The theme of whether people can change, and especially whether Martin and Louisa can change, has occupied many of our discussions. DM is not the only show in which this theme has been prominent and in which the answer appears to be that people can change. I think we have all concluded that with desire, therapy, and effort, people can change the way they react to situations and relationships. The one caveat is that people don’t always change for the better.
Another outstanding show of recent years is “Breaking Bad,” and it, too, addressed the question of whether people can change. However, the overriding arc of that show was the monumental metamorphosis of Walter White from a milquetoast into a highly respected presence in the drug world. Essentially the show followed his relentless progression from quiet, law abiding high school chemistry teacher to amoral and ruthless manufacturer and seller of methamphetamine. There’s no question that writer and creator Vince Gilligan was arguing that people can change, and will, under certain circumstances. In the show, we also witness a “ne’er do well” work hard to maintain his principles while being enlisted to help White. This young man, Jesse, may be lacking in ambition, but Walter shocks him over and over as he descends into pathological behavior. Against all odds, Jesse manages to survive, although he is anything but unscathed.
The spinoff show from “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul,” has just completed its first highly successful season. It, too, includes the theme of whether people can change, and makes some very interesting points about it. I was a tremendous fan of “Breaking Bad” and I confess to being an equally avid fan of “Better Call Saul.” (If you read this blog, you know I’ve mentioned “Breaking Bad” several times because of its excellent writing and acting, including their design of making the main character an anti-hero. He’s given all sorts of convincing and justifiable motives for converting himself into a criminal while maintaining many decent and admirable qualities.)
As a recent recap in the NYTimes states: “In ‘Better Call Saul’ we’ve seen another lead character evolve, though less dramatically — from scam artist to earnest plaintiffs’ attorney, with the occasional moral lapse.” The writers of “Breaking Bad” posed the question of “Can people change?” and then demonstrated how that can happen. In the new show, they add another dimension to this question and show that some people don’t change. The next to last episode depicts the main character’s brother, Chuck, as unable to imagine that his brother, Jimmy, has shed his earlier traits as a con man to become a respectable lawyer like him. Oddly enough, Chuck becomes the scam artist while Jimmy earns our admiration due to how he treats his clients and his brother. As the article notes, “Jimmy is a force for good, if we can judge by his ventures in elder law. But now he can’t have a perch at a corporate firm and the respectability that it confers.”
This episode “deals with identity, conceived here as a combination of what you do and what you, and others, think about what you do. Jimmy is a nice guy whose brother thinks he’s a menace.” The character for whom the show is named has not appeared yet. We will presumably find out that Jimmy becomes Saul, a slick manipulator of the law, and basically reverts to the “Slippin’ Jimmy” that he used to be known as because he rejects the world of corporate law.
In “Breaking Bad,” Walt had developed a reputation of a dedicated and competent chemistry teacher as well as a devoted father and husband. They even loaded his home life with a teenage son who was born with cerebral palsy and handicapped. In the beginning of the show, Walt drives his son to school and tries to keep strong ties to his son despite knowing that teenage boys are always testing and experimenting. We first get to know Walt as someone we admire. Therefore, we have sympathy for him and realize how hard he has worked to be the upstanding father, husband and teacher everyone has come to know. As he changes, it’s hard to jettison our earlier impressions of him.
How does all this relate to DM? In my mind, we are also dealing with characters who have to find a way to reconstitute themselves as different from how others have always perceived them. Can Martin Ellingham not only try to become a better husband, but also become a person Louisa and others view as being a less introverted version of who he has been? Will others be able to believe that he really wants to be more ungrudging about the somewhat tangential information patients want to talk to him about? Will Louisa be convinced that he’s voluntarily expressing his inner thoughts to her? Can the various residents of Portwenn stop seeing him as, and calling him, a “tosser?”
Will Louisa find a way to reject her first impulse to leave whenever she’s upset about something at home and become a woman who tries to listen and probe and tolerate? How much will she be able to overlook or accommodate?
And, at the risk of repeating myself too much, would the show be too different if all of the above happens? Whereas “Breaking Bad” was literally devised as a show about a man’s evolutionary deterioration, “Doc Martin” was not originally about a doctor who wants to become more likable or better at being a husband and father. Our enjoyment of the show stems from much of the behavior that makes ME so difficult.
However, when we look at how the voting for favorite episodes turned out on portwennonline.com, we can’t help but notice that it was those episodes in which Martin and Louisa have the most romantic scenes that came out on top. I have to assume the people involved with the show have noticed that too. Thus, they have the demanding challenge of trying to satisfy their audience while keeping the characters believable to us. We, and the residents of Portwenn, know them as particular types and might have trouble accepting too much change in them. They also know each other as having certain dispositions. When Martin calls Louisa “darling” in S6E2, both we and she look at him quizzically. It’s very odd to hear that term of endearment coming out of his mouth.
We also deem it necessary for them to work on their relationship so that their marriage can flourish, and we expect that to be a significant facet of S7. Just how they balance the requirement to change with what’s important to keep the same will be the key to the success of this next series.
Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:47:01.