The Kindness Factor, Part II


Part II

Examples of Kindness in the Three Main Female Characters 

Reviewing the entire show, I found over 80 acts of kindness by all the characters  (women and men) spanning all 46 episodes; the three main female characters, however, account for almost half of them.  Cataloguing the three women’s kindnesses, both in relation to Martin, and in general, as their way of being in the world, was a revealing exercise. Aunt Joan is the show’s contest winner for most kindnesses performed. The rankings for the three women are: 16 for Aunt Joan, 11 for Louisa, 9 for Aunt Ruth.

Using our criteria for genuine kindness (doing something nice for someone without reward, see Part I), we can look at just 6 examples from each of the women—in chronologic order—that demonstrate their various kindnesses. (I’m sure readers will think of their own additional examples and are invited to share them.)

S1 E2: Louisa repeatedly tries to help Roger Fenn through his throat cancer operation, visiting him in hospital, showing him support and thoughtfulness. She knows he’s alone and needs someone. Though his animosity towards her and his anger at losing his job keep ricocheting back on her, she persists, and he finally accepts her friendship and she wins him over. So much so that he becomes the person who “gives her away” at the first fateful non-wedding a few episodes later. He also drops his bitterness and is able to move on to a “better place” himself with new love, a new life and a new family in the show.

S2 E2: Louisa, realizing the economic stress on parents whose children have contracted a contagious skin infection, defies the Doc’s orders to keep infected kids at home, sets up instead a separate room at the school, and quarantines them together so their parents can go to work during the day for much needed income. The kids are all safe, but Louisa incurs Martin’s anger and risks her own future job as head mistress in so doing….

S2 E3: Aunt Joan gently responds to Al when he asks her about who his real father is—since he has blue eyes and neither Bert nor his mother did.  Instead of stating what she knows which would be hurtful (that Al’s mother had a fling with another man) Joan instead focuses Al’s mind on how wonderful Bert has been as a father, and how much Bert loves him.  She helps Al see that what’s important is the care he’s been given and the love he has from a good father. This helps Al straighten his own ship and move forward in his life, accepting and reconciling with Bert.

S2 E8: Louisa, encountering Mrs. Tishall in her store one day, finds her despondent. She gets Mrs. T to tell her what’s bothering her: the Doc has chastised her for always wearing a neck collar, suggesting it’s a psychological crutch. Louisa encourages her to remove it, and prove she is not dependent. When the collar is removed, there is a momentary celebration, but when Mrs. T turns her head the wrong way, she experiences excruciating pain. This leads to the discovery of a prolapsed disk from a crushed spine (a fall in the bathtub) that allows Mrs. T the satisfaction of knowing her collar was not a psychological need, but a real need that now should be treated.

S2 E9: Aunt Joan displays great kindness to Louisa when, for many years, she withheld from Louisa her personal knowledge of Louisa’s father’s theft of the community life boat fund.  That kindness acted as a cushion for Louisa in her growing-up years while Terry Glasson, her father, was the solo parent. Though she finally confronted the truth when his sudden return to the village (and his shenanigans) brought the problem back to the surface, Joan’s years of silence were a kindness to a young girl, who had been abandoned by her mother as a young teen, and didn’t need another blow.

S3, E3: Aunt Joan intercedes for Penhale whose agoraphobia seriously impedes his job as constable. The Doc is about to write a report saying he is not competent, triggering his departure. Rather than do this, Aunt Joan asks Martin to consider getting him “treatment” instead – arguing that like many people with phobias, they can carry on working while getting help. Martin has an insightful moment and sees himself in Penhale’s dilemma.  Martin accedes to Joan’s request and prescribes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy while enabling Joe to continue to work.

S4 E2, E3: Aunt Joan is warm and welcoming to Louisa after her return from London pregnant. She takes her to the clinic, offers to help look after the baby, offers housing and even finds her old man’s Routledge’s apartment in the village to rent so Louisa can be close to school. Joan’s concern for Louisa is genuine and freely given. It stands in contrast to Martin’s steadfast decision “not to get involved.” It acts as a challenge to his behavior and heightens the tension his “hands off” approach causes in his relationship with Louisa.

