Final thoughts on whether people can change

As expected, the question of whether people can change is essential in the final episode of series 6. Louisa’s decision to once again take off in order to have space to think has put Martin into a tailspin. He must know that his behavior at Sports Day upset Louisa, and the car hitting her while she’s intent on chasing Martin down as he rushes away from the event sort of crystallizes their relationship woes. It takes Louisa being hit by a car to shake Martin out of his focus on himself and his troubles, but by then he’s been so distant and so self-absorbed, she’s started to doubt that he wants to be in the marriage after all. As a result, Louisa makes plans to visit her mother in Spain and Martin does very little to stop her. All we see him do is tell her his medical concerns about her embolism. Apparently, based on what Louisa says to Martin when he calls her in the car to stop her from leaving because of his new discovery of her AVM, they have done a little talking because she says “we’ve been through all this.” But what they said is a mystery.

At any rate, Martin is sufficiently distraught about Louisa’s departure that belatedly he offers to drive her to the airport, but the taxi is already there. Then he can’t concentrate and runs to talk to Ruth. When he reaches Ruth, there’s no denying that he’s rattled and we next see them sitting in the grass talking about his circumstances. Ruth listens to him recite his medical test results and finally tells him: “For God’s sake Martin, this isn’t a medical issue, you must know that.” Well, does he? Not really. As with many doctors, his first instinct is to look for a medical source and even hope for one. It’s much easier to treat something physical than to work on something psychologically deep-seated. Plus, Martin’s ability to be introspective is very limited. We can’t forget that he has many Asperger’s traits, and we hear him dismiss Ruth’s suspicions that his hemaphobia stems from a childhood incident or trauma. He’s either repressed the experiences he had as a child or is incapable of admitting them into his consciousness. What Ruth candidly tells him, now that he’s asked for her help, is that both his inability to continue as a surgeon, even though he loved being one, and his inability to sustain a relationship with the woman he loves are due to the same cause — the coldness of his father and the remoteness of his mother. As a child, he shut down by the age of 6, which means he developed defenses that kept him from being vulnerable and sensitive. Now, as an adult, Ruth believes he has shut down over and over with Louisa until he pushed her away. (It’s no coincidence that Ruth repeats the term “shut down” in both cases. Jack Lothian purposely reiterates that term.) Naturally, Martin first takes this literally as a reference to Louisa leaving for Spain, and tells Ruth he couldn’t have stopped Louisa, but Ruth is talking about shutting Louisa out of his inner world. (Ruth is no fool and she’s heard Louisa say that both of them are having trouble sleeping. Louisa can’t sleep because of her worries about Mrs. Tishell returning, but she thinks Martin’s sleeplessness is for other reasons that she can’t explain. Also, Martin has told Ruth about the return of his hemaphobia and now she knows he’s been running all sorts of tests on himself.)

Ruth’s next assessment hits hard. She tells Martin he couldn’t stop Louisa because he doesn’t believe he deserves to be loved by Louisa, that he questions how she could love someone like him. He has no response to that comment, a sign that Ruth’s analysis has struck him as deeply meaningful. Then Ruth makes the most important statement: if he really wants to be with Louisa he must change. Much like Martin told Mike, she tells him it’s his decision and anybody can change. He may need to work harder than most to achieve change, but in Ruth’s estimation, that is the only way he can have a good marriage to Louisa, and Martin wants that. As I’ve said before, Ruth must believe in the ability of people to change because she is a psychiatrist who facilitates changes in behavior. In fact, she must be especially convinced that people can change since she works with the criminally insane. She has also confirmed to Caroline while on the radio in episode 3 that she believes psychiatry works or she wouldn’t have devoted her whole life to it.

Martin’s next act is to run back to the surgery and confront his mother. We can only imagine that Ruth’s description of his childhood has broken through his defenses and made him realize that his mother is still the remote mother she’s always been. She is also very much a part of the disruption in his marriage since his symptoms grew worse once she arrived. He’s already had one difficult encounter with her and told her his family consists of his wife, his son and Ruth. Now he doubts everything she tells him and sends her packing. He finally says he never wants to see her again. (I can’t help mentioning that Margaret gets Louisa’s name wrong again, that she’s reading Fifty Shades of Grey and that is both amusing and oddly appropriate for its allusion to sado-masochism, and that she vindictively tells Martin that he was always an awkward, strange little boy and that she’s not surprised his wife walked out on him.) When she tells him he better get used to being on his own, he tells her to be gone by the time he gets back and leaves.

