Category Archives: writing

Showing Up Out Of the Blue

In Doc Martin there are many people who appear on Martin’s doorstep unannounced. Or Martin appears at someone’s home unexpectedly. I love it when Louisa asks Martin if his mother has ever shown up out of the blue before. Louisa does it all the time!

This sort of event is called an “Inciting Incident” by Robert McKee (you know, the writer of Story, the book I’ve referred to before). We also see these incidents on occasion with other characters, e.g. Joan, Edith, Ruth, Mrs. Tishell, and Bert.

McKee notes that an Inciting Incident must radically upset the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life. Next the protagonist must respond to the Inciting Incident.  “The protagonist responds to the sudden negative or positive change in the balance of his life in whatever way is appropriate to character and world.” However, our protagonist will always want to restore balance. Lastly, the Inciting Incident “propels the protagonist into an active pursuit of this object or goal…But for those protagonists we tend to admire the most, the Inciting Incident arouses not only a conscious desire but an unconscious one as well. These complex characters suffer intense inner battles because these two desires are in direct conflict with each other.”

In DM the person who appears out of the blue on Martin’s doorstep, or to be more accurate, Martin’s kitchen door, is Louisa. Every time she does this we can call it an inciting incident because she always upsets the balance of his life. There are several times when Louisa appears that make the largest impact on him and I thought I would use these as the best examples.

In S7 the location is different because now she is living in the surgery building. By E3, however, she has appeared unexpectedly at Martin’s front door and completed the act of unbalancing his life again. By the end of E3, he is poised to leave at the front door to the surgery when she stops him hoping to reach out to him in her own noncommittal way. When he doesn’t stop long enough, she runs after him and leaves him much more hopeful by offering to do couple’s counseling with him. This series is the “Louisa in Charge” show, although maybe she’s been in that position the whole time.

For this post I wanted to highlight the times when Louisa’s unanticipated appearance incites imbalance and results in Martin pursuing a return to equipoise. I’m sure the examples I choose will not necessarily coincide with ones you would have chosen, and I hope you will add your views to mine. Also, I am aware that Louisa has shown up unannounced on other occasions outside the surgery, and some of those occasions could be considered destabilizing as well. Here I’m trying to pick out the times that are of major significance.

The first consequential time Louisa appears unannounced at his door is when she brings Allison by to apologize. When she knocks on the back door, Martin is mislead into thinking that she has come alone and is pleasantly surprised. She succeeds in making clear to him that she thinks Allison owes him her child’s life. She sends Allison out so that she can have a few moments alone with him. During that time she tells him she wants to stay, to which he responds affirmatively, thinking she means for a visit. What she really means is she wants to remain his patient, and he’s a little disappointed in the misinterpretation; however, she also approaches him and they have a close, personal encounter with a discussion of what they see for themselves in the future and she expresses her own doubts about her plans. Everything that happens after she shows up puts him off balance. He has to answer Allison and accept her apology; he agrees to allow Louisa to stay, whether it’s for a visit or as a patient (although we know he would welcome a visit); and her decision to step close to him and ask him about his plans for the future forces him to confront those in a way he hasn’t before.

The next time that I would call an inciting incident is when Louisa shows up wearing her wedding gown but carrying a letter telling him she has decided not to marry him. She apprises him that the letter says she loves him, but that he wouldn’t make her happy. Although he has also come to the conclusion that marrying isn’t the best decision at this point, her appearance flusters him. He follows her outside, digesting what they have just chosen to do, and watches as she walks away. His pursuit of Louisa has upended his life, but now their decision to part ways is just as disruptive to him. It’s a life-altering moment that once again must make him think about what he will do with his future.

I have to follow that unannounced appearance with the one that begins S4 when Louisa returns to Portwenn pregnant. Here he is just getting his life back in order, with a tinge of regret and forlornness, when in she pops to turn everything upside down again. As in the last scene of S3, Martin watches as Louisa walks away, carrying her suitcase and his baby. It doesn’t get any more unsettling than that!

The last occasion when Louisa shows up out of the blue to cause a marked upheaval is her arrival back in Portwenn in S7E2. I think we are supposed to believe that Martin was expecting her back; however, her arrival pushing James in his stroller while pulling her bag behind her is timed to put him off balance. It’s rare to find the waiting room as crowded and chaotic as in that scene. With so many townspeople there, and Martin unaware that Louisa is back, the shock for him is evident. He recovers fairly quickly, and he wants her there, but we know that Louisa’s return is going to unbalance his life once again.

Margaret’s appearance out of the blue is certainly one that we should count. Previously Joan has thrown him when she appears with a casserole after his disastrous concert date with Louisa. Then there’s Ruth coming to Joan’s funeral and bringing a new force into his life. And we can’t forget Edith and all of her unplanned visits.

Martin has been known to arrive unannounced at times himself. He surprises Joan in the first episode and has shown up at Ruth’s door without warning as well. I would call these inciting incidents too because they lead to significant changes in his life.

There are other times I can think of when the unplanned arrival of one person or another drives the plot, e.g. John Slater, Danny, Eleanor. All of these are inciting incidents that are frequently used to great effect by bringing imbalance to the main protagonists.

Originally posted 2015-09-25 11:36:19.

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.

Essential Elements of Story

Even though I may be seen as a downer to those who like to treat these characters as if they are real people having responses to each other and to situations as though they are actually going through these events, this post is going to attempt to reveal the method every show (or film), including “Doc Martin,” uses if it expects to be successful. We are watching characters act in particular ways because they are being manipulated by the writers to achieve a specific reaction. Sure, they are supposed to be believable and appear as though they are people we could meet and become friends with. However, no matter how much we care about what their relationship with their mothers was like when they were children, or what their psychological circumstances are, we should somewhere keep in mind that we are engaging in the suspension of disbelief for the sake of enjoying a good story. By that I mean we are allowing ourselves to be drawn into the story of these characters for a certain length of time knowing they are symbolic figures and will not necessarily follow the likely path that would occur if they were operating in the real world.

A Handbook to Literature, basically the bible for understanding literary terminology, distinguishes story from plot. Significantly for our purposes, the Handbook states, “the plot lies in relations among episodes…it is, therefore, a guiding principle for the author and an ordering control for the reader….Since the plot consists of characters performing actions in incidents that comprise a ‘single, whole, and complete’ ACTION, this relation involves conflict between opposing forces. Without conflict, without opposition, plot does not exist…This opposition knits one INCIDENT to another and dictates the causal pattern that develops the struggle. This struggle…comes to a head in some incident — the CRISIS — that forms the turning point of the STORY and usually marks the moment of greatest SUSPENSE. In this climactic EPISODE the RISING ACTION comes to a termination and the FALLING ACTION begins; and as a result of this incident some DÉNOUEMENT or CATASTROPHE is bound to follow.”

The next comment it makes is most important: “Plot is, in this sense, an artificial rather than a natural ordering of events. Its function is to simplify life by imposing order thereon…Plot brings order out of life; it selects only one or two emotions out of a dozen, one or two conflicts out of hundreds, only one or two or three people out of thousands, and a half dozen EPISODES from possible millions. In this sense it focuses and clarifies life.”

Furthermore, the Handbook tells us: “The most effective incidents are those springing naturally from the given characters, the most effective plot, from this point of view is to translate CHARACTER into ACTION.”

Here we have the fundamentals of writing a strong plot that create the link between author (writer) and reader (viewer). All good stories contain these elements and we can certainly see how they work in each episode of “Doc Martin” as well as each series. Because DM has evolved into a story about the relationship woes between Martin and Louisa, which I think was inevitable and should have been obvious from the moment they portrayed them conflicting in S1E1, they have developed plots based on these conflicting characters. They are the primary players in the series and, for the most part, the other characters are important only insofar as they impact these two.

Another source I like to use is Robert McKee’s Story , a book written by a prominent teacher of screenwriting. I took his grueling seminar about ten years ago and so have many famous writers for screen, including Peter Jackson, William Goldman, Quincy Jones, Kirk Douglas, and many more. When I took his course in NYC, Faye Dunaway was also in attendance. For our purposes, his elucidation of story in his book that I want to quote is: “The grand difference between story and life is that in story we cast out the minutiae of daily existence in which human beings take actions expecting a certain enabling reaction from the world and, more or less, get what they expect. In story we concentrate on that moment, and only that moment, in which a character takes an action expecting a useful reaction from his world, but instead the effect of his action is to provoke forces of antagonism. The world of the character reacts differently than expected, more powerfully than expected, or both.”

Since probably my favorite episode is S6E1, I want to use it to illustrate the above elements. I will describe what I see as the plot points that are employed and note how the writers, et. al. select these scenes out of all the ones they could have chosen from Real life.

We can start at the very beginning. It’s Martin and Louisa’s wedding day, but we don’t know this immediately because the first scene is Martin doing a gynecological exam on the green grocer. But wait, we left off S5 with him and Louisa walking together hand in hand. What’s happened between that moment and this one? How much time has transpired? Martin treats this patient the way he typically has treated most patients in the past and she, somehow, doesn’t know it’s his wedding day. But, we have no objections once we find out that’s where he’s going next.

We still don’t know where Louisa is or how long it’s been since we last saw them together. However, that’s about to become clearer once Martin changes his clothes and gets into the taxi. Wait…where is he going in a taxi looking so serious? Why isn’t he driving his Lexus? Don’t ask. Just suspend your disbelief some more because he’s greeted by the crew once he steps out of the taxi and we are more interested in knowing that he is at the church to be married to Louisa. Now we see JH for the first time in S6 and we can tell that he’s older, probably 5-6 months old. If we bother to think about it, we can now say it’s been about 4 months since we left them walking away from the Castle.

Once again Louisa is not there, and the likelihood is that her delay is meant to remind us of the aborted wedding plans from S3. There’s a little suspense while we wait for her to appear. In that period, we may notice that Ruth and baby James are the only family members in attendance. If it’s been 4 months since the last series, Louisa’s mother Elinor would have been back from any trip she took and could have been invited to the wedding. Why isn’t she there? Well, my view is that reintroducing her in this series only brings in plot points they don’t want or need. Besides, later in the series we hear Martin say his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth. They are neatly packaged in this first episode as such and it never occurs to us to wonder where Elinor is. In real life, there would probably be much more difficulty keeping her out of the picture. After all, Louisa had made peace with Elinor by the end of S5 and accepted her mother’s need to head off on more adventures. Why wouldn’t she want her mother at her wedding? However, it’s only at the end of S6 that Louisa decides to visit her mother in Spain and mentions her again. Have they spoken during the past few months? Has Louisa sought Elinor’s advice or sympathy while dealing with Martin and his mother? That’s not important to this plot and not included.

Louisa does show up, claiming that her hair delayed her (a funny excuse that could be a reference to how much brides fuss about their hair). The wedding proceeds without Elinor, but with humorous comments by the vicar and the usual missteps, and the reception that follows is filled with the many secondary characters behaving in ways we’ve come to expect and enjoy. Penhale makes a speech that is laudatory but gets interrupted by Bert, who wants the event to move along. Bert has already sampled the food and found it deficient, and Morwenna has been used as a link between Martin and Louisa and led us to the dancing scene. Meanwhile, Chippy Miller has approached Martin with a medical problem while Martin is admiring Louisa and possibly marveling at/internalizing having Louisa as a wife. Would a patient do this at a real wedding. I hope not! But it happens here because it’s part of the plot of the show to have patients come up to ask Martin for advice at the oddest times. It also prompts Martin to seek out Louisa and suggest leaving.

At this moment, the music begins and everyone expects them to dance. They have their dance, with a few minor glitches, and decide to slip out to avoid any shenanigans by Bert. Somehow most of the guests don’t notice they are leaving, and they make it outside with the baby in hand. However, again somehow the important characters are out there before they show up and are ready to encourage them to spend a night at a lodge. Ruth is sure she can handle the baby for one night, their bags have been secretly packed, and they are whisked off with Bert driving. No mess, no fuss. Martin didn’t have a car to worry about anyway and no one gives it another thought.

Along the route to the lodge they pass the man they will later encounter in the woods. Here he is holding some animal over his shoulder and follows the car with his eyes as it passes him. They, too, see him, and he may give them a few misgivings because of his inhospitable appearance. We also see a horse that figures in a later scene. (At night when they hear someone yelling in the woods, they don’t think of him and, when they come upon his caravan, they don’t appear to recognize him, or him them.)  Perhaps they originally set this up so that they would remember each other and then ditched it. Primarily, though, the effect is to let us know that where they are going is isolated and wild. They don’t mention any of this to each other so we have no idea what they’re thinking; we can only use their faces as a guide and Louisa looks a little uncomfortable.

Of course, they make it to the lodge where they have no phone reception and shouldn’t need it if the night goes as planned. Needless to say, it doesn’t, and Martin decides to head out to find a phone they can use. The reality is that they actually would have had trouble getting phone reception out there (or in town for that matter), but wouldn’t he have been better off retracing the route Bert used to bring them to the lodge? That’s what most people would do, but for this plot they need him to head into the woods. It turns out they spend the entire night in the woods, entering it and exiting it during daylight. (The nights in Cornwall are shorter than in some other places, but that would still mean spending at least 6 hours in the dark.) Do we care how long they’ve been in the woods? Not really.

Once they enter the woods, Martin and Louisa begin to disagree. She thinks he’s going the wrong way and he’s sure he knows what he’s doing. They have a confrontation with the horse that leads to Louisa making fun of Martin. But the CONFLICT between them reaches its height when they arrive at the brook and Louisa refuses to walk across it. In my opinion it is at this point where a CRISIS develops. Even though Martin suggests that he carry Louisa across, they have a heated argument over how their honeymoon plans had been determined and by the time they reach the other side of the water, Louisa’s anger level is raised to a point that she tells Martin he never understands anything and she says, “you’re right, this was a mistake.” She appears to mean spending the night at the lodge, but we could also consider her to be making a remark about getting married at all. Nevertheless, their encounter with the caravan owner brings them together by motivating them to defend each other to him and by using the plot device of having them work together to tend to the damage to the man’s carotid artery that was caused by broken glass from the awning falling on him. The dénouement has been reached, catastrophe averted, and all ends rather harmoniously as they walk up the dirt road pushing the man in a wheelbarrow.

We don’t know how they got the wheelbarrow, how they made it to the road, and when the sun arose, and we don’t need to know. We also don’t know what transpires between the time they hail the truck that fortuitously appears on the road at that moment and when they are back in their house. It’s not important for the plot. The episode ends with more of the typical mayhem during which the kitchen is once again filled with the main characters of the story plus the appearance of a patient at a most unpropitious time accompanied by the barking dog. We know, however, that their marriage is on a good footing at this point because they find a moment to speak to each other quietly and decide together what they plan to do next.

We could be tempted to fill in the gaps, and often that is exactly what fan fiction does, but for the purposes of the show, they are left open and should be. As McKee writes: “The substance of story is the gap that splits open between what a human being expects to happened when he takes an action and what really does happen; the rift between expectation and result, probability and necessity. To build a scene, we constantly break open these breaches in reality.” In addition, he states, “the source of the energy in story… [is]…the gap. The audience empathizes with the character, vicariously seeking his desire. It more or less expects the world to react the way the character expects. When the gap opens for character, it opens for the audience. This is the ‘Oh, my God!’ moment, the ‘Oh, no!’ or ‘Oh yes!’ you’ve experienced again and again in well-crafted stories.”

There’s nothing better than getting taken away by the plot of a story in which you identify with the characters and empathize with them. My goal in writing this post is not to diminish that in any way. However, I struggle with going too far and developing detailed backstories for our protagonists. Much of what we see on our screens was never meant to be taken to that extent. In fact, if we get too deep into concocting childhood events that may have led to one or another behavior as an adult, I think we may suck all the enjoyment out of simply going along with the story. We wouldn’t want that to happen!

Originally posted 2015-08-16 14:40:02.

