The following post was written by one of our newest blog readers. She and I corresponded through email about the show and she then wrote me about having watched all the series in an inventive manner. I thought you should all have a chance to read how that affected her reaction to the show and to these characters.
I also wanted to add a few remarks of my own. They are better placed at the end of Amy’s post.
I hope you enjoy this interesting approach to reconsidering some of the thornier issues we’ve been trying to address:
First, thank you to Karen for inviting me to write this post. I was a latecomer to the blog, only discovering it in the spring of 2016 when I started to watch Doc Martin for a second time. I had watched Series 1-4 on Netflix and then watched Series 5-7 in “real time,” but it was only on the re-watch that I started to look for a resource to understand more about the show and the issues it raised.
Reading all the posts and comments here has been very illuminating, and some of the discussions, especially about S7, made me realize that I wanted to review the entire series (S1-S7) once again so that the earlier episodes were clearer in my memory as I read the blog. But I honestly didn’t want to watch all the side stories again—the Bert and Al stories, the Penhale and Mrs T stories, or the patient stories. I wanted to focus on the relationship between Martin and Louisa: how did it start, how did it develop, how did it change?
In particular, I had a few questions to focus on, issues that seemed to trouble viewers and some readers of the blog. For example, did it make sense that Martin and Louisa called off the first wedding? Or were the writers just torturing viewers? And did Martin’s statement that he knew she wouldn’t make him happy make sense? Also, was S6 as dark as I recalled? Were Martin and Louisa really as angry and distant through S6? And then there is S7. Like many, I had found the characterization of Louisa in S7 wildly different from how she’d been depicted in every other series—as mean, cold, angry, unforgiving. Was that really the case? And what about the much discussed gap between E7 and E8 in S7? On my first viewing, I saw no gap. On my second view, I noticed it and was, like many, perturbed by it. How would it seem on a third viewing? And then finally, the last scene of S7, E8. Would it make any more sense to me now?
So here’s what I did. I started with S1 and over the course of a few days, I watched every episode in order, but fast forwarded through every scene that did not include Louisa and Martin with a few exceptions—scenes with Joan or Ruth and Martin, scenes with the awful Margaret, and scenes with Dr T and either Martin or Louisa. It usually meant I could watch an entire episode in about 15 minutes or so, depending on the episode. (I do realize this sounds insane, but hey, I am retired, and it’s summer.)
What did I experience as a viewer doing this? Well, first of all, I really enjoyed S1-3. In those series, Martin and Louisa are like sparring partners. The sparks fly, the sexual tension is intense, and the banter is smart, funny, and fast-moving. In both the Bad Breath kissing scene and the Urine Odor Date scene, I felt more sorry for Martin than outraged or amused and also empathetic to Louisa, but a bit annoyed that she didn’t at least give him a chance to talk it through. Poor guy was clueless. And she ran.
Then we get to the Holly episode in S3 and the engagement and called off wedding. I admit that on my first two viewings, I was thrilled that Martin and Louisa had gotten together. But on my fast forward viewing my reaction was different. It was much more obvious that the two of them had never really had a full conversation about anything—just lots of banter and bickering and interrupted dates and kisses that ended up with misunderstandings. How could they get married? They hardly knew each other.
So this time my reaction to the cancelled wedding was different. This time it made perfect sense. How could two people who’d done nothing but argue and kiss twice get married? Especially when one was so different from the other? What didn’t make sense was Martin saying she wouldn’t make him happy. I still think he realized that he wouldn’t make her happy and let her off the hook. Even she looked surprised when he said that.
Also, what hadn’t made sense on earlier viewings was Louisa leaving town, running away. Couples can decide they’re not ready to get married without breaking up. But on further thought, it made sense knowing what we know about Louisa—that she runs away from problems rather than confront them. Maybe that wasn’t as clear to me on my first viewing of S1-3, but now it appeared to be more consistent with the character’s behavior.
Then we get to S4, a series I’d recalled not enjoying because I was so frustrated that Martin and Louisa were not communicating with each other; it felt like a bad farce where one character walks in the door just as the other walks out. I hate that stuff. And I also hated Edith. On my fast-forward review (which did include some of the Edith scenes), S4 felt different. This time I enjoyed it. It was so obvious to me that Martin and Louisa wanted desperately to be with each other, but couldn’t figure out a way to express that to each other. Edith was nothing but a minor distraction, not a threat. And, of course, the birth scene was still wonderful. Who doesn’t love a birth scene?
