And Now for Aunt Ruth

I realize it has taken me a very long time to follow up my post on Aunt Joan with one on Aunt Ruth. Family demands have been the reason. A colleague of mine once told me that family keeps interfering with one’s work. This blog isn’t exactly work, more a labor of intellectual entertainment. Still, I try to keep up with it.

Ruth’s relationship to Martin has been very different from what Joan’s has been. While Joan had taken Martin under her wing and helped provide love and a refuge from his horrible parents, Ruth has never spent much time with M on an individual basis. She has memories of him as a child, and she speaks to him every year at Christmas time, but there’s no evidence that she and Martin have any close ties. Their ability to communicate is based on their choice of professions and on their similar approach to personal interactions. She’s the middle child between charming but artificial and demeaning Christopher and warm and totally disarming Joan, and she has a little of both of them in her. They’ve all grown up in a family that Ruth describes as “distant mother, overbearing father.” We also know she was never allowed to call her father “Daddy.” Ruth mentions to Bert that because of her profession, she’s always on the lookout for personality disorders, that it’s an occupational hazard. Well, there were many members of her own family who had personality disorders. It may seem too stereotypical to say that she went into psychiatry because of her own emotional difficulties, but it’s something to consider. The fact that she decided to enter a side of her profession that deals with very disturbed individuals, the criminally insane, tells us that she chose an area of psychiatry in which there is less talk therapy and more medication therapy. She must approach her cases with a degree of detachment greater than most psychiatric care and her personality is suited to that. I would argue that her general manner of interpreting situations is clinical, quick to identify essential factors, and objective, although there are moments when she has breakthroughs of emotion. Throughout this show, we are presented with the dichotomy of emotional responses against rational ones and asked to weigh which one works best. The character of Ruth brings that comparison more into the foreground.

In contrast to her siblings, Ruth has never married or even had much of a love life. The only indication that she’s had any sex in her life is when she tells Louisa that she had a “succession of quasi-sexual encounters at a very young age.” That doesn’t have a positive implication and she may have been scarred by these in some way. It’s a leap to say too much about that, but the message is that she really doesn’t know much about love and intimacy.

Everyone in the family seems to dislike Christopher, so they all have that in common.

Our introduction to Ruth is when she arrives for Joan’s funeral in her blue, old model Mercedes. She approaches Martin, who is standing with Louisa and the baby, and says “condolences and that sort of thing.” She has suffered a loss as much as Martin, but she treats Joan’s death as if Martin has lost a lot more than she has. Martin does not reply in kind, which seems to indicate he, too, considers Joan’s death more of a loss for him (or that he always finds it hard to express sympathy). Ruth has heard about Louisa and the baby from Joan, but Louisa has never heard about Ruth. When Martin asks Louisa to accompany Ruth into the church, we get more of Ruth’s cynicism and frankness. She tells Louisa not to lie about having heard about her, or, if she chooses to lie, she should do it with more conviction. Once seated in the church, Ruth tells Louisa that she isn’t much good at small talk, that her “upbringing gifted her with a chronic case of social awkwardness,” and that she “either alienate(s) or overshare(s).” She also has no hesitation in asking Louisa if she plans to try to marry again, and says she looks the type. Her question is great because it exhibits her social awkwardness while also expressing something we viewers wonder too. After the funeral we learn that Joan has chosen to leave the farm to Ruth even though it was Martin who salvaged it for Joan, but Ruth remarks that Joan “was determined to get me out of London.” (Ruth also notes that she only gave Joan slippers for Christmas, a remark that’s both funny and another sign that Ruth has a cynical approach to life.)

