Change is in the air

I know I’ve written plenty about the question of whether people can change as well as whether we would want Martin or Louisa to change very much. Well, I want to add a little more to this topic. (It seems I never tire of revisiting this theme.)

in a NYTimes Mag from a month ago I read an article about a BBC America show called “Orphan Black.” I haven’t seen the show, and plan to watch it, but the show sounds like it’s an amazing tour de force for the lead actress, Canadian Tatiana Maslany. The show is about a group (greater than 6) of persecuted clones all played by Maslany. According to the article, “The question at the show’s heart is whether the clones have free will…” Maslany considers her role in “Orphan Black” and her own experiences as an actress to be “about volition and autonomy.”

Maslany mentions that she appreciates Gena Rowland’s performance as a strong female character in “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974). In this film Rowland plays Mabel, who struggles to handle life as expected but just can’t pull it off. Ultimately she’s sent to an asylum to be “cured.” However, when she returns, her husband is troubled by how she has been forced to conform to society’s norms and blames himself. He literally tries to slap her back to herself; he wants her to be herself again. As Maslany states: “He can’t handle the fact that she’s been sent away to be changed and to be made homogeneous and made easy on the palate.”

What all of the above says to me is that there are two parts to this change issue: how actors can alter their appearance and their skills so that they morph themselves into all sorts of characters, even within the same show or episode; and, there have been many examples of shows or films that are fascinated with the idea of whether people can change. In Mabel’s case, she gets stuck in a no-man’s land of being an outcast when she’s behaving as she does naturally while also not being accepted in her new guise of conforming to conventional social norms.

As the writer of the article notes, “Great acting is as much about destruction-selective, temporary self-annihilation – as creation.” At the same time, Maslany asserts that when she portrays an unlikable character, she is still being her real self and applying the worst bits of herself. Actors enjoy playing characters that require them to molt and become “Other,” yet they understand that they really can’t completely shed their innate selves.

Furthermore, a recent interview of Joseph Gordon Levitt by David Letterman showed them  agreeing that acting is basically like lying because actors get up and pretend to be someone else for a living. We all can suspend our disbelief sufficiently to allow each actor to take on various roles and apply his/her skills coupled with his/her personal traits to create a screen personality. In real life, it may be harder to reach that level of acceptability.

As in the case of Mabel, we believe Martin and Louisa should change; however, we don’t want them to be too easy on the palate. As I argued a long time ago, deciding to change involves the notion of free will with volition an integral part of that. Of their own free will, Martin and Louisa hopefully will do what they can to evolve into a more successful couple.

When we consider what it will take for Louisa and Martin to work on making changes such that they can have a happier marriage, we are watching two actors whom we’ve come to know as the characters in a show and who have used their skills as well as their true personas to create that pseudo-reality. Neither member of this couple will be sent to an asylum, but Martin, like Mabel, does not conform to social expectations. In S7, we are hoping to watch them change identities, but only enough so that we aren’t troubled by it.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:48:41.

21 thoughts on “Change is in the air

  1. Linda D.

    I think we are all apprehensive about Series 7 precisely because of how Series 6 ended with such a troubling result. I don’t think it is only Martin who has to change. We have chewed the fat on that many times in our discussions. He will have the greatest challenge for sure because of his non-conformity with social norms. He hasn’t been that way because he wants to stand apart from others but because he has had no role models, no parental influence, and no chance to learn what it takes to be a good husband and father. His feelings about himself caused him to withdraw socially so it is no surprise he isn’t very good in social situations or relationships. In large part, he hasn’t seen himself as abnormal and he has told Louisa that very little of what she says and does makes sense to him. He gave up on the idea of having a wife and family and obviously didn’t try to learn how it works. The latest crisis and his conversation with Ruth has made him fully realize that he must change if he wants to stay with Louisa and James He has clearly “twigged” to the fact that things are not working and that he might well have reached his last chance to get it right. How that is going to happen is the big question. He will have to learn to open up and to learn to be a very different person. Just loving Louisa isn’t enough to create harmony in the marriage but it is a good start. If he didn’t love her, and if she didn’t know is, it would be all over. It will be a big challenge for Martin Clunes who, as we know, is a very different man than Martin Ellingham. As you correctly note Karen, we don’t want him to change so much that we don’t like him anymore.

