I have been asked to address how Joan is depicted as viewing the relationship between Martin and Louisa. It’s an interesting question because she is somewhat mixed about it. I thought while I’m at it, I might as well look at Ruth too.(I noted Joan’s uncertain response to their decision to be together in my post “Mothering,” but didn’t go into any detail then.)
As I’ve begun thinking about this topic, I realized that Joan is the only one who M accepts hugs from and who he offers to hug, and fairly regularly. He tolerates hugs from her even while recoiling from physical contact with most others (with the prominent exception of Louisa of course). As I’ve said in a previous post (Mothering), Joan is really a surrogate mother for M. He has chosen to come to Portwenn after his hemaphobia forces him to leave his position as a vascular surgeon primarily because Joan is there. He needs Joan’s TLC, whether he consciously recognizes it or not, and she’s pleasantly surprised to know that he’s chosen Portwenn. During their reunion we learn that the last time she saw him was 30 years ago when he was 11 yo and he was still wetting the bed. We also learn that she and Martin’s father (her brother) don’t get on. She asks Martin to forgive her for cursing her brother and then calls him a “bloody idiot.” Thus, despite the long break in their interaction, Martin has never forgotten his aunt and, from the way she reacts to seeing him, she still has a soft spot in her heart for him, and they both hate Martin’s father. I think this aspect of their relationship is important in connection to determining how much Joan’s approval of Martin’s pursuit of Louisa means to him. We also could imagine that being drawn to Louisa so quickly contributes to making him decide to stay in Portwenn. Indeed, one of the last scenes in E1, after he’s had a terrible initiation to Portwenn and has told his agent Chris Parsons that he intends to leave, has him passing by the school again and staring at Louisa through the window. Soon after, he stands at the front window to his surgery building, looks out towards the school across the way, and takes out a saw to cut down the “For Sale” sign outside. Both Joan’s presence and Louisa’s appeal, in addition to the comments Bert makes and the likelihood that Martin hates to give up on anything, contribute to him deciding to stay in Portwenn.
The other thing that’s important about Martin’s first meeting with Joan is how much emphasis she puts on his love life. First she wonders if he left London and performing surgery because of some difficulties with a woman or lack of any female contact, next she remarks that he’s pale and needs to eat better if he wants to find a woman. So right away we know that Joan cares about Martin having a woman in his life. Later in the first episode there is a scene where Martin stares at Louisa while she is working with the students. Nearby Joan is unloading some vegetables from her truck and notices Martin “skulking.” She deduces that he and Louisa have not gotten along, but he denies that he is skulking, and says that he just happened to spot Louisa. Still, we as viewers are now aware that Martin is interested in Louisa and that Joan notices. Soon we also know that Louisa is interested in Martin. She flirtatiously approaches him at the street fair and they have a short introductory conversation. The interplay is established, and it’s pretty obvious that how their relationship develops will be a key plotline. With that in mind, Joan’s reaction to it carries importance.
The way the writers, et. al. have involved Joan in the development of the relationship between Martin and Louisa is by making her the intermediary between the two. Oftentimes she functions as the confidant or vessel for their comments about each other. Some examples include:
In S1,E2, Louisa and Joan have words about Martin and his unsympathetic behavior toward Roger and others. Louisa at this point thinks Martin is not treating the people of Portwenn nicely enough.
In S1,E4, Louisa first asks Martin to join her at the community dance, but he turns her down. Louisa offers to give Mark the ticket instead and Mark mistakenly assumes that she has asked him for a date. When Louisa arrives, Mark asks her to dance and she dances with him to have fun. Despite having chosen to skip the dance, Martin shows up there in order to find Mark. When Martin walks in, Mark and Louisa are dancing and then appear to be having an intimate chat. Martin decides not to bother Mark and Joan notices Martin leaving. She immediately picks up on Martin’s disgruntlement about Louisa and Mark. She notes that he really wanted to interrupt Mark. Joan’s attitude indicates amusement at Martin’s apparent interest in Louisa, but her remarks should also be interpreted as trying to encourage him to not back down. (In fact, she encourages him to pursue L on several occasions, especially when Danny appears.)
