Person of Interest: s03 e05 – PA3ᴦOBOP (Razgovor)


Smart Kid

Now this: this is what I have been waiting for since season 3 started.

It is a Number of the Week, but in the series’ greatest fashion, it’s woven inextricably into the wider arcs, and even allowed to permeate the explosive finale, which must lead inexorably into deeper waters.

But first a brief word about the title. Please excuse the imbalanced cyrillic version that’s the official title, I haven’t got a larger size version of that upside-down L on this laptop. As for Razgovor, I have it on reliable authority that it means Conversation or Dialogue, of which there was much in this episode.

We began with one of those increasingly brilliant mini-scenes saving an unrelated Number, a driver delivering a liver required for a transplant, about to see it hi-jacked for a mobster until Shaw, rising with him, shoots down the crook and walks off, brushing off his grateful thanks. Finch gently suggests that her bedside manner could do with brushing up.

Straightway, we’re put on notice that Shaw’s emotionless is going to be put to the test by our real Number, Genrika Zhirova, or Gen, played to perfection by ten-year old Danielle Kotch as a smart-arse kid, a legal immigrant Russian girl planning a career as an international spy, who has been bugging her apartment building for evidence to get the drugs dealers busted, and who has caught something a hell of a lot bigger than that.

It’s a new drug, a synthetic based heavily on the heavily toxic potassium permanganate, and it’s being distributed by the Yogarov gang and our old friened Peter, but it’s patriotically synthesized in this country on a fuck-the-Columbians basis by H.R.

That’s H.R., meaning we get Simmons, and Terney and young Laskey in the story, and we get Joss Carter trailing everyone because this time, when H.R. comes down, all of it goes down, right to the top. Finch and Reese are aware of her ‘side-project’, and willing to help, but Joss is keeping her cards very close to her impressive chest. She’s going to take full revenge for the death of Cal Beecher.

So Joss and John get to work together on this case, coming at it from both ends, but the fun part is Shaw, who is charged with saving Gen and who, despite having no facilities whatsoever for dealing with kids and indeed saying she hates them, winds up the one who has to protect her, and who, despite a serious wound, sticks determinedly to her role, even if it means trading Gen’s incriminating tapes to H.R. to get her back.

Shaw’s running alone, she’s running wild, so she doesn’t know that even Carter has agreed the trade. We have, for the first time this season, a return to flashbacks, and these are of Shaw, in 1993, when she like Gen was ten years old. There’s been a car crash, Shaw’s Dad is dead, she’s trapped and freed and has to be told about her loss, but though she processes it, she doesn’t feel it. One of the paramedics will say there’s something wrong with that little girl, but that’s too simplistic. Shaw will herself tell Gen, with patient resignation, that she doesn’t feel things – except anger, of course – but this automaton that Gen has prodded to check if she’s a robot is nothing like so simple as this episode is trying to tease us into believing, and there will be another summation near the end.

In the meantime, H.R. set up to trap Reese, which keads only to a knock-down drag-out fight between the Man in the Suit and H.R.’s second-in-command. It’s smart, tough, spare, but it’s also a test of strength. Reese could bring Simmons down: after all, he wins the fight. But he lets him go. John Reese understands need, the need to atone, and he respects avenging angels. Joss Carter didn’t believe in Cal Beecher until too late. She has to do this herself, for herself, to repay the debt that no-one but herself feels on her shoulders.

And she’s ahead of the game. Rookie Laskey pulls the bonds of their partnership on her to get her to join him in a bar, to talk about his problems with someone on the force: Joss Carter. It’s a set-up, but Joss is miles ahead. She’s known Laskey was H.R. from the moment her first got in her car. She used him to feed false information back to Simmons. And she’s too canny and too prepared to fall for the trap Laskey’s set up. She kills the ‘bar owner’, a Vice Lieutenant from the Bronx, another H.R. goon. She’ll shoot Laskey too, if he makes her, but Carter has an ace he doesn’t expect, in the H.R.-born rrogance that makes him call Carter ‘an arrogant bitch who doesn’t know her place’ (tsk, tsk, haven’t you ever heard of feminism?)

Because Carter shot the Lieutenant with Laskey’s gun. He’s working for her now, not H.R. We await developments with eagerness, now they have startted to develop.

But we have Shaw, delivering the once-neglected Gen to a super-school, the sort of place you go when you’re the ward of a very reclusive billionaire. And Gen is still smarter than the average ten-year old, just as we now beieve the ten-year old Sameen to have been. She presents Shaw with her grandfather’s Order of Lenin tht cannot mean anything like as much to her, but it means something to Gen to know that Shaw has it. And she tells Shaw that she does have all those emotions but they’re like voices on old tapes (superb analogy): you have to listen harder to hear them.

Which gets her a rather too vigorous hug from Shaw that Gen understands, just like she has understood Shaw so well (it’s a shame she never returns), and which gets Shaw a reassurance from Finch. Yes, she broke every order he gve her and she doesn’t soun epentant about it though she’s clearly concerned about losing this ‘job’ (she’ll miss Bear too much). But as far as Finch is concerned, she has finally got it. The job, that is, but we know what he means.

So Shaw goes home to sleep, the Order of Lenin hung closely by, content. Until Root appears by her bedside, asking if she’s missed her, and applying her taser.

We are off, and running.

 

Film 2019: Black Narcissus


As brilliant as last week’s They’re a Weird Mob was awful, Black Narcissus, adapted pretty faithfully from Rumer Godden’s 1939 novel, was inexplicaably omitted from the original Powell and Pressburger box-set when this was first released as a nine-disc set. I bought that first, and willingly bought up when this was re-issued as an eleven-disc set, just to have this film.

Black Narcissus is a landmark film, justly celebrated for its amazing cinematography, which won Jack Cardiff an Oscar. It’s also a marvel of filming and use of effects, given that the film is set in India, high in the mountains, with multiple outside scenes, yet not a minute of footage was shot outside England. Split screen shots of a technical standard astonishing for the present day, let alone 1948, and matte shots using highly detailed, massively convincing paintings on glass complete the illusion that the film has been shot on location.

But the film is more than just a miracle of technique. Right from the beginning, the story establishes a knot of tension that only grows tauter as the film progresses. It’s a shifting psychological drama composed of many elements within its simple plot – a small group of nuns are sent to establish a convent at Mopu: as predicted, they fail – as each of the central characters find themselves undergoing unexpected tests.

The film stars Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, a firm, somewhat authoritarian Nun who, despite her young age, is sent to take charge at the Convent of Sister Faith. Four others go with her: Sister Phillippa (Flora Robson) to take charge of the gardens, Sister Briony (Judith Furse) the dispensary, Sister Blanche, known as Sister Honey (Jenny Laird), the school, and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) as…well, it’s not entirely clear what part Sister Ruth is going to play, except as the most highly-strung and unstable amongst the Nuns: she is included by Mother Dorothea for, outwardly, her own good, although one cannot but suspect a certain buck-passing in the decision, as well as a test for Sister Clodagh’s leadership abilities.

