Every so often when I go about chasing down stuff interesting actors do, I run across something I think would be useful to a totally different discussion.

I mentioned a couple of entries ago that I've been watching A Very Peculiar Practice, and that Captain Awkward would be proud of the talking involved in the central romance, but the good Captain would probably also be proud of the talking in a lot of the other relationships as well. The character of Rose Marie, for example, is an intentional parody of the stereotypical view of militant feminists. She goes by just "Dr. Rose Marie" because she doesn't believe in surnames as "patronymics", and she espouses the view that sickness is something men do to women. She likes to talk about the evils of the "phallarchy". I don't mind this, actually -- this thing is part comedy, after all, and most of these people are supposed to be untenably insane. It's quite clear that she's not normal, and that the protagonist was not at any point expecting to run into the embodiment of someone else's paranoid personification of radical feminism, especially not as one of his coworkers.

Stephen doesn't argue with her. He's not scared of her, and he doesn't dismiss her; he does speak up if she's said something he disagrees with, and it's relevant, almost always when it has something to do with work. He does pay more attention to his phrasing when he's around her, because there's no point in offending someone by saying things in a way you know they don't like when you can say them in an equally accurate and valid way without being a jackass. But he doesn't bait her or pick fights just because she has opinions he doesn't share.

At one point, he finds out that she's been having an affair with another woman. He doesn't quite know what to do with this, because it's 1986, and because Stephen quite frequently doesn't know what to do with all this stuff that other people tell him about any part of life. He spends a couple of days blushing and being very flustered around her, until she sits him down and has a talk with him. She says:

  • Yes, I'm bisexual.
  • I don't care who you tell. This is not a secret and I don't have issues with you knowing; I told you about the other woman myself.
  • This whole not being able to look me in the eye thing, on the other hand, is getting to be a bit of a problem.
  • Could I please get you to chill out about it some so we can work together?
It also strays into territory belonging to other subplots, where she says:
  • I do realize that we find each other attractive.
  • We are both adults and we get to decide whether we do anything about this.
  • I think it would be a bad idea for anything to happen, because reasons.
  • I still appreciate you as a friend and a colleague, and I for one would like to continue relating to you as both.
He does a lot of stammering, because this is a very awkward conversation, but he calms down very quickly once he wraps his head around it, since she's not doing any freaking out that he needs to freak out over in turn. Ultimately, he's quite relieved that she brought it up. And -- and this is a very important thing -- this puts both characters subplots down and they stay down. They talk about this. They decide what to do about this. It never comes up again. They don't use it as a jumping off point for gratuitous will they-won't they dramatics. The series goes on, and she remains his friend. She's still mildly to moderately insane, and her advice is about 50% excellent and insightful and 50% completely bonkers, but because he doesn't treat her like a problem, a threat, or an object of contempt, she respects him and relates to him like he is a reasonable grown up human being.

If you ever find yourself in this kind of sticky situation, do this. It may not always work out this well, but this is your best chance for not having a permanent case of OH GOD OH GOD WHAT DO I DO around people you want to not be all sputtery around for avoidable reasons. Not incidentally, having had this chat and set reasonable and explicit boundaries for their relationship means that later on, when he starts getting attacked by his self-doubt again, she can point out to him when he's just done something that she personally finds attractive in a man as an example of how the way he sees himself is a lot less impressive than the way other people see him without it coming off as cheaply-manufactured sexual tension. I'm quite impressed with both actors for pulling that off as well, as it's rather abnormal for episodic TV.