Category Archives: writing

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.

Can We Talk?

Why do I feel so disappointed about S8? What is it about this series that simply does not live up to the previous ones? S6 had gotten too dark for me; S7 was too farcical and cartoonish. Nevertheless, I had found plenty to write about and much that made me laugh. This time I have tried to find something that motivates me to write and been struggling. In fact, even the titles of the episodes have not lived up to those of the past. For the most part I have found them trite and lacking any insight into the episode, unlike those of the past.

After doing some thinking, I have come up with the following reasons for my dissatisfaction:

1. To a great extent it has to do with the lack of a story arc for the series. My best guess at one is Louisa deciding to change jobs. It’s the only thread that has continued throughout the series. The only other threads, if we can call them that, are Martin’s blood phobia and, perhaps, the newfound ability of Martin and Louisa to actually get through a conversation without being interrupted. These haven’t been developed enough to carry the series. For some reason the occasions that presented opportunities for worthwhile development were not taken advantage of, e.g. Louisa attending classes with a former student of hers.

2. I am also very disappointed in the writing for this series and in the disjointed plots for each episode. We have previously had episodes in which the main storyline was supported by subplots and in which there were some excellent monologues and dialogues. There were often references to other literary sources or lyrics to songs. There was wordplay and ambiguity. It made the show a fun intellectual endeavor as much as an engaging bit of entertainment.

3. They chose to include almost no affection between Martin and Louisa. In my mind the producers and writers of this show must have been aware that the fans of this show were delighted that the conclusion of S7 reconciled Martin and Louisa and they expressed their mutual love for each other and had a passionate kiss. However, in this series, apart from Martin moving back into the house with Louisa and James, their sharing of duties related to James, and some perfunctory pecks on Martin’s cheek by Louisa, there is precious little to convince us that they are enjoying life together. There are some signs that Martin has taken a few pieces of advice from Dr. Timoney: he makes arrangements for a dinner date with Louisa; he allows Louisa to be “the decider” about James going to a daycare; having a dog; and about the car; and they have a standing lunch date on Thursdays (though we haven’t seen that actually happen). None of these instances leads to any meaningful or affectionate moments.

In this series the most likely bedroom situation appears to be Martin waking up to find Louisa already out of bed. In addition, Louisa tends to be late coming home. James is already in bed, the dog is a nonentity as well, and their conversation rather perfunctory. What happened to those scenes in the bedroom when they talk about a variety of things and actually seem to care about each other like in S5? Why wouldn’t they practice some of the other advice they got from Dr. T, such as saying something complimentary to each other or hugging now and then? Both of them demonstrate concern for the other at times throughout the series, but the deep expression of tenderness and devotion is gone.

4. I am a bit surprised that Martin doesn’t welcome Louisa’s decision to terminate her headmistress position. If anything he should be very happy that she won’t have the stress of the job as well as the course work, and he has always wanted her to spend more time at home with James. Although I would imagine James would still go to daycare regularly, Louisa might be available to drop him off and pick him up as well as find days when she could keep him home. Quitting her paying job is a big move for Louisa since she has never wanted to be a “kept” woman. By considering this change, isn’t she indicating that she’s willing to relent in that area, and perhaps even showing a willingness to trust Martin as her partner? (The fact that he may be forced to take a break from his medical practice and their source of income may be up in the air has not entered into her decision at this point.)

[I want to take a time out here to mention that I have looked up what is the likely procedure for filing claims against private physicians in the UK. According to a site I found that provides the rules for Medical Malpractice Liability in England and Wales, most GPs are covered by the Medical Protection Society and it is they who “will provide advice and may undertake the defense and settlement of the case.” It would be unlikely that he would be forced to stop practicing medicine; his practice manager (Chris Parsons) has recommended that he stop seeing patients until this claim is settled. However, from my perspective this patient will have a hard time proving that ME is incapable of taking care of patients, especially after this series has been chock full of patients he has treated and whose lives he has saved. Moreover, she did not follow his medical advice and there are plenty of witnesses to that.]

5. Despite the assertion that they don’t want to repeat themselves, they have been doing just that. Here is a quick list of the many repetitious scenes they have used this series:

  • A contagious disease that affects a group and ruins a party
  • A professional woman self-medicating and becoming crazed. This one, in particular, bothers me. Is this such a pervasive problem in UK that we have it appear so often in this show?
  • A wedding that is called off and the bride leaves town
  • Bert serves tainted food or water
  • Bert lies about where he’s sleeping and how his business is doing
  • Ruth has to warn Al and Bert about her lack of confidence in them
  • A woman uses shells and other “detritus” to create jewelry
  • Mrs. T acts the fool around Martin even after recommitting to her marriage
  • An older woman malingers in Martin’s surgery

6. There are glaring gaps. For example, who buys the farm? Why does James never say another word? Who the heck is Ken Hollister or Hannah Butler or Trevor Dodds? We’ve seen a lot of characters come and go, but these seem to be regular members of the town that we’ve never met before yet everyone knows them. And why isn’t Hannah more upset about the loss of her tent, much less the safety of her guests?

We would wonder about the farm because it has been in the Ellingham family for many years, it’s been a fixture in this show, and we would suppose that whoever buys it would be important to them and the show; we would expect James to say more than one word by now; and we have been introduced to many of the townspeople throughout the show, but Ken owning the pub comes as quite a surprise.

How did Martin’s foot tendon heal so quickly? And Angela Sim’s compound fracture of her clavicle? She doesn’t seem to be in much discomfort when we next see her. How did Mrs. T suddenly become more capable of functioning without therapy? Whatever happened with James and the biting at school?

7. With so many new characters appearing constantly, the show has become choppy with little connection between one episode and the next. Only Angela Sim has returned for a second episode, and then very briefly. I could have imagined her nephew Toby appearing again.

8. In their effort to have some sort of excitement in each episode they have gone to extremes to find medical conditions to take up the time. There are so many incidents in each episode that nothing is fully explored and it’s easy to lose track of what each episode was about. As mentioned before on this blog, plot requires conflict. Where’s the conflict in this series? It’s fine to show Martin and Louisa having a calm home life, but let’s have some spats that typical couples have, and they used to as well. Everything has gotten too sedate. It’s only in S7 that we see the beginning of some action that might not be resolved so quickly.

9. The dog on the bed is particularly inexplicable to me. Louisa has now gone from wanting Martin to get the dog out of the bedroom to allowing the dog on the bed; Martin has gone from throwing the dog out of the bedroom window to ignoring it. Once that takes place, the whole dog issue falls by the wayside very quickly. The only practice he continues to do with the dog is wear gloves to handle it. Is that a gag that is supposed to be funny every time? Even when the dog chews James’s teething ring, nothing about the dog develops.

10. Finally, the routine behavior of the key members of the cast has now grown stale. Some of you find Morwenna and Al more grown up and Penhale somewhat more capable. I don’t see that so much, and I definitely don’t see a change in Mrs. Tishell or Bert at all. Their comedic gimmicks are the same old stuff and they are no longer funny (or even pathos inducing).

I have held Jack Lothian in high esteem for many years and had hoped his larger role as show runner this series was going to add all sorts of enlightened storylines and humor. It is a particular letdown to me that that hasn’t happened. This blog has been my way of admiring the show through analyzing it. Writing the above is painful for me.

Some Cosmic Rationale

Hello, it’s me again. I actually came up with a post I thought was worth writing.

I’ve written a lot about happiness because it seemed a topic that kept coming up during the show. This post will be about the flip side: depression. Previously Abby and Santa suggested that the low mood Martin Ellingham exhibits in S6 looked to them like Major Depressive Disorder. (Research in the US and other countries estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of people have met current psychiatric diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder sometime in their lives, so it would be quite unsurprising for ME to have experienced a bout of it.) Not too long ago, Santa sent me an interesting article written by a researcher who looked at depression as an evolutionary adaptation that can be a helpful and useful way to react to various stresses in life. I finally got around to looking up more about this concept and have found some very interesting views related to it. (We would have to say that by S7 ME is no longer in a major depression. His MDD was short-lived.)

(Once again I caution us from assuming that the writers, et. al. had any notion that any of ME’s behavior could be assessed in this way. I just find it fun to see how we could apply these theories to this character.)

