Category Archives: mothers

Martin’s Mothering Morass

Man is of woman born, and her face bends over him in infancy with an expression he can never quite forget. Margaret Fuller, The Dial, IV, July 1843.

(Once again, many apologies for the long break between posts about mothering. There are never enough hours in the day lately!!)

I decided to open with the Margaret Fuller quote because her observation recognizes the very early impact on a baby that a mother has. Its ambiguity encompasses the many facial expressions a baby might see when his/her mother comes into view. Whereas, for example, we can imagine Louisa’s mother looking at her little girl with love in her eyes, we have much more difficulty visualizing Margaret’s face appearing anything but disgusted and resentful towards her baby boy. From what she has told Martin, she was never happy to be a mother and always considered him a wedge between Christopher and her. No matter how Martin was treated at home, even the basic fact that he was not wanted had to have been extremely damaging to his psyche.

We would have to assume that Margaret avoided doing much with her son. Neglect is almost too trite a word for how the absence of a mother’s love should be described. Many studies have been done on the effects of neglect on babies. In most of the classic studies the babies failed to thrive and were generally considered compromised for life. Recently, however, there have been follow-up studies that have found some interesting variations on what neglect can do to babies. One study seems particularly pertinent to what could have happened in Martin’s case. (Again, I want to always make the disclaimer that there is no evidence that anyone from the show might have thought about this. The study I am quoting was only completed within the last year, which means no one on the show would have known about what regions of the brain might have been affected when the show was first written.) What stands out to me is that “the affected brain regions include nerve bundles that support attention, general cognition, and emotion processing…The most affected tracts included nerve circuits involved in general cognitive performance, emotion, maintaining attention and executive function, and sensory processing.”  Thus, early childhood neglect by his mother could have led to Martin’s difficulties with emotions, or to being unable to comprehend the importance of affection, and even having the capacity to reach the decision to stop Louisa from leaving at various pivotal moments.

Another thing in the article that is worth noting is their finding that “white matter losses may be reversible. What worked in Romania to improve brain development—moving children into a supportive family environment—might work elsewhere as a remedy for child neglect. ‘This has really important implications,’ says lead author Johanna Bick, a clinical psychologist at the Boston Children’s Hospital: ‘It suggests that the harm that takes place in a family setting may be reversible, too.'”

In the case of Martin Ellingham, perhaps his stays with Joan were just long enough, and loving enough, to have been able to reverse some of the effects of his mother’s dismissal of him.

In addition, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 showed differences between genders in the long-lasting effects of neglect by mothers. While the males had high levels of a stress hormone known as cortisol and low levels of the metabolite of the mood-related neurotransmitter serotonin, this difference was not seen in females. Lead author Gabriella Conti of the University of Chicago suggests that this may be because in the womb, female fetuses are also more resilient than males. (Aside: Of course!)

High levels of stress hormones can increase risk for both mental and physical illnesses, including depression, which also can involve low levels of serotonin.

Martin clearly suffers from depression in S6.  According to the study above, this tendency would be quite likely. So now we have several possible causes for Martin to be depressed. He could, as I mentioned in my post of June 30, 2014, be depressed because many parents experience depression following at 3-6 months postpartum; or he might have had high levels of stress hormones due to his mother’s neglect; or he may have Asperger’s which is often linked to depression. This is not to mention feeling like he’s a failure as a husband and discovering his mother’s primary reason for coming to visit him is to snooker him into giving her some money! Thus, he has both physiological and psychological sources for finding himself depressed, and most of them originate in his mother.

The authors conclude: “[T]he lack of a secure attachment relationship in the early years has detrimental consequences for both physical and mental health later in life, with long-lasting effects that vary by sex.” Louisa may have been abandoned at a young age like Martin, but the likelihood is that she had more love from her mother than Martin ever had from his and that, as a female, she is better equipped to manage any stress or neglect.

Another thing that I feel compelled to mention is that Martin could almost be said to be a better “mother” than many of the women in town. As I know I’ve mentioned before, there is rarely a time when JH is nearby that Martin doesn’t touch him in some way. Many studies have demonstrated the key importance of being touched by another human, especially one’s parents. One of these studies notes: “We all need human touch and loving affection at every stage of our lives for healthy emotional and neurobiological development.” Despite his own parental deprivation, Martin provides his son with the very thing he never got. (If we’re very cynical, we might suggest he knows to touch his son because he’s studied human development. I prefer to think he is supposed to be doing it instinctually.)

Ultimately, there is no denying the importance of a mother’s relationship with her child and the amount of harm that arises from a mother’s neglect. We’ve all recognized the wounds Martin has suffered due to his mother’s treatment of him. I have no doubt the writers, et. al. intended us to attribute some of Martin’s behavior and social ineptitude to how he was treated by his mother. This newer research gives us even more reason to associate her with his emotional and physical awkwardness.

 

Originally posted 2015-02-24 14:37:46.

The Importance of Being a Mother

In Sept. 2013 I wrote a post called “Mothering” and reviewed the generally poor mothering skills  of the women in Portwenn. I want to revisit the topic of mothering because I have become convinced that the role of mother is eminently important and that when Martin and Louisa enter marriage counseling, they will have to address their experiences with their own mothers.

In Sept. 2013, I wrote that Joan and Louisa were the only women in the show who demonstrated an aptitude for mothering. It’s especially curious that Joan is portrayed as a good mother figure because she has never had children of her own. Instead, Martin’s summer visits seem to have been a vicarious way for her to fulfill her mothering instincts (unless we consider her animals her children). We are led to believe that she always loved Martin and was sincerely hurt when his parents no longer allowed him to visit; however, we also know that whatever mothering she provided was limited to the few months he visited each summer. We also know that during his visits he met John Slater who was actually Joan’s lover, not her husband. What sort of relationship Martin had with Joan’s husband remains unexplored. Therefore, not only was Martin subjected to a biological mother who rejected him, and even resented him, but also the one loving mother figure in his life was only with him a few months each year and had a questionable home life herself. (We have speculated that there might have been a loving nanny/governess during his early childhood years, but we haven’t heard anything about that on the show.)

Louisa demonstrates natural mothering instincts when she has her baby. She has previously told Bert that she wants children of her own, she spends her days working with children as a nurturer and teacher, and she has come to her student Peter Cronk’s rescue more than once. Hence we are not very surprised that she falls easily into her role as mother. From the moment the baby is born, we see Louisa hold the baby close, have difficulty letting the baby cry, worry about whether she’s handling things right and reading the current literature pre and post natal. She starts out breastfeeding, although we aren’t shown too much of that (something that would be much more a part of her daily life under normal circumstances), and she has the baby near her a lot of the time. Once she returns to work, she is conflicted about leaving the baby, except with his father (and sometimes even with his father). Thus, we have the overall sense that Louisa is the kind of mother neither Martin nor she had themselves, and who Martin appears to take delight in when observing her. She would probably be seen by Martin as the sort of mother he would have liked to have had.

What I find most interesting, however, is Louisa’s relationship with her own mother and how that may have played a role in Louisa’s personal development. What we’ve been told about Louisa’s childhood begins at the age of 11. To the best of our knowledge, she was born in or near Portwenn and grew up there. She remembers good times with her father, Terry,  who occasionally took her for ice cream. The most significant memory of her mother, however, is that she left for Spain to be with Javier when Louisa was 11 years old. We have no idea what her home life was like until then, but her mother’s departure to be with another man must have been preceded by some sort of affair with him as well as some sort of estrangement between Eleanor and Terry. It certainly seems as though Louisa and Eleanor have been out of contact with each other much of the time Eleanor has been in Spain, despite the fact that Louisa decided to write her mother about her pregnancy. Clearly Eleanor considered a letter from her daughter significant enough to fly to see her after the baby is born. (She also came because she wanted to make a deal for a seafood supplier for the restaurant in Spain.)

In Eleanor we meet a fun loving, free spirited woman who acts totally unaffected by the long break in their contact with each other. She immediately tells Louisa she looks like she could use a rest and she wants to hold the baby. There’s not even a slight hesitation on her part.

Soon Eleanor becomes involved in their family life and Louisa trusts her, with some reservations, to care for James Henry. They need someone to watch the baby while they both continue to work, and Eleanor appears competent until she adds a few drops of her elixir to JH’s bottle to calm him. Once that somewhat innocent blunder is overcome, Eleanor disappoints again when she  shows up late and hires a questionable teen to watch JH so she can work in Bert’s restaurant. Eleanor is not sufficiently committed to the baby’s care even after she is given this second chance to redeem herself. Moreover, it is at Louisa’s lowest moment that Eleanor decides to leave again.

The unexpected behaviors Louisa exhibits are turning to her mother twice following difficulties with Martin. The first time is in S5 when Louisa decides she can’t stay with Martin due to his consistent failure to consult her about matters of the home. She takes JH in his carriage to her mother’s house and is received there with genuine sympathy. The second time is in the last two episodes of S6 when she decides to fly to Spain with JH to have some time to think about her marriage. As Martin says, in his constant state of bewilderment, she doesn’t even like her mother. But such is the power of mothers and the need for their comforting and nurturing that, despite ongoing conflicted feelings, Louisa looks to her mother for sanctuary.

Because I find the decision to have Louisa seek out her mother under trying circumstances in her marriage so credible and yet so startling, I think it’s worth writing about. While acknowledging that the show needs a place for Louisa to go in both cases, and her mother fulfills that need quite well, it’s also telling that they choose her mother as the person Louisa seeks out. Here’s a thirtysomething woman who has been on her own most of her life and now needs a soft place to land. And the place she decides on is with her mother, the person who abandoned her and has disappointed her many times.

We could think there aren’t many options for Louisa, and we have to say that’s true. However, there could also be something else going on here. To some degree there could be some sense of unresolved abandonment issues in Louisa. Throughout Eleanor’s reappearance in Portwenn following James Henry’s birth, Louisa tries to excuse her behavior. She gives Eleanor second chances, she thinks her mother is having a romantic dinner with an old flame, and is jealous of her, when she’s only going out to close a business deal and has no concern for the man as a person. Once he’s injured and can’t fulfill his contract, she’s off to find someone else. No matter what Eleanor does, Louisa continues to care about her. When she ultimately requires an emergency surgical procedure, Louisa is markedly worried and acts very relieved when it all goes well. Thus, Louisa is depicted as much more compassionate than her mother and towards her mother than her mother is towards her.

Another thing that could be going on is some feelings of self-doubt in Louisa. One source notes the following rather pedestrian, but substantive, observations: “All children who have been abandoned by their mothers, either physically or psychologically, wonder what they did to cause “Mommy” to leave. They ask themselves if they did something wrong; if they did, they want to figure out what it was. These children also wonder if they are lovable.” There is a strong likelihood that Louisa is still blaming herself for her mother’s departure during her childhood and she is probably still yearning for her mother to treat her in a loving manner. When Eleanor ushers Louisa into her home in S5, she is showing Louisa the acceptance and love she craves; and when Eleanor talks to Louisa prior to departing again at the end of S5, she tells her how proud she is of her. To a certain extent, Eleanor has finally answered Louisa’s apprehensions developed in childhood about her mother. After that resolution, minimal as it may appear, perhaps Louisa’s decision to fly to Spain to stay with her mother isn’t so surprising.

