On Serangoon Road 1×04 ‘Give Me Money’, the fantastic gambling B plot becomes the A plot, we get lots of Alaric Tay, Don wears appropriate clothing (and gets hired to investigate the man he’s cuckolding), and once again I talk about white people taking the SEAzns of SEA for granted (those jerks). Also the acting gets better and so it’s a shame about those spiralling viewing numbers for My ABC.
We open to Alaric Tay counting in Mandarin, and the fortune telling Auntie telling Don’s future. Future dark. Very bad. Don is all ‘非常好，谢谢你’ which is funny because that’s not what the subtitles tell you (the subs say ‘Thanks Auntie I needed cheering up, which a) sarcasm and b) he literally says ‘very good, thanks Auntie’ which yes might be sarcasm but even then! Also some other bits are wrong lah). I love this entire section! Then Alaric gets pickpocketed by a street kid while Auntie is asking for cash and I laugh a lot, genuinely this time and not in making fun like the other episodes.
I realise for the first time that Auntie Fortune Teller is actually sitting right in front of Brother Song’s place of business, and now I’m starting to wonder (hope) that she is something important later on in the series, particularly since later on in the episode Don explicitly asks if Kay Song is in and she says ‘not happy. Come another day.’ Guardian Auntie Fortune Teller?
Alaric attempts to pay Brother Song, who attempts to talk him into more gambling but whilst Alaric is considering, the money is fake! Tong Goon One throws him onto the pool table and Brother Song pulls out a knife and a lighter, starts discussing which eye to take as he sterilises the knife (he’s so courteous). Which eye is he gonna take?!
However before Brother Song can take an eye, a bomb goes off outside! Don protects Auntie Fortune Teller with his body from the bomb blast, what a good boy. The explosion is the opportunity that Alaric takes to run away from Brother Song, grabbing Don as they dash off to find Harry Wong, who gave Alaric the fake money. “Harry Wong when I’m dead I’m gonna come back as a ghost and haunt you,” Alaric yells when they discover that Harry Wong has done a runner.
Cut to the agency, where Pamelyn the Secretary of My Heart can’t find anything on Harry Wong. Maxwell Black, who has the world’s most worrying moustache, turns up; he gets shot down by Pamelyn and told off by Joan, good work Singaporean women I love you all. Maxwell Black wants the agency to investigate a problem in his company, and Don always knows where the bodies are buried. Frank Simpson in particular might be a problem, and a reminder because I never talk about him that he’s the man Don is cuckolding; Pamelyn looks like she’s trying not to laugh. Joan takes the case while Don is all Nooooodundoeeeeet.
Two Tong Goons turn up to take Don to see Brother Song, where Brother Song is sharpening a fucking meat cleaver. Now, like any good Chinese girl, even this vegan one, I own a meat cleaver and I love it, but holy crap the noise as he drags the cleaver along that whetstone is chilling and fucking terrifying low in my belly. Chin Han totally sold me in this scene, the quiet, serious, slightly psychotic menace that I’ve always assumed Tong leaders have.
He tells a quiet story, about a hawker with legendary char siu bao; his son was a gambler, and the son tried to sell his sister he was so in debt, so addicted to gambling; but he wanted to stop, so he cut off a finger so that whenever he was tempted to gamble, he’d look at his finger and be reminded not to. He keeps sharpening the cleaver as he tells Alaric that Alaric is not as good as that hawker’s son; he is just shit, so he’s gonna have to cut off a finger for him. Don just keeps watching, not saying anything, because he knows he’s been brought to watch this for a reason; one of Brother Song’s men is leaking to the police, and he wants to know which one it is. Don says he has a policy of not working for the gangs, which is a shame, because Brother Song just ties Alaric’s hands in place and keeps going with the prep for cutting off a finger; Alaric gives the best WHAT NO face ever as Brother Song considers cutting off a whole hand, and it’s at this moment that the scene goes from ‘I’m pretty sure Brother Song is bluffing, this scene is overwrought’ to ‘OMG IT’S HBO MAYBE HE’LL DO IT?!’
“Fuck you la I thought you my friend,” Alaric says after Don agrees to work for Brother Song; “You very selfish you know, I got to do everything on my own is it?” I love Alaric so much, I know he’s just here for humour and in this particular instance to move the plot along but I love him so much.
Don meets up with Claire in a garden, and Claire talks about how she wants to see the orchids in Singapore. CLAIRE YOU’RE IN SINGAPORE DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE NATIONAL FLOWER IS. I mean that’s like coming to Australia and saying you want to see a wattle or something JUST OPEN YOUR EYES. Don, because he’s apparently not that good at detectiving (like Claire, who can’t find orchids in Singapore), tells Claire that he’s been hired by Maxwell Black to investigate her husband Frank. Claire is horrified and convinced that Don is completely wrong, but she doesn’t even bother to insinuate that Don is happy to finger Frank for it because he wants to get rid of the competition. “If he was on the take I’d be seeing some of the benefits,” she says, as she flashes around a previously not seen plot device diamond bracelet. “He brought it home from one of his trips – it’s not real he can’t afford it on his salary,” she continues, as if she’s not even thinking about what she’s saying. I hate everybody in this scene, it’s so ridiculous.
