Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Inspector Montalbano's Mediterranean Midsomer Homeland

My resistance to televison's harmful rays was temporarily weakened recently by Moaning Man flu. I became ensnared in the terrorism/bipolar yarn of Homeland (Series 2), and enthralled by the weird charms of Inspector Montalbano. Here's my report. 

I expect overheated, clench-jawed realism. My confidence is shaken by early, glaring plot flaws. Why would the well-organised terrorist group waste their most fabulous asset (Brody) just to move the much less important Bassel 'The Tailor' to a new safehouse? (Not that it turns out well, or anything, what with the gouged-abdomen-and-neck-snapping incident in the dark muddy forest.) 
Elsewhere, agent Carrie dresses to kill (herself - in a neat inversion). She glugs the pills, but changes her mind later, regurgitates it all very tidily (CIA training?) and has a nap instead. This is just what her Dad had suggested, earlier, as she packed her overnight bag with clench-jawed determination. 
Having sneaked Brody's suicide video through Lebanese security, Saul brings it to agent Carrie and signals a readiness to die soon in the name of a plot development, by relaxing his jaw. A relaxed jaw in Homeland is like a red tunic in an early Star Trek landing party: a mantle of doom. Remember how loose-jawed The Tailor was; the one Brody buried in the woods?
There are lots of monstrously huge cars with black windows, arriving and leaving. There's quite a bit of dressing up (evening dresses, uniforms) but no sexual congress, in fact 'no intimacy of any kind' according to Brody's wife. 
Escape verdict: spooks on steroids, with family issues. 

With Montalbano one must have no expectation whatsoever of logical consistency. My episode starts with M's dream of his own funeral, a scene never referred to again in the whole long tale. The coffin is dropped to dream-thunder which becomes real thunder (perhaps). 
M is now stuck in a queue of traffic, in a downpour. He collects a woman from the lead car (held up by an unconvincing-looking landslide) and gives her a lift. 
I'm more sure now that we're out of the dream, but things remain quite dream-like. It's as if all the outdoor scenes were shot on the day of a televised World Cup Final. M seems perpetually puzzled, although I don't know why: no one is present in the town who isn't in the plot; there are no boats in the harbour not involved in the plot (except at the end, when the coastguard suddenly have two massive boats to block the harbour). He's an Inspector. It shouldn't be that hard to work out, whatever it is.
Day after day, M's underlings burst into his office wearing exactly the same clothes as the day before, gabbling. Several, similar-looking women pass in and out of the plot, often via M's office. In case the viewer gets lost, characters regularly describe what's happening, as in: 'there's a landslide across the road' or 'I'm going to wash my hands'. In one scene, though, the English subtitle contains the amazing phrase: 'It's a case of homophony'. 
A romantic sequence between M and a female coastguard in an evening dress is punctuated by the image of tinfoil peeled back from a baking tin. A row of pre-cooked, dry-looking red snappers is revealed. Meanwhile, an underling sent to infiltrate a boat crew engages some energetic in-berth bonking (an ironic counterpoint to M's platonic entanglements?). 
A lissom female agent appears three-quarters of the way through to explain to M that it's all to do with 'blood diamonds'. It's a great relief, plot-wise. Now the coastguard from the red snapper scene is shot and killed. On the stone steps of a convent hospital M scrunches up his face in existential agony. 
I'm still worried about how the queue of cars got around the empty car left behind by M and the woman he rescued at the beginning. I'm unsure what she had to do with the story, or if I ever saw her again. Maybe she was the homophony.
Escape verdict: post-modernist cop procedural; Cocteau on holiday; Lynch hits the marina; Fellini does Midsomer.

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