I’m not going to pretend that my fellow Cabal member Liz needs an introduction here, much less from me. If you aren’t a regular visitor to her site, then the loss is yours. Instead, I’d just like to say how pleased I am that Liz would allow us to present her reactions to America’s finest cultural exchanges with, that’s right, the Land Down Under. (Thank you, Men at Work!)
I really don’t know that much about Australia, despite an enduring childhood love of koalas — who aren’t bears, by the way. That’s fine, though, since it’s sort of the point Liz is making here. Americans don’t know much about Australia. Except that they have a really big Opera House, weird animals and play the didgeridoo a lot.
The only in-depth conversations I’ve ever had about the Lil’ Continent that Could were when I was in Boot Camp at the start of my U.S. Navy Reserve hitch back in ’82. Veteran sailors would often regale us newbies with tales from their adventures in the Fleet. Often the question — very often — would arise about which ports the, uh, most readily available and fulfilling female companionship could be found. (These queries did not issue from me, I should clarify. As a reservist my chances of traveling on a ship were slight, and my personal ethics didn’t and don’t run to such short-term relationships. Make of that what you will.)
Every time the question was raised, the answer was the same. Australia was the best place for American sailors to readily establish temporary yet close personal relationships with comely young women. The reason being, we were told, that Australian men were such monstrous macho jerks that even American Sailors were considered the acme in short-term gentlemen suitors. These being, I should note, sailors from back in the ’70s and early ’80s, before the U.S. military branches grew increasingly politically correct. (For instance, smoking is now officially against regs. The Smoking Lamp has been permanently retired.)
I realize that we’re not talking every Australian man here, or woman for that matter. I’m talking a population consisting of young adults living in major port cities who’s goal was a good night or weekend of carousing. Moreover, sailors have been known to exaggerate. Still, these sentiments were passed on from a good half dozen or more salts I heard over the years. Each of which crowned Australia with this rabidly contested distinction, not as a contender, but as the winner. Perhaps this will help inform some of what Liz reviews below.
Or maybe not.
For the record, photos and captions were provided by yours truly.
— Ken Begg
Well, a change is as good as a holiday, they say, so I thought I’d spend my summer hiatus with the fine fellows of Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension. However, the world being what it is, no-one gets nuthin’ for nuthin’, and instead of a relaxing few weeks, I find myself in the midst of a working holiday â€“ to wit, tackling those projects which, requiring an [*cough*] exotic (and exchange-rate friendly) location, packed up their cast and crew and headed for the sunny shores of Oz.
The results of this, ah, “cultural” exchange tend to fall into two categories. Some shows do use Australia purely as an exotic location, inserting stock footage of the usual suspects while their characters go about their normal business. The results are usually painless.
On the other hand, some shows decide to go native. They create Australian characters, integrate them into the plot, and give them reams of dialogue peppered with the local vernacular.
The results could make your head explode.
ii. Some Basics
The first thing you notice about these shows is that they are never, ever suffixed with the expression “—in Australia”. Instead, the title is invariably Such-And-Such Down Under.
The problem with this, of course, is that — with very rare exceptions — no-one in Australia ever uses the expression “Down Under”.
What are those exceptions, you might ask?
1. When writing song lyrics.
Let’s face it, “Australia” is not the easiest word to rhyme. Sure, pronounce it “Oz-TRAYYL-ya” (as many have), and you give yourself a few options, but nothing to compare with the possibilities granted by the syllables of “under”: thunder, wonder, plunder, blunder.
2. When trying to avoid geographical confusion.
After the Sydney Olympics, the organising committee published a list of the ten questions most frequently asked by prospective tourists in the lead-up to the Games. Coming in fourth was “When/where can I hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir?”
3. When trying to see how much BS we can feed to gullible Americans.
Yes, though I blush to confess it, it’s true: we Australians do sometimes pile on the “local colour” when talking to tourists. And I blush even more to confess that the most popular target for this behaviour is Americans. They have such beautiful natures! â€“ open, honest, trustingâ€¦.
I mean, come on! How could we resist!?
This reflection on “local colour” leads us to the one constant point of the Down Under projects: the endlessly bizarre dialogue. Don’t get me wrong: Australian is a difficult language, chock full of slang, and abbreviations, and nicknames â€“ not to mention the local intonation, which no-one else in the world seems to be able to duplicate (when they try, it generally comes out sounding either South African or Cockney). If the producers really wanted to amuse/entertain/bewilder their audience, they’d only have to make their dialogue accurate. But this never happens. Instead, these shows invariably feature a mindboggling mixture of anachronisms, misused expressions, and flat-out what-the-fudge?-s. Which leads to the question — who writes this stuff? Do the shows use their normal writers? â€“- and if so, do those writers spend a couple of days amongst the locals, then try to reproduce what they’ve heard? Or do they just make it up?
Or â€“- do the producers hire an advisor? â€“- and does that advisor, perhaps, see an opportunity to take Point #3 to a whole new level? Somehow, I’m unable to shake a mental picture of the individuals hired to provide the necessary “colour” for these shows counting their fees and giggling in an evil and manic fashion while reflecting, “I cannot believe they swallowed that!!”
iii. Jabootu Hears The Call
The lead-up to the Sydney Olympics saw a rush of “Down Under” television specials. The ones that made it first to Australian screens suggest that even as I am now luxuriating in Jabootu’s personal realm, he once graced my backyard with his presence. Certainly, the overall standard of these programs indicates that despite being in the middle of a well-earned rest, everyone’s favourite ebon deity saw that he was needed, and interrupted his holiday to make a personal contribution to their production, thus lifting them from the level of mere television mediocrity up into the realm of the truly, embarrassingly awful.
I should probably start out by saying I’d never before seen an episode of this show. Having now done so, I feel that I can’t do better than to quote Sideshow Bob:
“That was a well-plotted piece of non-claptrap that never made me want to retch.”
This particular JAG story is a two-parter, made to celebrate the show’s 100th episode. It opens with a dark screen, over which plays â€“ didgeridoo music. Well, could have been worse, I guess; could have opened with a helicopter shot over the harbour. The camera lifts, and we see a shot of Luna Park â€“ an amusement park located by the water in the suburb of Milson’s Point – at nighttime. A caption informs us that it’s 1972. The camera moves swiftly around the park, unwisely giving the audience a good look at rides that were definitely not operational in 1972. We see numerous young sailors amongst the revellers (they’ve got shore leave in Sydney and they spend it at an amusement park? Wow, guess those stories weren’t true after all!) and the camera settles on one, currently occupied in exchanging suggestive dialogue with a blonde girl. From their accents, we infer that he (“Kevin”) is meant to be American, and she (“Jenny”) is meant to be Australian. As the two kiss, the camera swings around, and we see three more young sailors approaching. One speaks:
Immortal dialogue: “Oy, that’s my bird you’re kissing there, Yank!”
Jenny begs the speaker (“Ian”) not to start trouble, while Kevin asks who he is â€“ an old boyfriend?
Immortal dialogue: “Nah, nah, I’m her bloody fiancÃ©, mate!”
A spat between Jenny and her erstwhile fiancÃ© â€“ sorry, her erstwhile bloody fiancÃ© â€“ ensues, ending when one of Ian’s friends steps forward and utters a line of dialogue that will haunt us throughout this extraordinary production:
Immortal dialogue: “Let’s kick this seppo’s arse!”
