My immediate reactions are already on Twitter but, as ever, this deserves a full write-up. So without further ado...
I'm going to have to split this into good and bad (and WTF) things about the episode again because I'm very tired this morning (if I'd known there was a bloody new episode on I would have pushed harder to have this week off work! :P) and because my short-term memory is very shoddy these days. I will probably still forget something.
The Good (ish)
The homages to Hammer / old 1950's schlock horror were great. It's always nice when a creator shows his/her influences and in that sense the episode delivered really well, although for me it wasn't as creepy as I would have liked. There were some really great creepy moments in earlier specials, particularly "Satan's Chimney" and "The Grinning Man" (that bathtub!) and in that sense this just didn't really deliver. The same was also true for the body horror / gore aspect, when compared to "Danse Macabre" (the crazed fan stealing the head from Emma Lazarus's corpse) or, of course, that horrific back-story of how Marella Carney died in "Black Canary". There just wasn't enough there, in my opinion, to create the effect Renwick was going for.
I also liked the references to old episodes (they mentioned both "House of Monkeys" and "Satan's Chimney" - bonus points for the cafetiere visual there!) and even Paul spotted that the interior of Daemon's Roost very closely resembled Alsager House, from "House of Monkeys", which I suspect was intentional. Nonetheless, suddenly making reference to previous episodes at this point is very jarring in an episode which, within the same 90 minutes, gives us hitherto unknown history about Jonathan as a child (including a newly-created older brother) and a previous case that the viewers have never been privy to, i.e. the "Striped Unicorn" or whatever that was.
It was also a somewhat strange thing to do when in the same episode there is reference to it having taken "five years" to sell Jonathan's windmill, and an exterior / distance shot of the building in question (though I don't know if it was Shipley Mill or a different one, as my understanding of why they couldn't continue filming there was because it had changed hands / was too expensive). There's also that ongoing subplot around Polly forcing Jonathan to "downsize" (i.e. throw away his entire childhood apparently), and all of the references to previous cases were accompanied by her disapproving expression. Like, OKAY RENWICK, WE GET IT. If Jonathan has moved on then LET HIM MOVE ON, but for the love of God don't make us sit there and watch it - have we not suffered enough?
Um... yeah. Apparently that was all the good I could find. Still borderline, TBF. :P
Oh, wait - Jonathan's scarecrow was pretty cool, but his wit is clearly lost on the local populace (and indeed on Polly).
The Bad (and WTF)
I barely even know where to start. The amount of heavy, disappointed sighs emanating from Paul have become a pretty good benchmark as to predictability / stupidity in the most recent episopdes, though. :P
So, first of all - the hobgoblin / gates of Hell thing. Were we really supposed to be baffled by how they achieved the being-pulled-into-the-fire trick? Really? Because I worked that out in about ten seconds. Surely anyone who's seen any kind of special effect like that just naturally attempts to work out how they achieved it? (Half the fun for me in re-watching Labyrinth as an adult is working out some of the effects!) Or do people in Renwick's universe just not bother? And all that stuff about electromagnets being used in magic tricks and the "heavy force or light force" nonsense. IT'S GRAVITY. QUITE OBVIOUSLY IT'S GRAVITY.
Also, are we really supposed to believe that a combination of drugs and really tight knots would prevent the witness from experiencing said gravity whilst tied to a vertical surface? Apparently, we are.
Paul caught this and I later found it myself to confirm, but when Stephen and Alison were first wandering around the house, there was a close-up of a film poster which listed a "David Wickren" amongst its credits. I feel like I shouldn't even justify this by acknowledging it considering it's barely even an anagram, but: CAREFUL RENWICK YOUR GOD COMPLEX IS SHOWING. (At least it's not a blatant self-insert like in "... Savant's Thumb".)
I think I will have to deal with all the Jonathan / Polly (I'm deliberately putting a space either side of that slash so as to delineate it from an actual pairing) stuff later because I have quite a lot to say about it. So for now I'll just stick to the plot, such as it was.
