Author Archives: kjacobson@mindspring.com

Mothering

What’s up with the act of mothering in Doc Martin? In general, the town of Portwenn is filled with mothers who are rather shaky in terms of their parenting skills, or who are gone for one reason or another. Starting with the 6th episode of Season 1, the role of mothering is introduced. In this example, there is a highly anxious single mother (Mrs. Cronk) who panics under the stress of her son Peter being seriously ill. As a result, we must consider who should perform the duties of the mother. Louisa is a highly concerned and responsible teacher who both advises and takes on the care of her student Peter, and we are led to wonder what is the proper position of a teacher in the life of a student. In the case of the biological mother being incapable of handling an emergency, what part should the teacher play in the care of the child? At the hospital, Louisa is mistaken for the mother at one point; however, Peter’s mother greatly appreciates her help and her involvement is never questioned. Still, the circumstance of being a single mother continues to be at stake and in season 2, episode 2, Louisa is once again called on to step in as a surrogate mother in this family because Mrs. Cronk has an injury. Many teachers take a special interest in their students and are willing to take on certain extra obligations to help out a family in need, but that does complicate the matter of mothering, and the concern of who’s the person in charge. I’m impressed that the writers of the series address this topic.

Then in the first episode of season 2, mothering is again at issue. We already know that Martin has chosen to become a GP in Portwenn partly because his Aunt Joan lives there and he has fond childhood recollections of spending summers there with her. Joan has not had children of her own and Martin became a surrogate child to her. We don’t learn until later in season 2 how important Joan was in Martin’s early life. Joan continues to perform the role of mother for Martin once he returns to Portwenn: she often brings him homemade dishes, she checks on him fairly frequently, she hugs him and celebrates with him on happy occasions or commiserates with him on sad ones. She understands him, but she can also be disappointed in him. She’s the one who provides an engagement ring for Louisa and, despite having misgivings about Martin and Louisa being a good match, she supports their relationship one hundred percent. Her disapproval of Edith predisposes us to question whether there’s any chance of Martin resuming a relationship with her. She is the one warm and loving woman in his life.

In another case we witness a more routine interaction between a mother and son. In episode 1 of season 2 we are confronted with the difficult decision a son has to make about his mother being admitted to a senior citizen’s facility. Danny lives in London while his mother lives alone in Portwenn and he’s convinced she’s having memory problems. The son has his mother’s best interests at heart, nevertheless, she is very resistant to moving from her home. As in this case, the tensions that arise between a mother and a child over the best place to be cared for is quite common these days and it’s fascinating to see that it’s no different in England than it is in the US and possibly most places in the world. Our careers take us away from where our parents live, and trying to do the best for them means finding caregivers or facilities to care for them, but who makes that decision and when it should be made is always problematic. Since this show tends to remain on the light side, this mother opts for staying at the facility even though her condition is successfully resolved.

A couple of episodes later, the mothering responsibilities are really challenged by the efforts of a troubled father who wants to be both father and mother to his grown boys. The boys cover for their father when necessary, but their father’s mental status requires them to avoid social contact and even neglect their own health.

There are scant good examples of mothers in this show. Both Martin and Louisa have disturbing mothers — Martin’s mother can send shivers up one’s spine and Louisa’s is so unreliable and irresponsible that she cannot be trusted. In episode 6 of season 2, Martin’s mother tells him clearly and unemotionally how little she wanted him and how much he was to blame for draining the love in her marriage. By the end of season 5, we have learned that Martin was both neglected and essentially abused as a child, having been locked in various places and beaten with a belt on occasion. We also know that he was sent away to school at a young age and preferred being at school to being at home. Louisa’s mother abandoned her family when Louisa was very young and is much more concerned about her own interests than those of Louisa. Al’s mother died when he was young, but there is a question of whether she had an affair before Al was conceived that haunts Al. Of course Mrs. Flint abandoned her family, which led to her husband’s deranged mental state. Pauline’s mother is very critical of Pauline and makes comments about Pauline that show her disappointment in her daughter. There is also one very young mother with a baby who is so inexperienced that we worry that her son is doomed to have a serious mishap at some point. Then there’s the school cook, Allison, whose daughter Delph is acting very hyper. She has been giving the young girl diet pills and now wants meds to calm her down. Several other mothers come to see the doctor with various behavior complaints, most of which are primarily due to questionable parenting abilities, and in episode 8 of season 4 the music teacher tells her daughter that her performance is not strong enough so she will be leading the dancers herself.

What should we make of this? Are we supposed to generally view mothers as lacking in maternal instincts and ability? Perhaps Louisa simply stands in contrast to these other mothers in her role as substitute mother when she’s headmistress of the school and biological mother when she has her own baby. Certainly she is much better at rational thinking than the others. Joan, too, has been a much better mother figure to Martin than his own mother. I would also argue that Joan and Louisa have some of the same personality traits and are supposed to be viewed as the best models for proper mothering. They are kind, generous, caring, thoughtful, yet also independent, no nonsense, self-sufficient women. If the contrast is the goal, I think it is effectively achieved.

Originally posted 2013-08-09 20:23:13.

Change! What is It Good For?

Now that S7 is over, we have to revisit the theme of change. There is no other theme that has been as prominent in this show as this one, and what we find at the conclusion of S7 is not what might have been expected. The show had continually asserted by means of various characters that people can change. But by the closing scene, that conviction is very much in question.

I have taken some time rereading my previous posts on the topic of change (and there are several), and also done more thinking about how the show has weighted their stance in favor of people being capable of change and being impacted by certain significant experiences such that they involuntarily change. I have now developed a more fully reasoned perspective on this subject and decided that we need to divide it into two parts. There are core changes that take place following major events in our lives, and there are more superficial changes that we can institute by using our free will. What is depicted in Doc Martin encompasses both. By the end of S7 we still don’t have a clear picture of where this show lands on this subject, and that gives us some reason for disillusionment. They have left us with a very confused conclusion about whether change is possible or constructive, and all I can surmise is that they don’t have an answer to this premise or don’t want to provide one.

In my view some of the instigators of core changes in people originate in family and childhood. Not only does becoming a parent change us in fundamental ways, but also how our parents treat us throughout childhood is extremely momentous. Furthermore, a loss of a parent, either through death or departure, significantly affects us and can vitally change us. In Doc Martin we have all of these events and they are given substantial clout.

By the end of S6, Martin has suffered through an incredible amount of parental damage, and it has to have changed him in essential ways. We’ve heard from Ruth that Martin changed from being a vulnerable and sensitive child at age 4 to being quiet and withdrawn by age 6, and she places the blame squarely on his parents’ treatment of him. We are privy to a flashback from Martin’s boyhood when his father yelled at him for simply entering his study without knocking, and we know that he has been at the receiving end of physical and emotional abuse and neglect. When Martin’s mother arrives at his doorstep in S6, she immediately mentions that his father has died. But, really, his father disappeared from his life years before and only made a brief appearance in S2 with the unfortunate result of embarrassing Martin in front of Joan. When Christopher leaves Portwenn then, Martin tells him not to come back. He tells his mother the same in the last episode of S6. With her departure, any contact with his parents ends.

Louisa, too, has dealt with the loss of her parents. In her case, both of her parents cared less for her than for their own selfish desires and she has come to believe that she didn’t really need them after the age of 12. When her mother shows up in S5, we hear Louisa have trouble explaining why she wrote her about being pregnant. She tells Martin it wasn’t rational, which means she had a compulsion to tell her mother despite their long term separation. As in most cases, the child in Louisa still wants to believe her mother will be different this time and be interested in her.

We have other cases of parental loss with significant damage in this show. Al’s mother first left and then died; the Flint boys’ mother abandoned them and their father became psychotic as a result; and Erica Holbrook and her daughter Bernie have been deserted by the man of the house. In every example, the children have been deeply affected.

Another form of core change in one’s life is the birth of a baby. As Roger Fenn says to Martin in S2, it can clarify what it means to love someone. His remark cuts Martin because he has just been soundly deflated by his parents’ lack of love for him, but we can clearly see how the birth of a son causes Martin to respond to the world differently. He makes room in his life for the baby and has a renewed commitment to Louisa.

Two other ways in which circumstances are likely to change us at our core are through becoming terminally ill or by being sent into battle. This show gives us several scares regarding potentially fatal illnesses and two cases of sudden death. Roger Fenn contends with throat cancer and resorts to caustic remarks, while Jim Winton turns into a bedridden man whose wife becomes obsessed with finding a cure for him. I doubt she ever would have abducted a doctor at gunpoint under any other circumstances. Helen Pratt’s death turns her husband Phil into an angry, vengeful person; Jim Selkirk’s demise leads to his wife hallucinating. Stewart returns from Bosnia a delusional man who is afraid to mingle with the community, and Mike Pruddy has become burdened by excessive OCD and is running from the military authorities. He’s an extremely capable man whose afflictions keep him from creating a solid future for himself.

Other examples of occasions when people recount important changes in their lives include Martin being unable to perform surgery due to the onset of haemophobia. This phobia leads to a total departure from his immediate life. Margaret tells Martin his birth changed how Christopher looked at her and behaved towards her. She blames the deterioration of their marriage on that event, and at this point she plans to leave Christopher for another man.

From the time when Martin asserts to Joan in S3 that he can change if he wants, we watch Martin try to make that a reality. He tries to be nice to Holly and a few other patients; he tries to treat his haemophobia in S4; and he tells Louisa in the last scene of S5 he plans to change and not be like his father. In S6 Martin changes, but not for the better. He goes into a major depression due to the recurrence of his haemophobia as well as the upheaval in his home life and the appearance of his mother. Then he tries to change again by deciding to follow Louisa to Spain and next by telling her he wants to be a better husband. In S7, Martin has returned to someone who can take his haemophobia in stride. He tries to change for Louisa by doing everything he can think of to demonstrate his devotion to her. (So there is a chance that the remark he makes to Louisa at the end of S7 that he’s tried and it’s only made things worse refers to all the above efforts to change.)

Another huge change is the disappearance of his beloved clocks. What happened to them? We have to conclude that they no longer fill the void they once did.

Other times when the notion of change is promoted include when Louisa tells Danny that we make our own decisions, and when she tells Ruth that people can change if they want to; when Ruth tells Al we are the authors of our lives and we can change them if we want to; and when Morwenna becomes more assertive in S7. Ruth also tells Martin he has to change if he wants Louisa to stay with him. (As I’ve said before, Ruth should be convinced that people can change because she is a psychiatrist. As such she believes she can help people change.)

But the show also gives us several arguments against people’s ability to change. We see that despite therapy, Sally Tishell’s obsession with Martin has not changed, although she has decided to return to her marriage with Clive. We see that Bert and Al have not changed and are back in business together. We have also heard Joan tell Martin in S3 that “we are what we are” and can’t change (which is echoed in S7 by the same message written on the board by Erica Holbrook) and Louisa tell Martin in S3 that he can’t just act nice, he has to want to. We’ve also heard Ruth curiously telling Louisa in S5 that people don’t change and Louisa realizing that her mother hasn’t changed; Margaret telling Louisa at the airport in S6 that Martin is not going to change; and ultimately, Louisa telling Martin in the final scene of S7 that she doesn’t want him to change how he feels about her. In that final scene, Louisa reaches the conclusion that everyone is unusual and we are left to decipher what the final message about change is.

By the end of S6 I wrote that I thought the position the show was taking was “regardless of our life experiences, each of us has the power to change our lives and turn them into something close to what we want. We should stop wishing things were different, stop finding excuses, and do what we can to transform them.” Now I’m not so sure, and maybe the “deciders” on the show aren’t sure either.

Personally, I think change is good for us and inevitable as we grow older. We don’t want to stagnate; we want to remain curious and experimental. We want to become more sympathetic to others and more caring to our family. We want to grow as human beings and never stop growing. We want the acceptance of society.

George Takei, an actor and a Japanese American who was interned during WWII recently wrote to the mayor of Roanoke Virginia: “Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.” Changing hearts and minds is a never ending struggle, yet must be tried through every means possible.

Life is filled with change, both internal and exogenous.

 

 

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:50:15.

Change is in the Air, Take Two

This blog has addressed the topic of whether people can change several times; nevertheless, it’s time to do it again because series 7 is set to determine whether Martin and Louisa can change. Martin Ellingham is the character for whom change has been the target. We’ve seen him assert to Aunt Joan that change is possible and that he can change if he wants to. At the end of S6, Martin was specifically told by Aunt Ruth that if he wants Louisa back, which he unequivocally states that he does, he will have to change. She tells him it may be harder for him to change, but he must if he’s to have any chance of keeping Louisa.

During S6 we witnessed Martin’s devolution into a Major Depression due to the recurrence of his blood phobia and the return of his evil, ego deflating, mother. Ultimately, the marriage that began so hopefully starts to sink under the weight of too much psychological baggage until Louisa suffers a terrible accident followed by the discovery of a life threatening brain AVM. Martin has withdrawn from his family, and from almost everyone, until he has become a shell of himself. It takes the prospect of Louisa dying to motivate him to take action.

The brain surgery he performs to save Louisa’s life also has the effect of turning his life around. He was able to overcome his aversion to blood to successfully complete the surgery, and he is seen having an emotional moment during which he appears relieved probably because he saved Louisa and also because he once again was able to perform well in the operating room. Even so, the series ends with this couple acknowledging things can’t go on as they had been. There needs to be a change.

Series 7 has now begun, and the show has turned many things around. Instead of starting, like S6, with a happy event — the wedding, this series begins with Louisa in Spain and Martin living on his own again in the surgery. However, despite his sadness that Louisa and James Henry are not in Portwenn with him, he no longer seems depressed. This time he has found new energy and made up his mind that he will make every effort to change to get Louisa back. The most momentous of these changes is to seek therapy. Other changes include, getting up the courage to call Louisa and not just wait for her to call him, leaving a message rather than simply hanging up when he gets her voicemail, and sleeping on his side of the bed to sort of save her side for when she returns. He also looks ruefully at the hairbrush she has left behind. (By the way, there are several signs that she plans to return during this episode and the brush is, to me, one of them.)

Ruth’s recommendation to see a young, female counselor does not put him off, and when he first meets her, he doesn’t walk out on her. This time he agrees to return for another appointment. He also accepts her rules, relinquishes his phone without resistance, and takes a seat as asked.

We also see Martin being thoughtful and less angry. Morwenna makes note of this when he doesn’t snap at her about canceling his patients for the afternoon so that she can volunteer on the lifeboat excursion.

We are never sure that Martin and Louisa have talked to each other before she appears in E2. Martin looks startled to see her come through the front door. We get the feeling that he covers by saying he didn’t expect her so early, and Louisa plays along. But later, when they are away from prying eyes, he once again tells her he didn’t know she would get there so early. We can only assume that this comment is included to lead us to believe they had been in contact, and that he may have known she was coming, just not when exactly.

E2 is when some other significant changes in Martin become evident:

  • He tries to take over his first session with the therapist but backs down quickly and confides that he was an unwanted child, that he probably has attachment difficulties as a result, and that he’s had trouble forming relationships as an adult. He also admits he’s afraid of losing Louisa and that he cares about her happiness but not his own.
  • Once Louisa arrives, he confronts her at the dinner table and directly asks her if she plans to stay.
  • He tells Louisa that he’s no longer concerned about how tidy and quiet the house is.
  • He offers to sleep in the small bedroom where he’ll be much less comfortable.
  • He gets up with the baby and she finds him feeding JH the next morning. (In S5 he had woken Louisa to take care of the baby.)
  • And finally he insists on staying in the only rental property available rather than have Louisa and JH move there. This marks the first time Martin has moved somewhere else instead of Louisa. (We may suspect some ulterior motives, e.g. keeping them at the surgery means he’ll see them fairly often and interact with them too. Still, he’s never offered to move out before and it’s a change.)
  • He’s always shown concern for Ruth, but this time he races to the train station to keep her from leaving because he’s so worried about her. He also thanks Al for helping her.
  • Overall he acts much less angry and annoyed with everything and everyone.

The changes in him are noticeable enough to be apparent to Louisa and she thanks him over and over for the various things he does that show his concern for her. Ruth, too, responds positively and relents about leaving for London. His new approach seems to be going well and hasn’t caused him to feel disingenuous at all.

Furthermore, Martin’s depression has lifted and his blood phobia has diminished to the point of being back to where it was before S6: an embarrassing irritant but not a huge impediment.

Thus, even before he has spent much time on the therapist’s bench (or dare we call it a settee?), Martin has managed to muster many alterations in his behavior. The therapist’s job may be easier than she might have imagined! In addition, the question of whether people can change appears to have been answered by a resounding “Yes!” (We’ll see if it lasts and if there will be further changes in store.)

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:49:26.

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.

People can change, and do, on TV

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.

Addendum on whether people can change

Despite titling a previous post “Final Thoughts on Whether People Can Change,” I discovered I have another comment to make on that subject based on S6 E6. I find that episode extremely informative on many counts. The question of change comes up when Al visits Ruth to help her with her computer and he is troubled by the lack of direction in his life. He is very good at helping Ruth with a variety of activities: work at the farm, fixing her ceiling leak, adjusting her computer, etc., but that isn’t what he wants to do with his life. He thought he’d be successful at something and has not found what that is yet. (I think this is what troubles many young people these days — finding that thing that really stimulates you, inspires you, makes you want to put a lot of effort into it.) Like many young people, Al does not want to simply join his Dad in his ventures either as plumber or as restaurateur.

Al tells Ruth that he’s “sick of waiting for things to change.” Ruth then retorts, “Stop waiting! Stop whining! We’re the authors of our lives. You write the story and you have no one to blame but yourself. If you want to change your circumstances, then change them. Only you can do it.”

Well, let’s analyze that. Ruth believes people can change, and we’ve known that for a while. And she needs to light a fire under Al and tell him to take action rather than whine because he has not found the vocation that excites him. However, the part about each of us writing our own story and only having ourselves to blame kind of clunks a bit. It is quite empowering to think that we write our own stories, and I personally like to think that we have the power to change them, but when Ruth talks to Martin in E8, she’s much more inclined to place a lot of blame on Martin’s parents and his childhood experiences. Surely we are all impacted by our childhood and what happened to us during our formative years. Nevertheless, Ruth tells Martin that he has the power to change, although he may have to work harder than others due to his early life. Al has had a very different childhood from Martin’s, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had to deal with hardship. His mother died when he was very young and that is a loss felt quite deeply by most children. His father has certainly been devoted to him, but they seem to have always just gotten by. Bert is no “fire in the belly” sort of man who instilled a strong work ethic in Al.

Still, Ruth’s advice to Al that only he can change his circumstances is consistent with her advice to Martin. The show’s message is regardless of our life experiences, each of us has the power to change our lives and turn them into something close to what we want. We should stop wishing things were different, stop finding excuses, and do what we can to transform them.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:46:56.

Final thoughts on whether people can change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can people change?

During the course of this series the question of whether people can change comes up several times. The first time occurs in season 3, episode 5, when Martin is talking to Aunt Joan after his date with Louisa ended badly. Joan considers Martin and Louisa to be “chalk and cheese,” or very different people. She tells him that people don’t change. Martin tells Joan that people can change and that he knows he can change. In this case he is mostly talking about being able to make small talk, but it’s really a much bigger question. By the end of season 5, we’ve seen Martin admit to being wrong on several occasions (most notably when he decided to leave Portwenn) and, in the last episode, he asserts to Louisa that he’s not going to be like his father and James Henry is not going to be like him. Martin has already been making a concerted effort to be different from his own father in many ways. In particular, he is not a phony and he preferences family over possessions.

The issue of whether people can change is pretty deep and involves the notion of free will. Philosophically free will is generally opposed to determinism, or the idea that humans are subject to fate and cannot control their lives. We could even say that scientifically speaking humans are governed by their genetic composition. I don’t want to get too involved in these philosophical questions even though I am fascinated by them, but I am making the leap to crediting the writers with including this important concern not only because Martin’s Asperger’s symptoms are making it hard for him to have a satisfactory relationship with Louisa or even with the village, but also because conquering a phobia requires a big commitment to change and Martin’s effort to overcome his hemaphobia is an ongoing issue in the show. In addition, there are several other characters who want to change and who are trying to make some changes. And then there are a few who have no interest in changing. Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous post, the fish seller in the last episode of series 5 tells Martin, “What’s for you, won’t go by you,” and that is a clear reference to fate. He may mean that if Martin and Louisa are fated to be with each other, it will happen, and if not, it won’t. Martin believes in his ability to change and he wants to have control, therefore, it’s appropriate that he expresses his deep love for Louisa at the end of the episode and wins her back, demonstrating an ability to institute change. So control over one’s life coupled with the ability to change one’s approach is a theme in this series and we should think about it.

By the beginning of season 6 Martin’s hemaphobia has abated but it returns in episode 3. Its recurrence is probably due to not having made a full commitment to address it, and his inability to keep it at bay is deeply troubling to him. I find it interesting that Martin’s fear of blood and the nausea that comes over him when he sees or smells blood is treated humorously in the first 5 seasons but becomes very disconcerting to him in season 6. He puts up with all sorts of teasing from townspeople and receptionists during most of the show, and never lets it become too much of an issue until he decides he wants to return to London and to being a surgeon. And it is funny that a doctor, especially a surgeon, has trouble handling blood or being around it. Maybe the writers think they’ve milked this condition long enough and want to put a new slant on it. But the fact that Martin is someone who likes to be in control, and this is something beyond his control, is a factor too. In season 4, Edith recommends a psychologist to Martin, but his visit there mainly shows his resistance to talking to anyone about it. He does listen to the CD the therapist sends him and tries to treat himself with some success, but self-treatment for phobias is very difficult and the success rate for self-exposure treatments is listed as 18%-33%. Failure is pretty common. When Martin talks to Ruth in season 6 about the recent reappearance of the hemaphobia, she tells him she knows a good psychiatrist in London that he should consult. Louisa wants him to see the psychiatrist and we’ll see how that goes. Martin’s life has changed in many ways since having a baby and getting married. Being the only doctor in the village is stressful too. Can he remain confident in his ability to change?

We also know that Martin’s childhood included an abusive environment with a mother who rejected him. He had no sense of control as a child and couldn’t control his bladder, was locked in confined spaces, and was sent away to school at an early age. He also follows his father and grandfather into medicine, fulfilling a family expectation. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he sought to control his life once he was in a position to do so. In fact, being the GP in Portwenn is actually a way to separate himself from his family background and Ruth may be acknowledging this when she tells him she’s proud of him for taking this step.

