McLeod’s Daughters: Claire and Peter

I said in my initial article on Mcleod’s Daughters that, while passing the Bechdel test to a point that it often fails to do the reverse, it was never going to be known for its sharp writing or innovative storylines. Working through season two, I stand by that, but one particular storyline has struck me as illustrating how a decent writer/cast/production team can take a tired old cliche and deliver it with intelligence and insight.

So, older sister Claire (Lisa Schapelle) has fallen for Peter Johnson, a man she met through Australian Bloodlines, a horse-breeding program.  Claire is passionate about horses, and clearly knows her stuff; that it made very clear, not just by telling us, but by showing. So it’s natural that she would apply for a horse trainer’s contract, and she and Peter, who works for Australian Bloodlines, meet through here. They have the usual ‘can’t stand each other’ moments (I did warn you McLeod’s is rarely original) before slowly but surely falling for each other and blah-de-blah-blah.

So Peter and Claire fall deeply in love and everyone thinks he’s going to propose. He doesn’t, but he gives her an expensive necklace and needs to go home to Queensland to sort things out, which everyone assumes is to buy the ring, perhaps pick up a family heirloom. (In non-Australian terms, South Australia-Queensland is like Atlanta-New York or Rome-London. You’re crossing the fair part of a continent.) All the women are cooing over how romantic it is.

Except, whoops, turns out that Peter’s already married. It’s never established if he was genuinely unhappy in his marriage and if he honestly felt something for Claire that he had never felt for his wife; we never get to find out, because Claire breaks it off with him, there and then. It gets messy, of course. She initially takes him back, then when his wife and children show up, she sees that it will never work between them while he has such young, impressionable daughters.

A few weeks later – assuming McLeod’s lived in Real Time and one episode = roughly one week – she runs into him again, and ends up staying the night with him in his hotel room. When she wakes up and finds he’s gone, she assumes the worst: that he’s gone back to his wife. He had only gone to get breakfast, but that moment gave her a glimpse into her future: that she would always be assuming that Peter was with another woman when he wasn’t with her. She might love him, but she can never trust him again.

And that is what I loved about this storyline. So often I’ve seen infidelity portrayed as OK when it’s some off-screen character being cheated on with the hero/ine. Infidelity seems to be fine when we’re talking about True (Canon) Love. (Alias, looking at you.) Anyone remember that episode of Sex and the City where Sam comes across her boyfriend who cheated on her doing something perfectly innocent, and she realises that she can’t live with the lack of trust? I wish they would show more of that in the media rather than ‘man and woman are cheating on at least one partner to be together, but that’s OK, because they’re a One True Pairing, and would never cheat on each other, no, no, no…’

I’m not saying that once a cheat, always a cheat. Peter may well have been unhappy in his marriage and had a genuine connection with Claire. But neither do I believe that the person who cheats with you will never cheat on you via some relationship alchemy that turns a jerk into a saint having been Blessed by True Love. I would love to see more relationships like SaTC‘s Sam where she realises that she just can’t trust him not to cheat on her again, or more scenarios like Claire’s where she realises that she doesn’t trust him not to do to her what he did to his wife. I would like to see more stuff where simply being in love with the hero/ine doesn’t excuse infidelity.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s interesting that you mention SatC as another more realistic portrayal of infidelity and it’s consequences on a relationship. I never watched the show, but I watched the first movie out of boredom/curiosity, and was really irritated by the portrayal of one character’s (er… the red-haired one, I really don’t know their names) crumbling relationship with her philandering husband. They were separated, and sharing joint custody of their son, but it seemed implied that her excessively Type-A and less appearance-focused (relatively speaking– there was a scene referring to grooming of pubes) personality, with which she herself seemed preoccupied worrying/denying led to her husband’s cheating, was really the barrier in the way of reconciliation with someone she should remain with.

    I lack the context to know if that was based on in-show the character being uptight and inhibited, or if she has issues with forgiveness, or how she and her husband’s relationship pre-split and her reaction to his cheating were portrayed. I did find it incredibly irksome that, in one of the later scenes of the film, the character is seen making a pro-con list as to whether she wants to go back to her husband, decides to give him another chance, is anxiously waiting for him at a designated meeting location, and has the provided-by-Sarah-Jessica-Parker-voiceover epiphany/passing thought that maybe her husband’s pro-con list had more cons on it than pros. Of course he shows up, but I found the whole thing very regressive and condescending.

