Category Archives: women’s issues

I Am Woman

I decided to start the conversation about S7 with a post about women because two new women were introduced in E1. Both of them will play central roles in this new series, and there are several others who will join the cast in this series too, e.g. Caroline Quentin as animal rescuer Angela, Sigourney Weaver as American tourist, and others. I hate to make generalizations, but when I think back on the past six series, I can only come up with a few men who have been depicted as capable as well as stable, while there are many strong women who populate the show.

Among the men who are admirable that come to mind are: Martin Ellingham (despite his many psychological problems), Roger Fenn, John Slater (even though he seems to be a womanizer), Danny (even though his religiosity is excessive), Robert Dashwood, Michael (even though he has a major problem with OCD), and perhaps the Colonel. All the rest are doofuses (or gits, if you want a British term), or have major deficits. They are most often incompetent, incapable, or incredibly prone to doing ridiculous things.

The women, on the other hand, are mostly hardworking, insightful, and helpful. They take charge of their households, are excited to learn new skills and put them to use, and are often the top wage earners in their families. They frequently are forthright and self sufficient. It’s an interesting contrast. (If some reviewers have trouble with Cornish people being portrayed as dumb and foolish in this show, they should also have a problem with how the male characters are represented.)

In S7E1, we learn that Ruth has recommended a young, female therapist for Martin to see. She tells him Dr. Rachel Timoney, who does not suffer fools gladly, should be a good choice for him. When Martin arrives for his appointment, he first thinks the woman standing outside the front door is a receptionist, or something along those lines, and asks her to get Dr. Timoney. This mistake is a little strange because Ruth told him the therapist she is recommending is female and writing a book during her stay in Cornwall. Maybe we should chalk up his immediate response to his being discombobulated by the lifeboat accident, etc., or maybe he is typical of most men and still thinks of most doctors as male. His immediate reaction is to tell her she’s so young. He has had misgivings about young doctors previously, e.g. the vascular surgeon, and he wouldn’t be the first doctor to think experience counts for a lot; however, we also know that he is not thrilled to be seeing a therapist and could be looking for some reason she won’t be a good choice. (He has also told Ruth that he has been hunting for a therapist but hasn’t found anyone suitable.)

By the time he has had a few minutes with Dr. Timoney though, she has impressed him sufficiently for him to decide to come back. As Ruth noted, Dr. Timoney is demanding and quickly tells him that he has to set his phone aside while talking to her. Uncharacteristically, he hands over the phone right away. She expects punctuality and a commitment, and has set rules during her therapy sessions. She begins the first session, as seen in the E2 preview, by asking a direct question: “What are you afraid of?”

As usual the choice of that wording is important. She doesn’t ask him why he’s there or what she can help him with; she asks him what his fears are. She seems very perceptive from the outset in that she immediately notices he may have a high anxiety level.

Thus, we begin S7 with a continuation of strong women being essential to the plot. We will watch to see how Louisa gets along with this female doctor. She wasn’t happy with Edith, and these two strong women will undoubtedly come to loggerheads at times. Dr. Timoney may, and I imagine will, be the catalyst that brings them together again but not necessarily due to her therapeutic prowess. (That remains to be seen.)

The other significant female addition is Janice, Morwenna’s vain friend who becomes the new nanny. After Michael, it’s not at all surprising that this new nanny is the exact opposite. She cares more about herself than about James Henry and is anything but OCD, from the looks of the house. Nevertheless, we know that she will spend a lot of time on screen and be a critical new character.

I am fascinated by the number of strong female characters in this show. I would venture to guess that many of the viewers are female, and having strong women in the show appeals to that audience, maybe subconsciously. Also, there seem to be more shows with strong women in lead roles these days. It works for me!


Originally posted 2015-09-12 11:52:32.

Gather Ye Rosebuds

Now that I’ve pretty much overdone the discussion of whether people can change, and we’ve reached the conclusion that there will be some change, but probably not too much, we can look at what attributes these characters have that should be good for their marriage. Despite Louisa being a woman who likes small town and middle-class life, especially in Portwenn, and Martin being a man who has an affinity for London and the more upper crust life, there is much that they have in common.

Previously I wrote about whether Martin and Louisa should stay together. I questioned the whole notion of bringing up that issue because I am the type of reader/viewer who takes the storyline as something to accept as written. I tried to make allowances in a second post (“Ambiguity”) for those who read/watch as if they are looking through a keyhole rather than looking into a box. I want to be open to those who like to imagine what might happen “if.” This post is different because I can use the information we’ve been given in the show to discuss why Martin and Louisa are well matched. In my opinion, the writers have given us sufficient evidence that this couple could be compatible.

I have my own ideas about what criteria might be used to determine compatibility, but I thought I should see what the established guidelines are. Psychology Today published keys to functional compatibility (as opposed to dysfunctional, which I assume means those couples who stay together but have a very problematic relationship).

Key #1: basic values. These values reflect one’s moral standards, one’s religious beliefs, and one’s sense of gender roles. (I would add one’s interest in having children, although this subject could be folded into several of the keys.) From what we’ve seen of Martin and Louisa, they have very similar feelings about morals and religion, but may have somewhat different views about gender roles.

Both Martin and Louisa are concerned about others and make the time and effort to help the townspeople whenever called upon. As a doctor, M would be expected to take care of any medical problems, but he frequently goes well beyond that. (The “Kindness” post from last November delineated much of that behavior.) L demonstrates concern for her students, for their parents, and for others in the community, including Roger Fenn, Mrs. T, Morwenna, and Ruth. She worries about her friend Caroline as well as Mark and Al.

Religion plays a very minor role in their lives. They get married in a church but do not participate otherwise. They both react with surprise and derision to Danny’s regular invocation of God.

Their differences regarding gender roles may coincide in theory, i.e. they both think women should have the same opportunity to work as men and can handle the same positions. (Surely Martin’s aunts have been an influence on him.) Where they differ is whether women should work once they’ve had a baby, most especially when the baby is very young. Louisa’s desire to return to work within a few months of having James is contrary to Martin’s beliefs and a source of conflict between them. They never really resolve that issue; however, Martin takes on the care of James despite his objections to Louisa’s decision to work and in spite of its inconvenience to him. He deals with childcare at least as much as Louisa and hires Michael to help with James.

Key #2: degree of being ego-centered. This refers to a willingness to compromise. The way I understand this is that each partner can have strong convictions, but it is their ability to be tolerant of each other’s positions that is important. Thus, when Martin attends the school concert with Louisa he is sublimating his disenchantment with this sort of event to satisfy Louisa. Similarly, when Louisa wants to go to a social event that she realizes will not appeal to Martin, she doesn’t press him. Another example would be helping out as receptionist until Martin can find someone else. Or accepting his interest in fixing clocks even if it takes time away from her and James. (To be honest, in the show Martin is more often the one who does the compromising. That circumstance actually bolsters our sense that he is not stuck in a gender rut.)

Key #3: shared insight and perspective. Here we are talking about having comparable intellectual abilities such that both members of the couple can comprehend ideas, issues, and problems in a reasonable and thoughtful manner. In this show we have seen Martin and Louisa handle issues jointly and reasonably. There are many examples that come to mind, e.g. when Allison’s daughter acts hyper and ultimately badly injures herself. Louisa brings Allison to apologize to Martin and mediates the conversation between them. Louisa displays her problem-solving prowess and Martin and she have a meeting of the minds. We could also point to their handling of the porphyria addled headmaster; many cases with students, especially Peter Cronk and Theo Wenn; Mrs. Tishell; as well as their agreement about the personal traits of Mrs. Wilson and the Oakwoods. Indeed, this category is the one that stands out to me as demonstrating excellent compatibility in this pair.

Key #4: shared interests. I suppose we could suggest music as one activity they both enjoy, although Louisa doesn’t have any in depth knowledge of classical music or the instruments. After their sojourn to the concert, they clash over the children’s music Louisa has on in the kitchen. Other than that, the only truly shared interest they have is their son, unless we once again include shared concern for the townspeople.

