The Formula and Where It Fails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

14 thoughts on “The Formula and Where It Fails

  1. Santa Traugott

    My irritation with S7 stems from my view that there actually was no reason to keep them apart, after the ending of S6. I know this isn’t a reality show, more of a fairy tale in some ways, but the idea that after his emotional breakthrough, Martin wouldn’t have been able to repeat some version of his “better husband” speech, and they wouldn’t have spent the few days before she was presumably able to be off to Spain, working out a tentative path through their difficulties, just beggars belief. Similarly, the notion that after 3 weeks of thinking, all Louisa could come up with to save their marriage was to live apart until Martin somehow got fixed, is just nonsensical. And that they never found an opportunity to talk or Martin to share with her what was going on with him, or her to tell him what she needed from him — so implausible as to really be very disappointing. The switch in Louisa’s focus from his emotional withdrawal to a concern with his “normality” is also jarring. All of these things do add up to sort of a “deus ex machina” in the sense that you can see the machinations that they have to go through to keep the story going at all. The plot devices shouldn’t be that visible. I do like to suspend disbelief, but these plot developments just asked too much of me in that regard.

    A note about “normality” — I’ve just rewatched S6E2, and there you can really see Louisa’s push for him to behave more sociably, backfiring in the dinner party. So it’s clear that she was still pushing for him to be more like her idea of a head teacher’s husband.

    Some other reactions to the post:

    In regard to the point about the segments of a dramedy — does it help to think of the story stretched over 2 series, where the climax is Sports Day and Louisa’s injury, and S7 is the long stretched out denouement?

    I agree that the physical humor is strained and predictable. I don’t think MC would have been given such free rein in an environment where he didn’t basically own the production.

    As far as novelty is concerned, I just think that what was fresh and amusing in S1-3 is not so much when it is repeated in S6-7. Perhaps they just have gone to the well too often, and perhaps, we would have found much of the later series more amusing if we were seeing for the first time, for example, Bert’s antics?

    I think you are right that the major theme is basically acceptance. Certainly that is what Louisa comes to. Does Martin make this journey too? That is, perhaps he comes to accept himself as he is, and also, Louisa as she is. I think this is symbolized is E2, where he tells her that he is no longer bothered by noise and confusion and untidiness. I would like to believe that instead of the moonstruck calf of earlier episodes, he is also able to see her clearly and accept her as she is — come to terms with living with her as she is.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    It’s really nice to know that what I see as flaws corresponds to your thoughts for the most part. All couples come to the conclusion that there are behaviors and actions that we’d really like to change in each other, but that it’s highly unlikely that will ever happen. In the case of a spouse whose behaviors stem from a disorder, it’s even more important for their counterpart to understand that and accept that his/her spouse may never conform to typical social norms.

    With Martin and Louisa the writing staff seems to have come to the conclusion that that is the only way to arrive at a place where they can stay together. It’s a fairly simple solution for a show that has been so filled with weighing the positives and negatives about each issue.

  3. DM

    What was intended as a sort of preamble for the, as yet, part II of comments to Normal Is A Loaded Word had me wondering similarly about the last series’ intentions and theme (with “normal” perhaps serving to mislead us as a sort of anti-leitwortstil to this part of the story):

    I would suggest that the what distills from the major plot and many minor sub-plots of S7 , is the theme of tenacity. The tension of that theme and Martin and Louisa, less than a year down the aisle since S6, now having come to the brink so soon after would seem irresistible to the creators. Such tenacity would perhaps transcend acceptance (perhaps also of what they continue to ask of us viewers). We see:

    Bert’s latest iteration of half-baked ventures, Danny’s still carrying a torch for Louisa, the Tishell’s intermittently-ongoing marriage, Buddy’s– well… doggedness, Peter’s care and concern for his mother despite his becoming a pedantic prat, Penhale’s forlorn hope-against-hope for romance, Morwenna’s efforts to provoke a pay rise from the Doc and a proper date with Al, Chippy Miller’s whinging about his left (or right) leg, and of course, the Winton’s and their enduring 40 years of marriage.

