Thoughts on “Obsession”: Synopsis and Part 1

⊕ Content warning for images and discussion of intimate partner abuse

“Three Bullets and a Fractured Thigh”

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   Purdey and Larry dream about their future together

It is 1970, and Purdey is a member of the corps de ballet at the Royal Ballet in London. She also is engaged to be married, to a young RAF pilot named Larry Doomer. They seem happy together: Larry already owns some land, on which they plan to build their dream house. Larry hints that he’d like children, and Purdey seems open to the idea.

But then Larry gets word that his father was executed in an unnamed Arab country, purportedly for espionage. He finds out that a leader of that country will be departing the UK that morning. Larry goes to the airport to assassinate him, but Purdey discovers what Larry intends to do. She stops him just in time, saving the Arab leader’s life. Larry does not take kindly to this; he backhands Purdey in retaliation. Purdey is frightened, angered, and hurt by this.

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Purdey stops Larry from shooting the Arab leader. Larry backhands her.

Flash forward to 1977. Larry is still an RAF pilot, and he and his team are preparing a live-fire exhibition for the benefit of an Arab delegation that includes the same leader whom Larry holds responsible for his father’s death. Purdey, meanwhile, has left her ballet career behind and is now an agent at the Ministry working with Steed and Gambit. Steed has wangled a plum assignment for Purdey as a member of the security detail working to protect the Arab leader, but when Purdey finds out who it is she has to protect, she politely declines the assignment. It’s too connected to her past experiences with Larry and her feelings about him.

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Steed offers Purdey the security detail, and becomes concerned when she refuses.

Steed and Gambit evidently don’t know about Purdey’s history either with Larry or with this diplomat: they’re both confused about why she is so adamant about not taking the assignment, which Steed had to work very hard to get for her. Gambit tries to convince her to take it, but Steed tells him to back off.

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   Purdey introduces Steed to Larry, and it’s awkward

Instead of forcing her to take the security detail, Steed has Purdey accompany him to the RAF base where Larry works, because there has been a suspicious fire there. While they’re looking around, they bump into Larry. This is a surprise for both Purdey and Larry. She had cut off all contact with him after he hit her, so she didn’t know he was posted at that particular base. This leads to awkward introductions and an awkward conversation, in which Steed shows a willingness to be friendly with this man that Purdey knows. However, Purdey shows quite clearly that she wants nothing to do with Larry. It takes Steed a minute to figure out that this is the case, but once he understands that there’s some bad blood there he dials it back and makes it his business to ensure Purdey feels safe and able to do her job. Just before Steed and Purdey leave the base, Larry tries to have another word with her. Steed can tell from the way Purdey has been behaving and the way Larry speaks of her that there’s something very wrong here, and that Larry is at the heart of that wrongness. Steed holds Larry back and tells him to leave Purdey alone.

When Steed and Purdey are in the car heading back to his house, he tells her a story about the time he went over the wall in Berlin and ended up with three bullets in him, and a fractured thigh. It was a traumatic event, one that he had a hard time dealing with. But he says that the thing he did to deal with it, the thing his superiors insisted on, was getting back into the field as soon as he was fit to do so, because the best way to deal with fear is to face it. Then he drops a bombshell: he’s invited Larry to a party at his house.

Purdey is appalled. She doesn’t tell Steed why she doesn’t want to see Larry, but she makes it very, very clear that she doesn’t want to be within ten miles of that man and that she’s hurt that Steed would invite him to a party she also will be attending. Steed tells her, gently but firmly, that Larry is going to be her Berlin. She’s going to face him and she’s going to deal with her issues about him.

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“Berlin.”

When Purdey sees Larry arrive at the party, she freezes, but Steed is right there to give her moral support. He says one word: “Berlin.” Purdey, who is acting as hostess for Steed, gathers her courage and goes to give Larry some champagne.

Larry tries to talk to Purdey as though nothing had gone wrong between them. Purdey, on the other hand, is outwardly courteous, but cold towards him. In a conversation laced with subtext, she basically tells him to fuck off. During this exchange, Steed is keeping a close eye on them, and when it becomes apparent that things are about to go all pear-shaped, he darts in like a sheepdog and maneuvers Larry away from Purdey. He takes Larry for a turn around the room, where he learns a little more about the young pilot, including that his father is dead.

TNA.obsession.slappinglarryBut we haven’t seen the last of Larry: later he tries to corner Purdey in Steed’s kitchen. She is obviously distressed by this, and Larry is not terribly gentle. He grabs her and tries to force her to kiss him, but she slaps him. Fortunately Gambit walks in before things can escalate further, and Purdey escapes. Gambit takes Larry aside and lets him know that he is Purdey’s friend. The underlying subtext is that Gambit won’t stand for Purdey being mistreated.

