I’m still hanging out for someone to provide a compelling theory for John/Lucas’ enduring interest and/or dedication and obsession with the English poet and mystic William Blake. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you may recall that it’s been a fascination of mine. I don’t know a hell of a lot about William Blake and there may not have been a precise reason for the writers to involve Blake in the Lucas/John story – but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a stab at creating one. As you can probably guess, I’m not interested in hearing about so-called character contradictions and holes in story lines and plots for this particular discussion (so please respect these parameters – if you find serious discussion of John/Lucas irritating or impossible because you think season nine was a bucket of bollocks then this discussion might not be for you). Yes, I know it’s hard, but just try your darnedest to put that aside for a moment and consider genuine theories as to how William Blake inspired, comforted, (mis)informed, or motivated John. This discussion is as much about understanding William Blake as it is about understanding John Bateman. An interest in Blake is the only solid thing we know about the character (or is it?). The floor is open..
While rewatching season seven of Spooks recently, this scene from episode 7.8 involving Lucas North following the explosion that killed Connie Jones, gave me pause for thought. Given what we NOW know about Lucas North (should you choose to accept that it wasn’t just all a very, VERY bad dream!), I couldn’t help but interpret this moment in a slightly different light. When Lucas becomes emotional here, we assume it is due to having just been told that Connie was responsible for selling him out to the Russians, leading to his eight year long incarceration.
For those of us who adored Lucas and are holding out (in vain) for some kind of redemption for John, an additional interpretation could be this – while Connie’s revelation no doubt contributed to him momentarily coming undone, I wonder whether being so close to the explosion in the underground had an affect as well. With the strong force of its blast and all that dust raining down on him, surely it must have reminded him about the bomb that he was responsible for and witnessed in Dakar. Was the emotion he displayed also a sign of regret? Of trauma related to the senseless destruction of his own creation? (obviously I’m not speaking literally here in the sense that Richard Armitage or the writers knew that Lucas would become John, but strictly from the point of view of the fictitious world of Spooks).
Just as Mulubinba searched for the good in Guy of Gisborne of Robin Hood, by virtue of my affection for Lucas North, I am condemned to seek the good in his true self, John Bateman. Why he saw it fit to take innocent lives in Dakar we will never know, but thanks to an ability for reading too much into things, I hope that this moment can now be reinterpreted as a meager expression of John’s remorse. Perhaps when he said to Harry that he had endured being tortured by the Russians because he thought he deserved it, he wasn’t lying. A deluded fan girl can only hope!
This was supposed to be a brief post, it ended up being over 2000 words. Sorry! This will probably only be of interest to active online Richard Armitage fans, most of whom I am at odds with over the Lucas/John story line in Spooks. Here I hold myself up for slaughter once again.
Today I’m going to way in once more on the tricky subject of Richard Armitage fan fervor that I’ve been blogging about periodically since starting this blog over 12 months ago. There is something that has been on my mind since the intensely hostile and borderline hysterical anti-Spooks writer sentiment that some RA fans were venting following the demise of Lucas North in series nine of Spooks (I anticipate getting into trouble for using the words ‘borderline hysterical’. I’m not saying that everyone who didn’t like the story was hysterical but SOME certainly erred close, so I stand by it!). I’ve chosen not to mention my thoughts on the blog until now because I suspected it would be an unwelcome observation. But now I feel that perhaps the time is right to bring it up.
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This post has been sitting unfinished in draft mode for some time. While I may have started writing it with a vision of what its intention was, this has long since faded so it now reads like a selection of somewhat associated thoughts that miss a forgotten destination. But that’s OK. Sometimes you have to be comfortable with the mess, and I reserve the right to be messy.
Since publishing a recent post on John/Lucas plausibility I’ve been thinking a little about the issue of our own dual identities, specifically in regard to our online identities versus our “real life” ones. Consider this post a bit of thinking out loud on this matter. While of course our online identities are part of our real lives, sometimes they represent a vision of ourselves that is not entirely consistent with our real life self. Is there a bit of John/Lucas in all of us?
In case you didn’t already know, my online moniker “Skully” is a pseudonym. I have two Facebook profiles, one for Skully and one for me. I know I’m not alone in this. Many readers of this blog and fellow blogger buddies also go by pseudonyms and have an online identity that obscures or conceals their true identity, and for good reason I’m sure. Personally, I do on occasion find this balancing act difficult to negotiate. Whilst the only part of Skully that is fabricated is the name, having a distinct online and offline identity that are virtually the same makes me wonder about the point of having these two identities in the first place.