Now let me stop and observe one thing. I know that it’s very different to view something a second time when you know how things end. Of course, S4 felt better knowing that in the end Martin and Louisa would reconcile. But even my second viewing left me frustrated with them. It was only by fast forwarding through the extra material that I could really focus and see how much those two were dying to be with each other but stuck in their respective corners.
I also got a different feeling for S5 this time. Before it had seemed like two lovebirds had turned overnight into enemies. But focusing just on their scenes together gave me a new way of seeing those interactions. They weren’t enemies—they were doing what many, if not most, new parents do: struggling to figure out how to be parents, how to stay a couple, and also how to retain their own individuality. They just were more inept than other couples at expressing themselves in any positive way as they struggled through it.
But for me the biggest surprise was S6, a season I really had not enjoyed the first time and that I almost didn’t watch the second time. My recollection of it had been that Martin was sad the whole time and Louisa was angry the whole time. Not so on this fast forward watch. Yes, Martin was upset and withdrawn once he realized the blood phobia had returned (although I don’t think it ever went away; there are scenes in S5 where he still reacts to blood as well as the birth scene in S4). But Louisa was not angry. She was trying her best to reach out to him; she was sympathetic and patient. She tried to get him to talk to her. And then she was hurt when he refused to go away with her. That was the ultimate slap in the face, if you ask me. And with Margaret appearing, Martin became even more withdrawn, more depressed. (Who wouldn’t be?) But Louisa kept trying. Nothing worked.
So her Sports Day explosion struck me this time as not out of proportion to her feelings. Martin was just being ur-Martin: rude and insensitive. But this time she just couldn’t keep her frustration and her pain inside. I felt for her this time, more so than I had on prior viewings.
After the accident she is impatient with Martin, annoyed, and upset. But when he comes to get her off the plane, she is grateful. She says she thought he was coming to get her or join her in Spain. She clearly still wanted to be with him. And if there is any truth to “in vino veritas” with anesthesia, her words to him before the operation are loving, teasing him about whether he has a bathing suit. And she does seem to hear what he says about needing help and wanting to be a good husband. Whether she remembers it afterwards is hard to say.
The final scene when he returns to the hospital is still a painful one for me to watch. Why doesn’t Martin repeat what he said before the operation? When Louisa thanks him for coming after her, why doesn’t he declare his love rather than saying, “You are my patient and my wife.” Even I might have gotten on a plane with that reply, and I am not Louisa. So we are left at the end of S6 with Louisa actually looking sad and upset that she is hurting Martin, but now Martin is the one who shuts down, runs off, just as Louisa did at the end of S3. I no longer was angry with Louisa for leaving for Spain, instead I was upset with Martin for not opening up again. So I saw Louisa as the more sympathetic character in S6 in some ways, the opposite of what I’d felt on earlier viewings.
And that brings me to S7. Let me tell you first my prior reaction to S7. I hated Louisa in S7. I thought she was unnecessarily mean and angry. Not only with Martin, but with everyone except the baby. I found her cold and unforgiving. I couldn’t understand what the writers had done to this warm and loving and friendly character. Others here reacted similarly, and Karen wrote that Louisa had become more like Martin. I was very put off by what they had done—even more so than I was with the silly therapy.
So let me tell you that watching S7 again, just focusing on the Louisa, Martin, and Dr T scenes, was an eye opener. Louisa from the beginning is sad, sympathetic, and doing her best to understand Martin. Yes, she is a bit prickly when he doesn’t get her jokes or pulls one of his OCD things, but overall it was clear to me that the writers were signaling that this was a woman who wanted to stay with her husband. She just, as she says, doesn’t know what to do—how to get them to a better place. She wants him to help her find a place to stay; she feels bad that he has to sleep in James Henry’s room and brings him his clock in her nightgown (I mean, how seductive is that?), but he makes no move. She is happy he is going for therapy. She looks at him with sympathetic eyes.
In the early episodes it now seems that both of them are stuck in their corners once again, afraid of getting hurt. They don’t touch each other, not out of lack of desire, but out of fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of loss. When Martin sees Louisa in her bathrobe after her first night back, the look in his eyes is desire. Just watch that scene and see for yourself.
My take this time is that what triggers the anger in Louisa is the suggestion that she join Martin in therapy and the thought that she herself may have issues and may be part of the problem with their relationship. She is on the defensive. She’s been in denial about her own issues forever. Now Dr T, Ruth, and Martin want her to face her own issues. I’ve seen many people get angry and defensive in those circumstances.