Keys #5 and 6 are where we hit a major snag. These have to do with the temperaments of each member of the couple and their ability to relate authentically. We have spent quite a bit of time discussing how much Martin and Louisa need to talk to each other about their inner thoughts and probably their histories. To be in a truly functional marriage both parties should feel comfortable disclosing things to one another and leveling with each other. We haven’t seen much of this sort of behavior so far. We’ve gotten snippets, e.g. when Louisa can’t sleep because she is concerned about Mrs. Tishell’s return and Martin tries to reassure her. Most often they have been unwilling to share their most personal thoughts and troubles. It seems clear that Louisa would like to reach a deeper level of sharing and that Martin is the one who has the most trouble with this. Early on we see her try to get Martin to talk to her and in S6, she tells Martin she’s available to talk about his father’s death, and she suggests taking a weekend away presumably to have time to talk to each other.  On the other hand, there is much that Louisa has not told Martin (or us). We could speculate that she’s hesitant to be too open because of his apparent lack of interest in hearing it or in reciprocating, or because she’s being self-protective. Whatever the reason, their inability to be more authentic with each other is a major source of trouble in their marriage and the area that needs to change most.

Key #7 is whether the couple is attracted to each other. This seems rather ridiculous unless the marriage is arranged or something, but I guess it is a factor. Martin and Louisa fulfill this requirement; they have been attracted to each other from the moment they met. Martin never stops wanting to catch a glimpse of Louisa, he has a different tone of voice when talking to her, and he agrees to do almost anything she asks of him. That is hardly the case with anyone else. Meanwhile, Louisa defends him to others, and becomes jealous whenever there’s another woman around. She worries about him, and she invites him out and finds ways to bump into him. Also, they are the best dressed people in Port Wenn and appear to have the same interest in good grooming habits. If Louisa weren’t clean and neat, Martin would have trouble finding her attractive. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone marrying unless they are physically attracted to each other, but we can’t deny that attraction is important.

In addition to the above, I would like to add that they both are very trustworthy. They can be secure in the knowledge that neither one of them will stray. They’ve made a commitment to each other, and from what we know of them, they will keep that commitment. To me that is an essential ingredient to a good marriage.

Furthermore, I think it’s important to remember that their marriage is starting with a baby already on board. They have had no time to get acclimated to living with each other without the stress of a newborn. The fact that they have been shown complementing each other throughout the early months of James’ life shows a strong foundation for their union.

Another thing that seems to be fairly common is that, for some unknown reason, many people who love each other hurt each other. Whether this is some sort of test or hurdle, I can’t be sure. (The Carpenters actually had a song called “Hurting Each Other,” it’s so  unexceptional. Here are the lyrics. I think they sum up what we see with M and L quite well.)

I can’t end this post without stating that falling in love has many ineffable aspects about it. We can’t always define what captures our interest and desire. Sometimes we just know that we have met the person we want to be with because there is something deep in our hearts and minds that gives us that signal. To a certain extent, that is what has happened to Martin and Louisa, and we want them to embrace that. Neither of them had found the right mate before and now Fate has brought them together. Isn’t that a strength in itself?

One final thing…This will be my last post until June. I will be traveling in May and can only reveal that I hope to have a lot more posts to write when I get back. I won’t be leaving for another week and will be checking the blog until I leave and while I’m away. Thank you all for hanging in here with me. It’s been a demanding endeavor to keep the blog going throughout the long break between series! I couldn’t have done it without your help. I plan to continue until we’ve seen S7 and added our analyses of its episodes to our discussions. After that, who knows?

Originally posted 2015-04-30 17:28:42.

What’s the Matter with Edith?

As Santa said in a recent comment, S7 may turn out to be a series we would compare to S4 because we may watch Martin and Louisa Ellingham “move through most of their anger at each other to some realization of how much they wanted to be together, even if they feared rejection from the other.” Although Santa’s remarks are not about Edith, Edith is the outside force that complicates the relationship between Martin and Louisa even further in S4.

I doubt I need to remind you that Edith only appears in S4. The last time we see her she marches into ME’s office to tell him she’s not mad at him, and that once he’s back in London, she’s sure things will seem very different. She thinks she has helped him conquer his haemophobia, and now he has intimacy issues that she can help him with. As of S6, we know he has not conquered his blood phobia and he has stayed in Portwenn.

As promised, I want to take on the subject of Edith. To do this, I think we need to look at the role Edith plays in this story, and the reason for bringing her into it. If we look at the structure of DM, Martin Ellingham is the protagonist and Louisa Glasson Ellingham is the deuteragonist. When Edith joins this twosome, she would be considered the tritagonist, or the least sympathetic character of a drama. A tritagonist also occasions the situations by which pity and sympathy for the protagonist are excited. Another way of identifying her is as the “Foil,” or someone who provides a strong contrast with another character in order to highlight or underscore a distinctive characteristic of the other character. Furthermore, the readiness to act by a foil can accentuate the other character’s delay.

In S4, Edith is certainly the least sympathetic character. She does, indeed, act as a foil to Louisa and, in doing so, she fulfills all of the qualities attributed to a foil.

The fact that Edith is a physician, who functions in both the clinical and research areas of obstetrics and gynecology, makes her highly accomplished. Even so, she misdiagnoses a mass instead of diverticulitis and is loathe to admit it. As a result, we see how Edith is similar to Martin in that she is well respected in her field and she hates to admit making mistakes. We also notice the tension between them as they jostle for superiority first with this patient, then with Louisa, and also with his haemophobia.

We are predisposed to disliking any woman who might seek to replace Louisa as Martin’s love interest. With Edith, though, it’s hard to get past her bright red, spiky hair, her severe, dark clothes, and her condescending manner of talking to Martin. Then she continues to make advances toward Martin despite knowing that he has had an intimate relationship with Louisa and that Louisa has quite obviously returned to Portwenn to reconnect with him. Furthermore, Edith barges into Martin’s home or office at her own convenience, has little compassion for Martin’s blood phobia troubles, and acts totally indifferent to him when he faints. Her efforts to treat the phobia fall somewhere between self-congratulation and meddling. She wants him to return to London, and she seems to want to reignite their love life, but it all appears to be mostly because that would work best for her. Therefore, we can conclude that she is self-centered, self-assured, strong-willed, unapologetic, matter-of-fact, and unkind. She has moments of warmth, e.g. when she looks at the Buddha figurine, when she recalls the poem he once wrote for her, and when she kisses his cheek. However, those are fleeting and the kisses seem self-serving and meant to manipulate him.

Her behavior elicits pity for Martin insofar as he is buffeted by her persistence even while he is conflicted about Louisa and her pregnancy. Time and again Edith intrudes into his life to entice him away from Portwenn only to be turned down by him. I particularly liked the time when she’s waiting for Martin to join her and Robert Dashwood for lunch where she is planning for Martin to make a strong effort to convince Dashwood to offer him a position as a surgeon again. Instead, Martin is rushing to get to a patient in distress and never gets to the lunch. Edith’s priorities are not Martin’s.

As the “Foil,” Edith is the provocateur in this series, forcing Louisa to admit to herself, if not yet to Martin, how much she wants him to be a part of her life and the pregnancy. In scene after scene, we see Louisa exhibit jealousy as well as forcefulness in response to something Edith has done or said. We know more than Louisa about Edith’s devious manipulation of Martin, especially when it comes to trying to lure him away from Louisa. Nevertheless, Louisa is aware that Martin and Edith were once engaged to marry, and she can easily see that Edith is finding ways to visit Martin fairly often. There are enough occasions when Martin is summoned to help Louisa throughout her pregnancy that we can come to the conclusion that Louisa is battling with her own hesitations about including him. The ultrasound scene and Edith’s assessment that the baby might be SGA (small for gestational age), provide an important interaction where Louisa seeks out Martin’s opinion. Martin reassures Louisa and keeps the ultrasound picture of the baby, and Louisa makes it clear that she has mixed feelings about having Edith as her obstetrician. Edith has provoked Louisa during her examination, both because she asks intrusive and unethical questions and because she has mentioned possible complications with the baby. The episode ends with Martin taking another look at the baby’s ultrasound picture and appearing quite pleased.

