Person of Interest: s05 e05 – ShotSeeker

How many more ways can you describe an episode of Person of Interest as being brilliant?

We’re already nearly halfway through the season, nearly halfway to the ultimate fallout. It seemed strange that with so little time left the programme should still be concerning itself with a Number of the Week that seemed to be detached from everything. But sound specialist Ethan Garvin (Will Manning) was far from detached from our primary concern, and before the day was out we were even more deeply entangled, and for those who have been here before there was a large thread of irony, woven scarlet. I’ll refer to it but I won’t spoil it.

So, Garvin. Garvin works for ShotSeeker, a private company running a surveillance programme used by NYPD. Aural transmitters cover the city, looking for gunfire, seiving out the false positives: firecrackers, car backfires etc. Garvin has remarkably sharp ears, was born that way. He is the resident genius on determining what is what, better even than the software. With which he is at odds over Krupa Naik.

ShotSeeker says that it was firecrackers that went off in Ms Naik’s apartment at 2.00am, Garvin says it was gunshots. Krupa is missing. It’s personal to Garvin because, even though he didn’t like her, they were at school together. She’s not just a name. But Garvin’s going to get himself killed if he pursues this one. Why? Because, in Greer’s words from the newly-mixed opening monologue, he’s standing in the way.

There are two other stories going on. These are not B and C stories, they are integral to the developing narrative. Bruce Moran, Carl Elias’s accountant and business manager and the sole remaining Musketeer of the three friends, has come up from underground, threatening Fusco’s kid. He wants answers, the truth, about what happened when Elias and Dominick were assassinated. and he wants revenge.

Mr Reese steps in to shut down the threat but Mr Moran is adamant. He intervenes to take control of Reese’s person, extracting him from the pursuit of Krupa Naik’s fate, causing the loyal Fusco to call out an APB and full NYPD response to the disappearance of one of their own.

And there’s dissension and trial going on down in the subway. Finch has run the rogue programme from the Samaritan coding, in a Faraday Cage. He is keeping Root out of things. He has set up a miniature Machine in a second laptop, baby AIs at play. All to pit the two against each other, for the Machine to find the flaw in Samaritan that can be exploited in the real world to destroy it.

What everyone is after in the case of Krupa Naik is a formula, a code for freeze-drying food to preserve it for starving people for two extra years. She offered it to a non-profit global charity, refusing a fabulous sale to a big company, Harvesta (think Monsanto). At the same time those shots were fired in Krupa’s apartment, the file was hacked by Harvesta’s ruthless and self-entitled CEO. Everything begins to merge.

Krupa’s colleague and friend, Mary Mulhall (Julie Cavaliere) has a hard drive, for which she is attacked and killed. Root goes to Mary’s apartment where she finds the hard drive. She also finds the creepy Jeff Blackwell (Josh Close) ransacking the place. The two satnd-off, face to face, Root with a un, Blackwell with what looks like some kind of fencing sword. Root gets away. She and Finch have Krupa’s programme.

But everything, everything, except Bruce, is a Samaritan operation. The hacking, the encryption, the false trail to Harvesta. For some reason, Samaritan does not want Krupa’s code to be released. Over Finch’s concerns as to what problems it might cause, he and Root send it out. Garvin ceases to be a threat, his life is secured.

But Detective Fusco might now be targetted as a Disruptive. Fusco isn’t being told everything, he never has been. For all his faithfulness and loyalty, he remains on the outside, untrusted. No-one has found the answer aout Krupa Naik. She’s still a Missing Person. Homicides are down but suicides are up. So too are Missing Persons. Fusco is a cop. Something is going on. He’s going to get to the bottom of it.

And John Reese tells Bruce Moran the truth, or rather shows him. Giancarlo Esposito’s name was excluded from the credits to preserve the surprise but Carl Elias is still alive, rescued from the shooting by Fusco, Finch and Reese, slowly recovering and kept hidden in the Safe House. Elias knows enough now to know his time, the time of the men like himself, Anthony and Bruce, is over. They have an enemy that cannot be defeated: go back underground and stay there until you die, he counsels Bruce, meaning it. But Bruce won’t listen. He knows Carl is alive, but he will still seek revenge on their enemies, even if Samaritan can’t be beaten.

Can’t be beaten? The Machine is searching for away to beat Samaritan, locked in their playground fight. Root wants to change the Machine’s coding, teach it how to push back but Finch demurs. But the Machine has fought over ten billion simulations. And lost every single one. Some wars cannot be won. This is one of them.

There are eight episodes left.

These are not good numbers

The Infinite Jukebox: The Clash’s ‘Janie Jones’

Just think what this could have sounded like if they’d let the album be properly produced?
According to the credits in Wikipedia, The Clash’s self-titled first album was produced by Micky Foote, who also engineered it. Somewhere, I read that the band were almost paranoidly suspicious in the studio, rejecting any suggestion by the professional staff as to approaching any song as an attempt to soften them, homogenise them, in short, turn them into anything but The Clash.
Mind you, a £4,000 budget to record the album over three weekends wouldn’t have gone far to experimenting with production techniques to enhance the sound and the power the band could summon up without robbing them of their essence. History celebrates this album for it’s rawness and tinniness, its unameliorated anger and its claustrophobia.
But bloody hell, if ‘Janie Jones’ sounds like this now, just think what it could have sounded like if they’d let it be produced properly?
The opening track of the album, this started off with a rumble, a stiff, awkward drum pattern setting up a shaky force (drummed by Topper Headon, the band’s soon-to-be permanent drummer) before Strummer cuts in with a rough-throated call of ‘He’s in love with rock’n’roll, woah!’ It’s less a chorus, up front, than a mantra (I hate hippies, man!). Because he’s in love with getting stoned, whoa, and he’s in love with Janie Jones, whoa (the then famous London brothel keeper), but he don’t like his boring job, no.
That’s Strummer alone, over that stuttering beat, with guitar slashes, but then the band come together and repeat that mantra entire, and their voices are perfect together and forceful, and they keep returning, as Strummer’s verses sketch an ordinary life that was, in 1977, the year of No Future, simultaneously desired and hated by working class kids. A boring job, a hated boss, worked only to raise the bread for food, his girlfriend and petrol for his Ford Cortina. Loathed by the ones stuck in it, the goal of the ones who longed for something that would put more in their pockets than they got from the dole (and I know that for I was one of them in 1977).
Strummer’s sneering vocals, the band’s unexpectedly harmonising chorus, the pace of the song, its anger and hatred for the world forced upon them, this was what gave the punks their momentum and their force, and The Clash were one of the most forceful of them all. Yeah, a polished production would have been the sell-out Strummer, Jones, Simenon, Chimes and Headon suspected and would have buried them from the beginning. But a production sympathetic to bringing out the band’s energy, to focussing that power into really battering its way through you?
What could ‘Janie Jones’ have sounded like if they’d let it be produced properly?