She plans to stay for a week at first, but eventually decides to stay on and write a book. Soon after her arrival in Portwenn, Martin bumps into Ruth outside the green grocer. She has not yet adapted to life on the farm, but it’s her cough and overall appearance that Martin notices, along with her evasiveness about her health. This is also when Ruth makes the important observation that she is proud of Martin for doing “serious medicine” again. I enjoy her equation of being a GP with doing “serious medicine” as opposed to whatever doing surgery is. She has a vastly different opinion of Martin’s current medical practice than either of his parents has, or what he himself has. As they part company, Ruth sends her love to the family. Her tone carries a touch of formality and another of amusement. On the show there is an ongoing difficulty with defining who comprises one’s family, and her comment is a reminder of that.

It turns out that Ruth’s evasiveness is due to her suspicion that she is dying from lupus. We learn this because she must seek Martin’s help after she cuts her finger. While treating her deep cut, M discovers that she doesn’t feel pain and eventually manages to get R to reveal her suspicions about her health. We also see her get emotional for the first time. She’s brought to tears about the prospect of dying and reacts with uncharacteristic affection when M tells her his very different and much less dire diagnosis. The enthusiastic hug she gives Martin after he tells her she has Sjogren’s and not lupus is the only time they have any physical contact. The overt affection he and Joan shared is not a part of his relationship with Ruth; however, Ruth and he share a trust and compatibility he can’t find with anyone else. Ultimately, he looks to Ruth for advice and guidance that Joan would have been less capable of giving him.

Although S5 is very much about how Martin and Louisa deal with living together with their baby, Ruth has little to say about them as a couple until E5 when M takes the baby to Ruth’s for breakfast. It is then that Ruth observes that Louisa won’t like moving to London and that Martin and Louisa shouldn’t stay together for the baby’s sake. Her comment seems to take M aback and he denies that that is the reason they are staying together. I find this a stark contrast to the way Joan relates to Martin about Louisa and the baby. Joan is anxious for Martin to tell Louisa how much he wants to be with her and the baby; she seems certain that M is quite attached to both of them. The other thing that happens during this breakfast is that Ruth feels the need to point out to M that his baby wants his attention. She seems to be indicating that he’s not attuned to his son. For me, the fact that he has taken the baby with him to give L a break, dressed him, and gone through the rigamarole of getting him in and out of the car and stroller is evidence that he’s responsive to his baby.

E6 opens with Martin, Louisa, and James Henry having dinner with Ruth at the farm. Ever practical Ruth immediately asks who will look after the baby while L is at work. L answers that her mother will be taking that on, but M expresses doubts about her reliability. Ruth then wants to know about the back-up plan, which prompts L to ask if R is offering to help. Of course, R has no desire to help with the baby and the conversation deteriorates when M and L disagree over whether L could take him to work on occasion. There’s no escaping the tension between these parents. Dinner is followed by a trip to a shed where R wants to show them some items J was keeping: a clock that M remembers from his childhood and pictures of M as a young boy. This venture marks the first time L hears anything directly from R about M, and that M tells her anything directly about his childhood. M informs L that he went to boarding school at age 6 3/4 and took a taxi, then a train, then a bus. When L remarks that M doesn’t look very happy, R tells her he was happier at school than at home.

Later in E6 there’s more tension when M brings L a pamphlet about a boarding school at which he wants to hold a space for James. M has chosen a particularly bad time to bring up the boarding school idea because L is about to leave JH and go to work, and the whole idea horrifies her. They drop it for the time being but there’s more trouble ahead because when L gets home after a rough day, she discovers that M has moved the chocolate digestives and that he would like her to lose some weight. Ruth arrives just as L accuses M of calling her fat. Walking into this maelstrom puts Ruth in a difficult position. She has come to bring Martin the key to the clock and to bring L more pictures of M, and she certainly doesn’t wish to get in the middle of their discussion. Nevertheless, she can’t help noticing the school brochure and knows the previous headmaster had to leave because of embezzlement charges. Ruth innocently mentions another boarding school, which prompts L to snap about the whole idea of sending JH to boarding school at all. Thus, R is once again caught in the middle and the psychiatrist who habitually judges other people appears stunned and off balance.