It’s also perhaps not surprising that Louisa habitually decides to leave Martin whenever they have dissension in their relationship. According to the same source, “Some children who have experienced a maternal abandonment will come to the mistaken conclusion that they are better off protecting themselves from any more hurt. They also decide that it’s better to do the abandoning than to go through the pain of being abandoned again.” Marriage counseling should at some point identify these inclinations as well as how Louisa’s mother has played a role in her approach to her marriage. Feeling abandoned by one’s mother is traumatic at any age. In this show we have two main characters who have been either physically or psychologically (or both) abandoned by their mothers. It’s a topic of some importance to the show.

We have discussed Martin’s mother’s influence on him to some extent, but in my next post I want to add more to that too. It’s nice to get back to writing another post and I hope to hear from some of you. Sorry for the lengthy break.

 

Originally posted 2015-02-14 15:21:57.

An in depth look at Louisa

When mentioning the importance of story and expressing a hope that we will learn more of Martin and Louisa’s backstories, I ended up thinking more about Louisa. There’s quite a lot about the character of Louisa that brings up questions. All we know is that her mother left her with her father at the age of 11 so that she could move to Spain and be with Javier, and her father is a gambler and has been involved in illegal activities. (Age 11 seems to be the magic age for both Martin and Louisa to have had the rug pulled out from under them by their parents.) Nevertheless, Louisa has fond memories of times with her father and is the one person who believes he is innocent of stealing the lifeboat money until she finally confronts him and forces him to tell her the truth. Although she has a lot of resentment towards her mother for leaving her at such an early age, she is willing to rely on her mother again even after she learns that her mother has entrusted the local juvenile delinquent with her baby. It seems there’s almost nothing her mother can do to utterly destroy Louisa’s willingness to give her another chance. We recognize this as a character trait because she has treated Martin that way as well. Perhaps Louisa’s tendency to give her parents and others second chances stems from a deep impulse to believe people will eventually stop disappointing her. As Alexander Pope wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

We know she, Danny and Isobel went to school in Portwenn, and when she went to college in London, she met Holly. We don’t know how she decided to go there and how she was able to pay for it. Where did she get her values, her desire to work with children, her drive? (I think we can come up with explanations for these on our own, but we don’t get any from the show.) Although she appears to be quite level-headed, she has returned to Portwenn with plans to stay despite its many limitations for a single woman, especially one who wants to meet the right man and have a family. In fact, she returns to Portwenn two times from London – once after her college days and again after her first wedding is aborted and she moves to London. London is not for her! Everyone is certain that any school in London would be lucky to have her as a teacher, but when she returns to Portwenn pregnant, she says the school was not happy with her pregnancy. Never mind her argument in a later episode that it is against the rules to use pregnancy as a reason not to hire a teacher. (Presumably also not to fire one.)

She describes Martin as moral and straighforward. She, too, could be described with those adjectives, and she is described as liking people. She demonstrates personal concern and sympathy for many others, including Peter Cronk and his mother, Mrs. Tishell, Allison, and Ruth. We can’t leave out that she is feisty. She immediately challenges Martin during his interview to become the new GP in Portwenn, and there are many great moments when she defends herself or her decisions. She’s not afraid to stand up to Martin, Bert, or Mrs. Tishell. In one scene, prior to her first attempt at marrying Martin, she gives the whole group at her house a talking to.

It’s pertinent to look at the clothes they choose for her too. To a great extent much of her clothing seems to come from the line of Laura Ashley clothing. Here we are in the 2000s, up to and including 2013, and Louisa is, for the most part, still wearing little flowered dresses with pink and red cardigans. Her clothes are distinct from all the other women in Portwenn, especially any of the receptionists.

The dresses are actually quite ambiguous to me. I decided to look into this style and discovered some interesting information about them. I learned that Laura Ashley designs according to this website conjure up terms like:
Florals. Milkmaids. Folksy. Quintessentially English.

It goes on to say, “from the beginning, their designs were rooted in the past, looking to Victorian designs to create headscarves which were a success. Women loved the fantasy of pastoral lifestyle and likewise, their homewards also fitted into this aspiration.”

On the other hand, Jane Ashley, Laura’s daughter, “just so happen [sic] to go to art school with two girls from punk band The Slits and Mick Jones and Paul Simonen from The Clash and so they also did a spot of modelling for the brand.” You can check out some pictures of them here. In case, like me, you aren’t sure what punk is, Wikipedia states “Punk bands created fast, hard-edged music, typically with short songs, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics…it became a major cultural phenomenon in the United Kingdom. For the most part, punk took root in local scenes that tended to reject association with the mainstream. An associated punk subculture emerged, expressing youthful rebellion and characterized by distinctive styles of clothing and adornment (ranging from deliberately offensive T-shirts, leather jackets, spike bands and other studded or spiked jewelry to bondage and S&M clothes). They add, “Even as nostalgia was discarded, many in the scene adopted a nihilistic attitude summed up by the Sex Pistols slogan “No Future”; in the later words of one observer, amid the unemployment and social unrest in 1977, ‘punk’s nihilistic swagger was the most thrilling thing in England.'” Jane deliberately mixed the traditional style of the Ashley brand with punk stars in her photographic representations, something of a subversion of the brand. (The little I know about Caroline Catz’s sense of style leads me to wonder if she, too, considers wearing the floral Ashley designs as a means of being alternative. She has been involved in producing films and documentaries that indicate her appreciation of the music of the 70s, she has worn one of the dresses used in Doc Martin to a showing of her most recent music documentary, and the picture of her at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards shows her in a lacy dress that looks sort of retro to me. She may collaborate on the wardrobe choices for Louisa.)

When Princess Diana was a fan of the brand, it marked a Sloane Ranger association despite the fact that the clothes were still very much affordable and from the high street. Again from Wikipedia: “The exemplar female Sloane Ranger was considered to be Lady Diana Spencer before marrying the Prince of Wales, when she was an aristocrat from the Spencer family. However, most Sloanes were not aristocrats as Lady Diana was. Considered typical of SRs was patriotism and traditionalism, and a belief in the values of upper class and upper-middle class culture, confidence in themselves and their given places in the world, a fondness for life in the countryside, country sports in particular, philistinism and anti-intellectualism.”

Today Kate Middleton is considered a Sloane but the brand has changed somewhat and wearing Laura Ashley type dresses is no longer popular amongst Sloanes. Here’s one reference in regard to Kate and her Sloane connection. (It’s kind of eerie that Kate follows in Diana’s footsteps.)

So is wearing this type of dress and cardigan indicative of Louisa being a part of the establishment and settled in her rural life or is it something of a playful way to impart individualism and rebellion? Laura Ashley designs are still made today and sometimes shown with models wearing high top sneakers or other disparate footwear. Jane Ashley’s 70s combination of punk with Victorian style dresses may have been a precursor for today’s fashions.

In my opinion, the outfits Louisa wears when pregnant in the show are the nicest and most flattering to her. That sounds odd, I know, but they appeal to me as more contemporary and sophisticated. S6 used more of that sort of wardrobe too with leggings and scarves, and I think Caroline has aged well and looks more attractive in S6 than in any of the other series. Louisa has matured into a married woman with a child who struggles with many of the same difficulties other working mothers have today. S1E1 began with her wearing something like the corset Edith wears in S4. I found it quite surprising that she would wear a sort of bustier under a cardigan to a serious meeting. But then we could say it was a sign of strength and independence. It was nice to see her relax in jeans at times, even when entertaining Martin for dinner and despite knowing he would be in a suit.

Louisa is a free spirit to some extent and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. Her mother is a non-conformist and Louisa grew up fending for herself from a young age. That she figures she can fend for herself when she’s pregnant comes as no surprise. Louisa is a great female character who contains a lot of ambiguity while also being a symbol of femininity at its best. Is she too harsh in S6? Maybe. But I get a kick out of her.

Originally posted 2014-10-26 09:15:02.

And Now for Aunt Ruth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do Aunt Joan and Aunt Ruth think about Martin and Louisa?

I have been asked to address how Joan is depicted as viewing the relationship between Martin and Louisa. It’s an interesting question because she is somewhat mixed about it. I thought while I’m at it, I might as well look at Ruth too.(I noted Joan’s uncertain response to their decision to be together in my post “Mothering,” but didn’t go into any detail then.)

As I’ve begun thinking about this topic, I realized that Joan is the only one who M accepts hugs from and who he offers to hug, and fairly regularly. He tolerates hugs from her even while recoiling from physical contact with most others (with the prominent exception of Louisa of course). As I’ve said in a previous post (Mothering), Joan is really a surrogate mother for M. He has chosen to come to Portwenn after his hemaphobia forces him to leave his position as a vascular surgeon primarily because Joan is there. He needs Joan’s TLC, whether he consciously recognizes it or not, and she’s pleasantly surprised to know that he’s chosen Portwenn. During their reunion we learn that the last time she saw him was 30 years ago when he was 11 yo and he was still wetting the bed. We also learn that she and Martin’s father (her brother) don’t get on. She asks Martin to forgive her for cursing her brother and then calls him a “bloody idiot.” Thus, despite the long break in their interaction, Martin has never forgotten his aunt and, from the way she reacts to seeing him, she still has a soft spot in her heart for him, and they both hate Martin’s father. I think this aspect of their relationship is important in connection to determining how much Joan’s approval of Martin’s pursuit of Louisa means to him. We also could imagine that being drawn to Louisa so quickly contributes to making him decide to stay in Portwenn. Indeed, one of the last scenes in E1, after he’s had a terrible initiation to Portwenn and has told his agent Chris Parsons that he intends to leave, has him passing by the school again and staring at Louisa through the window. Soon after, he stands at the front window to his surgery building, looks out towards the school across the way, and takes out a saw to cut down the “For Sale” sign outside. Both Joan’s presence and Louisa’s appeal, in addition to the comments Bert makes and the likelihood that Martin hates to give up on anything, contribute to him deciding to stay in Portwenn.

The other thing that’s important about Martin’s first meeting with Joan is how much emphasis she puts on his love life. First she wonders if he left London and performing surgery because of some difficulties with a woman or lack of any female contact, next she remarks that he’s pale and needs to eat better if he wants to find a woman. So right away we know that Joan cares about Martin having a woman in his life. Later in the first episode there is a scene where Martin stares at Louisa while she is working with the students. Nearby Joan is unloading some vegetables from her truck and notices Martin “skulking.” She deduces that he and Louisa have not gotten along, but he denies that he is skulking, and says that he just happened to spot Louisa. Still, we as viewers are now aware that Martin is interested in Louisa and that Joan notices. Soon we also know that Louisa is interested in Martin. She flirtatiously approaches him at the street fair and they have a short introductory conversation. The interplay is established, and it’s pretty obvious that how their relationship develops will be a key plotline. With that in mind, Joan’s reaction to it carries importance.

