Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you. This is the new element added in this week’s episode. Philip Marlow’s (Michael Gambon) suspicions about the root causes of his psoriasis, given fictional form in the Singing Detective, now have analogues in real life. If the character, Philip Marlow, in the television drama, The Singing Detective, written by Dennis Potter, can be considered real life. The Philip Marlow, that is, who is a hospital patient. I love the way Potter messes with our heads, nesting different levels of reality within the narrative, and sending us through the worm holes connecting realities in a way that subverts any hierarchies we try to construct.
In this case, he opens up a world outside the hospital and contemporaneous with it. This bubble of reality is Mark Finney’s (Patrick Malahide) flat on the Embankment, which is none other than Mark Binney’s (Patrick Malahide) flat in Marlow’s internal novel. And of course, Finney and Binney are played by the same actor.
Marlow’s wife, Nicola (Janet Suzman), visits him in hospital. I had assumed her participation in his recovery sprang from a desire to help, born out of residual affection for her husband. Apparently not. She wants him to write, can arrange for a side ward where he will be quiet, and someone to take dictation. But she doesn’t want him writing the novel in his head that’s helping the Singing Detective to ferret out the clues pointing to the root cause of his psoriasis. Instead, “Write about reality in a realistic way.” “All solutions and no clues,” sneers Marlow.
There’s a reason behind this. Marlow has received an offer to write a screenplay for a film of the The Singing Detective, his published novel. He tells her that he wrote a screenplay years before, but she pretends not to remember. And he’s already writing a novel in his head. Marlow is deeply suspicious of her involvement. He’s right to be. Nicola has intercepted the film offer and her lover, Mark Finney, has presented the old screenplay as his own work. But they need him to start writing again, and it’s Nicola’s job to persuade him. She fails this time, as Marlow sends her out of the ward with another stream of verbal abuse. I confess to not quite understanding why they want him to write, if it’s to be about “real life” and not as some contribution to the screenplay they’ve stolen.
That’s worrying Finney. Time is clearly of the essence. The other thing worrying him is that Marlow’s script from years ago has the Binney character living in his flat and with only a change from “F” to “B” in the name. Furthermore, it seems to change the plot of The Singing Detective (the novel) to reflect their plot against him. “I almost feel as though he’s made all this up.” Indeed, Marlow is writing the script for Nicola as she leaves the ward and meets Finney in the waiting room.
Meanwhile, the clues are becoming more tangible. It’s very clear that Marlow has a deep, existential guilt springing from his childhood. The earlier episodes gave a hint, but in those cases it really wasn’t his fault that his parents split up. Their wildly different expectations of him could be expected to produce psychological trauma. This time it’s something he did, or so I surmise from his treetop bargaining session with God, where he says, “Please God, I didn’t mean to do it.”
Someone has dropped a turd on his teacher’s desk. She leaves it in situ, then terrorizes the class with visions of a vengeful God who knows all their evil little thoughts – “He is going to point his Holy finger.” This woman is a world-class champion sadist. When she sees Philip crying, he’s called up to the front to confess, but will only concede that he knows who did it. So, under threat of an endless caning from the headmaster, Philip is told to stand stock still, eyes focused on both the cane and the turd, until he names the culprit. After seeing another child caned, merely for not paying attention, he says it was Mark Binney.
These scenes are interwoven with the appearance of a group of evangelical Christians on the ward, led by the risibly named and humourless Dr Finlay, who sing hymns.
It’s also interwoven with his internal novel. Earlier, the Singing Detective waited for HMS Amanda outside Skinskapes. When she emerges, he calls out from the shadows, “Achtung, Amanda.” She turns, the implication being that she knows Skinskapes is a front for processing Nazi rocket scientists to America. So the Singing Detective follows and discovers where she lives. But the two hoods at Skinskapes shoot her before he can make contact.
Now the Singing Detective is on stage at the Laguna Palais de Dance, singing Accentuate the Positive, while the two hoods from Skinskapes are waiting for the end of the set so they can kill him. Then the scene merges into the Jesus Freaks on the ward singing the same song and gathering round his bed like avenging angels. Here’s the video clip.
A shitload of guilt. It sounds like Marlow is ready to face his demons. I think he said, right after the evangelical assault, “Lord, let it come on.” And another short phrase I couldn’t catch.