Richard Armitage, Paul Andrews, and gender trouble in Between the Sheets [Spoilers for the whole series; frank sex talk]

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 1.23.49 AMThe reference desk

Between the Sheets entries at imdb and at wikipedia.

Previous responses to Between the Sheets in Armitageworld that I’m aware of (if you’ve discussed it on your blog and I missed it, please leave your link in the comments and I will add it):

And here’s Annette’s brief evaluation at Richard Armitage Online.

I can’t help but mourn the disappearance of the “Richard Armitage Retroactive” discussion at Befuddled Musings from 2011. The author deleted the blog. Finally, while I have not read these discussions, it’s also been talked about extensively at C19 over the years.

Thanks to Armitage Agonistes for nudging me in the direction of finally publishing some stuff that’s been written for quite some time and adding to it in the process. This post is being written in the way it is so as hopefully to complement what Perry’s planning to do (as opposed to covering the same territory).

My reaction

vlcsnap-2012-05-17-21h42m08s204Too much sex? Paul Andrews (Richard Armitage) and Alona Cunningham (Julie Graham) leave the script of their sex therapy exercises in episode 4 of Between the Sheets. My cap.

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I’m not a huge fan of Between the Sheets. It’s not the acting, which is fine — I enjoy both Brenda Blethyn and Alun Armstrong in particular, but I also found other performances strong, including Julie Graham’s and Richard Armitage’s. It’s interesting to me alone as evidence of what Armitage did in his early career, of course. For various reasons this is one of his performances I like the least, and I hope to explain that eventually. I’m intrigued by it more than convinced.

What don’t I like?

It’s not the topic. I grew up in an open and very sex-(within-marriage)-friendly household. Nor is elderly sex the issue — I’ve been told by a nurse that my parents are petting in rehab with the apparent expectation that it would scandalize me. More power to them, I’ve always thought. I think the sex definitely advances the characterization and occasionally the plot of Between the Sheets, although I’m not sure that the latter technique works successfully in every case. (I know Judiang thinks this as well, even if she’s never published her thoughts on the topic. Poke.)

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BTS-04Too much beefcake? Richard Armitage as Paul Andrews in episode 1 of Between the Sheets. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Nor does the nudity bug me. Seen from the perspective of German television, which showed an erotic film every weekend all summer on its public networks when I lived there, this show is not unduly racy. I also see no argument for the depiction of sex in this film being particularly graphic in comparison to things I’ve seen on US cable television.

Moreover, as a U.S.-American, exposed to discussions about sex therapy that were going on by the early 1990s (does anyone else remember the L.A. Law episodes where Malcolm fell in love with his sexual surrogate?), I find none of the things that Alona mentions to her clients surprising. They were all recommended in The Joy of Sex, which I read around 1987. So what Richard Armitage referred to in 2003 as “brave drama,” claiming “people find the frank dialogue more shocking than the nudity and the sex scenes. People are too scared to talk about sex” falls flat with me as an assertion. I know it’s bad manners for an actor to say negative things about productions he appears in. He may even be right about people’s reactions and the need for more frank discussion of sex in his own context — especially in light of what he reported about his mother’s reaction. Director Jane Prowse said that the novelty lay in its discussion of older people’s sexuality. Or maybe for the supposedly buttoned-down British? But in my situation as viewer, I don’t find this drama especially brave.

Even so, the extent (or lack of) bravery isn’t what makes me dislike it.

It’s some specific features of the script.

Four assertions about Between the Sheets

So, let’s get this party started. Here are four assertions I believe to be both controversial and supportable.

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vlcsnap-2012-05-17-21h38m50s13Surprised by demands for sex? Julie Graham’s feet and Richard Armitage’s posterior in episode 4 of Between the Sheets. My cap.

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One. Richard Armitage was fully aware of problems in the script and took this role not anyway but because.

I have never believed Armitage’s statement that he was blindsided by the stage directions in the script. In 2003, Armitage was quoted as saying:

My character and his girlfriend end up seeing a sex therapist themselves and are given homework. When I got the script I didn’t appreciate quite what that involved, as I’d skimmed over the stage directions. It wasn’t until I came to film the sex scenes that I realised!

While he wasn’t drowning in opportunities when he made Between the Sheets, at the same time, I think it was no accident that Armitage took this role. Every actor seeks exposure, but even so, while I’m sure he was cast partially because his attractiveness offered viewers a credible mirror for Alona’s sexual desire, it’s not plausible to me that Armitage either sought to shock or even believed that exposing his rear end would lead to better roles. In my opinion, the role of Paul Andrews — problematic scripting notwithstanding — would have offered him exactly the kind of moral conflict and internal contradictions within a character that he’s regularly said appeal to him when asked about subsequent roles. The ambivalent outcome of Paul and Alona’s second explicit sexual encounter is key to understanding how their relationship works; it’s practically a synecdoche for the problems in their relationship — and I can’t imagine that Armitage would have missed this. Moreover, given regular statements that he takes off his clothes for television if it seems an appropriate choice for the character, I doubt that Armitage would have had severe reservations about the nudity. Or, if he did, I suspect that the attractions not of work, but of rather of working through the issues involved in playing such a problematic character outweighed them. As Jane Prowse said, “In Richard’s case, I was impressed with how much human failing he was prepared to grapple with.  He … managed to access a really dark side in his portrayal of Paul that lesser actors are often frightened to show.”

In other words, I’ve never bought arguments that suggest that a true artist would not do a job like this except for notoriety or money. In my opinion, Paul Andrews is just the kind of role that would attract a thoughtful artist who didn’t care about the potential side effect of notoriety were it to develop — indeed, it’s much more dramatically interesting than any other male role in the production, including Alun Armstrong’s.

Summary: Paul Andrews is not a role Armitage took against his will or out of desperation for attention. Rather, what we see him doing in this role represents his own active choices in characterization within the bounds of the script and direction he was given.

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vlcsnap-2013-08-15-02h05m19s179Paul Andrews (Richard Armitage) and Tracy Ellis (Vinette Robinson) negotiate their relationship in episode 1 of Between the Sheets. My cap.

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Two. What I don’t like about the script specifically lies its construction of Paul Andrews. Not so much because of what it does to Paul Andrews, but because of how it affects our impressions of Alona, which in turn affects the plausibility of what Armitage does in the role of Paul Andrews.

Specifically, I am troubled by the position he’s put in with regard to Alona, and then in the plotline that the Vulpes Libres interviewer found most significant, the way the script conceives of the motivation behind social worker Paul Andrews’ sexual abuse of a teenager under his supervision, Tracy Ellis (Vinette Robinson). But hang on before you nod. I don’t object to this construction of Paul because I’m a fan who expects Armitage to play a hero all the time. It’s not A for Armitage Protection Mode APM that’s causing my objection — rather, it’s A for Alona Protection Mode APM. Or maybe just what I know about sexual abuse and harassment.

I’m probably alone among viewers of the series that I’ve talked to in finding Alona a likable character and admiring her at the end of the story.

Although Kay Mellors’ research has been occasionally praised, and it might have been effective in its accurate-but-not-especially-original portrayal of sex therapy or sex in middle age and beyond, it strayed wide of the mark in its contextualization of Paul’s abuse of Tracy. It implied — against the burden of research on abusive relationships for the last several decades — that Paul’s sexual problems with Alona were the actual, and not just purported, reason for Paul’s decision to assault Tracy. It would be very easy to conclude from watching this series that the reasons for Paul’s impotence with Alona were the same ones that caused him to mistreat Tracy. Had Alona been just a little less demanding, a little less aggressive, a little more typically feminine and vulnerable, a little more focused on accommodating Paul’s needs for a less direct focus on genital pleasures in bed and more enhanced two-way communication about his life, the script implies, Paul wouldn’t have sought his pleasure with an attractive teenager who was practically throwing herself at him.

(Yes, you may take away from the sarcasm with which I loaded that last statement that I found this facet of the script offensive.)

This is just wrong and Mellors (and / or Prowse) should have known better. Paul has lost his desire for Alona and abuses Tracy for the same reason, hypothetically — the script falls down on giving us a plausible etiology of his behavior — but problems in his relationship with Alona do not cause his behaviors with Tracy. Nor vice versa.

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vlcsnap-2013-08-15-03h02m30s187Paul Andrews (Richard Armitage) reflects on the reasons for his sexual abuse of Tracy in episode 6 of Between the Sheets. My cap.

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Really? you ask. Is the script that unfair? Doesn’t Alona carry heavy baggage and unresolved issues from the past? Doesn’t she put too much stress on a vigorous sex life with lots of pleasure for her as an index of a successful relationship? Doesn’t she feel a misplaced need to be seen as attractive and youthful, a need that sex (and by implication, Paul, her sexual partner) is in her life to feed? Doesn’t she have an odd array of obviously visible neuroses — health food and vitamins and lip balm? An inability to see her own son, Kieran, with any objectivity?

And doesn’t Tracy attempt to seduce Paul, right at the beginning of episode 1?

And I would ask — all Alona’s problems notwithstanding:

Why is it Alona’s fault that Paul doesn’t say no to Tracy? In this day and age, why are we even tempted to think that it’s Alona’s fault that Paul succumbs to the advances of a mentally unstable teenager for whose welfare he’s responsible?

Because the script tells us these things implicitly and explicitly.

Near the end of episode 6, when Paul admits that he lied about the extent of his physical relationship with Tracy, and Alona asks him why he did it, Paul replies, “Because she was different. Exciting. And because she wanted me.” If we hadn’t seen the previous episodes, we might be willing to accept the most obvious, least obnoxious reading of those lines — that even in conceding the part he played in Tracy’s death, Paul was still deluding himself that his victim — a disturbed, suicidal teenager who offered sex to a man who appeared stable to her because she thought it might get her love — freely desired his advances in the way that an autonomous, adult sexual or romantic partner might. But the previous episodes do everything they can to make Paul’s crime against Tracy seem like Alona’s fault. In her relationship with Paul, Alona is consistently portrayed by the script as overly controlling — an assessment with which her own partner in the therapy practice agrees–, infantilizing her partner, and unable to forget her late husband.

And yet, interestingly — Alona actually has the clearheadedness to see the possibility that Paul is guilty on his own terms. As Paul says to her accusingly, early on in the script and several times later, she thinks he did it. (Unlike many of us, who should know better. More about this effect / problem a little further down.) So Alona is not quite as blind to everything around her as the script makes her out to be — as we can see if we look at her in her wider interactions in professional life, where she is successful in helping clients, despite her problems concentrating.

The problem with the stress on Alona’s many sins is that we don’t get many glimpses of what really motivates Paul beyond the excuses the script offers (or allows Paul to get away with offering). The Paul story as scripted is “Once upon a time a kind, empathetic man in a helping profession became infatuated with a traumatized woman who tricked him about the extent of her vulnerability, used him to make herself feel attractive, took him over, infantilized him, controlled his every move, and then became angry when he refused to put out to make her feel good, so that he turned elsewhere for sex that he got abusively.” Beyond a single statement by Alona, the script fails to punch up the point that Paul must be aware that his initial fiery attraction to Alona happened precisely on the basis of her vulnerability in the wake of her husband’s death — which almost seems feigned or unbelievable from the perspective of her later behavior. We don’t get any clue — beyond a few statements in the therapy session — about why Paul might see himself as so powerless that he has to save a sad widow with sex, or sleep with a vulnerable teenager, in order to feel better about himself. We see that Paul is manipulative, but the script doesn’t tell us why — beyond hitting us over and over again with Alona’s aggressive, “hyper-sexual,” and neurotically controlling behaviors.

Again, I don’t like how Alona comes out of this. The script is heavily involved in attributing blame but it puts it decidedly in the wrong place here. In turn, this structure limits a lot of choices the actor playing Paul Andrews can make.

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vlcsnap-2012-05-17-21h39m26s119“Is this what you need?” Paul (Richard Armitage) asks Alona (Julie Graham), before slamming into her a little harder, in episode 4 of Between the Sheets. My cap.

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Three. Reviewers who have gotten caught up in discussions of the show’s open depictions of sexual encounters have often missed the point that the sex in this show is equally concerned with power. This is the primary blind spot in the interview with Armitage — it’s entirely focused on the potential controversy of figural portrayals of sex, and doesn’t interrogate the problems of power behind them that affect the character of Paul Andrews with particular force.

