A week ago saw the end of series three of the popular BBC1 drama Last Tango in Halifax, here are my thoughts!
A few weeks ago I did a blog about Last Tango in Halifax and upon telling a TV Critic on twitter, he asked me “why do such a blog”? This caught me a bit off guard if I am honest and my first reaction was to think he was mocking me. He said he was not by any means, just that he did not get what all the fuss was about the programme. I gave some ill thought reply back but as the third series season has now ended and some more time has passed, I now know how I should have answered him as lot better.
Watching Last Tango to me is like getting your favourite Winter cardigan out of the wardrobe and feeling all snug and safe inside it on a glorious sunny day. It is charming, nostalgic, I feel better for watching Last Tango just like I feel better for putting that old favourite cardie on. It has an certain EDGE to it though…Last Tango, not my favourite cardigan I mean. I can not bear safe old fashioned dramas like say Heartbeat or The Royal. I watched an episode of Call The Midwife before the last episode of Last Tango came on and thought it was utter, safe bland tosh. It featured an attempted suicide and also a married man being found guilty of homosexuality, hardly save topics I accept but done so in such a meek, mild mannered way. Last Tango remains a romantic comedy drama at it’s heart, BUT IT ALSO HAS GUTS. It is has an edge that prevents it from being safe and boring…..and furthermore not just funny Significantly, this edgier side to the writing has become more prominent as the show has grown. This was shown more than ever with all the controversy surrounding episode three where the character Kate(Nina Sosanya) was killed off. This light and shade balance is important in my opinion, it gives the show an element of realism and thus keeps me hooked.
“Gillian, stop acting like a tw*t”. This quote from Robbie(Dean Andrews) to Gillian(Nicola Walker) made me laugh out loud in episode six. I just thought the frustrated manner in the way he said it was so funny, not to mentioned Gillian’s astonished reaction afterwards. This brings me nicely on discuss the rest of episode six. I recently read a blog where the lady blogger in question slated this episode, not finding it funny whatsoever. I was a bit shocked at reading this because I thought it was the most amusing episode of the entire series. I laughed all the way through it, barring the juxtaposed serious bits of course. Firstly, it involved Gillian having pre-wedding nerves and she revealed to Caroline(Sarah Lancashire) via two flashbacks how she’d banged both Sean the Butcher and Caroline’s ex John recently. The motive for these incidents of infidelity, Robbie calling her a T of course(it did make me chuckle).
The other two things that made me laugh in this final episode granted through gritted teeth, were horse shit, lots of it and somebody puking. The horse shit incident involved Caroline’s car getting a flat tyre so her, Alan(Derek Jacobi) and bride-to-be Gillian had to get out on to this country lane. Caroline couldn’t budge the wheel nut so we saw this funny site of her(six foot plus in heels) climbing on to the spanner several feet in the air, to see if the force of all her weight through it might budge it. She budged it all right but then as a consequence fell face down in ten tonnes of horse shit! She literally had it all over her best wedding outfit. I thought it was really funny and I say through gritted teeth because I have a OCD contamination phobia over animal excrement. As soon as I saw the pretend poo on the road nearby the car I stared squirming in my seat. You can imagine my reaction then when she fell in it all, I was horrified but could not myself from stop laughing at the same time. Same with the puking. This also is a major OCD phobia of mine, vomit I mean. Robbie too drunk on his wedding day puked up whilst giving his vows. Tough to watch but also funny too in my opinion.
Amidst all the hilarity in this final episode there were two scene towards the end that really moved me. The first one was when Robbie admitted to Gillian that he had known all along that his late brother Eddie used to beat her up(Eddie being her late husband). He stated how he regretted not doing anything about it and that he was sorry. It was great acting by both Dean Andrews and Nicola Walker because I totally believed them. Dean said it with utter sincerity and I found it totally moving.
The other scene I found incredibly moving was when Caroline had a last conversion(in her imagination/mind) with her recently dead spouse Kate. I’ll be honest with you and say that up to that point since Kate’s death, I had found all these conversations between the two rather corny. I mean I found it a bit over-the-top that rather than us just seeing Caroline thinking or talking aloud to Kate, we actually saw the character Kate having imagined dialogue with her. It just smacked me of them trying to imitate the film Ghost with us, it felt like one manipulation too far. That said I was almost moved to tears with this scene. Sarah Lancashire played it just right. She was still in the awful depths of grief, still struggling to accept Kate had gone, still not knowing how she was going face life without her. I’ve lost a closed loved one and such marvellous acting from Sarah reminded me of all that pain I felt back then, and still do at times.
The series ended on a positive note with Caroline and Robbie eventually getting married, and Alan and new found son Gary deciding to bury the hatchet after a recent row. Nevertheless, there is no denying that a controversial shadow still hung over the series by the end of it though, namely with the incident of Kate being killed off at the end of episode three. I therefore now need to discuss all the fall out from this. I have thought long and hard about how to best approach talking about this subject and I have decided that directness is the best policy, so apologies now if I offend some. I want to make it clear that I do not have one ounce of homophobia in my body and if you think I do after reading the following then you are very, very much mistaken.