(I won’t say more about the therapy itself since that’s been discussed here in depth, except to say I still think Dr T had the blood phobia thing all wrong and that the “control” assignment was stupid. Throughout the entire show and even in S7, Louisa always had more control than Martin. She chose when to run away from him and when to kiss him; she chose to live separately. Plus most decisions on smaller matters ended up being hers—James Henry’s name; going on the honeymoon; telling Martin not to kill Buddy or have Peter Cronk arrested. Martin might be afraid of losing control over his emotions, but not over day to day decisions like what to eat at a picnic.)
But overall Louisa does not seem angry or hostile towards Martin. She wants him to keep hugging her and is hurt when she realizes it was only that his watch was caught on her sweater. She tells numerous characters—Danny, Dr T, the Wintons, Ruth—that she hopes to get back together with Martin. This is not a woman looking to leave her husband, but one who wants someone to help them find their way back and then forward. “A means to an end or a new beginning.” Not an end of their relationship.
So we get to the infamous E7 and E8 gap between Martin asking for them to have a make or break discussion and Louisa preparing a dinner of salmon, aubergines, and courgettes. (Why French names? Why not just eggplant and zucchini? I had to Google courgette.) The first time I watched these episodes, I didn’t see any gap. I just figured I’d forgotten some line where Louisa or Martin said, “Let’s have dinner to discuss it.” The second time, after reading comments here, I looked for the gap and saw it. There’s definitely at least one line missing to explain how the dinner date was planned.
But what I didn’t see this time that others saw was a difference in the character’s attitudes between the two scenes. Martin seemed resigned to failure in both scenes. He thought Louisa wanted out or that there was no way to make things better. He’d given up. He may have said that Dr T only wanted them to make a list, but from his expression and his words at the end of E7, it seems clear that he thought the relationship was over. At the beginning of E8 he does nothing to suggest otherwise when Louisa is talking about their (somehow planned) dinner date.
Louisa, on the other hand, in both episodes seems to be hoping things can still work out. She’s afraid Dr T is suggesting divorce. She doesn’t bring up make or break, he does. She may be worried about what he’s asking, but she is not acting hostile or angry or resigned. So I don’t see a radical change between Louisa in E7 and E8; maybe she’s realized Martin is giving up, but I don’t think she had been ready to do that.
Finally, that last scene on the cliff. What the hell were they talking about? I won’t get into the whole “normal” thing because that still makes no sense to me. I won’t repeat what has been said here about why that was not consistent with what Louisa had said or done in any earlier series. But what did Martin mean when he said that he couldn’t change how he felt about her, and she replies, “I wouldn’t want that.” Then he says, “I’ve tried, I really have. But it only made things worse.” What did that mean?
Some people think he meant he tried to change his behavior. Although I do think he was trying to change his behavior by going to therapy, doing the assignments, tolerating some of the mess and noise, that didn’t make anything worse. It may not have noticeably improved things, but it certainly did not make things worse. And that would also make no sense coming after his prior sentence about not changing how he felt about Louisa.
I thought the first time and I still think that what Martin was saying was that he had tried to change his feelings about Louisa—to withdraw, not to love her any more. Now that seems even clearer to me after my fast forward viewing of the entire show. After all, that’s what it seemed he was doing to some extent at the end of S6 when she said she was still going to Spain. He gave her a rather abrupt answer and walked out of the hospital. That’s also what he did when she left the first time after the cancelled wedding; he thought about being with Edith (he never once was repelled when Edith kissed his cheek, unlike when Mrs Tishell or even Ruth tried to embrace him; he was perhaps confused, but not repelled). And each time it made him feel worse because he couldn’t stop loving Louisa.
I realize that watching the show this way is distorting. The intertwining stories and the way they connect to the main characters and their lives is missing; the things the writers tell us through the mouths of people like the fish monger, the dry cleaner, the vicar, and so is deleted. I didn’t see how Martin was acting with other characters. And I knew how things would end, so it had to color what I was seeing and how I felt about it.
But it did help me focus on the story arc of Martin and Louisa’s relationship. And for what it’s worth, here’s my summary of that story arc and the two characters: They are attracted to each other and intrigued by the mystery of each other from their first meeting, but from the beginning, neither one of them can trust the other; both are incapable of expressing their true feelings. Both retreat or shut down when they fear rejection. Neither one is the heavy; they both have shortcomings, and in some ways they have the same shortcomings when it comes to love and building a relationship. Louisa has always been the one to over-react out of fear of being hurt; Martin always allows her to pull away without a fight. Karen once wrote that the birth scene metaphorically captures their relationship as Louisa pulls and pushes Martin back and forth. And Martin lets her do it. I think that describes it perfectly.