So let me review what hypotheses several well respected psychology researchers have noted:

In The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, “presents a compelling inversion of conventional wisdom.” In his book he refers to a variety of studies that indicate that “low mood narrows and directs our attention to perceive threats and obstacles. It also helps conserve energy, facilitates disengagement from impossible goals, and improves our capacity to detect deception and to assess the degree of control we exercise over our environment. Some studies even suggest that low mood can improve skill in persuasive argument and sharpen memory.”

That is not to say that depression is something we should all hope to attain. Rottenberg cautions that “depression can be a useful response in particular conditions, but it can also be a debilitating condition that mars quality of life and even interferes with evolutionary goals of survival and reproduction. The behavioral mechanism that helps us disengage from impossible goals can become a generalized condition that inhibits the pursuit of any goals, even perfectly attainable ones…Depression too can be both a valuable defense and a devastating vulnerability.”

(We shouldn’t overlook how serious this condition can be; however, this show does not allow the depression to reach the point of becoming debilitating to the extent that ME cannot function. To the contrary, when he’s at a very low point, the car hitting Louisa and the discovery of her AVM mobilize him pretty darn quickly.)

Rottenberg’s conclusion that depression can be useful is further confirmed by other researchers. For more than 30 years, UVA psychiatrist Dr. Andy Thomson (Med ’74) has been treating patients, and most often he treats them for depression. Thomson and his collaborator Paul Andrews, now at McMaster University in Canada, believe that depression is an evolutionary paradox. They, too, theorize that if it didn’t confer any advantages, it should have been selected against and occur only rarely in the population. In their view, “depression, psychic pain, alerts you to the fact that you have a problem, stops business as usual, focuses your attention,and can provide a signaling function that you need help.” “Basically, it forces you to think.”

In an article in Scientific American they argue that “depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.”

Furthermore, “many other symptoms of depression make sense in light of the idea that analysis must be uninterrupted. The desire for social isolation, for instance, helps the depressed person avoid situations that would require thinking about other things. Similarly, the inability to derive pleasure from sex or other activities prevents the depressed person from engaging in activities that could distract him or her from the problem. Even the loss of appetite often seen in depression could be viewed as promoting analysis because chewing and other oral activity interferes with the brain’s ability to process information.” In addition, “laboratory experiments indicate that depressed people are better at solving social dilemmas by better analysis of the costs and benefits of the different options that they might take.”

They have their detractors. Dr. J. Kim Penberthy, a clinical psychologist and associate professor in the department of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at UVA admonishes them that “ruminative thinking that accompanies clinical depression has been shown to impair thinking and problem solving…In fact, mindfulness-based psychotherapies directly challenge rumination in depression and have been found to be very successful in preventing relapse in clinical depression.”

Penberthy is clear that “clinical depression is conceptualized by clinicians and researchers as having a biopsychosocial etiology, meaning that it is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social—or environmental or cultural—factors.” She explains that people likely have some genetic predisposition to unipolar and bipolar depression, and these kinds of depression may run in families. But clinical depression has also been associated with early physical or psychological trauma, such as abuse or neglect, as well as repeated psychological insults later in life.

However, in contrast, Thomson argues that recovery may actually require ruminative thinking to solve the problems that trigger depression. Thomson says that evolutionary psychology is inclusive of biopsychosocial causes.

That depression can be viewed as an advantageous adaptation could be applied to Martin Ellingham because he falls into depression after his home life becomes more chaotic and he has a recurrence of his haemophobia as well. He has seemingly previously protected himself from outside stressors by walling himself off from society and retreating into his home, as well as by sublimating his emotions by working on clocks. His attempts to limit his exposure to external forces have now come up against falling in love and all of the attendant demands on him. We have recently been noting that several times throughout the timespan of the show, ME has expressed an inability to control his feelings for Louisa. Therefore, throughout S6, we have a man who can’t control his sentiments for his wife, no longer has the upper hand at home, and has lost whatever limited control he had over his phobia. He has trouble sleeping, has stopped eating very much and their sex life appears to be nonexistent. (They have covered all the bases by including all of the ingredients mentioned by Penberthy of physical and psychological trauma coupled with abuse and neglect, and repeated psychological insults later in life.)

But if Rottenberg is correct, ME’s depression may be providing him with a means of improving his capacity to assess the degree of control he exercises over his environment. His depression also seems to give him time to think, as Thomson says. As Andrews and Thomson declare, “depression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving.” In a sense what ME does is ruminate and come up with a solution to his dilemma. He decides to seek therapy, and he makes up his mind to be as willing to make concessions as possible. The fact that nothing seems to work at first may be more due to the requirements of the plot than to what might have happened under real world conditions.

[BTW, here are some of the lyrics to Billy Joel’s song Pressure (from which I took the “cosmic rationale idea”):
Don’t ask for help
You’re all alone
Pressure
You’ll have to answer
To your own
Pressure
I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale
But here you are in the ninth
Two men out and three men on
Nowhere to look but inside
Where we all respond to
Pressure
Pressure]

Originally posted 2016-09-14 15:59:45.

Writers and Actors

I’m in the middle of writing a longer post about women’s issues and just wanted to say that even though I totally admire the acting in this series, I think the writing doesn’t get enough recognition. As I once heard Robert McKee, the famous story-writing lecturer, say: without a script there is no movie (or in this case TV series). Although I think Dominic Minghella and all of the writers have done a great job of writing these episodes, I am particularly in awe of Jack Lothian’s episodes. My utmost favorite is the last episode of season 5 for so many reasons. The scene with the fish monger where he takes Doc Martin’s order and while wrapping the fish makes some very incisive comments about men who are living alone at Martin’s age, makes me laugh every time. Of course, the delivery is key and Martin Clune’s facial expressions make such a difference too, but the words he says matter the most, and they are brilliant: “No shame in cooking for one. Least you’re still shaving. That’s a good sign. Most men get to your age, nobody in their lives, throw in the towel. Hygiene’s always the first to go. It’s like they think ‘nobody cares about me…might as well sit around all day in my (underwear?).’ Tragic, that’s what it is Doc. You just hang on in there; what’s for you won’t go by you. Anything else?” In one quick exchange with the doctor looking at him as if he’s both annoyed and yet listening, the man has addressed Martin’s age, his change in relationship status, the way many men cope (or don’t), and once again brought up the issue of fate or whether we have the power to change ourselves and what happens in our lives. The closing question is a combination of “what else can I get you?” and “what’s ahead in your life?” Doc Martin has always gotten some clues about how to behave from listening to others and their remarks, and this dialogue certainly impacts him. Plus, I just love the humor in the fish seller going on about his observations to the doctor, who has never been the sort of person one would expect to be open to this sort of talk.

The latter part of the episode is also brilliantly written, from the moment Martin has to tell Louisa about the baby’s abduction to the ride in the car, to the scene at the hotel and finally at the secluded pseudo-castle where Mrs. Tishell has the baby. Louisa has once again left Martin because of her frustrations with mostly his lack of expression of affection and possibly even the dearth of overt signs of love and respect from him (something I plan to write about elsewhere). Martin has been struggling with being involved with the baby as a father while probably being unable to understand what he might consider Louisa’s volatile emotional fluctuations. Deciding to agree to allow Mrs. Tishell to watch the baby, even for the morning, is really something we would not expect from Martin. As a rule he has consistently ignored Mrs. Tishell no matter how many overtures she makes throughout the series, and he has turned her down before when she’s offered to take care of the baby. However, against his usual inclinations, Martin lets Mrs. Tishell take the baby with her because Morwenna is not showing any signs of being a good babysitter and Martin is sort of stuck. In the scene when Mrs. Tishell takes the baby from Morwenna we are reminded that Mrs. Tishell has never had children of her own, which makes it even more likely that she might form a delusion that the baby is hers. But it is following the combination of Mrs. Tishell going upstairs to look at her paper clippings about the Doc and taking the pills (Paroxitine, better know as Paxil, and Modafinil, generally used for greater alertness) that have been reinforcing her off kilter notions, filling a young couple’s prescription for free, getting angry at Joe Penhale for taking up her time and then giving him the wrong medication, and finally making off with the baby, that we as viewers know that she has lost her mind. The above actions coupled with the comments Clive makes to his wife, which clearly have a different interpretation for her than for him, are a very good demonstration of dramatic irony – we as viewers know about her pill popping and her infatuation with Martin while Clive has no idea and Martin is pretty much always clueless when it comes to things like this. We know that when Clive asks Sal whether she ever gets the feeling that “one day you’ll wake up and realize how much of your life you’ve wasted, how much you’ve let pass you by” she agrees because, empowered by the meds, she has now reached the conclusion that she must act. Clive unwittingly pushes her farther by suggesting the two of them buy an RV and “see the world,” which to him means driving to other parts of England. (We already know Sally has never been to London.) However, she has only one mission on her mind at this point and that is to find a way to get together with Martin. Clive’s comments once again lead her to take action and make off with the baby when he tells her “sometimes in this life, you want something, you’ve gotta take it.” So Jack Lothian’s writing has efficaciously established the sequence of events during which the dialogue markedly contributes to the action.