We also see these two women clash over Martin when an obstetrical nurse asks whether the father will be accompanying Louisa to prenatal classes. Louisa answers that the father won’t be joining her. In her case it’s because she has denied him that option, but Edith is convinced he wouldn’t participate because she thinks she knows him better. Once again, Louisa looks miffed.

Louisa doesn’t allow Martin to be involved in the pregnancy the way he would like, but Edith’s presence highlights Louisa’s fluctuating feelings and eventually leads to Martin’s conviction that he wants to be with Louisa and not with Edith. His decision to leave the hotel while Edith is giving a lecture and cannot stop him is bookended, in the next episode, by Martin’s race to catch up to Tommy’s taxi and Louisa, and the birth of the baby. Although he packs up and is ready to leave Portwenn for London, he’s waylaid by all the patients who want to see him one last time, and by Tasha’s collapse. Tasha’s condition awakens Martin’s protective instincts for Louisa and the baby, and off he goes. The initiation of labor while Louisa and he are dealing with Tommy leads to his realization that he doesn’t want to leave either Louisa or Portwenn after all.

The amorous kiss that Martin and Louisa share during the birth of the baby is a total abnegation of anything Edith was hoping for, and plotting for. With her prodding, Martin and Louisa’s feelings for each other are consummated.

Originally posted 2015-04-17 11:28:29.

Marital Happiness

Not surprisingly, my attempts at writing light posts have fallen pretty flat. There’s not really much anyone can say about them anyway.

Since we know there will be marital/couples counseling at some point in S7, I figured another topic of interest might be what it takes to achieve happiness in a marriage. I’ve written about the topic of happiness a few times because I think there is a significant emphasis placed in the show on happiness and its importance. I have to assume they purposely chose to underline this mental and emotional state. (Among the many intriguing topics brought up on this show, making happiness one seems rather curious to me. While taking Martin deeper into depression as the show goes along until in S6 he reaches Major Depression, they continue to broach the subject of the overall importance of happiness. (Why else have the conversation in the hospital near the end of S6 between Louisa and Martin in which, after she tells him she’s taking James to Spain, she says “I’m not happy and I’m not making you happy am I” and he answers “Happy…Why does everybody have to be happy all the time?” That question hangs there while Louisa looks at him crestfallen. Once again she’s asking him if she’s the reason for his problems and his answer is indirect and noncommittal, as it was before. Besides, is this an existential question? Are we supposed to wonder whether being happy is even on his radar? Or should we ask whether being happy is a state he has lost any desire to strive for? In spite of all these uncertainties in regard to happiness, I will go ahead with this post about happiness in marriage and couples.)

I have now learned that John Gottman, who is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, is considered an authority on marriage and its major pitfalls. He is known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations, many of which were published in peer-reviewed literature. Gottman was recognized in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century. He is best known for his Four Horsemen concept ( which is a reference to what can bring on an apocalypse in a marriage). It defines four major negative communication styles that can cause significant problems in a marriage: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling.

It might be useful to go through each of these and see how Martin and Louisa have been depicted in relation to these behaviors  and what we might like to see them do to change them. If we’re talking about change, and we have heard both Martin and Louisa say they think people can change, we should consider what particular changes could best help their marriage. Since Gottman has studied marriage, his assessment seems a pretty good place to start.


1. Criticism: Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making someone right and someone wrong:

Generalizations: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …” “why are you so …”

2. Contempt: Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically abuse him/her:

– Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”
– Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery
– Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip

3. Defensiveness: Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack:

– Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”

– Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of your own, ignoring what your partner said

– Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …” “I did this because you did that…”

– Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing
– Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying – Whining “It’s not fair.”

4. Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation, disconnection, and/or smugness:

– Stony silence
– Monosyllabic mutterings
– Changing the subject
– Removing yourself physically
– Silent Treatment

So lets look at the Four Horsemen as they relate to what we’ve seen transpire between Martin and Louisa. (Perhaps a slight caution is appropriate here. Louisa will seem to be the instigator or culprit most often because she does most of the talking. Also, to a great extent the humor of the show often depends on these problematic sorts of interactions. I wouldn’t want to have them work on making themselves too much different at the expense of the humor.)

At various times in the show we have heard Louisa use some of the phrasing associated with the “Criticism” category. She has said, for example, “Everything’s always up to me, isn’t it? You never do anything or say anything to help us move on…”(S3E1) Or, “Why are our conversations so combative?” (I’m paraphrasing here). In both cases, she implies that Martin is causing the difficulty between them. Granted, these occur before they are married, but they exemplify the sort of interaction that belittles Martin. Louisa clearly thinks she’s the victim and being wronged. Although we haven’t heard her use that terminology during S5 or 6, she’s come close. She’s told him that she’ll be the one to question her mother’s behavior and that he’s expecting too much to want her to keep the baby quiet during his office hours. One occasion that stands out to me is on the first morning following his mother’s arrival in S6 when she has to leave the kitchen to find Martin after talking to his mother in the kitchen. She finds Martin tinkering with a clock in his office and angrily asks him what he’s doing. The implication is that he is guilty of leaving Louisa to deal with his mother by herself and she finds that absolutely wrong. Even the time when Louisa quickly comes into the kitchen to tell Martin to take James to music class is accusatory. “We don’t want him to grow up to be shy and introverted?” (motioning towards Martin and leaving us to fill in “like you”). Martin has asserted to Louisa that he doesn’t want James to be like him, but now Louisa is reminding him of that at a point when Martin is under pressure to agree.

The next category is “Contempt,” and they are both guilty of doing this from time to time. Most often this behavior is in the form of body language on both their sides. Louisa is more likely to roll her eyes when Martin does something annoying, which is admittedly humorous, but she also does it when she’s meant to be angry with him. For example, after Martin asks Dennis to come to dinner, and once again hasn’t taken the time to check with Louisa first, Louisa looks irked. This time she gives Martin the stink eye and then closes her eyes in frustration. The one action that Martin cannot seem to alter is making decisions without Louisa’s input, and she is always incensed by it. Because Martin has no awareness of how unhappy she is when he neglects to consult her, he innocently puts himself in a position to receive her disdain. I don’t think Louisa is supposed to be deliberately insulting him here; she is simply reacting naturally, if with anger. (It’s remarkable that Martin frequently has so much trouble simply asking Louisa’s opinion, especially since that is the one thing that always puts her off.)

Martin sometimes behaves contemptuously towards Louisa when talking about her job and her students. He belittles the value of the school that she heads and the students she cares so much about. She is proud of how she handles the troubles that take place at the school and it’s demeaning that he considers the school subpar and her as easily replaced. We do see a sneer and a curling of his lip at times when he refers to what he witnesses at the school and her importance there. He also uses some hostile humor, e.g. when the students get sick due to daring each other.

“Defensiveness” is the third category. I’m not sure I can think of any examples of this. Martin has sometimes protested that he didn’t mean what he said to be taken the way it was, but that’s not the same as acting defensively to ward off an attack by Louisa. I really don’t remember Louisa using this tactic either. If any of you think of a time when this happens, please help me out.

Number four is “Stonewalling.” This one is huge in this show. I don’t want to confuse Martin’s lack of talking skills or introversion with deliberately avoiding giving an answer or knowingly removing himself.