I will first start this big ‘Kate being killed off debate’, by saying I have read some absolute cobblers(rubbish) on the Internet about this subject. I recently read a few blogs/articles by enraged gay women about it and at certain points I could not believe what I was reading. Sure I can understand you being disappointed by a much loved lesbian TV character being killed off, but to then go on and accuse Sally Wainwright of being anti-gay or to align her with shows that perhaps indeed are, then to me this is one if not several steps too far. I read one blog that was addressing and telling Sally that gay lives do matter, and by her killing one off it implies she does not think they do. I would defend Sally and the show by saying if she thought gays lives did not matter then she would not have included them as characters in the drama in the first place. She would not have had two lesbian women who up to that point were such positive role models for the gay community. ie two highly educated women who one as a teacher and the other a headmistress. If Sally Wainwright was anti-gay then Caroline would have got back with John(Tony Gardner) by the end of the series but she did not. Caroline instead shouted at him that she was a lesbian and proud of it. If this show was now being like other shows and being complicit in homophobia, then surely BOTH Caroline and Kate would have been killed off…….but they were not.
Sally Wainwright has said her decision to kill off Kate was done to achieve narrative progression, between Caroline and Celia(Anne Reid). Up to this point Caroline and Celia were not talking and it looked increasingly likely that they would never talk again due to a prejudiced Celia not going to Caroline and Kate’s wedding. This dramatic event meant this quarrel ended and they talked again. I believe Sally when she says this, rather than her having some homophobic ulterior motive. Nevertheless, I do concur with one critic of her explanation who said was it really necessary to have to kill Kate off to achieve this though? I personally would not of killed Kate off, we could have the accident and her survive. This would have meant Caroline and Celia ending their row and we would not have lost this character. Apparently, Sally Wainwright did also write a version of the episode where Kate did not die, however she went with the one where she did in order to achieve greater dramatic narrative impact.
Another thing that bugged me about the angry reaction to Kate being killed off, is that when we first found out about the accident my first worry was about the baby. I then was worried about losing Kate the character as a whole, I saw her as being more in the show than just ‘ lesbian number two’. In this blog I did on Last Tango a few weeks ago right after episode three had ended, I was shocked to hear back from a few gay women how they now felt offended and betrayed by the programme. On twitter I therefore asked a few lesbians if they too felt this way because in the immediate of that dramatic ending, because it hadn’t even entered my head that gay women would feel this way. One gay woman I chatted to said she was not offended in the slightest by Kate dying and I got a similar reply from a well known TV celebrity who is a lesbian. This nameless celebrity said she was sad Kate had died because she loved the character, and also commented on how well she thought the Kate and Caroline relationship was portrayed. She said she was not offended though because it is only a drama at the end of the day. I just think it needs highlighting that NOT ALL lesbians were infuriated by this storyline. Be disappointed yes, I get that totally, however I think the criticism of the show and of writer Sally Wainwright over of all this has been miles over-the-top.
Before finally moving on from all this fallout about Kate being killed off, I just want to respond to something I read in a blog by a lady called Virginia DeBolt. She has written a highly critical arrticle of Sally Wainwright regarding Kate’s death, entitled ‘Another Dead Lesbian TV Character and the Question of Representation.’ I have already responded in the above to many of the the points she makes, but I was also troubled by something else she wrote towards the end of her piece. She says now Kate had died, Last Tango sadly now joins the long list of TV shows which feature the death of a gay character in them. Prior to this point she also lists a quote from a website that says ‘the problem is not when gay characters die, it is when this happens far more than straight characters’ The issue I have here is that this does not apply to Last Tango in Halifax. Gay people are not dieing more in this show than straight ones. Does Virginia not remember Alan’s life long best friend Maurice dying in episode four of series two…..I have no recollection of him being a gay character? Furthermore, there was the sad death of Judith and John’s baby at the start of series three, not the mention the death of Eddie(Gillian’s late husband) that has hang over the story since the start of the show. Granted I accept Eddie’s death is a back story, but my point being that gay deaths have not outnumbered heterosexual ones in Last Tango. Virgina also cites the UK soap opera Emmerdale as being at fault here too. Again, I used to watch this show regularly and know for a fact more straight characters have died in this compared to gay ones .
Despite it taking me an episode to get into it again and despite Kate being killed off, I thought on the whole series three was a really enjoyable watch. Was it as good as series one and two? Perhaps not I would say but I still think it remains one of our best UK TV dramas. I guess another question is how long can this show run for, how much legs has it got left in it? Will we see a series seven or eight of it or will Sally Wainwright go the FAWLTY TOWERS route of ending it in its prime, leaving the viewers wanting more? I can see it ending in about two more series time. Series four must see Gillian confess to her now new husband Robbie that she did infact kill his brother Eddie. I can see that being what series four is going to be about, and perhaps Alan’s dodgy heart finally giving up on him at the end of series five. To be honest, every time I have sat down to watch the next new series of Last Tango, I have done so nervously hoping that Alan’s heart won’t give up on him and us just quite yet. All that being said, Sally Wainwright might surprise us all and decide to bring back to Yorkshire all of Alan’s family who are currently out in New Zealand, him and Ceclia are off to visit them soon after all. This would create many new storylines no doubt if it happened.
However long is left in this show though, I know will be there sat watching it all the way. It is a show that moves me to tears such is the quality of the writing. It is also a show that makes me smile and laugh out loud. “GILLIAN, STOP BEING A TW*T”……what a bloody good line that really is!