This issue came to a head recently when I decided to resurrect my personal blog for my real life self. ‘Skully’ already has a personal blog in which I talk about all manner of things, including my journey with PCOS and cyclothymia. After setting up my old blog for ‘me’ I soon realised that my dual identities may be competing for content on their respective blogs. Which parts of my self would I be divvying up between Skully and me? I would like to start blogging about my experiences with attempting to learn the German language – but which identity would be best suited to this task, Skully or me? How absurd to even have this quandary!
Unlike John/Lucas, Skully/me aren’t so easily discernible, we’re more or less the same (actually, I’m not so sure that John/Lucas is as easily discernible as discussion about him suggests – I guess I see John/Lucas as two sides of the one coin, rather than two distinct people). Skully does however engage with subjects that I’m not so comfortable with my real life self being publicly associated with. Partly for professional reasons and partly because I suspect I might self-censor more if my real name was attached to these writings, so that might be where the purpose of Skully is found. But at the same time, should any of my real life friends come across SFB or my personal blog, I know that it probably would not take them long to figure out who Skully could be. I’m not sure there are too many PhD students who love Spooks, are long term fans of Henry Rollins, who learn German, live in Australia and have PCOS and cyclothymia. So, clearly, I’ve not been overzealous in protecting my identity in that sense. In fact I’ve told a select number of trusted friends about these blogs who are interested in my online activities, of which there has been many! And some of you who read this blog have also have been previ to the real life me, you know who you are.
I have, however, had reason to pause and reflect on my laxness on this front recently after my mother mentioned that she had googled ‘Richard Armitage’. One of her friends has RA syndrome apparently and she was curious. She knows I like RA too and we sometimes talk about Spooks. It made me stop and wonder, how would I feel about the prospect of my mother stumbling across this blog? The answer to that is pretty uncomfortable! But the bigger question is – why would it be an issue for me if she did? (How would you feel about your friends or family members becoming acquainted with your online activities?)
It’s an interesting question. All of us have multiple selves through which we act and interact with others based on the nature and context of our relationship to them (eg. the self you present to your friends may be moderately different to the one you present to your parents or to your work colleagues). It’s normal to share your self to varying degrees with different people. However in the online space, it feels like something more than the usual matter of multiple selves. By attaching a name to the online selves that we have created, this could be seen as pushing the online self into the domain of having another identity. And this is where things start to get weird. I’ve become quite attached to the name Skully, to the point that I prefer it over my real name!
Ok, at this point I’m going to take a liberal interpretation of some concepts related to the self, namely the idealised self and the mortified self, and have a play. It would be my preference to consolidate my online selves into the one entity/identity/representation, but those aspects of my self that are associated with my mortified self (those that attract stigma, embarrassment, self-consciousness or a simple sense of uncomfortableness and unease) request that Skully continues to be, especially given that this compulsion to write is unlikely to cease any time soon. My idealised self is comfortable, open and honest about my mental health, but in real life, the situation is more complex; the mortified self is more present and selective about what I share. For example, just recently I lied to a friend about how I acquired a massive bruise on my arm. My mortified self was not prepared to reveal that it was in fact the result of self-harm (don’t be alarmed, all is well, it was an isolated event. And yes, I am in therapy!).
My desire to consolidate Skully/me is based on the desire to feel whole and honest in all social contexts to the extent that it is sensible and possible. I don’t imagine this to be uncommon among people who struggle with mental health issues, but this is a difficult thing to achieve (for others as well, I imagine). Since a young age I’ve felt pressure to hide my struggles with depression, to put up a brave face and protect others from having to see and deal with my ‘soul sickness’ (a favourite phrase for depression I’ve appropriated from William James. ‘Illogical darkness’ is another one I rather like – thank you Iggy Pop!). As a consequence, one is never quite whole in the presence of others. Concealing undesirable parts of ones identity, in this case, being a “depressive”, becomes second nature. In the online space one does not have to be so concerned about such things. In this space, wholeness feels more possible…. sort of.
I’m sure there must be some academic work out there on the idealised self in relation to how we present ourselves online. The most obvious example of idealised representations of ourselves online are the photographs we choose to adorn our social networking profiles and the selective nature of information that we choose to share. In some respects Skully is my idealised self (hence the attachment to the name, I guess) in the sense that through this identity I talk freely about my health troubles, and about my interest in Spooks which in real life contexts may seem a bit unusual for a person of my age. But in another sense my idealised self would not be prone to mental health challenges, so my notion of an ideal self might be somewhat different to the norm in that the undesirable aspects of myself are a valuable part of it.
