Tag Archives: Mary

The Great British Bake Off

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Despite considerable effort, I’ve never been able to see this show regularly in the US. It’s a huge hit in the UK, top ratings every season, but not available in the US. I occasionally catch a single episode or two on YouTube, but this was the first time I was able to see a full season. Yay, up-to-date on the cultural zeitgeist.

So, for the Americans, here’s a primer. It’s a reality show. They pick amateur/home bakers from around the UK to all come to do a series of baking challenges. Each weekend, they film, and then the contestants go home until the next weekend. They don’t live in some incestuous mansion, thank god. They still are normal people, taking care of their families and working. Each episode, one baker is sent home, in traditional reality show fashion, and at the end you have one winner.

The whole show takes place in a large tent on some aristocratic estate (Welford Park, this year)in the country. It’s so English in that way. The focus on rural locations, the aristocracy, history, agrarian life. B-roll always features buzzing bees in flowerbeds and horses and sheep grazing in paddocks. And the whole idea of a baking competition is reminiscent of the sort of village bazaars, bake shows, etc. that would have taken place 100+ years ago throughout England, and probably still do in some places.

Apparently there was an American version last year, called the American Baking Competition. Most boring name for any show in history. Worse, the host was Jeff Foxworthy.  Okay, the American equivalent of Sue and Mel is not Jeff Foxworthy. Jeff Foxworthy…really?!? Why didn’t they just get Larry the Cable Guy as expert judge? Shockingly, it got terrible ratings. I never even heard about it. Ugh.

Here’s what I really enjoy about GBBO: It’s nice. I never watch reality shows because everyone on them is a terrible person. Even the nice ones are terrible, or else they wouldn’t be on the show in the first place. But GBBO has nice people, and they’re baking, and you’re rooting for them to do well at baking. That’s it. And Mel and Sue, the hosts, are nice and funny. I love Sue Perkins.

Great British Bake-offOf course, you also have your slightly evil judges, Paul and Mary. Paul is the only truly evil one, but Mary has a glare reminiscent of an unhappy schoolteacher.

So, to this season in particular. Everyone was really likeable (except that first girl. She had zero competence and I’m glad she was gone immediately). And I wanted everyone to do well. Particularly Norman, who was adorable.

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I mean how often do you have a reality show where you actually are sad to see the contestants go? Never. I’ve never liked anyone who has been on reality TV. And I think the reason might be that there’s no prize on this show, really. You get a trophy thing, rather than the thousands of dollars/pounds other reality shows throw around. So you’re only going to enter if you really just want to bake and show that you’re a good baker. Worth noting that the American version gave $250,000 to the winner.

Of course, this season had a large scandal (‘bingate’), but I won’t go into that. Selective editing means we can’t know the real story, so I’m not going to blame a sweet old lady for anything without more information, no matter how guilty they made her appear. And I can’t say I care that much. Iain, despite his lovely accent and fantastic beard, was never going to win anyway.

So…if you’re wondering what they actually make on GBBO, I can tell you that it’s a bunch of stuff that Americans have never heard of. I understood a few words (bread, eclairs, cake), but it seems that we bake very different things on our side of the pond. If you’re American, you’ll spend a lot of time wondering what the fuck a Victoria Sponge is.  It’s sponge/pound cake, apparently. I’m not a baker, so maybe some of these things are more known to Americans who bake. But we don’t do Battenburg, swiss roll, or toffee pudding in the US.  I mean, not your average home baker, that’s for sure. We do chocolate cake or yellow cake. If you’re fancy, you call them Angel’s food or Devil’s food cakes. If you’re really fancy, you do a red velvet.  That’s it for most cakes, even bought at shops.

And I’d never even heard of most of the technicals. Swedish Princess cake? Schichttorte??? It did make me feel better that the contestants hadn’t heard of it either. A look at what the contestants baked on the American version backs me up on this–we don’t do any of the same desserts. The American version had (non-savory) pies, doughnuts, meringues, souffles. All things I would recognize. Even the technicals in the US were mostly things I’d heard of.  So…who knew? Apparently baking is very very different in our two countries. Here’s a gallery of the bakes from the British version, if you want to look at all the things you’ve never heard of. Also the metric system leads to further confusion when I try to comprehend what they’re doing.  God I wish I had learned the metric system and could comprehend 99% of the rest of the world when they measure things.