Linguistics with Lyz: I think the word they were looking for was “septic” â€“ “septic tank” being rhyming slang for “Yank”, and hence “septic” being a general term of abuse for an American. It’s not an expression that gets much use any more â€“ and considering that there are at least two dozen other opprobrious Australian terms for “American”, you have to wonder why they chose that one. (Granted, about twenty-two of those couldn’t be used on prime-time US TV, but stillâ€¦.) And you also have to wonder who it was that convinced the writers that “seppo” was â€“ or ever had been â€“ a real word. (“I can’t believe they swallowed that!”)
I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies â€“ at least they said “arse” rather than “ass”â€¦.
Kevin takes exception to the odds, and Ian informs him, somewhat mystifyingly, that “I don’t need my mates to send you to scab-picker!”
Linguistics with Lyz: Scab-picker!? Or is it stair-picker? Or scare-picker? I don’t know. I thought it might be “scab-picker”, perhaps as an expression for “doctor”; but to be honest, I’ve listened, and I’ve listened, and I’ve listened, and I can’t figure out what he’s supposed to be saying; so let’s just agree that the writer pulled something out of his backside here, and move on.
The threatened fight is averted when two men on Shore Patrol hove into view. Ian threatens, “I’ll be seeing you, Yank!” and Kevin urges him to make it soon, as his ship leaves port in two days. “It’s the USS Chicago.”
Random facts: In May of 1942, the USS Chicago was in Sydney Harbour for repairs and upkeep. On the night of May 31st, three Japanese mini-subs were launched near the Sydney Heads. One became tangled in shark netting. Another was detected and disabled with depth charges before it could fire. The third did fire torpedoes at the Chicago. They missed, and instead struck the HMAS Kuttabul, an Australian barracks ship. Twenty-one servicemen were killed and another ten seriously injured.
(Which, when you think about it, pretty much sums up Australia’s military history: we’re always taking hits for the other guys.)
Kevin and Jenny move away, kissing and groping as Ian fumes. Friend #1 opines that “a slag like Jenny’s not worth it”, a sentiment with which it’s hard to argue. Friend #2, however, comments that, “It’s the seppo he wants a piece of!” Kevin and Jenny run to the wharf, but their ferry pulls out. They snog some more, making sure to move under a light so that the pursuing Ian gets the best possible view of themâ€¦.
The camera lifts for another look at the Luna Park “face”, and the didgeridoo music kicks in again. We fade to a daylight shot, the camera drops, and we see workmen waiting for their morning ferry. One glances down into the water, and we get what is, sadly, the single accurate moment in this entire idiotic production:
“Hey, a SHARK!!” he bellows, then takes another look. “And a body!!”
The camera closes in on the uniform-clad floater, and we see that the victim is from the USS Chicagoâ€¦.
Cue opening credits. In answer to my previous question, we learn that this episode was written by the show’s creator, David Bellisario, who also co-directed with Jeannot Szwarc (director of Bug, Jaws 2, Santa Claus: The Movie, and more TV shows than I care to think about). We then cut to Washington D.C., where we are introduced to our main characters. Given that this is my first look at this show, my knowledge of these characters and their backstories is necessarily superficial. Fortunately, “superficial” proves to be perfectly adequate.
The show centres on Commander Harmon “Harm” Rabb Jr and Lieutenant Colonel Sarah “Mac” Mackenzie. (Wow! Those Naval types sure do wrack their brains for imaginative nicknames, don’t they?) These two scream Unresolved Sexual Tension â€“ due chiefly, it seems, to Harm being the strong silent type who has difficulty expressing his True Feelings. (Sure enough, a third point of the triangle shows up as the show progresses â€“ but he, dear readers, deserves a paragraph to himself.) Supporting characters include the avuncular Admiral Chegwidden, Gunnery Sergeant Victor Galindez (whose nickname is â€“ yes, you guessed it â€“ “Gunny”), and Lieutenant Bud Roberts and his wife/colleague Lieutenant Harriet Sims Roberts â€“ who are, unless the hairs rising up on the back of my neck mislead me, this show’s Odious Comedy Double-Act.
Washington D.C. is icy and snowbound, and Mac has a bad cold, and much is made of both of these facts as she, Harm and Bud are summoned to Chegwidden’s office. (There haven’t been this many dumb character names in one place since The Beast, have there?) The reason for the summons is a phonecall from Australia, from—-
Jeez, I can’t even say it!
Okay (deep breath)â€¦.from—-Commander Mic Brumby.
Agonised authorial interjection: MIC BRUMBY!!!??? AAAAAACCCCCCKKKKKK!!!!!!
In Pillow Talk, there comes a moment when Rock Hudson, posing as a naÃ¯ve Texas millionaire, adopts the name “Rex Stetson”. Only Pillow Talk is a comedy; the name is a joke. This is a show that at least masquerades as a serious drama, and yet we’re supposed to accept a character called “Commander Brumby”!!??. I mean—-holy crap!!
(In fact, I was so outraged by this discovery, I just had to call up my best friends, Bruce Billabong and Noelene “NADS” Caseoffosters, and tell them about it!)
So â€“ now we have Mac, Harm, Bud, Chegwidden and Brumby. Yup, it’s The Beast all over again. Chegwidden recounts the story of Kevin Lee and Ian Dunsmore, explaining that the suspected murderer â€“ who deserted â€“ has just been located and apprehended, and that he won’t talk to anyone but a US Navy JAG officer. Mac has been twitching self-consciously through all this, and now bursts out with a condemnation of Brumby who, she claims, has been trying to lure her to Australia. “He even offered to buy me a BUSINESS CLASS SEAT on QANTAS!” she announces.
I don’t know about you, but â€“ to paraphrase Homer Simpson â€“ I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my product placement FLAGRANT.
“He e-mails me Sydney’s air and water temps daily—-”
“That’s right!” exclaims Chegwidden, going dreamy-eyed. “It’sâ€¦.summer down under.”
“He even sends me postcards of the beaches!”
“As I recall, ” Chegwidden gets even more dreamy-eyed, “they’re topless!”
“I never, never thought he’d pull a stunt like this—-”
At which point, Chegwidden interrupts her little tirade with the news that he didn’t: Brumby actually requested Harm and Bud. Mac sits there with her mouth hanging open as the soundtrack goes wah-wah-waahhh, alerting us that this is, yes, “comedy”.
As Mac storms away, Harm and Bud make merry at her expense. When she is out of earshot, Bud requests clarification of events.
“Why didn’t he ask for her, sir?”
“Because he’s one smart dingo!”
Cut to Sydney, which is introduced via â€“ a helicopter shot over the harbour. And more didgeridoo music. A plane (QANTAS’s Boeing 747 “Wunala Dreaming”, naturally) lands, and Harm and Bud enter the International Arrivals lounge (which is, I must point out, played by the Domestic Departures lounge! Although, if memory serves, the International terminal was in the middle of renovations when this was shot, so I guess that’s fair enough). The camera zooms in on a big-breasted blonde, and then pulls back to show the blonde being ogled by a man in naval uniform. Ladies and gentlemen: Commander Mic Brumby. He and Harm, antagonistic on sight, do that “macho handshake” thing, eyeballing each other as they do so. (I sure hope you enjoy alpha male squabbling, folks, because that’s pretty much all we get for the next two hours!) Brumby then exchanges pleasantries with Bud as â€“ a huge QANTAS sign looming the background – he leads the way to his car: a mud-covered 4WD (astonishingly, we do not get a close-up of its logo). “Sorry about the dirt, mate,” apologises Brumby. “I was in the outback.” Harm runs a supercilious eye over the vehicle.