    Louisa has work to do too. She has to accept a lot about Martin and realize that he can’t completely change. She needs to learn what makes him tick and to be less frustrated by his behaviour. I understand her frustration but she must realize that he is very troubled and needs her love and support. In spite of her true love for martin, she really isn’t good at telling him she loves him or that she understands that he is going through things she does not understand. I can see how difficult it is for her when he closes off and she is troubled and thinking it is her or James or marriage or a noisy small house that is the issue. She is grabbing at straws and this is understandable. Of course, all of these things play apart but he actually doesn’t seem to feel they are the problem. He doesn’t have a clue what is wrong does he? Since they don’t actually TALK things through, it is not surprising that they are unable to understand each other. He “cops out” by denying the problems and she bolts because she is scared, confused, and frustrated. If she wants Martin, she is going to have to break through into his head and heart and convince him that he can trust her to listen without argument or judgement, and to learn to step back and think about words and events rather than jumping to conclusions. She is used to being in control and she is going to have to reinvent herself to be his soft place to land. She really does not know him but hopefully, she will, after they work on it. She will always be feisty and I wouldn’t want her to change completely. Caroline Catz’ challenge will be to keep Louisa’s essence while changing her into a woman who can best support the man she loves so much.

    It is going to be a great series!

  2. Santa Traugott

    I’m too tired right now to give this the thought that it deserves, although I will say that I have been watching Orphan Black, basically for the pleasure of watching Tatiana Maslany. You rightly call her performance a tour de force. I don’t understand why she hasn’t received more recognition for it.

    I’ve always wondered if a great performance, like Martin Clunes as Martin Ellingham, is just mostly a matter of very skilled technique of mimicry, or whether there has to be some capacity to imagine oneself as the character one is portraying. Does Martin Clunes find within himself some way of empathizing with this imaginary character, so that he gets to the point where he can sense what this persona would do or feel in a given situation? I think he does. He truly inhabits that character. and it is amazing to watch the little snippets of him going in and out of character between takes.

    I’ll think more about change and reply further.

  3. Carol

    Santa, I have thought about MC in the same way you have and have come to the same conclusion-I DO think he relates to ME-a lot, maybe even more than he realizes. We don’t know how much self-reflection he engages in as the man, not the character. But with the little we know about his real childhood, it is easy to see certain parallels-certainly his mother was, I believe, very much in denial of her relationship with his father. I always feel sad when I think of her, continuing to try to believe how great her husband is and was, despite the real evidence of a troubled relationship. Then he (Alec Clunes) died and then MC is shipped off to boarding school. It never sounds like any intentional abuse, just a troubled family system which could easily produce a real man very much like ME. Fortunately, MC has been more resilient since his situation wasn’t quite as bad, and he is left with this wonderful ability to inhabit this character. Great good coming out of a negative situation. Sometimes I have wondered if he so enjoys this character precisely because it allows him to externalize suppressed emotions.

    Well, I may be completely wrong of course, because I only know what I read, having never met the man. But a lot of the info we have about his family of origin comes from MC himself so I think we are safe to see at least some parallels.

    On a personal level, I think MC is obviously a person who doesn’t brood over his past but lives his days to the fullest. We are lucky he is like that and that he is so willing to share bits of his life with us. We learn about others, and ourselves, as we watch him. As he and Louisa try to salvage things, sharing FEELINGS about their pasts will be essential. Forgiving their pasts will be essential. My hope is that, along with some laughter, the story arc will continue to be realistic enough to show depth in exploration of these things, and that they will have the result of a reasonably happy marriage at last.

    Fingers crossed!!