Film 2020: A Month in the Country

Of the various BBC Play for Todays and C4 films I’ve used to extend Film 2020 beyond its natural and impending end, A Month in the Country is the most genuinely film-like even as its concerns and its slow pastorality identify it as a television programme. It is a (mostly) faithful adaptation of J.L. Carr’s Booker Prize nominated novel, once reviewed here, with what we would now regard as a stellar cast, Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh and Natasha Richardson, but which was then young actors, talented, destined to rise but here effective novices. And the film is better for their inexperience, as each brings a freshness to their performance, unaffected by fame.

The story takes place over the summer of 1920, in and around the North Riding town of Oxgodsby, a rural community, a place of peace, stillness, eternity and solidity (ironically, most of the film’s outdoor scenes, which are beautiful, are filmed in Buckinghamshire). Birkin (Firth) is a picture restorer, hired by bequest to uncover and restore a long-covered mural in the Church. He is also a War veteran who, like many who survived, is tortured by his experiences, which present themselves physically as a facial tic and a pronounced stammer.

Another veteran, archaeologist James Moon (Branagh) is living in a bell-tent outside the graveyard, hired on bequest to discover the bones of Piers Hebron, an ancestor buried anonymously outside the graveyard for reasons unknown that will tie into Birkin’s assignment. Moon’s torments are less visible, though they run deep: he suffers agonising leg cramps, has dug a foxhole for himself to sleep in, for safety, and then there’s the nightmares.

Birkin’s task is opposed by the Vicar, the Reverend Keach (Patrick Malahide), who fears a superstitious distraction, correctly it is implied. He is cold and distant – Mallahide conveys this superbly, just by how he speaks, in clipped sentences that seem to trail off, as if Birkin is not worth speaking to. The Church offers Birkin nothing but his payment, in exact detail: Birkin sleeps on floorboards in the belfry.

It’s not very exciting as stories go but that is the whole point. Birkin and Moon are damaged men, ruined men, men who have undergone experiences unimaginable to the men who went before them. Moon is outwardly the more cheerful, self-composed. He’s slightly shy and hesitant in talking but he talks where Birkin listens. Both keep what they have gone through within themselves even with each other.

But in Oxgodsby, Moon is the outsider, keeping himself to himself. Both men are outsiders, Londoners in what might be expected to be the insularity of Yorkshire, but in contrast Birkin is drawn into the community. First by the Ellerbeck family, who are Chapel (Methodists), whose religion is more severe and challenging than Keach’s didactic refinement, but whose immediate warmth and willingness to provide Birkin with comforts is as natural and instinctive as can be imagined.

And Birkin is taken here, there and everywhere, experiencing all of the community. It’s far more noticeable in the film than the book, but Birkin is put upon at every turn, to do this and that: umpire the local cricket match, preach at the distant Chapel, visit the dying girl.

But it’s all part of this one summer. Birkin becomes part of Oxgodsby, however temporarily. He takes part, he is treated normally, and slowly the tics and the stammer diminish. Only diminish, not disappear.

There is another reason behind this and that is Alice Keach (Richardson). Alice is the Reverend’s wife, at least fifteen years younger, and a very beautiful young woman. Even Moon – who we will learn late on in the film, spent the last six months of the War in military prison, notwithstanding his Military Cross, for “buggering his batman” – recognises her as a stunner. And Richardson is truly lovely, clear-eyed, brown-haired, slightly rounded of face, shy of manner.

What she’s doing with Keach is inexplicable and unexplained. He’s not worth her, for all his intellectual piety, she deserves someone nearer her own age. Birkin, by virtue of who he is, is the ideal solution, but that would be to trash the story. Birkin is married, to an unfaithful wife who has run off with another man but whose letter asking to try again (again) will draw him back to London at the end. But in the end, he is too withheld to make a move, and she too doe-eyed female to initiate something that will breach all her vows. The affair never reaches a single touch.

In the centre is the mural. It’s a vast allegory, the Judgement, of men and women, angels and devils. Birkin does not believe in God but the subject, and the quality of the art (created specially for the film by Margaret Noyes) fascinates him. He is drawn to a falling figure in a corner, disfigured by a crescent scar, and to a rough area not done by the artist.

The answer is simple: the artist fell and was killed before the mural was complete. And when Moon discovers the stone coffin that contains Piers’ bones, the mysteries fuse. Piers Hebron was a Muslim convert, and the artist.

Stories like this have no real end. They are episodes in a life and thus merely phases. The end, in physicality, is moving on, Birkin back to his unfaithful wife, Moon to a dig in Baghdad. The Keach’s remain, as will the Ellerbacks, the Cloughs and Douthwaite. Emily Clough has tuberculosis: her death will follow. Perce Ellerback died in the War. Not even permanence was untouched or unchanged. We have lived through a summer that was an idyllic dream in a world where there is no longer any room for idylls: such ease will not last.