Soon after, Louisa runs into Ruth in town and they talk about the pictures of M. Louisa is troubled that Martin always looks so sad, but R says it was always pointless to ask M to say cheese. She follows that with a comment that people don’t change, an echo of what Joan once said to M, and mentions the christening date. Once again L chooses to lie (without conviction) to R, and acts as though she knows about it. There’s no doubt that R notices. So far Ruth has accidentally inserted herself between Martin and Louisa all too frequently.

It’s hard to say whether Ruth has strong feelings about Martin and Louisa, but she has her doubts. She must notice that they both care about each other, but she also recognizes the significant differences between them. Since Ruth’s general approach is to be objective, and because of her own deficiencies when it comes to male/female relationships, I think she must be concerned that M and L are struggling as a couple. However, we have now reached E8 and M and L go through all sorts of challenges in this episode with R very much along for the ride. R gets involved only because she happens to see Penhale lose control of his car and jump the retaining wall. She then accompanies M and Penhale to the pharmacy to get JH from Mrs. T and get Penhale the correct eye drops. R is valuable because she explicates the medicine, finds the note Mrs. T has left, and reminds M that he needs to tell L what’s happening. She and Penhale accompany M to the school to get L and then join the search for Mrs. T. R is not much comfort at this time as she can’t help giving a clinical analysis of Mrs. T’s condition which includes a degree of uncertainty about the safety of JH. But in the hotel, R takes control, tells M and L to stop bullying the desk clerk and tells the clerk “a child may be in danger so grow a backbone, check that damn machine, and tell us if anyone has checked in with a baby or not.” She helps them look for Mrs. T. in the hotel, reminds them that Mrs. T. is not thinking rationally, and tries to calm M when he gets a phone call from Mrs. T. At this stage, R’s sensible approach keeps M and L from getting too heated about the circumstances.

Once they reach the place where Mrs. T. is holding the baby, R joins them at the entrance door. Here she is both a voice of reason and the person they can both react against. She continues to make an effort to keep them from getting too worked up and argues with both of them at times: she argues with M about what to do and she argues with L over how to respond to Mrs. T. R continues to be clinical while L just wants her baby back. R stands next to L while M talks to Mrs. T., and there are several occasions when she and L appear to have the same reaction to what they are hearing. However, the two women clash significantly about what M should tell Mrs. T. Louisa argues for a much stronger expression of M’s feelings for Mrs. T. than R recommends. M takes L’s advice and tells Mrs. T. that he had Penhale come with him “because he wanted to share our wonderful love.” Since Mrs. T. still hesitates, L tells M to say something even stronger and shushes R when she says that L knows nothing about psychology. M follows L’s advice again, and although R has one more warning about L’s errant advice, M’s expression of love works and Mrs. T brings down the baby. What has really taken place is L guiding M to tell her his true feelings. Through L’s success, we have witnessed emotions, in the person of L, winning over reason, in the person of R. Ruth’s final act is to usher Mrs. T. away from M and L and leave them to finally talk things out with each other.

We still have S6 to get through, and Ruth has a larger role in this series. My overall sense of Ruth’s assessment of Martin and Louisa in S6 is that, despite her continuing doubts that they belong together, she now wants to help them stay together. She expresses reservations before and during the wedding, but offers to help with JH so they can have a night alone, is available to both of them for talks and assistance, and has become a very important member of their family. She is protective of Louisa when Mrs. T. returns and tells L she will check on Mrs. T. when she gets back to the pharmacy. She wants to help M deal with his hemaphobia by recommending a good psychologist, and she is protective of him when his mother returns. The scene when Ruth tells Margaret she’s worried about the pain Margaret can still inflict on Martin, and to go home, is priceless. And, of course, the last episode makes us abundantly aware that Ruth is the person Martin can turn to in his anguish. She sets him straight about his insomnia and blood phobia, motivates him to confront his mother, encourages him to go after Louisa, and is where Martin wants Penhale to take JH when they arrive at the hospital. She hasn’t become any more emotional, but her common sense approach has softened just enough to show true affection for M and L.