I digress

Nancy-landscape

This year’s winner was Nancy, who made a very beautiful recreation of the Moulin Rouge, complete with spinning sugar blades on the windmill.

Nancy_great_british_bake_off_winner_-_moulin_rouge_showstopper_-_star_baker_final_-_good_housekeepingBut I don’t really watch it for the baking. Partially because I have no idea what the fuck they are making half the time. I just like that they all get together and try really hard to make something lovely to eat. And they’re nice. And Mel and Sue give them hugs at the end. Mel and Sue are a national treasure, btw, and I am jealous we don’t have them in the US. They deserve to be an international treasure.

In short, it’s a wonderfully simple and pleasant show. It’s small in scope and importance, but its existence does something to counterbalance the fact that Big Brother is still on the air.

 

 

 

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Sherlock, series 3

mast-Sherlock-Benedict-Martin-COVE-hiresI have waited almost two years for the next season of this show.  It’s amazing how much you can anticipate something, and then you blink and it’s over.  Just like Christmas.  This season started on January 1st, and was over less than 2 weeks later.  Three episodes, even if they are 90 minutes each, doesn’t seem like it should qualify as a full series.

Past here, there be spoilers!  You have been warned!

In episode one, The Empty Hearse, we see Sherlock return to London, and admit to being alive.  We also see John’s terrible mustache.

imagesThankfully, it’s short-lived.  I’ve never been less attracted to Martin Freeman.

The mini-episode at Christmas gave us a taste of what has been happening to our characters since the last season. Anderson has grown a terrible beard, lost his job, and become a Sherlock conspiracy theorist.  John has moved out and is very sad and makes me feel all the feelings.

In The Empty Hearse, Sherlock comes back and assumes all will be the same, assumes nothing interesting can have happened since he wasn’t around. John’s reaction to seeing him again is pretty intense.  The more Sherlock explains who knew he had faked his death (Molly, his parents), the angrier John gets.  Who can blame him? My reaction would have been far more wrathful, but John has a soft spot for Sherlock, and I think his relief outweighs his anger pretty quickly.  That being said, Sherlock deserved a good punch in the face.

The most brilliant part of this episode were the various theories on how he faked his death.  The first one, the very first scene of the episode, had me going for a split second, and it made me very angry. It made no sense at all! But the second one? with Sherlock and Moriarty on the roof? Hilarious.  And a scenario that has no doubt already appeared in at least one fanfiction in a dark corner of the internet.

In episode 2, we see John and Mary’s wedding, with Sherlock as the best man…

sherlock-wedding-john-mary-sherlockJust looking at this picture makes me feel the need to improve my posture. I liked this episode, but in it, Sherlock seemed too normal. Too able to and willing to be charming.  One could argue that he was putting on his best behavior for John and Mary (who he obviously likes).  But he’s cultivated a personality that is callous and rude, because he truly thinks he is more important than the average riff raff he encounters. I find it hard to believe he could turn on the charm and flirt with the maid of honor and etc.  Of course, when I saw episode 3, his behavior toward her made more sense. And, I suppose he has been able to affect normalcy before–e.g. when he pretended to be a vicar who had been attacked outside Irene Adler’s building.

And episode 3? What the hell was that?!  Before it started, I was complaining to my boyfriend that we’d barely seen this supervillain Magnussen, and it wasn’t a very good way to build up the tension.  Moriarty had been discussed in every episode of the first two seasons, and had been like a shadow hanging over all of them.
And this Magnussen?  What did we know about him going into episode 3? Almost nothing.  Of course, turns out he only took about 3 seconds of screen time to completely repulse me in every conceivable way.  I was so disgusted I think some of my innards turned inside out…

lars-mikkelsen-charles-augustus-magnussen-600x398Gross, gross, gross. Why is he so plastic looking and terrifying? I had nightmares about him!

But was he a supervillain?! no.  He wasn’t even the most villainous person in this episode, despite being the human equivalent of the word ‘moist‘.  I feel like bleaching my skin just thinking about him. But the real shocker in this episode was not him, obviously.

