The Buddhas, Buddhism, and Doc Martin

As I’ve said several times, I am not a student of religion and I have no specialized knowledge of Buddhism. I have one benefit in this area — my husband has read about many religions and has some books on Buddhism. Therefore, I have read parts of Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor, and Religions of Asia, 3rd Edition, by John Y. Fenton, Norvin Hein, Frank E. Reynolds, Niels C. Nielsen, Jr., Grace G. Burford, and Robert K. C. Forman (all of these authors are professors at various American universities). To write this post I will be relying on these references and a website that really gives a great outline of what Buddhism is all about.

As we all know, there are several Buddha statues placed around ME’s exam room. The presence of these statues has prompted viewers to wonder what their meaning might be. I read somewhere that when PB was asked about the Buddhas, she refused to discuss them. There are many ways to interpret her response, and I’m not into speculation of that kind. Nevertheless, if she won’t discuss it, we will never know what their actual purpose is. Ultimately what I’ve decided is to use the Buddha figure ME considers valuable enough to take with him and strap into the backseat of the car as the important statue in the show. I think if we’re going to put some energy into trying to determine what the Buddha might mean to ME and DM as a show, the fact that he separates out that one to take with him in the car, and it’s also the one Edith notices when she first visits his office (S4E1), makes it the one to concentrate on.

The Buddha appears to be in the meditation pose in which the back of the right hand rests on top of the left palm with the thumbs lightly touching each other. The right hand, being on top, represents enlightenment and the other, the world of appearance. Thus, this gesture symbolizes overcoming the world of appearance through an enlightened state of mind. This was the state of the spiritual leader, Gautama Buddha. The fact that it is in the car when Martin chases after Louisa, fearing for her safety, could be interpreted as contributing to his enlightened state of mind once they reach the pub and Louisa is in labor. It is still in the car next to Louisa when they take the baby home from the hospital. When she gets into the back seat, Martin says the baby makes everything different and, when they arrive back in Portwenn, he asks to stay overnight. His view of having a child and staying with Louisa has taken a dramatic turn. Could the conversion be due to some influence of the Buddha?

Why he finds it valuable and how it is related to Edith are hard to answer questions. Is he calling it valuable because of its material value, its sentimental value, or its value to him as a person? (Here we go again with the significance of language and how a word can have many meanings.) How was Edith involved with the Buddha? Was she there when he found it? Does it have something to do with their relationship? It’s hard to imagine that they traveled somewhere to get it because of his aversion to travel and hotels, but they could have gone shopping in London together and seen it at some store. We don’t know why it’s valuable; we only know he considers it valuable.

I will try to distill the salient points of Buddhism that I’ve read about and could be related to this show. I want to strongly caution that all of this is totally my own guesswork and might have absolutely no merit. I have no reason to believe anything I come up with coincides with what the writers, set designers, producers, etc., etc. had in mind. As long as we understand that what I’m doing is purely an intellectual exercise, I can go on.

Buddhism is based on the life and teachings of Sakyamuni Gautama Siddhartha (please excuse the lack of proper accents on some of the letters), a name that comes from his clan name followed by his family name and his given name. Siddhartha means success. He lived in the 5th C BCE in northeastern India. One of my sources states, “Buddhism has so many different teachings that it is impossible to fit them into a single, coherent, logical system. They do, however, fit together as therapies or medicine…Buddhism teaches that beings are sick, and the Buddhas are the physicians.” The stories told by Siddhartha’s followers describe a boy born to the ruler of the Sakya kingdom and who was insulated from sickness, decay, and death. He was given the best education possible and married to the most beautiful princess, by whom he had a son. He names his son Rahula which means the fetter. This name could be a sign that he was ambivalent about the value of married life.
[At this point we could pause to note that obviously the idea that Buddhas are physicians might be related to Martin’s profession. In addition, we could draw an analogy between the first rate education Siddhartha received and Martin’s education, as well as his marriage to a beautiful princess followed by the birth of a son and Martin’s similar circumstances. Martin, too, might consider his son a fetter despite loving him.]

Eventually, Siddhartha left home and practiced asceticism but that did not lead to any clear answers about the cycle of life. He went into the forest and found himself under a tree where “he vowed that he would not move until he had attained perfect and complete enlightenment.” As a result, meditation became an integral part of his belief system. The teachings of The Buddha are called The Dharma and consist of the Four Noble Truths. According to another source, “the first two truths (anguish/suffering and its origins) describe the dilemma, the second two (cessation and the path) its resolution. He awoke to a set of interrelated truths rooted in the immediacy of experience here and now…An unawakened existence, in which we drift unaware on a surge of habitual impulses, is both ignoble and undignified.” Furthermore, “instead of presenting himself as a savior, the Buddha saw himself as a healer. He presented his truths in the form of a medical diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.” [I hesitate to make too much of this, but it must be significant that Buddha is so intertwined with medicine and healing.]