“We going on a safari, Commander?”
“Down here, we call it ‘going bush’. I do it on the weekends. Roo-bar on the front, snorkel for crossing streams. I got a radio—-”
“—-to call for help when you get lost?”
Brumby’s annoyed look, and Bud’s snigger, alerts us that this is supposed to represent a major zinger. In retaliation, Brumby offers Harm the car-keys, telling Bud, “Better fasten your seatbelt â€“ driving on the left takes a bit of getting used to.” Um â€“ yeah. And he might also want to fasten his seatbelt because it’s the law. Or don’t Naval officers worry about little things like that?
Picturesque shots of Sydney follow (cricket in Moore Park), accompanied by still more didgeridoo music. Brumby fills in more details of the case.
“So after Petty Officer Kevin Lee was murdered, Seaman Dunsmore went U.A. and hid out with Jenny Brooker in Woolgoolga.”
“Woolgoolga. It’s an aboriginal name for a Bananabender town.”
“What’s a ‘Bananabender’, sir?” asks a mystified Bud.
“They grow bananas, Bud.”
Agonised authorial interjection: You see!!?? YOU SEE!!?? This â€“ THIS is what drives me NUTS about these stupid shows!!
1. “Woolgoolga” is not “an aboriginal name” for a town â€“ it’s just the name of the damn place, which happens to be of aboriginal origin – as are a great many Australian place-names. (Except in Tasmania â€“ but that’s another story.)
2. A “Bananabender” is not “someone who grows bananas” â€“ it’s a Queenslander.
In other words, in “the real world”, the conversation would have gone like this:
“Seaman Dunsmore went U.A., and hid out with Jenny Brooker in Woolgoolga.”
“Woolgoolga. It’s a town on the north coast of New South Wales where they grow bananas.”
But then â€“ that’s so much less colourful, isn’t it?
(By the way â€“ Woolgoolga happens to be the home-town of David Bellisario’s wife, which explains the extreme workout it gets in this story. Hey, there’s a thought! â€“ maybe “seppo” is a regional Woolgoolgan term!)
“And that” â€“ i.e. grow bananas â€“ “is exactly what he and Jenny did. He eventually married her, using the name ‘Tom Kingsley’.”
Agonised authorial interjection: Tom K—- Aaaccckkkggghhhh!!!!
Ohhhhhhhhhh, right! Right, you sons of bitches! NOW it’s personal!!!!
Brumby goes on to explain that, in time, the fugitive couple moved back to Sydney and opened a restaurant in Manly. Everything was fine for many years, until their home was burgled. One of the investigating officers had, conveniently enough, worked on the original murder case; and he found some effects in the house that gave away “Tom Kingsley’s” identity.
Brumby here breaks off to tell Harm to “take a right at the circle”. Harm, of course, turns right immediately, across the path of â€“ surprise! â€“ an overloaded van, which deposits its load all over the road. “Down here,” Brumby tells Harm, “we go around the circle to the left.”
Linguistics with Lyz: Down here, we also call it a “roundabout”, not a “circle”! By the way, notice how Brumby keeps saying, “Down here”, not just “here”? Almost as if â€“ another country â€“ perhaps one in the Northern Hemisphere â€“ was being used as a reference point.
Eventually, the three arrive at the Garden Island RAN Naval Base. Brumby points out his parallel parking spot, and suggests that Harm let him do the parking. To the astonishment of his companions, Harm easily swings the vehicle into place (the camera lifts here, so you can’t actually see who’s behind the wheel). Harm tosses the keys back to the stunned Brumby, explaining airily, “My step-father owned a cottage in the Bahamas. That’s where I learned to drive.” Bud â€“ whose function in this show is clearly to ensure that the severely retarded guy in the back row doesn’t miss anything â€“ leans forward to inquire, “Sir, don’t they drive on the left in the Bahamas?” Brumby, realising that he has been well and truly zing-ed, mutters disgustedly, “Bloody hell!”
None of which, of course, explains why Harm nearly got them all killed going the wrong way around a “circle”.
Cut to the brig, where Harm, Brumby and Bud confront the accused. Harm asks him why he wanted a US JAG officer present (a question you’d really think might have been asked before that officer flew halfway around the world). As the music swells on the soundtrack, the accused makes his big revelation: he’s not Seaman Ian Dunsmore; he’s Petty Officer Kevin Leeâ€¦.
(And we fade to an ad-break; a really lo-oo-oong ad-break. Now I remember why I stopped watching Channel 7. I mean, apart from the fact that all their programs suckâ€¦.)
And so Kevin Lee aka Ian Dunsmore aka Tom K—- [*yecchhhh*] tells his story, insisting that the killing of Dunsmore was an accident, and that he switched uniforms and dog-tags with the victim. Harm asks why no-one from the Chicago identified the body. “Harbour sharks had a feed on him,” replies Brumby tersely, causing Bud’s eyes to almost pop out of his head. “There’s sharks in the harbour!?” he whimpers. “It’s Australia, mate,” explains Brumby. “There’s sharks in the bathtub!” (Yeah, and about 99.9% of them are completely harmless. Okay, okay. I ranted enough during my Jaws review. I’ll stop.) As Lee muses how different everything would have been if only he and Jenny had caught their ferry, we fade to a flashback. We see the couple kissing, and Ian Dunsmore approaching them. He pulls a knife. Jenny, noticing, says in a voice of mild irritation, “Ian, don’t be such an ocker!”
Linguistics with Lyz: “Ocker” means extremely, even gratingly Australian. What that has to do with pulling a knife, I haven’t the first freaking idea.
Editor Ken the Yank: Here it’s apparent that Liz is having fun with us Septics. Everyone knows that Australian men have a close, personal relationships with their cutlery. In perhaps the single most iconic cultural moment the Land of Oz has given the world, Mick “Crocodile” Dundee reacted to a switchblade-wielding New York mugger by drawing his own oversized woodsman blade, telling his fellow would-be victim, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.”
Ian’s reply is even more inexplicable than Jenny’s remark: “Yeah, well, what do you expect when you take up with a seppo, ay?” Kevin is willing enough to fight, but demands that Ian “stow the knife”. “Oh, I’ll stow it,” responds Ian, who is clearly the HMAS Anzac’s version of Oscar Wilde, “in your gut, you seppo bastard!” And so the fight begins. Jenny screams helplessly, and we fade back to the present, with Lee insisting again that the killing was an accident, that Dunsmore tripped over a cleat and fell on his knife. He didn’t report the incident, because (i) he thought no-one would believe his story; and (ii) he saw an opportunity to start a new life. Lee then confesses that in the States, he’d been forced to marry a girl who claimed he was the father of her unborn child. He’d hated his life, and joined the Navy to get away from things.
Throughout, Brumby has been getting angrier and angrier, and now throws his disbelief in Lee’s face. Harm, on the other hand, keeps his cool. As the three men turn to leave, Lee says defiantly that whatever happens, “The years with Jen were worth it!” Yeah, from what we’ve seen of her, that Jenny was a real prize packet, all right. Outside, Bud compliments his superiors. “I didn’t know how good you guys are at playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’.” “Who’s playing?” chorus the Commanders.
