Thursday 13 September 2018

How Emotional Commitment to a TV Story Fails

Update Late 13th September

Had I not thought any of the below, about wrenching a narrative, simply watching series 3 episodes 11 and 12 (I'm about to finish it on 13) would have driven me nuts. Never mind the ridiculous chance meetings and such, and 'flown-in' characters, the whole thing is now away with the fairies. The author, Diana Gabaldon, having done a good historical time travel piece, must simply have been on something mind-bending and toxic to come up with such continuous tripe. What a shame.

Update very early 14th September (1:20 am some would still say 13th!)

After episode 13. Utter cock, complete bullshit. It's like narrative betrayal. I can imagine that the bones scene when she was in the twentieth century when she had intuition of the female body's death was put in afterwards, once in effect a new novel was being written half way through the third one.

Yet Another Update.

Saturday 14th I started watching Outlander from the beginning. Fantastic. I watched Series 1 Episode 1 three times, in fact, one with subtitles. So much passes by. This is also how I read: several times over one page, and also reading the subtitles gets the infoimation. It must be my training. I now have seen other reviews that agree with me about series 3, and someone commented to me on Facebook that she had the same response with the books (beyond series 3 as well) whilst still having her emotional attachment to the main characters.

 I like a good story, and I like one that has multiple themes and length. Rather by accident, this year I bumped into Outlander episodes shown every night on the television channel, More 4. The series is based on the Diana Gabaldon books  - - each with their own title.

Like all good viewers, I invested some emotional response into the story presented, and purchased DVDs to do it in some more personal depth, but I have to report a wrenching out of this, as a result of viewing series 3 after half way, and with the ability to read plot summaries later on for the books at least.

Outlander was not a repeat from Channel 4's showing. Only More 4 showed each episode twice, and thus meant the ability to see multiple times with a More 4 +1 channel. However, this does not mean four times maximum, because with adverts it ran at 1 hour and 15 minutes and sometimes longer. The final one of series 2, in September 2018, was 1 hour 50 with adverts, and showing four times meant a creative three times viewing: first through, secondly the final 50 minutes on +1, next time through to an hour, and then the whole 1: 45 (given as five minutes less) on +1. Why? Because, in one viewing I miss so much. For some reason on the final episode the subtitles were not working, and usually a second viewing was with subtitles. In general, I saw each episode usually twice or nearly three times.

The programme was shown almost with no publicity at all. My friends had not even heard of the programme. I understand that it has suffered because of domination of Game of Thrones. I have never watched Game of Thrones and, based on information from those who have, it has no appeal to me. I suspect there are people either Outlander types or Game of Thrones types, on whether you want some anchoring in history or pure fantasy. I want anchoring in history around which there can be a story: time travel gives an anchoring in history and depth.

I like a bit of time travel. I used to like Goodnight Sweetheart, the comedy, but it was very flawed. It did overstretch and was too tied later on to the Blair years as a kind of capitalist optimism and aspirational croneyism. It started breaking its own rules of logic in time travel as events were changed. In one episode, to change the future was to create a new universe, but later the past was messed about with so that present day events experienced simply disappeared. In 2016, when the first Outlander series was shown, the BBC did a revival episode of Goodnight Sweetheart, which could have started a whole new series. But, unlike with Americans, the BBC shut down any such future, even though the actors would have reformed after nearly two decades.

In Outlander the time travel was not frequent at all, and mainly meant knowledge in advance of events, especially with preparations by the time-travelling female lead character. The first pass over into just over 200 years back was stated as without expectation or knowledge. There was a second I also did not see, and the third came after the two leads were twenty years apart after the disaster of Culloden Moor. (Culloden village, incidentally, is a place of early medical comprehensive coverage, cited in the Beveridge Report that formed the NHS. Me thinks that the Claire Randall medic character might have discovered that, but she did not, probably because Diana Gabaldon did not.)

It is American made: but located principally in Scotland, it tries to stay accurate to the books and the history of the Jacobite period. I have not read the books at all.

Its main flaw is the assumption of Catholicism with Prince and the population. In fact the Catholics were a minority even among the Gaels; many were Scottish Episcopalians and a number were Presbyterian. They did not agree on religion. Lead man Jamie Fraser is presented as Roman Catholic. Also the drama forgets the argument that is critical: not just that the English army would have prevented a march to London, but that some of the Jacobites were concerned for Scotland only to restore the Stuart dynasty.

As for watching, the frequency of the advert breaks was irritating and so is the logo on the top left of the screen. I do turn over, I go elsewhere, and I put the sound off until the Outlander card returned. After the repeat run of the first series the second showed every Thursday, so I always cleared the decks from 9 pm to watch and into the night.