Soon Martin is off to tell Louisa about this new development and it is his turn to feel mighty chagrined, probably a feeling he’s rarely had. This time it’s Louisa who is on edge and dealing with difficulties at the school. Martin uses his usual cryptic means of explaining the problem, but nothing can keep Louisa from being upset once she hears that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. What PC Penhale says to Ruth as they watch Martin and Louisa run to the car expresses what most people would be thinking: she’s angry and worried all at once. In the car, Louisa’s comment that she’s not going to waste her energy getting wound up, she’s counting on Martin to get their baby back, makes it clear that despite their relationship problems, she believes in Martin.

Of course, the first place they look turns out to be wrong and this is where I started to think that Lothian was using Shakespeare as a source. I’ve always heard that most writing refers back to Shakespeare in some way, and this episode certainly fits that adage. (By the way, I recently heard Kevin Spacey being interviewed about his role in House of Cards and he said his character was based on Richard the III who speaks to the audience in Shakespeare’s play.) Here we not only have the misdirection during which there is much fumbling, but also the ultimate realization that the baby has been taken to a faux castle complete with billowing banner. Next, in case we haven’t already noticed the references to Shakespeare, we have Mrs. Tishell reciting excerpts from Romeo and Juliet, reaffirming her unhinged state of mind. We can see Joe Penhale as the comic relief or well-meaning fool that often plays a role in Shakespeare’s plays. I can’t help mentioning the funny conversation Ruth and Joe have as they walk quickly toward the castle. Joe is once again fantasizing about how he will be the hero and save the day while Ruth tries to inject some reason into his dreamworld by telling him he’s not playing in a Hollywood film and he’s not Clint Eastwood. (I don’t know if the original plan was to make this the last episode of the series, and I’m glad it isn’t, but it could have been because all of the major characters are gathered here: the doctor, the headmistress, the constable, and the psychiatrist along with the chemist; there’s drama, there’s rising action, and it has a satisfying ending.) Nevertheless, Joe once again is the fly in the ointment when he climbs the side of the building in an effort to help only to nearly foul up their efforts by revealing himself prematurely.

But it’s the repartee between Mrs. Tishell and Dr. Ellingham that is the centerpiece of the episode and Mrs. Tishell’s diatribe about Louisa and Martin’s relationship cannot be beaten. In one set of comments, she summarizes the essence of the entire show, seasons 1-5: “One moment you’re together, then you’re not. Then you’re getting married, then you’re not. Then she’s gone and then she comes back. Then you’re going, but you don’t, and then you have a baby and you’re living together, and then you’re not, and then you’re going away again, and then you come back here…I just can’t stand it anymore!!” She could be talking for the viewers! Clearly the relationship between Martin and Louisa has been the most important driving force that captivates us. For those fans who were upset when Martin and Louisa’s plans to marry fall apart, the ups and downs of the relationship have been trying. It’s hard not to wonder what could have made things work out better, and that’s one of the hallmarks of good writing.

Just like in season 3, episode 7, Louisa and Martin’s wedding day, everything seems to go wrong in this last episode of season 5. (Since Jack Lothian wrote both episodes, I think we can safely say that this episode is an intentional reprise of the earlier one.) The townspeople are sick with a virus causing Louisa to ask Martin to take care of James Henry and leading her to have no alternative but to rely on Bert to make lunch for the school. Naturally, Bert isn’t up to the task and Louisa has a mess on her hands. Into this difficult day steps Martin with the news that Mrs. Tishell has taken the baby. I think most women would be at their wits end, but Louisa manages to stay relatively calm. Luckily this time she is rewarded by a welcome outcome and the words she has wanted to hear Martin say for so long. Once again there’s no question that the scene owes a lot to Shakespeare and the conceit of a character talking while another is listening. Martin is talking to Mrs. Tishell looking down from above, but his words are meant for Louisa who stands in front of him out of Mrs. Tishell’s sight. Louisa prompts him to say that he’s a difficult person, hard to talk to sometimes, and an idiot (all things he has never been willing to admit before, and a sign that Martin is now finally willing to express his true feelings). Once he lets go, he really opens his heart and we all sigh along with Louisa as he tells her:”I think I’ve known how I felt since the first time I met you, from the first time I saw you…And I do hate Portwenn…But it’s where I want to be because you’re here, because of you, ’cause if I’m with you nothing else matters. What I’m trying to say is, I love you.” Those words are simply perfect because they also capture the trajectory of the show, express the love we viewers have been convinced was there all along, and settle the issue of whether Martin will stay in Portwenn or go to London. (By the way, this isn’t the first time Martin tells Louisa he loves her. The first time he says it, he’s drunk in season 2, episode 8.) But the episode isn’t over yet. Mrs. Tishell comes down and the baby is safe; however, she has a final declaration for Martin that he doesn’t understand what love is. Well, isn’t that the most important question? And doesn’t he dispel the notion that he doesn’t know what it is when he tells Louisa that nothing else matters and he sincerely loves her? He’s willing to stay in Portwenn and drop all his previous convictions just to be with Louisa. His final words are interrupted by Joe, typical of what happens throughout the show when Martin and Louisa try to talk to each other, but they are “I will always…” How would you finish the sentence? “Love you?” Almost certainly. (Can’t help thinking of the Whitney Houston song.) In other episodes we would not be surprised to hear Martin say something off the wall, but this time he’s figured out where he’s been going wrong and isn’t likely to make that mistake.

Jack Lothian is credited with writing several other episodes I deeply admire, e.g. season 4, episode 8 when Louisa gives birth and season 5, episode 3 when Louisa and the baby have moved into the surgery with Martin and Louisa tells Martin she wants to move to London with him. The highs and lows of his episodes and his ability to write very realistic and heartfelt dialogue are outstanding. The dialogue is also funny, which makes it even more appealing. Of course, the actors add their fabulous deliveries and expressions to the words, and that makes the scenes a tremendous success.

The writing on the show is generally excellent and I want the writers to know that I thoroughly appreciate what they’ve done.

Originally posted 2013-08-26 16:01:58.

Change! What is It Good For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is filled with change, both internal and exogenous.

 

 

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

The Blood Phobia

This show began with the premise that a highly respected vascular surgeon in London became hemophobic and could no longer perform surgery. He,therefore, made the decision to move to Portwenn in Cornwall where his aunt lived and practice as a GP. Since that opening rationale, the hemophobia has been the one thing about Martin Ellingham that continues to bedevil him.

At first the notion that a vascular surgeon would become phobic of blood seemed ironic and amusing. What a funny thing to have happen to someone who is defined by working with the veins and arteries that carry blood to every part of the body. Although we could, and some viewers do, think of this as being tragic, I am quite sure it was meant to be humorous.

It meant he had to live in a small village where he was very different from the townspeople; he had to become a GP and treat all sorts of medical conditions, sometimes of minor significance and sometimes life threatening, and often due to foolish mistakes made by the patients. He went from a doctor’s doctor, a medical specialist who was referred patients who had serious vascular problems, to a primary care physician who saw anyone who walked in the door. He also lived near a family member for the first time in his life and fell in love with a local woman.

The symptoms of the blood phobia tended to be nausea and/or vomiting and he did his best to hide these from the town. Unfortunately, his secret was discovered and he became a figure of ridicule for a while. (All of this was in the service of adding to the humor of the show to a great extent, although we were given some background information about his childhood that could have contributed.) He had his first signs of this disorder supposedly when he associated surgery with some feelings for a patient and her family. This was, as far as we can tell, the only time when he could not complete his duty as a medical professional.

