Queer TV

Janet King Recap 3.1 Splish Splash, We Were Taking a Bath

Hello and welcome to The Dart for Janet King: A Sticky Wicket. Having now gotten the only cricket-related expression I know out of the way, let’s dive in.

I have some critical things to say about this episode, so I’m going to start by saying something nice. Here it is: out of all the shows I have written about over the years, I consider Janet King to be among the most important. In centering itself around a lesbian whose sexuality is neither fetishized nor ignored, who is heroic without being unrealistically angelic, who is brought to phenomenal life by one of the most compelling actors in the multitverse, Janet King offers the kind of queer representation I dream about. I wish I could show it to every showrunner in the business and say “HERE. THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.” And besides being merely “important,” Janet King is also generally very good. Its large ensembles are stacked with talent, its storylines are ambitious (occasionally to a fault), and its writers come at this project with what I know to be the very best intentions. Unfortunately, this episode feels a bit weighed down by those good intentions, and struggles to find the kind of propulsive energy needed to get off the ground. My faith in and experience with this show makes me feel confident that it will recover quickly, and YES I FEEL TERRIBLE ABOUT CRITICIZING AN EPISODE THAT GAVE US THE BATHTUB SCENE. I’M JUST A CRICKET UMPIRE OUT HERE, CALLING ‘EM LIKE I SEE ‘EM.

So this season begins in much the same way as the prior two: with a tragic death. This time, the unfortunate victim, whose demise shall be the catalyst for a season’s worth of soul-searching about the Australian national character, is Oliver Pittman. We see Oliver emerge from a sports stadium after a match, ask a teammate if he wants to get dinner, and then get extremely sad about something.

THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU ACCEPT THAT BEA SMITH REALLY ISN’T COMING BACK.

The next thing we know, Pittman has taken his own life (although we don’t see it, so who knows how it really went down). His suicide comes as a great shock to the nation, given that he was a promising young man, living his dream career as a professional cricket player.

It was at this point in the episode, when Oliver’s sport of choice became clear, that I engaged in a long verbal rant for the benefit of myself and my dog, which I shall paraphrase here:

CRICKET, JANET KING? I knew this season would revolve around match-fixing in professional sports, and I was already pretty underwhelmed by that proposition, but CRICKET? I mean, if it had been football, that would have been one thing. As an American, it is my cultural duty not to understand football (along with gun control and bidets) but I am AWARE OF IT AS A CONCEPT. But cricket. The sport that says “we still carry the emotional scars of our abusive relationship with Great Britain.” The sport that is just similar enough to baseball that you kind of start to think you understand it, but the second something weird happens you give up, because you are saving that valuable brainspace for something that could, in some universe, be useful. Cricket.

The best thing that can be said about this decision is that Janet doesn’t know shit about cricket either, which makes me respect her even more.

Speaking of Janet, we catch up with her at a closed-door meeting of the National Crime Commission, where she has once more been called by the government to take on the tough issues facing the nation. First it was pedophilia, last time it was gun smuggling, and this time it’s illegal betting on sports, and the criminals who engage in it.

I WAS HOPING TO GO AFTER THE HEMSWORTH CLONE FARMS, BUT APPARENTLY THAT’S “NOT A PRIORITY.”

Janet is in the middle of interrogating Clay Nelson, a national cricket hero who was Oliver Pittman’s mentor and teammate. It turns out that young Oliver only took the job pitching(?) for the Firecrackers at Clay’s insistence. And not long into his tenure as ball-roller(?), Oliver became implicated in a match-fixing scandal, and accused of purposely losing matches for the benefit of the people betting against him.

ALL I SEE HERE IS A MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO SAY “PITTMAN’S CAREER IN THE PITS, MAN.”

The resulting disgrace is believed to be the reason for his suicide (because “professional cricket player” is apparently insufficient), and Janet is hoping to play on Clay’s guilt and grief to discover the masterminds behind the gambling ring.

Tony Gillies, my favorite irritable potato, is presiding over the hearing, and (SHOCK!) Richard Stirling is representing the defense!

I MAY HAVE LOST MY MORAL COMPASS, BUT MY POCKET SQUARE COLLECTION REMAINS INTACT.

As you’ll recall, last season ended with Richard emerging from Janet’s shadow, like a tiny acorn rolling away from a mighty oak. And while that was probably the best move for Richard’s personal development, it’s still very jarring to see him facing off against Janet and Tony, although they do still boss him around a lot in a way that is comfortingly familiar. And speaking of old faces, Bianca herself is at Janet’s side, and looking extremely polished.