These are the Nuns, but they are not the only characters in the story. Esmond Knight, an Archers stock-player, browns up to play the Old General, the ruler of the province, gifter of the Convent, a former seraglio. David Farrar, tall, lean, mostly seen in shorts that emphasise his hairy legs, rude, practical, unbelieving, plays the General’s Agent, Mr Dean, responsible for everything the Nun’s need, and deeply offensive to Sister Clodagh just by showing the merest scepticism. Jean Simmons plays the 17 year old Kanchi, a native girl taken in by the Nuns: Simmons, also browned up, has no words to speak, she just exudes sexuality in every smouldering fibre of her body without once being explicit, a sexuality that is at once knowing and naive. And Sabu, the only native actor in the film, plays the Young General, heir to the Province, young, noble, proud and thunderously naive about everything around him: Kanchi sets her cap and everything else at him and you just know he’s not going to be able to resist.

And there’s May Hallatt as Angu Ayah, former housemaid to the seraglio, a chattering, skipping bundle of shrieking contempt for the Nuns, playing wonderfully OTT.

Throw these characters in and a story will come out of it, but both  Godden and the Archers are set upon a developing inevitability. From the first, the Nuns find things hard, the isolation, the thin air, the clear and distant views that exaggerate the world in which they are alone with only their own resources – and God – to rely upon. Dean gives them until the rains break.

Each loses their way. We see it quickly when Sister Clodagh starts to call Sister Blanche by her nick-name. Clodagh has joined the Order, in which vows have to be renewed annually, to escape a failed love-affair in a small Irish community. She has gone through bitterness and pain from her abandonment: for the first time in years she remembers the handsome, but ultimately faithless, Con.

Sister Phillipa remembers things she thought she had forgotten, things unnamed: she has planted an English garden of flowers rather than the vegetables that were to sustain the community. Sister Honey becomes so overwhelmed by the children. Only Sister Briony remains stable.

As for Sister Ruth, who was made intense and unstable by the mere casting of Kathleen Byron, it is quickly easy to see that here is a woman eaten up by sexual frustration. The lean Mr Dean sets her hormones buzzing from the moment he is gentle to her, recognising her desire to do well, immmediately after Sister Clodagh has reprimanded her for trying herself to save a woman bleeding to death instead of fetching Sister Briony.

Like Kanchi, Sister Ruth exudes sexuality, but Kanchi even as a ten year old could never be as naive as Ruth, who’s got it but doesn’t know what to do with it.

As the crisis develops, Ruth chooses not to renew her vows. She orders a smouldering maroon dress from Darjeeling, changes, makes up. She goes to Dean, throws herself at him, is repelled. She accuses Dean of being in love with Sister Clodagh. Angrily, he denies being in love with anyone. In saying this, he’s probably being truthful to his own understanding, but at the ennd we will see that something is within him: he has not escaped being changed.

Dean’s refusal sends Ruth over the edge. Denied expression in love, her emotions find their only other outlet, in jealousy, a pathological jealousy of Sister Clodagh. When the latter goes to ring the Morning Bell, situated on the edge of a precipice, a wild-eyed, pale-faced Ruth tries to push her off but falls herself into the Abyss.

This, then, is the end. The Nuns arrange to depart. At the last, Dean approaches Sister Clodagh. Despite his denial, he is going to very much miss her. But though their relationship has become decidedly more amicable, Sister Clodagh – who will go to another Convent where she will not be in charge, is nowhere near ro any thought of giving up her vows. She asks him to tend to the grave, and teases him that the rains have not yet come.

But as both ride away, in opposite directions, the rains begin, soft and then fierce. Dean mops his slightly-too-long hair and looks back, until the increasng rain dissolves any last sight of the Nuns.

Originally, the Archers had planned to end tthe movie with a scene back in Calcutta, Sister Clodagh confessing her failure to Mother Dorothea and bursting into tears. The scene was filmed, though it sems it was never printed, as Powell, seeing the rain scene, chose that as a better ending. Rightly so.

This is a magnificent film, full of subtleties that, if I were to describe them all, would take all day to discuss. Remember that Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron spend most of the film in their habits, full habits, head-dresses, ankle length white robes. Only their faces are visible, made pale by the lack of (visible) make-up and the billowing white habits. Deprived even of body-language, they perform with only their faces. And there are subtleties of word and thought in nearly every line.

In the end, the film may be seen as one about defeat. Indeed, filmed only a few months before India’s Independence, it has been compared symbollically to the end of the Raj. Whether this was intentional, or merely a subconscious reflection of the Zeitgeist, I can’t say, but in a film with these layers, I wouldn’t dount anything.

And then there was three:  three box-sets, one outstanding film in each.

The Infinite Jukebox: Magazine’s ‘Shot by Both Sides’


Had you asked me, towards the end of the year or at any time since, what was the best single of 1978, I would rave at you cheerfully in favour of ‘Teenage Kicks’. I still will if you don’t run away fast enough.
But had you asked me that question at any time between, say, the spring of that year and the very end of Autumn, I would have had a different answer. I would have said Magazine, and ‘Shot By Both Sides’.
It is still, to me, a massively brilliant song, the single version a giant, dark, compelling sound, it’s failure to spend months at Number One a mystery set to rank with that of the Sphinx. That ‘Teenage Kicks’ was actually better was Howard Devoto and Co’s bleeding hard luck. So it goes, as Nick Lowe and Tony Wilson both used to say.
‘Shot by Both Sides’ was Magazine’s first release. Howard Devoto had left The Buzzcocks because he wanted to do more than the pure punk sound, and in John McGeogh he found a musical partner more than capable of realising his ambitions to incorporate elements of progressive and avant garde music. Devoto envisaged a keyboard player, and between the single and the album versions of the track, he found one in Dave Formula, but in this moment the band were a four-piece, with McGeogh the dominant player, and ‘Shot by Both Sides’ was both introduction and farewell, looking Janus-like to future and past. It wraps itself in the punk sound of angry guitar, but its immediately a fuller, deeper sound, built upon a charging riff full of menace, and an ascending lick, a rising string of notes, written by Pete Shelley and generously allowed to form the keynote of this song.
(The Buzzcocks would record the original song, ‘Lipstick’, late in the year as the b-side to ‘Promises’, and bloody odd it sounds in that context.)
‘Shot by Both Sides’ has muscle and energy, but it’s a focussed, targeted energy, as dark and paranoid as Devoto’s lyrics. Barry Adamson and Martin Gorski lay down a solid rhythm over which McGeogh doubles up on riff and lick. Devoto’s voices twists away from the sound, arch and affected, reminiscent of Steve Harley in its refusal to settle on a straight tone.
He works his way into the heart of the crowd, shocked to find what is allowed, losing himself in the heart of the crowd whilst the song hurtles towards him. The song’s confidence momentarily disintegrates, mimicking the sense of Devoto cracking, the rhythm chopping up, its momentum dispersing before Devoto goes full-on batshit paranoid. There is no safety in the heart of the crowd, no anonymity, no invisibility: Devoto is shot by both sides, his enemies, real or otherwise, must have come to a secret understanding, for how else could they be on him from all directions? Devoto sings to the lick and the chorus pounds that message of shock, horror and fear.
The middle of the song sees McGeogh go off into a high-speed solo, slashing at the notes in piercing fashion, before retreating to allow Devoto to give full reign to his drama: Shot by Both Sides, I don’t ask who’s doing the shooting.
The single couldn’t be what it is without the punk background from which it arises, could not be both single-minded and yet hinting at wider soundscapes to come. It’s a culmination, a threshold before change. Devoto’s ideas were grandiose, but they held a retrogressive element to them. Once Formula was added to provide the scope Devoto foresaw, Magazine would not, could not sound like this again.
And I’m afraid I think that the band was the lesser for it. In time, McGeogh, who was one of the most influential guitarists of his time, would come to the same conclusion, his departure from the band stemming in equal parts from frustration at Magazine’s lack of commercial success and the decreasing amount of space allowed for him and his guitars: he would be both ornament and architecture to Siouxsie and The Banshees’ lush middle period.
With the possible exception of Magazine’s flambuoyant cover of ‘Goldfinger’ on the b-side of their second single, nothing the band did sounded remotely like as good as this. ‘Shot By Both Sides’ was pure, driving, musical ecstasy, power and energy in beautiful balance, taking over your ears until the only thing you wanted to do was to play it again, immediately, and louder! And forty-one years later, like ‘Teenage Kicks’, it hasn’t aged a second. Let the riff pound out and immediately we are trapped, in the middle of the crowd, overwhelmed by fear, shot by both sides.
And still the only response is to play it again.