The way the writers, et. al. have involved Joan in the development of the relationship between Martin and Louisa is by making her the intermediary between the two. Oftentimes she functions as the confidant or vessel for their comments about each other. Some examples include:
In S1,E2, Louisa and Joan have words about Martin and his unsympathetic behavior toward Roger and others. Louisa at this point thinks Martin is not treating the people of Portwenn nicely enough.

In S1,E4, Louisa first asks Martin to join her at the community dance, but he turns her down. Louisa offers to give Mark the ticket instead and Mark mistakenly assumes that she has asked him for a date. When Louisa arrives, Mark asks her to dance and she dances with him to have fun. Despite having chosen to skip the dance, Martin shows up there in order to find Mark. When Martin walks in, Mark and Louisa are dancing and then appear to be having an intimate chat. Martin decides not to bother Mark and Joan notices Martin leaving. She immediately picks up on Martin’s disgruntlement about Louisa and Mark. She notes that he really wanted to interrupt Mark. Joan’s attitude indicates amusement at Martin’s apparent interest in Louisa, but her remarks should also be interpreted as trying to encourage him to not back down. (In fact, she encourages him to pursue L on several occasions, especially when Danny appears.)

Then in S1,E5, John Slater returns to Portwenn. Joan tells Martin that she wants to renew her love affair with him, and Martin is against it. He knows John has a life-threatening heart condition but tells Joan he just doesn’t think that starting up their relationship again is a good idea. She tells him she doesn’t need his blessing, but she would like it. I expect that if Joan would like his blessing, Martin would like hers as well. She also tells him that she gave up John for him because his father wouldn’t let her continue to see Martin if she carried on her affair with John. This revelation also explains why John is somewhat spiteful towards Martin. By the end of the episode, Martin admits that he would have said anything to put Joan off John and he tells her about John’s condition. The scene ends with Joan crying and Martin putting his arms around her, something he rarely does with anyone, even Louisa. As a result of these exchanges, we know that Joan and Martin are very close and neither one would want to disappoint the other.

The next time Joan has anything to say to Martin about Louisa takes place in S2, E8 when Joan stops Martin to thank him for giving up his flat in London so that she can keep the farm. They are once again situated on the street near the school and, though I missed it previously, Joan notes that Martin is afflicted with the “Ellingham curse,” which she defines as “never talking about anything…keeping your emotions hidden.” (We can certainly vouch for the “Ellingham curse” coming back to haunt Martin’s marriage.) She follows that with a hug and then mentions that rumors abound that Danny is very keen on Louisa. She literally tells Martin to “do something, say something.” There’s nothing subtle about Joan’s awareness that Martin is attracted to Louisa, and perhaps that Louisa is attracted to him too. Of course, at that exact moment Louisa exits the school with some students, and Joan strongly encourages Martin to approach Louisa. He clearly wants to, but also looks a bit like a little boy taking advice from his mother. Martin manages to speak to Louisa, although she wants to talk about Mark Mylow and the trouble with Julie. However, her final comments about Mark are filled with innuendo as she tells M that she admires Mark for not holding back. Martin is tongue tied again at this point until he decides to ask her if she’s going to “go for it” with the architect. Naturally he ruins the moment by sarcastically asking her if she’s waiting for a “signal from on high.” So Joan’s effort to get Martin to intervene between Louisa and Danny somewhat backfires. Martin’s comments may, however, have had an impact on Louisa because later in the episode she turns down Danny’s marriage proposal and tells Martin that she wants to have a drink with him and talk. Joan has surely been instrumental in getting these two together even if it’s in an indirect way.

In the final episode of S3, Louisa seems to think Joan is an instigator of Martin’s endeavors to find a way to link up with her, as she immediately presumes Joan has suggested to Martin that he give her a birthday card. It’s an amusing way for Martin to attempt to recover from telling Louisa she’s a stalker. He also wants to ask her to have dinner with him, but Louisa’s father’s appearance eliminates that option. Joan becomes the source of Martin’s information about Louisa’s father and is the person who saw Terry steal the lifeboat money. Joan’s integrity is so beyond reproach that once Louisa asks him directly whether Joan is lying, Terry cannot look Louisa in the face and maintain his position that he wasn’t responsible for the theft. Joan is a pillar of the community, and, as such, wields special influence. I doubt that’s lost on either Martin or Louisa.

It’s when we get to S3, E4 that Joan’s comments begin to get contradictory. Her conversation with Martin after he’s walked in on her and Edward having sex on the kitchen table is remarkable in that she attacks M for disapproving. She comes to see Martin to talk to him about her relationship with Edward, but this time (as opposed to when John Slater showed up) she does not seem to want his blessing. Even more significantly, M wants to diagnose her attraction to Edward as due to her HRT implant and she tells him “this is not a medical problem.” (Sounds a lot like what Ruth tells Martin in the last episode of S6. When it comes to emotional situations, Martin is always going to look for a medical condition first.) In terms of Joan’s influence on Martin and his love life, it’s when she tells M that Edward’s attentions make her happy that we get down to what’s essential. She, like Louisa later, considers happiness important and she accuses Martin of wanting “everybody to be as lonely and miserable as you are.” Of course, Martin immediately denies that he is either of those things, but we know Joan thinks he is. Ipso facto, for Joan life is better when you have someone in it who makes you happy.

We really get down to business in the next three episodes during which Martin and Louisa go through some ups and downs with Joan involved in a fairly serious way. First, Martin and Louisa bump into Joan when they get to the concert and she seems quite pleased to see them out together. They only see her again when the concert breaks for intermission and Joan discovers that Martin has insulted her friend, the caterer. Joan looks decidedly let down when Martin takes a bathroom break, and she can tell Louisa is unhappy about the recent interaction. Joan first looks at Louisa as she leaves, then back in the direction of where Martin went and sighs deeply. We get the sense that Joan would like things to go well between the two of them.

Of course, the date ends badly, Martin can’t sleep because he’s so unhappy that Louisa has told him she doesn’t want to see him again, and when he decides to “do something, say something” by going to Louisa’s house to talk to her, he gets cold feet and can’t follow through. It’s the middle of the day but Martin is the one who’s emotional now. He’s reached a low point when Joan walks through the back door. She notices he’s glum and wonders how the date went. She mentions that Louisa seemed fed up at the concert and, somewhat dishearteningly, tells Martin that “any outing between the two of you is an accident waiting to happen.” She’s being matter-of-fact until she sees that Martin is close to tears. She knows better than to say any more, but she appears quite sorry for him. Nevertheless, she returns later with dinner and makes some more observations about Martin and Louisa. At this point she tells him that L and he are like chalk and cheese and that L would never have made him happy. Joan seems to equate happiness here with having the same approach towards people: Louisa likes them and Martin, “well, you’re you.” This time it’s Martin’s turn to make a derogatory comment about Joan’s life. Joan is certainly hurt by this, but doesn’t back down. Thus, in the span of this episode we’ve not only been taken through a potentially good evening out between Martin and Louisa to a dismal end to their excursion, but also seen Joan go from being regretful that Martin and Louisa’s date isn’t going well to being convinced that they could never have a successful relationship. I suppose Joan is being a realist who cares about Martin enough to try to comfort him by telling him to move on. Ultimately, their conversation about the prospects of Martin and Louisa being able to get along revolves around the question of whether people can change and Martin sets out to demonstrate that he can the next day. Even though Martin’s attempt at being more concerned about Holly’s condition is unconvincing to Louisa, the day certainly ends with the outcome he was hoping for. I think we have to view this vacillation on Joan’s part as a combination of practical assessment and concern for Martin.

By the next episode, Martin and Louisa have decided to get married and have spent the night together. Naturally, all of this takes Joan by surprise when she hears about it from the postman. However, by the time Martin gets to Joan’s house to tell her, she is totally on board and thrilled for him. She’s a little put out that it took him so long to tell her, but she’s got a family ring to use as an engagement ring and gives it to him gladly. During the last episode of S3, Joan has become anxious for the wedding to go well. She makes sure the flowers get to the church, worries about who will officiate, and wonders what Bert and Al are going to do about the food. She also stands outside the church nervously looking for Martin and Louisa to arrive. I would imagine that she is very disappointed when the wedding couple don’t show.

Joan’s attitude switches to being very supportive of Louisa once Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant in S4. Throughout this series Joan questions Martin’s lack of involvement with Louisa, often accompanies Louisa to either see Martin or to her appointments in Truro, and generally seems angry at Martin for not doing more or for acting unkind to Louisa. It’s apparent that once again Joan thinks Martin isn’t doing enough to convince Louisa that he’s interested in her and the baby. I suppose she would like to see him demand to be a part of the prenatal care and finds him too willing to accept Louisa’s rejection of his help. We see a particularly irritated Joan during the labor and delivery scene where she is obviously vexed that Martin takes so long to tell Louisa that he wants to be with her. Of course, Joan can breathe easy by the end of the episode because Martin has come through after all and is with Louisa when the baby is born.

I know this has turned into a very long post. I have to admit I got very caught up in doing a thorough analysis. I was going to look at Ruth too, but will put that in another post. I hope I’ve done a decent job with the question I was supposed to answer. Please let me know what you think.

Originally posted 2014-03-28 00:39:41.

Location, location, location

We tend to think of Portwenn as a place that no one leaves, or that people return to if they leave, e.g. Al, Louisa, Joe Penhale, Ruth, Jennifer, even Sally. There have also been some who came to town from elsewhere. On the other hand, there have been some characters who have moved on, e.g. Elaine, Pauline, Danny, Roger, Eleanor, Terry, Mark Mylow, and Ted. I know that in the US it’s not unusual to move from where we grew up. One 2008 source states: More than six-in-ten adults (63%) have moved to a new community at least once in their lives, while 37% have never left their hometowns.

But it’s mixed…the same source states: Most adults (57%) have not lived outside their current home state in the U.S. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 15% have lived in four or more states.

I started thinking about this because I, myself, moved from where I grew up a long time ago and never really considered living there. My children also live away from us and, in our case, that means hours of flying time away.

There are plenty of reasons for leaving one’s hometown: job opportunities, desire to see other places, being transferred by one’s job, being in the military, attending college and then settling near there, or even being run out of town. There are also many reasons to stay: like the location, enjoy having family around, never thought about leaving, tradition or inheriting a family business.