I feel like (and I’m hesitant to criticize Sherlock as a whole, but) Mary seemed to earn her forgiveness extremely quickly.  Our acceptance of her is based on a-Sherlock saying she had ‘saved his life’ by not killing him and by calling the ambulance, and b-John being ‘attracted’ to sociopaths because he is an adrenaline junkie.

a- is hard to stomach.  Couldn’t she have just knocked him out?  Or shot him in the shoulder or something?  And why not just shoot Magnussen, instead of shooting Sherlock?  I just don’t buy it as some great act on her part to show she’s a good person.  Yes, calling the ambulance was good, but not shooting him would have been better. He almost died even though she was trying not to kill him, so not a great plan.

and b?  It’s true.  No matter what iteration of these two characters (Sherlock, Elementary, House, etc) you enjoy, you start out thinking ‘how does this Watson guy/girl put up with it all?  (S)he is so normal comparatively’.  But eventually, you realize that people get into these relationships because they want to. And they stay in the relationships because they get something out of it.  Probably a relief from boredom.  Much like what we get out of watching someone like Sherlock.  On the other hand, I think it’s a little ridiculous for everyone to say ‘Oh, of course you married a killer, John, you’re attracted to psychos’.  This is only the second unbalanced person we’ve seen John with, so it’s not exactly an established pattern.  He was clearly bored with his ‘normal’ girlfriends in the previous series, but this is  bit extreme.  I really liked Mary’s character, and I like the actress (Freeman’s real-life partner). I just find her deception and her actions unforgivable, and I can’t trust her as readily as John and Sherlock seem to.  Of course, it’s easy for Sherlock to trust people, because he usually knows more about them than they do.

And I have one major gripe about this episode.  One thing that makes no sense to me.  Magnussen apparently had no actual proof of anything he used to blackmail people?  So killing him (a pretty serious breach of protocol from our hero that is glazed over very very quickly) destroyed all the ‘evidence’ in his mind?  Even if you accept that he somehow saw/found enough proof to blackmail seriously powerful people, and that blackmail worked on them even though he didn’t keep any records, and that killing him would end his threat..there’s still a problem.  He showed the letters to Sherlock.  Had them in his pocket.  So he obviously had evidence of those in hard copy, not just in his mind palace.  I suppose you could surmise that they were just random scraps of paper bound together, rather than the actual letters.  That’s conceivable, but you have to let your audience know that, otherwise it just seems like a mistake.

My only other complaint about episode 3 is the serious lack of Lestrade! Give that man more to do, even if it is just to be humiliated and called ‘Graham’ or ‘Gavin’ by Sherlock.

But of course, there are only two big important moments in episode 3.  The moment we realize the truth about Mary, and…the bit after the credits.  I hope you watched until the end of the credits?

sherlock-his-last-vow-moriarty-miss-meCan I just say that I am so happy and terrified of this, all at once?  I don’t care why or how he’s back, I just want to see more of him.  Andrew Scott, you are the most terrifying and wonderful villain ever.

Gatiss and Moffat have confirmed that there will be a series 4, to start filming as soon as the actors have room in their schedule.  Some people are speculating a premiere as early as Christmas 2014.  I hope it’s that soon, but I don’t really care when it is.  Even when this show isn’t at its best, I would still wait years and years for the next episode.  Each episode has enough moments that are shocking, affecting, funny, and scary; each one is worth waiting for.

Downton Abbey, season Four

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Before I even begin to talk about this season, which just ended in the UK and premieres on PBS this January, I have to say that if you have not seen this season, do not read any further.  To say there are spoilers would be an understatement.  I do not want to ruin all the pain you’re going to experience, particularly at mid-season.

You have been warned! Past here there be dragons spoilers!

There’s one even that is of premiere importance in this season, but I’m going to start with some other thoughts that occurred to me as I watched this season.

1-This season, and this season alone, changed my mind about some of the male characters.  For one thing, Lord Grantham is a big ole pain in the ass. He got on my bad list in the very first episode. In a callback to season 1, once again Mary’s place as an heir to Downton is in doubt.  And, despite all that she’s been through, and her undeniable abilities, Lord Grantham doesn’t think she’s capable–or just does not want to share power with anyone.  I know this is the 1920s, and women had just gained suffrage in the UK and in the US.  But Julian Fellowes has portrayed Lord Grantham, not as a sexist, but as someone who just doesn’t want other people interfering in what he views as his own responsibilities.  And he tries to do it once again, planning to skip Mary as a partner in the estate and only turn over his ‘powers’ to her son when he comes of age.  I think I find it all the more insulting and annoying that he either can’t see or doesn’t care that Mary a-needs this and b-is completely capable of excelling at it. I found my affection for Mary growing by just as much as my dislike for Lord Grantham.

