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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.