The Four Noble Truths “are challenges to act.” Suffering is the first noble truth. Buddha believed that “all sentient beings…live lives in which suffering is an inevitable and ultimately dominant component.” The Second Noble Truth asserts that the cause of suffering is desire and craving. The Third Noble Truth is the cessation of suffering through Nirvana, which means “extinguishing.” Here it means the extinguishing of craving and, therefore, of suffering. “When the mind no longer grasps and craves what is by nature impermanent, suffering ends.” The Fourth Noble Truth is the path out of suffering. The path is called Noble Eightfold Path and those who follow it are released from suffering. Buddha is said to have followed it himself. For me the path is somewhat vague. It consists of “right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.”

The Noble Eightfold Path is sometimes divided into three basic divisions, as follows:
Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view 9. Right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

To the best of my understanding, Wisdom is the ability to be discerning and depends on each individual’s capacity to know right and wrong. Ethical Conduct is the necessity “to restrain from unwholesome deeds of body and speech to prevent the faculties of bodily action and speech from becoming tools of the defilements.” Right Speech is “abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, and from idle chatter.” Right Action is “abstaining from taking life, from stealing, and from illicit sex [or sexual misconduct].” Right Livelihood “means that practitioners ought not to engage in trades or occupations which, either directly or indirectly, result in harm for other living beings.”
The five types of businesses that are harmful to undertake are:
Business in weapons: trading in all kinds of weapons and instruments for killing.
Business in human beings: slave trading, prostitution, or the buying and selling of children or adults.
Business in meat: “meat” refers to the bodies of beings after they are killed. This includes breeding animals for slaughter.
Business in intoxicants: manufacturing or selling intoxicating drinks or addictive drugs.
Business in poison: producing or trading in any kind of toxic product designed to kill.

And Concentration “is achieved through training in the higher consciousness, which brings the calm and collectedness needed to develop true wisdom by direct experience.”

The Buddha points both to cognitive and emotional causes of suffering. The emotional cause is desire and its negative opposite, aversion. The cognitive cause is ignorance of the way things truly occur, or of three marks of existence: that all things are unsatisfactory, impermanent, and without essential self. The noble eightfold path is, from this psychological viewpoint, an attempt to change patterns of thought and behavior.

[I want to pause here again because this is a lot to take in and because I think we can see a link to some of ME’s behavior. When Louisa describes Martin as moral before their wedding in S3, she could be saying that he subscribes to the Eightfold Path and, indeed, he exhibits highly ethical conduct as defined by Buddha. He abstains from lying, idle chatter, stealing, and illicit sex. He also has chosen a profession that is the polar opposite of harming others and he doesn’t eat meat or use intoxicating drinks. Even his view of people being able to change could be linked to Buddha’s belief that by using the eightfold path a person is trying to change his/her patterns of thought and behavior.

Although all of the above is one way of applying Buddhism to the show, we have other sources for these traits and actions such as psychological conditions or childhood traumas. Thus, we cannot attribute it all to following the Buddhist philosophy. We can only say that it is possible to find a connection to Buddhism.]

In addition to the Four Noble Truths there are two doctrines that are distinct to Buddha’s teachings. These are Interdependent Arising and No Self. My source explains that the doctrine of Interdependent Arising states “all phenomenal reality, both cosmic and personal, comes into being through a process in which 12 constituent elements are continually arising interdependently (that is, dependent on and in conjunction with one another). These 12 constituents are ignorance, karmic predispositions, consciousness, name and form, the five sense organs, and the mind, contact, feeling-response, craving, grasping for an object, action toward life, birth, and old age and death. All reality can be seen as a kind of circular chain, the links of which are these 12 constituent elements. Each one of these elements, and the suffering it involves, therefore depends on each other link…It becomes possible for any individual person at any time to stop his or her involvement in the process by eliminating one or more of the links in the circular chain.” For the Buddha the two weak links that are more easily eliminated are ignorance and desire or craving.

The doctrine of No Self professes “the individual is made up of five psychophysical elements…: corporeality or physical form (which includes physical objects, the body, and the sense organs); feelings or sensations; ideations…; mental formations or dispositions – the likes, dislikes, and impulses we have about those ideas; and consciousness, the awareness of any or all of these elements… There is no essential “I” to protect and fight for. Thus, egoistic striving is seen to be delusory, and one’s own suffering is reduced. One is also more available to others, for one is freed from one’s own agenda.”

[Martin appears to have eliminated ignorance, at least when it comes to medicine, and he has few desires or cravings, although he drives an expensive car and dresses in natty suits. His major desire is Louisa, of course, and perhaps being a surgeon. Has his desire for Louisa led him to be too caught up in his craving? Can he be said to have reduced the suffering associated with these links? I struggle to believe he isn’t suffering over Louisa. When it comes to his sense of self, he seems to have relatively little interest in his psychophysical self as defined by this doctrine and he is without much of an agenda. Nevertheless, we don’t see much reduction in suffering as a result.]