A Spot of Adventure: The In-Between Age


Most people agree upon the periods of the Golden Age and the Silver Age of Comics, though there’s room for argument as to the Ages that have followed. The Golden Age, from Action 1 to All-Star 57, covers the years 1938 to 1950, whilst the Silver Age starts with Showcase 4 in 1956. That leaves a gap that has never been tagged onto any Age, metallic or otherwise.
For the second instalment of my review of Adventure Comics, I’m calling the period in question the In-Between Age, and I plan to go up to 1958, for two reasons. One is that, although the Barry Allen Flash debuted in 1956, he only made four appearances in three years before finally being unleashed on his own series, in 1959. I’d call that the true beginning of the Silver Age, but before that, in 1958, National would introduce a new idea in the pages of Adventure that was as Silver Age as you could wish. This essay covers the years leading up to then.
We begin with issue 167. The Shining Knight was fallen casualty to the times, leaving Adventure with a line-up, front to back, of Superboy, Aquaman, Johnny Quick and The Green Arrow (still with the definite article). Superboy has the perky, red-headed teenage beauty Lana Lang trying to uncover his secret identity, just as his adult contemporary has Lois Lane, and Lana gets the idea into her pretty head that an ancient helmet brought home by her archaeologist parents gives her Superboy-esque powers. Instead of just taking her for a long, slow ride at the next hayride and enjoying some enthusiastic smooching, Superboy has to pretend the helmet works to keep her from getting the right idea about why a robber’s bullet just bounced off him. Silly boy.
Lana was a seeming fixture for a few issues but then dropped out, which was a shame because she brought an element of personality to Superboy’s strip. It was still a mostly domestic strip, calling for no great effort on the kid’s powers but without the pretty redhead it was empty.
Indeed, going into 1952, the comic as a whole was dull. Aquaman, who was clearly the favourite of the DVD maker who manages to come up with the Sea King’s story even when nothing else of an issue is available, tends to fight pirates, Green Arrow and Speedy can’t even come up with new trick arrows anymore, and only Johnny Quick comes up with an interesting read, mainly because it still hearkens to its Golden Age look instead of the bloodless DC art of the era.
I’ll mention the story in issue 181, which featured Joannie Swift, Queen of Speed. Joannie is a typist who accidentally gains the same powers as Johnnie when a list of equations she reads out duplicates his Magic Formula. Joannie turns out to be brave, resourceful, athletic, intelligent, in short bloody good at being a super-speedster. Johnnie only wants her to go away, at first to save her from injury because, being a girl, she’s bound to be a weakling, but, as soon as he realises she knows her stuff, a rather too revelatory reason comes out: Johnnie doesn’t want to turn out second best to her.
Of course, that fate will never happen because, inevitably, Joannie’s afraid of mice, which causes her to forget the Formula. So, instead of a skilful, brave, worthy foe of crime, using her potential to the fill, Ms Swift is condemned to go back to the steno pool, because she’s a girl. Sometimes this stuff can make you want to barf.

Johnny Quick

Meanwhile, a whole year of the DVD goes by with only two complete issues but with every Aquaman story. These are formulaic, uninspired affairs, six pages of nothing: no wonder DC struggled in the early Fifties. Piracy still turned up, but also silly ideas like Aquaman running an undersea hospital or an undersea fire service.
When full service resumes, for a while, in issue 201, there’s another delightful Lana Lang story, with Superboy thinking he’s blown his secret identity to her Dad, and so relieved to find he’s wrong, he welcomes Lana’s determined pursuit of his secret: just kiss her, you chump, she’d be a great girlfriend.
The American comic book package started off at 64 pages. Thanks to paper restrictions during the Second World war, it was reduced to 56 pages, and then to 48, all at 10c, irrespective of size. But with issue 205, Adventure Comics was reduced to the 32 page size that’s been standard ever since. Johnny Quick missed out, though he returned the following issue at the expense of Green Arrow. But his final appearance was in issue 207, sadly not on the DVD. Henceforth, Adventure had only three features, and if I say that Superboy is the pick of them, you’ll appreciate how dull it is.
There was a landmark story in issue 210, with the initially temporary appearance of Krypto, the Superdog, nearly giving Clark Kent’s other identity away again to guess who? This was the only story for that issue, whereas next time we only had the Aquaman so I can’t say whether it was that or its absent predecessor where Aquaman switched from yellow gauntlets to the green ones we know so well. Either way, he was back to yellow for issue 212, that is, when he was coloured at all in a bizarre approach that saw him monocoloured pale blue in the majority of panels. Nobody seemed to be able to make up their mind as green and yellow alternated. Meanwhile, Krypto returned in issue 214 to prove that stories of the Superdog were likely to be pretty stupid.

