Two for the price of oneYes, well. I’d been warned ahead of time about this episode, as one who appreciates Nana Visitor, and I was not let down, visually at any rate.
I was disadvantaged, however, when the episode got under way, by my lack of knowledge of Star Trek as a whole, as a longer-term fan would have recognised that this was a riff on an episode from the Original Series without having to have the name brought up of a man named Kirk.
‘Crossover’ was, at a great distance, a sequel to the second season episode ‘Mirror, Mirror’, in which Kirk and several of his crew are accidentally projected into a parallel Universe of evil counterparts (and their evil counterparts are swapped into our universe). I have seen the original episode, decades ago, but the only thing I remember of it was Leonard Nimoy with a little black goatee beard.
Anyway, the same thing happens again, without the evil counterparts going in the opposite direction, only this time to Major Kira and Doctor Bashir, who are returning through the wormhole from the Gamma Quadrant. Julian’s being his usual, irritating, insensitive self, constantly talking whilst Kira is trying to ‘meditate’, when there’s a plasma leak that buggers up their warpdrive, leading to a crossover into the Mirror Universe. Where things are very different, and it’s all Kirk’s fault.
I won’t go into detail but, suffice to say, Kirk’s well-meaning intervention to spread the morals of mid-Fifties, mid-western America across the twenty-fourth century Universe (I have long since outgrown being impressed by the Original Series) has back-fired spectacularly, leading to a prevailing Klingon-Cardassian Alliance in which Bajor has a prominent role and Terrans are slaves.
In fact, Bajor has such a prominent role that the Intendant (i.e., Commander) of Deep Space Nine is a Bajoran, Kira Nerys. And boy does Nana Visitor enjoy hamming that part up, dressed in a fetchingly skin-tight (and I mean skin-tight especially around the nether regions) leather dominatrix outfit. It’s all good fun, and you wouldn’t find losing an eye as long as that left you with one with which to look.
(And there’s the bath scene, where the Intendant is showing off her naked back, not to mention the party scene with two of them in deep-plunge cleavage ball gowns.)
But enough of the shallowness (you can never have too much shallowness). The point of an episode like this is for everybody to play different. There’s the aggressive, prowling, cat-like Intendant, the sadistic mine-superintendant, Odo, the scared, beaten-down tinkerer, O’Brien and the louche, uncaring, pirate and intendant-shagger, Sisko, all playing against type.
Not to mention the dictatorial, machiavellian, station number two, Gul Garak.
The parallel is not too exact however. The Mirror universe Quark is still Quark, even if he’s never heard of latinum, and still a schemer (but out of the goodness of his heart), O’Brien is near enough O’Brien and there are no duplicate Bashirs and no Dax’s at all. And whilst the Intendant starts out all powerful and secure, I was surprised to find her losing it through the episode, until by the end Nana Visitor was playing her as a brittle, near-drunk on the fringes of hysteria, who – once the episode was over – was going to last about thirty seconds.
The endgame of the story – of all such versions of this story – is the escape of the travellers back to their status quo, leaving behind a determined knot of rebels who will work to overcome the tyranny that has oppressed them. Such it was, with the piratical Sisko in that dominant role, not that you expected much of that. The Doctor, in his mine-rags, and the Major, in her don’t-lean-too-far-forward ball-gown, escaped back to the wormhole where, as it always does, recreating exactly the circumstances of their first shift takes them back where they should be (instead of, say, dumping them in one of the infinite alternate possible Universes).
You’ll perhaps gather that I wasn’t ultimately that impressed, except with Nana Visitor’s alternate costumes. Oh, I enjoyed the episode, but I would have enjoyed it at least twice as much in 1994. It’s the same old thing I’ve been saying for weeks now, and I wish I could come up with a different tune, or at least tune this note out, but television, and particularly television writing has come on so far in the past twenty years that I cannot keep myself from seeing where every episode could be so much better. Which is completely unfair. But inescapable.
The longer term members of this audience may just remember that I started this blog to plug the books I’ve written (see Category: Novels in the archives). These are available through Lulu.com in beautifully (self-)designed paperbacks and a couple of hardback omnibuses.
In case you’re interested, for a short period, until midnight on 24 July, these books can be bought with 30% off. All you need is to use the code LULU30 (case-sensitive). Buy now, buy tomorrow, hell, wait until Sunday, just Buy!
The above link takes you to my author page. The rest of it is up to you.
I’ve had a couple of lucky trips into eBay this past month that have resulted in some scores for my collection of the original Eagle. First, there was the acquisition of the complete Volume 3, April 1952 to April 1953, which I sat down and read in a single day a couple of Sundays past.
It was a very interesting day. Even the last of these comics was still published two and a half years before I was born, so the nostalgia effect was lowered. And the Dan Dare stories consisted of the last ten episodes of ‘The Red Moon Mystery’ and the first half dozen of ‘Operation Saturn’, bracketing between them the entirety of ‘Marooned on Mercury’, the story drawn (principally) by Harold Johns and written by the Reverend Chad Varah: far from Dan Dare at his best.
But this windfall locks onto my existing acquisition of Volume 4, giving me a straight run of 80 issues, and still twenty-two months shy of popping into existence!
This last week, I had two very useful purchases, both of which arrived, by courier, together on Saturday, so not only did I have some extensive reading to be done, I also took the opportunity to reorganise the collection, getting everything into order once more, and adding a couple of boxes to house it all.
The first of these was an impulse purchase last Sunday. This was a bundle of thirty-three issues, volume 14, nos 10 – 52 inclusive. The buy was definitely an impulse: the auction had hit my preset limit, beyond which I won’t go, but at the last moment, I shot in with an extra fiver and stole it.
It was an unusual step for me as there were only six issues among that thirty-three that I actually needed, but it proved to be a fruitful decision. Not only were the vast majority of these issue in better condition than those I’d already collected piecemeal, but the seller had other, later Eagle‘s awaiting being offered, and I was able to agree with him to acquire the five issues that were all I needed to complete both Volume 16 and 17.
So the bottom end of my wants list is looking very healthy at the moment, with only four issues separating me from a complete six Volume run!
And the top end’s not too bad, as I have the first half of Volume 2, and the aforementioned complete Volumes 3 and 4. For once, it’s the middle that’s the ‘top-heavy’ bit.