When the series ended, I went out the next day and purchased series 1 and 2 together as DVDs and series 3 alone (cheaper than 1 - 3). I decided to go straight on and view series 3. Series 2 ends in 1968, and then series 3 starts by going from 1947/8 through to 1968, and then she goes back again. I've said to my friends, this is two historical periods, because 1947 (and even 1968) are not now. Goodnight Sweetheart was of now (then!) going to back before (Second World War) and it ended with him trapped back in time after the end of the War once the engineers closed the time portal. In the 2016 Goodnight Sweetheart revival, the portal opened via a clash of him holding himself as a baby (with a space shift as well). But Outlander has two historical periods: indeed the American section for Claire emphasises 1950s' inequality and makes a point that, in some ways, the eighteenth century had more scope for personal breadth.

However, I'm afraid this American desire to have a franchise (yes, some British authors do this as well) and for television to go on and on has lost it with me. I've hit a point where it has lost credibility and blown my ability to suspend disbelief.

First of all, I am really pleased to have purchased these DVDs and don't regret it. The higher cost of the season 3 DVD that will only show here next year is not a problem, even if I have decided I can't go further with episodes. (I'll watch them but I won't emotionally invest in them.) I'm looking forward now to starting from series 1 and seeing those I missed. It is such a pleasure to be able to watch without adverts and without the logo interfering with vision.

The wrenching away of my suspension of disbelief is not because of the time travel, but the uprooting. Characters and plot are formed in location; changes of location have to work with previous locations and with reasons for change that are sustainable.

The basic and unravelled story is roughly this. A wartime nurse back in a location of Scotland is with husband Frank in a Rector's house where there are peculiar stories of the locality. There is his research into a genealogical connection back into Jacobite terms: Frank Randall is a descendent of an English soldier Black Jack Randall. The nurse stumbles back to the Highland clan life, being completely disorientated about what has happened. She is thought to be an English spy - Caitriona Balfe is an Irish actor who maintains a cut-glass English accent throughout: on the DVD interviews she seems to me to be acting as a clone American Hollywood model actor. She looks better, far better, as the Irish woman she is and indeed as she appears in Outlander. She encounters Jack Randall among others.

The fugitive and Laird, Jamie Fraser, takes her on after a time, marries her for her protection, and there follows the developing core love story. She goes through several adventures, with a cast of clan and English characters, including noticing a smallpox innoculation scar on a woman who saves her life - she turns out to be a rather bonkers and destructive Scottish Nationalist of an earlier and very romanticist politics. (These days Scottish Nationalists tend to be respectable social democrats interested in citizenship not nationalism.) Claire Randall, as now Claire Fraser, tells all to Jamie Fraser, the clan leader, and he knows she is of the future.

The problems of the Highlanders clashing with the British and themselves causes them problems, but the Jacobite issue arises, in which the other time traveller was deeply involved. In the knowledge that Culloden was a disaster, Jamie and Claire go to France and try to thwart developments towards Culloden, to change history and stop the disaster. Here, Claire has a stillborn child. I did like the presentation of Charles Stewart, and then in series 3 the fiction's 'joke' when Claire Fraser is visiting a museum and says regarding a display of him that he was not so tall in real life.

(The historical question has to be if there had been no Culloden battle and subsequent ethnic cleansing, whether it would have made any difference to the economic ethnic cleansing that followed on. My thought is no: the landlords would have turned land with people over to sheep regardless.)

Despite all attempts, the French-based and later Scottish located attempts to stop this (final) Jacobite rising fails. Claire does secure the family line to produce her first husband, Frank Randall, so that all is correct on the genealogy chart, and only after this is Jack Randall is killed at Culloden by Jamie Fraser himself in the TV series.

Before Culloden, and because Jamie knows Claire has missed a period or two, he gets her through the stones at Craigh Na Dun and to safety. In confusion in 1948 she reads up on Culloden in general, but after three years away in the past, and after she has told her bizarre story, Frank makes a deal with her to restore marriage and raise this coming baby on the basis that she forgets Jame Fraser and follows Frank to a new job in Boston, USA. Thus starts the long separation in which Jamie recovers from Culloden, and, via prison and avoiding transportation abroad, eventually gains a kind of freedom, via aliases too. Claire appreciates Frank as a father but lives a difficult life with him and develops herself as a surgeon doctor.