The film creates an atmosphere into which we sink, gratefully, so it’s such a crashing disappointment to see it blow it in the last few moments. In the book, Birkin never goes back. The film ends with Birkin walking away, across fields as dry and sunny as they were soaked and grey on his arrival. He looks back at the Church where an old man is approaching, carrying a book. The old man pauses and looks at him, before entering the Church. He is Birkin, seen across time, carrying the book in which Birkin pressed the rose Alice Keach gave him. The Church is a blaze of light in which he sees young Kathy Ellerbeck and her brother Edgar before the light suffuses everything and he walks into it and dissolves.

I shall fast forward thriough this bit next time I watch A Month in the Country.

That the film exists, and can be watched, is a matter of luck. It was neglected for decades before a random 35mm print was discovered, the same way old and wiped Dr Who episodes have been found, and the first DVD was withdrawn due to copyright issues. But, even after that nonsense at the end, I am very grateful to have the chance to watch this film, and film it is, ultimately. It deserves to be better known. It takes you there and shows you the surface, but it lets you see the writhing emotions everyone keeps hid, leaving just what they are to your imagination. And it shows you why Messrs Firth, Branagh and Richardson became stellar, when they were unspoiled.

Lou Grant: s05 e04 – Hometown

Bright light in a dark town

Though there was a low-key polemic to this episode, what mattered in this story was the personal story that came out in almost a rush near the end, as Lou, back in his hometown of Goshen, Michigan, to administer the affairs of his late Aunt, admits a sordid, indeed nasty detail of his past to someone he once hurt very badly.

‘Land o’Goshen!’ used to be one of those phrases people would utter as a substitute for even the mildest of swear words. Blimey, blinking heck, Heavens to Betsy. You don’t hear it now because people just say fuck, heedlessly, wherever they are. I had to look up the phrase to discover that Goshen is the area of Egypt where the Israelites were confned before their flight. It’s an appropriate name for the small town where he grew up.

At first sight, Goshen looks ldyllic, mid-western America, the little towns of wide streets and elegant wooden houses looking like they grow out of the land rather than are built upon it. But this is 1981. Towns like Goshen are dying by inches. Empty storefronts, the tomato cannery closed four years ago and, on the day Lou visits, intent on being in and out as fast as possible, the glass-bottling plant closes.

That brought back a memory, a self-catering holiday in the Lakes in 1991, in the Wicham Valley, Friday night and going into Millom for fish’n’chips, walking deserted streets at 6.30pm in an air of puzzlement at the lifeless atmosphere, the complete absence of anybody but ourselves, except in the chipshop we found. We later found that that was the afternoon the ironworks, Millom’s sole industry, closed.

That story, the dying town, the LA based business that closed a town’s industry because it wasn’t making enough profit and ‘only’ 250 jobs would be lost, interests the Trib, and Charlie assigns Lou to report it since he’s on the spot. The Union chapter, led by Paul Policzinski (Robert Prosky, pre-dating his run on Hill Street Blues) decide to try to buy the plant and set up themselves and, in a slightly implausible happy ending, the tight-fisted Banker on the City Council is the one who argues for Goshen to put its money where it’s mouth is and back the men. Not many people in 1981 were going out on limbs like that.

But that’s not where the story is heading. As soon as one of the town’s sons is known to be back, the town knows. Lou’s not nostalgic, not in the least. Given his way he’d have done everything from Goshen and not gone at all. Small town boy looking to obliterate his past? Unhappy childhood? Why is he so resistant to meeting his old girlfriend, Carol Kuzik (Georgeann Johnson) and so eager to escape her when he does meet her?

It takes a trip to the cemetery to break things down. Lou lays a spray of red roses on his aunt’s grave, but he’s bought three: his parent’s graves are nearby. And just across the way is the walled-off section that is the Catholic side of the cemetery, complete with a statue of Madonna and child.

Carol comes eagerly when called. Though she and Lou were old sweethearts, she never went inside his house. Lou talks about old things that wake him at 4.00am. Like why he left town without saying goodbye to Carol.

There was a reason. The sound of Carol’s voice as she asks if she’s finally going to find out. Lou tells her she was the first girl he ever seriously thought of marrying, conjuring up naive, unrealistic images as he walked ver to her house, then arriving and knowing he never could.

Prejudice. Bigotry. Carol was a Catholic girl. And she was Polack. She wore a scapular, though she took it off when they were preparing to kiss so they wouldn’t be struck by lightning. Lou’s parents would never have stood it. Though he doesn’t quite admit it directly, Lou was also affected by that bigotry. Marrying Carol was never possible, as was telling her why. So he ran off.

It isn’t nice. It’s hateful. And of course the woman Lou eventually married was Catholic. And Ukrainian. But the honesty at last, and Lou’s obvious and unforced disgust at himself, is a catharsis that allows the pair to regard the issue as settled after all this time. They’ll never see each other again, but now they never need to. Lives have travelled too far down separate routes that there is no way back to the divergence to begin again.

That makes three strong episodes, two of them personal, in four already in this final season. A very good average. Let’s keep this up.