Cut to Washington D.C. Gunny tells Chegwidden that the FBI has confirmed Lee’s identity. Chegwidden orders Gunny to arrange for the transportation of the real Ian Dunsmore’s body back to Australia. Mac’s twitching again, and starts oh-so-casually suggesting reasons why she should escort the body. Chegwidden finally grants her leave, and as she bounds out of his office, he chuckles knowingly.
“I’d like to be in Australia to watch this one unfold!”
“Sounds like a slam-dunk conviction, sir.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about the trial!”
And now, gentle reader, we get â€“ The Big Picture. The Main Plot Point. The part of this story that guaranteed it headline stories and photo spreads in entertainment magazines world-wide.
Brumby, Harm and Bud are sitting in a beachfront restaurant in Manly, and the Americans are making the discovery that on Sydney beaches, bikini tops are optionalâ€¦.
Agonised authorial interjection: Pathetic, isn’t it? And it’s worse than pathetic, it’s inaccurate. True, many of our beaches are fairly careless over this sort of thing, but it’s hardly de rigeur as is implied here. Moreover, toplessness is usually confined to one particular area of any beach, so that those who don’t wish to indulge (the vast majority, I assure you), or who don’t approve, or who don’t want their kids around it, don’t get it shoved in their faces. But you’d never know it here, where shoals of local bit players shed their tops with, uh, gay abandon. The camera takes all this in, but from a discreet distance. Naturally, even though the “topless beaches” plot point was exploited for all it was worth in the promotion of the show, no-one suckered into watching actually got to see anything.
Bud gapes beachward, his eyes glazing over and his tongue lapping somewhere near his ankles. “It’s like an R-rated Baywatch out there!” he slavers.
A waitress comes up to take the men’s orders. Brumby requests “a round of beers and a plate of prawns”. Hmm, strange. I’ve never been in a restaurant where you could order “a plate of prawns”. The waitress, meanwhile, is gawking at Harm.
“Yank â€“ dress whites â€“ gold wings â€“ you’ll have the girls buzzing!”
“What about me?” says Brumby.
“Sorry, no gold wings.”
“But I’ve got a roo in my pocket!”
The waitress guffaws uncontrollably. Well, I guess in the restaurant business, you have to play up to your customers, no matter how asinine their remarks. She then takes Brumby’s order, but Harm asks for iced tea rather than beer. “You’re in Australia, mate,” Brumby tells him. “It’s okay to have a beer at lunchtime in our Navy.” (I’ve no idea whether this is true or not, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.) “I’m not in your Navy,” says Harm, sticking to his guns. A reluctant Bud likewise changes his order. The waitress gives the two Americans a “Wheeoooo, you’re nuts” look and walks off. The three men discuss the case, with Brumby and Harm getting hostile all over again. Bud asks why Lee would lie about his identity.
Immortal dialogue: “I don’t know, but the bugger’s as wily as a dingo!”
Harm gets a phonecall from Gunny, who tells him that Mac is escorting Dunsmore’s body to Australia. “Mac!” exclaims Harm, causing Brumby to look around sharply. Bud’s wife, Harriet, asks Gunny to find out if Bud is there. Harm hands the phone to Bud without explanation, and he, thinking he’s talking to Gunny, blurts, “It is wild down here! I haven’t seen so many naked breasts sinceâ€¦.sinceâ€¦.”
“Since when, Bud!?”
Ah, good old hairs on the back of my neck. They never mislead me!
(By the way, the extraordinary reaction of the two Americans to their surroundings leads me to infer that those stories I’ve heard about the US navy editing nudity out of the films screened on its ships must be true. [Hi, Adam!])
“You didn’t tell me Harriet was on the phone!” wails Bud. “Well, I didn’t know you were going to talk about breasts!” responds Harm. Brumby presses Harm on the subject of Mac, trying to make him confirm that she’s escorting the body. Harm dodges the issue, demanding that Lee be released into US custody. Seconds later the two Commanders are again eyeball to eyeball, snarling at each other. The dejected Bud notices that their waitress has overheard the conversation, and that she looks frightened. A moment later, she drops their order and flees. “I think she realised who we were,” smirks Brumby.
“You said that Kevin and Jenny owned a restaurant in Manly. This wouldn’t be it, would it?”
“Could be, mate.”
“So that was Jenny.”
“Give the man a meat pie!”
More picturesque location shots. The Corso. Lifesavers. Breasts. Harm is on the phone, trying to convince Chegwidden that the US should have jurisdiction in the case. Chegwidden disagrees, then asks if Harm’s demand might possibly have something to do with his dislike of Brumby. We learn that the case is to be tried in “Australian civil court”, so Brumby won’t be involved. Harm then responds to Bud’s agonised mugging and asks Chegwidden to try and placate Harriet, explaining that Bud made “a slightly libertine [remark] involving topless females on a beach here.” The Admiral chuckles, “So, he wants me to re-float his dinghy?” (at least we Australians don’t get all the inane dialogue), and agrees to help.
Brumby joins them, and Harm concedes case jurisdiction. Brumby reveals that he has already had Lee transferred to Long Bay Jail â€“ sorry, Correctional Facility â€“ and asks Harm when he’s leaving.
“When I’m satisfied that Petty Officer Lee is properly represented.”
“You afraid of me being alone down here with Mac, Harm?”
“You know, Brumby, one of these days â€“ you and I are going to strip blouses!”
Back in Washington, Gunny is doing his inept best to soothe Harriet.
“Ever hear the story of the guy who was stranded on a deserted island with Julia Roberts?”
“Julia Roberts was stranded on an island?”
“No, she wasn’t, ma’am. It’s a joke.”
“That isn’t funny, Gunny.”
Well, Harriet, you ought to know. Horrifyingly, Gunny continues to stumble through that alleged joke, but since I assume everyone’s heard it before (although it was Elle MacPherson in my version), I’ll spare all of us. Chegwidden interrupts, none too soon, and takes Harriet into his office.
“Harriet, does Bud love you?”
“I don’t know, sirâ€¦.”
“Lieutenant Sims!! Does your husband love you?”
Things I Learned From Watching This Show: Admirals in the US Navy spend most of their time acting as relationship counsellors to their underlings.
Harm and Bud walk the path that borders the Botanical Gardens, allowing more picturesque harbour shots. Harm is bitching about Brumby, trying to work out what it is about him that bugs him so much. “That smug grin, or the Crocodile Dundee accentâ€¦.” â€“ both legitimate complaints, I concede. Bud then has the temerity to suggest that Brumby’s pursuit of Colonel Mackenzie might also be behind it. Harm squirms visibly, muttering that he just doesn’t want Mac to make a mistake. (There, you see? I was right: he’s got issues. Harm, you emotionally repressed male, you!) At that moment, Bud points at a passer-by, exclaiming, “Isn’t that Clayton Webb?”
(And it may well be. This character recurs throughout these episodes in what’s clearly a running joke, each time reappearing with a different gorgeous woman and speaking a different language. This probably means something to regular viewers, but it means squat to the rest of us, so I’ll just skip over his other cameos.)
