front of the stage whilst “acceptance” has always been waiting in the wings. But too much “acceptance” (or too soon) is as bad as too little or too late. I think “acceptance” requires a careful titration to get the dosage just right– to mix my metaphors. Consciously or not, Martin has bravely risked “acceptance” since he first found himself drawn into an attraction-of-opposites with Louisa. Edith Montgomery seemed perfectly “accepting” of Martin and Martin’s self-concept of himself at the time that they had been together– before his haemophobia ever irrupted to challenge that very self-concept. Besides, as Martin’s roles have developed, why shouldn’t Martin develop with it? (‘cause Martin’s self-prescribed, “…poor communication skills and unrealistic expectations of others…,” have never contributed to problems between fathers and sons before, have they?)

    Rewatching S7E8 to try to make sense of “normal” and why Louisa would lie (and to yet express it here should it make sense to anyone else)– I realised that as far that specific episode is concerned– “acceptance” is just about the last thing it is about. The harbinger in that episode of what is to come perches at the front passageway to the Wintons’ farmhouse. Martin must pass a (terracotta) dragon (it surely is a dragon, a european dragon– and not a griffin as theorised elsewhere, as it clearly lacks feathered wings, or double pairs of legs, or a distinctive raptor-like beak). The dragon, or wyrm, has enormous symbolic significance in psychology and the relevant one here would represent the Hero’s quest itself– the quest of personality formation that occurs only through struggle, suffering, and sacrifice– not acceptance. The Hero does not become the hero or triumph in his or her quest by appeasing the dragon or bypassing it or by simply accepting it– it’s by engaging it in a ferocious and bloody battle for the Self.

  36. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’ll choose to overlook the disagreement of whether the terra-cotta figure is a griffin or a dragon because either way there are good points that can be applied. I am very open to your position that “the quest of personality formation [that] occurs only through struggle, suffering, and sacrifice– not acceptance.” It’s way too convenient for Louisa to come to the conclusion that she can drop all the other obstacles that have become so critical to her and caused her to leave for Spain after she should have been fairly sympathetic to Martin, and now accept them. Equally, it lets Martin off the hook by acquiescing to the lack of necessity for him to change.

    The fact that Martin never confronts the blood phobia or his intimacy issues, or that his ability to save lives is all it takes to banish the other challenges that have led them to this place, is just too facile.

  37. DM

    Why did Louisa lie?

    In S7E7, we meet the Wintons married for 40 years, we are told, and that they still do everything together. They have come to the surgery for a goiter (a thyroid mass) that’s appeared suddenly on Mr. Winton’s neck. The Doc performs a cursory exam and dispatches him and his misgivings about hospitals for an ultrasound scan. The Doc tells Mr. Winton that it’s not invasive, but does not tell him about the biopsy that is to accompany it, as Mrs. Winton assures her husband that they can depend on the Doc to do right by them.

    Later in the episode, Mrs. Winton confronts the Doc outside the surgery after having been told that the doctors at hospital had ascertained cancer and were recommending surgery (a thyroidectomy). Mrs. Winton refuses to accept either the diagnoses or the treatment and adamantly maintains that the Doc will, “have to find another way”. The Doc dismisses her pleas and her concerns despite her insistence that the Doc is, “smarter than anyone ‘round here,” and appeals to him in desperation, “there’s nothing else you can do?…You’re giving up on him!” to which the Doc responds with sharp reproach, “Just avoiding the issue won’t make it better. Never has. I’m sorry.”

    In S7E8 Mrs. Winton lures the Doc by subterfuge to their remote farmhouse for a home visit to obtain a second opinion for her husband. Mr. Winton has by then been drinking and is thoroughly resigned to his fate but receives another perfunctory exam with the Doc still deferring to the doctors at the hospital. Mrs. Winton won’t be placated and implores the Doc, “But you’ve barely begun. There must be other stuff you can do?” to no avail– until she resorts to aiming a gun at the Doc and beseeching him once again, “Can’t you at least try, Doc? Everything you can think of?” punctuating her determination with a warning shot. She justifies herself by declaring, “Forty years we’ve been married, I’m not letting that go without a fight!” Fully unnerved, the Doc takes his very next chance to make a getaway out Mr. Winton’s window but not before Mr. Winton commiserates about his wife not be deterred when she’s so determined and in consideration of his refusal to accept the prescribed treatment.

    When the Doc’s escape is thwarted, he is tied up overnight and held against his will to persuade a change of heart with Mrs. Winton justifying her actions, “If you loved someone, you’d understand, Doc. You don’t have a choice– you’d do anything for them…” By morning, Martin again attempts to make another run for it as he overhears Mr. Winton explaining why he’s given up to his son, “You know why the Doc doesn’t want to help, right?… He accepts it. I’ve accepted it!” Meanwhile, Louisa is increasingly at sixes and sevens with worry about Martin. By the next morning Louisa learns of Martin’s home visit and telephones Mrs. Winton who brazenly lies through her teeth to say that the Doc had left the night before grumbling about having had his time wasted.

    By now Louisa is retracing Martin’s steps intent to learn about what’s happened to him, as is Buddy, seeking out all the help she can muster in succession from Morwenna, Aunt Ruth, and PC Penhale. Mrs. Winton is more disconsolate by now, demanding that the Doc specifically review all of her husband’s medical records, “Then you help me. Then you give me a second opinion, that’s all I ask. I know it might be for nothing, but I need you to try your best! I need that!” By this time Louisa, with the dubious assistance of PC Penhale, arrives at the Winton’s front door to express her concerns about Martin to Mrs. Winton who responds by lying convincingly that she knows nothing of his whereabouts whilst her son keeps the Doc quiet at gunpoint. Before leaving empty handed, Louisa spots Martin’s shoes and incontrovertibly realises that she’s been lied to and deceived.

    As PC Penhale blunders outside for clandestine means to determine what’s going on inside, Martin is now desperate for another way out having overheard how distraught Louisa has become. Once PC Penhale’s antics have run their course, Louisa cuts to the chase and knocks at the front door to confront Mrs. Winton and to insist that she see Martin. Reunited at last, they and PC Penhale are all held hostage by the increasingly unstable Mrs. Winton and her son– now wielding knives together with firearms. In the meantime and unbeknownst to anyone, Mr. Winton is doing a runner out the bedroom window to save everyone any further trouble. Sitting together at the table stacked with Mr. Winton’s medical records, the Doc is very close to finally focusing on that matter at hand, when Mrs. Winton defends her actions to Louisa by asking her pointedly, “Well, what choice do I have? What would you do, in my shoes?…Someone you love is dying– someone you thought you’d be spending the whole of your life with… How far would you go, eh?” Louisa’s answer is, “I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure it would never involve holding people at gunpoint.”

    Does the subplot involving the Wintons running from S7E7 through S7E8 have any allegorical significance to the larger plot of Martin and Louisa’s relationship? Even before tediously recounting this subplot and the relevant dialogue, the allegory parallels the wider story of Martin and Louisa’s relationship and perhaps more so than being about just staying together in sickness and in health or acceptance as the secret of an enduring marriage.

    Consider Mr. Winton’s fears of hospitals, of being cut open, of suffering, of being debilitated that are all palpable– even before he’s heard the ‘C’ word. Yet aren’t Mr. Winton’s fears inordinate and out of proportion? A thyroidectomy is not an uncommon procedure and generally has very good outcomes when no cancer has spread (though it is not without potential complications). Once the thyroid is successfully removed, there are no side effects other than a simple regimen of synthetic hormone tablets. Such fears regarding health thoroughly confound the Doc because a recommended course of treatment does exist, the sooner the better for survival, the next steps are known, the best thing to do is follow the advice of the doctors at the hospital, and there are options– to put it in the Doc’s concise medical lexicon. Nonetheless, Mr. Winton has resigned himself to his fears and what he can’t understand and accepts that there is nothing else he can do anyway and therefore has, quite simply, given up.

    Consider Mrs. Winton’s determination to save her husband and save their marriage. She risks breaking the law and holding innocent hostages as well as lying and deception to help her husband by desperate means in which she feels she has no other choice. She likely could not allay her husband’s fears and concerns, as obstinate as he has proven to be, so instead she directs her efforts at convincing the Doc to help. She professes her own lack of understanding of such medical issues but appeals to the Doc and his well-known reputation, convinced there must be an alternative diagnosis or treatment, if only he can be convinced to give it his utmost attention. In that effort she is persistent, a trait likely honed over an enduring forty year marriage, as over and over again she refuses to accept her husband’s fate and is absolutely unwilling to accept that there’s nothing else that the Doc can do.

    If there are intended parallels between Martin and Louisa and the Winton’s subplot, then consider what we are shown happening early in S7E8 between Martin and Louisa. Since the beginning of S7E7, before therapy is revealed as complete farce, Martin and Louisa’s fourth and final couples session with Dr. Timoney finally yields an expression of what both of them want, significantly expressed by Martin, “The whole point of coming here is that we don’t want to separate.” Nonetheless, they are told to consider other contingencies as the session concludes with the ‘D’ word finally being broached. All such possibilities weigh upon the couple throughout the episode that concludes with Martin’s plaintive capitulation, “I can’t go on living in that house”. The next morning as S7E8 begins Martin and Louisa’s passing exchange outside the surgery presents marked changes in each of their demeanors. Louisa’s demeanor, is perhaps more receptive, but to what we know not; more solicitous and more optimistic– as has more often been her nature. Louisa’s auspicious demeanor extends to the “special dinner” she has planned for them together (if only the innuendo of their indulgence of “aubergines, courgettes, salmon…” were viable!) which seems intent to signal her willingness to look for another way, even if she still has no idea what that way might be.