A Time with Townsend: John Rowe Townsend’s ‘Hell’s Edge’

Hell’s Edge, John Rowe Townsend’s second novel, published in 1962, is a complete contrast to the later The Intruder. Though it is a realistic novel, set in a small, smoky, West Riding town among working class folk with their feet on the ground, it has the form of the traditional children’s adventure, with a ‘treasure’ to be found. More importantly though, for all the book is set in Those Satanic Mills, there is a sunniness and an optimism all the way through it that makes it joyful reading.
The book’s twin leads are Ril Terry (short for the exotic Amaryllis) and Norman Clough. They are chalk and cheese and meant to be and part of the fun in the book is of their accommodation to each other, fuelled by the flexibility of youth and, in Norman’s case, an increasing interest in his very distant cousin.
Hell’s Edge is the nickname throughout Yorkshire of the town of Hallersage, tucked into and across the mouth of a valley leading up to the moors. It’s an old town, a Yorkshire town with all that implies (especially to prejudiced Lancastrians!), full of dialect speaking Yorkshire folk, speaking their minds and dropping their aitches at every turn.
Norman, the only son of Fred and the voluble Florrie, is nearly sixteen. He’s brighter than he first looks and very much more than he lets himself be. The lad’s both a Yorkshire chauvinist and a reverse-snob, resentful and dismissive on principle of anyone even so slightly out of his class, there being an unbreakable barrier around his working class that no-one can pass in either direction. Enter Ril.
I’ve got to be honest, the Amaryllis bit has not worn at all well. The full name is unrepresentative, a touch of artificiality that’s out of place in the story, and the everyday Ril is an out-of-place name in a world where the most exotic name on offer is Celia.
Ril is, like Norman, fifteen. She comes from down south, from Belhampton, a smallish coastal resort under the shadow of the Downs. Her mother has passed away ten years previously and she’s been brought up by her father Robert, a gentle but relatively ineffectual man. She’s been educated at a Progressive School, namely one without rules where the students only study what interests them in a manner that suits them. Despite all that, Ril is turning out an intelligent girl.
Ril loves her life in Belhampton, her school, her friends, the town, the country around it. But her father, who is a Clough by distant cousinship, has taken a job as a Lecturer in Hallersage and he and Ril are moving there. Florrie is determined to welcome them as family, because family sticks together. Norman is determined not to like Ril in advance, having decided for her what she is and how little she has to do with him.
That’s alright, Ril has decided in advance, though not quite so dogmatically, that she doesn’t like Hallersage and Yorkshiremen.
The first part of the book is Ril and Norman breaking down the barriers between them, though Ril finds it a lot easier to adjust her responses, encouraged by the whole-heartedness with which everyone else welcomes her, and accepts her into Hallersage. It doesn’t hurt that there is a treasure to be found, and that Ril is determined to pursue this and Norman slowly comes round to supporting her whole-heartedly.
The thing about Hell’s Edge is that it’s cramped for space, public space. The Grammar School that both children attend has no playing fields either in its own grounds or within easy reach, requiring a long journey by tram (loved by Ril the romantic, regarded as outmoded by Norman the practical) across town. But there is a remedy, and that is connected to the History that Ril loves and Norman sees as useless. This is the Withens Estate.
The Withens are the local land-owning family, the Lords of the Manor, so to speak, landowners to about half of Hallersage, the half that’s not owned by Alderman Sam Thwaite, a great, bursting, buoyant, massive man who drops his aitches further than anyone else, but who’s the mainspring for anything that happens in the town. Long ago, in the era of Enclosures, the then Withens seized the common land used by the town and incorporated it into the estate. Protests arose, resulting in the Transporting of the ringleaders to Australia. One of these was Caradoc Clough. The Withens Estate is enclosed by a very firm wall.
The Estate chokes Hallersage. And the Withens, whose Latin motto is translated several different ways in the book, all of which come out as ‘This is mine, keep your hands off it’, won’t give anything up, won’t sell anything. But there’s a rumour, an old family story among the Cloughs, that not long before he died, Sir George Withens came to Caradoc Clough, regretful of his action in seizing the town’s land, and intent on doing something, albeit not by his Will, that would have been too simple, to redress the situation. What that is is anybody’s guess. But it’s Ril’s obsession. Old Great-Aunt Martha, granddaughter to Caradoc, a 98 year old living link to him and then, who sees in Ril her young sister returned, gives her the clue – ‘Not behind the Night Thoughts’. Ril is determined to find out the truth.
Seemingly, she has an advantage. The latest Withens, the last Withens, is a Governor of the Grammar School, as is Sam Thwaite. Her name is Celia and she’s a beautiful young blonde, under thirty. She’s also a bored young woman, constantly zipping off to the South of France, dissatisfied with life and, rather more sympathetically, a woman who has learned not to trust friends, because invariably they turn out to be friends because she’s rich, because they want something off her.
Discovering Ril and Norman sneaking into the Estate to swim, Celia’s interested enough to invite them to tea. Norman, the reverse snob, refuses, with typically Yorkshire speak-my-mind bluntness. i.e., he’s bloody rude about it. But his sometime boss, the shyster car dealer and repairer Roy Wentworth worms his way in by giving Ril a lift and being invited to stay for tea.
Ril likes Celia, who is simultaneously sophisticated and awkward, confessing her loneliness and her mistrust of those who seem to be friends. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Ril is after. After getting the clue, which will mean examining the Withens Library, she writes to Celia, asking to visit it and is naive enough not to work out why neither that letter not her two follow-ups get answers. Celia Withens has to spell it out to her.
This is where Norman comes into his own. He’s fully on his cousin’s side by now and he leads her to Withens in dark of night so that the two of them can break into the House and access the Library. In short, our two heroes turn burglar. But it’s all in a good cause.
The burglary is both a success, in that Ril retrieves a hidden envelope expressing Sir George’s wish for the enclosed land to be returned to the Town, and a complete shambles, with the burglars finding themselves being chased from pillar to post by Celia and her escort, the slimy hopeful Roy, and nearly causing massive disaster and death by bringing down the bell from the Bell Tower. Both do get away, but it’s all for nothing: the letter has no legal weight whatsoever.
Yet. Bring it to Sam Thwaite. Celia’s already keeping the exact events of the night and the Bell Tower’s collapse to herself, and the confident Sam’s confident that, with its contents to hand, and with the Estate’s solicitor, Thomas Cassell, understanding the implications, terms can be negotiated for the sale of the land to the Council, for a proper and fair price, no-one robbed on either side. The ending’s going to be happy. Until the exact moment Celia rebels.
Perhaps Roy is to blame, for having simultaneously offered his hand in marriage and, as a second option, inviting Celia to invest in his business. Celia’s had enough. No, she’s not going to give up the land, she’s leaving Hallersage for good, she won’t listen to reason because reason has been swamped by her feelings of betrayal by everyone around her. She drives off westwards in her sports car, heading for Northern Airport (Ringway). Sam’s party follows in his Rolls, and a good job too, because Celia goes off the road: it is Ril who finds her unconscious body on the hillside.
So Celia goes to hospital where wiser counsels prevail upon her. Hallersage will get its land, and will also get an ambitious scheme to bring its Town Centre into the Twentieth Century whilst retaining the best of the old. It’s all been a success.
But at the height of this, the peak of Ril and Norman’s joint success, there comes a worm in the apple. Ril receives an invitation, to stay a week with one of her old friends in Belhampton, to return to the place that she still, inside, thinks is home. Her instant joy, her impolitic celebration of it and Belhampton, is thoughtless to say the least, and disrespectful of everyone, and especially her cousin, who has made a place for her in Hell’s Edge.
The outcome is, of course, predictable. Ril has changed. Her friends have moved on without her. Belhampton isn’t quite what she used to see it as being. The gentle, almost feminine Downs are suddenly lesser in her sight than the Yorkshire Moors. Ril has become a Yorkshirewoman (poor girl) without her knowing. She returns after the weekend.
Norman’s glad to see her. He’s changed too. The boy who couldn’t wait to leave school and get a job as a motor mechanic, doing practical things, is staying on through the Sixth Year, looking to study Engineering. He’d like to start seeing Ril as a girlfriend instead of a cousin, but she’s not ready for that yet. Norman doesn’t quite come over as disappointed as I would have in the same circumstances, but Perhaps I’m expecting the wrong reactions, more of a Malcom Saville instant spark. Anyway, Townsend wrote a sequel two years later, I’m sure we’ll find out more in that.