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Purdey tells Steed she needs to be the one to talk to Larry

After Larry leaves the party, he kidnaps an army general who also had been one of the guests there. The general is in charge of a new satellite imaging system that has the potential to scupper Larry’s plan, which is to use a rocket that he stole during the live-fire exercise to blow up the Houses of Parliament while the Arab leader is inside. When Commander East shows up from the Ministry, he tells Steed, Gambit, and Purdey that the general is missing, so they go looking for him. Purdey remembers that the general and Larry left at about the same time, and suggests asking him whether he saw anything. Steed starts off to Larry’s place, but Purdey stops him: she has to do this. She has to go over the wall a second time. Larry is her Berlin.

Steed and East follow Purdey to Larry’s house, where they find the general insensible from drink: Larry had been force-feeding him whiskey to get him to tell what he knows about the satellite. While they’re dealing with the general, Purdey deduces that Larry has gone to the piece of land where they were planning their dream house. Steed doesn’t want Purdey to confront Larry again, but she demands to be allowed to talk to him alone. Steed insists that they go together. So Purdey shoots out a tire on Steed’s Land Rover and zooms off to deal with Larry by herself.

Meanwhile, Larry and his buddies have set up the rocket to fly to Parliament and blow it up while the Arab guy is there. Gambit, who has been searching the area covered by the satellite’s latest flyover, is nearly run down by Larry’s friends, but they crash their truck and Gambit handcuffs them for later collection.

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Standoff between Larry and Purdey

Purdey arrives and confronts Larry. He pulls a gun on her, so she pulls hers. Purdey begs Larry to stand down: she doesn’t want to hurt him. He taunts her. When she takes a step towards him, he fires a warning shot at her feet. Tensions escalate, then Gambit arrives. He sees Larry taking aim at Purdey, and fires his own gun, killing Larry. Purdey is devastated by this: she runs towards Larry’s body screaming, “You shot him! You shot him!”

Just after this, Steed and East arrive in the Land Rover. Steed pushes East out of the moving car, drives the Land Rover over the trench where the rocket is waiting, and then bails, himself. The rocket explodes, sending flaming pieces of Land Rover flying hither and yon. Steed and the others are unharmed, but only barely.

Gambit tries to comfort Purdey. He says he had to shoot Larry because he was about to kill her, and asks whether she wouldn’t have done the same for him. Purdey says she honestly doesn’t know. Purdey walks away. Gambit starts to follow her, but Steed restrains him. We fade out on Purdey walking across the field.


“Berlin.”

In this TNA Season 2 episode, we learn some important things about the main characters (especially Purdey), about how they interact with one another and they way they care for one of their number when that person is hurting. Steed and Gambit both make it their business to prevent Larry from hurting Purdey, but they do this in a way that is both unobtrusive and not condescending towards her. Even as they step in to keep Larry away from Purdey, they’re not white-knighting her, and they’re not treating her as a damsel in distress. They’re not going to her rescue in order to make themselves look good, to prove anything to Purdey, or assert any kind of ownership over her against Larry’s own claims. Steed and Gambit both know that Purdey probably could defenestrate Larry with one hand tied behind her back, but because she has issues with him she’s not seeing clearly and she’s not operating at full strength. Purdey is Steed and Gambit’s partner, their companion-in-arms, their friend. She is in distress, and she needs backup against an enemy, so they provide it.

However.

Steed’s “face your fears” thing with Purdey is really problematic. It’s not cricket to force a victim of abuse to come face-to-face with their abuser, no matter how well-intentioned setting up that meeting might be. Steed doesn’t know all the gory details about Purdey’s past with Larry, but he’s intelligent enough and sensitive enough to understand that she is afraid of Larry and doesn’t want to be anywhere near him, and he trusts that Purdey’s adverse responses to Larry are well founded. But at the same time, Steed and his partners need to investigate Larry as a possible witness or even suspect in the fire at the base and the disappearance of some armaments, without alerting him to the fact that he is a person of interest. Steed feels that the best way to do this at the moment is to invite him to the party.