  4. Linda D.

    You are so right Santa. It is true acting genius when an actor “becomes” his or her character. Without being able to do this, a performance is often NOT memorable or striking, particularly in the case of something like Orphan Black where the actress has to portray someone SO different and in a very unconventional role. It has been said by many that Martin Clunes “becomes” Doc Martin when he dons that suit. Even Philippa Braithewate has said this. We have seen his true self in bits of filming when he is off camera, other roles, interviews and so on… I think he truly understands Martin Ellingham and how he perceives the world and because of his experience and talent, he is able to BE Martin Ellingham.

  5. Post author

    Linda, I just want to make sure you understand that Tatiana Maslany is amazing as she portrays the many characters in “Orphan Black.” She somehow inhabits a variety of roles that are very different from each other and, presumably, from herself. Although, as I quoted her as saying, she agrees that some of her own personal behavior seeps into her acting by sheer inevitability.

    I would also have to say that MC has acted the part of ME long enough that putting on the suit, shoes, hair style, etc., probably puts him into that persona and being ME is second nature at this point.

  6. Linda D.

    Great observations and comments Carol! I especially like your comments about needing to forgive their pasts. In order to do that, they need to learn about each other’s pasts. WE know far more about that than they do. It is precisely because they have not shared their full life stories with each other that had created the conflicts they experience. Louisa has NO idea of the extent of abuse that Martin suffered as a child apart from seeing a few “sad” pictures of him at age 6 3/4. She heard him say that some kids were just “bad” and that his father hit him with a ping pong bat and his mother locked him in a closet. This shocked her no doubt. She never met Christopher Ellingham and only briefly met Margaret. She saw enough to realize she did not like her. She was not witness to the verbal barrages by Margaret especially, which were so hurtful and were so difficult for us to watch. She did not see both parents belittling Martin, even as an adult. She does not know about Joan’s affair or that it ended Martin’s summer visits.
    Martin met both of Louisa’s parents briefly and upon learning bits and pieces about them, has former a negative opinion about them. Louisa has told him her mother “disappoints” her and has witnessed some of that. But, she really has not told him much else about growing up in a dysfunctional family.

    Forgiving their pasts is the only way to break the cycle for James. they both truly love him and want a different kind of family for him. hat is the greatest thing in their favor. That is what is going to drive them to change themselves and move forward in a new way. We don’t want them to lose their “essence” but we are all hoping for a happy ending of sorts.

  7. Santa Traugott

    I think that the producers are going to feel free to change Martin and Louisa as much as they feel they need to, in order to draw their story arc to a happier conclusion. Once that story line is concluded, I am one who feels that the series really doesn’t have a future — that anything else will feel anticlimactic and the series will rapidly lose viewers. So in that sense, it doesn’t matter whether or not we “like” what they do to the characters of Martin and Louisa — I don’t think we’ll see their story continuing after S7.

    But, how much do their “characters” really have to change in order for them to get along better and make each other happier? or at least, no actively make each other miserable. I actually think, not that much. Martin and Louisa’s inherent character issues don’t have to be fully resolved. Their temperaments don’t have to change, really. They have to learn to practice tolerance. Right now, they violate every rule of successful communication. These are often parodied, and they seem simplistic, but a little active listening and “I-statements” can go a long way. They need to make some time and space for intimacy. The list could go on, but I would sum up by suggesting that Martin does need to be a better husband, and Louisa a better wife. If we assume that they do truly love each other — as I think we are meant to — and that they both genuinely love James and want to raise him together — then I think they have the motivation and ability to learn better partnering skills, even without major character change. They are going to have to change their behavior, not necessarily their character.

    Although, it is a nice chicken versus egg question: once you start behaving differently, does your character also change? I think it might, but slowly and incrementally – not enough to jolt us into thinking that Doc Martin is no longer really Doc Martin.

  8. Linda D.

    Oh yes, I agree! That is a really challenging role. To play so many “characters” is truly a test of her acting skills. Surely, she must put some of her own self into each one. It must be tiring to switch in and out of so many roles.

  9. Linda D.

    I also feel that the writers are planning to bring things to a conclusion in this series because they just can’t continue leaving us with cliff hangers which are always about Martin and Louisa being at odds. Unless some brilliant writers can come up with another direction to take them, I think this is it. I like what you say about them changing their behaviour more than their character. They DO need to be more intimate and eek out time to just be together in a relaxed way. They have always needed to communicate more freely and more deeply with one another without feeling that they have failed one another and having built a strong sense of trust.