The other acquisition was a surprise Buy It Now at an incredibly low price. It consisted of sixteen facsimile reprints of Eagle series: one Dan Dare, two Storm Nelson, three Luck of the Legion, nine Riders of the Range plus the Frank Bellamy drawn life story of Montgomery of Alamein. There were also three of the four Eagle Classics softbacks published in the Nineties, all four of which I bought at the time, but frankly the above list was already worth much more than was being asked for it, and I can re-offer these on eBay myself.
Reading the reprints was a rare opportunity to immerse myself in stories other than Dan Dare itself. All three series were strong, well-drawn, well-written series, and in the case of Riders of the Range, this was a classic Western story, written and (after a couple of early alternates) drawn by men who were Western enthusiasts, and tremendously knowledgeable about their subject. Indeed, the longer Riders went on, the more its stories focused upon true-life incidents, into which the insertion of Jeff Arnold and Luke was often otiose.
I’m starting to feel closer to the point at which I know enough to write on Eagle‘s other series. Perhaps just one more affordable complete Volume, just to thin out that bulge around the middle of the list. eBay sellers out there, I’m waiting…
The second packet of The Flashman Papers, published in 1970 as Royal Flash, gave notice of George MacDonald Fraser’s burgeoning confidence as a writer. It’s simultaneously the ‘more-of-the-same-only-different’ that every successful series must embrace, and a completely different kettle of fish. There are no military campaigns this time out, no Wars, no honours, no glory undeserved or public reward. This time, all Flashy gets for his efforts is the one thing really important to him: his own skin, preserved intact.
The first major difference between this book and Flashman lies in Fraser’s whole-hearted acceptance that he has a successful series on his hands. As I remarked, Flashman – a book written entirely on spec – is merely the first in a series in potentia: there are the barest minimum of references to incidences later in Flashman’s career.
On the other hand, just the first section of Royal Flash, the part set in 1842-43, throws up a half dozen references to other parts of Flashy’s career, and by no means all of these hints and asides will come to fruition in full-scale memoirs. From the outset, however, Flashman is placed in the context of his own, long life, a life permanently in motion.
Before going on to discuss the events of this book, I do have to comment upon it’s unusual structure. There is a four year gap between the short events of 1842-43, which exist to set-up the situation that will dominate the larger part of the story, Flashman and Fraser make no attempt to establish what happens during this awkward gap, except that at least part of it was spent in another military engagement, and whilst the book itself picks up almost immediately from its predecessor, the 1847 section starts with one of the great mysteries of The Flashman Papers.
All we know, when Flashy resumes his tale, is that he is but lately returned to London, seeking rest whilst he recuperates from the effects of a pistol ball being dug out of his back. Where he got this, save that it was out of England, who from, why and in what circumstances is not explained, nor will Fraser ever return to this scenario over the next four decades.
It’s an awkward and weak transition, which contributes little to the ongoing story, and given that one of Fraser’s underlying purposes in this novel is to set Flashy’s adventures up as the real-life original for one of the most famous romantic adventure novels of all time, it does undermine the book overall, to me at least.
But what’s it all about, you ask?
The first part recounts, in 1842, whilst pursuing his vicious amusements, Flashy’s meeting with a young Irish woman, Mrs Rosanna James, and a young German Count, Otto von Schonhausen, though his family name is somewhat more familiar: Bismarck. Needless to say, Flashy encounters the unlikely pair when on the run, this time from the Police who have just raided the gambling hell where Flashy and his old Rugby pal, Speedicut, have been frequenting.
The sober, humourless Otto wants to hand Flashy over to the Police, though since he’s the ‘ero of Joolloolabad, the Police are having none of it, and anyway, saucy Rosanna is all for shielding him, all the way to her bed. The pair are lovers only for a week, though, and are driven apart by Mrs James’ temper, and a fortunately inaccurately thrown pisspot.
Nevertheless, it leaves Flashy keen on getting his own back on the pair, which he achieves the following year: Bismark by luring the self-righteous, arrogant Prussian into a boxing match with a former British champion, the latter by prompting her exposure on the London stage when she is attempting to establish herself as the famous Spanish dancer – Lola Montez.
It’s all good, clean vindictive fun from Flashy, and that’s how it stays until that point, four years later, when he’s back in London and already considering a rapid departure on discovering that the Morrisons have practically moved in, and he’s expected to be going to help to find upper class husbands for the two unmarried daughters.
Which is when a fawning letter arrives from Bavaria, on behalf of the Countess de Landsfeld, beseeching him on account of their old friendship to come to her side, to perform a service only he can perform. Oh, and here’s £500 travelling expenses, by the way.
It’s all very suspicious, especially as Flashy can’t remember tumbling any German Countess’s, but the £500 is a powerful incentive and with the Morrisons around…
But, as we all knew it would be, it does turn out to be a trap. The Countess de Landsfeld turns out to be our dear old chum, Lola Montez, the unofficial ruler of Bavaria, and very autocratic about it. She’s lured Flashy into the country, got him all worked up and ready to trot, and then dropped a somewhat plump blonde German baroness on him. Flashy is discovered in flagrante delicto and hauled off to the local copshop, accused of sexual assault, all of which is designed to create a very nice pickle for our hero, as an inducement to carry out the designs of the plot’s ringleader: Count Otto von Bismarck.
And for what, apart from a little humiliation in respect of the insult Flashy perpetrated upon him, does Bismark want with our hero. The plot is connected to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein question, and Bismark in making the first in a series of steps that will result in German unification, under Prussian domination, years later in 1870.
And for what, apart from a little humiliation in respect of the insult Flashy perpetrated upon him, does Bismark want with our hero. The plot is connected to the infamous Schleswig-Holstein question, and Bismark in making the first in a series of steps that will result in German unification, under Prussian domination, years later in 1870.
But now we finally get to what, for Fraser, is the purpose of the book, which is to re-write that classic of Romantic Thrillers, Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, with Flashy’s experiences providing the ‘real-life’, rather more racy and certainly less chivalrous circumstances from which Hope concocts his adventures. The Prisoner of Zenda is a classic that has been in print since it was first published in 1894, a book of tremendous influence – references to ‘Ruritanian countries’ stem from this book. But it may no longer be as familiar in essence as it was when I was younger, so a quick précis should be in order. Essentially, the story is set in the European country of Ruritania, whose King is due to marry. He also needs to receive his sceptre of office once a year to maintain his throne, else it passes to his evil relative. But the King has been kidnapped by an adventurer named Rupert of Hentzau – the archetype swashbuckling, cheerfully amoral villain – and will miss his marriage.
