Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Don't Bet on it

Last week's episode (in this current run of Series 1 repeats) was probably my favourite episode of either series. And not just because of the sultry, sizzling tones of Miranda Raison - although that had something to do with it. It's because the character that Miranda played sent the characters spinning off in all kinds of directions - and ultimately back into each other. Once the idea was in place, the episode came together very quickly.

This was not the case with this week's episode - Don't Bet on It, which was the eternally tricky fifth episode. See below for details on why Episode 5 is always the hardest to write. (We circumvented this issue in the latest series of Another Case of Milton Jones by only making four episodes). I was keen that Charles establish some kind of betting syndicate. My original idea was to have them bet on results that Charles could rig - and then eventually bet on baseball in America which he could not rig. Then a crucial game would be cancelled by the intervention of Pearl Harbour.

I did use Pearl Harbour as a plot intervention - in series 2. I also used the German invasion of Russia as a plot intervention in Series 1, which got all the characters off the hook for some Marxist-based misdemeanour. Both, if we're being honest, are cheats. The technical term for them is Deus Ex Machina. They are an event from the outside over which the characters have no control. (I believe Shakespeare uses it occasionally. There's some bit in Measure for Measure when a Duke returns 'fortuitously' and it's all a bit contrived.)

A Deus ex Machina is, to some extent, an admission of defeat. In sitcom, the characters problems are caused by themselves. No matter how tenuous. Ideally it isn't tenuous - and involves the resolution of colliding plots. Because if someone is vindicated - or destroyed - by a Deus Ex Machina, they don't deserve it. Sitcoms are, to some extent, morality tales. When a character is exhonerated unjustly, or maimed without good reason, it seems unfair. (This is one reason why I stopped reading Evelyn Waugh. As an author, he is horrid to his characters who just don't deserve to have life go so badly for them when they've done nothing to deserve it).

I suppose this tells us about our innate sense of justice, right and wrong. We don't want to read, hear or watch stories where people are not treated as they deserve. But here we get far more profound than a preposterous wartime sitcom like Hut 33 merits. So we'll stop there. Suffice to say that Charles, in this episode, gets his just deserts.