Originally posted 2014-04-06 21:07:27.

20 thoughts on “And Now for Aunt Ruth

  1. KR

    Karen, nice write up on Aunt Ruth. I’m so glad they developed her character further in S6 — and added a lot more depth to it. It would have been such a waste of Eileen Atkins great acting skills if they didn’t do something more w/ her character. Between the time at the Castle and the start of S6 it seems that she and Martin have gotten to know each other better — and have established a good personal and professional relationship. In S6 she also objectively, and so eloquently, brings out Martin’s problems so clearly: Heamophobia caused by (childhood) trauma and, subsequent feelings that he “doesn’t deserve Louisa’s love.” That’s been pretty clear to us, but now (hopefully) it’s clear to Martin. I see her as a catalyst for further growth for Martin in S7 — encouraging him to get help, and to change. I think, and hope, her line about either change or “leave the poor girl alone” really got to Martin. Can’t wait to see where they pick up this thread for S7.

  2. Post author

    Thanks for the quick response! I guess you noticed I kind of ran out of time and energy and didn’t give S6 as thorough an analysis. I absolutely love Eileen Atkins as Ruth and agree that her character has been given greater depth and influence in S6. It is really the last episode of S6 where she is Martin’s salvation, although she’s been working on his behalf behind the scenes too. That line of “leave the poor girl alone” is so powerful because he keeps making the same mistake of saying he wants to be with Louisa but then falling back into his old habits. He needs a kick in the pants and she’s the perfect person to do that. It’s tough to change something as deeply ingrained as protecting oneself from emotional hurt by erecting walls around one’s feelings. They seem to be headed for an effort to make those hard changes and it will be fun to see how, and if, they get that done.

  3. Santa Traugott

    Great comment about a theme in this show being the contrast/conflict between emotion and rationality, which, one might argue. are exemplified by Louisa and Martin, between them, and within themselves (particularly for Martin). I think it might deserve a separate blog post! It certainly has set me to thinking…

    One scene that you might have mentioned is the first one in S5E7, where Ruth tells Martin that she’s glad she’s going to go to London, and not try to get Louisa to change her mind. It seems that she’s concluded that they can’t make each other happy, and must face up to that. Is that how you interpret it? She also seems once again to underestimate Martin’s feelings for Louisa, telling him again that they mustn’t stay together for the sake of the baby, which is not, of course, their primary motivation for being together.

  4. Post author

    Santa, you are absolutely right that I should have looked at the scene between Ruth and Martin in S5E7 when she asks him if he’s considering changing his mind about Louisa. It’s a little vague at first, but she follows that comment by reiterating that he’s still planning on moving to London and Louisa and the child will stay in Portwenn. Martin confirms this plan. M’s decision to move to London has come up with L too, and everyone seems to have a lot of reservations about it. Also, Ruth has previously told M that he shouldn’t stay with L for the baby’s sake and now she warns him that the consequences of his parents staying together for his sake had been disastrous. “We don’t want a repeat of that.” She gets up to leave and offers him more time to talk it over and, after a pause, he thanks her. There’s something about the way this exchange goes that makes me think she’s using reverse psychology and that he’s gotten the message. From what we know, his parents didn’t stay together for his sake; they shipped him off to boarding school and other places so that they didn’t have to deal with him. Bringing up his childhood may be a way of making him think about not being with JH or L. At the end of the episode, L comes by and asks him to take care of JH. She looks hopeful that M will talk to her about their separation, but he doesn’t. Yet he takes care of JH and tells the baby they’ll have some fun. In the final episode, he tells L he’ll visit JH often and then we have his total reversal of his decision to leave at the end. My impression is that Ruth’s comments in his office have made him question his plan to return to London and his expression of gratitude to her before she leaves is a sign that he appreciates the offer to talk and the effort to make him think some more. It’s hard for him to ever admit he’s made a mistake, and he never intended to do anything to cause L to leave. Her decision to move out has hurt him and confused him, but he has very little capacity to grasp what happened. Ruth is good at shaking him up and making him think more deeply about the situation.