His closest adherents concoct a desperate plan to substitute for the King his English countryman, a gentleman named Rudolph Rassendyll, who is almost identical to the King. Rassendyll carries out the impersonation, and assists in rescuing the King and re-substituting him in his true role.
However, Rassendyll and the Queen have fallen in love with each other, but with true noble sacrifice, they part forever, as Rassendyll can never return lest the plot be discovered.
In ‘real-life’ however, it’s rather different. For one thing, the background is political, and if Bismarck is involved, that means the ultimate ambition of the unification of Germany and, as its precursor, the infamous Schleswig/Holstein Question.
I don’t understand that any more now than I did when reviewing the marvellous Danish TV series, 1864. Essentially, these were two provinces with mixed Danish/German populations, ruled by Denmark, whose transfer into the German Confederation was the initial step in Bismarck’s grand scheme.
Fraser introduces the Duchy of Strakenz, a tiny province to the east of Schleswig, ruled by the Duchess Irma, and in the same boat. The Duchess is to marry in a month’s time, to Prince Carl Gustaf, a minor member of the Danish Royal Family. Contrary to expectation, it serves Bismarck’s plans for the marriage to go ahead, but there is a problem. Carl Gustaf cannot go through with the marriage on the scheduled date, because Carl Gustaf has a dose of the clap.
Very unRuritanian, but entirely Flashman. Because of Flashy’s resemblance to Carl Gustaf, he is to take the Prince’s place and be married, and play the role until the real Prince will no longer pollute the body of his virgin bride (this being Flashman, we already know that she won’t be anything like a virgin when Carl Gustaf gets his turn with her).
So Flashy spends a month in intense training at being Carl Gustaf, becoming in the process as close to another man as it is humanly possible. Of course, since the Prince is clean-shaven, even to the skull, it means the sacrifice of Flashy’s bonny black curls and whiskers. On a more serious, and coldly callous level, it means having two sabre duel cuts inflicted on his head, to mimic those borne by the Prince.
Being Harry Flashman, our hero is full of panic at every turn at how this cannot work, but Otto von Bismarck is equally insistent that it will. His organisation is perfect, the knowledge he has collected in unbelievably detailed and under his control, it cannot fail. None of which reassures the true-born coward.
But in the face of all Flashy’s fears, it does work, completely. Even down to the initially cold, teenage virgin Duchess reckoning that this sex thing is not half bad after a couple of goes with her ‘husband’.
Nevertheless, this being a Flashman memoir, there are a couple of flies in the ointment. The first is when Carl Gustaf’s childhood friend, Erik Hansen, turns up unexpectedly at the wedding and Flashy’s impersonation is tested to the very limit. The second and larger fly is that, ultimately, Bismarck’s plan does not rest on Flashy’s imposture going undiscovered, but rather that it be exposed – in the form of Harry Flashman’s dead body.
Fortunately, the true coward only ever sleeps lightly, no matter how cushy his situation, and when the moment comes, Flashy dodges the bullet in the back. Coward he may be, but Flashman is not unhandy as a scrapper if there really is no alternative, and once he’s got his would-be assailant down, he takes pleasure in torturing the truth out of him. Flashman was always going to be exposed as an unscrupulous plotter, to incite the German population of Strakenz into appealing to Prussia for protection. Only now he’s gone and spoilt the plot.
Needless to say, Flashy decides to run. Playing clever, he runs in the direction he would be least expected to head, planning to get into and across Germany. It has the merit of intelligent planning – but for the fact that he runs headlong into the Sons of the Volsung, Danish patriots in Strakenz, and friends and loyal supporters of the real Carl Gustaf.
With the imposter in their hands, the Volsungs are divided about what to do with him. One faction wants to top him now, for the sheer horrendous crime of having to pretend to be Carl Gustaf, no matter what was done to induce such a scheme (Flashy ladles on the soup for all he’s worth). The other faction wants to use him to rescue the imprisoned Prince, in the hope that he’ll sacrifice himself nobly in the process (don’t know the man, do they?)
Despite all his fears, Flashman does prevail. He even manages to beat off his personal Rupert of Hentzau, the buoyant Rudi von Starnberg. he even survives a heart-stopping headlong fall down an oubliette into ice cold water and comes back in typical timely fashion, but at the end of the day he leaves with his hackles raised, bidden to head for the border and never darken Strakenz’s doors again, and all without a word of thanks for having saved Carl Gustaf’s life.
So he returns via Strakenz city and robs the Duchy treasury of all its gold and jewels.
That’s not all though. Whilst Flashman has been cloistered in Strakenz, revolution has been sweeping across Europe. Kings and Chancellors have been toppling left, right and centre, and the Chartist Petition is being presented in Britain. And Flashy arrives in Munich just as Lola Montez is being forced to flee the city. His problem however is that he is carrying a valise with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of jewellery etc., but doesn’t have a pfennig-piece in his pocket. Why not presume on Lola for a lift?
Though Lola is, understandably, not in the best frame of mind, given long enough the inevitable happens: the pair get drunk and have one last romping night. After which Flashy awakes, hungover, to find himself alone: Lola Montez had gone, her carriage and attendants have gone and Flashy’s valise of loot has also gone. At least she’s left him enough money to get himself home to London and Elspeth – whose main concern is whether he’s brought her anything back from Germany!
Whilst I have my reservations about the awkwardness of the split periods, and the premise of re-writing The Prisoner of Zenda is definitely not the strongest, Royal Flash is nevertheless a far better and far more mature book than its predecessor.
Fraser had sold the film rights to his first book for enough money to immediately retire from journalism, and take his family off to the Isle of Man for tax purposes, and the confidence and security he had so quickly establishes shows in the confidence and brio with which he approaches the second book.
Where Flashman spent much of its time being concerned with the history and the recreation of the time period the book occupied, it nevertheless didn’t show too much of Flashy’s personality as a memoirist. Royal Flash has this is spades. Every sentence is full of Flashy’s personality the unrepentant rogue and roué no longer caring for his image. Flashy’s thoughts and reactions, his splendid self-commentary, is active. He can’t recount a single incident without passing comment upon it, either directly through the opinions of his younger self, or as his older, considerably wiser but unchanged septuagenarian.
