|The Nachzehrer, by Simon Kane.|
(Spoilers follow, obviously.)
Well, I'm glad you liked it! Glad, and very, very relieved.
I've said before that I often give episodes working titles alongside the geographical ones, to help keep my mind on the theme. Zurich's was 'Graduation Day'. My starting point was, why is this the final episode? I knew that everyone would still be doing their respective jobs at the end, so why won't we be following them any more? Because, I decided, as well as the straight-forward happy endings involving gold and marriage; there needed to be another, intangible level of happy ending, in which all five of the crew graduated, in one way or another, from being sitcom characters. We're not going to be following the adventures of OJS Air, or of Martin in Switzerland, because while they’ll still be having fun and playing games, they won't be doing the sorts of things that kept them getting into sitcom-episode-sized scrapes, and that ultimately stemmed from something out-of-joint in their lives. They’ve grown up. Except Arthur. But even Arthur, a little bit.
Martin Crieff was a sitcom character because i) he desperately wanted to do something he fundamentally wasn’t very good at, and ii) he was over-promoted, under-confident and over-compensating. In the last two series we've seen him grow in confidence - and competence - to the point that in Yverdon, it is (I hope) plausible that a major airline could offer him a proper job. There was never any question for me that for Martin, a happy ending had to involve him taking that job. To reject a real career, with a future and prospects (not to mention being handy for Vaduz) in favour of the security blanket of MJN - even with a salary - would be a failure. Certainly MJN is like a family to him, but if it is, he’s the elder child… and what children have to do eventually is grow up, and move out. Not that the security blanket isn’t tempting, of course; so for Martin, graduation was about overcoming his melt-down at the auction, and realising both that he can leave home, and that he should do.
The thing that has kept Douglas a sitcom character - and I've had to bite my tongue so many times not to say this in any of the previous Bear Fact posts, because to me it's so fundamental to his character, but I didn't want to mention it until Zurich aired - is that he's not the captain. So much of his persona, his put-downs, his scheming, stems from the fact that he used to be a captain, he ought to be a captain… and he's not. He pretends not to care about it, but we see as early as Fitton that he cares deeply. The natural order of things, certainly as he sees it, is that he should be in charge, the father figure in the family… and technically, he's not. I’ve always thought that the running joke of strangers assuming Douglas is Captain and Martin F.O. must have been at least as painful for Douglas as it was for Martin. He’s just better at hiding it… and better in general at constructing a super-human persona to hide behind.
So, the thing Douglas needed to graduate from being in a sitcom was to become a captain again… and the test he needed to pass in order to earn that was to act like one. Not just take charge and make decisions in a crisis, but do so openly and honestly. Douglas prefers to hang back, let other people make mistakes, work out the 'something clever' he's going to do in secret, and then present it with a flourish. He's a goal-hanger. This time, he has to act on his sense that it's imperative to get Gerti back before he's worked out all the details. He has to risk his own money, and more importantly, he has to admit to Carolyn and the others that he’s making it up as he goes along. He's not trying to impress anyone with how clever he is, he's trying to do the best thing for the crew - like a captain. And finally, if the crew is a family, he has to be a good parent. He has to look after the younger sibling; and he has to help the older one leave home, by sharing the secret of his persona.
Carolyn had the shortest distance to go to graduate. She's always been eminently capable of running her business, and she remains so; just as she has always been an excellent parent, both literally and metaphorically. So, although I was keen that she, like the other three, should do 'something clever' to save Gerti - in her case, it's manipulating the auctioneer to sell her to Bruce not Gordon - her real graduation is in her personal life. She needs to say 'I love you' to Herc, because the Beatrice and Benedick schtick is all very well - and I'm sure will continue throughout their marriage – but it’s time for her to accept that she can show vulnerability to Herc without suffering for it.
And in order for her to believe that, Herc needs to stop showing off, and actually work hard to persuade her that he is genuine, and she is safe with him. Which he does with the ‘white hair’ speech; but more importantly by putting his money where his mouth is, and accepting both a pay cut and a demotion if that’s what it takes for them to be together. To put it another way, both Herc and Carolyn needed to stop sparring, and work out which one of them actually was the alpha dog. And the answer, of course, is Carolyn.
And Arthur… well, Arthur is never going to grow up, as the ice cream van shows us. But luckily, he’s entirely happy as he is, so he doesn’t need to. So, graduation for him (apart from successfully over-riding a Code Red) is all about dealing with the only thing that’s wrong in his life – his father. Arthur’s test was to stand up to the false (if biological) father in his life, firstly at the auction and secondly and most importantly by remembering his grandmother’s name, realising that he will never, ever have a genuine father / son conversation with Gordon Shappey; and renouncing him once and for all in favour of the two genuine father figures in his life – and in particular, the one who has always looked out for and defended him, even as he mocks him; the one with whom he can discuss the dames and the horses over a few pineapple juices; and the one on whom he can utterly rely to do something clever, and make everything alright.
And because they all did those things, lo, the God of sitcom was pleased with them, and rewarded them with golden buns for tea, and an annoying sunset to fly into… but only as far as a destination beginning AA.