Then in S1,E5, John Slater returns to Portwenn. Joan tells Martin that she wants to renew her love affair with him, and Martin is against it. He knows John has a life-threatening heart condition but tells Joan he just doesn’t think that starting up their relationship again is a good idea. She tells him she doesn’t need his blessing, but she would like it. I expect that if Joan would like his blessing, Martin would like hers as well. She also tells him that she gave up John for him because his father wouldn’t let her continue to see Martin if she carried on her affair with John. This revelation also explains why John is somewhat spiteful towards Martin. By the end of the episode, Martin admits that he would have said anything to put Joan off John and he tells her about John’s condition. The scene ends with Joan crying and Martin putting his arms around her, something he rarely does with anyone, even Louisa. As a result of these exchanges, we know that Joan and Martin are very close and neither one would want to disappoint the other.
The next time Joan has anything to say to Martin about Louisa takes place in S2, E8 when Joan stops Martin to thank him for giving up his flat in London so that she can keep the farm. They are once again situated on the street near the school and, though I missed it previously, Joan notes that Martin is afflicted with the “Ellingham curse,” which she defines as “never talking about anything…keeping your emotions hidden.” (We can certainly vouch for the “Ellingham curse” coming back to haunt Martin’s marriage.) She follows that with a hug and then mentions that rumors abound that Danny is very keen on Louisa. She literally tells Martin to “do something, say something.” There’s nothing subtle about Joan’s awareness that Martin is attracted to Louisa, and perhaps that Louisa is attracted to him too. Of course, at that exact moment Louisa exits the school with some students, and Joan strongly encourages Martin to approach Louisa. He clearly wants to, but also looks a bit like a little boy taking advice from his mother. Martin manages to speak to Louisa, although she wants to talk about Mark Mylow and the trouble with Julie. However, her final comments about Mark are filled with innuendo as she tells M that she admires Mark for not holding back. Martin is tongue tied again at this point until he decides to ask her if she’s going to “go for it” with the architect. Naturally he ruins the moment by sarcastically asking her if she’s waiting for a “signal from on high.” So Joan’s effort to get Martin to intervene between Louisa and Danny somewhat backfires. Martin’s comments may, however, have had an impact on Louisa because later in the episode she turns down Danny’s marriage proposal and tells Martin that she wants to have a drink with him and talk. Joan has surely been instrumental in getting these two together even if it’s in an indirect way.
In the final episode of S3, Louisa seems to think Joan is an instigator of Martin’s endeavors to find a way to link up with her, as she immediately presumes Joan has suggested to Martin that he give her a birthday card. It’s an amusing way for Martin to attempt to recover from telling Louisa she’s a stalker. He also wants to ask her to have dinner with him, but Louisa’s father’s appearance eliminates that option. Joan becomes the source of Martin’s information about Louisa’s father and is the person who saw Terry steal the lifeboat money. Joan’s integrity is so beyond reproach that once Louisa asks him directly whether Joan is lying, Terry cannot look Louisa in the face and maintain his position that he wasn’t responsible for the theft. Joan is a pillar of the community, and, as such, wields special influence. I doubt that’s lost on either Martin or Louisa.
It’s when we get to S3, E4 that Joan’s comments begin to get contradictory. Her conversation with Martin after he’s walked in on her and Edward having sex on the kitchen table is remarkable in that she attacks M for disapproving. She comes to see Martin to talk to him about her relationship with Edward, but this time (as opposed to when John Slater showed up) she does not seem to want his blessing. Even more significantly, M wants to diagnose her attraction to Edward as due to her HRT implant and she tells him “this is not a medical problem.” (Sounds a lot like what Ruth tells Martin in the last episode of S6. When it comes to emotional situations, Martin is always going to look for a medical condition first.) In terms of Joan’s influence on Martin and his love life, it’s when she tells M that Edward’s attentions make her happy that we get down to what’s essential. She, like Louisa later, considers happiness important and she accuses Martin of wanting “everybody to be as lonely and miserable as you are.” Of course, Martin immediately denies that he is either of those things, but we know Joan thinks he is. Ipso facto, for Joan life is better when you have someone in it who makes you happy.