A typical Aquaman plot

The Superboy story in issue 216 had the Lad of Steel meeting Superman without time travel, but its twist was that the adult version was really archaeologist Professor Olsen. Rescuing him endeared Superboy to Olsen’s young son, Jimmy… And speaking of costume changes, Green Arrow started wearing a red cap as opposed to his usual green one in the occasional story.
Frustratingly, Superboy’s real parents, Jor-El and Lara turned up in issue 217, having escaped Krypton after all, preparing to take their son to their new off-world home. It’s a trick alright, from Superboy’s callous ignoring of the Kents to the con on death row who pieces together his identity as Clark Kent, even down to how the Els are only seen flying when Superboy is holding their arms, but this was a very rare two-part story and we only have Aquaman for issue 218.
One of the interesting aspects of reading Adventure during this period (it’s more fun than the two back-ups) are the in-house ads for DC titles of the In-Between Age. Lists and covers of all manner of titles unwanted and forgotten, a publishing era lost permanently. But the cusp of change is approaching. Issue 22 carries an ad for yet another new title, starring Fireman Farrell. He never set the world alight, and we know that the ad is full of lies when it describes the new comic as a response to all those reader letters requesting different subjects, requiring a new kind of comic to fit them all in. We know that the real reason was to try to control the losses, both in money and reputation, from the way nothing new was catching on. Fireman Farrell was the first subject, the star of Showcase 1. In six months time…
In fact, the Showcase ads are fascinating. No-one ever cares about the first three, overshadowed utterly by no 4. The second issue featured Kings of the Wild, three outdoor adventures. These adverts are a history lesson in themselves.
So they stop printing inhouse ads at all, and I don’t get to see 3, or 4, come to that. Has nobody any sense of responsibility to future generations?
Meanwhile, the Aquaman and Green Arrow strips are growing dumber. Aquaman no longer has to pursue pirates, not when his time can be taken up with nonsensical ‘stories’ about how he schools his finny friends to obey his instructions or how he apparently turns into an egomaniac except it’s all a secret scheme, whilst the Battling Bowmen go trading places with other archers or else emulate their own trading cards. Truly this was an age of inanity.
Superboy’s own series continued to be both silly and sententious, but the occasional nice moment came along. Taking advantage of the fact that a leaking special gas would give everybody amnesia for an hour, the Boy of Steel decided to reveal he was really Clark Kent to test if a secret identity was more of a burden than a benefit which, this being DC Comics in 1957 it self-evidently was a benefit. But there was a touching moment when Lana, the teenage pest so set on proving Clark and Superboy were one and the same, began to cry at the proof – because Clark was a dear friend and she would never see him again.
I had a surprise in issue 239, which saw Krypto’s return, for I had read this story before, a very long time ago. Not in Adventure but in a British Superboy hardback annual, reprinting this in black and white. The first in well over a hundred Superboy stories that I had previously seen.
And harking back to Lana’s genuine distress at the thought of losing her dear friend Clark, how does the Boy of Steel repay her in issue 240? By becoming as big a Superdick as his adult self and humiliating her in front of all of Smallville to conceal his secret identity. What did I say about this stuff making you want to barf?
Obviously Lana got over it by the next issue, in which Green Arrow and Speedy were joined by Queen Arrow, aka Diana Dare (any relation to Dan?), who temporarily hypnotised herself into acting out her deepest desire, namely to be told by her heroes that what they do is too dangerous for a girl. Once he joined the Justice League, did Ollie ever try that line on Wonder Woman?

Some superheroes, huh?

Issue 243 is the last complete comic for this section, the next three issues represented by one story only, two of them the simultaneously tedious and ridiculous Aquaman. The last of these is cover-dated March 1958, making its actual publication most likely January of that year. Two issues of Showcase thus far have featured The new Flash. Two more would appear this year. The Silver Age was cranking up for the off. The next issue of Adventure would see a change that I’ll explore in the third essay in this series.

A Portsmouth Expedition: Day 3


This is going to be the least interesting of the three posts about my expedition to Portsmouth, because it’s about the coming away again, and that is never inspiring.

There couldn’t be much more of a contrast between yesterday and today. I really did fll on my feet for that one, because when I raise the blind, everything is grey: dry, cold but enwrapped in a light mist, several points short of a fog, with vision limited to about a hundred yards.

Technically, I should be getting down to Portsmouth Harbour Station for 9.45am, but when I’m less that ten minutes walk from Fratton Station, two stops nearer, why should I? The twitchiness returns, especially as I am boarding the train at the wrong station, and besides, I prefer to do my waiting in the cold of Platform 1 rather than the comfort of my room.

So farewell the Ibis Budget Hotel, which was simple, neat and clean and ideal for my short break. I rattle my suitcase along, over the bridge and into the Sttion where no-one gives a toss about my ticket. I’ve nearly an hour to wait here, so I inculcate patience and a blank mind upon myself.

Trains tick away, each one moving my service nearer to the top of the teleboard. I finished the penultimate chapter of my current novel last night and I have a complex last chapter to write, of which I wrote three paragraphs before going to bed, and I am trying to avoid serious thought until I’m somewhere where I can write at length. But a structure is evolving in my head, no matter how much I try to keep to the business at hand.

The last train before mine is for Southampton Central. As it eases in, I estimate there are fewer people on it already than are waiting to board at Fratton. Guess it must be true what they say about the rivalry, eh?

At last, my train approaches. I board, select a quiet little space and lever my suitcase awkwardly onto the rack. I then board my headphones and resumewhere I left off with Jerusalem. We’re a long way past Petersfield before I look up and realise that we’ve outrun the southern mist, and that the sun is now beaming down and crowding it into small, feeble pockets.

In fact, by the time we reach Woking, the last stop before Waterloo, it’s a really nice day again, the sun warmer in its light than yesterday on the water. It’s too nice a day for long train journeys now, especially ones with no better purpose than coming back.

Truth to tell, I’ve spent most of the journey alternately immersed in Alan Moore’s mighty tome and developing the structure of this important chapter. Sometimes, I have lines to write down, brief paragraphs, things I don’t want to lose. The rest of it: all I need to know is what each movement is about, not the exact way it plays. This is what I mean about building a structure. As long as I know, and understand, the steps, I don’t need all of the words.

As we ease in sslowly through Clapham and Vauxhall, I pay a bit more attention to my surroundings. For a few moments we follow the line of the grey, churning Thames, four or five views between tower blocks. I catch sight of part of the London Eye. We pull in about ten minutes late.

That shouldn’t make a difference as my schedule allows me an hour here to get to Euston, so I don’t panic, even when the Northern Line ticket machine won’t accept my Bank Card. I have the cash, I get the ticket, I walk straight onto a Tube Train and I walk off it six stops later with nearly half an hour to spare.

When the Manchester Piccadilly train is called, my reservation in Coach B turns out to be a bloody long walk away. I get there only just in time to board and wrestle with the suitcase again before we’re moving off.

And it’s more of the same, reading, mp3, the occasional note, slotting words into place, for the next two hours.

I think that I can tell I’m heading North in this November of 2019 when the rain starts sluicing down some time after Milton Keynes Central. But I’m wrong about that, it’s a South Midlands belt that dires up before we reach Stoke-on-Trent. Rain streams aross my window, the theme from Department S across my ears: why do all the best theme musics come from the Sixties?

At last, I start filing my shoulderbag with all the things that have alleviated the boredom of travel, and I haul down the suitcase and get out at Stockport, where no-one shows the slightest interest in my ticket. That completes the set: no-one bothered at Euston or on the train. Outside, the wind is something fierce.

There’s a final spit in the eye from the weather, which starts to rain just as I get off the bus, and blows in my face all the way to the end, where I live. The first thing I do when I get in is stick the kettle on: I need a coffee. I also need to unpack my case, put everything away, and flop out.