And that makes the book continually funny. Flashman, after a false start, has uplifted himself into a raconteur. He might be telling the story to a small circle of confidants and hangers-on, addressing them directly over the heads of the people his younger self is dealing with. This Flashy is both broader and considerably more multi-dimensioned.
Fraser sold the film rights to this book as well, and in 1975 it was actually made, with a screenplay from the author. Malcolm McDowell starred as Flashman, Oliver Reed as Bismarck, Britt Ekland as Duchess Irma and Alan Bates as Rudi von Starnberg. With Fraser as the writer, the film stayed pretty consistent to the book, but was not a success: McDowell, in particular, can’t attain the larger-than-life dimensions of Flashy and in general, despite the quality and aptness of the casting, no-one really convinces in their part.
No further books in the series have been filmed but, as we’ll see, not many of them are actually conducive to the dramatic unity, nor the condensation of film. Perhaps, if someone ever has the guts to present Flashman as Fraser writes him, a television series might work, but it all depends on finding an actor who can stand up to be history’s most heroic coward.
History and Memories
This little section will follow each blog. It will focus on those moments in each book where Flashman’s reminiscences touch upon periods of his career not directly related in The Flashman Papers, and those moments when Flashman’s memory lets him down and contradicts his ‘official’ record.
P9. In discussing the difference an individual can make to the course of history, with reference to his to-be-related tale of how his rudeness to a minor statesman changed the face of history, Flashman mentions that his failure as a ‘hero’ and as a half-decent soldier costs General Lee at Gettysburg and prevents him from capturing Washington, with drastic consequences for the American Civil War. Though many of his fans desperately wanted a Civil War adventure, this story went untold due to sheer lack of interest in the subject from Fraser. There are many references to this period in the Papers.
P12. Flashman reflects on the many places he’s gambled: playing nap with gold dust in the Australian diggings, held a blackjack bank on a South Sea trader, played poker in a Dodge City livery stable with pistols on the blanket, and found less cheating in all of these than in one evening at a London club. The Australian Gold Rushes mainly took place between 1851 and 1855, much of which period goes uncovered, and it’s reasonable to suggest the South Sea trader incident may have taken place to or from Australia, whilst Flashman’s time in Dodge also goes unrecorded, though we will hear that our hero served as Deputy Marshall to ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock. Of course.
P42. On 7 February 1882, Flashman witnesses John L Sullivan win the first World Heavyweight Boxing Championship against Paddy Rye and wins $10 betting on the outcome with Oscar Wilde. Five months later, we will learn from a later book, Flashman will be with the British Army in Egypt!
P55. Flashman mentions seeing the Duke of Wellington present at Lola Montez’s humiliation, with his Duchess. Fraser admits a slip (in Flashman’s memories!), the Duchess having died some years previously.
P59 & 60. All we learn of Flashman’s escapades in 1847 are that he has been on military service during Royal Flash’s four year lacuna, episodes that will be detailed in Packets 6 and 9 of the Papers, but that leaves a gap of some eighteen months ending with his return to London, with dishonestly earned cash in his pocket and hoping for a few months rest after having had a pistol ball dug out of the small of his back (a later reference establishes that the original shot took him in his side), but how, when, where and from who remains a mystery. There being no significant military action in the gap, we can only assume a private – and disreputable – affair.
P64. Among the more astonishing letters Flashman has received in his life are the letter of thanks had from Confederate President Jefferson Davies (details of which will be expanded upon in later books) and his letter of reprieve in Mexico, during the Maximillian affair, which also goes unrecorded.
P159. Flashman expands on his experiences of imprisonment, identifying Libby Prison (the Confederate Prison in the Civil War) and Botany Bay. Again, presumably that relates to Flashman’s involvement in the Gold Rush.
P162. Flashman refers to having an affair with the famous Lily Langtry before hers with the Prince Regent. Unless Flashman is referencing an encounter with a young Lily on Jersey, prior to her marriage, there would appear to be only a very narrow window of opportunity for that, in 1874/5, as Flashman spent much of that period in America, as we shall see.
P179. Flashman and Rudi von Starnberg debate the fashion clash between Checked and Striped trousers . Flashman is decidedly in favour of Checks. As this was an 1847 fad, either he was in London for longer than he admits before shooting off to Germany, or he has been in the city earlier in the year before getting shot.
I was prey to mixed feelings during this latest episode, which was Steve Buscemi/Pete-centric in a way that, at first, struck me as a little too self-conscious. Let me explain.
We’ll accept as a given that Horace and Pete is theatre as opposed to television, being played on television with very few compromises to the medium it’s exploiting. Episode 3’s stunning fifteen minute monologue from Laurie Metcalf was not merely an uncompromising demonstration of that fundamental difference, but also, in its way, a defiant blazoning of such difference.
In shorter, but no less defiant manner, episode 6’s initial three minute solo by Steve Buscemi – silent, undemonstrative, coming out of the bath in a towel, slowly, shufflingly, preparing himself for what we would discover was a date – came from the same impulse. It was theatre, shouting at its audience that this is radically different from tv, and flaunting its refusal to go native.
It was also a conspicuous elevation of form over story. What we saw could have been presented in a televisual manner without undermining what was happening. Louis CK was being a bit too blatant for my liking at that point about being not-television, to the point where it pushed past what Steve Buscemi was doing.
But that’s in the essence of the show, and to complain about it would be like complaining that the sun comes up in the morning. Nevertheless, I think it a valid point to make: I have seen enough experiment for the sake of experiment by now, and prefer my art to be about its subject, rather than it’s own cleverness, which has so often been used to conceal a certain shortfall in that substance.
Not that you can make that accusation about Horace and Pete. The remainder of the first half was set in a nice-looking restaurant and was a two-hander between Buscemi and guest star Hannah Dunne as his date, Jenny.
The two had paired up on-line and were having their first IRL meeting. And it didn’t start well, because one of them hadn’t been honest. Not Pete: he’d told the truth about his age, had used a contemporary picture, had expressed a preference for women his age, 45. It was Jenny who had lied, who’d claimed to be 45 when in reality she was 26, and simply preferred older men, for their greater depth of personality, their decency, their emotional intelligence (the scene was all the better for such terms being scrupulously avoided.)
