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Tuesday, March 30, 2004  
Last Night's Television
As much as I hate the phrase, Passer By actually was a moral fable for our times. I missed the first part on Sunday night due to not giving a shit, and missed the first five or ten minutes of the concluding part last night due to being out watching Dawn Of The Dead. Even so, me being me, I saw enough to form an opinion, and it was not good.

Trailers and previews of Passer By painted it as a thoughtful rumination on guilt and responsibility in modern times. Had I not seen something in the paper this morning about it being a BBC drama I would have assumed it was ITV, possibly because of the presence of James Nesbitt (not that I have anything against him, but post Cold Feet or whatever it was called, he is indelibly linked with ITV in my mind), and possibly because it was utterly morally vaccuous, bordering on reprehensible.

The Story.
Nesbitt, tired from his job as a radiographer in an A&E department (emasculated masculinity! he's not even a doctor! he's barely above the status of a nurse! and all nurses are girls! however is a man to cope in these troubled times of strong women and uncomfortably re-aligned gender roles?! eh?! long hours and not even £40k a year to show for it OH NO!?!) and travelling home on the train, witnesses two youths harassing a women. Initially innoccuous, the situation slowly develops into something more sinister (presumably because the youths are drunk! but I don't know, because I didn't see the first part). The carriage is empty but for the youths, the women, and Nesbitt. Tired and believing that it's none of his business (urban alienation! we're packed so close together but are yet so far apart!), Nesbitt chooses to get off at his stop rather than stay on the train and hopefully, via his mere presence, prevent the incident with the youths becoming anything more than the harrassment it is. Of course he gets of, turns around to look back at the carriage he's just alighted from, and sees the youths raping the woman. OH NO! He's not a good samaritan. And what's worse, in court he freezes, sounds unconvincing, and fails to assert to the jury the guilt of the men. Add to this the fact that the woman remains calm when giving evidence, and the jury let the offenders off. But I saw none of this, as I didn't give a shit.

Wot Happened Next.
Nesbitt's character is wracked by guilt. This manifests itself as an emotional distance in his family (wife and two kids and a nice semi with a partially built extention), causing his insecure, adolescent (at about 12 - when I was young we waited until at least 14 to begin being narky little shits [or maybe not]) son to start dressing like Ice Cube and packing a flick-knife to school. His teenage daughter, who barely features, might have some 'hormones', but we're not quite sure. His wife feels pushed away by his growing emotional distance and preoccupation with letting down the woman not once but twice (on the train and in court). Blah blah blah. Nesbitt wanders around a lot, looks miserable, takes on extra shifts at work despite his management status meaning he doesn't have to, visits the woman and tries to atone for his sins, and then has an encounter at work with one of the offenders, who is brought in for an x-ray after (presumably) a drunken brawl leaves him with a nastily bloodied head. Nesbitt then takes it upon himself to get some kind of revenge, wanders around some rough estate (not like the nice, tree-lined avenue he lives on, oh no), finds a pub, sits in it, gets pissed, sees the other youth, and then shoves a glass in the side of his head before kicking the shit out of him. While the other patrons of the pub stand and watch. And don't intervene. In a moment of exceptionally profound insight, Nesbitt observes "You just stood and watched. You didn't stop me," as if it were the most sad and true and damning thing anyone has ever said about the state of society today and the way we live now. The thug threatens to press charges, Nesbitt is arrested, his job and family are both hanging by a thread over the threat of imprisonment for brutally and drunkenly assaulting someone in the street, Nesbitt turns to drink and sleeping in railway stations, blah blah blah, his wife shouts at him in the street in front of his neighbours (one is a man cleaning his car, thus showing how much of a man he is [cleaning the car basically being 'wanking', eh?]) thus emasculating his masculinity even bloody more ("You're just a radiographer!" she yells, marvellously, and with spite - I must remember that one). And then...

Nesbitt gets off. The police persuade the thug/youth/rapist/victim of a brutal assault not to press charges by "appealing to his ego" (he, as another emasculated [by economic and social circumstances, presumably - after all he lives on a council estate and rapes women on trains] man, does not wish to be seen as 'a victim' - "I really hurt him, you know," says Nesbitt, evidently proud of the fact that he knows he's a man because he glassed some twat's head). "Some things aren't in the public interest" and "some things are in the opublic interest", you see.

Wot I Fink.
It's a cop-out. A complete cop-out. Morally immature and socially irresponsible. Justice is not served on any level. The viewer is given some kind of hollow, happy-ending pay-off for sitting through it, the thugs are seen to be bloodied by various forces (thus not escaping 'punishment' even if they do escape prison), Nesbitt's son gets picked for the football team because his schoolfriends are in awe that his dad is a psycho who glasses young men in pubs, his wife welcomes him back into the family fold with loving arms, Nesbitt doesn't lose his job and he gets the sense that he somehow made amends for not stepping in and preventing the woman being raped in the first place. As for the woman herself, in an encounter with Nesbitt's wife, she says "the way you want him; one day I'll want someone like that too," the inference being that time heals all wounds and one day she'll be OK to trust men again and have sex and raise a family and all's well that ends well blah blah blah cop-out cop-out cop-out. The two rapists are still free, the woman still has to live with that, Nesbitt still pussied out of his social responsibility not to let other men go around assaulting and raping women on trains, he was still a shit father and husband, he still did the wrong thing, even if he now has the strength of character to intervene with an arguing couple on a trainstation when it looks as if it might turn nasty, as we see in the final scene. It's OK to commit horrendous acts of vengent violence as long as it's a rapist who made you look like a wimp that you beat into unconsciousness.

"It's no wonder the women never come forward." It's no wonder BBC1 is rubbish.

Perhaps more later when I've read this through and thought some more.


3/30/2004 11:40:00 am


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005