Analysis of a Scene XV: Singing Detective — Shadows

Feeling persecuted

It was  a dark and stormy night. (Images courtesy of RFodchuk)

Yay!  We finally get face-to-face with my personal favorite character in  The Singing Detective, the slick Mark Finney.  His (ummm) existence is somewhat meta to say the least, but who cares when he looks as good as he does.  Here he is in all his weird glory in a rather creepy scene from episode 4, Clues.  A recap of the overall episode can be found here, and our previous Analyses here.

Shadows.

Shadows.

 The scene opens at Finney’s place with Nicola making shadow puppets as a thunderstorm rolls through outside.
Finney: Doesn’t any of this seem peculiar to you?
Nicola: No.
Finney: Well, I’ll tell you something that gives me the creeps, I half expect him to be out there looking at me.
Nicola: Shadows.
Finney: I’ll tell you something else, he knows too much. He’s got hold of too many details. Where’s he coming from? What is his game?
Nicola: (making a nice parrot shadow puppet) Parrot.
Finney: What?
Nicola: I just made a parrot. Wak-wak-wak.
Finney: Are you listening to me? Am I talking to myself here?

Admin:  The rolling thunder noise in the background is a sweet touch.  The “it was a dark and stormy night” theme works perfectly with Marlow’s cliched pulp novels, and his style of writing is a key element in this scene.  Anyway, Finney is busy freaking out about his resemblance to “Mark Binney” (we all know him from the previous episodes), but Nicola is tuning him out with her impressive shadow puppets.  She’s had practice tuning annoying (not that Finney is annoying to me) men out.  Finney’s “what?” reminds me of the way both Binney (the Fin-Bins get confusing, I know) and Nicola would say “what?” when their respective Marlows unsettled them with his non sequiturs.

He likes a monochrome palette.

He likes a monochrome palette.

RF:  The “dark and stormy night” is a perfect touch, perhaps conveying Finney’s internal turmoil which is, naturally enough, Marlow’s as well.  But even if the storm isn’t metaphorical, it’s fitting for a pulp novel.  I find it interesting that Nicola is the only flash of colour in the entire room.  Everything else is a fashionable monochrome, including Finney’s “nice things” (some of which he seems to have inherited from Binney) and his clothing.  Maybe because Nicola’s the only real person there?

Admin:  Good point.  Finney’s monochromatic style gives him his own shadowy noir air.

RF:  Ironically enough, when Finney asks, “Am I talking to myself here?”, he really is.  Or if you want to get technical, Marlow’s talking to himself.  He gives his own creation a paranoia attack over his (Marlow’s) seeming omnipotence over all matters Finney, probably because Marlow likes the thought of his enemies, even the made-up ones, fearing him.   Yet at the same time, Marlow portrays Nicola as decidedly unconcerned at best, oblivious at worst, preferring to distract herself with making shadow puppets.  Things seem very peculiar to Finney, but not to her.  Neither are flattering portraits, but at least Marlow made Nicola pretty good at shadow puppets.  😉

Moody men: What's not to like?

Moody men: What’s not to like?

Nicola: I like moody men. I simply adore moody men. Two years and more I had of the shit with Marlow. Black looks, mysterious silences, sulks…came up out of nothing. And you know what else? Paranoia. (nods) Think about it, will you.
Finney: It’s Marlow I’m thinking about.
Nicola: Then don’t.
Finney: He’s onto me. He knows.
Nicola: What do you mean? How can he?
Finney: It’s a feeling, OK? I sense it.
Nicola:(laughing exasperation) Oh, no! Not again.
Finney: Nicola, he’s not actually set foot inside this house, not ever, has he?
Nicola: Course he hasn’t.
Finney: Well, in that script of his…
Nicola: You mean that script of yours.
Finney: Well, let’s be accurate Nicola.
Nicola: Oh, let’s be consistent Mark.
Finney: (stubbing out cigarette near a copy of The Singing Detective) Well, OK, as far as anybody else in the outside world is concerned.
Nicola: Half a million says you better believe it.

"It’s a feeling, OK? I sense it."

“It’s a feeling, OK? I sense it.”