Pamelyn’s connections tell her that Harry Wong is back in town, same game different spot, so Don corners him and Alaric walks down the alley with a knife in his hand, so ridiculous looking I love it. He threatens to hack off Harry Wong’s arm with the world’s tiniest knife and Harry Wong caves, telling him that Brother Song told him to pay Alaric fake money. This is clearly a ploy to get Don to work for Brother Song but I didn’t think Don was that good, I’d like a little more show not tell, Serangoon Road. How does Don know where the dead bodies are buried? How does Don get such a good rep that his business partner gets framed to ensure his complicity? What how tell me.
Macca in the bar, where I guess he lives but that’s about right for an Australian journalist in 1964 in Singapore, and he tells Don that Frank Simpson seems like a good bloke – but they all start out like that, “present company excepted” and I don’t know what he means! Did Don start out bad? Are there more backstories?
Don keeps digging, and he ends up talking to a dude who works with Frank, and fingers Frank for it immediately. Implies that Frank enjoys the good life while others try to save to company money. In the officer, Pamelyn and Joan are using Xiangqi tiles to mark out where Frank travels. “We’re building the suspect’s profile, is that correct?” Pamelyn asks, she’s such a cutie. I suspect it’s all a stitch up. Don goes directly to Claire to ask for their tax records because he’s the worst detective ever, and Claire reminds him “If he goes, I go,” which just to remind everyone that’s not a love thing, that’s because she’s just there in Singapore as his plus one.
I get really excited because from this we go to a shindig, and it’s some backstory I assume because Don pulls a box out of a locked drawer and it contains MEDALS. We cut to Frank and Claire getting ready. I would wear Claire’s dress. Claire asks if people change; “people accept things here, cross lines that they wouldn’t at home.” Is Claire thinking about her affair? WHO EVEN KNOWS
(the orchids are behind you, claire!)
ALERT ALERT, for the first time in this series Don has chosen to dress himself appropriately for the occasion – he is in a white suit and wearing his medals, with his hair slicked back. Malaya? Frank asks. “What attracted you to Singapore?” Don asks him after a moment. “We live like kings,” Frank replies, “you’d be mad not to take it.” Subtle, man. Also, reasons why I hate Australians in SEA in the 60s and 70s, Exhibit A: this fucking attitude. I’m gonna cut you all, for serious ugh. Claire makes some noises about how she lost her dad as he earned those same medals in some war; I didn’t know that, says Don. Claire notes there’s a lot about each other they don’t know. I don’t care.
Pamelyn is at the fancy shindig! She sasses white dudes, and says no again to the CIA dude but maybe not so harsh this time. Meanwhile Don makes off with a briefcase full of tax records that Claire got for him, and runs it back to the office where he and Joan start rummaging through it.
Gross Maxwell Black gets all up in Pamelyn’s personal space and she can’t say no for some reason. CIA dude cuts in when Black starts fondling her arse and telling her she has a great derriere (actual thing he says). Pamelyn just watches while CIA dude is all threatening and Black is like ‘you’re nothing’ and I realise that there’s a reason why CIA dude is always like ‘I’m at this event as the American Cultural Attache’ it’s because he’s UNDERCOVER. It took me four episodes to work that out, was that just me or was it the series failing to tell us that? Pamelyn says “you were quite scary just then” and I am like Pamelyn no, don’t start dating him.
We already know how much I love that Pamelyn is the one with the social capital to shoot him down, and even though he’s all “I’m an amazing white american man! I’m with the CIA and went to Yale! I deserve the whole world!” she just keeps shooting him down. I love that she’s the one out of his reach. And there is a long line of SEAzn women who left SEA by marrying a white military man and going back to their home country in the 50s, 60s and 70s (I am the product of that long line of SEAzn women) and there’s a lot of inequality, imperialism and colonialism built through all of that. So I really don’t want them to start dating. And I definitely don’t want his persistence in ignoring her ‘no’s to pay off. So anyway this storyline is I am pretty sure about to go somewhere problematic, at which point you’re going to hear even more about this shit so stay tuned.
Max shuts down the party and throws everyone out, because as Frank says it’s the team. What?
In the office, Joan is starting to guess something is up with Don and the case, I wish he wouldn’t keep secrets from Joan because why would you, and Claire calls to say they’re heading home so THE STUFF. As Don runs for his car some Tong Goons come for him and there’s this thirty seconds where it gets all very Wu Xia with Alaric. There’s hilarious tension music in the car with Claire and Frank, as Claire tries to convince him to take the long way home. At the house, Don breaks in and Alaric pretends to be a ridiculous local (he is) to delay Frank.