As I’ve argued above, Paul and Alona’s and Paul and Tracy’s stories — as well as those of other characters in the series, but I’m not writing about them — are not primarily or only about the sexual themes with which they are depicted (I apologize to my critics — here it is again — sex is also and often metaphor), but rather about the enactment and exercise of power relations between characters. This point is also demonstrated in Paul and Alona’s therapy session — as their therapist notes, in response to Paul’s charges that Alona decides everything, Paul is the one who decides when they have sex. Withholding is the only way Paul has to get Alona to pay him the attention he wants. As point two above should make clear, in its problematic conception of the reasons for Paul’s crimes, the show demonstrates the point that sex=power, even if in a confusing, not-very-true-to-life way, by implying that Paul turns to Tracy because of sex (she’s young and attractive, as both Paul and Alona concede) even as it implies that the reason Paul’s tempted by Tracy has something to do with the power imbalance Alona enjoys in their relationship. In truth, the abusive Paul is tempted by power, and that power relationship is constituted as one of sexual exchange — Paul gets to feel powerful at the expense of his victim (and, to some extent, at the expense of his frustrated wife), and Tracy gets to feel (however deceptively) loved.

Moreover, the show as a whole derives its energies from various gender and power paradoxes set up between the paired characters. The characters with the longest marriage have the worst sex life. The characters who have the most ease with sex have the most difficulty with relationships. Male desire is “misdirected” all over the place, and female desire is absent or stymied. And finally, at home, the sex therapist’s partner won’t put out for her.

In all of these pairings, we see “weak” partners working through their problems with “strong” partners by means of sexual negotiation across paradoxes that set up problems in performing traditional gender roles — indeed, the show relies dramatically on the possibility that the viewer will find these paradoxes and the conflicts they generate interesting. Thus this scripting — whether I like it or not — makes the show ripe for a gender trouble analysis. In particular, the Paul / Alona relationship is conceived along these lines. Alona is performing the traditional male position — a larger-than-life libido, sexual aggression, authority, the head-of-household position — while Paul is in the traditional, stereotypical female position — sexually uninterested, wanting to be understood rather than hit on. Alona wants to screw, and Paul wants to talk.

First, Paula and Alona’s power struggle and their mutual conceptions of their gender roles exemplify gender trouble. They mobilize stereotypes and manipulations of gender and desire in order to negotiate their conflict over power. Secondly, however, Armitage’s body and gestural language makes complicating contributions to the gender trouble problems that Paul and Alona experience.

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BTS-37Paul Andrews (Richard Armitage) reacts to Tracy’s spectacular suicide and the message she sends with it, in episode 6 of Between the Sheets. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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Four. The effect Armitage fans frequently report from seeing the series — of being uncertain as to whether Paul abused Tracy — is not necessarily a consequence of being a fan and not wanting the Armitage character to be guilty. I would say it’s a direct consequence of the gender trouble Armitage’s acting creates either intentionally or subconsciously. At the same time (and this is why I say I am intrigued rather than convinced), I do not feel the fact that many of us are uncertain until the end that he did it — against our better judgment — is necessarily a success of the role.

Things to keep in mind about my situation in this argument

One. If all you’ve seen are the cuts of Armitage’s performance available on youtube (six parts starting here, minus the key explicit scenes, which are absolutely central to understanding the dynamics of their relationship, the first two of which are here), you will probably not find my argument plausible. If you only see Alona with Paul, he looks unbelievably put upon and she seems incredibly shrewish. My reaction to watching the series that way — that the relationship as viewed only in those scenes was not plausible, that no modern romantic partners would really tolerate that sort of relationship for long enough to reproduce — caused me to buy the DVDs. Watching the whole series, I believe, gives the viewer a different perspective on Alona because one sees her acting competently; one sees that she has reasons for the sort of statements and judgments she makes, that she’s not simply an overbearing jerk, or as Frenz argued, possibly a narcissist. She’s actually a strong female character, she’s not ashamed of her sexuality, she sees the world around her with at least as much accuracy as any other character in the show, and that includes Paul.

Two. My own libido has some similarities with Alona’s. I’ve practically always experienced greater desire than my partners have. That state of affairs may make me inherently more sympathetic to some of her attitudes — both about sex, and about power in relationships.

Three. I’ve been sexually harassed by someone who had significant power over me. That experience fundamentally complicates my attitudes toward this piece, and in particular my reaction to both the ways the script constructs Paul Andrews and Armitage’s choices in playing the role. That experience is the real reason I’ve been silent about Between the Sheets for so long.

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I hope this makes sense, so far. The next thing is to do some performance analysis.

~ by Servetus on August 15, 2013.

183 Responses to “Richard Armitage, Paul Andrews, and gender trouble in Between the Sheets [Spoilers for the whole series; frank sex talk]”

  1. Great to read the continuation of your gender trouble discussion, Serv. I actually settled down with pen and paper to note my immediate reactions so that I can argue my points properly. However, I have not seen BTS in full – I only know those snippets available on YT, and you have convinced me now to refrain from further comment on the plot and characterisations until I have seen the whole work.
    There is only one point I’d like to make here, concerning Armitage’s decision to take on the role, which you discuss in Assertion One. I am sure all the points you have raised are accurate – that the role promised acting scope and also sufficient exposure (pun intended), to be a launching point for more TV work, and that the offer to play PA came at a time when maybe not that much work was coming Armitage’s way. However, when I see actors’ role choices, particularly the bad ones, I often wonder whether the actual acting scope offered in a role is foremost in their minds. The business is a hard one – an insecure one, where the actor really is a freelancer, a one-man-company, who has to find the work in order to make ends meet. My guess is – especially in light of Armitage’s frequently voiced statement that he is/was often worried about not finding (more) work – that this was simply a job that came up. Regardless of what he might have seen as downfalls in the script, he’d have taken it anyway – he needed work, he needed exposure, he needed to fuel his desire to act.
    I don’t really think the decision to accept the role was a bad one (I know – you did not say that, too). And “history” is proving that right – he did go on to get other roles. It certainly did not stifle him, he got to show what he got (…).
    I am going to check now if I can get the full series somewhere. Because I would love to chime in on the Alona-dilemma.

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    • yeah, I’m not saying he didn’t care about the practical aspects. I am saying that as scripted, Paul Andrews is a role that’s consistent with his other role choices, and because of that, both potentially attractive and understandable as a career builder rather than a misstep.

      I’m not sure if you know whose straw man I’m arguing against here — I hesitate to mention her name — but I’m arguing against the “he did this against his will / he wouldn’t have done this if there was anything else available” and “this role could have hurt his career” positions I’ve heard that person make.

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      • *laughs* Oh, I doubt he did this against his will. He wanted the role. If he had any serious problems with the nudity in it, he wouldn’t have done it.
        There is nothing embarrassing about a beautiful, well-proportioned body, and neither is there about enjoying the view of a beautiful, well-proportioned body.

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        • from the quote above and the others in the article, I wouldn’t assume that Richard regretted the role or didn’t want it, just what the nude scenes would actually entail. that might have been because the script itself wasn’t detailed, or just that he wasn’t thinking seriously at the time about what that would require visually/physically to act it out on film.

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          • That’s what I find totally implausible. Mr. Overlearner, who’s been basically unemployed since leaving the RSC, doesn’t read a script carefully? Nah. Not plausible to me, sorry.

            Plus, let’s not forget that he’s in a series here that was going to be widely seen because of Brenda Blethyn.

            However, there are people who have argued that he regrets it now. One ex negativo argument for that is that nothing of it appeared in his Spotlight show reel.

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            • that is what it sounds like to me, that how he felt about it then is not how he feels about it now. whether to chalk that up to being young and free-spirited vs older and more conservative, only he knows the hows and whys.

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              • What’s your evidence? AFAIK he’s never spoken about it since then.

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                • he has shown skin in different projects, but not full body nudity like this and not within a sexual context. the fact that his mother and the “neighbors” may have voiced their embarrassment over it would probably make him second guess the decision, surely. yes, he is an over-achiever who learns his characters inside out, but that’s who he is *now*, why is it not possible that what he would actually be doing to portray these sexual problems in their relationship, was not clear down to the letter? have we seen a script? often those stage directions are very vauge, or you can assume that one thing will be asked of you but then the director wants something a bit different. I’m not “protecting” him and saying he was blind-sided and forced into anything. but hindsight, both in relation to age and what the movie looks like when it’s all edited and pieced together, may change one’s opinions on things. I’m not sure why you’re automatically assuming that he is pulling the wool over our eyes.

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                  • First, he doesn’t say in that article anywhere that he reconsidered his attitude based on conversations with his mother. On the contrary, he defends the work and says he told his mother to use time to make cups of tea.

                    Also, where did I say Armitage was lying or trying to deceive anyone? You may need to read the epistemology post. I’m offering either a C or a D reading (statements controlled by genre for C, in particular), depending on what you understand me to be claiming.

                    https://meandrichard.wordpress.com/2010/05/31/armitage-epistemology-or-an-exercise-in-source-critique/

                    I have never, ever said that Armitage has lied about anything. I’ve said I don’t find his explanation as quoted in this article plausible given everything else I know.

                    Also, I’ve argued in the past that Armitage was always ambitious in tendency and there are clear indices of this from the beginning of what we know about his career. See biography part 2 for that argument:

                    https://meandrichard.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/my-richard-armitage-an-interpretation-early-career-to-north-south/

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                    • questioning what someone has said as not really being how they feel, what word would you use to describe that? (note that my tone is one of inquiry, and that my “arguments” are just as a participant in a healthy debate. I sometimes come off as argumentative, when I’m only seeking answers) “lying” is a strong word, I realize, but I just wonder why we can’t take what he says at face-value, that’s all. it’s true that he did defend BTS in that article & that it was his mom that was embarrassed, so I’m just making a deduction based on those words. just like you’re making a deduction, based on past performances; we’re all just speculating.

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                    • I understanding lying to be an intentional attempt on the part of the speaker to say something that is not true with the intent to deceive the audience of the statement. I’ve never ever said Armitage was lying (though there’s a fan who has). Lying is thus contingent not only on the speaker, but also on the audience. I.e., Armitage might have lied to his mother but not to us, or vice versa. I do not think he made this statement (assuming he was not misquoted, a big if) in order to deceive the readership of the Mail. I do think he, like all human speakers, speaks to an audience that conditions what he reveals about himself and his motivations. I also think that there are cultural forces operating on what constitutes a lie or a truth in any situation. In particular, the trope of nonchalance / serendipity / self-deprecation (see epistemology post, reading D) is heavily at work here.

                      I think if you think for a second you’ll think of all sorts of reasons that we rarely take what people say at face value. (Again, this is explained at length in the epistemology post under B and C, you really might want to go back and read that). The most decisive reason in this case is that he’s speaking in a publicity interview for the Daily Mail (something somebody points out downthread, possibly LostInAGoodBook). Publicity interviews are conducted for the purpose of selling the items they discussion; the Daily Mail is a tabloid with the highest female readership of any paper in the UK and a tendency to seek out titillating banner headlines. The Daily Mail is going to cover this precisely *because* of the possibility that there could be a kerfuffle over the sex, because that’s a primary interest of its readership, and is going to focus any questions about that to start with. Armitage has something to sell (the series, himself). He’s presumably familiar with the profile of the Daily Mail as it’s widely known in the UK. He’s not going to say things that make him look bad in a venue like that. Discussing his mother’s reaction is the kind of lead that’s likely to appeal to the Daily Mail readership. He may or may not have told his mother that he didn’t read the stage directions (I have no way of knowing that), I only know what he said about it in this particular article which is highly suspicious because of its audiences and the concerns of the readership of the publication. I also have much other information about Armitage’s formative influences, based on other information he has given about his development and which I have spent a lot of time reading and putting into a picture of how he speaks. Given that information, to me this statement sounds much more like a trope that will appeal to the Mail readership than it sounds like a statement of what actually happened.

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                    • I know why we shouldn’t take people at face value, and I very rarely do without considering multiple factors. in this particular case I agree that RA may have been choosing his words carefully in an attempt to smooth things over for propriety’s sake/marketing, but not that he was intentionally saying something different from how he feels just to appeal to the readers. I can see it as a self-depreciating attempt to take the focus off of the visual sex, knowing the direction the conversation will go if left to discuss that.

                      it also seems plausible to me that he could have not felt as strongly connected to the piece afterwards, and so had personally come to the conclusion that his reasons on why he initially took the job to begin with may be different *now* than *then*. I don’t see it as him going against type, thus making me question what he really means as opposed to what he says.

                      so, just a difference of opinion on RA’s methods 🙂

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                    • No question that people change their opinions about things, just that I don’t see any evidence that he has done so beyond the ex negativo argument that I mentioned regarding the showreel. When you find a statement about what he thinks about this production now, let me know. My argument relies on evidence of his statements about nudity / roles involving nudity that have visible / quotable more or less continuously since the RH premiere, so about seven years, including the statement he made in the fall in the Strombo interview.

