Analysis of a Scene XIII: Singing Detective — Feeling Small

Who are they?

“Who are they?”

The Singing Detective episode 2 Heat (recap here) is aptly named because Mark Binney is still feeling pretty hot under the collar.  Only this time it is because Sonia, who we met briefly in episode 1 Skin, has left his flat in a panic, nearly breaking his nose in the process.  The cause of her distress seems to be the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern type characters.   Skin‘s “Analysis of Scene” can be read here.  Up to speed?  It doesn’t matter, really.  The upcoming scene is fun no matter what.

Binney: Who are they?
Sonia: Let me go!
Binney: You’re not going anywhere.
Sonia smiles, pulls her head back and then butts him right in the nose.
Binney: Awwwhhhh!

He deserved it.

He deserved it.

Admin: And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.  😉  Seriously, Binney was behaving appallingly before that headbutt.  He’s decidedly nervous about her Russian background and seems to be testing her, but his threatening behavior is disturbing.  And even though he is scared of the two men outside, he still injects satisfied menace when he tells her she isn’t going anywhere.  Maybe he likes that she’s scared.  He’s certainly creepy enough to.  I like the way Sonia smiles before she butts him.  She obviously enjoyed doing that.

RF:  Oh, Binney was definitely behaving appallingly and completely deserved the headbutt.  He was far more concerned with saving his own skin than anything else; he seems to be something of a physical coward when he doesn’t have the upper hand.  Unfortunately for him, Sonia was a little more concerned with saving her skin than he was with saving his.  Interesting how all of his menace (which was considerable, up until then) immediately evaporated when he clutched at his face,  yelping in pain.  Sonia seems to have some experience dealing with creeps.  😉

Admin:  You are so right about Binney having a cowardly streak.  It makes sense because bullies often do.

Patrick Malahide as Mark Binney in The Singing Detective

“My nose started to bleed.”

Binney: (laughingly) My nose started to bleed. I wasn’t quite fully dressed you see, I couldn’t go after her. I think she must have been not quite right in the head, you  know?
Marlow: Who is?
Binney: Well, there you are, who is?  Who indeed?
Marlow: But why should she butt you like that?  What did she say?
Binney: Oh, she was too frightened to speak.  She kind of gabbled something in Russian as she ran out of the room.
Marlow: Where did you pick up that lingo?
Binney:  The Army, Intelligence Corps.  I was one of the team who interviewed Red Army soldiers who got tangled up with us towards the end of the war.
Marlow: You’re not in the Army now?
Binney: (laughingly) Nooo.  (shakes head) No.

Admin:  Binney is being oddly avuncular.  He’s laughing about his nose bleed and the army and agreeing with Marlow’s thoughts on who is right in the head.  He knows how to turn on the charm, but unsurprisingly it isn’t going to work with Marlow.  There seems to be an awful lot of cigarette smoke too.  It gives him a fire-breathing quality.

She gabbled something in Russian...

“She kind of gabbled something in Russian…”

RF:  Binney is at his most disarming here.  You’re right that he’s turning on the charm, but it’s bouncing off Marlow like raisins off an Oldsmobile (to borrow a friend’s phrase).  Hmmm, not a mark on his nose, though…  I wonder if that makes Marlow more suspicious than he already is?  Binney comes across as modest and self-effacing when describing his military career, yet manages to sound completely insincere and evasive at the same time.  It makes me wonder why he really left the military.  He’s also conveniently rewriting what we just saw while recounting it to Marlow:  Sonia actually began speaking perfectly good English before the headbutt and certainly wasn’t too frightened to speak.  If anything, she was being very practical by getting out of there as soon as possible, but it’s far easier for Binney (and better for his storytelling and self-image) to portray her as a crazy Russian lady.

Admin: His two “no’s” at the army question did make it seem like he’s about as far away from it now as one can be.  So, yeah, he could have left under a cloud.

I swear before God.  -- Swear before something you believe in would be better.

“I swear before God.”

Marlow: So six months ago you were interviewing the comrades…then a Russian girl goes missing having just called at your house. Question: Did this dame know something about you, is that it?
Binney:  I don’t know.
Marlow: You’re holding out on me, Binney. Don’t waste my time.
Binney: I don’t know, really, don’t.  Mr. Marlow, the point I’m trying to make, I swear before God…
Marlow: Swear before something you believe in, good buddy.
Binney: I swear on my mother’s grave that Sonia was alive and unharmed when she left my place.
Marlow: So who says different?
Binney: I think I’m going to be arrested.  The police, they’re at me all the time. There’s a man watching me.  They’ve told me not to leave town. They don’t seem to believe me when I say there were two men outside the house that night. In fact, my telling them that has made them even more suspicious of me.  Seems the girl never went back to her flat.