Each series saw him trying to deal with his hemophobia and having a variety of problems coping with it. Most of the time he has managed to suppress his immediate sense of nausea and recover sufficiently to successfully treat any problem no matter how bloody. However, some series have used the blood phobia as a major theme. In S4 we saw him try to desensitize himself so he could return to doing surgery; in S6 he became depressed and suffered from insomnia; and now, in S8, we have him being told to suspend his medical practice because a patient has accused him of malpractice due to his phobia. Otherwise there has never been a time when his hemophobia has led to him being unable to complete a task, even one involving lots of blood. Several scenes have included blood spraying onto him and during those he has neither fainted nor been unable to continue. One in S8 is a femoral artery that has been cut. Since the femoral artery is below the heart it tends to bleed profusely, as happens in the scene. When he arrives, Penhale is already covered in blood as a result of trying to put pressure on the wound. ME immediately gets sprayed with blood on his face and upper body, yet he suffers no symptoms of his phobia.

It has only made him faint 2-3 times: with Edith in S4; almost on the jetty in S8; and while treating a patient in S8. The time on the wall never really materialized, the other times he fell to the floor. When it caused him to be depressed in S6, he searched for physiological causes. At that time he took his blood pressure and EKG but could not find anything of consequence. In S8E7 he once again takes his blood pressure and pulse rate. Considering that this phobia is often associated with a drop in blood pressure and heart rate, those symptoms would not necessarily indicate anything significant about the health of his heart. At the end of S8E7 he is shown deliberately cutting his finger and looking at it. That, too, does not cause him to feel faint or become nauseous. If we are about to be given a reason to believe that his heart is having problems, that would have to be a separate issue from the hemophobia, IMO. It would be a new development.

On the other hand, it is well accepted that blood phobia is often caused by direct or vicarious trauma in childhood or adolescence. We can easily suppose that childhood trauma might be the basis for his developing hemophobia as much as any event during his surgical career. Or, the surgery he had trouble performing after meeting the family was actually more a reaction to his childhood trauma and was then associated with blood.

Maybe dealing with his childhood, and its obvious deleterious effects on him, through therapy would be the best way to reduce the hemophobia, which isn’t keeping him from functioning anyway. The solicitor who is now accusing him of being unable to treat patients due to his phobia is clearly wrong and I would expect the whole town of Portwenn to be willing to defend him since losing him would mean they would be without their excellent GP.

Change is in the air

I know I’ve written plenty about the question of whether people can change as well as whether we would want Martin or Louisa to change very much. Well, I want to add a little more to this topic. (It seems I never tire of revisiting this theme.)

in a NYTimes Mag from a month ago I read an article about a BBC America show called “Orphan Black.” I haven’t seen the show, and plan to watch it, but the show sounds like it’s an amazing tour de force for the lead actress, Canadian Tatiana Maslany. The show is about a group (greater than 6) of persecuted clones all played by Maslany. According to the article, “The question at the show’s heart is whether the clones have free will…” Maslany considers her role in “Orphan Black” and her own experiences as an actress to be “about volition and autonomy.”

Maslany mentions that she appreciates Gena Rowland’s performance as a strong female character in “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974). In this film Rowland plays Mabel, who struggles to handle life as expected but just can’t pull it off. Ultimately she’s sent to an asylum to be “cured.” However, when she returns, her husband is troubled by how she has been forced to conform to society’s norms and blames himself. He literally tries to slap her back to herself; he wants her to be herself again. As Maslany states: “He can’t handle the fact that she’s been sent away to be changed and to be made homogeneous and made easy on the palate.”

What all of the above says to me is that there are two parts to this change issue: how actors can alter their appearance and their skills so that they morph themselves into all sorts of characters, even within the same show or episode; and, there have been many examples of shows or films that are fascinated with the idea of whether people can change. In Mabel’s case, she gets stuck in a no-man’s land of being an outcast when she’s behaving as she does naturally while also not being accepted in her new guise of conforming to conventional social norms.

As the writer of the article notes, “Great acting is as much about destruction-selective, temporary self-annihilation – as creation.” At the same time, Maslany asserts that when she portrays an unlikable character, she is still being her real self and applying the worst bits of herself. Actors enjoy playing characters that require them to molt and become “Other,” yet they understand that they really can’t completely shed their innate selves.

Furthermore, a recent interview of Joseph Gordon Levitt by David Letterman showed them  agreeing that acting is basically like lying because actors get up and pretend to be someone else for a living. We all can suspend our disbelief sufficiently to allow each actor to take on various roles and apply his/her skills coupled with his/her personal traits to create a screen personality. In real life, it may be harder to reach that level of acceptability.

As in the case of Mabel, we believe Martin and Louisa should change; however, we don’t want them to be too easy on the palate. As I argued a long time ago, deciding to change involves the notion of free will with volition an integral part of that. Of their own free will, Martin and Louisa hopefully will do what they can to evolve into a more successful couple.

When we consider what it will take for Louisa and Martin to work on making changes such that they can have a happier marriage, we are watching two actors whom we’ve come to know as the characters in a show and who have used their skills as well as their true personas to create that pseudo-reality. Neither member of this couple will be sent to an asylum, but Martin, like Mabel, does not conform to social expectations. In S7, we are hoping to watch them change identities, but only enough so that we aren’t troubled by it.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:48:41.

People can change, and do, on TV

The theme of whether people can change, and especially whether Martin and Louisa can change, has occupied many of our discussions. DM is not the only show in which this theme has been prominent and in which the answer appears to be that people can change. I think we have all concluded that with desire, therapy, and effort, people can change the way they react to situations and relationships. The one caveat is that people don’t always change for the better.

Another outstanding show of recent years is “Breaking Bad,” and it, too, addressed the question of whether people can change. However, the overriding arc of that show was the monumental metamorphosis of Walter White from a milquetoast into a highly respected presence in the drug world. Essentially the show followed his relentless progression from quiet, law abiding high school chemistry teacher to amoral and ruthless manufacturer and seller of methamphetamine. There’s no question that writer and creator Vince Gilligan was arguing that people can change, and will, under certain circumstances. In the show, we also witness a “ne’er do well” work hard to maintain his principles while being enlisted to help White. This young man, Jesse, may be lacking in ambition, but Walter shocks him over and over as he descends into pathological behavior. Against all odds, Jesse manages to survive, although he is anything but unscathed.

The spinoff show from “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul,” has just completed its first highly successful season. It, too, includes the theme of whether people can change, and makes some very interesting points about it. I was a tremendous fan of “Breaking Bad” and I confess to being an equally avid fan of “Better Call Saul.” (If you read this blog, you know I’ve mentioned “Breaking Bad” several times because of its excellent writing and acting, including their design of making the main character an anti-hero. He’s given all sorts of convincing and justifiable motives for converting himself into a criminal while maintaining many decent and admirable qualities.)

As a recent recap in the NYTimes states: “In ‘Better Call Saul’ we’ve seen another lead character evolve, though less dramatically — from scam artist to earnest plaintiffs’ attorney, with the occasional moral lapse.” The writers of “Breaking Bad” posed the question of “Can people change?” and then demonstrated how that can happen. In the new show, they add another dimension to this question and show that some people don’t change. The next to last episode depicts the main character’s brother, Chuck, as unable to imagine that his brother, Jimmy, has shed his earlier traits as a con man to become a respectable lawyer like him. Oddly enough, Chuck becomes the scam artist while Jimmy earns our admiration due to how he treats his clients and his brother. As the article notes, “Jimmy is a force for good, if we can judge by his ventures in elder law. But now he can’t have a perch at a corporate firm and the respectability that it confers.”

This episode “deals with identity, conceived here as a combination of what you do and what you, and others, think about what you do. Jimmy is a nice guy whose brother thinks he’s a menace.” The character for whom the show is named has not appeared yet. We will presumably find out that Jimmy becomes Saul, a slick manipulator of the law, and basically reverts to the “Slippin’ Jimmy” that he used to be known as because he rejects the world of corporate law.

