Lifting the Sheet on Between the Sheets, Part II

SPOILERS – SEXUAL CONTENT -NSFW

Way into the early hours of yesterday 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 Part I of “Lifting the  Sheet on Between the Sheets”. It looks like we put to rest our opinions on why Richard Armitage might have taken the role of Paul Andrews and whether he knew he would be wearing only a sock (or two) for a couple of scenes. There was also  vigorous discussion following Servetus’s defense of Alona, who, she argued, was unfairly blamed by the writer for driving Paul into the arms of mentally unstable, under-aged, Tracy Ellis. And then, there was this  observation about Armitage fans frequently reporting that they are unsure whether Paul abused Tracy until the truth is revealed at the end,

The effect Armitage fans frequently report from seeing the series . . . —[is] 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.”

Servetus promises to revisit this issue in her performance analysis and maybe we’ll learn more about this through comments, here, but the viewer’s uncertainty is something that has interested me from the the first,

My opinion of Paul Andrews’ guilt or innocence vacillated as the information came in and as I continued to observe Richard Armitage’s performance. Ultimately,  it doesn’t matter whether Paul is innocent or not.  The ending could go either way, still be credible and not affect the main theme of why the couple’s relationship became dysfunctional.  The “mystery” is the device by which the writer chose to reveal the problems and their causes in Paul and Alona’s relationship – what brought the couple to this point and how the couple reacts to the allegation.  Guilt or innocence is not critical to understanding the breakdown of his relationship with Alona. This may be one reason why the writer failed to give due weight to the sexually abusive nature of Paul’s conduct. The result would have been the same  if Tracy were a twenty-year old colleague of Paul’s.

So, how did this all work and why were viewers blinded to the truth? As Servetus puts forward, it has nothing to do with fan feelings for Richard Armitage- most viewers would have doubts as to guilt or innocence. It was clearly the intent of the writer, director and actor both as a means of exploring the relationship and to add another dimension of interest to the series. What Servetus may be saying, and I’ll leave it to her to explain, is that a better or different performance by Richard Armitage should have kept us wondering, but always leaning towards thinking he was lying. Perhaps we should have seen through his deception.

The first three episodes of the series contain some ambiguity as to Paul’s guilt, but in the main, the overall impression is that he did something wrong – in fact- we see him do something wrong. As I discuss later, we see a very different Paul Andrews in the second half.

The first scene with Tracy and Paul sets off all sort of alarm bells which eventually I chose to ignore. Right from the beginning Paul is way too physical towards Tracy. Paul cradles her head and moves in close “to comfort” Tracy when she is distraught over his “dumping her,” as a client.

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When she accuses him of not caring about her, he says,” I do care about you,” and head bowed, he mutters disconsolately, “maybe too much,” ( sounds a lot like that hackneyed breakup line,  “it’s not you it’s me”) then he puts his arm around her as she nestles into his chest. They must sit like that for a while, because later, unseen,  his colleague spies them from a distance on her way back from the pub where she waited in vain for Paul.

Then commences a series of lies by Paul, which Alona uncovers bit by bit, leading up to an admission that Paul found Tracy attractive and allowed her to kiss him – but just once.

We’re also seeing some unstable and bizarre behavior by Tracy including her appearance at Paul’s house when she is drunk, throws a rock through his window and attacks Alona’s son. This is contrast to the  rational, competent, caring sensible Tracy Alona meets  when she  confronts Tracy at home and the rather deflated Tracy who has just made a police complaint against Paul.

I don’t know if it was because I watched BTS  after I had seen most of Richard Armitage’s other work  or because of how he looked, with quite short reddish hair, fuller,less chiseled face,  but when I did see it, I had the most difficult time in the first half, remembering that it was Armitage I was watching. The actor  disappeared into the character of Paul Andrews. an observation that I share with others, especially Frenz, on “R.A. Frenzy.” (The flashback scene in which Armitage sports redder hair and  and goatee may have contributed to this- he was almost unrecognizable to me). Even his voice was different – a higher register, a whiny aspect, a different accent and cadence. For most of it, at least for the first part, his facial expressions were also alien. He alternated between showing a pouting, frowning countenance and a wide-eyed, almost innocent look. As I sit here writing this now, I’m not sure whether he evolved as an actor or Paul Andrews was a deliberate creation of Richard Armitage. Probably a bit of both, but Servetus promises us a future post analyzing his performance. And I can’t help remembering what Serv disclosed – that Richard Armitage eliminated BTS from his show reel.

