Mr Selfridge: On Shell Shock

henri

As poor Henri LeClair battles against shell shock, here’s a BBC radio program, The Essay that focuses on this problem. Evidently, officer’s dealing with mental effects of the war were diagnosed with shell shock while privates were thought to be nuts or just malingering.

The Essay is a radio program featuring essays by writers on a myriad of topics, i.e. whatever tickles their fancy. I think I’ve discovered a little mine full of radio gems.

Downton Abbey, Season 5

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This season the story has been inching along, particularly during the last two episodes. The biggest event last night for me was when the art historian cum bounder went into Cora’s bedroom proposing a roll in the hay, though he put it more obliquely. Wouldn’t you know Robert returned early from his function. He was shocked to see Cora and Mr. Bricker in a tete-a-tete – in their pjs to boot. When Bricker suggested that since he was giving Cora the attention she needed his proposition was to be expected. Robert hauled off and hit him. Bravo!

Since I do believe Cora isn’t miserable in her marriage, and is just going through a period of ennui where she needs some direction or a new endeavor, Bricker’s been more of an annoyance than anything else. I am glad Fellows didn’t have Cora jump into bed with the art historian, but I also wish Cora would have more to do in the show. Perhaps she would find out about Edith and would have to deal with her feelings of being in the dark when both Violet and Rosamund have known.

On to Edith, I’m getting tired of the same old problem of her visiting the farm to see her daughter each week. Edith’s so mopey, though she sees Marigold more often than Mary seems to see George, which is odd. Or rather it’s odd to me because currently children are so central in a mother’s life. That wasn’t always the case. (In His Second Wife, the heroine mentioned not wanting to be a slave to her children. Different eras have different attitudes towards parenting.) How I wish Edith would throw herself into work and writing. She could take up the cause of single mothers or orphans. I wish this character had more facets.

I’m delighted that Robert stormed off when Miss Bunting rudely insisted that Mrs. Patmore and Daisy had to come up to the dining room so she could speak with them. Robert was right in my estimation since even after her hosts bent to Miss Bunting’s will and we could all see that Daisy and Mrs. Patmore were mortified, Miss B. continued to assert that she was right and that the servants were  dissatisfied and not respected. I’m delighted to hear that she’s leaving town. Tom could easily find a nice woman in the village who shares his political ideas — and is civil and respectful. My guess has been that even in Miss Bunting’s circle, she’s considered impertinent.

We didn’t learn much about whatever treatment Thomas is getting. I’m a bit annoyed. Again we’re getting strung along. If one or two stories are drawn out, that’s fine. But we’re being strung along with Edith’s story, the police investigation of Bates, the search for the Russian princess and Mary’s romantic storyline all move at a snail’s pace. I don’t mind a few stories moving slowly over a season, but I’d like some stories peaking mid-season or a third of the way in, while others develop more slowly.

Every week at the end I have this “Is that all?” question in my mind as I enjoy the banter, the costumes, but I can’t get around expecting something more to happen in a week.

Happy Valley

I’ve just discovered Happy Valley, a compelling, gritty police drama starring Sarah Lancaster from The Paradise. Lancaster plays a police sergeant in a small town awash in drugs.  She’s great

The series covers one crime for six episodes. A milk toast accountant asks his boss for a raise. Though the wimp has been loyal and contributes greatly to the company’s success, Mr. Nevinson, the president, says it wouldn’t be fair. If he gives this man a raise, all the employees should get raises. Still Nevinson says he’ll think it over. Resent and pessimism eats away at the accountant, who turns to a dodgy acquaintance and proposes they abduct Nevinson’s daughter for a high ransom. An alliance is made, an plan hatched.

The next day, Nevinson promises to pay for the accountant’s daughters to go to expensive high schools. Also, he shares that his wife is battling cancer.

Though he tries, the accountant can’t convince his pal to give up on the kidnapping. Greed prevails. The wheels are in motion.

