Saturday 11 February 2012

Bomb Girls - Nothing's what it once used to be.

Bomb Girls: 1x03 How You Trust. 

Lorna is fiercely protective of her family. Guarding the factory, obliterating potential dangers, making sure that the girls do their best, is, to her, the one thing she can do to keep her sons safe. This makes her the responsible, reliable matron who subtly influences management – and the passionate friend who convinces doctors to help Vera, and Akins to hire back Edith – but it also sometimes makes her lose perspective. Sometimes she mistakes “new” for “dangerous”, or equates the two, and unfortunate things happen. 
The ending of Misfires already hinted that her views of Marco have changed: he isn’t really, or mostly, a threat to the war effort anymore, but this new thing that has developed between them threatens her family on a much more immediate and personal level. He fits right into that dangerous absence in her marriage – absence of intimacy, absence of sex, absence of adventure (and my favourite part about the show is that you always see both sides of the story – both the windswept romance and the quiet togetherness of the marriage, of two people who still care deeply about each other – so that your heart just inevitably breaks over everybody’s unhappiness, really). 
Lorna sees a threat in Marco, so she places the Italian newspaper he is always reading outside the factory in his locker right before a military inspection, telling herself he will only get into trouble if he has actually done something wrong, except I think deep down, she hopes that this will make her problem go away.  
The inspection begins a general theme of uncovering that appears in every storyline. Lorna finds Kate’s locket – the one thing she has kept, from her past – and since it reveals her true name, Lorna grows suspicious, assuming that Kate stole it. Archie discovers that Vera is hoarding sleeping pills to kill herself because she can’t imagine going back outside with her visible scars. Gladys finds several of her belongings missing and starts an adventurous detective club with Betty and Kate, only to find out eventually that the thief is a woman that James has been sleeping with. 
All these discoveries tie in with other things. Before finding out about James, Gladys has to deal with her parents’ concern over one of his cousins who stepped out on his wife: she finds the idea of them worrying about such trivialities in times of war ridiculous, but their “When you occupy the top shelf, darling, people are only too eager to drag you down.” and allusions to a possible social exile will come to haunt her later in the episode. In many ways, Gladys is privileged: she doesn’t need the money she earns at the factory (in fact, she doesn’t even collect her cheques, fearing it would tip her parents off), so she can afford to stage protests – but she is also trapped in her upper class family and its obsession with social standing and reputation, and if she should choose to actively rebel against them, not just secretly, by defying their wishes, she could lose everything she knows. So when he finds out about Hazel and James, she wants to get Hazel fired, take everything she has in revenge, but her parents’ threat comes back to haunt her: Hazel has power, too. She can reveal the affair to the public and destroy the one thing the upper class values more than anything: reputation. “All have to do is stand outside the church on your wedding day, big smile, throwing rice in your face. Won’t your family love that?” But the thing is, Gladys isn’t any longer just the rich girl who will be gone after breaking a nail: she has become part of the fabric of Victory Munitions, and even though Betty would probably never, ever admit it, she’s found friends who are willing to stand up for her. They tell Hazel to switch shifts because she is no longer welcome in theirs. Dealing with James is more difficult, and it’s both the betrayal and the hypocrisy of it all, of her parents desperately trying to keep up appearances with James’ cousin at the very same time that he has proven unfaithful, and at the same time, she realizes what’s at stake. 
Betty: You talk to him?
Gladys: I couldn’t. I drive a crack in that wall now, the whole thing may come crumbling down.
Betty: Well. You’re here now. That’s something.
Lorna applies the same “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide” to Kate when she starts to investigate the origin of the locket, except Kate, despite not stealing it, has everything to fear – it threatens to reveal her secret identity that she has struggled so hard to keep up, that new life she has found for herself. She sends Kate to the storeroom until the thing has cleared up, where Kate is promptly joined by another voice when she sings – and this leads to an assault by another worker and her discovery of Leon, the man who will provide her with the opportunity to sing on stage.
All these female characters attain freedom by keeping secrets. Gladys keeps her occupation a secret; for tragic Vera, the only freedom she can imagine is freedom from shame, so she stockpiles the sleeping pills and plans her suicide; Kate’s entire identity is a secret, and Betty… well, Betty is Betty. The characters need their secrets because they are the only way of getting around the barriers that society creates around them. 
Lorna doesn’t realize this yet. She is busy trying to figure out Kate’s secret, and then Akins sends her to Marco’s house to deliver the last pay check to his family (she believes that he has been interned with his father). They are incredibly awkward with each other when he ends up opening the door, especially when his mother invites her to join them for dinner – pasta, which she’s never eaten before – and in the course of which she starts to question her own prejudices (and Marco’s mother teaches her about trust – how you always look someone in the eye when toasting with a glass of wine). 
Marco ends up walking her home, and they enjoy the peace they have made over the fact that he is Italian when she admits that she made a mistake – and he immediately reminds her that he is also dangerous because of something completely different. 
Lorna: I’m sorry. My husband he… he always tells me I’m afraid of what I don’t know.
Marco: So you came out swinging.
Lorna: Tell your mother thank you for the dinner.
Marco: You can try and hide it all you want, Lorna. I know you have a decent heart beating in there, tapping out its secret code.
Lorna: I don’t have any secrets.
The “secret code” line could easily be tacky – it’s such a randomly grand statement, in a way: it reveals that he sees through her frustration and restraint – but it also applies so perfectly to the other characters. Gladys’ secret code is about finding a purpose and a way to have a marriage that allows her to be her own person. Kate’s secret code is being free of the horrible prison her father has built around her. The tapping of Betty’s is almost deafening whenever she looks at Kate. Vera’s is more quiet: trying to escape the reflection in the mirror, except that she doesn’t realize that she can be more than just the scars on her face after she’s lived her entire life believing that the only valuable thing she has were her looks.
And finally, Lorna acquires a secret of her own: a windswept kiss.

