Chiefly remembered as the episode in which Marion secures an audience with Yamauchi leading to an unexpected, and largely joyful, reunion of the women with Blanche and Christina, this instalment also sees the laying down of foundations for the remaining action of the second series. In its closing moments, Rose’s discovery that Bernard is alive marks the starting point of a chain of events that is set to dominate the action of the following three episodes and will form one of the most memorable Tenko storylines of them all.
So far in this second series, Marion has been feeling the loss of her erstwhile leadership duties very keenly. She may not always have enjoyed the responsibility it involved, but at least being leader gave her a definite purpose. Besides, it was obvious that she possessed natural abilities in this direction, most memorably demonstrated by the speech she delivered prior to the democratic leadership vote in the first camp. Marion’s frustration at her current powerlessness is no doubt made more acute by the fact that this new camp’s leader is little short of a collaborator and is using the position for her own personal gain.
When Marion wins five minutes with Yamauchi, thereby thwarting Verna and Miss Hasan, she immediately slots right back into the leadership role and, although it doesn’t seem obvious at the time, her approach pays off in a way she wouldn’t have dared to imagine. Although Verna is furious that she has crossed her (‘Oh, incidentally Marion, don’t ever do that to me again!’), Marion is too pleased with the prospect of being reunited with Christina and Blanche to pay much attention to her threat. Observing Marion’s small victory is very pleasing indeed.
Comparisons between Marion and Verna are also explored through their respective reactions to Lillian’s near breakdown over Bobby giving away half his egg. While Marion seeks to calm Lillian down and show genuine care for her increasingly manic friend, Verna is only concerned about Lillian being able to perform at the concert later that evening as it is for the benefit of Miss Hasan: ‘For heaven’s sake, get her to pull herself together before this evening.’ She even has the audacity to make the ridiculously inappropriate and seriously off-beam comment: ‘Crisis over. Nerves, I expect,’ as Lillian is taken away. Verna is either deliberately making a false assessment or she is genuinely unable to see beyond her own troubles.
The most shocking scene in the entire episode features Verna feeding her cat Pudding no less than a bowl of milk and a whole egg. This unforgivable act, which is directly contrasted with Bobby being given a meagre spoonful of rice in the next shot, proves once and for all that she is not at all concerned with the welfare of the women and children in her care, who, unlike her cat, are half starving. Furthermore it proves that she is perfectly willing to tell bare-faced lies, as on this occasion she has only just told Marion that: ‘The traders simply don’t have eggs and milk.’ When the women later tell Blanche about Verna, Mrs Van Meyer defensively asserts: ‘But for Verna we would get even less food,’ but the scene with Pudding actually suggests that the opposite may be true. During this same conversation, the women also generously, if reluctantly, cite several other supposed virtues of their leader, including the fact that she ‘rescued’ Marion’s diary and helped Dorothy with her pregnancy. Of course, as viewers, we have been party to the fact that Verna deceitfully read Marion’s diary cover to cover while it was in her possession and used Dorothy’s predicament to make some money on the side. On the evidence of this and preceding episodes it is becoming increasingly hard to find any redeeming qualities in this unscrupulous leader. Although, unlike Joss, Marion doesn’t describe Verna as a collaborator directly, her comment to her face: ‘Whoever knows a Jap?’ comes pretty close.
Joss, a character who has received only snippets of character development since her introduction, and little involvement in principal storylines, is finally given more of a role here as she spends much of the episode criticising her fellow internees for their acceptance of the status quo…
This is an excerpt from Andy Priestner’s acclaimed book Remembering Tenko in which this episode is reviewed in full. The book also explores and details how the series was made and boasts hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs. You can purchase Remembering Tenko on Amazon.