As compelling as the crime is, the police sergeant, Catherine Cawood, is up to her eyeballs in problems, yet still stays afloat and wins our hearts. Let’s see what she’s up against:

  1. She’s divorced.
  2. She’s raising her grandson.
  3. She’s the mother of two grown children, her daughter committed suicide after being raped and her son won’t speak to her.
  4. She lives with her sister, a recovering heroin addict, played by Siobahn  Finneran a.k.a. Mrs. O’Brien from Downton Abbey.
  5. She’s woman in a man’s field. (But she’s pretty well accepted so this isn’t “An Issue”.)
  6. She lives in a gray town with little opportunity and lots of drugs.
  7. Her daughter’s rapist was never tried for that crime and is now out of jail. (He was there for theft.)

Lancaster creates an unforgettable character, who doesn’t fit the classic mold of leading lady, which limits so many American dramas. For two episodes of the three I’ve seen so far, Lancaster’s got a swollen black eye from chasing a suspect.

Drama at its best here. Watch it on Netflix.

Spies of Warsaw

spies warsaw It’s interesting seeing David Tennant in a role other than Doctor Who. He does a fine job as a French spy in Warsaw leading up to the outbreak of WWII. (Never mind that it would make more sense for a French spy to speak with a French accent, but I don’t blame Tennant for that.) Spies of Warsaw isn’t action packed, but it has its moments and kept me entertained. It’s got a bit of romance, betrayal, history and suspense. It’s not the greatest BBC production, but since it moves along and its set during an interesting time, I could forgive its flaws. Yeah, the romance didn’t seem to matter. None of the actors did anything spectacular, but the story wasn’t terrific, so they’re excused. Yeah, the last mission seemed rather out of the blue, but it was still better than a lot of what’s on the tube.

If a friend or relative really wanted to see this, it’s no big sacrifice to watch it with them.

Would I watch it again? Probably not. Do I regret watching it? No.

Sherlock: The Last Vow

A First: A Guilty Displeasure

Magnussen's data on Sherlock

Magnussen’s data on Sherlock

My vow after watching this horrendous Sherlock episode on PBS is not to watch again unless three highly esteemed friends insist writers Moffatt and Gatiss have regained their sanity and writing ability. The season 3 finale “The Last Vow” was a hokey train wreck.

The real crime seems that these writers have been kidnapped or possessed by zombies of some sort. You know how Sherlock’s able to delete irrelevant information from his brain. How I wish I could delete the experience of watching “The Last Vow.” It kept me up last night and was the first thing in my head when I woke.

This episode involved Sherlock in pursuit of uber-blackmailer, Charles Augustus Magnussen after the government official whose face he licked (talk about creepy to watch) enlists Sherlock’s help.

What follows is a mishmash of slick graphics and preposterous scenes that made my head spin. While many parts of the story were culled from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s original stories, it’s as if someone took pages of the stories, put them in a food processor, removed any sensible bits, stirred the remaining mess up, spit in the bowl and served it up to the viewers. I watched with my aunt and we kept saying, “How is it possible that this has gotten worse?” And the true sign of a terrible show: I kept looking at the clock to see how much longer we had to watch.

Ever the optimist, I thought the show would redeem itself at some point, but alas, it never did.

last bow

Observations

  • Sherlock’s a mastermind who can read people with incredible precision, yet he didn’t see that Mary was a spy and assassin when he met her. Are we supposed to believe that?
  • Though Mary Marston is connected with uber-villain Magnussen and shoots Sherlock, we’re supposed to buy that John staying married to her is a good thing. She has completely presented a false identity and we have no idea who she is and John’s not certifiable for wanting to stay with her? Isn’t not wanting to know who she really is the height of objectifying a woman? Since John gets so frustrated with Sherlock’s lack of empathy, wouldn’t Mary whose empathy is questionable at best and put on at worst, make her a terrible wife for John?Sherlock doesn’t have the logic to see this? Divorce is legal and acceptable in England.  In this case, i.e. fraud, annulment is in order. John can try to get custody of the child, which he’d get if Mary is in jail, where she belongs. Viewers realize that what’s deep down matters in a person and deep down, Mary is not trustworthy. She will kill when it suits her. How’s that for ethics?
  • I could do without the face licking, thank you very much. Could all screenwriters make a note of that?
  • Why wouldn’t Mary going to jail be more satisfying?
  • How long can someone who’s been shot walk around town solving crimes?
  • Why didn’t this woman who would have had to push her way to the top of a male dominated field, stand up to Magnussen?
  • There’s a reason cutting from scene to scene in a manic fashion is not listed in Aristotle’s Poetics. It does not result in good storytelling. Cheap flashy cuts just make viewers head’s spin.
  • Though I missed Moriarty, bringing him back through implausible means wasn’t want I wanted. I can live with the loss and as AV Club reviewer Genevieve Valentine points out, when there are just three episodes, we don’t need an overarching villain. Remember there’s something called evil in the world and that more than suffices.
  • It’s implausible that John has some highly tuned sociopath detector that sensed that Mary was a sociopath so he was drawn to her. There’s nothing in earlier seasons that showed the Everyman character was that far gone. What  does that say about everyone?
  • Packing multiple pieces of Doyle’s stories into one episode just doesn’t work. There’s no need to.

