serangoon road s1e09

In the ninth and penultimate episode of S1 Serangoon Road, I kind of don’t understand the point? An Indigenous Australian wakes up next to the body of a girl he’d been on a date with, there’s lots of ang moh shenanigans, once again we try to talk about Black-White relations this time from an Australian POV, and Fortune Teller Auntie makes the most adorable faces.

kissy face
kissy face

We open with some super white previouslies, and then in on MR ERNIE DINGO (for non-Australian readers, Mr Ernie Dingo is a very well-known older Aboriginal Australian actor). He’s making out with the random journalist bartender Ange from two episodes ago, and making fun of chicken feet. He pauses at the making out: Ange says “it’s the 60s, we can do what we want.” FORESHADOWING GUYS. Next thing he wakes up NEXT TO A CORPSE (Ange). CREDITS BOY WE ARE MOVING TODAY.

Don is brought in by the always adorable Ario, to find Ernie in a jail cell; he says he doesn’t know how Ange ended up dead. Macca comes storming across to yell “I will do everything in my power, to see that prick hang” in front of the Police Station which, Macca, stop making a scene in the streets in Singapore. Have you no dignity? It quickly becomes clear that Macca is convinced that Ernie did it both because a) Racism and b) he ignored Ange’s attempts to get him to mentor her as a journalist, and so he doesn’t want her death to have been about the story.

Through a serious of blue flashbacks, we learn that Baby Don was helped by young officer Ernie in Changi, when Baby Don was looking for his father who’d gone missing, after his mother died.

JOAN because I can't believe she doesn't feature until like halfway through this ep.
JOAN because I can’t believe she doesn’t feature until like halfway through this ep.

In the Black Lotus (because of course), Nightclub Friend confirms that Ange and Ernie were in the club together, that Ange came by often to hang out, thought it was all exotic, like all the backpackers here. I love her undertone (later continued) that the backpackers are just ridiculous and shouldn’t be in Singapore, coming to Singapore for the wrong reasons to just exotify us all. It’s this Singaporean POV and commentary that really keeps me holding on to Serangoon Road, even when the other bits disappoint me.

i over estimate you
i over estimate you

Alaric offers to help Don with the investigation, and they head back to Ange’s apartment. It’s all locked up, so Don goes to climb to the second story and break in. Alaric protests. “You always underestimate me,” Don complains. “No, I over estimate you. I think you will do something quieter, and smarter.” Alaric is my favourite. Inside the apartment Don finds someone riffling through Ange’s stuff, and they fight. Outside the apartment Alaric tries to grab the guy; he BITES OFF THE GUY’S EAR and the dude jabs him in the balls. He makes Don hold the ear as the dude escapes, but at least they’ll be able to identify him. Inside the apartment they find lots of notes and a traffickable amount of hash, and Don goes off to yell at Macca. Macca continues with his being convinced about Ernie’s guilt, despite all the suggestions of maybe triads (and Ange’s obsession with Triad drug movements), and though I’m not tense about this at all. It’s Ernie Dingo and it’s so obvious!

Out in Bugis Street, Don discovers a dude (not missing an ear) who makes a habit of spiking the drinks of foreigners. Why is it always Don? After Don and Alaric catch him with some unconscious girls he admits to spiking Ernie and Ange’s drinks, but they got into a fight with a big dude and so spiking guy left. I cannot even with this.

the perils of backpacking in singapore, i guess, ladies.
the perils of backpacking in singapore, i guess, ladies.

Meanwhile, Ernie has been sprung and left at the Agency. Uncle Owner is shaving a dude outside, threatens Ernie. Pamelyn freaks out because she’s reading an article with a picture of Ernie’s face, then looks up to find Ernie. “It’s all right, I won’t nick anything,” he says, to continue reminding us about racial stereotypes and racism, and I like this bit better, because Ernie plays it so sad, and so resigned, and it works. It’s just – it exists. Joan puts him to work fixing things around the Detective Agency.

uncle owner shaves
uncle owner shaves

Macca caves to Don’s pressure and reads the draft Ange had given him; it’s good, he confesses, and Ange was on her way and also ‘nuts’ – going to the docks at night by herself, talking to dealers. The draft contains secret codes to do drug deals, so Don and Alaric decide to go and do so. They find a dude with a missing ear – but having taken Ario and some Polis along with them, discover that earless dude was in the cells the night of the murder, and in the alley behind Ange’s apartment they’ve found a knife with blood and Ernie’s service number, so they go off to arrest Ernie.

Maybe he did it, Alaric implies – if his drink was spiked, sometimes drugs make you crazy. He gives Don a shifty eyed look, and I hope Don’s drug use turns up in the finale.

Ernie is drinking tea when the Polis arrive, so he politely hands his tea cup to a police officer, and then RUNS FOR IT – I laughed really hard at this part, and the following few moments where they apparently lose an Aboriginal Australian in Singapore’s Chinatown, which seems unlikely.

From their friendship and history, Don works out where Ernie has been hiding and they discuss the options: Don has a plan for working it out, which, Don, why didn’t you try this mysterious plan earlier; or, Ernie says, he has a captain friend on a ship that’s leaving tonight. The captain is a mate and can get him through immigration, but he’d never be able to return to Singapore. Don’s plan, it turns out, is to recreate the experience, which DEFINITELY Don why didn’t you try this before. So they retrace Ernie’s steps with Ange, through Bugis and a little fight with a dude eating noodles, ending in the alley behind Ange’s apartment, where his memory gives out. Maybe I don’t want to find out, Ernie tentatively suggests, maybe there’s nothing to find out except that I did it. Anyway handwave handwave, Ernie remembers the noodle guy coming to grab Ange’s handbag, having a knife, fighting, Ernie dropping his own knife, noodle guy picking it up and running at Ernie, Ange not feeling very well, noodle guy stabbed Ange and they were so drugged they didn’t notice? I KID YOU NOT also how exactly does one prove that? Ernie is feeling very guilty because he was the one who bumped into the noodle guy, and Don is all it was fate and just bad luck and clearly has no sympathy, which, Don, buddy.

Don finds and drags noodle guy into the police station, where Ario is skeptical but accepting (agrees to run tests on the knife, background on the dude, etc). I would love to know what is going on with Ario, why he’s always so amenable to Don’s ideas and ridiculousness. I hope this comes up in the final episode!

ario doesn't know what's going on
ario doesn’t know what’s going on

Episode ends with discovery that noodle guy was originally one of the suspects in Winston’s murder, and Winston’s file is missing so what does it all mean? What are Joan and Don going to do about this? Don visits the High Commissioner to give a report on the final outcome, and the HC reveals that Claire told Frank about her affair and Don is all GASP and now I’m worried he’s gonna go back to her. Lady Penelope agrees with me that he should just leave Claire alone because he can’t offer her anything and also ugh love doesn’t conquer all guys, I mean come on.

This episode is (obviously) quite heavily about race; and it feels more comfortable with this discussion than it did in the very heavy-handed episode one. The Australian High Commissioner calls Don in, and notes that “Canberra’s trying to be a bit sensitive to the black issue – there’s a referendum in the air;” then continues, “Bloke’s obviously as guilty as sin.” “Abo. Booze. Woman dead,” he says, as if that’s all the evidence one requires. Don points out Ernie was a war hero; “Oh geeze, Aboriginal war hero, framed. That’s the last hero I wanna see.” Macca continues with his tirade despite growing evidence that maybe it was someone else. Don being the rest of Australia, telling Macca that Ernie fought and then returned to Australia to find his house repossessed and his kids stolen. The High Commissioner throws shade on both Macca and Ernie, too, saying “I suspect that Aborigine, and walkabout, will feature” about Macca’s headlines, which he wants Don to convince Macca to tone down. The HC also clearly doesn’t know Ernie’s name.