S4 E5: Aunt Joan, though very tired and personally distressed over her desperate financial state, decides to “stop by after deliveries” to look in on and comfort a distraught Mrs. Selkirk who has just lost her husband to a heart attack. Mrs. Selkirk has been dismissed by Martin as suffering only fatigue and stress from her loss, and that her “hearing voices” is only imaginary. Arriving at Mrs. Selkirk’s sheep farm, Joan finds the woman injured in the sheep pen, unable to get up and stays with her until Martin arrives. He sees the telltale bulls-eye rash on Mrs. Selkirk’s arm, and realizes the woman is suffering from potentially serious Lyme disease that has caused her delusional condition. Martin is a witness to Joan’s act of kindness, which probably saved Mrs. Selkirk’s life.

S4 E8: Aunt Joan, in this final episode of her appearance on DM, thoughtfully brings Martin a “last supper” out of concern for her departing nephew. She also stops and asks if Louisa needs a lift to the clinic, but L declines and goes in the bio-fuels taxi instead.  Joan goes back to the Surgery to wave Martin off. She gives him a hug, cries, trying to be brave, showing him how much she loves him. It is on that day that Joan dies of a heart attack on the Bodmin road, and James Henry is born. Life meets Death for Martin.

S5 E3: Aunt Ruth, while trying to retrieve her stolen hub caps, encounters an arsenic-poisoned neighbor, Mrs. Shirley Dunwich, whose loony-tune, mood-swinging conversation tries Ruth’s patience and causes her alarm. She worries about the woman’s well-being and returns repeatedly to check on her—at considerable risk to herself (possibly at the hands of crazy son Michael). On the last check-in she is confronted by the son with a gun, and tries to avoid violent confrontation. No thanks to Penhale, a violent confrontation is avoided. But it is Aunt Ruth’s persistence and kindly manner that defuses the situation and brings the Doc to the house that leads to his discovery of Mrs. Dunwich’s arsenic poisoning. Knowing it is not dementia allows mother and son to be reconciled.

S5, E4: Louisa is kind to her mother after many years of absence. She allows her to take care of the baby and even forgives her after discovering that Eleanor has given the baby an alcohol-laced drink and Eleanor apologizes. It is another example for Martin.

S5, E7: Aunt Ruth is kind to Al by keeping him on as a worker at the farm despite Al’s use of her money to bail out Bert from the loan sharks.  She wouldn’t even take his motor-bike in partial payment, asking how he would get to the farm each day? While she could find another farm hand, she likes Al, and wants to see him succeed. She gives him the benefit of the doubt. Her continued support eventually leads Al to a new career and a newfound confidence in life.

S6, E1: Louisa shows her generosity and natural kindness towards the villagers when , upon seeing all the uninvited guests who’ve shown up at their wedding reception, and with Martin bristling at their appearance, turns to him and says: “They just showed up to wish us well Martin, that’s all.” She messages once again that it is important to be kind and give people the benefit of the doubt.

S6, E4: Aunt Ruth discovers that her neighbor Mr. Moysey’s water tank has broken and water is damaging her house. As off-putting as Martin can be, Mr. Moysey is worse. But Ruth persists with him and senses the old man is ill and needs help. She alerts Martin and gets Moysey examined. Martin discovers that his diet and Vitamin C deficiency is causing him to be very ill. Ruth probably has saved his life, and again Martin is witness.

S6, E5: Aunt Ruth, sensing Louisa’s anxiety over Mrs. T’s return to the village, offers to check on her to “reassure” Louisa that she is ok.  When she goes to Mrs. T., she is even quite kind to her, saying “So good to see you back. Hope you are feeling well.” Mrs. T is a bit taken aback by Ruth’s niceness, and tries to answer honestly. (Only the Cognitive Behavior elastic is a give away that all is not 100% well…increasing the sense of foreboding in the show of more problems to come with Mrs. T). Ruth returns to Louisa and reassures her that Mrs. T seems be ok now.