Martin is the one who exhibits this behavior most frequently, of course. The example I used above where Louisa has to find him in his study is one of several. He also immediately absents himself once he and Louisa have gotten the bedroom ready for his mother’s stay. Their first night together begins with Martin walking off without his bride and making it difficult for her to keep up. I would definitely put the scene at the Sports Day celebration as a good example of him stonewalling. His silent treatment begins early that day when Louisa tries to eat breakfast with him and suggests a weekend outing. It continues when Louisa reminds him of his promise to speak at Sports Day. It reaches its apex at the celebration and then he walks off.

Louisa is not immune to this reaction either. Leaving is her métier, or her default position. When the going gets tough, Louisa gets going.

In both cases, my feeling is they are demonstrating a sense of disconnection and distance from each other.

There are ways Gottman suggests of reversing these behaviors. Here are some basic recommendations:

– Learn to make specific complaints & requests (when X happened, I felt Y, I want Z)

– Conscious communication: Speaking the unarguable truth & listening generously

– Validate your partner (let your partner know what makes sense to you about what they are saying; let them know you understand what they are feeling, see through their eyes)

– Shift to appreciation (5 times as much positive feeling & interaction as negative) – Claim responsibility: “What can I learn from this?” & “What can I do about it?”

– Re-write your inner script (replace thoughts of righteous indignation or innocent victimization with thoughts of appreciation, responsibility that are soothing & validating)

– Practice getting undefended (allowing your partner’s utterances to be what they really are: just thoughts and puffs of air) and let go of the stories that you are making up

Surprisingly, I noticed that when Louisa requested that Martin take James to music circle, it was she who wouldn’t listen or talk about it. In that instance, Martin asked if they could talk about the plan and she cut him off. She was in a hurry and had a lot of driving ahead of her, and that often makes it harder to take a few minutes to discuss anything; however, he is offering to talk and she refuses and becomes critical.

Is that enough to keep him from trying again? It has to be more complicated than that. They’ve had some good conversations at times and they clearly want to find a way to resolve their marital conflicts. I don’t see them ever hugging for very long, but a little affection can go a long way. Louisa kisses Martin spontaneously from time to time, including in S6. Martin needs to do more of that. We know he can; he has kissed her without prompting before they got married. Everyone likes to be complimented and shown some appreciation. It was nice when Louisa told Martin she would miss him before leaving for work. He didn’t respond, but I imagine those words touched him as well as embarrassed him.

This show would not remain what it’s been if Martin and Louisa no longer clash, but maybe we can get an answer to that question left hanging about happiness. It’s just possible that their happiness hinges on each of them providing the support and companionship they each need. That’s not a terrible way to leave this couple…A little sappy, but not terrible.




Originally posted 2015-03-31 18:21:24.

Everything old is new again

Here’s something to lighten our recent discussions.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see that the new fashion styles being advertised hark back to the days that I suggested seemed retro when I wrote about the dresses Louisa wears. So much of fashion gets recycled over the years.

It looks like the little floral dresses we are used to seeing Louisa wear are now being promoted as great choices for Spring. See

It  might just be an Easter thing, but there are certainly more stores making pretty floral dresses available this year! (I gotta say most of them don’t appeal to me! But then again, I’m not the right age for them either.)

Originally posted 2015-03-26 09:24:19.

A Bit More on Louisa

I have written about emotions versus rational thinking, and we have discussed the contrast between Martin’s difficulties with expressing emotion and Louisa’s passionate reactions. We have also done our best to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory as if we are Martin and Louisa. When we did that, we rated Louisa as a definite Extrovert and a Feeling type.

In one comment, Abby explained something about how the brain’s physiological construction operates: “So, regarding Louisa, as long as her middle prefrontal cortex is engaged, she is able to understand Martin and his needs and limitations. However, when she feels threatened, as when he tells her she should stop working (which triggers her fear of depending on anyone) or he withdraws from her due to his depression (which triggers her fear of abandonment), her amygdala starts firing, triggering a fight/flight response, both of which we have seen her do with him. At that point, she is completely running on autopilot; there is no ability to watch her reactions to him and decide whether or not to act on those reactions. She simply REACTS. Her prefrontal cortex is offline at that point.”  (Jan. 10, 2015)

All of the above gives us several reasons for Louisa’s passionate reactions. I now have one more thing to add to why Louisa may be more emotional. In yesterday’s NYTimes Sunday Review, psychiatrist Julie Holland wrote an op-ed about women’s feelings in which she says “Women are moody. By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children’s needs and intuitive of our partners’ intentions. This is basic to our survival and that of our offspring. Some research suggests that women are often better at articulating their feelings than men because as the female brain develops, more capacity is reserved for language, memory, hearing and observing emotions in others…Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives. We have been taught to apologize for our tears, to suppress our anger and to fear being called hysterical…Crying isn’t just about sadness. When we are scared, or frustrated, when we see injustice, when we are deeply touched by the poignancy of humanity, we cry. And some women cry more easily than others. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or out of control…We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

As a woman, Louisa is subject to the same biological tendencies that all women have, and that generally leads to being moody, empathic, and more emotional. I think Dr. Holland is right that being emotional is a sign of health and crying is not a sign of weakness. In fact, in Louisa’s case, she does suppress any inclination to cry, and we could consider that unfortunate. I remember one occasion in particular when Louisa wants to cry while talking to Martin but contains her tears after he asks her if she’s crying. (I cannot remember which episode this occurs in. I believe they are standing at the back kitchen door.) To the best of my recollection, this is the only time we see Louisa close to tears even though there are plenty of instances in Louisa’s experiences when we might all tear up. They seem to have decided to represent her strength by having her refrain from crying. We wouldn’t want to see her shedding tears during every emotional scene, on the other hand, a few tears would only make her more human and possibly reduce the sense that some viewers have that she’s too demanding.


Originally posted 2015-03-02 15:18:11.

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.

Acting & Aging

A few weeks ago Santa suggested a post about how older people are treated in the show. It is remarkable how many older actors have been included in DM. I suppose one reason the show has older villagers is because of the cross-section of ages that makes up the totality of any small town. In this show, Louisa is the headmistress of an elementary school, which means we have quite a few very young actors. Then we have the parents of the young children and a smattering of citizens in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Somehow Portwenn has retained a fairly well distributed group of townspeople in relation to age. But the mainstay of any town is the older citizens who have lived there many years.

Despite my previous mention of Stephanie Cole having the only actual sex scene in the show (see “Women’s Issues, Part 1,” Sept. 9, 2013) , which was significant because she is an older woman and was representing the loneliness and lack of affection that often accompanies being an older woman whose spouse has died, I have not written much about the many older characters in the show. Of course, that scene was also used for comedic purposes, especially because Martin walks in on Aunt Joan and Edward in flagrante delicto and is exceptionally astonished, so much so that he can’t get the image out of his mind and almost runs into Carrie Wilson with his car. The thoroughly modest/moral Martin is offended that his aunt would be willing to carry on an affair with a man young enough to be her son, and that Edward would be at all tempted to have sex with an older and marterteral woman. (Fun fact: I just learned that the female version of avuncular is marterteral.) Basically, Aunt Joan does not appear to be a sexually active woman, yet there she is, having sex on the kitchen table. Not bad for a woman ostensibly in her 70s! (Actually, at the time Stephanie Cole was only 66.)

After giving this subject more thought, I am convinced that we should focus on how many older female thespians appear in this show. I am particularly singling out the women because, sadly, it is much harder for older women to find roles in TV or film. We can certainly add a discussion of the men as well following this post. I’m not sure what emphasis Santa would have put on this subject, but this is my take on it. Hopefully, much of what I say about the position of older women in the show will also be applicable to the men.