Now diverging wildly back to John/Lucas – John may have represented the mortified self, and Lucas was the idealised self. I suggest there was an element of mortification in respect to John due to what I sensed was a reluctance in John/Lucas to fall back into his old John Bateman ways (or maybe it’s Lucas who is mortified by John – I’m working with a loose, undefined version of the concept here, so anything goes). There could be a Guy of Gisborne comparison here, in that where Gisborne felt that marrying Marian would make him pure, in becoming Lucas, John was purified for his sins to some degree as well, putting him in “credit”, as John termed it.
Was ‘Lucas North’ John Bateman’s idealised self? John wanted to be something, to do something, a desire that was lead astray in Dakar. John became a better man by becoming the man he admired and liked (it reminds me of the circumstance of some men who kill women whilst also wanting to become one, such as Paul Denyer). I imagine John killed the Lucas North for reasons relating to the bombing of the embassy, but there might also be an element of destroying that which he wanted to be. Perhaps there’s a concept in psychology that describes this phenomenon, I’m drawing blanks here.
John protected an idealised self via Lucas North, we also often protect an idealised self through our online identities. Whilst I’m sure none of you are concealing anything as horrible as a terrorist act, perhaps there is a little of John/Lucas in all of us. The parts we don’t like and attempt to hide. A mixture of truth and charade, and parts/attributes of other people that we have picked up along the way and hope to emulate. What am I saying here? I don’t really have a particular point to hammer home, other than to suggest that we are all complex creatures with a complex networks of selves, and perhaps in some cases, multiple identities. In a recent post I spoke of why John/Lucas was tangible to me, I guess the theme which this and that post have in common is the suggestion that John/Lucas is not necessarily a complete impossibility. Instead of rejecting him as fanciful fiction, ponder for a moment that he is a mirror through which we might reflect on the complex nature of our own characters. He is of course an extreme and some might say unrealistic example, but he still offers an invitation to consider the dualities, hypocrisies, and illogicalities within ourselves.
Do you have a dual identity, online/offline? Why? How do you balance the two? Thoughts, comments and musings are welcome below.
In publishing this post it is not my intention to reopen the debate on series nine as I feel like that discussion has run its course. Whether you loved or loathed this series, you’re probably tired of talking about it by now! My intention here is simply to tie up some loose ends in my commentary that for reasons I explain in this post I was reluctant to do before. I feel weird about leaving the comments open because this piece contains a personal story, but seeing as you guys always find a way to comment even when they’re closed (you pesky thangs!), I’m keeping them open. I may change my mind about the wisdom of posting this at any moment so read it while you can. If I end up pulling it hopefully Wikileaks won’t republish it later ;)
A few weeks ago I said I would write a piece about the “plausibility” of the John/Lucas story line in series nine of Spooks. I’ve tried to write this post a number of times but have stalled at each attempt because I realise that I can’t write it without referring to a personal experience I had over a decade ago, in which I discovered that the man I was in a relationship with “was not who I thought he was”. I’ve not thought about this period in my life for a long time, however some of the dialogue between John and Maya made me pause and reflect. On two occasions their words mirrored those spoken to me by my ex-partner and the those I had said to him. The parallels, meager as they were, were hard to ignore.
Despite the passage of time, I’ve been debating whether I really ought to share this story, how much I could safely share, and indeed whether it is actually relevant to the issues of plausibility in the John/Lucas story. I guess this piece is my way of explaining why I haven’t written any more posts about John/Lucas, and why I get a a little tetchy when folks say the story was “implausible” and “unbelievable”. When heated criticism concerning the plausibility and believability of Lucas’s transition into John began to emerge, I couldn’t help but think that those who found the John/Lucas story to be implausible were lucky to not have had a life experience that would make his contrasting character believable to them.
In writing this piece it is not my intention to convince you that the John/Lucas story was plausible or believable, that’s too much of a subjective thing for us to be debating whether it was or was not plausible as if a correct answer to that question could be achieved – it can’t. The intention here is simply to reveal, as best I can, why it was tangible to me. It’s difficult to explain my story in clear terms because I’m not prepared to tell all, consequently the details I give are brief and unsatisfactory to the overall import of this post. I’m not trying to be mysterious and enigmatic here, I just feel that given the intense attention to the Lucas North character on this blog over the past 10 months, it seems appropriate to offer an explanation for the abrupt end to the commentary. It has felt disingenuous not to share the experience that has informed my thinking.