Time and Tide (apologies to Basia)

Recently on Facebook Santa decided to post her ideas of how S7 will progress. That led to a series of posts that made attempts at determining when certain scenes between Martin and Louisa take place and what they might indicate in terms of their relationship. As you all know by now, I am averse to speculating and like to depend on evidence whenever I analyze the show. As a result, I decided to see whether there is anything worthwhile I can contribute to this discussion. I am doing this on the blog because I prefer to express myself here and my post will be much longer than anything I would want to say on Facebook.

The two issues that seem to be of concern are when does the series begin and when do this couple appear to be getting along better. I have now gone back through the first episodes and final episodes of each series, and if history is prologue, there is a pattern that can be identified.

I realize they don’t have to stick with any time patterns. Nevertheless, I think there is a way to pin down their typical methodology. Also, I thought I would see if there is a pattern to how the Martin/Louisa relationship has been handled throughout the 6 series we’ve already viewed. One thing we know is they consistently set up reasons that cause them to separate from each other only to be drawn together again, most often through some sort of medical emergency. But maybe there’s a little more to it than that.

Let’s begin with the time passage between series: Most of the series begin very soon after the conclusion of the previous one. The shortest amount of time passage between series occurs between S4 and S5 where S5 begins the same day as S4 ended. Louisa has given birth at the pub at the end of S4 and S5 begins in the hospital where they went for her to be properly checked. The longest passage of time takes place between S3 and S4 because Louisa has moved to London following their decision not to marry. She returns in the first episode of S4 6 months pregnant which means she was gone for approximately 5 months. She must have been pregnant the day of the wedding and did not know it. The wedding is supposed to have been planned for three weeks after they first sleep together.

This gives us an expectation that S7 will be likely to fall between same day and around 5 months after S6 ended. Because Louisa has just had AVM surgery and is still recovering from a broken clavicle, we would expect her to need help at home. We know that Michael has turned himself into the army authorities and that leaves them without help at home with James Henry. We also know that Louisa has time off from school responsibilities at the time of her AVM surgery because she had planned use her school break to visit her mother in Spain before Martin retrieved her from the plane. If the first time we see Louisa is truly the picture we see in the iTV preview of shows for their Fall season, she is no longer wearing a sling and the sunglasses on her head seem to indicate she has been somewhere sunny. In my opinion, she would have had to have gone back home with Martin from the hospital, had a few days prior to feeling up to traveling, and spent some of that time talking about their plans. Perhaps Martin took a few days off from work to help with James. It would make sense to me that Louisa would want to keep her plan to fly to Spain to see her mother because her mother could help with James, she could be in a warm setting, and she could have time to think while Martin gets back to work. In addition there’s a likelihood that while she’s away, Martin’s mission was to find someone to take care of James once she and James return. That would mean that she had plans to return all along.

Except when Louisa leaves for London after their first wedding plans are canceled, Louisa has never left work. Being the headmistress at the school in Portwenn is what she wants to do with her time. Thus, she would be likely to want to return pretty soon. I could imagine that, due to her injuries, she was allowed to take more time off than the school break might have been, but she would be anxious to get back to work.

I would also have to guess that she knows that Martin has found a new child minder who will start upon Louisa’s return. It seems logical that she would not want to move back in with Martin immediately even though he wants her to. To me, it also is a good sign that Martin offers to have her stay in the surgery while he lives elsewhere. As others have said, having her in the surgery is a smart choice on his part because he knows he’ll see her fairly frequently. I also noted online that his decision to move instead of having her leave would be seen by her as very thoughtful and would be a touching gesture.

After that they have decided to find a therapist and seek marriage guidance. It seems clear that there will be many helpful suggestions by the therapist but also some things that go wrong. If it went smoothly we would all be suspicious and we would not recognize these characters.

Of course there are many secondary stories throughout the series, some of which involve medical emergencies. The medical emergencies that matter to this discussion are the ones that bring Martin and Louisa together. In every previous series we can easily pinpoint the medical emergencies that reunite this couple.

S1: Peter Cronk must be rushed to hospital for ruptured spleen. Martin and Louisa ride with Peter in the ambulance and spend the night waiting to find out if he’s all right. Despite Martin looking pleased that Louisa is with him, and despite Louisa running back into the hospital to tell off Adrian Pitts, Martin spoils their kiss during  the taxi ride home and Louisa throws him out of the car. This combination initiates what becomes the typical sequence for them: affection followed by some inappropriate comment by Martin that leads to Louisa being insulted and offended.

S2: We have two endings to this series but both work equally well with this pattern. In “Erotomania,” a medical condition he has while drinking wine causes Martin to fall asleep in the middle of kissing Louisa and just after telling her he loves her. She affectionately covers him and touches the back of his head when she leaves. I suppose calling this a medical emergency is a little strong, but the effect wine has on Martin is related to something medical. He ruins the incident the next day when she brings him something for a hangover and expresses love for him only to be accused by him of stalking. In “On the Edge,,” the baker falls down a cliffside and Martin must save him by drilling a hole in his skull to alleviate the pressure from a head injury. During the episode this couple have been tied together and forced to deal with a disturbed man, but it’s after the scene with the baker and Martin’s climb back to safety that Louisa is tender with him again. She wipes the blood on his cheek and is obviously worried about him. Martin has previously angered Louisa by insulting her father in an inappropriate manner.

S3: The first episode contains a medical emergency that brings them together. This time it’s Allison’s daughter Delph who is the catalyst. The episode ends with Louisa and Martin having a personal conversation and Louisa wanting him to be her doctor again. Of course, S3 is the one in which they have the concert date that ends with him ruining another kiss but then Louisa’s friend Holly falls and injures herself and redeems the relationship. Another medical emergency occurs when Louisa’s friend Isobel goes into labor unexpectedly and Martin and Louisa join together to deliver the baby. This time, however, the emergency delivery does not bring these two much luck. Louisa continues to be impressed with Martin’s medical skills, but the series ends with them parting ways.

S4: The most significant medical emergency in this series is Tommy’s methanol poisoning. Martin’s concern for finding Tommy and saving his life is accompanied by his even greater desire to make sure Louisa is safe. His pressing need to find Louisa ends with the delivery of their baby and one of the most passionate scenes of the show.

S5: Mrs. Tishell’s mental breakdown provides the situation that unites Louisa and Martin. Martin finally expresses his love for Louisa and she is comforted by his pledge to always love her.

S6: The most important medical emergency is the AVM surgery, although Louisa’s collision with a car shocks Martin out of his obstinate mood. They have some tender moments in the hospital in both cases. (The first episode of S6 uses an injury to the caravan owner to bring them together after they argue over how to get to the road and what Louisa might have liked for a honeymoon.)

S7: From what I can tell from pictures, there is a likelihood that Ruth suffers some medical emergency sometime early in the series. We also know that there is a scene in which the therapist has a car wreck and the nanny loses control of the stroller with James Henry in it. My sense is that neither of  these events leads to any serious outcome. Ruth appears again later in the series and the therapist and JH are not badly injured; however, I can easily imagine that Louisa and Martin would come together at these occasions. They probably incorporate these scenes as a way to follow the pattern they established in S1.

Using medical emergencies as a vehicle to unify these two gives Martin a chance to demonstrate his medical skills, which are the most confidence and strength building for him, while making clear to Louisa how much she admires him and finds him reassuring under particular stressful circumstances. In S7 the therapy sessions also bring them together, both while being seen by the therapist and when they unite to terminate the sessions.

When I looked back through these series, I was reminded of two important comments made by Louisa. The first was at the end of S3E1 when she tells Martin she worries about everything and what she’s doing with her life. The second was after the baby is born in S4E8 and she tells the baby “You’ll get used to him eventually.” The first remark gives us insight into her mindset and makes us aware that she isn’t nearly as confident as she acts. This scene is one of the few when she expresses her doubts to anyone. Maybe we’ll see more of that in therapy or as a result of therapy. The second makes clear that she knows Martin isn’t easy to be around, but that she plans to stay with him long enough for the baby to get used to him. I would expect that to mean far past the baby’s first year.

Martin has already been willing to admit that he needs help and has previously conceded that he’s made mistakes with Louisa. We shouldn’t forget that all of the preceding series lead up to this one and build on each other. I do not expect Louisa to ask for a divorce in S7 nor do I think she will be able to stop interacting with Martin for long. They may live separately, but Portwenn is too small and their lives too intertwined for them to avoid each other. Also, we have scenes with them doing things together early in the series. I think Martin Clunes is being sincere when he says they are going to find a way to get this couple back together again in this series. I know the going will be rocky, and that’s part of the fun, but I am looking forward to seeing how they set it up. I look forward to a series that brings back the humor, the awkwardness, and the miscommunications, but that ultimately includes affectionate scenes and a reconciliation.

Originally posted 2015-08-08 15:48:29.

More on Emotions and How They Work

In our continuing effort to learn about emotions and consider all the implications involved with emotions, I thought I would mention another article I recently read. This time the article has to do with the movie “Inside Out” currently in theaters, but which I haven’t had a chance to see yet. I have my grandsons staying with me and plan to take them to see the movie sometime this week. I’ve heard only good things about it, which is remarkable in itself!

The article is written by two professors of psychology who have studied emotions for decades and were asked to be consultants on the film. I’ll let them do the talking here:

“‘Inside Out’ is about how five emotions — personified as the characters Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy — grapple for control of the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley during the tumult of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco…Riley’s personality is principally defined by Joy, and this is fitting with what we know scientifically. Studies find that our identities are defined by specific emotions, which shape how we perceive the world, how we express ourselves and the responses we evoke in others.

But the real star of the film is Sadness, for “Inside Out” is a film about loss and what people gain when guided by feelings of sadness…the movie’s portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.

First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations. But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation.”

(This last paragraph reinforces what I once wrote about emotions in my post of 7/03/2014 titled “The Rational v. The Emotional.”  In that post I came to the conclusion that no matter how much we try to be rational, emotions govern our lives and our decisions. I also asserted that emotions are at the root of all behavior and cannot be extricated from the rational.)

In addition, the professors argue that “sadness prompts people to unite in response to loss” and that we should embrace sadness. If we apply this assertion to Martin and Louisa (and they were in the real world), we might be relieved because they have been overcome by a great deal of sadness during S6. The losses they have had to contend with include loss of independence, loss of autonomy, loss of private space, and perhaps the loss that results from the final cutting of ties to one’s mother despite knowing that she is despicable. Louisa would count the loss of affection and the feeling that she is loved by her husband. There may be additional loss ahead in S7; however, these losses, and the concomitant sadness, may lead to the sort of united response we would like to see.

As we saw in the previous post, sadness is a core emotion that can lead to a sense of relief and clarity. Wouldn’t it be nice if the sadness both Martin and Louisa have been experiencing could expedite a period of clarity followed by a stronger bond between them?

Originally posted 2015-07-14 21:13:15.

Is Martin Depressed?

I am ready to return to posts about the many topics of interest we have explored previously. The first subject I find fascinating is whether we are correct in diagnosing ME as suffering from Major Depressive Disorder. Of course, the reason I came to this question is by reading an article in the NYTimes in March that mentions accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy. This type of therapy is new to me, although the therapists in our group may be familiar with it. The article is intriguing, however, because of the example used.

The patient in the article had been diagnosed with intractable depression and “he had been through cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, supportive therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy” without success. He had also been medicated without a significant change other than intolerable side effects. Most importantly, he had grown up in a very detached and cold family atmosphere. The therapist recalls that “Brian had few memories of being held, comforted, played with or asked how we was doing.”

The therapist writes: “Based on what he (Brian) told me, I decided to treat him as a survivor of childhood neglect — a form of trauma. Even when two parents live under the same roof and provide the basics of care like food, shelter and physical safety, as Brian’s parents had, the child can be neglected if the parents do not bond emotionally with him.” It is the emotional engagement that is so important to children.

The therapist goes on to say: “One innate response to this type of environment is for the child to develop chronic shame. He interprets his distress, which is caused by his emotional aloneness, as a personal flaw. He blames himself for what he is feeling and concludes that there must be something wrong with him. This all happens unconsciously. For the child, shaming himself is less terrifying than accepting that his caregivers can’t be counted on for comfort or connection.”

Furthermore, this therapist explains that “to understand Brian’s type of shame, it helps to know that there are basically two categories of emotions. There are core emotions, like anger, joy and sadness, which when experienced viscerally lead to a sense of relief and clarity (even if they are initially unpleasant). And there are inhibitory emotions, like shame, guilt and anxiety, which serve to block you from experiencing core emotions…Children with too much shame grow up to be adults who can no longer sense their inner experiences. They learn not to feel, and they lose the ability to use their emotions as a compass for living. “

This description strikes me as being analogous to what we’ve been told about Martin’s childhood and what we see in his behavior as an adult. (Again, I am not proposing that the writers thought this all through when they created the character of Martin Ellingham. I am simply continuing to do more armchair analysis.) The portrayal of ME is weighted more towards the inhibitory emotions in general, although we’ve seen occasions during which he has appeared either joyful or sad, e.g. when he holds Louisa’s hand after the concert or when she accepts his proposal of marriage, and when Louisa tells him she doesn’t want to see him anymore. By the end of S6, ME has begun to experience many of the core emotions, particularly joyfulness and sadness. We know he feels joy during his wedding ceremony and the initial arrival at the lodge, and we know he’s sad during much of the latter episodes, but most especially when Louisa tells him she’s going to Spain and departs for the airport. (We see him tearful in the hospital following the AVM operation, and that’s a sign that he has begun to be in touch with his core emotions even though his tears are due to a mixture of relief and concern.) We may see him squashing his core feelings at the very end of S6 when he once again has trouble expressing any emotion in Louisa’s presence, but at least we know he can access his core emotions.

In the article the therapist encourages his patient ” to inhabit a stance of curiosity and openness to whatever he was feeling. This is how a person reacquaints himself with his feelings: to name them; to learn how they feel in his body; to sense what response the feeling is calling for; and in the case of a grief like Brian’s, to learn to let himself cry until the crying stops naturally (which it will, contrary to a belief common among traumatized people) and he feels a sense of visceral relief.”

I am pretty sure we will never see anything like this sort of therapy take place on the show, and they appear to be using couple’s therapy rather than individual anyway. Nevertheless, we’ve never shied away from considering the best form of therapy for someone in these circumstances and I don’t see why we should stop now! It certainly seems true that Martin’s childhood was similarly lacking in emotional attachment to either of his parents and that he could easily have developed a sense of shame.

There is much action for S7 that has been filmed in interior locations where no one outside of the cast and crew knows what has taken place. It’s possible that we may see some tears from ME and/or LE, and we may see some openness to expressing core emotions to each other beyond Louisa’s displays of anger we saw in S6. I hope to hear what all of you think of this distinction between core emotions and inhibitory emotions as well as what anyone knows about AEDP therapy. Actually, anything this post brings to mind is welcome!

Originally posted 2015-07-10 14:03:49.

About British TV

As a final post on my trip to England in May, I feel compelled to write about TV in Great Britain. When we were tired from a long day of driving or walking around (or both), we switched on the TV. What we had to choose from did not “wow” us at all, and that’s important to me because I have a particular antipathy for making broad statements of condemnation without knowing enough about the facts.

Throughout the time that I’ve been writing this blog and checking Facebook sites about “Doc Martin,” I have read many comments about how much better British TV is than American TV. Now that I’ve been to England and spent 3 weeks there, I feel somewhat qualified to assess the quality of British TV and compare it to what we have in the US. At the risk of causing an uproar, I am taking a stand in defense of American TV and in favor of a more reasoned response when comparing the two. This is not to say that I think American TV is so great; rather, it’s to say that when we take into account the number of channels available on American TV as compared to British TV and also look at what makes a regular appearance on both, I find it difficult to arrive at this sort of gross approval of British TV over American.

