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.