  5. Santa Traugott

    Wow! What a good thought — makes a lot of sense.

    So sad at the end when Louisa clearly is hoping for some reaching out gesture from him, and he’s either clueless, or not going there. Basically, I think he’s clueless, but there’s a possibility that he is still hurt, and still thinks that if they can’t be happy together, it’s best that he leaves.

    But the reversal in his at the next backdoor scene, where she asks him once again to look after James, is quite striking. This time, he’s trying to reach out, in his clumsy way. There’s been a lot of puzzling about why this happened — with emphasis on the meeting with the fishmonger, and the happy honeymoon couple, but I also like your idea that the conversation with Aunt Ruth stirred up something of a re-think.

  6. Carol

    Great look at the remarkable Aunt Ruth. I think she has been subject to the Portwenn Effect herself. She seems to slowly but surely relax and be a bit more emotional the longer she lives near/in the village. And from what Martin Clunes said last week, it sounds like her advice in S6 is going to be followed. Clunes said on one of the British morning shows that series 7 will have “couples therapy”. I was so excited to hear this that I thought I must be going nuts – it is as if two good friends (rather than two TV characters) are deciding to try to save their marriage! Now I have to keep my fingers crossed that they don’t make the therapist an idiot, or someone with a nasal whine 🙂 That would never do.

  7. Post author

    Carol, I think it will be fun to see how counseling goes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have trouble finding a therapist they both like, maybe even because the therapist has some weird personal traits. I would also guess that they will have many awkward moments, difficulties talking to the therapist and communicating, and interruptions when they do have periods of getting somewhere. I hope the show continues as a dramedy and that they find a way to work things out successfully.

  8. Waxwings2

    Santa and Karen–great insights, esp the role of Aunt Ruth as user of reverse psychology with M. (Eg, the reference to M’s parents staying together b/c of him makes M think that he should make a go w/ L to do right by JH, not wanting him to suffer what he did at the hands of his enduring parents–abandonment, exile, etc.).

    I wish to reinforce the view that the role of Aunt Ruth in the Series is to get Martin to re-think. Everything. Deliberately, and professionally, as a psychologist, she attempts this repeatedly in the show. She is a much more nuanced character than her sister Joan, and a more complex person too. While Joan is observant and insightful, haphazardly, within the episodes, Ruth is much more determined to help M in an explicit, thoughtful and articulate way, even using reverse psychology to do it. (Which she is skilled and adept at).

    Ruth does not shy from using her intellectual prowess, and is willing to engage in the Socratic method to get her nephew to grapple with what she sees as his multiple dilemmas. Aunt Ruth is more insistent/persistent, and consciously interventional with Martin than was her sister Joan. Maybe this is why we love frail Aunt Ruth, even as we embraced hardy earth mother Aunt Joan. These women cared about their nephew in the best way they knew how. Overall, Ruth seems to be more successful, and got M to re-think his choices in each season.

    Bravo to the producers, directors and show writers for thinking to give us such a nice contrast (a richness of Aunts) that actually moved the show (Martin’s progress) along. Eileen Atkins is truly brilliant too.

    Having heard MC on one of the UK talk shows recently, how could one not anticipate what’s to come for L and M at the hands of the brilliant and creative DM producers, directors and writers?

  9. Post author

    I do remember Aunt Joan using a form of reverse psychology when Martin told her that Penhale’s agoraphobia made him unfit to do his job. She tells M some people can still do their jobs even though they have a phobia (hint, hint, wink, wink). She used the same approach another time that escapes me right now. But I still agree that Ruth is even better at being able to make Martin think. I am definitely a huge Eileen Atkins fan too. She makes Ruth exceptional in wit, intelligence, and charm.