    In the meantime, Martin’s demeanor is more serious but differently from the evening before, perhaps less passive though more clinical, in a way that seems fatalistic. This fatalism persists and exactly reflects that of Mr. Winton and his perception of his medical condition. The Doc’s usual resolute dedication, decisiveness, and determination– if only medically speaking– is absent in how he treats Mr. Winton and the Wintons’ concerns. Absent as well is the usual advocacy for patient care whilst disregarding the attention to procedure, diligence, and basic competence of medical colleagues as questionable (including the mutual patient of Dr. Edith Montgomery in S4). Beyond the Doc’s less than usual medical conscientiousness *, is what had been staring him in the face from the top of Mr. Winton’s stack of medical records from the beginning (as it had for PC Penhale), the biopsy report clearly stating that it was not definitive (indeterminate) and was only the first biopsy and was explicitly recommending another as follow-up.

    What the heck Louisa was doing for three weeks in Spain only to return with a vague, and rather stupid plan, for them to live apart for the time being? As stupid as it was, it was consistent with her statement upon her return that, “[she] just [doesn’t] know what else to do.” She diffidently waited for a plan to either present itself or, apparently, for Martin to present one. But what the heck was Martin doing? His only vague plan was to finally find a therapist at the last possible moment before Louisa’s expected return, apparently as they’d discussed beforehand. We automatically discount that Martin wouldn’t plan to show Louisa that he wants to stay together by any conventional “hearts and flowers” gestures (although many a male similarly disinclined might’ve reconsidered in a similar circumstance). Foregoing gestures, surely he could have planned some substantive and specific actions? How stupid was it that after S6, he still simply didn’t know what else to do? The worst thing about Louisa in this series is her standoffishness and passively waiting for something to happen, in other words– exactly mimicking Martin’s typical standoffishness and passively waiting for something to happen.

    From the allegorical subplot from S7E7 through S7E8, it seems that the reason and motivation for Louisa having lied about having had an “obsession” with “normal”, was precisely the same reason that Mrs. Winton did– to take a risk to save her husband and save her marriage. Louisa is inspired, if not prompted, to lie by Mrs. Winton’s desperate measures to save her husband and save their marriage– which perhaps gives the usually capable writer Jack Lothian and the part written for the usually capable actress Gemma Jones their credit for a subplot developed over two episodes– making the materialisation of Louisa’s lie seem far less out-of-the-blue. Although none of us would condone Mrs. Winton’s actions, Louisa suggests that she is willing to risk anything short of, “holding people at gunpoint.” Mr. Winton’s needless acceptance of his fate, of merely giving up, exactly reflects Martin’s outlook on his marriage at this point (and nearly his outlook on his patient, in this case)– after a mere six weeks of “therapy” and less than a year of marriage, he’s accepted that there’s nothing he can do and nothing he can do to understand the problems that threaten to separate him from his wife. The long inconsistency between the Doc and Martin– the former decisive, pro-active, conscientious, and never willing to accept anything but his utmost; the latter unsure, passive, clueless, and ready to accept that he can do nothing about his self, his problems, his relationships, or his haemophobia– were momentarily, but sadly, consistent. I don’t think that the story we’re being told from the ending of S7 is about accepting what is “normal” and “not normal”, but about tenaciously not accepting that there’s nothing that shouldn’t be risked for those we love.

    * Of course this is still just a television dramedy, and to be perfectly fair only rudimentary medical practices are expected to be shown or discussed, regardless of the extravagant claims made by the programme for medical accuracy. Unlike many of the more esoteric medical issues the Doc routinely encounters, “a considerable proportion of the population” are affected and acquainted with various similar thyroid disorders in the UK and US [which includes myself which opportuned bending my endocrinologist’s ear during a recent annual ultrasound scan].

    What may be relevant to the story is how this subplot is told (or not told): the Doc never mentions anything about a biopsy until after the fact, he never takes a standard initial blood test, he never looks at his patient’s notes in the original consult, and never reasonably divines a thyroid cyst until the end when he never even explored the possibility before. Perhaps most pertinent, the Doc never assuages the Winton’s fears: by explaining that chemotherapy is rarely if ever used and treatment for the thyroid uniquely uses targeted injections of radioactive iodine (which doesn’t cause one’s hair to fall out), by inquiring of Mr. Winton’s brother’s specific cancer history and whether it has medical relevance, by inquiring of any prior early neck x-ray exposure (the 1940’s-50’s were not yet attuned to the dangers thereof), or by pointing out that 95% of goiters (particularly those that appear as suddenly) are non-cancerous cysts.

  38. Santa Traugott

    Love the post, DM.

    Remember in the first episode of S3, after the scene where Louisa is on the examining table and Martin has slipped and remarked that it was “good” that she wasn’t pregnant — some intervening dialogue and Louisa remarks about their relationship, “it’s up to me, isn’t it — it’s always up to me.” And so, perhaps, it has turned out.

    I swear, there must be a missing scene between the scene at the end of E7, where as you rightly put it, Martin “capitulates” and essentially says, OK, I get it, you’re not letting me come home. Ever. And I don’t know how to change that, and even if I did, I can’t really change myself to fit. Between then and the doorstep scene the following (?) morning, Louisa also capitulates, apparently deciding that if she doesn’t want a divorce, it is in fact up to her to fix it, instead of waiting for Martin, for example, to face their troubled past with the dignity of Clive and propose a way to go forward. But maybe that scene isn’t necessary. We know that it must have happened.

    Exactly right that there is an amazing dichotomy between Dr. Ellingham and Martin, not only in the general level of cluelessness about what is happening, but also and much more importantly, in the passivity with which Martin approaches all of his personal issues, so antithetical to Dr. Ellingham’s approach to medical issues.

    I do think that earlier, I guessed at the reason you would suggest for why Louisa lied — she needed to reconcile, and this was the first plausible reason that came to mind. And it has some patina of truthiness — she has often been frustrated and aggravated with his refusal/inability to behave in “normal” i.e., sociallyi acceptable ways.

    But the analogy with the Wintons spelled this out beautifully and in a way that I did not at all anticipate.

    So both the Wintons and the Tishells are counterpoints in the theme of marriage.

    There are a lot of marital plots and subplots throughout the whole series in fact, from Phil Pratt to Eddie Ricks (?) to “our Jim” and probably many others. I wonder if more than typical.

  39. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I am extremely impressed with the time and effort, and the mental gymnastics, you put into creating this argument. I give you a lot of credit for coming up with a way to explain what seems to be a rather unsophisticated way to end this series. If I were the writers and producers of Doc Martin, I would be very pleased with your analysis. I hope you’re right and there was a well thought out intention to draw parallels between the Wintons and the Ellinghams that ran through two episodes. (I certainly think they intended to have Clive and Sally present an alternative way to deal with marital problems.) There were times when it was hard to miss that Mrs. W’s commitment to her husband was meant to send a message, especially when she tells Martin “when you love someone…you’d do anything for them.” But after reading your description of the other ways that you can find to connect the two stories, I find I have even more questions and am still troubled by your conclusion that Louisa lied.

    I figure my questions will be easier to ask if I follow your sequence of how the plot develops. So let me start with the advice Martin gives Mrs. W that “avoiding the issue won’t make it better.” If the subtext is that Martin is referring to himself and/or Louisa, and the issue for them is how to solve their estrangement, then haven’t all of the ridiculous assignments they’ve been fulfilling simply been forestalling what had to happen in the end — a real conversation? All the therapist should have done was to coach them in how to communicate with each other (as Santa once noted). However, if that were to have happened, the whole proposition of the show, that Martin and Louisa are almost always interrupted when they try to communicate and that Martin doesn’t talk, would be undermined. They had to avoid the issue! In addition, we have to assume that Mrs. W knows about Martin and Louisa’s separation; therefore, are you arguing that she is admonishing the doc to not give up when she tells him loving someone means you’d do anything for them?

    Are you arguing that doc is perfunctory in his exam and diagnosis of Mr. W because he’s given up on everything at this point? Or is his lack of bedside manner the problem? I could have imagined him telling Mrs. W, as he has told other patients in the past, that her husband is going to die, but it is not likely to be from this. (BTW, isn’t it somewhat curious that Mrs. W doesn’t do what most of us do these days and research the condition herself? She may not have a computer, but there are ways to find out more about almost anything if one is motivated enough.)

    Are you saying Louisa is as determined as Mrs. W and they are both misguided? Both of these women go about handling their concerns with their husbands by going to extremes. Mrs. W abducts Martin and holds him at gunpoint while Louisa cannot find a way to acknowledge Martin’s continuous endeavors to make amends.

    Is Mr. W’s remark about accepting “it” another way to look at a crisis. Is that fatalistic or realistic? I can’t help thinking about Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief where acceptance is the final stage and denial is the first. Can we perhaps see Mr. W’s decision to run as a reasonable choice because he wants to die at the mine? We might even consider it an example of the flight response Ruth has mentioned. Here, though, when we try to compare Mr. Winton’s acceptance with Martin’s we have a problem. Martin is not fleeing because he has not left voluntarily and his home visit to the Wintons was done with objection. Apart from that, if he were supposedly accepting “it,” where “it” is their separation and ultimate divorce, why does he tell Louisa that his interpretation of Dr. T’s assignment is to go through the exercise of making a list. My impression was that he might consider the exercise a way to open their eyes to how much they don’t want to divorce. Louisa has trouble thinking of anything to put on her list, which could be a good sign. Another thing I wonder is whether you think Martin is supposed to be taking his cue from Mrs. W who wants to fight for a loved one, or Mr. W who has accepted his situation?

    Are you saying that Louisa’s appearance at the Wintons spurred Martin into wanting to find a better solution to their impasse? As has often happened in the past when one of them is unaware of what the other has done or said, Martin is unaware that Louisa had planned a special dinner with food he would like. Now her obvious perseverance in finding him must be evidence of her dedication to him, and something he must welcome. But his last few remarks contradict that because he says he tried but it only made things worse. We haven’t really dealt with that ambiguous comment to any great degree yet.