Usually, when I take the week off for my birthday, Thursday is my day for heading up to the Lakes. This time, I chose something more ambitious, something I’m glad I did. Though none of this post is really about Portsmouth, I’m going to signal the end with a photo taken down there. Maybe I’ll go back, one day.

The Spinnaker Tower

Lou Grant: s03 e03 – Slammer


Jury Duty

Most of this week’s episode was set in and around a prison, which gave me pause for reasons I’ll explain momentarily. The set-up is that Rossi has been teaching a Journalism class and inveigles Lou into being a guest speaker: the class is in a Maximum Security Prison and the students have been convicted of a variety of crimes, up to and including murder.

The problem is that, being a Maximum Primetime Series, the programme couldn’t go anything near the reality of a prison, nor the truth of the things that can be done by and to the prisoners. It’s big move to establish the regime’s harshness was a boxing match, being watched on TVs by the inmates, who are really into it, excited, shouting, blowing off steam – until a cruel and saditic guard who was trying to read switched all the sets off before the end.

I m no expert on prisons and will never pretend to be. The episode took care to avoid anyone enjoying such a status, especially not the genuinely decent  and would-be liberal Governor. But early in my legal career, when my field included criminal work, I had occasion to visit Manchester’s infamous Strangeways Prison to interview a client. This meant going inside E Wing, the remand Wing. This was the part of the prison that held prisoners waiting Trial, in short, those who were not convicted and who were therefore innocent in the eyes of the Law. From the moment the doors slammed shut behind me, my skin crawled, and I tried to defuse my feelings with a ‘clever’ joke, telling the guard who was leading us to the interview room that I wouldn’t feel comfortable until I got out, or else I looked down there and saw Ronnie Barker cheating at dominoes. Defensive or what?

So the episode could not give us even a fraction of that atmosphere, nor did it make any attempt to, which undermined everything it was trying to achieve.

The prisoners were taking a Journalism class but had no paper to print their stories in. When Lou took it to the Governor, he got a paper but then had to restrain the convicts over their urge to print the truth about what goes on. Lou was drawing the disincion between the truth as what can be proven and the truth as what they knew was the truth, and which one could be printed, though the convicts went behind his back, tried to print their story alleging one of their fellow students had been murdered by a gang inside, caused a near-riot, a lockdown and withdrawal of their project.

Of curse, Lou then goes into bat for them, blurring the reality with some Defence Attorney style sophistry that persuaded the Governor to allow them another go, giving the episode the required happy ending annd liberal conciousnesses their sop.

How you react to an episode like this depend on your pre-judgements about criminals. It was made plain that this prison was not about rehabilitation but about punishment. The inmates’ ‘leader’, JD (Kene Holiday), was presented as passionate, articulate and frustrated at the lack of outlets for the truth, conscious of the State’s right to punish, but chafing at the small cruelties meant to make prisoners feel humiliated or dehumanised.

But the episode, in a neat reversal of the usual Rossie/Billie roles, covered its bases by having Billie interview JD’s victim, pointing out that the criminal can serve his time and go free, but the victim cannot.

There was a sub-plot, a B-story about Mrs Pynchon undertaking Jury Duty, leaving Charlie Hume in charge at the paper, that folded into the A-story at the very last, Lou’s final departure from the Prison crossing the arrival of the dude convicted by the proprietoress’s Jury. But overall, despite its good intentions, and despite its cautious determination not to make the prisoners into absolute heroes, the episode failed from the start because it could not be nasty, grimy or sufficiently frightening enough to anyone with even the most peripheral experience.

A Portsmouth Expedition: Day 2


HMS Warrior

I wake up in Portsmouth, after a soothing, warm night’s sleep, to a sky that couldn’t be bettered if I could afford to order it from the most exclusive Harrods catalogue. It’s a  clear blue, with trace amounts of cloud around the edges, and that sharpness of sight that only comes in the cold. If I were in the Lakes, I’d be looking to get up Scafell Pike and strain my eyes for the Irish mountains.

But I’m not in Cumbria, I’m in Hampshire, where breakfast is a continental affair of fresh crusty baguettes, ham, soft cheese and orange juice, and there’s a bus stop round the corner to take me to the Harbour in fifteen minutes. The route number is 1: I’m 64 years and two days old and this is the first time I’ve ridden on a number 1 bus.

It’s a single decker which means that from my lowly position I don’t get to see much, and what I can see is mostly meaningless to me, even when we’re going through the City Centre. Later, maybe. At least I know how to get back, not to mention how close Fratton Station is for tomorrow morning.

I get off the bus under the shadow of the Spinnaker Tower, which defintely wasn’t here in Dad’s day and would have scared the seagulls if it was. Near at hand is HMS Warrior, the Navy’s first steel-plated ship according to its plaque, and it is the subject of the first photo I take with a camera loaned to me by my mate Andy after my own digital compact packed up on me.

The entrance to the Dockard is near at hand. After I’ve had my bag searched – Alan Moore doesn’t appear to be contraband, though the Counter-Terrorism Status – Heightened signs are prominent – I’m free to wander the public areas as I will, though some attractions, such as HMS Warrior, or the mock-up of HMS Victory – yes, that Victory – cost an additional fee to board and explore, the latter in guided tour parties only.

HMS Victory
And again

I’ve paid for two Attractions and the most importnt one is at hand, the Harbour Tour. First trip is 12.00, which is the best part of two hours away, so I take a leisurely stroll along old buildings that have manifestly not changed since my Dad was here, inspect the Victory from outside (without, sadly, feeling the least breath of History) and step into the Royal Navy National Museum.

Strangely, or perhaps not strangely at all, I find I cannot take ny interest in any modern history, that is, anything post 1949. It strikes me that what is missing is one man I came here hoping to see in some sense. I would give the world to have him here beside me, to see these souvenirs and relics through his eyes, to have him lead me around, making everything come alive for a boy who wishes to be ten years old again. You can never have the things you want most.

I come outside and stroll back towards the Harbour Tours wharf. It’s still more than early, but this is me, hey? I buy a Diet Coke from Costa Coffee and sit myself on a three-stone bench that’s like a shortarse trilithon from Stonehenge to drink it and draft some of this piece. I’m under the sun, unexpectedly warm for mid-November, and the tide is washing in, a constant surge that’s a backdrop to my thoughts. Near at hand are buildings my Dad must have known, yet the wider sky-line screams of the modern age. I find the past invisible.

Old buildings in the Dockyard

That is until I board the Solent Cat. There’s a closed saloon below, with hot and cold drinks available, and an open deck above, and I am up those steps to where the real views will be available. And this is where I start to feel something more. I’m on the water, and this is where I will find that link.

And that’s before we back out of the wharf and into the Harbour proper, and I can see the sheer expaanse of it, from the prominent harbour mouth close by on our left, backed by a low skyline of green hills and wooded slopes that I surmise (correctly) is the Isle of Wight, to the immense spread to our right.

We turn in that direction, leisurely following the east shore, the Naval side, diverting around a Police Boat with flashing blue lights that’s supervising divers. There are yards and wharfs and steel-coloured destroyers, with docks and bays beyond, identified by a commentary from the nearby cabin. It should be cold up here, on the water, and yes I’m got a thick maroon pullover on under a big coat, but I feel no cold.