Beyond his ability to control his hemaphobia is the question of control he has over his love for Louisa. Martin’s attraction to Louisa has been long standing and he really looks besotted in so many scenes. The only way he maintains control is to fall back on his medical knowledge and destroy any romantic moments (which is also funny). He also imposes control after they have the baby by making all the major decisions without consulting Louisa (again funny and also exasperating). Eventually his need for control leads to another breakup. It’s only once Mrs. Tishell’s actions challenge his sense of control that he finally looks to Louisa for help and realizes that he needs to expose his true feelings for her. Martin seems lost at this point and repeats almost everything Louisa prompts him to say while trying to get Mrs. Tishell to bring down the baby. What he tells Mrs. Tishell works and he gets JH back. Now Martin can reestablish control and dictate to Mrs. Tishell what she must do, and he asserts his desire to change to Louisa.

Martin continues to try to exert some control during the wedding (he doesn’t let the vicar finish his prologue or the ring ceremony) and afterwards, but he meets with Louisa’s sense of self and we see the first signs of his effort to follow through with his pledge to change. The next few episodes reveal continuing efforts on his part to change: he invites another couple over for dinner, he takes James to a gathering for children at the library, and he does his best to put up with the noise and disruption in his formerly quiet home. We have to admit that he should be given an “A” for effort. On the other hand, his hemaphobia rears its ugly head again and he becomes an insomniac, both forms of loss of control. So change is mixed and uncertain at this stage.

Louisa’s ability to change is at stake here too. In season 2, episode 8 Louisa tells Danny we make our own decisions and she certainly has. First she ends her relationship with Danny and takes charge of renewing her relationship with Martin. Naturally, the series includes many upheavals in their relationship and the final episode of season 3, when they decide not to marry, ends with Louisa walking away. The big change for her comes when she moves to London to get her head straight. Her stay in London is lonely and ends when she loses her job due to her decision to have the baby. She returns to Portwenn pregnant, and, like so many other women, Louisa’s life is upended by her decision to keep the baby. She has to start all over by applying to get a job at the school and she has to find a place to live. I would consider this dealing with control and change. The pregnancy is her choice but forces her to make some changes, including returning to Portwenn. A baby will certainly bring some changes to her normal routine and challenges any sense of control. Like most mothers, she’s tired by the delivery and the baby’s needs, and, because she ultimately resumes her relationship with Martin, there are other changes in store for her. She’s been living on her own for a long time and she now has to accommodate to having both a baby and a man in her life. She has been clear that she wants children, but they do change one’s life. She also gives up her residence to move in with Martin. She loves him and wants to be with him, but her identity is important to her. She no longer can arrange the house her way nor does she have her own office space.

Martin’s freewill leads him to do what he has to do to be with Louisa, while Louisa’s sense of control stems from knowing that she can always leave. She refuses to be a “kept” woman and needs to work to retain a sense of self. She feels an inclination to leave when she thinks Martin is usurping her freedom and not allowing her to participate in his life.

The up and down nature of their alliance is obviously good for the series and for most of us becomes the real draw to the show. From the hints at the storyline for the rest of season 6, it sounds like the theme of change and control over one’s life will remain integral.

Beyond Martin and Louisa, Al is an important figure for whom change has been difficult. Every time he wants to change his life, he gets knocked down. He wants to go to school to study computers, but that never materializes. He wants to marry Pauline, but she wants to have more experiences and leave Portwenn. He wants to demonstrate some independence, but gets robbed in Africa and has to work and “sleep rough” to get enough money to return to Portwenn. He wants to stop working with his father and live on his own, but his plans to meet someone new fall flat and he ends up having to share Penhale’s home. Al is resourceful and capable and Aunt Ruth takes him under her wing and does her best to help him find other sources of income, but he’s limited by his lack of vision and possibly the confines of Portwenn itself. He should probably make a change by moving to where Pauline is, or at least somewhere else in England. That doesn’t seem to be a likelihood for him, so we’ll hope he finds some success (and there is a good possibility he will). He’s really rather static.

Ruth has already made a big change in her life by moving out of London to Portwenn. She’s managed to write a book and seems to find satisfaction in being a resource for her relatives and some townspeople, notably Al and Penhale. She’s become the bulwark of the community and a welcome cynic for the show. As a psychiatrist, she must be convinced that people can change and she can facilitate that.

Mike Pruddy does not appear to want to change. Of course, people with OCD have a hard time changing and often are convinced they don’t need to change. I suppose facing the problems with the military may force him to make some adjustments. We may never know what happens to him. Bert, too, is not one to change. He’s tried to start a new business, which has had some ups and downs, but he’s generally someone who will continue to take advantage of the odd money-making ventures he comes across and keep living his pedestrian life. He finds Portwenn has everything he wants and needs. Finally, Margaret, Martin’s mother, is not making any effort to change if all she came back to Portwenn for was to get money from Martin and she puts on an act of caring about JH. She remains a despicable woman/mother who appears to have few regrets about how she treated her son.

Do we have free will, and can we fundamentally change? I tend to agree with Martin, et. al. and think so. Change is very much something we all must deal with. To have a family, requires constant change as the children grow and their lives impact ours. Moreover, as we age, we inevitably change. If we’re lucky, we do so with some insight and love for our spouses that helps us adapt to the changes. We all want to maintain a sense of self while making some compromises to retain harmony. If we want to badly enough, we can make it happen.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:43:31.

Louisa and Martin: Fast Forward Version

The following post was written by one of our newest blog readers. She and I corresponded through email about the show and she then wrote me about having watched all the series in an inventive manner. I thought you should all have a chance to read how that affected her reaction to the show and to these characters.

I also wanted to add a few remarks of my own. They are better placed at the end of Amy’s post.

I hope you enjoy this interesting approach to reconsidering some of the thornier issues we’ve been trying to address:

First, thank you to Karen for inviting me to write this post.  I was a latecomer to the blog, only discovering it in the spring of 2016 when I started to watch Doc Martin for a second time.  I had watched Series 1-4 on Netflix and then watched Series 5-7 in “real time,” but it was only on the re-watch that I started to look for a resource to understand more about the show and the issues it raised.

Reading all the posts and comments here has been very illuminating, and some of the discussions, especially about S7, made me realize that I wanted to review the entire series (S1-S7) once again so that the earlier episodes were clearer in my memory as I read the blog.  But I honestly didn’t want to watch all the side stories again—the Bert and Al stories, the Penhale and Mrs T stories, or the patient stories.  I wanted to focus on the relationship between Martin and Louisa: how did it start, how did it develop, how did it change?

In particular, I had a few questions to focus on, issues that seemed to trouble viewers and some readers of the blog. For example, did it make sense that Martin and Louisa called off the first wedding? Or were the writers just torturing viewers? And did Martin’s statement that he knew she wouldn’t make him happy make sense? Also, was S6 as dark as I recalled? Were Martin and Louisa really as angry and distant through S6? And then there is S7.  Like many, I had found the characterization of Louisa in S7 wildly different from how she’d been depicted in every other series—as mean, cold, angry, unforgiving. Was that really the case? And what about the much discussed gap between E7 and E8 in S7? On my first viewing, I saw no gap. On my second view, I noticed it and was, like many, perturbed by it.  How would it seem on a third viewing? And then finally, the last scene of S7, E8.  Would it make any more sense to me now?

So here’s what I did.  I started with S1 and over the course of a few days, I watched every episode in order, but fast forwarded through every scene that did not include Louisa and Martin with a few exceptions—scenes with Joan or Ruth and Martin, scenes with the awful Margaret, and scenes with Dr T and either Martin or Louisa.  It usually meant I could watch an entire episode in about 15 minutes or so, depending on the episode.  (I do realize this sounds insane, but hey, I am retired, and it’s summer.)

What did I experience as a viewer doing this? Well, first of all, I really enjoyed S1-3.  In those series, Martin and Louisa are like sparring partners.  The sparks fly, the sexual tension is intense, and the banter is smart, funny, and fast-moving.  In both the Bad Breath kissing scene and the Urine Odor Date scene, I felt more sorry for Martin than outraged or amused and also empathetic to Louisa, but a bit annoyed that she didn’t at least give him a chance to talk it through.  Poor guy was clueless.  And she ran.

Then we get to the Holly episode in S3 and the engagement and called off wedding.  I admit that on my first two viewings, I was thrilled that Martin and Louisa had gotten together.  But on my fast forward viewing my reaction was different.  It was much more obvious that the two of them had never really had a full conversation about anything—just lots of banter and bickering and interrupted dates and kisses that ended up with misunderstandings.  How could they get married? They hardly knew each other.

So this time my reaction to the cancelled wedding was different. This time it made perfect sense.  How could two people who’d done nothing but argue and kiss twice get married? Especially when one was so different from the other? What didn’t make sense was Martin saying she wouldn’t make him happy.  I still think he realized that he wouldn’t make her happy and let her off the hook.  Even she looked surprised when he said that.

Also, what hadn’t made sense on earlier viewings was Louisa leaving town, running away.  Couples can decide they’re not ready to get married without breaking up.  But on further thought, it made sense knowing what we know about Louisa—that she runs away from problems rather than confront them.  Maybe that wasn’t as clear to me on my first viewing of S1-3, but now it appeared to be more consistent with the character’s behavior.

Then we get to S4, a series I’d recalled not enjoying because I was so frustrated that Martin and Louisa were not communicating with each other; it felt like a bad farce where one character walks in the door just as the other walks out.  I hate that stuff.  And I also hated Edith.  On my fast-forward review (which did include some of the Edith scenes), S4 felt different.  This time I enjoyed it.  It was so obvious to me that Martin and Louisa wanted desperately to be with each other, but couldn’t figure out a way to express that to each other.  Edith was nothing but a minor distraction, not a threat.  And, of course, the birth scene was still wonderful.  Who doesn’t love a birth scene?

Now let me stop and observe one thing.  I know that it’s very different to view something a second time when you know how things end.  Of course, S4 felt better knowing that in the end Martin and Louisa would reconcile.  But even my second viewing left me frustrated with them.  It was only by fast forwarding through the extra material that I could really focus and see how much those two were dying to be with each other but stuck in their respective corners.

I also got a different feeling for S5 this time.  Before it had seemed like two lovebirds had turned overnight into enemies.  But focusing just on their scenes together gave me a new way of seeing those interactions.  They weren’t enemies—they were doing what many, if not most, new parents do: struggling to figure out how to be parents, how to stay a couple, and also how to retain their own individuality.  They just were more inept than other couples at expressing themselves in any positive way as they struggled through it.

But for me the biggest surprise was S6, a season I really had not enjoyed the first time and that I almost didn’t watch the second time.  My recollection of it had been that Martin was sad the whole time and Louisa was angry the whole time.  Not so on this fast forward watch.   Yes, Martin was upset and withdrawn once he realized the blood phobia had returned (although I don’t think it ever went away; there are scenes in S5 where he still reacts to blood as well as the birth scene in S4).  But Louisa was not angry.  She was trying her best to reach out to him; she was sympathetic and patient.  She tried to get him to talk to her.  And then she was hurt when he refused to go away with her.  That was the ultimate slap in the face, if you ask me.  And with Margaret appearing, Martin became even more withdrawn, more depressed.  (Who wouldn’t be?) But Louisa kept trying.  Nothing worked.

So her Sports Day explosion struck me this time as not out of proportion to her feelings.  Martin was just being ur-Martin: rude and insensitive.  But this time she just couldn’t keep her frustration and her pain inside.  I felt for her this time, more so than I had on prior viewings.

After the accident she is impatient with Martin, annoyed, and upset.  But when he comes to get her off the plane, she is grateful.  She says she thought he was coming to get her or join her in Spain.  She clearly still wanted to be with him.  And if there is any truth to “in vino veritas” with anesthesia, her words to him before the operation are loving, teasing him about whether he has a bathing suit.  And she does seem to hear what he says about needing help and wanting to be a good husband.  Whether she remembers it afterwards is hard to say.

The final scene when he returns to the hospital is still a painful one for me to watch.  Why doesn’t Martin repeat what he said before the operation? When Louisa thanks him for coming after her, why doesn’t he declare his love rather than saying, “You are my patient and my wife.”  Even I might have gotten on a plane with that reply, and I am not Louisa.  So we are left at the end of S6 with Louisa actually looking sad and upset that she is hurting Martin, but now Martin is the one who shuts down, runs off, just as Louisa did at the end of S3.  I no longer was angry with Louisa for leaving for Spain, instead I was upset with Martin for not opening up again.  So I saw Louisa as the more sympathetic character in S6 in some ways, the opposite of what I’d felt on earlier viewings.

And that brings me to S7.  Let me tell you first my prior reaction to S7.  I hated Louisa in S7.  I thought she was unnecessarily mean and angry.  Not only with Martin, but with everyone except the baby.  I found her cold and unforgiving.  I couldn’t understand what the writers had done to this warm and loving and friendly character.  Others here reacted similarly, and Karen wrote that Louisa had become more like Martin.  I was very put off by what they had done—even more so than I was with the silly therapy.

So let me tell you that watching S7 again, just focusing on the Louisa, Martin, and Dr T scenes, was an eye opener.  Louisa from the beginning is sad, sympathetic, and doing her best to understand Martin.  Yes, she is a bit prickly when he doesn’t get her jokes or pulls one of his OCD things, but overall it was clear to me that the writers were signaling that this was a woman who wanted to stay with her husband.  She just, as she says, doesn’t know what to do—how to get them to a better place.  She wants him to help her find a place to stay; she feels bad that he has to sleep in James Henry’s room and brings him his clock in her nightgown (I mean, how seductive is that?), but he makes no move.  She is happy he is going for therapy.  She looks at him with sympathetic eyes.

In the early episodes it now seems that both of them are stuck in their corners once again, afraid of getting hurt.  They don’t touch each other, not out of lack of desire, but out of fear.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of loss.  When Martin sees Louisa in her bathrobe after her first night back, the look in his eyes is desire.  Just watch that scene and see for yourself.

My take this time is that what triggers the anger in Louisa is the suggestion that she join Martin in therapy and the thought that she herself may have issues and may be part of the problem with their relationship.  She is on the defensive.  She’s been in denial about her own issues forever.  Now Dr T, Ruth, and Martin want her to face her own issues.  I’ve seen many people get angry and defensive in those circumstances.

(I won’t say more about the therapy itself since that’s been discussed here in depth, except to say I still think Dr T had the blood phobia thing all wrong and that the “control” assignment was stupid.  Throughout the entire show and even in S7, Louisa always had more control than Martin.  She chose when to run away from him and when to kiss him; she chose to live separately.  Plus most decisions on smaller matters ended up being hers—James Henry’s name; going on the honeymoon; telling Martin not to kill Buddy or have Peter Cronk arrested.  Martin might be afraid of losing control over his emotions, but not over day to day decisions like what to eat at a picnic.)

But overall Louisa does not seem angry or hostile towards Martin.  She wants him to keep hugging her and is hurt when she realizes it was only that his watch was caught on her sweater.  She tells numerous characters—Danny, Dr T, the Wintons, Ruth—that she hopes to get back together with Martin.  This is not a woman looking to leave her husband, but one who wants someone to help them find their way back and then forward.  “A means to an end or a new beginning.”  Not an end of their relationship.

So we get to the infamous E7 and E8 gap between Martin asking for them to have a make or break discussion and Louisa preparing a dinner of salmon, aubergines, and courgettes.  (Why French names? Why not just eggplant and zucchini? I had to Google courgette.) The first time I watched these episodes, I didn’t see any gap.  I just figured I’d forgotten some line where Louisa or Martin said, “Let’s have dinner to discuss it.”  The second time, after reading comments here, I looked for the gap and saw it.  There’s definitely at least one line missing to explain how the dinner date was planned.

But what I didn’t see this time that others saw was a difference in the character’s attitudes between the two scenes.  Martin seemed resigned to failure in both scenes.  He thought Louisa wanted out or that there was no way to make things better.  He’d given up.  He may have said that Dr T only wanted them to make a list, but from his expression and his words at the end of E7, it seems clear that he thought the relationship was over. At the beginning of E8 he does nothing to suggest otherwise when Louisa is talking about their (somehow planned) dinner date.

Louisa, on the other hand, in both episodes seems to be hoping things can still work out.  She’s afraid Dr T is suggesting divorce.  She doesn’t bring up make or break, he does.  She may be worried about what he’s asking, but she is not acting hostile or angry or resigned.  So I don’t see a radical change between Louisa in E7 and E8; maybe she’s realized Martin is giving up, but I don’t think she had been ready to do that.

Finally, that last scene on the cliff. What the hell were they talking about? I won’t get into the whole “normal” thing because that still makes no sense to me.  I won’t repeat what has been said here about why that was not consistent with what Louisa had said or done in any earlier series.  But what did Martin mean when he said that he couldn’t change how he felt about her, and she replies, “I wouldn’t want that.” Then he says, “I’ve tried, I really have.  But it only made things worse.” What did that mean?

Some people think he meant he tried to change his behavior.  Although I do think he was trying to change his behavior by going to therapy, doing the assignments, tolerating some of the mess and noise, that didn’t make anything worse. It may not have noticeably improved things, but it certainly did not make things worse.  And that would also make no sense coming after his prior sentence about not changing how he felt about Louisa.

I thought the first time and I still think that what Martin was saying was that he had tried to change his feelings about Louisa—to withdraw, not to love her any more. Now that seems even clearer to me after my fast forward viewing of the entire show.  After all, that’s what it seemed he was doing to some extent at the end of S6 when she said she was still going to Spain.  He gave her a rather abrupt answer and walked out of the hospital.  That’s also what he did when she left the first time after the cancelled wedding; he thought about being with Edith (he never once was repelled when Edith kissed his cheek, unlike when Mrs Tishell or even Ruth tried to embrace him; he was perhaps confused, but not repelled).  And each time it made him feel worse because he couldn’t stop loving Louisa.

I realize that watching the show this way is distorting.  The intertwining stories and the way they connect to the main characters and their lives is missing; the things the writers tell us through the mouths of people like the fish monger, the dry cleaner, the vicar, and so is deleted.  I didn’t see how Martin was acting with other characters.  And I knew how things would end, so it had to color what I was seeing and how I felt about it.

But it did help me focus on the story arc of Martin and Louisa’s relationship. And for what it’s worth, here’s my summary of that story arc and the two characters:  They are attracted to each other and intrigued by the mystery of each other from their first meeting, but from the beginning, neither one of them can trust the other; both are incapable of expressing their true feelings.  Both retreat or shut down when they fear rejection.  Neither one is the heavy; they both have shortcomings, and in some ways they have the same shortcomings when it comes to love and building a relationship.  Louisa has always been the one to over-react out of fear of being hurt; Martin always allows her to pull away without a fight.   Karen once wrote that the birth scene metaphorically captures their relationship as Louisa pulls and pushes Martin back and forth.  And Martin lets her do it.  I think that describes it perfectly.

The times that they are somehow able to express their love always seems to come from a crisis where their naked emotions get the better of them—when Peter Cronk almost died, when Holly almost died, when Mrs. Tishell stole James Henry, when Louisa almost died, and finally when Martin is kidnapped and then saves Mr. Winton.  Only when their protective shells are eaten away by the stress of a crisis can they manage to declare their love for one another.

Maybe now the writers will give them a chance to learn how to do that without having a life-threatening crisis push them over the edge.

Addendum: I agree with much that Amy has written, particularly about S6 and S7, which have been the stumbling blocks for me. I definitely see Louisa as getting the short end of the stick in S6 and having every right to be angry and downcast. In both S6 and S7 it seems to me there was a deliberate effort to restrain Martin and Louisa from expressing the sincere feelings they have for each other. Why? For one thing it gets viewers frustrated, emotionally engaged, and generally in that place of wanting to yell at the characters. For another thing, it sustains the unresolved conflict between these characters. Notwithstanding the fact that they have had moments in which they opened their hearts to each other, continuing to construct their communication as a sort of coitus interruptus is what produces a craving for them to finally settle their differences.

We know at the end of S6 that Martin plans to return to pick up Louisa from the hospital, and that she will go home with him, at least for a few days. When she tells him the rush to the hospital and the operation don’t change anything, I thought she was explaining that there were still many obstacles they had to deal with, not necessarily that she was still planning to leave for Spain. When he confesses he needs help being a husband and then heads to a bathroom stall following the successful embolization of her AVM, he appears emotionally raw. But at her bedside he is tongue tied again, and we want to shake him. And that’s how to keep viewers watching.

In S7 I am in total agreement with Amy that there were signals throughout that Louisa did not want to end the marriage. Again, their inability to ever just sit down and talk is endlessly frustrating. This time the interruptions mount and their utter incapacity to lay bare their real feelings becomes draining.

What I’ve finally come up with is that some of the strange things that they included in S7 may have been an attempt at continuing the awkward and obtuse ways Louisa and Martin often communicate with each other. In particular, Martin can be very unclear then he expresses himself AND he relates to others on a literal and imperceptive level. So when there are these confusing transitions between some of the episodes, and when Martin and Louisa talk to each other at the end of E8, it may be the writers continuing that same sort of odd means of expressing themselves. It’s not really ambiguity in the sense of implying more than one meaning; it’s really more being nebulous, especially in Martin’s case.

I wonder if we can compare the conversation they have in E2 in which Martin says, “I don’t miss the peace and quiet.” and Louisa says “What?” And he says, “Now that you’re back I didn’t miss it.” And she once again asks “What are you trying to say Martin?”, to which he finally responds, “When you and James weren’t here, everything was neat and tidy and quiet, and now that you’re back, it’s not, and that’s fine.” with the final conversation where they are sitting on a cliff. Martin is trying to tell Louisa that he’s never going to change how he feels about her and he adds, “I’ve tried and it’s just made things worse.” This time Louisa doesn’t want or need clarification because she is in a different and more accepting frame of mind and she isn’t concerned about what exactly he’s trying to say. She knows he’s telling her he can’t stop loving her and that’s all that matters. Again, I don’t think they were going for ambiguity, just recreating his nebulous manner of expressing himself. I admit this is giving the writers something of a pass.