I’m not sure if my discussion of Buddhism has been a satisfactory summary of Buddha’s teachings or whether it has shed any light on why there are Buddha statues placed in ME’s office. Despite spending some time reading about Buddhism and trying to find ways in which it can be related to the show, there is a part of me that can’t help wondering if they have no important meaning. Sometimes props are used to misdirect viewers or as an inside joke. As I said at the outset of this post, all of this is speculation and may have no real connection to the show.

Originally posted 2014-08-31 16:34:41.

45 thoughts on “The Buddhas, Buddhism, and Doc Martin

  1. Mary F.

    It may be indeed be an inside joke, and Buddhism appears to have attracted a lot of actors lately, but you have done a wonderfully thoughtful analysis that leads me to think that he feels a kinship at least to some Buddhist principles…why else have Buddhas scattered around the house? The fact that Buddha was a physician may explain a lot of why he is enamored of the little statues. At first I thought it was a gift from Edith, but then I noticed Buddhas elsewhere. The only time Martin attends a local church is when he is expected to, and he casts rather disparaging looks on Danny’s beliefs. Yet I think he must have a set of spiritual beliefs, which are behind his strong moral and ethical values. Maybe he just likes to keep it to himself and leave the rest of us guessing. I sure would like to write PB and plead with her to tell us!

  2. Maria

    I think it could very well be an inside joke, but I like that interpretation, Mary! I would love to think that Martin has some interest in Buddhism and affinity with some of its principles. The only thing I wonder is: he is such a private person and having the Buddhas on display would likely invite what he would surely consider to be intrusive questions. Oh well, being Martin, he would probably just say, “None of your business. Be quiet! I need to listen to your heart.”

  3. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    That’s a really interesting thought…why doesn’t anyone ever ask Martin about the Buddhas? No one but Edith mentions them, not Auntie Joan, not Louisa, not Penhale, not Bert, or Mrs. T. No one. They all notice other things about him and his furnishings. Curious!

  4. Mary F.

    Why indeed! Curious and curiouser. And Miss Edith had such a smile on her puss when she saw it. I so enjoyed disliking her. Another great actress!

  5. Santa Traugott

    Today, I was sitting at a little outdoor cafe in a hill town in southern France, and realized I was sitting under a large statue of the Buddha. Not exactly what one would expect to find her, but an interesting coincidence1

    Some of DM’s furniture in early episodes looks vaguely Asian inspired. I wouldn’t be surprised if at one time there was some “back story” about him having spent some time in the Far East.

    To me, the presence of the Buddhas are somewhat ironic because he is very far from being able to let go of desires and cravings, and he is intensely reactive to many, many stimuli while at the same time, seeming far from self-knowledge and self-acceptance. Striving for the 8-fold path, yes.

  6. waxwings

    I tend towards the view that the Buddha statue in this series has “no important meaning.” But if I had to give it one, here’s my thought:

    Upon reading this post, one connection to Martin and the Buddha that stands out for me is the recollection I immediately had of an earlier (July 8) post by writer DM on this blog site about the “conative” aspect of the mind. DM described this as being the wanting, striving, desiring part of the self. DM wrote: “That simple four-letter word ‘want’, is what is so glaringly absent in Martin Ellingham’s composition and is what constitutes the essence of conation. ….”

    In Karen’s description of the Buddha’s meaning—and Siddhartha’s journey to enlightenment—the Dharma and the idea of Noble Truths stands out. The first of those truths is that suffering is our lot, and the second is that the cause of suffering is desire and craving. Wanting. To get rid of the suffering, get rid of the wanting.

    Could the Buddha in the Doc’s office symbolize for ME the control over desire and the struggle for emotional “self-regulation?”

    Karen then writes the path (to enlightenment and peace) is the “Noble Eightfold Path and those who follow it are released from suffering. Buddha is said to have followed it himself. For me the path is somewhat vague. It consists of “right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.”

    ME has a list a mile long that he keeps to in terms of “right” view, thought, action, concentration, etc. It is a rather rigid list, and he is vigorous in keeping to it. He has been practicing this list for a long time.

    In writer DM’s July 8 post on the nature of ME’s self, desire and wanting (the conative) are a part of the Doc that is UNDERDEVELOPED and in need of work, so it can mediate between the emotional and rational. The point here is that It (desire/wanting) has not reared up or been developed much in ME’s adult life because it got repressed by his early childhood experiences where wanting brought only pain and suffering. (And Edith managed to confirm it briefly in ME’s early adulthood). As an adult, ME seems never to allow himself to act on (or perhaps even feel) most normal adult wants and desires (that is, until Louisa comes along), which gives the show its central tension and conundrum.

    In the Dharma/Buddhist meaning, desire and wanting are usually full blown and have been experienced in adulthood, causing us great suffering. Accordingly, the Dharma teaches that to attain true peace and enlightenment, as one ages, desire and wanting must be repressed. Could the Buddha statue symbolize ME’s shortcut to inner peace, or a bargain he made early in life for some interior tranquility? Does he hang on to this statue as a special object to remind him of his own journey and reach for internal equilibrium—false or otherwise?