In the first half, Alona’s reaction to Paul’s predicament is accusatory and confrontational.  She doubts him from the beginning, thinks he’s hiding something, telling only half the story  ( all of which turns out to be true) and says some pretty harsh things to him.

Alona Bails Paul Out of Jail.

Alona Bails Paul Out of Jail.

Things change dramatically in the second half, when most of the new information revealed seems to point to to Paul’s innocence.  I think we finally see the Paul Andrews that Alona fell for – and for me, Richard Armitage was back as well. The change occur after  couple’s sex therapy when the therapist implicitly acknowledges that Alona is a controlling partner, validating Paul’s feelings. But he also points out Paul’s passiveness and infantalism. Homework is assigned and the couple go off to try and work things out.

While they are doing their homework, Bahuska, the au pair comes into the room wearing only her panties and a T shirt.

Bahuska

Bahuska

Check out Paul’s expression.
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Paul’s got his mojo back. At dinner with friends where the couple is staying over while Alona’s son has a birthday party, Paul is flirtatious and playful, making use of those Armitage long legs  under the table to warm Alona up.

Upstairs, the couple enjoys an intimate and fun moment as together they admire Paul’s  erection.

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The next few scenes are those that most point to Paul’s innocence. Tracy goes to Alona’s office to tell Alona that even though she was examined by doctors to see if she was a virgin, she told them that she had sex with someone else, not Paul. Implicit in this is Tracy telling Alona Paul did it, but she was protecting him. She then gives Alona a necklace Tracy claims Paul gave her. The necklace belonged to Alona.

When confronted, Paul says that Tracy must have stolen the necklace, maybe during the son’s birthday birthday party. Paul wants to call the police, Alona prevents him arguing that he should leave well enough along because he’s “off the hook.” Paul looks her straight in the eye, takes a minute and  in seethingly, quietly says, ” I was never on the hook.” Realizing that Alona just doesn’t believe him he moves out.

The new Paul is extremely convincing in his calmness. I wanted to believe him, but I was stymied by the unlikelihood that Tracy would have sneaked into the party, stolen the necklace and then returned it.

Paul takes matters into his own hands and pretends to bump into Tracy.  He  lies to her, telling her that the police know about the necklace, that they came to the house to take fingerprints and found hers, and that she should withdraw her criminal charges or she would look foolish and might be arrested.  Tracy admits to stealing the necklace.

With all charges dismissed, Alona and Paul have a celebratory party at home, until a call comes in reporting that Tracy committed suicide by throwing herself off an overpass.

Paul and Alona rush to the scene.

Tracy's Last Words

Tracy’s Last Words

At home, Paul confesses to Alona that he lied and that in fact he had kissed Tracy, fondled her breast and “let” Tracy give him oral sex, “but I never penetrated her!” Why did he do it? Because she wanted him.

In a moving ending, the screen shows us comparative scenes- Peter, who has been waiting for herons to return to his pond, negligently causes the death of one of them and is distraught.
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Tracy’s mother is brought to the scene of her death, and is distraught. The synchronicity is that  both men caused the death of an innocent creature by their negligence. Paul was grossly negligent when he ignored Tracy’s threat in the beginning of the series, that she was going to “go over a fly-over” if he didn’t come back to her. Whether he just made a misjudgment or intentionally kept it to himself for protection might be debatable, but I think a disinterested probation officer, hearing that threat from a mentally unstable, fragile, substance abuser, had a duty to take action. Paul doesn’t acknowledge this. The script falls short again.

I firmly believe that the intention of the creators was to drop conflicting clues and keep the viewer guessing as to what really happened solely for entertainment. The work is replete with comic and therefore entertaining elements touching all the characters. The ending is impactful and tragic, and is dissonant to the overall tone of the piece.

45 thoughts on “Lifting the Sheet on Between the Sheets, Part II

  1. I think the brilliance of the story is that we all pretty much acknowledge that our warning bells were going off, but we chose to ignore them for one reason or another. we know that Paul is probably guilty, our intellect is telling us so, but *something* makes us hold our judgement until the very end. That smacks of realism to me, like nothing else! we’ve all seen or even done it ourselves, ignored that tapping on the shoulder that tells us what is really going on. it’s a phenomenon that plagues so many otherwise smart, intelligent women; “how could she not have known?” “why did she stay with him?” “why did she turn a blind eye?”

