Friday 26 April 2013

Bomb Girls - Live your own life.

Bomb Girls: 2x11 Kings and Pawns.

There is a theme running through this episode, a theme of characters taking control of their own story rather than being pawns in other people’s games. They have different reasons – realizing they’ve misplaced their trust, valuing friendship higher than other things, breaking free from a loving but constricting family – but in all cases, it is a difficult choice to make, that reveals a lot about who these characters, and the people they break free from, are. 
Gladys: Marco is not a lost cause. If I had a little more time…
Clifford: You don’t.
Marco has struggled with his position as an outsider since the beginning of the war. Lorna used to be the one to constantly doubt his allegiance and loyalty – while his father was in prison, unreachable for his family, while Marco was repeatedly turned down even though all he wanted was to fight, while his mother was thrown out of a shop because she was born in the wrong country and he always happened to be the guy the security guards picked for random searches. It’s a list of grievances and attacks on his pride – and at the breaking point, he’s sitting in the back of a car with a known fascist, things spiralling out of control, and the next moment he finds himself plotting to blow up the power plant of the factory, with no way out because his family might be in danger if Mahoney retaliates. How did all of this happen so fast? Frankie knows Marco well and long enough to push his buttons, to manoeuvre someone who was eager to fight for Canada in the war into a plot that could shut down a war essential bombs factory for a week or so. It doesn’t feel like Marco made a lot of choices along the way – standing in the ruins of his father’s factory, his father’s life work and his lost inheritance, it seems more like he is finding himself in the midst of a nightmare without remembering when he fell asleep. 
The other piece in the game is Gladys Witham, who decided to become a spy because it seemed exciting and Clifford Perry was flattering her, and then remained one to be able to help Marco, not realizing that Clifford Perry and the organization he is working for have no interest in saving one individual. The only worth Marco has to Clifford is helping him catch a bigger fish, and if he can’t, he’ll arrest him just the same, without asking for the unfortunate series of events leading him into this particular catastrophe. Clifford and Gladys are driven by different ideals. Clifford is fighting for a country, and in that fight, the fate of one man is insignificant; Gladys struggles because she considers loyalty and friendship as just as important, and she resents Clifford for using her and keeping her in the dark about his motives. She knows (and so does Vera) that Marco is a good man, and on some level Clifford’s entire operation must be called into question if they make men like Marco into irredeemable enemies. 
Marco: Alright, now what have I done.
Vera: I wanna thank you for coming into my life and making such a mess of it.
Like in a chess game, the players react to the moves. Marco gets more and more panicked by the increased security at the factory, even though it has nothing to with him, but with a visit by the Governor General. Vera is drawn into it as well when her security clearance is downgraded and the new position she fought so hard for is lost to a new girl, occupying her desk, and Akins tells her that it is the company she keeps. Their conversation is heart-breaking, because clearly Vera tried very hard not to become so vulnerable, so invested in their relationship, but she is now, and the very thing she feared is happening: he is dragging her down, he tells her to stay away from him (from his perspective, to protect her), he’s “made a fool” of her, after all the fights she had to survive to regain her confidence and remake her life. She does tell him that Gladys is on his case, and it changes the dynamic of the cat-and-mouse game, and despite it all – “Why do I still care about that jerk. I need my head examined.” For some reason, Vera constantly expects heartbreak and steels herself against it, but Marco has found his way into her heart regardless.
Marco feels that his trust in Gladys was wrong. He introduced her to his family, and she is the one person that witnessed how his father was treated at the camp, the one person who might understand the extent of his frustration. She knows about the pamphlet, the Witham's food guy they beat up, but realizes in the course of the conversation that she can’t betray a friend. 
Marco: I’m in so much trouble.
Gladys: You need to talk to the police.
Marco: I can’t do that. Not to Frankie
Gladys: Marco...
Marco: I won’t sell out my friend.
Gladys: Let me help you.
Marco: You can’t fix this. Nobody can.
Gladys: Let me try.
Marco: Stay clear of me. Just… for your own good. Just stay clear.
Gladys and Clifford have different views of the world. Gladys is not cynical (neither is the show), and the way she figures out to help Marco is a defence of the idea that even in war times, friendships and trust in humanity have a place. Clifford flat-out tells her he does not care about Marco, that he “won’t lose sleep over one casualty”, but Gladys knows that casualty, he’s not just a name on a file, a series of questionable and unfortunate decisions. This is the first time that Gladys is a good spy, and she is good because she doesn’t pretend that what makes her a good person is in the way of this kind of work. Marco told her that the one thing that keeps him from seeking help is his loyalty to Frankie, so she proves that Frankie doesn’t deserve any of that loyalty. It’s just two little dots that make all the difference. She figures out that the arrests of Italians after the start of the war weren’t random, that someone informed on Marco’s father, that Clifford missed an important piece of the puzzle because he did not care enough. Frankie’s father sent Marco’s to the camp, and Frankie himself contributed evidence against him to keep him there. The way to win this isn’t to carelessly play with human lives, it’s through trust and friendship, and to give Marco an opportunity to clear his name and regain his pride. 
Instead of using Marco, Clifford and Gladys work with him. He sets up Frankie and Mahoney (at Frankie’s factory, a dire contrast to the ruins of Marco’s), who are arrested by the police. Marco proves himself, but is left with the sour taste of a lifelong friendship, betrayed, and the question why he was such a willing target for the plot. 