Questions

  1. Did the British audience take to this?
  2. Has or should Moffat issue an apology for this disgraceful writing?
  3. Did anyone else feel they needed a shower or some sort of medical attention after suffering through this?

Sherlock: The Sign of the Three

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Warning, readers: Spoilers below.

John Watson marries Mary Marston in this episode. Yet Sherlock in many ways overshadows the couple, as one would expect. While the secondary characters like Mrs. Hudson are excited for the couple most are worried about Sherlock. How will he handle this change in his friendship with Watson? I’d rather the big question surrounded solving a crime and capturing the criminal.

The episode did have its bright spots: the costumes were splendid as were the settings. I really liked the bright yellow walls in the place where the reception was held.

The episode started with Lestrade desperately trying to capture three elusive bank robbers. A series of scenes shows the police’s near misses over the course of a year. (Why wasn’t Sherlock brought in to help?) Just as Lestrade and his officers are about to make their arrest, he gets a text from Sherlock. “Help!” Though capturing these robbers is crucial to Lestrade, he decides to race over to 221 B Baker Street to help Sherlock. Since he thinks this plea indicates a dire emergency, Lestrade calls the station to send loads of officers over to 221 B.

But wouldn’t you know it was a big misunderstanding? Sherlock just needed a question about John’s wedding answered. If we hadn’t seen this sort of joke before it would be funny. The show’s done this before with John racing to Sherlock’s aid for a false alarm. While Sherlock’s behavior wouldn’t change, those around him would learn and would think twice before sounding the alarm or racing to him. Why didn’t Lestrade call first? He’s not an idiot.

sherlock-season-3-episode-2-watch-online

The show was uneven to me. Because of all the attention paid to the wedding and how Sherlock would cope, I felt the show was off kilter. The first crime we see involves the murder of a Royal Guard and that was undertaken mainly as a diversion to get the boys out of the house.

There were some scenes with Mycroft which seemed superfluous. Since the episode is entitled “The Sign of Three,” and does borrow characters’ names from “The Sign of Four, I’d hoped we’d see some version of the annoying, and humorous Abernathy Jones, whose in that novel. A modern Abernathy Jones could be hilarious or vexing and intrigue us all. We don’t need Mycroft in every story.

The crimes seem tacked on as if its a bother to deal with them, which shouldn’t be the case. They are the crux of the series. Jonathan Small, the murderer, has a personality and back story that’s paper thin. In the original there’s much more dimension to him.

The writers fill the time with sequences that wore out their welcome fast. I didn’t need to see a protracted stag party/pub crawl with Sherlock and Watson getting plastered. Sure, if you must, show them getting drunk, but do it quickly. The humor of the drunk stumbling around is of the lowest order. I can do without the cliché. Also, the wedding speech dragged on. Though it was interspersed with lots of flashbacks, it still dragged. The speech contained some touching moments and did provide some exposition, but it went on far too long.

After last week’s episode, “The Empty Hearse,” which was weighed down by nods to fans and fan fiction, this episode made me long for Jeremy Brett‘s Sherlock Holmes. While I’m fine with the idea of deviating from tradition, I do still want a good story and not a potentially good story hidden amongst easy gags. It seems like writers Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson, are drunk on the show’s popularity and have taken to writing to the giddier fans. I could excuse a fluffy episode like this if we weren’t limited to three Sherlocks a year.