Admin:  Binney is getting more nervous now and is being very earnest.  Maybe too earnest.  He remains very polite, though.  Marlow refers to him as “Binney,” but Mr. B. always says, “Mr. Marlow.”  We don’t get to see any scenes featuring Binney and the police, so we don’t know if he is telling the truth about that or not, but his voice is very panicky.

You're holding out me, Binney.  Don't waste my time.

“You’re holding out me, Binney. Don’t waste my time.”

RF:  You’d think an international… agent (or whatever he is) dealing in smuggling ex-Nazis out of Europe wouldn’t be that worried about two loitering Rosencrantz and Guildenstern types or the police.  Wouldn’t he know the right people to bribe for those sort of things, including making his problems go away?  Binney puts on a good show of being concerned – he goes from affable and smiling to a  furrowed brow and worried air – although Marlow already suspects him of having ulterior motives and isn’t buying any of it, including Binney’s swearing to God.  Binney’s mum probably isn’t even dead!

Admin:  I totally would not be surprised if Ma Binney were alive and well. 🙂  He did seem genuinely frightened about those two guys, but you are right, he seems like he should be able to handle them.

RF:  Hmm… You’re right that Binney was genuinely frightened when he saw them outside of his apartment (hence his roughness with Sonia), but I don’t think he wants Marlow to know the true extent of his fear, which would reveal more of Binney’s current occupation than he’d like.  He’d certainly want to come across as frightened to induce Marlow to take the job, so maybe he’s incorporating some genuine emotion with the false.  I’d say he’s more interested in locating Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and/or Sonia (with Marlow’s unwitting help) than anything else.  But I’d still expect a competent agent to know how to deal with such things – or is Binney perhaps not as competent as he should be?

Admin:  Very good point.  I think that is it exactly:  He’s not that competent.

Patrick Malahide in Singing Detective

Nice steely gaze.

Marlow: Where’s that?
Binney: Queen’s Way, apparently.  She lives with Amanda if that’s any…
Marlow: Who is she?
Binney: The girl in the nightclub.
Marlow: Another whore?
Binney: Well, if you want to put it like that.
Marlow: How else would you put it?
Binney: Well, I don’t know if I’m that interested in calling them names…
Marlow: Dog shit by any other name smells just as foul, my friend, and it still sticks to the bottom of your shoe no matter what you call it.  Be as mealy-mouthed as you like but not around me, OK?  You’ve stepped in something nasty, and you want me to clean it up.  Isn’t that, right? I’m the scoop.  I’m the brush and the shovel.
Binney: Mr. Marlow, what I want is for somebody to find that girl or to find the two men that were outside the house or to prove that nothing nasty happened to her from my hands while she was with me.

Admin:  Well, Binney had no problem calling Sonia names earlier, so it is interesting that he should suddenly adopt such a chivalrous stance.  He must really be struggling to maintain his charmingly earnest mien, but we do see a very intense, steely-eyed gaze (all surrounded in smoke) when Marlow goes into his scoop and shovel routine.  And it does seem like a routine because Marlow stands up and looks towards a janitor who is sweeping the floor.  Alas, he is hard at work and Marlow is denied an audience.  I found that oddly satisfying.  🙂  I also like the way Patrick Malahide stresses the word “nasty”.  He says it with such a crisp primness which shows him for a hypocrite because he was definitely being nasty.

Well, I don't know that I'm that interested in calling them names.

“Well, I don’t know that I’m that interested in calling them names.”

RF:  Binney is doing more history rewriting here.  Why, he probably ended up in SkinSkapes purely by accident and had no idea it was a clip joint!  ;-)  Good point about his sudden fastidiousness about “calling names” when he seemed quite comfortable saying all sorts of awful things to Sonia when he thought she didn’t speak English, or (more likely) perhaps he doesn’t want to admit to visiting whores in front of Marlow.  The steely gaze is quite lovely.  I think we’re beginning to see just a smidge of the real Binney peeking out, and he’s getting angry.  But he quickly reverts back to seemingly earnest concern about clearing his name.  It is rather nice to see Marlow denied his audience, though.  😉

Admin:  I think the real story is that he was just planning on showing Amanda his etchings.  Gosh knows how Sonia wound up there. 😀

Something nasty did happen to her at your hands.

“Something nasty did happen to her at your hands.”

Marlow: But it did.
Binney: What?!
Marlow: Something nasty did happen to her at your hands.
Binney: I’m telling the truth, Mr. Marlow.
Marlow: I didn’t say you weren’t, Binney.
Binney:  Well then I don’t…
Marlow: All I’m saying was something nasty did happen to her when she was with you. Wouldn’t that be the way her mother would see it?
Binney: Her mother? Oh, for God’s sake.
Marlow: You just swore on your own mother’s grave, Binney.
Binney:  Mr. Marlow…aren’t you being unduly censorious for this day and age?
Marlow: What’s the day?  What’s the age?