    Then again, I found one of the remaining three main characters intolerable, and found SJP’s performance (particularly her character’s interactions with Jennifer Hudson) full of overly “precious,” self-aware, cliché and unfunny dialogue. Kim Cattrall’s character was annoying to me, but I did like that she had to realize for herself that her sexual desires and views on monogamy not meshing with her SO’s was creating an unhealthy relationship dynamic for her. Though it was acheived by way of fat jokes at the expense of disordered emotional eating. *eyetwitch* Maybe that’s par for the Sex and the City course, and maybe that’s actually a somewhat realistic portrayal of a resolution for Red-Hair and Mr. Red-Hair’s relationship woes, but I wasn’t a fan. It seemed like more of the same True Love, Stick By Your (appropriate significant other) No Matter What, Love Heals All Things horsepuckey to me.

    [Sorry for the long reply, but the pro-con scene in SatC randomly popped into my head earlier today/yesterday, so I'd already been thinking about why it bugged me. All this is irrelevant to the McLeod's Daughters storyline, of course, which I agree with you seems masterfully handled. :) ]

    • Casey says

      LOL, Miranda (the redhead) is actually my favorite character because she’s the least obnoxious to me. Also, she’s the one who instigates semi-critical feminist thoughts to their brunch meet-ups when they discuss relationships (but they’re not allowed to really dig into the nitty-gritty), Samantha’s all like “FEMININE WILES AND MEN ARE HORN-DOGS DURR HURR I’M A SECKS GODDESS USE IT OR LOSE IT” and Miranda’s like “THAT’S ALL A LOAD OF HORSESHIT/INCREDIBLY INSULTING TO BOTH GENDERS”, and is very no-nonsense in her relationships, there was once instance before she and Steve got pregnant/married/etc. where she wanted a no-strings attached friends with benefits type thing and he whinged about how “it’s like you’re the man”. (her Wiki article says she’s “misandric”, although I never got that vibe :|), however she has a penchant for the neurotic, like when she was single she freaked out for owning a cat and eating Chinese take-out night after night…
      I haven’t watched either of the movies, I heard they were just mediocre/extended versions of the TV show.

      • Casey says

        Oh wait, IIRC she does/did have a bit of a “men are dogs” mentality when she was burnt-out on the dating scene, but for the most part I didn’t find it grating…YMMV, though.

        • says

          Yeah, that was my problem, that Miranda started out being very “You guys are my friends and I love you but you are not reasonable people” while SJP was busy making bad jokes, KC was busy chasing men, and the really annoying brunette was overly romantic in how she viewed everyone’s relationships and was also pretty classist/racist during the movie (also… played for laughs). And sometimes you DO need a pro-con list to be able to deal with emotional decisions logically!

          However, when KC made a sexual comment on Miranda’s not having a bikini wax and she snapped back that her body hair grooming habits didn’t make it her fault she was in a sexless marriage and didn’t mean she drove her husband into another woman’s bed, it… was kind of weird. Because from that point on in the movie, the Miranda subplot was that she was excessively cerebral when it came to her marriage, and that compromizing her principles on reaccepting a cheater into her life and going with her gut emotions was better than overthinking the situation (even if it was to protect herself from being hurt by someone she still cared about but couldn’t trust) and stubborn moral strictness– and that was supported by her reuniting with her husband in the end of the film.

          She just seemed specifically set up to show that the politically aware and intellectual non-”girly”-girl needed to just lighten up if she didn’t want to be sad and alone. :/

    • scarlett says

      I thought SaTC was very problematic but that episode always stood out for me for the way she still loved him, but couldn’t trust him. That and McLeod’s are the only two I can think of where there were consequenses of infidelity. Alias in particular bothered me for the way he cheats on his wife to be wityh Syd, but her thoughts about knowing he’s capable of infidelity are never addressed – it’s like we’re supposed to accept that while they might have cheated WITH them, they would never cheat ON them, and I find it highly implausible that there would NEVER be any doubts, weather you’re the person they cheating with or the person they’re cheating on.

      • says

        Ahhh, okay, I see now. The movie dealt more with her taking her husband back after the fact, but the lack of trust was already established in the TV show. Gotcha.

        I’m aware of Alias, and I’ve seen the tropes you’re talking about in action in other media, but I never watched it. I’m not a big TV person, actually (books, Internet, and THEN very particular shows and movies), I just live with a bunch of people who are. xD

        • scarlett says

          Sorry, think we’ve got our wires crossed. The Sam storyline I’m talking about is her boyfriend Richard, who cheated on her. (This is in the TV show.) She initially takes him back but becomes paranoid that he’s doing it again; even when it turns out that he’s innocent, she realises that she’ll always be suspicious. I really liked that they showed lack of trust as a consequence – you don’t often see that.

          The Miranda storyline was when her husband cheated on her. I had a lot of issues with that storyline, like how they spent most of the year estranged and then a couple of therapy sessions and it was all good.