It is right after this altercation that Martin begins doing things differently, including apologizing to a patient and reconsidering his decision to not go with Louisa and starting to make a reservation to join her in Spain as quickly as possible. Although his race to prevent her from leaving is mostly in response to seeing her AVM on her brain scan, it’s also significant that he takes action. When Louisa was getting ready to depart in the morning, Martin was still in a mode of immobility and it’s tough for us to watch him be so restrained. Now he literally leaps into action.

Meanwhile, Louisa arrives at the airport only to find Margaret in the waiting area. (I can’t figure out how Margaret got there first since she left at least 45 minutes to an hour after Louisa, and I consider this an unnecessary continuity problem. I can’t come up with a logical explanation why Margaret couldn’t have walked into the waiting area after Louisa was already there.) Of course Louisa is surprised to see Margaret and even more surprised to see Margaret with Martin’s clock. But, most importantly for the topic of change, Margaret tells Louisa that she thinks Louisa is doing the right thing by leaving because Martin is not going to change. But my money is on Ruth knowing Martin better than his mother and Martin recognizing that Ruth has his best interests at heart when she counsels him to work on changing.

Basically, we have Louisa trying hard to break through Martin’s all but impenetrable fortress that’s been protecting his emotional fragility most of his life while Margaret’s presence and comments undermine those efforts. Once Ruth brings Martin to an awareness of how his mother has damaged him, Martin is smart enough to know that he must listen to Ruth and he springs into action. Ruth thinks he can change, he believes he can change, and we know Louisa must change too. Change requires the will to do it, the determination to follow through, and the insight to believe that one’s well-being will be positively affected as a consequence.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:44:40.

16 thoughts on “Final thoughts on whether people can change

  1. Carol

    Great post, as usual. I have been thinking, even brooding, A LOT about this topic since last Monday. I do believe that people can change, but how much they can change is my question. I know from inner work of my own that I can make strides but then something can happen and put me right back into my old patterns. (Shades of Stewart the ranger – “…a smell can put me right back there…”)

    I’m beginning to wonder if Buffalo Pictures is going to let us have our favorite couple together or not. More than I can say, I want these two to resolve their differences. But Martin has to have somewhere to start and if you have always been made to feel unlovable, it is hard to find the first step to climb on. How will he start to do that? The temptation will always be to think to himself that he is unlovable and he won’t even realize he is doing it, because it is on a subconscious level.

    In one of my fanfic stories, I have Martin being asked to take notes of times he thinks of his parents, to help raise his subconscious thoughts to a conscious level. In real life, however, that is very difficult simply because it requires so much time. One must slow down very much and really try to listen to what is going on in one’s head. It requires time to sit and (usually) write thoughts out on paper. It requires feeling uncomfortable feelings. It requires reading books and going to therapy. And even then, the subconscious can still be so in charge of our actions.

    Lest we forget, Louisa has her subconscious issues too. I believe that her running away behavior is symptomatic of wanting to be the one running instead of the one left behind. And I don’t think she has any conscious awareness of that either.

    In the lives many of us live today, the time it requires to really change is a huge challenge. Facing the things we fear is another. We may have the best intentions of changing, and we can change a bit, but to really change on a deep level is a challenge not many of us meet.

    My great fear is that the Doc Martin powers-that-be will tell it like it so often is, and leave them apart because they are unable to do the deep work, the slow down that will be required. Perhaps they are trying to get us all to wake up to the fact that deep change, while possible, is highly unlikely. I believe that now Martin at least, has his ear tuned at least a bit to his subconscious. Will he be able to go all the way?
    Will Louisa?

    I am curious if you have a prediction. What do you think Phillipa and company will do? Also, I’d love to know how you or any others feel about what I have written here. How does it fit with others’ life experiences?