Harm and Bud talk to Lee. Bud remarks that Lee probably doesn’t have anything to worry about with regard to his desertion charge, as Vietnam deserters are now usually granted an “administrative separation”. Harm tells Lee about the scene in the restaurant (which is, BTW, called “Uluru” â€“ a particularly stupid name for a seafood restaurant, I’d’ve thought [I guess I should explain that. “Uluru” is the aboriginal â€“ one might even say the correct name for Ayres Rock.]). Lee is taken aback to hear that Jenny ran away, but insists, “She’s sensitive.” (Hoo, yeah! That’s the word, all right!) Lee then begs Harm to stay and defend him, fearing that a local won’t properly represent him. “No matter how many years I’ve lived here, in that courtroom I’ll still be a Yank, who murdered an Aussie to get his girl!” And this view of the case would be wrong—-how, exactly? Lee then tells a stunned Harm that Brumby told him he would be prosecuting.
Harm and Bud storm back to Garden Island, where Brumby introduces them to Captain Howard of the HMAS Brisbane, who welcomes them both.
“Thank you, sir. It’s a pleasure to be here.”
“You don’t look it.”
“You look like the beer-bosun cut your ration.”
Smirk, from Brumby. Harm starts to voice his objections to the organisation of the case, but a confused Howard interrupts, telling him that Brumby was appointed prosecutor after the Supreme Court ruled that Harm could defend Lee. Harm gives Brumby a startled look, and he â€“ surprise! â€“ smirks. “That’s right, mate: you ‘n’ me!”
(We get no indication whatsoever of why the Supreme Court ruled that Harm could defend Lee, or even of who made the application; but since the whole point of this episode is to get Harm and Brumby facing off in the courtroom, we’ll just let this pass.)
At the airport, Seaman Dunsmore’s flag-draped coffin is being delivered. An on-looker approaches Brumby, announcing, “Ian’s mum told me you’re going to prosecute the seppo that murdered Ian!” Yup, it’s Friend #2! Friend #2 introduces himself as Barry Toohey, adding, “I’ve got a pub down in Balmain.” Of course you do. God forbid anyone should ever suspect that every single Australian doesn’t spend every moment of the day surrounded by, if not drowning in, alcohol. Toohey adds that he knew Dunsmore well, as they served together on the Swan â€“ which is odd, considering that the early scenes clearly established that they were from the Anzac. Brumby asks if Toohey knows anything about the murder. “I know enough to hang that seppo bastard!!” he snarls.
(No, Barry, actually you don’t. More on this in a minute.)
The ceremony â€“ such as it was â€“ over, Mac approaches Brumby. They salute formally, then go all giggly and gooey-eyed. Yecchh!! Mac, not yet over her cold, sneezes, and Brumby invites her to spend the rest of the day at the beach.
But â€“ wait a minute! Those beaches are topless!! I mean, they’re not implying that Mac is going to—-
Lyz does her impression of an American studio audience: WHOO-OOOO-OOOO-OOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!
At Long Bay Jail, Kevin Lee paces up and down impatiently: Jenny is half an hour late for her interview with Harm. Harm sends Bud to call the restaurant, then reflects that Dunsmore’s body has probably arrived by now. Lee goes into some tastelessly cheerful reminiscences, reflecting that he owes everything to Dunsmore â€“ his wife, his business. “If he’d spent that weekend with Jenny instead of with his mates—-” “He wouldn’t have died, and you wouldn’t have deserted. Or â€“ would you?” interrupts Harm bitterly. “You lost someone in Vietnam?” diagnoses Lee instantly. “Your father?” And yes, this is indeed Harm’s Secret Agony. (Or at least, one of them. Harm strikes me as the kind of guy who has about half a dozen Secret Agonies, which are trotted out in rotation as the show requires them.)
Harm continues to rant, finally telling Lee that while he’ll defend him on the murder charge, he won’t on the desertion charge. Lee splutters something about the administrative separation. “Lieutenant Roberts said that â€“ I didn’t,” Harm says ominously, then adds sulkily, “But unfortunately, he’s right.” Lee begins to lose a little faith in his counsel. “How can I trust that you won’t let them hang me?” Hey, Kevin? You’re being tried in an Australian court under Australian law, and we have no death penalty â€“ which after nearly thirty years in the country, you should know, you jerk!
Bud returns with the unwelcome news that Jenny was “too busy” to come to the phone. Lee laughs nervously. “That’s my Jenny â€“ business before anything.” “Even your life?” is the terse reply.
Brumby and Mac are on the Manly ferry, and Mac is rhapsodising over her surroundings. “The air’s so clean, and the water’s so blue—-” “Few sharks in the water, though,” Brumby interrupts â€“ sharks being, after beer, the favourite Australian topic of conversation. Mac reacts as Bud did. “Sharks!?” “Yeah, not the man-eaters, though,” Brumby reassures her. (No, from what we’ve seen in this, more like “man-nibblers”.) “Sharks you gotta worry about wear speedos!” he adds with the inevitable smirk.
The camera pans down to the lower deck and we see that, miraculously, Harm and Bud have made the same ferry. Still more miraculously, they can’t hear Brumby and Mac even though they’re directly below them. Bud is whimpering about Harriet, which continues until the ferry arrives at Manly. Brumby and Mac find a spot on the beach, and the colonel strips down to her bikini. Brumby then suggests that she adopt “the Aussie bikini” â€“ i.e. a bikini bottom and a hat. Mac looks around and â€“ being female â€“ notices for the very first time that she’s positively surrounded by bare breasts (nipples all carefully concealed, of course â€“ criminy, this is worse than one of those sixties “nudist” films!).
Harm and Bud catch up with Jenny, who is handling the Uluru’s lunch-hour rush, and refuses to talk to them. Harm deals with this by announcing, “DON’T YOU CARE IF YOUR HUSBAND’S CONVICTED OF MURDER??” in the middle of the restaurant â€“ which convinces Jenny to step outside with them.
Mac, meanwhile, is trying to hang onto her dignity â€“ and her bikini top. “Mic, I’m a Marine Colonel! I have to maintain a certain level of decorum!” “You’re not a Marine Colonel out here, Mac,” Brumby responds, moving behind her, “you’re the most beautiful woman on the beach.” And he begins pulling at her bikini ties as Mac, giggling nervously, suggests that he re-tie them behind her back â€“ “to avoid strap marks”.
Harm, Bud and Jenny walk along the Steyne. Jenny tells the others that she told Brumby all she knows, and reveals, with bitterness, that she only just found out that Kevin Lee was married with a child before he met her. As people in TV shows and movies are wont to do, the three of them then sit on a public bench and, surrounded by strangers, proceed to discuss murder and bigamy at the top of their lungs. Jenny describes the death of Ian Dunsmore.
“So they fought?”
“Like a couple of dingoes!”
Jenny concludes her story, which, in Harm’s opinion, bears a suspiciously close resemblance to Lee’s version of events. He tries to convince her that they just want to know the truth â€“ what she remembers. Jenny begins to break down. “What I remember will hang him!” she blurts (no, it won’t!), and runs away. Harm stares after her in alarm. Bud, however, is looking elsewhere.
“Sir!” he gasps. “Is that Colonel Mackenzie â€“ TOPLESS!!??”
Apologetic authorial intrusion: As it turns out, the second part of this enthralling story is nowhere near as painful as the first, at least from my point of view (if I were a lawyer, I might feel differently) â€“ far less local colour, far more legal manoeuvring. Which means, of course, far less for me to get my teeth into. This being the case, I’ve permitted myself a couple of lengthy and almost totally un-comedic digressions on the way through, for which I will beg your pardon in advance.
