The Art of the Two-Shot in “The Golden Fleece”

“The Golden Fleece” is one of the better episodes of the Gale Era, not only because of its relatively strong story and fine performances, but also because of the skillfulness of the direction. Throughout the episode, director Peter Hammond creates artful effects by using symmetry and mirror image in the blocking of the Steed/Gale two-shots. Shifts in which character is foregrounded along with the positions of the actors’ bodies relative to one another and to the space they occupy and, occasionally, shot length all contribute to the overall effect, and sometimes have significant interactions with the motions of the plot and the character arcs within it.


The Angle of Repose

One of the more striking sets of two-shots in this episode involve blockings in which one or both of the characters is prone:

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The blocking of the first and third shots are a kind of reversal: in the first, early in Act I, Cathy is the one lying down; in the third, early in Act II, Steed reclines. In the first, Steed sits in the foreground; in the third, Cathy has this position.

The second blocking, which comes at the end of Act I, mediates the other two in that both characters are reclining in some sense – Cathy in the background on the chaise, with her back to Steed and the audience (a combination of her positions in shots 1 and 3) and Steed in the foreground in the armchair, where his body position and position relative to both Cathy and the audience are a kind of halfway point or combination of what he does in shots 1 and 3.

Hammond also creates an echo in the directions Steed faces in Act I with those Cathy faces in Act II:

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In each pairing, the foregrounded character begins the conversation with his or her back to the other, then turns to face him or her.

These blockings are linked to the progress of the plot. When Steed and Cathy are at the restaurant, only Steed knows the real reason they are there: to get Jason’s coat and search it for evidence about the gold-smuggling scheme. Nevertheless, Cathy suspects that there’s something in the works. She asks Steed, only half jokingly, whether he’s plying her with wine and a nice dinner because he’s about to get her involved with another case.

In the second blocking in the first set, above, Steed is just about to let Cathy in on the case he’s working: he asks her whether she has heard of Mr Lo, the main figure behind the smuggling ring. Cathy isn’t fully involved with the case yet, but Steed is starting to reel her into it.

At the beginning of Act II, Cathy tells Steed that she has a job cataloguing the regimental museum at a nearby army base. What Cathy doesn’t know yet is that Steed got her the job so that she could be his eyes and ears on the ground there.

These two sets of  blockings not only provide a visual mirroring in the positioning of the actors, with a crossover in shot 2 in the first set: they also reflect both Mrs Gale’s growing role in the case and her approaching conflicts with Steed over that role. At the beginning of Act I, she’s not involved at all yet, and it is she who is lounging in the background while Steed – who knows very well why they’re actually there – sits up in the foreground. The angles of their bodies cross at their feet, but they’re not facing completely opposite directions.

At the end of Act I, Mrs Gale learns that Steed went to the restaurant as part of working a case, and that he wants her help with it. She now knows what’s going on, but hasn’t assumed an active role. That lack of activity is conveyed in her prone position. Her imminent conflict with Steed over the case is foreshadowed by the fact that each character is facing a different direction, and the planes of their bodies completely cross.

At the beginning of Act II, Cathy has been roped into the case as a principal player. Now Steed is lounging in the background while Cathy is foregrounded and assumes the more active pose. Cathy doesn’t yet know that the job was Steed’s doing and that he wants her at the base to help him break the smuggling ring, but the blocking of the third shot reflects her new involvement and Steed’s movement into the background of the investigation. Her second confrontation with Steed over her role is also foreshadowed by the crossing of the planes of their bodies. Compare the Act II pair of shots in the second set of stills, above, with the pair from Act I: in Act II, the plane and direction of Steed’s body is in more direct opposition to Cathy’s than it was in their first scene together, where they are at ease with each other and enjoying a nice evening out.


Intimacies

Two pairs of blockings, one in Act I and the other in Act II, reflect different aspects of Steed and Cathy’s personal intimacy with one another.

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In Act I, Steed leans over Cathy’s shoulder to read the cheque he found in Jason’s coat with her. It is a gentle, intimate gesture. A change in camera angle moves us from watching their initial examination of the cheque to Mrs Gale’s exclamation about the amount (£5,000) and her musings on why anyone would carry a cheque for that amount in their pocket. In both shots, Steed remains side-by-side with Cathy: he is in her personal space, but not intruding into it, and she welcomes his presence.