  2. Post author

    Carol, I’m not sure I can figure out where the folks who write and produce this series will take it now. I would never have predicted that series 6 would be so serious and dark. I think you are absolutely right about how hard it is to change something as fundamental as one’s reactions and emotions that have been conditioned for so long. But despite how much I think this show interrogates all sorts of issues that we find in life (and I still have more to write about), I suspect they would want to try to keep these two characters together and continue to maintain the show as a dramedy. To me that means finding a balance between an effort by them to work on their relationship mixed with wrong turns and upheavals. They will hopefully have Ruth to keep them on the right track (or get them back on the right track) and, if the past has any impact on the future, they could end up in a satisfactory place. After all, it took them a long time to make a commitment to each other, but they did get there. I just can’t believe the vicar’s caution to them that marriage must be entered into reverently, which means you have to be sure, to which they both say they are, had no meaning. Also, Martin has said he will always love Louisa, he wants to be where she is, and he wants to be a part of James’ upbringing. Martin is about as straight-laced as any man could be and Louisa is not much different from him. The only things she does that he doesn’t do is drink some wine on occasion and laugh. Now that they’re married and they have a family of their own, something neither of them has had before, it seems like the storyline is set up to keep them together. (Plus, Buffalo and itv, etc. know that this relationship is what keeps viewers coming back.) Your comment that Louisa wants to run so that she’s not the one left behind is fascinating. I’ve been thinking that she runs because she’s mimicking what her parents did, but it could be both. She’s insecure herself and protects herself by being the one to leave first. That sort of ambiguity is one of the facets of the show that keeps me intrigued. If there are scenes where they go to counseling, there would be a lot of awkwardness and that could be poignant and amusing too. I guess I’m happy to go along for the ride and see where they take us. I would like to think that the best finale would be one that ends happily in some way.

    Oh, on the experience of personal change, I want to take up that subject in a post on marriage I plan to write. Thanks for writing such great responses. It’s fun to think about all of these issues. To me this show is like a good novel and I’m treating it as such.

  3. Canuck Doc Martin fan

    I agree very much with Carol’s comments regarding Louisa and her fleeing actions and also with KJ’s – Louisa runs because she doesn’t want to be the one left behind (which is what happened to her in the case of her mother) and as a reflection of what both her parents basically did to her in both her childhood and adult life.

    It’s interesting that neither Martin or Louisa had stellar parents – Martin’s father was remote and judgmental and his mother is without feeling; Louisa’s mother is selfish and her father is a gambler and crook. But obviously Louisa must have received love and a feeling of self worth from one or both of her parents to be able to model it so effectively for James and Martin.

    I also agree with Carol regarding the time and effort required to change. I have spent my fair share of time in therapy with social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. It’s damn hard to change the voices in your head and very easy to slide back into old thinking and behaviours.

    Perhaps my personal issues are what attracted me to the Doc Martin series in the first place. Despite being female, I feel a certain amount of affinity toward Martin – I see elements of both myself and my husband in his character. I look forward to seeing how Martin & Louisa’s story progresses. And, as a hopeless romantic, I hope it is successful.

    Thanks for this blog. I’m enjoying it immensely.

  4. Carol

    Dear Everybody – Me again. I agree. I think many of us out there are so drawn to see this show because we see ourselves in it somewhere – I think that is a lot of the appeal. I have so many elements of Martin and Louisa both that it is downright crazy. It is why people don’t just watch this show, we get almost addicted to it. So many of the people on the fanfiction site are exactly the same. And I am not on Facebook, but I have looked at some of the pages and I am amazed at how many people are so drawn toward this show in an addictive fashion. Doc Martin makes you think, unlike most of what is on television now.

    I would go so far as to say that Martin and Louisa are together exactly BECAUSE they both had tough upbringings. There is something inside of them both that makes them want to complete something. Perhaps they want to complete themselves, or each other, or both. I believe that Martin so wants to be loved like Louisa loves, even when he does something wrong – with arms wide open. I believe Louisa wants to be protected and reassured – the way Martin always protects, heals and helps. But because of the fact that Martin doesn’t believe he is really worthy of that love, he has a hard time accepting it. And because Louisa has always had someone running from her, she has a hard time accepting the protection and help. (Also because she has had to be so independent.)

    I just think that they have to learn how to ask each other for exactly what they want and be willing to realize that they will probably always have to ask. The other one probably won’t ever just do it without being asked because they are not used to it. It’s maddening sometimes, but truthfully I think the most successful marriages happen when people learn to ask for what they want, instead of getting angry that their partner is not a mind- reader.

    A lot of us, when we are dating, do seem to be able to read each other so well, but I think that is because it is new, exciting, and takes over our minds in a way. But once the so called real world comes back into play, we don’t always do this so well. This is when we must learn to ask for what we need or we will continually be frustrated with each other.