And Bates?  I’ve heard chatter before that he and Anna don’t belong together, because she is young and wonderful, and he is old and a killjoy. I never understood it before, because I quite liked their story.  But now, I totally get it.  In mid-season, before the …event… Anna was having a good time, having some fun! What did Bates do?  Sulk and be angry and not join in.  And what did Julian Fellowes do?  Punish Anna, obviously.  More on that later. But after the event? I felt some sympathy for Bates–he doesn’t know what’s wrong, he’s done nothing but his wife is just gone from him.  But when he finds out? Instead of doing what Anna needs (supporting her, helping her to move on), he focuses on what he needs: revenge.  And he gets it.  I suppose there are people who think he didn’t do it, but I’m not one of them.  I was never entirely certain he didn’t kill his wife, and now this?  We know he’s violent, we know he’s single-minded.  Anna, you deserve better.

2-The one character I disliked for the entire season was Rose.

Lilly-James-as-Lady-Rose-in-Downton-Abbey-set-to-star-as-CinderellaI get that they needed to inject some youth and optimism into the cast, because they killed off lovely, wonderful Sybil, and turned Mary into a widow.  Edith never was cheerful.  But didn’t Julian Fellowes learn anything from Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch? No one likes the new kid.  Rose is no Sybil. Rose is vapid and willfully naive, with the emotional maturity of a 13-year-old.  Sybil was kind and thoughtful, rebellious when she believed in something, but not rebellious for the sake of rebellion.  Rose only wants to shock; it’s a desperate cry for attention from her disinterested parents, and it is boring. Get rid of her.

To be fair, she didn’t annoy me too much at the beginning of the season.  But by the end I was rolling my eyes, and truly a bit disturbed by her desire to marry someone out of a combination of youthful infatuation and to anger her mother.

3-Can we talk about Mary’s suitors?  First, there’s Lord Gillingham

198200-lord-gillinghamHe didn’t seem too bad, at first.  I don’t think he’s a villain, at least.  But you can’t go from saying ‘Oh, Mary, I only want you’, then immediately become engaged to someone else, but still hang around frequently hoping Mary will change her mind.  That has me very suspicious. At best, he’s wishy-washy and lacks courage.  At worst, he cares very little for the feelings of either woman in question.

Then there’s Mr. Napier

-Evelyn_napierHis character is too bland and flimsy to ever have a remote chance with Mary, but unfortunately he doesn’t seem to know that. His chief function in this season (despite boring me to death) is to introduce his friend, Mr. Blake, to Mary.  Mr. Blake is the obvious choice for Mary’s next beau.  Of course, they claim to dislike each other passionately at first. Mr. Blake is very cynical about the upper classes, and thinks they don’t deserve their wealth.  Mary is (understandably) offended by this, and dislikes having him around.  Remember season 1, when Matthew and Mary got off on the wrong fit along similar topics?  Matthew’s middle class background, his insistence upon working, his reluctance to have a valet…it’s all echoed in Mr. Blake.  downton-abbey-series-4-charles-blake

And, like clockwork, the two begin to feel differently about one another.  Mary earns Blake’s respect when she proves that she is willing to change and adapt in order to keep Downton financially successful.  Her active role in the estate, along with Tom’s guidance, bring Downton into the 20th century (against Lord Grantham’s wishes).  It’s easy to see reasons why Blake and Mary will continue to be thrown together, and that’s who I’ve got my money on.

4-Edith.  I didn’t mind her this season!  I am really confused about why her beau just went missing at random, apparently as soon as he arrived in Germany!  Germany wasn’t a particularly good place to go at this time, I think, but I find it hard to believe he disappeared without a trace.  Edith kept mentioning that private detectives and the police were searching for him, but we never seemed to see any proof of that–correspondence with them, or with his office in London.  It was just sort of an undercurrent to the latter half of the show, without ever being brought to the forefront.  I found that very strange, and am very curious.  One assumes that he’ll turn up at Christmas, but then I expected him to turn up at the last episode of the series, so that proves my instincts are generally wrong.  Either way, her story line made me extremely grateful to live in a time with birth control.

