I can safely say it wasn't as bad as "The Clue of the Savant's Thumb" - but in fairness, very little could be as bad as that - and I think in many respects I approached series five in much the same way as I approached the POTO movie ten years ago, i.e. that I'd built it up to be so horrendously awful that anything more than that would have been a bonus.
(The irony of these two things being a decade apart has only just occurred to me.)
Anyway, some thoughts under the cut, rambling, shambolic, and with hopefully slightly less capslock abuse than last time, but I promise nothing! (Also: this icon makes me feel better.)
Despite my ambivalence towards the new series, and a couple of occasional blips where I was almost ready to give up on the fandom entirely as a lost cause, nevertheless in the last couple of days I've had a feeling of bubbling anticipation that was hard to quash. When the theme music started I couldn't help but feel a little bit excited, though I found it really heart-rending to see Sarah Alexander's name after Alan's in the opening credits where Caroline's used to be - or Sheridan's, for that matter. (I'm finding it harder to process that Sheridan actually had LESS episodes than Julia Sawalha, because in what possible universe can that even be allowed to happen?!) Whilst the shock of the Creekwife has worn off somewhat - aided by having Jonathan boggle at it in my Creekmas story, I think - nevertheless that whole situation is a major bone of contention for me...
Anyway, we already knew a couple of potentially fail-y things about this episode:
(i) Sheridan Smith had quit so would not be in the episode;
(ii) Renwick was sending up Sherlock;
(iii) The main story revolved around the demise of a West End theatre star.
When this third point came to light (about a week ago), my immediate reaction was to wonder if said musical theatre star would "coincidentally" be blonde, and to renewedly dread some "amusing" observational humour about musical theatre in general...
God, I hate being right sometimes.
So, the episode opens with Jonathan and Polly at a musical production entitled "The Mystery of the Yellow Room". This is a novel by Gaston Leroux (which the episode reminded me of later on, although the title immediately jumped out at me for a reason I couldn't quite put my finger on at first). In fact, before we even got to see any of the musical, the opening chord of the episode was very, very Phantom-esque. I brushed that off at first, but the more we saw of the musical, the more obvious the parallels became: lyrics regarding a 'beast' who hid in the shadows, a young heroine with light-brown ringlets prancing about in 19th century underwear, her equally young foppish suitor, and a scene wherein they were in a gondola.
The POTO theory is also held up by Jonathan's throwaway comment about The Man Who Laughs, a Lon Chaney silent film. Paul informs me it was also the inspiration for Chaney's make-up for Erik. At which point, I had to concede that the POTO references were intentional.
So, yes, it was blantantly a Phantom parody. My brain is still struggling to process this on so many levels, notwithstanding my upcoming JC/POTO crossover, and even when the evidence was right in front of me I hesitated to make the connection out of sanity-protection. I think actually, I was almost half-expecting it - POTO is the highest-grossing entertainment entity of all time, and I had a feeling Renwick would jump on something that was quintessential long-running West End material, i.e. POTO or Les Mis. Given the not-so-affectionate parodying of Sherlock, I would not be at all surprised if this is yet another typical Renwick response to something obviously popular which he could never hope to emulate.
"The Mystery of the Yellow Room" is actually about a locked-room murder, aside from all that, so in that respect it makes a lot of sense - and indeed it would be sensible for Jonathan to have an interest in that sort of thing - but I actually think he could have used that element more effectively. It would have been nice, in fact, to have the Leroux story as the basis of this one, rather than the haphazard collection of subplots that we actually got.
Yeah, because I'd been hoping that since this was only an hour long, Renwick would actually be able to sustain a proper mystery for the majority of that hour like in the good old days, rather than struggling to fill a movie-length slot like before. Turns out he really has lost his touch in that regard, which only furthers my desire for him to take a step back and let some fresh blood into the proceedings. The cracks are really starting to show now, which for a show that was so tightly-written and so clever is really very sad. :(
If I watched again I might spot other throwaway musical references, but on the first viewing the only other one I noticed was the name of the leading lady - Juno Pirelli. Pirelli being the rival barber in Sweeney Todd, of course. (How awesome would a JC/Sweeney Todd crossover be? Very, that's how awesome. A copycat Todd murderer living above a Greggs, for whom he is a delivery man! See, even I could write a better episode!)
Juno Pirelli was in fact blonde. In certain light she even looked a bit like Sheridan Smith, and at one point was wearing an outfit that was almost identical to some of Joey's get-ups - namely a short leopard-print jacket. I think the thing which irritates me the most these days is that Renwick has become this bloody predictable, and seems to be taking Sheridan's departure even worse than he took Caroline's - and he has not matured with the benefit of hindsight. He never stooped quite so low as to kill off a Maddy (or Carla) replica, even though they were both relegated to She Who Must Not Be Named. With Adam, he merely wrote him out with no explanation at all. With Joey we haven't even had an explanation, a mention, or anything - she's just markedly absent.