In “Breaking Bad,” Walt had developed a reputation of a dedicated and competent chemistry teacher as well as a devoted father and husband. They even loaded his home life with a teenage son who was born with cerebral palsy and handicapped. In the beginning of the show, Walt drives his son to school and tries to keep strong ties to his son despite knowing that teenage boys are always testing and experimenting. We first get to know Walt as someone we admire. Therefore, we have sympathy for him and realize how hard he has worked to be the upstanding father, husband and teacher everyone has come to know. As he changes, it’s hard to jettison our earlier impressions of him.

How does all this relate to DM? In my mind, we are also dealing with characters who have to find a way to reconstitute themselves as different from how others have always perceived them. Can Martin Ellingham not only try to become a better husband, but also become a person Louisa and others view as being a less introverted version of who he has been? Will others be able to believe that he really wants to be more ungrudging about the somewhat tangential information patients want to talk to him about? Will Louisa be convinced that he’s voluntarily expressing his inner thoughts to her? Can the various residents of Portwenn stop seeing him as, and calling him, a “tosser?”

Will Louisa find a way to reject her first impulse to leave whenever she’s upset about something at home and become a woman who tries to listen and probe and tolerate? How much will she be able to overlook or accommodate?

And, at the risk of repeating myself too much, would the show be too different if all of the above happens? Whereas “Breaking Bad” was literally devised as a show about a man’s evolutionary deterioration, “Doc Martin” was not originally about a doctor who wants to become more likable or better at being a husband and father. Our enjoyment of the show stems from much of the behavior that makes ME so difficult.

However, when we look at how the voting for favorite episodes turned out on portwennonline.com, we can’t help but notice that it was those episodes in which Martin and Louisa have the most romantic scenes that came out on top. I have to assume the people involved with the show have noticed that too. Thus, they have the demanding challenge of trying to satisfy their audience while keeping the characters believable to us. We, and the residents of Portwenn, know them as particular types and might have trouble accepting too much change in them. They also know each other as having certain dispositions. When Martin calls Louisa “darling” in S6E2, both we and she look at him quizzically. It’s very odd to hear that term of endearment coming out of his mouth.

We also deem it necessary for them to work on their relationship so that their marriage can flourish, and we expect that to be a significant facet of S7. Just how they balance the requirement to change with what’s important to keep the same will be the key to the success of this next series.

Originally posted 2016-05-22 14:47:01.

Louisa and Martin: Fast Forward Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling Over the Goal Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

How’s the Therapy for You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Good Grief! Or Fear, Loss, and Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other losses registered in this show are:

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

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

 

 

 

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

Professional Opinion v. Folk Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Ellingham – Superhero

I used to think a GP like Martin Ellingham was within normal boundaries to be seen as able to diagnose and treat the variety of diseases and injuries that constantly appear in Portwenn. After 7+ series of an extraordinary amount of rare conditions coupled by an equally enormous amount of demanding surgical procedures completed or at least initiated in his exam room, I have become much more skeptical. Now I think they have begun to take ME out of the realm of plausibility and into the territory of extraordinary and fantastical. So let’s have some fun…

The show revolves around ME’s medical abilities about as much as it centers on the relationship between Martin and Louisa. Indeed many times it is due to medical emergencies that this pair comes into contact with each other in the early series, and then is very much a part of why Louisa falls in love with ME. As one pole of the tent that I once argued is created by the two settings of the school on one side of the village and the surgery on the opposite side, the many students who have medical problems are the basis upon which Martin and Louisa become a couple. It is also oftentimes the reason why they conflict. He thinks her profession is of little consequence and often says derogatory things about her school. At the same time, she admires his medical skills while also vehemently disapproving of his interpersonal skills. (In the main this is true, although we have seen several times when he acknowledges that Louisa was perceptive in calling on him for help with a student and quite a few times when Louisa has congratulated Martin on handling either a student or the parents of a student.)

At any rate, the opening scene of S8E1 first set me off wondering. There was absolutely no reason to start with a peloton of bicyclists racing past Martin Ellingham as he runs down the hill toward the harbor where, once again, he tangles with the bicyclists who delay his ability to reach his patient whose hand is stuck in a winch of a boat. We never see them again and, if you have been to Port Isaac, they either had to have gathered at the cul-de-sac above the surgery to start their descent or they are supposed to be coming out of nowhere and racing for no reason, and at risk of running into many things, just to stop at the entrance to the harbor for a rest. Either way, their sole purpose seems to be an absurd interference with ME’s ability to get to his patient, but, as usual, nothing stops him. Once he makes it to the patient he is confronted with a lot of blood and his phobia kicks in. Not enough to keep him from taking care of the patient; only enough to make him fight off his initial nausea.

Now, after years of ME identifying a myriad of rare illnesses almost without a bat of an eyelash, and with the number of rare and not so rare medical disorders multiplying rapidly throughout the first 5 episodes, I am ready to declare that Martin Ellingham should henceforth be known as a new superhero, Yellingman (we have to use the “man” ending, right?). Furthermore, we can now put the issue of whether medical accuracy is required of British shows to rest… based on what we’ve seen in this series (and some before), they allow great latitude in the accuracy. (Leptospirosis would be a diagnosis arrived at after testing the blood, spinal fluid, or possibly the urine of a potential victim and leaping to that diagnostic conclusion is a reach; strep infection that causes a mood disorder happens on occasion but the likeliest behavioral change would be the development of OCD or tics and they would take several weeks to months of therapy to eliminate; Dupuytren’s contracture looks very much like Caitlyn’s but releasing the tendon with a needle while seated at a doctor’s desk would be highly irregular and even risky. Most people would go to a hand specialist for surgery. It does come in handy as a way to give ME the finger though! Even kidney stones are not so easy to deal with and passing a fairly large stone through the ureter is exceptionally painful. “Renal colic caused by kidney stones is commonly accompanied by urinary urgency, restlessness, hematuria, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. It typically comes in waves lasting 20 to 60 minutes caused by peristaltic contractions of the ureter as it attempts to expel the stone.” I don’t think Joe Penhale would be able to do this in under 5 minutes and then return to the alter ready to get married. Of course, all of these cases and more are modified for the purposes of the story.) Nevertheless, Portwenn has Yellingman and he is always there to protect and treat the townspeople.

To support my new designation, I will now provide the following additional evidence:
Many of our most well known superheroes have a backstory that has to do with traumatic childhoods. For example: Batman witnessed the murder of his parents; Superman was sent to earth by his father moments before the destruction of their home planet and he is then adopted by a farm couple. “Superman is commonly seen as a brave and kind-hearted hero with a strong sense of justice, morality, and righteousness. He adheres to an unwavering moral code instilled in him by his adoptive parents.” Spiderman is also an orphan, this time being raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben in New York City after his parents Richard and Mary Parker were killed in a plane crash. “Spider-Man has the ability to cling to walls, superhuman strength, a sixth sense (‘spider-sense’) that alerts him to danger, perfect balance and equilibrium, as well as superhuman speed and agility… Academically brilliant, Parker has expertise in the fields of applied science, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, mathematics, and mechanics.” Perhaps a combination of Batman, Superman and Spiderman comes closest to Yellingman.

In addition, nearly every superhero has some sort of weakness or sensitivity; some point of vulnerability, like kryptonite for Superman. ME has his blood phobia. Out of curiosity I checked on the various superhero vulnerabilities and found a site that listed them all. I love what the author of the site says: “Superheroes and supervillains need at least one vulnerability in order for there to be any stakes.” Absolutely!! Without Yellingman’s blood phobia there would be nothing to stop him, or slow him down!

They also have their shields or weapons and ME could be said to have those as well: his suit is his armor (as is his pajamas); his weapons take the form of his medical equipment always carried in his bag as he runs from his surgical office or drives at full speed in his full-size Lexus through the narrow streets of the town and countryside, and he usually saves everyone from certain death or disaster. Sure he calls an ambulance, but Batman, Superman, et. al. call the police. There is no dishonor in collaborating with others. There are also times when the superheroes struggle to complete their exploits much like Yellingman is dragged down the dock when he tries to stop the fairly large sailboat Louisa is on. But, in the end, they find a way to save the day! We also can’t overlook his intimidating manner and his verbal attacks. They can reduce most people to cowering simpletons.

Most of the superheroes also have a love interest: Superman has Lois, although Lana Lang was his first; Batman has many; and Spiderman has several too. Protecting them from danger tends to be the superhero’s most important mission. Plus, much of the interactions between the superheroes and their special women are chaste. They may kiss passionately on occasion, but a bedroom scene is very atypical. Martin’s protective instincts immediately engage when Louisa is in any danger.

