Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Gift (2.6)

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Shock (2.1)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Woman in the Attic (2.2)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Surprise! (2.3)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Pam’s Collage (2.4)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Poem for Uncle Jack (2.5)
BBC Series 2

Roger & Val finished beautifully in this episode, delivering a fairy tale ending that wasn’t in the least cloying – a hard trick to pull off. Mind you, it doesn’t start off well for our heroes. Val (Dawn French) gets in first and grumpily starts making sandwiches for when Liam, Roger’s (Alfred Molina) 31 year old son by Jean Duggan, and his grandson, Rhys, come round to tea. Val is clearly upset by the discovery of Rhys in last week’s episode, a painful reminder of their own son who died as a weeks old baby 19 years before.

This unhappiness comes out in a nagging meanness of spirit that picks on everything Roger does. As when he struggles in the door with armfuls Jean’s shopping. “It must be nice to have more than one lady.” He does his best, telling her, “You’re my wife,” to which she replies, “And she is the mother of your son.”

But Roger has a plan. He’s bought Val a maternity ring, which she won’t even touch. This is the most obvious meaning of “gift” in the subtitle. Dreadfully disappointed, he takes it upstairs and puts in the shoebox containing their son’s death certificate and blue teddy bear. The symbolism is heart rending.

Downstairs, Roger puts up the Wendy house he bought that afternoon for Rhys to play in. The unspeakable Pam Bagnall, who pipped Val to the deputy headship post, has stored the last 12 years of history department files in black bin bags in her garage. Her successor needs them, and Pam gets a bollocking in the Head’s office. And her first staff meeting as Deputy Head is a rambling, unfocused shambles that reveals unresolved psychological issues with her controlling mum. Right. The Nurophen Plus connection (see last week’s episode). “Is it the drugs talking?” asks Roger. Val swears she’ll refuse the job if it all goes pear shaped for Pam. But we know better, don’t we?

Val is still in nit-picking mode, and discovers that Roger bought the wrong cheese, sparking a fresh outburst of disproportionate anger that turns the Wendy house into the symbol of a rival domestic establishment to their marriage. In the middle of all this she gets a call from the Head to say that Pam has taken early retirement, so Val is offered the Deputy Headship. Roger wants to open a bottle of champagne, but she’s still feeling hurt and combative.

Val wants him to take the Wendy house down. For Roger, it’s become a symbol of No Surrender. He squeezes inside, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Val goes upstairs to the shoebox of dead memories and has a profound change of heart at the sight of what it contains. She puts on the maternity ring. “That is absolutely gorgeous.” She also embraces her promotion. “Valerie Stevenson. I’m the new Deputy Head. How do you do?”

Val takes the blue teddy bear downstairs to put in the Wendy house. It’s a lovely moment as she puts her hand, with the ring on, through the flap. Roger kisses her hand and then rises, wearing the Wendy house like a ship under full sail, to kiss her through the flap. Genius writing.

The doorbell rings and they look at each other with wild apprehension. Roger answers the door with a delighted “Hello, Rhys” and the little chap barrels down the hall into Val’s arms. “Hello.” An expression of pure bliss on both their faces.

Needless to say, Rhys is the real “gift” in the subtitle, and the only other character to appear besides Roger and Val. What a brilliant series – funny, quirky, wise, and emotionally intelligent. This show deserves a BAFTA.

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Poem for Uncle Jack (2.5)

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Shock (2.1)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Woman in the Attic (2.2)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Surprise! (2.3)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Pam’s Collage (2.4)
BBC Series 2

Poem for Uncle Jack

Tonight I find I can quite clearly recall your face,
The small eyes, your bald head,
The surprisingly pleasant smile, given your fangs.
You were a Tory,
Seen in the Liberal Club with your arms around two women.
So who were you?
My confusion grows,
And this is probably the last time I ever think of you.

– Val Stevenson

Poem for Uncle Jack is Val’s (Dawn French) slightly drunken attempt to write about an obscure uncle who has just died. William McGonagall couldn’t have done better. She barely knew Uncle Jack, and she knows even less about Liam, Roger’s (Alfred Molina) 31 year old son by Jean Duggan. The episode sets up a false dramatic equivalence between these two unseen characters that brings out their feelings about Liam.

Roger and Val come in from the pub, on a night of torrential rain, after Liam fails to show up for an arranged meeting. Roger is having a panic attack and blaming himself for Liam’s non-appearance. Val takes a call on her mobile from Barbara, Jack’s wife, and there’s a knock at the door. Roger opens it but there’s no-one. He’s convinced it was Liam. “I wish he was our son,” he tells Val. “How can I have a son with another woman but not with you?” She replies, “I can think it was 12 years before I met you, but you were still mine, even though I didn’t know you. Oh, I didn’t know you but I did.”