    Finally, if Mrs. W’s lies are a model for the lengths one should go to when one is desperate, isn’t that a terrible message? If you’re right and Louisa lied to save her marriage, what does that foreshadow? Instead of insensitive jokes that mock Martin, Louisa will henceforth be lying whenever she needs to redeem herself? Previously I mentioned Harry Frankfurt’s essay on bullshit. Here’s how he distinguishes between lying and bullshitting: the bullshitter is someone whose principal aim — when uttering or publishing bullshit — is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression that something is being or has been done, words that are neither true nor false, and so obscure the facts of the matter being discussed. In contrast, the liar must know the truth of the matter under discussion, in order to better conceal it from the listener or the reader being deceived with a lie; while the bullshitter’s sole concern is personal advancement and advantage to their own agenda. I’m still in the bullshit camp!

    I love your summation of the inconsistency between Martin’s behavior as doctor versus his behavior as a person. I actually didn’t find that hard to believe because I know doctors, and men in other professions, just like that. You put a white coat on them and place them in the hospital, and they are decisive, etc.; get them in the supermarket, and they need a list and can’t think on their own. I also love the paragraph on how incomprehensible it is to think that neither Louisa nor Martin had come up with much of a plan during her stay in Spain.

    Thank you so much for all you add to this blog. It’s fun to spar with you.

  40. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thanks for your response. It is kind of funny that marriage comes up quite a bit in this show, especially since there seem to be a lot of single women with children too. In S7 we also have the Bells and Alice’s difficulty with her husband. Maybe marriage is just a universal struggle and a great setting for conflict and conflict resolution.

  41. DM

    Thanks, Santa. I liked that scene of exasperation in S3 which you refer. It made me wonder about the earlier scenes in S1 and S2 of Martin catching, perhaps less than serendipitous, “glimpses” of Louisa and whether Louisa sensed fully how difficult it was for him to make any move at all (maybe not quite to the extent as later in S3 when he knocked at her door, only to run away rather than face her).

    You’re right about that double-take about what seems a missing scene after S7E7. The only thing we really know that transpired in that gap, is Martin’s inability to have a good night’s sleep (deliberation?). Although I’m not sure even Martin had jumped to the conclusion that Louisa wasn’t letting him come home ever– not after less than six weeks. Had Louisa been equivocating for six months, maybe– but not six weeks. I’ve heard many a trial separation stories– of months and months or years, where eventual divorce becomes a welcomed form of euthanasia, but Martin and Louisa were far from there.

    if Martin had merely been able to pick up on Louisa’s new demeanor of receptiveness on the porch being broadcast to us viewer’s by Louisa’s facial expressions, before and after broaching the alphabetised cross-referenced spreadsheet of his dinner agenda– it could have ended then and there (with a special welcome home for the “aubergines [and] courgettes” not on the menu for what could have followed that special dinner). My suspicion is that whatever resolve Louisa had to bootstrap came much later– I’d guess at the end sitting alone on that precipice, waiting for Martin.

    From that same scene on the porch, I think Louisa was signaling her willingness to end the separation for any reason at all– that needn’t have entailed lying to Martin whatsoever. I suppose such a reason would merely have needed to have been nearly devoid of emotion with a touch of reasoning to thus be comprehensible to Martin. I don’t believe the lie, when she finally uttered it, was premeditated or by much.

    On the topic of marriage, Karen’s original reference to Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegone, brought to my mind one of his stories from out on the edge of the prairie. As a fellow fan a particular favourite of mine is from years back, told with full orchestral accompaniment, applies to the only two kinds of marriages that concludes, “…because it isn’t a nocturne that the organist plays when you leave the church, it isn’t a fantasia, it isn’t a love song. It’s a march, people. It’s a march,” to close with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.

    Of course what makes the thought of watching of any further new series too excruciating for me, is not that the Martin and Louisa characters are still groping for the answers to give themselves and one another– but that they’re still groping to even come up with any of the questions!

  42. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    DM, I can’t imagine enlarging on what you wrote in any way. Unless CC was putting her own spin on the scene, and the director decided he liked it, her facial expression when she sees Martin approaching that morning has to indicate her latent decision to make peace. Her preparations for dinner reconfirm that.

    I love the wedding march reference, and it’s nice to learn that you’re familiar with Lake Woebegone. Who would have guessed that even that has made it to the UK! Thanks again!

  43. Santa Traugott

    Two things:

    I didn’t understand the reference to Louisa “bootstrapping her resolve.”

    And — I took away from Martin’s statements at the end of E7: “I can’t do this anymore. …It’s time to talk about what to do about James…and everything.” to clearly indicate that he gave up. He had tried as hard as he could and hadn’t gotten anywhere, and if she still couldn’t accept him back, then probably they should talk about calling it a day. Because I think that only when she was faced with the possibility that he might actually be willing to leave their marriage, was Louisa willing or able to face up to the possibility that she would have to take or leave him, and had no further room for manuever.

    Looked at one way, it’s a high-stakes gamble on her part that failed. Maybe at some level she thought that her threat to leave him, or keep him dangling, was the only possible way to get him to implement changes she thought she needed or wanted. But in the end, she preferred to back down, rather than accept divorce. Whatever reason she gave in the end for inviting him back home, the plain fact was that she preferred being married to him as he was, to divorce, and she probably came to that conclusion thinking things over between the end of E7 and the beginning of E8, however long that was.

    The seductive dinner-to-be was just a way to retire gracefully from combat, (maybe making him jump through a few more pro forma hoops) which had to be shortcut by the adventure with the Wintons. “I came her to get you and I’m not leaving until I do.”

  44. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’ll let DM handle the bootstrapping question. I think Martin tells Louisa “I can’t go on living in that house…Can’t go on living like this actually.” He also says it’s time they worked out what they’re going to do about James and everything. He looks rather discouraged, but still hopeful that Louisa will come around, if you ask me. I have to agree with DM that all of this happens extremely quickly after starting therapy, and the only reason for that is they have to reach a resolution by the end of E8. I’m going to guess that you think so too.

    Whatever time elapsed between E7 and 8, Louisa was forced to decide what she wanted to do after all. For the purposes of the show, she had spent 3 weeks in Spain having trouble figuring out what to do, then decided to return without a plan, spent another 5-6 weeks in therapy still not coming to any conclusion about whether to welcome him back, and only now, once Dr. T starts acting unhinged, does Martin decide to give Louisa an ultimatum and instigate a resolution on Louisa’s part.

    The whole thing is so contrived and compacted. He is anxious for her to come back and seeks therapy as a way to demonstrate his determination to show her; she comes back believing her solution is only temporary (she says so when she tells him about it AND when she talks to her student’s father); they attend couples therapy 5 times without solving their issues; and have reached a point where Martin insists on Louisa making a decision. Wow! Instead of speed dating, it’s speed marital adjudication!

    I never really bought that she wouldn’t decide to take him back, but I wasn’t expecting them to go this route.

  45. Santa Traugott

    The thing that happened between the doorstep meeting, where it was evident that Louisa had serious second thoughts about whether she wanted to continue to hold out, and the clifftop finale, was that it was underscored for Louisa that whatever his relationship and personal failings, and they are many, Martin would never abandon her — that his devotion to her and his loyalty were absolute. You’d have to think a lot more than twice, to throw that away. That’s bedrock. Especially if your need for that bedrock turns out to be a lifelong “issue,” which the purpose of the therapy scenes, apparently, was to highlight.

    I always thought, from the end of S6 on, that Louisa would eventually capitulate, but only when it was clear that continuing to waffle would cost her marriage. The only question was how they were going to get to that point. I thought originally that maybe Martin would get another out-of-town job offer, and she would have to decide whether to go with him or stay, and that the last scene would see her waving down the Lexus as he followed the moving van out of town. Their way was clearly better!

    Given Martin Clunes’ insistence that Doc Martin is never going to change, that is the only way this could really go. A series devoted to how he is in fact changing (and softening) would have far less dramatic impact, it seems to me anyway.

    So we have to have Louisa not being clear about why she leaves in the first place, only that we (read “I”) can’t go back to the way we (read “you”) were.” And when she’s thought her deepest thoughts about all this for three weeks, that’s still all she can come up with. Since she is unwilling or unable to be more specific, how is it even possible that Martin could make any satisfactory changes? And how could it be about him making those changes? I think that’s possibly the reason for her vagueness on what he was supposed to do.

    I think we might have to read “normal” more broadly. It may not refer just to his personal failings/difficulties, e.g., blood phobia. It may also refer to relationship issues, such as difficulty communicating, sharing feelings. Because why should she care that he’s not “normal” unless it impacts their relationship? (Unless you buy the idea that she’s such a tender plant that the way others feel about him contaminates her own feeling about him, and therefore she needs him to be more socially acceptable.) So maybe in the end, she’s saying that she accepts that their relationship is always going to be fraught and difficult, because both of them have issues, but it’s still better to be together and trying to cope, than separate. And “normal” is just a shorthand — the best term they could come up with — to encompass all that.

  46. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    If we go back to S6E8, we hear Ruth tell Martin he’s going to have to change if he wants to be with Louisa. He’ll have a harder time than most, but that’s what he’ll have to do. We see him immediately act on that-visit the patient he had brushed off and finally tell his mother to take a hike, then go to his office to make flight arrangements to follow Louisa. Of course this plan is interrupted by the AVM; however, he makes an effort to appeal to Louisa in the operating room and he seems very emotional after the surgery. We deduce that he’s relieved that he saved his wife and possibly also that he was able to perform surgery. Then we have the curious visit to Louisa’s bedside during which he once again puts his medical mask on and she thanks him for coming after her but makes her statement that they can’t go back to the way things were before, and he agrees. She looks and sounds as conciliatory as can be in that scene even though she’s expressing some hesitations. She is justified in being unconvinced about the future because they’ve gone through this sort of separation and reunion a couple of times before. She’s reached a point where she doesn’t feel like she can rely on whether he’ll be able to sustain any sort of change in his behavior.