Well, there’s nothing else to discuss except the big thing this season.  No deaths, no war, no Spanish flu or miscarriages.  But what Julian Fellowes did to Anna seems worse than all of them.  I (and a lot of people who watch the show) felt that it was like a slap in the face. So, let’s talk about why it does and does not make sense for rape to be a feature of this show.

For one thing, it absolutely did happen, and it was covered up.  When you have a society that prizes secrecy as fervently as the Victorians & Edwardians did, you are never going to even be able to estimate how prevalent a problem it was.  And when you have girls in positions of submission, as maids in houses owned by powerful men, they don’t feel capable of speaking out.  Even if the crime wasn’t perpetrated by one of the family, a maid would probably lose her position if she admitted what had happened. The family wouldn’t want any shame brought on them.  So…we can be sure it happened, and we can be sure it happened far more than we could ever prove.  The majority of the time, the perpetrators probably faced no consequences.  Is that an important topic to cover in a history of the period? Sure.

On the other side of the coin, this is not a nonfiction.  This is a primetime soap opera. In the past, it has shown no remorse in exploiting tragedy and death to garner ratings and accolades. But it’s also an idealized version of past reality.  Shows and their show-runners have a pact with their audience.  An agreement among the two parties.  The show-runners provide titillation and excitement, depression and happiness.  They are allowed to play with our emotions, because we like it.  We enjoy a cathartic cry over the deaths, and we smile at our television sets when the hero and heroine finally get together.  We get enjoyment for watching, but we are giving a bit of ourselves to the show, being vulnerable to whatever happens next.  The same pact exists between writers and readers.  As I said, we expect to be tossed and turned a certain amount; that’s what we want.  But it’s a delicate balance, and when the powers-that-be go too far, we feel hard done by, used and abused. I can’t adequately describe how furious I was when I read Atonement.

Julian Fellowes has done a good job, up to this season, creating a safe but believable world. A world where bad things do happen, but usually because of huge ineffable forces like war or disease.

And has Julian Fellowes broken our contract this season?  I think he has.  I feel cheaply thrown about with no real purpose or reason.  Other times, he has stretched believability to create a safe and acceptable version of actual history. The most obvious examples are the ways the family dealt with Thomas’ homosexuality, or the black bandleader, Jack.  We like watching Downton Abbey because the 1920s seem more polite, more elegant, less harsh and grating.  Undoubtedly they were, if you were a rich, white man.  In truth, very few people would have been accepting of gay people in their homes, or black Jazz musicians performing for them. It’s the sad and terrible truth of it.  We overlook it when Julian Fellowes fibs to us, because it makes it easier to enjoy the world he’s created for us.  But, as is often the case, a lie that placates us is twice as acceptable as a truth that hurts us.

He punished Anna, the best of the lot of them, and destroyed all her happiness.  And there is something truly disturbing about a man, with his own share of power, writing a rape scene for a young girl.  And then a real woman has to act out that horrible scene.  It’s almost like a mirror of the attack itself. It reminds me of tales of Alfred Hitchcock, who tortured some of his actresses (notably Tippi Hedron) with horrible scenes and multiple takes in the Birds, who wanted to tear her down and used his scripts and his direction to do it. I’m not saying Julian Fellowes is a vile pervy old man, but when I think about the scene in this light it is even more difficult to accept.

I wouldn’t blame anyone who felt this was too much to deal with from what has been a safe space.  In reality, though, if you kept watching past that episode, you’ll keep watching the rest of the season.  And on to the Christmas special! I think it would have been a better season without the rape, but it was still good enough that I kept tuning in and wanting to watch.

Luther, season 3

Luther-Season-3-Key-ArtThe long-anticipated third season of Luther premiered last week on BBC America.  For some reason, they decided to play one episode per night, so the entire season was done in 1 week. I hate when they do this, but for this show it is particularly difficult to deal with. I couldn’t sleep after the first episode, and I was really upset after episode 3.  To squeeze all that emotion into one week is a lot for me.  I think Luther requires some recovery time, because precidence has shown that he (and we as the audience who implicitly support him as the protagonist) is going to get walloped repeatedly. If no one he loves is murdered in an episode, it’s a good day for John Luther.  He could write a very good version of ‘It was a Good Day’ by Ice Cube.  That’s how shit his life is.  And to live in that world for four nights repeated is a lot to take.