They are admired by the citizens whose lives they guard, and they tend to be the first person everyone thinks of to call upon when there is any sign of something amiss.

In all of these aspects of the superhero world we see Yellingman!

You can tell I have grandsons and have seen too many superhero films. Nevertheless, I truly see a lot of similarities and find that it’s not too farfetched to imagine they are getting a kick out of turning ME into a GP of superhuman skills.

Below find a picture of Yellingman:

Farce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Reconciliation Boring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

S7E8 – Back to the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aliens

S7E7 includes an invasion of outsiders to Portwenn. There’s Erica Holbrooke and daughter Bernadette, the new art teacher and her daughter; Inspector Salter looking to switch Penhale to a new, larger location; the American tourist who’s played by Sigourney Weaver, alien extraordinaire; the Wintons, whom we’ve never seen before, and intrude into Martin’s space; and, most importantly, Dr. Rachel Timoney, who previously has never shown her face in the village. (Perhaps all of her patients have been word of mouth.) Each of these newcomers disrupts the normal order of things, and that’s the point.

What is an alien but someone who is not normally seen in a certain setting. And this episode spends a significant amount of time asking us to think about the concept of normality. To a great extent normal is defined by what’s abnormal in regards to where we are situated, and the definition is constantly changing. When Louisa asks Dr. T if struggling is a normal part of the process, Dr. T answers “normal is a loaded word” and that is an understatement. Each community has its own norms, and every social setting does too.  Dr. T might have answered that many, if not most, couples go through various trials before they arrive at a place where they are comfortable with where their marriage is. Therefore, it is normal to struggle for a time. Instead she makes a point of mentioning that the term “normal” has strong emotional implications. Moreover, in “Doc Martin” normal is a loaded word due to the many quirky people we’ve come across, not the least of whom is Martin Ellingham.

In this show, we have accepted that Martin is different, or not normal by the standards used by most of us. He is rude, abrasive, and confrontational to most people. He has a tendency to say what’s on his mind no matter what the setting, which means he has no concern about insulting people. If he’s served canapés, he sees no reason not to note that they are “salmonella en croute,” and when Bernadette is practicing the violin, he gives a blunt appraisal of her ability, which is that listening to her play is excruciating and what she’s playing is not music. We have come to expect Martin not to conform to how most of us have been taught to behave, and we usually enjoy his peccadilloes.

Because his alternative behavior can offend Louisa, he has tried at times to modify his behavior, but he’s typically unsuccessful at doing that. Furthermore, she notices when he’s being artificially nice and finds it transparent and unnatural. In this series, he’s once again doing his best to show Louisa how much effort he’s making to accommodate her. So far his adjustments have done very little to convince her that they should reconcile, and we can see that he is troubled by this. It’s possible that he thought she would come around much sooner once she noticed his determination to set things right, but she is being steadfast in her decision to take her time before yielding. In E7 she once again sends him on his way without so much as a nod to his routine of putting James Henry to bed at night.

Besides Martin both Bernadette and Penhale are identified as different, or abnormal. Bernie’s mother considers her gifted in many areas and has separated her from her peers. Erica is prone to actively pursuing the unusual and her art classes reflect that. Louisa wants her to have the kids do “normal” art like landscapes and drawings of rainbows while Erica asks the students to “confront who we are as people” and express their true selves by mounting their beloved stuffed animals and dolls on a display board. She upsets the children and her daughter by imposing an exercise on them and asking them to give up what comforts them. It seems they all have formed attachments to comforting objects and, therefore, it is “normal” for them to hate being separated from them.

Penhale stands out from the norm because Portwenn has been crime free while he’s been on duty. We know that he has done very little to produce that outcome, and, if anything, he’s wanted something criminal to take place under his watch, but his record looks outlandishly perfect to his superiors. Would he be able to reproduce that outcome if he were to move to the larger city of Exeter? Our suspicion is no. His unusual results are based on the size and character of Portwenn and not on his expertise.

Nevertheless, Inspector Salter notes that the men on the 5th floor want to know who is 3021. And Erica wants to know who these children are. And Martin and Louisa want to know who they are and how they can reconnect. Even Bert wants to find his true identity.

Of course, our American tourist is out of place in Portwenn. She also adds to her alien nature by being manipulative, demanding, and too convinced of her own knowledge. She is impatient and wants her glaucoma drops immediately, then she questions Martin’s decision to examine her only to find out that her doctor prescribed the wrong medicine for someone with her symptoms. Even as a patient she’s different. Her decision to give Morwenna a book about being assertive as a woman reflects her own behavior and can be seen as an effort to change Morwenna.

The fact that there is no real “normal,” begs the question of how to judge what we should change. Not only does our concept of normality change, but also we need to know ourselves, as Erica implies. We need to revisit the idea of whether people can change, but for now, a hint about that is the words that are printed on the art class board: “We Are What We Are.”

The other thing I would say about this episode is that its title, “Facta Non Verba,” is, to me, hard to apply to this episode. Translated from the latin this phrase means “Deeds not Words” or can be interpreted as “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” But, instead, this episode elevates words to a status above actions, and much of the episode accentuates the importance of words. During the opening therapy session Dr. T asks Martin and Louisa to create lists, to write down what they consider good about being apart. Later she tells Martin that it is the act of thinking and writing the lists that is important. Their final interaction with her has them engaging in wordplay with Dr. T writing down the words they suggest. She also tells them that she’s both “all” and “right.” Isn’t this another reference to how we use these words, and to the ambiguity of words?

At the pharmacy Dr. T loses track of what she’s saying and she calls Ruth senile. Ruth corrects her, telling her she’s not senile, and we can probably guess that Rachel really meant to use a different word, perhaps senior. Rachel also has a fairly nonsensical talk with Penhale whose closing remarks are that her words have helped him by giving him someone who can relate to what he’s feeling. Words can have a powerful impact.

Finally I think it’s worth looking at the lyrics of “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” the song mentioned by Penhale while talking to Martin about whether he should take the job offer in Exeter. (As an aside, this song was written by The Clash, a punk rock band from the late 70s, early 80s.) The words sung by The Clash seem to be right on the mark for this episode. The last scene has Martin telling Louisa that he can’t live like this anymore and she turns to go into the house with a lot to think about.

Here are the lyrics to the song:

Darlin’ you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

It’s always tease tease tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day is fine and next is black
So if you want me off your back
Well come on an’ let me know
Should I Stay or should I go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An’ if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

This indecision’s buggin’ me
If you don’t want me, set me free
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me?
Come on and let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?

Split

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should I cool it or should I blow?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay there will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-10 18:16:29.

Sally Forth

Episode 6 is not just about Martin and Louisa; Sally and Clive Tishell play an important part due to how they handle their marital reconciliation. After Clive returns in E4 and surprises Sally, their decisions about the future of their marriage are used as a sort of guide to a better marriage. What they do is pretty much a model for how a married couple should reconcile, and how it can be done without a therapist.

When Clive resurfaces, he immediately embraces Sally even though he’s been gone for a long time. He doesn’t hold back despite the circumstances under which he left. It’s Sally who is cautious about taking him back and has no difficulty confronting Clive about being gone. Sally is beside herself over Clive’s return and tells Ruth about it as soon as she sees Ruth passing the pharmacy. Ruth’s advice to Sally is to have a frank conversation with Clive, which prompts Sally to succinctly list what they should talk about. They should discuss where their relationship has gone in the past, and where they are going in the future, and whether it’s apart or together, and if it’s together, how they will do that. There’s not much Ruth can add to that! (I was reminded of Sally’s monologue in the final episode of S5 when she recounts the on and off again relationship between Martin and Louisa so bluntly.)

It doesn’t take Sally long to get around to having a talk with Clive, and she lays out her feelings quite openly. Clive is agreeable and admits he was worried about what Sally would say if he asked her, before he returned. Next Sally tells Clive she’s changed and is no longer the woman he married. He accepts that and asserts he would marry her all over again anyway. He immediately disarms her and goes farther when he says, “I’m here for you Sal, if you’ll have me.” Her anger is defused but she’s still only willing to let him sleep on the couch.