  7. Joan

    Karen, your post on Buddhism is well done. It seems like there is enough there to suggest it’s more than an inside joke or unimportant. I conceptualize Doc Martin as a program that can be interpreted on many layers. Of course that leads back to the onions which is the first clue that there are layers to the program. I’ve listed the unusual places that onions appear on a previous post. Louisa’s dashboard and the shed next to ME’s house. Caroline Catz suggested layers although not onions when she said in an interview if you peel away some of the layers of the show you can see some real life of the village creeping into the show. So first the idea of layers has to be accepted.

    The first layer is Doc Martin as a love story. I think that how most people see the show and some are even critical of those who want to take it further. This actually is my favorite layer because I see it as well-crafted work of art with great actors, a great, well- written story, beautiful background, well coordinated color schemes, lovely music, lots of action and suspense, mystery, and medicine. This is what makes Doc Martin fun to watch.

    Another layer is the Asperger vs. childhood trauma layer that others seem to like. Although I find these issues interesting I think science is still confused by nature vs. nurture which leads to some very emotional disputes and misunderstandings and poor treatment options provided to children and adults who are the subjects of these disputes. Those erring on the side of nature want to rely too much on medical interventions. This is true of many doctors and insurance companies. Those erring on the side of nurture tend to rely too much on punishment and talk therapy. I think we’re still at the point where both are needed.

    The third layer is the spiritual layer. ME makes it clear he is not an evangelical Christian when he shows contempt for Danny’s religious blessings and his willingness to dump his mother in a care home and return to London I think he is Buddhist given his décor and his strong commitment to the health of a village he says he doesn’t like. I think Karen’s post provides other suggestions about the influence of Buddhism on ME. MC may be influenced by Buddhism too. His history of dogs film shows him going to visit a man who lives with a wolf pack. It is apparently in a Buddhist temple in England because he said it’s in England and there is a large Buddha statue in the front.

    I think the layers of Doc Martin go from the symbolic, to the scientific, to the philosophical. The creative team decided to let the viewers decide between Aspergers and trauma for themselves and I’d guess they may do the same with Buddhism. Things may not be neatly wrapped up by the end.

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    First I have to say I’m very envious of you and your trip to France. The trips I have coming up are all within the US until next Spring. I am honored to think you are reading the blog while on your trip!

    It’s very funny that you found yourself sitting under a statue of the Buddha just when we’re on that topic. I wonder what brought it there? I can see what you mean by some of ME’s smaller items in his office looking Asian inspired, but I would be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to put travel to the Far East in his back story. We really don’t know much about the years while he was a med student and then a surgeon, and there’s always a chance he traveled to countries far and wide, but how that would add to the show is hard to formulate. But anything is possible.

    Your comment stands in direct opposition to Marta’s (waxwings) that came only 10 minutes later. The strange thing is that I think you both make such good points. As you say, ME is not depicted as a meditative person and he reacts to many things with impatient outbursts. He may have a good reason, but still. He has some very strong cravings too, including his need to be left alone. The show prioritizes his craving for Louisa. As each series has been produced, that craving has gotten greater and more pronounced while also becoming more fraught.

    The Buddha may just be ironic. I wonder…

  9. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Marta, I find it remarkable that you immediately thought of DM’s earlier comments. What a good memory!

    With the exception of Louisa and his drive to be an excellent doctor, surgeon if possible, we could say he has reached a place of few desires. What you are arguing, I think, is that his effort to reduce any feelings of desire has been his way to reduce his suffering; therefore, it is good that he wants very little. I like what you say about ME’s “list” of “rights.”

    With regard to the repression aspect of ME’s life, my understanding is that Buddha universalizes suffering and it occurs regardless of personal experiences. In fact, it occurs in all sentient beings. To reach enlightenment we must try to extinguish our desires/cravings, even the most basic ones.

    Still, your idea that the Buddha might symbolize some sort of effort for inner tranquility makes sense and is as good a possibility as any. Thank you for your very thoughtful response. We are all just enjoying putting some thought into all of this and finding pleasure in the process of working through these philosophical notions. None of us has the correct answer, only interesting potential alternatives.

  10. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I agree with you Joan. All of what you say is what makes us all like the show. We can enjoy it on so many levels. I’ve been wondering about MC’s own interest in Buddhism and it’s fascinating that you bring up the Buddhist temple in England. We might be getting a little more of the personal mixed into the series. Thank you for your insights.

  11. Linda

    I had not really wondered about the meaning of the Buddhas and until I looked at Portwenn On-Line where she has done an amazing job of showing his Buddhas in various locations in each series. This is a really interesting web site, it you have not discovered it! It is really comprehensive. Actually, she shows all of his furniishings and artwork over time and indeed, he DOES have a lot of Asian inspired stuff. For that reason, I don’t think the Buddha thing is an inside joke even though we are told many of the names of the characters are etc. I think that MC and PB must have some kinship with Buddhism but the jury is still out about whether the Doc does. I think it is odd that Louisa has never asked him about the statues. I would think living in his house with all his stuff, would foster some questions from her about the history of the items. These are not mundane and ordinary things! I am enjoying the comments and analysis of your readers who seem to see this in a lot of different ways. I am learning more about it and hope to be able to use this knowledge to answer the central question about why Buddhas are so prominently displayed. It will be an interesting discussion no doubt!

