“The Man Show” (season two, episode five; originally aired 12/10/2004)
In popular culture, stalkers are generally afforded the same amount of sympathetic treatment as child molesters and unconflicted, active members of al-Qaeda. This is a little unfair, in the sense that it amounts to a disavowal of responsibility on popular culture’s part. Stalkers have a passionate feeling toward another person that many of them think is love, and they believe that this strong feeling entitles them to a relationship with that person, no matter how violently the object of their affections may disagree. Probably many of them assume that, because they desperately want to be with that person, the person wants that too, and the trick is to hang in there, demonstrating their ability to commit, until the person on the receiving end of their devotion sees the light.
This is not an idea that crazy people pull out of the deep, uncharted recesses of their dementias. They get it from popular culture. Romantic comedies and tearjerker love stories are full of characters who are in love with someone who’s unavailable, seemingly uninterested, or otherwise inaccessible, and the story turns on their refusal to take no for an answer, whether that means standing outside their bedroom holding up a boom box, showing up at the church uninvited and breaking up their wedding, or, like Rhett Butler, just flat-out raping them. (It’s okay; she wakes up in bed with a smile on her face.) These characters aren’t really stalkers, in the same way that Dirty Harry, who can’t go into Starbucks without shooting someone, isn’t really a crazed gunmen; their behavior is acceptable because, by the edict of whoever created the fictional worlds they inhabit, their hearts and true and they know they’re right.
In his relationship with Sophie, Mark Corrigan is a stalker. There’s no way around that, and Peep Show doesn’t waste a second trying to make his behavior halfway defensible. Last week, he spied on her, breaking into her computer and reading her private messages. In “The Man Show,” she tells him that she doesn’t want to hang out with him anymore because her “gristle head” boyfriend, Jeff, doesn’t like it. So, while still trying to phony up ways to emotionally blackmail Sophie into spending time with him—like doing a bungee jump together, “for charity”—Mark tries to cozy up to Jeff, because then at least he’ll still have one foot in Sophie’s life. “(“If you can’t have sex with a monkey,” he reasons, “make friends with the organ grinder.”) What prevents this from just being creepy is that Mark is the least sinister stalker in all recorded history; his combination of desperation and haplessness are too funny to even cringe at.
What makes Peep Show such a ballsy show is that, having ruthlessly laid out the irrational nature of Mark’s campaign for Sophie’s affections, and painstakingly detailed how far he’s willing to shame himself on its behalf, it practically dares you to not identify with him. Anyone who has ever tried to do something that seems to come naturally to most normal people will definitely see something to relate to in Mark’s studious examination of lad mags, looking for conversation material that will make him seem like a regular bloke. (Mark, taking notes: “Turkish shepherd, ate his own testicles. N.B., ignore tragic earthquake context.”) The cherry on top is that Mark, needing emotional support, drags Jez in, and Jez, inevitably, hits it off so well with Jeff that he’s soon thinking about dumping his weird flatmate and their platonic-male-marriage relationship and embarking on a proper bromance with Jeff. That all falls apart when Jez, the chatty bastard, can’t resist gossiping to Mark about how Jeff still chases other girls, and Mark rushes to tell Sophie. “You promised not to tell,” pouts Jez. “Hitler promised not to invade Czechoslovakia,” says Mark. “Welcome to the real world.”
It’s still pretty early in Mark and Sophie’s relationship, and the show has already abandoned any pretense that Sophie means anything to Mark but something he has to have because she seems unobtainable; if you haven’t seen any more of the series than this, you might not guess how far they’ll go together, but it can’t be a surprise that, the closer Mark comes to being with her, the more this prospect will fill him with nothing but raw panic. The lingering mystery is what Mark really is to Sophie. It turns out that Jeff, who can’t conceive of Mark as a threat, has no problem with the two of them hanging out. (“You could have your cock in her,” he tells Mark with a smile, “you still wouldn’t have the balls to fuck.”) That’s just Sophie’s buck-passing way of telling Mark that she doesn’t think they should spend time alone together. “Because of… feelings?” asks Mark. He’s trying to find a way to turn this into an admission on her part that she sees him as a threat to her settling for Jeff, which is quite stalkerish of him. No, she says, with a proper schoolmarmish affect, not “feelings.” But when she seems on the verge of better explaining what she does feel, Jeff comes home, and he wants to bang.
- The last thing a film geek wants to hear while trying to share one of his passions with his beloved: “How long is Das Boot, exactly?”
- The second-to-last thing a film geek wants to hear while well into sharing Das Boot with his beloved: “Oh, are they on a submarine?”
- Mark, trying to be coy as he rats out Jeff to Sophie: “Oh, now I’ve said too much, haven’t it? Damn, damn these lips of mine!”
- Jez plays poker with Jeff and his mates and, through sheer dumb luck, cleans up. Jeff asks him his secret and Jez replies, “I just play the cards as they’re dealt, my friend.” Jeff is suitably impressed by the macho-existentialist wisdom of this, though it’s exactly what Chauncey Gardiner would say if he cleaned up at poker.
“Wedding” (season two, episode six; originally aired 12/17/2004)
If Mark “in love” looks like a frightened animal paralyzed by the headlights of the large, noisy machine barreling toward it, Jez in love is like a very stupid animal gazing dreamily into the beautiful head lights of the large, fetching machine cooing sweetly as it barrels toward it. In the first scene of “Wedding,” Nancy has lured Jez out to a remote area near a canal because she has something “important” to tell him. Jez assumes she wants to break up with him: “If I start screaming, there’s no one to hear. On the plus side, she’s obviously confident that I’m not a potential murderer.” But, as Jez later explains to Mark, she wants to propose marriage, “because we love each other, and also, partially, for visa reasons.” Nancy is actually quite clear that this is just “an administrative procedure” to help her stay in the country, but Jez, stars in his eyes, convinces himself that it’ll be “the happiest administrative procedure of our lives.”
This one does make you cringe a little, maybe because Jez is all feeling, with no brain to muddle things up. In this situation, he’s not just hapless, he’s defenseless, and although Nancy can’t be blamed for not loving him or for yielding to his pleas that she put him in a situation where he’s going to get his heart turned into a bloody pretzel, it’s painful when they’ve just gotten married, he’s waiting for the moment when she admits that it really is “for real,” and instead, she tells him that she has to dash to make an interview for a job she has no chance of getting. (The funniest thing about the wedding is the ceremony itself, with Jez informing the presiding official that, to be a little different, instead of saying “I do,” he’s planning to say, “Do I!?” She cooly tells him that he should have cleared that with someone beforehand.)
It would be easy to predict that, after a decent period of reflection and horniness, a sweet marshmallow-head like Nancy would be likely to come to the conclusion that she might as well fall in love with the man she’s already gotten herself married to. Jez, with his nonexistent grasp on the concept of delayed gratification, can’t wait that long; he shags Toni, who is eager to do whatever it takes to prove that she’s more desirable than Nancy, and then, as he explains to Mark, “Nancy found out, because I told her.” When last seen, he’s a broken man, meekly agreeing to sleep on the couch so that the bed won’t be too crowded when Nancy comes home with whomever she picks up at the Metallica concert. But, on the plus side, Sophie has broken up with Jeff, so as the series prepares to leap into its third season, Mark’s love life is poised to steam forward into its next logical, romantic, horrible, horrible way station.