Parade’s End and On Being Cumberbatched

Perhaps I should begin this review with a reference to my earlier one of Star Trek: Into Darkness, where I posted a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch and lauded his ability to be so, so deliciously ruthless.  Well, I went to see the movie again after that review, and upon a second viewing, realized that not only was BC a wonderful actor, he was so wonderful that he actually became the focus of the movie, that he was literally what I was watching and watching for throughout the movie.

Fast forward a month or so, and imagine me, here at home, about to do some tedious work that requires me to sit still for hours on end.  My solution: find something on Netflix to play in the background. I consulted my queue and saw Kahn sitting right there!  in Sherlock, a BBC show that I’d been meaning to watch for ages but had previously skipped over in favor of other stuff.

I did not make up this name nor do I endorse it. That being said, it is kind of funny and clever.

So, I watched the show and think it is brilliant!, despite JRP’s objections to SH saving The Woman (which I find to be totally plausible).   Then, out of curiousity, I decided to follow BC on Instagram (he’s not on IG, BTW, but Mindy Kaling is!), and found out that he has 155,000+ pictures and videos posted (with 3,000+ added in ONE DAY).  I was absolutely blown away by the fandom that has developed for this actor and by their chosen name, the Cumberbitches, and that liking this particular actor has a name as well, in which his name has become a gerund, as in I have been cumberbatched, which loosely translates into being fascinated by him and his work.  My astonishment comes from the fact is: Benedict Cumberbatch is not THAT cute.  He’s slightly awkward and goofy looking. And, he’s acting in parts that are pretty high on the Geek factor — Star Trek?  Sherlock?  Stephen Hawking? Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? It’s not like he’s the next Channing Tatum.

So, what is it, then, that inspires such admiration, mostly from girls, who are willing to post thousands of pictures of him and endow themselves with monikers such as “unhealthybenaddiction,” “sherlockedcumberbabe,” and “the cumberqueens”?  Perphaps, it is the deep voice?  Yes, that’s part of it… and it’s biological, the attraction to men with deep voices (and women with higher pitched voices…).  His voice is pretty nice. He is, after all, the voice of Stephen Hawking and Jaguar.  Okay, but voice can’t be all of it or we’d have a bunch of RickWOmEn (as in Alan Rickman).

So, maybe it’s the eyes? Yes, they are nice, and yes, they have their own blog, and they are heterochromatic, but lots of folks have nice eyes.

I can’t speak for all of them, of course, but for me, I think it’s that he’s just genuinely a good actor, and I know this after watching Parade’s End, a co-production of HBO and BBC.

This show explores an era that I am woefully lacking in historical and cultural knowledge about (I know who Franz Ferdinand is… kind of… but not much more, at least not much that doesn’t have to do with teaching Frost or Hemingway)– the time period before, during and after World War 1–and it is set in England (mostly). ( Just so you know, I am not a Downton Abbey watcher, so I have no basis of comparison, though I think that show has a similar setting.)  The main characters are Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch), Sylvia Satterthwaite Tietjens (Rebecca Hall), and Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens), who are involved in a very complicated and long-lasting love triangle.   The series is written by Tom Stoppard, perhaps best known for Shakespeare in Love but I love Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead best, and is based on the trilogy of novels by Ford Madox Ford.

This series was utterly fascinating, in part because it exposes so much of the issues of the time period.  The Tietjens, though, are the real draw to this series.  Every decision and action and motivation, every single one, was one that I agonized over with them.  Now that I’ve finished watching, I wish more people I know had watched the show or read the books so that we could discuss, in depth, the decisions of all the characters, but none more so than Sylvia.

Throughout the show (and even in the adverts for the show,  where Sylvia is called “manipulative” and presented as the one who orchestrates a “destructive marriage” between Christopher and “the beautiful but cruel socialite Sylvia“) Sylvia is cast as the antagonist and villain to Christopher’s heroism,to his stoic and steadfast commitments and his decency. Sylvia and others call him “the last descent man in England,” and he is portrayed as just that.  So, what does that make the woman who takes advantage of that decency?

But, it is Valentine, though, who makes us question Sylvia’s villainy, though indirectly.  In her suffragette convictions, she shows just how much women had to fight for and just how restrictive society was for women during this era.  It is Sylvia, after all, who is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love, Christopher, because she will be ruined and cast out of society because of a pregnancy.  And, yes, she doesn’t know who the father is — Christopher or Drake– but the last time I looked, it takes two people to make a baby.  While Christopher and Sylvia aren’t in love, she tries the best that she can, given her circumstances, to create a happy and loving marriage.  Again, the failed marriage isn’t solely her fault — Christopher does very little to comfort or love her, other than providing her with the protection that his name and their marriage affords her.  It is Sylvia who gave penance for five years, who bucked cultural norms to make it to France to try for a last valiant effort of reconciliation, and who was willing to change almost everything about herself to try to fit into his notion of the ideal woman.

While I think that we’re supposed to see Christopher and Valentine’s love as the pure, sweet and good love that we all seek, I wonder if it isn’t Sylvia who shows us what love really is.  She spurs Christopher to seek out happiness, to grow and change, to be able to admit that he’s wrong, and to see the world as it is, rather that as he would want it to be.  Those lessons come at a great cost, including her own hurt feelings and her potential societal ruin as a divorced woman, but I wonder if the price is worth it, after all. Because Christopher is such a good man, a man who struggles on and strives to do right, it seems like it, at the end since he is, finally, happy.  His happiness only comes about because Sylvia finally frustrates him enough that he, too, is willing to go against what society deems acceptable and go after love, instead of tradition.