In episodes one and two, he’s chasing a truly disturbing foot-fetish murderer.  A guy who hides under beds–cue me not sleeping.  He also hides in attics under semi-opaque sheets pretending to be a mannequin. And makes cat noises so you go up in the attic to see what your cat has got into.  Then he murders you and your husband, and steals your shoes.  I have an attic and a cat! And shoes! I am still traumatized by this. During episode two, someone uses the phrase ‘extremely muscular vaginas’. Hearing this, I think my face arranged itself in a perfect wide-eyed emoticon expression.  I may have done a comical double-take.  I mean, wtf.

There’s a second case where a man, Ken Barnaby seems to have killed the internet troll who was taking pictures of the Barnaby’s dead daughter and photoshopping them onto porn shots and sending them to the Barnaby.  The world truly weeps for the loss of that guy.  Luther is reluctant to persecute Barnaby, because of his own sense of conscience, and Ripley has to force the investigation to its conclusion.  The truly fun part of this subplot is Barnaby’s attempt to get rid of his own fingerprints. Color me nauseated.

Luther is also dealing with his (as usual) precarious position at work.  He’s being investigated by the British equivalent of Internal Affairs–an un-retired and slightly-obsessed DSU Stark is determined to prove that Luther isn’t just a crooked cop, but a murderer.  Fun fact–Stark is played by David O’Hara, aka Albert Runcorn in the 7th Harry Potter movie. DCI Erin Gray, who used to work with Luther and butted heads with him constantly, is Stark’s right hand woman.  They’re trying to convince DS Ripley to turn on Luther.

ds ripleyBut…come on.  DS Ripley has shown time and time again that he is unfailingly good and unfailingly loyal. He’s the un-touched one among them, and that’s why Luther protects him and cares so much for him. Still, we know Ripley is a good guy, and we know Luther can act like a bad guy to get done what he thinks is right.  The seed of doubt is planted in Luther’s mind, and in our own.

On the rare up-side, he’s met a lovely woman named Mary, who’s surprisingly innocent and normal, and makes him smile.  And be happy?!?  This can’t last, right?

Luther IIIYou won’t be surprised to hear that Luther dispatches with the foot fetish killers, because he’s Luther and he’s the smartest one in the room.

Episodes 3 and 4 deal with a different villain. Tom Marwood is, really, a dark version of Luther himself.  He’s a vigilante killer, specifically going after criminals who have been convicted, but because of flaws in the justice system, are out on parole or free to walk around.  Marwood’s wife was raped and killed years earlier, by a man newly paroled. Marwood goes after pedophiles (or paedophiles, if you’re British) and murderers, truly heinous criminals.  Like Dexter.  Of course, Luther has always walked the line of wanting to enact his own form of justice rather than relying on bureaucracy to get the job done.  But he has to take a stand for due process, and finds himself in the awkward position of having to save the life of a convicted p(a)edophile, after a mob of violent morons comes to watch and ensure the man’s execution.

You know something bad is going to happen from the first few minutes of episode 3.  Luther invites Ripley into his house, to meet Mary.  Luther is happy, talkative, easy-going.  This is new.  And ominous.  Later, Luther tells Ripley he should have been promoted long ago, because he’s capable and good at his job.  Oh no.  No no no.

I won’t spoil anything specific, but like I say, it’s obvious from the first moments of that episode that something is going to happen. This show had never allowed Luther to be happy, and he’ll be severely punished for this moment of bliss.  That’s just the way this universe works.

I will say that the moment at the end of episode 3 is when Tom Marwood stops being a vigilante out for justice and becomes just a killer.  A killer because he likes it and he can’t stop.  He’s become everything he hates, but instead of facing it he decides to blame it all on Luther, and to go after everyone Luther cares for.

Episode 4 is really suspenseful, with all the different plots coming to a head at once.  Alice re-emerges.  I like Alice–I don’t want her as a mate, but she’s a great character to watch–to help Luther get out of his current jam.

At the very end, in the very last scene, Luther takes off his signature grey coat and drops it into the Thames.  It occurred to me, just then, how much of the superhero model the show follows.  Batman, especially.  Luther always lives in the shadows, always surrounded by sadness, so that he can try to keep it light and bright for others.  Someone has to get into the mud to keep the rest of us clean, according to this universe.  At the end, though, he’s had enough.  He takes off his cape and he leaves it behind.  There are talks to bring Luther to the big screen, so I wonder what will bring him back into the fray.  Superheroes always try to escape their shit lives, but they have to come back to save someone/something they love.  They can’t live with the guilt of ignoring the idea that they could make a difference.