At the same time, it’s randomly not about race. Nightclub Friend talks about Ange meeting up with someone: “A big older guy, Aussie I think.” That time period, of course she would say black! It’s completely weird that the Australians are being all horrible about indigenous people but the Singaporeans aren’t. Maybe a nightclub owner is more flexible or something.

buddies
buddies

This episode is also about trust and friendship. Don and Ernie’s old trust; Macca’s lack of new trust; Ario’s weirdly high levels of trust in Don. And Don and Ernie’s friendship was a nice thing to see, as was Don and Alaric working together as they once did, without the Import-Export to get in the way.

This episode was also a return to the not great acting. Geoff Morrell as the High Commissioner did his best with his frankly terrible lines, and Ernie Dingo did some excellent work, as did Joan when she tries to convince Ario to let her look at Winston’s files. But overall, choppy plot, weird dialogue, way too much hammer over everything to move the plot along. I am disappoint.

So here we are with one episode to go. I hope that Don and Claire don’t get back together (I hope that Claire and Frank do indeed leave and never come back). Don can pine over Claire for a bit (if there was a second season) and then move on. I think we’ll find out who killed Winston, but it’s just the beginning of the mystery. Kay Song perhaps will have something to do with it. It’s all stereotypes and sad faces from me. Maybe there will be more Singapore as Character. STAY TUNED.

singapore's docks: totally not this atmospheric now
singapore’s docks: totally not this atmospheric now

A Miscellany

  • Not enough Pamelyn
  • Don for serious, do up your shirt at the very least, have you no respect
  • Ernie you did your best with this script, I’m so sorry. “She had the whole world in front of her” Ernie I’m so sorry.
  • Fashion note: some repeated outfits! I love everyone. Don refuses to do up his shirt, even when visiting the Ambassador: I hate everyone.
  • Ernie wakes up fully clothed in bed under a doona. In Singapore. No, guys. Just no.
  • Ernie was in the actual credit sequence? Seems weird just for one episode, but maybe they’ve been doing this for all the eps and I just haven’t noticed.
  • White Spy Subplot: MI6 dude schools CIA dude on being polite with spycraft; CIA dude is actually terrible about it. I hate MI6 dude more as he says the phrase “taking in the exotic Asian surrounds.” MI6 dude gets CIA dude to break into Wild Bill’s office for something about Vietnam, and CIA dude almost gets caught; sasses MI6 dude. Guys get your filthy white paws out of South East Asia already, I hate you all.
  • Why was Baby Don chopping wood?
  • Chow mein is that what Australians in the 60s would have called it? It’s certainly not what they’d call it now.
  • Fortune Teller Auntie’s faces were the best thing about this entire episode. She makes sex jokes and kissing faces, she’s the best.
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serangoon road e08

Today on Serangoon Road, everything happens in just one day, Don stars in an action movie (AND continues on in his state of undress damn dude tone it down), and Joan cries beautifully. Also I can’t find the title for this episode.

The episode opens with two white girls running through a corridor with lots of doors and someone chasing after them. It is basically a horror movie on a boat. They scramble for a room and someone breaks down the door; lots of screaming; credits.

horror movie cold open
horror movie cold open

At the wet market, all ang moh are inappropriately dressed. Claire has a very low cut back to her dress, and Don continues to wear his singlet with his overshirt. Dude I am a girl in 2013 and I wouldn’t dress as inappropriately as you are in 1964, what is your problem, do you have no respect for Singapore. Claire tells Don off for getting high, and he shrugs it off, classic addict.

In the Detective Agency, some Australian girls are missing, and one of them has a very wealthy father. They were on a freighter bound for London; they had tickets but their families definitely didn’t know. Some Australian was to meet them in Singapore and take them home, but they never got off the boat. Wealthy Father is a close friend of the Prime Minister. Joan’s FACE when she realises this means they have to agree to find them. Some Australian and Don go to visit the Captain, revealing nothing; Don visits Fortune Teller Auntie who makes him hand over money before she admits that there were some men from the boat around, yes. Don gets in a fight in the Black Orchid saving the dude he needs to talk to, who pees on a wall and says the Captain harassed them when he drank, and they’d been hanging about with some Chinese dude named Hawk. He has a hawk tattoo. He’s a known associate of the Red Dragons.

IGHT FIGHT FIGHT
FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT

Meanwhile Girl from the club takes to following Joan, and tells Joan that she gave birth to Winston’s baby! During Seventh Month she left the watch (as appropriate); Joan assumes she is asking for money. Joan gets mad; goes to the Black Orchid to see what she can see, and it’s strangely empty except for Kang’s Bar Friend. She says she never saw Mei Lin with another man, but cannot say if or if not his baby. Outside the bar, she flips her shit, and when she sees Claire she gets SUPER MAD on Don’s behalf, telling Claire not to ruin Don’s life. (This happens shortly after Claire tells Lady Penelope that she’s left Frank – so Lady Penelope orders two double gin and tonics for them)

joan noooo
joan noooo

A ransom demand is dropped at the Consulate demanding $10K or the girls will be killed. Some Australian thinks it’s Red Dragons despite Don telling him it can’t be, because the Red Dragons are strictly old school (drugs, prostitutes); he starts making demands of Ario, goes over Ario’s head, Ario is not impressed because now he has to go raid the Tong premises and like that’s not gonna bite him later.

Police start their raid, my boyf Kay Song, the leader of the Red Dragons, appears sharpening his cleaver. Nothing comes of the raid except for Kay Song being mad, and Ario being mad. “Why do you Colonials always think you know best,” he snaps at Don as he leaves. WHY INDEED also Don why are you even on this raid. A Tong Goon turns up and holds a gun to Don’s head as he demands “走了.” Kay Song’s FACE in this scene is so unimpressed, and so great, Chin Han you’re the best. He’s gently picking away at his meal (a delicious looking fish why am I vegan regrets regrets); he asks Don to tell him about the raids, and mentions that Hawk is no friend to the 13 Dragons.

Man Laughing With Fishie
Man Laughing With Fishie

Grand baba, who is also eating, gives Kay Song permission to let him deal with this dishonour. He deals with it by shooting at the Polis! Ario super unimpressed.

Ario
Ario

Having officially been bought out of the Import-Export by Alaric (“you know, how some people make great friends, but lousy business partners,” Alaric says as he hands over 500.), Don has to pay to get info on secret ways to get people off the big ships that come in. He asks Alaric to find out if there was a milk run the night the boat came in – when pimps take prostitutes to the ships for crew who can’t come ashore. Alaric finds out that there was a run, and two extra girls came back. He ends with “Eh, bring them back yah.” I like that after last episode’s break up, Alaric has voiced these boundaries and that a business break up doesn’t have to mean a relationship break up, and obviously his positive encouragement just reinforce that. It’s cool.

Man Inappropriately Dressed
Man Inappropriately Dressed

Don wanders around a kampung asking if people have seen the girls in his photo. Just as someone says yes, Don sees a dude with a hawk tattoo leaving a shack. He gives chase, but ultimately loses him as Hawk pulls a pile of crates down and makes a run for it. No matter though: in the shack is a girl! She is shaken and freaking the fuck out, and is on her own and very dirty. I fear the worst. In the Detective Agency she reveals after the Captain harassed them, Hawk offered to get them off the ship. He made Singapore sound great with Raffles and monkeys in parks, which, those monkeys are vicious, why would you want to go near them seriously I’ve been injured by them, my sister has been injured by them, they steal food and they are just nope.

So Wealthy Daddy won’t pay up, now that his girl is safe, even though Gina is still missing. But the money has already been wired, so Sam takes the money and goes to make the drop. Pamelyn and Joan tie up Some Australian, so he has an alibi, that they stole the money from him.