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                    • but if he has *adjusted* his answers for the sake of his career, then how can anything he has said in interviews be used as “evidence” ? is it the consistency of those answers, that you’re basing your opinions on? I’m curious to know which quotes you are referring to; will you share a few? 🙂

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                    • It’s not that there’s no evidence, although the D reading unfortunately might imply that to some readers, but rather a question of what any answer printed in the press can be used as evidence *of*. I did a series of posts on this question called “Stay Away from Armitage” in the summer of 2012 that discusses factors that affect an answer to a question in any particular context. In the end, however, we have to rely on the evidence that we have — but also have to ask really penetrating questions about that evidence.

                      And yes, in this case, I’m looking at a series of data points. They indicate relatively little concern before the fall of 2009, a few data points that indicate a concern late in 2009 (as Spooks 8 was premiering) extending into 2010, and then nothing after that until the Hobbit press started querying him about it, when he returned to the earlier position. I tend to find continuity readings more convincing generally, but the return to an earlier position tends to suggest to me a broad continuity anyway.

                      I was thinking after having had this conv yet again (we seem to have to have it every time BTS is raised as a topic) that a post on statements he’s made over the years wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s a hassle to create, so it’s not going to be a huge priority, but I will do it eventually.

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                    • and, it wasn’t a desire to appear pedantic on my part: you asked me why we can’t take what he says at face value.

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                    • yes, I realized i did say that (about face value) after reading back through the conversation; and then promptly rolled my eyes at myself *laughs*

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                    • oh: and: I only argue with people who I think can handle the force of my argumentation.

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                  • also, what Armitage shows in BTS isn’t full body nudity. He shows himself naked from the rear with some kind of covering for his genitals (what industry people call a “cock sock.”)

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              • oh, and when asked for low points of work he’s mentioned the student film and breaking into a car — not BTS.

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            • Interesting – it’s not in his show reel??? Hm. It would be very interesting to know why. I still doubt that it is because of the nudity. He brandished his peaches both in SB and in Spooks, so he can hardly be embarrassed about showing skin. Sex scenes are part of the whole acting game. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be known as the go-to man for hot sex scenes. I can understand that.

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              • No, it’s not, not even in a short clip, and there’s something from practically everything else including Ultimate Force. There are multiple topless scenes (Guy, Lucas). His long scenes are Lucas in the washroom in Spooks 7.1, Standring giving Carol the necklace in Sparkhouse 1.1, and the proposal scene of N&S.

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              • My guess as to why to not put this in his showreel is that it has something to do with the acting he does here, not with the nudity or the subject matter. I think Perry will get into this, but there’s a big early career style break that occurs during / after Sparkhouse.

                Of course there could be all kinds of other explanations. Maybe he didn’t have access to the media of that production at the time he was having the showreel cut together. (Though parts of me wonder if he doesn’t have enough skill to do it himself these days.)

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                • I look forward to reading about the “career style break”. In terms of acting, I don’t think BTS was his best work, tbh. I rewatched the YT scenes earlier and thought there were a few instances where his facial expressions were not quite right. (The very first scene with Tracey for instance.) Could just be me, though.

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                • He said in response to an interview question about whether he watches his own work, that he does so when he puts together his show reel. Whether he actually does the editing, I don’t know, but he says he has a hand in it. I know a lot of actors say they don’t watch their own work. I’ll never understand this. I would think prior work is an important learning tool.
                  How do we know what’s on his show reel? Is it avail?

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                  • I totally get that on a parallel level — I can’t make myself reread my published work. I read reviews of it as necessary but voluntarily going back over it? uch.

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                  • That’s what I want to know. What show reel? I can’t give an informed opinion on any of this, and it is killing me to keep quiet. I have only seen the infamous”peaches” clips on you tube. As for nudity hurting his career, well, he has one doesn’t he? He seems to be doing well. So isn’t the proof in the pudding? Apologizing in advance for displaying my ignorance.

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                    • yeah, it doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the long run anyway 🙂

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                    • You Tube has all his scenes in BTS except sex. Another You Tube channel that specializes in sex scenes has the sex scenes. I think Serv gave you one link above.

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      • From the point of view of a European this is absolutely nothing to be ashamed off or to shy away from out of fear it might hurt an actor’s career. Michael Fassbender’s “Shame” anyone? Apart from that, in the first cap he looks like a famous statue.

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        • Very much agree. The Fassbender example is actually a good one, because – sniggers from the sensationalist media aside – I think everyone commended Fassbender for accepting the challenge of full-frontal nudity. I don’t think it has damaged his career at all. He is everything but a porn star – on the contrary, the role has cemented his status as a serious, dramatic actor.

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          • I would tend to agree with the frequent observation that it tends to be Americans who don’t like the nudity in BTS.

            That said, I am, however, emphatically not characterizing Americans as prudish or sex negative — we’re not — and I am also reiterating something I said here — that it is possible to be American and not like sex scenes on their own merits:

            http://rafrenzy.com/2010/12/04/diary-of-an-ra-fan-part-23-fading-from-view-spoilers/#comment-3007

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            • Sorry, my “agree” was directed at the Fassbender example. I certainly realise that not *all* Americans are sexually repressed *laughs*. Just in the same way that not *all* Germans are sexually liberated (a sentiment that was thrown at me – by American men, interestingly – a few times when I lived in the States… Wishful thinking, more like!) I am not really sure that there is a connection between nationality and like/dislike of sex scenes. It’s a highly personal matter – shaped by cultural and social influences as well as religious upbringing and personal experiences. Even people who grew up with liberal sexual attitudes around them may develop a dislike of sex scenes in general.

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              • np, I knew what you meant. I just didn’t want to get into one of the conversations I’ve frequently had about this which tends in the direction of judgment about various groups’ openness to sexual representations 🙂 and wanted to put up a fence.

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              • Not liking it or being embarrassed by watching it is another matter entirely. I watched it once and have no desire to watch it again. Mostly because I don’t find the sex scenes particularly erotic. But from the point of view of what is considered as perfectly acceptable or even brave in an artistic context, I’m fine with RA having done this. This may not be an award winning movie like “Shame” but it is no soft porn that is only made to titillate either. BTW lot’s of actors appear nude on stage (though in a non-sexual content).

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      • I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to take this role. It had the greatest range of acting of any major role he’d had to date; the writers, producers, directors and cast had great track records,he’s already paraded around in a speedo and it wasn’t frontal nudity ( on screen).
        And as to his assertion that he didn’t realize- bull.

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  2. Thanks so much for this Servetus. I look forward to getting the discussion going again here and then at my place, and also for your next installment.
    You hit on one of my peeves about this series – that except for one speech by Alona reminding Paul that he held a position of trust vis a vis Tracy, the viewer is offered the opportunity to give Paul a pass or anyway “understand” his conduct against Tracy and sympathize with him because she’s older than her years, or she throws herself at him or Alona drives him to it. In fact, Tracy was incompetent to consent to sex with Paul because of her age and because he held a position of both actual and emotional power over her due to his professional standing. Paul’s interaction with Tracy was not sexual harassment, it was as you stated, sexual abuse and I don’t think the series brought this home.

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    • Yup — it was sexual assault. Of *all* people apart from Paul’s fellow social worker (Viv?) Alona is the only one who seems to realize this.

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    • BTW the age of consent in Germany is fourteen. It is not uncommon for girls of fourteen or fifteen to choose to have sex and to be on the pill (without the parents knowing). It may be considered a bit early but it is perfectly legal. Paul’s age and his professional relationship with her and her unstable state are a different matter. But in terms of her being a grown-up young woman and able to consent (and knowing what she consents to) I have no problem with this.

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      • The age of consent in England is 16.

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      • The point is — the script IMO falsely implies Paul’s relationship with Tracy is some kind of love affair. It’s not. It’s abuse of power, pure and simple.

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        • a lust affair or a means-to-an-end affair, but not anything resembling a love affair, in my opinion. even from Tracy’s point of view, it seemed more like a game or a challenge, not built around love-like feelings.

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          • Having sex with someone who cannot consent is assault. Note that the desire of the person who cannot consent (in this case Tracy) is not a mitigating factor.

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            • even though we’re treating it like a “real” event, it is technically still fiction. so if the script-writers purposely implied it was a love-affair, lust-affair, or straight up assault, how can we say that isn’t correct? within the fictional setting of this particular story, it is what ever they intended it to be. and since most of the story is from Paul’s point of view, it would be how he sees it, or justified it, to himself.

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              • (a) the series describes itself as something that relates to actual knowledge about sex — lifting the veil, as Perry put it — as opposed to notions about it, a theme enhanced by the choice to make a sex therapist, who is supposed to know something about sex and relationships, as its main character
                (b) verisimilitude is a major component of believability for the average viewer, particularly in drama that casts itself as being up-to-date, contemporary, modern. What each viewer thinks is realistic (“like reality”) is going to differ, but it’s not correct to say that the series writers can simply not think about that question and throw reality to the winds and have us believe whatever *they* want us to. We call drama that plays with rules of reality or abandons them entirely “fantasy” or “science fiction.” If this series did not seek to be realistic on some level, it would involve a major generic break.
                (c) I don’t see how the story is told from Paul’s point of view. Did you mention that you hadn’t seen the whole piece? I need to look back to find what you said about that. Paul’s point of view is a very small piece of the whole series and roughly half of this particular plot line.

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                • this is what I’m stuck on: you say that what each viewer sees as realistic is going to differ, yet it seems to me that you are also saying there could not be men out there in the real world in this kind of situation who are anything but vile & evil. That a man with Paul’s emotional issues, paired with a woman like Alona and her issues, could not unintentionally find himself in a situation like what occurred with Tracy; he has to have been an abuser from the get-go who preyed on her like a cat with a mouse. *If* that is what you are implying, then my “reality” disagrees with that.

                  it’s true that I have not seen the whole story, only the parts that concern Paul. but in understanding him from the inside out, I would only need what he thinks of himself, and his interactions with others; not necessarily where those others are coming from, in relation to him.

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                  • First, I said nothing about anyone being vile and evil. It’s a kind of pattern in our conversations that you assert that I say something that I haven’t actually said. I make a real effort to use exact language here.

                    I did say that research shows that adults who commit these kinds of crimes are committing crimes of *power* and are cognizant of that. (This is why the actual desirability level of a victim is usually entirely irrelevant to the fact that they get victimized — because it’s not about desire, except in the case of a paraphilia, which the script does not suggest is Paul’s problem.) Whether men in general in this particular situation know what they are doing (I believe they do — because that’s part of the thrill for them — you don’t “accidentally” have sex with someone who can’t give consent when you know their age and their power position relative to yours and the law and in fact have taken classes to educate you about what you may and may not do — and believe me, social workers do that, all over the world), does Paul in this series specifically know what he’s doing when he responds to Tracy’s advances? Absolutely. He concedes that in the final scene.

                    I have to disagree with you — and again, that’s a pretty fundamental principle of this post — that you know everything about Paul if you’ve seen the scenes only with him. You don’t know what others say about him in his absence, for instance, including Alona and Tracy and his social worker colleague, and particularly you don’t know what Alona and Tracy say to each other. You don’t know how Tracy behaves with her mother, or what her mother’s like, which goes fundamentally to Tracy’s capacity to manipulate and her veracity in alleging abuse against him. That leaves you without vital clues as to why he might respond to her the way he does because even Paul the character knows more about what’s going on than you do. I don’t think that if you haven’t seen the other scenes with them that he’s not in, you have any chance at evaluating his innocence or guilt with anything like all the information.

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                    • alright, I’ll concede to the fact that I have not seen the whole story, from all the different points of view. I’m not sure how witnessing Alona’s absentmindedness with her clients will change my judgement of Paul, or how Tracy interacting with Alona will not just reenforce my feelings about Tracy, but I will stop 😉 I think I’ve said what I felt I needed to say in regards to men like Paul; the more I go in circles trying to get my point across, the more it may seem like I’m just arguing for arguments sake (which I don’t want to do 🙂 )

                      when I said “it seems to me that you are saying” I thought that phrase conveyed that I meant you were “implying”, or else I would have said “you said”. I feel, though no one may have actually *said* (this comment thread is getting way too long for me to go back and look through it all!) that the tone of this discussion points more towards actual abusers and not the particular abuser in this story. I’m not of the opinion that if you’ve seen one abuser, you’ve seen them all, which is why I’ve been coming at Paul from a different angle. I have no links to particular evidence to support my claims, just personal experience in witnessing different types of abuse in the lives of those who are close to me.