It’s not difficult to juxtapose this exchange with the one we saw between Martin and Louisa when Louisa arrived unannounced in E2. Not only do they struggle to reveal their true feelings, but also their discussion is filled with unspoken psychological baggage. Martin never disarms Louisa by opening his heart and declaring he’s willing to do almost anything to convince her to take him back. Louisa is also unable to speak openly like Sally about how Martin disappointed her. Instead their separation becomes more laden with what is left unsaid. It’s as though the message is that the act of communicating is the fundamental solution to marital problems and eliminates the need for outside intervention.

In E5 we watch Sally as she continues to prepare casseroles to put outside Martin’s front door. Clive catches her in the act of cooking, but instead of getting angry and accusing her of any wrongdoing, he tells her he doesn’t know what she’s up to and doesn’t want to know. He’s letting the past stay in the past. Furthermore, he once again takes responsibility for not having been more attentive and possibly causing her to turn to untoward behaviors. But he suggests trying to trust each other and move on together. His next comments are the most critical: he tells her he ran away when she most needed him, but he’s there now and came back for her. It isn’t long before Sally takes the big step of throwing out her next cooked meal for Martin Ellingham and all the containers she had stored for more meals to come. This act is hugely significant for Sally.

Once again we can contrast Clive’s confessions with the total lack of admission of fault by Louisa. She, too, left when Martin most needed her, and she, too, has come back now. However, she isn’t willing to leave the past in the past. Martin has told Dr. T that he trusts Louisa but telling Louisa directly would be more effective. Moreover, he wants them to move on together yet has trouble expressing that to her. Martin even denies feeling lonely in the final scene of this episode, reinforcing the sense we have that he continues to avoid acknowledging his true feelings. All of their repressed and unsaid sentiments are placed at the root of their estrangement. Both Sally and Martin have suffered through major psychological events. Psychosis accompanied by delusional disorder marked by self-medication and criminal actions for her. Haemophobia followed by self-treatment and Major Depressive Disorder for him. They are both damaged by these experiences but Sally is not one to repress very much, and that seems to be healthier.

Now here we are in E6 and Sally finds Clive doing his best to help in the store. Already Clive’s efforts to demonstrate to Sally that he is sincere about rekindling their marriage are reaping big dividends. She has dropped her resistance to his advances and is ready to invite him back into their bedroom. Soon Sally is preparing Clive’s favorite meal for dinner and herself for a romantic evening.

The idyllic dinner Sally plans is precisely offset by the dinner plans of Martin and Louisa, even down to the replacement of the wine glasses on the dinner tables. The two dinners are intercut such that we watch both couples striving to make the evening a success, but in both cases that is not to be. Both end with medical emergencies and what appears to be a reconfirmation of their dedication to their spouses. Louisa makes clear that Danny has overstepped his boundaries and Martin seems satisfied to hear her put Danny in his place. Meanwhile, Clive has had a heart attack from applying testosterone gel combined with taking a pill to help with sexual arousal and Sally is overcome with anxiety that he might die. The difference in the level of emotion between Sally and Martin is exaggerated for comedic value as well as to demonstrate her newfound passion for her husband as opposed to Martin’s revulsion for such overflowing of emotion and his well-measured response to Louisa’s outburst. It would be nice to see Sally lower her excitement level and Martin increase his.

Nevertheless, Sally and Clive have proven that a marriage can be revived with a commitment to talk to each other, to be open about what they want from each other, and to accept responsibility for the mistakes that both of them have made. Sally would probably be categorized as a character with a small role that has a big impact. Throughout the show Sally has mostly been used as a thorn in Martin’s side, much like the dogs that follow him relentlessly. This time her impact is played out in how she lets bygones be bygones. It’s nice to see Sally used as more than for comedic gestures. Of course, she isn’t totally over her obsession with Martin. But we’re getting closer.

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-11-05 20:08:02.

If You’re Happy and You Know it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turnabout is Fair Play

One major element of S7 is the many ways in which the action in scenes involves a reversal of what has happened before. There has been a conscious effort to switch up many of the typical interactions amongst the characters. Their decision to present things in this manner leads us to appreciate that change has taken place. Some of these changes are positive, and some not so much.

One of the most significant changes to me is that Martin no longer works on clocks. We might speculate that he was very adversely affected by his mother taking the one clock that meant a lot to him and cannot bring himself to work on them anymore. On the other hand, it is precisely at this moment when working on clocks could be of some comfort to him. He’s alone again, he’s very unhappy that Louisa is gone again, and fixing clocks has always been a source of solace to him. It distracts him from his troubles throughout the other series. Could he have decided the clocks are interfering with his life and the time he could be spending with his wife and son? The fact that he no longer has clocks to work on never comes up.

Martin is trying to change and his efforts include thanking Louisa for a gift he doesn’t like; telling her he doesn’t mind the noise and disarray of the home; accepting the various assignments Dr. T gives them; and, especially, giving Louisa some very nice compliments. He says she’s a good and caring mother and very beautiful, that he misses her (as opposed to Louisa saying she’ll miss him when she leaves for work in S6, and that she missed him and James when she returns from work and getting no reaction or sign that her feeling is reciprocated), telling her she would notice if James had a rash or anything medical that might be important to notice, and instigating a hug.

We certainly can’t overlook that this time Martin moves out instead of Louisa leaving. It’s a generous offer and shows Louisa that he’s willing to sacrifice for her. It also keeps her nearby and gives him plenty of opportunities to see her. For her part, she is willing to stay at the surgery yet considers it his home. She tells him that he should be there, a sign that she realizes how strange it is for him to live somewhere else.

Now that she lives in the surgery, it is Louisa who makes coffee and offers it to Martin.  She also let’s Martin in the kitchen door. It’s particularly amusing to see Martin tapping at the kitchen window while Louisa sits at the kitchen table. It’s also funny that he is surprised by Louisa when she runs into the kitchen after her morning shower and he acts out of place. It was Louisa who previously seemed to be intruding at times.

We also see Louisa clean up the toys and the kitchen. She holds the toys in much the same way we’ve seen Martin hold them in S6. When Louisa cooks dinner on that first night, Martin does not try to wash the cutting board or take over in any way. He eats what she cooks and even suggests using additional seasoning, something he rarely considers necessary. It is also Martin who broaches the subject of their future and intermittently notes that their living circumstances are odd and not what he would prefer. However, it is Louisa who has the deciding vote on this and, like Martin at times in the past, she appears tongue tied when the subject comes up.

It is Louisa who determines who the next child minder will be. Meanwhile Martin has sought therapy and has been willing to let the therapist make the ground rules. He cooperates and tells Dr. T about his childhood. With Dr. Milligan Martin was very resistant and rude. When it is Louisa’s turn, she is more reticent and hesitates to admit her childhood was anything but normal. We are reminded that Martin used to be the one who described his childhood as perfectly healthy.

Martin suggests he has time to do things with JH. We’ve seen him feed James and play with him in his own idiosyncratic way, but now he offers to bathe James every day. Previously Louisa had to prompt him to do something with James.

In another significant change, Al has a home and Bert is in a camper van and unsettled. Al’s business is just getting started and hits several snags, but Bert’s has ended.

We are witnessing a variety of changes that make the case that change is possible. There is a difference between changing one’s personality and changing certain actions; however, we have to start somewhere.  Martin and Louisa’s convictions that people can change are played out in these early episodes by inverting how many of the characters we’ve come to know conduct themselves. They haven’t become different people and still exhibit many of their usual traits. Martin is still stiff and unsmiling and continues to be flummoxed by what Louisa does and says; Louisa has remained convinced that living apart can solve some of their marital problems and she is unwilling to give in too quickly. Other changes may be in store and this post will be updated to reflect them.

 

 

Originally posted 2015-10-20 18:40:06.

Failure to Communicate

Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start (to coin a phrase). I also want to make sure those of you who are in the U.S. and Canada aren’t upset by any discussions that go past what’s available on Acorn TV. As of Monday, Oct. 12, E1-3 will be viewable, so I will keep this post confined to those three episodes. We can always add more once we have additional episodes to watch.

Although E1 is entitled “Rescue Me,” and we can see how they arrived at that designation, I would submit they could have called it “Failure to Communicate.” They might argue that that would be too obvious, but for me it says a lot. This show is built on the constant inability of its two protagonists to communicate with each other. Many times they misunderstand each other. Sometimes that’s because they have trouble expressing themselves clearly or because they have trouble interpreting what the other person is saying. Other times it’s because they are interrupted. Then there’s the regular instances of Martin simply being lacking in insight and responding literally and undiplomatically to what Louisa says.