Random notes: 

I really like the conversation about the siege of Leningrad that starts the episode: Gladys argues that the rich will plant victory gardens to share with the population, the woman currently sleeping with her fiancé responds, “Yeah, because the rich like to share!”, and Kate ends with “In times of trouble, we are all the same.” – it’s pretty much the characters, in a nutshell.

Kate and Betty’s interpretation of personal space in relation to each other is just… ridiculous, really. HANDS. Betty pretending she is fixing Kate’s turban when she freaks out about the inspection because she has this instinct of immediately physically consoling her when anything is wrong. It’s even more obvious because they change visibly whenever they are in each other’s’ company: Kate doesn’t try to disappear into her sweaters, Betty loses her defensiveness.

Gladys: Don’t forget your turban. 
Kate: No need. I’m down in the storeroom again today. 
Gladys: I wouldn’t  care for that. It’s the kind of place where murderers lurk.
Kate: Isn’t that a lovely thought. 

Vera: At least you have found the bright side. 
Archie: Which in your case seems to be the left side. 

The fact that Kate completely fails to pick up on the fact that the guy who pretends being the mystery singer is dangerous is a reminder that she grew up completely isolated and sheltered from the world. Leon, the actual singer, clubs him over the head before the worst. The “He had it coming” after her “I didn’t invite anybody, you work here” (because that’s what the guys say, over and over again: the presence of women distracts us, it’s their fault) feels like a commentary on victim blaming. 
Naturally, Betty’s reaction when she hears about the whole thing is first, you should have come to find me, second, thinly veiled jealousy (also, concern). 

“It was your voice in the dark” – and it’s lovely how this idea is continued in the next few episodes, when Leon guides her towards being able to express herself on stage.  

Edith: Well, let me get this right. You poured die into your own purse. 

Gladys: I have confirmed reports you are inside this room!

Also, both Kate and Betty’s reactions when she comes in is priceless, because they say everything about the characters: Kate is all “Gladys, what a surprise” (happy), Betty is annoyed that her alone-time with Kate has been interrupted (“What the heck are you doing here?”) – a theme that continues throughout the next episodes (even though Betty warms to Gladys in the process). 

Kate: Beats a quiet night in, don’t you think?
To Betty, it really, really, really doesn’t. 

The way Gladys’ discovery of James’ infidelity played out was so great: for the most part, it was this giddy detective story, Gladys using tricks she’s learned, leading her sidekicks through the rain to confront the villain – and then suddenly, it all becomes serious when she realizes that this isn’t about stuff, it isn’t about her perfume and her shawl, but about James (and this isn’t just about the fact that she loves James, which I think she does, but also about the fact that her marriage was always the more easily attainable escape from her parents’ house, the one more secure than whatever she is slowly building in the factory). 

Kate: Leon says I gotta meet some guy named Billie Holiday. 
Betty: I can make the introductions. 

I love all the little hints that Betty has a secret life that includes forgers, Billie Holiday, knowing where the coolest clubs in town are, and secret nods to signify membership. 

Trying something new: Kate discovers Billie Holiday, Betty warms up to the idea that Gladys might make a good friend, and Lorna – and this is one of my favourite scenes of the episode – immediately takes her amazing discovery of spaghetti to her husband (“is it supposed to be so mushy?” – “It’s different, Bob. Try something new.”, because the really heart-breaking thing is that they also dearly love each other but the things that remain unsaid between them threaten to eat them up. 

The choice of songs is ALWAYS perfect: 
I'll never be the same
Guys have lost their meaning for me
I'll never be the same
Nothing's what it once used to be
And when the song birds that sing
Tell me it's spring
I can't believe their song
Once love was king
But kings can be wrong
I'll never be the same
There is such an ache in my heart
I'll never be the same
Since we're apart
But there's a lot that a smile can hide
And I know deep down inside
I'll never be the same
Never be the same again

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