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                    • For one thing, if you see all the scenes with Tracy, not just those with Paul, she looks significantly more disturbed. Evaluating the extent of Tracy’s illness gets to whether we are willing to see her as autonomous actor despite her incapacity to consent, whether we think Paul might agree with that assessment, how we evaluate Paul’s perception of his world, our capacity to believe his assertion that his actions to her were prompted by desire for her, and the extent to which we see him as a victimizer (and possibly other stuff).

                      I don’t think anyone including me has said “if you’ve seen one abuser, you’ve seen them all.” We’re talking about a particular power constellation that is applicable to the motivations for the Paul / Tracy relationship and that recurs widely. Of course it doesn’t apply to every abusive relationship, though I would argue that a power differential is part of the definition of abuse because it constitutes the inability of the victim to refuse.

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                    • I didn’t say anyone said “if you’ve seen one abuser, you’ve seen them all.” I said that I am not of that opinion.

                      I like delving in deep and trying to figure out what makes people do the things that they do. I don’t need to agree with their actions or even like them as a person, to want to do that.

                      when the script & acting style was brought into question for not ringing true on the realism front, I disagreed and so tried to state the reasons why I felt that it was realistic. but somewhere along the way what I wanted to say got mixed up in other side-issues.

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                    • Your statement:

                      ” I’m not of the opinion that if you’ve seen one abuser, you’ve seen them all, which is why I’ve been coming at Paul from a different angle.”

                      seems to imply you think I or others are saying that. My angle implies that, according to you, so you’re coming at it from a different one.

                      You’re right that you’re fighting a difficult battle with me if you want me to believe that the depiction of the (as we’ve noted, implied) cause of Paul’s sexual abuse of Tracy in this series is realistic. It was a central contention of the original post. It’s going to continue to figure in later posts because IMO it creates a significant rhetorical problem for Armitage to deal with in making performance choices.

                      As I said a day or so ago, in a different comments strand, it’s fine if you’re buying the script “as is,” although I think it’s odd to argue for that given that you’ve seen something like a sixth of it. I, however, don’t buy it either as realistic or in terms of its moral implications, and I’ve stated my reasons and evidence extensively here. You disagreed with the fundamental principles of the post, and if you aren’t willing to accept the assumptions I’ve articulated even temporarily as a thought experiment for the purposes of considering the feasibility of my argument / analysis, nothing else about this series is going to make sense to you anyway.

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                    • I have been stating my views on the various issues that have been raised within this overall discussion, because I thought we were having a conversation. I never set out to change your mind, but only to let it be known that there is more than one way to look at this situation, and hopefully explore those different sides.

                      now we’re checking off who said what and if they used the correct language or not? that will get us nowhere and only put us on the defensive. when I tried to sum things up in my last reply ending with “somewhere along the way what I wanted to say got mixed up with other issues”, that was me politely trying to bow out 😉

                      we disagree. I could have got so much done today if I would have just left it at that! 🙂

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      • Because this takes place in UK written by UK writers, then the UK law ought to be referenced ( which used to be 13 until the change in 2006 -I think it was). And what you said in your next sentences matters here.

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        • Well, so if consent age changed in 2006 and was 13 before this date Tracey was in “age of consent”? Sorry, I had a big mess in my mind after reading all your comments. Unfortunately dvd has no subs so I understand very little of what they say. I have my personal idea about Paul-Tracey-Alona story but it could be totally biased by my lack of understanding of dialogues and some personal idea about certain kind of girls/women.
          About nudity: RA said in an interview that he is not embarrassed at all in doing nude scenes. And that he never dare to refuse a job. So, I suppose he accepted it because he needed it. btw, we know that writers and directors change their minds while filming (Spooks anyone?) so it’s totally possible they decided for more explicit sex scenes between Paul and Alona than previously stated in the script. Not that I believe it, but it’s a possibility.
          Where the showreel is? Have I missed some link?

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          • Good point on age of consent, but there is a special section of the law deals with the situation when adult has a position of trust, and Paul would fit into that.
            It’s actually a VERY good point in terms of the legal implication and may account for how the writer treated it.

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        • I was unaware that the law changed after this piece was made, but I don’t think it matters even for the purposes of the work. *Tracy* knows she isn’t supposed to be having sex with Paul; *Paul* knows he isn’t supposed to be having sex with her; *his* coworker reports him; *the police* get involved in an investigation. Everyone in the series agrees that sexual contact between Paul and Tracy is not only transgressive, but also illegal.

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          • It* is* illegal because of the special relationship- just wouldn’t be if he was not her probation officer. But would still be an ethical violation.

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          • Ethically, the relationship between Paul and Tracy was wrong. It went against his duties as her counselor, regardless of Tracy being the age of consent. She was his client, and that was that. He did try to refer her to some one else but that was after what happened between then happened, after the fact, which still made it illegal, which gave the coworker grounds to report it for inappropriate conduct.

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  3. Servetus, I really think you love stretching people’s brains…LOL

    Anyway, this is a very interesting piece that your wrote. I believe that RA took the role because he simply needed work to not only pay the bills, but to feed his love of acting.

    I never bought into the idea that RA did not know before hand how much nudity it would involve. Richard was comfortable with it and took the role, end of story as far as I am concerned.

    My thoughts about BTS is based on my own real life situations just as yours are. I have never been sexually abused, although twice I was nearly date raped. Thankfully, I was able to get myself out of both situations physically unharmed. I was an emotional wreck for a while though.

    I do not consider myself a prude, but I am aware that many people would. The fact that Alona enjoyed engaging in lots of sex is not the thing that bothered me about her. It was that she seemed to put so much importance into it as if it was just about the single most important thing in a relationship. Sex certainly does play a key role in a loving relationship, but I personally do not place it on the very top. I felt that Alona was doing that.

    The scene were she arrives home from work and immediately wants to start banging Paul turned me off. Where was the love and romance? Okay, maybe I am a prude.

    There has always been a deeper spiritual meaning to me behind the sex act, so I have never been able to get with the program that the masses of the people are on.

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    • if seeing sex as an expression of deeper feelings instead of just an act for enjoyment makes you a prude, then I’m right there with you 😉

      I think that’s why this story proves so difficult to discuss objectively because we all bring our own experiences into our viewing of it.

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      • I think that it’s not always *for* the same thing and that that’s actually okay. Humans do not all need to be having sex for the same reason IMO. Some reasons are better than others but the determinations we make in that regard are value driven rather than objective.

        There is no such thing as an objective analysis. Every observer has a perspective.

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        • I just don’t like the “black and white” of it all in regards to views concerning sex. if you choose to not talk about it outside of the bedroom or in private conversations, you’re labeled as a prude, and if you feel more free to talk about it in casual conversations or your view of sex is more recreational, then your sexually liberated; both can be seen as both positive and negative depending on the circumstances. I tend to fall into the “prude” category given those two choices, but there is so much “grey” when it comes to sex.

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          • IMO, labeling someone a prude is as damaging and ultimately sex-negative as calling them a slut. Both terms, and the impetus behind them, are about demanding that a person (usually a woman) ignore their own thoughts, feelings, and desires about sex to conform to whatever ideas and wants the name-caller has. And in most situations like that, there’s literally no right choice, because everyone’s prude is someone else’s slut.

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          • I don’t think I labeled anyone a prude in this post.

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            • you didn’t label anyone a prude 🙂 the term was brought up in a comment and I agreed, just in reference to a general assumption when talking about sex.

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    • I don’t know. I’m someone who could walk into the house and immediately have sex. My second serious partnership was with a man who aroused that reaction in me. Everytime I saw him, practically, I wanted him. That hasn’t been true with every partner, but it was with him. Admittedly, I seemed to have missed the romantic gene, but I didn’t find this inherently problematic *on the face of it*. There’s more going on with Alona’s constant desire, but the series, for all its sex friendliness, seems to suggest that there’s something wrong with or abnormal about Alona’s desire as desire.

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      • Hmmm..my first husband was like that. My friends used to complain about their husbands never touching them for months while I had the opposite problem…although it wasn’t technically a problem, just in comparison to my friends’

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        • it’s not a problem if the partners have a rough equity of willingness to comply, I think. If they don’t it can turn into a power imbalance.

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    • Taken in context that scene makes more sense as to why Alona acted as she did. They had set aside a date night especially for that purpose, ( her lingerie is some evidence of that) though from Paul’s expression and bearing when the scene first opens, I’d say he was not looking forward to it. Additionally, Alona was “primed” from her evening of drink, sensuous dancing and receiving sexual attention.

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      • plus, for a lot of sexual partners, it’s not unnatural to at least ask the question about sex when getting into bed. If it were a man who walked into his bedroom, found his partner naked in bed, and he wanted sex, would we be so negative?

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      • postscript to this: — the script of the series is written to suggest that male desire of all kinds is natural but despite all its “sex positivity” for women, women are the ones with the “problems” here. IMO this distinction applies even to Alun Armstrong’s character — Alona (whom we’re suspicious of because her desire is so apparently disproportionate) is the only one to suggest to him that Hazel is not out of line.

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  4. I also appreciated that you discussed the fact of the power balance in Alona and Paul’s marriage and that he was actually exercising a version of power by withholding sex, or by determining when (and how satisfying) it would be. My (soon to be ex) husband and I got into that very situation and it was extremely frustrating and difficult not to react in an Alona-like way!! Also, as in Paul’s case, my Future Ex sought the attentions of younger women to feed and salve his ego, although mine didn’t abuse any trust or power… and I’m sure that this was not only to make himself feel splendidly powerful and masculine etc etc etc, it was also a direct jab at me, my fears about aging and loss of attractiveness, my sorrow and guilt and shame about the lack of excitement and joy in our marriage, and a way to twist the knife for my “failure” to excite him sexually. A very potent (snicker, yes that was a very snide pun very much intended) and nasty mix.

    It made me feel a great deal of sympathy for Alona as a character. I didn’t like the series very much (despite Paul’s splendid Peaches) because I spend SO MUCH of it wanting to slap him for being whiny and not taking responsibility for his actions, for lying, and for reminding me so much of situations in my own life (yes, I own that set of matching luggage, why do you ask? snort).

    I’m not going to be writing any calm, reasonable treatises on BtS anytime soon. They would be more rants mixed with lust over peaches. 😀 😀 😀 I own my shortcomings. lol

    But I loved this! It was very interesting! More, please! (and not just for the pretty pictures)

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    • Indeed. While the series notes forcefully that Alona is very worried about her appearance, health, and youth (and uses the Tracy plotline inappropriately as a way of highlighting her worries) it doesn’t stop to query the possibility that her awareness of Paul’s lack of interest is causing her to try to enhance her own capacity to entice him. Seen from that perspective, her frustrated sexual overtures are plausibly something that Paul wants to / enjoys seeing. She can’t behave appropriately because no matter what she does it will be wrong. That’s the power Paul holds over her by withholding something she wants badly, and more than he does.

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      • And having been through that, it’s so heartbreaking to me. His character looks like an utter bastard in that way and from my perspective right now. I can’t watch it, because for all my cheery attitude, for all my sailing through my divorce seemingly unscathed, there are scars and there are hurts and they are ugly and they are deep and they are horrible. This shit is not funny and it’s not ok. He’s not cute and from my seat, I don’t care how “confused” he is, he needs some serious time thinking his actions through so he can man up and at least stop lying to himself. He hurts the hell out of Alona and I feel the world for her. She can’t win and she tries to make it work. I’ve been there. And I’ve tried to think how I would write the continuation of that scene in the kitchen, after his confession, and I can’t. I just can’t.

        Just, can’t.

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        • Signaling something I want to get to as an extension of my fourth assertion above — I don’t think there is another line after that. Given that the whole show is about how Alona regularly reveals too much desire to him, it’s repulsive to me as a viewer that I’m even tempted to sympathize with Paul. So we have to ask ourselves about whether Armitage’s use of an acting style that tries so hard to create sympathy for Paul is really a winner for either him or the viewer here.

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          • — could he be trying too hard? Possibly intentionally? That was almost the impression I got; but again, I didn’t watch the whole series, and wouldn’t even if given the chance. Plus, I’d like to think RA wouldn’t find such a character “sympathetic”, but again, I *know* that’s my own particular crazy train chugging into the station. :}

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            • ah, intentionality. 🙂

              it’s plausible given many statements that Armitage has given that he likes finding contradictions in characters (he once later rued the possibility that he made Gisborne too likable) that he was trying hard to put personality pieces into Paul that were sympathetic even if he didn’t inherently sympathize with him. The script also does that; he’s not constantly a jerk.

