Tag Archives: Rose

Mr. Selfridge, season 2

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The second season of Mr. Selfridge aired in Winter in the UK, but it just finished airing on PBS in May. I really like this show.  I think it strikes an excellent balance of drama and enjoyment. Though bad things happen on the show, there is a sense of optimism about it that sort of matches Mr. Selfridge’s (quintessentially American) sense of possibility. Of course, the real story of Mr. Selfridge is far less joyful. By the end of his life, he had spent a fortune on dancing girls and mistresses, was ousted from his position in his own store, and died penniless. Apparently he used to come to the store, every day after he’d been sacked, and just stare up at it.  That makes me so sad.  So I will pretend none of that happened and embrace the much happier story presented on the show.

The second season (series) begins at the 5 year anniversary of the store’s opening. There are some big changes among the ranks at the store.  Agnes Towler has just returned from Paris and has been made head of displays, a big promotion. Mr. Grove has something like 5 children with his sweet uncomplicated wife, and is slowly becoming more and more lost and unhappy in his choice. Good. He is a berk. Miss Mardle, who was jilted by Mr. Grove, has taken the opposite trajectory in life. She has inherited a small fortune, and soon catches the attention of a very young, very attractive Belgian violinist.

mast-selfridge2-bts-mardle-chocolateThis change in balance between them makes me extremely happy. Life rarely turns out this way, but oh don’t you wish it would? Everyone who ever hurt you regrets his/her decision, and you don’t regret it at all. You’re much better off. Lovely.

Over the course of the season, despite it being only 10 episodes, a lot of shit goes down. Harry and Rose are estranged at the beginning of the season, because of his philandering in the past. He wants desperately to earn her love back. Eventually, he does. I really like Rose. I actually like almost everyone on this show. Except Mr. Thackeray and Lord Loxley. But more about them in a minute.

WWI breaks out a few episodes into the season. It’s an interesting perspective from which to see the war. Mr. Selfridge and his family are American, and of course America had not yet entered the war. His loyalty to England is questioned, even though Harry wants to do what he can. We also see the experiences of other non-English people. Victor and his cousin (or brother?) are Italian, and feel a keen sense of growing xenophobia. Two things take up the minds of the lower-class men that work at Selfridges–labor unions and the war. Nearly all of Selfridge’s men enlist. The result is (hold on to your monocle) young women working in the loading bay and warehouse. The big scandal of the series involves Lord Loxley, Mr. Selfridge, and some inferior boots given to the army.

So now is a good time to talk about Lord Loxley. He’s Lady Mae’s husband, and the single most odious man to ever appear on the show.

44746He is violent, manipulative, super creepy, and entirely lacking a soul of any kind. Lady Mae can occasionally seem manipulative and cold, but as soon as we see her husband, we realize that she is entirely justified, and entirely victimized by him. Despite being a strong, smart, independent woman. And even if he wasn’t abusive to her, he would still be blackmailing government officials, profiting from war, endangering the health of enlisted men, and blaming it on Harry Selfridge. He is truly awful. In a way that makes your skin crawl when you think about him, particularly if you are a woman.

Much of the season shows Lady Mae attempting to extricate herself from his clutches. Keep in mind that at this point, a woman could only petition for divorce if she could prove adultery AND could prove another form of cruelty (rape, incest, abuse). And I mean prove it, as in eyewitness accounts. So Lady Mae cannot work within the law, but she does work with Harry Selfridge to prove Harry is innocent and that Loxley is guilty. I know real life isn’t like this, but I do enjoy a show that lets me think that things can turn out right in the end.

My only real complaint about this season is Agnes.  She was so strong and interesting in the first series, learning new things and trying to become more competent. This season, she is facing a bigger challenge, of course. She is the head of displays, and is often working very late hours by herself. That’s all fine–showing a woman working hard, or even a woman trying and not quite achieving her lofty goals is interesting and fine. My big problem with her this season is that almost all of her emotional changes come not from herself, but from men.

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The most action and perseverance we see from her character is when she is attempting to prove Henri Leclair innocent of the crimes he is accused of (at first, espionage, and then theft). She is strong and capable in those scenes. But the rest of the season she is merely reacting to the actions of the men in her life.