Naturally, Pete started off aggressive and hostile, automatically assuming that Jenny was disappointed in him because he was exactly what he’d stated himself to be,and needed to be convinced – without making Jenny out to be some weirdo or fetishist – that she had chosen him consciously. The gradual melting of that hostility, to the point where Pete gains the confidence to be wholly complementary (without once straying into cliche) towards Jenny, was a masterpiece of writing and performance.
But, of course, you now it’s aaaaaallllll going to go wrong. The third scene/second act took place above the bar, initially with Horace setting plates for a meal, for four. Enter Sylvie, in headscarf, now living here (this development was not unexpected: after last week’s quasi-cliffhanger over her decision, when googling an image of Edie Falco to illustrate the post, I was exposed to scenes of her behind the bar, with the scarf covering her presumed bald head).
The fourth plate is for Jenny. We know it’s going to end badly, partly because we have watched five episodes to date but, in continuity, Horace picks an unnecessary fight with Pete, seeking to undermine his efforts to lay on something nice for Jenny, and Sylvie turns back his thanks to her for cooking by denigrating what she is doing in a way that, by implication, damns it as worthless from the start.
And once Jenny arrives, the pair completely and utterly fuck Pete over.
Initially, the awkwardness is so palpable, you could break it off in lumps and use it for door stops. Both are taken back, and Sylvie the more so, that Pete is seeing a woman half his age, and a not unattractive one at that. I couldn’t help but recall the comment I’d seen when researching episode 3, about how the underlying theme of the series being the inability to communicate.
But sometimes the characters find it all too easy to communicate. Sylvie is pissed off, and she is the first to kick the avalanche into motion, out of spite, rejecting Pete’s reference to her and Horace as his brother and sister, with a determined recitation of Pete’s true parentage, forcing Pete to tell Jenny things he hasn’t yet disclosed, stealing his right to say such things in his own time and his own way.
That’s bad enough, though Jenny looks able to ride it, especially as, in striking back at Sylvie (who is basking in the self-righteousness of her ‘honesty’) he lets slip that he loves Jenny, something he’s obviously not said to her face, that she notices but does not have the time to react to, because Pete is still going on at the uncaring Sylvie, being the bitch to the hilt.
And Jenny doesn’t get to react, because Horace, in his passive-aggressive manner, without any seeming motivation to do so, drops the absolute fucking bomb when he flatly tells Jenny about Pete’s mental issues, his complete history in institutionalisation and his dependancy on his medication.
It stops Pete in his tracks. He can’t answer. It’s the complete no-way-back moment and it breaks him. It’s one of the cruelest, most vicious, least-justifiable or forgivable things I have ever read or seen, and at least I know that this series will not sweep it under the carpet.
Jenny leaves. Before she goes, she gives Horace and Sylvie both barrels over their treatment of Pete. Heartbreakingly, she is still prepared to leave a door open for Pete, if he will move, if he will speak, but he has lost the ability, and she turns and leaves. Hannah Dunne has been beautiful in this role.
And I have been answered in my concerns about the overt theatricality of this show, its experiments in formalism at the expense of naturalism, because nowhere outside of theatre could you present this, could you create this excluding bubble, where characters act so determinedly in the lines set for them by their natures. It just can’t work any other way.
So Pete rages, brokenly, at the family that has so right royally shafted him. Sylvie he berates in half-sentences. If you had loved me. If you had ever shown to me any sign of love. The rest we have to conjure into being, but it is after saying that in some other world where the past had gone differently, what has just happened might somehow have been justifiable.
Sylvie’s unconcerned. The world is shit, and her own personal satisfaction is such that she is not merely unconcerned but content, even proud of herself, that she has made it even shittier. Sylvie is a monster who has given up on life and who will tear down everything she is within reach of, to bring it to the level of entropy that her own life has become.
And Horace? Horace, our hapless, indecisive man in the centre, trying to do the feeblest right thing he can get away with? He might just be the biggest monster of them all.
Things are pretty quiet around my personal television schedule throughout this summer, which currently we’re only recognising as summer because the rain’s warmer than it is in December. I’m still bingeing on Person of Interest (twenty episodes left) and there’s the weekly Deep Space Nine (five and a bit seasons left) and now that the Council’s motor-mower has left us in peace again, I will shortly be taking in the next episode of Horace and Pete (blog coming up shortly).
The only regularly scheduled series I’m currently watching is Preacher (three episodes left), about which I’m harbouring increasingly mixed feelings that I’ll probably unload in a post-season blog. Apart from that, it’s wheel-spinning time until September/October, when the new roster will start to coalesce.
In the meantime, there’s bits of news about my selection of series’, most of which I don’t pursue because, as you are aware, I try to go spoiler-free, which makes the actually watching that bit more fun when you’re not sitting there checking your watch and thinking, ‘only seven minutes left, they’re really pushing it about fitting in that super-secret, stunning, shock revelation I read about last Monday’.
But I have been aware, at regular intervals, of news about Supergirl‘s secondseason, and especially the changes being made in the form of new characters being added.
Of my autumn-to-spring schedule, it’s pretty much evens between this series and Arrow for most-likely-to-fall-off-the-ledge as did Gotham two episodes into last year. With Arrow, it’s down to the series having become too repetitive, predictable and dour, on top of which the producers have decided to smear a generous level of desperate manipulation of characters (I’m looking at the last Oliver/Felicity break-up here, which was the moment I was so disgusted at the lengths the show would go to not to have anyone marginally happy or secure).
Supergirl is the exact opposite. It’s scraped through a patchy first series primarily on Melissa Benoist’s perfect capture of both Supergirl and Kara Danvers (the micro-skirt and boots haven’t hurt either) and Callista Flockhart’s equally perfect portrayal of Cat Grant.
But it didn’t pull in the audiences CBS wanted, so it’s been ‘demoted’ to where it should have been all along, the CW Network, and been given over fully into the hands of Greg Berlanti and his crew, who will now have four DC shows to meld (a four-way crossover has already been planned: I plan to blog each episode). Filming of the show has been transferred to Vancouver (also known as both Starling/Star City and Central City and every city Legends of Tomorrow visited: those Canadians have really got their feet in the trough, haven’t they?).