Not to harp too much about the original, but in the novel, we do learn why John so loves Mary. He worries about whether he’s too poor for her as she’s the heir to a fortune. He describes her character and in the end he is able to propose. I have liked the character of Mary Marston played by Amanda Abbington does a fine job, but she doesn’t have much background. She’s a beautiful cheerful woman who doesn’t try to divide these friends, but there’s no sign of why John’s marrying this beautiful, cheerful woman rather than another. In the book, that was clear.

The Paradise

Denise at The Paradise

Country girl, Denise Lovette comes to the big city hoping to work for her uncle. His dressmaking business is struggling as the competition from the shining, novel department store The Paradise has captured his old customers. Despite her uncle’s disappointment, Denise takes a job at the only store hiring, The Paradise. Soon she’s in her element, an elegant women’s department headed by Miss Audrey with new colleagues, some friendly and others envious and vengeful. What keeps Denise going is the world of fashion and commerce. She’s a natural marketer. Ideas on boosting sales come to her in torrents.

Moray and Katerine

Moray and Katerine

The Paradise is owned by John Moray, a widower who’s courting Katherine, a wealthy, spoiled banker’s daughter. Moray’s wife died under suspicious circumstances, known only to an equally suspicious character who lurks in the corners of The Paradise noting secrets in his little black book. Moray and Katherine’s rocky relationship is further disrupted by Denise, whose beauty, loyalty, innocence and sales acumen are mighty attractive.

Denise and rival Clara

I highly recommend this series, which you can watch on PBS.org till December 17th. It’ll tide you over till the January premiere of Downton Abbey‘s 5th season. I’m caught up in the store and the complexities of the era. The series begins in 1875 or so and shows the excitement of new businesses popping up along with new opportunities for women in the work world. It also shows the downside, how dedicated craftsmen must fight to survive. It’s a Darwinian competition draped in silk and lace.

I plan to read Emil Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise as soon as I get back to the states. Evidently, the BBC’s adaptation whitewashes some of the real problems, economic and social, for workers at this time. Since I’m an Upton Sinclair fan, I’ll probably enjoy the darker novel.

Thoughts on Downton Abbey, Season 3, Episode 1

Season 3 Cast

Season 3 Cast

I can’t recall anticipating the return of a television show more than I have Downton Abbey‘s Season 3. Perhaps Sherlock, when it comes but that’s way off in the distance. I’ve re-viewed several of the episodes from the previous seasons when they were re-broadcast and noted little details that I’d missed.

At last on the 6th, we got to meet Cora’s mother, the brash American, Mrs. Martha Levinson, played with great panache by Shirley MacLaine. Talk about a bull in a china shop and someone to set Violet’s teeth on edge. How did Cora develop such grace? Her father must have been more reserved.

Julian Fellow’s story drew me in as I wanted to tell Branson, the ex-chauffer to lighten up, put on the Downton clothes and make his case by drawing on people’s sympathy rather than jumping on a soap box every chance he got. I did feel sorry for him when Sybil’s old suitor sneered at him and slipped him a mickey.

Another great story element was the announcement that Lord Grantham has lost his fortune, well, Cora’s fortune. That news, hushed up as it has been, charges every scene with tension. What will all the characters do when they find out? For now only a few know.

Thomas never ceases to devilishly plot and this time he got on O’Brien’s bad side. By making her nephew get in trouble by marring Mathew’s dinner jacket, Thomas became the victim of O’Brien’s prank of hiding all Lord Gratham’s good shirts thus adding to the ruin of the episode’s most significant social event and making the Lord look like a waiter or a Chicago bootlegger, take your pick.

We got glimpses of Bates in jail and Anna trying to do a bit of detective work to get him out. We also see that if he doesn’t keep his cool with his cellmate, Bates may get himself into further trouble.

As usual, the two hours went fast and tantalized fans with great character development and plot points. It looks like Edith’s going to marry Sir Anthony, the old geezer she’s so fond of. He’ll treat her well, it seems, and she is keen on him, but generally when the groom’s so luke warm, that doesn’t bode well for a marriage. Time will certainly tell.

Coverage of Chicago’s Violence

After a top notch look at the hospitals caring for the shooting victims in Chicago, CBS Evening News interviewed Rahm Emanuel about the increased murder rate this summer. I found the piece disappointing. Since I live near Chicago, I know the statistics and the stories, such as seven year old Heaven Sutton’s murder. She was caught in the crossfire while she was selling snow cones and candy on the street with her grandma.