  10. Abby

    I have to say that I have a completely different take on Aunt Ruth in S5. Her comment to Martin that she never thought he would “do serious medicine again” must be referring to surgery, because it is surgery, not general practice, for which the word “again” could apply. (He was not doing general practice ‘again’ but he would be doing surgery ‘again’.)

    I had the sense all through S5 and continuing to just before the wedding in S6 that Ruth thought it was a mistake for Martin to marry Louisa. As M arrives at the church she is still trying to talk him out of it, but he shushes her. In the scene in S5 where R visits M in his consulting room the view that she was using reverse psychology just doesn’t fit for me. M seems sad and uncomfortable when he confirms that he will go to London without L and JH, and R’s words may brought the reality of the situation to the forefront of M’s mind, but I had the sense that her intent was to reinforce that decision. Her comment about M’s parents staying together for his sake made me think that she wasn’t all that involved in his life during his childhood or she could never have believed that. I imagine they stayed together to keep up appearances and his presence may have contributed to that, but I don’t think it was the reason. All through S5 I felt that R was wanting M to return to surgery, because she felt that M was wasting his talent being a GP. Once M and L were married, though, I think R accepted it and became supportive.

    In the scene where M is having dinner with R at the farm, I felt that the comment warning M not to stay with L because of JH was another time she was trying to plant the seed of doubt in his mind. R knows what an hororable man M is and he does not overtly show affection toward L, so it is understandable that she would think he was just doing his duty. I do believe that R always did what she thought was in M’s best interest, but I don’t think she understood the depth of M’s feelings for L all through S5. She probably knew how damaged he was and didn’t believe he was capable of being in a relationship. She was certainly right about that until S6E8, when it appeared he had a breakthrough.

    Fortunately, as I said before, R became much more supportive of M and L’s relationship after they were married. I imagine in S7 she will play an important role in their healing.

  11. Post author

    Abby, it’s nice to read your comments and they have made me go back and look at some of the scenes again. As far as R telling M that she’s proud to see him practice “serious medicine again,” I can see how you can arrive at your interpretation; however, I think there’s some ambiguity. I will admit to some bias towards medical practice being at least as serious as surgery. Throughout the series, M has saved many lives by properly diagnosing patients and getting them to be treated correctly. R may not know about all of these cases, but she is a psychiatrist and sees patients as a medical doctor and would probably consider medicine a serious practice. Her use of the word “again” might indicate surgery, as you say, but it could also refer to his work prior to becoming a surgeon. I really don’t know what medical training entails in UK, but in US all doctors learn basic medicine before they specialize in surgery. M is so capable of diagnosing all sorts of medical conditions that I have been under the impression that he went through that process too and has an amazing memory for medical problems, both common and rare. One of the things that stands out as he functions in the role of GP is his ability to assess patients/people by observation and thoughtful processing of their symptoms. Not many surgeons in my experience are good at any of that.

    I’m still not so willing to concede that R’s remarks in M’s office are meant to reinforce his decision to leave. R is very good at sizing things up and M has already assured her he’s not staying with L for the sake of JH. (I suppose you could argue that she thinks his denial is unconvincing.) I agree that she sees trouble in their relationship, and noted that in my post, but it’s clear she is aware of what M’s parents were like when he was a child. She knows they didn’t stay together for his sake and that he was happier at school. We find out in S6 how much R knows about Margaret and her behavior during M’s youth.

    We seem to agree that R can have no more doubts about M’s love for L after S5E8, and has come around to supporting their relationship after they get married.

    I know my opinion is just that and really appreciate reading your views.

  12. Abby

    We are completely on the same page regarding the seriousness of general practice. In fact, I had written a post on the DS Forum answering someone who was talking about how much more difficult it is to be a surgeon than a GP. I wrote at length about how much more brain power I thought it took to be a good diagnostician (which is one of the main things a GP needs to be) than a surgeon.