  4. Doris

    Series 7 is focused on Louisa returning from Spain and Martin bending over backwards for Louisa. This begs the question; what happen between them that prompted Louisa to separate in the first place? To get a better perspective of this, one has to examine the last two episodes of series 6, specifically episode 7, (IMO). Louisa reaches her breaking point ( e7) when Martin shows up at her school’s sports day event, under duress, and botches the award ceremony then walks off. On a side not, one could make the argument that Martin’s mother contributed to this by creating an environment of discord. Also, I find it interesting when Louisa first leaves, in series 5, was during the time of her mother’s visit and spreading of discord. Could there a connection, between the mother’s influences?

    Returning back to episode 7, series 6, Louisa is involved in an accident which sends her to the hospital. I found it striking that she did not want Martin to be with her in the ambulance. Shortly after that she made her plans to leave for Spain. So what was the underlying issue(s) that drove Louisa to leave? Simply put, Martin fails to meet her expectations.

    Series 7 is all about Martin “trying” to fulfill those expectations, but fails, in the end. Louisa, in the end comes to grips with this and accepts the Martin’s qualities over his short comings.

  5. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    If I understand you correctly, your distillation of S7 is that it was planned as a series to bring Martin and Louisa back together by having her return from Spain and be greeted by a Martin who decides to be as cooperative as possible. By the last episode of S7, Martin has been unable to satisfy Louisa’s expectations yet Louisa decides she’s willing to accept his shortcomings due to her admiration of his other qualities. It’s hard to disagree that that’s the series in a nutshell.

    What we’ve been spending time on is whether the 8 episodes are convincing in leading us to that final resolution.

    When I watched S6, I considered the major turning point to be the return of Martin’s haemophobia in E3. That put him into a tailspin. The appearance of his mother certainly added to his emotional instability as well as being disruptive to their home life. The tension at home builds as Martin withdraws more and more and Louisa can’t break through no matter what she tries. When Sports Day arrives, neither of them are in a good frame of mind and his obvious resistance to helping her make a success of the event (or his continued disdain of her school activities) ends in a fallout between them. She then runs after him in exasperation and gets hit by a car. It’s no wonder that she isn’t in the mood to have him join her in the ambulance. She’s actually nice enough to give him a reason to stay behind, which is that he needs to look after James.

    Once in the hospital and continuing to deal with a husband who only tries to handle the medical aspects of her injury, she decides to make arrangements to go to Spain. Her typical inclination is to leave and she’s managed to stay longer than usual this time. I suppose you could say he hasn’t met her expectations, but that is a bit too reductive, don’t you think?

    The relationship between Martin and Louisa is built on discord. Their disagreements/differences fuel the many interesting topics that have come up over the show’s lifespan and are at the heart of what has made the show so good. Louisa has left several times prior to series 5, e.g. after their first date in S3 and on their wedding day of that same series. I would say their mothers add another disruptive element to their lives, but the only thing they have in common with each other is their self-centeredness. They fan the flames but don’t start the fire.

  6. mmarshall

    Yes, I agree with the “tenacity” theme in S7. Throughout the show, I think many of the villagers are shown as models of emotional well-being. As Karen noted in her post about “alone-ness,” most of the main cast of characters do not have partners. But most of the transient characters — mostly the patients that pass through the Doc’s office — do have families and spouses and loving relationships, even those who take that love to extremes (the Flints, etc).

    I think the theme of “different is normal” has been present in the depiction of the Portwenn population, where “everyone is a bit off,” as one reviewer put it. We’ve seen how these “off” people in fact have more “normal” emotional behavior, as Karen pointed out in her discussion on Mr and Mrs Tishell’s reconciliation being the pattern of good reuniting. Though quirky, these people act out the well-developed sense of compassion, kindness, acceptance, and healthy relationships. While the Doc has seemed to not “fit in” as an sophisticated urbanite, with a high-class education accustomed to the deference given a prestigious surgeon, his inchoate emotional sense is also at odds with this population. His quirky nature might actually mirror the indigenous temperaments, but he and Louisa have some growing to do to match their neighbors’ psychological maturity, and perhaps on this show Portwenn-ers are the very best teachers. Everywhere they turn, villagers are offering them advice — the fish salesman, the dry cleaner, the chemist, the receptionish — they all give sound advice in 3 sentences or less! They are models for Louisa and Martin to follow to save their relationship. But they appear to be slow learners.