As luck would have it, recently there was an article in The New York Times – “Arts and Leisure” section about Jessica Lange and her role in the TV show “American Horror Story.” I have to admit I have not watched this show at all, however, from what the article says, each year the show has found a way to refer to Hollywood metaphorically. This year its subtitle is “Freak Show” and it is about “a troupe of carnival sideshow performers” in 1952. The article goes on to say “Freaks were how older movie stars were regarded in Hollywood after their careers dried up; television was the sideshow where aging performers sought work when studio bosses stopped calling…[T]he sad truth is that the older an actress is, the harder it is for her to be cast as an attractive character, let alone a love interest.” The article notes that television is no longer considered a comedown for stars. It also goes on to say that Jessica Lange, who is 65, creates many poignant characters in this TV show and this year she “hams it up as…an aging German chanteuse with no legs – they were cut off in 1932 for a pornographic snuff film.” We eventually learn that “she went from a failed career in cabaret and carnival side shows to television stardom,” in what is assumed to be a joke about show business. One way of looking at the sex scene with Aunt Joan is as a satirical reenactment of this serious circumstance for aging actresses. On the one hand, I find it admirable that the show addresses the very real feeling of desolation many women face in older age; on the other hand, there is a certain degree of absurdity in finding Joan willingly having intercourse in her kitchen and later in a hotel room where a party for Penhale will soon be taking place. I mean, hormone replacements or not, what happened to Joan’s sense of propriety?

(We shouldn’t forget that seniors are still interested in sex. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, more than a quarter of adults aged 75-85 and over half of adults aged 65-74 are sexually active. Not only that, but “the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in people 45 and over has doubled over the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Aunt Joan represents that part of the senior population that is still having sex.)

Most of the older actresses on DM have spent their careers in British television. (Indeed, Caroline Catz has done that too, as has Martin Clunes.) There could be many reasons for choosing to act in television; nevertheless, I find it impressive that apart from Eileen Atkins, Claire Bloom, and Phyllida Law, the older actresses have spent decades performing exclusively in television series, including Stephanie Cole. This circumstance could be related to the difficulty women have in being cast in films as well as the evolution of television to a place of prominence rather than a sideshow. Moreover, the approximately 20 older actresses (age ~ 70-90) in DM may be the beneficiaries of an enlightened production company that has faith that older women can be valuable in many roles. Surely, the older actresses must be grateful for the opportunity to participate in a successful show. I think they add a lot of depth and humor to the show while also keeping the show grounded in the reality of life in a small village and in the aging of our populations in general. I want to single out a few examples below.

Another matter of importance to me is the whole idea of fending for oneself. Despite Louisa taking offense when Chris Parsons remarks at the post funeral gathering that after Martin leaves for London, she’ll have to fend for herself (S5,E2), I do not find any reason to consider the idea of “fending” demeaning. In Louisa’s case, she has understood the comment to indicate that Chris thinks it will be hard for her to handle all the responsibilities of childcare and work on her own but, as an independent and self-sufficient woman, she has not thought of Martin as being any more than their baby’s father and her significant other (mate?). She likes knowing he’s there to assist and share duties, but she isn’t dependent on it. Whatever Louisa finds offensive, the fact is that most of us use “fend” in a positive manner, even an assertion of self-assurance. As I see it, the many older female characters in DM are generally on their own and must handle their affairs without any evident help from spouses, children, or other relatives. (There are a few exceptions to this: Muriel Steel has Danny; Beth Sawle has Janet; Helen Pratt has Phil; and Mrs. McLynn has Mr. McLynn. We may or may not consider these counterparts as helpful.) In essence, they are all fending for themselves quite well.

Aunt Joan seems perfectly capable of fending for herself by managing her farm, including chickens, sheep, and vegetables. She comes up against some money difficulties when the downturn in the economy reduces the sales of her vegetables, but she is resourceful and decides to turn her home into a Bed and Breakfast Inn. The Inn never has a real chance to take off, but neither her brother and his effort to take the farm away, nor any financial troubles are able to wrest the farm from her. Not only that, but Phil Pratt and his rifle don’t ruffle her either. She also has her own opinions that she has no hesitation expressing. She’s kind, caring, and motherly while also being strong-willed, determined, and independent.

The Ellingham family has a powerful stubborn streak along with high intelligence and self-sufficiency. Ruth, like Martin, has always lived alone and has no trouble keeping herself busy. She takes up residence in Portwenn and manages to write a book. Furthermore, she continues to consult on criminal cases. Ruth, like Joan, has no antipathy towards people in general, and she interacts with Al, Penhale, Louisa, Mrs. T, and others with insight into their personalities, which we’d expect from a psychiatrist. However, she also has no inclination to share her life or home with anyone else. Like her sister, we see her take matters into her own hands in difficult situations. She deals with the Dunwiches despite the possibility of danger; she handles Robert Campbell without much trepidation; and she immediately shows sympathy for her neighbor Mr. Moysey when he takes ill. She’s been damaged by her upbringing, but she bears few of the scars that plague Martin. Fending is really quotidian for her.

Moreover, both Joan and Ruth often make us laugh. The first episode brings Martin out to reunite with Aunt Joan only to be handed a chicken in order to snap its neck. Next she brings Martin inside and plans to chop off the chicken’s head while he sits at the table. The scene immediately makes him uncomfortable and lets us know that Joan is a no nonsense woman. But Ruth is the aunt that makes us laugh the most. Her dry wit is also in evidence from the moment we meet her and it continues throughout. These two women are key to the structure of the show because of their age. Wisdom may come with age, but so does confidence and imperturbability, at least for these two women.

Besides these two main characters who contribute to the humor of the show, many of the other older women play a major role in adding humor to the show. The two women who liven up S6E4, Mrs. Eddy and Ethel, are the ones that stand out. They have gotten infected by self applied tattoos that read “Do Not Resuscitate.” They are members of a tea club that has pooled its money to buy a medical dictionary. Now Mrs. Eddy feels qualified to diagnose a melanoma. (Of course, as in so many of the cases Doc Martin sees each day, these patients have decided for themselves what is wrong with them and exasperate Doc M. And, as so often happens, they are totally wrong.) The bottom line is that these elderly women are quite aware of their circumstances and have taken matters into their own hands. They’re getting old and physically weaker so they’ve bought an ink gun off the internet and made sure that if they are unable to tell anyone directly, the medical personnel will see clearly what their wishes are. Mrs. Eddy is bright eyed, obstinate, and vigorous. Still, she doesn’t want to trust that the medical establishment will follow any medical directives in her file. Furthermore, these women have been quite resourceful, using modern conveniences like Ebay to make purchases. The tea club appears to be filled with older women who discuss important personal issues rather than sitting around sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Ethel, who makes a joke out of showing Doc M her tattoo, has also got a rodent ulcer. Once the doc tells her he can remove it, she’s ready to have that done immediately. Old women are not ones to wait. In the last episode, Ethel returns and incorrectly receives a rabies vaccine. Her complaint is of a headache, but Doc M is so distracted by Louisa’s plans to leave that he mistakes her for a different patient. In this scene, too, Ethel is demanding and outspoken. Even during these very troubling moments, she shows no mercy.

Indeed the older women in this show can be best described as feisty, or gutsy, plucky, and overall lively and aggressive. Doc M quizzes Muriel Steel about orientation to day and time and she responds with an answer much more complex than expected, then he prescribes a certain medicine and she hides it in the plant; he tells Beth Sawle to take antibiotics and her sister Janet gives her her own concoction; he tells Mrs. Selkirk she’s hallucinating due to her husband’s sudden death, she objects, and it turns out to be Lyme disease; Mrs. McLynn can’t see so she uses her husband as her guide and refuses to stop driving; he tells Mrs. Averill to stop smoking and she sneaks cigarettes. All of the above include a large dose of humor in each incident while also being good examples of all sorts of difficulties with older patients that doctors have to deal with.

I don’t want to end this post without mentioning the most devious and gutsy older woman of them all, Margaret. We may laugh and find the other older women exemplars of the best kind of aging we can all aspire to; however, Margaret is in a class by herself. She is the only older woman of the group who is imperious. Our introduction to her is accompanied by her unwillingness to be at all congenial even though she hasn’t seen or talked to her son in seven years. Then, when she does finally talk to him, she says extremely hateful things. That same attitude continues in S6 when she returns, and by the end of her visit, she has cemented our impression of her as unkind, judgmental, and dishonest. She’s gutsy, but in a totally different manner from the others. In her case, her aging has solidified her abhorrent qualities.