When it comes to the so-called “jokes” Louisa makes throughout the series, I find it even harder to make sense of them. If we agree that Louisa is given some of the same traits as Martin in S7, then we can say that the gift of a sausage might have been meant to have sexual undertones and is also a sign that she is being insensitive. I would consider it similar to the time when Martin brings Louisa breathing strips so that her snoring doesn’t keep him awake. Here they are sharing a bed and what he thinks of is his own need for sleep. It was funny when he did that, but now we judge her harshly as being offensive. The humor is lacking.

Her other efforts of making a joke amount to taking advantage of his lack of insight and general serious demeanor. He’s pulled her chain on occasion, e.g. when he told her he had already filed the papers for naming the baby, but now Louisa seems to be mocking him. Perhaps we are meant to think that she wants to lighten up their conversations, bring a little fun back into their lives. Surely the time when she suggests she will tell Dr. T that he tried to break in while she was in the shower was her way of prompting him to say something warm to her. She tells him he belongs in the house and appears disappointed that he just walks away. But again, that is our cue to be exasperated with both of them.

This post is long enough now and I will quit here. Please let us hear your thoughts on any or all of the above.

Originally posted 2016-08-29 16:20:07.

Falling Over the Goal Line

I think the time has come to admit that I have run out of topics to write about in relation to Doc Martin. Like the show itself, IMHO, I think we’ve covered a plethora of interesting ideas inside and out and beyond thorough. In the process I have learned quite a bit about all sorts of psychological issues and jump started my interest in analytical writing, and even writing in general. I have also learned a great deal by reading so many insightful comments and I have become more informed about what it’s like to have a blog. (BTW, it’s pretty intense!)

Since Downton Abbey ended, and all the storylines were neatly wrapped up in mostly happy endings, I’ve been thinking about the conclusion of Doc Martin. I was not a fan of Downton Abbey and only watched a couple of series, but the decision to end that show after 6 years made sense to me. In fact, its creator and chief writer, Julian Fellowes, chose to end it after more series than originally planned. He had mapped out how the series should come to a close and knew the quality and credibility of the show would deteriorate if it continued. He was not running out of material; he had simply said what he wanted to say. (Incidentally, anyone thinking that it’s stressful to employ writers to write and others to edit 8 scripts every two years should think about the fact that Fellowes wrote nearly every script for Downton Abbey himself and they did not take years off. For more read here.)

I have made no secret of the fact that I am not pleased that Doc Martin will have more series. The primary reason for this position is that I have the sense that they have never had a plan for how it should end. Every good writer knows that the ending should be established when the beginning is first written. Every great novel or TV show has been written this way: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Walking Dead, and many more. Creative writing students are taught they must know what the ending is before they start writing. All producers of TV shows must rely on whether they are recommissioned to determine whether the show will continue, however, the creator/ writers ought to have an idea of how they would like their program to end. The way S6 and S7 were handled caused me to have doubts about how much effort had been spent on developing a strategy for how the show should end. The continuity of tone and action was simply missing and made me very frustrated and let down. Additional proof comes from listening to Martin Clunes say things like they never realized how essential to the plot the romance between Martin Ellingham and Louisa Glasson would become. It just seems standard that any romance in a story becomes the central focus, and they accentuated the interplay between these two characters from the first episode on. There was, perhaps, an expanding of this relationship when Caroline Catz performed so excellently in her role; however, whenever a writer puts a man and a woman in close proximity and sets up clashes, the likelihood is that that part of the story will take center stage. (In case you want to argue that every TV show must make adjustments with each newly commissioned series, I would only say that even so the writer(s)/producers should still know how they would like it to end. I recently saw an interview of the Walking Dead writer/creator, show runner, and cast on Inside the Actor’s Studio, a wonderful interview show presented as a seminar to students of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in NYC and televised since 1994 on Bravo, and all over the world. James Lipton, the lead moderator of the show, specifically asked the writer if he knows how the show will end. The writer immediately said “yes” but that he hadn’t told the show runner yet.)

As a fan of Doc Martin who has spent many hours writing about it, mostly in admiration of the high quality of the writing and acting, I feel it’s my duty to add a few more observations. Although I continue to be a fan of the show, the last two series have been troubling to me and I figure if anyone should, I ought to honestly express my concerns.

Yes, sure, as producer Mark Crowdy said prior to S6, it seems logical to wonder if ME can be a husband and father, but I never thought that required putting him in a deep depression, staring into space all the time. And once they’ve brought us to the place where the marriage is teetering on the edge, don’t bring the show back in S7, after a scene in the last episode of S6 in which ME tells Louisa that he isn’t good at being a husband and needs her help, with Louisa having departed for Spain after all. What happened? They were actually in agreement that they couldn’t just go home and act as though nothing had changed. But that is exactly what they must have done — that is, Louisa’s plans to leave weren’t altered by Martin expressing any regrets and we can only guess that Martin may have continued to say nothing to keep Louisa from leaving. He went back to his office after seeing Ruth in the last episode of S6 to make reservations to fly to Spain and catch up with Louisa, he told his mother to leave, and he apologized to a patient; all changes in approach for him. But at the beginning of S7 we’re back to square one.

I know, gaps are there for a reason and we are meant to speculate about what might have transpired, but when gaps become so big you can drive a truck through them, they begin to be significant fractures rather than minor intermissions. For example, let’s look at the previous gaps between series. At the outset of the show they made the decision to start each series as if very little time has passed. Therefore, S2 begins soon after Martin Ellingham has chosen to stay in Portwenn as the GP at the end of S1. He is immediately confronted with a difficult medical case that also includes some complications with his newly registered attraction to Louisa Glasson. We have a more significant gap between S2 and 3 because now the storylines are developing. The primary tension is between Martin and Louisa. At the end of the regular season, Martin had accused Louisa of stalking him after she reciprocated his expression of love for her. Then, early in S3, she accuses him of stalking her as he tries to redeem himself by wanting to ask her out to dinner. We also have Louisa needing some medical attention from Martin and finding the awkwardness in their relationship frustrating. The biggest gap between series comes between S3 and 4 when Louisa and Martin call off their marriage and Louisa leaves Portwenn. As it turns out, she has been in London for 6 months and, by the end of the first episode, has returned to Portwenn pregnant. We may have some interest in what she’s been doing during that interlude and how Martin has been handling the second time he’s been rejected by a woman he planned to marry; however, when Louisa returns in E1 of S4, the only thing we find ourselves wondering about is what she had been expecting upon her return. The shortest gap takes place between series 4 and 5 when Louisa is taken to the hospital after giving birth at the conclusion of S4. We don’t need to see how she’s transported to the hospital or how she’s checked in; we are perfectly happy to be brought into the story once that has all been completed and now she needs to find a way back to Portwenn. Although S4 had ended with the most passionate kiss yet between this couple, at the start of S5 Louisa isn’t taking anything for granted and seems pleasantly surprised with Martin’s offer to drive her back. It’s also not that important to know what took place between series 5 and 6 because Martin and Louisa departed hand in hand from the scene with Mrs. T at the Castle and now they are preparing to be married. We know some time has passed because James is obviously older by a couple of months, and there’s no doubt that some viewers would like to have seen Martin and Louisa having some nice times together, but we can accept that lacuna because the fact that the wedding is taking place has to mean things went well. However, when we get to the gap between series 6 and 7, there is a gap the size of a meteor crater that creates questions of equal magnitude.

This time there are a myriad of questions. Did Louisa go home with Martin from the hospital? Did they do anything to address their concerns about their married life? Did Martin remind Louisa of his plea to her in the operating room? Did he try to make some changes in his behavior towards her and somehow cause Louisa to leave? Was there any discussion about how long Louisa planned to stay in Spain? If Louisa told Martin she would call him once she got settled, why didn’t she? (The problem can’t be poor reception because she was obviously able to reach his voicemail when she tried.) Did Ruth do anything to help or did she, too, just abandon Martin and go off to London? And many more.

By the end of S7, no matter how convincing we may find the series, we are again (much like the end of S5) under the impression that Martin and Louisa have determined that they want to be together and plan to go home as a couple. I would really hate to see a repeat of S6 and the marriage return to a downward slide. I can’t imagine anyone being willing to go through another seesaw tour of whether Martin and Louisa will stay together. In my opinion S7 brought together many storylines, did a satisfactory job of concluding them, and ended with Martin and Louisa kissing, declaring their love for one another, and heading home together. That’s a good place to finalize the series and, in my opinion, whatever they do with S8 will be anticlimactic.

I have no intention of suggesting any storylines for S8. My blog has always been about analyzing what I think of the writing that has been presented to us. But because I have given the practices they have followed some thought, and they are clearly planning to have a S8, I want to offer some simple suggestions.

If they are going to begin the next series shortly after the previous one left off, then S8 should start with Louisa waking up in bed next to Martin, looking over at him, and appearing content that he’s there. Then, of course, either the dog or James (preferably James since they’ve used the dog before) will do something to interrupt the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if they contrived some sort of humorous bedroom scene. (By now they are certainly aware that many viewers have a fantasy of seeing Martin and Louisa snuggle in bed. I can imagine setting up a scene that hints of some sexual foreplay that quickly gets truncated. It would be incredibly out of character to actually have them do more than kiss, but it might be possible to have them kiss in bed.)

It would be nice to see Morwenna come to her senses and find someone who is as capable as she is. Al’s a nice guy but she can do better. Maybe someone truly adult can show up and have some interest in her. Or Al can finally get the B&B going and manage to become a success at something. Then Morwenna’s talents as an organizer/capable assistant may come in handy. If the B&B becomes more viable, Ruth may have a local business that keeps her active and she may also be needed to keep Bert under control.

Penhale and Janice could be a disaster waiting to happen, which might be very funny. He’s much older than she is, but their marriages have both failed and they couldn’t be more lacking in insight if they tried. Previously I noted that any romance between these two would be hard to fathom, but since it could add to the humor as well as mirror some action going on between Martin and Louisa, I’ve changed my position to some degree. I still think their relationship will be pretty wild; I just see how this could be a better way of using Penhale’s goofiness.

For me Mrs. Tishell has outlived her welcome and, like Aunt Joan or Dr. Timoney, should exit the show. Selina Cadell has been outstanding, but now that she’s back with Clive, her storyline can conclude without any adverse effects. Just as Martin and Louisa’s up and down relationship has run its course, Mrs. Tishell’s obsession with Martin has become tired and overdone.

All of the above is predicated on all the actors being available to return in 2017. To me that is a critical question considering the ages of several of them. Even more to the point is whether they can begin the next series soon after S7 ends, as has been their practice, since everyone has been aging and a baby who first appeared in S4 would now actually be 7 years old in real time. No matter how well Martin Clunes and Caroline Catz age, it difficult to believe that they are still as young as they were in S4 or S5. I mean, give us some credit for not being utterly delusional!!

One final observation: Recently I read an old interview with Martin Clunes because it was posted on Facebook. I was surprised that he mentioned Mikhail Bulgakov as a favorite writer of his. I am most familiar with Bulgakov’s collection of short stories, A Country Doctor’s Notebook, and especially the story called “The Steel Windpipe.” Before reading that Clunes is a fan of Bulgakov’s work, I had not thought about some of the similarities between these stories and Doc Martin. I was particularly struck by how they reflect the contrast I wrote about between professional advice and folk wisdom. In addition, like Martin Ellingham, the doctor in these stories has moved from the city to a small rural town and contends with all sorts of serious medical problems as well as ignorance and hesitancy to trust the doctor. Bulgakov writes with a sense of humor too. Now I can’t help wondering if there was anything about these stories that contributed to the writing of the show. (I also should mention that Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe turned Bulgakov’s stories into a television series in 2013 in the UK called “A Young Doctor’s Notebook.”)

At this point, my energy and dedication to writing this blog is flagging. I never thought I would be writing this blog for almost three years and never expected more series to come. The two year hiatus taken by the show between S6 and S7 stretched my ability to come up with topics to the nth degree. But I was very fortunate and the readers of the blog kept me going. Now I am struggling to find a way to sustain this blog another two years, and I think you readers must be feeling the same. I am in the strange position of having more blog subscribers than ever, and sometimes more readers of my posts than I used to have, but much fewer comments than before.

However, the amount of spam I get has never waned. One thing I had not realized when I started this blog was how much spam I would have to wade through. Along with actual readers from all over the world (yet primarily from the US) I get spam in all languages, and I mean all.  Although I know very little about other alphabets beyond the Latin one we use in English, I can identify messages that are written in French, Spanish, Greek, Chinese, Hindi, and who knows what other languages, and sometimes all mixed together. Every day without fail I get dozens of messages that want to sell me things. The range of items begins with erectile dysfunction meds to oxycontin or other controlled substances; from NFL jerseys to Michael Kors pocketbooks and Christian Louboutin shoes; from earrings to bracelets to cosmetics. If you’re interested in porn or sex of all kinds, start a blog. I also get long, totally unintelligible comments like “It’s pretty worth enough for me,” or that seem like someone sat down and wrote whatever words popped into their head (not that I read them to the end). I am offered all sorts of advice as well for getting my blog to go viral or become profitable. Some of the oddest spam comes from people who write that they were bored at work or their sister told them to check out my blog. Bottom line is I’ve learned to only approve the comments that specifically say something cogent about Doc Martin, but to get there can take more of one’s time than expected.

The response to my posts has been totally unpredictable. Some posts have inspired many comments while others barely got noticed. I always vowed that I wouldn’t let my ego get too involved and that I would be fine with writing the blog for myself. I have to admit, though, that it’s been difficult not to start looking for comments once some posts were noticed.

The hard truth is that realizing that this blog is languishing means closing a chapter in my life that has been both extremely fulfilling and utterly improbable. It was totally unlike me to jump into fandom of any show, and it had been years since I had written any essays approaching literary analysis. And I was very pleased that I still had it in me! If I managed to add a different dimension to this show for avid viewers, I am very thankful. I have gotten to connect with people all over the country and the world, and that has been wonderful for me.

I want to save every bit of the posts and the comments and have to learn the best way to do that. I will probably keep the blog going while finding very little to write about; however, if there are new readers, they will have access all the previous posts and comments. Keeping it open gives us all a little time to get accustomed to moving on and for writing any comments we still may have. Thank you all for an excellent adventure.

 

Originally posted 2016-05-11 11:35:09.

How’s the Therapy for You?

We have now come to the end of S7 on AcornTV, and that means I feel free to publish my thoughts on a number of things about it. Here is the first of several posts:

During the promotion for S7 marriage counseling/guidance was brought up as a key facet of how Martin and Louisa would be dealing with their marital problems. Since “Doc Martin” is a dramedy, we would be surprised if there were a lot of lengthy counseling scenes; however, in the operating room scene at the end of S6 we heard Martin tell Louisa that he needed help from her to become a better husband. Prior to that we heard Ruth tell Martin that if he wanted to get Louisa to return to him, he would have to work hard to change. It didn’t seem like too much of a leap to expect some real effort to use marriage guidance to improve their marriage.

We have been through 6 series that have contained many medical emergencies and lives saved. We’ve learned about a myriad of rare medical disorders and all have been treated properly by Martin Ellingham with an expertise that demonstrates his superior medical knowledge and skill. We would expect no less from any depiction of marriage counseling. Sadly, that is not what we get. The following is my view of the marriage counseling and where it disappoints. Whereas we can learn about how to diagnose and deal with a variety of medical conditions from watching this show, we should not accept what we see in S7 as a good representation of marriage therapy. (Abby and Santa, regular participants of this blog, reviewed what I wrote and provided me with feedback and their professional experience. Abby is a practicing therapist who sees married couples for counseling and Santa is a retired therapist. They have written some previous posts on psychological aspects of the show and its characters.) This post is intended to focus on the accuracy of the therapy sessions first. I will add a few thoughts on the purpose of the therapy scenes at the end. Please bear with me on this because it’s going to be a long post.

In series 7 each episode includes a brief look at therapy sessions. We have to keep in mind that what we are shown is only a couple of minutes of each therapy session that is scheduled for one hour. I would like to think that what they choose to show us is the most important exchange of each session, but no 2-5 minute interlude can give us a sufficient amount of information. We are left with many unknowns about the therapy. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s fair to excuse the problems with how the therapy is depicted simply because of the brevity of what we’re shown.

Our first introduction to the therapist recommended by Ruth is that she conforms to how Ruth described her, i. e. she is a no nonsense, direct person who has set standards and practices and will not change them for anyone. She demands that Martin shut off his phone and leave it at the entrance to her office; she tells him that being late for any reason is unacceptable and could lead to a termination of their sessions; and she won’t be deterred from treating his problems by any questions he poses about her background and reason for being in Portwenn. She won’t allow him to usurp her role as leader in this setting. These rules seem a little too rigid because he is the only doctor in Portwenn. According to Abby, it would have been better for them to clarify what constitutes the kind of emergency that would be an acceptable reason for him to arrive late for a session. Dr. T wants him to make therapy a priority and the act of discussing this issue would be a good way to convey that message.

Her approach appears to work well with Martin and he exposes more of himself to her than we’ve heard him tell anyone else, including Louisa. He recognizes that due to his being an unwanted child he has an inability to form adult attachments; he exhibits poor communication skills; he has unrealistic expectations of others, and a blood phobia. Of course he’s done his homework and decided what her diagnosis will be, but she is quick to brush off his easy judgement and makes clear that therapy is not like surgery; it’s a process. Although Dr. T appreciates Martin’s effort to arrive at a diagnosis, she doesn’t dispute it. Abby notes that “the first order of business, other than taking a history, is to establish a therapeutic alliance.” We can now look forward to watching the process proceed. We have set before us a series of issues that Martin has delineated and that we would assume will be how Dr. Timoney will plan her therapy.

Dr. Timoney begins quite understandably with asking Martin what he is coming to her for. He tells her, after asking her about herself, that he wants his wife to return to him, that he wants her to be happy, and that he blames himself for her unhappiness. Dr. Timoney’s first command for Martin is she wants to meet Louisa. That seems reasonable since Louisa plays an important role in the direction of the therapy. On the other hand, Martin probably has no idea when Louisa will return and appears to have neglected to tell Dr. T that important fact. Fortuitously, Louisa returns soon after, and that night over dinner Martin has a chance to inform her that he’s been seeing a therapist and that she wants to meet Louisa. Luckily, Louisa agrees to meet Dr. T even though she has some reservations. She figures she’s going to shed some light on Martin’s problems for Dr. T. In other words, we start therapy on tenuous footing including that as far as we know Martin has only seen the therapist once prior to Louisa’s return, due to time constraints he needs her to agree to see Dr. T on the same night that they are reunited, and he tells her nothing about his session with Dr. T.

When Louisa meets Dr. T for the first time, we see her enter the building but it appears that we pick up the conversation sometime after it begins. By the time we are brought into the conversation, Louisa is in the act of explaining that Martin has a hard time expressing his feelings, although she’s sure he loves her. Louisa then makes some derogatory comments about Martin’s parents, all deserved. She is especially clear that Martin’s mother is very cold and that she can understand why Martin is emotionally repressed. When asked about her parents, Louisa identifies them as normal, but she does reveal that her Mom left home when she was 12 and that her father was incarcerated when she was a child.

Since the show has made a fairly consistent effort to inform us of the childhood traumas of both Martin and Louisa, we have been led to believe that these are critical to the formation of these two characters. We’ve met all four parents over the years and, through a dream sequence that Martin has one early morning after James has been born, and probably triggered by a butterfly crib mobile, we know that Martin has suffered from the harmful effects of a bad tempered father when he was young. We also know that he’s been punished by being locked in  a space under the stairs and by physical means, and that he wet his bed until he was 11. Thus, when the counseling sessions begin with Dr. T learning some intimate tidbits about their parents, we anticipate more inquiry into the parent/child dynamic. Childhood is when the most significant impact on our lives occurs and we deem it crucial to this couple. But that is not to be after all.  Dr. T does not pursue this line of analysis and we do not hear her ask much about their childhoods after this. At the very least a good therapist would have explored how these experiences may have negatively impacted how Martin and Louisa relate to each other. The best therapy would have delved into their childhoods and considered how these experiences shaped them.

Instead, even though Dr. T wonders whether there is some connection between how Louisa’s relationship with her father might correspond with how she deals with Martin, she decides that it would be best for them to enter couples therapy. There is no transition during which she looks into Martin’s individual concerns. Since he made the initial contact, she might have wanted to probe more deeply into Martin’s feelings about why things were difficult before Louisa left. What does that mean anyway? Moreover, we see Louisa immediately resist the notion of couples therapy. We also note that Louisa is not receptive to the suggestion that both parties may be in some way responsible for the problems. Nonetheless, Dr. T moves on with couples therapy without a second individual meeting with either of them. Once therapy transitions to couples counseling, the objective changes. In couples counseling it is the marriage that is effectively the client and not any individual. The mission is now to set goals for the marriage to reach a satisfactory level of success for this couple.

Our introduction to couples therapy with Martin and Louisa begins with E4. When we join the conversation, Martin and Louisa are already seated facing Dr. T and Martin appears to be answering a question about whether he thinks environment has a strong impact on personality development in children. For some reason he mentions that his parents would leave him with his aunt every summer as related in some way to his conclusion that environment is important. Once again, Dr. T does not follow up and asks nothing about his relationship with his aunt or about what visiting her might have meant to him. (From what we’ve seen, we would think that it was a very positive experience during which he received the love, affection, and acceptance he had been missing at home.) He has mentioned that he was an unwanted child, which is pretty significant, but has left out the abuse and neglect he suffered. Most therapists would have wanted to know what brought him to the conclusion that he was unwanted. But here Dr. T moves on to asking Louisa if she’s uncomfortable. (Abby writes that she would have asked Louisa what it was like for her to hear what Martin is revealing. She notes that “it is important to develop empathy between them” and that Dr. T’s question about Louisa looking uncomfortable could have been a good way to transition to this. Unfortunately there is no follow up that takes place.)