  7. J.C. Lockwood

    A word about why series 7 fails us as fans. I agree that the series seems disconnected from week to week. The first couple of episodes could arguable be seen as coherent though. I think the thing that was missing for me was any real new and interesting background story-line with the supporting characters. If the writers were going to spend 8 episodes to get Louisa and DM to a kiss and a I-love-you, then there were plenty of opportunities to develop the other character’s stories. This has been mentioned before. The Morwenna/Al story was begging to be developed for example. I understand that because Louisa and DM are the main characters they need to be an integral part of the each episode but I felt that their progress was glacial at times and at times implausible too. There were many opportunities to explore the couple’s issues (and not necessarily through therapy) that were by- passed for what seemed to be filler. Since we only get 8 episodes per series, I expected each to be filled with robust story-lines. That expectation was unfulfilled for me.

    Here are my two-cents on Louisa’s final scene proclamation that she was wrongly obsessed with Martin/people “being normal” I agree that normal is loaded and the word itself is very subjective. I prefer conventional, typical, or average especially when thinking of matters of the heart and relationship dynamics. Though this assertion from Louisa seems to come out of the blue and she may have lied (to the viewers, to Martin not sure), I had another take on it. Throughout the 7 series Louisa declares her acceptance of differences in Martin, Peter Cronk, others. She says more than once that “Some people are just different and that is why we like them”,… or something along those lines. Is it possible that Louisa is lying to herself when she makes those claims? Maybe she really does not accept that folks are different and do not fit-in. Underneath, she may really hope that Martin will change or more importantly that she will be able change him. There are enough indications (not verbalized) throughout the 7 series that she does not accept Martin as he is and that she wants him to change…. to be conventional and to fit in.

    As always, I am grateful for the lively discussion on this board. Thanks for keeping things going.

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    J.C., like you I find the small number of episodes (as well as the hiatus of two years between series) raises our expectations about each episode reaching a high level of excellence. S7 left too many seeds unharvested.

    My problem with coming up with an idea like Louisa may have been lying throughout the entire series and now finally has that moment of recognition that she’s been obsessed with wanting people to be normal is that it requires us to strain to accommodate this peculiar epiphany. Louisa may have thought she could change Martin when she first met him, and she invites him to join her for a drink or to talk in an effort to make some inroads in that regard. In a way those efforts were rewarded because he accepts her offers and reciprocates insofar as going on dates and meeting up are concerned. He also fully participates in the baby’s care. But are we supposed to arrive at the conclusion that even after all they’ve been through — the baby’s delivery (during which she tells the baby he’ll get used to Martin eventually), the first months of the baby’s life, their marriage — she still harbors some belief that she can change his introversion and his poor communication skills? I can’t get there because it’s too much at odds with what we’ve been shown. I think she is voicing the conclusion she herself has reached: she’ll get used to him eventually (along with all the other examples DM quoted). Why else would she keep coming back other than because when she’s not with Martin, she misses him, and she knows he loves her and will never leave her. To me the whole premise for S7 and Louisa’s intransigence rings false, from her decision to go to Spain to her unwillingness to accept Martin’s compliments and concessions. What she’s been obsessed with has nothing to do with people being normal; it is much more to do with proving herself uncompromising. What’s wrong with admitting that?