And now â€“ to business:
You know, watching the opening of this episode made me go Ken Begg all overâ€¦.
Let me explain: in his review of Fair Game, Ken rightly complained about the way the film had been marketed. In a nutshell (if that’s not an inappropriate term in this context), the public had been promised Cindy Crawford’s breasts. Yet when the film was released, it conspicuously failed to deliver. Ken’s argument was not that he particularly wanted to see Cindy Crawford’s breasts (and I believe him! Really!), but rather that having dangled this carrot in front of the paying public, Joel Silver & Co. were under at least a moral obligation to ante up.
This is more or less how I felt, as the much publicised “MAC GOES TOPLESS” plot thread worked itself out â€“ or rather, didn’t – before me. It was no surprise, of course, that we saw no actual nudity (at least, not from the American starâ€¦.). After all, as David James Elliott so primly explained at the time, JAG is an “8 p.m. show”. What was something of a shock was the realisation that they weren’t even going to reveal whether Colonel Mackenzie was topless or not. I guess this was in keeping with the will she/won’t she tone of the show’s central romantic triangle (which may have resolved itself by this time, for all I know), but after all the huffing and puffing, it struck me as a particularly wimpy cop-out.
We open with still more picturesque location shots. Surfers. Lifesavers. Breasts. We get a brief shot of Mac and Brumby, she reading a magazine held before her chest, and he reading â€“ or at least looking â€“ over her shoulder. (A question: why is everyone on this beach sitting with their back to the water!?) [Editor Ken: So they may be whilst filmed facing the camera with a scenic oceanscape behind them.] Harm and Bud stumble down the beach. An obliging, and well-endowed, blonde waits until the two men are directly in front of her, then rips off her top, continuing to hold it over her head until her appreciative audience (the in-show audience that is, naturally) has looked its fill. As the two men approach, Mac rests the magazine against her chest, leaving her bare shoulders exposed. And that it is, people; for all the hoo-ha, that is it.
(Oh, what the heck. They paid their money, they might as well get the benefit: the magazine that Mac is using to hide her assets is a copy of Australian Style. [Heh! Now there’s an oxymoron for ya!])
As Harm stares helplessly, tilting his head from one side to the other in order to determine whether she is or isn’t, Mac makes small talk with Bud, confirming a dinner date made by Harriet. Finally catching Mac’s eye, Harm turns to the (sighâ€¦.) smirking Brumby, and the two immediately begin an argument over the ethics of Brumby interviewing Jenny. Mac finally interrupts, “Save it for the court! I am trying to defrost here!” “Well, don’t overexpose yourself!” retorts Harm. “You’ll burn!”
“Don’t worry, mate,” Brumby cuts in â€“ smirk, smirk â€“ “I rubbed her down with plenty of sunblock!” Smirk, smirk.
Harm beats a tactical retreat at this point. As he and Bud walk away, Brumby calls after them, “Don’t forget your wigs when you come to court!”
“Wigs!?” chorus the horrified Americans.
And yes, dear readers, here we have the real reason this case is being tried in “Australian civil court”: so they can put Harm in a wig and gown and have a good old snigger at our court procedure. We cut to the next day, with a nice shot down from the top floor of the Strand Arcade. Bud is telling horror stories about his dinner with Mac. “She ate three dozen oysters! Sucked them right out of their shell! Ugh!” But that, we hear, wasn’t the worst of it. “Her main dish was something called a “bug”! Actually, it was some kind of shellfish. But still, to eat anything called a bug – !?”
(Whoo, boy! Fancy an American criticising what the rest of the world eats!? The “bug” in question, by the way, is Ibacus peronii, aka the shovel-nose lobster, aka the Balmain bug. Tasty, but too much work.)
We then cut inside a store, and see Harm trying on a wig and gown in front of a mirror. The man assisting him is English, and the soundtrack finally gives the didgeridoo music a rest. We hear Rule, Britannia instead, and spend a few minutes getting a feel for how David Bellisario thinks English people speak and act. This painful little interlude leads to the observation that “Australian perukes” were never up to “English standards”. And finally, here it comes: “But then, of course, this country was settled with convicts. What can one expect?”
Agonised authorial interjection: Well, you didn’t honestly think we were going to make it through this without hearing a crack about that, did you?
You know, we do tend to hear a great deal from English people about our “convict ancestry” (usually after we’ve flogged them at cricket or football â€“ although why getting beaten by a bunch of convicts makes it betterâ€¦.!?), but the inference that all Australians are descended from irredeemably evil career criminals is a tad off the mark. For one thing, as crooks go, the ones who ended up here were a pretty unimpressive bunch; I fancy Winona Ryder could outdo most of them with one arm tied behind her back.
For another, I’m sure it would come as an enormous disappointment to many English people â€“ not to mention scriptwriters worldwide â€“ if it were to be brought to their attention just what a tiny percentage of today’s Australians have any convict ancestry, although the people who do tend, perversely, to be fiercely proud of the fact. This is particularly true of those descended from Irish convicts, a great many of whom were transported for, effectively, being Irish (or loitering with intent, if you prefer). Not surprisingly, a significant number of the people sentenced to transportation died; while after the first couple of decades the free settlers easily outnumbered the convicts. But the bottom line is that the vast majority of Australia’s current population is descended from people who arrived during one of the three massive waves of post-war immigration – the third war being Vietnam. Our government of the time felt so guilty about getting involved in the conflict, that they accepted a record number of Vietnamese refugees; far more, for instance, than were accepted into the US.
And there’s another reason why we have very few people with convict ancestry around today: during World War I, Australia had easily the highest level of casualties, proportionally, of any of the Allied nations. This came about chiefly because the British, who had command of our troops, used them any time there was a dirty job to be done â€“ a suicide mission, a diversionary feint â€“ rather than risk their own men. After all, they reasoned, the Australians came of tainted stock â€“ wasn’t it better that they should die rather than British soldiers? While families in Australia were left devastated by the wholesale loss of fathers, husbands and sons, the policy was rationalised in Britain as a form of, yes, cleansingâ€¦.
(And she jumped down off her soapboxâ€¦.)
The sales assistant continues to blather on about the quality of English wigs, telling Harm that the firm the shop deals with has been in the business since “the War Of The Insurrection”.
“That’s a war I haven’t heard of.”
“I believe you Americans call it â€“ the Revolutionary War!”
(Speaking of which â€“ for all the taunting we endure about our “convict ancestry”, there’s one tiny point that never seems to rate a mention: that the British only started shipping convicts to Australia after the Revolutionary War, when they could no longer ship them to Americaâ€¦.)
That evening, Harm and Mac take a ferry to Luna Park. Insert picturesque views of the harbour by moonlight. Harm is telling Mac that he saw the elusive Clayton Webb again â€“ different gorgeous woman, different language â€“ and this suddenly propels the two into a discussion of their own relationship â€“ and even whether or not they have one. Just in case we haven’t already gotten the message, we’re given more evidence that Harm is unable to come to terms with, let alone express, his feelings for Mac â€“ this being conveyed primarily through David Elliott’s extraordinary face-pulling, which is mostly suggestive of constipation. Finally, frustrated, Mac demands, “You just can’t let go, can you?” (Hmmâ€¦. All of a sudden, I’m sorry I made a constipation jokeâ€¦.) Harm tries to explain that he’s only this way with her; he even â€“ gasp! â€“ calls her Sarah; but alas for both of them, the ferry docks â€“ and Mac learns to her disappointment that rather than dinner, what Harm has in mind is a little investigative work.