Their inability to talk to each other reached its zenith in S6 when Martin stopped talking to Louisa about almost everything. She never heard him tell his mother that his family consists of his wife, his son, and Ruth; she wasn’t there when he told his mother to leave or when he spoke to Ruth. Around her Martin was tongue tied at best, as in when he objected at first to taking James to the music group, and utterly stifled at worst. We don’t see him able to express himself to Louisa until he needs to race to the airport and take her off the plane. When he finally has an opportunity to say something to her from his heart, she is sedated and we’re never sure she can remember it.

We start S7 without knowing what happened once Louisa was released from the hospital, but we have to think that Martin never reiterated what he told her in the hospital or she wouldn’t have taken James to Spain. We know Louisa didn’t want to return to the way things were before she had the emergency surgery; however, it’s hard to imagine that if Martin had appealed to her to help him be a better husband, she would have left. Logic says he was once again unable to bring himself to tell her outright that he didn’t want her to leave and what he had finally done about his mother. Principally, the first episode emphasizes many communication impediments. Nearly everyone has many problems hearing and/or talking to others by phone, by radio, and in person.

Martin hasn’t heard from Louisa in 3 weeks. He brings himself to call her but has to leave a message. She calls back on the surgery phone and he can’t hear her. She texts that she has poor reception where she is, then she calls and he’s in a place with poor reception. Her final try to reach him by phone is when he’s with Dr. T and he doesn’t get her call. It’s heartening to see that she continues to attempt to contact him; and deliberately frustrating for him and for us that he never actually talks to her. Since she is so persistent we can’t help thinking that all he had to have done during those 3 weeks was to have tried to call her. Her voice messages and text message are all pleasant and conciliatory.

Martin also has been trying to reach Ruth without success. Once he finds her at home, he informs her he’s been calling her for days. When he manages to get across that he wants to start therapy, she doesn’t at first understand that he wants her to provide therapy for him.

Beyond the Martin and Louisa situation, there are several other times in this episode where there are communication hangups. Morwenna and Martin misunderstand each other almost from the outset of the episode. She wants to participate in the boat rescue event, she wants a pay rise, she wants to reschedule his afternoon patients, and he considers all of these things inappropriate and unnecessary. Then, when she’s crashed in an isolated bay and trying to reach him on the phone or the radio, Martin can’t hear her or she can’t hear him. The rescue squad has its problems too. It can’t reach Steve and the boat’s radio can’t get a message out for some time.

In addition to all this trouble communicating, Steve Baker withholds information from Martin and Barry. No one from the press knows what’s going on, and Martin disrupts their transmissions. Moreover, Al doesn’t tell Ruth the truth about the condition of the B + B, and Steve is forever telling Al to trust him while giving him no reason to do so.

The whole episode is truly a massive amount of failures to communicate. My assessment is that we start this series with this theme because it is at the crux of the troubles between Martin and Louisa and always has been. Furthermore, communication is the key to interpersonal interactions of all kinds and this episode magnifies that.

Episode 2 has fewer miscommunication examples; however, there are enough to sustain the theme of communication being at the heart of this series. Louisa shows up at the surgery unexpectedly, although Martin acts like he thought she would arrive later. Several of their conversations are interrupted, and when they do have a chance to talk, they are both very awkward. It’s clear that they are struggling to converse because the elephant in the room is the future of their marriage and neither one of them is ready to talk about it…until dinner. Even then, the tension in the air is inescapable. One of the truly meaningful exchanges between Martin and Louisa in this episode occurs when Martin is packing so that he can move out to please Louisa. His first attempt at telling her he likes having her and James back comes when he says, “You know I don’t miss the peace and quiet.” She needs clarification and he repeats that now that she’s back he didn’t miss it. What he’s saying still doesn’t make sense to her, and she asks him what he’s trying to say. This time he is clear and says, “When you and James weren’t here, everything was neat and tidy and quiet, and now that you’re back, it’s not, and that’s fine.” In this example, we get a glimpse of the effort Martin is making to express himself better and to make himself more vulnerable.

Martin’s first appointment with Dr. Timoney is a mixture of the doctor setting the tone and of Martin making real attempts to reveal intimate information about himself. Even at this early stage in the clinical setting, she knows more about Martin’s early childhood than Louisa, at least to the best of our knowledge. Still there’s a sense that there’s so much more she should find out and more probing is necessary.

In other parts of the episode we note that Al’s guest couple have very different ideas about what a fishing holiday should entail. He wants peace and quiet while she wants relaxation and time spent together. The two positions are very much at odds and lead to one mishap after another. The funniest depiction of inability to communicate to me is when Bert tries to tell Al he has no lobsters for dinner and ends up looking like he’s playing castanets.

But it’s in this episode that we start to see more withholding of information. The act of hesitating to say what’s really essential is just as important as anything that can be said outright. Sometimes silence means more than any words can convey. Lack of communication includes what we leave out and neglect to say. Many times during this and later episodes there are pregnant silences during which either Louisa or Martin or both don’t know what to say and just stare at each other. Ruth, too, withholds much about her symptoms, probably as much from herself as from Martin. It isn’t until Ruth finally can’t walk steadily and Martin prevails on her to go back home with him that she gives in. (Can we think that this scene presages what may take place between Martin and Louisa?)

[For those of you who are interested in literary theory, Jacques Derrida’s philosophy could apply here. Perhaps Derrida’s most quoted and famous assertion, which appears in an essay on Rousseau in his book Of Grammatology (1967), is the statement that “there is no outside-text” (il n’y a pas de hors-texte). For most of us this means that what is left out of a text is as important as what is left in. (I am being very reductionist here, but getting into Derrida is really outside the scope of this post.)]

It’s amusing that E3 is given the title “It’s Good to Talk” because this episode is once again filled with scenes during which communication, or lack thereof, is prominent. Bert has lost the restaurant and has received a letter from Jennifer breaking off their engagement, but he chooses not to tell Al anything about it and he’s very evasive with Ruth. Al does his best to avoid telling Ruth that business is bad, and later finds himself at a loss for words while on the radio. The entire secondary story about Dermot and Elise is filled with misunderstandings and much withholding of information. Their daughter Ellie has nothing but resentment towards her parents and they see no value in what she wants to do with her life. Interestingly, Ellie is a writer of songs that express her feelings. When direct communication fails, some turn to writing.

The radio station creates lots of opportunities for communication problems, but it’s most notable for the so-called “dead air” DJ Melanie has to fill. After all, what is a radio station without sound? And how often is “dead air” filled with so much meaningless babble?

Martin and Louisa are clashing and Louisa gives him a comeuppance he is stunned by. Later Louisa’s view of Dr. T is complicated by Ruth’s devious method of making Louisa think again about couple’s therapy. By the end of the episode Louisa first finds it hard to give Martin some praise for saving Ellie’s life even though she is obviously proud of her husband and makes a special point of telling James. On the other hand, she is the one to approach Martin with a conciliatory gesture of agreeing to couple’s therapy and telling him “it could be a means to an end or a new beginning.” This last scene holds out hope to Martin even though the statement is somewhat ambiguous.

It seems quite likely that communication will continue to be a major hurdle in Martin and Louisa’s effort to reunite. We see some improvement, and therapy should be a place where the therapist facilitates better communicating. In fact, as some of the therapists in this group have noted elsewhere, the best assignment Dr. T can give this couple is to talk about the things that have been a disruption to the marriage and about what they would like to see in their future together. Talking things out can often help. The show is built around intrusions that keep them from having a chance to express themselves adequately, but lately we have seen fewer interruptions and that’s a good sign.

[I want to add that we see another scene of forgiveness in episode 3 when Ellie’s mother, who has been acting angry at everyone actually tells Ellie she’s not angry at her and gives her a hug. She has decided to hire someone to help with the pigs until Dermot is well and not expect Ellie to do that work. She understands Ellie wants to write and sing songs. (It’s at least ironic that the song Ellie sings after her mother leaves is about how her parents care more for the pigs than for her, but she is singing from her heart!)]

Originally posted 2015-10-12 18:07:17.

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.