To answer this question we have to address the whole issue of what it means to pose a question like this about a TV show. My approach has always been to work off what’s written and try to analyze what’s on the page (or screen). The author wrote it like that for a reason and, if the work of literature or the show is a success, it’s because of how the author established the story.
As I said in my recent post about why DM has appealed to us, the match between Martin and Louisa is essential to the show. For those of you who have seen “Breaking Bad,” would you question whether Skyler should have stayed with Walter? It turned out to be a really bad decision on her part, but she went back to Walter for so many valid reasons, and that’s one of the important issues we end up thinking about. The show would be totally different if Skyler left Walt and never went back; and DM would not be DM if Louisa doesn’t reconsider and try again. The show is built around this couple dealing with all sorts of relationship difficulties, struggling to manage them, finding it hard to know what happened between them to make their attraction to each other so frustrating, and then realizing that they genuinely want to be together.
Maybe in the real world their marriage would not last even though they both care about JH. So many marriages don’t these days. But, in my opinion, we have to be very careful about thinking about their relationship as if it’s in the real world. Of course, many people make the wrong decisions about who to marry and whether to stay together all the time. However, this is something different; this is a purposely contrived situation to probe what might happen with two people named Louisa and Martin who want to stay together, despite having many personal problems. It’s also meant to be funny to see what they are confronted with and how they decide to handle it. Series 6 began with one of the funniest episodes of all of the series in my view. The plan was to have Martin and Louisa finally get married because their romance had gone on long enough without that payoff. After their wedding fell apart at the end of S3 and viewers were angry about how that turned out, they decided not to toy with it again. But we could never have expected that everything would be just fine now and we would watch a happily married couple enjoy even one uncomplicated night. E1 included some lovely moments for us to take pleasure in, then one thing after another goes awry. Nevertheless, as I’ve written when I looked at all the humor in that episode, the antics of that night still have the newlyweds working in concert with each other and ending up as well as can be expected after a night of that kind.
We can’t think in terms of what would happen if we changed the key match in the show. After just having written a bunch about “All in the Family,” I wonder if anyone would have ever thought to say “why didn’t Edith leave Archie?” Or, “Why does Carmella stay with Tony in “The Sopranos?” Or, in “Downton Abbey,” what if Sibyl didn’t choose to marry Tom, or Mary didn’t turn down others for Matthew?
We don’t ask whether Rhett Butler should have married Scarlett O’Hara (in Gone with the Wind). The whole story would be different if he hadn’t, even if they would have been better off apart.
These stories are constructed and developed with these broken relationships because they are at the heart of the narrative; they make the story what it is. If we counsel them to forget about each other and move on, the whole story falls apart.
Yes, DM is about more than whether Martin and Louisa can be together. It began as a tale about a vascular surgeon who has to leave surgery because of his blood phobia. But from the moment he meets Louisa on the plane to Portwenn, we know there will be an ongoing tension between these two. We enjoy the other characters, the patient interaction, the scenes with Mark and Julie, or Penhale’s mishaps. We laugh at and get annoyed with Mrs. Tishell, or Pauline, or Bert and Al. The thing that brings us back to the show, however, is what will happen next with Martin and Louisa. More than that, it’s the very human mistakes they make and their marital discord that we can’t stop thinking about and talking about. The whole show would blow up if the script had them separating for good. Just look at what happened at the end of S3 when it seemed like that was exactly what the outcome would be.
Caroline Catz was asked if her character was coming back for S4 on some talk shows between series, and she tried to be coy. I never doubted she’d be back because without her there is no show, in my opinion. Without Louisa, and Caroline Catz’s tremendous portrayal of her, we have a show about a quirky doctor treating patients who he generally disdains, and being rude more often than not. It would probably be entertaining and might still be fun to watch, but loses much of the depth we all like. With Louisa, we have a show about a man who has to deal with many demons and whose love for one woman makes him see everything differently. He wants to change; he wants a family; he wants to try to be a member of the community (after a fashion). He’s an accomplished physician with much greater dimension and complexity.
I don’t mean to sound too strong on this, but I have to say that posing this question strikes at the core of what it means to write a story. There are no “shoulds” only what is, and we then study it, and learn from it, and try to make sense of it. I know I’ve come on a bit heated in writing the above. I just cannot see how we can ever admire literature or excellent films or TV shows unless we accept the premise upon which they have been written.
I’m ducking now to protect myself from whatever animosity I might receive…
Originally posted 2014-05-01 15:02:31.