Don Hany Stars In: Some Video Game
Don Hany Stars In: Some Video Game

Hawk takes the money, they lose him, Sam runs up a ladder and spots him over the rooftops (HOW CONVENIENT), watches Hawk set up a decoy Chinese dude and run into a place. It’s true, I guess, that no one ever looks up, but you think people would learn eventually. Sam spots Ario and they meet up; while they’re spying to see what’s happening, there are gunshots! They enter to see a white girl being used as a hostage, and some Chinese men exiting. Ario recognises the men as Kay Song’s, so he’s gonna try to get Gina back.

I have some questions during this scene. A) why is Don taking command over a copper. B) Why is Ario letting him. WHY IS DON TAKING COMMAND OVER THE COPPER.

Man Laughing With Banquet
Man Laughing With Banquet

Outside Tong Place, there are guards. “Touch me and you’re dead,” Sam says to one, and I laugh out loud. Inside, Song Ge is sitting down to a banquet with many people. He grins at Sam. I have restored honour, made a lot of money, and killed my enemies, he tells Sam. I should thank you. When Sam demands Gina, he continues: You should be grateful I don’t kill you where you stand. But in concession to Sam’s point (“I should thank you”), he clarifies: When my men arrived, your princess was counting money with Hawk. So don’t go shedding tears for her. But he admits, like Sam said to Some Aussie earlier; we don’t kidnap (and kill) white girls.

Sam finds Gina in some gardens, because of THE CLUE dropped earlier about monkeys in gardens. It’s all about money and Camilla losing heart and Gina having no money to go on alone and feeling betrayed. He hands her over to Some Aussie, but doesn’t mention she had a hand in it. “If he’s smart enough, he’ll work in out for himself,” he tells Joan.

Joan is quietly processing what she’s learnt this episode. After going to Black Orchid she went to find Mei Lin, who reveals that Winston visited the baby on Wednesdays (which was when he told Joan he went to Mahjong). But the night he came, he believed someone was following him, and gave the watch to give to Joan for proof. He didn’t love the girl, only the baby. The baby doesn’t even get a name in this, which argh. Anyway Joan acts the shit out of both the scene with the mistress, and the later scene with Don, looking beautiful with tears in her eyes and as she raises her arm in frustration. “I don’t even get to scream at him, slap his face, and chase him out of the house,” she says, and admits his family wanted him to cast her aside, because nobody wants a barren woman. “Our culture,” she clarifies for anyone who might not be sure.

We close out the episode with a Claire who is unsure, but really only because other people who she’s come to trust are making her doubt herself. She’s been told by Lady Penelope that she doesn’t belong in Chinatown (“where do I belong?” she rebuts); then when she finds Don after what she describes as an awful day, he tells her not to leave Frank. “It’s no life here. You don’t belong here,” he says, so it’s a good thing she hasn’t told Frank and can go back to him. OH WAIT; I shake my hands at the screen as she agrees she hasn’t told Frank and can therefore go back to him. I also realise that today in continuity Claire was supposed to get her stuff from the house, so what happened to that. I don’t really understand what she is doing? Claire. I don’t care yet, but I’d like you to make sense.

This episode was delightfully low on CIA and MI6 dudes, but sadly made up for it in whiteness with excessive Australianness.

classic 60s-70s white dudes in SEA
classic 60s-70s white dudes in SEA. colonialists. ugh.

Two episodes left, and I still don’t know where we’re going. We’ve found out where Winston’s watch went but we still don’t know who killed him; Don and Claire keep breaking up and getting back together and who even knows; spy shenanigans will PRESUMABLY involve either Australians or Singaporeans again soon otherwise what even is the point; and the strongest story lines, as always, are the ones involving the Singaporeans. This series would be so much stronger if there were more Singaporean story lines and less of the other things, there are some AMAZING local actors in this production and they’re just not being used.

looking exotic woooo
looking exotic woooo

There was also, as there often is, a lot of ~atmosphere~ in this episode, lingering shots on random things, and sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s scene-setting or exotification. Either way, at least it’s comforting and familiar to me.

A Misc

Pamelyn doesn't take CIA dude seriously
Pamelyn doesn’t take CIA dude seriously
  • Cinematography: SO GREAT.
  • Pamelyn and the CIA dude: Pamelyn looking fine. CIA dude still not worthy of her. They could run away to Australia if she’s denied her Visa. After she has her degree, she might let him marry her, which, show, you haven’t sold this yet! Also no.
  • Spy storyline: SURPRISE MI6 dude convinces CIA dude to spy for him. “The shame goes away,” he says, when CIA dude slinks off. “Chin up, you’re a real spy now.” So funny. This picture is perfect though, so colonial it hurts, white clad white dudes, buzzing of the mozzies at night, out in the air no regard for the rest of us. Bet there’s some malay butlers bustling around off screen.
  • In further gross MI6 business, “Those Australians have got their knickers in a twist. It seems they’ve lost two of their breeders.” Did I hear this right? Because I’m actually unqualified to analyse this, breeders is a term queers often use about straight couples having kids but ALSO it is an Englishman referring to Australians so maybe it’s just misogynistic and paternalistic and gross rather than also confusing.
  • When Joan checks her makeup before knocking on the door: so great.
  • Malay watch: adorable and mostly untranslated. Mandarin watch: eh. Singaporeans acting great in mando though.
  • “What an awful day,” says Claire to Don as she falls into his arms. I laughed because of how different and yet how terrible their days were.
  • Next week: ERNIE DINGO. So I assume it’ll be racism against Indigenous Australians.
would you wear this dress?
would you wear this dress?

Good Lorde!

(Sorry.  Sometimes the opportunity presents itself and I can’t resist.)

I’m a big fan of Lorde.  That’s not really news, because she’s the first New Zealand solo artist to top the US charts.  She’s not exactly underground.

But she feels underground.  She’s a New Zealander, singing in her own accent about the experience of being on the receiving end of the USA’s cultural imperialism.

Some Americans find that uncomfortable.  Consider this post and its follow-up, which essentially boil down to “please perceive American culture from an American perspective, not your own.”

On the other hand, let’s reiterate, number one song on the US charts.  I’d imagine lots of Americans have taken her to heart.

And why shouldn’t they?  We live in a time of shocking disparity between the wealthy and the poor, so a song critiquing consumer culture in music is going to strike a chord.  (So to speak.)  And I’d argue that the Feministing posts are incorrect when they argue that Lorde singles out African American pop culture for critique.  “Royals” also refers to rock culture (“trashin’ the hotel rooms”), pop (ball gowns), and more.  It’s not just about consumption, but destructive consumption.

Maybe Feministing’s blogger would have preferred if Lorde had taken an apologetic approach to discussing the different experience of the Antipodean pop singer.  Take, for example, Australian Iggy Azalea, who raps:

Walk a mile in these Louboutins
But they don’t wear these shoes where I’m from
I’m not hating, I’m just telling you
I’m tryna let you know what the fuck that I’ve been through
Two feet in the red dirt, school skirt
Sugar care, back lanes
Three jobs, took years to save…
But I got a ticket on that plane…
People got a lot to say
But don’t know shit ’bout where I was made

Azalea is kind of the anti-Lorde.  And not just because of the traditional (loving) rivalry between Australia and New Zealand.  Azalea is older and tougher, and in contrast to Lorde’s apparent overnight success, Azalea is still bubbling under.  She has a mix tape, she’s supporting Beyonce, but her actual debut album isn’t out until next year.  Lorde sings with her own accent; Azalea raps with what the local media call a southern drawl that she picked up in Miami, although many Americans have told me the Florida accent is not actually considered southern.

(Azalea also raps about being a “runaway slave master”, and put out this video for “Bounce”.  So, yeah.  This is why I have a playlist called “catchy/problematic”.  Well, that and Amanda Palmer.)

