Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sapphire and Steel Assignment 5 Episode 6

So far I've largely managed to avoid the human drama inherent in this Sapphire and Steel assignment, but from the last episode to this the final one, the human drama and time drama that Sapphire and Steel are investigating, begin to intertwine more obviously. To start with a conclusion, mirroring the inverted Agatha Christie motif by inverting a logical argument: the nature of time is enclosed in and works through the events of human life. Just as Sapphire and Steel are excellent complements of each other's abilities, time needs human events to manifest.
The episode starts on the day after midsummer day in 1930, the day on which the world will end unless George McDee dies, as he does when time is on the 'right' track. Unfortunately time has wrenched events back to 1930 to alter the existing course of things so that George McDee's work on DNA will bring the world to an end. He previously died in a fire in the library of the house, but the episode starts with Sapphire commenting that there is now no evidence of a fire, and that the day will otherwise continue as it should except that George McDee will not die. Sapphire and Steel's task is to force time into a different course so that the world will not end.
The deceit theme is continued with ongoing theories as to who is lying about who actually murders George McDee. This hampers Sapphire and Steel because they need to make sure the murder happens 'exactly as it did before'. It's frankly no surprise that there was a murder in this house, since it seems there are loads of liaisons going on among the people in the house, and much of the human drama of this episode revolves around George McDee's loves. Emma Mulreen is once again wonderful as a rather deranged old lady: I wonder whether the nightie she wears for this episode was chosen deliberately to increase this effect!
What it boils down to is for Sapphire and Steel to make sure George McDee dies, and in the right way. The question comes down to whether he will be killed by his wife Felicity, or by Emma Mulreen. Steel queries whether it should be Felicity, she doesn't kill him, and Sapphire asserts that the right moment has been missed. Time is now on the wrong track so Sapphire takes time back, and we see how she should kill him, but strangely she doesn't do it. The conclusion is that that is not the right moment after all.
It next appears as if Lord Mulreen is going to kill McDee in a row over business and Emma Mulreen, but they are interrupted by the butler at the door and the moment has gone. That was also not the right moment.
A weakness of the way the plot is worked out is that by now it is perfectly obvious who is going to kill McDee. While personally I think this assignment is paced just right, if this episode were translated back into the detective genre, this episode is equivalent to the meeting in the library when the detective goes through the various suspects and explains why they couldn't have done it. For that reason it would have been better as ten minutes at the end of an episode, rather than a whole episode, because it actually makes the ending rather flat, since roughly half way through this episode the viewer will just sit back and know what is coming next.
Once again the moment is missed, so interestingly Sapphire and Steel actually have to urge Emma Mulreen to kill George McDee. She shoots Felicity instead, saying she now plans to be happy. Sapphire and Steel continue to urge her to kill McDee. Sapphire and Steel do hard cop and soft cop extremely well, Sapphire gently trying to persuade her to kill her lover! He also gently tries to persuade her to kill him, and let Felicity live: this is possible since we are still on the alternative, wrong, time track.
Sapphire takes time back again to the time when McDee and both women are alive. This time it ends as it should: Emma shoots McDee as he gets in the way to try to stop her shooting his wife and the laboratory bursts into flames from a bunsen burner knocked over.
Sapphire takes time forward to the start of the party in 1980. Sapphire and Steel leave as the first guests arrive, and their luggage vanishes after them.
I find this assignment satisfying because of its human interest, and the way that this sparks off Sapphire and Steel's personalities. Of course I have no way of knowing whether the detective-story-as-distraction-from-the-matter-in-hand motif was actually in the writer's mind, but I feel that that is certainly a valid way to read this story. The way that I criticised in the first post on this assignment, i.e. Sapphire and Steel as more than usually passive witnesses to an Agatha Christie mystery, may also be a valid way, but I feel that that misses some of the point of this assignment. I feel much of the point is actually the intermingling of the detective story with the time disturbance, and while I have tried to see it mostly from Sapphire and Steel's point of view, the intermingling is necessary and unavoidable.
Another interesting aspect of this assignment is that if you had never watched Sapphire and Steel before, you would perhaps not be totally clear that the enemy is actually Time itself, since Sapphire and Steel mostly merely refer to it as 'it'. What is not completely followed through on is the thesis they talk about at the beginning that Time must have taken over or be using someone or something in the house: the human interest takes over at the end of the assignment, obscuring the fact that the enemy is actually Time.

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