First of all, I do not watch much daytime TV. What I’ll be discussing is the shows that are on starting around 5 pm and running through 11 pm, or what we usually call primetime. Secondly, although I have sampled many shows on American TV, I’m not a fan of reality TV unless it’s something that’s educational. Thirdly, I will never assert that I am thrilled with the choices we have and I tend to record the shows I like and watch them at a time that suits me rather than when they are actually on TV. Having the option of recording shows has made my viewing experience much better. In addition, I watch shows on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, etc. and consider the choice of alternate sources other than network TV an important bonus.

One thing I quickly discovered when I looked at the TV guide in “The Guardian” newspaper is that there are a lot of American TV shows on British TV. Even if Americans consider their TV awful, the British certainly don’t. If you turn on the TV schedule in England, you’ll find “The Mentalist,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Simpsons,” and many hours of “The Big Bang Theory,” just to mention a few. In fact, there are many British TV shows that are versions of American shows, e.g. “Law & Order: UK” or game shows. There is also a judge show along the lines of “Judge Judy” there. Their talk shows are reminiscent of those in America. I like some of them, but they are not original nor are they an improvement over American TV — they are American TV! Plus they offer Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” and Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show.” In fact they have the Comedy Central TV channel as well as The Disney Channel, A + E Networks UK, AMC/CBS Networks International, Spike TV, Nickelodeon UK, BET, Discovery Networks including Animal Planet, TCM, National Geographic, Bloomberg TV, CNBC Europe, and QVC. They know and want to see our TV shows.

If anything, I would say they might argue that American TV is better than their TV.

Another thing we have to understand is that the British TV shows we see in America are a distillation of the best of British TV. We aren’t comparing apples to apples if we are putting their best shows up against all of American TV. Furthermore, those of us who watch PBS are a select group of TV viewers not really representative of our country as a whole or of the UK as a whole. I will watch almost every Ken Burns special while I will never watch “The Bachelorette.” That doesn’t mean I am a better judge of quality; it means my viewing habits differ from many others. My preferences are not necessarily of higher value; they may be elitist and arrogant. I wish a lot of popular shows appealed to me, but I generally tend to like the shows that end up having short runs, e.g. “Deadwood,” or “Carnivale,” or “Harry’s Law.” I thought all of those were smart, entertaining shows with great characters and important messages, but not enough people agreed with me.

I haven’t always picked unpopular shows. I was a big fan of “Law & Order” when it first appeared in 1990, and I liked “CSI” when it started in 2000, but they both had so many spinoffs they became diluted and bastardized, in my opinion. Too much of a good thing can also wear thin.

If we look back through the years we can recall many great American TV shows that have set the standard for TV around the world: westerns, sci-fi (like Twilight Zone, Star Trek), crime, comedy, soap operas, etc. I don’t want to bore you with a list of excellent American TV shows throughout the history of TV, but the list would be long and contain many that were groundbreaking at the time and would be listed in the canon of outstanding TV shows throughout the world. They also led to many actors becoming more prominent.

I love many British TV shows and feel lucky to have access to them. And, yes, some of them have inspired some good American shows. I see no reason to have to rebuke American TV in order to express one’s appreciation of British TV. From what I can tell, these two countries exchange many themes and actors in the field of TV and movies and we are better off as a result.

I’ve had my say and feel better now! I will move on to other topics.

Originally posted 2015-07-05 21:22:26.

Immutable Personality Traits Plus

First, I need to say that I have been having a lot of trouble with my modem and that is one of the reasons it’s taken me this long to write a post. In addition, my week has been extremely busy and has not allowed for much writing. When I post this, it will be after dealing with many frustrations with both computer and time!

As previously mentioned, I want to write something about Santa’s recent comment that referred to the show “Mad Men” as asking the question “Can People Change,” and whether I think literature has often posed that question too. I’ve been mulling over the general acceptance of the Five Immutable Personality Traits that Santa directed us to because that stance is mentioned in the article. I suppose a little review is appropriate here.

Even though none of us has made note of this well-known list, the traits have usually been identified by the acronym OCEAN, or some other arrangements of the letters. OCEAN stands for:

O – Openness to experience

C – Conscientiousness

E – Extraversion

A – Agreeableness

N – Neuroticism

You can read about how these traits became identified as immutable here. I would like to make clear that since the original composing of this list many studies have disagreed with whether they are immutable and, after further study, most psychologists agree that change often occurs within these categories due to many factors. These factors include age (generally accepted as after the age of 30), environment, health, marriage, and work. (I would add having children.) There is also a variability in the constancy of personality traits wherein certain traits stay consistent and others change. Therefore, the article Santa referenced was really being too perfunctory when it mentioned the immutable traits. The article states: “You can change your reaction to things, you can change your behavior to the people around you, you can become different enough that you  seem different, but underneath it all, you are still you.” Actually, the situation is much more complicated than that. Nevertheless, considering the scope of the article, we can use both positions: the one that considers change as it is represented by superficial modifications in behavior, and change as it is represented by more permanent and substantial permutations of one’s personality.

I say this because the article takes into account the aging of the cast as the show continued through ten years as well as the aging of the viewers over that time span. As we all know, as the years flow by, we begin to look older. Apparently, “Mad Men” is one of the few shows in which the aging of its stars has been incorporated into the show. Rather than trying to pretend that those years have not really passed, as most shows, including “Doc Martin,” most often do, the creators of “MM” decided to have the cast age along with its audience.

How have we changed? Who knows how many ways life has impacted us over the past ten years? (In my case, I only started watching “DM” in the past two years, but I can still say that a lot has happened in those two years.) Do life experiences change us? My answer would be a resounding “Yes.” Sheryl Sandberg recently wrote in her essay about losing her husband only  one month ago, she has learned a lot about loss and what to say to others, about some practical things, and that resilience can be learned, that connections to others change, and she has learned gratitude. If she can learn all those things in one month, just think what we’ve learned in two years, or ten! The writer of the article notes, she has changed throughout the time during which she’s been watching “Mad Men,” yet she believes she is the same person. She acknowledges that there is no clear yes or no answer to the question “can people change?”

In my humble opinion, I am not the same person as I was when I was in college, or since I had children and grandchildren, or since my parents have grown old and my father has died, or since some close friends have died. Those experiences have changed me in more than superficial ways. Perhaps my college friends I haven’t seen in decades would say I haven’t changed (except to have aged), but I know I have. Some events have softened me and others have made me tougher; I’ve learned a lot about myself and realized what is most important to me in life. The question is not whether people can change, rather how much can people change and what sorts of circumstances lead to those changes? If we look at the OCEAN traits, where can we find significant areas of change?

Openness: sometimes called intellect. Although someone may be open on some areas to new experiences, they may be less open on others. Again, in my opinion and based on personal observation, once someone is introduced to a new activity or lives through a momentous event, he/she can become more open. A trip, meeting a person of another culture, having an accident — many events can open one up beyond one’s usual approach.

Conscientiousness: High scores on conscientiousness indicate a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behavior. I think the operative word here is preference. We may want things to be planned, but life teaches us that plans usually have to be changed. We plan to have the baby after we graduate, but the baby comes early; we plan for the movers to deliver our furniture on a particular day, but they come much later; we plan to surprise someone with a special ticket to a concert, but they get sick the day before. If we’re rigid, we’ll be stuck over and over. Eventually we learn that we can’t control the world.

Extraversion: The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Even though I think this is one of the traits that is toughest to change, traumatic and/or extraordinary events can change one’s approach to the world in either direction. We know people withdraw under certain circumstances. I think, under the right conditions, people can also be drawn out and become more willing to participate.

Agreeableness: Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. On a large scale we know that strongly prejudiced people can have conversion events in which they become aware that their biases were based on false premises. There are also breakthrough moments when a person may realize that he/she cares enough about another to want to be more agreeable. Conversely, there can be major events that cause one to lose faith in others. (Bernie Maddoff may have caused a few of these changes.)

Neuroticism: Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult. This may take a lifetime to change, but with regular and steady good outcomes, can change.

I haven’t applied these to “DM” because I am certain you can all do that as well as I can.

When it comes to literature, I can state unequivocally that most, if not all, great works of literature emphasize characters changing in some form. When I think back on the earliest novels, such as Pamela by Samuel Richardson, or Don Quixote by Cervantes, the characters are on missions to make changes in themselves or in the world. Indeed Chaucer’s and Boccaccio’s tales were meant to be stories of warning, political commentary, and philosophical messages that would bring about change through shining a light on the authorities of the time. Presumably, those authorities would recognize the absurdity in some of their rules and laws and have some sort of insight into themselves. In terms of personality traits, many characters want to change to improve their chances to capture the hearts of someone they love. Don Quixote loves Dulcinea although he realizes he’s dreaming about her loving him back. Pamela is first the victim of her employer’s lust and then the victim of his guilt and desire to win her love despite their different social status.

The novel that perhaps has the most to say about someone changing is Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Why does Kafka have his protagonist become a large beetle? It has a lot to do with personality changes, both those of Gregor Samsa and those of his family. And he is quite convincing that people can change!

Across cultures, across time, and across genres, change in how people behave, how they approach the world, and how they manage their fates has always been a prominent theme.

Finally, I think it’s important to remember that all of these personality traits are on a continuum, just as the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test demonstrated. Our personality traits fluctuate along the continuum and are not fixed.

I hope I’ve addressed what Santa was asking. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say about this topic. Also, I hope to have a chance to write several more posts in the near future. My internet connection should be repaired by tomorrow afternoon, fingers crossed, and I’ll be better able to post more in less time. Thank you for sticking with me!

 

Originally posted 2015-06-07 11:04:56.

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.

Opting to Stay

I would have liked to have called this post the same thing as the article in the NYTimes Magazine: “Should We Stay or Should We Go” because I like that so much, but I felt uncomfortable stealing it. Obviously, I am still finding articles in the NYTimes and a few other places that inspire me to write posts for this blog. I am an incorrigible user of material that originates elsewhere!

In this case, the discussion is about how the trend in films has gone from the constant use of the phrase “Let’s get out of here” to the command to stay and be strong enough to stay. “Where ‘Let’s get out of here’ is all bravado and yang, stay is self-absorbed yin. In this context, the balance of cultural power seems to have shifted from the getting-outta-here rebels who used to tell the squares and schoolmarms to kiss off to the squares and schoolmarms themselves, who just wish everyone would hold on a second and think this thing through.” This article also addresses the complications of staying which include the possibility of being oppressive and/or being too protective.

In our case, I see the “Doc Martin” show as following the same progression. (I say this with the full recognition that Portwenn is a place that most people rarely leave. What I’m focusing on is Louisa’s behavior in regard to the relationship that builds with Martin.) Martin arrives at Portwenn because he has decided to get out of London. Leaving London and being a vascular surgeon gives him an opportunity to start a new life. He isn’t thrilled with the place he’s chosen and, for many reasons, decides to leave Portwenn to return to London. Louisa wants to have a relationship with Martin and stay in Portwenn, but she is always leaving the relationship for one reason or another.

Nevertheless, once we reach the end of S5, we have witnessed Martin make a decision to stay so that he can be with Louisa, and Louisa has been convinced of his sincerity and looks forward to having a life in Portwenn with him. S6 finds the couple making a commitment to each other and settling into being in Portwenn. By the end of S6, however, Louisa has decided she would like to leave town, somewhat reminiscent of the end of S3. Her plan to leave is thwarted by a serious medical condition and now she must stay and think things through. So the series has established that Martin and Louisa will stay in Portwenn despite their marital troubles. At this point, we expect them to look at themselves and their marriage and stay — stay in Portwenn, stay together, and stay in their professions.

Probably unwittingly, the show has adopted (or sensed) the trend that has become a part of filmmaking recently and is following it. We can only lean back and enjoy!

 

 

Originally posted 2015-03-05 16:05:52.

The Urge to “Fix”

By now you all know how much of a fan of both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul I am. As it turns out, I’ve been wondering when the third series of Better Call Saul will be shown and just saw an article that gave me hope it will be soon.

But the reason I’m telling you about this is because of something actor Bob Odenkirk said in his answer to one of the last questions he was asked in this interview. In many of our discussions we have noted that MC always asserts that they never want to “fix” Martin Ellingham. Nevertheless, many viewers seem to have trouble restraining their urges to turn him into someone more affectionate, or more socially adept, or who smiles more.

This sort of inclination goes also to the idea of whether people can change, a topic we’ve discussed continuously because it has been addressed in the show.

Well, Bob Odenkirk plays the role of an anti-hero in both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and his assessment of his character comes extremely close to what we could say about ME. First he says:

“Saul Goodman, to me, is kind of a guy who’s shut down a lot of his emotional life, because I guess his feelings have been hurt, and he’s decided to play tough with the world. In this season, some pretty bad things happen to Jimmy, and we see him starting to shut down those connections, the way his emotions flow. He starts to shut down in this season—not completely, but it’s like you feel these gates closing around the character, and he’s just getting darker and tougher.

It’s wonderful because that is the journey we’re on, and we’re getting somewhere. But it’s also kind of sad to play him, and to feel a person whose response to disappointment is to close himself off more and more from the world, and from hope.”

Then he’s asked: “Do you ever find yourself being driven mad by Jimmy’s behavior? He’s a guy who’s so easy to root for, and yet he’s also exasperating.” (FYI, Jimmy is his actual name, but he adopts the name of Saul Goodman later in the show.)

And he answers: “Yes. You want to give advice to him. It’s like the way you feel about a friend or a sibling who maybe has…you know, we all have different broken responses to our circumstances. It’s like having someone like that in your life, that you’re close to, and you want to instruct them on not making the same mistake again and again. So I do have those feelings, and I think what’s important for me, as part of a creative team in this effort, is that this desire to fix him is the same desire you have when you watch [Breaking Bad’s] Walter White. You say, ‘Don’t do that! Just take the money and go!’ But he’s on a path, and he’s going to stay on it, and you can’t change it. And the psychological truth that these guys establish and follow is pretty strong and deeply thought out. So, similar to your friend or your family member, you just have to bite your tongue, and suffer, and let them go on their road and root for them.”

What I infer from that is even the actors portraying these troubled characters have an urge to “fix” them and stop them from heading in the wrong direction, but they understand the demands of the plot and accept that changing the characters would damage the storyline. Thus, whether or not we believe that people can change, and whether or not we have this humane desire to warn the character that he is headed in the wrong direction, a fictional story doesn’t allow for that. Not only that, but it’s exactly because we want to “fix” these characters that they are so compelling.

And now I think we are back in the scope of our discussion of the post titled “Should Martin and Louisa Stay Together.” We should not lose sight of the fact that it is a story contrived precisely to cause a wellspring of emotions. We cannot meddle with the story no matter how much we might feel the urge to!

Originally posted 2017-02-16 10:43:52.

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.

“Into the Woods”

Since it looks like this may be a good time to write about something new, I thought I’d post this little observation just for fun.

I recently saw the movie “Into the Woods” and loved the concept of all sorts of characters from fairy tales being brought together because they must travel through the woods to reach their destinations or complete their missions. The woods have always had the connotation of being dark and scary and we can recall Hansel and Gretel getting lost in the woods, or “The Princess Bride” using the woods for all sorts of fearful objects to overcome. Certainly Little Red Riding Hood has always taken a path into the woods to find her grandmother’s house. In this film Cinderella also escapes by running into the woods, Jack (of beanstalk fame) takes the cow to market by walking through the woods, and Rapunzel lets down her hair while being held prisoner in a tree in the woods.

It occurred to me that, like other examples I used in my post of  June 16, 2014, titled “Doc Martin and the Mystery of the Folktale,” having Martin and Louisa enter the woods (and even mention there’s a difference between a forest and a wood) is another way the writers of the show undercut the concept of the fairytale. In these woods our couple encounter scary animals, an obstacle they must find a way around, and an old man who makes his home in the woods and from whom they seek help but who treats them as intruders instead. Aren’t these all the ingredients of a fairytale? But here, as before, the animal isn’t ominous or threatening-it’s a pony who is just as scared of them as they are of him; the brook they must cross is dealt with by Martin giving Louisa a piggy back ride (after first trying to put her over his shoulder) while they argue (amusingly) over the idea of going on a honeymoon; and the old man turns out to need their help and ends up in a wheelbarrow being (humorously) pushed by them to safety.