YES WE ARE BOTH THINKING PROFESSIONAL THOUGHTS, AND DEFINITELY NOT THINKING ABOUT SEX OR DINNER.

Janet grills Clay on the match where Oliver’s cheating came to light, after which he lost his contract, and another player’s house was set ablaze. Clay reluctantly points to that player, Ravi Hasan, as the possible liasion to the gamblers.

I MEAN, YOU COULD’VE GONE WITH “FIRECRACKERS BEGIN TO CRACK AFTER FIRE,” BUT I SEE WHY YOU KEPT IT SIMPLE.

After the hearing, Janet goes back to her old stomping grounds at the DPP, where Owen is now in charge. Owen asks Janet if she is hoping to use the sports inquiry to take his job, and even though she doesn’t exactly deny this charge, they agree to stay out of each other’s way with that charming bloodthirstiness so peculiar to lawyers.

At the DPP, Janet also runs into Lina, who she apparently hasn’t seen in quite some time, since she can’t remember the name or sex of her child. Hopefully that estrangement is about to come to an end, since Lina and Andy are two of my favorite characters, despite both being truly awful at their jobs.

Lina, Andy, and Richard all end up at the same charity auction later that day, where Richard begins to confront the moral swamp he must wade through in his new position as Lawyer To Jerk Athletes. First, he is conned by a sports agent (who is clearly blood-related to Rita Skeeter) into procuring a cricket bat for a mafioso. Already feeling squishy about that, Richard then goes along with a team of footballers to a private party where they all drink, vomit, and then re-drink beers like dogs at a frat party.

LOOKS LIKE Y’ALL COULD DO WITH A LITTLE CRICKET AROUND HERE. *JIMINY CRICKET,* THAT IS.

Richard’s disgust increases when he witnesses one player assault a woman trying to leave the party, an assault which Richard does not lift a single finger to stop.

TOXIC MASCULINITY IN A SINGLE IMAGE.

I WOULD DO SOMETHING, BUT I ALREADY BOUGHT WONDER WOMAN TICKETS AND THAT WAS KIND OF MY FEMINIST ACT FOR THE WEEK.

The party scene, while disgusting, is the second best part of the episode, becasue of the way it implicates Richard, the players, and a culture that teaches athletes that they may behave with the impunity of Greek gods. (The first best scene, I don’t have to tell you, takes place in a bathtub, and implicates nothing but a world in which all bathtubs are not large enough to accommodate two lesbians.)

So back to Janet. I’m not going to take you through every twist of her investigation, because it is mostly very boring and leads us right back to where we started, with Clay Nelson. Janet’s personal life is a lot more interesting. For starters, things with Bianca are still great, even though she hasn’t moved in, and occasionally worries that Janet’s kids resent her for not being Ash. For their part, the twins are remarkably well-adjusted, given that one of their moms was murdered by a crazed killer who later tried to crush them with an elevator. All things considered, one cannot fault Janet for enlisting them in sports, so they can be maximally fit the next time trouble comes calling.

RUN! RUN LIKE YOU’RE A LESBIAN ON TELEVISION WHO THE WRITERS CONSIDER DISPOSABLE!

Janet’s daughter shows a lot of athletic promise, so Janet signs her up for extra coaching, with an eye to breaking the national record, which is a pretty classic overachieving parent move. It’s also a rather clumsy way of making the whole “sports” thing more personally relevant for Janet, which I could live without. Because the real narrative potential offered by the match-fixing scandal isn’t “everybody sports” but “everybody cheats.” That deeper and more interesting message is already all over this episode: Richard skirts his ethical boundaries several times, Owen admits he got his job because he doesn’t play fair, and even Janet bends the rules to allow Bianca to go with her to Melbourne and watch a cricket game. “For research.”

SO HOW DO YOU SCORE AGAIN?

WELL TONIGHT, I’M GONNA SCORE WITH TWO FINGERS AND MY–OH YOU MEANT THE GAME. I HAVE NO IDEA.

Not that I’m complaining, of course, because the trip affords Bianca and Janet the opportunity for some alone time, away from the kids. And boy do they ever tak advantage of it, in a scene that has already attained legendary status.

I JUST WORRY THAT IF WE’RE THIS HAPPY NOW, THERE’S NO PLACE FOR US TO GO FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.

