"Some obligations can't be passed on": Watching A Place To Call Home

James from London

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Season Three

it’s sad to think that the rest of the Poletti family - who brought instant sunshine to the series, but also had a background of tragedy that had yet to be fully explored - won’t be seen on this series again.


Likewise the Goldbergs were mentioned by name in Episode Two, yet it appears that two of the three of them have left for good. I loved what they brought to the series, and they, too, are a definite loss. Episode Two included a Jewish ritual and a challah was sent by the Goldbergs - who were conspicuous by their absence. It seems wrong that they haven’t interacted with René.
That's so interesting. I've finished Season 3 and still hadn't really registered their absences were permanent!
It’s impossible to discuss this without noting that - for whatever reason - characters who are from ethnic minorities are evidently those who are considered the most expendable within the framework of the series.

It’s perhaps worth noting, too, that the three new characters so far this season (the housekeeper, the conspicuously gay doctor and the stuffy old Blimp) all appear to add to the series’ now almost ubiquitous WASP factor.
Again, I hadn't clocked this consciously, but it's just what happened with Falcon Crest -- by Season 3, there wasn't a Hispanic character in sight -- and, more gradually, EastEnders which started off as a truly multi-ethnic soap, yet by the (admittedly great) '90s was almost exclusively caucasian.


Said doctor is treating George. Or at least picking up treating him from Sarah, who took over his care in the ambulance and used a non-sterilised instrument to remove the bullet when she somehow knew that it was vital to remove it rather than leave it (she instructed the trained ambulance staff to get her a pen or a piece of wire). And as Doctor Henry Fox intuitively knew at a casual glance, she’d done the right thing. Not that he’s too bothered, as he spends most of his time outside chain smoking with James (James smokes now?) and gazing into his eyes with all the subtlety of Jim Carrey.
Yeah, James seems to attract these futuristic gay men who have time travelled from the 21st century to tell him everything's cool and the most important thing is you to be true to yourself, bla bla bla. Both Dr Henry and the fella he kissed in the barn in Season 1 have the same ability to effortlessly unnerve James the way Luke Fuller did Steven Carrington when he was married to Claudia on Dynasty, just by their smouldering well-adjustedness. I guess the demands of soap, or soapish drama, require this kind of archetype to move things along, but how interesting it might have been if James had instead encountered someone as inhibited and ill-adjusted as himself whose gaydar didn't automatically ping at first sight? What would have happened? Maybe nothing, and I guess AP2CH is about stuff happening.
 
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Mel O'Drama

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Again, I hadn't clocked this consciously, but it's just what happened with Falcon Crest -- by Season 3, there wasn't a Hispanic character in sight -- and, more gradually, EastEnders which started off as a truly multi-ethnic soap, yet by the (admittedly great) '90s was almost exclusively caucasian.

Oh, interesting. I suppose APTCH has the family saga thing going on, and since the central family are all caucasian those from outside the family are more expendable. Whatever the case, it's a loss for the series.

Yeah, James seems to attract these futuristic gay men who have time travelled from the 21st century to tell him everything's cool and the most important thing is you to be true to yourself, bla bla bla.
Yes indeed. This reminds me of a comment @JamesF made back when I was rewatching:
If I level one criticism at the show, it's that sometimes the character reactions that create the warmth are borderline anachronistic for the 1950s universe it inhabits. But it treads that fine line well generally and I was so invested in the characters, I could move past it very easily.

The level of acceptance in Inverness is slightly mindblowing. On the one hand it feels slightly unbelievable. On the other, it makes the characters doing the accepting seem more special. It treads that line between having ugly attitudes and characters responding to it in a way that's palatable for a 21st Century audience. Would so many people evolve to change their outlook towards homosexuality or illegitimacy or ethnicity in reality? Probably not. Perhaps it's just something that's viewed as necessary for the audience to feel empathy for the characters. Widely accepted bigotry of the time would demonise regular characters in the minds of many viewers if they were seen through the prism of a modern day audience.

Along similar lines, I watched an episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries over the weekend in which two men were photographed in bed together and subsequently blackmailed. Naturally, some were shocked, apart from Phryne Fisher herself who was more appalled that the men would probably be imprisoned for sodomy for loving someone. By episode's end the tough nut police inspector handed over the photos to Phryne so she could "lose" them. It's a nice scene, but came across very strongly as far more progressive than one would expect for the 1920s setting. Likewise, Phryne made a comment to a mixed race couple that everyone should be free to love whomever they please. It's hard to dislike a scene like this, but it still feels quite airbrushed. Or maybe I'm being too harsh on the early 20th Century.




I guess the demands of soap, or soapish drama, require this kind of archetype to move things along, but how interesting it might have been if James had instead encountered someone as inhibited and ill-adjusted as himself whose gaydar didn't automatically ping at first sight? What would have happened? Maybe nothing, and I guess AP2CH is about stuff happening.

Yes. In reality, the chances of them meeting someone inhibited and ill-adjusted would be very high. I suppose Henry has the bonus of being from the big smoke, which I imagine makes his well-adjusted outlook feasible. But the thought of James meeting another James is an enticing one. This series has good form when it comes to taking the audience into the feelings of the characters without them necessarily externalising it, so I'm sure it could have been done well.
 