    Regarding medical training, I do believe there are differences between the US and the UK. However, the way I read ‘again’ was that he would be returning to a job her had done before, not just something he had done in training.

    With respect to R’s comment that M’s parents had stayed together for his sake, it wasn’t just the words but her tone of voice and inflection that led me to believe that she really believed it. Interesting that we perceived it so differently.

    It’s always been a puzzle to me the way R talked about M’s childhood. We know that she thought he was happier at school than at home, and maybe he marginally was. We know how bad she thought Margeret was through her conversation in S6 (I loved when she called her a monster). But, i’m not sure she knew just how bad it was for M at school, especially when he was younger. I imagine he learned survival strategies as he grew. And i think she knew more about M the child than M the adult. I didn’t get the sense in S5 that she really understood M the adult (They only spoke once a year at Christmas.), but I think that changed by S6. She became a real source of support for him by then, and i’m really looking forward to how they play her character in S7.

    Anyway, i love this back and forth, especially about the psychological issues in the show, probably because i’m a therapist. Thanks for creating this blog.

  13. Post author

    Abby, the dialogue about all sorts of issues related to the show is lots of fun for me too. I also love the various professions of the commenters and the intellectual engagement. Thanks for making the blog better!

  14. Theresa

    I wonder if someone could clear something up for me. Do we know for certain that school for Martin was horrible? I understand that being sent to boarding school at 6 years old sounds awful but we know being home was worse for him. Where I grew up no one went to boarding school. Is it more the norm for someone in Britain and is it possible he had teachers and/or classmates who were good and friendly. I would like to believe someone in his early life besides Joan and Phil were good to him and maybe sending him to boarding school was the one “good thing” his parents did. Thanks and thanks to all who write/share comments. I really enjoy reading them all.

  15. Post author

    Thank you for reading the blog Theresa, and for contributing too! To the best of my knowledge, we aren’t told much in the show about Martin’s experiences while at boarding school. We know how he got there, what age he was when he started going, that he won a chess trophy, and that he appeared to be happier there than at home. We also know that he continued to wet his bed until he was 11 yo, which would certainly be a cause of embarrassment at school, and we know that he wants to send JH to a good boarding school when he’s old enough. I think we generally make the leap that boarding school involves bullying and some difficulties being accepted because it is always depicted as such. My brother went to boarding school in NYC and got into trouble for participating in some activities that were definitely unacceptable. I believe that MC has mentioned having had some bad experiences when he went to boarding school himself. Maybe people are making assumptions without using much evidence. I think considering sending M to boarding school something good that his parents did for him might be jumping to conclusions too. Anything is possible, but I like to stick to what we know for sure. It’s fun to speculate at times, although I am really loathe to do that myself. If anyone else has some thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

    I also want to mention that I have been doing some thinking about another post and will be writing it next week sometime since I will have more time to do that after the weekend. Thanks for hanging in there with me!!

  16. Julie

    I’m glad that I found this blog because I am a huge fan of Doc Martin. I love your take on Ruth. The one scene that baffled me and that you and others mention is the one where Ruth says to Martin to not do what his parents did and stay together for the child. When I first heard her say that I thought that she must not know about his parents, but in later scenes she seems to have a clear grasp on how bad they were as people and as parents. They certainly would do nothing for the sake of the child. So do I understand what you are saying correctly when I take it that you believe she did know the truth and was trying to get him to rethink things by making him think about his parents twisted relationship? Like, “My parents did not stay together for my sake and Louisa and I are nothing like my parents. We were together because we love each other.”