They have used all the tropes of Fairytales and turned them into comedic events.

Originally posted 2015-01-17 12:17:16.

Making Hard Choices

Recently I read an article by Ruth Chang, a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, and then watched her TED talk.  The talk had to do with what makes some choices hard; the article was closely related to that but also about being the person you want to be and creating a new you. When she refers to hard choices, she’s talking about decisions we make between two options that are “‘on a par'” or between alternatives that are equal in value and are difficult to choose between because of that. There is no wrong answer, but they may not be equally good either. What she argues is that the choice we make must be something we can stand behind and commit to and thereby turn it into a position of value. To me, the strongest statement she makes in the article is “when we choose between options that are on a par, we make ourselves the authors of our own lives.” This assertion reverberated with me because it sounds very similar to what Ruth tells Al when he’s at loose ends. She tells him in S6E6, “we are the authors of our lives.” (I doubt the writers knew about Ruth Chang. Her TED talk was given on June 18, 2014 and the filming of S6 was over by that time. However, her earliest articles on this subject appeared in 1997 and thereafter she continued to write about this subject regularly.) Like so many interesting issues in human behavior, there are both psychological and philosophical ways to view them.

There are many hard choices confronting Martin and Louisa. We have been discussing the personality traits of these two characters. Presumably these would play a role in how they would go about deciding between the options they must face now. Ruth Chang’s article uses the tradition of making resolutions for the New Year as a starting point and ends by noting: “Our task then is to reflect on what kind of person we can commit to being when making those choices.” I think we can put this to work for the situation at hand, especially because it relates to making changes that can lead to being a different person, and change is what Martin plans for himself.

I’m going to take a stab at some of the hard “on a par” choices Martin and Louisa have to make and see what all of you think about these and what others you come up with.

1. Louisa must decide whether to return to the house. The alternative is to live in Portwenn and be separated (right now she can’t leave because of her recent surgery). This decision would be on a par because Louisa loves Martin and wants to be married and parent JH with his father; however, Louisa knows being married to Martin is difficult and Martin would continue to have a relationship with JH even if they lived apart.

2. Martin must decide whether to confide in Louisa and admit he needs her help. The alternative is to decide that he continues to be unable to have an intimate conversation with Louisa. This decision is on a par because Martin wants to be with Louisa and he recognizes that she has been very disturbed by his secrecy and unwillingness to reach out to her; however, Martin struggles to allow anyone into his inner world and he knows it will be arduous to convert himself into someone who asks for help and shares his thoughts.

3. They must decide whether to seek counseling, marriage or individual or both. The alternative is to try to reconcile on their own, possibly with Ruth’s help. This decision is on a par because both Martin and Louisa are aware that a counselor could be helpful and counseling has been recommended by both Edith and Ruth; however, Martin is skeptical of most counselors and likes to manage his own care, and both of them will want to go to counseling in a location not well-known by Portwenn villagers. Finding a way to budget the time for that may be too much trouble.

I could go on, but I’ll leave it to you to suggest other hard choices. I’d like to consider how this philosophical view can be combined with the psychological traits we’ve been discussing too.

In addition, I’d like to refer you to an article by Ruth Chang titled “Commitments, Reasons, and the Will” in which she discusses internal commitments. On page 78, Chang explains, “a promise to love and to cherish has greater normative significance than that of incurring an obligation through a promise. This is because it is backed by an internal commitment—something the promisor has done all by himself that gives his subsequent promise special significance or meaning.” We know Martin is a moral man, and we consider Louisa moral as well. They have taken the step to get married after having many vacillations in their interaction as a couple. Now that they’ve taken a vow to be together, they have made an internal commitment that Chang makes a strong argument about — it changes who they are and the significance of their relationship. That has to play some sort of role in what they decide to do and in what kind of people they want to commit to being.

Originally posted 2015-01-14 17:16:21.

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.

Happiness is…

It seems to be a good time to revisit the concept of happiness. Rather than look at the many theories of happiness, it might be more productive if we stick to the show for evidence of what they consider signs of happiness.

What has been hardest for me is grasping how in two episodes Martin can go from, “Marry Me, I can’t bear to be without you,” to “You wouldn’t make me happy either.” It’s a bit easier to understand how Louisa, who has vacillated between finding Martin exasperating and being passionately drawn to him, could come to the conclusion that getting married might not be appropriate at this time. She hears all the jibes about Martin and his temperament and can only muster that he’s straightforward and moral when trying to describe him. For someone who’s been seen bicycling, surfing, enjoying the scene at the pub, and going out with friends, his preference for staying home and rarely doing anything beyond reading or working on his clocks might finally make her think twice. (I should say here that due to her upbringing and parents who were inclined to party a little too much perhaps, she might like someone who’s trustworthy and grounded even if he could be a bit dull.) We certainly have to take into account that throughout the final episode nearly everyone has been cautioning them against marriage and the Fates are against their marriage as well. We watch as Murphy’s Law takes charge. But if Martin can’t bear to be without Louisa, that would necessarily mean that he is miserable without her and bereft of any sense of happiness. That is exactly how he appears after their date goes wrong. Why is he now thinking that he wouldn’t be happy with her (ostensibly only 3 weeks later)?

Also, when in S4, Louisa snidely remarks that he may find being with someone prickly and emotionless like Edith makes him happy but she’d rather remain hormonal and filled with emotion, she is tacitly saying that she wouldn’t make him happy after all. Of course, Martin is once again totally baffled by her reference to Edith. Still, after S1, there is a concerted effort to keep Martin from looking happy in any overt way. The closest we ever get to seeing him look happy is a hint of a smile when he takes Louisa’s hand or when she says something complimentary to him, or when he looks at the ultrasound of their baby.

The first question we should ask is do we think there is evidence that ME has any awareness of the state of being happy? To answer this question we actually do have to consider the 4 major theories of happiness: Hedonism Theory, Desire Theory, Objective List Theory, and Authentic Theory. Simple descriptions of each can be found here. The proponents of the Authentic Theory believe that their theory takes all of the other theories into account. Happiness is a pretty complex subject that continues to be debated and refined. The dissertation by Ryan Hanlon Bremner written in 2011 does a very good job of addressing the various ways we use the term “happy.” While interrogating the philosophical approaches to this state, Bremner notes: “As long as the vast majority of people in Anglophone societies claim that one of their major, if not their main, goal is to ‘be happy,’ this desire and correspondent striving possesses a magnitude of importance that should not be ignored.” The fact that DM writers have made a point of whether Martin and Louisa are happy, both at the end of S3 and in S6, inspires us to look into what that means. They, too, are indicating that being happy is an important goal.

So what could Martin mean by saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy after recently being despondent that she doesn’t want to see him anymore? At the risk of overthinking this, and not simply dismissing it as a goof or miscalculation by the writers/producers, it could mean that he’s nervous that he will have to make too many changes in his life to accommodate her. Daniel Haybron, a contemporary philosopher, believes that “well-being consists mainly in the fulfillment of the self’s emotional and rational aspects—i.e., in being authentically happy, and in success regarding the commitments that shape one’s identity. But our subpersonal natures may also count, so we might add, secondarily, the fulfillment of our “nutritive” and “animal” natures: health and pleasure.”

When given a chance to reflect, Martin may have gotten cold feet because he has reached a sense of well-being by distancing himself from others, sticking to his routine, and being content to treat medical conditions successfully and even insightfully. In addition, he has his own diet that he follows quite faithfully. He’s been doing all these things for around twenty years which means they are rather entrenched. He is pretty inflexible when it comes to his daily regimen and he resists modifying it. When Peter Cronk stays with him, for example, Martin is lost because he has trouble finding a way to manage someone else in his home and he doesn’t do very well with it.

What makes him happy? Well, his sense of well-being comes primarily from his work. He is confident of his medical knowledge and ability and we see him display satisfaction in saving a life or making a diagnosis. He accepts the gratitude he gets from the many patients, who sometimes grudgingly admit that he saved their lives, with some puffing out of his chest or pulling down of his shirt cuffs. He’s clearly pleased with himself. Next may be preparing fish/dinner. He takes pride in knowing how to clean and cook the fresh fish and vegetables he buys regularly, and putting together a nutritious meal. We can’t forget the clocks he enjoys working on. Saving the clocks is somewhat analogous to saving lives in that he staves off likely termination.

All of the above touches him on some personal level; however, his connection to people beyond medical cases boils down to family, Edith, and Louisa. We know that the only affection he’s gotten from family really comes from Aunt Joan. He must have had some intimate contact with Edith considering she alludes to his having seen her naked before. Hopefully he didn’t get stabbed by her hair or protruding bones! Once he sees Louisa, he knows he wants to get closer to her. Eventually that happens and the embrace they have after he’s asked her to marry him and she’s agreed shows him with an expression of joy and relief. We see expressions akin to this when he holds her hand both at the concert and then at the Castle, when she gives birth to their baby, and when he sees her at the entrance to the church on their wedding day. I cannot imagine that we aren’t supposed to think that he achieves a sense of well-being when he’s with Louisa.

My conclusion is that Martin does experience happiness on many occasions, but that his life hasn’t always been happy. Conversely, as philosopher G. H. Von Wright believes, it would be possible to say that someone had a happy life, even if for a long period of time he was a most unhappy person. We see both of these scenarios being played out and now we hope to see the happy periods combined with an overall sense of well-being. He’s got a wife, a son, and Ruth. He’s got his medical practice and ability. He should stop being so miserable!!

Originally posted 2014-10-14 18:11:55.

Comedy and dialogue

Because I love language and dialogue and we just spent some time discussing some of the great linguistic ambiguity in DM, I thought it would be fun to look at a smattering of the best ambiguous dialogues in comedy over the last few decades. I know I won’t mention all the best ones, and I’m counting on the readers of this blog to come up with some from DM and anywhere they have come across good examples. I have previously reviewed some of my favorite comedic dialogues from DM, e.g. the fish monger’s monologue in S5E8; Mrs. T’s remarks to ME at the Castle and his comments to her there too; Louisa’s great commentary during their walk in the woods on the wedding night and many of the conversations during that episode. Most of these are not ambiguous, just excellently written and very amusing. A lot of the dialogue is sarcastic, with an edge. But what about those conversations that are ambiguous?
In addition to the scene we recently looked at where Martin tells Joan “It’s not my fault,” there are many others. Here are a few from early DM:
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Have you noticed an increased demand for diarrhea remedies lately?
Mrs. Tishell:-Yes – in fact you could say there’s been a *run* on them.

Joan: What’s going on Martin?
Martin: I needed to talk to Mark.
Joan: You needed to talk to him or needed to interrupt him?
Martin: I needed his help to section a man under 136 of the mental health act.
Joan: Then you saw him with Louisa, and you don’t need his help.
Martin: I’ll get a community psychiatric nurse in the morning.
Joan: Yes, Yes, she should make you feel much better.

Dr. Martin Ellingham: All right, Caroline, I’m going to give you an injection.
Danny Steel: [gets down on one knee, hands clasped together] I’m saying a prayer for you, Caroline.
Dr. Martin Ellingham: [eyeing Danny] Just a little prick.

Louisa Glasson:-Why do you have to upset everyone? When you are with patients, why can´t you make an effort? Just *smile*! Try some small talk! Have a laugh!
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Sick people don´t want a laugh. They want a doctor who knows what he’s doing.
Louisa Glasson:-They want a bedside mannner.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-A bedside manner can´t cure you.
Louisa Glasson:-It makes them feel better.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Can it diagnose an illness in a scanner? Write a prescription?
Louisa Glasson:-You know what I mean. Please, for once *just* agree with me. *You* know what I´m trying to say?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Actually I find it hard to understand you in the best of times. Whatever you say or do makes no sense to me.
Louisa Glasson:-What are we talking about? Are we talking about…? What are we talking about?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-I’m not quite sure.

(A group of twitchers are walking next to Doc’s house. Martin is taking his bottle of daily milk.)
Twitcher 1:-Which way to the choughs?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-At the top of the hill. And turn right.
Twitcher 2:-Thanks.
(The group continues up the road while the man watches his map)
Twitcher 1:-Why on the right there is the cliff? You mean left. Don’t you?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-(At the door) Right. (Slams the door)

The classic example is Abbott and Costello and “Who’s On First?” Could there be a better example of linguistic ambiguity and how funny it can get? (My grandsons love it and it’s from the 1950s!) Here’s a video of it.

The Three Stooges were famous for wacky dialogue much of it ambiguous. Here’s some from their “Dizzy Pilots” script”
MOE: Where’s your vice?
CURLY (angelically): Vice? I have no vice. I’m as pure as the driven snow. (Gestures with his two hands flat, then holds them in a praying position.)
MOE: (Nods sarcastically.) But you drifted. (Hits Curly on the head.)
CURLY: Oh!
MOE: Get outta here and get the vice.

MOE: Hey you nitwit! Don’t saw the wings, you saw the garage!
CURLY: I see the garage, but I don’t saw the garage. You are speaking incorrectly. You are moidering the King’s English. Et cetera. See? Saw? See? See?
MOE: Yagh! (Starts to strangle Curly.) Shut up! You saw one side and Larry will saw the other. (Moe points.)
CURLY: Oh, I see. I saw! (Curly grabs Moe’s left arm and begins to saw.)

Then there’s “Young Frankenstein:”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, help me with the bags.
Igor: [Imitating Groucho Marx] Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the toiben.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I was talking about the luggage.

Inga: Hallo. Vould you like to have a roll in ze hay? [Dr. Frankenstein stutters] It’s fun. [She begins to roll in the hay] Roll, roll, roll in ze hay.

Just about all dialogue in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Look here AND here
“The Flying Circus” has a few choice examples too. Here’s an excerpt of their “Dead Parrot” sketch:
Mr. Praline: Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.
Owner: No, no…..No, ‘e’s stunned!
Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?
Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin’ up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.
Mr. Praline: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.
Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.
Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got ‘im home?
Owner: The Norwegian Blue prefers keepin’ on it’s back! Remarkable bird, id’nit, squire? Lovely plumage!
Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.
(pause)
Owner: Well, o’course it was nailed there! If I hadn’t nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ’em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!
Mr. Praline: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!
Owner: No no! ‘E’s pining!
Mr. Praline: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
(pause)
Owner: Well, I’d better replace it, then. (he takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I’ve had a look ’round the back of the shop, and uh, we’re right out of parrots.

I enjoy Simon Pegg’s crazy films. The language can be very vulgar, but the films have their moments. Here’s one from “The World’s End:”
Steven Prince: We need to be able to differentiate between them, them and us.
Peter Page: Yeah, I think the pronouns are really confusing.
Gary King: I don’t even know what a pronoun is.
Oliver: Well, it’s a word that can function by itself as a noun which refers to something else in the discourse.
Gary King: I don’t get it.
Andrew Knightley: You just used one.
Gary King: Did I?
Andrew Knightley: “It” it’s a pronoun.
Gary King: What is?
Andrew Knightley: It!
Gary King: Is it?
Andrew Knightley: Christ!

I’d love to see some of your examples. I had a lot of fun putting these together. Enjoy!

Originally posted 2014-10-10 12:22:56.

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.

Normal On My Mind

Blame the NYTImes again! Last Sunday they published an article on what study subjects identified as normal, and the results add a fascinating layer onto our previous discussion of what the term normal means.

In our past look at the use of the word normal in Doc Martin (see “Normal Is A Loaded Word”), we toyed around with substituting several other words, e.g. typical, proper, conventional. What this article brings up is another word: ideal. For me the biggest takeaway is their determination that “when people think about what is normal, they combine their sense of what is typical with their sense of what is ideal. Normal, in other words, turns out to be a blend of statistical and moral notions.”