Admin:  I notice Finney’s posture is quite snaky and sinewy when he’s saying he can sense it.  He keeps it up when he reminds Nicola that it is actually Marlow’s script.  She’s taking a very strong lead by reminding him of their con and how much money it is worth.

RF:  Interesting that Nicola pegs paranoia as one of Marlow’s flaws (this entire scene is a product of Marlow’s paranoia!), while Finney’s so obviously suffering from an acute attack of it right in front of her, including “black looks” and “sulks”.  Mr. Malahide employs some suitably restless body language to convey Finney’s unease, pacing and smoking nervously while irritably trying to convince Nicola that his fears are valid.  Unfortunately for him, Nicola isn’t sympathetic.  Her “Oh no, not again” (echoed by “I do pick them” later in this scene) suggests she’s heard it all before and has little patience left.  Marlow and Finney appear to have a lot in common from Nicola’s point of view.  Either she has a preferred type or the creation’s personality doesn’t stray very far from his author’s.

Admin:  Could be both.  Marlow probably knows it was his quirky personality that attracted her to him in the first place, but he also uses his characters as author inserts in coping with his own shortcomings.

RF:  Good point.  And they seem to be somewhat better at it than Marlow is.  😉

No wonder everything smells of tobacco.

No wonder everything smells of tobacco.

RF:  You’re right that Nicola’s the one taking the lead in the con.  Marlow would rather cast Nicola as the scheme’s mastermind than have his own character ruin him (hmm… self-sabotage?).  She’s pretty cold-blooded about it, too.  I also like the added detail that the original Singing Detective manuscript is shown in a filthy, nasty, yellowed shoebox, just as Nicola described earlier in the episode.

Finney: I’m not talking about that, am I, I’m talking about this dog-eared, messy, food-stained script we hope he’s forgotten, right.
Nicola: Still stinks of tobacco and something that, well, smells to me like old cabbage stumps.
Finney: Smells of something worse than that. It smells of sulfur.
Nicola: What?
Finney: Nicola, I know this sounds crazy…I feel almost as though he’s made all this up.
Nicola: My God, I do pick them.
Finney: Nicola, think about it, please. I’m talking about the actual bloody script he wrote.
Nicola: Years ago.
Finney: Yes, but…
Nicola: Before I even knew you.
Finney: Yes, but, well, true…
Nicola: Well, then.
Finney: (finally sits down, waves hands) But, but…isn’t that what all makes it all so…creepy?

"...isn't that what makes it all so... creepy?

“…isn’t that what makes it all so… creepy?

Admin:  Poor Finney.  It must be weird to think you’ve been “made up”, especially by a guy who apparently reeks of tobacco and old cabbage stumps.   Finney’s snake-like gestures add to the aura of something being not quite real.

RF:  Finney seems to waver back and forth between willingness to allow Nicola to logically explain away his concerns, and slipping back into tension and paranoia.  He’s still somewhat restless and agitated, and frustrated because Nicola isn’t taking his worries seriously.  His paranoia is justified, of course.  Marlow’s writing the entire thing, including Nicola’s dismissiveness, effectively boxing up Finney in an inescapable trap.  But the scene also reveals Marlow’s greatest worry:  that Nicola will actively betray his trust and steal the one thing most important to him.

Trying to employ some rationality.

Trying to employ some rationality.

Nicola:(starts snuggling towards him) Now look…you are working yourself up because what we’re doing…is criminal. Right? I mean we are stealing his script and passing it off as yours. Right?
Finney: Right.
Nicola: Hmmm?
Finney and Marlow: Right!

The script isn't the only thing she's intercepting.

The script isn’t the only thing she’s intercepting.

Nicola: And this is because I intercepted the offer to him. They don’t know him from him Adam. They don’t even know he’s ill. But you’ve gone and got cold feet.
Finney: No!
Nicola: Then why are you jangling your nerves like this? You do know we’re talking about coincidence, don’t you? Hmmmm?
Finney: …..
Nicola: Mark. Don’t you? (squeezes his mouth)
Finney: I s’pose.
Nicola: (slaps him lightly) Come on. Use your head. (making for his belt) If he didn’t know of your existence before that book; if I didn’t know you, even; if he’d never been here and never seen you….c’mon. (Finney suddenly gets up.) What’s the matter with you?

