Notes from the Labyrinth
Unobtainium and Dragons' Bones
Due South: "Mountie on the Bounty, Part II" 
8th-Apr-2010 10:26 pm
ds: 3 2 1
"Mountie on the Bounty, Part II" (DS 3.13)
Original air date: March 22, 1998
Favorite quote:
RAY: C'mon! I don't like this. They've got a big metal ship, we got this little wooden boat.
SGT. THORN: We have the advantage of surprise!
RAY: But they can see us coming!
FRASER: Ray, imagine yourself at sea. Suddenly you find yourself set upon by members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Chicago Police Department in a vessel that is a replica of the H.M.S. Bounty. Wouldn't you be surprised?
RAY: Depends.
FRASER: Depends on what?
RAY: If I could see it coming!

Spoilers.


In a sort of abstract way, I quite like what they're doing in the interrogation scene, in which Frannie's aggressively mangled slang essentially buffaloes John Thomas (whose name, of course, is itself slang; in fact the scene is a long exercise in calling a character a dick without ever saying the word) into confessing. It's a brilliant metatextual piece of wordplay. In practice, however, it leaves me cold.

But the question of signifiers is a leitmotif in the episode, witness Fraser and Ray's discussion of the significance of a fish:

FRASER: Oh well, look at that!
RAY: It's a fish.
FRASER: Yeah. It's an encouraging sign.
RAY: It's not a sign, Fraser. It's a fish.
FRASER: Well, it's a trout, to be exact, which is a sign that the water quality of the Great Lakes is actually returning.
RAY: Look, why are you arguing with me, Fraser? It's not a sign, it's a fish. That means that the boat's sinking and we're dying.
FRASER: Well, yes, it's a sign of that also.

Ray, of course, immediately disproves his own contention. The fish is a sign: a sign that the boat is sinking. In what feels to me like a similar gesture, Sergeant Thorn is right:

SGT. THORN: You know what's over there?
WELSH: No.
SGT. THORN: The United States of America. That would be a foreign power. A damn big one, too.
THATCHER: We have a special relationship with the United States, Sergeant.

This is a reminder (especially to the American portion of Due South's audience) that the U.S., like the fish, is a signifier that can point to different signifieds.

But the real heart of the episode is partnership. Huey and Dewey are talking about partnership, the one-liner and the rim-shot and "You have to wait for the joke to finish." Like Bob Fraser and Buck Frobisher, one with the rope, one with the grappling hook. And, of course, Ray and Fraser, and the way that even when their partnership isn't working, it loops back around on itself:

FRASER: It's our only option.
RAY: That's an option?
FRASER: Well, no.
RAY: No? What kind of logic is that?
FRASER: It's logic of a kind.
RAY: How?
FRASER: It's sort of like a strange loop. It's like Godel's theorem.
RAY: Who's Godel? Godel? Who the hell's Godel?
FRASER: Godel was a German mathematician. He found this theorem which loosely translated means, Everything I say is a lie.
RAY: So everything he said was a lie.
FRASER: Well, right. Except that what he just said was the truth.
RAY: So everything he said was a lie and the truth at the same time.
FRASER: Exactly. See? It loops back in on itself.
RAY: A loop. I see! This, I get. This is blood, this is--I can go with this.
FRASER: Right. Well, it's also a function of logic.
RAY: Logic! See, there you go again. You've always got to take it one step further, one step over the line.
FRASER: Why are you yelling at me?
RAY: [yelling] I'm not yelling at you!
FRASER: You are yelling at me!
RAY: I can't . . . I can't swim.
FRASER: Right. Right. Well, then, a quick lesson is probably what's called for right now. Okay, coat off. I want you to try to think about--think of yourself as a flower that opens by day and then it closes down at night. All right? So think bloom, close. Bloom, close.
RAY: Right, okay. What do I do with my feet?
FRASER: Just kick. Kick as though you were interviewing a suspect. You ready? Big breath.

I love the fact that Godel's Theorem makes intuitive sense to Ray; I also love that they're having this conversation up to their chins in water on a sinking ship. And I think it's both interesting and important that this time when Ray starts yelling, Fraser tries something new. Instead of deflecting, defusing, diffusing, he is bluntly straightforward: "Why are you yelling at me?" And this time, instead of violence (Ray's own method of deflection), Fraser gets, very abruptly, the truth. And I love Fraser forever for the fact that he does his damnedest to take it in stride; he doesn't offer recriminations or sarcasm or even, "What do you mean, you can't swim?" Instead he offers an immediate and practical lesson; moreover, he doesn't make the mistake of giving Ray any time to think about it.