Both Martin and Louisa look uncomfortable, and the seat they are asked to use certainly seems very hard and stiff itself, but also they are estranged and have never been extremely prone to overt expressions of affection, especially in public. Martin asserts that he appreciates Louisa, which is more evidence of Martin trying to change and become more expressive. This leads to Dr. T asking whether Louisa considers Martin appreciative. She rightly says that to her he is usually quite nice but not so much to others. Dr. T appropriately cuts Louisa off once she gets going on listing all the things she finds troubling about Martin, and we get the impression that Louisa has a lot of pent up criticism about him. It may be a sign of Dr. T’s observational skills that she notices their self-containment and asks them to list three positives about each other. Louisa is able to produce three things fairly quickly, and they are telling in that they are rather impersonal: Martin is a good doctor, he dresses smartly, and he keeps the house tidy. This last item is strange to find on Louisa’s list because she usually isn’t so happy about it. Then it’s Martin’s turn and his list is much more personal: Louisa is a good and caring mother, she’s active, and she’s very beautiful. Their choices represent well what is important to each of them. For Louisa Martin’s outstanding medical ability has always been preeminent. She is also attracted to his outward appearance and professional attire. After that she seems to struggle for a third thing to add. For Martin Louisa’s interest in being a good mother is preeminent and why he has nothing to say about her achievements as headmistress. Being active matters to him on a health level, and we know he has considered her beautiful from the moment he first saw her. Louisa seems flattered despite the omission of her ability as a headmistress.

What follows is an assignment to hug three times a day and say something positive to each other every day. As I wrote in my post on Hugs and Kisses, this assignment makes sense because it asks them to add physical touching, and that can be extremely effective in bringing people closer. It also requires them to think of something they can say to each other that should be complimentary. It switches the emphasis away from the negative.

As always, we know that watching Martin and Louisa hug three times a day will be both amusing and endearing, and it is. This was precisely what I hoped therapy would do for the show and this couple. By the end of E4, we see a lot of progress even though Louisa still struggles to find something positive to say to Martin. Therapy is making a difference despite being relatively lacking in thoroughness.

E5 starts with Martin already having a bad day due to an unpleasant confrontation with a young girl and being shadowed by Buddy. They arrive a bit early for their therapy session and are seen waiting in their car by another patient, something they both appear to dislike. Dr. T asks about how the hugging assignment went and Louisa answers that Martin has trouble with spontaneity. Martin immediately accuses her of the same. But we are quickly off to Louisa asking about doing something with Martin’s blood phobia. Louisa has finally raised that condition with Dr. T.  because she would like to redirect therapy to make it about Martin. At this point, according to Abby, most therapists would acknowledge the importance of Martin’s haemophobia but make sure the hugging exercise wasn’t neglected. There was too much material involved with the hugging for the therapist to simply move on without spending more time on it. Dr. T can’t really address the haemophobia specifically with Martin if she is focusing on the marriage, but she suggests the blood phobia is connected to Martin’s desire to be in control, and despite his disagreement with that, she sticks to her analysis and gives them another assignment. (There is some dispute here about the origins of the haemophobia because we’ve heard Ruth tell Martin that this sort of phobia often has roots in childhood trauma. Abby would be inclined to agree with Ruth even though Martin certainly has control issues. As a person who needs to feel in control, Martin probably felt safe until the event that brought on the blood phobia took place. The onset of the phobia was enough to bring on significant anxiety and make him terrified. Since then, he has found a way to maintain control, but each time the phobia reappears, it reminds him that he isn’t in control and he is thrown into another state of fear.)

This time their assignment is for Louisa to take charge of an activity and Martin must do whatever she asks of him. The odd thing about this is that he’s trying to do even more than that already and has chosen to live in an unsavory place so that Louisa and James can stay at the surgery. He also offers to bathe James regularly and to take care of James when Janice is unavailable. He’s very cognizant of not impinging on Louisa’s privacy and treads lightly around her. But both Louisa and Martin agree to this assignment without objection either.

The picnic Louisa chooses as her activity is disrupted by Angela Sim having a mental breakdown at the beach and that breaks up the family occasion. On the other hand, Louisa is grateful that Martin was there to help Angela and the episode ends with both of them entering the surgery together, which should be a good sign. Then again, there is no mention of how that assignment went to our knowledge but we join the session near the end this time. (Abby finds this assignment strange because Dr. T should have noticed that both Louisa and Martin have control issues. Louisa has tried to take charge of most of the sessions. “If she gave them this assignment to show how Louisa sets Martin up, then why wasn’t the assignment explored the next session?  Why did you choose a picnic?  Is it something you thought Martin would like?  What food did you pack?  Were there things both of you like?  So much valuable material that could have been gleaned from a discussion like this.”)

Once again Dr. T decides to give them another assignment which entails going on a date together. Dr. T makes a valuable contribution when she comments that Louisa may equate love with being left alone, since her parents left her when she was a child, and now she has fallen in love with a man who she says she didn’t think would last in Portwenn. Her comment that Louisa sets Martin up for failure is also so that she can continue to be disappointed in him. Abby notes that Dr. T was planting seeds that she hoped would germinate either during therapy or afterwards. Each time in the world of Dr. T’s therapy, however, there is so little follow up that we can only be frustrated, and that shows poor practice methods.

It is here when Louisa admits that falling in love with Martin was not a conscious act in any way connected to how she might conceive of the emotion of love. Perhaps that is a nod to the incomprehensibility of choosing Martin as the man she wants to marry. We can’t explain what leads us to fall in love and love is rather mystifying. Again, as far as we can tell, Dr. T just leaves that hanging too.

Dr. T provides very few guidelines for the date so it’s particularly nice to see Martin bring flowers for Louisa, make reservations at the location where they first met and make special note of that. They have a slightly tense conversation about Louisa’s impression that Martin wouldn’t last 5 minutes in Portwenn. Then Martin brings up Danny and confronts Louisa about telling Danny about their private lives, but Louisa is honest in her answer and quick to apologize. For me her behavior is conciliatory and she hopes to have a nice dinner. The disruption comes when Louisa takes a call from Danny that causes her to feel compelled to leave. It is understandable that she would leave her phone on to be available for any calls about James, but she should never have accepted a call from Danny, and he should never have called her.

When Dr. T sees them next, Louisa describes the dinner date as a disaster, but that seems a pretty extreme appraisal. Again, Dr. T does not ask Martin to venture his own feelings. Martin’s anger at Louisa for divulging their marital problems to Danny is not similarly played out with Rachel. Time and again Dr. T allows Louisa to be the one to give her evaluation of each exercise with no effort to balance what she says with what Martin thinks. Quickly Dr. T comes to the conclusion that Martin and Louisa should make a list of what they like about being on their own, and tells them they should not consider a decision to separate as a failure. (Abby can’t help having a strong reaction to this procedure, and I decided to include it all: “This scene is so far from good practice that I cringe at the thought that people will think this is what therapy is.  First of all, she doesn’t explore why Louisa found that date to be a disaster.  ((Santa would add, “If there’s anything that’s not typical of therapy, it’s letting pass a pregnant comment that ‘it was a disaster.'”)) She didn’t elicit Martin’s view on the evening.  She didn’t explore the entire assignment:  How was the date arranged?  Who asked whom?  Did Martin pick her up?  How did that go?  What was the drive like?  Where did they go?  How did they feel sitting at the table with each other?  What did they talk about?  Where did the evening break down?  Was there a better way they could have handled it?  There was so much that could be gained from such a post mortem that it is frustrating for me to see it just dropped.  And then to suggest they think about the positives of being separated after such a short time leaves me just dumbfounded.  One might wonder if she was using reverse psychology here, but that would be a very dangerous game.”)

It is also very bad practice to have never explored the history of their relationship and the course of their short marriage. We have no evidence that she ever has tried to investigate these areas.

What we have then is several short-lived efforts to spend time together, hardly any review of what took place during those occasions, usually a willingness to hear only one person’s assessment of the assignment, and ultimately a suggestion that perhaps saving their marriage is not such a good idea, and that that would not be considered a failure.

The final time Martin and Louisa go out to see Dr. T takes place after Dr. T’s car accident and head injury. She acts very erratically and chooses an exercise for right there in her office. It seems a bit silly as she asks Martin and Louisa to march in place. We can no longer take her seriously as a therapist.

When we make a final survey of the therapy, it is hard to be very impressed by it. The length of time they spend going to therapy as a couple is probably 5 weeks. Over that period Dr. Timoney has learned that both Martin and Louisa had childhood experiences that were damaging and are likely to have caused some residual harm. In Louisa’s case she has concluded that Louisa interprets love as being intertwined with being cast aside; we don’t know how she looks at Martin’s childhood. What she thinks about Martin is that he likes to be in control. She notices that they are self-contained, at least around her. Hopefully she also realizes that Louisa has a good deal of bottled up anger toward Martin based on how easy it is for her to express criticism of him. She should also notice that Louisa is usually the first one to give her impression of how each assignment went, and that she often does not reciprocate Martin’s efforts to offer compliments. We see almost no follow-up after Louisa disparages each assignment, and there is very little probing of either Martin or Louisa. Without asking for more information, how can you trust that what’s reported is accurate? (I would argue that it isn’t accurate or reliable.) Needless to say, I would expect a therapist to inquire why Louisa is so angry at Martin and possibly elicit from them what it would take for her to be able to get over her strong vexation with him. It seems clear that Louisa is the barrier to any reconciliation. Furthermore, as Santa notes, “they were never coached in how to talk to each other, which I would think would almost immediately have been identified as a significant issue for them.” Martin has admitted to having poor communication skills. We know that this show is built on Martin and Louisa being unable to complete most conversations for many reasons. It would have made sense to address that.

There are many other problems with the therapy and its short term basis. Most therapy lasts for several months, not several weeks. The marital troubles have built up over a fairly long time and dealing with them cannot be expected to work so quickly. Certainly, any couples therapist would do her best to find a way to keep the couple together, especially since that is why they have engaged her. To give up and advise them to separate after such a limited time trying to help them, would be a sign that this therapist is lacking in proper skills and not gifted as advertised. Both Santa and Abby concur on this point.

(As often happens, I read an article in the NYTimes that seems pertinent and wanted to share it with you. It’s helpful that the article provides both sides of therapy and this therapist is loathe to end therapy when she feels there is still much to work on. Importantly, she notes her own failures in treating this patient and hopes to be given another chance to help. Unlike Dr. T, she does not tell the patient that she is an extremely challenging case and she never implies that the situation is hopeless. What Dr. T says is extremely unprofessional, according to both Abby and Santa. To quote Abby: “You do not tell a couple that they are the most challenging case you have ever come across, especially when the therapy has not been successful.  This is very blaming, and in a more sensitive client could induce shame.  It is important to end with something positive, if only with an invitation to return when and if the client feels the need to do so.” Santa adds: “We understand dramatically why she said it — to build suspense about whether they can reconcile — but it’s just dumb.” Having this doctor behave in an obviously grossly unprofessional manner and say something plainly stupid puts in question how Ruth portrayed her originally. Maybe this therapist wasn’t such a good choice after all.)

I would be remiss if I didn’t write anything about how the therapy sessions function as a plot driver. Anytime a particular activity is used repeatedly, it’s worth determining how it contributes to the plot. In this series each episode except for the first one begins with some interaction with Dr. Timoney; therefore, the therapy sessions are given some importance. The key role each session has is to tell us what the episode will be about;  it drives the action. Another way it operates is to get this couple into the car together and spending at least one uninterrupted hour together. On the other hand, the time spent in therapy substitutes for the more valuable use of time during which they could have talked to each other. Dr. T both creates a space where they can express themselves, something they have trouble doing, and interferes with their ability to relate. If she used the time wisely, she could lead to a greater closeness between them. Finally, like any other outsider, Dr. Timoney brings another character into the village and into Martin and Louisa’s lives. She challenges their preconceptions and unites them, even if it is at her expense.

Alternatively, Dr. T is unknown to the town until she crashes her car; Ruth knows of her but they don’t seem to have interacted much based on their coincidental meeting in the pharmacy in E7; and no one other than Morwenna and Ruth knows that Louisa and Martin are seeing her until she tells Sally after her head injury. This time the outsider stays one. Even her departing scene is exceptional because they make a joke of it, although at least they agree.

All in all, we are given a pretty dim view of therapy. Santa states, “As both Abby and I have said, therapy isn’t really all about the presentation of illuminating, penetrating insights by a therapist, but that is the impression that you get.” Indeed, therapy is depicted as unsuccessful and it is the random thoughts of a variety of characters, many of them dimwitted, who appear to be of more value. The art teacher tells her daughter she loves her as she is; Mrs. T makes a few pointed comments about marriage to ME; and Janice tells Louisa she knows Martin better than anyone. Finally, Mrs. Winton conveys the power of love and commitment despite being in a rather crazed state. The message seems to be to trust in the folksy wisdom of people around you rather than in professionals, a position we wouldn’t expect from a team that has been characterizing Martin, and some other doctors, as professional, highly knowledgeable and capable of saving lives.

(Oh, one last thing…we hear Martin advise patients to seek counseling several times throughout the show and that appears contradictory to how therapy has been handled in S7. What good is it to have someone evaluated if you have very little confidence in the process? I’m not sure what to make of that exactly, but his view that Mrs. Tishell would not have been released unless the professionals were sure that she was under control is certainly disproven. By the end of S7, Sally seems to have arrived at some place of acceptance that Clive is who she should be with, but she never stops stalking Martin and making inappropriate comments to him. The evidence against therapy is stronger than that in favor of it.)

 

Originally posted 2016-08-02 09:05:10.

Hello Doc Martin TV show lovers!

Hello all fans of the Doc Martin TV show! I know there are a lot of you out there all over the world and I want to connect with you! I’m starting this blog because I can’t believe that I couldn’t find any site where there was an in-depth discussion about the show. I’d love to get a lively discussion going about all sorts of subjects. Please write comments!!

Originally posted 2013-08-05 15:37:33.

More on British and American TV

As you can probably tell, I haven’t been finding much to write about lately. However, I recently read something in the April 25th issue of The New Yorker magazine, which is “The Entertainment Issue,” that I felt was worth mentioning.

The article I was reading is about the British writer/actor Sharon Horgan and her comedy “Catastrophe” whose second season just began streaming on Amazon. It’s about an Irish woman played by Horgan and an American man played by Rob Delaney. They have “a six-night stand in London, accidentally conceive a child, and then try to make a life together.” Horgan sounds like a dynamo who is filled with ideas and has written several TV shows. Sarah Jessica Parker chose Horgan to write a show for her because she has an “‘affection for the dark, sad, and ridiculous that reveals itself in painful circumstances.'” Apparently Horgan believes funny and grim describes all her work. (Brits prefer the word grim to dark.)

But the part that especially interested me because of the constant debating about whether British TV is better than American TV (especially on Facebook) is when the article gets into the regular exchange of shows between our two countries. To quote the article:

There’s another way to understand what has happened to American comedy in recent years: it has become more British. The hallmark of the British sitcom is a quasi-unbearable protagonist who is an Everyman, only insofar as every man can laugh at him. The unrepentant snob Basil Fawlty, the beastly glamour-pusses Edina and Patsy, the fatuous narcissist Alan Partridge, and the thirsty buffoon David Brent: these classic British characters are all flawed in the unapologetic manner of contemporary edgy American comedies.
U.K. sitcoms tend to be darker than American ones, encouraged by a powerful public broadcasting system whose aim is to serve the varying tastes of taxpayers, not the upbeat preferences of advertisers, and by a national psyche fixated on the immutability of the class system, not on a dream of self-improvement. Americans believe that things will get better. Brits laugh at how things stay the same. To become a hit in the United States, “The Office” not only had to transform the tragic, grating boss into a less tragic, less grating, more well-meaning boss; it had to cast off the message, central to the British original, that work is where you go to waste your life.
Still, trade moves in both directions across the Atlantic. American series frequently air in the U.K. Four years ago, Phil Clarke, the head of Channel 4’s comedy department, felt inspired by the dramatic elements of American series like “Louie” and “Girls,” and set out to commission similarly sophisticated narrative sitcoms. To Clarke, “Catastrophe” is a kind of hybrid, “aping what you did in the States” in terms of mixing drama, comedy, and season-long story lines, “but also plundering some British comedy traditions, mostly of hatred, self-loathing, and repression.”
Horgan’s career reflects the increasingly porous nature of these national styles. “Pulling” is the epitome of the grim British comedy. Two attempts to adapt it for American television failed. “Catastrophe” is a series about two likable characters who do not quite seem so on paper. Based only on a script, it is possible to imagine an interpretation of “Catastrophe” that veers dangerously close to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” In the final episode of the new season, Sharon enthusiastically lectures Rob, “Not everyone has to like you. You’re not a puppy. You’re an adult man with a wife. Honest people who tell people how they feel when they feel it have people not like them. O.K.? That’s what I do. I have earned the right to have people dislike me. I am very happy to have people not like me!” (“No shit,” Rob replies.)

“Catastrophe” is a true hybrid with both American and British actors and attests to the fact that TV producers/writers/actors believe both countries make valuable contributions to the medium. The quality works both ways and how the channels operate plays a part in what succeeds. It’s time to stop thinking one is better than the other; they are synergistic.

Originally posted 2016-04-20 18:17:42.

Good Grief! Or Fear, Loss, and Time

Our blog supporter, Santa, has noticed that there is a significant theme of loss running through this show. I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t picked up on that, but now that she has mentioned it, I certainly can see much evidence of it. In the case of Doc Martin, we have to consider the amount of loss, with its concomitant sense of grief in all its forms, as one way it incentivizes us to sympathize with the main protagonist as well as others who experience loss in the show. Although we can identify many characters in this show as having experienced significant losses, I want to focus mostly on Martin Ellingham as a means of investigating how loss is both subliminally and overtly accentuated and most likely forms the basis for how viewers become dedicated to the show. The regular inclusion of the experience of loss impacts viewers emotionally such that they find themselves receptive to the relationship between Martin and Louisa as well as Martin and the town. (I think the idea of loss is cunningly used to also make viewers more likely to tolerate the behavior of other characters in the show too.) As caring people, we are inclined to pity characters who suffer in some way.

Once I started thinking about the occasions of loss in this show, I began to notice that each series contains at least one example of loss for Martin Ellingham. S1: ME arrives in Portwenn after losing his ability to perform surgery. At the same time he has lost his home and his daily routine. S2: ME thinks he has lost his chance to have a relationship with Louisa because Danny has displaced him. Then, when things seem to have gone his way and Danny leaves, he goes one step further and insults Louisa by accusing her of stalking him, curtailing the likelihood of being in a romantic liaison with her. His parents come to visit and he is forced to realize that they never wanted him and they have no respect for him. Therefore, he could be said to have lost any illusion that his parents care about him, although we know he continues to believe his childhood was fairly normal. S3: He subverts his date with Louisa and once again loses her. He manages to win her back, but the series ends with her telling him she doesn’t want to marry him after all and she departs for London. S4: He appears to have lost any chance at reuniting with Louisa, especially after she sees him with Edith when she first returns from London. He certainly loses his chance at a job as a surgeon in London by still being unprepared and by giving it low priority, and then because he changes his mind. S5: Joan dies and he loses the aunt he had a strong attachment to. Once again he loses whatever family harmony they had developed when Louisa leaves after he neglects to consult her one too many times. S6: He loses control over his blood phobia and his emotional stability, and he once again loses any close feelings he’s had with Louisa as he sinks into depression. S7: He loses his home and his hope for recuperating his marriage. His concern for Ruth and effort to prevent her from leaving by rushing to the train station shows how much she means to him and that her departure would mean another loss for him.

In general the losses he suffers are ones most associated with family, either his childhood and his interactions with his parents or the times when he tries to create a family of his own. We can even link his original onset of haemophobia and his consequent departure from surgery to family in that the reason he could not perform surgery was the realization that a family and a real person were involved. Edith and he had been engaged at one time only to have her terminate the relationship; now Louisa has become his love interest, but their efforts to connect are cut off over and over again. We could say that ME longs for the family he never had.

We can start with the loss of his childhood, which may have begun immediately after his birth. We know his mother rejected him at the outset, that he was treated harshly from an early age including punishment by being locked in small spaces, that he was sent away to school at age 6 3/4, and that he wet his pants until he was 11. We are pretty sure he got no affection from his parents, and Ruth has noted that he went from an active and engaging little boy until the age of 4 to a withdrawn and quiet young boy thereafter.

They’ve made so much of his childhood and his summer stays with Aunt Joan that we can hardly ignore their effort to make a connection between those circumstances and how he behaves as an adult. However, what seems to be at the core of all of these scenes during which we either see or hear about what went on in the Ellingham family is they were all fundamentally rejected by their parents. We especially gain some insight into Ruth’s childhood when she first tells Louisa that her childhood “gifted her with a chronic case of social awkwardness…distant mother, overbearing father, a succession of quasi-sexual encounters at a very young age” and a tendency to alienate or overshare. Later she mentions that she was never allowed to call her father “Daddy.” That must have been true for Joan and Christopher too. Furthermore, both Joan and Christopher have had troubled marriages. Joan went the route of an extramarital affair while Christopher simply spurned his wife. Among the three siblings, there is only one child, Martin. Kind of says a lot right there! On the other hand, if Martin had a cousin that would have complicated the story unnecessarily. This way we have parents who rejected him, an aunt who loved him but whose influence was limited due to his parents and their Victorian ideas, and another aunt who is equally unemotional and repressed as he is but can relate to him on a professional level. Later Ruth becomes more personal and more protective of him, but by then he is in his forties. Whatever contact he had with his extended family involved losses — loss of summers with Joan and lack of regular interaction with Ruth.

As a result of all of the information we’ve been given about Martin and the Ellingham family, I think we have to put some thought into how loss in this show is heavily placed on family and parental rejection. Therefore, rather than look at loss from the perspective of death, despite death being a factor here too, I want to introduce a different angle from all the theories related to death and dying.

The theory that has really intrigued me is that of Ronald P. Rohner, professor Emeritus of Family Studies and Anthropology at the University of Connecticut. He has developed the PARENTAL ACCEPTANCE-REJECTION THEORY or PART which grew out of cross-cultural studies he’s done to determine how children cope with parental rejection. In an article entitled “Introduction to IPARTheory,” several pertinent statements stand out beginning with “many rejected persons close off emotionally in an effort to protect themselves from the hurt of further rejection. That is, they become less emotionally responsive. In so doing they often have problems being able or willing to express love and in knowing how to or even being capable of accepting it from others.” We have certainly seen ME protect himself by using distancing methods like medical speak or inappropriate comments. He rarely leaves himself open to accepting expressions of concern or love from others. Aunt Joan can grab a hug now and then, but Martin is usually very uncomfortable with it. And any time Louisa tries to demonstrate her feelings for him, he is quite edgy or embarrassed. (As always I want to remember that much of his behavior is meant to be funny, and it makes us laugh to hear him make remarks that are clearly so off-putting. Here I’m just trying to apply some rational thinking to it as well.)