The times that they are somehow able to express their love always seems to come from a crisis where their naked emotions get the better of them—when Peter Cronk almost died, when Holly almost died, when Mrs. Tishell stole James Henry, when Louisa almost died, and finally when Martin is kidnapped and then saves Mr. Winton. Only when their protective shells are eaten away by the stress of a crisis can they manage to declare their love for one another.
Maybe now the writers will give them a chance to learn how to do that without having a life-threatening crisis push them over the edge.
Addendum: I agree with much that Amy has written, particularly about S6 and S7, which have been the stumbling blocks for me. I definitely see Louisa as getting the short end of the stick in S6 and having every right to be angry and downcast. In both S6 and S7 it seems to me there was a deliberate effort to restrain Martin and Louisa from expressing the sincere feelings they have for each other. Why? For one thing it gets viewers frustrated, emotionally engaged, and generally in that place of wanting to yell at the characters. For another thing, it sustains the unresolved conflict between these characters. Notwithstanding the fact that they have had moments in which they opened their hearts to each other, continuing to construct their communication as a sort of coitus interruptus is what produces a craving for them to finally settle their differences.
We know at the end of S6 that Martin plans to return to pick up Louisa from the hospital, and that she will go home with him, at least for a few days. When she tells him the rush to the hospital and the operation don’t change anything, I thought she was explaining that there were still many obstacles they had to deal with, not necessarily that she was still planning to leave for Spain. When he confesses he needs help being a husband and then heads to a bathroom stall following the successful embolization of her AVM, he appears emotionally raw. But at her bedside he is tongue tied again, and we want to shake him. And that’s how to keep viewers watching.
In S7 I am in total agreement with Amy that there were signals throughout that Louisa did not want to end the marriage. Again, their inability to ever just sit down and talk is endlessly frustrating. This time the interruptions mount and their utter incapacity to lay bare their real feelings becomes draining.
What I’ve finally come up with is that some of the strange things that they included in S7 may have been an attempt at continuing the awkward and obtuse ways Louisa and Martin often communicate with each other. In particular, Martin can be very unclear then he expresses himself AND he relates to others on a literal and imperceptive level. So when there are these confusing transitions between some of the episodes, and when Martin and Louisa talk to each other at the end of E8, it may be the writers continuing that same sort of odd means of expressing themselves. It’s not really ambiguity in the sense of implying more than one meaning; it’s really more being nebulous, especially in Martin’s case.
I wonder if we can compare the conversation they have in E2 in which Martin says, “I don’t miss the peace and quiet.” and Louisa says “What?” And he says, “Now that you’re back I didn’t miss it.” And she once again asks “What are you trying to say Martin?”, to which he finally responds, “When you and James weren’t here, everything was neat and tidy and quiet, and now that you’re back, it’s not, and that’s fine.” with the final conversation where they are sitting on a cliff. Martin is trying to tell Louisa that he’s never going to change how he feels about her and he adds, “I’ve tried and it’s just made things worse.” This time Louisa doesn’t want or need clarification because she is in a different and more accepting frame of mind and she isn’t concerned about what exactly he’s trying to say. She knows he’s telling her he can’t stop loving her and that’s all that matters. Again, I don’t think they were going for ambiguity, just recreating his nebulous manner of expressing himself. I admit this is giving the writers something of a pass.
When it comes to the so-called “jokes” Louisa makes throughout the series, I find it even harder to make sense of them. If we agree that Louisa is given some of the same traits as Martin in S7, then we can say that the gift of a sausage might have been meant to have sexual undertones and is also a sign that she is being insensitive. I would consider it similar to the time when Martin brings Louisa breathing strips so that her snoring doesn’t keep him awake. Here they are sharing a bed and what he thinks of is his own need for sleep. It was funny when he did that, but now we judge her harshly as being offensive. The humor is lacking.
Her other efforts of making a joke amount to taking advantage of his lack of insight and general serious demeanor. He’s pulled her chain on occasion, e.g. when he told her he had already filed the papers for naming the baby, but now Louisa seems to be mocking him. Perhaps we are meant to think that she wants to lighten up their conversations, bring a little fun back into their lives. Surely the time when she suggests she will tell Dr. T that he tried to break in while she was in the shower was her way of prompting him to say something warm to her. She tells him he belongs in the house and appears disappointed that he just walks away. But again, that is our cue to be exasperated with both of them.
This post is long enough now and I will quit here. Please let us hear your thoughts on any or all of the above.
Originally posted 2016-08-29 16:20:07.