              Also, I think that there’s something going on here that’s about stage style as opposed to television screen style, also based on a remark he made in 2004 about how you have to take off layers when acting in television.

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          • It’s truly impossible to watch these things – for me, at least – without some sort of personal framing and blurring. Which is why I concentrate on appreciating the view. :}

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            • I don’t think you should ever try to distance yourself from your own point of view. You should ask questions about it, ask what your (and others’ evidence is) for it, ask if there are other, more convincing, points of view available. But there is no neutral perspective — anywhere.

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  5. I have not seen the whole story either, so judging Alona is not fair until I have seen it all, I’ll admit. there are a few things I feel I can still touch upon though:

    I don’t think Paul was saving a sad widow, but more “winning a trophy” of sorts; the aggressive older woman with the excitingly naughty job. if you have low self-esteem and are trying to build yourself up into the idea of a “man” that would sure help 😉

    I can understand the view of seeing Paul as an abuser in relation to Tracy (and I’m not saying I don’t) but why can we not then see Paul as a victim, with Alona in the role of emotional abuser? it’s often a circular condition.

    after watching the “love scene” clip, it fits in with my original assumptions; Paul seemed to be “acting” in the bedroom, either for himself or for Alona’s benefit (probably both)

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    • I think the series tries to establish a pattern:

      first sexual encounter — school girlfriend who’s upset / crying gets him to lose his virginity (clumsily)
      second sexual encounter (that we see) — sympathy with a woman he finds him attractive (Alona) and the suggesion that they two “talk” lead to “volcanic” sex
      next sexual encounter (implied) — engages in sex with a disturbed teenager who also has plenty of reason to show vulnerability.

      To me there’s a clear component of needing to save / help in these encounters (“giving them what they need”).

      Power is certainly a component of these interactions; so is Paul’s expressed empathy (he represents himself as a reasonable professional, and we have no real reason to doubt this — particular as he tries to separate himself from Tracy in episode 1, we can see him trying to think from the perspective of the other person).

      I don’t see why Paul is a victim of Tracy, who *by definition* cannot consent to sex, which Paul knows. The script tries to confuse this by implying that Tracy has some sort of power of Paul, but in fact, she doesn’t and when the script has the allegations found to be unsubstantiated and Tracy kills herself, her lack of power is underlined.

      As I tried to express above, Paul may or may not be a victim of Alona. But that’s not a justification / excuse / or even a plausible explanation for what he does to Tracy.

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      • you think the script is purposely leading the viewer to believe that his actions towards Tracy are justified? I can empathize with Paul in several instances in this story, but not that what he did to Tracy was acceptable. I understand why it may have happened though.

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        • So what’s your explanation of why it happened?

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          • Because the script offers a pretty clear (and IMO offensive) explanation.

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          • what’s already been touched upon so far: his low self-esteem, feeling inferior to Alona. their differing approaches to sex, when and how it should be shared in their relationship. Tracy was young, reckless, and wanted him. at home he was the submissive one, always being dismissed but expected to perform a certain way. Tracy outwardly needed him, both as a mentor who was helping her, and an older man she sought affection from.

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            • yeah, that’s the script explanation that I’m arguing against not least because it’s not upheld by what researchers know about why sexual abuse occurs. Alona treated him poorly so he turns to Tracy.

              If he’d turned to the neighbor lady because Alona was mistreating him, that I would find plausible. Turning to a fifteen-year-old because you’re having problems asserting your needs in your relationship with your wife? No.

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              • but older men turn to younger women all of the time for precisely that reason. he was in a position of the “older and wiser” male to a troubled girl who probably had no male figure in her life. it made him feel important, it made him feel desirable; it would have been *better* if he turned to the neighbor lady for these things, but he was in close contact with Tracy on a regular basis.

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                • She was 15. She’s not a “younger woman,” she’s a child, and he’s her probation officer, so he’s under no illusions as to this fact. He knows she can’t consent to his advances and that has to be part of the attraction. He knows that she’s emotionally vulnerable. He also knows that she’s someone who in practical terms is unlikely to be able to make her protests believed (as indeed turns out to be the case). The attraction of the victims of sexual abuse — this is something the script gets badly wrong — lies in their powerlessness.

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                  • denial is a powerful thing. I’m sure he’s explained away all of those points to himself in one way or another to justify his actions. what I’m debating is not whether what he did was right (it was not) but how he found himself in that situation/state of mind to begin with, and then why he followed through with it.

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                    • Ok, but denial is not a *reason* Paul behaves the way he does. There is some cause of his behavior. It is only a justification that is not plausible as a *reason* or *cause*.

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                  • Kinda of like how Guy is powerless to the Sheriff and Prince John. It’s interesting that you mention hthtow RA picks these roles that seem to have a lot of gender performance trouble. There were several scenes in Robin Hood that I thought about after reading your last post on this subject. In those situations, Guy was the powerless one including being subjected to sexual harrassment. The scene where the sheriff is stroking Guy’s cheek after he’s asked him to do something despicable (can’t remember the specifics). But the scene looked like classic sexual harrassment to me. RA’s reaction was classic too. There are lots of others too.
                    I’ve only seen the YT versions of Between the sheets, but have to say I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for Paul – I agree he took advantage of the Tracy and that wasn’t ok on any terms.
                    BTW: I agree with Jane, RA looks like a piece of art in the picture you posted. I’d never seen it before. Maybe Gulty could do an analysis of that pic.

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            • As I tried to say in the original post, there may be a reading of the series that suggests that his problems asserting himself with Alona and his abuse of Tracy have the same cause — but the series script doesn’t offer any explanation of what that common cause of his problems could be, even in the therapy scene between them, and explicit lines uttered by both characters point fingers at Alona.

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              • I would say that the problems with asserting himself towards Alona, and the consequences of that, is what led to his abuse of Tracy; not that they both came from the same place.

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                • Then you buy the script, which is fine, you’re entitled to your opinion — but that’s not what research these days tells about the reasons why sexual abusers abuse. It also implicitly makes Alona responsible for what happens to Tracy.

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                  • I wouldn’t say that Alona is then responsible for what happens to Tracy. Paul is of stable mind and an adult; he is responsible for his own actions.

                    I don’t think we can definitively say what made Paul a sexual abuser without knowing more of his history pre-Alona

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                    • Yes, I say this in the post — the script does not offer us an explicit etiology for Paul’s behavior. It instead takes refuge in stereotypical representations about Paul’s behavior. This is another reason to like Alona — we may not like her behavior, but her character actually is given a whole history that makes her behavior plausible (whereas Paul is not given the same thing).

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      • You mention power here, and I think noted that Paul seems manipulative somewhere else, and that’s what comes to mind when thinking of his sexual history. There are 3 women (well, 2 girls and a woman) in vulnerable positions that we know he had sexual contact with. To me, that potentially goes beyond wanting to be a savior into what could be a pattern of predatory behavior. I wonder if RA playing Paul as kind of a whiny little turd who is never reponsible for anything was his way of attempting warning signs.

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        • And now I have to wonder if Paul’s inability to perform isn’t so much because he feels powerless, but because he feels that she is powerFUL, no longer vulnerable, therefore no longer attractive (whoa am I reading way too much into this). So then he must manipulate her into a position where she no longer has any power, has to debase herself in front of her colleague during therapy, take a lot of criticism, and only then will he give her what she needs. If I’m placing the dailymotion clips in the right order with the YouTube vids, she seemed pretty desperate/losing control/self-hating leading up to their 2nd sex scene.

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          • the second sex scene in the YT video is the one that takes place after the dinner party. Is that the one you mean?

            You’re looking at this one iteration more deeply than I have, but I think it’s fair to say that you could see Paul as a sort of respondee to a bait and switch if he thought Alona was a vulnerable person and she turned out not to be. That would require him to do what he could to reassert his own power, manipulatively if need be. (Historians call this technique using “weapons of the weak.”)

            The script on some level implies a variant of what you’re saying, that Paul’s withholding sex because she takes away his power. But I think gender trouble would tend to imply that in these binary situations, power is a zero sum game — if she has power, that means he has less power.

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  6. I really liked this discussion, Servetus, so thanks for bringing it up!
    I’m one of the people who have only seen BtS on YouTube along with a couple of the sex scenes that I found elsewhere, so my impressions are really disjointed.
    My favorite observation in this whole post is about how the sex scenes (or at least one of them) operate practically as synechdoches for the problems in Paul and Alona’s relationship. That was my sense, too, based on what I saw. I said on Perry’s blog that I thought the scene I saw showed some pretty unhappy sex.
    And yes, I agree that the sexual aspects of a relationship are as much a part of the power balance between a couple as any other aspect.
    More than that, I can’t really say.

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    • I should just add here that Saralee posted a comment stating this on Armitage Agonistes, but comments were closed.

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      • I was wondering about that — I thought comments were closed.

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        • I think I just might have been too fast in posting.
          Sometimes I’m just mooching around the Internet looking for interesting stuff to read when a new blog post appears. That must have been the case.

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          • It happens to me off and on that I plan to close comments but forget to do it before I press publish. The “box” for that is just below the cut of my screen 🙂

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    • I haven’t found on the web the last sex scene, which implies a resolution and makes Paul look a bit happier.

      iirc, one of the main discussion points on the disappeared Befuddled Musings blog was whether the series could have managed the characterization of these relationships without reference to sex. My opinion on that is essentially, “no.” I think there’s a reason the writers chose sex as the place to present these synecdoches (which occur in the other relationships in the series as well) which has to do with sex and sexualization as the absolute controlling metaphor for discussing anything in our society.

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      • Just to clear this up- when we refer to the first sex scene, that is the one the first night when he can’t perform? The second is at their friend’s house after homework when he begins to screw her brains out and the third is the office scene where they start oral sex? And the flashback is not counted?

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  7. It’s very hard for me to respond as much as I’d like, Servetus, since I can’t use my computer at work for personal things and I’be had a lot of after work commitments, but please know that you & your family are in my prayers. Now, re BTS, I have seen the whole thing and agree with your assessment. What surprised me though was your feeling that the show wouldn’t be all that shocking. OK maybe not shocking, but certainly unusually frank about middle aged sex. There really isn’t much depiction of that as far as I know. BTS reminded me of that cable show showing Jane Alexander and her partner in the show having sex in their 70s! Certainly there is sex and nudity all over the place but not on regular tv in theUS I don’t think. The stuff most people watch I’m talking about. It would be pretty shocking to see a close up of those peaches on CBS, don’t you think?

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    • Thanks for the good wishes, Marieastra 🙂

      I’m not saying it’s not shocking to anyone. I’m saying it’s not shocking to me in the spectrum of things I’ve seen either in my life on cable tv in the US. (If you read that paragraph, you’ll see that I didn’t refer to the broadcast networks.) To me, arguments that this is porn must be being made by people who’ve never seen any actual porn.

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  8. O my God!!!! Não tenho tempo para ler tanta coisa, mas amei as imagens… rsrsrsrs

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  9. I stopped at 3:12 because I had to go to an appointment but I will be back.

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  10. Servetus, I like your analysis, and particularly your defence of Alona. What made me giggle was that just after your mention of gender trouble analysis, you mistype “Paul” as “Paula” … Freudian slip anyone?
    With regard to RA’s choice of roles, first remember he had trained as a dancer and was probably used to communal dressing rooms etc. so probably had fewer body hangups than many people and was more comfortable with nudity. Secondly, at least at that stage of his career, he didn’t seem to be choosing only hero-type roles – remember the unpopular officer in Ultimate Force, Bill Chatford in Malice Aforethought, John Mulligan in Drowning Not Waving? He was quite ready to play the villain, but invested the characters with humanity and showed them struggling with difficult moral choices (and often failing). I think Paul Andrews fits into this spectrum. The ultimate of this type of character is Guy of Gisborne, so if anything of Paul Andrews fed into RA’s portrayal of Guy we have a lot to thank him for.

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    • Yeah. Sorry about that — that was a kind of hint about the direction in my argumentation.

      Nice point about the baddies at the beginning.