    Then we have the gap between series during which Louisa decides to take JH to Spain for 3 weeks. We could imagine that she left after saying she doesn’t know what else to do (just as she says after she returns). Then she spends 3 weeks without communicating, using the excuse that the reception there is awful, although when she tries, she manages to get some messages through. Again she sounds conciliatory and happy to hear Martin’s voice. Even though she’s at least in her late 30s, she might have been testing Martin to see if he would make the first move to contact her. Of course, he doesn’t do that until Ruth tells him to, and then he looks very nervous about taking that step. Here we have to guess he’s worried about what Louisa will say and that she’ll tell him she’s not coming back. But that doesn’t happen, and she calls him back several times. They just never connect.

    Then Louisa and JH return seemingly without warning and Louisa acts rather uncertain about being back. But she moves her things back into the house and she makes dinner that night. She had to expect to address their estrangement if she is still of the opinion that they can’t go back to the way things were before she left. (We don’t know anything about the time after the hospital and before she left, but it clearly wasn’t good enough to get her to stay. Could that be what Martin is referring to when he says he tried, but it just made things worse?) She has no plan other than to live separately. If he hadn’t started therapy, what would she have wanted to do?

    I agree that we aren’t going to see Martin change very much, both because that’s the nature of the character in this show, and also because they don’t want to “fix” him. But if he is now more emotionally accessible, as he seems in the operating room in S6, then that should be a good sign for Louisa. I think they show him being more accessible in S7, and now she’s shut down. So we are being set up for Louisa to be the one to let down her resistance this time. Then we go through episode after episode of Louisa being unrelenting until we arrive at E7 and Dr. T’s weird session. Dr. T has told Louisa that she has come up with a new idea and gotten her hopes up after telling them their marriage may not survive. (Again, there had only been 5 sessions with them. Unless she is a miracle worker, 5 sessions would be unlikely to have produced a breakthrough. I could have believed that the hugging exercise would have led to some sign of Louisa backing down, but that was way too soon in the series since the powers that be seem to think reconciliation is boring.) They show up at Dr. T’s office only to find a woman in disarray and in no condition to help them with anything. Another lost opportunity, but also an event that somehow leads Martin to present Louisa with an ultimatum. What did he think when Louisa asked him to go to see Dr. T that evening? Wasn’t that an indication that Louisa was looking forward to some sort of significant input from Dr. T that might salvage their marriage?

    Anyway, we are already getting some sense that Louisa is softening, we see more the morning of the dinner, and then we get her final decision to admit making a terrible mistake. Like you I don’t buy the notion that he needs to be more socially acceptable. His social ineptitude is longstanding and can be exasperating to her, but it’s not her biggest problem with him. What seems to bother her the most is not having enough warmth from him and the feeling that he respects her enough to confide in her. (It might be nice if he also was less derogatory about her job.) The use of the word “normal” does bother me though. Words matter, and when a writer picks a word, I’d like to think it was chosen for a reason. Since we’ve had other occasions when that word comes up, I have to believe it was used here for a purpose. Can we accept that Louisa lands on that word randomly and because they couldn’t think of a better one? We may have to without any better explanations, but it sticks out like a sore thumb!!

    I want to say here too, that the fact that we are still trying to figure all of this out would probably be exciting to BP, et.al. It might not make sense on one level, but it sure has produced a lot of discussion. Maybe we need to conclude that they used terminology and somewhat implausible storylines because they wanted to stir up some conversation and disgruntlement. I feel certain they strung out the reconciliation because it frustrates viewers to keep these two apart. About this we can also never be sure!! ACCKK!!!

  47. Santa Traugott

    Does Louisa lie? Does Martin lie?

    Arguably, I think they both do, often — to themselves and to each other. At least they equivocate, keep silent when they should speak, and sometimes, say the opposite of what they mean.

    Think about the scene on the balcony of Louisa’s apartment in S3 where they are talking about setting the wedding date, and Louisa has just told him that their date is 3 weeks away. Both are clearly uneasy about this, and both deny it. “Too soon, you think?” “No, no.” “We want to get married, so….”

    And in S6E1, we have the discovery that she had been dissembling about not wanting a honeymoon.

    All of S4 is arguably about them concealing from each other, and from themselves, how much they want to be together and how much she wants him (and he wants to be) involved with the baby.

    In S6, Martin is much more open with Ruth than he is with his wife, about what is going on with him.

    In S7, we see Martin responding, when asked (by a Louisa who perhaps is feeling a bit guilty) about how he’s doing in the cottage, that he’s “fine.”

    But this is a tried and true soap opera device — if people were more honest and open with each other, there’d be many fewer plot complications. You wouldn’t be able to drag out the story line endlessly.

  48. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m beginning to think we need to start looking at this show as a farce. A lot of what happens seems farcical in that it was never meant to mimic real life too closely. What trips us up is that we can relate to it as if it could be authentic, and much of what we see is not so far from situations that happen in the real world, but then they exaggerate and things become improbable. If you look up “farce” in Wikipedia you’ll find this definition: “Farces are often highly incomprehensible plot-wise (due to the many plot twists and random events that occur), but viewers are encouraged not to try to follow the plot in order to avoid becoming confused and overwhelmed. Farce is also characterized by physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances…Furthermore, a farce is also often set in one particular location, where all events occur.”

    I have enjoyed how much this show makes us think about real life concerns and truly important issues like women being self-sufficient and independent and how doctors might actually relate to their patients if they could express themselves without the courtesies we consider necessary. I like thinking about issues to do with family and psychology. I also like looking at the mechanics of how a show is developed and written. I’m not taking back any of the discussions we’ve had on this site, and I will always save them as a body of work that got me thinking about so many interesting topics. Nevertheless, I am beginning to recognize that it’s time to look at the show from a new perspective, possibly one that is more aligned with how the show was originally conceived, both by Dominic Minghella and by BP.

    With that in mind, the differentiation between lie, white lie, and bullshit may be a distinction without a difference. The premise of the show is that Martin is a terrible communicator, Louisa is volatile, and the two of them often can’t find a way to talk to each other. All of these properties lead to the interactions you describe and more.

    In the first case, Louisa was ready to terminate their relationship until Martin saves Holly’s life. Once Holly is on her way to the hospital, Martin proposes, Louisa accepts on the spot, they leap into each other’s arms, have a passionate night together, and start the process of getting married. Since nothing ever takes a natural course in the show, the church is only available in 3 weeks. Here we have the farcical element — forced to make a quick decision, they overcome any hesitations and agree to go through with it. We can think of couples we know who have married precipitously, so we accept this scenario as possible. We are given a good enough account of what could happen, and we go along. They are both leery of marrying in such a rush, but Martin doesn’t want to take any chance of Louisa changing her mind, neither of them wants to express uneasiness and hurt the other’s feelings, and the urgency leads to all sorts of mishaps. The white lies are vehicles to get to the craziness with the preacher(s), the flowers, the pregnant bridesmaid, etc., etc.

    I would say the same about the wedding night. Between S5E8 and S6E1 there has been far too much affection between Martin and Louisa. They couldn’t just go home after the wedding like Martin would prefer. And they couldn’t go on a trip because we had to stay in the environs of Portwenn. So we have the lodge, which is lovely and quiet and seems the perfect compromise until…If the fireplace hadn’t exploded, something else would have happened to disrupt the wedding night and send them on an excursion. I happen to love that whole episode and the night in the woods. Louisa trying to keep up with Martin wearing her wedding gown, veil, and shoes. Martin going the wrong direction (because he’s a man and never admits he’s wrong about directions) and Louisa first making fun of him and then getting tired of being cold and dirty. That whole scene where he carries her over the brook like a sack of potatoes while she tells him she would have liked a honeymoon is so funny, yet so close to what we want her to say. She is always compromising due to his idiosyncrasies, but she’s had enough and isn’t mincing words anymore.

    All of S4 is driven by their inability to talk to each other, as are S6 and S7. The farce is that it becomes absurd by S7. They’ve built up the lack of communication to the nth degree by S7. Maybe we should, therefore, not be at all surprised that in the last scene Louisa lies, tells a white lie, bullshits about what stopped her from reconciling with Martin. It’s not meant to make sense.

    I think you’ve come to the same conclusion…for the sake of the story arc and the choices made about the plot, we have some nonsense at the end! No matter how much we want to arrive at a valid explanation, we can’t and need to stop trying and accept the absurdity.

  49. mmarshall

    I have always thought of the show as a bit of a farce with the sheer number of rare and crazy medical conditions that occur in one small village. We started to say about every new-comer on the show, “Leave now before you come down with something catastrophic!” ME even had a line about Portwenners while talking to Mrs. Tishell in the tower and their “unerring knack of catching any virus that comes within a five-mile radius!” I think being a bit of a farce works into the show being rather fairy tale-ish. Portwenn is an idyllic little community with always perfect weather. Mark Mylow has a line in season 2 something like “Lovely day, isn’t it? But then it’s always a lovely day…” At times I forget that the characters are set in modern day. I’m surprised to see them talking on cell phones or using computers, because they seem like they belong in a time back in yesteryear when doctors made house calls and children called the teacher just plain “Miss.”

  50. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Yes, good points. It’s always had comedy mixed with some drama, and it certainly fits the criteria for dramedy, but with each series, it’s gotten more and more absurd to me. S6 was particularly wild with all the physical traumas that just never developed into anything that lasted long. As I once said, Louisa seemed to be superhuman as she got hit by a car and bounced back quickly, then had AVM surgery with nary a scar or trouble coming out of anesthesia, and then feeling up to leaving for Spain soon after. We should all be so indomitable! Martin’s knife wound didn’t bother him much either after he managed to bandage it.

    Those cracks about the lovely day, etc. are a tipoff that they are poking fun at the show, the setting, the characters all the time. I don’t think the show is meant to be a fairytale; it’s designed to undercut fairytales by misappropriating their tropes. Time is another squishy thing in the show, which is why I would apply the description of Lake Wobegone to Portwenn: “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve.”