Luther is one of those shows, like Dexter, that is engrossing and disturbing and bleak. You’re in the trenches with this really morally-questionable, but charismatic, character.  You implicitly trust his decisions because he’s your protagonist, and the more you watch the less you question what he’s doing.  With Luther, we take his side because he is going up against the most terrifying monsters you can imagine.  He’s a saint, comparatively.  But when you step away and think about what he does, and how he breaks the rules and justifies his actions by always being right about whodunnit, it’s really terrifying. The ending especially made me sit back and say…wait a minute.  Our hero just wandered off to start a life with a murderous sociopath.  What does that say about him? What does it say about me?!

Even though Luther always makes me feel a bit squiffy about my own ethics, I will keep watching it because it is so compelling.  Season 3 was no exception.

A Primer on the British Royal Family

coatbritI’ve said it before, but it bares repeating–I am not a ‘royalist’.  My interest in British culture does not really extend to the comings and goings of the Royal family.

But it seems remiss to run a blog about English culture and not mention the birth of a new future-king.  I have no reaction to babies (except slight fear) so I won’t be filling this blog post with cooing over little George’s adorable hands or feet.  I thought I would, in the wake of a lot of misinformation, answer some questions about how the whole monarchy thing works.

Starting with the most basic of information:

What does The Queen do? Is she actually in charge?

Over a long period of time, starting probably with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, the monarch of England has lost more and more of his/her power.  Anyone who has taken a high school history course knows that the middle classes and the gentry take more and more power away as time goes on.  Today, The Queen’s position is almost entirely ceremonial. Britain is a constitutional monarchy, which means the real power lies in Parliament.  Even in Westminster, there has been a gradual shift of power from the House of Lords to the House of Commons.  Today, most of the work is done and decisions made by the HoC.  Peers with ambition have been known to give up their hereditary seats in the HoL in order to run for a seat in the HoC–anyone who has seen What a Girl Wants with Colin Firth will remember this plot line.

The Queen conducts ceremonies related to Parliament and to the PM, but she rarely has any influence on the laws passed. On the other hand, the PM has regular meetings with The Queen, so she gets to make her opinion known when she wants. Primarily, The Queen acts as Head of State, representing Britain in official capacities.  If you need more info on what she does and why, here is an article on her role.

What is primogeniture?

Male primogeniture is an obnoxious policy that was incredibly popular in Europe for the majority of the last millennium. Basically, it means that the oldest son of a couple will inherit the vast majority of the property or wealth, and in the case of title he will be the only one to inherit a title.  The law was originally used to stabilize the transfer of power from one generation to another.  With monarchy, this is incredibly important.  There have been countless wars (or threatened coups) when the line of succession was not always clear.  A famous example is Henry VIII. His only (legitimate)  son died at 6 years old. Henry was already dead, so suddenly the question of the next monarch was entirely open for dispute.  I repeat, this is a dangerous thing.  Henry had changed England from a Catholic country to a Protestant one, establishing the Church of England. After Henry’s son, Edward, died, his daughter Mary I took over for 5 years, and tried to wipe out all of the Protestants during that time.  After that, Elizabeth I became queen and changed the country back to a Protestant nation, which it has remained since.  Lots of turmoil, just for lack of a son.

So a son is important.  Basically, the most important thing you can do as a monarch is have a son ready.  Not just monarchs; anyone with land to leave behind worried about having a son.  Take another look at the first episode of Downton Abbey for more on this theme.  Ideally, couples should have two sons; one would inherit, the other would be ‘the spare heir’.

Two years ago, the UK decided to abandon male primogeniture and go with ‘absolute primogeniture’. That means that if Kate had given birth to a baby girl, that girl would be Queen one day–regardless of any future brothers that might come along.  Given that three of the UK/England’s longest reigning, most stable, and best monarchs have all been women, I can only say that it’s about fucking time.  Of course, maybe I should shut up. England has had female monarchs and female PMs.  Where’s our female president?

What is the line of succession?