The article also notes that “insofar as children and adults feel their attachment figures don’t love them, they are likely to feel they are unlovable, perhaps unworthy of being loved.” In addition, this research asserts that “rejected individuals develop a fear of intimacy.” This exact sentiment seems to get played out when Martin is told by Ruth that he doesn’t think he deserves Louisa and when Martin is unable to confide in Louisa. (Adult attachment figures are usually romantic relationships. In 1987, “Hazan and Shaver argued that adult romantic relationships, like infant-caregiver relationships, are attachments, and that romantic love is a property of the attachment behavioral system, as well as the motivational systems that give rise to caregiving and sexuality.” (A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research by R. Chris Fraley | University of Illinois))

Martin seems to have carried over his childhood attachment issues into adulthood, which is not always likely to happen. Studies also quoted in the above overview note “attachment styles in the child-parent domain and attachment styles in the romantic relationship domain are only moderately related at best.” I cannot expect that the writers of this show would have looked up any of this and simply may have made an educated guess that Martin’s experiences in childhood would lead to having problems with attachment in adulthood. Regardless of the exact conditions, Martin and Louisa’s rocky love life is connected to their childhoods and their relationships with their parents. The loss and recovery dynamic they go through time and again could easily be associated with their latent insecurities due to their perceived rejection during their childhoods.

That the Doc Martin writers, et. al. planned for the members of the Ellingham family to show signs of suffering from these sorts of repercussions is unlikely; however, we can retrospectively observe how some of their behavior fits the theory. (My personal position is that much of the development of these characters comes post-hoc. They started with the irony of a surgeon who can’t perform surgery due to the sudden onset of a blood phobia, and who moves to Portwenn to be near his aunt with whom he spent several nice summers, and who is skittish about fitting in. After the first series, they realized his behavior needed some sort of origin and bringing in the family would add conflict as well as more sympathy for him.)

All of the older Ellingham generation show different levels of coping skills. Martin’s behavior has some signs of Asperger’s, but PARTheory points out an alternative diagnosis: reaction to being rejected. More than anything, however, the Ellinghams are a family in which loss plays a significant role and they have compounded the losses encountered by Christopher, Joan, and Ruth by passing those on to Martin. The family heritage is filled with doctors along with emotionless misfits.

Martin does suffer some loss through death too. The biggest blow would have been from Joan’s sudden death. He may try to comfort himself by judging her age as within expectations for lifespan, but she was the only source of affection for him apart from Louisa. Although she is replaced by Aunt Ruth fairly quickly, Joan had been the one member of his family who had had some history with him. Her death leaves him more than ever in search of a family circle. It isn’t long before he abruptly learns about his father’s death. In both cases, Martin is given no time to adjust to the news. The loss of his father intensifies the loss of control he feels from the return of his haemophobia and he retreats even farther into his protective cocoon. Nevertheless, even when he is in the doldrums in S6, he considers his family to consist of his wife, his son, and Ruth. That he essentially chases Louisa away and finds himself alone again after she leaves for Spain with James, accentuates the losses he has engendered in his life.

Whenever there is loss, it is usually accompanied by grief, or a grieving process. The stoic in Martin Ellingham never exhibits much behavior associated with grief with the exception of the scene following the concert date when Louisa decides to end their dating, and some scenes in S6, e.g. when he sits in the car with James while Louisa is in the hospital and again when he becomes tearful after the operation on Louisa. In those two occasions his emotions get the better of him and we are intended to empathize with the pain he experiences from knowing that he has come close to losing Louisa. The sight of ME struggling with his feelings pulls at our heartstrings, and it may be the best reason to have taken such a dramatic turn in S6.

I have already mentioned Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her 5 stages of grief in a previous post. She expressed her theory in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying. The five stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages are self-explanatory I think, and we should keep in mind that not everyone goes through each stage and the stages may be experienced in a different order. They were primarily developed for people who had been given a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Her theory has been supported by other studies, but, not surprisingly, there also have been studies that have modified it or come to other conclusions. George Bonanno argues there are four trajectories of grief: resilience, recovery, chronic dysfunction, delayed grief or trauma. And Susan Berger, Ed.D., LICSW, has identified 5 ways we grieve. In her model there are nomads, memorialists, normalizers, activists and seekers. I think both of these theories can add dimension to our basic understanding of grief.

Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, did his work in the early 2000s. He’s credited with using scientific studies to support his theories and with replacing older notions about grief with the demonstration that most people exhibit a lot of resilience following a loss. Resilience surfaces even when people face extreme stressors or losses, which contradicts the stages model of grief. His article “Loss, Trauma, and Human Resilience” explains his theory.

Following the loss of control over his haemophobia, Martin’s ability to handle the arrival of his mother is compromised. Her news of his father’s death, and her imposition on their home life, are rather traumatic. Due to the adjustments Martin has had to make to having a wife and child, perhaps his depression is more like PTSD and that’s why it doesn’t last into S7. (Admittedly, I am groping here, but it’s fun to speculate.)

Berger notes that most people fall into the category of nomads, and Martin could easily fit into that group. We could also make a case for him as a “normalizer.” He doesn’t have many friends, but he has decided to emphasize family first and then the community, mostly consisting of Morwenna, and possibly Penhale and Mrs. Tishell. They all contribute to returning his life to its former state.

Other losses registered in this show are:

  • Louisa essentially has lost her mother and father during childhood. She has lost her job in Portwenn and in London. She has felt the loss of having the occasional closeness she has gotten from Martin. So many times he’s told her he can’t bear to live without her, he loves her and will always love her, he thinks she’s beautiful and a caring mother, etc. However, he has also shut her out time and again, treated her disrespectfully, and embarrassed her in front of others. He’s also shunned many of her efforts to be affectionate. She can’t help but be confused and disoriented by his erratic behavior towards her.
  • Joan has lost her association with Martin when he was a child. She’s lost her husband and her relationship with her brother is very strained. She is on the verge of losing her farm and possibly her car/driving privileges. The loss of her farm would be devastating to her. Some of her friends have died and her lover, John Slater, is terminally ill. She’s a fighter, but her life has been very tough.
  • Ruth has never had much of a family life and her attachments to siblings appears fragile. Moving to Portwenn has meant losing her life in London and her professional interactions. At least she takes trips back to London to refresh herself from time to time. She has probably gained a few things too. She has never had as close a relationship with a relative until she establishes herself near Martin, and this has led to becoming close to Louisa and others in the town. But her constant refrain is that she isn’t ready to stop working, and continuing to work now means traveling. By the end of S7, we see a Ruth who may be thinking of being more active at the B&B rather than attending more conferences.
  • Bert has lost his wife and then his fiancée, and now he’s lost his home. He flits from job to job with little attachment to any of them — perhaps until this new plan of making whiskey. His most recent venture, the restaurant, has had many ups and downs until failure finally overtakes it.
  • Mrs. Tishell has lost her dignity and her mind. Her husband’s long absences mean that she is alone much of the time and she doesn’t seem to have any friends.
  • Al struggles to find his way. He’s lost his mother, although his father did a good job of filling that void. He’s abandoned many ideas and he’s lost in love. He may now have lost his independence from his father.
  • Penhale has lost his wife, his brother, and has a lonely existence. This new attraction to Janice seems pretty pathetic and destined to go nowhere. Once we hear that she’s been married 3 times at such a young age, we can’t expect anything reliable to come of her potential romance with Joe.
  • Many townspeople have lost much. There are many broken families, and several have had deaths in their families.

All in all, for a comedy/dramedy, we have a lot of loss in this show. It’s fascinating to consider how they have managed to make us laugh while depicting characters with so much deprivation. It does make for a show with an undercurrent of misfortune that I would speculate causes viewers to feel closer to the characters. At the same time, the tribulations are varied enough and often arise from such zany circumstances that we can’t help but find them funny. Bert’s restaurant certainly made me think twice before eating out!!

 

 

 

Originally posted 2016-03-18 16:10:42.

Professional Opinion v. Folk Wisdom

After writing so much about the poor representation of professional therapy in S7, I want to say something about how Doc Martin weighs in on the reliability of professional advice as opposed to that of all sorts of other people in Portwenn. Part of the problem with making such distinctions is that there could be many reasons why those decisions were made by the powers that be. I think that one very likely reason is that Martin Ellingham’s skills need to be differentiated from the other professionals. His medical knowledge is supposed to appear superior to any other doctor or nurse.  As a result we see him berate and humiliate other doctors and nurses. One reason we may see various residents of Portwenn make comments to him (and Louisa) is that small towns are like that. His neighbors can hear the baby cry or they quickly know about any altercation. Many times Louisa finds out about something Martin did by hearing from someone in town. He’s a prominent person in the town and eventually becomes a part of life in Portwenn. The townspeople begin to offer unsolicited advice as a way to reassure him even when they ought to be aware that he won’t be very appreciative of it. Indeed, that adds to the humor — his general irritation with anyone giving him advice is only further evidence that he is abrasive and unwelcoming. So, we recognize how the advice coming from either professionals or non-professionals works as an integral part of the character development and plot. On the other hand, the preponderance of examples of really clumsy, deficient, and blundering professionals seems to me to demonstrate a bias against professionals. Meanwhile, the number of times we can point to when non-professionals provide insightful and meaningful counseling also gives us pause and makes us wonder if the position of the show is that professionals are suspect and should rarely be respected, and regular folks, the uneducated but replete with life experience types, are the ones to listen to.

The show has included a fairly large number of medical professionals throughout the years, and when you look at them, most are quite incompetent. Among the doctors who can be listed as questionable are Adrian Pitts (S1), Dr. Milligan (S4), Diana Dibbs (S5), Colin Westmore (S6), and the doctor who treats Louisa after her car accident (S6). Adrian is the pits with an even worse bedside manner and attitude than Doc Martin and an insulting treatment of his female coworkers. Dr. Milligan (who may be either a psychiatrist or a psychologist) seems lost and has transgressed patient confidentiality by talking to Edith about Martin and admitting to accepting her suggestions. Diana Dibbs is clearly an anxious mess who abuses drugs, unethically shares her drugs with patients, writes prescriptions without proper examinations, and doesn’t realize she has Cushing’s disease. Colin Westmore is obviously out of his league and much too novice and hesitant for anyone to have confidence in his abilities as a surgeon. The doctor with no name who treats Louisa has neglected to check her adequately and is unaware that she has a DVT, which can be life threatening. (Dr. Timoney in S7 is definitely not a medical doctor; however, like Dr. Milligan, she is quite lacking in therapeutic skills and struggles to deal with marital problems. She eventually divulges confidential information and acts unstable.)

We should put Edith in this category as well because as much as she appears knowledgable about her field, she misses the diagnosis of diverticulitis and would have rushed into unnecessary surgery with little compunction. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, she also unethically asks Louisa about her sex life when gestation age is determined by a woman’s last menstrual period not when she last had sex. In fact, her sleazy demeanor while undermining Louisa to Martin makes her appear petty and disturbingly unscrupulous.

Then there are the other professionals, e.g. the Vicar, the Constable, the Chemist, and the Doctor’s Friend. Most of these are also depicted as compromised in some way. I appreciate the humor, of course, but still it’s hard to overlook the general tendency to denigrate the professionals. The Vicar is a drunkard, both Constables have major hangups: Mark is very insecure while Joe has been phobic and is buffoonish, the Chemist has her Martin obsession and medicates herself to the point of psychosis, and the Doctor’s Friend…well, he’s about as unctuous and repellent as possible. Louisa easily catches him distorting his negative appraisal of Martin with opinions from suspect residents of Portwenn.

In addition, we are presented with a group who we could consider professional, but who occupy a sort of grey area between actual professionals in their fields and pseudo-medical professionals. This list includes people like Sandra Mylow, the Herbalist, Anthony Oakwood, a research psychologist, Janet Sawle, a scientist, Molly O’Brien, the midwife, and Angela Sim, the veterinarian. They are in fields related to medicine and consider themselves qualified to make medical recommendations; however, we find their training and expertise lacking. Sandra earns Martin’s disdain when she willingly provides potions for people she’s never met, not to mention the fact that he considers her type of medical care akin to trickery. Anthony Oakwood is arrogant and his study of psychology is belittled when he excuses his son’s behavior with the jargon of a researcher rather than a parent. He’s the stereotype of a pedant and stunningly out of touch with reality. (We might have thought Martin’s tendency to be engrossed in medical journals and medical terminology could have ended up giving them something in common, but Martin has no respect for this egotistical Ph.D.) Janet Sawle is presented as a mad scientist concocting who knows what in her basement, and Molly O’Brien takes extreme positions about women’s health. Once again she’s a caricature of a midwife with few redeeming characteristics. It doesn’t take long for Louisa to dispense with her once she needs real medical care for a UTI. (There was a point during this scene when I thought “they” were making fun of the serious scenes between Martin and Julie Graham when Julie plays a midwife in William and Mary and gives birth to her baby in a birthing tub.) And, finally, who can take a homeopathic veterinarian seriously? Not only is it patently absurd that anyone can understand dogs by running their hands over their bodies and sensing a deep connection with them, but also she medicates herself with dog medication and becomes hallucinatory. I guess we could say she learned her approach to medicine from her father, who, by the way, is also remembered as mostly incompetent. His best treatment plan was giving Stewart placebos for his PTSD.

All of the above might be considered credentialed in some form and, therefore, people from whom we might expect unsolicited advice. Oddly enough, however, there isn’t much worthwhile advice emanating from the professionals listed above. For the most part the doctors with whom Martin interacts need his advice and have nothing much to say that might help him. The two medical doctors who stand out from this crowd of relative losers are Edith and Ruth. Edith focuses on Martin’s blood phobia and seems determined to rid him of it so that he can move back to London. Her motive Is mostly selfish because she wants to reignite a romance with him; nevertheless, she is helpful in confronting the phobia. What she suggests doesn’t work, but at least she gives it a whirl. She also tries to discourage Martin from losing heart about leaving Portwenn by telling him he’ll feel much better once he gets to London. (Of course this takes place after he has been pretty forthright about not wanting to be with her and she is unwilling to accept that.) Ruth is another matter. As both an aunt and a doctor, she tries to balance her medical advice with personal concern for him. She seems unconvinced at first that marriage is a good choice, although she does what she can to get the marriage off to a good start. She recommends seeking therapy to conquer his blood phobia in S6, does her best to get rid of Margaret, who she knows could only be there to cause trouble, and she continually tries to smooth things with Louisa. In S7 she finds a therapist she believes will be a good fit for him, convinces Louisa to participate in the therapy sessions, and checks in from time to time to see how he’s doing.  Of the medical professionals, she is the only one who offers useful advice even if we later decide that her suggestion of Dr. Timoney turns out to be a bust. Although she says a few contradictory things about whether people can change, I think her best advice comes when Martin is desperate for some guidance after Louisa leaves for Spain. Ruth first asks him if he wants to be with Louisa and then answers his affirmative response by telling him he must change and that he will find that harder to do than most. (Ruth gives others some good advice too. She tells Penhale he can attract more friends by being more complimentary; she tells Al to write his own story and stop delaying; and she tells Margaret to leave Martin alone.)

On the other hand, all of the aforementioned pseudo medical professionals have no qualms about giving advice to Martin. Sandra tells him he should consider doing more for his patients than prescribing medicine. Janet Sawle is suspicious of modern medicines and too many antibiotics, although her reservations are complicated by the uneasy relationship she has with her ailing sister. Molly O’Brien expresses popular concerns to Louisa about the overbearing demands of too many male doctors on their female patients and the hazards of using too many antibiotics. Naturally, her advice to ignore Martin’s recommendation to take antibiotics for Louisa’s UTI backfires and Louisa spikes a fever. (Both the Sawle case and Louisa’s condition point out that the fear of antibiotic resistance is sometimes carried to extremes and there are times when antibiotics are necessary.) Moreover, Molly’s portrayal of women being victimized by their male physicians is particularly offensive to Louisa. She considers herself well equipped to handle Martin and her life. Angela Sim’s advice to Martin mostly arrives through the vehicle of Buddy who she channels as if she is a dog psychic. She tells Martin he and Buddy have unresolved issues. In a scene reminiscent of the one with Sandra Mylow in S2, she also tells him he’s small minded because he can’t think outside the box of routine medical treatments. Later she tells him that “Buddy knows how lonely and unhappy you are, and he wants to help you. You must let him into your life. You need Buddy. You need to accept him.” At this point she starts to appear off-kilter, which could be construed as undercutting her advice. While she’s right that Martin is lonely and unhappy and needs help, hearing that from a dubious source will not have much of an impact on Martin.

But what happens throughout each series is many occasions when we have non-professionals who have no hesitation offering their opinions and advice to either Louisa or Martin. These include relatives, employees, patients, and so-called friends. Some stray townspeople jump into the advice business from time to time as well. Top on the list of non-professionals who have their own notions of what Martin should do is Louisa. Aunt Joan never holds back either. Bert can say some remarkably insightful things. Al, all the receptionists, Roger Fenn, John Slater, Muriel Steel, Danny, both Eleanor and Margaret, Mark Mylow, Peter Cronk, William Newcross, Wallace Flynt all give advice at some point. Even the fish monger, neighbor Mike Chubb, the dry cleaner, and caravan owner Bellamy take a turn. We can’t leave out Pippa, Erica Holbrook and Annie Winton either. In fact, the American Tourist has some words of advice for Martin before she leaves.

Louisa’s advice starts at the intake interview to determine whether they should hire Martin Ellingham as the next GP in Portwenn. Before the interview ends, she warns Martin that the Portwenn community prefers a doctor with a good bedside manner and she will be keeping an eye on him. Along the way she encourages him to have a laugh, to be friendlier to Mark Mylow, more talkative, less smarmy, more proactive, and to say something nice to her from time to time. She also wants him to be more involved with James, more interested in participating in her activities, and more sensitive to his family members, e.g. Ruth’s birthday or Margaret’s visit. Her best advice, in my opinion, is that sometimes people are different and that’s what makes us love them. I also like her advice to Martin when he’s planning to turn in Peter Cronk in S7. She becomes the Louisa we’ve known before and wants Martin to consider the impact Peter’s mistakes have already had on him before bringing in someone who follows the rules so strictly as Penhale often does.

Joan is filled with ideas of how Martin should behave. She’s happy to have him living nearby, but still seems to treat him as if he’s a young boy in her care. Since she’s the mother he never had, he allows her a certain latitude that others don’t have. Therefore, he accepts her criticism, judgements, and encouragement along with her casseroles. She wants him to pursue Louisa only to reach the conclusion that they are “chalk and cheese” and can never get along together. Later, when she finds out Louisa is pregnant and Martin is the father, she expects him to take an active role during the pregnancy despite any resistance from Louisa. She also tells him to remain a part of James’ life even if he leaves for London as planned. And during the broadcast of Louisa’s labor and delivery, it’s Joan who cheers him on to express his love for Louisa. She is disappointed in him when he takes too harsh a stand with patients and uses sarcasm on occasion to correct him when she thinks his behavior is out of line, for example when Helen Pratt dies or when Muriel Steel acts demented or when he insults her friend who caters the concert. Joan is by far the most outspoken of his relatives and quick to comfort him as well as to upbraid him. She certainly makes him think about what his next step should be. Her best advice in my book is telling him a child needs a father even if that father is far away. (Joan gives Al great advice too when he’s troubled by whether Bert is his biological father. She reminds Al that Bert has devoted his life to taking care of Al and whether he’s his biological father or not should not matter. We can speculate all we want about why they have Joan give such insightful comments about fathers — her father was awful, her brother is a rotten father, and she is a woman with a big heart — but her advice sets these two men straight.)

Amongst the best advice on the show for me is that given by Bert in S1E1 when he tells Martin “You need patients and we need a doc. Now we don’t all have to love one another, do we?” That comment makes Martin stop and think, and he changes his mind about leaving. Martin learns about the aged when he takes care of Muriel Steel. She dislikes his condescending manner, puts him in his place, and then comes around to realizing that being at a senior citizens facility is actually quite pleasant. Simultaneously, Joan suggests to Martin that it was her fears that had prompted Muriel’s hesitations about moving, and he seems to learn a lot about growing old. I really like Mark Mylow’s comments when his sister is visiting about being stuck dealing with people we don’t like because they are family. I also enjoy the advice Martin hears from the fish monger after Louisa has left him in S5: “No shame in cooking for one…Nobody cares about me. I might as well sit around all day in my “Y” fronts…You just hang on in there Doc. What’s for you won’t go by you.” Again, Martin gives that some thought.

The conversation Martin overhears between Pauline and Al about another couple that “he’s too shy; he’s always waiting for the girl to make the move. He’s always waiting for permission, and when you give him permission, he messes up” functions as advice and leads to Martin changing course with Louisa.

What are we to make of all these sources of advice throughout the show and their place in the storyline? Can we simply dismiss as humorous and irritating the many times when all sorts of people suggest some lesson to be learned to Martin? There are obvious pearls of wisdom mixed in with the random comments we hear. Roger Fenn tells Martin that becoming a parent introduces one to a whole new kind of love; and Erica Holbrook shows him that mothers can adapt and accept their children as they are. Mr. and Mrs. McLynn, Clive and Sally Tishell, and Jim and Annie Winton give us a few good thoughts on commitment and love. When we look back over the 7 series, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that they are making the point that each of us have life experiences that teach us more than any insights we can learn from professionals. After surveying the characters from all 7 series, the evidence seems pretty clear that the doctors come out badly. With the exception of Martin and Ruth Ellingham, the doctors give deficient to awful advice, have generally terrible attitudes towards their patients, and are treated as inexperienced and often poorly trained.

Expert advice isn’t always reliable and over time the experts reassess and may change their positions. However, if the expert advice tends to be given by inferior figures, we can’t really consider that a fair representation. Homespun wisdom isn’t always wrong either, but I balk at a 26 year old woman who has been married 3 times already guiding Louisa in any way. It’s funny, but once again undercuts the show’s generally positive appraisal of lay people’s advice.

If nothing else, this exercise has given me a reason to recap some of my favorite dialogue. I’m sure I’ve missed some of the moments you’ve liked the most. I look forward to hearing from you on this topic.

Originally posted 2016-03-03 18:12:38.

Children’s Fascination with Death

I am planning to write a post on another subject very soon. It is taking me longer than I’d like because at the moment I am preparing to give a lecture on William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, which is a very hard book to distill into an hour long talk.