Person of Interest: s05 e04 – 6,741

A resourceful woman

Shaw is back!

There’s a twist to this episode, hinted at throughout and not quite as concealed as it might have been, and thus not so much a surprise as in a perfect world it would be. I’m going to reveal it at the bottom. But not here.

Helter-skeltering through Person of Interest first time, I read somewhere that Sarah Shahi was originally going to be absent for something like eighteen months, which would have meant her return somewhere either late Season 5 (would have made for a brilliant season finale) or early Season 6 on Earth-2. Which became untenable with the reduced final order, so here we have her back, as intense and cynical as ever, and every bit as active.

‘6,741’ is Shaw’s show. It starts with her undergoing an unwilling operation, to have a microchip implanted in her skull, to make her compliant, turn her into a good little girl who’ll tell kindly old John Greer where to find the Machine. It fails, in wonderfully dry, undemonstrative manner: Shaw, after nine months imprisonment (nice touch there), is still Shaw.

Indeed, she’s more so. After a second operation, implanting a second chip, Shaw sits and broods and calculates, as a result of which she escapes. It’s a proper, wonderfully destructive escape, Shaw at her most Shaw-like, improvising like crazy, breaking things, breaking people, stealing a boat and returning to New York.

Of course, she needs to get the chip out of her head, and she needs to find her friends. So she phones in a call suggesting she’s about to murder an innocent and ineffectual drugstore clerk, knowing it will attract Samaritan. It does. Shaw defends herself, but she is not totally Shaw: she’s crippled with bouts analogous to epileptic fits, flashing lights, flashback visions, mental distraction, physical unsteadiness. Is she alright? This one lets the last Samaritan retriever get the drop on her. No need to bring her back actually alive… until the traditional offscreen shot fells him.

Enter two familiar figures, responding to a Number. Not expecting to find a friend. Root is almost overwhelmed.

But even without her confession of having been chipped, Root and Reese are cautious, paranoid you might say. They won’t take Shaw to a safe house or to the Machine: is she compromised? Rousseau said she’d been broken.

They take Shaw back to Root’s place, for Root to look after her. This leads to some wonderfully passionate and excited love-making (or, as one imdb reviewer puts it, nasty lesbian sex, and he/she doesn’t mean nasty in a favourable sense).

But Shaw feels her team-mates’ distrust and won’t put up with it. She’s still having the fits, even after her chip’s been extracted. Shaw will not be controlled by anyone else. She leads everyone in a direct attack on Samaritan that seizes Greer. Greer, the Primary Asset, the ex-MI6 Agent who won’t do anything without an out. Greer will have a kill-switch and he will have it on him. Or in him: a chip implanted in his arm.

But it’s all a trap. Greer talks his usual, imperturbable, self-satisfied bollocks but this is directed to Shaw, his ally, his asset, the one who set up this trap to murder all her friends.

It’s breaking down. Shaw shoots Greer. Escaping, she and Reese wind up in a dark alley. Reese suspects Shaw of warning Greer. She shoots him in the back, kills him. This is absolutely the last point at which you should have realised where we are. Shaw is nervous, sweating, disoriented. Root comes to her. Shaw takes her to a kid’s playground. She fought being broken by constructing a safe place to go to in her mind: this park, Root. Root was her safe place. But not any more. Shaw is driven to kill Root. Her only escape is to put her gun to her own head and blow her brains out.

We return to Samaritan’s hospital. The simulation has failed. Once again Shaw fried her own brains without getting them anywhere near the Machine’s whereabouts. At least it took her a whole hour longer to kill Greer this time. They try again, from the beginning. This one is simulation 6,742…

This is one dark, intense and horrific episode of Person of Interest. Sameen Shaw hasn’t just spent nine months strapped to a bed, she’s spent that nine months under intense psychological torture intent on breaking who she is and re-creating her as an ‘asset’. Just think for a moment: this simulation, taking place in her head, is the six thousand, seven hundred and forty-first time she has been induced to believe she has escaped, has been taught to see herself as suspect and unreliable, and been driven to destroy herself to protect her friends. Sameen Shaw has experienced dying 6,741 times. So far.