  2. M.C. says

    I’ve got to say what I liked most about the Claire/Peter relationship is that it was used to strengthen the bond between Claire and Tess, her sister. I absolutely adored how Tess was the only one who could get Claire out of her depression and how she stood by her and supported her through the pregnancy. I’d say that’s the point when it’s made 100% clear that the greates love in this series will always be family&friendship, not romance.

    • scarlett says

      Yeah I’ve only just gotten to that point – I think the last episode I got up to was when Claire goes in with one of the Ryan brothers in her own independant horse training program – but I did like that Tess came running back and was the only one who could get Claire out of her depression. And how even when rellationships turn romantic, there was a solid foundation of friendship and respect there to begin with, and MOST of the relationships in the show are either friendships or work-based.

  3. Patrick McGraw says

    TVTropes has an article dealing with this idea where Cheating is Okay If It’s the One True Pairing. (I’d post a link, but the site is down… again.) Alias is mentioned prominently.

      • scarlett says

        It was a good read although I didn’t see any mentions to Alias. God, I hated that part of the show. I hated the way they had the husband cheating with Syd after WE, THE VIEWER know that his wife is cheating… but he doesn’t actually at the time so he does this half-ass backdating of his conscience.

          • Scarlett says

            Me? Sorry. I’m training myself but it slips out from habit sometimes. What I meant is that even though we, the viewer knows she’s cheating, he doesn’t at the time, so he doesn’t get to backdate his conscience by saying ‘she did it first’

      • Casey says

        Hey, when the title “Good Adulterer/Bad Adulterer” is read, I’m not the only one who’s reminded of “Good Idea/Bad Idea” from the Animaniacs, am I? :D ;) :P

    • Casey says

      This is slightly OT, but I don’t like the title of the trope “Ethical Slut”…seems a bit insulting/slut-shamey.

      • Maria says

        Is a ref to the book title? If I recall correctly, that was about reclaiming the word — I haven’t read the book myself tho

        • Casey says

          Oh, I checked the rest of the Trope article and apparently yeah, that’s where it got it’s name.
          Just something intangible about the word slut really raises my hackles/rubs me the wrong way when people try to “reclaim” it…but I’ve no qualms when someone tries to take back “bitch” or “cunt”…just a weird thing with me.

          • says

            What bugs you is probably the reason we ban use of it on this site: a slut is not simply someone who has lots of casual sex, or it would apply to men who do that as well as women. A slut is a dirty, filthy woman who has sex without obtaining approval from the patriarchy first. While some women use the word to defiantly celebrate that they’re having exactly the sex they want to have and don’t care about anyone’s approval, it’s really hard to set up the right context in anything but a conversation between people who know each other’s values well enough to understand, “I’m a slut!” does not mean “I’m up for sex with anyone, so please feel free to use and abuse me as you see fit, because obviously this means I am pathetic garbage and not human.” The latter is what a LOT of people think when they hear the term, and it reinforces the idea that any woman who has a sex life is up for being used and abused, which reinforces the rape culture.

            I don’t personally think you CAN reclaim a word that deeply buried in rape culture. Bitch feels different because it doesn’t seem to invite abuse… but it does in a roundabout way: people exclude “bitches” from opportunities, from negotiations, from what they’ve earned with their efforts and merits. They conspire to steal a “bitch’s” promotions, her S.O.’s, her achievements. And they feel okay about that because, hey, she was a bitch. She should’ve been a doormat. So that’s abusive too, and actually ties right into rape culture, because in rape culture, nice submissive gals who know their place supposedly get protected by men and never have to worry about that ol’ nastiness. Of course, they don’t achieve anything either.

            “Cunt” I’m less sure of. It’s used as a term of abuse for both women and men. When hurled at men, it’s implying they are women, and if that’s a big insult in your culture, you’ve got a massive misogyny problem. When it’s used at women, I assume the point is to reduce a woman to her vagina, and that makes it equivalent to calling a man a prick (or any other slang for penis). Except that the penis is virtually worshiped in this society, while all things vaginal are GROSS and must be discussed euphemistically in the same commercial slot where Bob Dole prattles happily about his E.D. So I think it’s still very problematic.

          • Scarlett says

            @ JK’s reply – I think bitch has been reclaimed for the better part of a decade now, as a strong, hardworking woman who isn’t afraid of pissing people – namely, the patriarchy – off. That’s why I think it’s the easiest of the ‘reclaimed’ words to swallow. I would *love* to see a recliamation of ‘slut’ and ‘cunt’ but I think we need time to gauge if that happens or not. (Scarlett-the-historian peeks out.)

            • says

              That’s exactly what “bitch” has always meant: the problem is it’s never said in an admiring way. When people call Martha or Oprah a “bitch”, they’re not admiring the empires these amazing women have built for themselves. They’re judging them for not being nice enough, for not being doormat-ish enough, etc.