When Jamie's daughter, Brianna, born November 1948, reaches twenty, and after father has been killed in a road accident, mother and daughter go to the funeral of the Rector, intending also to spend time in England. But the adopted son of the rector, has an eye for Brianna. He is himself in a long line of descent from the mad woman who went back from 1968 to the Jacobite times (she thus had her own time gap through the stones - over 220 years). So, instead of mother and daughter driving on the wrong side of the road at night, they stay at the house and indeed keep staying at the house as mother reminicenses her past and Brianna discovers via the rector's diaries and twenty year old archives that Claire was missing for three years, and a November 1968 birth demonstrates to her that she was not Frank Randall's daughter at all. She suspects that her mother's own trips to nearby memory-based locations is a rekindling of mother's old affair with her real father. Her mother's explanation about a 202 year drop to the past for three years is as much 'back from the fairies' as the press articles of 1948. Brianna does not believe it: her closeness to her deceased father is becoming hostility to her mother.

However, academic historian (again) Roger, adopted son of the deceased, goes to the local higher education institution with Brianna, and she encounters the other time traveller (who does go backwards and forwards), and as the bizarre mother's story develops Roger says go along with it because this will confront the fantasy. Claire knows that the woman going back is going to meet her death at a witch trial (in fact she doesn't, but she doesn't yet know that), and on their chase to warn her, Brianna sees this woman pass through the central stone of the circle. Thus she now believes her mother. At this point Roger knows that Jamie survived Culloden. What they cannot achieve is knowing what happened to him after prison. He could have been transported to the colonies, for example.

So Claire gives up "chasing ghosts" and Brianna and mother return to Boston USA. However, in the television series but not the book, Roger goes unannounced to Boston at Christmas armed with the evidence of Jamie's whereabouts one year earlier than Claire's time gap of going back. A printed piece from 1765 using a future line of Robbie Burns printed by a man with Jamie's middle names is enough to 'prove' his location in Edinburgh at a print shop. Once she reveals this secret to her 'no more secrets' daughter, daughter says mother must go back. Claire makes a coat of many pockets, with a daft use of the 1960s Batman theme, steals some surgery equipment and antibiotics, and makes the air journey to Scotland and travels to near Inverness to pass through from 1968 to 202 years earlier. (Why Batman? Because it is of the time, and also featuring in their viewing are The Avengers and a precisely dated edition of Doctor Who.) Claire finds Jamie and both find that each other have lived a life; a theme is Jamie only ever being a concealed, substitute or absent father.

I have unjumbled the non-linear presentation in the book and TV series as I recall it.

The reason the TV series had Roger go to Boston to see Brianna and reveal his finding of Jamie's location is a criticism of the book (Voyager). In the book the discovery is in Scotland. I know this because the DVD commentaries told me. The TV producers knew that Brianna, who could hear the noise of the stones, would want to go back herself. She doesn't. Indeed, if I was such a daughter, and one getting close to a history academic bloke (she does history too, but prefers architecture), and he also hears the noise, then I would want to go and meet my real father. Instead, father sees photographs, a medium to shock, and further so as one has Brianna in a bikini.

Claire's return is something of a pot-boiler of events along with the discovery of his other life, as indeed he discovers about the daughter he'd assumed would be a son. Claire had said would be named after his father, Brian. There are ongoing clashes calling for reconciliation.

But soon, a happenstance leads to a complete change of direction. Indeed the film unit for all this goes to South Africa for scenes in the West Indies.

For me, personality, even love for one another, is located among other people and in location, or places that relate. France works, and the need to clear the decks and go to Boston works. But what does not work is a chance event by which Claire, utterly uncertain of her future because of all the changes, is going to sail across an ocean far and further from those stones and her daughter. It just does not carry credibility. The title music adapts, so that 'Over the Sea to Skye' is hardly relevant.

And so I lost the ability to suspend disbelief. I already know that there is a family tree for Outlander, where Roger and Brianna have children.

The books (reading the synopses) clearly arrange some matters differently: Jamie's son Willie is not revealed as early as in the TV series, but to me the book Voyager becomes a potboiler of coincidences and bumped into characters: the time travelling woman they thought was executed, is where they end up, and she has the boy taken by happenstance upon a ship, and even the prison governor is there as the local island (?) governor. It's like a selective transplant. Brianna only features here as the desired sacrifice of the other time traveller with her weird ideas. Jamie kills her. Then Claire and Jamie go from Jamaica to Georgia. It looks like it goes on and on. No doubt Diana Gabaldon draws on American history instead. In the to come Season 4, showing on TV in the UK on More 4 in 2019, Brianna may appear at the end: book 4 ends with Brianna going back in time and Roger chasing.

And there are planned seasons 5 and 6, despite the overshadowing by Game of Thrones. Are they sure they will still earn from this? Book 5 and, presumably season 5, has Brianna and Roger living in America back in time with Jamie and Claire, and daughter and son-in-law later go back to the future in book 7 (I gather). I wanted her going back in 3, and within the essence of location that forms the personalities and what adventures would come. And why not have Jamie go forward, for a better life, perhaps if he was ill, and deal with that? Keep it tight, keep it wrapping around itself.