Fraser rescues Ray three times during their underwater swim, including, of course, the infamous buddy breathing. Paul Gross, who co-wrote the teleplay, is on record (gleefully) admitting to the homoerotic subtext between Fraser and Ray Kowalski. He's also a Shakesperean, and knows the exact value of protesting too much. So, just to be sure that nobody misses what just happened, the first thing Ray and Fraser discuss when they can speak again is, yes, the buddy breathing:

RAY: What was that, Fraser?
FRASER: What was what?
RAY: That thing you were doing with your mouth?
FRASER: Oh that. That's buddy breathing. You seemed to be in a bit of a--well, having a problem. I have excess lung capacity, so . . .
RAY: Buddy breathing.
FRASER: It's standard procedure.
RAY: Good. Okay. All right. Nothing, like, changed or anything, right?
FRASER: No.
RAY: Okay.
FRASER: Yeah.
RAY: Thanks.
FRASER: You're thanking me?
RAY: Yeah, well, don't get too excited, Fraser. The jury's still out on this partnership thing, okay?
FRASER: Oh, well, don't worry, Mr. Instinct. I'm not excited.

Again, they're playing with the ambiguity in the referent. The signifier of Fraser planting a lip-lock on Ray--"that thing you were doing with your mouth"--points in two directions. Like the trout. Also, it's a very sly play on what Fraser, Sr., says in Part I about partnership and marriage.

But the central issue is the partnership--that's what they circle back to, and that's what the interlude in the magnificently insouciant yellow submarine submersible, with its recrudescence of Bob Fraser, is about:

RAY: You got any idea where we are?
FRASER: Yes. You're right behind me, and I am right in front of you.
RAY: I mean, in the water.
FRASER: Oh. . . . Well, we should be coming across Six Fathom Shoal, at which point I'll be able to navigate by dead reckoning--well, that is, provided I've calculated correctly.
RAY: And if you haven't?
FRASER: Oh, well, then we'll be hopelessly lost.
RAY: Oh, see, this is what I love about you, Fraser, that real positive, you know everything's going to work out fine kind of attitude. It really butters my muffin.
FRASER: Thank you, Ray.
FRASER, SR.: He's right, you know, son. You're too logical and dispassionate. It's too hard on him. You can't force your standards on other people. Come on now.

There's deep irony in Bob Fraser, of all people, being the one to call Fraser on these issues, but he may also be the only person who can. (I also love the persistent irony that Fraser, who self-defines and is defined by Ray as the logical one, is also the guy being lectured by his dead father's ghost.) And somebody has to; Fraser has to learn how to yield, even if only very slightly. We see that, too, in a repeated type of exchange between Ray and Fraser. First:

RAY: Fraser, you done this kind of thing before?
FRASER: Well, no, not precisely. Although there was this one occasion when I was underneath a drilling platform in a fjord just south of the Clyde River.
RAY: Come on, Fraser, just tell me the truth. Just say, "I'm going to endanger your life, Ray my friend, and I'm going to endanger your life in a wildly bizarre way."
FRASER: All right. Ray my friend, I'm going to endanger your life in a wildly bizarre way. Step back. And follow me.

And then:

RAY: C'mon, Fraser, are we under the creek without a paddle, here? Are we lost?
FRASER: No, we're not--we're not--we're not--
RAY: Just admit it, Fraser! We're lost.
FRASER: No, we're not, we're not lost.
RAY: Admit. It.
FRASER: All right! We're lost.
RAY: Okay. Thank you.

Ray asks for and responds to directness, not Fraser's customary cloud of gentle persiflage and misdirection. Because he recognizes Fraser's misdirection for what it is. (Also notice how hard it is, in the second exchange, for Fraser to tell a direct lie. He stammers over it in a way that's much more like Ray's usual mode of locution than Fraser's own.) Fraser has to learn to trust Ray enough to tell him the truth--and vice versa: Ray would obviously rather have a fight with Fraser than admit he can't swim. Partnership is about trust, and trust is about letting yourself be vulnerable with another person. The episode concretizes that very clearly with the submersible, when Fraser has, quite literally, to trust Ray to lead:

RAY: Go that way.
FRASER: Why?
RAY: I got a feeling. It's a hunch, it's a feeling. Go that way.
FRASER: Yes, but there's absolutely no reason why--
RAY: Look, Fraser, just this once! Just this once. I trust you every single time. Every single time, I gotta trust you. Just once, you trust me. Go that way.
FRASER, SR.: Do it, son.
FRASER: But if we--
RAY: No ifs, ands, or buts. Just--!
FRASER, SR.: Buck Frobisher and I didn't speak for three years. Then there we were, face to face across the raging waters of the Nahani River, criminals bearing down on us. He had a rope, I had a grappling hook. The only route to safety was to meet in the middle. You gotta trust your partner, son. Otherwise, nothing'll go right.
FRASER: That way?
RAY: Yeah. That way.
FRASER: All right.

In a way, Ray has his own parareality bubble--like his uncanny accuracy with a gun when he's wearing his glasses, his instincts are actually right even when, as Fraser knows perfectly well, there's no reason they should be. And in trusting Ray to be right, Fraser mends their partnership. They're in perfect synchronicity in the big fight scene--

FRASER: You should lower your weapon and surrender.
VIC HESTER: Maybe I should just feed you to the fishes.
FRASER: Andy Calhoun oblique-stroke Vic Hester, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain si--
VIC HESTER: Am I missing something here?
FRASER: Only that I have a partner who should be showing up just about now.
RAY: Hey.
[Ray decks Vic Hester]
FRASER: Thanks for coming, Ray.
RAY: I was in the neighborhood.

--both verbally and nonverbally, leading to one of my favorite stand-up-and-cheer moments, not just in Due South, but in all of television: "Right now, my friend, you are in the Dominion of Canada." This is a moment of pure, unadulterated Fraser-as-hero glory--but it also depends on Ray for the set-up. They are working, as Ray said back in "Burning Down the House," as a duet.

I am indebted to this article for the suggestion that the strange mid-episode montage of romantic clinches on the Bounty takes place in Fraser, Sr.'s imagination. I'm not entirely sure I agree with it, but I definitely agree that the montage is set apart from the rest of the episode, with Bob's "It's got the feel of romance about it, son!" at the beginning, and the even more meta exchange at the end:

FRASER: It's very odd. It's high noon and the sun is setting.
FRASER, SR.: It's romance, son.

(Also, they're on their way to the showdown. Of course it's high noon.)

So whether we imagine it strictly as a dream-sequence, or whether we simply take it as Due South's surreality pushing into counter-reality, either way, it's something that doesn't really happen. And as such, it contrasts explicitly, point by point, with the last scene. Welsh and Thorn are squabbling amiably about the American-Canadian rivalry:

WELSH: I'll break your jaw.
THORN: I'll break yours first.

Turnbull, rather than arm-wrestling with a young Mountie, is asking him about discipline. Or "discipline," as code for BDSM (John Thomas, remember, asks if Frannie is speaking in some sort of code), which is certainly about as far from Bob's notion of romance as we can get. Thatcher isn't kissing Fraser; she's letting him off the hook re: his paperwork:

THATCHER: Fraser.
FRASER: Sir.
THATCHER: Your one-zero-nine-eight-nine-B report.
FRASER: Yes, sir. Well, as soon as we reach port, I'll be able to--
THATCHER: I don't think we need to worry about it.
FRASER: We don't need to worry about my one-zero-nine-eight-nine-B report, sir?
THATCHER: Just this once.
FRASER: Thank you, sir.

And Ray isn't getting thoroughly smooched by a blonde Mountie; he's come over, awkwardly and uncertainly, to try to find out where he and Fraser stand:

RAY: So. Transfer. You thought about it?
FRASER: Well, it would be the logical career move.
RAY: I know. That's what I think. That's what my instinct tells me.
FRASER, SR.: Buck Frobisher and I stood across from each other on the banks of that river and we knew, we knew without even speaking, we'd come to the same conclusion. That sometimes you just have to make a leap, son. Sometimes you just have to leap.
FRASER: Thank you.
RAY: For what?
FRASER: [deep breath] I realize that logic doesn't always work.
RAY: I know. And I realize going on instinct doesn't always work, either.
FRASER: No. No. So . . .
RAY: You gonna take the transfer?
FRASER: I don't think so. You?
RAY: Me? No.
FRASER: All right. So we're, we're still . . .
RAY: I think.
FRASER: Okay.
RAY: Good.
FRASER: Right you are.