S6, E6: Louisa, upon meeting Martin’s mother Margaret for the first time, and wanting to put her new mother-in-law at ease, tries to make conversation and says to her kindly (but naively): “You must be so happy to see your son after all these years.”  Even after the rude non-response, Louisa offers Margaret James’ room, much to the horror of Martin. She is acting out her natural generous self, and again challenging Martin (rightly or wrongly).

S6, E7: Aunt Ruth deliberately corners Margaret while she is walking JH, and insists on speaking to her in the café. Over tea, she clearly and unequivocally chastises Margaret for being a very bad mother to Martin, and for emotionally and psychologically terrorizing him during his upbringing.  Ruth is warning Margaret off Martin now, and is doing so to protect Martin and to keep Margaret out of his life.  This took great courage and showed very strong and genuine love for Martin.

S6, E8: Aunt Ruth performs one of her greatest acts of kindness when she speaks what she has withheld from Martin for so long. Having learned that Louisa and their baby are leaving for Spain, Martin goes to Aunt Ruth for advice. She tells him that both his fear of blood and his emotional detachment (sometimes paralysis) stem from his loveless upbringing.  He must work on himself and look deeply into his own past for the crippling emotional handicaps placed on him by his distant, unkind and selfish parents. She advises him to work to change so he can stay with Louisa. At that moment, he is able to receive what she has said and he makes up his mind to do it. In addition, he finds the strength to confront his mother and throws her out of his house—and life—for good.  It moves the story forward to the most crucial turning point for Martin—his rejection of his mother.


Originally posted 2014-11-13 11:54:22.

14 thoughts on “The Kindness Factor, Part II

  1. Santa Traugott

    So many examples of kindness! Bert, at the end of the very first episode, interceding for the villagers. Peter Kronk’s kindness and consideration for his mother — to say nothing of Bert volunteering to run her fish and chips shop for her. The villagers tolerant reaction to Stewart’s trashing of the bird feeder. The women offering their husbands to help out Louisa after the baby was born — Bert giving her the shower. Aunt Joan looking in on Mrs. Steele, and Phil’s wife. Al interceding for Pauline when he thought Martin gave her a bad reference. Maggie’s kindness to Penhale as she left him. Actually, his, Al’s and Martin’s kindness to Mike Pruddy when he was located by the army.

    Perhaps some of my examples go beyond kindness to a general effort of care and looking out for one another.

    Yes — the quote from Henry James is exactly how I see things. It is one of the great joys of my life to see that my children have become kind people. And if I had to sum up my mother in one word, that would be it. So these posts really resonate!

  2. waxwings

    Hello Santa.

    This is Marta D, aka Waxwings. Thank you for your examples of kindness. I think all your examples qualify as kindness, not just “general looking out for each other,” though living in that village, it is a cultural trait of the inhabitants, I think.

    Yes, the list in the DM show of kindnesses is very long. I counted over 80 from all the characters (not just the three women) and my number did not include Martin’s “duty of care” acts he performs for his patients; or the “nice things” Bert does for people with remuneration intended; or the many sympathetic gestures each of Martin’s receptionists (Pauline and Morwenna) show towards Martin’s patients. Taken together, there is a lot of good karma going round in Portwenn!

    I chose to focus on the women because they are closest to Martin and it is really from them that he gets his “instruction” in much of this show. But if he has his eyes and heart open, he would also learn from his patients in this village.

    When I was writing drafts of this essay, I ran into several mothers who said exactly what you did—that their greatest joy was to see that their children had become kind people. In fact the Rumi quote I used in Part III came from one of those moms. So it’s good to recognize and affirm that, especially on this day, World Kindness Day.