I think we can say that the older women in this show add dimensions that wouldn’t be possible with only younger characters. Their bodies may be failing them, but their personalities are intact. For the most part, at their stage in life they are doing their best to approach the end of life with sanguinity (there’s that word again!). Apart from Margaret, they are a good way to look at aging.

Originally posted 2015-01-21 19:24:26.

The Kindness Factor, Part II


Part II

Examples of Kindness in the Three Main Female Characters 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Clothing: Edith v. Louisa

While I’m waiting for a much more significant post to be completed, I thought that comparing how Edith is dressed to how Louisa is dressed in S4 would be a good way to point out how clothes can be used to define a character, especially since TV and film are such visual media.

Here we have two strong, independent women who are brought together through their association with Martin Ellingham. Edith, the former fiancee and med school colleague, and Louisa the former fiancee and love obsession who returns pregnant following a couple of nights of intimacy. Both women have known ME in the biblical sense, or at least we know he’s seen them both naked. At some point both women decided they didn’t want to marry Martin, but Edith went on to pursue medicine, and even surgery, like Martin (and got married briefly), while Louisa continued her profession of school teacher and decided pregnancy was her future plan. In S4 we get the contest between them magnified by their skirmishes due to Louisa having chosen to be followed in Truro and Edith being the obstetrician who takes her case. The stage is set for fireworks and we get them, but in an understated way — and the clothing they wear contributes substantially, if subtly.

Apart from Edith’s bright red spikey hair and lack of any curvaceousness, she is almost exclusively dressed in dark, severe clothes. We are already predisposed to dislike her because we root for Martin and Louisa to be together, then they create a woman who lacks sensitivity for her patients and misdiagnoses both diverticulitis and SGA (or small for gestational age). (Admittedly she could have been using the SGA diagnosis as a way to elicit the information about Martin and Louisa’s sexual history. She should do a differential diagnosis and she has no business asking about the date they last had sex.) She knows the situation between Martin and Louisa and still pursues him, a decision that is disconcerting at best. On more than one occasion, Edith schemes to manipulate Martin to distance himself from Louisa and from Portwenn. Sadly for her, his disdain for some of his circumstances is overshadowed by his sense of duty to Louisa as well as his genuine love for her. Edith’s clothes accentuate her masculinity despite her impractical shoes. She is primarily dressed in slacks with a vest and jacket and man-collared shirt. In fact, in S4E7, Edith and Martin are nearly dressed identically: Edith wears a blue and white striped shirt under a black vest and slacks while Martin wears the same sort of blue and white striped shirt under his dark suit. Dressing them alike insinuates that in addition to being a surgeon who went through medical school with Martin, Edith is too similar to him (or too masculine) to appeal to him as a love interest.

She wears a dark dress with tan polka dots on two occasions, and at the conference, she puts on a white, ruffle front blouse with her trademark black slacks. This time her ruffled blouse is reminiscent of Louisa’s blue ruffle front dress she wears walking to the baby shower when Martin sees her on his way out to meet Edith. It’s almost like they’re begging us to determine which woman looks better in ruffles and, in my opinion, they weight it decidedly towards Louisa. The last time we see Edith is after the conference when she barges into Martin’s last day of seeing patients. She’s back to wearing a pin-stripe vested suit with grey blouse and unwilling to believe that she has lost the battle for any amorous attention from him.

Meanwhile, throughout S4 Louisa wears many flowered dresses with cardigans of various bright colors: white, red, yellow. Or she wears a variety of other feminine outfits, including a blue and white striped sailor style top with bow when she makes the trip to the hospital for another check up. Of course, a pregnant woman has plenty of curves and looks about as feminine as possible. Often people say that pregnant women have a certain glow about them and Louisa reflects that throughout this series. There is a major contrast between how each of these women behaves, and their clothes contrast significantly too. We see two assertive and self-assured professional women clash in terms of how their appearance represents who they are. Edith may hold the upper hand in that Louisa is dependent on her care, however, Louisa is the one carrying Martin’s baby and there’s no way for Edith to change that fact. (Unfortunately, we also may be seeing how female doctors feel they must dress in order to achieve respect in a masculine dominated profession as opposed to the latitude allowed women working in what is perceived to be a feminine profession.)

There are two standoffs between Louisa and Edith — one when they meet for the first time at the hospital and Louisa is wearing a green floral dress; next when Louisa has an ultrasound and is wearing the sailor top. I particularly like the first confrontation between them because Edith tries to belittle Louisa and Portwenn and Louisa gives as good as she gets. The second time, Louisa has fallen part way off the bed in an effort to get a better view of the ultrasound scan when Edith appears. Not only is this funny, but also it puts Louisa at a disadvantage. Most of us feel at a disadvantage when talking to a doctor anyway. In this case, Louisa is particularly compromised as Edith’s patient. She has to rely on Edith’s judgements as well as expect her questions to be appropriate. But Louisa is always self-protective and does her best to deflect Edith’s personal inquiries. To me it looks like Edith is somewhat surprised to learn that Louisa and Martin had sex more than once, and I would think Louisa got some pleasure out of telling Edith their intimacy wasn’t just a one night event.

In the realm of clothing, S4 is a really good example of how it can be used to augment the interpersonal interactions of a scene. I hope I’ve made a stronger argument for the importance of how clothing functions. The wardrobe for each character is a distinguishing feature before they say a word. We could just look at the clothes of most of the characters on “Doc Martin” and know, without seeing their heads, who they belong to. More than that, though, two female characters with somewhat similar temperaments can be dressed totally differently and still appear self-reliant. But, really, is there any doubt that Martin would find Louisa a more attractive choice after we see these two women together?

Originally posted 2014-11-08 14:16:14.

“See the garment, think the person”

When I mentioned Louisa’s fashion style in my recent post about this character, not much commentary came of it. Maybe I’m strange, but I find clothing choices quite telling and now I have learned that I’m not the only one.

It turns out that this past week in London at the Design Museum an exhibit called “Women Fashion Power” opened. (Of course, I saw this in the NYTimes.) It’s co-curator, Donna Loveday, is quoted as saying, “’It felt like it was the right time to look at the rise of women in contemporary power roles, and how they view and use fashion to facilitate their place in the world.’”

According to Times Fashion critic Vanessa Friedman, “the show includes 25 high-profile women happy to go public with their thoughts on clothing. This includes the usual suspects: fashion professionals like Natalie Massenet, the executive chairwoman of Net-a-Porter; the designer Vivienne Westwood; and the model Naomi Campbell. But it also includes Wei Sun Christianson, a co-chief executive of Morgan Stanley Asia Pacific; Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris (who also opened the exhibition); Alfiya Kuanysheva, the chief executive of the Kazakhstan finance group BATT; and Kirsty Wark, the British broadcaster.

That, it seems to me, is an enormous and meaningful change in the conversation about achievement and gender. The idea that women whose power is undeniable and exists in traditionally male sectors like banking and politics may stand up and say, for the record and posterity, that clothes matter and require (and deserve) thought is, in my experience, unprecedented.” Vanessa should know, “Friedman was the Fashion Features Director for In Style UK, a position she held since 2000 to 2002. Prior to this, she worked as a Fashion Correspondent for the FT, as an Arts Contributor at The Economist and was the European Editor at Elle (magazine) US. She has also written extensively on a freelance basis for Entertainment Weekly, Vogue magazine, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.” (Wikipedia)

Friedman goes on to say, “what women wear is an embodiment of their voice, and identifying it helps identify their agenda (as it does with men, for that matter).”