And it’s getting a real makeover. Quite early on, it was announced that the show was looking to cast five new characters, two regulars, three recurring. And that was before the announcements that the Big Blue Boy Scout, Superman himself would be appearing in the flesh AND that Lynda Carter, the erstwhile Wonder Woman, will be appearing as the President (so not Donald Trump, then).
With that number of new characters, a seismic change in the dynamics of the show is inevitable. It’s failure to wholly convince in its first season would have demanded some steps in that direction but this amount of change is of a much more serious degree.
Three of the newbies are established DC characters. Or at least their names are. Probably the closest to the original is Lena Luthor, an incoming regular. Lena, as even the most comics-uncomfortable of you might guess, is related to Lex of that name: in both series and original, she is his younger sister (I am ignoring the version active between Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis during which she was his daughter).
Lena has always been an innocent, with none of Lex’s villainy, and the initial write-up of her intended role is that of an escapee from Big Bro’s villainy, but I’m rather suspecting that on Supergirl she’s going end up turning into a proto-Lex, which in turn suggests to me less/no more Max Lord. There is precedent: in the early Seventies, when Supergirl first went out into the working world, one of her recurring characters was Luthor’s niece, Nastalthia (aka ‘Nasty’).
The other two carry-overs from the comics have both been cast this week, which is what has prompted me to write this piece. Floriana Lima has been cast as Detective Maggie Sawyer, a lesbian police officer with a special interest in cases involving aliens. This is a variation on the original character, a tough-talking and action lesbian detective who’s played prominent roles in Superman and Batman.
But the casting of Ian Gomez as Snapper Carr is one heck of a dislocation, given that the only common ground between Gomez’s character – the new editor-in-chief of Cat Grant’s newspaper and Kara’s new, challenging boss – and the comic book original is the name.
Snapper Carr (first name much belatedly given as Lucas) was introduced in the first Justice League of America story and became their mascot until issue 77. He was a teenager, a hep cat, swinging, jive-talking, hot-rodding teenager, whose nickname came from his habit of snapping his fingers whenever he was happy, and boy was this cat happy, to the point where any normal, responsible adult superhero would have broken his fingers. Just imagine the kind of hip teen character a badly out of touch middle-aged writer could have come up with in 1960, and you still won’t get near enough to him.
(After Snapper was written out in 1970, DC tried on many occasions to reinvent him, without the least shred of luck. The only decent handling of him was in Mark Waid’s Justice League of America – Year One maxi-series, where he’s reinvented as a technical wizard.)
So you can see that all we’re taking here is a completely unrelated name. But don’t worry, the tv Snapper is known as Snapper because, you guessed it, he snaps his fingers when he’s excited. It was a nickname as dumb as a mud-post in 1960 so you can guess how stupid it is fifty-six years later.
The other two, as yet uncast newbies, have no comics background to them, although don’t count on that persisting in the case of the Doctor (no, that crossover is not on anyone’s horizon). She’s a scientist who likes experimenting on humans by sewing bits of aliens into them, but she works for the Cadmus Project, another long-standing bit of Superman lore, so don’t be surprised if she gets a DC female scientist name hung on her. Cadmus may have been a pretty chauvinist environment, but nobody’s using Jennet Klyburn or Kitty Faulkner right now and so what if they both worked for S.T.A.R. Labs? Is Snapper Carr still a quasi-beatnik?
The last is to be brash, leading man type reporter Nick Farrow, the other regular. I have a premonition that he’s going to be an utter disaster, as he sounds like the kind of character designed to cut completely against the sweet but stumbling proto-feminism of the series. I fair dreads it.
Five new characters, eh? Plus Supes himself and the President. And just where does this leave the existing crew? So far, there’s no word on anybody leaving, though we already know there’s going to be a big change in dynamics in one of the show’s most important aspects. Callista Flockheart is not relocating to Vancouver, which means that her role in the show is going to have to be diminished (as we would already guess from the introduction of Sn*pper). It’s being suggested that she’ll fly to Canada once a month to record all her scenes in a block, but if she’s absent from the daily run of production, I can’t help but think that this distance will seep into the acting somehow and be noticeable.
As for the rest, I also suspect that this Nick Farrow guy will also force Jeremy Jordan’s Win Schott even further into the background. Once his crush on Kara had been revealed and rejected, his character was half-crippled last season, with no viable way forward, and his contributions became much more mechanical and perfunctory as a result. Something new needs to be found for him, but with so many others jostling for attention, and being given it in order to establish them, what price the Toymaker Jr?
And we’re not that far off the same position with Master James Bartholomew Olsen, who never entirely convinced me. This version is just too far removed from the canonical Jimmy to ever be truly convincing and Mehcad Brooks is simply far too laid-back. Maybe he should just go back to Metropolis?
Oh me, oh my. Whatever will happen to Supergirl next? Will there be a quantum leap in standard as it slips into more practiced hands? Or will it simply cough, shuffle its feet and pretend not to know what you’re talking about if you try to remind it about season 1?
At least we know that this time round, even the kitchen sink is being thrown in…
The choice of this episode’s title, though apt to the story in more senses than one, is nevertheless unfortunate since it can only make me think of David Simon’s deservedly legendary series set in Baltimore. Which has nothing to do with this episode, of course.
‘The Wire’ is basically a two-hander, with walk-ons for nearly all the cast. But it’s Doctor Bashir and the mysterious Garak, Cardassian exile, tailor and all-round enigma. The plot is simple: whilst queuing for their weekly lunch, Garak experiences sharp pains in the head, that he refuses to allow Bashir to treat, or even investigate. Bashir refuses to accept rebuff. Through Odo he learns that Garak is dealing with Quark to obtain a piece of Cardassian bio-technology that is highly classified and has links with the Obsidian Order (a central spy ring of which Garak was formerly a member).
Garak has a seizure and is taken to the Infirmary where Bashir discovers he has a piece of bio-technology implanted long ago in his brain; the same piece Garak has been trying to obtain. It is an ingenious device rendering its host immune to torture by converting the pain into pleasure. Unfortunately, it is breaking down: in order to combat the pain of exile,the daily torture of his life on DS9, Garak has ended up switching the device on permanently; hence its deterioration.
In order to save Garak’s life, Bashir tracks down Enabran Tain, the ‘retired’ head of the Obsidian Order,and obtains from his the bio-information that will reverse the device’s effect. Tain does this not out of compassion, or in memory of old relationships, but to extend Garak’s life in exile, in daily torture, unable ever to return to Cardassia. Garak makes a full recovery, restored to his old, elusive, enigmatic self.