Agonised authorial interjection: Okay, I have to deal with this sometime, so it might as well be now.
As my colleague, Mr Begg, explained in his introduction, Australia has long been considered the “port of choice” for American sailors looking for female, uh, companionship during their shore-leave. And indeed, the arrival of any American warship in Sydney is invariably greeted by an abrupt influx of local women. While much of this behaviour can rightly be attributed to the most obvious of motives, there’s also something else behind it â€“ something that might not be so readily apparent to the outside observer.
Australian men, whatever their virtues, are â€“ how shall I put this? â€“ not known for their communication skills. This taciturnity is the surface expression of a psychological condition created over the years by the very harshness of the country. While silent, dogged endurance and stoicism may have been necessary survival techniques during the founding of modern Australia â€“ and while they still come in handy today during bushfires, cyclones, floods, mudslides and the occasional earthquake – they brought with them a few unfortunate side-effects, including some painfully repressive notions of what “being a man” entails. Ranked high in the tenets of this manifesto is the one that dictates that you do not show your feelings; that the more you feel, the less you show; and that, above all, you do not talk about it. As you might imagine, this mind-set has some very deleterious effects on the state of relationships in this country, a depressing number of which end up foundering on the inevitable lack of communication.
This situation goes a long way towards explaining the actions of those Australian women who throw themselves with such gusto into the paths of visiting American sailors. Aside from their purely biological motivations, which I don’t deny have a lot to do with their behaviour, there is the added attraction of spending some time with a man who can talk to a woman without giving himself a hernia in the process.
Which brings us back to JAG, and its central triangle.
I realise, of course, that given that Harmon Rabb Jr is the strong, silent, repressed type, it was inevitable that his romantic rival, who ever he ended up being, was going to be an emotionally open, heart-on-his-sleeve type. That is how things work in Television Land. The problem, of course, is that David Bellisario et al. decided to make that romantic rival Australianâ€¦.
There’s a lot to complain about in these episodes of JAG. The transparent plot, the cardboard cut-out characterisations, the idiotic dialogueâ€¦. But all of that pales in comparison with the catastrophic flaw at their very heart. To have Sarah Mackenzie so frustrated by the behaviour of a silent and emotionally repressed American man that she finds herself drawn to the openness and emotional honesty of an Australian manâ€¦.well, what can I do but quote Galaxy Quest’s Guy Fleegman?
“Ohhhhhh, that’s â€“ not – RIGHT!! Noooooâ€¦.”
(In fact, it’s so very “not right” that I’m tempted to trot out that old saw about which part of their bodies Australian men use most during foreplayâ€¦.but I guess that would be unfair. Not to mention incredibly tacky.)
Harm wanders over the dock where the murder took place. Mac obligingly screams, proving Jenny’s statement about her screams not being heard. The two begin to re-enact the incident, up to the point where Lee claims Dunsmore tripped over a cleat and fell on his knife. Harm then realises that there are no cleats â€“ the ferries are tied up to pylons â€“ and further, that anyone tripping as described would land in the water, not on the dock. These revelations send Harm back to interview Lee again. The prisoner becomes nervous, admitting that perhaps he was wrong about the cleats. Harm points out that Jenny also mentioned cleats and accuses Lee of having coached her. He further reveals that Jenny claimed her true evidence could hang Lee (even though â€“ well, you get the point by nowâ€¦.) Lee is stunned, but finally concludes that Jenny is “throwing a scare into him” as punishment for his bigamous marriage.
And on that note, the trial begins (yikes! I don’t know what that building is, but it sure ain’t our Supreme Court!), and we settle down into an irritating parade of alpha-male behaviour. After the preliminaries (including the judge thanking Harm for wearing “the proper attire”), Brumby goes to make his opening statement, and Harm immediately interrupts. To cut a long story short, it turns out that the supposed murder victim has yet to be formally identified.
Yes, that’s right: legal eagle Mic Brumby didn’t bother to get Ian Dunsmore’s body identified before going into courtâ€¦.
(Didn’t anyone in the US check the identity of the body before they shipped it halfway around the world? Kind of embarrassing if they buried the wrong person for the second time.)
Unlikely as this all is, it serves its “dramatic” purpose, which is to get Harm one up over Brumby. The score becomes 2-0 when Harm successfully argues that Lee should be released into US custody while the identification is underway.
The judge calls a recess, and everyone piles outside and down the front steps. (I’ll hazard a guess, and say those steps were the reason this building was cast as the “courthouse”.) Harm and Lee are immediately swamped by reporters and cameramen, and stop to give an interview (something that really doesn’t happen here). Brumby mutters something about Lee being “quite the thespian”, and suggests to Mac that Harm is simply “delaying the inevitable”.
“I wouldn’t feel so sure, Mic.”
“Who are you rooting for, Mac?”
Linguistics with Lyz: Ah, yyyyyyyyeah, I think a simple “Whose side are you on?” might have been more appropriate here. Let’s just say that the expression “rooting” has a somewhat different connotation in Australia than it does in America, and leave it at that.
The interview goes on (with Channel 7’s Monique Wright really hamming it up in her cameo appearance as a pushy TV reporter [kind of sad when people can’t even play themselves convincinglyâ€¦.]), until Harm finally calls a halt. The camera pulls back, and we see the Dunsmore faction watching in anger. Sure enough, Barry Toohey (aka Friend #2) launches himself, shouting, “Bloody seppo murderer!!” and punches Lee. Harm grabs Toohey, and Lee takes the opportunity to punch Toohey back before being grabbed by Brumby. The two Commanders glare furiously at each other before shoving their clients aside to take a swing at each other. Naturally, Bud chooses this precise moment to intervene. The men’s fists connect soundly with either side of his face, leaving his jaw completely smashed â€“ something that is, music score and all, played for comedyâ€¦. Wah-wah-waahâ€¦.
This incident brings Admiral Chegwidden to Australia, and he and his local counterpart tear strips off their errant underlings. Bud sticks up for his assailants, and we begin the show’s most painful running gag, with Bud unable to speak beyond “Mmmph gmmph hmmph” and Mac having to act as translator. Chegwidden finally asks the men whether they will accept “non-judicial punishment” and hauls them off to a â€“ I dunno, a garage, I guess – ordering them to “strip blouses” and inflict on each other “the same amount of pain you inflicted on Lieutenant Roberts”.
(We don’t see this fight, of course, and for a very simple reason: Brumby’s supposed to be an ex-boxer, I believe [Trevor Goddard, who plays him, certainly is one]. In reality, it’s kind of hard to picture any outcome but Brumby taking Harm apart â€“ something the producers tacitly confess by keeping the conflict off camera. Luckily for Harm, however, he is protected by his status as Romantic Lead; and consequently both men emerge with little more than some artistic bruising.)