One shortcoming of the interview was its brevity. It seemed to last 2 minutes so by the time the problem was identified and Emanuel clarified Scott Pelley‘s depiction to his own liking as politicians do, there was little time to discuss how to address this problem. The other big problem was that Pelley just played softball with the mayor, whose chief of police is cutting the budget so that while in the past, when the murder rate went down, Chicago had 5 detective units, it now has 3. Also while after a shooting police strike force would move in, now they don’t.

Emanuel didn’t say much specific. He defended his new chief in spite of the poor results. He also went on a tangent about how it’s all about values and called for gang bangers to step away from children so that they don’t get hurt. His call seems unrealistic. Why would you assume a criminal is going to make it easier for someone shooting him to get shot? It’s incredibly naïve to appeal to a sense of valor. While the problem, like all crime, is a matter of morality, Emanuel had no plan on how to inculcate values. Pelley didn’t bother to question him on that. Pure softball.

Perhaps it’s not a national issue so Pelley went easy on Emanuel. Yet if it’s not a national story it doesn’t belong on CBS Evening News.  I wish Pelley would watch the BBC’s Hard Talk to sharpen his interviewing skills.

Marin conducting a different interview

Later Chicago Tonight did a splendid job on the same issue. Elizabeth Bracken recapped the issue and Carol Marin interviewed two aldermen, who’ve come forward questioning the new police strategy. Marin asked all the right questions and the interview never felt like a T-ball game. Pelley can attain this level and should.

Daniel Deronda

Adapted from a George Eliot novel, the BBC production of Daniel Deronda will quench any Anglophile’s thirst for drama and romance. The series opens with a head strong, vivacious beauty, a Victorian Scarlett O’Hara, winning and quickly losing big at a German gaming table. It seems her laughing off the loss doesn’t ring true. Maybe she isn’t as well off as she appears.

Soon we learn the captivating woman is Gwendolyn, whose family isn’t well off (in fact they lose everything by the end of episode 1). The title character, Daniel, sees Gwendolyn lose all her winnings and as a professional guardian angel, retrieves the lost necklace Gwendolyn had to hock. While few words pass between the two, we can see that they’re both smitten.

Daniel has no idea who his real parents are. Most his life a rather stodgy, yet kind man has taken him in and acted as a father. He plays the part so well that most people assume the man is Daniel’s father. In any event Daniel has had the upbringing of a gentleman without the solid footing of one. Like any good hero, he’s very handsome and very kind.

One day he rescues a young woman, Mira, who tries to drown herself. He takes her to some friends and oversees her care and her budding singing career. There’s some warmth between Daniel and Mira, but it simmers in the first three episodes. They would make a good couple, but she is Jewish and while Daniel is open minded for the era, he doesn’t seem ready to chance marrying Mira. Still he doesn’t like it when his best friend expresses a desire to marry Mira either.

While Daniel and Mira are getting acquainted and Daniel’s helping Mira find her long lost relations and learning more and more about Jewish culture in a corner of Victorian England, I’ve never seen, Gwendolyn’s family has hit hard times. It’s impossible for them to keep her in silk and satin. (She always got the best horses, clothes, etc. while her non-blonde-haired siblings got table scraps it seems.) Her uncle can get her a position as a governess.

A governess? Are you kidding? Gwendolyn has always wanted the finer things and she’ll do anything to get them, anything including a cold man with money, whom she knows has neglected a mistress and three children.

The story is absorbing. The relationships are all in a knot and no one’s where they should be. To make matters more complicated, you have to ask yourself whether you’d root for Gwendolyn and Daniel since she’s so self-absorbed. The most redeeming aspect of Gwendolyn’s character is that she doesn’t pretend to be generous or kind. She’s quite open about her faults, which she sees as assets, rather like Cynthia in Wives and Daughters. If a villain knows her faults, she’s on the path to heroism.

After seeing Hugh Bonneville in Downton Abbey it’s hard to imagine him as a cad, or worse, but in Daniel Deronda he’s a scoundrel. He enjoys subjugating Gwendolyn and that is why he married this stunningly beautiful, albeit selfish and frivolous young woman. My, a lot of women need rescuing here and there’s only one Daniel in the village.

Tomorrow I’ll finish episode 4.