Admin:  It seems that Finney’s second “right” (the one he says directly after Marlow makes his cameo) has a very hostile edge to it.  I’m sure that means something.   I’m pretty sure it was Marlow’s fault, also, that Nicola never managed to get that belt off.  I like Ms. Suzman’s reaction immediately after that, her combination of embarrassment and anger is very well executed.

Riiiight!

Riiiight!

RF:  I thought Finney’s second “Right” was just an indication of his increasing irritation at Nicola explaining his concerns away. He’s listening to her, but his impatient eyerolling suggests she’s not convincing him in the slightest.  Again, Marlow imagines Nicola as the aggressor in the relationship, pursuing and seducing a mostly indifferent Finney (well, he’s preoccupied with an existential crisis, so we’ll cut him some slack) while appropriating Marlow’s work, an act she openly admits is “criminal” and “stealing”.  You’re right that it’s Marlow’s doing that Finney pre-empts Nicola’s seduction attempt.  I don’t think Marlow wanted to imagine where the situation was going to go.  He might be tormenting himself by picturing his estranged wife with a new lover, but he doesn’t want to torment himself too much.  And of course Marlow’s version of Nicola would be angry at having her attentions rejected!

Admin:  I got the feeling that Finney was feeling some of Marlow’s hostility, actually, kind of like when Binney felt Marlow’s temperature rise.  Either way, he was edgy.  Yeah, Nicola and Finney never really get far in the whole romance department.  Anytime they do get close, Marlow quickly chucks a spanner in the works.

RF:  Hmmm, or Finney’s indifference could be wish fulfillment:  the way Marlow wishes he could act around Nicola.

"I s'pose."

“I s’pose.” Yeah, she’s having fun 🙂

RF:  Tangential note:  I find it absolutely hilarious, every time, when Nicola squishes Finney’s face just before his “I s’pose”.  Mr. Malahide takes it with perfect equanimity and I don’t know how he kept from cracking up.  It looks like Ms. Suzman was having too much fun filming that scene.  😀

Admin:  Can’t blame her.  😉  His non-reaction to the face squeezing was very funny.  You’d think he should have been especially annoyed, but it didn’t seem to bother him in the way it should have.

Well, at least the story's the same.

Well, at least the story’s the same.

Finney: This is the matter, actually, in here, and Nicola listen, in here, the story’s the same, OK.
Nicola: It had better be, that is what is being sold, honey.
Finney: Settings are different.
Nicola: Oh, for Christ’s sake.
Finney: And the names are different.
Nicola: So, he changed his mind; he gets bored easily.
Finney: He changed the setting of the client, his house I mean, from New Cavendish Street to this. He’s got the murdered girl floating in the water on the bloody Hammersmith Bridge.
Nicola: It’s public property.

Binney to Finney is too close.

Binney to Finney is too close.

Finney: He’s changed the name of the client from Hanes to Binney. One letter.
Nicola: One letter is all there is between trick and prick, so what?
Finney: Binney to Finney is too close. If he had changed it to anything else, I mean anything you can think of.
Nicola: How about Wally? Changing it to Wally?
Finney: Mark Finney. Me. Right?
Nicola: How do you do.
Finney: Mark Binney, in the script, in this bloody script of his that we’ve purloined. Mark Finney to Mark Binney is as close as…as close as…

Admin: There are lots more of his strange neck contortions as he desperately tries to explain his anxiety over the name and address being too close to his reality (such as it is).  Wally is UK slang for a bit of a silly person, so I think that is what she is getting at with the “Wally” suggestion.

Realization setting in.

Realization setting in.

RF:  We get another lovely, dramatic clap of thunder as Finney’s metafictional existence suddenly collides with reality and begins to unravel.  Finney, the creation, is intelligent enough to realize that all the coincidences really are “too close”.  In fact, Marlow even triumphantly named him “Mark… Binney!” when he popped into frame for his first appearance, earlier in the episode (Marlow’s none too imaginative when it comes to  antagonists’ names).  Then Marlow apparently decided more differentiation was needed and changing the name by one letter would be sufficient, but Finney’s more self-aware than Marlow’s other antagonists and knows something’s up.  He’s actually very persistent about pushing his point of view.