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Steed gently reminds Purdey that she needs to set personal issues aside

I believe that on one level Steed’s desire to help Purdey with her issues about Larry is genuine, but at the same time I think he would really rather not be involved in her intimate, personal affairs, nor would he have inserted himself into those affairs the way he does absent the contingencies of the case. He knows that it’s really not his job to fix Purdey’s relationship with Larry, nor is it his job to act as some kind of therapist helping her to get over her problems with the other man. What Steed does have to do is to create a situation in which he and his partners can have access to a potential suspect, and to observe that suspect interacting with other people who are potentially connected to the case. But Steed also must create a situation in which Purdey can continue to do her job with the competency and aplomb Steed knows her to possess, despite her personal issues with Larry. There are two intersecting sets of needs here, and Steed is trying to navigate them both: avoid causing undue harm to Purdey while at the same time not jeopardizing the investigation.

Although Steed never should have created a situation in which Purdey and Larry are thrown together, or at the very least should have given her a choice about whether to recuse herself from the case for personal reasons, several things mitigate Steed’s decision to invite Larry to the party somewhat. Steed is never once dismissive of Purdey’s fears: he believes that her responses to Larry are genuine, rational, and reasonable. Never once does he tell her that she has no reason to be afraid of the other man, nor does he minimize those fears. His story about the Berlin wall is intended to illustrate that he himself knows what it is to face fear and pain, not to set up a comparison between them or play a game of “whose trauma is worse.” Never once does Steed tell Purdey that there’s something wrong with her for being afraid. Never once does he suggest that Purdey somehow owes time or conversation to Larry because of their past association, or even because Larry will be at the party: he simply warns her that Larry will be coming, and then tries to give her tools that she can use to deal with the interaction that very likely will result.

When the time does come for that interaction, Steed stations himself nearby so that he can rescue Purdey if she seems to be having a hard time, and this is exactly what he does. Steed wants Purdey to face her fears, he wants her to deal with them so that she can do her job and because he cares about her, but no point does he either gaslight her or hang her out to dry. He acknowledges the validity of her experience and helps her deal with Larry in a place where she feels safe, where she knows she has trusted friends who care about her who are standing by to help her the moment she needs it.

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“I’m her friend. A close friend.”

While Steed takes the lead in the matter of Larry, Gambit also plays his part, although he does so imperfectly. Gambit trusts that Purdey has good reasons for not wanting to be around Larry, and although he wasn’t shy about trying to convince her to take the security detail assignment in Act I, he knows that now it is time for him to shut up and have Purdey’s back. When Gambit sees that Larry has the potential to be violent with Purdey, he takes him aside and lets Larry know in no uncertain terms that Purdey is his friend, and that Larry will have to deal with him if he doesn’t behave himself. However, Gambit is not here asserting his own claim to Purdey, because he knows he doesn’t have one, and he’s not defending her because he thinks her incapable of doing that for herself. Purdey is his friend, his colleague, his comrade, and it is his job to have her six, just as he would expect her to have his.

However (again).

Later Gambit manages in typical Gambit fashion to put his foot in it. He goes into the kitchen where Purdey is doing some cleaning up, and starts asking thinly veiled questions about Larry and his relationship to Purdey. He does it in a lighthearted way, and seems to be concerned about Purdey’s safety around Larry, but Purdey is having none of it, and quite rightly tells him that it’s none of his business. I do think that Gambit is fishing for information about Larry partly because he himself is interested in a relationship with Purdey and hopes to use this to his advantage, which is all kinds of not okay, but I still don’t consider this evidence that Gambit assumes either that he’s already in a relationship with Purdey or that he somehow has a right to own her.

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“Like someone with three bullets and a fractured thigh.”

Just before Larry leaves the party, Purdey speaks with him once more, briefly. Larry had dropped his glass when he heard about the new satellite imaging system, and Purdey is concerned that something might be wrong. Larry tells her that everything is fine, and he leaves. Steed sees Larry go, and seems to be aware that Larry and Purdey spoke together before Larry left. Steed goes to Purdey and asks how she feels. “Like jelly,” she replies. “Like someone with three bullets and a fractured thigh.” So much for Steed’s attempt to help Purdey get over her fears. The only thing that his plan has achieved so far is to retraumatize Purdey. And Gambit’s ham-handedness hasn’t exactly done her any favors, either.

However (third time’s the charm).

I think that if Purdey hadn’t been able to face Larry at the party, if instead she had excused herself and left, Steed neither would have fetched her back and forced the interaction nor shamed her for not having been able to go through with it (and neither would Gambit), nor would he have permitted Larry to follow her, although after the case was completed there might have followed a certain amount of conversation about whether she should continue to work as an agent given the possibility of personal issues interfering with her effectiveness. Although it’s not exactly the healthiest thing to do, Steed and his partners have to be able to ignore or set aside their personal issues when needs must: in their line of work lives (including their own) depend on their ability to do the job with a level head and without heed to distractions.


Continued in Part 2 »
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