Anyway, my husband and I spent a half hour in our 6 yo grandson’s kindergarten class last Friday trying to impart some information about the brain. We brought a plastic model of the brain that we could split into two parts, like the two hemispheres of the brain, and we brought the wires that are used to capture the electrical impulses of the brain on an EEG. We thought we’d have a discussion of how our bodies, and especially our brains, operate by the use of electricity contained in our brain and nerves.

They had heard from other parents/grandparents about the heart and circulatory system, and remembered a huge amount about that.

My husband, the neurologist, told them that the brain controls everything in the body. After a series of questions about whether the brain controls our blood, and our fingers, and legs, and…their teacher said everything means everything. What happened next, however, just stunned us. First one 5 yo asked what caused his grandmother’s face to look so crooked as he scrunched up his face to mimic hers. My husband did his best to explain in a very basic way what might have happened to her. But then several kids wanted to know if it’s the brain that stops when we die.

We were bombarded with questions about death for the rest of our stay to the point that I wondered whether we could talk about a less morbid topic, like how fast the brain processes sensations like touch, or whatever. The teacher rescued us by saying time was up, but I came away impressed with how fixated on death these kids were. Next I thought about the brief scene during the school trip in S7 in which Barney keeps asking whether his classmate is going to die.

I know that kids come face to face with death when a pet dies, or when they see a dead animal on the road, or when a family member dies, but I was not expecting the deep fascination with death I encountered in that classroom. Although Barney’s constant return to the question of whether his classmate is dead, or will die, was probably nothing more than another oddball part of the scene that has ME once again pushing little kids around while also once again saving someone’s life, it also exemplifies the preoccupation with death that children have. Barney and his classmates are much older than my grandson and his classmates, but that preoccupation clearly starts early in some cases.

It turned out that there was a death in one of the children’s family that precipitated their questions in the kindergarten class, but it was quite an eye opener for us. Kids say the darnedest things, as Art Linkletter once remarked.

Originally posted 2016-02-21 09:59:00.

What about Buddy?

In talking about Farce I realized I left out an important character — Buddy! His role in this show is so similar to the role of Bob in the 1991 comedy film What About Bob? that I just had to write something about the dog. Plus, we need to lighten up this blog!

If you’ve seen the film, you know that Bob (played by Bill Murray) is an obsessive patient who his psychiatrist (played by Richard Dreyfuss) cannot shake. Like Buddy, nothing Dr. Leo Marvin does can stop Bob from reappearing, including something he calls “death therapy,” or taking Bob to the woods and wrapping explosives around him with the express purpose of blowing him up. Of course, Bob escapes. But Bob never stops coming back and driving Dr. Marvin nuts. He never takes the “hint.” (BTW, that film is very funny and worth seeing.)

In Doc Martin we could call Buddy ME’s nemesis if we use its original meaning: “distributor of fortune, neither good nor bad, simply in due proportion to each according to what was deserved.” In mythology she is an avenging and punishing power of fate. Another meaning is “the just balancer of Fortune’s chance…and the punisher of hubris.” Nemesis is also “one from whom there is no escape.”

I am not going to make too much of this connection other than to say that Buddy fits the notion of the avenging and punishing power of fate by having landed in Joan’s possession. Once Joan brings him to Martin’s home (first where Louisa was living and then at the surgery) and he is introduced to Martin, the little dog gets attached to him. There is no escape.

We can attribute Buddy with all sorts of meanings, e.g. loyalty, determination, tolerance, doggedness. But maybe we should just think of Buddy as a cute ball of fur that is a constant irritant that never stops irritating. In S7 somehow Buddy manages to find his way into the back seat of the car and into ME’s cottage bedroom; he’s also constantly underfoot. We have no idea where he lives now and he surfaces mainly when Martin is nearby. He, too, has taken on a farcical nature. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Buddy as frequently in previous series as we do in S7, and no matter what the circumstance, Buddy avoids all efforts to discourage him.

The dogs have all been used for humor in this show, including the Yorkshire owned by Mrs. Wilson, and the German Shepherds owned by the Flints and, in this series, the Wintons. This time, however, Buddy’s strong attachment to Martin becomes a fixation. Anyone with a dog always craving so much attention would become fed up, especially since the dog is of no help whatsoever. He manages to find Martin at the Wintons, but disappears never to be seen again. He catches up with Martin only to be dropped from the rest of the action. I don’t think there’s a hidden message in how Buddy’s role plays out; he’s just completed his purpose in the series — a nuisance sprinkled with a soupçon of devotion.

Originally posted 2016-02-12 15:26:25.

Farce

In deference to one of my most loyal readers and commenters, Santa, I am writing this post to explain why I have started calling Doc Martin a farce. The actual designation I had suggested we should use previously was dramedy, and I have written a long post about why this show satisfies that label. For the first five series, maybe five and a half, I was under the impression that this show was written to reveal truths about the human condition through the application of dramatic events couched in comedy. By the end of series 6, much of the comedy was gone, and the show had taken a turn towards drama, especially in terms of the relationship between its two main characters, Martin and Louisa. Now that we’ve completed series 7, I think the show has taken another turn, this times towards farce. It has had elements of farce in previous series too.

Farce is merely a sub-genre of comedy. Classical farce created comedy out of the most basic human impulses–the desire for pleasure and the fear of pain. It is often defined as a light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot settings, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect. Today’s farcical playwrights create exaggerated characters and place them in ridiculous situations.

What is an exaggerated character? The two standouts in Doc Martin are Mrs. Tishell and P.C. Penhale. Mrs. Tishell is a chemist who takes her profession seriously, but her obsession with Martin overshadows anything to do with her conduct in her place of business. Once he walks through the door or passes anywhere near her window, she quickly expands into slapstick behavior and overstated facial and physical expressions. She gets her face much too close to Martin’s, acts as though they have a special connection, and makes a fool of herself regularly. The whole town has now reached the conclusion that she’s a “nutter.” Penhale, the constable, is also more of a stereotypical Keystone Kop who takes the least prudent route to solve a problem. He often bumps into people and things in his zeal to catch up to Martin or someone else. He is obviously incapable of recognizing the meaning of what others are saying to him, at least at first, and he acts without thinking, often finding himself in awkward positions. There’s an intruder in the house? Run around the back and jump through a window, falling on his face in the process. Everyone’s trying to find an abducted baby — climb up to look in the window just as there is progress being made to rescue the baby. In S7, he runs after a carriage as an heroic effort only to discover there’s no baby in the carriage; or, he climbs in a window Martin is trying to use to escape then finds his taser is useless. As Ruth asks Martin in one episode, “Is he really a police officer?” We get the same sentiment from Louisa in S7E8 when she tells Penhale directly that they need to call the police, the real police.

Obviously Martin Ellingham is also exaggerated. His stick straight posture coupled with his uniform of suit and tie under all circumstances, his tendency to shout at Morwenna or patients in the reception area, and his overall confused demeanor are signals that this is not a typical man. His clumsiness is meant to accentuate his awkwardness, but adds to the slapstick nature of his behavior. He pours wine on himself, gets wet on numerous occasions (in his suit of course), and slips and falls regularly. He has been known to find himself in ridiculous situations, e.g. in the woods without a shoe accompanied by a psychotic park ranger, or rappelling down a cliffside to reach a patient. In this series, the boat rescue has him jumping into the water wearing his suit again, looking for a missing child in the woods where he walks through water again, falling and slipping in mud, and being chased by a dog after trying to put the car into a skid as if he’s some sort of secret agent or something. Another exaggerated reaction is when he places his hand on his heart and looks completely shocked by Louisa appearing in her bathrobe, or by Mrs. Winton pointing her gun at him, or when Mrs. Tishell appears at his front door. The very repetition of that gesture tells us it’s slapstick.

In S7 we also have Angela Sim, whose behavior is extreme in several scenes; Danny, who plays the guitar rather than search for a missing boy under his care, or who regularly invokes the Lord; and Erica Holbrook who staples students’ beloved stuffed animals to a board and tells them they’ll get over their marked sadness, or faints several times. Even Dr. Timoney could be considered extreme in that she’s very impersonal at first, never actually tries to probe Martin and Louisa’s difficulties, and then becomes loopy after hitting her head while careening down the narrow streets of Portwenn. To me these are all cartoonish characters whose primary purpose is to appear ridiculous.

Janice, the new child minder, is another case. Although she seems to do a decent job with James, she is quite a ditz and our first introduction to her makes clear that she is. She enters the kitchen and asks which one of them is James. Even a ditz should find it easy to identify the child! She acts rather childish herself for the most part, although we see some signs of actual thoughtfulness on occasion. Still, the overall impression of her is that she looks ridiculous and acts ridiculous.

By the time we reach the final episode, which, if you read this blog, you know I considered very cartoonish, I was having trouble taking anything very seriously. Was Mrs. Winton ever going to shoot Martin? No. Ruth is the only one who actually shoots the rifle, and when that happens, her reaction is also exaggerated, especially for her.

Identifying a comedy as a farce is not a slur. If you check the list of television shows considered farces on the Wikipedia site, you’ll see many of the best shows ever on it: Seinfeld, Frasier, I Love Lucy, Hogan’s Heroes, Night Court, and many others. However, noticing all these farcical features of Doc Martin has made me arrive at a different place in regard to how seriously they want us to examine this show. Their message seems to be that S6 got too solemn and now we’re just going to have fun, string out Martin and Louisa’s reunification, and be a source of entertainment. We (that is, all of us dedicated fans) just have to adjust our thinking and reach a level of acceptance commensurate with Louisa’s.

Originally posted 2016-02-09 12:04:31.

People Make Mistakes

In this post I want to look at the main characters and determine who has grown, or changed (which has been the operative word in this series), and who has shown almost no development throughout the show. I am not necessarily arguing that each character should change, or that a dramedy is built on characters changing and developing, but since we’ve had the matter of whether people can change surface numerous times throughout the years, I think it’s worth looking at the key figures for signs of change. (Here we go again…the topic of change and a long post. I am guilty of being longwinded!)

Our core ensemble consists of Martin, Louisa, Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, Bert, Al, Morwenna, and Joe Penhale. I think we’ve spent enough time discussing whether Martin can change, has changed, should change, doesn’t need to change, etc., etc. We’ve spent some time on Louisa too, although we might want to linger a bit longer on her. However, we have hardly touched on the other characters, and it seems fitting that we look at them.

Ruth is someone who has been a curiosity for some time. We’ve mentioned that she equivocates about whether people can change. At one point she tells Louisa people don’t change; at another point she tells Al that he writes his own story and he’s in charge of his life, and then she tells Martin that if he wants Louisa to stay with him, he’ll have to change. She acts convinced that he can make the necessary changes. Furthermore, as I’ve written in the past, as a psychiatrist, she must be convinced that people can change. It might take some medication combined with therapy to institute change, but there would be no value in working with the criminally insane if one had no hope they could change.

How does Ruth behave in terms of change in her own life?

  • The most significant change for Ruth has been moving to Portwenn from London, but London isn’t totally out of her system yet. She returns to London regularly and in S7 she considers taking a job in London. We never hear of any friends or colleagues in London, and she has family and friends in Portwenn, but Ruth is very much a loner. Her supposed propensity to share too much is rarely in evidence. (Perhaps the one time she could be said to have done this is when she mentions the christening date to Louisa. But she would have expected Martin to have made those arrangements with Louisa. She also offers some advice about boarding schools despite the apparent difference of opinion about them between Martin and Louisa.)
  • She learns to do things around the farm, but hires Al for most of the work. At one point she serves a chicken for dinner and divulges that she killed it when she ran over it (something that would be unlikely to happen in London). In S7 she grabs a mouse without hesitation. She has fended off two intruders on her property:  former patient Robert Campbell, and next door neighbor Michael. Both are armed, yet Ruth is calm under pressure. Presumably working with the criminally insane has given her good preparation for these events. Although we haven’t heard of anything like this happening in London, we have to expect Ruth is pretty self-sufficient, both in London and in Portwenn. Nevertheless, the second intrusion shakes her up a bit and she moves into town.
  • She is often in denial about her own medical conditions, or hates to admit she has any problems. This trait continues through S7 when she neglects to mention the symptoms of Polymyalgia and Giant Cell Arteritis just as she had before when she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s.
  • Work is important to Ruth. When she moves to Portwenn, she writes a book. As time passes, she continues to work and often protests that she wants to keep working despite aging. She is often called on to consult and in S7 delivers a paper at a forensics meeting. However, her recommendation of Dr. Timoney ends up being a dubious choice.
  • Ruth accepts being in a small town means being questioned on the radio and dealing with goofy constable and cantankerous neighbor in town. Her willingness to agree to being put on the spot by Caroline shows some modification of her behavior to suit her location. She is usually quick with advice to her in town neighbor Mr. Moysey, to Penhale, and to Martin and Louisa. Unlike her sister Joan, though, Ruth usually waits to be asked before dispensing her opinion. (One of the few times when she decides to take action without being asked is with Margaret. The scene with Ruth and Margaret is phenomenal and we’d like to see more of that.)

During S7 Ruth had much less than expected interaction with either Martin or Louisa and much more with Bert. I, for one, thought she would once again be the voice of reason who sets one or both of them straight. When S7 begins, we see Martin desperately appeal to her for help with getting Louisa back and she helps by referring him to Dr. Timoney. Later she convinces Louisa to attend the therapy sessions. Otherwise there is only one other point at which Ruth participates in their efforts to reunite: when she asks Martin how things are going as they walk to the birthday party. Here she is doing something slightly out of character by bringing an elaborate birthday cake to the party, and Martin expresses serious doubts as to how much progress they’ve been making. Nevertheless, her advice is fairly minimal. As she did with Margaret, I would have loved to have seen Ruth confront Louisa to ask what she wants from Martin. If Dr. T wasn’t going to handle that in therapy, then by all means give that job to Ruth.

Instead, what we see in S7 is a Ruth who is trying to manage her own life more than be a source of comfort and guidance to Martin and Louisa. Her interactions with Bert show her equivocating again, but this time it’s about Bert staying on her property and distilling whiskey. Ultimately, Ruth appears to decide that the only way the B&B with Al is going to be profitable is if they can offer a specialty whiskey along with fishing trips. Whatever research she did to confirm Al’s numbers that fishing will bring in lodgers has been supplanted by Ruth’s new affirmation of liquor, an activity I would have never guessed she would support.

So has Ruth changed? Well, she has adapted to living in a small town with all the lack of dirt and noise, but with the unavoidable interactions with the townspeople. Her life is now filled with country living intrusions like unsophisticated radio talk show hosts, preparing freshly killed chickens, and helping with family affairs (babysitting, dealing with Margaret, birthday cakes). Otherwise she continues to be an independent woman trying hard to fend off the aging process and any tolerance for slowing down. Martin still seeks her out as a person he can talk to, but rather infrequently, and I had the sense that Ruth’s concerns about being marginalized in her old age were justified based on her role in S7. (I felt Eileen Atkins’ vast acting ability was underused in S7 and she was given very few opportunities to showcase her skills.)

The next most important members of the ensemble are Bert and Al. Sadly, neither of them have been able to shake their typical behavior patterns. Bert can’t make a success out of the restaurant no matter what promotional events he tries, his love life falls apart, and his newest idea of making whiskey seems doomed too. Al can’t catch a break. He always needs to fall back on the help of his friends in the community and his father. The fishing/B&B venture seemed headed for some vindication of his abilities, which are primarily centered on working with his hands, assisting others, and being a nice guy. But he’s not afforded much of a triumph in this series, and he finds himself back in the same rut he’s been in all of his adult life.

The one poignant scene they give Bert and Al is after Al finds Bert in his camper van out on a hillside. Al rightly expresses surprise that Bert continues to have an optimistic outlook on life after all his recent losses. He sees the Large men as failures, but Bert looks at the world through the lens of “things could be worse.” We have to admit that one advantage of living in the country is being able to view the expanse of earth, sky and sea from where they sit. From that position there are infinite possibilities, and with a few nips from his flask, Bert is ready for new challenges — or so he says at the time. Of course, once reality sets in and he finds his best source of income would be to be a plumber/handyman again, his outlook isn’t so rosy anymore.

By the end of the series, Bert’s optimism has been rewarded and he’s ready to establish a new franchise with his name on it. “Seldom right, but never in doubt.” He hasn’t changed, doesn’t want to change, and probably never will. Al hasn’t changed despite trying, and his prospects of change are dim. He better get used to working with his Dad if he’s going to stay in Portwenn.

Joe Penhale is also quite stagnant as a character. He’s overcome his initial psychological disorders of narcolepsy and agoraphobia (and possibly acrophobia) fairly easily (which probably means they reconsidered those as worth continuing and decided against them). He’s mostly dense, or unable to clearly decipher what others are saying to him, with some exceptions. He wants to be seen as a figure of authority without really earning it, but he’s a nice guy and does his best to help when people find themselves in a pinch. His personal life is relatively lacking even though he has been married. Since appearing on the show in S3, Joe has consistently retained his mixture of inept policing coupled with a desire to befriend everyone. He is basically a static and stock character, and, as such, can be counted on to stay the same.

The final 3 characters we should look at are the women, Mrs. Tishell, Morwenna, and Louisa. At first blush Mrs. T seems to be rather static too. Throughout the length of the show her most prominent attributes have been her neck collar and her obsession with Martin. No matter how hard she tries, she cannot rid herself of either of these. When ME first arrived in Portwenn, it was amusing to think any woman would be consumed by an attraction to him. His behavior was anything but appealing. In time her obsession became a personality tick, and then it became utterly grating. But still it persisted. In S7 Mrs. T is back to her usual excessive self, overly obsequious and accosting Martin at every opportunity. However, when Clive returns and is so apologetic and contrite, Sally reconsiders. We finally see her modify her behavior a bit, although even in the final episode she is still hovering around Martin’s front door, neck collar in place, ready to pounce. She’s done a little evolving, but we can’t yet call it a major shift.

Morwenna may be one of the most changed characters. Our introduction to her made her seem like a fairly unreliable worker, lacking in skills or sense of responsibility. Once she lands the job as Martin’s receptionist, however, she develops into a hard worker who is dependable and eventually very capable. Elaine had been quite a disaster, Pauline was feisty and ambitious while exhibiting some notable foibles, but Morwenna has learned to handle patients well, manage the office and Martin proficiently and discreetly, and become someone quite trustworthy. She’s a stable force in a village filled with unpredictability. While Pauline was generally honorable, she betrayed Martin’s trust for her own amusement several times. We can’t imagine Morwenna sending out pictures of Martin in a compromising position, spreading rumors, or broadcasting Martin and Louisa’s conversation over loudspeakers in the town square. She can still be amusing, but her ethics are unimpeachable. He wide-eyed look masks a pretty shrewd young woman.

Louisa is the character that most confounds us. What they have done with her in S7 is to convert her from a strong, independent woman who generally sees herself as the glue that keeps the village together to a woman whose interaction with the village is curtailed and whose involvement with the school takes a backseat to her personal concerns. Throughout the show Louisa has defended the children, the parents, the various members of the town, extended herself to help many townspeople manage problems they encounter, and stood up to authority when necessary. She, and the school, are the opposite tentpoles to Martin and the surgery building. The town is suspended between these poles and the harbor is where the twain meets. When Louisa walks across to the surgery, or when Martin goes to the school, we often see sparks fly. But then Louisa moves into the surgery with Martin and the two poles find a meeting place for a while. We can’t have too much tranquility, and their home becomes a battlefield eventually. School papers are misplaced, baby clothes and toys take up space, and the baby conflicts with seeing patients. Two working parents vie for the upper hand and child minders and grandmothers intrude on any privacy. For most of the show, Louisa would be described as tough but gentle; perhaps strong yet needy. Now in S7 she’s become harsh, unyielding, and distracted from much to do with the school. There are no scenes inside the school, and the one school event included takes place outside and primarily on a hill not far from the surgery building. Her life is now mostly at the surgery.

Louisa’s hair and clothes are also indicative of how she changes over time. In the early series, Louisa is young, energetic, highly motivated to be the headmistress and do her job well, and ready to find the right man. We are often treated to watching her walk away, ponytail and pocketbook swinging as she goes. She wears jeans or other relatively informal clothes indicative of a carefree young woman enjoying life. She is also playful with Martin, kissing his cheek in passing and encouraging his interest in her. What happened between S5 and 6 is hard to deduce, but their hand-in-hand departure during the last scene of S5 followed by their decision to marry, can’t help but make us think their time together went well. However, in S6 and 7, as the reality of how the marriage is going, and the demands of dealing with a compromised husband and a child, combine with the responsibilities of managing the school clouds descend on her. Her lightheartedness and good naturedness take a beating. Where once she stroked Martin’s cheek and expressed concern for his feelings, now she tends to become both resentful and filled with self-recrimination. Her clothes are now more adult and somber and reflect the change in her social status to wife of the GP as well as headmistress of the school. In S7, Louisa’s hair and clothing indicate a change to a more severe and repressed woman. CC has gorgeous hair, and in other series she has worn it down a few times, but only once in S7 – when she brings Martin his clock when he’s sleeping in the nursery. That occasion also leads us to think there’s a chance she might stay and talk. But that is a false premise and her casual appearance leads to nothing. The ponytail is now longer and swings less, and her clothes are much more severe. Things have lightened somewhat since S6, and Louisa wears brighter colors, but now she is serious and protected.

(After watching the series, I had the distinct impression that among the ways in which we are given hints about the forthcoming reconciliation is that Louisa’s clothes often complement Martin’s in color. Nevertheless, Louisa is no longer a young ingenue; she is now a grownup in every way.)

Another change we can’t ignore is how Louisa now handles Martin’s missteps. During the first 5 series, Louisa is not dissuaded from wanting to be with Martin despite many insults: her breath smells bad, she’s stalking him, her perfume smells like urine, she must be emotional because she’s menstruating, she snores at night and keeps him awake, she needs to lose weight following the delivery of JH, and the many times when he disparages her job or her school, as well as the frequent occasions when he neglects to consult her about decisions to do with the home or the baby. But now, in S7, no amount of compliments can persuade her to allow him back in the house. This is both a reversal of how Louisa has reacted previously and, therefore, quite a change; but also, it is another example of how Martin being “normal” has never been an obsession of hers. We can only accept that declaration under the narrowest of conditions, i.e. that she has only been obsessed with normality in Martin and others since she returned from Spain. If we believe this, we must also believe that her time spent in Spain led to her return with the unspoken, and possible subconscious, proviso that she could only accept a reconciliation if he adopts “normal” behavior, and the people of Portwenn do too. That would be a provision that would be impossible to satisfy, and it is, until she comes to the realization that it is once Martin gives her an ultimatum. (Again, I feel like I have to contort myself into this explanation because it is not verifiable at all. At most it is only after Louisa makes the uncanny comment that she has been obsessed with people being “normal,” that we are in search of when this obsession began and how it first manifested itself. Otherwise, we are truly blindsided by this proclamation and can only find evidence to the contrary.)

