Contributed by Siobhan Parker
Last night’s episode of Monroe was easily the best yet, dealing with the themes of control, competition, confidence and cowardice. The newer characters of Head of Clinical Services Alistair Gillespie (Neil Pearson) and Nurse Specialist Lizzie Clapham (Tracy-Ann Oberman) were sidelined slightly in an episode that brought back the original cast to the forefront.
The episode opened with Consultant Neurosurgeon Monroe (James Nesbitt) revealing to his trainees Springer (Luke Allen-Gale) and Wilson (Michelle Asante) that he will only be able to keep one of them on as his registrar when they complete their training. The characters were always going to deal with this news in different ways; middle-class Springer has grown up with a sense of entitlement and the idea that he might not just walk into the role of registrar has been completely alien to him. However, cracks in his confidence are starting to show and we see him trying to outdo Wilson by showing off his knowledge and his believed (although, as it turns out misplaced) affinity with Monroe As he says to Wilson following a shared joke between him and Monroe, “see that? We’ve got rapport. You can’t buy that”. This is a clever line that harks back to his upbringing, indicating that perhaps his road to neurosurgery was perhaps assisted by family money. Wilson, on the other hand, has been quietly working away in the background, proving herself to be a worthwhile candidate for the role as Monroe’s registrar without the bravado and arrogance displayed by the peacock-like Springer.
Alongside this professional rivalry was the simmering tension between heart surgeon Bremner (Sarah Parish) and her registrar Witney (Christina Chong). Following Bremner’s return from maternity leave she has struggled to regain her place in the department. Witney is also trying to prove herself, visibly aggrieved when Gillespie’s registrar Mullery (Andrew Gower) performs a clamshell (the largest incision used in heart surgery, which allowed the special effects team to do some fantastic work) after answering her abandoned phone. Combined with the smile on Mullery’s face when he realises he needs to do the incision, we get a real insight into the desire these registrars have to prove themselves to their superiors.
Witney, however, is perhaps taking this need to the next level, with a sense of one-upmanship pervading into her personal life. Not only does she laugh off Springer’s flawed attempts to ask her on a date, she then opens up to Bremner’s partner (and father of her child) Lawrence Shepherd, allowing things to get a little too personal. Shepherd says to Bremner during an argument about couples counselling, “maybe that’s something we can talk about. Control”, so it’s interesting to see him then turn to a Witney, a woman who, while much more able to display her emotions than Bremner has shown herself to be, has so much motivation and drive that she reminds her colleagues of Bremner herself. It will be fascinating to see how this relationship develops throughout the series – I for one am rooting for Bremner to open up and allow Shepherd in a little more. However, if she finds out about his indiscretion with Witney, I imagine there she will find it hard to forgive and forget.
This theme of control was also seen in Monroe’s story. Following a botched operation on a dying patient, we see him losing control of his emotions, drinking himself into a stupor in his office. He attempts to explain what has happened to the patient’s husband, but he refuses to believe anything could have gone wrong, saying to Monroe “you’ve got to say all this stuff though don’t you, legally?… I mean, you’re the man aren’t you”. Season 1 was criticised slightly for James Nesbitt’s twinkly, cocksure portrayal of Gabriel Monroe so it is refreshing to see him unable to fix his mistake here and face up to the fact that he is not this god-like creature that his past successes have set him up to be. By the end of the episode, he decides that Dr Wilson is the trainee he wants to promote – only for her to refuse the position due to her belief that she is not yet strong enough to face the consequences of an operation gone wrong. Gillespie questions whether this decision was cowardly; Monroe questions whether cowardice is actually a better quality than he gives her credit for. Perhaps in this arena of life and death, being afraid to operate in case it goes wrong, could actually be the right way to feel rather than blustering through with faux-confidence and potentially ruining the patient’s life? When Wilson refuses the role, Monroe says “I’m not asking you to be me, I’m asking you to be my registrar”. But if, as next week’s preview seems to indicate, Dr Springer takes the role of registrar, has Monroe merely created a replica of himself?
It was an episode that managed almost to discard it’s hospital drama shackles, becoming instead an emotional drama about love, fear and the desire to succeed – that just happened to be set in a hospital where the patients play second fiddle to the story.