  12. Joan

    I seem to remember some confusion as to why ME told Louisa that she wouldn’t make him happy either. She was confused and hurt by this statement and some on this blog said they couldn’t understand why he would say that when he so clearly loved her. Maybe it was his attempt to adhere to Buddhist teachings that the best way to rid oneself of suffering was to rid oneself of wanting or craving.

  13. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I am familiar with Portwenn Online and have spoken to Kate Kennedy by phone (not about Buddhas). She has done an excellent job of locating all sorts of items used on the set as well as mapping out the locations used around Port Isaac.

    There’s no doubt that they have used the Gold Buddha throughout the series (as well as some other Buddhas), and it is noticeable. The question is whether it has a definite significance and, if it does, what would that be? My post is an attempt to come up with some ideas and read what others think. The inside joke would be that the Buddha(s) mean something to MC but not to ME, or that the set designers knew people would start speculating about why there are Buddhas when they did not mean to be using them to say anything deep. The Gold Buddha gets singled out a few times, which is why I wrote about it and not the other ones, but I have no idea what the message is and can only give some possibilities.

    If nothing else, we’ve learned something about Buddhism. Maybe that’s the purpose!

  14. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Whoa! Let’s not go too far! I mean he was about to have what he had been craving – Louisa with him. Which way is more suffering? With or without Louisa?

  15. Santa Traugott

    I agree with Waxwings that respression ofr desires and dravings is not the stuff of Buddhism. Also, any rigid suppression of natural mpulses that leads Martin E. along the 8-fold path is not Buddhism, or necessarily virtuous.

    When I’m home, I will have to review (i.e., actually read) a couple of books I have on Buddhism and psychotherapy. Then I might have something more sensible to say about ME and where he might be on the 8fold path.

  16. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    That would be great! I look forward to learning more about how Buddhism and psychotherapy might intersect.

  17. Linda

    Why did he say that? Did he just believe that no one could make HIM happy because he didn’t know what that was? I am sure he believed HE could never make Louisa happy. I don’t even get why SHE said it? He had taken the initiative to propose, he had been sweet and romantic, they had not had any “mini rows”, and he was working hard to ensure the wedding would go ahead. I am trying to figure out what it was that caused HER to back out? I am sure Buddhist teachings were not at play! They loved each other so why would they want to rid themselves of each other? PAINFUL!

  18. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thanks for the article. I’ve wondered how we should think of ME’s hobby of working on clocks. It certainly could be related to getting more solitude. Working on the clocks gives him something to do, by himself, and it’s somewhat meditative. It’s very much an avoidance tactic. While working on fixing clocks he can evade the rest of the world and be distracted from anything going on around him. I hesitate to consider it true meditation because, to the best of my knowledge, meditation does not include working on something. One is supposed to clear one’s mind and sit quietly, blocking out all intrusions from outside oneself. Working on clocks also takes dexterity, and his surgical skills can find a use, especially now that he isn’t operating very often.

    The other possibility is that there is some connection to time itself. Time seems to stand still in Portwenn, or move very slowly. We are sort of caught in a time warp where not much of the world enters and few people leave. That a broken clock doesn’t keep time fits these circumstances. Is he trying to fix clocks to symbolically move time along? When he fixes his grandfather’s old clock, he has recovered some of his sense of self. Then Margaret makes off with the clock, and she takes the only thing he has of Joan’s that he considers valuable. Of course that is a material value and I’d like to think he finds other non-material “gifts” Joan has given him valuable.

    Much to think about!

  19. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Linda, what you are saying is pretty close to something I wrote in an earlier post. Throughout the show Martin has trouble with the concept of happiness and can’t understand why people want to be happy. Since that’s true, how can he tell Louisa she wouldn’t make him happy either? Besides, as you wonder, why wouldn’t she make him happy? In Louisa’s case, I sort of get it. She’s spent the day hearing people joke about Martin and his personal traits, then she can’t come up with a very detailed picture of what he’s like. When we see her looking at herself in the mirror with her wedding dress on, she seems to be reconsidering, or at least, uncertain. Their wedding plans had been quite rushed. For two older adults who had never been married before to make the leap would likely be somewhat daunting.

    I felt the entire episode was leading up to the wedding not working out because there were so many ways that the day was all wrong, but I don’t think we had much help with what was the final straw. I have to assume they deliberately leave a lot of ambiguity in the show, which is smart because it leads to all of our discussions and keeps us interested.

  20. Maria

    I like the connection you made between about time standing still in Port Wenn and broken clocks not keeping time. When people get totally engrossed in an activity, they lose track of time, and suddenly hours have passed. How fitting that this could happen while working on a timekeeping device! Of course, it is also a perfect hobby for Martin in that it requires extreme fine motor skills, which he would have as a surgeon, and is very solitary activity.