Like Bob and Buck, Ray and Fraser meet each other half way. Ray asks first; Fraser answers first. They give trust to each other, and each of them also accepts and protects the trust given to him. They don't betray the trust given to them. I wish there were a stronger way to phrase this in English, because it's a big deal and the fact that the only verb for it is "not to betray"--or at least the only verb I can think of right now--waters it down. I can't make it sound as important as it feels. And it is very important. It's the fundamental thing that the show stands on, the place from which it can be silly, serious, and both at once. Bob's pastel notions of romance are nothing next to this.
Comments 
9th-Apr-2010 03:36 am (UTC)
Thank you. You explained exactly why this episode is so wonderful.

Edited at 2010-04-09 03:41 am (UTC)
9th-Apr-2010 04:13 am (UTC)
This is one of my favorite episodes of the show. It is basically one of the KEY episodes involving the relationship between Ray & Fraser as Partners/Friends/More.

It is also interesting to compare this with the seiminal episode of Fraser & Ray Vecchio years.

There were only two stories during the regular series that were considered big enough and worth enough to have two episodes.

RayK/Fraser get the life and partnership affirming Mounty on the Bounty.

Ray Vecchio and Fraser were in Victoria's Secret. Which was about love and obsession and betrayal. It was about the relationship between them and the nature of partnership. But the entire focus and vibe about as far from each other as it is possible for two episodes of what is theoretically the same show to be.

Fraser's first American partner was forced to shoot Fraser in the back and later abandon him, for Fraser/the world's good. Fraser's intent to leave was the ambigious secret between them.

Fraser's second American partner? The secret between them is what may or may not have been some deliberate under water kissing.

9th-Apr-2010 09:45 am (UTC)
Yay! Due South post! I love these! Thank you!

9th-Apr-2010 01:22 pm (UTC)
Excellent! Thank you for these posts. I wish, wish, wish my story dialogue was half as good --a tenth as good--as the writing on "Due South"!
9th-Apr-2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
Yay, Due South post! I remembered seeing something about the show on your journal when I started watching Due South this past winter, and I was terribly sad when I got halfway through this two-parter and ran out of commentary.
9th-Apr-2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
I love reading your dS meta! \o/ It always reveals another layer past the point at which I'd stopped peeling, so-- thanks!

I wonder if "honored" would work in place of "did not betray"?
9th-Apr-2010 10:25 pm (UTC)
It's not quite the connotation I'm looking for, but yeah. It's close.
10th-Apr-2010 01:10 am (UTC)
"Kept faith with?"
10th-Apr-2010 01:17 am (UTC)
That's definitely a better phrase. Thank you!
12th-Apr-2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Did you know "buttered bun" was Victorian slang for a prostitute who was going directly from one client to the next? It's still in use as "buttered muffin."

Trained pornographer, closed course, do not attempt.
20th-Apr-2010 11:56 pm (UTC)
I have nothing to add to your wonderfully shiny, thinky thoughts, so I'll just join the chorus of "Yay, you're back!" Your lovely dS recaps truly are a treasure-trove to the fandom, both specifically and more generally (in terms of genre, tropes, and suchlike).
26th-Apr-2010 09:19 pm (UTC)
*SQUEE!* I am so happy to see an update for this! Your insights always amaze me, and thank you so much for linking to that essay. I haven't but skimmed it so far, and I can't wait to read it properly. I wish I had something intelligent to add to this, but alas, it is not so.
29th-Apr-2010 04:24 am (UTC)
Anonymous
Truepenny, will you marry me?
1st-Aug-2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I don't even want to watch the next episode without more commentary. Wah! Don't try to tell me you have a *paying* writing job that's more important. ;)
7th-Apr-2011 01:46 pm (UTC) - Season 4 analysis?
Anonymous
Hi,

I've read all the Due South posts up until Mountie on the Bounty part 2 and loved them. They're truly insightful and a delight to read. They make me appreciate Due South even more and who knew that was possible?
Anyway, I really hope you are going to do the same for the season 4 episodes (I can't wait to see the detailed analysis of Dr Longball, The Ladies' Man and Call of the Wild).
7th-Apr-2011 04:11 pm (UTC) - Re: Season 4 analysis?
I do plan to do Season 4--I've had a lot of health issues this past year that have thrown a wrench into a lot of plans, including that one.
This page was loaded Sep 17th 2014, 11:34 pm GMT.