Apart from the fact it's generally bad writing to just erase characters like that, it's just bad form in general. Artistic differences should not be played out on screen like that - it insults your talent as well as your audience, and the latter are not so stupid as to just brush off the fact that the other main character has suddenly vanished. But then again, there's always been this element of the female characters being referred to as "sidekicks" rather than fully-formed characters in their own right, let alone as individuals who have shaped Jonathan and are equally as important to the proceedings as he is. I'm sorry for this analogy, but if Renwick went there then I have no qualms either: you can't have four different John Watsons to one Sherlock Holmes. The absolute lack of respect that Renwick has for his female characters is actually shocking - and it's something I've only come to realise now.
Erm, right. Yes. The other weird thing about this episode was that they revealed the whodunnit and the howdunnit within the first half of the episode, so there was really no mystery to speak of. We spent an hour watching Jonathan and his new fanboy (Ridley) doing what they do, Jonathan being uncharacteristically slow, a couple of other pointless "mysteries" which were also revealed within twenty seconds, and not really much else. It's a format that just didn't work, and as experiments go, I hope it's not repeated.
I suspect there's an element here of showing that Jonathan reluctantly gets dragged into this stuff even though he's moved on from it (on which, more later), that he cannot escape his past no matter how hard he tries, and a slow acceptance by Polly that she can't just ignore this stuff in the hope it'll go away. It's dumb that she would expect that anyway, given he was a key part of several successful crime novels long before Polly came along, and there will always be an area of society who are interested in that and thus would know who he was. As proven by the fact that Ridley - a criminology student - looks to Jonathan as a hero.
Quick note on the names there - Ridley and Ripley (the little girl) and the name of the house, Nostromo, are all references to Alien, and there is a direct quote at the end. ("You know what they say about space." "No-one can hear you scream?") In an episode that is about Gaston Leroux-inspired musicals and musical theatre in general, this seems a bit of a weird thing to reference...
Whilst I'm on the subject of Ripley... wow, she was precious, wasn't she? I'm getting a distinct impression that Renwick has literally no concept of how children work. No child is that stupid, even if they have witnessed the gruesome death of their imaginary friend. Most children understand the concept of cutting heads off people/things in photographs because the majority of the time that's what they do themselves when they take pictures. Augh.
Plus all that stuff at the end where Ripley's mother is putting them off having any children, which sticks a knife in my ALTAF headcanon and twists it even further. I suspect I will reiterate some of this when I get around to my J/M essay, but basically, the whole reason ALTAF came about in the first place was because of Jonathan's interaction with Benjamin le Fley in "The Scented Room". Yes, it's an interaction based on friendship and recognition of his younger self, but there's also an element of paternalness about it, even if it's unconscious. ALTAF's Harry is an accident - a fact that is acknowledged from the very beginning - but when he arrives it changes everything. Jonathan would be a brilliant father, perhaps all the more so if fatherhood was foisted upon him when he least expected it, even if it was something he never anticipated would happen. (And even though Maddy isn't exactly ready either - in fact she's terrified of messing everything up - between them they make it work.) It just proves to me all the more that his life with Polly is nothing more than a marriage of convenience - more than her trying to save him from himself, it's Jonathan trying to absolve himself of any of the normal family-life responsibilities that would be expected of him, by virtue of them marrying so late in life and having jobs that could not accommodate the arrival of small children.
I wanted better for him than that, you know? *sigh*
Before I forget, I should mention the sourly-awaited Sherlock send-up. It was about as terrible as I'd anticipated - not so much affectionate as blatantly poking fun, from the actor's mannerisms to the quickfire close-ups and editing. (There's been some mention of the actor looking a bit like David Tennant, too - obviously a little jibe towards yet another popular series / leading man which Renwick feels threatened by.) Given the shambles of "...Savant's Thumb" and the generally subpar writing of "...Septimus Noone", I really think Renwick is in no position to throw stones. I've already ranted about him not even trying any more, so I shan't repeat it here...
Another thing that bugged me in this was that the play-on-words were just... predictable. The painting being upside down (Sawjoy = Holmes. REALLY? That name in particular? REALLY??) was dumb; as soon as I saw the signature in the top left corner I knew immediately what would happen, because seriously, who does that? As soon as they found the letters and questioned "Septimus who?" I made that connection as well. Septimus NO-ONE. Honestly, is that the best you can do?