This is more than frightening. How many of us could survive that a handful of times?

I’d also like to come back to the love scene between Root and Shaw. Their relationship, Root’s flirting, was the cause of much adverse comment during the season, from unreconstructed types who didn’t want to think about such things let alone see them. Root and Shaw were women, and that was enough for the neanderthal brigade. They shouldn’t even be in an action, macho show, they’re girls!

So this scene, and that’s as far as you’re going to get, was always going to be an intolerable provocation. And all you get is Amy Acker in a black bra, the visual metaphor of crockery being knocked off a dining table and smashing on the floor (??!), and a side-by-side face-down scene in orgasm afterglow. And it never really happened. Some people…

The Infinite Jukebox: Mary Hopkin’s ‘Temma Harbour’

Looking back, it seemed clear that the biggest mistake Mary Hopkin made with her short commercial career was to agree to be the UK’s representative in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest. Though she brought a sweet and honest voice to the chosen song, ‘Knock Knock Who’s There?’, and came second only to Ireland’s Dana with the equally sweet and innocent (and superior) ‘All Kinds of Everything’, it was a last hurrah for the young Welsh woman discovered through Opportunity Knocks and mentored by Paul McCartney.
Hopkin was never totally comfortable being positioned as a pop chanteuse, neither with McCartney nor his successor, the commercial producer Mickie Most, trying to direct her music. She came from a folk-singing background and family and, after her Eurovision song, and a final, low-charting top 20 hit, she simply disappeared from the business, and has chosen her own musical path and projects ever since.
I heard ‘Those were the Days’ when it was a hit, and often, but then it was so ubiquitous, there were creatures beyond the orbit of Saturn’s outermost moons who could have hummed it note perfect, but I don’t know if I ever heard the similarly-McCartney-penned follow-up, ‘Goodbye’. For my first sustained exposure to Hopkin’s singing, I came to ‘Temma Harbour’.
It’s the forgotten one, the single between the McCartney songs and Eurovision, forever overlooked. To me, it’s first and foremost a part of that period of the first, undirected enthusiasm, my baptism in music, and of more significance than any of her other singles could be, but it’s also more than that. There’s a freshness, a spirit to the song, a sense of the place about which Hopkin sings.
The song was written by drummer and singer Robert Wilson, who took the name of Phil Kinorra as part of Brian Auger and The Trinity, the line-up that recorded ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ with Julie Driscoll, and was recorded by him under the name Philamore Lincoln. Hopkin’s version isn’t a million miles different but Hopkin’s voice is far better suited to the faraway mood of the song, and she can really sing, which Lincoln, with respect, couldn’t match, half-growling his original.
Most’s arrangement is lighter and fresher, opening up the song with well-judged strings, first creating a swirl that introduces the melody after Hopkin’s delicate but almost negligible acoustic guitar intro, creating the space for Hopkin’s voice to celebrate a kind of restrained ecstacy out of the world.
For Temma Harbour is both a place (that always struck me as being some remote Australian cove, because it is, it’s in Tasmania) and a state of mind. There’s a strand of an earthy paradise, a place beyond the world, free from its demands. In a giant lemon tree, she sings, alone my friend and me, we both climb down and cross the sands until we reach the sea.
And the waves grow higher, higher as we sway and dance, and the mood elevates and creates a headiness more than wine, for the way Mary feels makes her want to take a chance. What chance that may be is locked in our individual hearts, in whatever worldliness we want to bring to this place, but as we contemplate our thoughts we are taken to the heart of things, Mary celebrating Temma Harbour, climbing coconut trees, catching fish, lighting fires, drinking wine, and gently, tentatively testing out the companion who shares this place with her. If you say you like me, and I like you…
For this may be a real, real place but Mary is testing whether the friend who is beside her can be the other half of that idyll, if the fantasy of Temma Harbour, of treehouses and blue sea spray can be extended into a real life in which two are on a wavelength. That’s the chance she’s singing of taking, not the one you were thinking about, not the, shall we be polite and say ‘hedonistic’ option you were imagining.
It’s the combination of Hopkin’s voice and Most’s airy arrangement, keeping the musicians distant from her voice, like the distant guitars that on the wind begin to play. Hopkin carries the melody in her lovely, pure voice – by God that girl could sing! – and Most sets a gentle rhythm upon which he builds a counter-rhythm of melodic bongoes, a flute solo over the last chorus and coda, and those hovering strings, swirling like the breeze that brings the guitars from afar.
All goes to bringing Temma Harbour to us for the course of the song, just as Martha and The Muffins took us to lonely, wind-swept, isolated, sunset Echo Beach. Can Mary really bring another into this dream vision she carries within her? With a voice like hers, you want her to be happy as much as she does, just so she may sound like this.

Film 2020: School for Scoundrels

It is a truth universally acknowledged that on a bright, golden September Sunday morning there is little better than a dive into nostalgia.

School for Scoundrels was released in 1960. I don’t know when I would have first seen it, 1963 at the very earliest, these being the days when there was a bar or an agreement upon feature films being seen on television for three years after they appeared in the cinema. Whenever it was, it was Sunday afternoon, once Sunday television had been opened up to relative freedom as the grip of the Sabbath was being gently released: those quiet and uneventful Sundays of Mother cooking roast dinners, Father tuning the car, the somnolence of Britain away from the stress and activity of the six non-special days of the week.

Though it’s far from its purpose, the film captures that splendidly, sinking into its time, one I barely remember, having been a child at the time, but which is nevertheless burned into me because I was a child at that time and this was the world I was born into.

School for Scoundrels starred a fourway cast of Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Janette Scott and the under-utilised Alastair Sim. It’s based on Stephen Potter’s once famous Gamesmanship books, sketch books of situations turned to one’s advantage, justifying the film’s sub-title of or; How to win without actually Cheating.