  51. DM

    As we’re still trying to figure out what was the story being told to us in S6, you raise some very good questions. I hope it doesn’t seem to any of us fans of the programme and your blog that I’ve pretended to have had it all figured out either. I’m hopeful way more readers will chime in on whether this take is making more or less sense of the story to them– an all-for-fun story and an all-for-fun effort to understand it (plus I’m counting on a support group to talk me down should I really get carried away!). I was reassured that some of your questions were anticipated in the course of my trying to poke holes in my own understanding thus far. Here’s an effort to address those questions:

    If the subtext is that Martin is referring to himself and/or Louisa… then… simply been forestalling what had to happen in the end — a real conversation?

    Yes, exactly. Which is why I thought your post entitled “S7E8 – Back to the Future” was such an inspired title. That first part of your question is really that it is the Doc who admonishes Mrs. Winton and not, to not put too fine a point on it here, Martin who is in need of heeding the same advice and applying it to himself and his relationships. I think I had likewise chimed in with Santa on the misperceptions surrounding therapy as a grand spelunking expedition to deep dark recesses of the psyche rather than where real therapy occurs given how to use the basic tools of talking and listening for self-exploration and the exploration of relationships, as the true sources of insight.

    I also appreciate the dramedy tension created by the endless interruptions, emergencies, cross-purposes, etc., that have obfuscated the lack of even the most elementary, if awkward, conversations in the past series, but after all this time that trope threatens to carry the programme into the realm of science fiction and fantasy (I think this has quickly become your sense too). Thus the only question at the end of S7 is whether we have merely gone back to the beginning of S7? S6? S5?…

    …[Mrs. Winton] is admonishing the doc to not give up when she tells him loving someone means you’d do anything for them?

    As you may have recalled, Mrs. Winton does overtly learn of their separation by way of PC Penhale discussing it at the table with her son before Martin and Louisa, much to their great chagrin. Yet when she admonishes the Doc just before he’s bound and gagged and again there at the table immediately before being told of their separation, at this point it is as justification for her own actions. At this point she is only speaking for herself, which we’re meant to hear subsequently as a rhetorical question. I suspect this is a case where the writers are speaking directly to us, the viewers, through Mrs. Winton’s character– at least that’s how I explain it to myself. There may even be a page out of literary theory, wherein they/she are actually speaking to Martin’s unconscious here.

    Mrs. Winton’s character would not presume to offer such personal advice to the Doc (or to Martin) whom she holds in such high regard as a smart and reliable doctor, despite her recognition that (surprise!), “…from what I’ve seen of you, you’re obviously not an easy person to live with.”

    Are you arguing that doc is perfunctory in his exam and diagnosis of Mr. W because he’s given up on everything at this point?

    Yes. This was supposed to be the significance of the hippie-musician in S6– a new found awareness that the Doc’s usual attentiveness, conscientiousness, diligence, and thoughtfulness with patients (though still devoid of any bedside manner) is an unsustainable role that suffers as long as the needs of Martin are not attended to– that recognising patients are not merely fulfilling some role, they are men (and women) too and the Doc is no mere role either. To strain the metaphor: what is happening to Martin, the man, bleeds through to what is happening to the Doc, the role– and vice versa. Here we are seeing Mr. Winton, the patient, suffering at the hands of Mr. Winton, the man with his fears as an allegory to Martin, the Doc, and his fears. That is the most succinct description with a minimum of psychological gobbledegook.

    (BTW, isn’t it somewhat curious that Mrs. W doesn’t do what most of us do these days and research the condition herself?)

    Yes, for a stock Portwenn villager, I’d have to agree with you. Which is why I think the writers heavily portrayed Mrs. Winton as somewhat of a bumpkin, even by Portwenn’s standards; to wit: not having a grasp of what “malignant” means? Not having even a basic understanding of a “thyroid”? Yet importantly for purposes of the story, all these alternatives were moot since the immovable force here was her husband’s fears. Mrs. Winton very well had the capacity and motivation to educate herself on all these topics, but how was she going to convince her obstinate husband to listen and not give up? Facts, figures, charts, and comorbidities would not have swayed him. In the very limited time the Wintons are portrayed interacting together, she is portrayed as somewhat submissive to his fears, as if she’d learned in 40 years of marriage that this is what had to be done. Interestingly, we never see them interact from within their home and, come to think of it, why is he shown bedridden the entire time the Doc visits? There’s no medical reason– even if we’re given that he’s only just taken to drink for the first time in years, he’d not be so confined. I suspect it’s to emphasise his penchant for giving up.

    Are you saying Louisa is as determined as Mrs. W and they are both misguided? …while Louisa cannot find a way to acknowledge Martin’s continuous endeavors to make amends.

    Yes, misguided; Mrs. Winton certainly but Louisa too in terms of the risks and ramifications of lying to one’s spouse (which begs whether the writers ever intend to take that up). The proposition of, “Martin’s continuous endeavors to make amends” is still somewhat problematic for me– I don’t see it. I’ve railed against how very little I thought Martin actually invested himself in S7 (since S6) to risk doing much differently. I am perhaps the sole dissenter against the idea that Martin bent over backwards in the course of the six weeks of S7 and the weeks preceding it when measured against the standard of,” Then you must change… You’d have to work hard. Harder than most.” Which is to say, I don’t dismiss his perceptible efforts and even his consent to participate in Dr. Timoney’s fatuous exercises. But I can see neither continuous, endeavours, nor making amends.

    Is Mr. W’s remark about accepting “it” another way to look at a crisis. Is that fatalistic or realistic?

    I tried to address that in my remarks about the requirement for “a careful titration”. The Serenity Prayer perfectly captures the tension between these two forces: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.” But as we’ve seen in Mr. Winton’s case, his fears prove (by the writers’ design, I would argue) to be entirely benign– in every sense of the word. I don’t dismiss Mr. Winton’s fears– they are as real as anything, as real as the fact that someday he will in fact die (yet he is portrayed as otherwise healthy, not especially elderly, and only just getting ready to retire). But to not make yourself aware of the risks to prevent it first, to face your fears? Not to truly know what you are accepting and what you are risking before you freely make that choice? That’d be such stuff as tragedies are made of.

    if [Martin] were supposedly accepting “it,” where “it” is their separation and ultimate divorce, why does he tell Louisa that his interpretation of Dr. T’s assignment is to go through the exercise of making a list? My impression was that he might consider the exercise a way to open their eyes to how much they don’t want to divorce.

    That may be a matter of timing; Martin’s punctilious approach to the list early in S7E7 seems, to me, hardened by the morning of S7E8 as part of his overall change of demeanor– more resigned and by then, mechanical. By S7E8 his devotion to the alphabetised cross-referenced spreadsheet list is as meticulous cold comfort, stripped of emotion.

    I don’t think that Martin’s devotion to the list after leaving Dr. Timoney’s office early in S7E7 as evidence of artifice on his part, deciding it remained too far beyond his current self-awareness. Considering that Martin objects in the session, “The whole point of coming here is that we don’t want to separate,” was such a rare and clear expression of what they both and individually wanted which a real therapist could have so capitalised upon rather than quashed as she did.
    if what may have amounted to a ploy on Dr. Timoney’s behalf to leap to an alternative to marriage at this stage, would have been tragic.

    There is admittedly much of that middle part of S7E7 I’m still trying to interpret (although I don’t believe bears upon Louisa’s lie and the motivation for it). Of Martin’s change of demeanor, some of it occurred from early S7E7 to just the end of S7E7 when he issues his implied ultimatum which I have yet to explain since there hadn’t been anything between he and Louisa to precipitate it– a row, a misunderstanding, doubts, etc. that might account for it. Are we to believe that the main reason it came to head for him there and then, was a noisy, intrusive neighbor (like that’s never happened before)? There are mutual encounters with the same characters, Dr. Timoney and the art teacher and daughter, both involving either not being them-self-ses or not being their true self-ses, and in each case Martin encounters their blood (which as pet topics, you might’ve thought I’d be on top of by now with another crazy interpretation). If those encounters were meant to raise Martin’s anxieties to his relational circumstances through S7E7, then maybe your suggestion of artifice by Martin was inspired by Dr. Timoney’s ploy as his response to his growing anxiety. Maybe.

    Another thing I wonder is whether you think Martin is supposed to be taking his cue from Mrs. W who wants to fight for a loved one, or Mr. W who has accepted his situation?

    I don’t think Martin is taking his cue from anybody at this stage– at least not consciously. The allegory exists outside of Martin’s conscious space and is primarily for the viewers’ sake.

    Are you saying that Louisa’s appearance at the Wintons spurred Martin into wanting to find a better solution to their impasse?

    No (if I understand your question correctly). Martin did respond to Louisa’s appearance, particularly as her care and concern is palpable to him by her fierce determination which has always attracted him to her since S1. Yet I would daresay that that has yet to congeal into anything that spurs Martin to seek a better solution. That doesn’t happen here or anywhere in S7. By the same token, we don’t get a scene between Mr. Winton and his wife at the end wherein he realises that he needn’t have put his wife through that ordeal to take the risks she had taken in lieu of him merely not avoiding his fears which wouldn’t have been as bad as he feared anyway, if only he’d have taken the risk to face them.

    But his last few remarks contradict that because he says he tried but it only made things worse. We haven’t really dealt with that ambiguous comment to any great degree yet

    Martin’s comment about, “only making things worse” is demonstrably false. Does anyone believe that? I think he makes it as a selfish self-pitying remark that mirrors the nearly exact words he told Louisa in S1. We can’t imagine the Doc responding with similar cataplexy to Peter Cronk’s ruptured spleen– he might have done nothing in the back of that ambulance by the reason of only making things worse (Primum non nocere) but instead he opens up Peter’s abdomen, reaches in, and grabs and holds onto that splenic artery for dear life. He certainly could have made things worse with Holly (and momentarily did necessitating administration of naloxone from an uncommunicative patient) as she lay dying on Louisa’s kitchen floor– and yet he shocked her only to have to jab adrenaline directly into her heart– and had that failed, we can well imagine him with a kitchen knife performing an emergency thoracotomy to open her chest for direct cardiac massage with his bare hands. The Doc routinely scoffs at the risk of “only making things worse.”