It may be useful, as my husband suggested, to think of normal as lying on a bell-shaped curve, as many of our concepts do. The height of the bell would be the best interpretation of what we usually accept as normal, while the side to the right of the curve would be gradations of ideal, and the side to the left would be heading toward totally abnormal.

The SD at the bottom of the graph is standard deviation from the mean/median (or average/midpoint) of a sample. When applied to this example, what the article is arguing is that when people are asked to judge whether something is normal, they actually are likely to see normal as where the +1 SD is on this bell curve. In other words, they see normal as being one standard deviation towards ideal.

If we apply this to the show, we could regard Louisa as struggling with this dynamic. She has been living in a fantasy world of judging normality in the community, in her parents, and subsequently in Martin Ellingham and herself on a scale that leans toward ideal when the real world, as portrayed in this show, is actually leaning toward 1-2 SDs in the opposite direction. In other words, she is surrounded by a world that tends toward the abnormal.

By the end of S7, she has come to the realization that the community is filled with unusual people, and that she and Martin are also unusual. We considered this disclosure strange coming from someone who had continuously been portrayed as accepting the differences in people. We thought her revelation came out of nowhere, and I’m not ready to reject that entirely, but…

In looking at the ending of S7 in this hypothetical manner of a bell curve, I wonder if the writers were using the above rationale when they wrote Louisa’s closing dialogue so curiously. It would have been better, IMO, if they would have provided some sort of clue for us to use since, according to the article, “however deeply ingrained this cognitive tendency may be, people are not condemned to think this way. You are certainly capable of distinguishing carefully between what is typical and what is good.” On the other hand, they caution that “most often, we do not stop to distinguish the typical from the acceptable, the infrequent from the deviant. Instead, we categorize things in terms of a more basic, undifferentiated notion of normality, which blends together these two importantly different facets of human life.” If we want to be generous, we could decide that Louisa has had some sort of epiphany explained by her recognition of how to distinguish between the typical and the good.

Originally posted 2017-02-01 16:05:46.

A comic’s look at dramedy

I am admittedly finding less and less to write about in regard to this show. Although the blog will remain open for a while longer because the time I paid for isn’t up until several more months have passed, I am straining to find anything of value to write about. As you know this blog is not a recap sort of site, nor is it a fan site for any of the actors. I have always written posts that have been inspired by ideas that arose from the show, and I think they have found ways to address a myriad of worthwhile subjects over the years. However, this last series has not introduced much in the way of new topics for discussion, and those I found, I’ve already written about.

One of the subjects we have had some moderate dispute over is whether this show was meant to be a drama or a comedy — or a combination of both, a dramedy. After listening to the most recent interview with Philippa Braithwaite, I feel assured that they consider the show a combination of comedy and drama and they try hard to find the right balance. That balance is essentially where they have at times gone off track, IMO. In S6, the show went too heavily for the dramatic and lost too much of the humor; in S7, they became farcical and neglected the drama to a great extent. They attempted to use the therapy as their dramatic vehicle, but even that became farcical, and determining the plot of each episode based on the actions recommended by the therapist became too forced. Plus the fact that it was obvious that they planned to put off any reconciliation between Martin and Louisa until the final episode made much of the action less compelling, and less convincing.

Then the final episode was so cartoonish and hard to swallow that the anticipated and presumed resolution was anticlimactic to a great extent. If anyone was going to have to make concessions this time, it would have to be Louisa. And it was her turn to both admit she was also at fault and ask for forgiveness. Throughout this series there were foreshadowings during the therapy sessions that Louisa was discovering her own role in their marital woes. Martin had admitted being wrong several other times. (That is not to say that their reconciliation wasn’t welcomed; only that its arrival was too long in the making.)

Now we’ve had S8. This series ended up toning down the interaction between Martin and Louisa to such an extent that there was very little humor between them, or even in their lives. The humor derived primarily from the other members of the ensemble and was relatively humdrum. The moments that elicited a laugh were few and far between, at least for me.

I did see a good cartoon in The New Yorker magazine that illustrates the mixture of comedy and drama in a dramedy, and thought it was worth sharing with you:

What this cartoonist has depicted, much as I argued in previous posts, is that basically dramedy revolves around relationships that often lead to some injury that is more likely to hurt someone’s pride than their body. And we laugh because they deserve the injury and because we’re human. In this case it’s the man who has decided to leave and the woman looking nonplussed. It’s left to our imagination how she might react when he steps on the banana peel, but most of us would expect her to get at least a little sense of schadenfreude from it. (I love the use of the banana peel again too.) And the man might find himself feeling foolish and undignified as he carries his luggage in a self-important manner. Like this cartoon, Doc Martin is a television series that uses both serious and comic subjects that they try to offset in as close to equal parts as possible but sometimes have overshot in one direction or the other.

Duet of missed messages, S3E4+5

Other interests aside, my true passion is literary analysis and I am pleased to get back to that again. In this case the analysis will be of S3E5 because I want to argue that what we see going on between Martin and Louisa in this episode represents well the kind of “push me, pull you” interaction they have throughout the show, including during S6. The theme of control is also very much a factor in E5. (Please excuse the length of this post. I always try to keep my posts as brief as possible, but sometimes I find that difficult because I’m also trying to do a thorough job.)

In order to put E5 in perspective, I think we need to start by looking at E4. In this episode Carrie Wilson stirs up Louisa’s jealousy about Martin’s love life. We will see much more of this during S4 when Edith appears; therefore, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s been there for quite some time. From S1 on we’ve seen that Martin is smitten with Louisa. (Despite Martin Clunes’ claim about their initial plan, my impression is that it was immediately apparent that the relationship between ME and LG was going to play a central role in this series. I have no doubt that Caroline Catz increased that likelihood or changed the nature of it, but there was always going to be a tension between these two characters.) During S1 they create regular conflicts between this couple over their differing views of how to treat patients, ending with a harrowing effort to save Peter Cronk during which Louisa witnesses firsthand Martin’s capabilities as a doctor and a person. Martin even ends up looking compassionate to her in relation to Adrian Pitts. We applaud Louisa’s decision to defend Martin while agreeing with her that he has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Unfortunately, he undermines his own desire to have Louisa as a love interest by the end of the series, setting up what happens between them in S2 and beyond. The final episode of the regular season of S2 ends pretty much the same way S1 ends — Martin spoils whatever close bond they appear to be developing by insulting Louisa.

By the time we reach S3, things between Martin and Louisa have stabilized to some degree. Nonetheless, Martin continues to do damage to their fragile relationship despite obviously being anxious to find a way to connect with Louisa. The writing of S3E4 is once again attributed to Jack Lothian and I find some analogy to Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” in it. (If I’m right, Jack Lothian has fun using his knowledge of Shakespeare on this show.) In general, the play and this episode are filled with constant misinterpretations amongst the characters as well as suspicions of straying attention between the men and women. Jealousy is at the heart of the play and is also important in E4. Louisa has spent much of S3 vexed by Martin’s reticence to do anything that will reignite their affair. When she sees Mrs. Wilson making moves on Martin and hears Mrs. T.’s comments that men are often vulnerable to women like her, she is provoked. Here’s where we get a scene in which Martin has trouble interpreting what Louisa is saying. As in S6E1 when Louisa’s position on having a honeymoon is totally unintelligible to him, Louisa’s reaction to his acceptance of her invitation to Penhale’s party at Carrie Wilson’s hotel makes little sense to him. Louisa has no idea that Martin has just turned down a similar invitation from Mrs. Wilson and is suspicious when M accepts her invitation so quickly. Rather than being satisfied that he has accepted, she finds his quick acceptance troubling and probably believes his unspoken motive is to go to Wilson’s hotel. This is one of many times when he has no idea what she wants him to say. Of course they are interrupted by the phone and a so-called emergency and Louisa leaves without knowing whether she’ll see Martin later or not.

It turns out that Martin has more than one reason that brings him to Wilson’s hotel. He has run over her precious dog and decides to bring the dead animal to her. When he arrives, Aunt Joan derails his initial plan and we’re not sure what will happen either with the dog or with the party. But the party goes on and Martin is still left holding the dead dog wrapped in newspaper. As he enters the party area, we begin another series of misinterpretations as Louisa’s immediate delight at seeing him there is undercut by Martin’s focus on finding Mrs. Wilson so he can hand over her dog. Mrs. W shows up and immediately offends Louisa because she thinks Martin wants to have some time alone with her. Once she finds out his real purpose, and Louisa is there to witness someone else bearing the brunt of Martin’s lack of tact, things change rapidly. Now Louisa and Martin can have a moment alone and Louisa can show concern. However, she once again jumps to conclusions when Martin asks her what she’s drinking, assuming that he’s judging her for drinking wine. Soon they are standing apart from the group and find concordance in their assessment of Mrs. Wilson as narcissistic, hypochondriacal, and extremely annoying. Once again Louisa proffers an invitation, this time to a concert, and Martin accepts immediately. He even makes a nuanced comment when she warns him the musicians are amateurs when he says “everyone has to start somewhere.” Things seem to be going well until Louisa turns her head toward the window and Martin attempts to kiss her head only to have her jump away and ask him what he’s doing. Aren’t we witnessing a tender and possibly emotional moment generated by Martin that is met with rejection from Louisa? Just then Penhale makes an announcement that forces Louisa to leave precipitously, although she mentions the concert date to Martin just before walking out the door.

The maneuvering for control between this pair is magnified throughout this episode and will continue into the next. Louisa wants to maintain Martin’s interest in her while also backing him off at times, and Martin wants to be agreeable to her while also having trouble getting out of his own way. Awkwardness abounds on both sides, but we think we are heading in a good direction until the next episode and its constant fluctuations as to who is making the right moves at the right times.

The first time Martin sees Louisa in S3E5 is while Pauline is taking a blood sample and doing a poor job of it. Louisa mentions their date and wonders what to wear. Martin does the gentlemanly thing and says he’s sure she’ll look nice. So far, so good. His day takes a detour when he discovers Pauline has given him the wrong notes for the patient he’s examining. But this scene gives us a little insight into what’s to come in that Martin asks the patient who initiates sexual activity between him and his wife. He observes that usually one is keener than the other. Beyond the truism of this observation is the hint that who the initiator is takes on importance. Initiating something also indicates an effort to take control. To me, the key to this episode and to the relationship between Martin and Louisa is the issue of control — who has it, who doesn’t, what should be done about it, etc.

When we next see Louisa, she is dressed for the concert and putting on the finishing touches. It’s clear she has taken great care in how she looks. She goes downstairs and opens the front door before Martin can get there. She could have waited for him to knock, but has preempted that. She hopes for, but doesn’t get, a compliment on how she looks. Despite his earlier flattery, he neglects to say something here and actually makes things worse by wondering if her shoes will be a problem. (We learn later that women’s shoes seem to be a preoccupation of his.) She tries to prompt him by remarking how his suit looks, but this could be seen as a sort of role reversal. They arrive at the concert where they sit on the grass. Before intermission it’s Louisa who sneaks glances at Martin and initiates contact by putting a flower in his lapel; after intermission we see Martin peeking at Louisa. It’s a nice way to balance their attraction to each other while also indicating the back and forth nature of it. His reaction to the flower is typical Martin in that he is not pleased, but he leaves it there.

The flower is still in his lapel when they go inside for intermission. At this point Martin makes one false move after another: he’s sullen and unfriendly towards Holly, then offends Joan’s friend the caterer. Louisa is surely unhappy about his behavior and Joan notices. Joan goes right to the heart of things when she sarcastically asks Martin “you being your usual charming self?” Nevertheless, they return to their place on the grass for the second half of the concert and Louisa notices Martin looking at her. The sexual tension is rising. Soon we see them leaving the concert and walking down a path to the car surrounded by other concert goers. As in S1E6, Martin wants to take Louisa’s hand. This time he follows through and appears to feel triumphant when he does. However, once again Louisa takes charge, draws him aside, passionately kisses him and receives the same response as before — Martin takes refuge in medical speak and particularly insensitive comments. CC plays the scene perfectly as she looks at Martin in disbelief and anger. It’s kind of the last straw for the date even though with Louisa hope springs eternal. Louisa, too, responds similarly to her reaction in S1E6, this time by marching off in a huff. It’s somewhat amusing to see her so convinced that her kisses will be returned in kind yet always end up with the same Martin, who is incapable of letting go. In this case she is stuck riding home in the car with him, but she gives him the silent treatment and soon tells him she doesn’t want to see him anymore. We can see the oscillating power struggle here pretty clearly: Louisa has initiated the date, initiated the compliments, and initiated the kiss, while Martin has instituted his influence by remaining “his charming self” and all that that implies, as well as having a breakthrough of sorts by taking Louisa’s hand. (I have to say that I think the best response Louisa could have had to Martin taking her hand would have been to simply let him have this moment and walk to the car hand in hand with him. Naturally, for the purposes of this show, she doesn’t do that and her reaction underscores the basic control issues always at stake between them. She is also always battling her instincts and emotions.)

Martin makes a vain attempt to explain his reaction, but she’s not looking for an explanation of his scientific interests; she wants a sign that he feels something for her. As usual, Martin is left wondering what went wrong. Both of them seem tearful and regretful. The fact that Martin spends the night unable to sleep emphasizes his desolation. We can only assume he’s been trying to ascertain what he could have done differently without the capacity to come up with any answers. He appears to be making an effort to be introspective, something he has a lot of trouble doing. (If his breakup with Edith continues to be a factor for him, we might imagine that he feels bereft that a woman he loves has once again rejected him.) This time he decides to take action and leaves his office with the intention of talking to Louisa. In effect, he is running after her; however, he chickens out and it’s just as well because Holly’s arrival would have interrupted them anyway. His plan to take control has gone unconsummated.

Later that day he returns to a state of deep consternation while sitting on the couch. Louisa’s rejection has been quite a blow and he is uncharacteristically lost in thought about it. Joan walks in at that moment and observes that Louisa seemed fed up with him at the concert. In her view, Martin and Louisa can never be a couple and he should simply move on. It isn’t until she’s expressed that view to Martin that she notices how upset he is. Meanwhile, Louisa asserts to Holly that her date with Martin is the end of their relationship. Their future as a couple seems doomed.

The time for despair passes quickly as events take over. Holly slips and hurts her back, putting in motion a series of incidents that bring Martin and Louisa into contact again. After they get Holly to Louisa’s house and into Louisa’s bed, Martin tells Louisa he has to check on Holly the next day. After Martin returns home Joan appears at Martin’s kitchen door again and reaffirms that in her mind Martin and Louisa are like chalk and cheese, and that “we are what we are, we can’t change.” But Martin disagrees and is sure he can change. He equates change here with talking rubbish, by which he means acting more concerned about others, but the important matter is that he is asserting his ability to control his behavior and he sets out to prove it. An accident, or event that we can’t control, has led to Holly needing a place to stay and forced Louisa to offer her home. It has also meant that Martin is forced to tend to Holly at Louisa’s house and that Holly cannot leave despite being scheduled to rehearse somewhere else. No one has control over any of these situations.

The change in behavior that Martin attempts only makes Louisa think he’s acting weird. Martin reacts with one of the most emotional outbursts he has with Louisa because he feels like nothing he does satisfies her. He tells her, “I don’t know what you want.” EXACTLY!

The next morning Louisa returns to find Holly out of bed against doctor’s orders. Holly’s determined to assert control and leave, but soon she falls again and this time her injury is life-threatening. Martin arrives in a hurry and the previous altercation between Martin and Louisa is put aside so they can work together to treat Holly. Holly’s accidents have been the catalyst to bring Martin and Louisa together twice, demonstrating how Fate is beyond our control. This time it takes both Martin and Louisa to handle the situation and there is a kinder, gentler exchange of who’s in charge. Martin’s aversion to blood makes him nauseated and Louisa asks if she should take over; Martin recovers and manages to remove the piece of glass lodged in Holly’s back; Louisa tries to help by filling a syringe but drops the vial of medicine; Martin calmly finds another way to save Holly; and they reconnect over Holly’s revivified body. As Holly is loaded onto the ambulance, Louisa makes clear that she has had a resurgence of respect for Martin. She’s shaken but tells him he’s an extraordinary man. It is here that he finally takes control and decides he can’t leave without asking her to marry him. She, in turn, can’t believe her ears and asks him to repeat his proposal. (Asking him to repeat nice things he says is another amusing recurring scenario throughout the series.) Louisa accepts his proposal and runs to jump into his arms. Their embrace is emotional on both parts and is one of several scenes like this where they are both overcome with emotion. Thus, the episode ends with the exchange of control between these two being equalized.