  10. Post author

    Even though you are right that there is no requirement to please the viewers, I think most shows make an effort to have a successful conclusion that satisfies the viewers. I also agree that this series will likely be the last, but that they would want to find a way to end the show in a way that would be considered consistent with what’s happened in the past as well as managing to avoid anything too saccharine.

    I also concur with your last two paragraphs. I have never wanted Martin to change very much, although he clearly needs to do something different to be able to instill trust in Louisa. Likewise, she needs to make some adjustments to get him to trust her. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some treatment protocols are parodied in this series.

    My post was a continuing examination of what it means to change, both as an actor and as a character. It seems to me too many viewers want this couple to be significantly different from what we’ve seen for 6 series and I keep wanting to push back on that. This isn’t a romantic comedy; it’s a dramedy with romance in it. Putting in too much romance would reduce it to something commonplace, and I would hate to see that happen.

  11. Post author

    Linda, your rundown of all the things Martin and Louisa don’t know about each other demonstrates how the writers have set things up so that there are opportunities for striking revelations to come. There’s a lot they don’t know about themselves either, and the light may go on at some point.

    They do seem to have made James a way for them to come together, but I’d like to think they want to stay together for more reasons than that. I will want to look at their strengths as a couple soon. I look forward to your comments.

  12. Post author

    There do seem to be some parallels between the fictional ME and the actor MC, and I would love to hear someone ask about that in an interview. MC might just deny any similarities though.

    We all are hoping for a happy resolution and I’ll be surprised if we don’t get one. They could leave it somewhat up in the air just to keep people wondering and to leave the door open for another series. Ultimately, I would guess that the last episode will give us some sense that they have reestablished the attraction to each other that has been there from the first episode.

  13. Linda D.

    Just discovered lots of new filming pictures on Facebook groups:
    Martin Clunes – Doc Martin Fan Group
    Doc Martin series 7 – Spoilers and Discussion
    Doc Martin Series 7 – Spoilers Group
    Request to join. Enjoy!

  14. Mary F.

    Brilliant and wonderful observations by all! I also feel this will be the last series as there will be some resolution of their differences, or I should say, how they handle their differences, which we agree has been the ongoing issue since the beginning of the show.
    While I do think Martin Clunes draws certain character traits from his own early experiences, from what I have read, he had a very close relationship with his mother and stopped acting for a time after she passed.
    So, I don’t feel he is doing anything particularly cathartic for himself by playing this role. He appears to me to be one of the happiest and well -centered actors in television.
    Again, wonderful commentary by all; I am continually amazed by this group of bloggers and our insightful and very tenacious host Karen.

  15. Post author

    Why, thank you Mary!

    I don’t know much about Martin Clunes and his family, but he did seem to have a period when he was young that was rather wild and reckless. He drank a lot, did some drugs, smoked, etc. So, we could say he decided to change and is happier now, partly because of the changes he made. I can’t claim that any of his past behavior is part of this show, but since every actor brings some of themselves into each part, there’s probably something of him in ME and DM.

  16. Santa Traugott

    It is exactly that — the change from a rather “louche” Martin Clunes to the settled and centered Martin Clunes we see today — that always fascinates me, when I put it up against this show’s fascination with the possibility of change. Can people really change, or can’t they? To date, the writers have kept Martin and Lousia pretty well stuck in established and dysfunctional patterns, not allowing real change, though always dangling the possibility. Finally in S6 E8, it came through, clear as a bell: Martin MUST change. And he will.

    It has always seemed an odd disjuncture to me that a man who himself has changed so much and has found what seems to amount to a very “happy ever after” love story, betweent two very different persons by the way (by his own account), should make his main characters so resistant to change and the likelihood of a happy ever after ending so remote. (Because I think he and Phillippa have a great deal to do with who these characters are, and their possibilities.) I often find myself wanting to say to him, why, when you yourself have found such a happy marriage, do you insist that this is an unrealistic expectation for this series, and deny it to your characters? I suppose the answer is, as I think Karen will say, that it makes for far better drama for the series.