    If you’re right and Louisa lied to save her marriage, what does that foreshadow?

    I’m with you! I can’t condone it either, and I can’t imagine Louisa’s character doing so either. But obviously this was a calculation on behalf of the writers (which if they can get away with writing Martin’s character euthanising Buddy to ostensibly remedy his mere annoyance with small dogs with barely a murmur– their calculations seem surprisingly better than yours or mine).

    Perhaps the preceding hypothetical question, “How far would you go, eh?”, was meant as an example of such questions turning into real moral and ethical dilemmas– even Sophie’s choices, if you’ll forgive the histrionics. I shouldn’t believe that Louisa’s character considered the lie lightly lest it not constitute a genuine risk. A real and genuine risk is inherent and indispensable to the Wintons’ subplot (Q.E.D. “I’ll take my punishment. Saved my Jim’s life, didn’t it?”) as well as other subplots in this series. I don’t think there is now a risk that Louisa will tell a lie whenever it suits her. Does a moral dilemma of choosing to throw the train switch that kills the old man in the wheelchair stuck on the tracks but saves the bus full of children stuck on the other, put pensioners forever after at risk on a whim? Probably not. Louisa’s lie did not strike me as premeditated (or by much) which if I had to guess at where and when she contemplates taking such a risk, is whilst sitting by herself at the precipice (more symbolism) waiting for Martin.

    Lying to a spouse or loved one is a terrible risk to take, but here it is through the prism of a less-than year-old marriage already coming apart at the seams. That would look very different than a forty year-old marriage that’s endured through we know not what, but implies plenty of compromises and sacrifices before this latest. This is where what I perceive as this series’ overall theme of tenacity drawn from this and other subplots would support the main plot. Louisa may have rationalised that she nor Martin would never know their/his/her true capacity for change if they called the marriage quits at this stage. Maybe that’s the most hopeful risk of them all (and perhaps a bow to the hope that remains when all else seems lost, as Pandora might say).

  52. mmarshall

    I love the connections between the Wintons’ and the Ellinghams’ marriage issues, and I thought at the time that Mrs. W’s statements about doing anything for the one you loved was certainly meant to make Louisa and Martin stop and think. I consider that Louisa’s statement that she would stop short of actually holding someone at gunpoint may have made her stop and consider that she had in a way held her husband at gunpoint by making him wait and wonder if their marriage would continue. Louisa seemed to hold all the cards; he was clear that he wanted her and wanted “the whole nonsense to be over,” as he told Ruth. Then throughout S7 Louisa was the hold out, holding a “gun” to Martin’s head that if he didn’t — (yes, she never really said what!) — she would end the marriage. Feeling that Mrs. W’s gun wasn’t an inappropriately extreme measure, (although it worked in the end!), may have made Louisa realize that she was going about her problems in the wrong way, too. We had already seen indications that she didn’t really want the marriage to end — insisting on being called “Mrs. Ellingham”, insisting that the separation was only temporary — so upon realizing that she had been holding Martin hostage and that wasn’t the right way to deal with problems, she began contemplating the way to end their stand off — with her lie perhaps.

    I still struggle to see the “normal” statement as a lie. She had said several times previously that she liked the odd, quirky nature of Martin, but I think once they were married, her ideal of how a husband/father should be kicked in and Martin didn’t fit it well. He didn’t behave as a “normal” husband should. We saw her insist he play with the baby as SHE wanted — not watching surgery videos, but using baby toys and going to baby classes. She insisted he play the “normal” role of a headmaster’s spouse and attend school functions which he clearly hated and felt out of place at. She insisted he play a “normal” role of town doctor and supportive husband and preside at the Sports Day. She thought a “normal” husband wouldn’t keep things like the return of his hemophobia from his wife. She thought a “normal” husband should want to take her on a honeymoon or a get-away when she made it clear she wanted one. Time after time he let her down in these ways. She may have been attracted to the quirky man, but once married to him, I believe she wanted a spouse who acted like a more “normal” spouse and this was what she was holding out for in S7 and what her comment at the end was getting at. She was obsessed with the idea of a “normal” marriage relationship and was not realizing that having held her husband at gunpoint over it wasn’t helping her get what she wanted.

  53. Santa Traugott

    I guess there are three theories floating around now as to what “normal” could possibly mean. There is the idea that it was more or less a (little white) lie to enable Louisa to capitulate, by giving her some plausible sounding reason. There is the idea that “normal” is just a word tossed in by creative team because basically they didn’t know how else to get the thing resolved. Both of the above ideas, though, don’t give any credence to the third possibility — that she actually meant, normal. Like Marshall (above), I lean to that myself. I think she can both love him for his unique characteristics and still want him to be “normal” in whatever sense she means it. She could conceive of his troublesome marital flaws as evidence that he is not normal. (How many times has she had to replace a child-minder that he drove away, I wonder.) Also, quirky characteristics that are endearing when you’re not in continual close contact, just might not wear well in a marriage, and one could long for a more “normal” spouse. The whole scenario makes sense, kind of, if you go along with the idea that what she finally realized was that the characteristics that drew her to him — his solidity, loyalty, etc., etc., — were more important and more necessary (underline necessary) to her than the traits that made him unusual and difficult to live with.

  54. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m going to combine my response to mmarshall with this one to Santa because you are both basically talking about the idea of what’s normal. Even though I can see how mmarshall’s list of activities Louisa plans for Martin can be construed as her effort to get him to interact with the community as a “normal” part of being married to her and of now being a resident of Portwenn, I question whether she really cares about anyone else but herself. She wants him to support her position as headmistress at the school and recognize it as important, and she wants to engage him in participating with JH both at home and at large.

    But even more than all of that, I am now looking at the show through the prism of being a farce. As such, all of the scenes mentioned fit the scheme of farce in that they often include physical humor, broadly stylized acting, and somewhat nonsensical plots. Take the school performance and aftermath for example. Louisa wants Martin to accompany her, he offends the childminder, but they find a replacement almost immediately, he sits through the event and then deigns to mingle with parents and others afterwards. He soon offends a parent and then, without thinking, asks Dennis to dinner that night. (We all know he has social ineptitudes and all of those interactions make us chuckle while also reconfirming how awkward he is with other people. We can’t help but be reminded of his faux pas while attending the concert with Louisa in S3.) He also calls Louisa “darling,” which startles her and sounds disingenuous, and grabs her when Penhale stops them on their way home. As they enter the kitchen door, we hear them arguing over what to have for their dinner party and who’s going to cook it. Their walk home was rushed and quarrelsome, but it was also humorous because they argue over who Martin invited and over asparagus. From there the risible nature of the situation grows. Dennis and his wife drink too much, she’s much younger than he and they talk about having a baby together, Dennis holds his asparagus with his fingers as he notes that Martin isn’t very social, Louisa and Martin tangle while checking on JH, and the baby monitor broadcasts their disapproval of Dennis and his wife to the unfortunate couple waiting at the table. Next morning Louisa tries to reason with Dennis and has to unplug his power tools to get him to hear her, then she walks into a glass door while Dennis falls off the platform onto the ground below. We can’t get much more physical about the humor! In the end Martin checks Louisa’s cut while telling her she has seborrhea (dandruff) probably due to not rinsing her hair adequately.

    I’d argue the whole episode is more about putting Martin and Louisa in amusing settings rather than Louisa wanting Martin to be normal. The scenes set up conflicts in their marriage and are similar to the sort of humor we might see in “I Love Lucy,” etc., while also approximating what can happen between couples in marriages. Theirs is a marriage destined for rockiness, and we find it fun to watch this sort of stuff. I just can’t help thinking that we are attaching too much meaning to all of this.

    I would agree that what’s quirky yet endearing at first may become really annoying during a marriage, but not only two weeks into it. At least I hope not! Again, all of this is too rushed to fit neatly into something that we can subsume under reasonable. By the end of S7, after about 6-8 months of marriage, we are supposed to surmise that Louisa has once again reached the conclusion that she wants to be with Martin more than she doesn’t want to be with him, and she is once again planning to put up with his quirks because she knows he is moral, devoted, and truly infatuated with her. How she comes to that realization, how she has that “light-bulb” moment, is what we’re wrestling with. At this point, I think they deliberately leave that ambiguous.

  55. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    DM, thank you for taking the time to answer all of my questions so assiduously. Your reasoning is very comprehensive and derives from having given all of this a lot of thought. I apologize for forgetting that the Winton family learned of Martin and Louisa’s separation only once Penhale let it slip. And, yes, they do make Mrs. Winton appear rather unsophisticated and their son too, although that is always the peculiar nature of this show. These days, what 20-something living in a developed country doesn’t have a mobile phone that he uses all the time? (It is sort of implied that Clemo was in contact with his mother after Martin jumped out the window to escape, and returned home quickly so that he could stop Martin before he got too far. Wouldn’t that require a mobile phone?)

    I particularly like your comments about Martin’s change of demeanor towards their living arrangements and then towards the list. It looks like we’re just supposed to assume that he finally reached the end of his rope after that strange meeting with Dr. T and Louisa’s continued lack of engagement with him on the ride back to the surgery. (But you know what they say about assuming!?) The noisy neighbor would be a poor excuse, I agree. I also like that you note that there is no scene in which Jim Winton acknowledges that he hadn’t needed to put his wife through this ordeal and that his fears were unfounded. Those parallel scenes would have worked quite handily.

    That Louisa only came up with what she wanted to say to Martin while sitting on that precipice waiting for the helicopter to whisk Jim Winton to the hospital seems a little hard to stomach. I mean, she had presumably planned a good dinner so that she could tell Martin she wanted him to come home. The fact that they decided to return to the routine of Martin supposedly saving someone’s life in order to reignite Louisa’s love for Martin was fatuous at best, no? Not only was Jim not dying, as you so clearly proved, but also she must have run after him and been so determined to find him and not let him out of her sight for a reason.