Needless to say, my ex-partner did not blow up a British embassy, steal secret files for the Chinese or murder innocent bystanders (to my knowledge!), so I’m certainly not saying that he was “like John/Lucas” in that way or that John and Maya reminded me of our relationship in any significant sense. My ex did, however, turn out to be as elusive as John/Lucas in the sense that in the end I did not know what the real character of this person was. Here’s what I’m prepared to say – this relationship occurred pre-Spooks and was my introduction to that world of official secrets and lies. Late in the relationship I learned that he had another, hidden identity which was his true identity. He was not a criminal or a fraudster, he was, as Ros Myers might say, “official”, and that’s about as much as I can confirm and say about that. He also did what seemed to me a complete character backflip and harmed and betrayed me in such a way that my trust in people and perception of reality was shattered for some time. At the time I was too intimidated by his associations with powerful people to do anything about the harm he had caused. If not for the good fortune of meeting a wonderful man a year later, I’m not sure when and if that trust would have been restored. To find out that I had been lied to over a long period of time concerning his identity, and that he could act in a way that contradicted what I thought to be his value system, was a complete mind fuck to say the least.
It’s my impression that the character inconsistencies between who we thought was Lucas and who we learned John to be was one of the most difficult parts of the story for many to swallow. We thought we knew this man to be full of virtuous, moral intentions. We watched him as Lucas act in accordance with those values for two full seasons, and then it turned out that he was John, a murdering, selfish bastard, the antithesis of who we believed him to be. The bipolarity of this character is hard to process and reconcile. For most of us, the people we know in our own lives are more or less consistent in character and behaviour. Their past behaviour is an indicator of future behaviour, and to the extent that we know the content of their character, we can imagine what they might think about certain things and understand why they might act in particular ways. To put it simply, they make sense. John/Lucas, in the end, did not make sense. I imagine that this lack of sense is what made the John/Lucas story particularly unbelievable to some people.
My ex-partner did not make sense, the pieces of the puzzle did not fit together to make a comprehensible “believable” picture. I never had a “Maya moment” of realisation in which the jumbled picture before me finally become a decipherable image. The more I learned the less sense he made – but he did exist, he was a real person. When he called one day wanting to see me so that he could “tell me everything”, win me back, and make that picture a little clearer, I declined. I was done. By that point I had already learned that his true identity was concealed, and that I could not continue in a relationship with someone who kept so many secrets, even if he was justified in doing so. I was not prepared for his secrets to become my own (my value system trumped my curiosity in this case, it was a surprisingly easy decision), so that clearer picture I never did see, and the truth about him remains a complete mystery to this day.
His intangibility is (partly) what made John/Lucas tangible to me. I did not find the “failure” to depict a coherent character reason to view the story that unfolded as implausible. In my experience, some people really are that fallacious. One could argue that it was the job of Spooks to convince its audience that this is the case, fair enough. One could also argue that the mystery and apparent incoherence of John/Lucas was an invitation, a deliberate challenge to the audience to try and create a comprehensible picture of this character, to create intrigue, rather than a character assassination or lazy writing, which many feel it to be. Which is fine, each to their own. As I mentioned earlier, there is no correct answer to the plausibility question.
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and depicting strange truths on screen does not always work. The John/Lucas story was not a true story, but even if it were, it still might have been difficult to believe simply because he did not make sense. Real, non-fiction stories from the real world of espionage are filled with people who weren’t what they seemed to their colleagues. And some of these stories are hard to believe. The case of Robert Hanssen, the CIA agent who spied for the Russians, comes to mind. I don’t mention Hanssen to imply that the John/Lucas story is plausible, but rather to suggest that the development of the John/Lucas story may have been influenced by the long history of spies with secret hidden lives that their spy colleagues did not know about. The obvious one is that of the double agent, like Hanssen. Perhaps Spooks gave this kind of story a twist with John/Lucas. In the end, the question of John/Lucas plausibility, on an individual level, might come down to the extent his character “inconsistencies” made sense with our own sensibilities, expectations and inclination to digest and rationalise that which seems unbelievable.
And this is where my commentary on this matter ends. On a final note, one of the takeaways from the sorry saga of the relationship I was in is that my eyes were opened to the hidden corners of this world that operate under our noses yet out of sight. They were opened not only to the fact that things are done in the shadows and in our name by the institutions of our nation states, but also to the entities that do things not in our name, supposedly in our interests, who have no mandate to do so (yep, I just went all X-files “dark men” on ya). Some of the things I was exposed to during this time has influenced my belief that Wikileaks is a good thing. The more secrets a man has the more they hallow out his core and leave a shell (perhaps John/Lucas had no core self in the end, and latched onto Maya for a mirror of himself that he could hang on too. I’m starting to think that the name Maya was chosen deliberately). If secrets can do this to a man, what could they do to a nation? JFK has some compelling thoughts on this question.
The truth is out there?