So I will watch on, but I don't like this linear random chance narrative. To me, a story is told and worked into depth and is concluded. Stories have to end. This Claire ends up marrying the one time prison governor and island governor, only for Jamie to reappear again - in another changed location. It beggars belief.

Stories work because they end. Then tell a new one, with new people. I liked 1, 2 and half of 3 series because it had depth, purpose and consistency. It took a situation and worked it through, and was a fantasy but rooted. This to me now is just going on and on, and loses its anchor. It takes until Book 7 for much to happen in Scotland again with the main characters, but from what I can see it involves something along the lines of regurgitating, and book 8 is backwards and forwards with events.

Therefore I have stopped giving commitment emotionally half way through series 3. 1, 2 and part of 3 is long enough and does the job. I can imagine better, I think. I'll watch, and I may buy series 4, but I'm not sure until I see reviews and a summary of the television series episodes.

Sunday 2 September 2018

New Political Season: A White Knuckle Ride

The new political season is upon us, so it is now time to be a fool and make some predictions. The one lesson we must have been taught these past five years or so is not to make predictions. So, here goes.

Jeremy Corbyn won't last two months as Labour leader. Oh how things change within a year. His failure to stop a story has now led to him being fatally weakened. If Labour holds a cheering rally this year as last, it will look hollow and confirm negativity. Labour's rescue is in their own hands: Corbyn stands down. No doubt the members will elect another left winger, but maybe one without the Corbyn associations.

If he does not go, then Labour MPs cannot simply hold another vote of no confidence. If they do that, then it is up to them to act. It means a split, but the lesson of the 1980s is that there is no place for a fourth party. Another lesson is not to split the left to let in the right. These days the first past the post system lets parties win when the other side is divided, which is why now (with fewer marginal constituencies than back in the 1980s to 1990s) hefty vote blocks can still lead to minority government.

Thus a split will only work if the Labour MPs mean to isolate the current Labour Party and sink it. That's the reality. Otherwise, they needn't bother.

Much of this may be overtaken by the demise of Theresa May. In this case, the Labour MPs as opposition do an informal split. They'll do the necessaries later (as they see it). Because we have the pincer movement of the Chequers Proposals of the EU negotiation on the one hand, and the Houses of Parliament on the other. Theresa May can get the coming legislation through if she loses the party majority in the House of Commons. What comes up regarding the EU is greater than any party leader and, indeed, any party position, especially as the Conservative Party is split to the point of name-calling. There is bitterness in those ranks. If May runs with 'Chequers' or a watered down version, she loses the Tory Party, if she doesn't run with a watered down version, she loses the Commons. However, don't rely on the Tory rebels: they have a habit of caving in at the last minute. But the days of caving in and waiting until next time are running out: there is no next time. Now is the time to at the very least stay in the Customs Union and Single Market.

However, ever since the days of Tony Blair not trusting the House of Commons, the government has controlled the Commons timetable. There are no more guillotines or filibusters. The time to strike is pre-ordained now, so everyone must be ready at the appropriate moment, with no more absences and forgetting. The point is, it is very difficult to rise up in the House against the government even when there is the majority to do it. Who will facilitate this? Corbyn won't. As well as being incompetent, he isn't of a mood to protect our place in the European Confederation.

Nevertheless, as well as the leadership plotting, there have been cross-party meetings. I still don't think there is quite enough to lead to a new Centre-Radical Party. A trigger for a formal split may be reducing the MPs from 650 to 600, demanding reselections, if the legislation is introduced and goes through. But, in the meantime, there is enough co-operation for someone like Chuka Umunna to be the man of the moment to rise up beyond his front bench and do some informal leadership.

So I am predicting that there will be a new informal leadership in the House of Commons bypassing both front benches. Chuka is the leader, and the group covers many Labour MPs, all the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists for the purposes of the EU legislation, and the Tory pro-Europeans. Each Party will have its own sub-leaders too. This is important for co-ordination. In such a situation, Theresa May will fall, the House of Commons will organise itself, Corbyn will also be sidelined.

May be this will force a General Election. But a General Election will only work if MPs organise informally or formally and have personal manifestos on the Europe question. Only the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are set up as unified pro and anti European Union. There may well be template manifestos, so that there will be this group and that group providing choice at the General Election - again, bypassing the Party system as it stands.

Labour's new leader may prevent a split; the Tories' new leader is likely to cause a split. The trauma of politics today is likely to cause divisions and new alliances, but at the moment the job is to strike at the timetabled legislation according to need.

So, let's go with the new political season. It is going to be a white knuckle ride.