    The Lie problem is hard to resolve. I wouldn’t go so far as to say now that she’s lied once, she will lie regularly, but if it worked to get her out of this dilemma, she might fall back on it again. She may not know Martin’s capacity for change, but he seems to think it’s fairly limited and we know they won’t change him much as a character. We’ve probably seen the extent of his ability to change at this point, and he’s done pretty well from where I sit. He’s realized it’s important to Louisa to be happy, he’s done several things to demonstrate his willingness to help with JH, and he’s taken her demands to heart.

    I should think their marriage can survive now.

  56. Santa Traugott

    Karen, I wish you’d write a post about farce; maybe contrasting farce and comedy in some part of it? I do agree that large swaths of character and situation in DM are farcical, almost entirely. Here I think of Mrs. Tishell, Penhale, and Bert. And the various plot devices of misunderstandings, miscommunications and interruptions that keep our protagonists apart are cumulatively so wildly improbable as to be farcial. But I don’t think that in sum DM is a farce on the level of, say, Fawlty Towers, or Comedy of Errors.
    But still, it’s an interesting topic to think and talk about.

    They’d been living together, in one form or another, for 9 or 10 months before the marriage went south, I think. (Interrupted for a couple weeks toward the end of S5.) So plenty of time for honeymoon to fade and quirks to become annoying rather than endearing.

  57. DM

    By “whatever resolve Louisa had to bootstrap” I meant that her lie was spontaneous and not premeditated, or by much, which she deemed on the spot so as to tell Martin which he would be capable of comprehending (which maybe is sad in itself).

    Martin’s demeanor before and after his statement at the very end of S7E7 which you refer, “I can’t go on like this…” is very interesting. From then on to the next morning of S7E8 and the exchange on the porch with Louisa, Martin’s demeanor has hardened, for which we have only his intervening night of poor sleep to impute. I can only interpret that as he had not yet “given up“ on the porch. Yet before leaving Dr. Timoney’s office early in S7E7 Martin markedly objects for both himself and Louisa, “The whole point of coming here is that we don’t want to separate.” What changed in between in S7E7? There hadn’t been anything between he and Louisa to precipitate it– a row, a misunderstanding, awkwardness, doubts, etc. to account for it. If it’s because Martin’s experienced one inconvenience too far with his neighbor– that wouldn’t say much about Martin’s evolving perspective on marriage. Since the list and the dinner and the talk were already set in motion, why does Martin raise his implied ultimatum there and then? Why does he rather deliberately wait until Louisa has got out of the car and about to enter the surgery to broach it? Is it to perhaps to put distance between her beforehand, i.e. emotions? Perhaps he sensed himself heading for a shutdown? He does seem to react to Louisa’s lack of a reaction, or at least to the absence of the reaction that he’d expected. What do you make of it?

    You attribute a great deal of conniving and coercion to Louisa, that I haven’t seen. I don’t think she ever made such a threat or even implied it (even if it had to have crossed her mind). We have plenty of nosey Portween villager’s rooting about for gossip and jumping to conclusions and we have plenty of Martin’s assumptions of the worst on account of poor voice reception and his own poor ability to communicate since Louisa’s arrival in Spain (which I’m with Aunt Ruth– who waits 3 weeks not to have taken any initiative?)– all meant for viewers’ to infer that the gauntlet of her leaving him had been thrown down, when there’s no such indication. I don’t think anything had changed in Louisa’s stance since the end of S6, or even since she first proposed they all go to Spain together, when subsequently both Martin and Louisa were on the same page– that extremely vaguely somehow, “something has to change.” I think Louisa’s intent was to give Martin all the space possible for him to pursue or not pursue change, or to determine his own capacity to do so, as if exercising utmost caution not to smother any inchoate impulses.

    I don’t believe Louisa engaged in the calculated gamesmanship you describe. Frankly, if the relationship has devolved to where such a degree of contempt of one for the other is happening, then it is entirely unsalvageable– the marriage and the programme. I believe Louisa concluded in the end that both she and Martin would never know what capacity he (or she, or they) had for change if they called the marriage quits at this stage, especially if Martin simply reverted to again merely “shutting-down”. Unfortunately, what/when/where/how of the “something has to change,” only seems more nebulous and ephemeral than ever.

  58. Santa Traugott

    Responding first to your last paragraph: That is exactly why I thought Louisa’s decision that they should separate so they could heal their marriage was so stupid. Surely the point is, to test their capacity for real change toward each other and in their marriage, and if it turns out not to be possible, then consider a trial separation, and a path to divorce. If you refuse to even try to work on your marriage, and it takes its inevitable path toward divorce, surely this is something one would regret forever. However, the exigencies of hyping up drama led to this foolish decision. And, how passive is Martin here that he doesn’t even object? Falls over himself trying to cooperate?

    Second, I think by the end of the session with a loopy Dr. T., Martin had simply solidified in his view (expressed to Ruth on the cake walk) that this wasn’t working and also, whatever he had been trying to do wasn’t making much of an impression on Louisa, and he was out of ideas and out of — well, not so much patience — as willingness to continue to put himself through the pain and inconvenience of their marital limbo. You can only pin so much hope on Louisa continuing to use her married name and her (to me disingenous) statements that the separation was only temporary.

    Maybe more later.
    .

  59. Santa Traugott

    So I know Karen is going to say that we’re analyzing this too much, but my thoughts are still with that awkward dinner conversation in E2, and with the question of, what did Louisa actually want when she returned? And why was Martin so passive, and let her go without protest? When he had been prepared to go after her to Spain and had made the “better husband” speech? What would have happened had he made that speech again at the dinner table? I think, nothing. Perhaps it would have even stiffened her back a bit. Maybe he sensed that. Because, maybe in the end what she wanted was not so much a “better” husband, but a “different” husband. The underlying text of the seemingly delusional idea that we should separate until things get better, was that we should separate until you change enough that I can tolerate living with you. Maybe that’s what “normal” is shorthand for — I realize that you’re never going to be without serious flaws, but I’m now willing to accept that.

    In other words, I don’t think we can understand what she meant at the end of E8, unless we can also understand where she was when she came back. (Or what the writers thought she meant!) I’ve always thought that she had no real intention of resuming their marriage, because a) she didn’t believe that he could change and b) she didn’t believe that she could accept his flaws — all those things which made him “not normal.” It was pretty game-y, imo, and she only snapped out of it when she realized he wasn’t going to play any more.

  60. Amy

    I have read this post (and some but not all of the comments) because you referred to it in your most recent post. There is so much to digest here, and as I am now rewatching S7, it gives me things to think about as I watch. Watching it this second time I am seeing Louisa as less cold than I recalled. She responds warmly to Martin’s embrace in their first homework hug until she realizes he is not able to let go because his watch is stuck. There are times when she looks at him with great empathy/sympathy, knowing he is in pain. I think that as one of the commenters here said (sorry, it’s hard to keep who said what in my head with 61 comments!), I think she came back from Spain wanting things to work out but afraid to get her hopes up because she had no idea what she could do.

    And despite MC’s comment that they aren’t going to fix DM, I do think the character has evolved and I hope and expect that S8 will show further evolution—not that he will become “normal.” whatever that means. But that he will be able to give Louisa more of what she craves—affirmation of his love, affection, more communication. He already started to open up during and through the therapy; Louisa wasn’t ready to see it, but after almost losing him in E8, I think the writers will now make her more willing to meet him halfway. She will not expect him to come to school events or be polite to patients, but she will accept that his love for her and his constancy is sufficient to make her happy.

    That brings me back to your new post!

  61. Amy Cohen

    Rereading this post and the comments has led me to the following thoughts: There appear to be two schools of thought on how to think about these inconsistencies (the “normal” issue, the break between E7 and E8, and other general issues regarding the show). One view assumes the writers know just what they are doing, have a deliberate plan for each word and each action in the show and that they understand the psychological makeup of the characters. Those ascribing to that view are struggling to make sense of the inconsistencies and the overall storyline in S7.

    Then there is the other view: that the writers are just writing a TV show, albeit a very good one, and that trying to make sense of some of those inconsistencies is almost pointless because perhaps the writers just were careless or indifferent about them. Maybe they just picked the word “normal” because it was the low hanging fruit, even though Louisa had never seemed hung up on people being normal before. Maybe they skipped something between E7 and E8 because they cut a scene for time or they just had to move things along. Maybe none of it had to do with brilliant writing or a deep understanding of their own characters. Maybe they were just lazy or didn’t care as long as the show got written and televised.

    I personally would love to ascribe to the first view because I love the show and the characters and would like to think the writers have the skill, the integrity, and the depth to make sense of their characters and story. But I am beginning to think that S7 is more a case of the latter view and that trying to squeeze our round pegs into the square holes is making us all a bit dizzy and frustrated. Maybe the writers just blew it.

    I am hoping that with Jack Lothian taking the lead in the next series that things will be better. And I will continue to try and fir those damn round pegs into the square holes because I love the show.

  62. Amy Cohen

    One more reaction: I can’t remember whose comment it was, but I thought the observations about the parallels between the Wintons an M & L were very insightful. It does seem that the real theme of the last two episodes was about the constancy of love—that you will do anything (within legal limits, perhaps) for the one you love and to make your relationship survive. It’s just too bad Louisa didn’t say to Martin that she now understands that she loves him and that he loves her and that like the Wintons, they need each other and they can make it work, even if it’s hard. The normal stuff really stuck out like a sore thumb to me, and I would have felt the whole show had closure if Louisa had focused on their love and need for constancy instead of the whole “normal” thing.

  63. mmarshall

    Amy, I have so enjoyed your comments. And re-living these episode with you. Didn’t want you to think you no one was listening. I have enjoyed everyone’s analysis of so many aspects of this great story. I feel a bit spent in it all, but am looking forward to the next season to see how they could possibly take the story further. And heaven help us if they wait yet another 2 years for the 9th season! Louisa and the Doc will be old and grey by then.

  64. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Let’s be honest, MC is grey already. We don’t know about CC, only she and her hair stylist know for sure, as they say. But, dragging out the series can’t help but reflect the aging process.