Included in this episode is Pauline’s addiction to gambling, another loss of control. Significantly, Martin intercedes between Pauline and her mother to give Mum a lecture on how Pauline’s gambling is an illness not a weakness, and that it controls her. He demands an admission from Pauline that she is an addict and her commitment to attend a support group to get treatment. By the end of S6, he’s made the same demands on Michael in regard to his OCD. Martin definitely recognizes that many psychological conditions are out of the control of those who have them and these people would benefit from therapy.

S3E5 contains so many of the primary forces in the show. It emphasizes the issue of control and how Martin and Louisa constantly tangle with it. In addition, their emotions are a factor with Martin exhibiting more emotion than usual. Many of the set pieces that are used in the show appear here as well, making this episode very representative of the show as a whole.

Originally posted 2014-08-01 15:57:54.

Doc Martin and the Mystery of the Folktale

When thinking about whether DM could fall into the category of Fairytale or Folktale, I started with remembering that one of the films that preceded DM was called “The Legend of the Cloutie.” The film’s premise was that a legend of the town could be associated with a house Dr. Martin Bamford wants to purchase. The legend is a local folk magic story involving a piece of cloth tied to a tree (branded a Cloutie) that has the power to remove a kind of illness as the cloth rots and falls from the tree. The film was rather silly, but there is that history of a story based on a legend.

We have to distinguish between Folktales, Fairytales, Legends, Myths, etc. As a general rule legends and traditions are narratives of an explanatory nature concerning creation and tribal beginnings, supernatural beings, and quasi-historical figures (e.g., King Arthur, Lady Godiva). These stories are related as fact and concern a specific time and place. They have a verisimilitude and should appear realistic. Fairytales are entirely fictional and often begin with such formulas as “Once upon a time …” and “In a certain country there lived … .” There are many interpretations of all of the story types listed above, most of which involve historical and psychological analyses. Psychologists have used them as a form of expression of cultural traditions and customs, and to study the unconscious. Many folktales conclude with some sort of moral message. I think that gets too deep for our purposes. We could probably tease out some moral messages in this show, but is that really why the show was created? I think this show has a serious underpinning but it stops short of teaching viewers the difference between right and wrong behavior.

What prompts us to wonder about DM and its connection to a Fairytale or Folktale is all of the ways in which it seems unreal. We can begin with the fact that the weather is never bad in Portwenn. Despite its location in England where rain is plentiful, there never seems to be a rainy day. Plus, the fact that they film in Spring and Summer means we see no cold, wintry weather.

No news from the world ever enters Portwenn. For all we know, WWIII could have started and the villagers would have no idea. Newspapers are seen on occasion, but the village is in a world of its own. No one leaves for long, and only Al returns from his trip abroad with anything approaching a bad experience. All the outsiders arrive in Portwenn without any information about what’s happening in England, much less other countries. Very few people ever want to leave.

Very few people are afflicted with serious illnesses. Anyone who gets sick, even Roger Fenn and his throat cancer or Peter Cronk and his ruptured spleen, is treated and released in short order and without complication. It’s a show about a doctor, but not really about serious medical conditions. The thrust of the show is the characters in it, especially Martin and Louisa, and not what medical case will the doctor identify and treat.

The hotel’s name is “Camelot,” which refers to a castle and court associated with King Arthur. It is the fantastic capital of Arthur’s realm. The word “Camelot” is easy to see on the front of the hotel and seems to be highlighted when Martin and Louisa’s wedding is held there. The hotel has the appearance of a castle and is not the only castle-like building used. When Mrs. Tishell abducts JH, Penhale’s first thought is she took him to a hotel that is called “The Castle.” When she isn’t there, they are told to go to another faux castle, and that’s where they find her and the baby. We are not usually surrounded by castles in today’s world.

Of course we can’t leave out the opening scene of S3E1 when we hear Louisa reading to her students outside in the harbor area. From my point of view, the way this opening scene is handled indicates a humorous mocking of the fairytale qualities we might be seeing in DM. Let’s analyze this opening scene…

We have the typical sweep of the environs of the village while the credits roll, but then we find ourselves with an aerial view of the harbor with a motor boat heading towards the village. Next we hear Louisa’s voice saying “Once Upon a Time in a kingdom far, far away.” Here is the classic beginning to a Fairytale along with an airplane and a motorboat. So far we haven’t seen her and don’t know what she’s doing.

She reads on as we watch Martin walk down the street carrying his medical bag: “the Prince arrived to search for the Princess he was destined to marry.” She reads, “the Prince was handsome and charming,” (while Martin scowls at the young girls he passes) “and fierce” (as Martin quickly sidesteps an oncoming vehicle. He looks angry and annoyed, but not brave).

She continues: “With his faithful hound at his side,” (as we see the bushy dog always bothering Martin come out of a side street and trot across to briefly walk beside Martin and then perhaps move on) “the Prince journeyed for days on end” (Martin is making his way down the sloped street probably on his way back to his clinic. His journey has been short.) “He fought dragons” (Martin passes a woman with long hair), “wizards” (Martin passes an old man with a walking stick), “and goblins” (Martin sees a young man with knit cap and sunglasses), “and just when he thought all hope was lost, he finally arrived at the Castle where the Princess was imprisoned.” (Martin walks out from the narrow street into a sunny, wide space overlooking the waterfront where Louisa sits and reads to her students. Far from a place of imprisonment.) “The Prince climbed the hill to free the Princess before she…” (Martin has just walked down the hill. It is at this moment that Louisa feels faint and collapses on the ground. The children scream, Martin notices what’s happened and jumps over a bench to reach Louisa. Somewhat gallant, but not the stuff of Fairytales.)

Louisa comes to with Martin checking her. She appears to be awakening out of a dream, but all too quickly reality hits, Martin once again derides her school, and she pulls herself together.

What they have deliberately done is undercut every line of the fairytale’s components. In addition, I couldn’t help thinking about the “Harry Potter” series of books that had just been completed around the time of this series. Four of the movies had also been completed by this time. That series fits the qualities of a fairytale to the letter and was highly successful. It certainly included dragons, goblins, and wizards as well as heroes. This part of the episode could easily have been written to satirize the Harry Potter story while also humorously contrasting the story of DM with anything approaching a Fairytale.

The other thing that happens here is S3 opening with a reference to Martin and Louisa being destined to marry. As we know, this series is about their near breakup followed by plans to marry which eventually lead to a decision to part ways. Once again, the prediction of marriage in the Fairytale is undercut by the outcome of the series. (I guess we could also argue that ultimately destiny does triumph because they marry later after all.)

I have come to the conclusion that although the creators of this show toy with some features of Fairytales or Folktales, there are too many ways in which it differs from those genres and in which they purposely satirize them to consider this show some form of Fairytale. It is set in a location that exists in reality, although they’ve tampered with the realism of it, and the events that take place are all too real. Moreover, there are no supernatural creatures, no magic, and no heroes that bear any resemblance to ones in Fairytales.

Originally posted 2014-06-16 21:40:51.

A Quick Observation: another look at the birth scene

I happened to be checking out the CC music videos that Kate has posted on her website and, by chance, one of them led into the final scene of S4 when L gives birth. I have always liked that scene and watched it again. This time, however, I realized that the interaction between M and L can be seen as a microcosm of their relationship.

L has set out on her own to see the obstetrician when Tommy, the taxi driver, loses consciousness and drives off the road. M comes after her because he knows Tommy is compromised by methanol ingestion, a medical condition he can remedy. He tries to tell L, but the phone reception is not good and she can’t hear him. When M finds the car off the road, he is markedly concerned, primarily about L. But she’s mostly worried about Tommy. The scene in the pub they go to so Tommy can be treated depicts their struggles well.

M forces Tommy to drink vodka to counteract the methanol while L looks on and finds M too rough on T. She tells M that making a mistake like T has done is only human. “People make mistakes, people make a mess of things. It’s called being human, Martin. Most of them learn from that, unlike some people.” What she is saying here is both self-reflective and accusatory. Both L and M have made mistakes and a mess of things. Have they learned from their mistakes? She clearly thinks M hasn’t, and we know he hates to admit he’s made any mistakes. She is another case in point, however. She’s seems more willing to accept her own mistakes, e.g. she takes the antibiotics he prescribes for her UTI after she realizes she’s been taking foolish chances just to be contrary. Nonetheless, she can also be intransigent and volatile.

She soon goes into labor and feels the need to sit down. When M pulls the chair out from under her, I thought it was an unnecessary pratfall, but now I’m wondering if that too is a way of indicating that he’s very nervous and that her support structure (Martin) is rather shaky. He helps her up and then his nervousness becomes prominent. He tells L to stay calm, but it’s he who can’t be calm. In the midst of this tense scene, the EMTs arrive and M yells at them too. Significantly, Martin tells them “she’s having her baby,” and L corrects him saying “no, your baby.” She’s making it clear they are in this together. We could see her comment as an admonishment to him, and it is, but I think it’s also a sign that she acknowledges now that the baby is theirs and not just hers.

M’s way of coping is to try to take control, but in this case he has no way to control events and his anger surfaces again. At this point L finds his attitude unhelpful to her and asks him to wait outside. She banishes him from the room. Properly chastened, M leaves while assuring her he’ll be nearby. He struggles to stay out yet his time away from the action gives him a chance to think.

Now L starts having second thoughts about ordering him out and reconsiders. She tells the EMT: “I’ve changed my mind. Let him in, let him in.” As if they can read each others’ minds, he bursts through the door at that moment, finding it impossible to stay out any longer. He feels compelled to tell her “I was wrong.” No sooner are those words out of his mouth than she motions him to join her. As he kneels next to her, he spills out his heart saying, “I was wrong about you, about leaving, about everything. When I saw that taxi, I feared the worst.” This sequence of dialogue reflects what’s been missing in their relationship. She needs him with her and he needs to tell her how he feels about her. They share a passionate kiss that is soon followed by strong labor pains. Nicely done…their love for each other has been renewed but there is pain ahead.

During the ensuing labor and delivery, L holds M by his suit jacket and pushes and pulls him away from her and back towards her. I now see this as a perfect depiction of their interaction throughout the series. First she pushes him away, then she pulls him close over and over again. All the while Martin is literally getting yanked around by Louisa with a look on his face that shows a combination of concern and bafflement. (I don’t want to ignore how funny this scene is and how much it mirrors what most women in labor are like to their husbands. Women should not be held responsible for their actions during labor and delivery!)

Once the baby is born, M is hesitant to hold him, but L tells him he can learn, and he responds by taking the baby and saying “Yes, I could.” The scene now seems a foreshadowing of the end of S6 when M tells L he needs her help learning how to be a better husband. During S5 Martin has made the transition to being a father and helping with the baby. If he can learn that, there is every reason to believe he can also learn what it takes to be a better husband.

(Another post coming soon)

Originally posted 2014-06-01 16:46:48.

What is it about DM that is so appealing?

A reader of this blog has asked me what I think is the reason so many viewers have found Doc Martin a show that captivates them. I’ve certainly asked myself that question a number of times. I’ve never started a blog about anything before even though I’ve admired other TV shows, and I’ve never watched episodes of a show many times over as much as I have with this show. My background is analyzing and interpreting novels; my professional life has been teaching how to closely read what we have called “Great Books” so that they can be fully appreciated. For me, this show has been like analyzing a well written novel with the added quality of excellent acting.

What makes a novel “great”? As a professor of literature, I’ve been asked that question many times. Certainly the use of language and all of its subtleties has a lot to do with it. Often it’s how the novel represents its time, and we have had many literary movements over the last 4 centuries. Another important element is the themes it explores: do we learn something about human nature, relationships, love, family interactions, existential dilemmas? Has the writer created a plot and characters that urge us to think deeply about the characters and their circumstances? There are many identifiable attributes that make a novel great along with some ineffable ones.

Since I began thinking more specifically about why DM has inspired me to be so intrigued, I read an article in the New Yorker Magazine written by Emily Nussbaum, their television critic. In that article from earlier this month Nussbaum discusses what made “All in the Family” so popular in the 70s. I have decided, as a result, that I should approach the question of “Doc Martin” and its appeal from both an objective and a subjective position. (I should mention that Nussbaum refers to a new book by Saul Austerlitz titled “Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from ‘I Love Lucy’ to ‘Community.’ ” I know DM isn’t a sitcom; however, there is plenty of humor and I can see a lot of similarities between what Nussbaum and Austerlitz write and DM.)

The objective view I would like to propose follows Nussbaum’s thoughts on “All in the Family” to a great extent. It seems quite apropos because, as Nussbaum recounts, “All in the Family” began as a British show called “Till Death Do Us Part” that was also a ratings hit. The objective view will be along the lines of what I would say about a novel. Indeed, I think that one reason I have become so fascinated by this show is because it can be analyzed like a novel. One DM fan recently posted a podcast with Nigel Cole, one of the directors of DM and the director of “Saving Grace,” the film progenitor of DM. He had a lot of interesting things to say about his experiences as a director and how he works with scriptwriters. For me, one of the most insightful comments he makes is that TV is like a novel in that it allows characters to drift and to have them fluctuate between being appealing and being disturbing or unlikeable. He used “Breaking Bad” and Walter White as the best example. Sometimes he’s attractive and caring, and sometimes he’s disturbing and exasperating; Cole likes that flexibility. I like that too and see the same sort of “drifting” in Martin Ellingham.

The subjective view will be my personal thoughts on why I have responded to the show with such long-term interest, with the hope that my reasons will resonate with those of you who read them.

Now on to the Nussbaum article and how I see it relating to DM:
Among the comments Nussbaum makes about “All in the Family” is that the selection of Carroll O’Connor as the actor was essential. According to Nussbaum, “O’Connor’s noisy, tender, and sometimes frightening performance made the character unforgettable.” When they decided to expand the Martin Clunes’ character of Dr. Martin Bamford from “Saving Grace” and position him as a doctor who comes to the village of Portwenn, they fortuitously worked with an actor who applied these same attributes. Whether intentional or not, Martin Clunes has taken a page out of O’Connor’s notebook with his portrayal of Martin Ellingham. Nussbaum states “Archie was the first masculine powerhouse to simultaneously charm and alienate viewers.” She also notes “it’s Archie’s volcanic charisma that lingers.” ME has the same mixture of charm and charisma along with a tendency to be insufferable.

While Archie Bunker gave bigotry a human face at a time when America was dealing with civil rights issues, Martin Ellingham gives socially compromised (Asperger’s like) adults a personal representative. (We can argue over what ME is afflicted with, but Dominic Minghella and Philippa Braithwaite have acknowledged he’s not “normal.”) Autism and Asperger’s have become very prominent disorders lately, and using that sort of handicap works well with the audience of the past decade. Martin Ellingham also represents the doctors of the world who try to make sense of the way people/patients handle their health and medical care in today’s environment of the internet and diminished respect for physicians.

According to Nussbaum, Archie should also be described as an anti-hero, and, as Nussbaum notes,”as anyone who has ever read the comments on a recap can tell you, there has always been a less ambivalent way of regarding an antihero: as a hero.” Martin Clunes has said British audiences like their heroes “anti.” Nussbaum believes that many viewers embrace anti-heroes, and we can easily point to “The Sopranos” Tony Soprano, “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White, even “True Detective’s” Rust Cohle; I could go on. Martin Ellingham’s abrasiveness makes him an anti-hero, while he retains many endearing qualities much like Archie (Tony, Walter, and Rust). Literature is filled with anti-heroes with this same combination of nastiness and attractiveness.

