I’ve been reading comments over the past couple of days on different forums with regards to Caroline and Kate’s storyline in this second series of Last Tango in Halifax. Now, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here for a bit for these fictional characters whom we’ve come to love. While many are overall positive, some of these comments I have seen have been quite negative specifically with regards to the direction of the pregnancy storyline. Right now, for the purpose of this argument, I’m going to put that aside for the moment.
We all form ideas and decisions, good or bad, based on our past experiences, and environments, our family dynamics and support systems (or lack thereof), and we all have our biases, which sometimes – intentionally or not – we transpose what we would do or might do, or expect on/for the fictional characters that we on some level identify with. We like to see ourselves represented in the media, and in that respect not everyone is going to feel represented in each story. Given the continued dearth of shows with lesbian and bisexual characters and pairings, we tend to latch on to these representations with all the hopes and ideas and biases of our lives for directions of the character development and character decisions.
Just pretending for a moment that these characters are real people, with real faults, desires, needs, etc., who are we as individuals to judge another person’s decisions based on our own experiences? As the saying goes ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge them’ (paraphrased).
To give my own background as an example, I’m a forty year-old woman who identifies as a lesbian. I came out when I was twenty-one. I’m the oldest of three siblings (a younger brother and sister), and my parents who’ve been happily married for forty three years. I grew up in a progressive Catholic family (though I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for about twenty years or so), and my family – immediate and extended – have been supportive of me. For the past several years I’ve been single, mostly as I haven’t found anyone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I’ve got a great group of friends – mostly straight (but not narrow) that I hang around with when I’m not working. Probably once or twice in twenty years have I even possibly, not seriously – considered having a child, with one of my best friends who is a gay male. However, it was never a serious consideration, as I really don’t have much of a maternal bone in me, aside from the care of my dog(s) and cat.
How many of us have personally been in similar situations to Caroline or Kate, really?
Caroline’s a forty-six year old woman, who is successful in her career but her personal life has been falling apart for years. Here’s a woman who grew up in a family that was emotionally pretty cut off – at least from her father, and from parents who didn’t have a happy relationship; barely talked to each other unless they had to. She was reasonably close to her mother still, until she hit university. She went away to get her education, to Oxford and also started to figure out her own sexual identity. When she returned home to the north, she tried to come out to her mother who tried to shut that down and who was completely unsupportive. So, she pushed those feelings down and away and did was expected of her. She married and had a family. More emotional dissonance from who she really was. She was married to a philandering idiot but she stayed – much like her mother did with her father. And while John was out having his latest (possibly) affair with Judith, Caroline found a friend in Kate, with whom she developed an attachment and began to actually start to explore that part of her that she shut out for twenty years. As she tells her mother at the end of the first series, she’s tired of pretending to be something she isn’t.
Caroline’s learned to emotionally compartmentalize her life separately from her professional life, which resulted in a fairly severe depression, especially in the months John had left. With Kate, she was starting to come back out of that depression. Even still, she’s dealing with her at times caustic mother who’s found her own new old love. A mother who, without Alan’s influence and leaving, was completely unsupportive of Caroline’s relationship with Kate. Caroline’s got one supportive elder son, while her younger son starts falling in the direction of his idiot father, an ex-husband who is lazy, indecisive, and lead by the seat of his pants, and who couldn’t buy a clue to get out of the house. Alan’s supportive of Caroline’s relationship more than the rest of her family (aside from William). Mind you, Celia has improved some this series.
Caroline’s essentially got a shit load of baggage as she enters this relationship with Kate. She wants to make it work with her, and yes, she has made some missteps along the way. That’s only human. It’s not necessarily an excuse from her decisions, she still has to own up to them. But half a lifetime of hiding who she is, with no support systems for that development as she learns to love Kate, it’s not surprising that she’s not yet fully comfortable with being officially out of the closet, especially in an environment (school) where she is the Headmistress. It’s one thing for the students and fellow faculty to suspect or even know that she and Kate are together, it’s another for Caroline to feel comfortable with being out. It would be nice for Caroline to find a support group (or therapist), aside from Kate, for her to talk to about her feelings and some guidance to help her make her relationship more successful. She wants to move forward with Kate and I truly believe that she wants to spend the rest of her life with her, but the issue around the housing was not one of Caroline’s best thought out ideas. It came from a desire to keep a house that she loves and has put a lot of work into, but unless there’s a severe infusion of cash to buy John out, which she’d hoped would come from her mother and Alan, and Kate, that wouldn’t be possible. In the most recent episode, Caroline’s come to the realization that yet again, part of her ‘old’ life is falling to the wayside.
Kate, however much we’ve seen of her character thus far, is a single, divorced forty-two year old woman. We don’t know exactly how long she was married to Richard for; presumably at least for a few years. She’s had four miscarriages that she’s lost at around the twelve-week (roughly end of first trimester) point. She’d also had a relationship with this Greg friend of hers many years ago. She’s got a father with dementia but other than that, we don’t know much about her family dynamics, whether there was support for her or not at the time of her divorce and coming out. She’s been out for at least a few years (undetermined), but the students at school knew she was a lesbian – Lawrence had apparently told John, so she’s out at the school and comfortable enough with that. We also don’t know how if Caroline’s the first person since her divorce that she’s been secure enough with/stable with to consider trying to have a child. Options after forty become less of a guarantee, take time and can be expensive (not sure how much longer the NHS will be supporting IVF, given the financial restraints and reductions in service the NHS is under). Kate’s obviously feeling that as she gets older her chances – especially given her past history – are getting more and more limited and there’s a certain degree of desperation involved there. She’s not wrong to be feeling that, but the method to conceive was perhaps not well thought out as she had hoped, and not really explained to Caroline well enough, when she learned Caroline was less than thrilled about starting a new family. Especially bringing someone else into the equation for something as big as having a child, when you’re still both fairly new to the relationship is not really conducive to a healthy relationship.
Both women are still working through compromises they each have to make in their relationship. That needs proper communication. For both Caroline and Kate, their decisions have been rushed, due to internal and external pressures. And yes, decisions have been been made without thinking it all the way through. That is also true of real life. I’m probably fairly certain we’ve each made some decisions without really thinking through the consequences and have to live with those decisions afterwards. So much of Last Tango in Halifax is living life, dealing with consequences of actions, whether they like them or not, whether they’re popular decisions or not. Life is not always pretty or turns out the way we’d like it to. That’s as true to Last Tango as it is to life in general.
While I can acknowledge and respect that some of the decisions Caroline and Kate have been making aren’t ones that I chose for myself, I don’t really think it’s fair to expect that decisions I would make be written as choices for them…or to expect that the writing choices for the characters fully represent my life. Or that the choices made are wrong ones simply because one doesn’t agree with the direction of a character’s decision making. If I wanted that, I’d write my own original story.
Caroline and Kate’s story isn’t over. Yes, there will be more mis-steps as in any normal relationship with another person. But for now, I’m going to stick with their story and see where it leads. Relationships and family dynamics, whether on screen or in real life, can be messy and complicated. Caroline and Kate’s relationship is also only part of the overall story – a multi-generational, combined family story, which has completely enthralled me. As dysfunctional as Caroline’s story has been, it’s partially balanced out by how dysfunctional Gillian’s decisions about relationships (Robbie, Eddie, Paul, John, Robbie and presumably others between Eddie and Paul) have been.
There is so much going on in a six episode span for all the characters that it requires repeated viewing to catch all the nuances; it’s even better when the episodes are marathoned as a whole to see the overall picture more clearly. I can hardly wait until Christmas for the last episode so I can do exactly that.