Louisa has forgiven many gaffes by Martin, but she’s no longer in a forgiving mood in S7. Perhaps the only person she forgives in S7 is herself when she notes that she’s made a terrible mistake during their conversation in the final scene. Is she back to being the caring and kind person she once was? Did she come to the realization that she needed to change and not Martin? All rather hard to know except that if we take her at her word, even if we can’t really find a way to validate it, she has.

In the end the show appears to be as equivocal about change as Ruth. People don’t change, but sometimes they need to change, and it’s up to each of us to write our own story. Louisa changed, found out the change didn’t work out well for her, and now wants to rewrite her story. Luckily she has that prerogative within the scope of a story written for TV. (I’m done writing about change now. You can all breathe a sigh of relief!)

Originally posted 2016-01-30 18:56:43.

The Formula and Where It Fails

I’ve been waiting for DM’s post, but figure I can jump in here and try my hand at explaining what I think are the problems with S7 that make us so unhappy with it.

Despite all the proclamations that they don’t want to repeat themselves, there are some definite rules they stick to when writing each series. I have already mentioned the formula used throughout the seven series of either bringing Martin and Louisa together by the last episode, OR of separating them by the last episode. The general rule is that if the series begins with Martin and Louisa together, they will end up apart by the conclusion of E8, and vice versa. S3 and S6 find them at odds by the final act, while S2, 4, 5, and 7 all reach their climax with Martin and Louisa together. Clearly, the tendency is to have most series end with them together.

We also know that Louisa always returns to Portwenn and that none of the primary characters ever leave for long, unless they leave for good. Due to this pattern, we are certain that Louisa will reappear in S7, and that the fact that Louisa and Martin are separated in the first episode of S7 will be likely to lead to them being back together by the end. (There are many other reasons to think that, including the likelihood that a dramedy wouldn’t end with a divorce or decision to separate, and because throughout S7 there are many hints that lead us to the conclusion that this couple will stay together. These hints include Louisa wanting Martin to help her look for a new place to live, her objecting to being called anything but Mrs. Ellingham, Louisa telling Martin the house where she and James live is his home and he should be able to come whenever he likes, that she puts the dish towel back on its hook even when Martin isn’t around, that she tells him it feels nice to hug him and spontaneously hugs him at the end of E4, and more.)

Another key element that has been the hallmark of the interaction between Martin and Louisa throughout the seven series is the constant interruptions of their conversations. In S7 this ingredient is taken to its limit and maybe to the point of absurdity. We start with Louisa in Spain and a 3 week span during which she hasn’t spoken to Martin, then he gets up the nerve to call her only to get her voicemail, she tries to call him back and never manages to connect. This string of lack of intercourse continues relatively unabated until the final episode. The rare occasions when they have a chance to talk without interruption (their dinner on Louisa’s first night back, her visit to his room on the first night, or the various times they are in the car together; the times when he’s leaving the house at the end of the day) never lead to any valuable discussions. (I get it, we viewers are supposed to be frustrated by the many missed opportunities, and it’s supposed to be funny. But there is a point when plausibility flies out the window!)

There is also regular use of the appearance of some outside figure coming to town that tends to unify Martin and Louisa. The figures of this type who matter the most are the ones who appear in many episodes or sometimes the entire series: Danny, Edith, Eleanor, Margaret, Michael, possibly Mrs. T and James Henry. Also, there can be tangential, or secondary characters, who unite them, e.g. Peter Cronk, Mr. Strain (the headmaster), Mr. Coley (the school janitor), the Oakwoods, Mrs. Wilson. In S7 we might consider Dr. Timoney as the outside force engaged to unite them, but her neutrality works against that, and they are too tentative around her to create any real conflict. Since we are aware that conflict is essential to plot, we expect each episode to have some conflict. However, it’s when the conflict seems manufactured and incomprehensible that we bristle. One example for me is the whole Danny situation. There’s absolutely no logic to the notion that Louisa would be interested in renewing a relationship with Danny, and it’s hard to imagine that her agreement to help him with his school group would have been designed to stir up jealousy in Martin.

In S7 they reversed much of the behavior typical of Martin and Louisa, and we could say that about Mrs. Tishell as well. Despite having had a conversation with Louisa in S6 in which she tells Louisa that she would like to start fresh and leave her past actions behind, no sooner is Louisa in Spain but Mrs. T starts meddling in Martin’s life. It’s déjà vu all over again! In terms of the series, now Louisa is the one with insurmountable barriers, Martin is the one who moves out, Louisa seems unemotional and unaware of Martin’s efforts to reconnect, Martin does his best to be conciliatory.

At the end of S6 we had certain expectations and were led to believe that several outcomes were likely. We saw Al hug Ruth when she demonstrated confidence in him and gave him her thumbs up on the B&B idea; we heard Ruth assume that Al and Morwenna were a couple; and we saw Margaret leave with the clock Martin got from Joan’s possessions. Most of all we heard Louisa defend Martin to Margaret, admit that she isn’t sure what she’s doing, and later thank Martin for coming after her and performing serious surgery on her. In addition we saw Martin shocked into action and remorse after Louisa is hit by a car while running after him, stunned by the realization that Louisa is planning to leave again, and ultimately motivated by Ruth to confront his mother, tell her to leave, apologize to a patient, and make plans to follow Louisa. In the final scenes we see Martin tell Louisa he needs her help to be a better husband, become emotional in the bathroom stall following surgery on her AVM, and agree that they can’t go back to the home life they had had prior to her departure.

If the past is prologue, as it has been in previous series, our expectations would be that Louisa might not leave at all following the surgery, and they might go back to Portwenn with a plan to seek marriage counseling and try something akin to communicating. We also would not be surprised if Louisa asked Martin about Margaret (and the clock), and we might have heard Martin tell Louisa a bit more about his childhood and his relationship with his parents. Furthermore, we would see Al develop the B&B, with some major hiccups along the way, and his friendship with Morwenna would evolve into something more substantial.

Instead, we begin S7 with Louisa in Spain despite all signs pointing away from that (including her need to recuperate), Martin left alone and not even in communication with Louisa, and Mrs. Tishell back to interfering in his life. Al and Morwenna are not dating, and his B&B is not ready for occupancy.  None of our expectations have been met, although we can still be fairly sure that Louisa will return. Furthermore, Martin’s first session with Dr. Timoney includes a sort of laundry list of behaviors he has identified in himself, i.e. he has trouble with intimacy because he was an unwanted child, he’s not good at expressing himself, he has unrealistic expectations of others, and he has a blood phobia. Once again, this recitation of difficulties leads us to believe that Dr. T will address these. But she moves on to couples therapy without any sign that she has made the slightest effort to discuss any of these issues. Once couples therapy begins, Dr. T’s method is to employ weekly assignments rather then probe their backgrounds at all. Insofar as intimacy problems are concerned, Dr. T suggests a hugging exercise that includes saying something positive to each other every day because she notices that they are too self-contained, but this assignment seems to come from an effort to have them be more demonstrative and complimentary with each other and is only a first step towards breaking down any emotional obstacles. Since the therapy always involves moving on from one assignment to another with no follow through, none of the assignments build on the others. (E4 is a particular tease because it ends with Martin and Louisa hugging after agreeing on a course of action about Peter. But what happens is  Louisa tells Dr. T that Martin has trouble with spontaneity and they proceed to the next assignment. Surely there were some residual good feelings after those events!)

The episodes have very little connection to each other. Even the possible appeal of Al and Morwenna is downplayed and only comes up in 3 episodes. Al’s B&B was a storyline that I awaited with great anticipation because he had been so thrilled to have Ruth support his idea. But the best they could do with it was give Al one couple and one fishing trip. The entire situation was one fiasco after another with Al doing his best to be the gracious host. The only other time Al has anyone stay at the B&B is when the children from London camp on his property. His services are barely needed. Besides, he never planned to use the grounds for camping. When Ruth finally decides to invite Bert to build a whiskey still in the shed, Al is stunned and not very pleased. He’s been trying to get away from working with his father and now has to accept being forced to share the success of this venture with his father. If we stick with the premise that none of the primary cast ever leaves Portwenn, then we would not expect Bert to leave. Nevertheless, I had hoped he wouldn’t be working in conjunction with Al again. I felt both letdown for Al and as though they had betrayed a trust. As in most of Al’s jobs, we could not suppose that this one would go smoothly, but he worked hard to come up with a business plan and I thought we’d see him make a pretty good stab at it.

Most of the new characters added little to the storyline and seemed extraneous. Because the main reason people are watching is to see Martin and Louisa get back together, all the other storylines became unimportant. A holistic vet who is taking the meds she gives her dogs never develops into anything worthwhile, even when she tries to convince Martin that the dog is a good judge of character. If they had wanted to freshen things up, they should have resolved the Martin and Louisa issue earlier in the series and followed that with further therapy and conflicts. Alternatively, they could have made better use of the therapy sessions and done something worthwhile with the information we’ve been given about the difficult childhoods these two have weathered. It makes little sense to me to have introduced us to all four parents, made much of how Martin’s traits and phobia stem from his childhood, and strongly hinted about how much Louisa’s childhood caused her to become the independent woman she is, and yet barely touch on that in S7.

When I reviewed the conventions of Dramedy that I posted in June 2014, a few things jumped out at me as important to remember:

  • Some of the cinematic elements of Moonlighting, one of the first TV shows to be considered a dramedy, were borrowed from Warner Bros. cartoons—clearly comedies. As you know, I consider E8 filled with cartoonish elements and there are other episodes that contain cartoonish features as well.
  • Human dramedies usually have a subplot, the only type of situation comedy that does. The subplot is often comic, underscoring the main, more serious plot. In all cases, the subplots underscore comically and thus intensify the main plot. As expected, there is a theme in virtually every episode of S7 as there should be in a dramedy, but most of the subplots do not intensify. The exception is Clive and Sally. Clive’s desire to resume his marriage with Sally is a subplot that intensifies the primary plot, and is very much on the comedic side. But for the most part in S7, even the themes are often perfunctory and smack of being placeholders. It’s too obvious that we are going to have to wait until E8 for Louisa to reunite with Martin.
  • There are several segments to each dramedy: complications, crises, climax, and denouement.
    “The complications are based on the theme but involve character or action. They are new developments in the problem that require the characters to examine their own thinking or take an action that opposes or supports their point of view on the theme.” One significant  feature missing from S7 is the complication segment. Therapy should have led to Martin and Louisa going through the act of examining their own thinking. If therapy didn’t accomplish this, then we ought to have seen it through conversations between these characters and others. The one time we may have an inkling that something like reconsidering a position takes place is when Ruth tells Louisa that by going to therapy sessions she can make her views known. As a result Louisa drops her resistance to therapy; however, nothing that happens in the sessions appears to get her to reexamine her views about Martin. It’s only after some possible self-reflection and being put on the spot by his ultimatum that she has the startling revelation that she’s been obsessed with everyone needing to be normal.
  • The transients in a human dramedy have two purposes: 1) they are the source of most of the primary problems, either as the creator or the bearer of the problem; and/or 2) aid in finding and/or applying solutions to the problem. The former is most common. Here S7 disappoints again because the so-called transients in this series create very few problems that need solving. Angela Sim, Steve Baker, Sigourney Weaver’s American tourist, and even Rachel Timoney are sideshows. They flit in and out with barely any significance to the overall story arc. You may think it’s wrong to put Rachel Timony on this list, but she’s neither the source of their problems nor aids in finding a solution to them. She is merely a plot device. The two transients that have some import are Erica Holbrook and Danny.  Erica Holbrook contributes the idea that “We Are What We Are,” and tells her daughter she will love her without trying to change her. These notions reinforce what turn out to be the main themes of the series. Danny makes comments to Martin and Louisa that cause them to reexamine their commitment to each other and rediscover their sense of loyalty to each other.
  • Finally, “although the dramedy is often very funny, it is not because of a deliberate striving for laughs no matter how they are gotten.“ In S7 I had the distinct impression that there were many instances of striving for laughs, especially the pratfalls. Both the time when Martin falls down the stairs while brushing his teeth so that he can answer the phone, and the time when he slips in the mud of the pig pen while trying to help Dermot stand up struck me as deliberately striving for laughs. MC may like to punish ME, but Ellingham’s clumsiness used to be an integral part of his behavior and not so conspicuously added on.

By the end of S7, we might conclude that the theme for this series is acceptance. Forgiveness plays a role, but acceptance fits more comfortably. Therefore, we should be looking for examples of scenarios that fit that theme, and we find some. We can identify several episodes that follow this convention, but some that do not.  I would place E3 in this category because its theme appears to be something to do with communication, but the secondary story is more about the series’ theme of acceptance than about the importance of talking. I also find E4 lacking in thematic congruity because its theme appears to be emotional responses and concern yet the Peter Cronk story has more to do with superciliousness. E5 is all over the place and its theme could perhaps be listed as control; however, we have to stretch to associate the holistic vet with control unless her inability to stop Buddy from escaping would qualify as loss of control. I acknowledge that her self-medication causes her to be out of control, but this episode is one that has a cartoonish aura about it. Anyway, the antics of Angela Sim are rather distracting as are several editing faults that have Angela and Penhale looking quite dry after having tangled in the surf. With all these mixed messages the coherence of each episode is just not nearly as strong as in previous series to me.

In my opinion, we have reached a point in the show when the drama portion has overshadowed much of the comedy. I wanted the comedy to be reinstated in S7, but not as overt physical humor. Until they resolved the Martin and Louisa question, no silly Penhale nonsense or artificial accidents created by Al was going to get a laugh from me. I am surprised they thought we would be amused by puerility, and that we would happily accept tortuous action along with inconsistent episodes. I won’t deny that I enjoyed watching despite all of the above problems. On the other hand, I am deeply disappointed in the deterioration of the caliber of the storylines, the lack of novelty, and the writing and, as a fan, feel obliged to point them out.

 

Originally posted 2016-01-20 21:41:41.

Normal Is A Loaded Word

Here we are at the end of series 7 trying to dissect what the interpretation of normal is after hearing Martin describe the situation they’ve been in as “unusual” (another word for abnormal),  then hearing Louisa tell Martin “it’s all unusual, isn’t it?,” and then having Louisa follow that with “I think I’m a little bit obsessed with everyone having to be normal, and people aren’t, are they?” When Martin agrees that people aren’t normal, Louisa asserts that he’s not; he’s unusual. Once again Martin concurs.

After this conversation, during which the adjectives “unusual” and “normal” are placed in opposition, it is hard not to wonder what to make of how these terms are bandied about. Louisa’s confession that she has been obsessed with everyone having to be normal has never been obvious to us before. In fact, time and time again she has been the one to observe that some people are different and that’s fine and something we love about them. When watching Martin force vodka down Tommy’s throat while calling him a selfish pig, Louisa tells Martin that “People make mistakes, people make a mess of things. It’s called being human, Martin!” Rather than characterizing Louisa as being obsessed with people being normal, throughout the show we have been led to believe that part of the reason she has been attracted to Martin is due to his differences.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the subject of what we consider normal has been discussed by psychologists and sociologists since those disciplines were founded. Indeed it was Émile Durkheim, the father of sociology, who suggested some relatively radical ideas about societal norms, and they converge with what we might call acceptance of aberrant behavior. Durkheim actually viewed crime and delinquent behavior as a normal and necessary occurrence in the social system. He proposed that crime led to reactions from society about the crime. These shared reactions were used to create a common consensus of what individuals felt were moral and ethical norms by which to abide. Thereafter, these commonly held norms and values led to boundaries and rules for the society.

In traditional societies, the collective consciousness ruled, social norms were strong, and social behavior was well regulated. In modern societies, common consciousness was less obvious and the regulation of social behavior was less punitive and more restitutive, aiming to restore normal activity to society.

Durkheim is also associated with the term anomie, which is a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” It is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the community. When solidarity is organic, anomie is impossible. (The way I understand this idea is that when an individual has the autonomy to determine how to behave, there is no likelihood of feeling over regulated. Over regimentation causes a sense of anomie because there is likely to be resistance to rigidity. In other words, people need to believe that there is some fluidity or flexibility to rules.) Norms need to adapt naturally. As used by Émile Durkheim and later theorists, anomie is a reaction against or a retreat from the regulatory social controls of society.

In psychology there are two famous names associated with the study of normality, Freud and Jung. Freud’s understanding of pathology was based on intra-psychic processes rather than the transgression of social norms. Freud viewed a normal person as someone for whom the preconscious and the unconscious were not in conflict or who was “free from neurosis.” Neurosis for Freud is a psychological state characterized by excessive anxiety or insecurity, often compensated for by various defense mechanisms.

Jung, a man whose work we have applied when looking at the Myers-Briggs personality test (MBTI), stated “the normal man is a fiction” because there is no individual who is identical to the collective norms, i.e. that “every individual is an exception to the rule.” Normality is not a particular psychic state but an overall pattern that encompasses a wide range of emerging psychic states, including peculiar ones.

Thus, when Dr. Timoney responds to Louisa’s question about whether struggling is a normal part of the process of therapy by saying “Well, normal is a very loaded word,” she’s being quite acute. Sadness, guilt, rage, disappointment, confusion, doubt, anxiety and other similar experiences and states are all expected and normal, given the nature and demands of life.

In this context Louisa uses “normal” as related to regular, common, typical. I’d propose that rather than use the word “normal,” which is a protean term, or “usual/unusual,” which are too vague, we ought to use typical and atypical. If we conceptualize behavior as typical for a certain setting, time, occasion, it puts us in the mindset of considering it representative, and even paradigmatic. Martin’s been atypical his whole life even though he thinks of his childhood as healthy and expresses a certainty that he was typical of most boys in his early years.

The mutable nature of the word “normal” is apparent when Louisa uses that term upon her return to Portwenn in S4. When she meets the new headmaster, she notices that he has odd mannerisms and tells Martin that he’s not normal. Martin responds with a different meaning of normal — what’s not normal to him is that Louisa hasn’t told him about the pregnancy. Ultimately, it turns out that what’s really abnormal about the headmaster is that he has porphyria, which is abnormally high levels of porphyrins.

In S7 we are introduced to the notion that normal refers to conforming to social standards of behavior. Louisa says her parents are “normal as you like,” which to her means they were acting in fairly typical ways for parents to act. In Portwenn, and in the larger society, broken marriages and dysfunctional families may have become “normal.” We don’t see many happy marriages in Portwenn so perhaps Louisa is right that her parents are “normal.” However, abandoning one’s daughter when she’s 12 years old seems atypical and out of the ordinary, and having a father who goes to jail is also irregular. We have all come to accept that Portwenn is populated by a lot of quirky people, or is it really just like any town, anywhere? Everyone is atypical and an exception to the rule. And if this is so, then Martin is no more atypical than anyone else. Indeed, by S7, he’s reached a status of being much respected in Portwenn. Annie Winton makes clear that his medical expertise is held in such high regard that she does not trust anyone else’s opinion. Martin does not disappoint her either. He’s saved so many lives in Portwenn, and with great modesty, that his demeanor no longer bothers anyone.

If Louisa was determined to have Martin conform to social norms, she only had to look around her to realize that Portwenn society had already embraced his aberrations.

Portwenn is both similar to and the opposite of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegone, “the little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve.” The town “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

The history of Lake Wobegone includes the motto of the town seal that says Sumus Quod Sumus, or “We Are What We Are.” That this phrase becomes the final sentiment of Doc Martin seems particularly striking in that a small town in northern Minnesota has arrived at the exact same summation about psychic norms as a small town in Cornwall.

What’s normal? We can make a case that just about anything can be.

 

 

 

Originally posted 2016-01-12 21:30:36.

Normal Post Removed

Yesterday there was a premature publication of a post on the topic of normality. I am at home again now and will work on a proper discussion of the topic and publish it ASAP.

I am embarrassed to have published it before it was ready. I guess there’s a first time for everything!

Now back to the drawing board!!

Originally posted 2016-01-10 08:06:19.

Happy New Year!!

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year and let you all know that I am still traveling.

I sincerely hope you all have a great 2016. I hope to write some posts again very soon, but I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get a chance. Please don’t give up on me!!

Cheers!!

Originally posted 2016-01-01 11:38:39.

It’s Not a Myth?

I am having trouble finding the necessary amount of time to write another post even though I have several in mind. I will try to write one more before Xmas.

In the meantime I thought I’d post this article about the fight or flight response. It seems it’s been modified to “freeze, flee, fight.” So when Aunt Ruth says the fight or flight response is not just a myth, we might actually have to correct her!

Originally posted 2015-12-19 12:27:51.

Is Reconciliation Boring?

Although I have several other posts I plan to write soon, I had to write this one first.

Throughout S7 I read comments from several actors in this show that claimed that once Martin and Louisa reconciled and the “will they/won’t they” theme was resolved, the show would become boring. These statements are also voiced on the Bonus Features of the series 7 DVD. This stance seems founded on the notion that once the marriage has gained solid footing, there would be no way to develop conflict of the sort that creates good plots. I totally disagree with this position and am ready to do my best to argue against it.

I want to substantiate my view by the use of examples from past series of DM and from reminding all of us of past highly rated shows in which married couples in TV dramedies/comedies sustained audiences by using marital conflicts while also addressing important social and interpersonal topics. We all consider Doc Martin a show with excellent writing and acting, and we are dedicated viewers because of its quality. I find it hard to believe that writers of this caliber would be unable to think of first rate plots once this one was resolved.

There are many ways to add conflict to a marriage without forcing the issue of whether the pair will stay together. We’ve spent 7 seasons/series using that trope and it’s reached its “use by” date. It became stale at the beginning of S7, and the decision to prolong its resolution until the last scene of the final episode meant that S7 became filled with delaying tactics. Despite the assertion from Martin Clunes and others that S7 was, in their minds, the most well written of all the series, I did not consider it as excellent as S5. For me the most significant reason I was not as impressed was the fairly transparent effort to string out whether Martin and Louisa would reunite. As compared to S5, which I will go on record now as ranking the best of all, we viewers were forced to watch a lot of scenes with secondary characters and new characters that did not contribute to the primary plot. Instead we spent time with the holistic vet who hallucinated due to self-medicating, or Al having silly problems with his first guests at the B&B, or Bert once again struggling to serve dinners that would bring in more business to his floundering restaurant. All of these storylines came at the expense of seeing more of Martin and Louisa dealing with their difficulties.