We see a lot of the above in DM with Louisa’s family probably being the best example. Louisa’s mother left Portwenn to move to Spain when L was 11 y.o. and her father took care of her. But her father was a gambler and soon was forced to leave Portwenn under a cloud when he was accused of stealing the Lifeboat money. At that point Louisa had no mother or father around and she was in the awkward position of defending her father while being suspicious that he was at fault. Nevertheless, Louisa likes Portwenn so much, she doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She says it’s where her life is. Beyond the fact that this location is where they want to film the series and that means Louisa and the many others who seem bound to this village (Bert, Al, Mrs. T) must live there, what can we say about this setting? What makes Louisa so attached to Portwenn?

As I noted in my “Kitchen Table” post, home is supposed to be a place where you find sanctuary and where you can go as a refuge. Oftentimes it’s an actual house that your family has lived in for years, like Joan’s farm, and where you have fond memories of various family occasions. Louisa doesn’t have a particular home in Portwenn; she seems to change homes fairly frequently. Portwenn, therefore, is her sanctuary and the villagers are her family. Then, too, she has her job at the school and that seems to have deep importance to Louisa. She’s been to London and prefers Portwenn even if that means a lower salary and fewer extracurricular activities. She has very little wanderlust and likes knowing the community and being a member of it. Much like Martin, she has her routine and feels happiest when she can stick to a known regimen.

Once Louisa and Martin are married, they will continue to live at the surgery. Here Louisa is giving up having any space of her own, and that has to be difficult for her. She has to either use the kitchen table or Martin’s office for any work space. It didn’t occur to me before that Louisa tells Bert when he’s driving them to the lodge:”I don’t think I’ve ever been out this way before.” She’s lived in the area all her life, but here’s a place she’s never seen. I think we have to take this as more than just an offhand comment. Getting married is embarking on new territory and the first night is only the beginning of a whole new world for her.

I also think the scene where L is dreaming and imagines being on a picnic with M is telling. Soon the earth starts to rumble and eventually the ground opens up and is about to swallow her, but then M reaches out to save her. She imagines him rescuing her, but is she thinking in terms of turning him into someone different from who he really is, or is he rescuing her from the life she’s had in Portwenn? The direction of her life has to be a concern for her. This village has no eligible men to speak of, she doesn’t have that many female friends either, and she would like to have children. Staying in Portwenn could mean forfeiting any chance of a full life for L…until Martin arrives.

The cast and crew often talk about the setting of Cornwall and Port Isaac as one of the characters. We should look at the setting-the cliffs, the narrow streets, the small houses with low ceilings, the farms and isolation. All of this is physically confining and constricting. Daphne du Maurier is mentioned several times in a few episodes. She was known for setting many of her novels in Cornwall and for making the location a character in them. Author Sarah Waters is quoted as saying “her novels and stories are fantastically moody and resonant, and Rebecca, in particular, just feels so fundamentally right – like a myth, or a fairy tale.” In many ways, DM has that mythical or fairy tale quality, although where du Maurier used the setting to give her stories suspense and a gothic aura, the filming for DM is done so that we rarely see a day with bad weather or anything gloomy. The cliffs that seem so foreboding in a du Maurier story, have a charm and beauty in this series even though there are a few times when danger lurks, e.g. the baker falling off the edge of the cliff while trying to steal chough bird eggs.

It’s somewhat hard to reach Portwenn, although there is a small airport nearby (in Newquay) and there’s always a car or a bus. Apparently the train service to Port Isaac was discontinued in 1966, but there’s still train service between London and Wadebridge or Bodmin. The ocean and its tides are a factor too. Water access would be limited during low tide. But none of this appears to make the villagers feel trapped. Instead it contributes to the sense of community they have. They put on community contests and performances, they celebrate and mourn together. The villagers also accept the many quirks and idiosyncrasies of their neighbors — Stewart’s PTSD, Michael’s strangeness, Malcolm’s hypochondria and pigeons, etc.

When it comes to some of the other members of the village, Bert is the most committed to staying there. He can see no reason to leave and tells Al that. Sally, too, must be quite attached to Portwenn since she returns after humiliating herself and receiving therapy. (I frankly did not expect her back.) Unfortunately, she continues to behave oddly and by episode 8 the town is no longer so accepting of her. Al has tried to leave, but without much luck. However, he finally seems to have found a way to stay while also separating from his father, and his search for a girlfriend may also have been resolved. Morwenna doesn’t have the same problem with ending up with Al as her friend had when she tried to get Al a date with her.

Ruth has made the most of moving to Portwenn. She’s written a book, moved into town where she can feel safer, and agreed to turn the farm into a fishing business with Al. She has Martin and Louisa nearby and she can depend on them as much as they depend on her.

To me this village is a microcosm of what I see all around me. Wherever I’ve lived there have been some people who have lived there all their lives and have no intention of moving, and others who can’t wait to move on. Finding the right mixture of setting and community is our ultimate goal. Once we find it, it’s hard to let it go.

Originally posted 2014-02-16 22:49:26.

The definition of Family

In S4 E5 Joan is angry at Martin and yells at him after leaving the Wenn household that he doesn’t have his priorities right: “We’re family, Martin, that must mean something, even to you.” He answers that her behavior does not fit his definition of family, and she responds, “Your definition of family isn’t even in the dictionary, Martin!”

I was surprised, to say the least, that Joan would say something like that to Martin after Martin (in S2 E6) sold his apartment in London and used the money to pay off his father so that Joan wouldn’t lose the farm. When Martin tells his father his plan, he says he doesn’t want Joan to be grateful to him because “she doesn’t have to, she’s my family.” Joan finds out and thanks Martin, but here we are not so long after that, no more than 2 years perhaps, and Joan is accusing Martin of not being dedicated enough to family. By the last episode of series 6, Martin’s mother tries to guilt Martin into giving her money, and this after telling him she never wanted him, treating him terribly throughout his life, and returning to disrupt his life again. She pulls the “family” card and tells him they are the only ones left of their family, but he isn’t so easily persuaded and says that his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth. A pretty strong slap in the face for her even though it doesn’t deter her from her original reason for coming. The larger question, however, is how to define family both in general and in this show.

The definition of family is not easy to determine. In fact, there are many definitions listed in dictionaries, and the definition has changed over time. There are all sorts of ways to define family: conjugal, nuclear, extended, stem, domestic group with its phases. Some cultures privilege the mother’s role, others privilege the father’s role. There are viewpoints based on biological relationships versus kinship, or the social interactions that are important in our lives. What we can generally agree upon is that family is made up of people who are related to one another by blood or marriage and who should have a special loyalty to one another. We would probably all agree that the family unit grows to include long term relationships with adopted children, caregivers, friends, and even animals. For example, Mr. Cook is sad due to the loss of his green finch Freddie; Malcolm thinks of his pigeons as family; Stewart is attached to his invisible squirrel Antony; and the Flints have their stuffed animals as well as their German Shepherd.

The theme of series 2 could be called “Family Matters.” Episode 1 is about Danny’s return to Portwenn from London to check on his mother. Families are now more likely to be living apart and distance plays a role in how they function. Episode 2 concerns Mrs. Cronk’s hands being burned, leaving Peter without adult supervision at home. Neither Louisa nor Martin really wants to care for Peter, but he can’t stay alone. Peter wants to stay with Martin and that puts Martin in the position of needing to manage a twelve year old. This episode, therefore, is about the problems single parents encounter when they have no family members nearby. It is also about the rules governing childcare when people who are not the child’s parents take on those responsibilities. E3 is mostly about family and siblings. E4 is about the breakup of Caroline and Tom over what he considers a dramatic change in her behavior. It’s a misunderstanding due to her undiagnosed diabetes, but he moves out and she’s angry and distraught. E5 takes on the problem of alienation of affection, this time homosexual. Phil cares about his wife Helen but has fallen in love with a man and causes her a lot of anguish over his infidelity. E6 is huge because of the appearance of Martin’s parents after a seven year period of no communication, and because Martin’s father is Joan’s brother and their relationship is strained to say the least. Then, of course, there’s the extremely devastating comments Martin’s mother makes to him and the ridicule his father uses against him. E7 is really more about friendship, but the notion of family through marriage is involved in that Julie and Mark are engaged, yet she is less concerned about his welfare than Pauline and Louisa are about Al and Martin respectively. Julie is an opportunist and sees Mark as her ticket to evading capture, but there are plenty of cases of people being duped into marrying and having to deal with the consequences thereafter. E8 takes on the matter of parenthood with Julie being pregnant with a baby fathered by some stray man and making an effort to identify Mark as the father. It raises the question of what happens to those children born to totally reckless women who would be likely to make horrible mothers. It also refers to Julie’s mother who is looking for her because she’s dying. Perhaps her mother just wants to know where she is since she’s had such an unstable life so far. Who knows what kind of family Julie came from? E9 has Louisa’s Dad Terry returning to Portwenn after a long absence. He has a bad reputation in town because most people are convinced he stole money from the charity for the Lifeboat. Louisa’s been defending him, but it turns out he’s been lying to her and he finally admits he stole the money. Louisa has some good memories of her childhood with her Dad and also memories of false promises. Apparently he took care of her after her mother left and that, no doubt, means a lot to her. The jig is up when Louisa asks him if Joan is lying too. Terry rationalizes that he had gambling debts, but it’s the fact that he allowed Louisa to look like a fool to the whole village that bothers her the most. She tells him to leave at that point. When Joan tells Martin about the incident, she comments: “It’s a funny thing about families…loyalty is but a step away from delusion.” Not a very good endorsement of loyalty. Family members reflect on the whole family and that can cause all sorts of difficulties. We want to defend our family members and believe in them, but they can be major disappointments at times. He also has another man with him who acts like a surrogate son and who similarly makes him look pretty foolish.

Episode 3 is the one that has the most to do with family. There aren’t many families in this series that have siblings, but this episode includes a few, and also takes up the question of biology v. kinship in regard to Bert’s paternity. Al talks to Joan about his concerns related to his mother. She tells him that Bert’s been his father and that’s all that matters. At first that doesn’t clear things up for Al and Al keeps asking Bert for his birth certificate because he wonders about an affair his mother had and whether Bert is actually his biological father. Bert admits that he and Al’s mother had troubles for a while and he left. But when he gets the nerve to look at the birth certificate, it records Bert as the father, which satisfies Bert but not Al entirely. Back at Joan’s, Al once again talks to Joan about his questions concerning Bert’s paternity. He asks Joan, “What if I’ve been calling a stranger Dad for 25 years?” She tells him, “Let’s just suppose that he’s not [your biological father]. What are you going to do? Are you going to walk away from him? Or, are you going to ignore him? Or you might perhaps think about how he’s been feeling all these years, not knowing, and the fact that he’s kept loving you.” By posing these alternatives, Joan brings up the complicated enigma of the definition of family. How important is it that you are a blood relative? Bert is a much better father to Al, even though he might have some lingering doubts about his biological connection, than Martin’s father has been to him, despite no paternity fears. Towards the end of the episode Al finds Bert fishing and they remember a time when they went fishing when Al was ten years old. Al jumped in the water to get the fish and Bert dove in after him even though Al could swim better than Bert. Bert has always been there for Al. Isn’t a person who is devoted to you and nurtures you someone you should consider family, no matter what the biological reality is?