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  11. Interesting! I’ve seen only the Youtube vids, but generally I agree with your analysis, especially point two: I like Alona too. In generalist entertainment (and BtS is above average), when a female character is invested with male traits like authority or strength, to be positive she has to be asexual (see Ros Meyers). Paul is the bad guy here, but because of Alona empowerment (and the soft spot we have for the actor) even we women seem unable to see it and are conditioned to forgive him. About the role as a career choice for RA, I think both you and Guylty are right (it’s possible, I believe): it was an interesting AND very visible role; I LOLed when I read the interview, he was clearly speaking to his Daily Mail reading fanbase; it’s another RA trope: justifying and expressing uneasiness for nudity.

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    • Yeah, except Armitage’s expressions of uneasiness around nudity are pretty flimsy IMO. There are several statements that indicate that he is uncomfortable with being regarded as a sex symbol and/or the outcomes of nudity, particularly fear that his body won’t look as trim as he’d like it to, and there’s a plausible case for a dislike for nudity for no reason (gratuitous toplessness discussions in the interviews around Spooks 9), but there’s no sense to me in my reading of his interviews that he is uneasy about nudity tout court, and certainly not if it’s a part of characterization.

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      • No British person would ever say, “Oh, I think I have a great body and I’m perfectly at ease with taking my clothes off for the camera” because that would come across as so conceited, and I think RA is a modest person and would hate to be seen as boasting. I suspect he may be playing up whatever insecurity he does feel so as not to be perceived as arrogant. And I don’t think he wants to be stereotyped in “beefcake” roles, he wants something with more emotional range.

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        • Agree with you. (saying: I don’t want to be known for my body as opposed to my acting, paraphrasing something he said in 2009, is not quite the same thing as saying: I don’t ever like to show my body — this is the distinction I’m trying to draw, anyway.)

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    • oh, and iirc Ros ends up in bed with Adam.

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  12. Alouna is more masculine then he is , I symphatise with her. Despite delightfully developed paraspinal muscles “Whining Paul” has no moral spine IMO
    Thank you (((Servetus))) I can not wait for further posts :*

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  13. Thank you for this post. I’ve only seen BTS in pieces on YouTube & dailymotion, but within those constraints I have to agree with you. I really kind of despised this series because of the way it seems (again, in bits) to want to absolve Paul of assaulting an unstable child, and blame their marital problems on Alona. One part that stood out to me was when Paul admitted to being attracted to Tracy – Alona’s anger seemed more like jealousy and less like “she’s 15; wtf is wrong with you?” When that happened, I had to wonder if the writer truly hated the character of Alona, because that reaction seemed so off-the-wall to me.

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    • it’s a weird facet of this series — Alona is a sex therapist, she would know all about paraphiliias (if Paul is someone who just has a thing for fifteen-year-olds) and about the power dynamics of sex. I can see how she couldn’t be expected to treat her own problems in the bedroom but I can’t see how she’d believably react the way she does. If it’s an attempt at characterization, if’s a very strange one.

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  14. On the “prudishness” point — let me clarify in case there’s any doubt that this post intends something that I feel strongly personally, which is that I don’t judge people’s choices to like or not like particular kinds of sexual representations. It should be clear from this blog that my own tastes lean towards the more anything goes end of the spectrum of what’s available in the Armitage fandom (which is, in itself, not all that adventurous in comparison to what happens in a lot of other fandoms). That said, if you don’t like watching sex (or reading slash, or RPF or whatever), I personally am not casting aspersions and neither is this post.

    However I, and the post, take seriously the central contention of the series that sex is a way of expressing and negotiating power and of talking about other things that might be even more dangerous were they expressed. Frank openness about the matters in the series are the method I’ve chosen to discuss this.

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  15. I have only seen the stuff on YT, and mostly will not watch for one fact. A 15 year old is a child and can’t consent to sex. It is child sexual abuse, Paul was the adult and in his job he knew it was wrong. This is a hard topic for me at the moment as Mr. 70’s holier than thou BIL is in jail for child sexual abuse. We the family thought there was something not right but we where shut out of there lives, now we know why. The time in jail don’t fit the crime either. We as adults are to protect children, not hurt them.

    Thank you for the post, I learned a lot about this show from what you wrote. Sorry to be negative about this, but it is to fresh right now. We also had to talk about this at the family reunion too.

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    • oh, Katie70, big hugs. Sorry it’s taken forever for me to get to this comment. Yeah — abusers do try to keep the information flow closed so no one can put the pieces together. I hope you are all all right.

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      • I don’t know if the family will ever be the same after this. I have gone though and read the rest of the comments, but will comment here. My MIL had the nerve to blame the girl, we have tried to tell her other wise and hopefully we are getting somewhere there. Mr. 70’s job at the school and what he does for a job, he knows the law and knows that the abuser will lie to cover the tracks. They also reoffend after being caught, once caught it is not the first time either. The abusers seem to be people that are trusted ( creepy was a foster parent and they adopted five children, one of these who was abused). She will always be scared from this and it was said that she was abused before she came to this home, so sad. I can only hope that we can get my MIL on the right page, there are four of us working on her.

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  16. I’ve been looking forward to a good BTS discussion for ages – thank you to both Perry and Servetus for hosting these. I have the DVD’s but haven’t watched them for some time (note to self – find time to revisit soon!)

    My impression is that, certainly within the RA community, Alona is much maligned and i do think that is unfair. However, before i enter into further discussion, i feel the need to flag what i see as a major flaw in either Alona’s character or the script (and i’m not sure which it is) – that is Alona’s unethical professional behaviour. This seems relevant to a story that hangs on whether or not another character has behaved unethically but i’ve not seen it mentioned before.

    My evidence for Alona’s unethical behaviour is:

    1). She is not present for her clients. This is demonstrated with her fidgeting and constant application of lip gloss during her 1st session with Peter and later with Peter and Hazel. Far worse, she completely zones out in her session with Peter – so much so that she has no idea what he has said and he ends up asking her is SHE is okay. I guess we are supposed to take from this that she is so worried by the allegations/ state of her relationship that she cannot function properly. However, as a professional she has an ethical responsibility to either give her clients her full attention or pass them on to someone who can.

    2). She breaches confidentiality by discussing Maurice and Audrey’s visit with Hazel. The correct response when a client tells a therapist they know another client is to smile, nod and move on – not to say “Oh, yes, the old couple. They only came once and i gave them some homework…”

    3). Debriefing about clients should not occur down at the local pub, where anyone can eavesdrop.

    In addition, there is no way Paul and Alona would enter couple’s counselling with Alona’s closest working colleague as counsellor. Even if Alona wanted it (and i wonder if we are supposed to think she has been hoisted by her own petard when the counsellor gives her the questionnaire for controlling women – because she had assumed he would side with her) no therapist worth their salt would agree to facilitate that. They live in a large city – finding a neutral counsellor would not be hard.

    All of the above is not strictly relevant to your 4 assertions but i needed to state them before continuing. Can we all take it as read that i have little time for Alona as a therapist? That said, i do have a lot of empathy for her as an individual and look forward to exploring that further.

    But, for today’s assertions…

    1). I’m also of the opinion the Armitage took this role knowing exactly what it entailed. He is intelligent, perceptive and shows attention to detail so even if the stage directions were vague, i think he would have had an idea what was expected. I would also imagine the explicitness would have been pointed out to the actors involved before they signed contracts – filming time is expensive and spending time encouraging or cajoling an actor who didn’t realise what they had signed up for would be a cost no one would want. Neither do i think he did it reluctantly because he was relatively poor and unknown – these reasons could not be leveled at Brenda Blethyn or Alun Armstrong, both of whom presumably took roles because they thought the project had merit. My feeling is that crowd-pleaser RA made that statement because that’s what he thought the DM reader (not to mention his fan base garnered from N&S) wanted to hear.

    2 & 3). I’m not sure i am in agreement with you that the script implied that Paul’s abuse was in response to Alona’s ‘short comings’ (please note, i use that term sarcastically). Paul’s previous history of being attracted to vulnerable women is clearly flagged. A forced sexual act is about power, not pleasure; Paul abuses Tracy because he can – because she is vulnerable and makes him feel powerful. He breaks down only when Tracy puts herself beyond his power by ending her life. He gains power over Alona by withholding sex. I didn’t see the two as linked by anything other than Paul’s ego. As i said, i will have to re-watch but my reading of Armitage’s portrayal was that Paul’s motivation was power. Paul is passive aggressive and blames Alona for their problems (and for his crime) but a persuasive portrayal by a gifted actor does not mean the script was skewed.

    4). I think there was a lot of ambiguity in the plot and agree it might have been interesting to see if RA could create empathy for a character who was explicitly bad (although i suppose he did just that with GoG who never made any pretense about his murderous ways). As it was, i think a lot of us were in Alona’s dilemma – we really didn’t want him to be guilty although our gut feeling was telling us he was.

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    • “we really didn’t want him to be guilty although our gut feeling was telling us he was.”

      exactly 🙂 and I think that’s due to RA’s admirable acting; it’s a talent to make us sympathetic to the bad guy. whether we feel that what Paul did was wrong or not, in any of his various layers as a supposed real human being, comes from us and our own beliefs/issues, not him.

      I feel like it has been suggested, in this overall conversation, that RA had a responsibility not to play it that way because then it would tell us that what happened was “okay”; I don’t agree with that. we’re supposed to believe that these characters *could* be real, somewhere out there in the world; the “bad guys” aren’t always easy to spot in real life.

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      • I disliked his character the moment his relationship with Tracy was revealed. I knew right away that he was guilty maybe because I’ve been on the opposite side of that (to him, nonexistent) relationship. It was even worse that he was in a position of power and did it because he could. To me, it was a predator in action though his private life and issues could easily be blamed for his actions, which is what a lot of sexual predators do, for in their minds, it’s not their fault.

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        • Given the statistically small number of sexual abuse accusations that are proven false (I think studies show in the US suggest the position is below 5 %), I agree that we *should* start off the series thinking he’s guilty.

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          • It’s kinda human nature, isn’t it?

            Although there are also a lot of sexual abuse cases that hardly ever see its day in court, much less get reported.

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            • yes, and when there is a false allegation, it gets an amazing amount of coverage. I’m not saying news about false allegations should be suppressed, just that it’s astounding to me that actual provable allegations get so little credence and notice.

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              • Most allegations, I think, start out as true till they’re proven false, but by then the victim’s character is often crucified even before the case gets a court date. This alone stops many victims from reporting the crime.

                This is my least favorite character Armitage has played 1) because a crime was committed against his own client, a person he was responsible for and 2) it almost sought to excuse his act by putting Alona’s character and motivations as the cause of it.

                At the end of the day, it’s the choices people make that matter, regardless of what one’s personal life is like (harping wife, rebellious stepson, flirty nanny, eye). Paul made his choice then, and tried in vain to cover it all up.

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                • I am sympathetic to the problem of people who sleep with minors who can’t consent because they have been lied to (i.e., an 18 year old who sleeps with a fifteen year old who looks and insists she’s eighteen), but there’s just no way that Paul is lacking information here about what’s going on in his relationship to Tracy. (He’s also, IMO, not that regretful about having done it except as it is likely to impinge upon him.)

                  I don’t like the character, but the question of how the character is performed is really intriguing. As Perry would say, there’s a lot going on with Paul Andrews.

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                  • I think one reason I never liked this character as Armitage played it is that i felt that it wasn’t within his comfort zone to do at that time (or any time for that matter). At least that was my take on it when I watched it.

                    Sometimes scripts change from the moment an actor first says yes to the role and even till the last minute (unless you’ve got the writers guild strike going on and thus can not change even a comma on the script) as the actors rehearse the scene. Many scenes end up on the cutting room floor as well.

                    Also how an actor may initially play the role is not the way the directors want it to be played, which calls for a few changes for someone who may at that time call himself a method actor. So many variables…

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      • I’m not clear as to who you think suggested that, kelbel75.

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        • in Assertion no.4 when you say: “I do not feel the fact that many of us are uncertain until the end that he did it — against our better judgment — is necessarily a success of the role.”

          why isn’t the uncertainty a success, from an acting point of view ?

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          • It might be a success from the standpoint of the script (as Perry has noted, it seems to be one thing the script demands from us, that we’re interested in the problem of whether Paul “did it” or not, even though that question is entirely irrelevant to the problem of the power dynamic between Paul and Alona, the point I’m trying to underline by emphasizing that Tracy is not a true alternative to Alona) without being a success from the standpoint of characterization. I’m thinking of something that Armitage said about the problem of a later role — the possibility that thinking of Guy as a person with deep contradictions had the result of making him too potentially likable or sympathizable-with. In other words: is making someone seem sympathetic (and I agree the script does that and Armitage’s performance tends to the move the viewer even further in that direction) because it’s essentially to plot work as a means of creating a working character? In this case (and this is a few posts down the road — sorry that I can only work through these issues systematically), I think it’s possible that it does not.