She’s also overtly sexual, where Lorde appears ambivalent about romantic and sexual themes in music, and is critical of pop songs she considers unfeminist.  Lorde sometimes comes off as a bit judgemental in this respect, but it’s a natural phase that teenagers go through, I think — well, I did — and I’m really just as happy for a teenage girl not to explore her sexuality in public, especially in light of Charlotte Church’s comments about young women in the pop industry being coerced into doing so.

(I have a lot of feelings about how the current discourse around sexuality in pop music features a lot of ugly remarks about sex workers, and how these remarks are generally applied to women of colour, or in Miley Cyrus’ case, women appropriating the culture of women of colour.  Lady Gaga was an actual burlesque dancer, but you’ll note she’s never the subject of such “concern”.

On the other hand, I also have feelings about the exploitation of women in the guise of empowerment.  It’s complicated!)

Billie Piper (SHUT UP, SHE IS AMAZING) tells a story in her autobiography (SHUT UP, IT WAS AMAZING) about how, at eighteen, releasing her “sexier” second album, she agreed to do a photoshoot for a particular magazine, but she flat refused to pose in underwear.  She arrived at the shoot and found an entire rack of bikinis instead.

In short, it’s difficult to be a young pop star, or even an adult performer, and still own your sexuality.  Lorde walks an interesting line — she is young, beautiful, white, slim and has amazing hair, and photographers take advantage of that, but she’s always fully dressed, looking straight at the camera with a solemn, uncompromising expression.  I’m really curious to see how she grows up, and what her next moves will be.

Because they are moves.  As this fantastic blog post discusses, Lorde’s image is as carefully crafted as any other pop star’s.  The level of control she herself exercises might be unusual, but the image that we see is not necessarily the genuine Lorde.  (And why should it be?)

But people are oddly uncomfortable with the idea of a woman’s image being artificial.  We see that in the way women are criticised for wearing make-up, slimming underwear and heels, even as we’re also criticised for not doing these things.

And it’s particularly true in the music industry.  We want to believe that Stevie Nicks and Tori Amos are really manic pixie dream girls, that the Spice Girls really were/are BFFs (despite all evidence to the contrary).

There was a lot of backlash when PJ Harvey abandoned her raw, indie persona to wear heavy make-up and hot pink catsuits, and some fans I know can’t forgive her for plucking her eyebrows, wearing make-up and performing in a Victorian dress with a bird on her head.  (I was there.  It was great.)

Harvey herself has said, “Some critics have taken my writing so literally to the point that they’ll listen to ‘Down by the Water’ and believe I have actually given birth to a child and drowned her.” (Source)

Men aren’t immune from the expectation of honesty, but they seem to have more flexibility.  Well, whichever way they go, they have flexibility — Lindsay Buckingham has been writing songs about his ex for decades, and he doesn’t get half the shit that Taylor Swift does.  (He’s still the better songwriter, though.  Sorry, Taylor.)

With all this in mind, it’s quite interesting that Lorde is often compared to Lana Del Rey.

Del Rey, again, stands in opposition to Lorde.  (Although Lorde was listening to Del Rey when she had the inspiration for “Royals”, and in my opinion, the musical influence is visible — audible? — when you look for it.  Listen for it.)  Her image was carefully crafted, and is frequently derided as “fake”.  Her first two albums (one released under her real name of Elizabeth Wooldridge Grant) bombed, and her stage name was created by her managers.

But all this works, because it’s part of the mythos she has created:  whoever Elizabeth Wooldridge Grant is, Lana Del Rey is “a gangsta Nancy Sinatra”.  She’s Doris Day after a bender.  Lorde may paraphrase Joan Holloway, but Born to Die is an entire album about Betty Draper.

Both artists are critiquing the American entertainment industry, and both do it through highly produced pop music.  Del Rey’s take is glossier, and appropriately so — she adopts the persona of the girl who has swallowed the American dream myth and is choking to death, “a freshman generation of degenerate beauty queens”.  On her Paradise EP, she responds to critics, describing herself as “a groupie incognito posing as a real singer”.

Lorde, by contrast, sings as an outsider who has an ambivalent relationship with the trappings of the American dream.  She knows it’s an illusion, but still, “We’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.”  In “Tennis Court” she sings:

Baby be the class clown
I’ll be the beauty queen, in tears
It’s a new art form, showing people how little we care (yeah),
We’re so happy, even when we’re smilin’ out of fear,
Let’s go down to the tennis court, and talk it up like yeah (yeah)

It’s introspection and adolescent melancholy wrapped up in the language and cliche of the American high school drama.  Whether or not it’s a true reflection of Lorde’s experience almost doesn’t matter, because the feeling is surely universal: “These feelings don’t look like they did on TV.”

Lorde sings, “And I’m not proud of my address, In a torn-up town, no post code envy”.  But Ella Yelich-O’Connor comes from a well-off middle class suburb in Auckland.  Does it matter?  Is she lying to us through song?  (“I hate when people do that!”)  If her next album is a synthpop confection with videos full of pole dancers and bikini shots, has she betrayed us?

“Pretty soon I’ll be getting on my first plane,” Lorde sang.  That first plane trip was long ago, now.  She’s an international pop star, not a kid from the suburbs.  How far can you critique the system in which you work?  Will she be allowed to grow up, or will she end up like Avril Lavigne, still looking and acting like it’s 2002?  Am I just asking rhetorical questions because I’m not sure how to end this post?

Yes.

Serangoon Road s01 e07: My Girl

In episode 7 of Serangoon Road, Pamelyn and the CIA dude keep on making out, Alaric is accused of smuggling explosives into Singapore, and everybody actually makes a compelling attempt at acting.

Characters are introduced to the episode with romance: Pamelyn and CIA dude make out in the dark after possibly having had a date; angmohs are spooning and Claire is gonna stay in Don’s apartment. Pamelyn, over CIA dude’s shoulder, notices some late night workers: turns out to be a bomb! CIA dude tries to chase them down but instead the dude gets SHOT IN THE HEAD and CIA dude gets punched out.

At the Detective Agency, Pamelyn and Joan talk about who might be responsible for the bomb and how happy Pamelyn’s parents will be that she was interviewed as an eyewitness (not at all), and James Lim, whom you might remember from episode three (he had a dead wife and a live girlfriend who was also another man’s wife), turns up to say that his brother Professor Lim is under suspicion because he believes Malaysia for the Malaysians and he just wants him to be safe!!!

Everyone believes him.

this is my believing face
this is my believing face
...

They accept the case, in part because Pamelyn was once a student of Professor Lim’s. Don goes detectiving, and Ario turns up looking for Alaric, whom he claims is a known associate of the bombers. Meanwhile in other detectiving, after failing to actually make a difference in the bombing, CIA dude has been noticed “at Langley” and has been raised a class or something, and gets to read some files that MI6 has finally decided to share because they want to protect against the commies! What a coincidence!