  3. Mary F.

    Wonderful posts Waxwings! Very thought provoking…I think your perceptiveness about the ring of kindness surrounding ME is what makes this show stand head and shoulders above the rest. The examples of kindness and caring for others is frequent, powerful and life affirming.
    ME has for most of the series struggled unaware of the influence of his cruel upbringing, although at times his innate kindness peeks through, giving us hope that all is not lost.
    This also underscores the value of kindness in every part of life but especially within a family. Not all of us are lucky enough to be raised with kindness and for many of us it may take a lifetime (or more) to discover, appreciate and then implement into our own life. Even with great kindness it can be very very hard to let go of the mold we are born into. It will be fascinating to watch ME try.

  4. waxwings

    Well said Mary.

    ME’s relatively insular life up through middle age blocked his exposure to the caring and kindness that was present and nurtured in other families, leaving him with a limited view of his own upbringing—which he considered “normal.” I also agree that for all of his adulthood, he was mostly clueless about the real impact of his parents on his life. When he goes to Portwenn, however, and enters what you have so poetically called “the ring of kindness,” and is surrounded by his aunts and Louisa and the villagers, he has to make some comparisons. They are unavoidable. And once that happens and he experiences affection and love there, he is enabled to receive his Aunt Ruth’s cliff scene analysis (reinforced by the actions of his horrible mother in the same episode) that his childhood damaged him, and that he should finally see it for what it was, so that he may change.

    Like the blood phobia that was prompted by the love and concern expressed by a patient’s family, his closed off, shut down behavior was challenged by genuine love and care that he surely feels from the three women. And as you so rightly point out, it can still be very very hard to let go of the old ways and the long-surviving coping mechanisms in order to change your self. I think this is exactly what we were seeing in Series 6.

  5. Post author

    One of the differences in Martin’s behavior in S6 is how he now struggles with his blood phobia such that it’s no longer funny (like so much in this series) and for the first time he throws up ON someone, not just in a bin or in the bushes. The scene when he throws up on Penhale in front of the villagers demonstrates how your view of kindness comes into play because Penhale’s reaction is about as kind as can be. He makes light of it and comforts Martin when he could easily have been disgusted and angry. If we pursue this line of reasoning, it is because Penhale was so nice that Martin is even more disconcerted and confused about his phobia when Louisa mentions it to him. He rarely is stuck without an answer for anything, but here he tells Louisa he doesn’t know why his phobia has returned. She’s being kind too in how she approaches him, although then she complicates things by having her own doubts, and the doorbell rings, and there stands his darling mother. If his mother is good at one thing, it’s bad timing!

  6. Santa Traugott

    Marta says: “And once that happens and he experiences affection and love there, he is enabled to receive his Aunt Ruth’s cliff scene analysis (reinforced by the actions of his horrible mother in the same episode) that his childhood damaged him, and that he should finally see it for what it was, so that he may change.”

    It occurs to me that there is something odd about the way in which Martin Ellingham appears to recognize, from almost the first episodes of the series, that his parents are “vile.” In S2E6 we get to see that for ourselves, in Christopher’s amorality and chicanery, and Margaret’s cruelty. We also get glimpses of his unhappy childhood and the abuse inflicted on him, and we understand how strongly defended he must have had to be, The first huge crack in his defensive armour occurs with the sudden onset of his blood phobia. From then on, you can almost see his tenure in Port Wenn as an effort to hold himself together, at a lower level of functioning, (as it must have seemed to him) although this is threatened by his deep attraction to Louisa and, as you say, the experience of kindness continually on offer the village.

    (In this regard, I am now looking at his hatred of the village and its unhygenic inhabitants, so memorably expressed in the Castle speech, as conceivably kind of a “reaction formation” to the threats to his defensive system posed by “the ring of kindness” with which villagers surround one of their own, and even him, if he would accept it.)

    So, on the one hand, he appears to objectively know that his parents are awful, but even as he approaches 50, and he as already had one breakdown of a kind, he is just unable to allow himself to emotionally understand how damaging this has been? It speaks volumes about the extent to which he (like most abused children) has internalized the message that he is abused because he is inherently unlovable, and the huge defensive system he has erected to ward off the sadness and anxiety and even perhaps despair that this evokes in him.