Marco claims his pride and freedom back after finding out about a betrayal, but it must be just as difficult, if not more so, to claim it from someone you love and who genuinely loves you. Bob has returned, and Lorna asks Sheila to come by for dinner so that they can talk about Dr Patel, because Lorna didn’t know how to tackle that issue over the phone. 
Sheila: This business is mine, mum, not yours.
Lorna: You think you have all the answers, don’t you?
Sheila: No. I just think I have my answers.
Lorna (and Bob) are acting out of concern, but they are missing the point: Sheila insists that she is perfectly capable of making her own choices, she is living her own life, and even if being with Ned were a mistake, it would be hers to make. In a way, Lorna and Bob are acting this way because they have only started to consider the possibility that they still have a future of their own to shape, that they still have growing and changing lives with the children out of the house. Bob, returning from the farm with the ability to walk a few painful steps, is the best example: he used to be so immobile, so resigned, and now, years later, things are changing, and he is trying again. It must be one of the first times that Lorna and Bob have a chance to embrace like this. 
Bob is more understanding than Lorna, but he does tell her daughter that one of the reasons why Lorna doesn’t understand is because Sheila doesn’t talk to her. He has a serious conversation with Dr Patel, basically giving him an ultimatum to break up with Sheila (“I’m not going to accept anyone who uses my daughter for their just for now girl”), that ends with Ned breaking it off with the girl he is engaged to back home. 
Apart from that, there is a beautiful moment, while Bob is not quite angrily but decisively telling Ned to stop things with Sheila, when the doctor looks at his legs and instead of seeing a man who is accusing him of being dishonest, sees someone with a medical problem that can be fixed. In spite of the complexities of the situation, for a moment, the only thing important is to tell Bob that there is new hope through the advances of medicine, that “that story isn’t over”, because first and foremost, he is the kind of person that sees people and tries to figure out how to help and fix them (a reminder of when, at the dinner party, he revealed that he was treating prisoners of wars, to Gene’s displeasure). He respects Bob. 
But still, Sheila isn’t exactly happy about her parents getting involved. 
Sheila: Why don’t you mind your own business.
Lorna: Don’t you speak back to your father…
Sheila: There’s a difference between speaking back and speaking up.
Lorna: Bob, what did you say to him?
Bob: Nothing like that.
Lorna: Why are you crying? Didn’t you want him to choose you?
Sheila: Yes. But not because you forced him to. Stop. Stop mothering me. Live your own life.
“There’s a difference between speaking back and speaking up”, what a beautiful line, and one that applies to other characters as well. They need to be reminded that they still have their own life to live. Later, they remember how romantic they used to be, and realize that they can still make new memories. Their story isn’t over. 
Lorna: Bob, It’s going to unravel.
Bob: Let it. See what happens.
The difference between a king and a pawn is the freedom of movement, the range of choices available. Marco, with Gladys’ help, breaks free from the confinement of only being a pawn in Frankie and Mahoney’s game, but Kate is the character who slowly and painfully realizes that her choice to marry Ivan is about to trap her in an inescapable situation. She is trying to keep control over the situation by removing any element of romance from the ceremony – “just a quickie at city hall”, no preparation yet with regards to her dress, or her bridesmaids. 
Kate: we just wanna keep it simple. Then after we’ll take the train out to Winnipeg for a big Ukrainian Christmas.
Vera: Your honeymoon is Winnipeg. In winter?
Betty: That’s our Kate. Fairytale romance.
Vera: Well, who you’ve got standing up for you?
Kate: I don’t know. I guess… Betty?
Betty: Ah, sure, ah, yeah.
Kate: Well. See you inside.
Vera: Oh that girl needs a bridal shower in the worst way. Since you’re now maid of honour.
Betty: I’m on the hook?
Vera: Yup.
Betty: Me in charge of a hen party, that would be the worst way.
Everything else is veering out of control, as Kate’s figurative ability to move grows smaller and smaller because Ivan doesn’t read her at all and doesn’t understand boundaries. The scene with the letter is a perfect example: in theory this letter contains all her secrets, the name on it is the name she narrowly escaped, the person it is addressed to could identify her, is a direct connection to a life she’s left behind, so when Ivan playfully snatches it away to taunt her with it, he is indirectly existentially threatening her (just apart from the subtle violence of what he actually does, he appears suddenly, he takes it away from her – considering what she has gone through with Vernon). To him, it’s a joke, but from the way Kate reacts to it, the way she immediately becomes defensive and makes herself small, it’s clear that she feels like her entire life is at stake here. She comes up with an explanation for the name on the letter, but then she has to ask for permission to get it back from him. 