The Naval Side

I’m not usually good on water. On the last day of our honeymoon on Madeira, my wife and I went on a Dolphin Watch cruise off the south of the island, in the more placid waters below Funchal. As soon as I sat down, I grabbed hold of a thick coil of rope and would not let it go the whole time we were on the ocean. I didn’t relinquish my life-line until we were once again docked at the Marina, at which point my sympathetic wife said that she wasn’t going to say this whilst we were sailing but she didn’tthink the rope was attached to anything. To which I replied, “I didn’t think it was either but I damned well wasn’t going to check!”

Portsmouth Harbour’s a long stretch from the Atlantic Ocean but today I’m my father’s son, without the slightest concern for what we’re floating upon, up the Naval side and back down the Commercial side, the Gosport shore, and I am taking photograph after photograph.

A forest of masts – Gosport

Is this why he joined the Navy? To be on the water? How much was he influenced by Uncle Arthur, who served in the Navy in the War, in the South China Seas? Could he choose that freely? Questions coming too late to be answered, but in a way my pilgrimage has fulfilled some of its purpose. I will not be frightened on the water again.

As we turn to cross the Harbour entrance, and again as we lie ‘at anchor’ at Gunwharf Quay, there’s a gentle swell rocking the boat evenly.Though the cloud has the sky more or less surrounded by now, there’s a broad shaft of sun beaming down on me, and I’d be content to sit here the rest of the afternoon, on the edge of this vast, circumscribed expanse.

Gunwharf Quay

The last lap to the Dockyard Quay is just a crossing from one side of the Spinnaker Tower to the other. After that, there’s nothing more the Dockyard can do for me so I stroll out in search of somewhere quiet and convenient for a spot of lunch. The Ship Anson qualifies on the first two counts but its food is a bit on the pricey side, given its setting, so I take my time over a pint and a bit more of Jerusalem (I have outrun what I managed before by now).

The signpost tells me it’s only three-quarters of a mile to the City Centre and I’ve got the afternoon to play with, so I walk it. It seems I wasn’t as unobservant as I thought on the bus as I remember shopfronts and the splendid gates of the HMS Nelson, but the Centre was a bit disappointing. I definitely fancied a bit of Pizza Hut so strolled round looking for the familiar frontage, without any luck. Another KFC, a Burger King, yes. Also a Waterstones, and I never pass those. For a mad moment, I considered buying a book they had, a souvenir of my visit, but I couldn’t find a price on it anywhere, and when that happens, you know that the price is Too Fucking Expensive.

The need for food was now getting important. I enquired of a nearby newsseller who told me there is no Pizza Hut in the centre now, since it’s dead there after 5.00pm, except over Xmas, they only do online deliveries now. He points me to Debenhams restaurant where they do hot food, except not after 2.30pm, so I say a loud internal “Soddit!” and spring for a double burger with onions from a well set-up cart: pretty bloody good too.

So. I’ve got a lot of writing to do, and nightfall’s visible down the other end of the block so I grab a bus back and get off at the Pompey Centre. I know I’m in the vicinity of Fratton Park, Portsmouth FC’s ground, but it’s not until I walk up to the Tesco Centre, for sandwiches for tea, that I realise, in daylight, the ground’s right behind it!

It all makes for a long evening but this is not the only piece of writing I shall be working on tonight, and an early bed is on the cards. The photos attached to this piece are all my own work (if not my camera!).