Shortly after she returns from Paris, Victor Colleano asks her to marry him and she says yes. Even though I’m not certain they were actually dating at the time. Henri is being rude and curt with her, and I wonder how much of his actions weighed into her decision. Her brother George enlists and heads out to the front–this isn’t a situation a woman, or anyone can control, so I don’t fault her for this, but it adds to the number of scenes where she is just waiting for a man to do something. He is missing in action for a while, and she fears the worst, but he eventually returns and she can relax.  Victor, who is a very nice person for doing this, realizes that a life with him won’t make her happy. Her talents would be wasted as a wife and helping him in his family restaurant. He knows that Henri still loves Agnes, and that Agnes still cares about Henri. So he lets her go, ends their engagement. This is very nice of him, but it’s yet another example of the men making decisions for Agnes, and of her having little control over her own life. Of her asserting almost no control over her own life.  And considering how strong she was last season, I was disappointed with that.  But, at least they didn’t have her get married and have kids and have no other role, because that sounds nauseating. I’m hoping they’ll give her a little more proactive and assertive actions in the third season.

Yes, they’ve renewed for a 3rd season (series), and I believe they’re already shooting it. It’s not a challenging show, it falls firmly on the entertaining side of the drama pendulum (rather than the realistic end of things), but it is entertaining. A lot of shows firmly throw away any semblance of reality in favor of entertainment, but still miss the mark. I think Mr. Selfridge is a very good balance of realism and optimism, so I’ll keep watching.

 

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Ripper Street – Season 2

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The second season/series of Ripper Street began on BBC America in February, and finished last month. I have my ups and downs with this show, and can’t ever decide how I feel about it. But I never really love it, and the second season was more of the same. It’s the sort of show you watch, but it doesn’t really hold your interest, and when you’re done you can’t really remember what it was about.

The second season had Inspector Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) again leading a Whitechapel detective squad with his right-hand man, Sergeant Drake, and his American scientist, Homer Jackson. But it’s the private lives of all three that bring about most of the problems across the season arc. Reid begins to see a new woman, June Cobden, after his marriage had fallen apart.

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I like her more than I like him, to be honest, and I’m comforted to see she’s based on a real person. She’s a feminist, a leader, a politician, and very interested in reforms that can help poor families. As a bleeding-heart liberal woman, I am 100% happy about her. But I still don’t really like Reid. He hides behind the guise of a good, moral man. Perhaps he is as moral as a man can be in that position in that age. But you cannot be a good, moral man, who employs a personal ‘enforcer’. I was most pleased with this season because the show finally addresses this fact. Drake has a certain moral superiority over Reid, because though he is doing the ‘enforcing’, Reid is the one pulling the puppet strings. I get really irritated with shows (like Copper, and somewhat Ripper Street) that imply that you can be a good guy, and still shoot/beat/intimidate people in order to get your own way, and that that behavior is somehow allowed because you are in search of justice.  Nope. The ends do not justify the means.

In the previous season, Drake wanted to marry Rose, one of Susan’s girls. She rebuffed him, determined to be an actress/singer. He marries a different one of Susan’s girls. This tells me that more than he wanted Rose, he just didn’t want to be alone. Forgivable. But the one he does marry, Bella, turns out to have a lot of baggage. She used to be part of some sort of violent, incestuous, proto-cult. She drags Susan into the matter and things go from bad to worse there. Drake loses his wife, and probably most of his mind. He leaves the station and deals with his grief by putting his body through physical pain—he works menial jobs (gravedigging, etc.) during the day, and at night he is a ‘boxer’. I hesitate to even call it boxing, because he has his hands tied behind his back and people make bets about how many punches he can take before he passes out. I would liken his behavior to a 19th-century form of self-harm. Easier to deal with physical pain than the emotional.

But this foray away from the precinct puts Reid in a very awkward spot. He has always been able to keep his hands clean of the riff raff. He would nod at Drake, and Drake would punch witnesses until they talked. Without Drake around, Reid is forced to come up with alternative tactics, or forced to do the punching himself. That made me feel better, but by the end of the season this dynamic reverts to where it was, without much change on either side.

The other big character shift was the relationship between Jackson and Susan. He loses her trust and her love, and things go from bad to worse between them. Men are so stupid sometimes, and Jackson is definitely one of them. Susan is forced to go through a lot of horrible things to keep afloat after Jackson’s stupid decisions.

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The other constant on Ripper Street is the highly unlikely plot points, usually relating to new technology emerging at that point. The first season had the invention of video—in order to make snuff porn. This season, in addition to featuring proto-cults, there were opiates, people smuggling diamonds in their anuses, electricity scheisters that did something very disturbing to a farm animal in order to prove the safety of their form of current (sadly, this is based on a very real and very horrifying truth), telegraph messenger boys as a front for gay pedophiles, police corruption, a garroted man, Joseph Merrick (the elephant man), and several scenes with pig carcasses that I had to watch between my fingers because yuck.

