A New Understanding (Review of Series 3, Episode 9)

3.9This penultimate episode of the third series boasts a sharp script from Jill Hyem full of well-executed set pieces, which offers an equal balance of comedy and tragedy. Joss and Ulrica provide most of the humour, while the revelations surrounding Mrs Van Meyer’s marriage and Maggie’s childhood provide the tragedy, as Elizabeths Chambers and Mickery give sympathetic and well-judged performances. This is Tenko firing on all cylinders, once again prompting us to mourn its passing before it is over.

Although there are a number of quips and humorous asides in the majority of Tenko’s episodes – a narrative ingredient which one might consider absolutely essential in such an emotionally gruelling series – rarely have there been as many laugh-out-loud moments as there are here. The first of these is Phyllis’s chiding of Joss for putting it about that, due to their lack of passage home, RAPWI stands for ‘Retention of All Prisoners of War Indefinitely!’ which is followed soon after by Ulrica’s hilarious admission that she has given the nun who was with her the slip: ‘I did have another sister with me but I have… mislaid her.’ Ulrica’s response to Beatrice’s advice that she might have to throw her weight about a bit at the hospital is also highly amusing due to Patricia Lawrence’s typically cheeky delivery of mixed-up idioms: ‘Without wishing to be guilty of the sin of conceit, I think I am quite good at throwing about my weight.’ Wheeler-dealer Jake’s winding up of Maggie that he even has contacts in heaven (‘Funny you should say that. There’s this chap called Peter…’) is also enjoyable. However, the most unlikely belly laugh of them all comes as Marion and Clifford consider the possibility of having another baby together and the former asks: ‘Can you honestly see it happening?’ to which Clifford’s witty reply is: ‘Not if we continue to sleep in separate rooms.’

Despite the previous episode’s climax, at which Marion revealed to Clifford that she didn’t believe that they had a future together, the Brigadier starts off here by spouting the same selfish concerns that brought her to this conclusion, as he bemoans her concern for the welfare of others and her refusal to adjust to her old way of life. Phyllis, who has the misfortune of having to attend to his chauvinistic and insensitive monologue, performs the function of reacting to what he says on behalf of us viewers, as she is: scornful of his expectation that Marion will adjust within a month of being set free from long-term imprisonment; less than impressed by his priggish use of his swagger stick (tapping it on the desk before her) to emphasise his ‘unreasonable demands’; and rather dumbfounded at his belief that separating his wife from her friends from the camp in an attempt to make her forget is the best approach. Certainly all the early signs here point to a swift end to their marriage, but then Tenko suddenly does one of the things it does best: confounding our expectations, as Clifford proves determined to persuade Marion to think again. His initial approach is once again all wrong as he fails to remember Marion’s unhappiness before the invasion or to accept that everything about her has changed. However, his very un-British declaration of love and his subsequent seizing upon Marion’s view that they can only have a future ‘by starting again from scratch’ (‘Isn’t that worth talking about?’) make it admirably clear that Clifford wants to fight for Marion whatever her conditions.

The following beautifully constructed and scripted scene, which takes place out in the country, sees the pair continue to attempt to find a way forward and Clifford effectively come clean about the reason for his personal war against Yamauchi (‘The thought of you going through all that while I sat on my backside in an office…’). Clifford’s preference for Marion to have another baby rather than the part-time job which she suggests is not exactly unexpected (this is the Forties), but conversely his decision to calmly listen to Marion’s reasons for defending Yamauchi is. The explanation she gives to him here stands as the most believable and eloquent of the series thus far: ‘For all the things I didn’t put in my diary. For the things that made him a person. For the times he treated me as a human being… It didn’t make me less hungry but it did give me a little dignity.’

The comparisons that are drawn between Clifford and Yamauchi are especially interesting as Marion questions whether the Commandant did wrong by following orders (‘Isn’t that what the army requires? Duty first, instant obedience?’) and whether her husband would have done differently? And she certainly has a point when she describes the similarity between their circumstances: ‘He felt equally humiliated – stuck in a jungle with a load of women. He missed his wife and family too. He has a daughter and a baby grandson.’ Rather than going on the offensive, Clifford responds to her words with the plain statement: ‘He’ll probably hang,’ and earns an affectionate hand on his shoulder for his restraint. It is a small but important moment.

Clifford’s new-found patience is immediately tested by the continuing storyline: first by their discovery of an out-of-sorts Dominica and secondly by news of Joss’s hospitalisation. Although his reaction to the former: ‘Can’t we ever get away from them?!’ suggests little has changed and prompts Marion to ask: ‘Why must you always make it a choice?’ by the time of the latter he interrupts her apology with an affectionate: ‘Come on, I’ll drive you over there.’ Marion’s brief smile – which closes the episode – implies that she too now believes they might just make it work after all. Newth and Bell are superlative here

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.

About Andy Priestner

Consultant and trainer on user experience (UX) research and design, failure, leadership and LEGO Serious Play
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