Then we find out that Pam Bagnall has already got the Deputy Headship. I thought she might. Pam mistakenly activates her phone in Sainsbury’s so that Roger and Val overhear something that suggests she is addicted to Nurophen Plus. Can it be used against her, given that Pam might have sabotaged Val’s interview by switching salt for sugar in the tea and coffee, when it was the responsibility of Val’s department? Deep waters, but Val is too good to take advantage. Nevertheless, “I am a disappointed woman.”

Another knock at the door. Nobody there, but Val spots him sitting in a car outside, and they wave at him from the living room window until he drives off again, fixed smiles on their faces. Val’s idea, to draw Liam in without spooking him. “I’m very keen to come across as the stepmother you’d want.” This is a brilliant bit that combines an impression of the Queen and Prince Philip waving from a balcony with references to The Sound of Music and Val wanting to be like Julie Andrews.

When they get talking about Pam Bagnall’s dirty tricks, Val gets very upset, drinks too much, and writes her splendid poem. Roger is ever supportive. “That is fantastic, Val.” But she needs to have her moment of grief, which she honours by playing Those Were the Days, by Mary Hopkins. Truly gruesome, and Roger hates it, although it gets Val out of her emotional rut so she stops getting drunk.

Then the car returns and Liam leaves a box of Roses Chocolate on the doorstep. And there’s a baby seat in the car. Have you got a baby, Val gestures from the window. Yes, Liam gestures back, before he drives off.

Roger is over the moon. And coincidentally, “It’s stopped raining.” Val, even though she’s happy for Roger, finds it troubling news. A 31 year old son is something she can take in her stride. But a baby is a discomforting reminder of their own dead son.

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Pam’s Collage (2.4)

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Shock (2.1)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Woman in the Attic (2.2)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Surprise! (2.3)
BBC Series 2

This has all blown up over a tooth, and the gap can be plugged. – Roger

After last week’s revelation that Roger has a 31 year old son by the woman who cleaned his room at college, you might expect the atmosphere at chez Stevenson to be thick enough to cut with a butter knife. And so it is. Val (Dawn French) gets in, talking on a mobile to her friend, Sue, about a meal at Romano’s the following night. She and her feared rival, Pam Bagnall, are through to the next round for the job of deputy head, but there’s a presentation the following morning and dinner with the Head and her husband, Pam Bagnall & partner, and chairman of the school governors.

Roger (Alfred Molina) comes in, doesn’t greet Val, so you know there’s definitely a rift within the lute. Things get a bit better when Val tells him she’s through to the second round, but his smile shows a missing front tooth that you really couldn’t miss. This tooth, or ghost of a tooth is the bone of contention that becomes a flaming row. The issue is whether Roger should accompany her to the restaurant, because Val is worried about having to explain away the missing front tooth. She wants a “dignified answer” to the inevitable questions and they can’t come up with one, while Roger feels hurt that she wants to exclude him just because of that.

Why has he lost his upper front tooth? He visited Jean Duggan and Liam, his son. But Liam’s older brother, Gary, punched him in the mouth. So, as Val says, “You’ve got no tooth for tomorrow night!”

But of course there’s more to it than that. When Roger asks, “What is it exactly?”, Val gives him both barrels. “It’s that you lied to me…in league with the mother of your child that I didn’t know you had!” It doesn’t help that he spent the afternoon at Asda when Val thought he was at the dentist. With Jean. And he’s given her £50 not to sell the story to Take a Break magazine. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Roger spoke to the Head at lunchtime to ask how the interview went.

Val is so exasperated and furious that she decides to pull out of the deputy headship. Roger is distraught and tries to stop her. His attempts to prevent her sending the email include pulling out the plug and then cutting off the plug with pruning shears. It all goes ballistic, with Val accusing Roger of being right wing and threatening divorce, and Roger gazing in despair at the picture of him and Val with their son.

In the calm after the storm, Val starts to cook a soft pasta meal. If the catalyst for the argument was Roger’s tooth, it’s Val’s brilliant idea for a garlic clove replacement painted with balsamic vinegar that brings them back together. They end up planning how to arrange things to make the dinner at Romano’s work, as loving and supportive of each as before.

Fine, nuanced, funny, emotionally serious writing, with solid, believable characters. Presumably next week’s episode will be a postmortem on what happened at Romano’s and (I hope) more reverberations from the Duggans.

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Surprise! (2.3)

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Shock (2.1)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Woman in the Attic (2.2)
BBC Series 2

The title of this episode – Surprise! – is a bit of an understatement. It’s more akin to a bomb exploding just when you think the war is over, and there are long years of peace to look forward to. It begins well. You can tell by the cheerful, fizzy intro music that Roger (Alfred Molina) has won his job back at the Winter Gardens. Quite how, we don’t know, and I would love to have been a fly on the wall at the tribunal. But you can tell by the spring in his step as he comes in the door, and expectation of a surprise party lurking in the dining room, that all is well.