Whilst this episode was infinitely better than most of series 5, it remains painfully clear that Renwick has lost his touch, and continues to struggle to fill a 90-minute schedule slot. I honestly do wish the BBC would let the show bow out gracefully now, rather than keep enduring whatever detritus its creator is scraping from the recesses of his brain, because it's more than obvious that he's lost any interest or investment in the show. I think it was a mistake for the BBC to ask for (and air) a Christmas special when there's a new series of Sherlock coming in only a few days' time, and I say this all the more so now in light of Renwick's painful attempt at parodying it in series 5. I don't know what he was aiming for but the overall effect was one of petulant jealousy rather than affectionate pastiche.
From what I've seen on Twitter, some aspects of the plot were lost on viewers, particularly the identity of the man who was after Jonathan and his reasons for doing so. (This was explained: he was the perpetrator responsible for Elliot Strange's death in "House of Monkeys" and was initially described as a reformed character who was grateful for Jonathan solving the case because it gave him time to reflect on his behaviour.) To my mind, this is a perfect example of why it was a mistake to suddenly start referencing past episodes.
In a show with established canon, i.e. a show which has more than 28 episodes and which does not suffer from 2-3 year hiatuses between seasons, and moreover a show which is not the sole creation and responsibility of one man with no concept or care for his own characters' backgrounds, you can get away with referencing stuff like that. Farscape is the perfect example here, where a throwaway reference in Season 1 (namely, "Karen Shaw") turned into an awesome call-back in season 4. However, Jonathan Creek is the kind of show which people tune into at random, particularly when there are one-off specials such as this. Yes, there are some old-school die-hard fans like me who remember the first three series and indeed the early episodes, and I'm sure those references were a lovely little bit of nostalgia for those of us who are not embittered by the whole thing... but for anyone unaware of the show's background, those references probably felt as alien and made-up as the "Striped Unicorn" case, or the reference to "Mad Arabella" last series.
I mean, maybe if people are curious enough they'll do their research and watch the old episodes and realise how great this show used to be... but it's still a really strange choice to make at this point, and it will just pose more questions for people - the most predominant of which, I imagine, will be "Why on earth was Maddy / Adam / Carla / Joey written out?"
For my part, by the time Jonathan and Polly and Warwick Davies (I can't remember his character's name, sorry) were in the hotel bar for the Big Reveal, I had literally no clue what was going on. I managed to pick up that Stephen's previous wife (the banker) was the sister-in-law of the CCTV camera guy at the house, and that as a result of that he was the one responsible for Stephen's murder in the fire-pit thing, but beyond that there just seemed to be a lot of pointless words that didn't mean anything, and then the guy got off scot-free apparently?
As did Jonathan for just casually burning a man to death, which is clearly a proportionate self-defence response. More on that later...
All of this aside, there were so many moments which just made precisely zero amounts of sense, so I'm going to have to bullet-point them.
- Vodka ice cubes. Firstly, vodka does not freeze in a household freezer. Secondly, surely you would NOTICE that the ice cubes did not taste of water? (This is like the apple juice / petrol thing all over again.)
- Paul and I questioned this at the time but: why did Jonathan's would-be assassin check his new address and then get himself delivered there? (Short answer: because Renwick.) You've just SEEN THE ADDRESS. Get a smartphone and Googlemap that shit. I surmised at the time that maybe he was just checking he'd got the right address in the first place (i.e. looking for Jonathan's name) but that's tenuous at best.
Thinking on it a bit now, I guess he thought he'd be conveniently dropped into the house by being inside the box, but there was every possibility he could have ended up in a shed or lock-up or similar. It's lazy writing, but moreover a very lazy criminal. :P
- In the same vein, why did the delivery men not notice that the cabinet they'd LITERALLY JUST MOVED (down at least one flight of stairs and a garden path) was suddenly several kilos heavier?
- Alison's telephone message: has Renwick never heard / left a voicemail in his life? (a) There's a time limit on those things; (b) why would you recount that entire story and not just ask for a call-back? (c) I'm surprised Polly hasn't made them go ex-directory to stop shit like this happening; and (d) if Alison got the number from Stephen because of his prior association with Jonathan, then why on earth wasn't it his mobile number? It's 2016 FFS!!