The situation is quite different in Act II. In this scene, Steed is also leaning over Cathy, but his position and attitude are somewhat aggressive and intrusive, rather than intimate and collaborative. In shot 3, above, Steed is attempting to read Cathy’s job offer without her permission, while in shot 4 he proposes that she move in with him, an offer she has already declined in the past and has no intention of accepting now.

In shots 3 and 4, the back of the chair no longer provides a buffer between Steed and Mrs Gale. Steed leans over her from the side, and his face intrudes somewhat into hers. It’s a much more aggressive stance, one that is borne of multiple layers of anxiety: over the case; over what Mrs Gale will think when she finds out he rigged the whole thing; over her safety while on the job in the presence of potentially dangerous men; and over his personal relationship with her, which tends to be on the contentious side. Instead of the camera changing position, Steed moves, towards Mrs Gale.

Steed also is using these two moments to hook Cathy into helping him with the case. In Act I, he is piqueing her curiosity by showing her the cheque. In Act II, he uses his nosiness and intrusiveness to fire up her desire to take the job, if for no other reason than to spite him. In both, he is successful: Cathy wonders what the deal with the cheque is, and she fiercely takes up the job as a statement of her independence from Steed, although ironically for Cathy it is Steed who has secured that employment on her behalf.


Through the Looking-Glass. And the Brandy Snifter

In addition to the positioning of the characters, Hammond makes use of glass surfaces as an aspect of his direction of this episode.

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In Act I, the glassware – especially the brandy snifters – are an important visual focus. In the first shot from Act I, above, Hammond shoots through the glasses towards Steed and Mrs Gale. Mrs Gale is still entering the living room, and is currently behind Steed. She takes up the armchair next to Steed, and is foregrounded while Steed pours the brandy. The glassware is still visible on the table, but it is no longer as prominent a visual element as it was in the first shot. In the last shot from Act I, above, Steed’s brandy snifter becomes an important focal element as Steed is foregrounded and he stares intently into the glass. Throughout this scene, it is Steed’s handling of the glasses that is most important.

The glass element in Act II is a mirror. In the first shot from Act II, above, the actors are aligned so that Mrs Gale is now in front of Steed. Instead of looking through a glass at the characters, the characters are now reflected back at us in the mirror. This time it is Cathy’s use of the glass that becomes most prominent, first as she looks into the mirror while she puts on her hat (not shown), which is a reversal from the final shot of the Act I group where Steed was doing the looking into the glass element. Although the relative position of the characters in real space is the same in both Act I shot 3 and Act II shot 1 – Steed to stage right and Cathy to stage left  – the use of the mirror has the effect of both reversing this and emphasizing Cathy’s presence since she is shown both in real space and in the mirror.

As in Act I, the glass surface loses some of its prominence in the middle shot: Steed and Cathy are now face-to-face, and the mirror is only slightly visible in the background, and Steed is slightly foregrounded.

The last shot of the Act II series also contains the idea of shooting through an object, as did the first shot of the Act I series, except in Act II it is the hatch next to the mirror that is the space being shot through, while the mirror shows only a portion of Steed’s hand.

These two series of shots create a kind of reversal of their own: in the Act I series, the through-shot is the first while in Act II it is the last; in the Act I series it is Steed’s relationship to the glass that is highlighted in the last shot, while Mrs Gale’s relationship to the mirror is foregrounded in the first shot. In both middle shots, the glassware recedes in importance, but the positions of the characters are somewhat reversed: in the Act I middle shot, it is Steed’s body that slightly faces the audience while Cathy’s back is slightly turned, and Cathy is foregrounded. This setup is reversed in the Act II middle shot, although each character remains on the same side of the screen they occupied in Act I, and Steed is slightly less foregrounded there than Cathy was in Act I.

The use of the mirror in Act II seems to play a more prominent role in the arc of the scene than do the brandy snifters in Act I, and the most important aspect of this would seem to be the use of Steed’s and Cathy’s reflections as shown in the first still. At this point in the scene, Steed is complaining that Cathy is not going to be available to help him with the case.