Back in the courtroom, the Commanders explain that they have been in “an accident”, but are ready to proceed. Brumby makes his opening statement, making much of Lee’s desertion and his abandonment of his first wife and child, and rather grandiosely promising that he will prove that Dunsmore was killed “cold-bloodedly and with premeditation”. Harm rightly responds by dismissing the side issues, and insists the killing was an accident. The first witness called is Barry Toohey, who practically froths at the mouth as Harm questions him, and stupidly claims that Dunsmore “never owned a knife in his life” â€“ something even I know isn’t true, as knives are standard RAN issue. Toohey is further forced to admit he didn’t see the fatal confrontation, and retires snarling and glaring. The next witness called by Brumby is “Miss Jenny Brooker”. Harm goes ballistic, and an extended argument over whether she is or is not Lee’s legal wife ensues. The judge approves of Harm’s “creative” argument (Lee was declared dead in Tennessee, and his “widow” remarried), but rules in favour of Brumby. Yes, that’s right! â€“ he’s actually allowed to win a point! (Don’t panic â€“ there’s a reasonâ€¦.)
Another recess is called (how obliging of the judge! â€“ there wouldn’t be half as much “drama” in this episode if he didn’t keep calling recesses!). Mac and Bud have a mmmph grmmph â€“ I mean, a conversation. In the course of this, Bud reveals that Harm and Brumby were really (duh!) fighting over her. From here we cut to the courtroom, where Brumby is asking Jenny whether she enjoyed having two men fighting over her (wow â€“ art!). Brumby then demands that Jenny come forward and re-enact the knife-fight with him. In the middle of doing so, she loses it, finally breaking down and confessing that it was Kevin who pulled the knife, Kevin who delivered the fatal blowâ€¦.
In his cell (during yet another recess), Kevin Lee is frantic. As Harm presses him, he admits that he signed all of his assets over into Jenny’s name.
“Jen doesn’t care about money. She’s always wanted to go back to Woolgoolga. Don’t need much money to live thereâ€¦.”
Harm starts to ask rather pointed questions about how Jenny spends her spare time, and learns that she takes “art classes”. Cut to The Rocks at night. Bud and Harm are standing outside a gallery specialising in aboriginal art (of course), which is owned by one Harold Storum.
“Thmmph lmmph ammph wmmph ummph!”
“You know, there was a lot of aboriginal art on the walls of Uluru!”
“Thmmph wmmph smmph!”
“Is that what you said?”
The two are watching a townhouse, and sure enough, Jenny and Harold Storum walk out into the street, their arms around one another. Harm and Bud follow them, video camera in hand. The streets of The Rocks are mysteriously deserted, but in spite of this, Jenny and her paramour fail to notice the two Naval officers galumphing along in their wake. (I got my MST3K Mitchell DVD the other day, and in that spirit I’d just like to say â€“ Harm and Bud are two of the great followersâ€¦.) Giggling, hugging and finally kissing, Jenny and Harold are trailed all the way down to the dock, where they climb into a motor-boat and power off. Cut to the courtroom, where Harm is displaying the damning video. Jenny confesses that she lied before, that she’d been trying to get rid of Kevin while keeping his business and his money. A “Not Guilty” verdict is brought in, and Lee is remanded into the custody of the US Navy. Harm tells him he’ll still have to return to the States to face his desertion charge, but if he makes financial restitution, he’ll get off with the promised administrative separation. Lee begs for one night’s freedom, to patch things up with Jenny, and Harm grants it.
Mac, Chegwidden and Brumby all crowd around, congratulating Harm on his victory. (You know, I have the distinct feeling that if, by some scriptwriting miracle, the situation were reversed, Harm wouldn’t be half as gracious as Brumby is here.) Harm can’t resist the opportunity to needle his rival some more, and Mac responds by inviting Brumby to dinner. Cut to yet another ferry (believe it or not, it is possible to go out to dinner in Sydney without boarding a ferry), backed by still more picturesque night shots of the harbour. Brumby is in dress uniform, which Mac comments upon, and hears that it’s “a special occasion”. The pair end up on the front deck of the ferry â€“ where they rather improbably find themselves alone â€“ and Mic Brumby proposes marriage â€“ thus:
“I’m in love with you, Sarah. Shhhâ€¦. For once in your life, just listen. I’ve loved you since the moment I first laid eyes on you. I’ve never acted so foolishly, or ached so hard in my heart, in all my life. No, let me finish, please, while I still have the strength. I knew that getting you to love an ocker like me would take a miracle. Look! I’m praying one will fall from the Southern Cross tonight!”
Agonised authorial interjection: Eeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!
You know â€“ all of a sudden the natural taciturnity of the average Australian male seems strangely attractiveâ€¦.
(Still, I’ll say this for Trevor Goddard: he seems perfectly well aware that he’s “acting foolishly”â€¦.)
Brumby then produces a ring. Mac hesitates.
“It’s impossible, Mic!”
“Once you’d’ve said that me holding you in my arms under the Southern Cross was impossible!”
(Yeah, I think you wanna give that line a rest, Micâ€¦.)
Mac tries to protest some more, but Brumby stops her, telling her he knows how difficult it will be, but that he’s willing to make any sacrifice, if only she’ll be his wife. Mac begs for time to think. Brumby agrees, convincing her to wear his ring on her right hand until she’s made up her mind, and then they kiss.
This tender moment is interrupted by a roaring motor-boat, in which sit Kevin Lee, Jenny Brooker and Harold Storum, who are laughing and joking and shouting, “Freedom!” Brumby and Mac stare at them in horrified disbelief.
“That bastard! Jenny’s affair was a set-up!”
“The jury wouldn’t believe a loving wife, but they would a cheating wife who was trying to convict her husband!”
“Kevin wanted Harm to catch them and then break her on the stand!”
“My God! That’s brilliant!”
Yes, I imagine that’s what Agatha Christie thought, when she came up with that particular twist nearly seventy years ago.
Cut to the airport, and we see that the JAG crew is also leaving aboard QANTAS’s “Wunala Dreaming”. What are the odds against that, I wonder? Kevin Lee wanders in, chatting cheerfully until he senses a certain chill in the air. “Anything wrong?” he falters. “No,” replies Harm, “something’s finally right. Bud?” Bud steps behind Lee and starts to handcuff him, Mmmph gmmph-ing him his rights as he does so. “You get everything sorted out with Jenny?” Harm asks the puzzled Lee.
“Oh, yes, sir, thanks to you! Jen never really loved the bugger! We’re moving to Woolgoolga when I get back.”
And with that, gentle readers, we bid farewell to the town of Woolgoolga. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss itâ€¦.
Mac then makes a crack about the motor-boat, and slowly it dawns on Lee that his cunning plan has been thwarted. “Though we can’t try you again for Murder One,” Harm tells him grimly, “I am going to nail you for desertion in a time of war!” “I hope you go for the death penalty, mate!” chips in Brumby. “Absolutely â€“ mate,” confirms Harm, and Lee is hauled away.
The moral of this story, folks? Commit murder if you must; desert if you feel like it; but God help you â€“ God help you! â€“ if you expose the gullibility and incompetence of a US Navy JAG officer!!
Chegwidden then turns to Mac and helpfully inquires whether congratulations are in order? Mac, embarrassed, points out that the ring is on her right hand. “For now,” comments Brumby. Harm is doing his usual impression of still-life on a shingle, and Chegwidden drags him away. Brumby and Mac kiss goodbyeâ€¦. Chegwidden advises Harm not to look back, but he does of course; and if he isn’t turned into a pillar of salt, well, it’s only because Commander Harmon Rabb Jr pretty much is one alreadyâ€¦..
Footnote: Special thanks to my “legal advisor”, sparring-partner and dear friend, Commander Adam Benson, USNR, for his assistance with this review.