An attractive fellow watergoer – and where they unload the weapons

The Man Who Wrote Lafferties: Archipelago


According to Continued on Last Rock, Archipelago was R.A. Lafferty’s first completed novel. I did not learn of its existence until about 1980/81 when I discovered a sealed hardback copy of it in a Manchester City Centre Second Hand Shop (still there to this day). It was £20.00 in an era when hardback novels weren’t yet £10.00.
The book was published by Manuscript Press, and the back page blurb explained that it was no 2. (of 2.) in a series of Unpublished Manuscripts.
My first surprise, and revelation, was a list of other works vaster than any I’d seen for Lafferty before. This was the book that listed Where Have You Been, Sandaliotos? and The Three Armageddons of Enniscorthy Sweeny as novels. It listed no less than fifteen unpublished novels (including one not named or yet written that, alas, I believe never achieved either state), amongst which list five would in later years appear.
And it told me that The Devil is Dead, which I’d read years before and always believed was a standalone novel, was instead part of a trilogy, and the middle part too, and Archipelago (which does explain certain otherwise confusing references in the original work) was the first book. The third book, though never released under its true title, later formed a sixth book to appear.
Archipelago is on the surface a mainstream novel. It begins in the South Pacific, at the end of the Second World War, with a group of five American soldiers winding down until being shipped back to civilian life. There are five of them, friends from before the War. Each come from different ethnic backgrounds, one Irish, one French, one Polish, one Dutch and one Italian, who is also Irish, because he is living two different lives in different recensions. There is also a sixth man, Jewish of name though not necessarily of religion or ethnicity. The five are known as the Dirty Five, but they are also something more, and their duties and trials in the world that follows are matters of legend and immortal peril, for they are Argonauts, Jason and others, and their duty is to save the World.
This is the beginning of the Episodes of the Argo mythos, one of three inter-connected strands that run all through Lafferty’s fiction that in later years he considered to all be part of an unfinished novel entitled ‘A Ghost Story’. Finnegan in particular, or John Solli, artist, as he is in one version of his life, roams the world, a famous drinker (as was Lafferty in his own life).
The Argo is both the world, and the Church, Church here being the Roman Catholic Church, that Lafferty regarded as the binding institution of the world, its teachings the bedrock from which all that is supposedly liberal and progressive is but a Devil’s diversion, worse still than Communism.
Needless to say, these are beliefs that I cannot and do not share. All of Lafferty’s thinking is in complete opposition to the basic tenets of my socio-political beliefs. Yet I still love his writings, and collect his works avidly.
Archipelago begins with its own creation myth, two men in a bar in the morning in a southern town. That is always how the world begins, according to Lafferty, and who would contradict him? The two men are Finnegan, who we already know and who is also John Solli, and Vincent Stranahan. Both men are Sergeants in the US Army, in the Pacific, and are currently on leave in Australia. Four of the Dirty Five are there, Hans, or John Schulz, who casually wins a drinking contest with a famed Australian Sergeant, one of the heroic labours of the Argonauts, and Casey, Kasimir Szymanski, who is the odd man out in the Dirty Five.
There are the Fivers, there are the Australian soldiers, Freddy Castle and Tom Shire, there are red-headed girls like Loy Larkin and Margaret Murphy, but this is only a context for Finnegan, the first man in the world, who is Jason, and Vincent, the least-outstanding member of his family and yet is Meleager, to appear before our eyes. Then there is the return to the islands, where Henry Salvatore, the Fat Frenchman, a mean Cajun who is Euphemus, and who will stand for ordination as a Priest after the War, has been standing for all.
Originally, I understand that Archipelago was a much longer book, in excess of 300,000 words, including long sections upon the War that is its initial background, all of which is cut out, and that it was rewritten three times. There is a chapter during which the American forces head towards Japan, that concentrates more upon the soldiers off duty, and which introduces Absolom Stein, who is also Hugo Stone and who is also Red in the same way that everyone else is of the Church.
The War itself ends quietly, a long way away, and the Dirty Five go home, all except for one, unnamed but not unidentifiable, who goes into Limbo in a medical ward because he cannot remember who he is. He will remember after several weeks, and go back into the world, as do all those with him, who are sane and stable except on the odd one or two points, such as Private Gregory, who is the same as Papa Diabolus, in his purple-headed glory, and who lives forever.
But it is not until Chapter 4 that everyone gathers together and the book reaches its more-or-less climax, long before halfway. For Vincent Stranahan is to be married to the little urchin, Theresa ‘Showboat’ Piccone, and everyone is in town, which is St Louis. There are the rest of the Dirty Five, including Hans, who is Orpheus, and his bride Marie Monohan, Casey, who is Peleus, with his girl Mary Catherine. There is the patriarch, Melchisedech Duffey, there is Dorothy ‘Dotty’ Yekouris, the Beautiful Barmaid, who is Finnegan’s girl, but their meeting is an ending, Mary Virginia, who would have been Henry’s girl, and more.
This is Vincent and Theresa’s wedding, but it is also Finnegan and Showboat’s first meeting, one that both have dreaded, knowing as they do that their relationship is special. Indeed, they will marry and live together twelve years, and have three children but this not in an world recognisable by what is known of either’s life, not even Finnegan, who lives many lives all at the same time and not one after another.
Of the marriage and the meeting comes the Bark, or Barque, in opposition to the Crock. The Crock is Casey’s paper, printed and distributed to a small but vitally influential audience of 25,000. Duffey used to work with Casey on the Crock, but he has been ousted and replaced by new backers for Casey, the weak link, the proto-pinko. Duffey, with Dotty’s practical experience and a board of editors drawn from the Dirty Five and their girls (Finnegan in absentio, wandering, drinking, on the biggest and most permanent tear, including the period of The Devil is Dead) sets up the Bark, to save the Church for loss, to speak to that same 25,000.
In a sense, the story ends there. This whole story is being told against the background of the post-War period, the late Forties into the early Fifties, the Red Menace, the Communist threat. Lafferty doesn’t make overt reference to the times, relying on his audience’s memories and knowledge for true understanding.
There is no ending, not to this story. There are no endings. Lafferty explores extensively the Dirty Five, one by one, drawing upon their pasts to light their presents, placing each of them in their mythical personae, even when, as with Henry, they are barely present in their own story. In one sense, the book is a ghost story,each person split, most obviously in the case of Casey and Stein, who are rather halves of a whole than persons by themselves.
The book covers a wide area of study, not all of it directly relevant to this introduction of the Argo mythos, but all of it involved. For an ending, Lafferty draws upon The Devil is Dead, and the death of Finnegan, caught in cross-fire between Niccolo Croutos, the left-footed killer, and Dotty, defending him. Eight, nine shots, and nobody’s missed yet. And a brief statement that all stories are improved by destroying their first and last scrolls. The world began on a morning and ends on an afternoon. There are no endings.
There are many ways of reading Archipelago, and none of them conventionally. It is not a novel in the sense of a story. It is in some part a primer, for things to be written. It is in its way an off-angle picture of a time that even when it was first published was a history. It begins in War Physical and concerns itself with War Spiritual. It is funny and it is melancholy, staunch in support of its cause, faithful in its belief in its necessity, yet recognising the precariousness of its position. In shape, in style, in tone and texture, it has nothing to do with The Devil is Dead yet more than Finnegan, the wanderer, the Teras, connects these two books, because they are two faces of a coin with more faces than two.
It would be close to twenty years before I would read the final part of the Trilogy.

A Portsmouth Expedition: Day 1


Portsmouth Harbour

I’m off on another Expedition, a longer one than any before, for I’ll be away three days and two nights and blogging each day’s experience. This Expedition is to a place I’ve never been before, in a County that’s one of the handful remaining that I’ve never visited before, and it’s less a break at an odd time of year for holidays than a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage wiithout religious significance, save only in my own head. I am going to Portsmouth, to HM Naval Dockyards. Seventy years ago, my father completed his post-War National Service, stationed here. As some of you already know, he died before my fifteenth birthday, after a long illness, before I could sitand talk to him about experiences I would never share, even vicariously. I am here to see what he saw, or what is left of it seventy years on. I am here to try to capture even a tiny fragment of what was taken way.

Most of today’s episode is going to be about travelling, and that means paranoia. I have now defined myself as a twitchy traveller. It comes from the independence and control I enjoyed as a car driver, until ten years ago, and from my experiences with the decaying public transport of this country. When you have to rely on the 203 to get to Stockport Rail Station, you set out early, which is how I ended up composing the first draft of this on Platform 2, a half hour before the London Euston train is due.

Counting the 203, this journey had five legs. I don’t get to relax this early. But the 11.43 is on time and, at risk of spoiling the dramatic tension, the whole journey goes off without a hitch.

The only thing resembling one is that  I’m supposed to have a reserved seat in Coach F, the exact midpoint of the train, only it’s not reserved. It’s still free, mind you, but then so are nearly fifty percent of Coach F’s seats, so hardly had we set off but I transferred myself to a table-seat, though this meant the suitcase I’d struggled to lift into the luggage compartment opposite ‘my’ seat, was left a way down the coach. Twitch.

I’ve done this journey mny times, but never quite this lte in the morning, which I suppose explains the empty seats. Usually, London is a visit, back in a day, but this time it’s a way-station. So I don’t bother with the scenery, which is damp and dull under expectant clouds.

Having finally completed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I need another massive book to read on railways rides, and I have the perfect replcement in Alan Moore’s Jerusalem, a 1,000 page hardback. This was a Xmas gift to myself back in 2016, but I only got about 200 pages through it then. Having no other reading material on me, I anticipate serious headway this time.

Between the music and the reading, the journey goes well. The next twitch starts on coming into Euston, five minutes late. I have forty-five minutes to get to London Waterloo, which is six stops on the Northern Line, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Can’t keep the boy from worrying but I’m at Waterloo with fifteen minutes to spare, which is positively last minute for me, panicking because I can’t see the teleboard to learn which platform I need, and then I can’t find the entrance which, in keeping with the pantomime I’m descending into is, yes, behind me. Platform 13. Good job I’m notsuperstitious.

I’m now in new country, South of the River for maybe only the third or fourth time in my life. I’ve only ever been to the South Coast once before, to Worthing, to deliver a letter.

But this is flat country. First there are London streets and skyline cranes, then nondescript hedges and fields that are not made any more appealing by the slowly fading light. There are no heights to look up to in wonder, looking for routes to ascend, not any to be crossed, providing no vistas to look across and upon. Everything is of a level.

