Submitted by Aaron Arkin, Steilacoom.
One TV show I regularly enjoy is a PBS formulaic but very watchable detective mystery series set on a small Caribbean island (Death In Paradise). With its colorful Creole characters and who-done-it and how-was-it-done plotting, conundrums and misdirection, it engages the audience as they try to solve the mystery.
Its lead character, Neville Parker, is a brilliant but uptight socially awkward chief-detective, a transplant from London, England. Given the nature of his character and his difficulty adjusting to the people, customs, flora, fauna, gastronomy, and even some of the microorganisms unique to the Island, he remains lonely and love-starved. Despite recognition and admiration for his crime-solving skills, and the attempt of almost every cast member to get him to fit in and socialize, his personal life is largely one of isolation. To put a fine point on it, the writers often have him seeking solace in the company of a Gecko-like creature he calls Harry the Lizard, an inhabitant of the beach house furnished as a perk of Neville’s job.
His first try at romance is an infatuation with one of his staff who, although fond and protective of him, lets him know that she does not reciprocate his feelings. That relationship ends when she is sent to another island for undercover work; although as it turns out, she will return later in the series. Maybe by then she will have had a change of heart. For the writers, I think that would be a challenge; because if they go in that direction it will end the tension in the relationship that had previously held audience interest.
His second romantic relationship, more interesting and compelling, is initiated by a chance meeting with a tourist. After a series of awkward mishaps, more crossing-paths encounters, encouragement by his staff, and a separation that increases his ardor, they grow closer and finally get together. For the first time in the series he is happy, and we are happy for his relationship with someone we also love. We are hopeful viewers will stay invested in the series.
Alas for poor Neville, this is too good to be true. Turns out his love interest plotted the events that brought them together in order to get close to and undo him. All stemming from a criminal investigation he worked on long ago involving her sister who came to a bad end because, as she saw it, he didn’t do due diligence on her case. So obsessed with achieving his downfall, she commits a murder, cleverly implicating him (spoiler: true to form, he finally figures out she was responsible and he is exonerated).
Ordinarily, I dislike it when a plot contrivance completely changes a character. I think it undermines the audience’s credulity. And I did feel that here. I was also unhappy to lose a likable character. I don’t know if the writers planned this turn of events from the start or came up with it when they became afraid a stable love interest would kill audience interest. Trying to figure out if this was planned all along, I went back to earlier episodes looking for signs that her attachment to him was insincere or suspect. I couldn’t find anything to suggest it; she appeared loving and caring. I decided the writers just forced a personality change as a plot device to return our detective to his lonely bachelor existence.
But I forgave all that because of what I found compelling in the first episode following her character’s dark-side reveal. That episode finds Neville dispirited by the loss of the person he had thought truly loved him, and by self-doubt as he comes to the realization that he let himself be so badly deceived. To get some kind of resolution, perhaps even closure, he visits her in jail.
Sitting across from her, one on one, showing both sadness and empathy one might see when confronted by a loss of love, he tells her he’s sorry that he hadn’t done right by her sister and that so much harm had resulted. Then, in the hope he hadn’t entirely deceived himself, and believing she will now be honest, he asks: “did you ever really care for me?”
This is where the story (and for that matter, the series) becomes most moving and heartfelt. She tells him that she hates him and always hated him. Crestfallen, he starts to leave. But then she adds, “You did however make me at times forget myself and my problems, and even made me laugh”. In those few words, the writers lay bare the foibles and complexity of the human heart: its passions, impulsiveness, inconstancy, contradictions, confusions, its compartmentalization.
Neville leaves, and with more episodes of the series ahead of us, we believe or at least hope he can move on. Perhaps he no longer or will no longer love her. But I still do.