Carmichael is Henry Palfrey. The film starts with his arrival at Yeovil train station and following, across abandoned and waste ground, of a series of pointing finger placards that direct him to the College of Lifemanship (prop. S. Potter) where he is going to learn how not to be a loser. Alastair Sim is Potter and is wonderful because he is Alastair Sim.

Palfrey (this is the Fifties, men addressed each other by their surnames, just as I did my schoolmates when I went to Grammar School in 1966, it was ingrained) is a gentle, easy-going and therefore put upon soul. He runs a family firm whose employees ignore him, and at which he is ruled by the Chief Clerk Gloatbridge, with constant reference to Palfrey’s ‘late Uncle’. He loves tennis but has been dropped from the weekend match. Everyone takes advantage of him.

But Palfrey has met April Smith (Scott), a nice-looking, slim-figured young woman, bumping into her as he leaps aboard a London bus from which she is alighting (the old fashioned, open-platformed buses with conductors). He invites her to dinner at a really swanky restaurant that refuses to seat them at first, because his name is mis-spelled, and then because they are late – from this faffing around. Enter Terry-Thomas, playing his usual snake-like lecherous smoothy as Raymond Delauney, who sets out to seduce April under Palfrey’s nose.

This includes inviting her to watch a ‘friendly’ game of tennis with Palfrey in which Delauney drives April in his hot-spot Bellini sports car (actually a re-shaped Aston Martin – even the car names are a glorious nostalgia) and one-ups Palfrey every step of the way, humiliating him in front of April,

The plot therefore is very simply. Palfrey enrols at Yeovil, learns all the ploys, and is accompanied by Potter on his ‘field trials’ in which he turns the tables on the crooked Welsh car dealers (Dennis Price and Peter Jones) who originally conned him into buying a total lemon of a car, getting them to take it back in exchange for a nifty little sports model and 100 guineas (guineas, ye Gods!).

He also asserts himself as the boss of his firm, by the simple expedient of introduing an error into the cash register to make a total £10 out before setting out to totally infuriate Delauney over a return match, not to mention screw him up over April. It’s beautifully played, with Carmichael investing Palfrey with a slightly artificial confidence overlaying a genuine confidence, turning up in tartan flannel shirt and old and baggy trousers, playing with an ease and deliberate slowness with one hand in his pocket to the ever-increasing frustration of the properly be-whited Delauney, getting increasingly unnerved at how everything is going against him without understanding how or why.

From there, Palfrey segues perfectly into taking April out for a drink, which metamorphoses into a drink at his flat, during which he employs a ploy telegraphed from earlier in the film to get her to spill her whiskey and soda all down her dress. April has to change into Palfrey’s over-sized dressing gown whilst her dress is being dried before the fire, from which it is but a step to decoying her into the bedroom to avoid being seen in compromising circumstances, a laugh at how sexless a woman looks in a man’s dressing room from ‘Uncle Henry’…

I’d like to drop out for a moment to coment on how backwards-looking this section is. The truly sexless atmosphere of the film, and its comedic naievete spares the film, but what we have here is a pretty basic demonstration of how to trick a woman into bed. The Potter book this is based upon is Woomanship, whose actual sub-title is quoted, being, ‘How to be one-up on a woman without actually marrying her’. It’s a precursor of the infamous book, The Game by Neil Strauss, and it’s a queasy undertaking. I confess that it’s only my nostalgia, slipping back into the time of the film, understanding its essential innocence, that keeps me from being heavily criticial of this section.

But Henry, on the point of sharing a very passionate (but still closed-mouth kiss) with an attractive woman, who is wearing only his dressing gown and her underwear, in his bedroom, not a yard from a double bed… catches sight of himself in the mirror and repents instantly. He wants April to dress and he’ll drive her home. He can’t go through with it.

Which makes all the difference. Because Delauney has seen Potter at the tennis club, trailed him and, offscreen, bearded him. Delauney pounds on Palfrey’s door, calling him out as all manner of cad, rotter and rat (for wanting to do to April what Delauney wants to do) and acting all possessive to her, here to save her, exposing what Palfrey’s done: from couch to bedroom in three easy steps.

April recognises how she has been betrayed. But Henry stopped, Henry reversed himself. And that made the difference. Potter shushes Delauney, who can’t understand why he, from so utterly winning a position, is suddenly the loser. Potter sees the birth of a new ploy but it’s not. Henry loves April, and April loves Henry. And now they’re kissing, in a room full of people, one of whom, Mr S. Potter, is seriously embarrassed. It’s the one thing that Oneupmanship cannot defeat: sincerity. And it is dreadful.

And Alistair Sim approaches the camera and addresses it, apologising to the audience for how things have turned out, and then his face twists in pain as he addresses the Orchestra, who are filling the air with romantic music as Henry and April kiss and hug and kiss and hug (lucky blighter) with Sim telling the band to stop that infernal din…

And the last shot is the train station at Yeovil and the pointing finger signs, but the man who’s gotten off the train is Raymond Delauney…

Ah, nostalgia. School for Scoundrels isn’t really a film, in the sense of a story. It’s just a string of cyncically funny ideas from three of Stephen Potter’s books given a rough shape. The film is about set-ups, sketches, and in the case of the final sequence, rather dodgy ones too. It’s heaped with familiar British actors and actresses making cameos with skill and professionalism, and it’s graced with a strong principal cast whose combined abilities elevate the film.

Like I said, Alastair Sim, a great and subtle comic presence, is under-utilised: at greater length his ability to undercut comedy with a faintly cynical aspect would have made the gamesmansip even funnier, but perhaps that would have been at the expense of the film’s essential innocence. Janette Scott, a very popular actress of the period with a wide range, whose fame has not carried on in the manner of her three co-stars, is also undercharged. She’s a perfectly lovely, fresh, self-possessed and genuine girl of the late Fifties, utterly natural, but April Smith’s role is entirely passive by the nature of the story. April is the ‘prize’ and she is acted upon throughout, which is a shame but only to be expected.