            It gets to a big question about Armitage vis a vis his own work, which is: how does an actor create a person who he is not? It’s arguable that Paul Andrews is the first sustained attempt that we can see at Armitage doing this (and it also seems plausible / likely that Armitage is drastically *unlike* Andrews), so the extent to which Paul Andrews works *as a believable person* is really important for critiquing the performance (apart from whether or not the person Armitage created Paul to be serves the purposes and trajectory of the script).

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            • so you think Armitage should have gone against script and made Paul more recognizably “bad”? it’s his layers, and the way he forces me to question everything, that I find appealing.

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              • In fact, I say nothing anywhere here about what Armitage should or should not have done. I say that the need of the script to create a “mystery” about Paul’s guilt or innocence is potentially at odds with the technique of creating a believable person given the standards of verisimilitude. What the script needs from the character Paul is potentially different from what Paul needs to be a believable person.

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          • I also could add as a subpoint to the answer above (and responding your question somewhere about why we should care if the part or relationship is scripted convincingly / correctly) that the problem of not being a convincing person is different in the case of Paul Andrews (realistic drama) than it is in the case of Guy of Gisborne (fairytale / ballad / pantomime / campy farce). The issues that work on the question of what’s “realistic” and “convincing” in each case differ strongly.

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    • thanks for the detailed comment, Bolly.

      I don’t want to claim that Alona was perfect, merely that she was likable (a proposition which the series strongly questioned) and admirable. I make the latter point because she did realize what was going and she did get rid of Paul despite what that must have cost her in terms of all of the things she had Paul around to give her. In other words, she figured out a line and was able to enforce it.

      In terms of having problems concentrating with her clients, I’m not giving her a pass, but I know how those things go myself. If you visit a therapist there are times when s/he’s really on and times when s/he’s obviously not. (And don’t think I’m not worried about how I’m going to manage my problems versus work this fall, because I am — but for three or four reasons, I also can’t afford to stop working, so I am going to have to do my best. Although in the script it’s a function of the gender paradoxes, I think that her struggles as a therapist could be argued to be interesting in that we’re not used to looking at helping professionals as “people, too.”) I agree w/r/t everything else, I think, in terms of ethical issues, plus the obvious problem that she goes through Paul’s jacket to locate Tracy and approaches her, which she also *must* have known was a no-no. And I agree she wouldn’t have seen a colleague as a therapist.

      re: fan base from N&S, this interview precedes N&S by a year. However, good point about the nudity stuff — I hadn’t been thinking about it, but a normal contract for an actor specifies extent of nudity that can be shown, as well.

      re: I think you’re reading the show in light of what you know about the reasons sexual abuse occurs and I agree with you about those — but I don’t think that’s the direction the script goes. (If it did, I think many viewers would both start off the series and end up with less sympathy for Paul). The script would like us to believe that Alona is controlling and unable to listen to her partner’s needs and that’s why Paul turns to Tracy, to get unfulfilled needs filled. It’s not *just* that Paul states or implies that many times — that would be merely a justification. It’s that Alona is constantly portrayed as overaggressive in all kinds of encounters — constantly seeking to have her needs met to the point of putting herself in the position of committing adultery to do so — and even her partner in the practice agrees, giving her the therapy questionnaire for the controlling partner. Her strength, self-awareness of her needs, and forcefulness in trying to have them met are portrayed by the series as destructive to others and provoking to Paul. I’ll pursue this further in later pieces — but because the script was written this way, IMO certain choices for the actor are simply closed off.

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      • I think we all come to this thread with a set of values, beliefs and experiences which are bound to affect how we perceive the action in BTS.

        However, having re-watched half the series (with the other half scheduled for tonight) i am still not convinced the script is leading us to blame Alona. I think a lot of viewers DID blame Alona, but whether the script can be held responsible for that is another matter.

        The theme of abuse runs throughout – Alona tries to sack the au pair because she states that, being three years older and in a position of trust, she should not have slept with Keiran. Bahoushka cries that she was pestered into sex with Kieran because she is alone in a strange country and feared for her position. Hazel confides her story of being sexually assaulted as a child. “You were a little girl” (or something similar) Alona says, in response to Hazels feeling of shame and guilt.

        Given that nothing happens in a TV show without reason, i feel the writers were unambiguous about power and abuse. Casting Armitage was, in my view, clever in that it should have hammered home to the viewer that sexual predators do not hang around toilets in grubby macs – sometimes they are clever, charming, handsome and in positions of trust.

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        • Honestly, the way the script blames Alona for Paul’s actions is so obvious to me, it hit me so hard in the face from my very first viewing of the series and every time afterwards, that I didn’t think I would need to provide much evidence for it. It’s a fairly essential point to the rest of my argumentation, however, so I may have to do a detour post about the script. I’d rather not, honestly, because I don’t think it’s worthy of my effort to devote analytical effort to something of which I have such a low opinion.

          Agree that the theme of abuse runs throughout, but not all abuse is equal. Some victims are clearly more deserving of our sympathy than others. We are supposed to feel sorry for Hazel’s victimhood (wealthy, religious, white woman who reads literature) but the script tries to make Tracy’s allegations look not credible because the script sets her up as mentally disturbed (impoverished, poor, mentally ill mother, alcohol problems, thief?). Why is molestation of Hazel accepted without comment as bad enough to stunt her entire life, while the script encourages us not to believe Tracy’s allegations? Too, it’s interesting to consider the parallel valence of Tracy and Bahouska (sp?) considering that B. is a few years older than Tracy and capable of consent, but the series suggests by putting her in bed with Kieran toward the end of episode 6 that she is *also* lying / faking victimhood.

          So I think they were actually pretty ambiguous about power and abuse.

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          • Servetus – you don’t need to do a detour post on the script just because i’m not agreeing with you. As individuals we are bound to have different takes on things; i think you are a wise, erudite person but that doesn’t mean we must agree on everything or that we must batter each other with evidence until someone give in!

            Personally, i’ve never felt sorry for Hazel because she is rich and white and i certainly don’t disbelieve Tracy because she is poor and has a schizophrenic mother. Perhaps other people do but i certainly didn’t.

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            • If the argument’s not convincing, then there are holes in it, and I will need to patch them.

              However — the question isn’t so much how I (or you) feel when watching the show. I can recognize that the script is trying to undermine a character (as it decidedly does with several of these characters) without accepting or buying the attempt.

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  17. Kay Mellor was on a bit of a roll as far as getting her dramas onto TV was concerned, particularly between about 1995 and 2006, when her drama serials included Band of Gold (1995), Playing the Field (1998) for BBC1, and Fat Friends (2000), Between the Sheets (2003) and Strictly Confidential (2006) for ITV. Her ballsy style of writing was very popular at that time and usually attracted good casts, (though she has become less popular in more recent years).

    Between the Sheets had a strong cast, very recognisable in the UK, and RA may well have thought it a good opportunity to be in a drama serial with such a cast, (Gaynor Faye is Kay Mellor’s daughter), particularly as he was trying to get more well-known at the time –

    Alun Armstrong as Peter Delany
    Brenda Blethyn as Hazel Delany
    Dean Andrews as Steve Ashby
    James Thornton as Simon Delany
    Gaynor Faye as Georgia Lovett
    Liz Smith as Audrey Delany
    Norman Wisdom as Maurice Hardy
    Julie Graham as Alona Cunningham
    Richard Armitage as Paul Andrews
    Vinette Robinson as Tracy Ellis

    My only problem with the sex scenes, is the same one someone mentioned earlier – they are unerotic. I’m not a great fan of Julie Graham anyway, and I usually feel RA is perhaps a bit uncomfortable in sex scenes. He has said many times he is a method actor, but maybe this means he subconsciously finds that sex scenes are actually an intimate moment too far for him to portray as well as perhaps he (and we? ) might like. (Many actors have commented on how difficult it is to act intimate scenes whilst various crew members stick cameras and sound booms in their faces and other parts of their anatomy!)

    In the UK, relevant, discreet (I.e. not pornographic), sexual scenes are not a problem area for TV but have to be shown after the 9pm watershed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kay_Mellor

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    • Thanks for the information on Mellors’ career in the context of UK tv viewing — that was really interesting and helpful.

      I don’t think these sex scenes are necessarily supposed to be erotic in context — they’re supposed to say something about the relationships involved. (This pattern starts from the very beginning, when Alun Armstrong’s son tries to have it up with his partner against the wall of the garden in which his sister’s wedding reception’s being held.) This pattern to me is one reason this isn’t porn, which is conventionally defined as writing or pictures created solely for the purpose of arousing lust. Most of us aren’t all that erotic for others when we’re having sex — we’re enjoying it, but if observed, it wouldn’t be all that erotic to others.

      Now, taking the scenes out of context may be erotic for some. I personally really enjoy watching Paul throw his head back in episode 6 when Alona is apparently performing oral sex on him — but that’s because I’m not thinking of Paul and Alona. I said a long time ago that a lot of the problem over the question of objectification of Armitage via nude or sex scenes relates not so much to the actual material but the way in which fans (including me) process it.

      Afaik it has been said many times of Armitage that he is a method actor, but that he has either responded ambivalently (as during the Spooks 9 publicity press) or outright denied it (in 2013).

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      • I agree the sex scenes aren’t meant to be erotic — and I think it’s intentional in order to emphasize the problems in the relationship. In fact(from the scenes I saw) they’re almost clinical. This whole series was difficult to watch because the relationships are so toxic.

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      • I agree the sex scenes aren’t meant to be erotic — and it’s intentional in order to emphasize the problems in the relationship. This whole series was difficult to watch because the relationships are so toxic. From what I remember, it wasn’t easy to have sympathy for any of the characters with the exception of Tracy.

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  18. I was not going to comment because – as some of you know – this triggers some very painful and traumatic experiences for me. I will, however, strive to explain what I see in this story between Alona, Paul & their children.

    1. Paul approaches Alona at a party, immediately attracted to her allure. My first impressions in that scene were that he was a “player” and younger than Alona. She played a little hard to get, he was intrigued, and their pheromones went into overdrive. We don’t get to see what happens next.

    2. Cut to eight (?) years later, at Paul and Alona’s home, where we find out that she was a widow when she met Paul. Now her son is a resentful teenager who masks his profound grief at the loss of his father by acting like the stereotypical angry, rude young man. He seems to show no respect for Paul, the man who has helped raised him all those years. We also learn that Alona and Paul have a young daughter of their own, who seems to dote on her father. He genuinely shows affection for the girl. That earlier dynamic will come into play once they go to couple’s therapy.

    3. By now, I ccould sense the tension in the air. Paul is acting like a cornered animal and Alona is not happy that he doesn’t get along with her son. I also took notice that Alona was not particularly tender with her daughter. Everyone’s body language is speaking volumes. This family does not know how to communicate effectively with each other. Red Flag Alert!

    4. Paul knows he has done wrong (we don’t know as viewers at this point but it is obvious later) and is terrified of losing his career, family, and his freedom. As his life begins to unravels by what he considers a ‘mistake’ and tells his wife is a “lie” and a “misunderstanding”, thinks deteriorate further in their relationship. They decide to go to therapy once Paul is suspended at work pending the criminal investigation.

    5. As someone else has eloquently pointed out on this thread, Alona does not strike me as someone who is very professional in her behaviour. When they go to therapy, somethings hit the fan, and they are not pretty. They argue about Alona’s late husband and Paul finally expresses how frustrating it is to live in the man’s shadow. He also tells her that he really is sorry about what happened to her late husband but he wants to be the man of the house. He feels she does not respect him. We see a spark of hope that they may salvage their relationship. Then they get the questionnaire. I agree that Alona should have been wiser and seeked neutral counseling.

    I will stop here because I am not feeling well and need to go to bed. I will say this. What I got from their story was that great sex should not be the primary basis for a marriage, that communication is key, and that if there had been mutual trust, Paul would have manned up and said to Alona that he was being tempted with a desire to bed this girl. It was his responsibility to ask for her help, to have his boss assign her to another counselor. She, on the other hand, should have given Paul his place at home and teach her son to obey him.

    What shocked me most about this story was not that Paul gave in to his baser instinct to take advantage of a vulnerable young teenage girl. Why? Because I saw that coming a mile away. I was shocked when Alona yelled at Paul to say that she had become pregnant with their daughter because she knew how much he wanted to be a father, but that she didn’t need to have agreed to that because she already had a son. WOW. Really, lady, you are blaming him for that and admitting that your daughter was unwanted by you? That is incredibly immature and plain stupid for a woman who has a doctorate to be a family therapist.