In S5 we started with Martin joining Louisa as they took their baby home from the hospital. What ensued was the many demanding aspects of having a newborn who keeps everyone up at night, confuses and disrupts home life, and needs care when his mother returns to work. The introduction of Louisa’s mother Eleanor added the dimension of her relationship with her daughter and how it related to Louisa’s approach to parenting, as well as how she might be reacting to Martin. (The introduction of two new characters, Ruth and Morwenna, added welcome changes that have had enduring consequences.)

Eleanor is a character who brings into play how work impacts childrearing, how mothers provide role models (both positive and negative), and how difficult it is to reach a level of objectivity when one is confronting one’s mother. For me the contrast in mothering between Eleanor’s attitude and Louisa’s was used to great effect. When Louisa decides in E6 that she can’t stay with Martin, we have been through a series of conflicts between Martin and Louisa that involve the caretaker of the school along with Martin’s disdain for the school, the naming of the baby that includes his tacit disapproval of Louisa’s social status, and his neglecting to include Louisa in several major decisions about their lives as a couple. But it is only two episodes later when Mrs. T has her breakdown, abducts the baby, and Martin and Louisa join together to find him. S5 ends with their reconciliation in what I consider a tour de force conversation between Martin and Mrs. T with Louisa prompting Martin.

Throughout S5 there were many conflicts between this couple that reminded me of typical tense conversations between married couples. To me these were amusing as well as great embodiments of real life situations that we can all learn from. As Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air on NPR, said in a recent interview, we turn to literature and film as a means to hear someone speak really personally and have it affirm our experiences. We don’t need artificial impediments to having a couple stay together to engage in the consideration of important topics that impact us all. What S7 could have done is put Martin and Louisa in therapy where they actually learn something about each other, decide to reunite by E6 or even earlier, and then continue to battle their basic inclinations and demons until we arrive at some sort of agreeable place.

As for the many highly regarded shows that we can turn to for examples of marital strife that are both entertaining and identify important issues of their day, here are a few I would include:

I Love Lucy from the 1950s, in which Lucy wants desperately to perform like her husband. Lucy and Ethel experience many a laughable antic just to get Ricky’s attention. In the process of all the physical humor and absurdity, we also confront a mixed marriage and an immigrant’s change in status, the loyalty of friends, the awkwardness of family interactions, the difficulty of women trying to work outside the home, and the birth of a baby boy. There was no need to place the marriage in peril to find plenty of situations that qualified as conflicts that drove the plot.

The Honeymooners from the early 1950s. Hopefully this classic is one most of you are also familiar with. Ralph and Alice are a working class couple living in Brooklyn who often verbally joust but never actually become violent, and who generally make up by the end of each episode. Ralph’s anger would be replaced by short-lived remorse, and he would then apologize for his actions. Many of these apologies to Alice ended with Ralph saying, “Baby, you’re the greatest,” followed by a hug and kiss. In this show the travails of a couple having trouble making ends meet are brought to light. Ralph regularly comes up with money-making schemes that fail and at one point Alice has to find a job when Ralph is laid off.

A personal favorite of mine was Cybill, which ran for 4 seasons from 1995-1998, won many awards including 2 Golden Globes, and was canceled prematurely for no apparent reason. It had between 10 and 12 million viewers for most of its existence. Cybill has been married twice and has two daughters. She is divorced at the time of the show, however, both of her exes are still very much a part of her life. The show took on many women’s issues as well as neuroses, mother-daughter relationships, and female sexuality. There was plenty of conflict going on in the house while the women coped with handling the men and the daughters.

When we get to 2005, we can mention the TV series Parenthood which received strong reviews and lasted 6 seasons. Most critics thought the writing and show got stronger with each season, and Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker “cited its ability to be warm and sentimental without being dumb” as one of its strengths. It also had a strong soundtrack. There were many marriages as part of this show with a plethora of conflicts because the show revolved around three generations. The Braverman family faced a variety of hardships that require compromise, forgiveness and unconditional love. The show was nominated for many awards and won several of them.

Currently House of Cards contains a devious married couple whose marriage is not at risk even though there is infidelity and all sorts of chicanery. As I’m sure most of you know, the show deals with ruthlessness and power, especially in politics. It’s been wildly popular and received many awards. (It is based on a British show of the same name.)

I would also include Reggie Perrin because he is in a secure marriage while being disenchanted with his life. (Reggie Perrin is quoted as saying: “My marriage is like an aircraft’s black box. It’s mysterious, but completely indestructible.”) Since Martin Clunes plays the lead role in this remake, I probably don’t have to say much about it.

The above shows are certainly not an exhaustive list, but they are a good representation of the conflicts that could be sources of successful plots without any sign of any marital on again/off again dynamic.

I found the push-pull of the Martin and Louisa relationship highly entertaining and compelling for the first five series and had thought the conclusion of S5 had put it to rest. When S6 began with the wedding, I felt the show had taken the best route, but the steady decline into depression and moroseness of that series made me shake my head in disbelief. The effort to recuperate the show and its humor in S7 is a welcome reversal, but the interminable delay in Louisa’s decision to invite Martin back into the home was not necessary to keep viewers engaged and became harder and harder to tolerate. We understand Louisa’s hesitations and hurt feelings, but surely she would have relented before two months had passed. She’s tough throughout the previous series, yet she’s never been this hard to convince before and we’re hard pressed to accept that after hugging Martin regularly in E4, she would continue his exile from the family.

 

Originally posted 2015-12-15 11:31:45.

New Developments in Happiness

I am planning to return to writing posts very soon. Things in my life have settled down somewhat and my mind can return to topics concerned with the show.

In the meantime, I thought I’d mention this article on happiness which at least questions whether being happy has anything to do with longevity. We’ve looked at how happiness can affect health and how a sense of well-being is considered important in most countries, so this article seemed pertinent.

I will do my best to get some more ideas organized for next week. Thank you for your patience.

 

Originally posted 2015-12-10 06:39:29.

S7E8 – Back to the Future

I guess it’s about time I say something specifically about E8. It’s too bad the therapy was such a disappointment, and was a failure in so many ways. Nevertheless, somehow Martin and Louisa do find their way back to each other in E8 and it’s worthwhile seeing how that is accomplished.

I’ve already established that Jack Lothian is the writer I consider the best on this show. In my opinion his episodes are the most well conceived and demonstrate outstanding knowledge of story writing as well as of literature. He has written several of the opening and closing episodes of many series, and I believe he methodically connects themes and actions in these first and last episodes to create a coherency that operates on many levels. The last episode of S7 is another example of his striking ability to allude to classical works of literature as well as many other forms of storytelling while consummating the characters in both humorous and complex ways. Each series ends with dialogue that is ambiguous yet satisfying. I enjoy the process of analyzing what he’s doing as he coordinates the action and the dialogue to achieve a successful outcome, plus I get to laugh a lot.

That S7 would end with a reconciliation seemed inevitable to me because I could not imagine this show not completing its mission as a dramedy. If S6 had been the last of the series, it would have been a transgression of all that the show had worked to develop for the previous five series. S7 had to redeem it. In fact, my view is that Lothian includes reminiscences from both S5E8, S6E1, S6E8, and S7E1 in S7E8. He also sustains the primary themes we’ve come to expect, i.e. the difficulty Martin and Louisa have communicating with each other, whether people can change, and the importance of Martin’s skills as a diagnostician and surgeon in saving people’s lives while also keeping his relationship with Louisa alive.

S7 begins with Martin waking up in bed alone wishing he can find a way out of the predicament of losing Louisa. Similarly in the final episode we begin with Martin waking up in bed alone, and hoping again to get out of the predicament he’s in. (BTW, I haven’t figured out how he fell asleep. Was he given a sleeping potion? Otherwise it is doubtful Martin would have felt like sleeping with his mouth duct taped and his hands tied to the bed. He hasn’t been sleeping well in his cottage and now he’s in an even stranger place. But never mind; we can let that go.) It doesn’t take long for him to figure out how to release himself from the bed. He then goes through a series of comedic escape antics including tiptoeing like Sylvester the Cat across a loft area while below Annie Winton speaks to Louisa on the phone and doesn’t see him, making his way down the back stairs and overhearing Jim Winton talking to his son as he sits on the bed, and hiding when the son looks up after he hears a noise. All of these actions have a cartoonish air about them. (FYI, Sylvester shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy. He often sneaks around while his owner “Granny” talks on the phone. In this episode Martin never stops trying to escape from the house through doors and windows. Martin’s persistence is reinforced by Mrs. Winton’s comment that “when you love someone, you never give up.”)

In this mostly amusing and never very convincingly dangerous episode, we also have shades of myths and legends, possible totems from voodoo, and a couple of chase scenes with the last one ending at the entrance to a mine reminiscent of Westerns, including an empty whiskey bottle as a clue. We’ve sometimes speculated that this show is playing with the tropes of Fairytales, and I’ve written about how they undercut those tropes. I’ve wondered as well if they were having some fun with the popularity of the Harry Potter series. Although we don’t have any real witches, goblins, or wizards in this episode, Martin tells Mrs. Winton that he’s not in the business of miracles, he animatedly gesticulates as if he’s casting a spell while denying that he’s a wizard, and says that he can’t conjure a cure. (I must say here that many patients do think doctors can perform miracles and cure almost anything, and some treatments almost seem miraculous. In this episode, we could be tempted to call Martin’s ablation of Jim’s neck mass a miracle.) Ruth has told Louisa that the fight or flight response is not just a myth. Thus, we have more than enough allusions to the mythical and magical than we need to recognize its place in this part of the story.

During this episode Martin is required to leave Portwenn and drive into the wilderness where danger lurks. As Martin approaches the Winton’s front door, the camera lingers on a gargoyle type sculpture. For me this figure looks most like a Griffin, a legendary creature that is a mixture of a lion and an eagle, both kings of their species. The Griffin has been used in literature, most providentially in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack Lothian had this in mind. In Dante’s allegory, after Dante and Virgil’s journey through Hell and Purgatory has concluded, Dante meets a chariot dragged by a Griffin in Earthly Paradise. Immediately afterwards, Dante is reunited with Beatrice. Dante and Beatrice then start their journey through Paradise. We could call Martin’s stay at the Wintons a journey through Hell/Purgatory that ends in being reunited with Louisa (Beatrice) after which they begin their journey together in the Earthly Paradise that is otherwise called Portwenn. (Like Martin, Dante carried his love for Beatrice throughout his life. She represents beatific love.) Allegory, myth, folktale, cartoon, take your pick.

This episode also recollects the scene in S6E8 in which Martin races to the airport in Penhale’s Jeep to rescue Louisa. This time it’s Louisa rushing to rescue Martin and asking Penhale to drive. Both times Penhale delays due to a humorous interruption; with Martin it was his costume, with Louisa it is a useless conversation with Buddy. Ironically, if only Buddy could talk, he could have led them to Martin. Buddy is most like the loyal, but powerless, sidekick at this point. Both times Penhale is somewhat helpful while being his usual oddball self. The scene with Louisa and Penhale sneaking around the Winton house and stopping to discuss the meaning of raising a fist reminded me of the three stooges and is a funny interlude in what is supposed to be a serious rescue effort. Then Penhale tries to enter the house through the bathroom window while Martin is trying to leave through the same window. When they are discovered, Penhale’s taser has not been recharged and is worthless. Now we’re in the zone of comedic Westerns during which a gun is jammed and won’t fire at the crucial moment. (They’ve associated the taser with Westerns with the music they use in the episode where Joe first receives it. In S5E8 Ruth told Joe he isn’t Clint Eastwood, and now we have reconfirmation of that!)

We also have a connection to S7E2 in which Martin is surprised by Louisa’s appearance and says he wasn’t expecting her so early. Well, the Wintons aren’t expecting Martin so early either, and the fact that he is so prompt leads to more trouble and the loss of his medical bag. Martin’s medical bag has been his constant accessory throughout these series and we would think the Wintons would consider it important, but as in S6E1, he’s able to improvise. He also recuperates his image by helping their injured German Shepard as opposed to wanting to euthanize Buddy. And Mrs. Winton’s comment that he has a gentle touch recalls the one made by Barry in E1 when ME discovers that he has a condition that needs immediate medical attention. He tells Martin he considers him a good guy.

Furthermore, in E1 Morwenna speaks of playing the role of a victim needing to be rescued, which of course is exactly what Martin does in E8. Martin is even wearing the same suit and tie in both episodes, and now that I’ve seen E8, Ruth’s comment in E1 as she looks at a picture of Martin wearing a tie as a child that Martin has literally not changed is true in more ways than one.

It is this episode that most reflects the title of E7, “Facta Non Verba,” because here we have actual deeds that speak louder than words. The deeds begin with Mrs. Winton calling the doctor’s office and demanding that he come to her house, which he dutifully does. Next she holds him at gunpoint. He makes an attempt at escape only to run into Clemo Winton who simply takes him back to the house. Meanwhile, back in Portwenn, Louisa has put together a lovely meal with a lot of Martin’s favorite foods. This time she isn’t going to serve him sausage or scotch eggs. She obviously is already planning to make this a reconciliation dinner. Here is another occasion when Martin and Louisa’s efforts to talk are interrupted. In E1 they are unable to connect due to poor reception and Dr. T’s rules cause Martin to miss Louisa’s 4:30 call; in E8 the Wintons disrupt their scheduled conversation. (Throughout this series they continue to be interrupted whenever they attempt to talk in any meaningful way. I should mention that comments on the blog post about therapy point out that any talk they might have had would probably have gone poorly anyway, which is even more evidence that any move they make to have a long talk ends in failure.) Martin doesn’t show, no talk ensues, and Louisa is determined to find him.

When she comes up empty handed the following morning, she calls Mrs. Winton who claims Martin left the previous evening, then she finds Penhale and they retrace Martin’s steps to the Wintons. Louisa will not be stopped from this point on and notices Martin’s shoes, finds his car, and confronts Mrs. Winton.

So we have the deeds leading up to Louisa finding Martin and Martin really trying to read the notes from the oncologist, and finding a possible mistake in the diagnostic procedure. Soon we have more action when they look for Jim Winton and find that he has left his bed. They figure he’s headed to the mine and they all run after him. Martin suggests Louisa stay behind several times, but this time Louisa won’t let Martin out of her sight and tells him “I came here to get you and I’m not going home without you.” Ahh, more indication that Louisa has decided to have Martin move back in with her.

I would say that during this episode Martin experiences many moments during which he has a lack of control. However, no matter what they demand of him, he manages to maintain some semblance of control, either by trying to reason with them or by being unwilling to buckle under while they point a gun at him. In a sense, he retains control regardless of their threats because they need him. The only thing he can’t control is Louisa’s actions, and his uncertain answer to Ruth at the end of the episode is evidence of this.

it is also quite noticeable that throughout the episode Martin and Louisa refer to each other as “my wife” and “my husband.” Not only should this identifier matter to Mrs. Winton because she is so dedicated to her husband, but also it reinforces their commitment as a couple. We’ve heard Louisa correct people many times during this series when they neglect to call her Mrs. Ellingham, an indication in my mind that she sees herself as Martin’s wife. In this final episode, that moniker is given precedence when Martin frequently is heard alluding to his concern for his wife. I find it interesting that the Wintons have one child, a son, and that parallels the Ellinghams. I wouldn’t say that Martin and Louisa find any solace in watching the loyalty and care Clemo Winton has for his parents, but it’s amusing to see Clemo try to hug Martin for saving his father’s life. What will Martin do when his son reaches out to hug him?

A final example of how this episode connects to previous ones is the procedure Martin completes on Mr. Winton’s neck. Mr. Winton’s surgery takes us back to S6E1 when Martin and Louisa carry out surgery on the caravan owner’s neck. This time the surgery is much less bloody, but there’s Martin with a makeshift scalpel cutting into a scruffy old man’s neck while Louisa assists and grimaces. In both cases the men survive against all odds and Martin comes away as the hero. Moreover, Martin and Louisa act as a team again.

We are also reminded of the talk Ruth and Martin had sitting on a grassy hill during the last episode of S6 where she explains to him that he has to change to get Louisa to return. Here Louisa comes to the realization that she doesn’t want him to change. He has acted on Ruth’s counsel throughout S7 only to discover that Louisa has concluded that she loves him just the way he is.

Louisa tells Martin that she thinks she has been obsessed with wanting people to be normal. As Dr. T said to Louisa, “normal” is a loaded word. Louisa has told Dr. T that her parents are normal, but now she acknowledges that her idea of normal is complicated and that everyone is unusual in some way. There is no true “normal.” Instead of wanting a “normal” husband, she understands that she should embrace his personality traits regardless of, or especially because of, their uniqueness. “We Are What We Are,” as Erica Holbrook has written for art class.

Martin agrees that he is unusual, and then we get his admission that he has tried but it just seems to make things worse. At first his remark seems very ambiguous. What has he tried and how has he made things worse? He may not have made things better, but his actions have hardly made things worse. (I do not think he is referring to trying to change how he feels about Louisa. Despite the ambiguity of this statement, it makes more sense that he’s talking about his effort to express himself in therapy sessions and to demonstrate to Louisa that he is working on his skills as a spouse.) I think they both say partial truths in this final scene. Louisa tells Martin that he’s never let her down, which he has, and Martin thinks he’s made things worse by trying to be a better husband. Once again he is assuming the blame and she is overstating or exaggerating what has happened between them.

For me the key confession they make to each other is when Martin tells Louisa, “I’m never going to change the way I feel about you,” and she answers, “I don’t want that.” What is an unmitigated fact is that his love for her is something he won’t change and can’t change (and he’s even powerless to change), and she admits that she doesn’t want him to change in that regard. She’s glad to know that his love for her will never change, and we all know she’s tested that.

By the end of this episode we are pleased to hear Louisa respond in kind to Martin’s assertion that he loves her. She hasn’t said it often enough.

We also see the other major characters all find a satisfying conclusion to their plights. Sally has made a new commitment to Clive, Bert is back in business with Al (which may be better for Bert than for Al), Al’s Bed and Breakfast has been given new life and he’s headed for another relationship with the doctor’s receptionist, and Morwenna has gotten her pay rise while Martin has averted another showdown with a disgruntled receptionist.  Portwenn can now return to its previously calm state. It looks like Penhale will be staying on and continuing to keep the place safe. And that’s a wrap!

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(Not for the blog, just for this series. More posts coming soon.)

Originally posted 2015-11-20 06:55:03.

Another Take on Introversion

Well, not many of you were very interested in contributing to my post on Depression, but that isn’t going to stop me from taking another stab at Introversion!

So today, as happens on many Sundays, I was reading the NYTimes and saw an article of interest. This article is one I enjoyed because of its new twist on another subject we’ve been writing about for some time, introversion. The author, a columnist and contributing editor from the Greater Boston Area, considers whether using the excuse of being an introvert is really just a rationalization for simply being rude. I particularly liked the part where she notes:
“Society has a rich history of people seizing on social evolution as an excuse for bad manners. From the Romantic poets to the transcendentalists to the Summer of Love hippies, many have rejected a supposed facade of good behavior in favor of being true to their inner nature. Good manners are mere mannerisms, the argument goes, which serve only to put barriers in the way of deeper connections.”

One reason I like this part is because she references the Romantic poets, many of whom wrote about sitting around, like Coleridge, under Lime Trees thinking about life, or transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau, who took himself into the woods to think about life, and then there are the hippies who also liked to muse about life while being one with nature. All of the above indulged in high minded philosophical ideas by withdrawing from society, believing they had reached a more astute concept of our world. In other words, they had pretty good impressions of themselves as a result of coming to the conclusion that social interaction, and following social mores, was accepting the dictates of others rather than being true to themselves.

In a later paragraph, the author takes a somewhat critical view of introverts when she says: “self-indulgent introverts [risk] crossing the line into antisocial behavior.” Since we’ve spent so much time determining what it means to be an introvert, and learning how all personality types fall on a spectrum or continuum, I find her identification of introverts as self-indulgent a form of indictment. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that they can be perceived as antisocial. It means something that some synonyms for antisocial includes terms like unfriendly, reclusive, standoffish, and even sociopathic.

We need to draw a distinction between the personality trait of introversion and being labeled as antisocial. However, there is a hazard that what is a personality trait to one person could appear to be acting unfriendly to another.

For a simple explanation of how some introverts function, I found this site helpful. There is something identified as Introversion.

And now we have the case of Martin Ellingham. There are signs that he falls somewhere on the Introversion scale. Similarly, there are signs that he is also rude and antisocial. We know he likes to withdraw into his house to read and work on clocks; but we also know he is willing to go to parties or out for a drink or dinner if the right person asks him (namely either Louisa or one of his aunts).

Finally, Dell’Antonia takes up the notion of control or self-determination, another one of our favorite subjects, when she states:
“I may be naturally reserved, and more comfortable alone than I will ever be in a crowd, but I am not at the mercy of my nature. There are many excuses for failing to conduct ourselves with courtesy, for avoiding gatherings and conversations we don’t think we will enjoy, or for just putting on our pajamas and staying home. Too many of them boil down to just that one thing: We care more about ourselves than about the needs of others.”

Maybe she’s right…some of us may be hiding behind the guise of introversion when we are really more concerned about ourselves than others. Perhaps introverts should force themselves to join in more, and perhaps they would like it if they did.

There is an aspect of ME that falls under the category of self-aggrandizement. He thinks he’s better than the idiots and ignoramuses living in Portwenn, and he feels perfectly justified telling them so. We laugh when he tells someone they would be stupid not to listen to his advice (or have been), but it is offensive at the same time. When they frequently call him a “tosser,” they are literally telling him he is being selfish and inconsiderate. Is that the writers telling us this character is simply rude? I mean, we have to be honest and admit that he crosses the line fairly often.

What do you think about this view of introversion? If there are still psychologists and social workers reading this blog, please let us know what your reaction is. (I know, I’m deliberately nudging you to respond. Still, I am interested.)

Originally posted 2016-09-25 15:29:48.