Ah, nostalgia. One definition is the art of seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses, more potently when it comes to your own past. School for Scoundrels is a film that saw the present through rose-coloured glasses so the two tie up together nicely. As I get further away from the beginning of my life I find it increasingly important to capture as much of it as I can. This still sunny, golden Sunday morning has been perfect for it.

Batman: Three Jokers 1 – addendum

A good idea, or what?

A little bit of early morning abstract thought when waiting to come round left me with a few more considerations about the current Geoff Johns/Jason Fabok miniseries.

I said in the main review of issue one that what interested me about the story were the questions, such as: Why are there three Jokers? That’s what came into my head from a slightly different perspective, as What’s the point of having three Jokers?

When the idea was first mooted, as a throwaway line from DC Universe: Rebirth, it was instantly fascinating. It seemed full of possibilities. That it has taken four years to realise has weighted the notion down with more clear-headed consideration. The delay has made it feel unimportant and peripheral. It’s deflection into a Black Label project has undermined the idea since Black Label comics – as I understand them to be, having never bought one before – are only in continuity to the extent that reader reaction supports cherry-picking the most favoured ideas into the DC Universe.

What’s the point of three Jokers? The Joker is and always has been an iconic figure. He’s Batman’s main enemy and his polar opposite. The Batman is a detective, a creature of rationality, and the Joker is Irrationality personified. He is protean, unpredictable, sinister and comic. He is comedian and killer and madman, and the point of this mixture is that he is all of these things and at once.

Breaking the Joker down into three characters inevitably diminshes this and him. The only hint Johns gives in issue 1 is that each Joker represents a factor, which to my mind not only undermines the Joker but destroys him instantly. Yes, the Joker has been portrayed in many different ways down the eighty years he has existed, bt then again so have Batman and Superman so why don’t we have three (or more) of them?

If Johns intends to break the characteristics of the Joker down into three people, each one a separate aspect, he is doing the Clown Prince a massive disservice. He is making him ordinary.

There’s no evidence yet of what Johns is actually doing. Another option is that all three are but slight variations of one another, but that also undermines the concept. It more than just terebles the implausibility if all three are created the same, or if they have different origins it removes the Joker’s uniqueness, not to mention the question of how likely it is that one Joker will collaborate with another, let alone two more.

I stress I’m not yet ragging on Johns. He has two issues to demonstrate his ingenuity and come up with an explanation for his idea that has weight, promise and freshness. My mind is open until then. Though shaded by my lack of enthusiasm for his other work, which has never wholly convinced me.

But short of some genius move, I think the idea of three Jokers is a bad step per se, that cannot help but damage the integrity of the character irretrievably. And there have been enough stupid moves by DC that have done stuff like that in recent years.

Lou Grant: s05 e03 – Reckless

Yes, ossifer?

After two strong and direct episodes, each with a clear storyline, we were back to the A/B model this week, with a diffusing effect. Granted, the two storylines were more equal in weight than has been seen for some time, giving the B story more strength than usual, but as always, two competing threads ran the risk of not cohering, and failed to totally convince.

It didn’t help that the supposedly comic open, of Lou waking up at home with an appalling hangover that rendered him semi-human, cod cliche joke about putting his shoes in the fridge, etc., was more disturbing than comic. The drinking theme continued, as if he’d never entirely sobered up, and it resulted in him being busted for drunk driving, after being pulled over by the Police for having a busted taillight, caused by giving Charlie a lift.

The need to give Charlie a lift was the catalyst for the A story. Charlie’s car was busted into in broad daylight, with no-one ‘seeing anything’. The irate Charlie proposed, with hearty police support, and lukewarm support from Mrs Pynchon, an anonymous tip-line, Private Eye (some people’s imagination is sooo limited), run by the Trib. An anonymous caller with an English accent phones in a tip about a murder.

On the one hand, we have Lou, who is guilty, going through the programme, consisting of community service that causes him to miss a great game, accompanied by Billie to report on the same, culminating with the two taking the drunk driving test run: a deliberately difficult course to be driven sober at top speed before the drivers are then rendered legally intoxicated with free, Police-bought beer, before driving the course again, with predictable outcomes.

This relatively straight expose of the risks of drunk driving and how quickly you hit that drunk stage had the necessary effect: nobody stopped drinking until they were blootered but at least they now took cabs or, for a comic ending, all begged lifts off Rossi.

Who was the major figure in the A story. Rossi’s uncomfortable with the whole Private Eye thing, his natural suspicions about everything automatically, and seriously, anatomising its possible flaws. The murder tip identifies a suspect whio becomes an accused, an accused whose right to confront his accuser is being denied by the absolute privacy afforded the tipster. Who will get $2,500.00 for a conviction. Doubts set in immediately.

Rossi tries to find the tipster, in breach of the conditions of Private Eye, This outrages Charlie, especially when Rossi’s investigations threaten to undermine everything by his failure to find a woman with an English accent associated with any of the houses from which the murder could be seen. Lou sends him back to recheck, whereupon he finds, by chance, the Englishwoman realtor selling the empty house…

So, the tip was solid, the suspect was guilty, Private Eye worked, but it could so easily have been the other way round. that’s enough to shake Charlie, whose enthusiasm for the scheme is now wavering, and when a civic group offers to take it over, the Trib jump at it.

It’s a reminder of an older time, once again, where you could talk about journalistic integrity without horse laughs. Yes, I know, the Trib’s reporting staff are ideals, paragons sans fear, sans dishonesty, for whom chequebook journalism is an anathema, and it went on then, but wouldn’t you just love to think that the modern crop might investigate the tips they pay for instead of writing them up as stories because they sound good, not because they’re true.

Both strands were decent stories but there was little or no synergy and each ultimately detracted from the other. Still, let’s give the last season a bit more time to show it’s more episodes 1/2 than 3, eh?