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      • because Paul seemed like a decent guy who was not being appreciated? particularly after I found out about his past through the therapy sessions, he just seemed like a neglected puppy (others say “whiny” and “clingy”). I’ve spoken out about my feelings for Paul a lot, and I’m not in the majority 😉 I understand that & I’m not trying to change anyone’s perceptions of him. I feel empathy for him *shrugs* does that say something negative or naive about me? I don’t know. I’d like to think it means that even though I may not agree with someone’s actions/mistakes, I can sympathize with the very real hows/whys that brought them to that place.

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        • I don’t think it says anything negative or naiive. I think the creators, including the actor intended viewers to feel that way. That’s why they provided the information we learned in the therapy session. And he was decent guy who had a failing or a moment of weakness. Some decency is shown, I think, by the fact that he confesses to Alona once he is free and clear.

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          • I totally agree. For what I could understand, I see Paul as a victim of circumstances, of two women that wanted to possess him in two different (both very wrong) ways and of his weakness and need to be loved. But I could be wrong and naive. And no, my RA obsession has nothing to do with it.

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          • The problem for me though is that having sex with a vulnerable person in his care, was not ‘a moment of weakness’ it was sexual abuse. Even if Tracy was a willing participant, Paul was in a position of trust and power and had a responsibility to keep the boundaries between them. He should have handed her file over to Liz as soon as he realised there was an attraction – not when he had already had sex with her and was simply trying to bury the problem.

            As for decency – if he had had any decency he would have admitted his guilt and resigned. Tracy ended her life because no one believed her -if it had been because she couldn’t have Paul, she would have suicided earlier. In my opinion, it was the case going against her, compounded by Paul telling her no one believed her. Seeking her out and threatening her wasn’t the act of a decent man who had just made a mistake either.

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          • Perry- he should have admitted his guilt straight away – but any time before Tracy suicided really.

            To do it afterwards- that was because he couldn’t bear his guilt. So, again, it was about his needs, not those around him.

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      • I think some viewers figured out what was going on from the beginning. It would depend on an individual’s experience, for one. I could not bear to continue watching this as the story unfolded because I recognized his abuse of power from the get go and his desperate attempts to cover up or deny.

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          • Ah, but thus the million dollar question, isn’t it? Abusers keep doing what they’re doing till they get caught. If this happened with Tracy because they both wanted it, and undoubtedly Paul is a handsome man, wouldn’t it be possible that such a thing could have happened before?

            But my comment about experience actually had more to do with the viewer’s experiences and thus will set alarm bells ringing the moment Paul and Tracy have their bench moment.

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            • The text doesn’t warrant a finding that it happened before; but had he not gotten caught, it’s likely it would happen again for the reason you stated.

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  2. Sorry I can’t participate to the discussion. I have the dvd BUT there are NO subs so I understand very little of what happens 😦 But I really enjoyed reading your posts and Servetus’: they helped me to better understand what happened in BTS.

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  3. Because we take on the male gaze as our own, a gender theorist would say in answer to your question about “why denial”. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t answered all my own comments yet, but it’s on the agenda for today and I want to leave a comment here, too, when I have reread it.

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  4. I’d love to add my thoughts – but I am realising right now that there is actually a lot missing even from the edited bits on YT. I never saw the scene at the fly-over – or heard Paul confess the details. Hmph. I think I am completely out of the loop here. You have stoked my interest, however, Perry. I must get the DVD of this series.

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    • The same thing happened to me when I saw it on You Tube. But then, I found the ending on You Tube, but not in the same series as all the other segments and not before I saw the DVD.I didn’t mention it in the blog but I was thrown for a loop when I saw the DVD because I didn’t expect that. So, I think the ending is on YouTube someplace.

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      • I’d forgotten to include the point in my post that there are scenes w/Tracy that don’t involve Paul, so we don’t see exactly how mentally disturbed Tracy is unless we watch the whole piece. (i.e., it’s not just about Alona not appearing to be quite such a jerk or so incompent in her diagnosis of relationships when you see her in other contexts — although that itself is a sort of proverb: the shoemaker’s children always going barefoot and so on).