  9. CL

    I’m going to jump in here because the elephant in the room is sex. sexual attraction and sexual frustration. Martin and Louisa’s love life is dysfunctional. Louisa (like many of us, and Sally Tishell) are deeply attracted to DM.- in a can’t-get-over-it addictive kind of way. Martin, however, does not appear to be able to express reliable, reassuring sexual attraction for Louisa, so he frustrates her ( and us) deeply. He gives many hints throughout that it is there, deep down (Louisa in Series 7 to Dr. Timoney: “He loves me, at least I think he does”). There have been many instances throughout the series where Louisa shows us that if Martin would just reciprocate romantically, Louisa would be ready to overlook his many “flaws”. When M & L are executing their hugging homework in Series 7, for a moment Louisa believes Martin is poetically expressing his love for her when he states “I can’t let go” or something along those lines, when in reality his watch is stuck on her cardigan. Her whole body language expresses to me a desire to give in to this (misread) declaration, and then of course she registers her usual disappointment. During their first engagement when Louisa is having doubts, her bride of honor states that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, Louisa is the only one who knows what goes on behind closed doors- and there is a distinct ( I thought) ambiguity about what that means what does go on behind closed doors? That is the writer’s secret- we don’t get to know! I interpreted, based on her non-response in that scene, as well as hints from others, that all was not well “behind closed doors”. I think the writers have intentionally strung us along so that we’re not entirely sure… In Series 7. M&L’s body language as well as Louisa’s costume design express to me that Louisa is trying to forego sexual pleasure in her marriage for the sake of preserving her family, yet there is always the holdout that Martin might change. Every time they embrace, they mutually avoid touching below the belt. The sexual dysfunction in their marriage I think underlies all talk of “normal”.
    Lastly, I was struck by the brutality of the scene where Louisa is struck by the car at the end of Series 6. Her frustration (sexual and otherwise) with Martin had reached a crisis point and she lost control of herself to the degree that she put her own life in danger. I believe she recognized this about herself and that is why she is so hard on Martin in Series 7- but it took the therapy for her to recognize her own role, hence the whole “normal” obsession. When she says she realizes she’s been obsessed with everyone being normal, I think she is saying she’s obsessed with having a “normal” sexual relationship with Martin which I think we can all agree isn’t going to happen. When they kiss and express “love you” and then rest foreheads, they are both physically and emotionally exhausted by their relationship. We, like Louisa and Sally Tishell are deeply attracted to the doc. He will never satisfy our/her needs. Louisa’s new costume along with her “sensible shoes” pretty much says it all. (I love the show by the way!).

  10. Santa Traugott

    Very interesting post, CL. A few random thoughts:

    First, I have always thought that if there was a justifiable reason for Louisa to leave him, it was because when the car hit her, and in the aftermath, she realized that being with Martin was not only unsatisfying, but actually bad for her. Not only the car accident as such — but the total loss of control in front of parents, teachers and colleagues. But what I hadn’t connected was that it might have been a motivation for their staying apart. If she thought living with him was, well, self-destructive, then holding out until she felt that he had changed enough, makes sense. In fact, would be healthy.

    As to the elephant in the room– don’t the buttoned up blue pajamas and the matronly nightwear say it all? As S5 aired, I kept saying to myself, why in the world is she agreeing to go to London with a man with whom she is apparently not sexually active, a conclusion based on the almost total lack of physical contact between them. Surely, if a couple is happily intimate, they touch each other sometimes, there is affection when they speak to each other, they cut each other a little slack, etc., etc. But really, none of that. (And not because they’re British, either!) And in S6, one has to think that as depressed as Martin was, whatever libido he might have had, was nowhere evident.

    So if Louisa was sexually attracted to the man (and when I use “magnetically” attracted, it is a euphemism) and nothing was going on, or very little, it must have contributed hugely to the tension level in that house.

    From fan behavior, it is clear that Martin Elliingham is sexually charismatic for many women. (Let’s leave Martin Clunes himself out of this, out of respect!) There’s something of Mrs. Tishell perhaps lurking in a lot of us. And I think there is a suspicion, that underneath the totally repressed exterior, there is a passionate nature, all the more exciting because it is so carefully hidden. So one can imagine — well, the days with him might be trying, but oh — those nights! Fan fiction gets pretty febrile on this topic — or at least it used to. But I think the almost total lack of evidence of physical warmth between them has been discouraging for FF writers.

    Among all the ways in which this show is not reality-based, the idea that a couple so drawn to each other would be living together basically as roommates, without a sex life, is at the top of the list. And that they are having a satisfying sex life, without any spillover whatever into their daily life, is almost as hard to believe. But I think the writers have opted for the second alternative.

    Now here is where I find it interesting to think about what the creative powers that be are doing here, and why. The lack of physical warmth is certainly deliberate, that’s clear to me. And it’s not because Martin Clunes’ wife is on set. That would be unprofessional, and they’re not. Do they get that sexual frustration, on the part of the viewers, is what gets and keeps people hooked, just as (we are hypothesizing, partly just for fun) the continual hope on Louisa’s part that someday there may be a breakthrough on the physical front, keeps her hooked?