We really get down to business in the next three episodes during which Martin and Louisa go through some ups and downs with Joan involved in a fairly serious way. First, Martin and Louisa bump into Joan when they get to the concert and she seems quite pleased to see them out together. They only see her again when the concert breaks for intermission and Joan discovers that Martin has insulted her friend, the caterer. Joan looks decidedly let down when Martin takes a bathroom break, and she can tell Louisa is unhappy about the recent interaction. Joan first looks at Louisa as she leaves, then back in the direction of where Martin went and sighs deeply. We get the sense that Joan would like things to go well between the two of them.
Of course, the date ends badly, Martin can’t sleep because he’s so unhappy that Louisa has told him she doesn’t want to see him again, and when he decides to “do something, say something” by going to Louisa’s house to talk to her, he gets cold feet and can’t follow through. It’s the middle of the day but Martin is the one who’s emotional now. He’s reached a low point when Joan walks through the back door. She notices he’s glum and wonders how the date went. She mentions that Louisa seemed fed up at the concert and, somewhat dishearteningly, tells Martin that “any outing between the two of you is an accident waiting to happen.” She’s being matter-of-fact until she sees that Martin is close to tears. She knows better than to say any more, but she appears quite sorry for him. Nevertheless, she returns later with dinner and makes some more observations about Martin and Louisa. At this point she tells him that L and he are like chalk and cheese and that L would never have made him happy. Joan seems to equate happiness here with having the same approach towards people: Louisa likes them and Martin, “well, you’re you.” This time it’s Martin’s turn to make a derogatory comment about Joan’s life. Joan is certainly hurt by this, but doesn’t back down. Thus, in the span of this episode we’ve not only been taken through a potentially good evening out between Martin and Louisa to a dismal end to their excursion, but also seen Joan go from being regretful that Martin and Louisa’s date isn’t going well to being convinced that they could never have a successful relationship. I suppose Joan is being a realist who cares about Martin enough to try to comfort him by telling him to move on. Ultimately, their conversation about the prospects of Martin and Louisa being able to get along revolves around the question of whether people can change and Martin sets out to demonstrate that he can the next day. Even though Martin’s attempt at being more concerned about Holly’s condition is unconvincing to Louisa, the day certainly ends with the outcome he was hoping for. I think we have to view this vacillation on Joan’s part as a combination of practical assessment and concern for Martin.
By the next episode, Martin and Louisa have decided to get married and have spent the night together. Naturally, all of this takes Joan by surprise when she hears about it from the postman. However, by the time Martin gets to Joan’s house to tell her, she is totally on board and thrilled for him. She’s a little put out that it took him so long to tell her, but she’s got a family ring to use as an engagement ring and gives it to him gladly. During the last episode of S3, Joan has become anxious for the wedding to go well. She makes sure the flowers get to the church, worries about who will officiate, and wonders what Bert and Al are going to do about the food. She also stands outside the church nervously looking for Martin and Louisa to arrive. I would imagine that she is very disappointed when the wedding couple don’t show.
Joan’s attitude switches to being very supportive of Louisa once Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant in S4. Throughout this series Joan questions Martin’s lack of involvement with Louisa, often accompanies Louisa to either see Martin or to her appointments in Truro, and generally seems angry at Martin for not doing more or for acting unkind to Louisa. It’s apparent that once again Joan thinks Martin isn’t doing enough to convince Louisa that he’s interested in her and the baby. I suppose she would like to see him demand to be a part of the prenatal care and finds him too willing to accept Louisa’s rejection of his help. We see a particularly irritated Joan during the labor and delivery scene where she is obviously vexed that Martin takes so long to tell Louisa that he wants to be with her. Of course, Joan can breathe easy by the end of the episode because Martin has come through after all and is with Louisa when the baby is born.
I know this has turned into a very long post. I have to admit I got very caught up in doing a thorough analysis. I was going to look at Ruth too, but will put that in another post. I hope I’ve done a decent job with the question I was supposed to answer. Please let me know what you think.
Originally posted 2014-03-28 00:39:41.