The point of the story is to explore Garak’s background, whilst giving Julian Bashir a feature opportunity that explores his commitment to his craft, and to a man that he does not trust, yet whom he likes, and thinks of as a friend. Bashir is determined to save Garak’s life, not merely because it is his professional and personal duty but because, in the face of a changing sequence of horrific confessions, he refusesto give up on Garak himself, even when the Cardassian is most set on alienating the Doctor.
We learn about Garak’s background, about how he was not merely a member of the Obsidian Order but a natural for the job and right hand man to Enabran Tain himself. And we learn of the horrific atrocity that caused his disgrace and exile.
And then we learn that it wasn’t like that at all, that in a moment of weakness brought on by personal discomfort, Garak let Bajoran children escape.
And then we learn that it wasn’t like that at all, that Garak tried to frame his best friend and boyhood chum Elim for the atrocity, only to find Elim had the same idea in respect of his old buddy, Garak, and got there first.
And then we learn, from a theoretically more objective source, that it wasn’t like that at all, that Elim is Garak’s first name…
In short, we don’t really learn anything at all, not that we can trust, except that Garak is a masterful and shameless liar, and even then we have to take Tain’s word for it, and if you think we can’t trust Garak… By this point, even the most secure points, such as Garak having been a member of the Obsidian Order, and being in exile, are not things in which we feel safe in believing.
A seriously good episode which expanded upon the mysterious Garak and gave us multiple insights into who and what he is, what he thinks and how he feels, not a one of which we can be sure of. On the other hand, we do know Bashir a bit better for this.
I will admit that I was dubious about watching the next episode of this series today. Horace and Pete is an intense, slow-moving experience, of which the word ‘downbeat’ is superficial and simplistic, and I am not having the best of weeks (or months, or years, come to that). I did not think that the episode was going to improve that humour.
Nor did it. Yet it held me for thirty-three minutes, my attention focused utterly upon it’s minimal movement, its increasing burden of hopeless misery, like icebergs slowly converging on unanswerable tides.
And yes, I was right about last week’s ending, that sense of dread that I felt. The show opens on the dark stage of the bar, the door opens, the cast enter in dark clothing, switch on the light, drinks are poured. Theatre to the max: it is the wake following Uncle Pete’s funeral. The gun he took from behind the bar was significant, except that it signified the one possibility that I, oddly, did not foresee. As in life, I did not imagine that he would kill himself.
Uncle Pete’s removal was clearly the catalyst for change, but what change would that be? Jessica Lange, as Marsha, told a splendidly defiant, yet regretful monologue of her life, as a drinker, before leaving the bar, having been told, and recognising, that she has no place here now, no connection.
Pete himself struck up with a defiant claim that he could survive, in the face of Sylvie’s urge that the bar be sold: $6,000,000 could be had, $3,000,000 for each of her and Horace (nothing for Pete, now he’s not a brother, biologically, which he accepts imperturbably.
And it’s growing desperate for Sylvia, jobless, broke, having to afford cancer treatment and slowly breaking under it. Daughter Brenda is almost aggressively protective, which earns her only an order to get out from her mother. Horace’s daughter Alice, a silent presence, a watcher from the sidelines, speaks her only words in leaving, a final departure. The next time one of you dies, she says, I’ll see you at the funeral.
Meanwhile, the customers are the customers. Leon sits in his corner, drawing in his tiny notebook (I have long been wondering if we’re going to see what he draws and just how sickening it’s going to be). A young woman who can’t escape from her own narrow confines calls people who enjoy orchestral music fakes and phonies. A fucking rude hipster who thinks he’s funny gets thrown out. A nihilist wants to see a Sanders/Trump co-Presidency so it can completely fuck the country up forever.
It’s Intermission, it’s a change of pace, it’s the least interesting part of the play.
In the morning, Sylvie having slept on the couch, feeling weak, Horace pitches for a solution. He’s prepared to sell the bar, irrespective of the history of which Pete is desperately protective, taking up his father’s role. Sylvie needs the money, she has cancer. Pete can be brought in, $2,000,000 each. Pete pleads for the bar to stay open: it’s his life, his only life, the only place he’s lived outside the hospital, and he cannot cope without it.
But Horace pitches a third way, that Sylvie come in with them, that they make it a three-way partnership. It’s not what she wants, by any means. Sylvie wants out from under the weight of her own history, and wants her brother out from it too, for his sake, even if he feels that selling is harder than staying. But it may be the only practical solution.
She can’t decide now. Sylvie leaves, and there’s a cute little section at the end where Horace and Pete go about their business, not talking to one another, without hostility, just dropping into the groove and avoiding conversation, and it’s beautifully composed and acted, and it’s only drawback is that it’s self-consciously clever.
And to emphasise the theatricality of all this, the closing credit is ‘End of Act 1’. We are now halfway through the series.
Despite wanting lighter, less demanding, more fun fare, I still wound up immersed in Horace and Pete, and especially wanting to know how it all works out. But I’m getting there the hard way: one a week, no spoilers. This is too intense an experience to bingewatch and get out of it all that Louis CK has put in.
I’d been looking forward to tonight’s BBC4 Nature Documentary for half the week, thanks to the official sub-title: Escape to Swallows and Amazons Country. You know my lifelong enthusiasm for Arthur Ransome, and if that were not enough, it’s impossible to do anything with the real landscapes without going to the Lake District, and I’ll watch any TV programme that does that.
Though the Swallows and Amazons books provided a thematic link, in the end the Ransome connection was not much more than a hook to draw together three entirely disparate kinds of waterlands: the natural, glacially-formed Lakes of Cumbria, the man-made, ancient flooded peat-cuttings of the Broads of Norfolk, and the tidal waters of the Orwell Estuary and Hamford Water on the Suffolk/Essex border.
The programme was jointly presented by Dick Strawbridge, engineer, sailor, and occasional presenter on the long-running Coast and naturalist, anthropologist and Coast mainstay, Alice Roberts. Strawbridge evidently drew the long straw, dominating screen-time (he was the only one of the pair to be let loose on the Lakes, more’s the pity) as he pursued the sailcraft, the engineering and the people whilst Roberts brought up the rear, revelling in the countryside and the wildlife.