Alaric lies to Don about who he’s smuggling for, and what, and then fires a warning shot: “you can tell Mrs Simpson that Singapore’s very small. When someone sees something, everyone sees it.” Pamelyn meets up with a friend, another ex-student of the Professor’s. We learn that Pamelyn and Felix the friend once dated, but she broke up with him because he was boring. Felix has some super nerdy glasses, and also knows where Professor Lim is! They head to his car and he tells her she has to get into the boot! I am worried at this point but it’s all good, they get to meet Professor Lim and he says ‘thanks but no thanks,’ as opposed to Felix kidnapping her which I was mildly concerned about, god Pamelyn, haven’t you ever heard of telling people when you’re getting into the trunk of an ex-boyfriend?

what a wise decision
what a wise decision

Meanwhile CIA dude has been reading the files. He finds a file on Pamelyn! She has pigtails and looks adorable. Old MI6 Dude and Old CIA Dude turn up, and Old MI6 Dude knooooows about the Pamelyn file, he knoooooows he conveys it with his smug ang moh face. After they leave, CIA dude turns back to Pamelyn’s file: the informant was Felix! CIA dude later asks Pamelyn about this; “Why would he lie about me?” she asks. CIA dude can’t pronounce Yao.

omg baby pamelyn is a communist! GASP
omg baby pamelyn is a communist! GASP

Alaric takes on some crates of what look like baijiu. He checks them, all looks good, off he goes but at the boat house THE POLIS. Under the baijiu is explosives! ALARIC IS IN JAIL IN HIS TIGHTY WHITIES! Alaric admits to Don that he’s been running alcohol for the unions, but definitely not explosives or anything. Don gets to make a deal with Ario that if he can get the professor, Ario will consider letting Alaric go. Otherwise he’s getting hanged for something something.

omg those pants
omg those pants

CIA dude follows Felix, breaks into his room and threatens him in a fairly hilarious way. I laugh SO HARD. Felix admits he placed the report because Pamelyn broke up with him, what a loser. CIA dude drops the report in a street fire which surely is pointless, because 10SGD says MI6 dude has a copy.

HAHAHA
HAHAHA

Alaric admits to Don that he has no idea where the Professor, as head of a union section or movement, lives or is hiding, but he does know where he prays. Don heads on out, first being followed by a man on a motorbike (whom he beats up, and throws on a table in front of James Lim), and then staking out the place of prayer (Professor Lim goes in for some incense, unsurprisingly). Don follows the professor to a union meeting, where the professor is sad about the violence and some other guy is like NO WE MUST THROW OUT THE 外国人. The polis crash the party with guns and smoke grenades, and Don calls out a come with me if you want to live to the professor. While they’re escaping, the professor gets shot by a man in a mask, who is later revealed to be one of James Lim’s goons. Is it because his brother is a threat to his attempts to be a politician in Singapore? How did the polis and/or James Lim’s man find where they were? What is going on?!

In the boathouse, Alaric is out of prison and they fight because it was Alaric who told the police (and/or James Lim) where to raid, and also maybe he has been smuggling guns for the unions. But not explosives and he’s Singaporean, damnit, he’s totally allowed! Don gets angry because now the professor is going to die (from his wounds, presumably); Alaric reminds Don that he was about to be hanged and Don was the one who made the original deal with Ario. Don, somewhat understandably but also somewhat inexplicably, becomes upset and breaks the partnership up. “I always knew you’d plan an angle, I didn’t have a problem with that. But I never thought you’d lie to me like that. We’re done,” he ends, but Alaric gets the last word. “We’ve been done for a while.”

mostly i just capped this cause shoesforall wanted the clothes
mostly i just capped this cause shoesforall wanted the clothes

Outside of the Expat Hangout, Claire breaks up with Frank (her husband, you may remember him but he’s been pretty boring so far so no problems if you don’t), who asks, “you think that will last?” She heads over to Don’s place and knocks and waits and knocks and waits and he’s not there. Instead he is GETTING HIGH, which he hasn’t done in an age. Claire tries again at the Agency and Joan answers the door; takes her to the boathouse where Alaric is getting drunk and, reluctantly, leads them back into Chinatown to the den where Don is getting high.

SO DISAPPOINT IN YOU
SO DISAPPOINT IN YOU

Joan is disappoint (but pretty). Alaric promises to bring him home in the morning, and I’m worried about Alaric’s motives. On the beach he was reluctant, is he trying to sabotage Don? Show if you ruin Alaric you’re in so much trouble.

questionable choices
questionable choices

CIA dude and Pamelyn sit in a boat house on some water, chatting about how she’s gotten into her USA universities and she needs to not make trouble or it’ll get her VISA revoked. She has an adorable fringe and makes fun and he’s all grumpy until she agrees. Then MI6 dude turns up with photos of them together (…is it a secret?) revealing they’ve both been followed, and therefore photos of him threatening Felix, and CIA dude realises that MI6 wanted him to find the file in order to incriminate himself. NOW HE HAS TO BE AN MI6 PATSY.

oh NOPE
oh NOPE

In a way, this episode is about questionable choices. CIA dude chooses to scale a drain pipe and harass a guy in his own apartment. Claire chooses to leave her husband for a guy who passes out in a drug den. Alaric chooses to smuggle for the unions and then lie to his business partner. These choices will have ongoing repercussions, and I hope they’re AWESOME, but continuity has not been amazing so far so I’m sceptical.

This episode had its ups and downs, and after CIA dude found out about Pamelyn’s file I noted “ugh so far this episode so boring”, but by the time it wrapped up I was cheered and totally into it and whilst I could remember writing it down, couldn’t remember feeling bored! So second half, excellent; first half, not so much. Not a lot of gross colonialism in this episode aside from all the ‘we must keep Malaysia for the British!’ and ‘KEEP US FROM THE COMMIES’ which as usual was accurate and I hate everyone.

The advertising and branding for Serangoon Road has been all about it being against the backdrop of Singapore becoming Singapore, and despite Joan getting caught up in that mob in episode three and the bombing that started it all in episode one, this is the first time I’ve really felt that it’s all had an impact on what’s going on in any meaningful way.

what a cute fringe
what a cute fringe

Script-wise, I loved the bringing back of James Lim from several episodes ago, keep up the continuity. And there was some excellent acting here, the relationship between Pamelyn and CIA dude felt genuine and believable (even if the build up still doesn’t); Claire really did struggle with leaving Frank; Alaric is upset and stressed about by what he feels is Don’s disinterest. Really the only one who didn’t feel compelling was Don. Interested to see where we go from here, with only three episodes left; but with only three episodes to go, it feels like it’s only just hit its stride and I’m not sure it actually has the momentum to keep my interest held and that cool stuff going. We’ll see.

A Miscellany:

  • As always, Singaporeans very excellent.
  • Not enough Joan in this episode
  • This episode title is relevant, at least superficially, to the story lines of the episode! Good work everyone.
  • Lots of untranslated Mandarin in this episode, which I loved. Totally adorable, and also interesting choices at times – when Alaric and Joan are talking on the beach and Claire is with them, they’re using Mandarin. An exclusionary tactic? (I dig it) (Haha sometimes we ARE talking about you) Interestingly, in the scene on the beach the translations are quite different from the actual Mandarin. Spoken the conversation is “I’m looking for Sam. You know where he is?” “Not here.” Translation reads “Sam didn’t come home. You seen him?” “No.”
  • There needs to be more eating! Only eating in this episode is Don eating noodles from a hawker while staking out the temple and Claire having lunch with Rachael Blake.
  • Claire can pick up her stuff tomorrow, after Frank’s gone. Is he gonna sabotage her stuff?
  • Love Uncle Owner, who disapproves of Claire staying over but also knows about back alley doctors and takes Don to them to find Professor Lim.
  • No Auntie Fortune Teller 😦
  • Will the new, attractive journo in the bar mean anything in upcoming episodes? (ps Macca sleazed onto her, surprise)
  • WHERE IS THE KOMBI?!
  • Next episode: Aussie girls missing; my boyf Song Ge; “now you’re a real spy” hahaha.
where does the dress end and the flowers begin?
where does the dress end and the flowers begin?

66th down under feminists carnival

Hello! Welcome to No Award and the 66th edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival! I last hosted the 54th edition over at one of my other eleven million blogs, which means it has been exactly twelve months! I guess November is just the time for me (Steph).

