In which Manny and Bernard’s relationship turns Freudian and Fran tries the clean life.
Original Air Date: 3/29/2002
Let’s talk about Manny and Bernard. I mean, yeah, we’d be doing that anyway but my goodness there’s a lot to unpack in their relationship. At all times, they are flatmates, co-workers, a master and a servant, drinking buddies, friends (?) and, depending on the episode, a husband and wife. But what remains constant is Bernard’s attempts to maintain authority in the relationship and Manny always chafing under it. It’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for them to get to Freud.
The episode starts off with Bernard and Manny in the midst of what I can only assume is a Virginia Woolf play. They are two deeply unhappy spouses in a fraught, broken relationship with a barely concealed hostility being spit out with every line. Then, with the arrival of a complete set of Sigmund Freud’s works, their relationship descends into a rabbit hole of his theories. A dynamic (which has been touched upon from time to time) begins to assert itself more clearly: a father and son.
Bernard’s attempts to psychoanalyze Manny are really another way of asserting power over him. By convincing Manny that his quirks are signs of mania, Manny’s smaller rebellions fall to the wayside. But this backfires when he goes to see a therapist. Through the power of talk therapy, during which the therapist says nothing, Manny gains the self-confidence to stand up to Bernard. Bernard’s subsequent visit to the shrink makes him realize that he’s the one that’s been projecting his own filial issues into his relationship with Manny.
As with many of her plots, Fran’s only intersects occasionally with Manny and Bernard’s. That’s fine, though, since this is absolutely the standout plot of the episode. As I think I’ve said before, Tamsin Greig is the Ace in the Hole for the series. Her gift for physical comedy and her ability to turn on a dime from being the sane voice of reason to the craziest of the main cast is invaluable, particularly here. Fran’s always at her best when she completely cracks.
Once again, Fran is attempting to better herself. This time a friend of hers, Eva (Jessica Hynes! [credited here as Stevenson]) tries to ‘fix’ Fran of all of her toxic habits. As with any attempt to better herself, Fran takes to the concept of it immediately, without really thinking about the effort involved in keeping it up. Now, Fran has issues with patience and self-control, so it’s not a surprise that she immediately can’t handle the new lifestyle. But in fairness to her, Eva has her go full throttle into the Yoga, vegan, no-wheat, no meat, no fun lifestyle. Anybody would crash. Eva forcing Fran into that lifestyle so she can ‘fix’ her bears some similar control issues that Manny and Bernard face.
I do love the way the scenes of Fran and Eva are shot by the way. Whenever Black Books takes the cast outside of either the shop or the pub it’s usually for a good reason. Here, it shows how different the world is when you’re “normal”. What I think gets to Fran is the novelty of spending a full day outside with a friend without cigarettes or booze clouding her mind. In a way, it’s as intoxicating as her usual lifestyle. There’s sunlight pouring through every scene, Eva’s flat is bright, the park is sunny, green and filled with flowers. I mean, it still has that cheapy, weird camera quality that kind of reminds me of early Nu-Who episodes and Spaced but I digress.
It’s worthwhile to note that Bernard’s criticism of Fran’s new lifestyle . while rooted in his disdain for change, is not wrong. While I do think much of Fran’s story here is based in Dylan Moran’s own probable dislike of condescending, holier-than-thou, granola munching. new age-y, spiritual nonsense, Bernard’s critical of Fran because she’s denying herself things she loves and denying him of her company in another attempt to better herself. Is it because he knows that she’s not particularly good at self-improvement, so why try?
I think my favorite scene in the entire show is the last scene of the episode, after Fran’s cracked. The drunken laugh, the way she immediately undoes any growth Manny and Bernard have made, the boorish drunkard voice she puts on and her impressions of Manny and Bernard are just indescribably perfect. It’s never not made me crack up.
I present the “Fran’s Cracked” scene without comment.
I flat-out LOVE this episode. It is perhaps the best of the series. To put it in a picture.
Streaming? How Do?
Black Books is available for online streaming via Amazon Prime, Hulu, Vudu, and the Channel 4 website for UK viewers.
- Jessica Hynes (Stevenson) needs no real introduction. But as with any other Edgar Wrigh adjacent actors I will note she is th co-creator and co-lead of Spaced, Ivonne in Shaun of The Dead, and was also in Burke and Hare with Simon Pegg!
- Manny strips the chicken to “The Entertainer”. I wonder whose idea it was to put the chicken on a stick to make it look like a stripper pole?
- Message on the chalkboard: “No ‘Prehensilizing”
- I really do love how Fran embraces the attitude that comes with purporting to live a healthy lifestyle. Fran’s utter inability to stick to her new regimen is something that she remains in denial with for most of the episode. Instead of just eating the chocolate rum cake with them, she eats it as she manipulates Manny into thinking Bernard ate it while “teaching” him meditation. Hypocrisy thy name is Fran.
- I love all of the physical comedy in this episode. From Manny turning Bernard’s stubbed toe into a burned hand, a blinded eye and a stubbed toe, to Fran carefully, gracefully sticking her head out to eat the piece of chocolate cake on the end of Manny’s fork.
Fran: Do you know that in Tibet when they want something they give something away?
Bernard: Do they? That must be why they’re such a dominant global power.
First Customer: Look, there’s no other way to say this, but I didn’t come in here to be insulted.
Bernard: Well, I didn’t ask for the job of insulting you. In another life, we could have been brothers. Running a small, quirky taverna in Sicily. Maybe we would have married the local twins instead of wasting each other’s time here in this dump. But it was not to be.
Fran: So what’s it like then? The fags and booze.
Bernard: Well, to be honest, after years of smoking and drinking, you do sometimes look at yourself and think…
Bernard: You know, just sometimes, in between the first cigarette with coffee in the morning to that four hundredth glass of cornershop piss at 3 AM, you do sometimes look at yourself and think…
Fran: Yep <nods head sagely>
Bernard: …”This is fantastic. I’m in heaven.”