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30 November 2009 @ 06:11 pm
continuing the tradition  
Once again, Mondays are for meta. All of S2, but mostly the second half.

1. Fraser's uniform (again)

It amuses me that after I spent all of that time thinking about Fraser's uniform and how it relates to his body, the last six episodes of S2 seem to go out of their way to problematize that relationship, by putting the uniform itself under threat. This actually starts, I suppose, with "Vault," when Thatcher punishes Fraser by taking away the dress uniform and forcing him to wear that awful hat--and Fraser has to fight for his uniform, telling us what he sees in it in the process: that it connects him to everyone else who has worn that uniform with honor and integrity. (We hear this in another key in "Red, White, or Blue": Fraser tells Ray that he wishes sometimes that he didn't have to wear the uniform, but that it's 'part of his obligations.' Honor, integrity, obligations: very Fraser words.)

But the last six episodes attack Fraser's uniform with what looks like glee: he loses the boots in "White Men Can't Jump to Conclusions"; a hole gets ripped in his hat in "All the Queen's Horses"; in "Body Language" it's reduced to those ghastly parodies the exotic dancers wear (and Ida slips her hand into his tunic while he's on guard duty at the consulate; if Fraser uses the uniform to protect himself, it's not doing its job here); in "Red, White, or Blue" one of his sleeves gets burned off; and he spends much of "Flashback" unable to remember who he is and so unable to figure out the arcane order of straps and lanyard. (And he puts his hands in his pockets. I realize that I have mentioned this before, but the casualness is startling. I didn't know those trousers even had pockets.) "The Duel" is the only episode out of the six in which something doesn't happen to his uniform--and that makes sense, because it's really Ray's episode, not Fraser's. In S1, the Mountie is the uniform, to outsiders. But S2 takes it away from him, demonstrates that he's himself even in sneakers or awful hats. Despite Ray's fixation on the uniform in "Red, White, or Blue" ("he dresses up in that damn red suit every day of his life like a signpost!"), or amnesiac Benton's startled reaction to it--"Whoa, that's bright. Really bright"--Fraser hardly notices, because it's a signpost of another sort: it doesn't mark him out; it stands for all of those Fraser words that he believes in. It means something to him, but it doesn't define him.

2. Parallels, oppositions, deflections

I love "Red, White, or Blue" for many reasons, from that brilliantly surreal "conversation" Ray and Fraser have in two separate locations, to Fraser's surprisingly snarky replies to Ray while he's trying to lower his heart rate ("I'm going to kill you!" "Very possibly"). And it interests me that in what is almost the last episode of S2, the show examines the characters of its leads in such detail, including by means of comparison and contrast. We have a villain, in Francis Bolt, who declares, "I crave accuracy"--and a hero, in Fraser, who feels honor-bound to correct misconceptions and inaccuracies, even when they're being made by a homicidal madman who has him strapped to a bomb ("Objection. If I may"). We have another villain, in Randall Bolt, who is accused of craving the spotlight, and another hero, in Ray, who is jealous and angry at being passed over in favor of Fraser (who is told to imagine a huge spotlight on himself, and wriggles out of the way as quickly as possible).

The episode also rewrites "Vault." For one thing, Ray and Fraser are once again defending "other people's money." In "Vault," Ray wants to let the bank robbers take the money rather than risk his life, since it's all insured anyway; Fraser, of course, argues that it's their duty to defend it rather than let criminals take it. In "Red, White, or Blue," it looks for a second as though Ray gets to do what he couldn't do then, and just give up the money--though of course he's switched the bags ("Did they say 'bonds'? I thought they said 'bombs'!" "Oh, that's very clever, Ray'). But it's also another episode in which Ray tries to force Fraser into admitting that he has feelings like other "human beings." It's no accident that the episode should begin with Fraser echoing, puzzled, "Feel?" when the RCMP media expert asks him how stopping a nuclear disaster made him feel (a really inane question; I do not blame Fraser for refusing to answer it). He knows what the woman means, of course, but he plays blankly polite in order to evade the question, to avoid displaying his "inner soul" (as though the reporters have a right to it!). Ray is also asking, in a way, for Fraser to display his inner soul, the emotions he suspects are in there but which Fraser is generally too private or too dutiful to show. In "We Are the Eggmen," Fraser supplies Thatcher with the word "deflect," which is, like "honor" and "obligations," a very Fraser word. Ray uses it at the end of this episode, to describe what Fraser's doing, in playing the literal-minded Mountie yet again: "What do you think, I just got off the boat?" "Which boat?" "Don't try to deflect this." He knows exactly what Fraser's doing, trying to sidetrack but also to play guileless, the sort of person who is too naïve even to have a secret, let alone keep one. It's habitual for Fraser, and it drives Ray crazy.