- The bit where Alison's step-father was attempting non-verbal communication with his eyes came across as ridiculous rather than mysterious. It reminded me of the "Janet! Brad! Janet! Dr Scott! Rocky!" scene in RHPS and I'm pretty sure that's not the effect they were going for. Also the final reveal of that was utterly stupid. PHONEY? REALLY? I was at least expecting some kind of cryptic clue in the movie poster or something not just literally "phone+Y".
- I have been saying this since series 5 but it remains true: Renwick has no concept of how children work. This pertains not only to baby!Jonathan (more later) but Alison as well, and her overhearing "haemoglobin" as "hobgoblin". Which, yes, okay, I'll buy that a small child would hear a similar-sounding word and assume it was something mythical, but surely at some point in later life - say, during GCSE Biology lessons - she might hear the word "haemoglobin" and put two and two together? How on earth can someone reach a legitimate adult age and still believe that her mother and sisters were killed by a Mysterious Force, or at the very least not do any research into the actual cause?
Death certificates. Medical research. These are things which exist and are easily accessible. If she is also susceptible to this potentially-made-up genetic mutation then surely at some point someone would have sat her down and explained that to her, even at a young age? Surely she would have been tested? WHY WOULD YOU JUST LET A CHILD BELIEVE HER FAMILY HAD BEEN KILLED BY A DEMON??? This whole concept is making me more and more angry the more I think it through.
I am seriously starting to wonder if David Renwick has some deep-rooted issues from childhood which he's never addressed. We had Polly and her Sandman thing last series, and now Alison never being told about her potentially deadly genetic condition by anyone around her. And let's not forget Maddy in all of this, and her 17-year-old self's tragic loss.
Ugh. Ridiculous. Let's move on.
- Not gonna lie, at the point where the assassin made his first attempt on Jonathan's life and Rev. Warwick Davies advised them to find somewhere secluded to stay for a while, my first reaction was this: WHAT A SHAME YOU SOLD THE REMOTE WINDMILL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE WHICH WOULD HAVE FULFILLED ALL OF THESE CRITERIA. I was fully expecting the next shot to be them approaching it by car, because apparently I did not predict the painful exposition of that entire set-up. More fool me, I guess. :P
- I was also waiting for either Jonathan or Polly to "find" the underground vault by falling through a badly-concealed hole in the floor within about 10 seconds of starting the search, because apparently that's how far my expectations for this show have fallen.
- Jonathan literally burned a man to death and shut him in a pit, supposedly in self-defence, and nobody thought to question it when Stephen's body was later removed. Jonathan received a side-eye glance from a policeman and that was it. What the actual fuck???
God, I can't even be bothered any more.
Jonathan and Polly and Everything in Between
Okay, I needed to put all of this in a separate section because it would have gotten lost in the general WTF-ery of the rest of the episode. Potentially a lot to say about this, again, and whilst I will attempt to be coherent, I can't promise anything.
Firstly, I thought the two specific previous episode references were very interesting, namely "House of Monkeys" and "Satan's Chimney". I make no lie of the fact that "HoM" is my favourite episode, mostly because I'm predictable but also because it's an example of how the show could be silly but clever at the same time. If we look at it specifically in the context of Jonathan/Maddy, however, it's an episode which is an obvious turning point into territory that they'd previously attempted (and failed) to ignore, and potentially a trigger for the (unseen) attempt at a relationship in series 3, after spending series 2 exhausting all other options.
The mention of "Satan's Chimney", in that context, is like a hammer-blow to the heart, as it was in this episode that Maddy was unceremoniously disposed of by sending her to America. The last "official" mention of her is in "Seer of the Sands" at the end of series 4, with continued surrepticious references to her in the majority of episodes up until the most recent run of shows with Polly. I don't know, it almost feels like Renwick deliberately made reference to those two episodes in particular to remind us of his fickle whims.
(As ever, I remain unsure whether his behaviour is subtle, deliberate self-sabotage, or if he's honestly oblivious to the fact that VIEWERS ACTUALLY REMEMBER THINGS.)