A recent interview with Bryan Cranston, who played the role of Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” elicited this comment: There’s a reason antiheroes are so popular all of a sudden. “In days gone by, there were those bad guys of poorly written material who were just bad. No reason, no rhyme — they were just bad,” Cranston said. “It’s easy for the audience to cast them aside and just go, ‘I’m not even afraid of him because he’s just bad.’ You know where he’s coming from, you know what he wants. But a more interesting, complex character is someone who I’m not sure if he’s good or bad. I’m uncertain. And that’s what strikes the heart of Nucky [on ‘Boardwalk Empire’] and Tony Soprano and my character.” ME fits that description as well.

In addition, Nussbaum addresses the way words are used in “All in the Family.” Surprisingly, one of the most influential literary theorists of the 20th century, Paul de Man, quoted Archie and Edith’s dialogue to dramatize a point about the slipperiness of meaning in words: “the idea that the intent of words was endlessly interpretable.” In the case of Archie and Edith, Edith takes Archie’s comment “What’s the difference?” literally and explains the difference to him, while Archie really means he doesn’t care. In DM, ME takes comments literally all the time, e.g. when L asks M how she looks and he answers flushed and takes her pulse. She’s hoping for a compliment, not a medical opinion. By writing the dialogue in this manner, we recognize the ambiguity of language and how hard it is for L, or anyone for that matter, to get through to M. Words often fail to convey to him what someone is trying to tell him. Furthermore, he struggles to find the right words with which to express himself. In both of these examples, we viewers enjoy the flubbed communication and mostly humorous consequences.

Nussbaum concludes her article by stating that good TV shows involve “storytelling that alters the audience by demanding that viewers do more than just watch.” She wants originality and would “rather watch a show that unsettled me than something that was merely ‘good.'” We can all attest to the fact that DM leads us to do more than just watch and can be unsettling at times. That is cause for celebration and more evidence of its excellence.

Now that I’ve probably gone overboard with my objective analysis, I’ll move on to my subjective reasons.

Perhaps the most important reason I felt compelled to start a blog about DM is that watching the show brought up so many philosophical topics about the human experience. It made me want to interrogate what it means to be a mother, how to define family, what names signify. It dramatized many women’s issues and the prevalence of psychological conditions of all kinds. It inspired me to think about whether people can change and what brings us happiness in life. In short, the show has given me another opportunity to put my brain to work in the same way that a good novel has always done for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Melville’s Moby Dick or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or Mann’s Death in Venice. Re-watching “Doc Martin” is no different. Every time I reread these works of literature or re-watch an episode, I see something I missed, something new that excites me if only because I never noticed it before.

Moreover, I love the combination of these serious topics with the humorous delivery. I would argue that all of the shows I’ve mentioned above contain that same sort of gravity accompanied by scenes that make me laugh (as do the novels I’ve mentioned). It doesn’t get any better than that. If we can be provoked at the same time as being entertained, it’s the best of both worlds to me. I revel in ME’s pratfalls, awkward comments, dialogue with his receptionists, inability to admit fault, conversations with Stewart, etc., etc. I have published several posts on the humor in the show, so I doubt anyone reading this will be surprised that I consider humor very valuable to the show. Of course it helps that Martin Clunes is well known as a comedian and wants the show to have a comedic underpinning. Caroline Catz may not have spent as much time doing comedy as MC, but her timing and expressions convince me that she is just as capable in that field of acting as she is in drama.

Which brings us to the quality of the acting and the characters themselves. The main characters have been developed as multidimensional, and that in itself is fascinating. We can’t pigeonhole them. Not only do Caroline Catz and Martin Clunes have a good chemistry between them that comes across during their scenes together, but also they are both accomplished at portraying an equipoise between vulnerability and strength; uncertainty and forcefulness. For me, that quality is truly captivating and draws me to their characters. ME is an underdog due to his social and psychological issues, and we generally root for the underdog.

The other attribute of these actors that I think helps is that they are physically attractive and appealing, but accessible and have unique features. We can relate to them as being part of the real world because they appear natural, unaltered, and approachable. They reflect that no one is perfect. I know that there are many women and men who have developed an infatuation with MC and CC and will probably object to my position that they have flaws. I’m willing to take my lumps for this comment.

Beyond the two primary characters, we have so many other regulars who are intrinsic to the show – Mrs. Tishell, Aunt Joan, Bert, Al, Pauline, Morwenna, Mark, Joe, Aunt Ruth – and who add depth and levity. They are types to be sure; however, they aren’t stereotypes. Through the great development of each of these characters, something that makes them come alive and seem real, we have a unified team that carries us through the series. Then other “visiting” cast members can enter and exit without changing the overall atmosphere. Substitutions of main cast members have occurred with amazingly little disruption: Aunt Ruth has replaced Aunt Joan, Morwenna has replaced Pauline, and Joe has replaced Mark. Each time I have been stunned at the seamlessness with which I accept the newcomers. The new characters bring something fresh to the show such that I can move on without too much regret. (I do miss Roger Fenn and think it would be nice to have another man in the village who could have some sort of relationship with Martin.)

Ultimately, the reason I like the show so much is because of the writing. As Nigel Cole said in his interview, and as I’ve quoted Robert McKee as having said, the script is everything. Cole asserts that once a script has been work-shopped and the director and writers have worked together to get the script right, there’s no way to make the filming better than the script. He’s seen directors make things worse, but never better. According to him, the director’s job is to bring the script to fruition. I re-watch many episodes because I want to hear the dialogue again. I want to hear the fish monger’s speech to ME, Mrs. T’s diatribe on L and M’s relationship, M’s discussions with Louisa, or Pauline, or Margaret, or Ruth and others. It’s a joy to hear how the words have been maximized for the best impact. I know how hard it is to write that well and truly admire this achievement.

I can’t deny that I also enjoy the romance between ME and L as well as the scenes with JH. Without the attraction between Martin and Louisa, the show would be missing an essential attribute. There generally has to be a love interest in every successful show (or novel), someone with whom there is friction as well as enticement. The match between ME and L has worked very well for the series. L has been allowed to stand up to M on many occasions while M continues to baffle her throughout. Still, we see their desire to keep trying to be a couple, never entirely happy either apart or together. I like that tension, although I’m ready for a little less of it now. In addition, the tenderness with which both ME and L treat JH is endearing. I’m glad ME is given the freedom to be caring and loving towards his son. I’d like to see more fathers interact with their children in such an intimate fashion in real life, and it makes me a little sad that until recently most men never took that sort of interest in their babies.

The fact that the show depicts many medical conditions and uses them as a means of demonstrating what kind of person ME is also appeals to me. I have been surrounded by the medical profession for many years and get a kick out of the interplay between doctor and patient.

The setting is not as important to me as the other elements. That part of England is beautiful, but it’s not what captures my imagination. I could see any small village working as the backdrop for the series. The location works well because of its remoteness and the surrounding area has the convenience of somewhat larger towns with facilities the citizens of Portwenn can use. It’s just not the compelling force that drives me to watch the show.

I’m sure I’ve left out some features that I may kick myself for forgetting. I look forward to reading your feedback.

Originally posted 2014-04-26 18:43:26.

Laughter and Civility

Our last discussion was about attachment theory, and I had been considering writing a post about that, but I have found a different reason to take up my “pen” again. Recently there was a review in the NYT of several books that have been published on the subject of civility. Therefore, I was moved to write about that. (I’m sure some of the current public behavior we have been witnessing had something to do with this urge, but, the fact that laughter has sometimes been connected to civility also made me want to write about it.)

Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that the philosopher Thomas Hobbes had written about his theory of laughter. I think I remember it because of the example he used. Hobbes’ theory revolves around those who laugh because they feel superior to someone else as when we laugh at someone who slips on a banana peel. To Hobbes, a society built on laughter would be a society built on mockery, or people laughing at the misfortunes of others.

It surprised me to learn that Hobbes was one of the few philosophers who gave laughter much consideration. Aristotle, for example, wrote more about tragedy and how tragic characters were generally of average or better than average standing. In his view, in comedy individuals of lesser virtue are the norm and we look down on them. The bottom line seems to be that humor is often a consequence of denigrating someone.

I confess to being guilty of this, and suspect most of us are. Moreover, Doc Martin is rife with humor based on this model. Whenever ME walks into a door frame or low ceiling, slips in mud, or drives his car off the road; whenever Penhale attempts anything resembling actual police work; whenever Louisa dangles from a hospital bed or says something that is misinterpreted, we are in the arena of Hobbes’ Superiority Theory of laughter. We could add other characters, e.g. Mrs. Tishell, Bert, and Janice. Each one of these characters has been depicted in comedic settings that would be categorized as a pratfall. A pratfall is basically a stupid and humiliating action. It is something that has been a part of comedy for as long as we can remember. And the remarkable thing about it is that it often involves a perceived highly-competent individual who becomes more likable after committing a blunder, according to something called the pratfall effect. I would venture to say that all of the above characters benefit from the pratfall effect. Thus, we can summarize that we laugh because we recognize how inept these characters are while we also find them more appealing as a result.

Furthermore, I then came across a recent article by Emily Nussbaum, TV critic of The New Yorker Magazine, on jokes article It seemed perfect that the accompanying picture is of a golden banana peel with the potential that there could be a tangential connection to Hobbes’ Superiority Theory. Nussbaum lists Mel Brooks, Rodney Dangerfield, and Don Rickles as practitioners of a type of humor that she calls insult comedy. (I would put Dame Edna in this category as well.) In the process of being rude, these comics also reveal some very incisive points about society and politics.

Indeed Nussbaum comments that the political journalist Rebecca Traister described this phenomenon… as “the finger trap.” “You are placed loosely within the joke, which is so playful, so light—why protest? It’s only when you pull back—show that you’re hurt, or get angry, or try to argue that the joke is a lie, or, worse, deny that the joke is funny—that the joke tightens. If you object, you’re a censor. If you show pain, you’re a weakling. It’s a dynamic that goes back to the rude, rule-breaking Groucho Marx—destroyer of élites!—and Margaret Dumont, pop culture’s primal pearl-clutcher.”

Isn’t that exactly what happens to ME when Bert sets him up with his fake injury using ketchup? Nothing ME did at that point could have salvaged his dignity. Another time this trap appears is when Pauline takes a picture of ME sleeping with the dog on the floor and then shares the picture around town. ME gets comedically “punished” regularly, either with pratfalls or with irreconcilable humiliations. His most prevalent rejoinder is one of superiority towards those who are discourteous to him. There’s almost a “tit for tat” element played out.

I am not saying that laughing at such situations is malicious, even if Hobbes would make that argument; however, I am proposing that we should step back and think about what it is that makes us laugh.

The Superiority Theory leads us to a discussion of the subject of self-esteem, which is how one views oneself or one’s attitude towards oneself. Self-esteem has been the subject of much study with prominent psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, placing it in an important position in human development. I think we can leave it at the place where we recognize that there are people who have anything from high self-esteem to low self-esteem, and each of those markers is associated with particular personality characteristics. (We have already analyzed ME and LE on the MMPI, and we could get into where they fall on the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, but that is not what I want to concentrate on in this post.) More important is whether our own self-esteem is implicated in why we laugh, or accept without much reservation, that it’s admissible to laugh when comedians are uncivil to others.

First we need to agree on what it means to be uncivil. Civility goes beyond mere toleration, but may inherently imply a mutual co-existence and respect for humankind. It may interest you to know that George Washington wrote Rules of Civility as a teenager. It is a list of 110 ways for how to behave civilly. Obviously he felt compelled to set down some guidelines during his youth, and we can only imagine he had a reason to think society needed to know them. More recently there have been articles in psychology journals that address this concern as well. In the mentioned article, civility is defined as “awareness, self-control, empathy and respect…It requires us to treat others with decency, regardless of our differences. It demands restraint and an ability to put the interests of the common good above self-interests.” Even though I have not tried to find the statistics on current uncivil behavior, I think we can agree that between the online bullying and the overt impolite conduct too many young people exhibit towards adults (not to mention the name calling and other forms of belittling practiced by adults), we can come to the conclusion that uncivil actions have only increased. Should we be troubled by the expression of uncivil comportment in our comedy?

The controversy about civility and how to deal with it has been long standing. In that same recent book review in the NYT mentioned above, Hobbes is noted as having “feared that strident expressions of disagreement would threaten the diversity of views in society (much as hate speech is now thought to do), so he advocated an ethic of ‘civil silence,’ or public discretion: People could differ privately in their opinions as much as they wanted but should not openly dispute one another. Locke, by contrast, wanted to preserve public debate, but worried that too much diversity of opinion might jeopardize productive disagreement (the sort of concern campus speech codes now reflect). So he urged an ethic of ‘mutual charity,’ which required people to cultivate at least a minimal appreciation for the views of their opponents, or else be disqualified from debate. Both thinkers, in other words, imagined bringing about a tolerant society via suppression or exclusion — the very forces you would think a tolerant society would want to avoid.”

The review goes on to note that Roger Williams, a 17th C religious radical, “asked not that everyone keep quiet or respect his or her enemies, but merely that everyone not do anything to stop the conversation from going. Williams’s ‘mere civility’ demands more of us than Locke’s or Hobbes’s civility, in that it requires we have thicker skins about other people’s rudeness or disrespect; but it also demands less of us, in that we no longer have to muster respect for, or mute our criticism of, views we abhor.” In other words, he contrasts forbearance with tolerance.

Who is acting uncivilly in Doc Martin? Topping the list is the group of girls who regularly walk past ME and call him a tosser amongst other things. They are particularly bad when they mock him after Louisa leaves him and suggest he might want to date one of their mothers. Actually I have trouble thinking of any teenager in this show who isn’t disrespectful. From the boys on the beach who tell off ME to the delinquent Eleanor engages to watch James Henry to Becky Trevean and her cohort, they are all extremely impolite and disturbingly combative. Then there’s Becky Wead who writes the critical article of him in the school newspaper and Kelly Sparrock who tells him off and treats him with disdain even while he’s trying to diagnose her seizure disorder.

Apart from these members of Port Isaac’s community, we can include many others who speak disparagingly about the doc, often reflecting an obvious contempt for him. This group would include Allison, Danny and his mother, Mark’s sister, and Caroline (the radio Portwenn personality).

Among the people who are uncivil we can’t leave out Martin Ellingham himself. Could there be a more derogatory and insolent person than him? He is pugnacious towards his patients, generally suspicious of many of the motives of the townspeople, including Louisa, and, of course, has no social skills at all. His character is deliberately constructed in this manner, but we shouldn’t overlook this aspect of his personality. He cannot even restrain himself from giving the people of Portwenn a lecture on diet when he is delivering a eulogy of his beloved aunt.

The fact that these are offset by quite a few people who admire his medical ability and who manage to appreciate him despite his own uncivil behavior redeems him and provides sufficient agreeableness to his character. And Martin Ellingham is himself recuperated by some of the kindnesses he is capable of displaying.

I have previously argued that we don’t want to “fix” ME, or probably any of the characters. I would still maintain that though comedy may stem from uncivil behavior, it is rather harmless in this show. Still, the more we tolerate uncivil treatment of others, the more we may be accepting creeping incivility in our world.

Originally posted 2017-01-22 12:45:51.

Laughter/Comedy

Following my post on “Laughter and Civility” several months ago I have been trying to deconstruct what makes us laugh and build a convincing argument that it is appropriate to identify Doc Martin as a dramedy with an emphasis on comedy. For me this was a worthwhile endeavor because I am fascinated by the various philosophical views of humor and laughter. (I also find it important to place shows in the proper categories because I believe we don’t give enough recognition to the impact comedy can have on our views of all sorts of topics.)