  17. Post author

    Welcome Julie. Yes, you are understanding my take on Ruth’s remarks to M. Because we eventually know how much Ruth is aware of Martin’s parents’ deficiencies and their aberrant behavior, and we know she is a shrewd psychiatrist who knows how to handle patients well, my take is that she is using reverse psychology in that scene. When she first tells M, during breakfast, that he and L shouldn’t stay together for the sake of the child, it is early in her stay in Portwenn. He tells her they aren’t and she gives him a look that to me is supposed to indicate she has her doubts. But when she visits him in his surgery and the subject comes up again, she has witnessed how their relationship has developed. She knows that he loves L and she loves him even if they are struggling to be open with each other. In my opinion we are then supposed to take her comment as sarcastic. “We wouldn’t want you to do what your parents did, would we?” Or, in other words, your parents never gave your welfare much thought, but you should keep your son’s best interests in mind. Martin thanks her before she leaves which makes me think he’s gotten the message.

  18. anna

    A few points – first, from your posting itself, in re: Martin taking the baby to breakfast, and Ruth tells him that she doesn’t think Martin is attending to JH :

    “She seems to be indicating that he’s not attuned to his son. For me, the fact that he has taken the baby with him to give L a break, dressed him, and gone through the rigamarole of getting him in and out of the car and stroller is evidence that he’s responsive to his baby.”

    I see this as mirroring what he has always done – his love, care, and kindness are filtered through taking care of physical needs, with his patients, with Louisa, and with his baby. Doing this is an effort for him, but is a true reflection of the deep need within him to take care of the world around him (even when misapplied, such as his overarching need for order, and his hatred of dogs). Meeting emotional needs has always been his foil, even with the baby. The baby, perhaps, can help though, since so many of those needs *are* physical, and we do get glimpses of him learning to meet those emotional needs, as they grow (as hinted by Ruth, and by seeing him stay at the Library Playtime when JH cries)

    On to Ruth – I was sure I would miss Joan, and wasn’t sure about her replacement, as Eileen Atkins plays her so very carefully, but I’ve grown to love the character, both in her relationship with Martin and her relationship with Al. I think she provides a crucial character, for all the reasons above – someone Martin can listen to and respect, who clearly cares for him.

    Moreover, though, I think she could potentially provide a template for how *Martin* could be. Ruth is careful, clinical, not prone to gushing or sappiness, but she is also capable of introspection and articulating her feelings, concerns, and affection in a way that is perceptible to others. She is no one’s “buddy”, she doesn’t go along to get along, she’s well educated, and she’s clear of thought, but she can still function within society. To be fair, she’s also, as she said, never maintained a romantic relationship, but I think she can provide a model of how Martin can remain *Martin*, while still forging a path to personal, ah, contentment (rather than happiness, perhaps, being more attainable) for both himself and Louisa.

  19. Post author

    Anna, I really like what you say about the baby representing the kind of care Martin is especially good at as well as giving him a means for learning how to express emotion. Throughout S6, he is often shown focusing on JH as a center of concern in his life. As you say, he takes JH to the music circle and stays because JH fusses when M wants to leave. In addition, he worries about JH when he can’t find Michael, he takes JH with him when he goes to the hospital, he looks very troubled while standing beside the sleeping JH in the middle of the night, and he reminds Louisa to take the bottles for JH when she’s leaving. I think your point is very perceptive and that they do emphasize how much Martin demonstrates care and attachment to JH even though he grapples with the depression that descends during that series.

    Ruth is a wonderful character that I enjoy at least as much as I liked Joan. She is self-sufficient but sensitive to others on a much larger scale than ME. It’s true she’s never been married and tells Louisa she had a succession of “quasi-sexual encounters at a very young age.” To me that comes close to saying she was sexually abused as a child. Of course, nothing about that ever gets discussed, but we can imagine Ruth may have been averse to having physical interactions with men thereafter and her choice of psychiatry as a profession (especially treating the criminally insane) may be related too.

    If Martin is going to find a more successful level of emotional engagement with Louisa, he could look to Ruth as a person to emulate. She is comforting to many without succumbing to excessive expressions of emotion. Those last scenes with Al in S6 when she tells him she will go into business with him are a good example of her subtle yet very meaningful way of showing her confidence in Al. His excited response and hug are met with restraint, but she seems pleased nonetheless.

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