    Of course every relationship is not like this, but I am married to an extreme introvert for example, and his needs are very different from mine as I am fairly extroverted. I am always learning anew that if I want something, I have to ask. I have also learned that it is very important for me to have female friends for when I just need to talk something out.

    My own feeling is that Martin and Louisa may never have an “easy” relationship in the sense that a very few people seem to have, but they can have a successful relationship if they just learn to stop being so reactive and become proactive. But, as I said before, whether the powers that be will let that happen, I don’t know.

    Hope KJ is right and they do allow it. AND can’t wait for your post on marriage. I’m always up for more reading on that! And theirs is certainly an interesting one!

  5. Post author

    I’m so glad to have you reading the blog. I’ve got several more posts coming. Please keep checking.

  6. Post author

    My post on marriage is coming soon. I’ve had to take a break due to a death in my family. I shall return!

  7. JThompson

    Regarding your comment about the meeting of Louisa and Margaret in the airport’s waiting area and continuity problems, I viewed that scene quite differently. Louisa left home at 10 am and the flight was not due to take off until 1 pm so she would have spent quite a bit of time waiting. She would have arrived at the airport long before Margaret also. When Louisa bumped into Margaret, she could have been coming back or going to the bathroom or, headache or not, wheeling James around to settle him. I’ve spent many hours at airports waiting for connecting flights and it can get very boring just sitting still the whole time. People are always wandering round to kill time.

  8. Post author

    I have to admit your explanation would work. I’m not sure why Louisa left so early for a 1 pm flight, but maybe she just didn’t want to belabor the departure or worry about getting through security with a baby on a tight schedule. I personally hate sitting in airports and never get there too early, but others prefer to arrive with lots of time to spare. Thanks for giving me a different way to look at the scene. It’s a relatively minor point that does matter to some degree nevertheless.

  9. Linda

    I think they will be together, and in a better place. Change will be difficult but they have one great thing to spur them on – THEY LOVE EACH OTHER AND THEY BOTH LOVE JAMES. That gives them great incentive to figure things out. There is no infidelity or other issues of the kind. They just have to figure out how to bring out the best in each other without fearing rejection or running away. Louisa needs to reassure Martin of her love. She hasn’t really told him in a long time and he is a literal thinker who might not pick up on non-verbal cues which she does give. It is very typical of women to think their husband or partner knows what they think, want or need but so often, THEY NEED TO BE TOLD DIRECTLY or they miss it. It is often the cause of fighting in relationships. My husband does not pick up on subtle cues for example. I think he MUST have heard me sort of talking in a round about way but in all honesty, he wasn’t even listening. He looks surprised when I confront him! Louisa must learn to express her needs to Martin and to tell him straight up and often that she loves him. She makes poor choices, just as he does. They wind each other up and both are reactive. She does tell him to shut up but needs to stop him more often so that his ramblings and observations don’t spoil intimate moments. She knows he does this but, he never means to hurt her. He is just Martin! Once she learns this, she can direct him away from this offensive behaviour. Martin just doesn’t have the skills to express tenderness unless he is backed into a corner at which time he does very well. He needs to learn and has said he wants to. So, she needs to be very direct with him and teach him to do what she wants. He needs to learn how to hug and kiss and make “pillow talk”. He wants to learn to be a much better husband. She is trained as a teacher and she is the one who can help him most. I always thought she ran away because of frustration but I do see the parallels with her own childhood from what others have pointed out. It frustrates me when she does go and he just lets it happen. She is then out on a limb, thinking he doesn’t care, when he really does. He just has no idea what to do about it so he leaves things hanging far too long. It is funny because as a doctor, he is decisive and bold with others. Louisa is so befuddled when he doesn’t respond to her going, that she is caught between a rock and a hard place – never sure how to fix things. If she expects him to do it, she is disappointed. She doesn’t get him. Wouldn’t you think that these two professionals who work daily with communicating with people, would be able to talk to each other? Maybe Ruth or a counselor will be able to show them how to successfully communicate with one another. We can only hope.

  10. Post author

    No matter what they go through, the bottom line is that their miscommunications have generally been funny and I wanted them to stay that way. They exasperate L and confuse M, which is what makes them funny. Every now and then we get a straight expression of caring, love, tenderness. That’s what we want to see mixed in with the disconnects.