It was a shame, not because she was far better looking than Strawbridge (who was at least possessed of a moustache of truly Ransome-esque proportions) but because she’s incomparably the better presenter. Strawbridge was all enthusiasm and expostulation, greeting everything as fantastic, but his larger-than-life approach came over as tv puff rather than natural, like ITV commentators desperate to convince you that the bore-all draw you’re watching is the most exciting football match ever played. Roberts, on the other hand, is much quieter and calmer, and less extravagant in her choice of words, yet her genuine love for what she sees and her endless fascination with nature shines through at all times.
Like I said though, the Ransome connection was little more than an excuse. Strawbridge had the Lakes to himself, progressing from sailing on Coniston Water (with one sly, unadvertised shot of the Fairfield Horseshoe from Windermere, a subtle nod to how Ransome’s Lake was an amalgam of the two) to mines in Coppermines Valley, reaching high into the Coniston range.
But there was no pointing out of any places connected to the Swallows and the Amazons, and Pigeon Post, which was directly connected to Coppermines Valley, was only mentioned in passing, without its context being identified.
There was more of a Coot Club theme to the Norfolk Broads section, which taught me things I didn’t know about the landscape, and which had a couple of quotes from Coot Club itself. I have been to the Broads a very long time ago, when I was very young, too young to associate any memories with it. One thing that impressed me was the sheer scale of it, the breadth: I have always seen the landscape in the two Broads books as narrower, more confined than it really is.
But what moved me most was the final section. Not Strawbridge, arriving in Pin Mill, the start of the epic We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, nor his evident belief in the reality of that experience, but Alice Roberts at Hamford Water, the Secret Water, the hidden lagoon, as she called it, a place I’ve never been nor seen before, a place lacking in fame beyond its locality and this equally splendid Ransome book. She, here, was the only one to really relate the landscape to the book that was supposedly the cause of her presence, and for the only time, the programme acquired that additional layer of significance, and seemed to stretch across time to Ransome’s days, to his ‘children’s days.
An interesting hour, though I for one could have done with far more of the landscape and the waters than we got, and certainly less of Dick Strawbridge.
When he died in January 2008, I never expected I would read a new George MacDonald Fraser book again. As well as The Flashman Papers, I had read everything else he had published, and had my own copies of all but a small number of his books.
But in researching the background of Flashman to write about it recently, I discovered that not only was there was one last Fraser novel, but that it had been published in September 2015 without my ever hearing of it.
Captain in Calico, rather than being one last Fraser book, is actually his first: a novel written in, it appears, 1959, and rejected for publication, but never destroyed by the fastidious Fraser. Following their mother’s death, Fraser’s three children discovered the complete manuscript in one previously undiscovered fireproof safe and, after much consideration, offered it for publication.
In doing so, they have made plain that Captain in Calico is not vintage Fraser, indeed, far from it. It is an early novel, predating Flashman by almost a decade, a straightforward, adventure novel, historical in form and impulse and, in keeping with Fraser’s lifelong interests, centred upon real figures. But it’s also a lightweight novel that wears its influences – Sabatini, Scott, Wren and Henty – on its sleeves, to the extent that there is far more of these writers to it than there is of George MacDonald Fraser.
To that extent alone, it’s a weaker book, more naive and yet in its way perhaps more whole-hearted than the books that made Fraser’s reputation, because it’s Fraser writing ‘one more story’ by the authors who fascinated him. The writing is deliberately formal and archaic, the plot fast-moving but basic and simple. It’s a pleasant read, but it’s stengths lie in what we know its writer will go on to do rather than in its prentice pages.
The central figure – as anyone familiar with Fraser will have instantly recognised – is the real-life pirate, Calico Jack Rackham, and the book also features the equally real-life female pirate, Anne Bonney, a notable redhead. Fraser would return to this pair for his spectacular comic spoof of a swashbuckling novel, The Pyrates in 1983 (the book is a delight from start to finish, and was Fraser’s own favourite among all his novels).
Here, though, they are real and serious figures, standing on their own ground. They are interesting in their own respect, though they bear little resemblance to the exaggerated pair of the later book.
The storyline is straightforward. Rackham gives himself up to the Governor of Jamaica, Woodes Rogers, in return for a pardon. Rogers exacts the surrender of Rackham’s crew and their hefty cargo of booty as part of the deal, but plays Rackham false. Rackham’s motivation is that he was in love and engaged to 17 year old Kate Spencer before he was pressed to see without word to her: he has heard that she is still unwed and hopes, with his Pardon, to reclaim her love.
What Rackham does not know, until it is too late, is that the lovely Kate may be unwed, but she is engaged – to Governor Woodes Rogers.
A distraught and drunken Rackham falls into the clutches of the lovely, amoral Anne Bonney, who is married to a vicious and dissolute old planter whom she loathes. Through him, she has become aware of Rogers’ plans to send half a million in goal and jewels to England, on a single, seemingly-innocuous ship.
Rackham wastes no time in turning pirate again and raising a crew to pursue the treasure ship. But the whole thing is a decoy, the real treasure ship having taken a different course. Bonney faithlessly abandons him and Rackham is deposed in favour of a blundering Yorkshire loudmouth and oaf (accurate characterisation there), named Bull, who is so useless a captain that the ship is easily captured and all the pirates condemned to hanging, drawing and quartering. Except for Mistress Bonney, who claims to be pregnant and goes off to become the corrupt Judge’s mistress.
However, at the last, Rackham is secretly released through the offices of Kate Spencer, not from love but rather from honour, over how Rackham was treated and revulsion for the execution process. Rackham slips away (though in real life he later is captured and hung).
Not a lot happens, though Fraser takes great delight in creating the atmosphere that surrounds piracy and sailing and the Caribbean (the book includes reproductions of three letters, one a Reader’s Report, from the Author’s Alliance, that criticise the book for such detail, as well as denigrating its commercial possibilities.
I’m glad to have had one last chance to read a ‘new’ George MacDonald Fraser, though it is only a curio: I’ll retain the book but can’t see it being reread often. Would that he’d left one complete outstanding ‘Flashman’ novel, even though the one we would all have wanted was the one that he forcefully expressed himself as being completely disinterested in writing.
But I can’t chide this book for not being what it was never asked to me, for not being the mature, confident, bravura Fraser. At least I’ve had another evening with the old man.