In the same episode, Mark Mylow’s sister Sandra comes to town and sets up her herbalist business in Mark’s house. It’s obvious that Mark is not happy to have his sister living with him. She’s intrusive and rude and at one point Mark comments to the doc, “I know you can’t choose your family, but there’s a line.., people shouldn’t cross it, that’s all I’m saying.” At that moment Sandra comes down the stairs demanding that he help her move a piece of furniture. She also takes Mark’s radio, probably because she doesn’t like when he plays the radio. It’s great that Mark notes the oft repeated observation that we can’t choose our family. We have to deal with the family we are born into, or become attached to by all sorts of ways (adoption, fostering, happenstance, etc.). Also, our blood relatives can be difficult to deal with, and DM certainly brings that point out. Ultimately, Mark stands up to Sandra and throws her out of his house, much like Martin will do to his father in S2 E6, and Louisa will do too. They’ve crossed the line.

Another part of this same episode involves the story of the Flint family. Wallace and Paddy Flint are sick, probably with salmonella, and Martin decides to visit their home because it seems to be the only way to find out the source of their illness. It’s clear there’s something very strange about their household, in particular the father Victor. Sometime later in the day Martin bumps into their father walking through town and Victor accosts him. Once he calms down, he tells Martin that if Martin had a wife and children he’d understand. Victor can get violent at home at times too and the boys appear scared of him. It turns out Victor Flint has been masquerading as his wife Doreen ever since she abandoned all of them 8 years earlier. The sons have been covering for him because they know he’s been doing it for their benefit. Once Martin finds out that Victor sometimes turns into Doreen, Wallace tells Martin that “he was just trying to look after [his father], after all of us.” His Dad first started the charade when his wife left because he thought the boys might be taken from him. Wallace continues, “he just wanted to make us like a normal family, like everyone else.” So what’s a “normal” family? It’s funny to think of this family as normal in any way, but beyond the humor is a serious subtext. As a single parent, a father may not be considered capable of taking care of his children. Moreover, Victor doesn’t think his boys will be fine without a mother. Obviously he makes things worse by trying to be both. It’s the obverse of Bert’s situation with Al. When Al’s mother died, Bert took over with no hesitation and took on the role of both mother and father competently; when Doreen left, Victor sank into a psychotic state and turned their home into a place of unpredictability. He’s taken away their sense that their home is a sanctuary.

Series 3 contains a fair amount of family related episodes, including the odd family that moves in next door to Louisa and uses relatively little discipline with their son. Not surprisingly, the boy becomes a menace in town. Then there are the Saul sisters whose family history includes a love triangle and some apparent underlying anger issues. Sister Janet is abusive under the guise of providing care. There are several others, e.g. the Colonel and his philandering wife start things off, Elaine’s father’s decision to marry someone she doesn’t like, the McLynns, the Dibbs, Penhale’s brother’s visit. All bring up many common things families must address – extramarital affairs, covering for one’s spouse, being letdown by a once envied sibling.

But it’s series 5 that finds Martin and Louisa setting up a household together and bringing home a baby. Martin seems to experience the love for his child that Roger Fenn had earlier told him about. There’s also Joan’s death followed by Ruth’s arrival, Penhale’s wife Maggie appearing out of the blue and reviving dormant feelings, and Bert and Al continuing to have tension between them due to Bert’s inability to handle money well. Al bails him out but jeopardizes his own integrity. Then Louisa’s mother surprises them when she arrives unannounced. She’s never been very reliable and that hasn’t changed. She’s the best of the four parents, but that isn’t saying much.

Families are a trial, a joy, a disruption, and a comfort. They are a social unit that has been around as long as humans have been around. They can see us through difficult times, although there are other times when they may make our lives miserable. DM shows us all the ins and outs, ups and downs, rewards and perils of having a family. In doing so, it once again engages us in thinking about these matters, something I find provocative and important.

Originally posted 2013-11-22 03:17:44.

Season 6, episode 7 and the continuing themes

At the 18:07 mark and then again at the 34:19 mark of episode 7 we see a sign on a wall in the background of the scene that reads SECRETS. That, to me, is telling and is the theme of the episode. This episode is very well conceived and executed and begins with Martin hiding his fears about his own condition from Louisa, not being willing to discuss his feelings about his parents and not revealing to Louisa why he can’t go on holiday, Ruth being unsuccessful at prying from Margaret why she’s really in Portwenn, Mike having hidden that he was AWOL from the army and then trying to run without an explanation, and the MPs at first not telling anyone why they’re searching for Mike. Both Al and Joe try to keep Mike from being taken by the MPs by deceiving them.

Secrets, deception, and hidden motives are all methods of controlling one’s surroundings, and that has been one overarching theme for much of series 6 as well as an integral feature of the show (as I mentioned previously in my post about change). This episode magnifies how hard it is for people to change and how that stagnation seriously impacts everyone’s lives. The pivotal scene related to the idea of change/control occurs when Mike has gone to his apartment to pack and leave and still has James with him. It is then that we learn that he is AWOL from the Royal Army because they wanted to “fix” him and his OCD and make him “normal.” But Mike considers the OCD to be part of who he is and doesn’t want to be fixed. Martin shows up at Mike’s apartment looking for James and wondering what’s going on. When Mike explains why he left the army, Martin asks him,”If it wasn’t a part of an order, would you like to feel more in control of your actions?” and Mike answers “Yes.” Martin tells him “the army has a duty of care to you and it’s your decision if you take it or not.” That convinces Mike to turn himself in. This conversation makes it clear that once Mike determines for himself that he is the one deciding to face his demons, he is taking control of his behavior and his life and fighting the control his OCD has over him. Of course, what Martin is telling Mike is what he should be applying to his own situation. It is clear that Martin would like to be more in control of his actions and that he should seek therapy.

When Al takes Mike to the nearest Army post to turn himself in, it is dark and the scene looks ominous with a German Shepard as well as 3 soldiers guarding the gate. Al does what he can to be encouraging, but the setting establishes that what Mike has ahead of him is daunting. Nevertheless, Mike takes the steps toward the gate with some resolve and will, we believe, address his problem with OCD (and with his departure from the Army). This dark and foreboding setting is of a piece with the many other dark scenes in this 6th series. I’ve been troubled by the frequency of Martin sitting in the dark staring into the night and thinking. We can only assume that he’s trying to figure out how he can reestablish control over his phobia and his life. His insomnia is also a side effect of being depressed and he needs help with his depression too. OCD often arises out of an effort by the person to institute control over his/her environment, but ultimately takes control and leaves the person with the sense that he/she is out of control. Phobias are similar in many ways. If one thinks that avoiding a particular thing, e.g. spiders, blood, the outdoors, will prevent them from feeling anxious, and that avoidance leads to a reduction in the anxiety, then the avoidance behavior becomes reinforced. Breaking that cycle is what therapy is meant to do.

During this episode, Martin is shown pondering what’s been happening on several occasions. After Louisa’s accident there are two occasions when he involuntarily falls asleep and awakens to find himself disoriented and disheartened. It’s not surprising that he falls asleep at odd times since he’s been pretty sleep deprived for a while. Lack of sleep along with the depression may also be the reason his behavior at Sports Day is so different from other events Louisa has asked him to attend. Usually when Louisa enjoins him to do something, Martin agrees and tries to handle it as well as he can (e.g. headmistress panel, dinner out, taking James to music time, etc.), but this time he’s not as conciliatory and she finds it embarrassing and infuriating. The whole idea is rather ridiculous since he’s never been good in front of a microphone (think very first episode when Caroline wants him to speak to the town, or Aunt Joan’s funeral) and Sports Day in elementary school was probably painful for him as a child. Louisa should never have asked him to be the special guest and he should never have agreed to do it. Unfortunately, this mistake ends very unhappily and inspires both of them to give some thought to their relationship. We can’t be sure what he is thinking while sitting in the car with James outside the hospital, but he appears to have a sentimental moment when he takes James out of his car seat and holds him up. I could imagine he’s thinking how foolish it was for him to have handled the awards the way he did and prompt Louisa to be so angry with him. Of course that’s speculation. Whatever he’s thinking, it’s serious business and it doesn’t appear that he has any idea that Louisa will decide to leave. As usual, they handle this difficult circumstance the way we’ve become accustomed to: he applies his medical knowledge to her condition while she departs.

It seems to me that he needs regular “wake up calls” to jolt him out of his typical mode of behavior, and she needs to understand that his silence and inability to talk about his problems and thoughts is not in any way related to how he feels about her. Since we know that Ruth will reaffirm his ability to change in the final episode, I expect to see another effort on his part to appeal to Louisa’s better instincts and that Louisa will hopefully recognize that he needs her, loves her, and wants desperately to be a good father to James. He will admit in some way that he struggles to control his behavior, and possibly she will agree to stop leaving. These changes may not be easy to make, but we can hope they will try.

Originally posted 2013-10-17 23:22:38.

What is happiness?

The writers of Doc Martin may not be trying to get into the philosophical definitions of happiness, but the fact that finding happiness is very important in the show certainly makes me want to interrogate it. At the end of season 3 when Martin and Louisa decide not to marry, Louisa tells Martin that he wouldn’t make her happy and Martin responds that she wouldn’t make him happy either.Then in season 6 episode 7 Louisa again tells Martin that she isn’t happy and that she isn’t making him happy. He is flummoxed and can’t understand why people always care so much about being happy. That comment, in turn, bewilders Louisa and she simply gets up to leave. Putting aside the problem I have with Martin saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy when he’s spent so much time and effort wishing he could have her in his life, and being miserable when it looks like she has rejected him, we can’t help wondering what would make them happy.