What's interesting, to me, is that Ray seems to want Fraser to admit to the more primal emotions--to stop being a "saint." In that earlier parallel conversation they have, Ray demands, "We are talking about anger here, Fraser, a human emotion. Are you human? Because if you are, human beings feel things, okay? They feel anger, they feel love, they feel lust and fear. And sometimes, and I know you don’t want to hear this, sometimes they even cry." (taken from transcript) But what Fraser actually admits to is something rather different. It's envy, yes, but of a rather intangible thing: "You have a kind of freedom I wish I had. A sort of existential honesty." It's a peculiar feeling for Fraser to admit to, scrupulously honest as he is. And he admits to it only with his eyes closed, while he's very deliberately trying not to feel the emotions Ray is demanding of him, because actually feeling those things would set off the bomb. But there is something honest, breathtakingly so, about what Fraser admits to--more than Ray recognizes, maybe--and I don't really know what to do with the admission.

I do think it indicates a separation that Fraser is capable of and Ray is not, though. Ray gets Fraser in some important ways, but I think he misreads him in one particular. In S1, he assumes Fraser doesn't know anything about love or women--"What would you know about that? You're a Mountie." The events of "Victoria's Secret" teach him that that's not true, but he still seems to think that Fraser's privacy or reticence is a problem. Maybe because he takes Fraser at face value. This is going to be a slightly circuitous road to this observation, so perhaps it should be point

3. what happens when a revenger won't revenge; logic and feeling

The moment for this meta is probably past, but I just saw Hamlet over the weekend (more about that in another post, perhaps), so I'm thinking again about fathers and sons and revenge. I've long thought that the command of Hamlet's father is a particularly cruel thing to do to one's child, so what's interesting to me is that such a thing totally fails to work on Fraser in "Bird in the Hand," for two (or three) reasons, but the one that's relevant here is that his commitment to the law is too strong to admit such an unlawful act. Everyone would understand it, if he did, just as we understand Hamlet's need to try to fulfill his father's command: Ray would claim it was self-defense in a heartbeat, and lets Fraser know it, and the FBI agent tries to play on Fraser's presumed need for revenge. But Fraser doesn't allow himself to consider that. To the agents he says, "Whatever my feelings, they ended with Gerard's imprisonment"; to Ray, "I simply want to see Gerard returned to prison, that's all." And--this is how this relates to the previous point--because Fraser is so calm and dispassionate in these discussions (and other discussions not having to do with revenge), it might be easy for people, including Ray, to assume that he simply doesn't feel anything, or that his feelings are shallowly rooted. (I have made it this many weeks without making the comparison, but oh well: it's like what Marianne says about Elinor in S&S. When Marianne learns that Elinor has known of Edward's engagement for four months and shown no sign, she asks how Elinor could have borne it. Elinor replies, "By feeling that I was doing my duty." Marianne is less than convinced by such a reply, and takes it to mean that Elinor's feelings could never have been strong in the first place: " 'If such is your way of thinking,' said Marianne, 'if the loss of what is most valued is so easily to be made up by something else, your resolution, your self-command, are perhaps, a little less to be wondered at. -- They are brought more within my comprehension.' " And then I want to shake Marianne by her snotty little hair.)