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  5. “Tracy’s threat in the beginning of the series, that she was going to “go over a fly-over” if he didn’t come back to her. Whether he just made a misjudgment or intentionally kept it to himself for protection might be debatable, but I think a disinterested probation officer, hearing that threat from a mentally unstable, fragile, substance abuser, had a duty to take action. Paul doesn’t acknowledge this. The script falls short again.”
    If Paul would have reported it, it would have exposed what had happened between them. That’s what their story line then unfolds as the back story is revealed.
    Tracy’s beginning statements tie in to Paul’s admission of guilt at the end.

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  6. okay … I think this is the only assertion in the OP that you make that I disagree with.

    “The result would have been the same if Tracy were a twenty-year old colleague of Paul’s.”

    No, because the power differential would have been different, and that in turn would have affected Alona’s behavior once she knew about it. Assuming he had a wet-behind-the-ears colleague interested in him would have made him an object of desire in a way that he wasn’t for either Tracy or Alona, which would have affected his behavior.

    Nice point about Bohuska (what a name). In that vein, it also seems key to me that Paul’s energy for nailing (for what else can we call the eventual tenor of that sexual encounter?) Alona is accelerated by his suspicion at the dinner party that Alona “knows” Ralf.

    I’m not saying that Armitage was obligated to play Paul as if it should be more obvious he was lying. (And I agree the script seems to want that to be the big mystery that keeps people watching but that’s not what the relationship is about). I’m saying I wonder if it was a good choice to do so, in terms of the merits of the *performance*. But watching this over and over again the last few days, I’m cognizant of how much I don’t care for this piece.

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    • I think for purposes of how the writer handled the sexual abuse, they might as well have chucked it.

      I think Raif’s name is Mark. It is possible that Paul felt something between him and Alona. Especially since Raif/Mark raised a sexual topic with Alona.

      yeah- that Bahuska thing I caught late.

      There’s a lot of stuff in the piece as a whole, but it doesn’t follow through. I think there are editing issues.

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      • sorry about that — maybe the actor’s name is Ralf? (watching too much tv).

        I think that I might have believed (or been more inclined to believe) the script’s point about Alona’s aggressiveness, *had* we not been talking about sexual abuse in the competing relationship, in the reason implicitly offered for why Paul’s withholding sex. That in turn makes me hostile about the whole script, i.e., why does it seek to set her needs up as such a problem?

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        • Well, and what’s wrong with her needs? Most men would be delighted. But I have some issues with how they have sex. Maybe they’re not fair considering the dry spell,and maybe she was expecting a second go- But “nailing” has it’s moments.

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          • yeah, and it’s actually my preferred style as well, another reason that I possibly oversympathize with her. In my experience that kind of athletic sex is not always as easy for the average man to accomplish as the screen would have us believe. There’s an important point to be had here that kind of gets lost, which is that male desire is not always as it’s constructed, either.

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    • Re: Armitage’s performance-I never know what to attribute to the actor and what to the director. I find it difficult to apply my skills to analyzing screen work. I know I focus too much on the script.

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      • yeah, it’s a big problem and without knowing way more than we know (for instance it’s probably different in every setting) it’s impossible to address. This is why I tend to do “text as read” analyses with caveats or interjections as they are available to me. Because in the end the effect is all we see.

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      • the other thing that we don’t know, either, is whether Armitage might have made interventions in the script as we know he was attempting to do by Robin Hood at the very latest — we don’t know when that started.

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  7. I think our uncertainties are Armitage’s success . How many time (in RL) predators are seen as a decent nice and symphatetic people?
    Frequently IMO. Thanks for the post 🙂

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  8. I will agree with @bollyknickers assertions in regards to the inequality of power and position that qualifies what Paul did to Tracy as sexual abuse. That is usually the crux of abuse is the inequity of roles and position within a role. Then there is the code of ethics and morals one must implicitly adhere to in those positions of human services. This aspect of the show itself could be explored alone within BTS which it was not. To add insult to injury Paul manipulated Tracy into her further demise. Clearly this character posessed a moral unclarity that pre-existed his relationship with Alona–you just don’t come upon these actions overnight. It becomes clear that personal accountability was never Paul’s strong suit as he see-saws between scape- goating Tracy and Alona for his own mental and emotional instabilities. I think Richard played this well because he leaves a trail of darkness that compels investigation to it’s origins. Imho. 🙂

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