Oh God and don't even get me started on the stupid Roomba / ashes thing. That was SO POINTLESS and added nothing to the plot. The only decent bit of mystery was the double-sided desk, which was thrown away in the last five minutes and could really have been used more. There were also a couple of moments where it hinted at Jonathan having figured something out, only to not return to it - such as him watching the illegal phone footage of the musical (oh, I did quite like that bit at the start with him disapproving of the other patrons - I'm with you there, Jonathan!) and commenting on something being different (would that be the fact that SHE HAS NO BELLY BUTTON, by any chance?), then later with him peeling the orange and making the peel / prosthetic skin connection. But not the navel connection, apparently? WTF? I dunno, it just seemed a bit slapdash.
Right, now for the main thing I want to talk about, which is (obviously) Polly. She was somewhat less unbearable this time around, I think only because the initial shock after "...Savant's Thumb" has now worn off, but there's still something about her, about them, that doesn't sit right with me...
For starters, Jonathan still seems somewhat resigned to his fate. There were a couple of moments where he perfunctorily put his arm around Polly to comfort her, but there didn't seem to be any genuine affection behind it. I mean, yes, we know he's not the most forward person when it comes to his emotions, especially because that's always in contrast to the various women in his life - Maddy's physical openness (though perhaps her own emotional guardedness also complimented Jonathan's, to a degree), Carla's unsubtle flirting, and Joey's youthful feistiness - but you'd think if he was married to someone he'd be somewhat less reluctant.
I mean, yes, obviously he loves her because otherwise he wouldn't have married her. I do still question exactly how that came about, but we'll have to run with it now it's there. But it's more like he's run out of options, that allowing Polly to run his life was infinitely easier than another decade of wondering what might have been. I thought Renwick had given the Maddy issue a full-stop finally by having Jonathan change his life like that, but there was a little comment from Polly in this episode which said quite a lot. Just before Ridley was introduced, she mentioned that they were "trying to put all that behind them", in regards to the impossible crimes business. Indeed, the duffelcoat did not appear at all, which was also very telling.
I just wonder how much "all that" encompasses - I like to think that in order for them to have a Proper Grown-Up Relationship, Polly needs to be aware of all that has gone before with Maddy and with Carla. Part of me hopes that she stepped into his life with perfectly good intentions, saw that he was hurting and wanted to help, but she's going about it in a really heavy-handed way. My bitterness about the windmill notwithstanding (I still can't get over that, I'm sorry), cutting everything out of his life, Adam and Joey included, just seems very extreme. She even comments at one point, "Sometimes I wonder who I've married." It's more than obvious that she doesn't really know him, she's just tried to mould him into someone else, and he's just quietly gone along with it to keep things simple.
More than that, she simply doesn't appreciate that particular side of his personality - the creative genius super-detective side of him that is basically EVERYTHING HE IS. Jonathan Creek is defined by what he does - his career with Adam, his sideline into impossible crimes - and without that he's just another faceless, nameless city professional. If that's what Polly wants then why on earth HAS she married him, when there are countless other boring marketing executives she could have picked? What is it that drew her to him? This is the thing I find most difficult to understand, because the way I see it, the main reason both Maddy AND Carla were so drawn to Jonathan was purely because of WHAT HE IS. With Maddy in particular, from the get-go it's been about the magic and the mystery and turning the impossible into the banal... so actually, maybe that's why Polly is so averse to it. Because if there's even the remotest possibility of Maddy ever returning, if she turns Jonathan into someone completely different, she doesn't have anything to worry about. :(
So basically, I'm taking her comment about putting things behind them as this episode's Maddy!mention (and its Joey!mention), and an acknowledgement from Polly that she's more than aware of his background even if she wants to erase it completely.
There was one particular moment when I missed Maddy really badly, too - when Jonathan was trying to get into the police-guarded dressing room to confirm his suspicions, and needed Polly to create a diversion. This is the sort of thing where in the olden days, Maddy would have been the one instigating that sort of behaviour, and would have no hesitation in acting / lying her way into a crime scene. The fact that Jonathan was the one orchestrating it says more, I think, for Maddy's influence on his life (as well as Carla and/or Joey's) than for Polly's. As much as she may want to, she will never erase that. In fact, by the end of the episode she even seemed to concede defeat and play along when it came to the mystery of the coffee-ring halo.
I think that's everything I wanted to cover, though I've doubtless forgotten something. Overall I thought it was okay, and was much less ambivalent about it than I was last time. Some fail-y moments, but some bits that were, if not gold, then at least bronze. :P
(A few bonus points for the NOPE factor as Polly was scrabbling around under the floorboards. NOT EVEN IF YOU PAID ME.)
So, there it is. Let's see what the next two weeks have to hold. I can't say I feel much better about the possibility of Caroline Quentin returning, even at this juncture, but let's not count our chickens, eh? ;)
In other news, I have a very annoying tickly cough which I suspect is as a result of there being no heating at the Access Centre and thus breathing in recycled fan-heater air. I've been sneezing / sniffly for months now so I wish it would just turn into a cold and be done with it!