But we know that that's not true of Fraser. He admits as much to his father, when faced with his father's murderer: "It takes every bit of restraint I have not to go in there and separate his head from his shoulders." Or as he says in "Juliet is Bleeding," "What I want for Mr. Zuko and what the law dictates are two different things. And right now, that difference is the only thing that's keeping him alive." (Another example of dS rereading itself.) It's not that his earlier statements are untrue; that would be too simplistic, and Fraser isn't that. But he has to work, to struggle, to make them true--to separate feeling from action. And I don't think Ray always gets that. At the end of "An Eye for an Eye," Fraser points out the flaw inherent in the lex talionis: "Now you see, Mr. Colling, from now on you will have to decide who's good enough to walk on your streets and sit in your park. You will have to decide who should be protected and who should be punished." (transcript) That speech is not merely naïve or overly earnest; it's not the country mouse failing to recognize the rules of the big city (which is how Ray sometimes seems to see Fraser, early on). Fraser isn't inhuman or a "robot"; he recognizes those lawless impulses--but his devotion to the law comes first, and he doesn't give in to those impulses because he knows that there is no stepping off of that path, once you've begun to walk on it.

That ability Fraser has to put justice above fury, the impersonal abstraction above emotion, is something that Ray doesn't share. In "The Duel," the use of logic is a crucial point; versions of the word get used at least three times, and with one of them Francesca describes Fraser: "I love it when you're logical." He's like Carver in that way: he's capable of the careful observation and painstaking work it takes to unravel a puzzle; he works within rules and structures. Ray doesn't have that capability for abstraction; Ray himself says that he was never any good at logical puzzles. (It's telling that Fraser's calm, supportive response to Ray's frustration at not being able to figure out the rules of Carver's game is that Ray is learning them. He knows how this process works, but Ray can't see that far ahead.) When Ray finds the red toy Riv, he jumps to the emotional, if reasonable, conclusion--that it's his car, and that Carver is telling him he's going to be in an accident. He makes it personal, without any separation--"That's my car." It's Fraser who notices the details: "Well, it's not your car, Ray--your car's green." And he knows how Carver operates, so he knows that those details matter, that they're telling him something, whereas Ray brushes them off; maybe Carver just couldn't find a green one. We see it too in "Juliet is Bleeding," when Ray brushes aside Fraser's observation that nothing about the case makes sense ("Ray, it's not logical"; "Ray, think"), refuses to hear what Fraser knows so well: "A police officer who doesn't think is dangerous." Fraser can set aside his personal hatred for Zuko in order to see all the inconsistencies that mean Zuko couldn't have planted the bomb--but what I think Ray never really sees is that that rational, logical, principled stand costs him. We see it in the others' hostile looks, Fraser's bowed head as he leaves. And we see it, albeit humorously, in how worried Fraser is about irritating Ray in "Red, White, or Blue": "I'm sorry, but I seem to be powerless to prevent that." Ray's right--it is a conscious thing Fraser does, to be who he is, so Fraser isn't, technically, powerless--but he's wrong, too, because he doesn't quite see those "irritating" qualities for what they are. To bring it back around to "Bird in the Hand," the episode rewrites Hamlet in a modern idiom--"If you really loved me, son, you'd strangle him for me"; "If thou didst ever thy dear father love." And Fraser says simply, "No." It's not a game he's tempted into playing--partly because his guilt lies elsewhere ("if I really loved you, I would have--"), and partly because of his clear-eyed knowledge that his father would never do such a thing himself, but partly because he chooses, every day, to separate his feelings from his duty, whereas in Hamlet those two become horribly, impossibly tangled. Ray sees that separation as unnatural; "What's wrong with you, man?" he says in "Juliet is Bleeding," and calls Fraser a robot, tells him he needs to admit to being a human being. But I don't think that intense privacy is unnatural or inhuman--even if Fraser himself seems to wish sometimes that he didn't feel the need for it.