Steed’s reflection in the mirror indicates his physical presence in the room, but his actual body is not visible in this first shot. This seems to be a reference to the fact that Steed’s dudgeon over Cathy taking the job is, in fact, an act, since he’s the one who got Cathy the job in the first place. Steed is putting on a persona here; in a way he’s not really speaking as himself, just as his reflection in the mirror is an indicator of his presence in the room, but is not really Steed. Cathy, on the other hand, is present both in reality and in reflection: she is acting as herself, but she is also caught up in Steed’s mirror world: the reason she has the job at all is because Steed rigged it that way.


Side By Side, Mostly

Camera angle and shot length play an important role in the two-shots in the last part of Act II, where Cathy and Steed discuss the case in more depth. At this point, Cathy has discovered that Steed got her the job at the base so that she could be on the inside for him, and she’s pissed off about it. She yells at him as she comes into the flat, and Steed enjoys her dudgeon greatly (first shot, below).

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After an exchange in a series of one-shots where Cathy expostulates with Steed about keeping her in the dark and Steed explains why he did what he did, Cathy calms down and takes a seat in the armchair closest to the fireplace. Now that Cathy knows what’s going on and what she needs to do, she discusses the case with Steed as they try to figure out where to go next.

In their first conversation about the case in Act I, when they discuss the cheque, and Cathy is still completely in the dark about the smuggling ring, Steed sits closest to the fireplace, and Mrs Gale in the other chair. The blocking in Act II reverses this, just as Cathy’s awareness of the smuggling ring has been changed from ignorance to knowledge.

Unlike the first conversation in Act I, though, where Hammond chooses to alternate between foregrounding Cathy and foregrounding Steed, the exchange in Act II primarily foregrounds Steed, when one of the characters is chosen for that. Steed is firmly in the driver’s seat now, and Cathy is taking direction on how to handle the case. She’s not Steed’s subordinate, though, as we are reminded by the third of the four shots shown above: the camera angle changes to show both characters sitting side by side as equals, and Cathy once again demonstrates to Steed her intelligence and knowledge by mentioning the Eastern preference for gold over paper money, something Steed is surprised to find she knows.

The last of the four shots shown above reprises having one character in a more relaxed or prone position, as Steed stretches out in his armchair. Cathy remains upright in hers. The most important difference is the angle of the characters relative to one another: in the shots discussed in Part I of this series, the bodies of the characters always cross; in the last shot immediately above, Cathy’s and Steed’s bodies are both aligned along the same plane. No longer is Cathy in the dark; no longer is Steed in the background; no longer are they in conflict over the case. They are now equal partners working in harness towards the same end, although Steed remains foregrounded both in terms of blocking and in terms of directing the investigation.


An Epilogue, With One-Shots

In two scenes, the use of one-shots works together with the two-shots to create a mirror image of blocking when comparing the relevant scenes in Act I and Act II.

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In the shots from the end of Act I, above, Steed and Cathy’s interaction begins amicably, until Steed mentions Mr Lo. Cathy realizes that he’s been trying to get her involved in another case without her consent. She gets up, strides over to the fireplace, and yells at Steed. Then she sits down, and throws a cushion at him, which he catches. This scene progresses from an amicable two-shot, to a very tense and confrontational series of one-shots that eventually end on a friendly note with Steed throwing the cushion back at Mrs Gale, who falls off her seat onto the floor (not pictured). The scene – the last of Act I – ends with a fade to black on a one-shot of Mrs Gale lying on the floor, laughing.

The scene in Act II is in many ways a reversal of the process used in Act I. In Act II, Cathy arrives at Steed’s apartment already mad at him: she has discovered that he rigged up the job for her and she’s upset that he wangled things behind her back. She strides to the fireplace and reads him the riot act. Steed, meanwhile, sits on the step near the door, listening to Cathy’s tirade. Then he explains what he was doing and why. This mollifies her. She sits down in an armchair, and Steed comes to sit next to her in the other one. The scene ends with the two of them amicably discussing the case, in a two-shot that recalls Steed’s pose at the opening of Act I. As mentioned in Part IV, the position of the characters in the final two-shot also shows that Cathy and Steed are both now working in tandem on the case.

Originally posted on sparklywaistcoat.tumblr.com
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