  11. anna

    I’ve just sat and watched the entire show in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve not been able to get it out of my head. Yours is the first site where I’ve been able to find all these discussions mirroring the arguments I’ve been having with myself (not to mention some surprisingly strong emotions). So – thank you! As to the post itself, people can change, I do believe. But in the case of these characters (or people like these characters), I would agree with above posters that they both need to take time to listen, and to also feel like they’ve been heard. As mentioned previously, Martin does do basically anything Louisa straight out asks – he simply needs to pepper it with occasional actual words of affection. He could probably almost calendar them. Perhaps most terrifying, he needs to actually let her in. I don’t think that’s unique to him, and I think many married people really struggle with it – but him even more so. Louisa, then, need to stops running, but also needs to realize all the other ways that he says he loves her. There is a recent clip of Martin Clunes (I want to say from early 2015, possibly late 2014) where he explicitly states that the Doc is “head over heels in love. He’s besotted with her.” which is so so apparent through what they show us, the viewer, but Louisa doesn’t seem to let herself see it.

    The time that struck me from S6 was in one of the first few episodes, where he was working on a clock, and she comes in, and he beckons her over and proceeds to tell her about what he is doing, and how it works. He is interested, engaged, and sharing…and she basically walks out, bored. I was so so angry – this was his love language (as it were). He shared himself, and his interest, and she couldn’t see that for the gift it was. Alas.

    Along with everyone else, I hope S7 allows this couple to each grow just a bit more comfort with each other – I think just that bit more would let them be what we want, without sacrificing either character.

  12. Post author

    Welcome to the blog and the discussion Anna. It’s so nice to have a new reader and commenter!

    Your thoughts about Louisa’s reaction during that scene with the clock certainly agree with many others who consider her reaction harsh. I think you put it best when you explain that telling Louisa about how a clock works is his way of sharing himself. I have to agree with that, although I also have some sympathy for her. She has walked in after putting the baby to bed so that they can have an intimate moment. She wants him to be romantic and recognize their two week anniversary and all he can do is once again be literal about the meaning of anniversary which is an annual celebration. The scene is also, I think, supposed to be another one where he just doesn’t “get” how he should react to his bride of 2 weeks who is making overtures to get him away from his clock. So we once again have a failure to communicate between these two. She doesn’t see his offer to join him as responding to her appropriately, and he is totally absorbed by his clock and has no clue that she’s being romantic.

    Their communication problems have been funny in many of the earlier series, but turn troubling and disturbing in S6. Somehow the humor they were able to associate with the various times when they don’t connect throughout the show became much less funny in S6. I don’t know if they realized the humor was falling flat and I truly hope they can evoke it again.

  13. anna

    Yes, I would agree with what you’re saying overall. And I agree later that people are awfully harsh on Louisa in general – it’s very easy to say that she should see what he’s doing (even as I’ve done above) and I think it’s much easier to say that from our sofas, with our focus on the doctor, than it would be to be in that day to day, especially as he shuts down even farther over the course of S6. It really just was that one scene though that killed me, when things were still sort of mostly going well. His reaction wasn’t the one she perhaps wanted (indeed not), but I was trying to imagine him sharing that bit with *any other person* – anyone else walking in asking “what are you doing?” would have gotten a distinct “Nothing. Go away.” For her, it wasn’t just even his normal warming of tone and smoothing of face when she shows up, but an invitation to share this thing that he loves – his one real love other than medicine and his family. I agree that it turns in general from ” funny to…turn troubling and disturbing in S6.” but this one bit just made me so sad. If she had sat and listened I wonder where that evening might have gone. Anyway! Characters aren’t real people, but they’re clearly stuck in my head this week 🙂

  14. Amy

    I have a question. I have a recollection of more flashback scenes about Martin’s childhood than the one when he catches the butterfly and his father breaks the jar, but after rewatching the first six seasons, that’s the only scene that I saw. Did I dream up other flashbacks?? Were the incidents of him being locked in a closet just mentioned by someone? Or did they depict them?

    It’s interesting to read these comments and the post with the benefit (?) of knowing what would happen and what would not happen in Series 7. We all had so much hope for change, but the writers had other ideas.

  15. Post author

    I’m pretty sure there is only the one flashback. The rest of the incidents were not depicted visually.

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