    More likely, they just get that if the couple were actually affectionate with each other, it would be much harder to get audience buy-in into the story that they were, almost irrevocably, drifting apart. And they trust that the audience gets that they wouldn’t be together, in view of their multiple incompatibilities and ways that they annoy each other, without some strong sexual glue. If that isn’t there, then living together would be a nightmare, I should think, given their other difficulties in getting along.

  11. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I’ve read Santa’s response and want to put my two cents in here. Of course we know there has been some sexual contact between Martin and Louisa, however, we also notice that their relationship is mostly chaste. It’s a subject that makes sense to discuss, although I don’t put as much weight on it as you seem to. My initial reaction is that this show was never going to place much emphasis on physical affection and that the sort of implied, but not often seen, form of sexual interaction is deliberately used to leave much to the imagination. Anyone who finds it titillating to think about what might have happened once they went to the bedroom, by all means should let their imaginations wander.

    When I think back on where they’ve shown us some sexual interactions, the one that stands out the most is when Martin dreams about Louisa approaching him at night wearing a negligee, or a sheer, see-through gown. Of course, I believe that occurs in S1 which we need to separate from the rest of the series as significantly different in approach. The next time we see sexual interaction between them is after Martin has proposed and Louisa jumps into his arms. The following morning when we see them, he is getting dressed at the end of her bed while her bare shoulder peeks out from beneath the red sheets. I don’t think they could have been more transparent that this couple threw caution to the wind and had their first sexual experience together.

    Thereafter we know that Louisa spent some other nights with Martin, especially since he suggests she wear a nasal strip so he can get a good night’s sleep. Of course, once she gives birth, we would expect about a 6 week break from sex due to soreness, which we know she has.

    Then there’s the wedding night which is designed to be a tease. He checks the sheets; she tells him she’s ready to do whatever he says; they get cozy near the fireplace; and then BOOM, the whole thing blows up and we’re off to a crazy night in the woods. We are never going to see them do more than kiss, sometimes more passionately than others.

    The whole pajama thing, both his buttoned up version and her comfy ones, are to show us that theirs is a modest marriage. He can’t handle too much nakedness, whether it’s about his psyche or his body. She has adopted a style that keeps him comfortable. But really, whatever anyone wears can be taken off at the opportune time.

    Would Louisa like more physical affection? She seems to be the one most likely to initiate contact. My view of the scene in S6 where Louisa joins Martin while he’s working on a clock is that she is doing everything she can think of to imply that she wants to be romantic that night. She comes to the door to tell Martin JH is fast asleep, then leans in close and tells him it’s their two week anniversary. When he doesn’t get the idea, and goes back to working on the clock, she is stymied and leaves. (Some people think she should have been thrilled to have him include her in his clock hobby. I can see how she was thoroughly disgusted in his total lack of interest in her. Prior to that occasion that day, he had also been unhappy about her kiss goodbye and mention that she would miss him, and he had told her he had done fine without her during the day.) So we have numerous examples of not only communication failures, but also missed opportunities for romance.

    The hugging scene in S7 is another tease. She is clearly pleased when she thinks he is expressing a desire to keep holding her and then immediately ready to release him when he tells her his watch is caught. But they both appear to like the hugging and we are led to believe that Martin wants Louisa to be hugging him at the end because she’s demonstrating some real feelings for him. He’s looking for a sign like that so he can convince himself that his actions are making some headway with her. But they soon retract that progress in the next episode. Basically, the lack of physical expressions of affection between them provides some sexual tension that I think is supposed to be another frustration for viewers. They are self-contained, as Dr. T says, and have always been. Martin wasn’t even sure he wanted to kiss Louisa to consummate the marriage vows.

    It’s not until the final scene of E8 that Martin finally feels safe enough to kiss Louisa again and she reciprocates. We’re pretty sure they went home together that evening and we can imagine all we want about the rest of the night.

    I am not preoccupied with whether their sex life is “normal,” because to me it’s just another facet of their difficulties with communicating. One of the distinguishing features of this show is its lack of sexual references along with its lack of violence and obscenities. When there is a hint at these, e.g. Joan having sex on the kitchen table with a man half her age, or Louisa being graphically hit by a car, viewers are appalled and offended. It’s so uncharacteristic of the show. We have no reason to believe that Louisa is concerned about their sex life; she’s seems most concerned about having shared intimacy of any variety.