The problem I really have with Ripper Street is the lack of depth. They put a lot of effort into salacious plots and nefarious villains, but the character development is sometimes lacking. Reid has almost no internal emotions portrayed, and people are too often separated into the wholly good or wholly bad. There are exceptions. The women are believable, and have the most depth. Drake is probably the only man that I think has a level of substance that makes him relatable. Despite Reid’s use of him as a bulldog and nothing more, Drake has an understanding of the world and of himself, and also a fear of those same two things, that make him the most interesting man on the show.

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BBC cancelled Ripper Street after season two. But the fans of this show pulled together and sent emails, signed petitions, etc. to get it renewed. And it worked! Sort of. Amazon is going to make the third season. It will air on BBC and BBC America, after being streamed online. Even though I’m not a huge fan of the show, that makes me feel good. I wish things like email campaigns or kickstarters had existed when I was younger. That being said, I’m not sure I’m going to watch season 3. Despite my love of all things Victorian, I just can’t get into this show. This is a show that often eschews emotional substance in favor of flashy scandalousness. I would prefer a show that did the opposite.

 

2013 Christmas Specials

Christmas is a pretty special time in the UK, I think.  I theorize.  I’ve never been there at Christmas time, but one glance at the decorations on Oxford or Regent Street tells you what it’s like in London.

90_05_15---Christmas-Lights--Regent-Street--London--England-_webI also haven’t participated in that age-old tradition of the Queen’s Christmas address.  But one tradition I am always happy to indulge is the tradition of the Christmas special.  During busy weeks, particularly in the holidays, TV here tends to come to a screeching halt.  Repeats for weeks on end.  The only exception is (American) football, which is on constantly from Thanksgiving to …February.  Blech.  I’ll pass on that.  But the Christmas special! Something everyone can gather around the TV and enjoy, that (usually) doesn’t involve padding or jock straps.  I can support that tradition whole-heartedly.

This Christmas was a big one for Doctor Who, with Matt Smith’s last episode and Peter Capaldi’s first.  They like to do these transitions on big episodes, don’t they?  And this one was a particularly unusual story.  We saw the Doctor bald, we saw him naked,

matt-smith-nude-the-time-of-the-doctor-band even more strangely, we saw him old.  Doctor’s aren’t supposed to age, are they?  During that stretch of episodes in America, we see the Doctor some 200 years older in one episode than when we see him next, and there isn’t the slightest change.  So exactly how much time did he spend in a town called Christmas, on a planet called Trenzalore, to get to looking like this:

Doctor-Who-11-2959359He looks and acts very Dickensian, which I find rather amusing. He’s always been very Victorian, number 11, with his waistcoats and bow ties and pocket watches.  Being rather fond of that era myself, I am sad to see that go.  I am genuinely sad to see Matt Smith go, which is a big credit to him, since I was weeping over David Tennant’s exit.

This episode was very grand and (is often the case with very grand episodes of the show) it often seemed more concentrated on being big and important, rather than making much sense.  I try to remember what exactly was going on, but I found myself thoroughly confused by a lot of the plot for this one.

The way I understood it, the Time Lords were communicating through the crack in the wall, which reappeared in Christmas.  Their message was heard by everyone, and it scared everyone.  They were asking the Doctor’s name…and if he told them, they would come through.  And this would, for some reason, cause immediate and total war?  The Church of the Mainframe protects the planet from the hordes of Daleks, Cybermen, and every other type of villain that is trying to get in.

I have so many questions from this episode. How are the Time Lords of Gallifrey able to send messages, and then (Deux Ex Machina)  time energy, through the rift when they are stored safely away in a frozen moment of time? How did a burst of time energy reset the clock on the Doctor’s regeneration count? And simultaneously give him power to kill Daleks with a light beam? Why does the regeneration process seem to happen really quickly sometimes (John Hurt’s Doctor to Chris Eccleston’s, Eccleston to Tennant) and sometimes (Tennant to Smith, Smith to Capaldi), it takes quite a while. Most importantly, what’s the point of using the Silence as priests?  Why would you want to confess and then forget you’d done so?  Much better to have a priest who forgets everything you’ve just told him.  And was the episode implying that the Silence were created to be priests?  Or that they were recruited as priests after they were more-or-less killed off on Earth?

I think this episode attempted to do too much, too big, without enough time or weight given to some of the big issues.  And the most important thing, the actual regeneration, took place so late in the episode, that we barely saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.  I like him already, I feel I can’t help but to like him.  But with a new Doctor, any new Doctor, he needs to win the audience over nearly immediately.  Now we’ve seen Peter Capaldi for approximately 40 seconds, and now we have to sit and wait until …whenever they decide to air the next series… before we get to really see him as the Doctor?  I don’t like it.  I wanted more, obviously, and I think it’s important to the audience to keep out any doubts over the new Doctor.  I was pretty disappointed to not see more of him, and that’s part of what makes me unhappy and unsettled about the episode as a whole.