    We could call this activity meditative in the more general sense of the word, and you are right that meditation definitely does not include working on something. It’s also a common misconception that in meditation one is supposed to clear ones mind. Actually, the opposite is the case. In mindfulness (which is one of the processes on the 8-fold path – I don’t want to call them steps, because they are not sequential), and in mindfulness meditation, you don’t’ try to do anything. Rather, you observe whatever thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise just as they are – without judging them or trying to control or change them. They will do that all by themselves because everything changes. The purpose is to recognize that we normally filter our experiences through our emotional reactions to them and immediately judge them in some fashion – we like them, don’t like them, we feel happy, angry, pleased, sad, nervous, whatever. In mediation, you recognize that these are all “appearances” and not reality. It also helps illuminate our illusion of control. Suppressing or repressing desires does not make them go away and is still trying to exert control, so the focus is on releasing “attachment to outcome”.

  21. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I appreciate the help with explaining how meditation should work. There’s a lot in your remarks that we could apply to our discussion.

  22. Santa Traugott

    There is (at least) one important place where the clock serves as metaphor. That is, at the end of S5W6 “Don’t Let Go.” After Louisa has left, the final scene is of Martin atempting to soothe himself, keep in denial about how badly he has been affected by her departure. But his feelings break through, and the last shot is of the innards of the clock, with, I think, the mainspring broken.

    But I am divided in my mind about the clock hobby. In one sense it can be a meditative pursuit, mindfulness in practice, where one must focus entirely on one small piece/task at a time. My husband and son assure me, by the way, that fly-fishing is the same kind of practice, requiring total concentration on the details of what you are doing. So in that sense, it seems rather a positive practice of his, as a way of recovering from strains and stresses of the day.

    But I also wonder if he is very often not using this concentration and focus on minutiae as a way of defending against feelings and unwelcome thoughts. We see this in action I think when his mother is visiting and he retreats to his surgery and his clock.

  23. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I like your example and I agree with your ambivalence about how this hobby can function. It seems to me that any activity that requires concentration can take one’s mind off other problems. I think many men (probably women too), use golf this way, or cooking. Indeed, ME sometimes uses cooking as a diversion. These pastimes are ways to have a chance to reflect while absorbing our attention, and they keep people from interrupting too much. But they also end up putting off dealing with important issues and can be an effective way of getting around those issues. A good example of this might be when Louisa is upset about Martin making christening plans without her input and he doesn’t understand why she’s upset and then wants to go make dinner. He’s basically saying “I don’t want to deal with your messy feelings now so I’m going to a place where I’m comfortable.”

    If meditation is simply being mentally immersed in something, that’s one thing. I think it’s supposed to be more than that though and like what Maria describes.

  24. Mary F.

    His clock hobby often appears when things get out of hand …such as in the Christmas show where Martin has to go before a review board and then returns to the surgery to work on his clock….definitely appears to be an attempt at soothing himself or at least an escape into his cocoon. Even more interesting is that Louisa arrives soon after and awakes him from his reverie in an effort to get him to deal with how his decision to leave Port Wenn will affect her. A riveting scene and just as he is about to speak, the camera instantly switches to the reception area….so all you hear are mumbles of conversation between the two….aarrrggghh!!! ( I probably baked something to soothe myself that night! )

  25. Santa Traugott

    I think one piece of it for Louisa was that she knew she wanted children, and the events of the day brought home to her what she hadn’t wanted to deal with before — her mistaken belief that he wouldn’t want children or be good as a father.

    Also, I suppose she knows that she is a very social person and that, by marrying Martin, she was separating herself from her friends, who had spent the day displaying to her how difficult it would be for Martin to ever “fit in” or for her to choose between spending time with people who didn’t like her husband, or separating from her friends.

    The question to me is, what really changed over S4?

  26. DM

    Couldn’t it be that Martin simply “knows” (as others would think or feel) that he can’t ever be happy? Of course Louisa can’t make him happy, he is utterly impervious to this strange feeling, he believes. He may doubt at this point that he could make Louisa happy, but he “knows” as a fact that he and happiness are an impossibility: “In a pig’s arse/eye” (as the pair of sayings go). I know that sounds radical- but not as perhaps blasphemous as I would conceive it meant thereafter (I only managed to watch S6 over the last couple months).

  27. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    You’re so funny! But, yes, I agree that they show him working on his clocks when he’s angry and needs an outlet or as a way to avoid dealing with his feelings. Some of us might start cleaning the house, or throwing things, or exercising. That scene was quite compelling because Martin and Louisa were getting ready to have a serious conversation about how they care about each other, but it’s broken up as always by an interruption. That is what they do often throughout the show whenever the two of them get anywhere near opening up to each other. His clocks are his therapy as well as his avoidance technique.