  12. Waxwings2

    In response to CL’s comments, I am grateful for the acknowledgement of the elephant in the room, (though I disagree with its size and some of the assumptions made about it. As Karen would say: you can’t draw hard conclusions from what is not in the script). I do agree, however, the subject of sexual/romantic attraction –or the lack of it in Series 7 –requires our attention directly as we try to understand and dissect this very puzzling (and disappointing) Doc Martin season 7.

    While I disagree with CL that Louisa’s main issue is over sexual dissatisfaction, it is surely some part of it. Interestingly, totally absent from series 7 is the sexual/romantic tension that has underlain every other series of DM to date. Clunes and Catz have a natural and powerful chemistry together, and on screen when played as Martin and Louisa, they are explosive. They are also vulnerable in these expressions of affection, or longings for affection or attention, and our sympathies are automatically invoked. Series 7 reprised none of those emotions, and it was as if the characters (esp. DM) operated on autopilot, trying to block the original feelings that gave rise to the attraction and the vulnerabilities in the first place. Or maybe as you say CL, they were “both physically and emotionally exhausted” and could not “engage.”

    I believe with even minimal exploration in therapy about resistance to intimacy brought on by early childhood rejection and trauma and abandonment, or even a real conversation between the couple in Series 7 (to enlighten themselves about each other’s “issues”) that would have enabled the romantic theme lines to return. I don’t buy the excuse that a dramedy could not include some serious and real therapy in a show. (Check out the new Netflix series, RIVER—with its magnificent lead actor Skellen Skarsgard—for a convincing example of how serious therapy scenes can be very short, even funny, to the point, and well done—and all the while advancing the story line.)

    I went back and watched all of the first five series of Doc Martin last week. They were absolutely filled with this Martin and Louisa chemistry and tension driven by their expressed mutual love for each other. (This is a large part of what attracted the large DM audience in the first place.) Even Series 6 had it in the ending episodes – at surgery, after surgery, at home later as Louisa prepares to leave for Spain, and hopes Martin will stop her…. But by Series 7, none of that is integral to the episodes. It was as though the writers intended to neuter the two. They succeeded, much to my chagrin.

    The source of my disappointment is that they have seemingly ignored the prior series and given us disconnected installments that lack seriousness of purpose (getting to the bottom of what ails them) that would truly engage the characters in their vulnerabilities and their ability to work things out. This explains the poor use and misuse of therapy and the missed therapy opportunities to get at a consistent follow on to DM’s psych problems and Louisa’s abandonment issues. It also explains the incoherence of random scenes and gratuitous vignettes that didn’t advance the story line or pick up on past themes, but rather heightened the farcical qualities of the problems, such that we no longer believe the characters (“Louisa lied!” as DM said here a few days ago).

    IMHO, I don’t believe there was ever any intention to get at these human/authenticity issues that had been raised so prominently in Series 6. And I think we rightly feel a sense of confusion and disappointment over what we did get offered. I agree with DM, Karen, Santa and others here that there was much to be desired in Series 7 – not only in terms of consistency and continuity, but integrity and respect in the subject treatment raised prior. I know I wanted them to be dealt with much more honesty in present episodes—but they didn’t get dealt with at all. Yes, I think the writers wrote themselves into a corner.

    Maybe Series 8 could be a re-do of Series 7 with Louisa and Martin (e.g., the writers) now ready to deal with the issues they brought to life in Series 6-1, in a more genuine way. Karen has shown us that such “treatment” is possible, and would not necessarily have to be the end of our beloved couple. Would that Buffalo Pictures give themselves such a challenge!! I will keep hoping….

  13. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    First, thank you for the reference to the new show River and its effective therapy sessions. The decision to use therapy sessions in S7 but then devalue their effectiveness is really strange to me and definitely not due to the impossibility of making them worthwhile, and even funny, as well as advance the storyline.

    I agree totally that S7 deleted as much of the sexual tension as possible. On occasion I wondered if they figured they could torment viewers by getting Martin and Louisa close to embracing, and on the edge of showing physical affection, without ever taking that final step. There were many close calls when we could have seen some breakdown of their walls, when one of them could have said “Let’s just talk this over some more.” But they opted to disallow that and keep them apart.

    As you say, that decision, along with the others that made S7 lacking in many ways, contributed to a much less satisfactory series and resolution than we legitimately expected.

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