In writing about Doc Martin I have often referred to other TV shows that combined serious topics with intentional efforts to be comedic. These included M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. In the above mentioned post one important commenter (DM) noted an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show that deserved to be included. Every one of these exceptional shows addressed very important issues while also making us laugh. While there is an argument to be made that The Sopranos and Breaking Bad leaned more toward drama than comedy, the others were definitely designed as comedies first, and I believe strongly that Doc Martin was too. My position on this does not in any way diminish the significant contributions to our discourse on socially relevant concerns addressed by these shows.

In my effort to develop a convincing argument on this subject, I used my usual academic resources and I watched the recent series on CNN about The History of Comedy, and I checked out some other discussions on YouTube. What follows is my attempt at collating all of this information and providing you with a few references to my sources.

My “go to” source is often A Handbook to Literature because it distills terminology into its basics. It seems pertinent to note that in this reference book comedy is identified as “a lighter form of drama that aims primarily to amuse and that ends happily. It differs from farce and burlesque by having a sustained plot, weightier and subtler dialogue, more lifelike characters, and less boisterous behavior.” Furthermore, the Handbook states “in general, the comic effect arises from a recognition of some incongruity of speech, action, or character…Viewed in another sense, comedy may be considered to deal with people in their human state, restrained and often made ridiculous by their limitations, faults, bodily functions, and animal nature…Comedy has always regarded human beings more realistically than tragedy and drawn its laughter or satire from the spectacle of individual or collective human weakness or failure.”

The Handbook also defines comic relief as “a humorous scene, incident, or speech in the course of serious fiction or drama…that are used to provide relief from emotional intensity and, by contrast, to heighten the seriousness of the story.” (We can easily see how in S6 Penhale’s survival exercises were inserted for that purpose. [IMO the story had gotten so somber that Penhale’s antics ended up simply being intrusive and tiresome.] In S7 Mrs. Tischell’s preparations for a romantic dinner relieved the lack of intimacy between Martin and Louisa and heightened the seriousness of that absence. And those are just two of many instances where comic relief is used in this show.)

CNN’s series of episodes that looked at the history of comedy broke it down into 9 episodes so far, with each having a particular theme. The one named “The Comedy of Real Life” seemed the most pertinent for my use and really reaffirmed what the Handbook had to say about comedy dealing with people in their human state. CNN asserts that comedy consists of real life events just twisted a bit, and that comedians bring everyday experiences to the front burner. In addition, it declares real life funny because it’s relatable and viewers realize that many of these situations have happened to them too. They quote Norman Lear as saying “there’s nothing more interesting than the foolishness of the human condition. It takes the comedian to find the moment that helps people laugh at themselves.”

In this episode they also declare that being likable is not believable and there’s no comedy in likable. Furthermore, they contend that outcasts can be lovable. Thus, flawed characters are the essence of comedy.

Insofar as subject matter is concerned, they quote Jerry Seinfeld as saying that romance gives people instant vulnerability and that marriage is rife with comedy because it strains credulity that two people want to make a commitment for life. Apart from that, relationship material is never finished because there are so many ways to be with somebody.

So when Doc Martin begins with the flight to Newquay in which Martin Ellingham quickly reveals his social ineptitude by staring at Louisa Glasson, they are immediately taking advantage of the comedic aspects associated with relationships, and the show continues to build on that quality. Soon they add conflict between these two characters as well as physical humor.

We may experience some sympathy for the pain associated with much of the bodily abuse suffered by several of the characters in the show, but the fact remains that humor is often derived from misfortune including pain. We also often laugh at someone’s clumsiness, including in real life. To substantiate this position I would refer you to President Gerald Ford and his actual falls down (or up) stairs and what fun we all had watching Chevy Chase exaggerate his clumsiness in SNL skits. This brings me to a YouTube video TED talk of a TED talk that stood out to me in that it condensed the study of what makes us laugh into a short presentation. In particular the speaker’s reference to falling down the stairs clarifies what turns that into something we laugh at. As long as the fall is benign and does not involve a violation (as defined by the speaker), the act is funny, and meant to be funny. Of course we can extrapolate from a fall down the stairs to any action that might injure someone but turns out to be harmless, e.g. hitting one’s head, being shot at, jumping through a window or climbing out of one, getting a foot stuck in a trap, slipping off a chair, etc., etc. I would add that feeling nauseated or having any sort of benign illness fits that category as well. It’s funny when the headmaster runs into the water with Martin chasing after him because no one gets hurt; it’s not funny when Holly slips on a wet rock and injures her back. (Then again the aftermath of both events are funny, i.e. Martin being dripping wet while Edith drives by and Holly staying at Louisa’s and Martin attempting to show some sympathy.)

To augment this position I give you a segment of a Dick Van Dyke Show episode If you don’t laugh while also understanding the points he’s making about comedy, I will be surprised. Moreover, I don’t think any of this has changed in the last 50 years. It’s been true from the earliest days of comedy and remains true today. I am quite sure the writers of Doc Martin and Martin Clunes himself are aware of all of this and use it to make this show satisfy the characteristics of a comedy.

The whole premise of Doc Martin is supposed to be funny. A surgeon with haemophobia who is also socially inept and clumsy and decides to move to a small town and practice as a GP is immediately filled with absurdities that would make us laugh. I like to think that the hedge of defining comedy as a lighter drama is sufficient to satisfy us all.

Originally posted 2017-04-23 14:06:03.

STOP THE PRESSES

I can’t bury the lead…MARTIN ELLINGHAM SAID, AND I QUOTE, “I’M GLAD I’M HERE.”

The question we’ve been trying to answer for years has now been settled: Martin CAN be happy, and is, in Portwenn. They included enough evidence in this episode that he wants to stay in Portwenn that for me they have resolved that issue. As in S7 when Louisa was regularly reminding people in the village that she was now Mrs. Ellingham despite their marital woes, Martin notes several times in this episode that he plans to stay in Portwenn.

Not only that but he can still perform vascular surgery, and does in Portwenn, with a knife, in the ballroom!!

As has been occurring throughout S8, despite being told to suspend his medical practice, ME comes to the rescue several times and diagnoses some rare conditions. The coup de gras comes when he saves the necrosing hand of an artist, demonstrating he can function at a very high level while presented with a lot of blood and under great stress. If there was ever any doubt that his medical knowledge and skills were not up to snuff, those reservations were dashed to smithereens (pun intended).

Now, as for the blood phobia. Any medical board would require that a doctor who has a compromising condition seek therapy. In his case, as in the case of Gregory House, he is an outstanding physician whose infirmity does not interfere with his extraordinary ability as a doctor. Because the board can’t just overlook this matter, these doctors are forced to submit to the authorities and prove they are at least trying to overcome their vulnerabilities. Must he cure his blood phobia to satisfy them? Generally a good faith effort to deal with the problem whether it’s a phobia or an addiction will convince the board that the doctor has been properly diligent about the matter, especially since there is no doubt that these doctors are critical to the health and well-being of their patients.

Will Martin Ellingham cure his blood phobia? I think we all agree that we won’t be witness to much therapy, and I seriously doubt Louisa is going to be the answer to his problem. We might just return to the show and the lives of this couple after he has sought help and reduced, if not eliminated, his phobia. This is really the one area they leave in suspense for the next series. (I want to include a caveat here that this group of writers and producers has been known to feign in one direction and take us in another. There is always a chance that what we see as a likely future plan may end up being a deliberate misdirection. For example, I thought S6 had to begin with the wedding and I enjoyed the humor in E1 tremendously. I expected the rest of the series to continue the humor. Boy was I wrong about that!)

During this last episode of S8 we did see the more typical Jack Lothian script. As in a number of previous series, Ruth, Penhale, and Louisa are all in attendance during the final minutes of the episode. Ruth is there to provide advice and further the action, Penhale enters to demonstrate his allegiance to the doc and as the person who both causes some of the problems and helps solve them, and Louisa is there, of course, because she is his trusted companion (and she needs to get his medical bag).

We finally get a scene in which Martin spends some time with James. As in the charming scene in S5 when James is a baby and Martin reads his medical journal to him, in this episode, Martin explains the origins of stethoscopes to James while allowing him to wear a stethoscope. And James is actually allowed to stand up! He still hasn’t spoken another word, but we’re making progress!

Viewers’ wish for some romance comes when Chris Parsons tries to kiss Louisa and Beth Traywick makes advances toward Martin. They are both still desirable to others if not particularly affection inducing to each other. We could also postulate that now that they are able to converse with each other, that has supplanted the kissing. (Lothian does include one conversation that is interrupted as a throwback.)

I, for one, have found these occasions when Martin is the object of desire by various women to be excessive and unnecessary. I suppose they could be a nod to the experience doctors often have with patients. The disparagement of America is ok, and Beth ultimately does protect Sally and treat her very nicely under the circumstances, assertiveness training aside. Their catfights are somewhat amusing, although nothing close to the ones in Dynasty.

This episode was much more along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from good writers and actors. They found something for everyone to do and they found a way to end the series on a good note for this couple.

[I still may have a few more posts in my future. I look forward to hearing from you all!]

Jack Lothian, Writers and Actors Redux

I planned to write a post about marriage next, and I still plan to write that; however, I feel inspired to write a post about Jack Lothian’s writing again first. My previous post about writers and actors in August gave a fairly detailed review of the final episode of season 5, which was written by Lothian, and I mentioned several other episodes written by him that I admired tremendously. In season 6 he is credited with writing episodes 1 and 8, the first and last episodes. To the best of my knowledge, the practice of writing a TV show (or a film for that matter) begins with determining the arc of the story for the season. I have to say that in the case of DM it’s quite a bit easier for the writers, producers, etc. to come up with an arc because there are only 8 episodes. For many of our series in the US, there are as many as 22 episodes for each season. In that case, there would be a story arc, but it would probably allow for changes along the way. Over the course of the season they have time to make adjustments if something doesn’t seem to be working as planned. At any rate, when I look at season 6 of DM and the two episodes Jack Lothian wrote, I wonder if he wrote them at the same time because I notice so many points of comparison. (As I’ve said before, I always believe that writers know what they’re doing and write with a consciousness of what they’re writing and intention to include what we see.) Of course you won’t be surprised to learn that I think they are by far the best episodes of this season due to the writing. But they also contain many aspects that connect them to each other and form a nice sense of coherence between them. I will even go so far as to say that episode 1 is my favorite of the season and possibly even of the entire series. I say that because I find it has romance, an impressive range of emotions, and so much humor that I can’t help but laugh out loud at many things that happen. When I first saw episode 1, I thought the series was off to a great season 6 because it was continuing to captivate us with that combination of romance and humor while keeping the characters complex. E2 kept my hopes up too, but then they took the show in a more downward and serious trajectory than I would have ever expected. I have now watched the whole season again and continue to be disappointed that the character of Doc Martin becomes so troubled by his psychological issues that he loses the clumsiness and the sort of naivete that he has had previously. By E6, when Margaret shows up, he’s already headed for trouble. Her appearance only makes things worse, but we do see some light in E8. (I understand if Martin Clunes wanted to shake things up a bit and maybe even wanted to show more of his own range, but for me the show could have stayed in the mode of the first two episodes and found a way to give him those opportunities too. Caroline Catz should have none of those complaints this season since Louisa was put through the wringer and she handled everything she was asked to do with tremendous skill.)

Back to the main reason for this post: comparing E1 and E8…
-The key points of comparison are that in both Martin asks for Louisa’s help, and in both he says “I’m sorry” to Louisa.
In E1 Martin needs Louisa to help him with the makeshift surgery he performs on the caravan owner who gets cut by glass when the unstable awning falls on him. Despite the man threatening them with his rifle, they don’t want him to die and Martin tells Louisa he can save him from bleeding to death, but “I need your help.” In E8, Martin leans over Louisa before performing surgery on her to save her from potentially bleeding into her brain and tells her, “I think I need your help” because he’s never been married before and he doesn’t seem to be very good at it, and he’d like to learn so he can be much better at it.
In E1 Martin says he’s sorry to Louisa as they’re walking up the dirt road with the man they operated on in a wheelbarrow. He knows their first night of marriage wasn’t exactly the kind of night she’d been hoping for. Louisa doesn’t think Martin needs to apologize and tells him the night is certainly one they’ll never forget. In E8 Martin tells Louisa he’s sorry after he kisses her goodbye. The kiss is awkward because he kisses her on the cheek when she wants to kiss him on the lips. He has also told JH he’s sorry for everything that’s happening.
I think repeating these two interactions ties the two episodes together subtly and nicely. That Martin acknowledges that he needs Louisa’s help is always welcome because he has so much trouble ever looking to others for anything. It’s also meaningful for him to apologize because that, too, is a sign everything hasn’t gone as well as he’s wished and he’s willing to admit it.

-Both also include Martin performing surgery and operating on the carotid artery.
In E1 the caravan owner’s carotid is nicked by a shard of glass. In E8 Martin uses the carotid artery as an access point to reach the AVM and complete the embolization. The carotid artery provides the brain with oxygenated blood which is essential to life. By using it twice, its importance for human life is emphasized and Martin’s ability to operate on it safely and successfully is reaffirmed.

-Ruth plays a significant role in both episodes and Al’s relationship to Ruth is important in both.
In E1 Ruth takes care of JH so Martin and Louisa can have a night alone. While they’re having all sorts of adventures throughout the night, she’s also dealing with an unsettled baby and the loss of electrical power in the house. She calls Al to come and fix the electrical problems only to find out he doesn’t know what to do. He does, however, know who to call and Mike Pruddy fixes the power problem and settles the baby. In E8 Ruth clarifies for Martin what he must do to save his marriage to Louisa. She also listens to Al’s proposal to start a bed and breakfast on her farm and determines that his idea is viable, giving him the best boost to his confidence he’s had in along time.
Ruth is a unifying force for Martin and Louisa in both episodes as well as the person in Al’s life who makes him feel important.

-I would go so far as to say that Martin is somewhat overcome at the wedding that he is now married to Louisa and that same sense of dismay plays a part in his inability to say and do the right things to keep her from leaving in E8.
At the reception following the wedding Martin stands apart from Louisa admiring her from across the room. His face reflects a man who is incredulous that he is married to the woman he’s been adoring for many years. In E8 he puts Louisa and JH in the taxi and watches as they drive away with something of the same look of incredulity on his face, but now it’s due to being utterly unsure what to do.
In a way the fact that Martin still appears so disbelieving is further evidence that he has lots of work to do on himself.

-Morwenna and Penhale fill the position of liaisons between Martin and Louisa in both.
In E1 Morwenna holds the baby during the wedding ceremony and then stands between Martin and Louisa as they discuss whether to leave or not. Rather than being an intrusion between the newlyweds, she forms a link and helps Louisa convince Martin to stay a little longer. Penhale wants to be Martin’s best man and makes sure he has a flower for his lapel. He looks for Louisa to arrive and later gives a wedding speech that celebrates both Martin and Louisa as important to the community. Both Morwenna and Penhale see the married couple off. In E8 Morwenna walks in on Martin as he’s doing an EKG on himself. She is one of the few people aware that he’s been running tests on himself. Then she watches in disbelief as Louisa leaves with JH. There’s a definite moment when her expression is telling the doc to do something to stop Louisa, but as usual he doesn’t get it. Penhale is the one who drives Martin to the airport so that he can stop Louisa from flying. He also convinces the security guard to let Martin pass and takes JH from Martin once they get to the hospital.
Martin may not acknowledge it, but these two dependable people enter his life at very important moments and matter a lot to his bond with Louisa.

A minor, and lighter point of comparison is that there are scruffy older men in both. There’s no need to make too much of this, but having these two men — the caravan owner in E1 and the folk singer in E8 — is another way to tie the two episodes together. In both cases, the men start out annoyed by Martin but end up grateful to him. In both cases, Martin extends himself to help them and his behavior demonstrates a fundamental quality of caring in him.

For me both episodes had some very funny moments, although E1 was by far the funnier of the two. In my opinion it may be the funniest of all the episodes so far and I will try to convince you by giving a rundown of all the funny moments in another post.

Originally posted 2013-11-01 21:23:57.