  28. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I hate to be too simplistic, but what changed is she found out she was pregnant. I fully agree with your assessment that she has always wanted children. Her reservations about Martin’s desire for children, and his ability to deal with them, may have been one reason she changed her mind about the wedding. All of your other reasons would be important too. Once she knows she’s pregnant, however, she wants the baby and what’s best for it. She has told Martin in the good-bye note she wrote him that she loves him, and she tells him directly that she really does, but the day has put too many questions about him in her head. She may never have stopped loving him, and once she knows she’s pregnant, she has to go back and find out what his reaction is. She should have told him sooner, yet she has finally decided it’s time to face the music. Little does she know that she will find him entertaining another woman. Then her pride kicks in and Edith plays her games. I think we have evidence that Louisa does want Martin involved but has a hang-up about coercing him in any way. After all, she asks him about the baby several times, e.g. when she hasn’t felt the baby move. She’s very conflicted about it all, as many women would be.

  29. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I generally agree with your view that Martin “knows” that happiness is a mental state that is foreign to him. I am fascinated by your sense (if I understand you) that what Martin is actually saying to Louisa is not that she wouldn’t make him happy as a wife, but that nothing could make him happy. That is intriguing, but possibly too introspective for him. Also, don’t you think he appears happy when she holds his hand or when she accepts his proposal of marriage? Maybe the writers haven’t thought this whole issue through adequately, and/or we’re doing too much deep thinking about it.

  30. Santa Traugott

    to me, the key to Martin’s decision that they shouldn’t marry is his conversation with the drycleaner, who tells him that he had a happy wedding day but is now divorced because his wife was critical of him and tried to change him but ‘she knew what I was like when she married me.” I think that made Martin think about all the ways in which Louisa might try to change him, and how unsatisfying that would be. And we know that Louisa does want to change him — at the least, we have Caroline Catz’ interpretation of her character, that Louisa always foolishly thinks she can change him.

    Interesting that the dry cleaner man plays almost the same role here as the fishmonger in the opening scene of S5E8 — delivering some apt home truths that seem to penetrate.

    Remember also the scene with Mrs. Tishell at the organ, rehearsing the wedding music. Martin tells her that he didn’t know that she played the organ ad she remarks how funny it is that we know so little about people that we see every day (or words to that effect). I think that also brought to his mind the idea that he and Louisa did not in fact know a lot about each other, in spite of seeing each other regularly in a small village.

    So I just think he finally did some rational thinking about what he was undertaking, probably brought on by some version of “cold feet” in the first place.

  31. Santa Traugott

    Karen — I do think that Louisa continued to love Martin even while feeling that they shouldn’t marry. But I don’t believe that she had a reconciliation consciously in mind when she came back to Port Wenn. I think what she thought she was doing was in fact what she said — courteously letting him find out about her pregnancy from her rather than gossip. And also to reassure him that he need feel no obligation toward her or the baby. Perhaps she thought that they could be friends of some sort.

    And indeed, if he had immediately pressed for a reconciliation, I think she was very far from ready for that. First, because she did not want any reconciliation based on a sense of obligation on his part, but more important, on what basis, having not seen him in 6 months, would she change her view that he would not make her happy.

    Edith served to jolt her into an understanding/recognition of how much she did still want to be with him, in spite of his difficult traits, and also, I think his genuine care and support for her and the baby did get through to her. She sensed, I think, that he could indeed be the father and partner that she and the child needed, and was able to work her way past the rather immature feeling that she didn’t want him just because he might feel obligated.

  32. Mary F.

    I’m not sure that he thinks happiness is impossible for him as much as the fact that he has suffered from an appalling lack of it and has chosen other, more direct paths to achieve satisfaction in his life. Like clocks and surgery. I think happiness is simply foreign to him.

  33. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    All I can say is “reasonable people with good intentions can still disagree over matters of substance.” We cannot say what motives lurk in the minds of these characters. Your views are as valid as mine and I bow to the many feasible explanations for their behaviors.

  34. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    The dry cleaner, Roger Fenn, the Vicar, Mr. Porter. There was a seemingly endless entourage of men giving Martin reasons to be nervous about marriage. The episode was filled with messages that there would not be a successful wedding at its conclusion.

    Despite CC’s view that Louisa wants to change him, there are numerous times when she tells Martin she quite likes the way he is. So, there’s that.

    I don’t know exactly why he decides to stay home except that it was great for the last episode of the series to end like that, especially if it made fans upset. Stay tuned for next series…you only have to wait two years. (Unless, like me, you started watching after series 5!) I know…I’m always trotting out the practical reasons for storylines, and that’s a downer. I just can’t help it!!!

  35. Santa Traugott

    Yes– and here’s where I think the writing really shines — so many different interpretations are possible and valid, because they capture the complexity of real life people in their characters. In real life, people often have motives and feelings that are completely at cross=purposes, within themselves. They feel one way one minute, perhaps another way the next — or, one way at one level, entirely different at another. That is to say — I agree that at some level, and although she was not ready to admit it, Louisa longed for Martin and for their relationship to resume and work out.

    Also, too, sometmes we do have to step back and ackowledge that sometimes things happen b/c it was the only way to get past a tricky plot point and keep the show running. And what we end up doing is trying to get a glimpse of what the writers were thinking when they dreamed up a rationalisation for something they needed to have happen.