And then there was Downton Abbey.

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Another Christmas special that has utterly nothing to do with Christmas?  This time it’s the London Season, where debutantes are launched into society and try to land the richest possible husband. Mary is entertaining multiple suitors as usual, we learn that Bates probably did murder whats-his-name, and the Grantham family has to engage in some clumsy skullduggery to save the Prince of Wales from embarrassment over his affair.  Most importantly, Carson is barefoot in the ocean.  Mr. Carson is the last person I imagine to ever be barefoot. The poor man, I would gladly have gone on his outings. I liked the Science Museum and all the other ‘educational’ outings he suggested.

Rose drove me less crazy during this episode by far.  She’s still silly and a bit dim, but she acted like an adult at least.  Edith and Mary, on the other hand, drove me crazy. Mary is just as spoiled and selfish as she has ever been, and Edith is tedious and dull at best.  I never like indecision, particularly in TV characters. In a story, there’s no point in indecision.  It’s a waste of the audience’s time.  Edith waffling back and forth and being rude to others about a situation she’s created for herself is…just as annoying as I’ve come to expect from her character.  I miss Sybil!

Finally, we got to see Paul Giamatti as Cora’s brother, and I thought he did splendidly.  He always seems to play the same character–the grumpy but charming man who wins over far more attractive ladies.

downton-abbey-2013-christmas-special-shirley-maclaineNo exception here.  I know the ‘Americanness’ of these characters is heightened to the point where they may as well be from another galaxy, but I quite like them.  They get almost all of the minute social niceties completely wrong in every situation–futile introductions to the Prince of Wales, never understanding that they’re supposed to get their own tea or breakfast, not comprehending the practice of downstairs servants being called by the name of the person upstairs that they serve, etc., etc.  But no matter how many times they get it wrong, it doesn’t phase them.  And as an American, I think that’s pretty accurate.  While the Brits are disdainful of our loud voices and lack of manners, we are blissfully apathetic to doing these things the ‘wrong’ way.  Undoubtedly, Harold will tell all his amused friends in Newport about his conversation with the Prince, whereas any Brit who had made the same mistake would probably be mortified.  I know Downton takes place nearly 100 years ago, but I think these are social mores that still exist in each culture.  Brits still have fear of causing offense or inconvenience; Americans generally don’t know or don’t care when we’ve accidentally committed a minor faux pas.  The American in me genuinely likes Cora, her mother, and her brother, for being too independent to care about titles or propriety, and for caring far more about the actual value of a person or an action.  I hope Paul Giamatti is in more than just this one episode, because I like him and I think the Grantham family needs more people to come and ruffle their feathers.  They’ll never survive the changes coming their way if they are allowed to believe the world is going to stay the same.

Bates’ story was the only real menace in the episode.  Mary and Mrs. Hughes know that he probably killed Mr. Green, and they’re not certain if they ought to keep it a secret.  The more I think about Bates, the more I think he’s a villain.  No one can really blame him for wanting to kill Mr. Green.  But to act on it…and I have never been entirely convinced he didn’t kill his first wife.  He seems to be surrounded by characters so evil that no one could really blame him for wanting them dead, but the amount of death that seems to follow him is pretty ridiculous.  Anna seems to be doing much better, but this will tear her apart again, so he is hurting her more than almost anyone.  I don’t trust him or like him anymore, and he’s shown he’s quite capable of lying to cover up his actions.  He’s gotten rid of a lot of problems in his life by acting like a criminal.  It may be safe to say, at this point, that he just is one.  I’m ready for him to be done.

It’s a long time until Downton Abbey starts again, and I’m not certain this episode provided me with a really compelling reason to keep watching.  I enjoyed the 4th season, but there was no particular cliffhanger or massive event at the end of this episode that would make me hungry for more.  But I did like the little moment with Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, because they’re both lovable and they deserve more fun.  That being said, it seems an odd place to leave your Christmas episode–on a sunny beach.

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.

Ripper Street Season 1

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Last week was the season finale of Ripper Street on BBC America, after a short 8-episode season. In the UK, it ended in February. The show has already been picked up for a second season to air in early 2014.