              And when I called myself a bitch years ago, I was clearly defying the patriarchy and they got it and everything, but it still reinforced the idea that women who aren’t doormats are isolated, on their own, cut off from the cooperative benefits of society.

        • says

          According to the trope breakdown, that’s what they pulled it from, yeah.

          Here’s some quotes if the page isn’t working:

          Please note that this trope is not in any way limited to female characters, and that the word “slut” is not meant in a negative way. Please also note that this trope emphasizes the ethical element, hence is limited to good characters.

          Ethical Sluts are often Ethical Hedonists, but they don’t have to be. Some believe in different (although compatible) values, while others simply want to have as much fun as possible, yet actively avoiding hurting others along the way. In either case, they are most likely to be Chaotic Good or Neutral Good, but they can also be Lawful Good with a huge emphasis on codes and protocols for formal consent, et cetera.

          The trope is named after the book “The Ethical Slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures”. As the other wiki summarizes it:

          “The authors define the term slut as a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you. The term is reclaimed from its usual use as a pejorative and as a simple label for a promiscuous person. Instead, it is used to signify a person who is accepting of their enjoyment of sex and the pleasure of intimacy with others, and chooses to engage and accept these in an ethical and open way rather than as cheating.”

          In fiction, the Ethical Slut is kinda the polar opposite of the Lovable Sex Maniac. While both can be Played For Laughs, the latter lacks ethics and has to be played for laughs in order to not be disturbing. However, the two categories can overlap a lot due to Values Dissonance.

          Compare Friends With Benefits and participants in Polyamorous relationships. Contrast Casanova though it’s likely Casanova himself was an ethical slut depending on which of his tales is being told, and by whom. Also contrast Sex Is Evil And I Am Horny and Heteronormative Crusader.

    • P says

      Yes, that’s the one. They used to have a more-specific article relating specifically to the “It’s okay if it’s with someone the audience likes” type of “good adultery,” but it looks like some mergers have been busy.

      • scarlett says

        Yeah there was some interesting points but it didn’t go much into Alias. Guy has an emotional affair with Syd while with that season 1 gf, a sexual affair with her while married, and Syd never thinks ‘hey, maybe he’ll do this to me?’ I don’t buy that.

          • says

            I laughed so hard at this, but it’s true! She’s great at 99% of the skillset a spy needs, but she has the people-reading skills of a donut, and I don’t know why. Do writers think that makes a woman seem more innocent or something? A woman in her position could really use the ability to interpret micro-expressions, and she frequently can’t detect a bald-faced lie or tell a big glaring personality issue from a minor human flaw. (Part of that was also so they could keep everyone guessing who she could trust, I know. But it was irritating.)

            • Maria says

              The whole thing with Francie? That was when I done. How the shit are you not going to be able to tell your BFF has been replaced? I’d say it’s a subversion of the Magickal Negro trope (the black friend who’s a placeholder for home is actually a SPY!!!) but I suspect it’s not that clever of a show.

              • says

                I know, and immediate Francie was acting SO WEIRD! She bought Vaughn cuff links, ffs – I was sure they were going to be transmitters or something, but nothing ever came of it. And did Sydney notice? Nooooooooo.

                I laughed again at your trope subversion suggestion, but then it just gets depressing. I don’t think the show’s that clever, either, and in the end, Francie’s death never really gets dealt with. There’s no attempt to figure out where her body ended up (that we know of), or to mourn her or anything. I think it was just… what do you call the trope where the black sidekick always bites the dust? :(

                • Maria says

                  Heh, I know you trope the mean, but can’t think of what it’s called either.

                  I was really into Alias for a while, and it was really a series that helped me see that I spend a lot of time watching TV sideways — like in my head there’s a hilarious version of Archer that’s really about Lana, the black sidekick, a BSG that’s all about Dualla, etc., a Defying Gravity that doesn’t descend into transphobia, etc. It’s discouraging to realize the gulf between the SQUEE you get from a show and it’s reality.

          • Casey says

            “What do you call the trope where the black sidekick always bites the dust?”

            The only thing I can think of is “Black Dude Dies First” and that’s mostly considered a horror movie trope.

  4. Casey says

    @Jennifer

    Thanks for that long-ass reply! :D You accurately conveyed my feelings about why I don’t like the word “slut” as a term of endearment but other misogynistic insults I’m not as iffy on…amongst some circles of friends I’ve managed to turn “cunt” into a pseudo-term of endearment to describe my not taking any bullshit and “telling it like it is”(HERP DERP). After I wasn’t able to log into YouTube for a week because my computer died and I had to get it fixed, when I came back someone had left a comment on my channel saying “FUCKAN’ A!? Where hav U been girl? I was missing all ur cunty comments!” :P

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