We’ve got some categories here for ease of perusal; and just a note that things without categories only mean they were singular in their category this month, not that we don’t love them! And there are some amazing articles here this month, as there are every month – but just because the month is over don’t think you need to hold back! If you have a comment to make or somewhere to go with the conversation, go for it, even if you’re encountering these bloggers for the first time through the carnival! More chat is great. Thank you to everyone who contributed links – and of course all the great antipodeans writing awesome things.

Next month’s edition is planned for 5 December, 2013: MJ at Kiwiana (inked). Submissions to burningthescript [at] gmail [dot] com for those who can’t access the blog carnival submissions form. Previous carnivals can be found on the blog carnival index page. Please do submit if you think something is relevant to interests, you can submit your own work and/or someone else’s.

On Sex and Sexuality

At A Life Unexamined, Fixed and fluid sexual identities (from an ace perspective).

Claire at Sextracurricular Studies brings us two great posts this month: Mythbusting the Hymen by Claire at Sextracurricular Studies, on virginity and education and the dangers of this myth; and on pornography and sexual culture.

Nausea Nissenbaum presents us with Hot & Hotter: interviews with sex workers’ rights activists.

On Misogyny and support for women

Women need resilience to rise to the top, by Zoe Krupka at New Matilda.

Over at Hoyden About Town, Maybe if we all went barefoot by Mindy, on how ladies buy too many shoes which means they can’t buy houses, amirite.

Sikamikanico writes “I don’t need feminism”: The Women of a Voice for Men (a Voice for Men is a group with a MRA agenda).

In Ministerial responsibility, Ben at CXLI writes on Tony Abbott as the Minister for Women and what this might mean.

Rachel Rayner writes Spare us from idiots, on a particularly gross piece of opinion piece published in the NZ Herald re: women.

“A Dirty Game”: One woman’s retrospective on the UQ elections looks at the reinforcement of patriarchy (and also in harassment) in the UQ elections. Also up at Womynews is a 2013 Reclaim the Night recap.

On Anonymous Hatred

Broken at Fat Heffalump. This is also about fat hate and also a nice story about people being nice.

By Amy Gray, the text of a speech: Reading the Trolls

Things to Read and Watch

Molly Eliza at Womynews reviews Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World, edited by Jane Caro.

Chally reviews About Time, the latest Richard Curtis movie.

Fi at Reading Kills talks about Every Breath, a Melburnian YA murder mystery by Ellie Marney.

Amy Gray has put up the text of an ACMI speech she gave: Enlightenment and the need for unlikable women.

Here at No Award, Liz read The Deep by Tom Taylor (who she later met!!!), an Australian comic about a multiracial family of aquanauts. (I really want to read it)

Media and Representation

At HaT, Today in Fantasy Film Sexism: Disney tries to pat some feminists’ heads, on Frozen, the new Disney film.

I navel-gaze about Chinese dating show If You Are The One (非诚勿扰) and discuss what it means for dating and stereotypes, and why it’s so popular in Australia; and in love me long time ugh help i’m dying I talk about the ongoing representation of South East Asian women in Australian media as other and hypersexual and ugh.

Also at No Award and by me, I have been reviewing the ABC-TV HBO Asia coproduction Serangoon Road, set in Singapore in 1964 and featuring way too many white people (primarily Australians). In my reviews I discuss the show but also colonialism and imperialism and white attitudes in the SEA region in the period.

Stalking, Sexual Assault and the Gilmore Girls is a look at the character of Jess on the show. Includes discussions of sexual assault and rape (and pop culture as vehicle for rape culture).

Fi writes from eighteen to thirty with nothing in between, about the dearth of crime fiction featuring protagonists under thirty.

Scarlett Harris compares Book VS. TV: Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Scarlett also writes in Defence of Sex and the City and The Problem with Sex and the City 2.

On Health (including Mental Health)

Elizabeth at Spilt Milk writes A Good Mother, on motherhood and society and mental health.

Rachel Rayner writes The Cost of It, a beautiful piece about getting an IUD and the situation around it. (Beautiful as in, it’s a poetical and lovely piece of prose)

The Little Pakeha writes Presents well, on living with depression; and Coley Tangerina writes It’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

On Racism, Race, Ethnicity

Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu are not second-class names, by Queen of Thorns.

Australian feminists need to talk about race by Kelly Briggs up at the Guardian.

Jennifer at No Place for Sheep presents Immigration Minister Morrison instructs his staff to lie.

On Specific Women

friday feminaust: Nabila Farhat

A Friday Feminist over at HaT: Soul singer Tina Harrod.

Feminists in Fiction: Mulan at a Life Unexamined. (No Award note from your resident Chinese lady: This is a great look at the Disney Mulan but I’d just like to remind everyone that Hua Mulan is considered by many to be an actual figure in history, not just in fiction)

On Julia Gillard in conversation with Anne Summers: Carly Findlay: Julia Gillard in conversation with Anne Summers: “You have a decision to make: you could have a crap rest of your life”, [or you can move on]; Catherine Fox: The Gillard Effect: A role model we are lucky to have; Scarlett Harris: Anne Summers in conversation with Jullia Gillard.

On Marriage

Thoughts on being married by Gaayathri at A Human Story

O Brother, Where Art Thou On Gay Marriage? by Rebecca Shaw.

The logic behind Julia Gillard’s same-sex marriage opposition by Simon Copland at Ausopinion.

Poverty, Classism, Society, and getting a free pass

Poverty is Political by Anjum at Kiwi Stargazer, on the politics of poverty (and the assumption that poverty can be reduced through individual action).

The Left must own its shit and stop defending abusers by Queen of Thorns.

Dreaming of Home, by El Gibbs, on housing in Australia.

Fat Hate

Kevin Hague jumps aboard the fat-hating bandwagon, by Queen of Thorns.

Rebecca Shaw at The King’s Tribune: What do you see?

Abortion

At Idealogically Impure Queen of Thorns writes Teacher abuses position to slut-shame a teenager, gets a slap on the wrist – how moral! and From a prochoice position, changing our abortion laws DOES MATTER (the laws referred to here are NZ laws). Also by Queen of Thorns, 25 ways to be a smug slacktivist antichoice wanker.

Talk about Assault (warnings for discussion of rape, sexual assault, rape apologism, victim blaming, people being jerkfaces)

Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones? by Luddite Journo over at The Hand Mirror.

Chally discusses Sexual assault discourse where the listener is the cautionary tale.

The News with Nipples makes two posts on Mia Freedman’s rape apologism: Ah Mia Freedman, it all makes sense now and Today in what Mia Freedman has done now. And further on Mia (though not really), Ben McKenzie writes re: Mia Freedman et al and their “advice”.

At Hersute, Alcohol is a Misdirection When We Talk About Rape; and at Sikamikanico, Sexual Assault and Alcohol: it’s not common sense, it’s not true, and it’s not helping.

On Bob Jones and related: Gaayathri at A Human Story writes Bob Jones: An advocate for violence against women; One girl’s response to Bob Jones at Rape Crisis Dunedin; Fuck off, Bob Jones: and advertisers? Be warned at Idealogically Impure.

Tangerina reports that Wellington Rape Crisis might have to cut its services again.

And the gold goes to… by ShoniaS at Hoyden About Town (includes warning for discussion of child sexual abuse).

The Little Pakeha writes The vast majority of rapes are committed by shrubbery.

Andie writing at Women’s Agenda: To the unconvinced: the perpetrators of crime are responsible for crime.

Tigtog at HaT with Advising women to prevent their own rapes is not brave or edgy or helpful.

Clementine Ford writes Excused for sexually humiliating a woman at Daily Life.

Misc Stuff

Five Questions to Kelly Briggs is about this week’s Indigenous X tweeter – and if you’re not following the Indigenous X twitter, highly recommend.

freedom, by Stargazer, is about burqas and prejudice.

A letter to my non-black friends by Pheeby at Different Strands, talking about black hair (and what not to do).