  17. Post author

    Santa, there are many questions I would like to ask that I’ve never seen posed before, and asking about how much he (and Philippa) pre- meditatively chose to put his own experiences into these characters is certainly one. I would probably say they opted for having a couple whose relationship woes are the engine of the show because that created more humor at first. Then they discovered that in order to shake things up, they had to create drama too. And now we have a show that has become much heavier on the drama with a huge decrease in the humor by the end of S6.

    I hope they’re happy with it; I felt the loss of humor was regrettable.

    Maybe the way to recuperate the show is to bring about the change they keep teasing us with and sounding convinced can happen and must happen. We all think so. Now we have to see if they are with us or agin’ us.

  18. Santa Traugott

    In my reply to”gather ye rosebuds” I made a point in the last paragraph about tolerance for the other being a vital ingredient in a lasting, good marriage. In thinking about that some more, it seems like the idea of being tolerant belongs in the discussion about change — is it possible, how much, what should we expect of someone else.

    This series has such a back and forth attitude toward change, that it’s hard to pin down what the writers’ consistent position is (a big caveat: if any). One thing has been pretty consistent: Louisa’s desire to change Martin, her efforts to do so, her disappointment and sadness when her efforts fail, and the lack of harmony in their relationship that follows.

    First of all, there is Caroline Catz’ own comments about her character, which boil down to, that Louisa’s big problem is that she thinks she can change Martin, and that is foolish.

    There are many times in the series where we see Louisa say, you’re never going to change, are you.
    E.G., examining room scene in S3E1, where she shows her frustration that it’s not going to change, we’re going around in circles and it’s always up to me. E.g., when she dumps him after the kiss under the trees in S3E5 — it’s not going anywhere (and it’s never going to go anywhere, because you’re you and not going to change and I can’t accept that.) And, with such bitterness in S5, “Never Let Go,” — “this is how it’s always going to be, isn’t it Martin — you being you and me being,…well.” To date, she has always been sucked back in when he is able to open himself up enough for her to believe once again that he has or will change. I think the sadness of the ending of S6 is that she no longer will allow herself to be sucked back in by words, and the moment of hope is Martin’s agreement that their marriage is in trouble.

    As for Martin — I keep going back in my mind to that scene with the drycleaner in the non-wedding episode. The drycleaner tells him that his marriage failed b/c his wife was always critical “but she knew how I was when she married me.” I believe it was that comment that crystallized Martin’s uneasiness — he sensed that Louisa wanted to change him in ways he didn’t want or didn’t think possible, and that would make both of them unhappy — which, in the end, it did.

    I think for Louisa to learn tolerance of Martin, she has to accept that much of his behavior isn’t really about her, in the sense that, it doesn’t mean that he’s attacking her, loves her less, or is deliberately being provoking. Similarly, how his patients and the villagers regard him is really his problem, and not hers. She has to get her ego out of the way. That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t speak up for herself when his behavior is offensive to her — but less reactively. We’re assured that she will learn to accept him.

    But to complicate the plot, Martin himself has decided he needs to change, in some unspecified ways, just at the point where I feel that Louisa has just about given up on the posssibility that he can change and is trying to sort out whether she can tolerate him as he is. Maybe both will happen: she will become more tolerant and he will become “a better husband.”

  19. Santa Traugott

    Here is an interesting article from Vox that talks about the possibility of change in another series, Mad Men.

    It’s not our series, but I thought a lot of the points were relevant. See especially the article linked to in Wikipedia about the 5 basics of character that are thought to be more or less hard-wired.

    So, how much of the literature and drama we love really has the possibility of change as a theme? A lot, I think. Love to hear Karen’s thoughts on this, and others.

  20. Post author

    I want to let you know that I do plan to write a reply but I will need to take some time to prepare it. I found the article thought provoking and want to look at the various aspects of change it mentions. Thanks again for your continued interest. Please be patient with me and allow me some time. I will write more soon.

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