    People are capable of going to almost any length to avoid facing up to an emotional truth that they fear; but here is a man who has truly taken this to extremes.

    ANd here I am thinking of your comment that he has been subconsciously rejectiing his family throughout S6. Following this line, I can argue that this may have happened as a continuing effort to defend against the emotional truth that his own parents did not love him, as he and Louisa love James, and of how deprived and damaging his own childhood has been. So he has to push them away.

    I would love to hear a panel in which therapists exchange “case formulations.” I guess one of the reasons the series has always fascinated me is that the subtlety with which the character is portrayed makes this possible.

  7. Post author

    I have little doubt that they deliberately juxtapose Martin’s relationship with his son with his relationship with his mother (and father). All those scenes of Martin watching his mother near James, with James, handling James contrasted with the scenes of Martin with James in those same positions must be there to accentuate the distinction between their attitudes. Whereas Margaret can never be affectionate to James or hold him close without making James unhappy, Martin is always caring and loving towards him. He takes a dramatically different approach to being a father/parent. Many times his first concern is where James is or what his needs are, whereas Margaret nearly forgets she’s got James with her when she’s about to leave the meeting with Ruth. Martin is a most active father presence. So I do think we are meant to notice that contrast even though I sometimes feel our deep analysis goes beyond anything actually planned.

    Having a panel of therapists get involved in how this show handles all sorts of psychological conditions would be interesting. I guess you’re suggesting an intellectual exercise, and that would be close to what we’re doing but with more experience and training. I’d watch! Maybe you know some therapists who would be willing to take a stab at this!

  8. waxwings

    Since I can’t see any “reply” buttons below Santa and Karens’ posts, and it is their insights to which I wish to respond, I’ll just hit the only button available and keep my fingers crossed as to where it lands up! To Karen: Excellent observation about Penhale. Who’da thought Penhale’s gentle and comforting reaction to ME’s public upchucking ON his shoes would prove to be an “act of kindness!” Hah! But you’re so right, it was. Never saw that. And yes, it would make the Doc feel worse, and even more confused by why his phobia has returned, esp. in relation to Louisa’s genuine concern for its reappearance and his non-response as to the question why…

    And Santa makes a good point in observing that his first big crack in his armor comes with the reappearance of that phobia. He is starting to crumble, doesn’t have the tools to be that new person, in a new family, clings to his old ways, and we watch his disintegration in S6 because he lacks the ability to lay down those old coping mechanisms. Santa, you write:

    “ANd here I am thinking of your comment that he has been subconsciously rejectiing his family throughout S6. Following this line, I can argue that this may have happened as a continuing effort to defend against the emotional truth that his own parents did not love him, as he and Louisa love James, and of how deprived and damaging his own childhood has been. So he has to push them away.”

    He is pushing his new family away because he has no tools to be with them in the “beloved community.” I agree with Karen that there is a deliberate juxtaposing of Margaret’s handling of James to ME’s handling of his son. Very different, and it must expose the contrast ME must see and feel in his own upbringing vs James. I agree too with Karen, that “I sometimes feel our deep analysis goes beyond anything actually planned.” (But that hasn’t stopped us yet, has it??) It makes sense though, and yes, wouldn’t Santa’s idea of a panel of therapists be great to help us understand all the psychological possibilities going on in this show. I’d watch too! Great comments everyone!

  9. Santa Traugott

    I do have to say that if you had 4 therapists you’d get at least 5 different case formulations!

    I actually don’t think that the writers intend this level of analysis — although they write with a degree of psychological acuity that is very interesting, and catnip to me, certainly. And remember — we often are indicating more than we “intend” in any transaction.