Roger’s disappointment when he discovers there’s no party is so manifest that Val’s (Dawn French) surprise is put in the shade. It takes a while for her pint of cask ale from the pub with a “Roger Stevenson Was Unfairly Dismissed” sticker on it to regain the higher celebratory ground.

But there’s a still a woman in the attic, and you begin to wonder when she’ll bang on the the ceiling with her stick. Val cooks a spaghetti meal with pans that were new when her son died 19 years before – they were still in their original cardboard labels. “I thought if we used them tonight, he could be part of it. You know, join in.” Roger agrees. “It’s a family occasion. It includes him.”

Roger chunters on about inviting the tribunal panel to the party, if there had been one, while Val wonders if she would invite the Head of her school. It’s a time for bonding, with that sense you get in all their conversations that the ground is about to fall away beneath their feet.

The first signs of a tremor come when Val says she didn’t ring the door bell earlier, when Roger didn’t answer it so as not to spoil his surprise. Who could it have been? Then the mortgage rears its ugly head, and Roger goes off to the computer to look at when the direct debit kicks in. He discovers they’re almost £5,000 in debt. That’s bad enough, without the email from Jean Duggan to say she called but no-one was in, and would call again tomorrow. A resounding thump on the ceiling from the attic room.

In the meantime, Val is dishing up the meal. A “V” in sauce on their plates “for victory,” though Roger wants “V” on hers and “R” on his for their names. And a sauce heart in the pan because “it honours him.” Lovely stuff. But a strange formality envelops the meal in the dining room, which they both make light of but can’t really shake off. So Roger decides to make his announcement. “I haven’t been entirely truthful with you about Jean Duggan.” She is not a stalker and Val is not surprised.

Then the spaghetti boils over, much as Val’s feelings must be, and she burns her hand on “these awful pans” that are so associated with the pain of losing her son. Jean Duggan, it turns out, has been to the house twice. Once, when she rang the bell at the start of this episode, and also in last week’s episode when she talked to Roger outside.

Finally, Roger tells the complete truth. “I have a 31 year old son, called Liam, who’s alive.”

Devastating for Roger and Val, who live for each other. They are united by a dead son, kept alive in her heart by Val, and suppressed in Roger’s mind. Being both a good son and a father is fundamentally important to Roger. That’s why the pain of losing his son made him repress the memories. Now he has a live son, nothing to do with Val, who will be very important to him. And Val is bound to feel devalued and marginalized. This could blow their marriage to pieces.

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Woman in the Attic (2.2)

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Shock (2.1)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Surprise! (2.3)
BBC Series 2

It is the evening before Roger’s (Alfred Molina) appearance at the employment tribunal, which will decide if his sacking from a job as botanist at the Winter Gardens three months before was justified. He’s been watching a lot of crap American legal docudramas, the sort that end with a white rolling script on a black background, telling viewers what happened to the protagonists. Roger desperately wants his own victorious white script.

But for now, he turns off the TV and rehearses what he might say tomorrow. We get a glimpse of what was in that incriminating email, and it’s not looking good: “A brief mention in an email of mons pubis. Pubic hair! Let’s just get it out there. Let’s face it head on.” Perhaps not. Roger orders a Chinese takeaway – Celebration Banquet – which Val thinks is tempting fate when she hears of it – though it’s only because they always order that meal, and it has “rice for Val, noodles for me.”

Then Val (Dawn French) gets home, bizarrely dressed in black as some sort of housekeeper, with a sticker that says, “I believe Roger Stevenson was unfairly dismissed.” Val has been handing them out to all her friends and acquaintances, but we later learn that Phil, who sacked Roger, has had them banned from the court room. An affront to democracy, in Roger’s view. “Winter Gardens…North Korea.”

The reason for Val’s odd clothing choice is explained a bit later – World Book Day at her school, and the teachers came dressed as characters. Val is Mrs Danvers from Rebecca, while her rival for the post of Deputy Head came as Aslan. Evidently Val is seeking to undermine the authority of the heiress apparent to the position.

She brings a gift from another teacher, who apparently wore a hat from the brim of which were suspended swimming figures. It’s one of those figures, with the message to “keep swimming.” I’m struggling to understand which fictional character the hat represents – Australian obviously – but beyond that I’m stumped. (Just watched it again – Robinson Crusoe) The swimmer plays a large part in Val’s supernatural unease at Roger’s choice of Chinese meal. Like something from a horror story, it seems to follow them from room to room, a harbinger of doom for tempting fate. It even shows up in two places at once – her Mrs Danvers hairpiece and swimming in the bathroom sink. The mystery is explained by the donor having given her a hug while wearing the hat. Another swimmer must have got caught in the hairpiece.