If Aristotle is right and “eudaimonia (Greek for happiness) actually requires activity, action,” and that “eudaimonia, living well, consists in activities exercising the rational part of the psyche in accordance with the virtues or excellency of reason. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulfilling work at which one achieves well-earned success,” then Martin’s concept of “happiness” is likely to stem from practicing medicine. However, in recent years the psychologist C. D. Ryff has highlighted the distinction between eudaimonia wellbeing, which she identifies as psychological well-being, and hedonic wellbeing or pleasure. Building on Aristotelian ideals of belonging and benefiting others, flourishing, thriving and exercising excellence, she conceptualized eudaimonia as a six-factor structure:
-self-acceptance
-the establishment of quality ties to other
-a sense of autonomy in thought and action
-the ability to manage complex environments to suit personal needs and values
-the pursuit of meaningful goals and a sense of purpose in life
-continued growth and development as a person
Under this scheme, both Louisa and Martin would struggle to feel a sense of well-being. In particular, Louisa seems to hate not having a sense of autonomy, and she has previously wondered about her sense of purpose. During series 6, we see that she is happy as a mother and is depicted as taking great joy in having a child, and she appears to have a purpose when it comes to being headmistress at the school. What she doesn’t have is the affirmation or reassurance that she is succeeding as a wife and companion. Her autonomy is perhaps compromised most by her inability to get Martin to do almost anything she suggests. He won’t go see a psychiatrist, he won’t talk to her about his concerns, he doesn’t like to participate in most activities, and he doesn’t want to take a holiday with her. Martin seems lost when it comes to feeling in charge of his situation and has not really reached a place of self-acceptance. Obviously his upbringing has a lot to do with this. He feels most comfortable at home and in his routine. On the Ryff scale, he has autonomy but not much else. He does seem to have achieved some sense of well-being from having a wife and child, although at times we’re not sure about that.

I think Martin is right to question why happiness is such a significant feature of life to most people. We can’t be happy all the time. What we need is an overall sense that our home life is satisfactory, that our social lives are fulfilling, and that we have a sense of success in some aspect of our lives. The home life is the one in doubt in this series and Louisa cannot find that place where she is in a comfort zone, while Martin hasn’t really pondered whether his home life is how he’d like it to be. Surely having his mother in the house has changed their home life tremendously. It was somewhat rocky before, but now they have very little time alone and his mother is demanding and quite judgmental. I don’t care who you are, when your mother criticizes you, it hurts.

Marriages all have ups and downs, although this marriage has not been allowed to have many ups so far. Talk about no honeymoon!! Poor communication is often the reason for marital discord and boy is this marriage dealing with that! Ruth can talk to both of them and they are lucky to have someone like her to turn to. They need an intermediary and an opportunity to work together in some way. Go take a walk with James, take a drive somewhere for a couple of hours, go have that picnic Louisa dreamed of (without the earthquake), build something together, whatever. Even if something crazy happens it would still be something they did together and would not take Martin outside his comfort zone. I think they could both be “happy” after that. Louisa’s injury has a chance of bringing them together. We’ll see what happens.

Originally posted 2013-10-15 17:31:57.

Women’s issues, season 6

I want to move on to other topics, but women’s concerns are very much evident in season 6 so far. In episode 1 we have the wedding-finally. Louisa arrives late and is now getting married the way she wanted to originally insofar as she doesn’t have any bridesmaids and she really doesn’t need anyone to walk her down the aisle. Martin doesn’t have a best man, so they are matched evenly there. Of course, since it’s their wedding day, Louisa is making an effort to accommodate Martin. She does ask him to remain at the reception just a bit longer and he obliges. When they learn that the village has planned an overnight surprise and Aunt Ruth is happy to babysit, Louisa again implores Martin to accept and he does. Naturally the night does not go smoothly, although it has its lovely moments. One of the best is when Louisa turns to Martin and says, “Hallo, husband,” and he replies “Hallo, Mrs. Ellingham.” They kiss and Louisa says “Anything you say.” Not surprisingly, Martin takes her literally and replies, “I didn’t say anything.” But the point is made — Louisa is giving herself to him, something he’s been wanting for a long time. However, when the night becomes a series of mishaps, we enjoy a variety of exchanges between the two that are amongst the funniest of the series. Louisa is unable to keep Martin from looking for a telephone to get their clothes, but she immediately knows Martin is going the wrong way. In terms of her strength, she clearly disagrees with him about where the road is, she refuses to wade across the stream, and when he carries her, she brings up her true desire to have had a honeymoon. Her explanation for backing down during the planning stages baffles him, but most women can really relate to what she says. She went along with his choice of wedding and honeymoon arrangements because she wanted him to be happy. Nonetheless, she would have liked to have taken a honeymoon. She has mixed feelings.

As the night plays out, we see her make fun of Martin and his awkwardness in the forest (or wood), one of the funniest moments in the series, and also show concern when he falls. They are both protective of each other throughout the eventful night, but it’s Louisa who suspects the sound they hear is someone yelling at foxes, who takes the flashlight from Martin so they can read the signs outside the caravan, and who grabs the gun and tells the vagabond to apologize to her husband and fix the fence himself. She plays a very important role in getting them through the night, even helping with the surgery, and tries to look on the bright side as morning arrives. She tells Martin their wedding night will be a night they won’t ever forget — all of it. We can’t help but like her gumption and her positive attitude.

In episode 2 Louisa’s position of authority is evident in the way she leads the school assembly, and in her insistence that Martin go to the concert as planned and then try to be sociable. Later, after the dinner party goes pretty wrong, Louisa decides to confront Dennis, the President of the Board of Governors for the school, and talk things out. She won’t be shutoff by Dennis and unplugs his electrical tool so that she can be heard. This is bold stuff!

It’s nice to see a softer side of Louisa when she tells Martin she’ll miss him as she’s leaving in the morning and when she reminds him that it’s their 2 week anniversary later in the day. He doesn’t respond in kind, but there are a couple of nice moments.

Episode 3 finds Louisa dealing with the most troubling of issues working women confront these days — leaving one’s baby with a nanny. There was a time when children of wealthy families were usually brought up by governesses and the mothers didn’t seem to be conflicted about it. Now, however, women want to feel competent both at work and as mothers. The problem is when you’re at work, you want to be at home with your child and yet you still want to have a job. It’s especially hard to know that someone else is watching your baby grow and develop and you may be missing some of the developmental milestones. As with Louisa, mothers both resent and appreciate the care a nanny provides. In a sense, Louisa has a good set-up; she can simply run home when she wants. But we see that her work suffers to some degree because she’s distracted. There’s really no good solution and it’s not surprising that Louisa’s mood is affected.

The other strong woman very much a part of the 6th season is Ruth. Once again we enjoy her wit and good nature during the first 2 episodes. In the 3rd she has center stage and handles a very difficult situation with aplomb and steadiness. She’s not a woman who is easily shaken, even by a psychopath! As in the case of Michael who stole her hubcaps and pointed a shotgun at her, Ruth stays calm and knows the best thing to say at the right time.

So the women continue to impress and I expect the next few episodes will only reaffirm the stature of the women in this series.

Originally posted 2013-09-19 21:03:33.

Women’s issues, part 3

There are many strong women among the characters in this show, besides Aunt Joan and Louisa. I would include Mrs. Tishell, Edith, Ruth, Molly O’Brian (the midwife), Maggie, Elaine, Pauline, and even Morwenna. Many of the aforementioned are professional women who have regular jobs and behave self-assured. Mrs. Tishell runs the pharmacy very competently until she has an emotional breakdown in the last episode of season 5. She stays abreast of recent medical developments and would like to discuss some of these with the doctor. She is very efficient and can offer good advice when needed. She may consider herself a little too much like a doctor (a common concern between doctors and pharmacists), but she obviously wants to be well-informed. I think Doc Martin should be quite pleased that this little village has such a well stocked chemist who takes such a personal interest in providing him and the town with the proper supplies and medicines. She operates the pharmacy alone most of the time, although her husband shows up about midway through the first 5 series. Even after Clive appears, however, it’s his wife who takes care of business and who determines the direction of their relationship.

Edith Montgomery, the doctor and former fiancee of Doc Martin, is depicted as an unemotional and highly accomplished medical practitioner. We can even say that season 4 provides us with an example of a woman working in a man’s world, i.e. Edith as an M.D. surrounded by men and being as much of a hard-ass as any man could be. Perhaps this is a way of addressing the tales of female doctors being tougher than their male counterparts because they are trying to prove themselves. Her fire red, spiky hair and slender, relatively unfeminine figure always dressed in dark colors make her look somewhat daunting. (The writers could have been thinking of Cruella DeVille when they came up with her.) Certainly her approach to medicine and to Martin also reflect a very clinical and passionless manner. (Her personality stands in direct opposition to Louisa who is quite passionate about many things and who takes an interest in most of the people of Portwenn.) Edith attempts to take control of Martin in terms of his future and his effort to overcome his hemaphobia, and in the process she oversteps her boundaries with him. He no longer wants a woman like her, and she unwittingly puts an end to any possibility of reestablishing a relationship with him when she decides to make a hotel reservation for one room without consulting Martin and then removes her blouse to reveal a corset that to me looks like she should be in some sort of S/M setting. She looks like a dominatrix, which is really pretty appropriate. The fact that she has decided to reconnect with Martin when she knows he’s about to have a baby with another woman is rather hateful to me. I see it as another way for her to compete for something just to get the satisfaction of having “won.” She is a stereotype of a female doctor insofar as she fits the profile of driven, striving, dispassionate, and too concerned about showing up the men. I know there are women who are doctors and are like her, but there are plenty who are not. Nevertheless, she has to be called strong and independent, and she has to be added to the number of women in this show who are managing well on their own.

Ruth Ellingham, who is also a doctor, is another contrasting character to Edith while being comfortable by herself. She, too, has never married or had children and she seems very content to live by herself. She talks of being brought up in a family that didn’t allow emotions, but she’s very capable of assessing a situation and handling it well. She has an even temper and a cleverness that make her appealing. Whether she’s dealing with a couple of strange neighbors, Martin and Louisa, Al Large, or PC Penhale, she finds the right balance of straight talk and wit to have a good outcome. Her strength is in her calm demeanor and self-possession. She is a wonderful female character played excellently by EIleen Atkins.

Then we have Molly O’Brian, the midwife, who comes on strong and combative. She may be small in stature, but she packs a wallop. Midwives have become much more involved in births these days, even if the births take place at hospitals. Most work in tandem with OBs and seem to have a good working relationship with them. With Molly we are given a midwife who has some extreme views about where to have a baby and prenatal care. She fills Louisa with all sorts of antagonistic ideas towards men and doctors, and since Louisa is in a contrary mood, she internalizes what Molly says. In the process, however, the show takes on the concerns of mothers about avoiding medicines while pregnant and that hospitals are too antiseptic for having a baby. We all imagine giving birth in a quiet space with our own belongings and family around us, but many births do not work out like that. The fact is that having a baby is pretty risky and not every woman is lucky enough to have the process go so smoothly. Better to be safe in a hospital with the best equipment than risk the lives of the mother or baby. Louisa is a high risk mother due to her age, which makes Molly’s recommendations to have the baby at home in a tub especially foolish. Of course, it turns out that the baby is delivered outside of a hospital after all. At least there are EMTs in attendance as well as Martin, a highly capable doctor. Molly gets her comeuppance when Louisa’s urinary tract infection gets worse after Molly stops Louisa from taking the antibiotics she’s been prescribed. Louisa is, after all, pretty savvy and realizes in time that what Molly has been filling her head with is so much nonsense when it comes to her health and the baby’s. I doubt that most midwives have such anger towards male physicians and believe that Molly is an exaggeration for the purposes of the show. Nonetheless, she never backs down and is a female character who makes an impact.

