Previous: The Gift of Promise.
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.
— Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The Impossible Quest
The premiere episode of Series 6 has so many red herrings dangling around it’s basically set in a pond, and at first watching it felt a bit as if, perhaps, one or two might have been better left out, but on second thoughts, no, it’s fine the way it is. It all comes together nicely in the end, which is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable. Hathaway was right—there was no motive, no reason for Alex Falconer to kill Michelle Marber’s son. He did have a hand in all the other murders, but Stevie’s mother will have to live with the realisation that her son wasn’t who she’d convinced herself he was.
While the first victim, Murray Hawes, was obsessed with Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, the resident Miss Marple and Falconer himself are on impossible quests of their own. Michelle is desperate to piece together the last moments of her son’s life, trying to find another explanation than the obvious one. Unable to bear that her son might have been a drug addict and died entirely by accident, wasting all that genius and potential, wasting himself away, she seeks someone to blame, a reason that she can accept, though not understand. Alex Falconer is searching for a cure for his wife’s cancer, using the Doctrine of Signatures—an impossible quest if there ever was one, and lives are destroyed by it, and relationships torn apart.
Tell her with kindness. You’re good at that.
It’s a case full of somethings that come to nothing—just like Vincent Vega and Mia Wallis (Lewis Carroll and Pulp Fiction… only in Oxford), who have to find out that they’re just not that special. The Wednesday Club is another in a long line of illusions in this episode, another disappointment. They all slowly vanish away—because, what if the Snark doesn’t exist at all, what if it is an idea, something you longed for to find, and then when you thought you did, you realise it never existed, that it was never more than that idea, that reason you sought, that piece of meaning. It’s everything and nothing, because in your dreams it can become anything you want it to be, and then turn out to be completely meaningless in spite of that.
You’re rather nice, you two.
Of course, these quests and searches for meaning also resonate with our favourite detectives. Lewis connects with Michelle over the impossibility of her loss, and reveals that he has, at least, got a little better. He acknowledges that Hathaway is right to worry about him still, but he has come to accept that Val is gone, he doesn’t “relive it” anymore, and I daresay that that has loads to do with the fact that James managed to find the man who inadvertently killed her so many years ago. He is still on that quest to come to terms with losing her, but he might just find a way.
James himself is enamoured with the manuscript, of course he is, awed by having that in front of him—enough to bat Lewis’ hand away, who doesn’t even blink at that—as much as he is overwhelmed by the poem. He is a copper, looking for patterns in chaos, and although the murders he works on are less elusive than the Snark, James is a conflicted person in so many other ways. His personal life is in shambles, so much so that he doesn’t know how to cope with a woman showing interest in him one day, much less when she evades him the next. Liv Nash, the botanist, is forward enough to have Lewis clear his throat in the distance, and James defers to the one thing he knows: manners. So he bows and flees, and Lewis doesn’t quite know whether to laugh or pity him, poor sod.
In any case, their teamwork is as seamless as I’ve ever known it to be, and it’s best summed up in that scene as they’re walking away from Carlyle College after trying to drum some sense into Vincent, as Lewis announces he wants to seach Murray’s house again:
I want to do a fingertip search of Murray’s house. Just you and me; not uniforms, not SOCO, just us. We know what we’re looking for. (beat) We’ll know when we see it.
Lewis doesn’t even need to look at him to interpret his silence as doubt here, but he trusts no-one else not to mess up, knows that Hathaway will know the vital clue when he sees it with the same clarity as Lewis would, because even though their approaches to crime and to the world in general differ wildly, they always have the same goal, and that’s how they’ve slowly but steadily attuned themselves to each other. It fosters the overall sense of them being in sync, as well as small exchanges like the bit where Hathaway finally realises how Mia and Vincent’s name rang familiar when he sees the Pulp Fiction poster on the wall.
Bit slow for you, that.
Or this one:
J: “I did a little extra digging last night.”
L: “Late last night, was it? Honestly, man, give yourself a break every now and then.”
J: “Yes, mum.”
L: “No, I mean it. Less work, more sleep. I need your brain, all ten tons of it, in full working order.”
J: “As I said: I did a little extra digging last night.”
And even while they don’t, at first, seem to manage to unravel the riddle of ‘Lab H,’ what they do manage, though, and this is a first: they talk. Instead of couching his worry in cop humour as he’s done so many times, when James admits he has “a touch of existential flu,” Lewis doesn’t let the opportunity pass him by.
I’m gonna say it just this once. For your sake, you need a partner, James. You need someone in your life.
The fact that James is comforable enough to admit to at least “a touch” of misery is a mark of how far they’ve come with each other, and that Lewis calmly gives him advice that he knows James doesn’t really want, is another. That James doesn’t evade (much) or get angry, doesn’t let his face go blank and pull away, is perhaps the most extraordinary. That Lewis words it like this, uses the ambiguous ‘partner’ instead of ‘girlfriend’ is, of course, owed to the events of Life Born of Fire, and Lewis’ inkling that, perhaps, James swings both ways. But it’s also a beautiful thing considering their own relationship, because—James has a ‘partner.’ Lewis. He is, literally, the only someone in James’ life at the moment, has been for years; he’s the one he calls when he can’t take it anymore.
Especially now, with Liv clearly being interested and then evading him just that morning at the market, it hurts just that bit more, because James knows that Lewis would never do that; and that maybe his fortune in the romantic relationship area just won’t change any time in the near future. So who’s he got? His boss, his friend, who’s clearly not alright himself, so alright here really is Time Lord code for not alright at all. So, even while he’s grappling with his own doubts, James stays sitting on that bench, staring at the spot Lewis just vacated, probably wondering if the older man realises how much of that—needing someone—also applies to himself, and I think he hates how helpless that makes him feel. Just as he stays behind in the car at the end, waiting, knowing that this is something he doesn’t know how to explain to Michelle, that Lewis is better at that because he knows the meaninglessness. He’s stared into that abyss a thousand times since Val’s death. James has lost people, too, his greatest loss being Will, but since he probably still blames himself for his friend’s suicide, he won’t accept that he’s allowed to mourn, that that death was just as tragic. Thus, he leaves it to Robbie, and waits outside, ready to give him as long as he needs.
Science does not know its debt to imagination.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Next: Generation of Vipers.