Remember what I said about stability earlier?  The most important thing is having a line of succession, so now we have elaborate lists of who would take over in case of disaster.  (See the much-forgotten 1990s John Goodman film King Ralph for more on this. Bonus appearance by a very young Camille Coduri, aka Jackie Tyler from Doctor Who).

Because the change in primogeniture rules only affect those born after the law was changed, it’s still a big list of dudes for the most part.  Here’s the top 10

1- Prince Charles (oldest son of the current monarch)

2-Prince William (oldest son of Charles)

3-Prince George (only son of William)

After that, you go back a step.  So if The Queen, William, and the baby died, it would be

4-Prince Harry

If all of them died (which would be totally ridiculous nowadays, but not unheard of back in the time of bubonic plagues) then we go back to find more children of The Queen. These people really aren’t well known in America at all.

5-Prince Andrew/Duke of York (the spare heir; second son of The Queen)

6 & 7 – Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie (Andrew’s daughters)

8-Prince Edward/Earl of Essex (The Queen’s third son)

9&10 – Edward’s children James and Louise.

But the list goes on and on and on. Wikipedia has 49 people.  Again, stability is the key here. Better to have the longest list possible.

Could Kate be Queen one day?

The titles are a tricky thing, and a little sexist. When William is King one day, Kate will officially be called ‘Queen Catherine’, but her role would be described as ‘consort’.  When William dies, she will never be the monarch.  You can’t marry into the role. On the other hand, if William died and little George was not yet 18, she could act as a sort of advisor to the young king–that’s been done in the past, but I don’t know how it would be handled in the 21st century.  It will most likely be a moot point, because Charles isn’t even king yet, so William is unlikely to be king for a few decades at least.  Still, you never know.

When a Queen gets married (like this one), then her husband is never called the King. Prince Phillip (a Prince of Greek/Danish patronage) was given the title of Duke of Edinburgh upon their marriage, and was later titled ‘Prince of the United Kingdom’.  He will have no chance to reign if she dies, because you really really can’t marry into it.  Usually the Queen gives out titles to family members.  Will used to be Prince of Wales (as Charles is, as Harry is) but upon his marriage he and Kate became Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  Because, reasons?!  It isn’t always logical.

What’s with the names?

Baby George’s full name is His Royal Highness, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.  I thought my name was a handful.  So, what’s with all the names?

Royalty generally have 3 or 4 names. I suppose this evolved in a time when showing your lineage was extremely important. Names are almost always family names.

Is his last name ‘of Cambridge’?  Sort of…The royals don’t really have surnames in the way we common plebeians do. Elizabeth and her descendents are all part of the House of Windsor. Phillip (Elizabeth’s husband) took on the name Mountbatten when he was in the British armed forces, so many of the descendents use the name Mountbatten-Windsor.  Harry and Will have often used Wales as a last name (their father is the Prince of Wales, and they were also titled Princes of Wales).  Similarly, George is George of Cambridge, because his parents are the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge.  When he’s older, I’m sure he’ll get his own Duchy/Earldom and his title will change. It’s all very confusing for those of us without an inheritance, but there you are.

Will his name be King George one day?

Monarchs choose the name they want to use, like popes. It’s called a Regnal Name. Queen Victoria’s actual first name was Alexandrina Victoria. Her son Albert Edward took the regnal name of Edward VII. Elizabeth II’s father’s name was Albert, but he chose George VI as his regnal name. We just have to wait and see what Charles, William, and George pick when it comes to their turn.  I may be dead by the time George takes the throne, come to think of it.  If they chose their real names, Charles would be Charles III, William would be V, and George would be VII.

Could William be the next king?

The Queen is not permitted to just skip Charles.  The constitutional law establishing succession would have to be changed, and I really don’t think that’s likely.  William will only be the next king if Charles dies before The Queen.

The monarchy is a tricky subject.  Sometimes it seems so ludicrous, so old-fashioned and out of touch.  Tons of money goes toward these people to just sit and seem stable and have children. On the other hand, they are all very active in charity work and all of the future-monarchs enlist in the armed forces.  And the tourist draw they bring in is pretty incredible.  Is it enough to make up for the money they use to live a pampered lifestyle?  Difficult to say.  Maybe not on your normal day, but think about how many tourists came to see the Diamond Jubilee and the Royal Wedding, and the media frenzy over the new baby, and you start to see how it adds up to a significant amount of money coming in.