So, when I tried to start a conversation about Louisa and the clothes she wears, I wasn’t just making a silly side comment. I really consider her clothes an important feature of her as a woman. I would submit that Louisa is put in dresses that identify her immediately — we see the dress, we know it’s Louisa. (We also identify her through her hair, especially her ponytail.) What do these dresses tell us about her? Is she the rural country woman, quintessentially English because her clothes are filled with flowers and have that classic cut? Do they say independence and individualism are her hallmarks? Are they conservative in that they hark back to Victorian times, or are they merely professional and modest? In S6, Louisa has totally left the blue jeans and sneakers behind and now dresses in more sophisticated versions of her former flowered dresses or even wears a more contemporary look of leggings and jacket with scarf. She has married the doctor who always wears a suit. Perhaps this is a way to mirror him and his social status in the community.

I find it significant and noticeable. Isn’t there anyone else who thinks there is something important going on in terms of Louisa’s clothes?

Originally posted 2014-11-04 17:06:23.

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.

Incongruities and other thoughts

While writing the post on ambiguities it occurred to me that there are several other issues I have with S6. If we’re going to wonder about various scenes and their meanings, I have a few things I’d like to ask:
1. Martin and Louisa have lived together with James for at least 6 months by the time they get married. For all of S5 Martin has very little trouble dealing with their incursion into his life. In fact, he seems to thrive on it, taking JH for a ride in the car to soothe him, taking him to Ruth’s while Louisa sleeps in, keeping him in his office when necessary, etc.. Why would their presence be so problematic now? True, as I’ve previously noted, children’s accessories grow as they grow. The nice thing, however, is babies start sleeping through the night and don’t cry as much, and they can do more.

2. Louisa would like Martin to talk to her, confide in her. But she’s known for a long time that he doesn’t like to talk about very much, especially personal issues. Why would she think that he would start talking more openly just because they’re married? Most of us keep physical or psychological difficulties to ourselves. I would guess that most spouses aren’t aware of their mate’s feelings of anguish over many things. Once she learns of the return of the “blood sensitivity,” she might have been able to coax more out of him. She hasn’t been that willing to talk herself. The difference between them is in degrees, not in substance.

Here are a few things they’ve never told each other:
Martin — his experiences with his parents, his experiences at school, his visits to Portwenn (including whether he had ever heard of Louisa or her family when he visited – or anyone else who has lived there for a long time), his relationship with Edith, and many other details about his likes and dislikes.

Louisa — her life with her parents and in Portwenn, her education in London, her decision to be a teacher and live in Portwenn, whether she ever heard of him staying with Aunt Joan, any hobbies she’s had, e.g. surfing, boating, whatever.

3. After Margaret tells Louisa about Martin crying himself to sleep many nights as a child, why wouldn’t Louisa ask Martin about that? She finds the story disturbing and Margaret’s explanation and excuse unconvincing. Definitely something most women would want to find out more about.

4. It’s a bit odd for Louisa to be aware of Martin’s inability to sleep and not try to talk about it. When she’s worried about Mrs. Tishell’s return, he makes an effort to calm her worries. He even tells her that things are always worse when it’s late. Wouldn’t that have been an opportunity for them to talk about his worries or at least given her reason to ask him some other time?

5. Louisa talks to Ruth about Mrs. Tishell. Why wouldn’t she ask Ruth about Margaret and Martin’s childhood? After all, Ruth has told her that she often “overshares.”

I am also going on record with some thoughts I have about S7. These are based on what has already been included in the show and in no particular order:
1. There will be some medical emergency that brings Louisa and Martin together. It might be something with James or maybe with Ruth.
2. Eleanor could return to disrupt their lives again. Now that Margaret’s gone, Eleanor could make a reappearance.
3. There will certainly be some shenanigans at the B&B Ruth and Al establish.
4. They obviously have to find some other childcare arrangements. There could be someone from an agency who comes and might even be a “supernanny” type, who would rub both of them wrong. We’ve had on OCD nanny; they might go the other way and have a nanny who is good with James but leaves things in disarray. This could be true whether or not they are living together.
5. As far as I’m concerned Mrs. T has become a caricature and should never have come back at all. By the end of S6 she was no longer funny; she had become a total nut case. I don’t know how they would explain it, but despite Selina Caddell’s great acting, Mrs. T’s character has run its course and should not return. Jenny could then take over the pharmacy and be a different source of irritation for Martin. (I assume Jenny and Bert will marry, but that is not entirely definite. Hopefully any marriage will be simple. We don’t need another wedding with ancillary events. They could get married sometime on their own.)
6. I can imagine many funny scenarios that involve James and his development. What about Martin finding fault with the pediatrician they take James to? There are all sorts of toys that Martin could put together for James now that he’s shown his capacity for figuring out directions to construct the crib. James will start to talk too and be more mobile.
7. They will go to a marriage counselor and that will have all sorts of repercussions, some funny, some disruptive, some affectionate.
8. I recently read a BBC news story that could be used. James Henry’s crying had kept up the neighbors in S5, perhaps their household could be disrupted by new neighbors.
9. I feel certain that there will be a lot of strife between Martin and Louisa in the early episodes of S7, hopefully with more humor included. But I feel just as certain that by the final episode there will be a convincing reconciliation that will end the show with us all thinking that this couple will stay together. And I am just enough of a romantic (and a fan of Sara Bareilles’ music) to suggest the last tune played on the show should be her “I Choose You.” Lyrics
Plus, I could choreograph a Zumba dance to this!! It’s not a tango. It’s considered pop-rock, but it’s got such a good beat I think it makes listeners want to dance and, more importantly, its words express what this couple should be saying to each other. Caroline Catz could sing it, although I think much of the sentiment would be better said by ME. (I’d love to hear CC sing even if she just sings songs to JH.)

Originally posted 2014-10-04 10:57:25.

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.

In defense of Louisa, S6

To my way of thinking there have been too many comments about how Louisa has deteriorated in S6 and that she has become very harsh and angry. I want to look at things from her perspective a bit and defend her based on how she has been portrayed in this series and throughout the entire length of the show. I’ve given a pretty full assessment of Louisa in my post Women’s Issues, Part 1, and I’ve mentioned more about her in a follow-up post Women’s Issues, series 6. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to say more because I continue to read remarks to the effect that Louisa is expecting too much from and demanding too much of Martin.

Yes, she went into the marriage knowing that Martin is a difficult man and hard to talk to sometimes (to paraphrase Martin’s self-appraisal at the end of S5). She certainly knows that he can ruin intimate moments and is not the most romantic (not mister hearts and flowers). And we have no idea what happened between them following his confession of love and expressed intention to change at the end of S5 and the wedding at the beginning of S6. We have to assume that things were going well in their relationship or they wouldn’t have decided to get married.

So Louisa starts the marriage with reason to believe she and Martin are now on a better track. He looks at her lovingly throughout the wedding events, he expresses certainty that he wants to be married, and even after a tough night they both appear on the same wavelength – the night was difficult but they handled everything well together and they continue to look at each other fondly after reaching home the next morning. What happens next is a series of typical marital squabbles over child care, her wishes for him to be more engaged in her world and in the community, and the juggling of time demands when both parents work. Of course his mantra is that her life would be easier if she stopped working. She doesn’t see it that way and his regular reiterating of that is really upsetting to her, and many women should relate. Some of the stress would be relieved – child care concerns, the mixed emotions of being apart from her baby while she deals with school issues and meetings, possibly household needs. But other stressors would appear – loss of standing in the community, loss of self-respect, loss of her sense of purpose, perhaps a lack of direction in her life. Louisa is presented as needing all of these and shouldn’t be forced to give them up.

Meanwhile, some of the changes in their home life have started to affect Martin even though he wants to help with JH and tries to engage in more activities with L. He has adapted to JH and being awakened at night during S5, and he’s been capable of taking care of the baby when L is out or when childcare difficulties arise. But the older James gets, the more toys there are and the more noise too. I understand that these new conditions would require difficult adjustments for M, but they come gradually and we all generally adapt because it all benefits the child and makes our lives easier in the long run.