Finally, we should look at the 3 receptionists: Elaine, Pauline, and Morwenna. Of the women in this show, they are the most alternative in their appearance and, at first glance, would not inspire much confidence in a doctor or his patients. As it turns out, though, Pauline and Morwenna are quite competent and Elaine manages to initiate the doctor into the village. Again, all three are confident and happy to have a job. Although I am a little surprised that Martin takes them on and allows them to come to work in their unusual outfits, they get the job done and sometimes impress him with their efficiency. Elaine doesn’t last very long but may be the reason Martin doesn’t ruffle feathers again by firing any of them. Elaine may not be the person he’d like to see as the receptionist, but getting rid of her proves to be a big mistake because the village turns on him. There are times when one has to respect the will of the people! Pauline and Morwenna are different cases. Pauline has her problems, but she always comes running with his medical bag when called by the Doc, and she wants to take on more responsibilities. She really becomes Martin’s right hand woman who knows him as well as anybody. She can make fun of him, argue with him and criticize him, but he depends on her and shrugs off her comments. (I also love it when she turns the tables on Ross, the town gigolo.) When Morwenna takes over, she surprises the Doc when she saves her granddad from dying by doing CPR. She’s pretty cool under pressure even when she assists on an operation. I think these young women are a good example of not judging a book by its cover. They all find a way to mock the Doc’s problem with blood, they all put up with his gruffness with a sense of acceptance and humor, and they all respect his ability. They may look flighty, but they are far from it and the writers have done young people a service by creating these characters.

This show may be called Doc Martin, but without the plethora of strong female characters, the show would be much less appealing. We need that interplay and it’s great that the writers realized that.

Originally posted 2013-09-13 20:43:15.

Women’s issues, part 2

The pregnancy brings up all sorts of contentious women’s issues: marriage and unmarried parents, along with out of wedlock babies; making the decision to have a baby; single parenting; how to determine the best care during pregnancy and childbirth; proper disciplining of babies and children; and whether a woman should work during pregnancy or after pregnancy. Considering that most of the writers for this show are men, I’m pretty surprised that all of these women’s issues are given a very evenhanded treatment. (I do have to mention that when Martin and Louisa are planning to marry the first time, Joe Penhale tells Martin that women just want to be like men and that sounded a lot more like what most men think. Of course, that’s not true!)

So let’s start with Louisa’s initial decision to have the baby. (We are already going to have to assume that both Louisa and Martin decided to have unprotected sex twice. That’s a little questionable because of Martin’s inclination to be less than spontaneous, but the first time was supposed to be totally unplanned. The second time, Louisa expected to stay the night. But let’s not get too concerned about this circumstance because we know that even one time can result in a pregnancy.) Louisa is in London when she finds out she’s pregnant. She’s always wanted children, she still loves Martin, she’s past the prime time for a woman to have children, thus it’s unlikely she would want to end the pregnancy. Should she have contacted Martin immediately, after a couple of months, or when? Martin confronts Louisa about her decision not to tell him in season 4, episode 2, calling her high-handed and telling her she was just trying to score feminist points. She explains that she wanted to tell him but she expected him to want her to have an abortion. What a dilemma! It is a woman’s prerogative to let the man know, however, I bet if you ask most men, they would think they deserve to know early on and be a part of the decision-making process. In this case, it’s hard to know what Martin would have wanted Louisa to do. He says he would have backed her up if she had chosen to have an abortion, or whatever she had decided. But wasn’t she in a difficult position? Isn’t it likely that Martin would have discouraged Louisa from keeping the baby? After all, he isn’t a fan of children in general and he has not been planning to have a family. This sort of situation plagues women and is in our national consciousness regularly. It’s kind of nice to know the UK struggles with it also.

Louisa has returned to Portwenn 6 months pregnant and not only surprises Martin, she also surprises the whole village. She has chosen to return because she has lost her job in London due to the pregnancy and because she wants to be in familiar surroundings. We have to figure that she is hoping to rekindle her relationship with Martin too, especially when we see her response to Edith’s presence. His initial reaction is what we’d expect: surprise followed by “Do you want to get married?” Martin is nothing if not traditional and conventional. But Louisa has returned determined to handle things on her own and not be seen as a woman who has guilted the father into marrying her. She knows she’s made the decision to have the baby without telling Martin and she’s going to prove she can manage without his help. The villagers may think Martin ought to offer her a place to live or some money, but Louisa doesn’t want anything from him at the moment. She will go back to teaching and find a place to live and even prepare for the baby’s delivery by herself. Is she wrong to assume that Martin won’t want to be involved? Well, he may not have been planning to have a baby in his life, but throughout season 4 we see lots of evidence that he resents the assumption that he isn’t interested. He certainly cares about Louisa’s health and welfare, is stunned that she plans to be followed by doctors in Truro rather than by him, and would like to take her to her doctor’s appointments. Despite Edith’s immediate reaction that Louisa will have to take the baby classes by herself because the father won’t be of any help, I think it could have been lots of fun to see Martin participating in those classes and that he would have gone. Louisa, however, is bound and determined to be independent and Martin only makes her more determined than ever when he continually tells her she should not be working. He doesn’t want her to work much during the pregnancy and definitely thinks she should stop once she has the baby. Louisa doesn’t want to be a “kept” woman, meaning she doesn’t want to depend on Martin’s income, and she wonders why she’s the one who should stop working. He finds that ridiculous, but aren’t those concerns that many modern families must have? I thought we had gotten past this issue long ago, but it seems to have come back into our national discourse. We now have books about mothers staying home, or women trying to do too much. Mothers have been working through pregnancies for decades and most women simply keep doing what they’ve been accustomed to doing without any bad effects. Is the fact that this subject surfaces in this show a sign that there are still questions about whether pregnant women should work? How about mothers going back to work after delivering a baby? Women in most countries have successfully demanded maternity leaves and no longer lose their jobs either because of pregnancy or once they give birth. However, having rights does not necessarily mean society approves. We can see there are some villagers who are not pleased about an unwed pregnant woman teaching at the school, e.g. Jimmy, Pauline’s uncle, and some members of the school board. Clearly this issue is not entirely settled and the writers of the show considered it important enough to bring it up. Martin’s retro views are also at stake here.

Once Louisa has the baby and Martin has decided to stay in Portwenn a while longer, the show deals with dividing up parenting duties and, eventually, single parenting. (By the way, Martin’s pursuit of a job in London without telling Louisa is somewhat comparable to Louisa not telling Martin about the pregnancy. In both cases, they are torn by how to tell the other and when. And in both cases, the person in the dark is angry and thinks he/she had a right to know.) I don’t know about men or doctors in general, but I can say that my doctor husband would never have taken our babies to work nor taken them for a ride early in the morning to calm them down. The current climate in the US is more amenable to fathers helping with the children and many more do, and even when mothers are breastfeeding, fathers often get up out of bed and bring the babies to the mothers. That’s why I found the brief segment in season 5, episode 3 when Louisa is somehow sleeping through the baby’s crying and Martin shakes her awake to be so true to life. She looks at him with this irritated look as if to say “why don’t you get him?” But the moment is gone quickly.

Of course, Martin’s ideas of dealing with crying are also somewhat dated. He wants Louisa to let the baby cry for a while to teach him. Now we would be unlikely to let a newborn cry and think they will learn from it.

Ultimately, Louisa decides to move out because she begins to feel too disrespected by Martin. There are too many times when he makes decisions without checking with her, and there are too many occasions when he makes remarks about her job or the school that offend her. She once again tells people she can deal with life on her own, although she seems to have mixed feelings. Several times she asks Martin to help with childcare, which he generally agrees to without much resistance. We can see her waffling between protecting her pride and not wanting to let him go. Louisa is strong but realizes how important it is for James Henry to have his father in his life. It’s pretty clear that both Martin and Louisa let their egos and pride get in the way. Once again the writers have hit on exactly what often breaks up relationships, and the last episode of season 5 finally shows Martin willing to humble himself to win back Louisa. In their case, the baby has brought them together again and he has created a bond between them.

Originally posted 2013-09-12 20:03:39.

Women’s issues, part 1

I’ve decided to divide this topic into 3 parts because I have so much to say about it. The show addresses the issue of women being able to take control of their own affairs; the issue of women being employed, either at home or in a professional setting; the issue of women being capable of holding their own when confronted by men; and the issue of women not settling for anything less than what they really want. Then there are the issues surrounding pregnancy and childcare. I want to first discuss the leading women, Joan and Louisa, and end with a discussion of the many other strong female characters.

It’s hard to recall how many times Joan meets with adversity and comes out with her head held high. She tells Martin and her brother that she’s a survivor and she’ll find a way to manage whatever comes her way. That is not to say that she won’t accept help or that she prefers to be on her own; it is only to say that she is resourceful and confident and comfortable in her own skin. She is a very well-formed female character in that she’s been married, had lovers, runs a farm and an organic vegetable business, unceremoniously kills the chickens herself and cooks them, ministers to her neighbors, and stands up for what she believes in whether she’s confronting a man with a gun or Martin’s sense of morality. One topic that this show addresses that isn’t discussed much in any serious way in TV shows is that of sexuality in older women. Although Joan’s fling with a much younger painter is probably related to her estrogen implant, she is very clear to Martin that she is enjoying the physical and emotional aspects of her liaison with this young man and won’t give it up yet. When Edward enters her life, Joan is feeling her age and lonely and Edward gives her the attention she craves. I won’t deny that the vision of Joan and Edward having sex on her kitchen table is rather disturbing, and Martin’s sensibilities are definitely shaken. Joan’s thick ankles above her sensible shoes rhythmically rocking is an unsettling picture, but it serves to underscore her age. It’s also the only actual sex scene in the show. The point is made that sometimes you have to jump into life with both feet regardless of how that may tarnish your image, either in one’s own eyes or in the eyes of others. And age doesn’t have to be a limiting factor. I suppose Martin’s mother Margaret is another example of this. She’s leaving her husband for another man after many years of marriage and a loss of intimacy following Martin’s birth. She brings up the oft expressed notion that men may stop seeing their wives as lovers after children are born and start seeing them as asexual mothers instead.

Joan dresses in relatively masculine clothing most of the time and she drives her pickup truck unbothered by how it looks. She is the unabashed caregiver of Portwenn. When it comes to Martin, she both loves him faults and all and tries to guide him towards a fuller life. The fact that Martin has chosen to return to Portwenn means a lot to her, but she won’t let that stand in her way when she sees him behaving in a manner she doesn’t like. It is Joan to whom Martin talks the most and who gives him the straightest replies. She is, after all, an Ellingham born and raised even if she has been the least affected by their lack of social skills and general coldheartedness. Joan certainly has her soft and tender side, but she’s pretty clear that everyone deserves to be treated kindly unless there’s a reason she finds to act differently. To the best of my knowledge, Edith is the one person that gets Joan’s ire up, although Bert gets her going at times.