That being said: according to the school report read out by Polly, Jonathan's middle initial has mysteriously changed from "J" to "W". I know it was previously "J" because in "Omega Man" there is a deliberate close-up of his signature on the cheque he writes for the animal sanctuary.
If you're wondering why this bothers me so much... well, quite aside from it being lazy writing (how hard would it be to look it up and check, honestly?), the whole idea of Jonathan's middle name starting with "J" has made its way into two separate headcanons for me now. In my episode tag for "Jack in the Box" there's a conversation between Jonathan and Maddy at the hotel where they have dinner (after escaping the torrential rain) where he drops that his middle name is "alliterative" in response to finding out that Maddy's sister is called Marion. He refuses to divulge what it actually is but also surmises that if he had a sibling his mother would have done the same.
In ALTAF headcanon I gave Harry the middle name of "Jeremiah" on the assumption that this is the same as Jonathan's, and that Sally Creek might have given her only son a ridiculous middle name on purpose, possibly in competition with Ingrid Strange (who's son is called Jordan, of course, so now I'm imagining his middle name is Jereboam or Jedediah or something equally Biblical and silly.) I have no idea at which point Jonathan actually reveals this middle name to Maddy but her response is not hard to guess. ;)
This is the thing with this show: we are given these tiny little snippets and we run with them, because that's all we can do. And then Renwick comes along with his creator-like hobnail boots and stamps all over us. :(
Leading on from that, up until now it has always been inherently assumed that Jonathan was an only child. This has never been expressly stated but I'm pretty sure, after however many rewatches, I would have remembered him mentioning an older brother. The "only child" theory is held out particularly by Jonathan's interactions with Benjamin LeFley in "The Scented Room", where he recognises himself in Benjamin and offers him a little piece of magic to get him started. Let's face it, Jonathan is not the kind of person to have a natural aptitude for communicating with children, and my theory has always been that perhaps Jonathan experienced a similar sort of childhood - a middle class upbringing where he wanted for nothing but perhaps did not get everything he needed (I suspect his father might have been somewhat emotionally distant and we know his mother was a doctor, so that in itself indicates a level of unintentional absence on her part) - and found magic at a young age as a way of keeping himself entertained. He feels a kinship with Benjamin because he recognises the loneliness and the need for something more hands-on than a stupid tree-house with a lift.
So, this whole thing about "Terry" and Jonathan inheriting his magic set and Terry sending him letters from fairies... I just do not buy it, nor do I want it. I got the impression that perhaps Terry was no longer around and might have died quite young (but seeing as we weren't given any further context, I think I got that more from Alan's interpretation than the actual writing - go figure), so the magic set held an emotional connection in that sense. (Which makes me hate Polly all the more for persuading him to throw it out.) But, like... again, this relates to Renwick not understanding children... Jonathan would remember where he'd hidden those letters, if they were really that important to him. HE HAS A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY or at least something akin to one, and even if he hadn't remembered exactly where he'd hidden them, handling the broken globe would certainly have triggered the right neurones. When we are presented with tangible elements of our past we remember all sorts of things that we might otherwise have filed away. The human brain is a fascinating thing, and Jonathan's brain is on another level entirely.
But let's face it - that skip was an obvious metaphor for how Renwick wants us to perceive this new incarnation of Jonathan, that he has literally let everything in his past go (including by burning it, in one case...) and by default so should we. Frankly, it's insulting: you can't tell us how to feel, Renwick, you sanctimonious twit. You can't tell us how we should engage with your creation. Fandom is subjective; we don't love it just because you've oh-so-generously allowed us to share these characters with you, and we will not stop moaning about how great things used to be just because you've drawn a full-stop. If anything, we will turn it into a semi-colon.
(One of these days I will find a fandom which is not overseen in some aspect by complete and utter dickbags. Quite possibly this will occur shortly before the world ends.)
Anyway. Deep breaths. Move on.
I know I say this every time, but I really, really want to like Polly. I do. I want to give her a chance. But... I'm sorry, she's just awful. Worse than Carla, who at least had relationship issues contributing to her behaviour - even Carla did not try to turn Jonathan into something he's not. Even Carla could appreciate a good thing when she saw it. Polly is just a terrible person - a terrible wife. Jonathan gives an inch and she demands a mile. He gives a mile and she demands an acre. And he acquiesces every time, just for an easy life.