I DON’T KNOW ABOUT THAT. THERE HASN’T BEEN A DECENT LESBIAN TV WEDDING SINCE FRIENDS.

Honestly, I found it kind of hard to watch this scene, because it was so intimate and so well-acted that my gaze felt almost intrusive. In one sense, I mean that as a compliment, since it’s certainly an achievement when you can make a hardened recapper blush. But I think part of that feeling came from the fact that, as opposed to most intimate scenes, this one wasn’t “earned” after surviving danger, or making up after a fight, so it didn’t have the urgency of dramatic payoff. It was just two people in a loving and secure relationship, enjoying a nice hotel and a couple bottles of wine. From a queer advocacy perspective, it’s wonderful and important. But I could appreciate it a lot more if the stability of this relationship functioned as a port in a storm. Instead, this whole premiere suffers from feeling a bit…becalmed. You know how you sometimes wonder what characters are up to in between seasons, when they’re just living their lives without a huge central crisis? This episode feels a little bit like the answer to that question, like we are waiting for a spark.

Of course, one does come at the end of the episode, after an INTERMINABLE build-up. It starts with the reappearance of Clay Nelson, who we see again at home.

OH, A GRATUITOUS BIT ABOUT HOW YOU’RE A GOOD FATHER; YOU MUST BE ABOUT TO DIE.

ON THE VERGE OF SPILLING A SECRET WHEN THERE’S A MYSTERIOUS KNOCK AT THE DOOR? GET READY TO DIE!

SO SOMEONE WANTS YOU TO KILL YOURSELF AND MAKE IT LOOK LIKE AN OVERDOSE. WELL, BEST GET TO IT!

OH MY GOD, WE GET IT. YOU’RE A GOOD FATHER. WE PROMISE TO ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU AS SOMEONE WITH LAYERS.

The next day, Clay schedules an appointment with Janet to blow the sholw gambling case wide open. But of course he never makes it.

I’M TELLING YOU WITH MY EYES THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO SOLVE THIS CASE, AND ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS PUT IT TOGETHER.

NO! I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE DO THAT! JUST CROSS THE DAMN STREET AND TELL ME.

WELL NOW YOU RUINED JANET’S DAY AND A BUS DRIVER’S CAREER, SO I’M TAKING AWAY YOUR “GOOD FATHER” POINTS.

So, at first glance this season hasn’t given itself a lot to work with, dramatically speaking. I mean, in season one Janet took on the whole legal system, in season two she avenged a personal wrong, so after that, “cricket gambling” feels like a step down. However, I recognize that Janet King loves to work lots of issues into its stories in surprising, and often very effective ways (child abuse in season one, internalized homophobia in season two). So there may be more here than meets the eye, including Janet having to interrogate the ways in which she herself has a tendency to play fast and loose with the rules if she thinks it’s for the greater good. (“The greater good” having recently expanded to include taxpayer-funded cricket matches with her girlfriend.) With that in mind, I’m really glad to be back, and I hope that you stick with these recaps, even though I do not plan, at any point, to ease up on cricket.

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7 Comments

  1. 1) more people need to subscribe to the dart so you can make comments because between the Wentworth recaps & now this one I feel like I’m some weird recap stalker commenting to herself in the mirror. This, for the record, is a very unfun feeling.

    2) OMG the bathtub scene. There are currently women all over Australia watching that scene and getting that “oh wow. Maybe I’m not as straight as I thought I was” feeling. But not just that. Even the little moments – the way Janet’s face softens when it looks st Bianca. The casual kiss goodbye when Bianca leaves Janet’s house… Delicious.

    3) ok I have to try and defend the voice of cricket: If they’re doing match fixing they need a sport with relevance internationally, not just in Aus.

    Cricket is the only sport popular throughout Aus that.is also popular overseas (England, South Africa, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, the West Indies …). In addition, there have been actual real life match fixing / inappropriate gambling scandals that have involved some of the most well known players in the game… So the storyline has a ring of real life plausibility / truth to it…

    So. Pitcher = bowler. If the bowler bowls the ball too wide for the batsman to hit it (which is what the Owen kid is meant to have done) then it is called a wide. Wides are to be avoided because for every wide the batting team gets a free ‘run’ (point or score) AND an extra ‘ball’ (extra hit) from which they might score more runs.