    No, I’ve never been married simply because no man has ever asked. HOWEVER, I have a doctorate in watching my parents love each other dearly and work exceedingly hard to overcome all the obstacles life threw at their marriage. From them, I learned that communication, respect, consideration, politeness, admiration, sacrifice, laughter, affection, trust, HONESTY, hard-work and yes, PASSION are needed in order to create a successful marriage.

    For Paul and Alona, their sexual problems were a symptom of the real illness that killed their happiness. As adults, they needed to be honest with themselves and each other, practice consideration and most definitely be able to sit down and talk from the heart, with respect, building each other up, creating a home that is a refuge and a little piece of paradise, where you can be yourself and feel safe.

    I didn’t see it as a struggle for power – I’m not that cynical or jaded or simply my middle name is Pollyanna. I saw it as two good people who made some stupid mistakes, which led to a man to debase himself and to a woman to allow him to disrespect and dishonor their marriage.

    I don’t think Paul was a man who woke up one day and said: “Hey, I feel like seducing a vulnerable girl and become a pederast asshole – a coward.” I don’t think Alona knew how to express her love deeply in any other way except sex. As she saw things changing, as her gut instinct and logic were screaming “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”, she treated Paul like a child instead of calling him on his BS right away. Why? Because she was afraid. The whole thing is very tragic and depressing.

    We may rationalize all we want, but our daily choices define us. Two good people can destroy each other even when there is love.

    Sorry for whatever mistakes I’ve made writing this. I need to go sleep. If you actually read all this, thank you for being kind. Happy Guyday!

    Like

    • I’m glad you brought up the subject of their children; I think the relationship between all four of them is a very important piece of the Paul puzzle 😉

      Like

    • Thanks for the comment, MT.

      Don’t we get to see what happens next? Paul and Alona have sex, apparently enjoyable for both of them.

      I don’t disagree about the children, except that I do think that there are moments of family communication that works. Not all of their daily choices are bad. Communication is not either / or functional or dysfunctional, it’s always contingent on a situation, and this is not the worst functioning family I’ve ever seen (cf. the families in Sparkhouse, for instance) — for instance, Paul buys additional beer for Kieran’s birthday; Alona is sympathetic to Kieran’s sadness about his father; Kieran buys his sister a fun birthday gift; Alona suggests a movie to Paul when he’s had a terrible day; Alona wants her children to eat healthily; Paul wants to go out with Alona and not have a row, and so on.

      But it’s a fundamental assumption of the “gender trouble” approach that sex is a way of negotiating power, and BTS explicitly takes this approach, so please be aware that if you can’t entertain that possibility a lot of the subsequent analysis will not be convincing for you.

      Like

  19. […] morning there was a lot going on in the comment section of Me+Richard  Armitage in response to  Richard Armitage, Paul Andrews and Gender Trouble in Between the Sheets, Part I” (“Gender Trouble in BTS”) a post Servetus writes she was prompted to finalize and publish by […]

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  20. I want to put this down here — I may reference it again — as to how cultural standards allow us to view the actions of perpetrators and victims in sexual assault cases where failure to consent occurs because of the age of the victim — against all evidence staring us in the face.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/07/misogyny-society-abused-children-predatory?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

    This is a more extreme case of abuse than what we’re talking about with Paul (the victim was younger; the perpetrator seems to have had a paraphilia). If I were writing this article about BTS, I’d paraphrase to say that our attitudes toward gender — which are supported rather than questioned by BTS, despite all of its purported openness to discussion of female desire — make it seem like Tracy is a legitimate object of desire for Paul. In other words, cultural standards make it seem okay for us to believe that Tracy is a legitimate object of desire and capable of desiring freely, and thus accept Paul’s explanation at the end of the series that he chose Tracy for reasons that have to do with desire and *not* with power. It’s important that Paul’s not portrayed in the script as someone with a paraphilia precisely because thinking of Tracy as “a younger woman” as opposed to a vulnerable probation supervisee allows us to think Tracy is an autonomous actor in the same way that Alona is, thus pitting Alona against Tracy and making it look like Paul’s choosing between more or less attractive options to do with the same thing.

    Like

    • I agree. Our society has come to the point where everything is sexualized and many atrocities justified as ‘inevitable’ or ‘normal’. In the case of Tracy and Paul I can almost hear the type of reactions:

      “Well, what did you expect him to do? She wasn’t a little girl and she threw herself at him, pursuing him relentlessly. The poor guy couldn’t resist the temptation, after all, Alona wouldn’t give him what he wanted, so he got it somewhere else! If she had kept him satisfied he wouldn’t have strayed.”

      This type of attitude regarding male/female sexual relationships angers me both as a woman and a survivor of extended abuse. it is insulting to everyone involved because Tracy was a vulnerable and troubled young woman Paul was morally obliged to protect and help, because no matter the state of Alona’s relationship with Paul she WAS NOT responsible for his behaviour and finally, because Paul was a grown man trained and certified as a social worker who knew perfectly well it would be illegal, immoral, despicable, and tremendously irresponsible for him to ahead and encourage/go through it with Tracy. Also – as far as I’m concerned – even if Tracy had been a consenting adult it would have been wrong of Paul to have sex with her; but of course, that’s my own set of values and not the topic here.

      I had the blessing of growing up with a decent, loving, honest, virtuous man for a father; one who worked hard and protected us from the evils of this world as best he could; one who cherished and loved my mother deeply. Thus, my standards are very high. I am stating this because one of the things that makes me ANGRY about finding justification for this type of behaviour, saying that a man ‘can’t help himself because it’s his nature’ is tremendously insulting to all the men out there who are good and who would never, ever do such a thing.

      It is also insulting to women of all ages, everywhere, to blame them for being ‘seductive/slutty/temptresses/home-wreckers’ etc. because even though there are women who have no morals whatsoever and do despicable things, NOBODY PUT A GUN TO PAUL’S BACK to force him to violate his unspoken oath as a social worker, his spoken oath as a married man and his responsibility as a man to have some decency and not abuse his professional power. (The same principles would apply here if the genders were reversed.)

      Had Paul been a better man, he would have told his wife from the beginning that Tracy had a crush on him and would have asked Alona’s professional advice on how to handle the situation. He would have taken the proper steps to report the situation to his supervisor and then have nothing to do with Tracy anymore.

      Society automatically tends to blame girls/women for any abuse. Why didn’t she say something/leave/act more demure/dress differently/stop provoking him/stop throwing herself at him/tempting him? He couldn’t help himself. After all – (like Richard himself has said in another context, talking about fidelity) – “Nature messes with blokes.”

      Ah, cry me a river! Servetus, you and others here know my story. I’ve actually had some people ask me: “Why didn’t you say something to your Mom and Dad?” Gee, because I was a TODDLER and he threatened to kill my mother, pushing her down the stairwell to make it look like an accident and “if you tell, it will be your fault that she’s dead.” You bet your life I was terrified of telling anyone! I’m to blame for that?!

      This terrible injustice of blaming the victim (be it a man or a woman) needs to stop. IT NEEDS TO STOP!!! Abuse is prevalent and very common in our society and we need to wake up and speak up for those who cannot.

      My apologies if I’ve offended anyone with the tone of my response. Obviously, this whole thing touches a nerve with me. *sigh*

      Like

      • I think Paul and Alona are not married, but would agree that their relationship as constituted in the series involves the implication of an agreement to mutual fidelity. He’s certainly suspicious when he gets wind that Alona knows Mark for a longer period of time than he realizes.

        In essence, our culture tells us we should cut the powerful male a break, and this series, for all its openness about sex, does not in the end change that. And you’re exactly right that the resort to “nature” as a justification is a huge red herring that works to the benefit of the powerful.

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    • Thanks for the link to that guardian article, Serv. That case was simply heinous.

      Like

  21. Hi! Do you know where can I order & download this series? I can’t find it on the internet, and I don’t want to buy the DVD, since I live in Brazil and to have it delivered here would be a bit complicated. But I would like to download it. Thanks a lot! Mariana

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment and welcome, Mariana. I don’t know of anywhere it can be downloaded. As far as I know the only way to view it is on DVD.

      Like

  22. […] Richard Armitage, Paul Andrews, and gender trouble in Between the Sheets. August 15, 2013. A discussion of Armitage’s work playing with gender in one of his more […]

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  23. Hi Servetus and Happy New Year!
    Can I leave a comment? Or is this thread been closed?

    Like

    • Hi, Andrea! You can leave a comment but as the post is more than 30 days old the software will delay it. Interested in what you have to say!

      Like

  24. Thank you for the warm welcome Servetus!

    Now I only have to take all my courage and write a post in decent english since this is not my mother tongue 😉
    I fell down the rabbit hole called RA (I do have anothers but that,s another story… rabbit holes that is) a while ago and I,m afraid that I haven,t seen BTS.

    There were some speculations here why he has choosen this role. For me – and I speculate as well because I don,t know how “deep” he was questioning his own motivations – it was something which he decided unconsciouly; something which was hidden under the surface and are not the “usual suspects” (e.g. money, further roles); something which has / had to do with RA’s (…or any actor / actress) character and exploring it – all the facets.

    But of course for me this makes all sense if you forget the plot (ok, not completely…) and replace the figures Tracy and Alona with: women and / or fans… Sort of a “inner drama”? I,m not academically educated but these are things which everyone has to undergo; the “stage of life” (with floodlights, archetypes and all the entourage…) and the role you play, and the patterns and so on… and RA wanted to sort this out for himself. A glance from him… into him? 😉 The good, the bad… His relationship to women… fans… whatever… I dunno…

    OK, I,ve re-read this sentences about ten times and simply don,t know how to put it better. Overthinking? Haven,t you said it doesn,t exist such a thing like overthinking 😉

    Thank you again for the chance to express this rather strange thoughts of a 40+ woman and inner fangirl (herba,s true words!) but I guess that was one of the reasons which has drawn me to you and some other blogs.

    Hope I haven,t bored you to tears and wishing you a nice Friday,

    Andrea

    Like

    • Hi, Andrea, and I’m sorry the answer to this took so long. Du kannst immer auf Deutsch schreiben, wenn’s Dir gefällt.

      I’m sure he had deeper reasons for taking the role — I suspect, however, it had little to do with thinking about fans. He didn’t really have a noticeable claque of fans when he made this.

      Like

  25. […] of it, or any detail about him — or, something else I’ve occasionally been involved in, a pitched battle over the interpretation of something one of his characters does — the occasion for such furious […]

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  26. BTS as a show, and Paul as a character, are absolutely my least favorite of any RCA has done. I have only seen them on YouTube, with sex scenes, but I would guess edited somewhat from original broadcast. I don’t like any of the characters really. None of them seem to take responsibility for the roles they have accepted in their relationships. It is hard to be sympathetic to any of them. As far as Paul and Alona are concerned, it seemed doomed from the start. She admittedly was grieving. She had sex with a man she just met, fulfilling a physical need, and it should have ended right there. It was not time to become involved in a pseudo marriage. He entered into a relationship based on her sexual need, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to him that sex was her release. Apparently he moved into her family home, where her dead husband permeated as her equal partner, and was given, and accepted a lesser role in their relationship in which he was both often treated like a child, and never given an authoritative role as a co-parent to her son. I think taking the role was a matter of it being a paying acting job, as well as giving him exposure in a production which was likely to have a broad audience due to Brenda Blethyn and Alun Armstrong. I think he probably also found exploring the issue of temptation interesting, as he has said he is tempted all the time, even when in a relationship. I find the nudity and sex scenes in BTS to be the least attractive and erotic of any that I have seen him do. He has a beautiful, strong body. Those scenes did not reflect that at all imo. The simulated sex wasn’t pretty. (Btw, I have no problem with sex scenes in general, some are just more interesting than others.) I find the shots of his naked form in Spooks and Strike Back, done tastefully, to be far more pleasing. I also doubt his Mum had a problem with those shots of his naked bum. He has never seemed to take issue with nudity in his roles. I think if he was backtracking about it in this particular role, or if people in his life gave negative feedback, it had to do with the lack of artistry in regard to how his form was portrayed. Glad to get out my very negative opinions on this at last.

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  27. […] Richard’s back catalogue in action. If this doesn’t make you want to discuss the interrelationship of role-reversal and social status, then I don’t know… Screenshot via me+r […]

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