Louisa, too, is a multifaceted woman who won’t be messed around with and gives Martin all sorts of strong reactions while at the same time being soft and caring, apologetic and forgiving. Her internal strength and confidence make her a good match for Martin even if we viewers are not always happy with her responses. She has every reason to be impressed with Martin’s medical ability, but I am surprised by how often she expects him to come running (literally) when there is a sick child she’s concerned about, or when there are various other medical problems she must address at the school. She can be quite demanding at times before she and Martin have a personal relationship. After they begin their own dalliance, there are a variety of times when Louisa gets utterly exasperated with him and either tells him how she feels in no uncertain terms or walks away with her characteristic hand motions and facial expressions that reveal her frustrations with him. Some people find it hard to believe that Louisa would be interested in having a relationship with Martin, but for me the writers have given us plenty of reasons why she would be intrigued. One significant reason is the limited scope of eligible men in Portwenn. I mean, can you really see Louisa matched with any of the others? She’s in her late 30s, accomplished, and a take-charge woman. Mark Mylow has some potential, but he’s so desperate for a girlfriend that he’s kind of pathetic. Even Danny, who has a job of some status and has a level of education commensurate with hers, seems rather inconsequential somehow. I’m sure the writers chose to make the men in Louisa’s life unprepossessing so that Martin would look more appealing in contrast, but a woman like Louisa might like the challenge of taking on a man like Martin. She’s looking for someone who wants a woman who isn’t a pushover, and Martin definitely likes strong women if Edith is any indication. Louisa gives us some explanation of her attraction to Martin when she tells him in season 1, episode 6 that some people don’t quite fit in and aren’t ordinary, but that’s why we love them. Then in season 3, episode 3 we see Martin and Louisa acting in concert with each other and agreeing on several basics. A new couple has moved in next door to Louisa and they are bringing up their son, Sam, in a very undisciplined manner, out of the “mainstream.” By the end of the episode Martin and Louisa have agreed that it’s necessary to teach children the difference between right and wrong and that parents should make sure their children’s behavior doesn’t adversely impact others. They agree that they both hate cats, that Sam’s parents are extremely irritating and that Sam is suffering from bad parenting, and finally Martin momentarily slips and tells Louisa she’d make a lovely mother. Louisa is stunned by Martin’s frankness and flattered. We’ve already seen they are both attracted to each other. Why wouldn’t we believe they could make a good couple?

Louisa has made up her mind that she wants to stay in Portwenn and only leaves when she and Martin call off their wedding. She’s gone to college in London and knows what it’s like to live there, and she’s happier in Portwenn. She’s got a job as headmistress of the school for much of the series, plus she’s considered one of the prominent citizens of Portwenn who is one of two females on the committee to select the next GP. Portwenn is really her family since both her father and her mother have been largely absent from her life. Maybe their absence has made Louisa so self-reliant. As a woman, I revel in her frankness when she frequently stands up to Martin despite his intimidating demeanor. She emphatically tells him that his blood issues are not gossip but of concern to his patients, that he’s acting childish and self-centered by keeping himself an outsider in the community, dramatically tells off Martin’s previous student, kisses Martin but then throws him out of the car when he remarks about her bad breath. When she allows students to come to school even though they have signs of some contagious infection in series 2, episode 2, and Martin accuses her of risking more cases, she fervently defends her actions and distinguishes herself in the process. Furthermore, she later tells Martin she resents him “stitching her up” to the committee (or undermining her). It’s a scene that demonstrates her confidence and fortitude; we clearly understand that she can handle things herself and that trait continues throughout all of the series so that when she returns to Portwenn 6 months pregnant in series 4, episode 1, we’re not surprised that she plans to deal with her pregnancy and delivery on her own. Louisa’s strength is refreshing in a female and, of course, an excellent balance to Martin’s obduracy. The scenes when they go at each other spice up the show and give it the tension that keeps it lively and even more compelling.

Originally posted 2013-09-09 21:56:42.

What’s in a Name?

In this post I want to consider what Doc Martin’s writers have done with names in the show. Doc Martin himself is, of course, not happy with being called Doc or Doc Martin; he’d rather people use Dr. Ellingham. But throughout the show, most of the town call him Doc or Doc Martin with the exception of Mrs. Tishell who honors his request and uses his last name. And she, in turn, is generally referred to by everyone as Mrs. Tishell. Indeed no one uses her first name until her husband Clive returns. Edith only refers to Martin as Ellingham, and that seems to be her way of being both familiar and equivalent. To me, it is also the mark of someone who distances herself from the others in his life. (In a nice twist, Edith doesn’t remember Joan’s name and calls her Jill.) Louisa, on the other hand, prefers to use Martin when talking to him and we can’t help but see her as closer to him as a result. Louisa has been involved with deciding whether he becomes the new GP which gives her greater standing to use his first name, and she refers to him as Dr. Ellingham when in a formal setting. So we have the title of Doc, the first name of Martin, and the last name of Ellingham all being used in relation to the doctor. (I can say that in my experience, my husband wanted patients and staff to call him Dr. plus full last name because he had earned it and he felt it was the correct way to address him. His office manager/receptionist did use his first name when speaking to him directly, however.) Martin’s receptionists all default to Doc.

Despite the doctor’s own hangups about his name, he usually cannot remember any patient’s names. This is both humorous and realistic since it is not unusual for doctors to have trouble remembering patients’ names and they typically remember people by their conditions/diagnoses. (My husband can still tell you about a patient’s symptoms from years ago but could not dredge up the patient’s name if his life depended on it.) In the show, there are plenty of times when it’s funny to see the Doc use a variety of names for one person. Episode 6 of season 5 stands out to me because Doc M cannot get a handle on the school maintenance man’s name. Louisa reminds him several times that the man’s name is Mr. Coley, but Martin uses Mr. Creely, then can’t come up with a name, then calls him Mr. Munson. Of course there are many students whose names escape the Doc. Louisa, like most teachers, objects to not using the child’s name and reminds him that it’s Adam who has been throwing up or Elliott who has slapped-cheek syndrome. Martin refers to Elliott as “your boy” and his parents are insulted by the doctor’s off-hand treatment of their son and unclear answers. There are any number of other students/children who Martin refers to as “that boy” or something of that nature. To Martin, these names are unimportant; what’s important is getting the right diagnosis and treatment. On the other hand, the names of diseases, syndromes, or other medical problems are never hard for him to remember no matter how complex or esoteric. Those he remembers without even a slight hitch.

Of course, the naming of his own child turns into a major bone of contention. We don’t really get into which last name they plan to use except when Louisa notes as an aside that he will be using her last name. The fact that she and Martin aren’t married means that a last name will be another decision they’ll have to make. I find this concern quite contemporary, although the English may have more of a history with determining last names due to their royal family. In the last 30-40 years we’ve had women (and some men) retaining their last names, using their original last names professionally but not in their private lives, hyphenating their last names, or going the traditional route and using their husband’s last name.

But it’s the baby’s first name that gives Martin and Louisa troubles. It’s awkward (and funny) when Bert does the rather English thing of taking odds on what they’ll name the baby while Louisa is in labor, and Martin comes in 500 to 1. The name Martin never does enter their minds. The first thought Louisa has is to name the baby Terry after her father, a name Martin finds too common (both in terms of its social status and in terms of its frequency). Then we have the amusing scene in which Louisa deliberately calls the baby Albert, which makes Martin stop in his tracks. She frustratingly tells him they have to call the baby something: Steven, Paul, Michael, Elton, whatever. Does that mean Louisa just wants to settle on a name and isn’t too concerned what the name is? Hardly. When they find a time to seriously discuss the baby’s name, she battles with Martin over whether to use her grandfather’s name first or Martin’s grandfather’s name first. At least they’ve decided to use both grandfathers’ names. Ultimately, their conflict is resolved by Martin who reaches the conclusion that he should give in and let Louisa get her choice, but not without some discord. He’s made out the papers without telling Louisa and she justifiably (I think) resents that. So the baby finally has a name (James Henry) and Louisa feels satisfied that it’s the name she preferred.

A few other thoughts come to mind about names as they are used in the show. We have the family name of Wenn that appears to refer to the name of the town, and there is a woman whose surname is Braithwaite (a likely reference to Philippa Braithwaite, the producer and wife of Martin Clunes). Then there is the doctor’s third receptionist, Morwenna, who tells the Doc that she was named after a Cornish saint and who tells him the most popular boy names at the moment. In addition, Morwenna laughs disbelievingly when a patient tells her that her baby’s name is Boris. She realizes pretty quickly that she shouldn’t have laughed, but the point is that some names seem right and some seem wrong depending on the place and time. In fact, even Louisa asks Martin to refer to her as Miss Glasson when he’s at the school.

We can’t overlook the use of childhood names, names of endearment, or aliases. Louisa was called LouLou probably as a child and some of her friends from childhood still use it, e.g. Danny, Holly, and Isabel. Her mother calls her LouLou too. It’s more or less one of those names we never get past even if we aren’t too thrilled to be called by that name anymore. Those names sort of straddle the endearment category and the juvenile. However, sometimes turning a child’s name into something that sounds endearing doesn’t sit well and when Louisa’s mom calls James Henry “Jim Jim,” Louisa tells her right away that’s not his name. Martin’s Aunt Joan is called Auntie Joan affectionately by him many times and she calls him Marti. When she uses that shortened form of his name, we know it’s meant to be affectionate, but when John Slater, Joan’s former lover, calls Martin “Little Marti,” we recognize the condescending tone it takes on. The older man rubs Martin the wrong way, especially when he reminds Martin of wetting his pants as a boy. There is also the foreshortening of names, e.g. Mags for Maggie, or Sal for Sally, that is supposed to be a sign of affection. Then there is the complication of Mark meeting and falling in love with Julie only to find out that she has been known by several other names, and not for good reasons either. Her change of names is a sign of deceit and reveals her devious nature. The final comment about name use I would make is that stating a person’s name with a certain tone can indicate anger or frustration as when Louisa calls her mother “El-i-Nor” with a snarky edge to it. It’s all in the tone and the relationship of the name callers to their subjects.

What’s in a name? Well, family significance, status, collaboration, trendiness, even historical meaning. There’s also something to finding a name that can distinguish you from the crowd, and that fits you in some indefinable way. The most important essence of a name, however, is that it identifies you and your position. When people remember your name, it makes you feel valued. Using the proper title shows respect and not using it can be viewed as being inappropriately familiar. Your name places you in a culture and in a time period, and that sometimes can either assign prominence to you or stereotype you. (For example, I know someone whose first name is Osama, but he goes by Sam for obvious reasons.) Names are signifiers and, as such, are an important part of who we are.

Originally posted 2013-08-11 20:42:59.

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.

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.