this is a weirdly disjointed episode, but it’s got a lot of really interesting stuff in it.
1) why does frannie’s crush on fraser take up such a lot of this episode, and why does it seem to have become a full on delusion? she basically breaks up with him. but like… she knows they’re not together. i don’t understand. both fraser and i were made to feel extremely awkward by this.
2) ray and fraser are weirdly muted in this episode, because other characters have bigger roles i guess. and that’s fine sometimes but… i don’t know. it feels weird given the plot.
3) the FBI agent they’re working with is the coolest and i love her.
4) fraser has a pet fake-death toad.
5) while fraser is in his death-like trance in the funeral home, he starts to walk towards a bright light. his father stops him and makes him walk through a sideways door instead — into the snowy lands that he calls the “existential demilitarised zone”, which seems to be something like purgatory. fraser has a lot of questions about the nature of lie and death, some of which his father attempts to answer, but most of which he doesn’t. and the answers he gives are not very enlightening (as fraser points out). what’s interesting is that his father points to fraser’s chest and says, the answers you seek are inside you, you carry them around with you (or something to that effect). and of course, to an EXTENT his whole exchange is taking place in fraser’s head, or fraser might assume that it is. he’s in a trance, we’ve seen him sometimes grapple with the question of what kind of existence his father’s ghost has. is he just a projection? can other people see him? but still, there are no answers to the questions. perhaps because fraser is seeking these answers by taking on dangerous journeys… and in this episode, the whole reason he’s confronting these questions is because he’s essentially taken on a superhuman quest. he has disguised himself as a dead body. what is it that huey says? “fraser’s like superman, he can’t be dead!” and yet. as far as huey can see, he is. it’s a reminder that fraser is human, and that anyone can die. but then, only a few minutes later — surprise! he’s alive. huey was right. fraser is superman. or something like him.
6) the more fraser seeks for control and external answers… that won’t help his essential problem, his essential quest for answers here. he is uncomfortable with emotion and he doesn’t consider his own needs. he will happily use a weird toad secretion to take control of his body in order to appear dead! but he won’t self-examine. that’s the thing that his father is pointing out here.
7) we know that fraser’s father was not about much when he was a child, and in general seems to have been a fairly rotten father. but still, there is something very painful about how when fraser asks if he’s dead, bob says not yet, you have obligations back in your human life. “think of this as a coming attraction.” jesus. what a bleak way to think of life. obligations, with this empty, endless stretch of snow as a reward.
8) so i guess i find it weird that this episode doesn’t make much of friendship, usually it’s linchpin, in response or contrast to this. when fraser’s woken up, it’s not by ray quietly whispering to him that he might want to wake up — it’s not the entreaties of a friend who has carried out the plan with him. it’s francesca, screaming. that’s one of your obligations, bob says. time for you to go.
9) francesca is such a problem. in this episode, she asks fraser how he feels — and he tells her. he’s upset because he went along with one of ray’s plans to get some criminals to talk, but it involved lying and he feels really bad about it. he thinks of francesca as a friend, and she asked him how she was feeling… and her response is to basically scream at him because he’s talking about this and not her upcoming wedding! francesca seems to be incapable of thinking of fraser as anything other than a potential lover or a spurned lover. and it makes me very sad that this one time he tries to open up, she responds like this.
10) it is interesting that so much of this episode focuses on francesca’s phantom engagement. when we meet her “fiancé” at the end, he is german (and played by paul gross) and does not speak any english - presumably he has no idea they were ever engaged, just as he has no idea they’re breaking up and he seems immensely confused by the whole thing. it’s a weird parody of a romantic relationship, which francesca seems to want out of as soon as she enters into it. when she hears of fraser’s “death”, frannie runs to the funeral home in a wedding dress she was trying on — thus joining together her fake upcoming wedding and the fake funeral, both of which are over before they even begin.
11) i will be thinking a lot about the phrase “existential demilitarised zone”. a lot of due south seems to explore ways in which contemporary city life can fall short, and it explores people trying to make personal connection. right? and romantic relationships fail again and again. here we also see something about the idea that weddings and funerals can be these empty rituals that have little to do with the deep questions or connections that people may seek. which is why it’s partly a shame that we don’t see much in the way of friendship between fraser and ray or other characters in this episode — the two best moments for that are when ray panics about fraser not immediately waking up after the dry run of the fake-death, and when diefenbaker embraces fraser when he wakes up for real.
12) i did enjoy the scene where ray visits fraser’s “corpse” in the funeral home. he makes sure that they don’t shut fraser in an air-tight coffin all night (“he’s - he was claustrophobic.”) and he tells fraser that the rouge they’ve put on his cheeks to make him look more alive makes him look like a toy soldier. and then he lets forth this horrible, strange laugh. it’s funny because they’re trying to make fraser, who they think is dead, look better for this fake funeral. in the same way that they try to make all the bodies look better for funerals. so… blush on his cheeks. but he looks nothing like he usually does, and it just draws attention to… the whole situation. it makes fraser looks different than he does usually. it makes him look less alive. i am also thinking about ray’s little fake cry, and how he seems extremely unnerved rather than upset. he doesn’t like the morgue, he doesn’t like the hospital, but he likes this even less. he doesn’t mind corpses so much — but he’s freaked out by the idea of death, and the structures around it. i think sarah monette has talked a lot more cogently than i can about his distaste for the morgue, and that’s what’s going on here. but this time he doesn’t turn away — fraser is not a corpse, so fraser has broken the rules, and ray can engage with him.