We pass through Woking, Guildford, Godalming and lessr places. A gaggle of schoolchildren get on at Petersfield, including one tall, long-haired blonde with an appealing face who looked like it wouldn’t take much effort to make herself look sixteen, though she might be pushing it for eighteen. They depart at Fratton, which puzzled me slightly given Portsmouth FC play at Fratton Park. But the last few stations are thick and fast and, almost bang on time, I debouch at Portsmouth Harbour.

Crossing the bridge above the platforms, I see the first sign of ships, masts and riggings, and I emerge from the sttion overlooking a prt of the Harbour and queues for the Gosport Ferry to the Isle of Wight. Under my breath, I speak to someone who is not there: “I’m here, Dad. Took a long time, but I’m here.”

The entrance to the Dockyards is only a few minutes walk away. I head there to buy a two-attractions ticket for tomorrow but I cn’t bring my suitcase through the gate: security, it might contain a bomb (it doesn’t). I was allowed to leave it in charge of a helpful lady whilst I nipped inside for tickets.

I’m staying at the Ibis Budget Hotel on Fratton Way. The hotel sent me directions on how to get there, but after pretty near five hours of train travel, not to mention lugging a suitcase around with my laptop in it (as well as a shoulder bag with a 1,000 page hardback in it), I bottle out and get a taxi. Long before I get to the Hotel, I’m bloody glad I didn’t try walking. And along the way, I discover I’m only about five minutes walk from Fratton Station, so I know what I’m going to do on Thursday morning.

When I arrive, I get a choice of rooms on three floors. The Ground is good enough for my arthritic knee and hip and it’s real close to Reception. It’s a  triple room, which means it could  have slept three: someone to share the double with me and a voyeuristic third sleeping cross-wise in a bunk-bed single (or maybe sneaking down to join us if she’s a she… first night away from home in nearly two years and I’m already having erotic fantasies).

There isn’t a Pizza Hut within easy walking distance of the Hotel, but there’s a KFC opposite (there’s a MacDonalds too, but I’m talking food here) so that’s tonight’s evening meal sewn up.

I’m here. There are no photos to post because the light was bloody miserable by the time I got to the Harbour. But tomorrow’s the big day, and I hope it’ll do me a favour and be drive. This is where my Dad served his country, and I’m damned glad he never got to see what his country has become. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll catch a sight of a spectre, a face I’ve not seen in nearly fifty years. It’s what I’m here for.

Person of Interest: s03 e04 – Reasonable Doubt


Is she or isn’t she?

I’m a little of two minds about this latest episode of Person of Interest, and not simply for what it did not do. What it did do it did very well, yet in its desire to show us a Number that hovered on the edge of being Victim or Perpetrator until almost the very end (a very skilful performance by Kathleen Rose Perkins), the episode left a few of its convolutions unanswered in the rush to be clever.

What it didn’t do was more than play lip service to only one of this season’s ongoing concerns. Much as I enjoyed the episode, it was still a bubble, with nothing to do with the larger part of season 3. It’s the same scenario as the early part of season 2, post resolution of Finch’s kidnapping: revert to the procedural to begin with.

So, nothing of the menace of Root, who escaped confinement last week, to Finch’s consternation, but who is wholly absent. Nothing of the mysterious organisation fighting back against surveillance, introduced in episode 2. And of Officer Carter, once Detective Carter and still referred to as such by Finch, only the briefest of updates, as we but not she learn that her rookie partner, Laskey, is part of HR.

What we got was Vanessa Watkins, our Number, a tough, aggressive, very effective Prosecutor, married to Jeremy Watkins (Daniel Cosgrove), an equally brilliant Defence Attorney who gets the worst kind of defendants acquitted on technicalities (it’s always technicalities in these stories, and the lawyer is always a sleazebag on some level, that or a crusader on behalf of poor people, usually having dragged themselves up by their bootheels: as a former lawyer, I should be used to how my former profession is depicted by now).

But Jeremy’s dead, fallen from the Watkins’ boat in Long Island Sound, panicked message radioed by Vanessa. Except that she gets arrested for murdering him, by an obsessed Detective Cameron (Paul Ben-Victor, formerly of The Wire), who’s determined to get Vanessa to the point that, when she escapes the Station in typically inventive fashion, that he’s willing to have her shot on sight, despite the fact that the ‘murder’, if it is murder, was purely personal, and she isn’t armed in any way. Cameron wants revenge for a courtroom humiliation, but this?

And Vanessa’s first act of freedom is to procure a brick of cocaine from a drugslord she a) put away and b) helped get released, who gives her the drugs for free and hugs her. What the hell is that all about? Answer, it’s all about puzzling the audience, blurring the decisive question of which one Vanessa is, Victim or Perpetrator. The scene has no logic except in that respect, it’s a surprisingly lazy contrivance unbacked by rationality.

Indeed, that’s the problem. Vanessa, as we might have expected, is not either/or but both. The whole set up is a scam, set up between the Watkins, to escape debt to a mobster (a convenient McGuffin, again without any consideration of how Jeremy has run up such debt), fake Jeremy’s death and run away under new identities to be filthy rich). Except that Jeremy’s screwing Vanessa’s lifelong best friend Nicole and double-crossed Vanessa to run off with Nicole.

It ends up on the yacht. Jeremy has emerged from hiding, expecting his blonde shag, only to be confronted by his lawfully wedded and a gun. He claims the marriage to be a contract, presumably on the basis that it was there to be broken by both parties (Vanessa herself has had an affair, as represented by a text exchange about missing items of intimate wear found under a fridge – it’s always the fridge), but she loves him, genuinely loves him (without the episode once giving us any reason to suspect that’s true: Ms Perkins is just too damned good at slipping away from any conclusion about Vanessa).

Enter Mr Reese. Rather than intervene in this scenario, he leaves another gun within easy grabbing reach of Jeremy, defines his role as stopping bad things happening before stating that he’s not sure this qualifies, and walks off, pausing only to unmoor the yacht, which floats out into the basin, and not react to the sound of two gunshots coming from that direction: fade to black.

I’ve made it sound as if this was a bad episode, and that I didn’t like it. On the contrary, I was held by it throughout, especially thanks to Perkins’ performance as Vanessa: an attractive woman, hard-shelled, with a face that was strong rather than beautiful, emphasised by unfussy short hair that left it unconcealed. When Vanessa was finally confirmed as Victim, I saw it coming, not from the performance but from the fact this was Person of Interest, twists a speciality, but I couldn’t get out of my head the lack of foundation for the convenient acquisition of cocaine, and from there the show’s eagerness to skate over improbabilities for the sake of the outcome mant that it unravelled more than somewhat afterwards.

Still, a lot of merit, especially for Kathleen Rose Perkins, and some sidebar humour – Bear pretending to be sick in order to protect a Vet, the look Ms Shaw gives Reese when Bear goes to him instead of her, her seizing of a paperknife when faced with an ultra-slow Bank Manager making mistakes logging into a computer, Fusco’s preventative hand grabbing it off her – was fun. I just wish the writing hadn’t got carried away with itself in confusing the audience, to the point where it did confuse one member of that audience.