Black Books, Series 3 Episode 5: “Travel Writer”

Wherein Manny and Fran are swept off their feet, and Bernard goes on a hunt

Original airdate: 4/8/2004

This was a fairly light episode. I suppose you could call it the last ‘shop shenanigans’ episode before the end. Manny invites a travel writer to speak at the shop, whom he, and everyone else, falls for, while Bernard hunts his newly appointed feline landlord. It’s a fun episode though it honestly feels like it could be slotted into any season with little notice.

Manny and Fran are both charmed by the travel writer, Jason Hamilton (Julian Rhind-Tutt). He’s the sort of character that can sweep anyone off their feet. Fran’s skeptical but it’s not surprising how quickly she falls for him. He sort of reminds me of  Lord Flashheart from Blackadder .  He doesn’t play it that way of course, all broad and dashing, but he’s just that same very affable and interesting person but who’s also kind of a dick.  I love the rivalry between Fran and Manny here precisely because they don’t get that. If he can coax the same reaction out of a cold and weary cynic like Bernard than you’re not special. While he seems to have an attraction to Fran we can already tell where its going to go. There’s no way Fran or Manny are gonna get to go to Borneo, no matter how connected they feel to him. It’s sad  in a way, since I think this is also Fran’s first romantic subplot since series 1 and may be the last for the series.

Meanwhile, for the first time I think ever, it’s made clear that Bernard has a landlord. Or at least, had one. Bernard’s landlady (who lived upstairs?) dies and then wills the shop to her cat. Bernard cannot abide by this and decides to have the cat, Mr. Benson, “taken care of”. Enlisting the aid of an exterminator, Bernard’s attempts to finish his feline landlord at times reminds me of Alien, and then sometimes Mouse Hunt, I probably enjoyed this plot more than the other largely because there’s more going on. I love that Bernard is completely on board with assassinating a cat, that he corrupts an exterminator (that wanted to be a vet), and then fails in every way imaginable. I think my favorite part is when the Exterminator, who’s been drinking to take the edge off of killing a cat, waxes philosophical about the psychological toll of being an exterminator. And to top it off, what sets off the mission is the cat eating Bernard’s special biscuit that he was saving for the travel writer.

As we get closer to the end of the series, I find myself a little disappointed that I don’t have a lot to say about this episode. As I’ve indicated before both “A Little Flutter” and “Travel Writer” were episodes that did not stick with me in any way. It was great to watch it again, as I genuinely felt I had not seen it before. But its also felt a little deflating for me that the episode was just kind of average, I guess? It’s not bad, in fact there are many great things about it. I guess I was expecting it to be more substantial than it was. It’s the last completely typical episode before the series wraps. And its good! Just not great in my estimation.

Sreaming? How Do?

Black Books is available for online streaming via Hulu, Vudu, and Amazon Prime. It is available for viewing through the Channel 4 website for UK viewers.

Stray Observations

  • I love the tittering laugh that all of the characters have as soon as they’re charmed by Jason the travel writer.
  • Manny claims to have traveled a lot. I’m not certain if he’s lying to impress, if he’s referring to his childhood when he claimed to have “seen” lots of army bases while his parents moved around, or, to the hellish connecting flights from “A Nice Change”
  • I find it interesting Bernard remains as charmed as everyone else by Jason throughout the episode even though his plot has little to do with him. His cat hunt may well have ended if Jason had let it be known it was irritating him.
  • Bernard claims to hate cats; wonder how it is he came to have Nipsy then.
  • Almost didn’t realize that The Solicitor whom Bernard meets is played by Alice Lowe. Not only an Edgar Wright adjacent actress, appearing in both Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, she also plays Liz Asher/Madeline Wool in Garth Marenghi’s DarkPlace, another favorite series of mine.
  • Goliath Books is still in operation next door. Either this is a continuity nod, or the re-purposing of an establishing shot from “Manny Come Home”. I lean towards the latter. It can be two things, though.
  • Bernard is immediately confused and infuriated as Manny attempts to explain property law to him. I feel your pain, Bernard.
  • I feel like the exterminator and Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia would have a lot to say to each other about the mental toll of murdering rats.
  • The exterminator is played by Ryan Luhning, according to IMDB he’s apparently a voice actor in several English dubs of anime, even popping up in Mobile Fighter G Gundam (a favorite of mine because of how dang cheesy it is). I guess I’ll have to track down that episode.
  • Bernard has a very special box that contains his one biscuit. Honestly, it looked quite good, I could see how the cat stealing it would be the last straw.

Quotable Quotes

Solicitor: Miss Hanley is dead.

Bernard: Eh?

Solicitor: She died in the night.

Bernard: I don’t care… I mean, how awful.

The Exterminator: So, let me guess: Mice. No, wait… you’ve got cockroaches.

Bernard: Yeah, we do, actually, but don’t touch them, will you? It would upset the bat.

Bernard: You hear that? He’s up there… mewing in the – in the nerve centre of his empire. A hike in rent here, a tax dodge there, he sticks his leg in the air, laughs his cat laugh… and then he dives back to grooming his balls!