Veronica Foale writes My disabled body, my choice, on disability and fertility.

Can HECS debt be privatised? at HaT.

Sarah Burnside at Overland on Helen Razer’s beauty myth (this post is actually from today Nov 1 but I went to school with Sarah and you can’t stop me hahaha)

Why the opal card could be a bad thing by Mindy over at HaT, on the introduction of a new PT smart card in Sydney.

feminist fashion? feminaust fashion?! by MsElouise is a look at whether truly feminist fashion can exist.

Kate Davidson looks at Bikes, sexism and Australia over at Overland.

Permission to geek out – granted, by Fat Heffalump, on women geeks and geeky interests.

At the Washington Post, How British colonialism determined whether your country celebrates Halloween, brings up some interesting notes about Victorianism, colonial social mores, and colonialism.

Are women underselling themselves at maths? A post by Sarah Macdonald at Daily Life

On Stigma and Violence by Gaayathri at A Human Story.

A Public Confession by Morgana Lizzio-Wilson at Womynews.

A poem! Refuge, by Anna Caro.

Yay! See you next time!

serangoon road s01 e06: tracks of my tears

In Episode 6 of Serangoon Road “Tracks of My Tears”, it’s time for the Hungry Ghost Festival! Kay Song’s sister goes missing, a mysterious adorable baby is left on the doorstep of the detective agency, and boring ang moh things happen. Also I get more grumpy about colonialist attitudes in Singapore. And who comes up with these episode titles? 

The episode opens with prayers and performers during Hungry Ghost Festival, and Kay Song doing some praying! I love that he has Tong Goons to place his incense on the altar for him.

Sam is back in his white shirt watching performers, and he and Kay Song exchange mysterious nods as he leaves and wanders out onto the street. There are a lot of gratuitous lingering shots of people praying and burning hell money and joss sticks. A little kid flips out, calls him e’gui and there’s sinister music and I cry laughing.

饿鬼
饿鬼

We cut from calls of e’gui to blue coloured scenes and the sound of air raid sirens, so I guess we’re in a memory! Two men walk on the grass to a house. Cut to house. It’s Claire’s house! Is Claire living in Don’s childhood house? Surely not because that’s creepy. I don’t understand why Claire is still here she’s so booooring. Claire gets out of bed; Don creepily watches the window like a creeper.

sr6-memories

Sinister music plays over this entire section, which is great. Cut to Joan in the street finding A BABY. The baby has a water-stained note with it to which Don says “it’s definitely written in Mandarin but I can’t make it out” to which I say: a) lol; b) dude you are talking to two Singaporeans. You think maybe they might know that?

More importantly, Pamelyn asks who abandons a male baby; and starts sassing (Mr Callaghan, where were you nine months ago?). Don gets a totally hilarious look on his face.

sr6-money

CHINESE HISTORY NOTE: Or Chinese current note, I guess. Similarly to Europeans, historically girls are for marrying off and boys are for bringing in a new girl to the house. So you never give a boy away because he’s an asset, and also in our patriarchal society he is the one with the family stuff going on, the one in charge of looking after the ancestral tablets, etc etc. This is in part what’s led to the huge disparity in male vs female children and young adults in China since the promulgation of the One Child Policy.

We have a little side adventure with Don that goes nowhere, where he tries to locate a woman named Shuang because maybe he impregnated her? It’s pretty weird, but it comes to nothing because he tracks her down and she’s married and has a baby in the house with her and dead end adventure.

CIA dude drops by on Pamelyn, finds her looking after the baby. “It suits you,” he says; “Conrad if you upset this baby I will shoot you,” is her reply. Go Pamelyn, sass him, he’s not good enough for you!

baby isn't gonna take your shit, CIA dude
baby isn’t gonna take your shit, CIA dude

Back in Serangoon Rd, Uncle Owner is very superstitious, spending the whole episode burning hell money, waving joss sticks and admonishing Don that it’s a bad time to be helping strangers. Song Ge threatens Alaric, asking where his (Song Ge’s) sister Weilin is. Alaric might know because he’s been selling black market LP’s to her. But before the threats get far, a dude comes in and whispers to Song Ge, who runs out. Alaric and Don chase him down, and find him by the water’s edge, where there’s a body floating; it is Kay Weilin.

“Man, don’t go in the water,” Alaric comments from the distance of a bridge far above the water. “Spirits of the drowned are everywhere this time of the year.” A) I hear you, bro; B) pipe for the non-Chinese?

i hope the kay family are into this
i hope the kay family is into this (too soon?)

Down in the police station Ario, as always our token speaking-part Malay, tells us that she died of blood poisoning from complications of giving birth. He reveals that there’s no sign of the baby and that the family didn’t know she was pregnant. Should Ario be giving this much info to Don? Are there gonna be favours owed? I don’t understand their professional relationship. Don realises that the baby is a member of the Kay family and they desperately need to get him out of Chinatown because, Don decides, they can’t leave the baby with Song Ge and his Dragon family.

ario our token malay
ario our token malay

So he takes the baby to Claire, sneaking past Song Ge and Song Ge’s Tong Goons, who are ripping through Chinatown trying to find the baby. Because that’s his only solution? How is she gonna explain this to Frank? They’re only supposed to be acquaintances as far as he knows. Claire at least protests that he can’t just do this, but she takes the baby anyway because she’s a lady.

Investigation reveals that Kay Weilin had an angmoh friend so Don meets up with Pamelyn who coaches him on turning up to an event where they might be able to identify and discover the friend. She tells him he needs to look stern, but that he actually looks like he needs a digestive tea. I laugh because I love Pamelyn most when she’s being sassy. That’s all I want. Sass. Don tells her to do better than CIA dude. “You sound like my father,” she says, which, there’s nothing wrong with that in this instance, you ARE too good for him, Pamelyn!

moar grumpy!
moar grumpy!

Pamelyn discovers the ang moh bestie and attempts to charm her but is literally the worst, and I can’t tell if this is language issues, acting issues or script issues. It’s like with Violin Daughter from ep 2 all over again. Ang moh bestie isn’t buying it and sashays off.

Back in Chinatown they discover that Auntie Fortune Teller, who knows all the Amahs in town (historically quite possible), actually knows who Kay Weilin’s Amah is and they wheedle it out of her by suggesting that if the Kay family finds the Amah first they’ll kill her! Auntie Fortune Teller gets him to promise on his ancestors to keep her safe, which is an interesting thing to get an ang moh you don’t fully trust to swear.

auntie not impressed with you, little ang moh
auntie not impressed with you, little ang moh

In the kampungs, Don gets beaten up until he reveals he knows about the baby; Amah actress not so good, reveals that she left Weilin by herself to go cover up with the family and when she came back Weilin was feverish and then she died, so she gave the baby to the ang moh bestie and consigned Weilin to the water and now Weilin is doomed to come back and seek revenge. We are a superstitious bunch, aren’t we? (I would probably be scared too, ngl). As Amah is tearfully confessing to it all being her fault, Don says, “so [ang moh bestie] took the baby,” which, thanks Don, have some sympathy you’ve only been dealing with us your whole life, I mean seriously.