  36. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I am a great admirer of the writing on this show. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that sometimes they either make mistakes or put themselves in a difficult position where their solution may not keep the characters as consistent as they should be. Luckily real people are often erratic and unpredictable, and that makes it easier for the writers to get away with a little inconsistency. It’s also fortunate that these human attributes lead to our enjoyment of analyzing the show!

  37. Linda

    I agree, Santa. It is his way of shutting off his thoughts, especially unwanted and troublesome ones. It is his way of calming his mind and focussing on something other than sick patients and constant intrusions of many other kinds. His hobby suits his solitary nature and really is a form of meditation which he moves to in stressful times.

  38. Linda

    Very true I expect. The stars say there was pressure from fans to get them together sexually which seemed to be successful and getting married, while it was rushed seemed to make each of them happy. Everyone seemed to be working on calling down marriage in general, and Martin in particular. Louisa had not been one to listen to other’s opinions of Martin in the past and she even told them off when they were saying things on her terrace! Martin really only heard from Fenn and crazy Mr . Porter. I think, as you say, the writers were at the end of the series and needed a quick “cliffhanger” so left things with questions galore! We certainly have lots of questions don’t we?

  39. Linda

    Great thoughts! Once again she makes an assumption about him not wanting kids when they have never talked about that! I didn’t really see that she was thinking that she’d be isolated from friends. She was annoyed that they were calling Martin down and making assumptions about their new life ahead. As for what changed over series 4, I’d say she carried on with her assumption that he didn’t want kids, was committed to having the baby on her own, then was shocked to see Edith in his kitchen, (no real explanation from Martin), and got to thinking about her feelings for him again. The uncertainty ME and LG felt was left dangling and they never talked it out because they were fighting it. I thought series 4 was great with lots of angst, suspense, jealousy and a great ending! Awesome!

  40. Linda

    He absolutely DID seem happy when he held her hand, after his proposal and their nights together, and when they kissed. THIS is not a stupid man so I have to think he must have had some inkling that happiness was something like what he was experiencing with Louisa! Also, since when did Martin listen to anyone’s advice?????? Why on earth did he think it was in her best interests if he just sat there? Surely he had more respect for her than that? Her defense was that she had written him a letter! She was also prepared to leave him at the altar! Nice! Why, would they not have sat right down and talked it through? This whole thing was not well dealt with by the writers!

  41. Santa Traugott

    So much about this show just does not stand up in the cold hard light of day. Somehow though, it still packs an emotional wallop, We get the feelings that we are intended to have, although quite often not the rationale. Interesting.

    I think angry fan reaction to S6, or to S3 ending, has a lot to do with having feelings stirred up, combined with a feeling of having been “played” by writers looking for an emotional reaction in spite of common sense.

    Nevertheless, I continue to play the game of trying to figure out whether and what was the rationale the writers might have told themselves, in coming up with plot scenarios. Maybe they really didn’t have any — just relied on the value of good acting and dialogue to get the feeling reaction they were after.

  42. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    My comments are in response to both Linda and Santa…First, I agree that there are many times when we’re left wondering why characters would say or do things the way they occur in the show. I’m really glad we are pointing that out because it bears noting. Second, I don’t think it’s fair to place all the blame on the writers. If we are going to laud the producers, directors, actors and writers for collaborating on an excellent show, then we need to blame them all when things don’t add up and they left them that way.

    When it comes to the sitting down and talking business, though, I am pretty convinced that even if we think these characters should be able to do that, the show is fundamentally and unequivocally based on them NOT doing that. It may drive us all nuts, and that’s to be expected and exactly the purpose. It started out as funny because they could rarely find a way to converse. Either ME would say something off putting to L or they would be interrupted. He was like that with others too, but we just laughed at those times. Then, when we are given moments during which they do say something meaningful and personal, we are relieved and satisfied. Those are only moments, however, and usually come after some sort of major disruption. I think that is the plan from start to finish.

    S6 was, to me, too inconsistent and, as I’ve said ad nauseum before, too lacking in humor. We start out with an extremely lovely and hilarious episode followed by a still typical and fairly humorous episode. Then we start devolving and unravelling extraordinarily quickly until we are left wondering what the hell happened to the comedy part of the show. I’ll give them great acting and compelling tension and confrontation, but S6 was a total turnaround from S5. We have far fewer scenes with them talking to each other in the bedroom versus many scenes in S5, and those are scenes with a lot fewer pleasantries. The kitchen becomes a battlefield. Their married life turns into one conflict after another with hardly any relief. I understand the decision to shake things up, but the show has been able to do that before without losing the humor. For me, Ruth was given the best lines and scenes in S6. Eileen Atkins deserves the elevation and did an excellent job with it, but the whole tone of the show was wrong to me, based on the five previous series. Who’s to blame? Was it planned and then a surprising flop? Are they happy with it because it stirred up strong reactions? All good questions. I hope for a return in S7 to what made the show enjoyable to watch-a combination of humor and intriguing human issues.

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