13) and then the crux of it — the whole point of this scheme was that they thought the dead bodies of criminals were being hidden in coffins beneath the dead bodies that were supposed to be there. and they were right! these bodies were not like the ones on display. hidden. not laid out. not made up. no grave markers, nothing. the scream that wakes fraser is the result of granny catching sight of the other body beneath him — the body she wasn’t expecting to see. this is heavily symbolic, right? the horrible reality of death, underneath. hidden in plain sight. what’s a more ingenious way of hiding a dead body than in a coffin? that’s where they’re supposed to go, right. but not like this. it’s all wrong. like a sick joke. there is something to tease out also about how everyone faints when fraser wakes up — that’s how he saves the die. not by fighting, or anything else. he wakes up, and is not dead, and it’s such an unexpected thing to happen at a funeral — where he should be dead — that almost everybody keels over. like a line of dominos. they’re not excited or relieved. they’re overwhelmed. that feeling overtakes them and their bodies. so they swoon. criminal included. who are we left with? the group of people in the know.
14) so yes, it’s an episode that plays with structure and the odd trappings that come with some of the most profound experiences people can have — namely, love and death. marriage and funerals are both a farce: you have to look at what’s inside you, and make your own meaning. it shows us also various characters struggling against the bonds of life and the expectations it brings with it… francesca is in what she thinks is a real relationship for once, and she hates it. she’s panicking. she’s becoming more delusional about fraser than she has been before. she does not want to be married. the heteronormative dream is a lie. or something.
right? i know i like to overthink this show. but. it’s there, i swear it is.
15) RAY: Isn’t the truth of the matter: you used the vehicle in the commission of a felonious act and now you’ve only reported it stolen to absolve yourself of any responsibility or connection to said vehicle? What?
FRASER: That’s a beautiful paragraph.
yes, it is. i love this small moment of confounded expectations and friendship. and i giggled.
some stray notes:
a) in this episode, huey and dewey are staking-out a restaurant, and dewey does a spectacularly bad job at it - he goes in the restaurant to buy dinner for both of them, then takes it into the car. huey, frustrated, says he can’t believe he did something so stupid. later, welsh comes across a photo of dewey carrying the food from during the stakeout and says that dewey clearly needs to attend a seminar on his investigative techniques.
anyway. inside the restaurant, ray and frannie are undercover. welsh sent ray to the restaurant and told him to take someone with him — and frannie, not a police officer, not trained, insisted on going. when ray pointed out how dangerous it could get and welsh pointed out that she’d just got engaged (as a reason… not to undertake dangerous work?) she said that he should let her take part as a giftto her.
who else is undercover at the restaurant? fraser. he sits a table away from ray and francesca. both fraser and francesca are bad at being undercover - francesca wears sunglasses and peers over her menu without taking in any of what she was really supposed to be looking out for. and fraser can’t sit at his table properly either — he is staring at ray and francesca’s table in an odd, conspicuous way.
ray, between the two of them, is fighting a losing battle to actually get the work done. ray is a competent undercover agent. he sinks into his chair, he can actually order a meal from the menu. it’s just an interesting contrast — and a good reminder of their personalities.
b) this is one of the few episodes where someone else can hear bob fraser’s ghost. and it’s a fucking inspired moment:
Bob (to Ben, from within the borderlands/purgatory): First of all, being dead is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Van Zandt: Who said that?
at its root, this episode is about death — and also what it means. van zandt is a criminal who not only kills people, he owns a funeral home and uses it to dispose of the bodies of people he’s killed. to him death is a tool — it gets rid of people and bodies he doesn’t want to deal with. he has no respect or understanding of it. and yet, he is closely attuned enough — is he weighed down by it? he is able to hear bob speak, from the world of the dead. there’s something odd there. this character who seems the least concerned about death, not squeamish at all, willing to kill a lot and use the bodies of the recently deceased and the care of their loved ones as tools — he is the one who can hear bob.
it’s like — a threat, rather than anything else. death is not all it’s cracked up to be — it can also mean that death is not the silence you took it for. death is not total oblivion; people who are left behind remember and love those who are gone. you may think that death erases, that death will make people avert their eyes from what is there. but it’s not so.
c) when fraser and his father are climbing the vast snowy banks of the borderlands, what do they reach at the top? a sheer drop, with a view of a city skyline (i assume of chicago). fraser can’t escape, even here. he’s just a sheer drop away. life and death are confused, they rub up against each other. and there’s also something interesting in the idea of this peaceful wilderness inside his brain as his death-like state, or even just as a deep peaceful state within himself, with nobody else there to distract him except his father’s ghost… and then this busy city with people in it is life, is the opposite of that. and fraser is homesick and he misses canada — but right now, whether for obligation or no, he chooses the city again. he goes back to his friends.
this last idea makes me very glad that the series does not end with fraser going back to canada alone — he takes ray kowalski with him. it’s not giving in, it’s not choosing oblivion and loneliness over life with other people. it’s something about forging a new path instead. he takes ray with him, into the vast wilderness of himself. and ray trusts him and wants to go; it’s the adventure, the trust in another person he has never let himself truly believe in before. the truest adventure there is or can be.