As I mentioned in my review of Whitechapel (here), this Jack the Ripper theme stuck to a traditional police procedural is a bit overdone and not very sufficient to make a show good or memorable or necessary.  That being said, I decided to give it a shot. It does take place in Victorian London–my favorite place and my favorite time.  That alone is reason to watch.

The show focuses mainly on Inspector Reid, played by Matthew Macfadyen. Inspector Reid

Reid is the standard good guy, walking the line between being a gentleman and doing what it takes to solve the terrible crimes he encounters in the grimy and rough East End.  The show takes place a mere six months after Jack the Ripper’s last victim is found (1889).  Reid was one of the inspectors on the case, and it left him emotionally stunted and physically scarred.  He’s lost his daughter under mysterious circumstances, and that has caused an extreme rift between he and his wife.  His life is mysterious at first, with bits revealed throughout the first series to explain who and what he is.  I like Matthew Macfadyen, so I was predisposed to like Reid.  As a character, however, there are things that really bother me about him.  He neglects his wife and then is unfaithful.  Worst of all, he seems to exist as a thinking man and employs his faithful sergeant to do the dirty work of policing.  Of course, just like Copper, the show exists in an era well before the police were required to protect and not harm suspects and witnesses. Brutality was a way to accomplish their goals.  On the other hand, if you’re going to have a character who believes this behavior is warranted, it’s a little uncomfortable to watch him require his second-in-command to shoulder the burden of brutality.

The second-in-command is Sergeant Drake, an ex-soldier with the appearance of a thug, but he proves himself an honorable man.  He becomes smitten very early on with a local prostitute named Rose:

Drake and RoseDrake is very good at exacting information and subduing suspects through brute physical force, but that doesn’t mean he should be used for that alone.  He was in the Boer War in Africa, and has horrific memories of being a man prone to and enjoying violence–memories he is trying to run away from.  Of all the people in the show, he is the most afraid of violence and simultaneously the one forced to utilize it in his work.  Knowing this about him makes Reid’s reliance on Drake as an enforcer all the more repugnant and…there’s something class-ist about it.  Reid treats Dr. Jackson as an equal, but Drake as an inferior.  Drake is inferior to him at the police station, but their relationship seems to be predicated on social class and not career standing.  I did not like that fact, and it made me not like Reid because of it.

Dr. Jackson is known as ‘the American’ by most of the characters.  He has a suspicious past, is married to a woman who runs a local brothel, and seems to be a pioneer in the art of the autopsy:

Homer Jackson and Susan HartHe is Reid’s medical adviser, performing autopsies and necropsies. He acts as a one-man CSI lab, despite the limited technological advances inherent to a show set 130 years ago. He has a very mysterious past–the first thing we learn about him is that he has something to hide.  Later, it is revealed that he is using a false name, running from the Pinkertons (19th century private police force in the US), and has committed a serious crime.  Reid protects Jackson from being discovered by his enemies, but at the same time uses this information to force Jackson into continuing his work for the police.  It makes me think that Reid is just obsessive about solving cases, and all of his other values take a backseat to this need to find out whodunnit.

The show is very violent and regularly contains extremely graphic scenes, either of murder or sex or both.  The very first episode was about the making of the first snuff film.  The show makes it very clear that we’re living in a world with evil and with very little good.  There are no heroes to be found; everyone is flawed and many are downright monsters.

Reviews have been fairly mixed. Critics are especially irritated by the anachronisms.  I am currently writing a Victorian-era historical fiction novel, and feel a shiver of dread thinking about the websites that might crop up over my mistakes.  It’s simply very difficult to think about every piece of clothing, every word or idiom, every bit of food, and to research whether said item was available/used/known in that time period.  Then again, I would hope the BBC would have better resources than I do–my current resources include Google and a library card.  A Guardian column discussed the outlandish crimes committed during the running of the first series and where they had historical precedent. More of them were accurate than I would have guessed.

I’m still deciding my final opinion of the show. The first 2-3 episodes were incredibly dull and took a lot of work to get through.  It picked up at the end, with the last 1-2 episodes being pretty tolerable…but those first 2-3 episodes make up a large chunk of the season. So I’m not sure it’s worth the effort for the 1-2 good episodes at the end.

The acting is good and parts of each episode were truly enjoyable.  At the same time, the show was never great (in my opinion).  I was never enraptured, even when I was interested.  It also didn’t feel true to the period. It didn’t transport me to a different time, it felt more like I got off the bus in a bad neighborhood.  But I liked the characters, and I did feel for them.  I did become invested, especially in Drake and Jackson.  I will be tuning in for next season, despite mixed feelings.  I just hope they drop the Jack the Ripper stuff and deal with other types of crime and realities of living in that time and that place.