The series is not flawless, by any means.  It plods in certain areas.  The social cues and distinctions are not quite explained.   The overt visual symbolism becomes a little too much after you’ve seen it for the seeming 100th time. And, sometimes, I just couldn’t understand what the heck they were saying.  Adelaide’s portrayal of Valentine was wonderful, but she was weak in comparison to Cumberbatch and Hall, so a stronger actress might have changed the dynamic of the love triangle in interesting ways.


At the end, though, I can say that I am glad to have been cumberbatched long enough to discover this show.


7 thoughts on “Parade’s End and On Being Cumberbatched

  1. I still think that it would take months, if not years, to infiltrate a terrorist cell, especially to the point where they let you be the one with the sword doing the ritualized beheading. It’s not, however, the plausibility factor that bothers me here. It’s what it does to the character. Holmes is no longer a quick-witted, borderline sociopath playing detective. After this one little flashback scene, he’s some kind of Navy Seal-esque Batman type. He’s James Bond. He’s Khan. I just think that’s a terrible way to handle the character.

    And Dr. Who could still outwit him.

  2. As I said already, I do not think it’s a terrible way to handle the character, nor does it change his character. SH’s smart and quick and knew all about the woman’s involvement in terrorist activities. He didn’t “infiltrate a terrorist cell”; he got in long enough to put on a black coat and scarf and save his one-possible love. Further, he’s not James Bond or Khan, as those characters have very different motivations than love. (Though Khan is closer).

    About Dr. Who, I can’t say because so far, I’ve just been annoyed by Rose and the stupid music and the bad costumes of the first season. If I ever make it further than that and start to actually like the show, then I’ll comment on the Doctor’s abilities.

    Did you finish SH yet???? You’ve had HOURS, DAYS even…

    • Another problem I have with that episode is The Woman as Holmes’ love interest. Here we have a virginal sociopath who’s lived this long without any sort of sexual or love interest and he falls for a dominatrix that walks around naked in front of him. Any vulnerability and complexity that he could have accrued from the plot of the episode gets thrown out of the window when it’s revealed via flashback that he ended up saving the day in full-on action hero style, taking on a gang of armed terrorists with a sword like he’s the whole frigging A-Team or something. It also takes away from his sexual ambiguity, one of the most intriguing aspects of his character. Plus he was a complete dick to the morgue lady and he cock-blocked Watson yet again, both little eccentricities that would be easier overlooked if he had some little shred of vulnerability, but no, it turns out he’s captain badass. . I’m going to finish the series, and overall I’m enjoying it, but there are a lot of little things like the flashback.

      That “stupidusic” is an heir to some of the very first proto-electronic experimental music ever recorded.

  3. DAMMIT! My very amazing reply was just erased when I clicked your link in the middle of composing so I could hear the music. If this response isn’t as amazing, then it’s your own fault. BTW, I was referring to some of the weird jangles and crazy stuff that happens during the show. I like intro music. That doesn’t mean I know or care what proto-electronic music means. You love to name genres and talk about originators of said genre. I’m going to call a genre Poolery and put all your music choices in it.

    Okay, on to my reply:

    We don’t know Sherlock is a virgin. We only know that John, Mycroft, and Mrs. Hudson don’t know of any of his relationships. You can actually have sex without relationships. There’s plenty of evidence that those three are not always in the know about Sherlock and what he does.

    Further, his interest in Irene does not clear up any ambiguity about his sexuality. He doesn’t have sex with her — he rescues a person that he thinks of as a good person, despite the evidence to the contrary. Again, you can be interested in someone without having sex with them. Beyond that… bisexuality is real, so he could be interested in both John and Irene!

    And, yes, he’s mean to Molly, but he’s mean to everyone, including John, Mrs. Hudson and Mycroft. Molly is the ONLY person (other than a pat to Mrs. Hudson after she’s attacked and saves the phone) who SH apologizes too and who he purposefully physically touches (he kisses her cheek) for any reason other than for investigation.

    Maybe he cockblocks John because he knows John isn’t really that interested — John forgot that she didn’t have a dog, after all.

    Once again.. finish the series. He’s not a complete bad-ass. He is fallible, and I think that one moment just shows that he can do amazing things, like we’ve seen all throughout the series. You’re making that one moment into his Jesus moment, and I didn’t think it was that different than the Chinese banking scene.

    BTW, I TOTALLY love talking about this. I’m so glad you’re watching Sherlock. What does Shasta think?

  4. She’s not quite as Cumberbatched as you are. She likes it in a vague sort of way, though.

    He doesn’t have to be a literal virgin to be virginal. He’s certainly sort of asexual or repressed in some sort of way, and the best word to describe his feelings toward The Woman is “crush,” especially given what he says about the pulse thing and the way he longingly looks over her texts at the end of the episode. That whole scene would have had way more resonance if she’d been dead. And if he’d believed Watson and Mycroft’s lie about her, it would have given him some vulnerability, a tiny chink in the armor he wraps around himself, and it would have made him a much more interesting character than he ends up being after the flashback.

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