    As you can probably tell, I’m with you on the spent part. Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting. Amy has been brave to keep writing and now she knows there are other readers taking it all in.

  65. Amy Cohen

    Thanks so much, mmarshall. It is good to know that someone aside from Karen is reading my comments. I think I may finally be caught up with the earlier posts, and I guess everyone else petered out a long time ago. It’s hard when the show only airs new episodes every two years, and I agree—if they string out for four years from now, not only will MC and CC be old, so will I! By then I might really not care whether they live happily ever after or not. I think their decision to wait so long between seasons is ridiculous.

    But as RIck says to Ilsa, we will always have Paris. Or in this case, Series 1-5. (I can easily rewatch those….not sure I’d watch S6 or S7 a third time, except for S6E1.)

    See you in 2018…unless Karen cooks up some new stuff for us to chew on!

  66. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I will never say never! The urge to write some other posts may strike at any time! If I’m keeping the blog going, I guess I should write something from time to time. 😉

  67. Amy Cohen

    I hope you do! I, for one, will still be here whenever the mood strikes you. And I think there may still be a few I haven’t seen yet. But I think I am slowly catching up.

    Thanks, Karen, for all you’ve done here. It’s really enriched my enjoyment of the show.

  68. Santa

    Isn’t there a middle view here? That the show’s writers and producers really do have an understanding of their characters and want to do right by them, at least in terms of consistency, but exigencies, some of which we cannot know about, lead to compromises? In other words, they’re not careless or indifferent but make occasional poor decisions, and compromises, some of them consequential, I admit.

    Three thoughts about endings and transitions:

    1). The transition between the doorstep scenes at the end of E7 and beginning of E8 did seem at first a bit abrupt. But others I’ve talked to, not nearly as invested as I in analyzing the show, seemed to have no trouble getting that, faced with the possibility of her marriage ending, Louisa underwent something of an agonizing reappraisal of her stance. She decided not to let the marriage go without a last ditch effort, for which she had great hopes. Given Martin’s position at the end of E7, it was really the only direction the script writers could go, I think. Did we need to see her thought process? I’m not sure what that would have added.

    2). The transition I have trouble with, is between. S6 and S7.. Nothing that happened after Louisa got into the taxi early in E8, had any bearing on where we picked up in S7. Well, maybe the hillside conversation with Aunt Ruth told us he was jolted out of his passivity and ready to change, but we would have figured that out soon enough anyway. It was just filler, which also happened to give splendid acting opportunities to the lead actors. Possibly with Bafta awards in mind. Personally, I wonder if they didn’t run out of plot before they ran out of minutes to fill, and we just saw some highly attractive vamping.

    3). Finally, I wonder if the S7 ending was TOO satisfying. I’ve noticed a very marked diminution in all area where the show is discussed….here, Digital Spy, Facebook groups, and perhaps most telling, in FanFiction. There are no stories written after the final episode where writers imagine how things might go on from there. Because the suspense is gone…. The resolution was so satisfying, their reconciliation seemingly so solid, that a great deal of air went out of the balloon, I think. And that, btw, is why I think that going on to S8, let alone S9, is probably a mistake.

  69. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’m with you on your examples with the exception that I still consider the difference in Louisa’s approach between E7 and E8 very abrupt and hard to accept. We don’t need to see her go through the process of rethinking how she’s been handling things; however, it is hard to believe that overnight she went from acting cold and unready to reach out to him to cheerfully greeting him the next morning, uniting with him over Dr. Timoney, and planning a dinner designed to appeal to him. But it’s not worth quibbling over. (I say, as I quibble over it!)

    Of course, writers et. al. do make mistakes and poor decisions. For me, the time they have between series and the care they claim to take with the scripts, coupled with the fact that there are only eight episodes, gives them less justification for making such errors. Good thing they aren’t trying to deliver 22 episodes per year, or even 8 per year!!

    It never occurred to me that the reconciliation at the conclusion of S8 might be too satisfying. We’ve written so much about the weirdnesses of that ending that I have thought many of us found it unsatisfying. (I do agree that many viewers are simply romantics and are content that Martin and Louisa are back together, regardless of the conversation and its fallacies.) My reason for being less inspired now is that we have covered most of the interesting topics related to the show in great detail and I have not found much to write about lately. Plus, I just needed a break from the show too!

    I may get more motivated come Fall. That remains to be seen…

  70. Amy Cohen

    Hi Santa, thanks so much for your thoughts. And, of course, there is always a gray area. As for the transitions between E7 and E8, I am willing to give the writers the benefit of the doubt that either time constraints or a desire for ambiguity guided their choices there. Maybe both.

    But that does not at all explain why they made such a mess of S7 overall. It’s not just the rough transition from S6 that bothers me and apparently others. It’s the forced farcical story lines of the other characters and the extremely unsatisfying therapy sessions and the complete transformation of Louisa into a cold and often hard-hearted person. It’s the complete elimination of any sexual tension between the characters. It’s all the things that Karen and others have commented and complained about.

    To me, on those things the writers sold out. They were either forced or wanted to abandon everything they had done to develop the Martin-Louisa storyline into a believable, compelling, and fascinating love story in order to “lighten up” the mood and make the show funnier again. Maybe that wasn’t laziness, but for me, it did not demonstrate artistic integrity.

    Finally, as to your third point, I agree with Karen that there was nothing about that ending that made it TOO satisfying. In fact, I found it extremely unsatisfying. Even a few lines of dialogue by Louisa and Martin might have wrapped things up IF Louisa had explained why she’d been so aloof and then why she suddenly realized she was wrong to be that way. If only she had said, “Martin, I was wrong to leave you the way I did. I was scared you would hurt me or abandon me after the way you’d been acting. Now I know that you would never do that, that you have your problems and I have mine. I love you and I will always love you. Let’s go home and work on being better to each other.” Martin: “I also was wrong—not to trust you and to shut you out. I love you, and I always will. Yes, let’s go home.”

    For me, that would have given me some closure. I could have been satisfied to have the show end on that note. But..

    As it was written, I was left saying, “Huh?” And so I searched for and found some answers. I found this blog! And I found I was not alone both in adoring the show and being mystified by the end of S7.

  71. Amy Cohen

    Odd, that one went through. I hope I don’t have to write my comment all over. Please let me know if you find it. Thanks.

  72. Santa

    I do agree with most of what you and Karen said. I think also that there’s a sense in which we’ve seen the same schticks too often, and deploying examples of, e.g., penhale’s ineptitude, over and over just contributes to our sense of farce.

    I reread my original response to the ending and to S7 in general, and you’re certainly correct. I was pretty ticked off, mostly I think because the whole season just seemed so manipulative to me. Maybe good fiction always is, but the machinery just shouldn’t be so obvious.

    As for the ending being satisfying, I think I meant that the suspense has gone out of it, for me and many other fans, I think. I don’t believe there’ll be another will they -won’t they iteration. Or if there is, it will be so blatantly contrived that I at least will turn off the TV and be done with it.

    If you look at fan fiction written after the ends of each season, I think you’ll see that it’s largely about how the characters can resolve their issues, and move forward from the season just ended. But I think the dearth of such fiction after S7 suggests that there’s no big need to work this out in fanfic, because it’s already happened. And the FB folks are not panting for clues about what’s going to happen to that relationship, because it’s clear that they’re going to stay together now.

  73. Amy Cohen

    Hi Santa, thanks for clarifying what you meant by the ending being too satisfying. I don’t read much fanfiction—in fact, the only DM fanfiction I’ve enjoyed is the story Battling Demons. (it’s really long, but picks up from the end of S6 and basically ignores S7, giving me in some ways the S7 I would have liked to have seen.) The few others I tried were so awful in terms of writing and characterization that I stopped reading.

    So I think we can’t judge how fans are reacting to whether or not they are writing fanfiction. Probably most of those doing it aren’t going to put the energy into figuring out what would happen next—how will they figure out their problems? How will they improve their relationship? That’s a lot harder than writing sex scenes or love dialogue or arguments, I’d think.

    As for FB groups, I’ve not followed any of them so I don’t know what fans are thinking or doing. I guess we will see what the ratings are like with S8?

    As Karen has written, there have been many tv shows and other written works that create conflict and humor within the context of a healthy marriage. I still hold out hope that the DM writers will somehow give us that. If someone writing fanfiction can write 230 chapters doing just that, I would hope that a professional writer could do the same.

    Thanks for writing! I’ve read so many of your great comments that I am really happy to be able to converse with you. 🙂

  74. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Oh, so you’ve come around to thinking Martin and Louisa will stay together now! I believe you suggested at one point that there was still a chance they could divorce or that Louisa might have a fatal accident and be out of the picture. You may have been tongue in cheek when you said this though.

    I think their staying together should be where the show goes next, but I can imagine that fanfic writers could still have a field day with all the directions this marriage could head. You must be right that the fanfic writers have been less inspired after S7 if they aren’t producing much. (I’m afraid I’m guilty of not reading fanfic.) Your sense that the schticks have grown tired may have something to do with it. All shows, successful ones maybe more so, end up repeating themselves and the characters retain their unique characteristics, but there is always a point at which they become too predictable. I know this show hasn’t lasted as long as other popular shows in the past, e.g. Phil Silvers, Hogan’s Heroes, that had similarly established quirky characters. But that was then and this is now. Maybe that makes a difference and maybe we are all feeling the drag of too much of the same. I guess S8 will have to make us sit up and take notice somehow.

  75. Santa

    Thanks, Amy. I largely agree with you and Karen about fanfic. (I have heard that Fifty Shades of Gray started out as fanfic. I ret our case.). But there is one good story to come after S7, which purports to fill in the gap between E7 and E8. It’s called That Darned Phone Call.

    I’m not entirely joking when I suggest that the writers would kill off Louisa if they found it necessary. But highly improbable, I agree.

  76. Amy Cohen

    Found it—It was Darn, not Darned. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say! Silly Google isn’t very creative in its search.

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