  10. egwrd

    Waxwings – Thank you so much for your posts and for everyone’s comments so far! They are so insightful into ME’s psyche. One thing I have struggled with is why S6 was so unfunny, when on the surface the structure of the episodes are the same as in past series. And, did the writers intend it to be as unfunny as it was. I believe that Martin’s blood phobia was humorous in past episodes because he was always in control of it. He could either hold back from thowing up, or make it to a bin or his little bags that he carried. But I realize after these discussions that it is because he lost control of the phobia that it was no longer funny, and was actually very sad and depressing. Do you think that was intended by the writers? I know this blog doesn’t dwell too much on the writers’ intent, but it is something I am interested in because I think how the writers have changed the characters over the years is very interesting.

  11. Mary F.

    I think the level of misery we saw in series 6 was intended because ME and Louisa’s dysfunctional relationship had become the main attraction of the show and you can only break them up and get them back together so many times before it gets a little tired. At some point the writers felt it necessary to take down the walls around this complicated and tortured man. The best way to do that was to show how his defenses were causing him to not only unravel but possibly lose the two most important people in his life. Its painful to watch his plunge into despair but necessary in order for ” the phoenix to rise” hopefully, in series 7.
    And as much as I would like to see him improve, it may spell the end of the series. I hope the addition of James Henry can keep it going.

  12. waxwings

    Dear EGWRD,
    I appreciate your question about why Series 6 went so dark, and I agree that it occurred in tandem with ME’s loss of control over his blood phobia (which signaled a new level of stress for ME). It is a question we often debate on this blog site. My response to your question is slightly different than Mary F’s, though I appreciate and agree with her insights that add to the total picture of “why?”

    The DM series has successfully been premised on a handicapped, “crippled“ surgeon, whose life has been dramatically hampered both in professional and social ways. The show, for its first five seasons, trafficked in comedy around that handicap and used it for comedic relief as much as possible. It did so UNTIL the emotionally abused and crippled ME met up with a life challenge (real love and family) that could not be overcome b/c of such a disadvantage. If we accept the premise of an emotionally crippled man, then the darkness that happened in Series 6 is completely consistent.

    While we would never think of this show as a serious documentary on child abuse, what we are witnessing in the character of ME is someone who has suffered from child abuse, neglect and cruelty. He has managed magnificently up to this point. He is professionally successful and admired by his colleagues, and respected (mostly) by his villagers for his medical prowess. But the seriousness of this child abuse is so rampant in ME’s adult life as to stymy his ability to function in “normal” ways that all of us may take for granted and aspire to: an ability to receive and reciprocate affection, kindness and love (not required in his profession, where he can be successful w/out too much challenge). With love and a family, ME tries to overcome his emotional handicap, but he can’t do it, though he wants to. And while we know this is not reality TV and ME is not a “real” person in the show, we have somehow come to understand and believe in his “reality,” including that of a broken man. We have followed the character these many years, and understand that his coping mechanisms are no longer working, and his defenses can’t really protect the old abused child, not up against the genuine thing—love, kindness, unmediated affection.

    The question for us is: should the show continue to make light of this crippled character? Would we be comfortable making fun of that adult, or using the adult as a springboard for comedy or even comic relief?? I have always argued against it on this blog. To be true to the story line (when Louisa and Martin marry) and true to the core of who ME is, the show needed to go dark. Where else could it have possibly gone? It need not remain so, and we all hope that the brilliant DM writers, in Series 7, will restore the humor along with a somewhat “restored” human being. Not a perfect one, but a changed one who can survive more easily in the “beloved community.” And while MC always said that he never wanted a “fixed” Doc, I think there is now room for an altered Doc. James Henry will surely help and become, perhaps, the mediating factor…..

  13. Mary F.

    I’ve so enjoyed everyone’s comments and have pondered over Santa’s insightful one about Martin pushing his family away as a way “to defend against the emotional truth that his own parents did not love him, as he and Louisa love James”. It made me think of that very wistful scene in the middle of the night when Martin stood beside his son’s crib and watched James sleep, blissfully unaware of his father’s pain.

  14. Amy Cohen

    I really enjoyed this series of posts and the comments. As I wrote in response to Kindness 1, I actually see Martin as a very kind person hiding beneath a protective shell, so it was nice to read the comments here and see similar thoughts and some very insightful views on how he got to be that way.

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