    The ‘G’ – the Melbourne Cricket Ground is a big, well known cricket (and AFL football) ground. Big cricket games would get a crowd to the G of 80k but even a ‘Big Bash’ game like the one Janet and Bianca went to would get 50-60K…

    :-/

    1. I adore this observation: “he little moments – the way Janet’s face softens when it looks st Bianca. The casual kiss goodbye when Bianca leaves Janet’s house… Delicious.” I love discussing the way in which these particular talented actors offer one of the few, ever, convincing and real-feeling (to me) depiction of a sexual relationship between two women (not counting LTIH, ultimate betrayal!). I adore the relationship that just occurred on Holby City, but in terms of depicting intimacy directly, MD-AH knocked it out of the park.

    2. sounds like a Wide is what a Ball is in American baseball. That’s pretty familiar to us — I hate all organized sport including baseball -softball and still know that!

      1. The important thing is that you don’t have to understand the Cricket: the whole point is the corrupt and illegal betting on a particular manoeuvre before it happens—whatever and how lacking in skill that manoeuvre is.
        My biggest worries about this sport being used in the plot had been its identification with Aust. male identity; that it is the sport of the Establishment and ‘old money’ (so that there will be political consequences upon our beloved national broadcaster as happened with Phryne Fisher); possible diplomatic meltdowns between Aust and New Zealand (underarm bowling incident revived),; and nuclear war between Pakistan and India (which owns the international body, the ICC).
        I never thought I’d hear about Americans fretting like Trumpski over Health care, “It’s complicated.”

  2. Janet King back and these recaps! Happy times 🙂

    I’m more optimistic about the set-up of this season with match fixing in cricket and where they can take that. As Pbear55 said, previous scandals in cricket give the ring of dramatised truth to the story. I’m also interested to see how they might handle the international relations of cricket which can be testy in real life and seemed to be alluded to in the first episode.

    My main downsides of the first episode was the numerous exposition scenes – I understand why they’re there but ugh. Though I did enjoy Janet’s cluelessness doubling as explanation for the internationals. Also everything being just a little too convenient (Janet and Bianca working on the same case, Richard against them). Again I understand why and we all want to see the same characters back again so I’m happy to lump that, but it does get in the way a little of settling into a situation that feels authentic.

    Really looking forward to what they do with Richard and thought his story setup looked very interesting. Already trying to pick the links that will follow with the football player’s sister who was assaulted leaving the club while Richard did nothing. Wonder if they will have Lina do any interesting (used in Owen’s plans perhaps?). I also like that we’ve come in to a point where Janet and Bianca are obviously together, but it’s complicated and not fully committed, and how the personal and professional pressure that was flagged will play out in their relationship. Plus, I am either going to adore or despise Bonnie by the end of this series (I think I’ll love her) – expecting her to be a great foil for Janet that is very different to Richard and will be interesting to see how Janet reacts to someone who doesn’t take a step back unlike the Crownies young alum. Great to see Susie Porter as well.

    First session of the test match complete and we go to drinks. Elaine, if you are not going to let up on the cricket, here is a list of cricket terms where you’ll find endless inspiration for inappropriate application https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_cricket_terms

  3. I love this whole sentence, and the one that follows: “I consider Janet King to be among the most important. In centering itself around a lesbian whose sexuality is neither fetishized nor ignored, who is heroic without being unrealistically angelic, who is brought to phenomenal life by one of the most compelling actors in the multitverse, Janet King offers the kind of queer representation I dream about. I wish I could show it to every showrunner in the business and say “HERE. THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.” ” YES! I appreciate all of this commentary. The only aspect of the not-that-believable that concerns me is the idea that Bianca and Janet keep their romance a secret. Given how much time they spend at work, and how thy mix private life and work (e.g. with Tony babysitting, Janet needing police protection all night last season), I don’t find this believable. Sorry if it’s obvious, but are they keeping it a secret because it would be a conflict of interests for a detective and whatever Jane’ts particular position is now to be in an intimate relationship?

  4. The United States was at one time the world champion of Cricket. That was when the “world” included countries other than the US.
    It’s not necessary to understand the nuances of an arcane game of which you were once the finest exponents. Just do what ‘foreigners’ do facing ANOTHER American programme with idiosyncratic or esoteric US references, mentally replace the offending word with a cultural reference you understand. So, every time they say “cricket”, you hear “Softball”.
    Action ramps up quickly in E02. Be ready.

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