Back in the office, Team Detective are trying to come up with a new way to get in contact with ang moh bff and get her to spill what she knows. “What about that ang moh party tonight?” Pamelyn asks, as if all ang mohs know each other which given Singapore in the 60s, they probably do hahah. After Claire calls the office for “help” from Don re: the baby (what would Don know?!), we cut to another party which I swear they’re all held in the same place (also possible), and Pamelyn is wearing the same dress she wore on her date with CIA dude! PAMELYN YOU ARE PERANAKAN HAVE SOME RESPECT. Don is wearing a suit. CIA looks like he could use a digestive biscuit.

pamelyn no
pamelyn no

They convince ang moh bff to separate from her parents and she reveals that Weilin thought the boy she was sexing thought he was going to marry her. Awwww! And he’s here tonight! Dude (Chinese Singaporean with an Australian accent which is funny because he’s supposed to be English-Educated Singaporean doing uni in England) is in denial; he never received any letters though ang moh bff swears Weilin wrote them. His father storms into the room and admits he stole the letters! The boy wants to take the baby on but his father won’t let him, making it clear that he should never have gotten involved with someone from a Tong family and now he’s just gonna have to deal with how the father is choosing to fix it. Boy storms off, making it clear he’s not emotionally mature enough to have an infant anyway.

Back in the office, the phone rings. “Guess who,” Joan says, holding the phone out to Don. The looks on her and Pamelyn’s faces are priceless. Don turns up at Claire’s house and I’d like to know where Frank is in all of this? Claire comments that Don is a natural with kids arhghg help. He says he was around kids a lot growing up – in Changi? Claire asks. Claire you don’t just ask someone! Frustrated by not being able to give the kid a home that isn’t in the Kay clan, Don asks Claire, “You know any expat kids who wanna adopt a Chinese baby?” Claire, continuing to show some basic common decency as a human baby, replies “He’s a baby, not a puppy. Given expat circles I think a dog would have a better chance.” Thank you, Claire. DON YOU ARE THE PROBLEM WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM YOU CANNOT JUST PALM OFF A CHINESE BABY TO A RANDOM EXPAT FAMILY ALDKAJFADF.

this is how we all feel right now
this is how we all feel right now

Sorry. Hi. We cut quickly to the detective agency and Serangoon Road. There is a mysterious woman walking the streets holding a package, which she drops on the steps of the Cheng Agency, which is becoming a bit of a pattern. She knocks and runs off, and Joan comes out to discover the locket from episode 3, with the picture of Joan and Winston in it. DUN DUN DUNNN.

Meanwhile, trying to hit an emotional note, Claire advocates for giving the baby to the Kay family and asks “did your life turn out the way you thought it would?” Don has some more misty flashbacks, and we transition to the truck that appears to have replaced the Kombi. “This is gonna get you killed, man,” says Alaric.

I’m so pissed off that it’s up to the white people to decide to give the baby to the Kay family. I get why they spent all this time investigating – if Weilin went to so much effort, given she was living at home, to hide her pregnancy from her family, clearly she maybe didn’t want them to know and maybe she didn’t want the baby to be a part of the Kay family, for whatever reason. But Weilin died without leaving written instructions, her ang moh bestie knew she wasn’t keen on it but didn’t know what else to do, the father can’t take the baby and Kay Song is tearing Chinatown apart for the baby. What does that tell you, you judgemental ang moh?

In what is probably Don’s longest monologue so far, Don gives the baby to Grandfather Kay, and shows honour and respect in returning the baby, and asks that in return he grants a favour: not seeking vengeance. Grandfather Kay is clearly feeling magnanimous and/or wants Don to do him more favours in the future; he grants the favour for the boy and the girl, but he says, a member of my household – “she cannot go unpunished.” Don asks him to reconsider, but Grandfather Kay doesn’t even look at him, he just keeps playing with the baby as he says “It is already too late.” The music over this whole scene is amazing.

Don races off to the kampung to find Kay Amah, leaving behind Alaric who went to get drinks or something (for reals). In the kampung, Kay Amah is cooking and turns to find Song Ge staring at her. He floats into the room, Amah serves him some food and he kneels down beside her at the table. He is quiet and kind of menacing. “I’ve been having these dreams, Amah,” he says. “I would have you sing.” It’s kind of menacing and kind of not, and I honestly can’t tell whether he’s gonna kill her or not, so excellent work my friend. Amah sings and Song Ge lies his head on the table and looks up at her.

Don swings to a stop at the kampung and leaps out of not the Kombi. Song Ge walks into sight, pulling his sleeves down. They face off, Don all puffed and Song Ge all quietly sinister. “I slit her throat and fed her to the crabs” he says, and Don believes him until Amah comes into sight. He’s sending her off to hid! “If my Grandfather finds out, it is you who I shall be giving to the crabs” Song Ge threatens as Amah sails off; doesn’t look back.

In the boat house, Alaric agrees to something with two Chinese guys, without their ang moh partners present. “Don’t worry about him, just keep this between us,” they all agree. ALARIC NO. Why sometimes such good decisions, other times clearly such bad decisions!

Joan plays with the locket and talks out loud. We pull back and discover she is sitting talking to Winston at his tablet. She is puzzled and unsure and I love you Joan. Uncle Owner is still burning money, and this was so superficially about ghosts, I really did expect more instead of this sledgehammer of meaning and just bam bam bam! It really could have been about ghosts, or about the Chinese fear of ghosts (especially in SEA), instead of whatever this mess was.

We end with Claire hiding out in Don’s house, telling him she’s gonna leave Frank. But if she leaves Frank won’t she have to go back to Australia? I find it hard to believe she has her own funds. Then the ang mohs make out and I yell at the screen.

This was a weird episode, with real attempts to make sure that the A plot was basically the entirety of the focus, with only little hints of other things, but it still felt like it lacked whatever was needed to bind it together. The moments with the ghosts and babies and traditions felt forced, not artificially added on but as if they were uncomfortable being there; but at the same time it gave some excellent moments of colonialism and attitudes in Singapore in 1964. I feel very mixed about this episode: I definitely can’t say it was a good one because there were some notes I loved; but at the same time it was terrible.

A, Miscellany:

  • The writing and the acting has definitely dropped again in this episode. WHY MY ABC WHY.
  • Don and CIA dude get into fights over the Singaporeans in their lives. Don threatens CIA dude re: Pamelyn (I don’t care how you treat me but “you upset her, that’s another story”); CIA dude threatens Alaric (he’s on a communist watchlist ?!!? “if we do not stand up against communism it will destroy us.” Americans.)
  • I wish they’d stop trying to make fetch happen with Pamelyn and the CIA dude. It’s so contrived and awful, AND he just keeps pushing for a yes past every one of her nos until she just gently drops into not a no. “I’m repulsed by every single thing you stand for,” Pamelyn says, and I wish they’d stick with that!
  • Alaric: “you know I can’t read white guys.” I hear you, 哥哥.
  • I’m always glad when we get more background on characters, but Song Ge was super upset only this was the only time we’ve ever seen Kay Weilin. Dead lady only in a Singaporean setting for the gangster baddie is still a lady in the fridge. Expansion only with dead ladies is it?
  • Fortune Teller Auntie! So the best. She tells Don to stay out because it’s Chinatown business and I love it, because no matter how much he wants to be a part of it he still always holds himself a little separate, like all ang moh in SEA at the time. Perfect characterisation. Also yes, he should go give sacrifice instead. Baby Grandaddy tells Don “you’re an outsider, you don’t understand;” I would really love it if they keep exploring this aspect through the show, how Don wants to be considered wholly Singaporean but he never will be because he won’t let himself be.
  • Every instance of Joan making fun of Don makes me happy.
  • Why ‘Tracks of My Tears’? Why not something to do with it being 中元节? Something to do with ghosts or…something.
  • Speaking of all ang mohs knowing each other, did I mention that time I was trailing behind my parents at 10:00 in some random shopping centre in Penang and my dad literally bumped into another ang moh he knew when he was stationed at Butterworth 25 years earlier? All ang mohs really DO know each other in SEA in the 60s-70s.
  • No Rachael Blake, no Tony Martin. Boooooo.
  • Hokkien watch: lots of use of ang moh.

Next week: Alaric is caught smuggling explosives and Pamelyn refuses to help clear him. DUN DUN DUNNNNN