Of course Don gets away with it, and talks Claire into having the bracelet valued – it’s way expensive (no price given to us). Don leaves Claire on the street, in direct contrast with two weeks ago where he was all “don’t go to Bugis Street” and “it’s not Sydney, Claire,” and drinks tea at a street vendor with Joan. As they’re chatting some Red Dragons turn up so he visits with Brother Song. Armed with the knowledge that everyone knows he’s working for Brother Song, they get into a fight and he says he’ll do the work but only in exchange for information about a white man who’s spending more than he should.
In a hilarious scene, Brother Song gives instructions to Tong Goon One in English (WHY), the other gang is I think Malay, there is a melee between the Red Dragons and the rival gang, and a kid (the same kid who picked Alaric’s pocket in the opening) picking pockets. Don ends up in the melee, the police turn up, the scene is literally on fast forward, the kid picks up the gun and shoots it, Don picks up the kid and the gun and runs. Is he about to get done for shooting? NO BECAUSE IT TURNS OUT BROTHER SONG’S LEAK IS THE KID. The kid has been talking to the rival gang but not the cops, so there’s a second traitor! Joan and Don bribe the kid to spin a tale to lure out the other traitor in the Red Dragons and chuck him out.
At their dockside warehouse, Alaric gets mad, telling Don this is just like the story with the goat and the tiger, and Don is the goat. The tiger turns up, and it’s Tong Goon One! Another ridiculous scene occurs where Don is all “this is just like Kalimantan” and Alaric is all “no this is not like Kalimantan” and then they start dancing and singing kalimantan in front of the gun that the goon is holding? I cry with laughter as they confuse the goon and then grab the gun and the goon; and the goon is revealed to not be leaking to the cops, but a three year undercover cop, who was going to kill them to keep his place. This part of this scene is so terrible, a definite return to the poor form of episode one, but thankfully it is over quickly.
Don visits Brother Song, and Brother Song reveals who the white dude is; it’s the other white guy from Frank’s office, what a fucking surprise. “Tonight he’s losing but shows no fear,” Brother Song says. “Plays like a man who can afford it.” The other guy is all “the gambling is for my sins, I went along with it, Frank’s the guy, ask him about the bracelet” and this scene is super average but importantly Don is wearing a different shirt from his white thing! It’s yellow and buttoned up and maybe it’s even been ironed or steamed?! Good work costuming.
Don tells Frank, as opposed to Black who employed him, and Frank and Don agree the other dude was setting him up. Frank says he had no idea the bracelet was worth so much and that the other guy told him to accept it! They agree he should give it back. Joan gets mad because she found out about the bracelet and Don talked to Frank and not Joan.
Frank and Claire wander past the office, and Frank confesses he couldn’t bring himself to give back the bracelet and now it looks like Claire’s just going along with wearing a bribe diamond bracelet worth more than a house and there’s funny looks all around. Frank invites Don to dinner with him and Claire but Don demures, and he better be questioning them in his head! Don I want some continuity here please! SHE DOESN’T KNOW WHERE TO FIND ORCHIDS IN SINGAPORE COME ON.
This episode closes out with a man smoking something and drinking something and looking at pictures of Don and Claire being all smiles in the garden where Claire can’t find the orchids. Obviously someone is surveilling them! This is meant to be sinister but come on what is the real cost to Don here? He’s already questioning his relationship to Claire, he makes this big point of avoiding expats and living within the local community, and he’s cut down his Import-Export business involvement to do more detectiving (which admittedly he’s shit at). What does he really lose if these photos get out? Unless someone tries to kill him ooh I hope it’s Frank.
NO IT’S WEIRD MI6 GUY FROM LAST WEEK UGH WHATEVER I HOPE HE HAS A PERSONAL VENDETTA OR SOMETHING.
Anachronism of the week: when Maxwell Black shuts down the soiree and it’s all ‘for the team’ – concept of team in corporate speak not that big in the 60s, surely?
Hokkien watch: several uses of ang moh.
I actually really enjoyed this episode! The acting is getting better with each episode, and so, I think, are the plots and the dialogue. There’s still some continuity and anachronism issues going on, and it really is very sappy but I don’t think that last is going to change and so I’m learning to love it for what it is, a slightly cheesy Singaporean adventure tale. I wish there was more focus on the local stuff and less on the expats but some episodes I do feel like there’s a lot of local/not-white time, so that’s cool. Though I think Don actually was in basically every scene this week. It’s a shame Australian numbers are dropping so drastically, but I’d be interested to see comparison SEA and USA numbers.
Next week: Joan tells Don to shape up, yay!