Kate is more excited to have Betty as her bridesmaid than she’s ever been about anything else regarding the wedding; and Betty is once again having a terrible day, because what could be worse than to be involved in the planning and execution of Kate’s wedding – but she throws herself into it, purposefully prepares a hen party, gives advice on dresses, everything she’s expected to do. Betty seems convinced that this is what Kate wants, even though the thing that seems to make Kate happy is the prospect of once again having a context in which she and Betty work as a relationship, a context that allows them to be close. They go through one of Vera’s magazines together, not an inch between them, like it used to be, and Kate hesitantly speaks about her childhood, before Ivan comes bursting again.
Betty: Is that what you want? You must have played Here Comes The Bride when you were a kid. Wrapped up in a bed sheet, doily on your head.
Kate: Not really.
Betty: Well I did.
Kate: You?
Betty: I grew up on a farm, Kate, not Mars. I played bride, same as any girl.
Kate. I never played much of anything. I just remember long hot prayer meetings, itchy collars and tent revivals.
Kate’s “You?” contains what Kate knows about Betty, and yet they never speak about it directly. And for some reason, every time Kate speaks about Vernon and the way he stole her childhood and youth, it sounds like she is sharing a secret. She was never allowed to play, or to imagine any other life than the one that her father mapped out for her. This is why the next moment is so utterly destructive – Kate broke free from it, into a life where she could imagine, and play (and sing her own songs), but Ivan doesn’t contribute to that freedom, he threatens it. Even if his intentions aren’t evil per se, he has started to map out a future for both of them that doesn’t contain what she actually wants. 
Ivan: I did something for us.
Kate: Well look at you, all man of the house.
Ivan: I wrote your brothers, told them they should come down for the wedding.
Kate: Why? They’re just little boys, it won’t make any difference to them.
Ivan: Yeah, but it should for you. For us.
Kate: Ivan, I love my brothers but it’s too complicated getting them down here. Besides, it’s just a city hall ceremony.
Ivan: So, we get hitched, and we pick them up on our way to Winnipeg. They’re family, Kate. Your family.
Kate: And it’s up to me to invite them.
Ivan: It’s our wedding. You can’t say no.
It’s just four words. Kate’s face falls, when she realizes what Ivan is saying to her. 
I think there is this prevailing idea (one that I’m maybe guilty of myself), that you can reveal the truth about a character by stripping away all their layers, that the truth about them is contained in some kind of vulnerable core that stories can reveal, but with Kate Andrews, it’s the opposite. Kate started there – Marion Rowley, reduced to the desire to break free from her father, the incredible bravery of leaving everything she knew behind for a new life, the possible freedom in a new identity. That’s the core of Kate Andrews, the desire for that freedom, and everything that has happened since then is Kate recreating herself, layers and layers of new stories that are so glorious because they are finally possible, now that Vernon is gone. She reclaims music and god and the control over her own body – and that’s why Ivan, with four simple words, becomes a threat to her existence. His idea of “we” does not contain Kate, it contains his idea of her, and blatantly disregards the feelings that Kate actually expresses. It’s a conception of a union that denies her individuality. 
Betty pretty much breaks her own heart when she tells Ivan, who is worried that Kate is “so torn up about her family”, that Kate “never once felt loved, ‘til you, Ivy”, but she needs to believe it, because how terrible would it be if Kate, who just broke free from her father, didn’t do this because it made her happy? What if she wanted out?
Last year, she was all alone in the boarding house when her father came back, almost like he stepped right out of those nightmares she kept having. This “Marion” is different. Nobody calls her that name anymore, and when she sees her mother (Vernon told her she died, and she never quite believed he was capable of a lie that cruel), suddenly she is a daughter again, not someone entirely on her own, with a life she had to build up from nothing piece by piece. This is a part of her past that isn’t entirely awful, and Vernon couldn’t take it away, because her mother ran, taking her brothers with her, and now she is back because there was a return address on the letter that Ivan sent. “Do you know about dad, do you know how he died?”, she asks in the quietest voice. “I know he died. There’s so much to say, and I’m gasping for a cup of tea.” There’s much to say, but Kate is running out of time. 