Admin:  And some of that facade now comes off and Binney looks a little more his usual self when he sneers, “her mother.”  He takes a brief pause when reminded that he had sworn on his own mother’s grave.  He is taking it all in like he can’t quite believe how judgmental, astute and confrontational Marlow, a jobbing gumshoe, is being.  Anyway, he tries to placate things by making it seem like Marlow is just being old-fashioned and close-minded.

"Her mother..."

“Her mother…”

RF:  Mr. Malahide has a particularly interesting knack in this scene of keeping his words from reaching his eyes.   Marlow is being especially insulting with his “something nasty” comments (nice double entendre there), which are designed to provoke a reaction and get under Binney’s skin.  In return, Binney  replies with all of the right words – the things he’d be expected to say as a “normal” person – but none of it reaches his eyes or seems truthful in the slightest. However, given his previous (and current) line of work, he should be an accomplished liar.  You’re right that he tries to deflect the pressure back onto Marlow with his “unduly censorious” line (wasn’t Binney just concerned about calling names?), but it’s only a momentary distraction.  I do very much like Binney’s brief look of calculation and re-estimation just before he says, “Mr. Marlow…”.  It’s another quick glimpse of the real Binney peeking out and adjusting his strategies on the fly.

Admin:  I know it is so cool. You can totally see him re-analyzing the situation and being completely taken aback at how unimpressed Marlow is with him.

Binney: Money is not particularly one of my problems, and I’ll pay you well.
Marlow: Oh, you don’t know how much I want yet.  But I’m not as cheap as I look.
Binney: I’ll pay whatever you ask.  My good name is important to me, but I’m not paying you to make me feel small, am I?
Marlow: Oh, you don’t have to do that; that’s thrown in without charge.

Admin:  Could he be just a little more casual about how well off he is?  I don’t think so.  Marlow really gets his goat by being so unimpressed with that money and then burns him with that final zinger.  This is the second time Binney has exposed his fear of feeling small.  Earlier, Sonia elicited the same response when she literally chewed up and spat out the money he paid her for her services.  Feeling small is something Binney really hates.

"I'm not paying you to make me feel small, am I?"

“I’m not paying you to make me feel small, am I?”

RF:  Binney’s quite offhandedly blasé when he mentions his wealth; as you say, he seems used to impressing people with it very easily.  However, we get a definite frown and some real anger when Binney mentions “feel[ing] small”.  His mouth and face visibly tighten as his anger finally reaches his eyes, and he begins to look truly menacing again.  It’s obviously a deep-seated sore spot – which means, of course, that Marlow can’t resist giving it a final poke.  Clearly there’s going to be some jostling for dominance between private dick and client.  The scene where Sonia chewed up Binney’s money was just amazing.  His complete bewilderment won out over his anger and, for once, he had no idea how to react.  Very interesting to see him cope with such a bizarre situation!

Admin:  He looked like he had a sudden migraine when Sonia chewed on his money.  It is such a great moment.  🙂

Wrap-Up

Feeling Small 07

Marlow might be more than he bargained for.

Admin:  You could almost (but not quite) feel sorry Binney with this scene.  He genuinely seems alarmed that he is being blamed for Sonia’s disappearance, but his earnest charm rings a wee bit false.  He is unfailingly polite and polished, but Marlow keeps chinking his armor with flippant disbelief.   And it is a beautifully shot scene.  The smoke swirling around like tendrils adds to Binney’s already ethereal appearance.  Mr. Malahide is so good in the Mark Binney scenes that I kind of wish he and Michael Gambon had really starred in an adaptation of the Marlow’s pulp novel The Singing Detective.  🙂

Some stylish, smokey noir.

Some stylish, smokey noir.

RF:  The wreaths of smoke, the dance-hall setting, Mr. Malahide’s and Mr. Gambon’s wardrobe (okay, especially Mr. Malahide’s 😉 ) and everything else just adds to the noir “feel”.  I completely agree, it’s beautifully shot and very atmospheric.  Binney does seem slippery and impenetrable at first, sticking to his assumed persona, but it isn’t too long before Marlow begins to expose his true self, which Binney doesn’t like at all.  The scene also makes me wonder what Binney intended to do if he did catch up to Sonia; I suspect it wouldn’t be anything good!  Even though the whole thing is a metaphor, I’d also love to see an extended pulp novel version of The Singing Detective.  Who cares about metafiction when you can enjoy the story on its surface?  ;-)  Okay, we care about metafiction.  But it really can be enjoyed on two levels.

Admin:  Oh, an actual novel based on the pulp portion of The Singing Detective with loads of Binney would be so perfect.  I don’t know what sort of legal rigamarole it would take, but to have a professionally written and published edition would be so excellent.  They’d have to do the cover exactly the same, with the 2-shilling price tag. 😉

Video:

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