So apparently it's taken five years to sell the windmill. How many of those five years have actually been spent attempting to sell it, I wonder? How long has Jonathan been clinging on to it in the hopes of convincing Polly otherwise? It seems a bit odd that they're only just clearing it out now - you'd think if it was being sold it would be empty already, particularly as they had that MASSIVE HOUSE in series 5 which was clearly big enough to accommodate Jonathan's accumulated possessions. Except now they've "downsized" for whatever reason - and presumably also sold the aforesaid massive house for a tidy sum, so whatever they make on the windmill is peanuts in comparison.
I still have feels about the windmill; I can't help it. Jonathan himself said, in the very first episode, that it had been in his family for generations. It's his family's legacy and there's no way he would lose it without a fight. But apparently Polly can sell off her past with nary a backward glance, and she expects Jonathan to follow suit. And maybe he did put his foot down about this particular thing, for a while - at least, I really hope so - but just got tired of arguing.
Just, God, Jonathan, why are you still with her?
I want to throttle sense into him. I came to terms with the marriage and how it presumably came about, after several emails' worth of introspection with commoncomitatus, and even though I still couldn't accept it I could at least appreciate it for what it was and where it came from. But we're now five years later, Jonathan is getting back into the Impossible Crimes business despite all of Polly's efforts to thwart it (like not passing on the telephone message - her finger pressing the 'Delete' button was all-too-obviously implied), and I just don't understand why he's not calling her on her behaviour. She shuts down any mention of his past life before it has a chance to be recalled.
I find myself wondering, again, how much of Jonathan's past history she's really aware of - specifically, Maddy. I'm convinced that the Aftermath of Maddy is part of the reason he's with Polly at all, and that she must be aware of that at least to some degree. If that's the case then she clearly feels threatened despite Maddy's absence, because whilst there's never been a set return date the possibility of her coming back is always hanging over them, and she cannot predict what Jonathan might do when faced with the object of that eternally doomed romance. (Jonathan was clearly still a little in love with Maddy even up to "The Judas Tree", and nothing you say will convince me otherwise. :P) She's succeeded partway in creating a new, different Jonathan, but she has no control over other people raking up his past endeavours to remind him of who he was, and that must be infuriating.
...Wait, did someone say "Mary Sue" just then? :P
(Oddly enough I had never considered Polly as an extension of Renwick before, because he spent so long before Polly venting his frustrations with ex-cast members via Jonathan. Suddenly everything makes perfect sense!)
I keep hoping for some little pinprick of light or moment of clarity around this relationship, and four episodes later there's still nothing but unanswered questions and unrelentingly awful character writing. Sarah Alexander is a great actress but she's only using what she's been given, and what she's been given is terrible. There have been a handful of moments where I've almost liked Polly and they've always been when she's sort-of on board with Jonathan puzzling something out, when there's a chance she might actually redeem herself, and then she reverts to being awful again five minutes later.
I think I need to stop now, because I'll end up going in circles.
Actually, one more thing: it's quite telling that for quite a lot of the episode I kept picturing how things would play differently if Maddy was there. Like the dead rats in the bedroom drawer (which are potentially also a call-back to "Mother Redcap" along with the image of Alison's mother supposedly screaming at the window...) - I like to imagine that Maddy would just open the drawer, shriek and slam it shut again and Jonathan would just know. Or even just how differently receiving that telephone message would have gone... plus I bet she'd have gotten his Alfred Hitchcock reference without even trying - and then would have made her own scarecrow look like Adam, obviously. ;)
Sigh. One of these days I'll do a series 4 onwards rewrite in ALTAF universe to make myself feel better...
Anyway, I think that was everything I wanted to mention. Doubtless I will have forgotten something blindingly obvious. :P
Now that this is done, I have a half-drafted Year in Review Meme to post as well. Watch this space...
(PS: Apparently I haven't got any Creek icons on Dreamwidth. Derren will have to do instead...)