Random notes: 

I've always considered Bomb Girls to be a show that could tell gripping and fantastic stories well into the 1950s, so this week's announcement that Global would not renew it for a third season was devastating. Some lovely people have created a forum to coordinate efforts to save the show, also consider sending a (nice) mail to Global to ask them to change their opinion, and if you tweet about the show, add #SaveBombGirls. 

The combination of Vera collecting wedding magazines (and the way she says, “you know, just in case”) and that conversation with Marco was like a punch in the gut. Oh honey. I hope this all ends well for you.
Lorna: Sheila, must you chomp gum?
Sheila: Yes mum. I must.

REGGIE too! I love that she’s become a fixture on the Corbett family table (and constantly carries around books). Also, “You know, I’m at a real good point in my book right now” is a REALLY great way to get out of awkward situations quickly. 

It was really lovely to see that Betty was having the most terrible week (and it looks like that’s not going to get much better next week), and yet she still did so well, both with organizing the wedding and by proving to Lorna that she deserves all that trust that she puts in her (and to hear “I have every confidence in you” from Lorna alone must be pretty great). 
Lorna: Someone is throwing a party?
Betty: Just a bridal shower for Andrews, hush hush and all that.
Lorna: Of course.
Betty: We were just getting the shower invites out, that’s why you haven’t got yours.
Lorna: I wasn’t fishing.
Betty: No, Kate wants you there, you’re top of her list. Said you’re like a second mother. And who wouldn’t want their mother at the shower, yeah?
Lorna: I suppose.
Betty: It’s next Saturday, after shift.

Of course Carol Demers would be a royalty geek. 


Gladys: It’s Carol’s parade. Don’t rain on it. 
Vera: Sometimes you look at Carol and you see a little girl just wanting to be special.
Betty: Yeah, there’s a bit of that going around.
I think this is officially the first step towards a great friendship. 

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