RF:  It’s also interesting to note that as Finney becomes more desperate (and you’re right that he seems to contort his expression and posture more), Nicola becomes even more dismissive.  He’s trying to convince her Marlow knows too much, but she just makes snarky jokes at his expense – or maybe she’s still miffed at his refusing her advances.  I hadn’t thought about “wally” being slang for a silly person, but I think you’re right about that, too.

…and all but shudders…

…and all but shudders…

Finney:  (thunder) (Mark touches his neck) I have this awful…dash…he stops himself…comma…and all but shudders…full stop.
Nicola: Darling…dash question mark.
Finney: I have this awful…
Nicola: Darling?
Finney: Premonition. I have this awful, um, premonition. (Nicola goes back to making shadow puppets.) Nicola, why are you doing that?
Nicola: What?
Finney: Nicola.
Nicola: Look! A rabbit. Do you think that looks like a rabbit, Mark? And I thought I could only do parrots. (Finney lights a cigarette and looks out the window, the shot turns him into Binney.)

Admin:  And now this is where it gets extremely weird.  When the thunder rolls again, Finney acts as though someone has walked over his grave.  Then he and Nicola begin using punctuation.  This episode is called Clues, and that is a pretty big one.  The camera works gets kind of skewed and it reminds me of the first episode when Binney was having temperature issues in the first episode.   Eventually Finney snaps out of it once he gets the word “premonition” out and is distracted by Nicola’s possibly passive-aggressive way of using shadow puppets to deal with his eccentricities.

Premonition.

Premonition.

RF:  I love how Finney narrates his own punctuation with a growing sense of horror, as he hears himself speak but can’t stop what he’s doing.  He knows something’s wrong. He realizes he’s in the grip of a controlling power, but he doesn’t understand how or why.   He seems to be just barely grazing awareness of his fictional existence, while Nicola (who’s real but still conveniently following the script) remains completely unaware.  Very true that this scene, as well as the previous punctuation narration scene in the hospital, provide big clues about Finney’s true nature and role in Marlow’s life.  I wonder if Finney’s hesitation over the word “premonition” was meant to indicate Marlow having a bit of trouble finding the right word?  And we never do find out what his premonition was, either!

It's a wascally wabbit.

It’s a wascally wabbit.

RF:  It’s also not very flattering of Marlow to have Nicola engaging in something as frivolous as shadow puppets while debating coincidence and intellectual property theft.  I thought this might be an indication of how little Marlow actually knows her, or how low his expectations are.  He doesn’t seem to understand her very well or know what to do with her in this scene, except to have her mastermind the theft and attempt to seduce Finney (unsuccessfully).  Or as you say, it could be her way of ignoring Finney’s concerns and by extension, Marlow’s concerns, too.

RF:  And I’ve gotta say, that final transition shot is just marvelous.  It switches us seamlessly from Finney back to Binney, implying their connection without hitting us over the head with it.

Wrap-Up

Admin:  Ultimately, this is a beautifully shot and superbly acted scene.  The thunder is an exceptionally nice touch and I like the way Nicola uses her shadow puppets.  The thought that Finney might be recognizing that it is Marlow who is pulling his strings is extremely eerie  and gives the overall scene a kind of horror / haunted edge.  Brilliant stuff all around!

Binney!  What's he doing here?

Binney! What’s he doing here?

RF:  I totally agree.  :-)  The scene is extremely well shot and atmospheric, with a sense of foreboding and suspense.  Even the lack of colour (save for Nicola) is evocative of an old black-and-white film noir.  We don’t want the intellectual theft to succeed (well, mostly) but at the same time, we want to see what happens to the two plotters (pun intended, since they’re controlled by master plotter Marlow).  The fictional Finney is closest to realizing what’s truly going on, but perhaps he’s the best equipped to do so as a product of Marlow’s mind.  Hmm…  what happens when a fictional character attains sentience?

Admin:  It rather makes me feel sorry for Marlow’s villains.  They are supposed to be these rotten, bad men, but they have no control over what they are doing or over what is going on and they seem aware of that.   That shadow rabbit isn’t the only puppet in the scene.

Clip:

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