Val is hugely supportive of Roger. “You’ve run a brilliant campaign for me, ever since we were married,” he says, and this extends not only to distributing stickers, but also running a Facebook page. There are 57 supporters, one of whom leaves the cryptic message, “You can’t pretend it didn’t happen.” Roger denies knowing this “Jean Duggan,” and suggests it might be the name of a French man. Absurd, of course. Val thinks it might be Phil, trying to set Roger up for another indiscretion, while he really doesn’t want to talk about it. When he goes to the door to get the Chinese meal, Val sends a Friend request to “Jean Duggan” to find out more.

Roger has to come clean when he notices the request. Apparently Jean Duggan, then 41, used to clean his rooms at college 31 years ago. While trying to persuade her not to buy her council house on political grounds, one thing lead to another, and they ended up in bed. Jean has seen the notice in the paper about the employment tribunal, and is hoping to re-ignite the flame. Roger has an septuagenarian stalker.

So the hand-delivered envelope that sent Roger into shock in the last episode obviously contained a love letter from Jean.

Is he telling the truth? After working out that they weren’t being haunted by multiple swimmers, Val says, ” A simple explanation, unlike your story.” My suspicions are certainly aroused by the final scene where Roger surreptitiously types something on the laptop. I’m guessing the woman in the attic refers to Jean.

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Shock (2.1)

Roger & Val Have Just Got In: The Woman in the Attic (2.2)
Roger & Val Have Just Got In: Surprise! (2.3)
BBC Series 2

It’s good to see a second series of the most underrated BBC drama from 2010 – Roger & Val Have Just Got In. Starring Alfred Molina and Dawn French as the eponymous middle-aged married couple, the programme covers the first 30 minutes of their arrival home in real time. Beneath the slice of life conversation about everyday events, a picture is slowly revealed of the stresses and strains of their life together. For some bizarre reason, the BBC labeled the first series as a comedy, perhaps on the basis of Dawn French’s history as a comedy actor. This may have been why so many viewers were disappointed. While there are some comedic elements, Roger & Val is an understated and powerful drama about the secrets, lies, and evasions of a couple who are fundamentally devoted to each other.

We learned in the first series about the ghost in their marriage, a son who died after only a few weeks, still carried in Val’s heart but repressed in Roger’s mind as too painful to think about. Roger has another worry – the imminent death of his father, which occurs during the timeframe of the show. Stressed beyond measure, he sends a politically incorrect email to a woman at work and gets the sack. (He’s a botanist in a Winter Garden.) It doesn’t help that there’s already a lot of acrimony between Roger and his boss. Val, a domestic science teacher, has secrets of her own. She still thinks fondly of an old flame and Roger is jealous.

All this makes for an explosive mixture. Val decides to leave Roger in the fallout from the detonation, but their love for each other brings them back together again.

The second series begins with Roger waiting for his employment tribunal, and Val waiting to find out if her application for the deputy headship is successful. They return from their neice’s wedding on a Sunday evening, sparring about how Roger stank up the hotel bathroom so Val didn’t have a chance to take a proper bath that morning. Val doesn’t want the lamps turned on because she wants to unpack everything while the house is still “bleak.” After that it can be bright, and comfortable. But the fire is turned on. This plot device is quite important because it turns on neither of them noticing a particular letter in the hall, delivered by hand, for Roger.

They do have the original, vinyl recording of Rolf Harris singing Two Little Boys, the copy Roger and his brother, Mike, had as kids. It’s a present from Mike to encourage him at the employment tribunal. And they have the letter telling Val she’s been shortlisted for the deputy headship.

There’s an hilarious bit about her preparation for the interview – practicing with a cardboard box on her head in front of the mirror. One side is cut out to reveal her face. the other sides have pictures of, respectively, Martina NavratilovaHilary Clinton, and “Margaret who was on The Apprentice,” with the eyes cut out so she can see. These are the personas she will present at the interview.

But Roger and Val don’t have the letter that’s been lurking unseen in the hall. There they are, bumbling around out there and turning on the lamps until you think they must be blind. Finally, Roger spots it, and his reaction is very strange. He furtively stuffs it into his back pocket, peers through the curtains to see if anyone saw him, and goes out to the garage to read it. He returns obviously deeply worried, fumbling the packet of flour that Val asks him to get down from a cupboard and spilling it over his head. In the living room, he turns off the light so he can read the letter again without being seen. Shock, just as the episode title says – he visibly sags. And Mike’s irreplaceable record, placed on the mantelpiece, has melted in the heat from the fire.

Brilliant cliffhanger plotting and more secrets to come in this splendid domestic drama. Shock is still available on the BBC iPlayer. I urge you watch it while you can.