But Martin, more than most men, is very closed off to his wife. When she kisses him goodbye and tells him she’ll miss him, he’s very uncomfortable and doesn’t respond in kind. When she comes home at the end of her work day and says she missed being with both James and Martin, he tells her he did fine without her. When she kisses him goodnight after they get into bed, he accepts her kiss, but does not reciprocate. When she asks him nicely to take some time off to go away with her and James, he refuses and uses the excuse that he has a responsibility to his patients. He confesses to Ruth that his blood sensitivity has returned, but doesn’t tell Louisa. She knows he’s having trouble sleeping, but nothing she tries helps (e.g. lavender oil, magazine, offering to talk). When she can’t sleep because she’s worried about Mrs. T returning, he recommends going to bed because “everything seems worse [when it’s late].” But it’s not as though he takes his own advice. His mother arrives and he never tells L anything about their history or about their conversations while she’s been there. He agrees to attend the Sports Day event when he should have turned it down because he was never really interested but couldn’t tell Louisa honestly. We can argue about whether agreeing to do the awards was him trying to be helpful or whether he was going along to get along, but for me L was right to think he would approve of encouraging students to exercise. She is aware that their home life has been growing more difficult, but she could never have imagined that he would behave borderline antagonistic towards her. She had offered to find someone else, which I see as an effort to give him a way out, but he’s there in front of his mother and possibly unwilling to look uncooperative to either his mother or L.

Expecting Louisa to curtail her own emotions, be understanding of his without any willingness on his part to divulge his feelings to her, and to either stop her own activities or reduce her own effort to do her job well, is a lot to ask. Without any input from him and any attempt to give her some insight into what he’s going through, L cannot know how to interpret his rejection of her. If your new husband appears to be turning away from you within a few months of getting married, you can’t possibly be blamed for being devastated and upset. She’s confused, hurt, angry, disillusioned, worried, etc., etc. Give her a break!

Originally posted 2014-03-17 12:07:19.

Strong women leads

I just wanted to slip in a post written by Frank Bruni in last Sunday’s NYTimes about Hollywood and its mixed feelings about strong female leading roles because I am impressed with all the strong women in DM and hope to see more opportunities for women of all ages to take the lead in films as well as TV shows.

Originally posted 2013-12-28 19:18:37.

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:
-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 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.

If You’re Happy and You Know it

The theme of Louisa needing to be happy returns in E1, E2 and again in E3 when Louisa tells Martin she’s not unhappy as they head to the church for the wedding, next when Martin asks if Louisa is happy that JH is in a daycare setting and then when he asks her if pursuing the idea of becoming a child therapist will make her happy. These three moments relate in kind to what I see as the times when Louisa can be identified as being happy.

I have written many times about the concept of happiness, the inborn desire most humans have to be happy, and how nations have written the importance of happiness into their laws. This time I want to approach the subject of happiness from another angle, a much more practical one. Now that we have heard Martin claim to care very little about his own happiness, or at least found the notion of happiness to be overrated, and Louisa note in S6 that she’s not happy and isn’t making Martin happy either, I am going to stick to the show to see how we can make heads or tails out of this.

We know that being happy is important to Louisa, but what do we think makes her happy? By all appearances she was very happy when Martin first asked her for a date and walked off with a bounce in her step, but she was also enjoying herself with Mark at the local dance. She was quite happy when Martin asked her to marry him and she told all of her colleagues. She has also appeared happy when she told off Adrian Pitts at the hospital, when she thought she had found a solution to Roger Fenn’s employment issue, when she and Danny were stepping out together (although that was complicated by the likelihood that she was trying to make Martin jealous), at various moments when she worked with some of the students (e.g. Peter Cronk, some group events, and finally with Astrid), and when she was hired as the headmistress for the school. She was quite pleased after Martin told her he thought she’d make a fine mother (when they were dealing with Anthony Oakwood and his family next-door to her), and when he gave her the engagement ring. Another prominent time when she appeared happy was when she returned home after an evening out with friends to find Martin having a nice moment with James. There have been several occasions with James when she displayed pleasure at being around him. One that stands out in my memory is in S6 when she and Martin are getting ready in the morning and she sets James down on the bed while telling him he’s gorgeous.

When we distill these moments we are left with Louisa mostly being depicted as happy in response to Martin and related matters, and to some degree with James, and to an even smaller extent when she is involved with students. She has very few friends despite having spent most of her life in Portwenn. Pippa and Caroline (the radio personality) have at times acted as friends, she has seen Danny as a friend and perhaps Roger, but otherwise her friends have come from outside of Portwenn, e.g. Holly and Isobel. It may be hard to include friends in a show like this since that means adding more characters, nevertheless, it is unfortunate that Louisa doesn’t have a confidant or a mother with whom she has regular interactions. If she did, we might know more about her inner thoughts. We got more of those when her mother was around. (BTW, it seems a bit strange that after she spends some time in Spain with her mother while thinking about her marriage to Martin, she has never mentioned her mother again.)

Apparently she is looking for happiness in her close family circle which mostly consists of Martin and James. Apart from that she is anxious to find an outside job that can fulfill her and allow her time at home. She had thought she could get that from being headmistress at the local school, but even that seems to be too demanding of her time. The fact is that being in charge of a school, even in a small village, requires that she deal with all sorts of difficulties encountered by her students as well as filling in for absentee teachers. (I can vouch for the reality of that because my daughter is a principal of a private elementary school and that is exactly what she does all year long.) It’s hard to know if being a child therapist would give her more time at home, but we’re about to find out what it might take to reach that point. In a nutshell, to the best of our knowledge she derives happiness most from her immediate family and from her abilities as a teacher.

Martin may say he isn’t concerned about being happy, but his words are a cover-up for actually needing happiness in his life after all. I say this because when he is rebuffed by Louisa after the concert, he has a sleepless night, can’t concentrate at work, and ultimately proposes to her by telling her he can’t bear to be without her. This sort of reaction recurs several more times throughout the series, e.g. when she is giving birth to their baby, when they rescue James from Mrs. T, and when he operates on her AVM. It’s crystal clear that he needs her in his life. One could argue that the entire S7 is about him being miserable without her (and James). If he’s miserable without her, does that mean he’s happy with her? Well, he’s not unhappy.

We also see him almost smile at times when she kisses him, even if the kiss is only a small peck on the cheek, or when he takes her hand as they’re walking.

We can’t expect too much expression of emotion from this self-contained man because that’s not how they have developed his character nor how MC wants to portray him. However, in his own way we know he’s at least content that Louisa isn’t going anywhere. At this point I would argue he has decided that keeping her happy is what is important to him and what the therapy has convinced him he should do, and he is following many of Dr. Timoney’s recommendations. He is scheduling dates with Louisa; he is empowering her to be in charge by agreeing to the day care, accepting the Rota she prepares, and agreeing to keep the dog; and he is making some effort to be more social. It remains hard for him to stifle his tendency to act superior, but again this would be out of character.

Like Louisa, what makes him as happy as he can get is being with his family. He has no friends unless we count Morwenna and Al. He gets a sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction out of diagnosing and treating the various medical cases he’s presented with, but the only real sense of pleasure or subtle joy comes after he has given Louisa something to gladden her (think deciding to name the baby James Henry).

Ultimately, therefore, I have reached the conclusion that both Louisa and Martin are depicted as finding happiness in their own family unit. We could also say they both find fulfillment in a job well done, which often means helping others. It is also for this reason that I think they are compatible as a couple. Would it be nice to see them get involved in an activity that they could both enjoy? Sure. Will they? Probably unlikely, although I think that would open up all sorts of humorous situations.

[Dale, I hope this post is what you were hoping for. If not, please feel free to give us your thoughts.]