Willie Oleson

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By episode's end the tough nut police inspector handed over the photos to Phryne so she could "lose" them
A classic example of the Anti-Whatever character who's not "anti" enough to hate that Whatever-Person out of existence.
I think it usually happens in cop-type shows and period dramas e.g. Downton Abbey.
Phryne made a comment to a mixed race couple that everyone should be free to love whomever they please. It's hard to dislike a scene like this, but it still feels quite airbrushed. Or maybe I'm being too harsh on the early 20th Century.
I'm sure that mindset already existed and Miss Fisher appears bohemian enough to support that mindset in a convincing way.
But when that mindset is being scripted into dialogue it may come across as being overtly progressive. It's that extra bit of convincing that the viewer doesn't really need.
Kind of like telling a reading-between-the-lines joke and then giving clues where the joke is hidden because you're afraid they don't get it.
 

James from London

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If I level one criticism at the show, it's that sometimes the character reactions that create the warmth are borderline anachronistic for the 1950s universe it inhabits. But it treads that fine line well generally and I was so invested in the characters, I could move past it very easily.
Yes, one trope I've never loved about period dramas is the "free-spirited" character, usually female, who is "ahead of their times and challenges the norms of the day." In other words, they're really from the time the show is being written rather than when it is set, which is a bit of a cop-out. The daughter in Upstairs Downstairs, Elizabeth Bellamy, was one such character who conveniently mixed with suffragettes and the Bloomsbury set, dragging her family into one scandal, then another. But she was a great character and the writing was really good so one could overlook it. However, when she left she was essentially replaced by her cousin Georgina (Lesley Ann Down), who was very interesting because she was a character of her time, who was then impacted by the changing world around her. She started off as a hedonistic bright young thing, all Charlestons and cigarette holders, but was then plunged into WWI where she became a nurse and was forced to see a different side of life.

AP2CH takes place on the other side of WWII and characters like Sarah and Jack have already been changed and traumatised by war, so when they challenge societal norms and prejudices it feels absolutely believable because their sense of injustice comes from a very real place rather than something externally imposed to make things more palatable to the viewer.

I suppose APTCH has the family saga thing going on, and since the central family are all caucasian those from outside the family are more expendable. Whatever the case, it's a loss for the series.
For all of early Enders' earnest attempts to depict a realistic cultural melting pot, you always got the sense that the heart of the series was the Fowlers' living room -- a white, working-class, nuclear family steeped in local history -- and the further the show moved away from that living room, the less confident it became. So with the best will in the world, they were never gonna be able to write the shy Asian couple running the corner shop or the gay middle-class graphic designer with as much guts and passion as they did Pauline and Arthur.
The level of acceptance in Inverness is slightly mindblowing. On the one hand it feels slightly unbelievable. On the other, it makes the characters doing the accepting seem more special. It treads that line between having ugly attitudes and characters responding to it in a way that's palatable for a 21st Century audience. Would so many people evolve to change their outlook towards homosexuality or illegitimacy or ethnicity in reality? Probably not. Perhaps it's just something that's viewed as necessary for the audience to feel empathy for the characters. Widely accepted bigotry of the time would demonise regular characters in the minds of many viewers if they were seen through the prism of a modern day audience.
The compassion and respect shown to Sarah at Rene's funeral is a great example of "the accepting seeming special" - I guess because she'd earned that acceptance, and so had Rene for what he'd endured during the war. So again it felt specific, rather than just something a modern-day audience supposedly "needs" to see.
But when that mindset is being scripted into dialogue it may come across as being overtly progressive. It's that extra bit of convincing that the viewer doesn't really need.
Kind of like telling a reading-between-the-lines joke and then giving clues where the joke is hidden because you're afraid they don't get it.
Which just makes the audience feel like they've had their intelligence insulted. Certainly, AP2CH hasn't been guilty of that as far as I'm concerned (except for maybe that flash-forward thing at the start of Season 2, but let's not think about that!).
 

Willie Oleson

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AP2CH takes place on the other side of WWII and characters like Sarah and Jack have already been changed and traumatised by war, so when they challenge societal norms and prejudices it feels absolutely believable because their sense of injustice comes from a very real place rather than something externally imposed to make things more palatable to the viewer.
That makes perfect sense to me.

I wonder if it makes any difference that the story takes place in Australia, and not Europe or America. Were/are they less conservative? I have no idea, just asking.
 

Mel O'Drama

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I'm sure that mindset already existed and Miss Fisher appears bohemian enough to support that mindset in a convincing way.

Yes indeed. And James's comment about post-war characters challenging societal norms also fits there, since there have been flashbacks to Phryne working in the field as a nurse during WWI, rather like cousin Georgia in Upstairs Downstairs.


The daughter in Upstairs Downstairs, Elizabeth Bellamy, was one such character who conveniently mixed with suffragettes and the Bloomsbury set, dragging her family into one scandal, then another. But she was a great character and the writing was really good so one could overlook it. However, when she left she was essentially replaced by her cousin Georgina (Lesley Ann Down), who was very interesting because she was a character of her time, who was then impacted by the changing world around her. She started off as a hedonistic bright young thing, all Charlestons and cigarette holders, but was then plunged into WWI where she became a nurse and was forced to see a different side of life.

Yet more reasons for me to keep Upstairs Downstairs on my viewing bucket list.



The compassion and respect shown to Sarah at Rene's funeral is a great example of "the accepting seeming special" - I guess because she'd earned that acceptance, and so had Rene for what he'd endured during the war. So again it felt specific, rather than just something a modern-day audience supposedly "needs" to see.

Absolutely.
 

James from London

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In the Season Two finale, Gino had suggested Anna should become a writer since she reads so many banned books. I thought this might be hinting at a Capricorn Crude type storyline for Season Three.
Yes, I was worried about that too. It feels a bit early in the run for the series to start devouring itself -- although I think someone in Models Inc wrote about a book about what happened in Models Inc during its first (and only) season!
Baby George goes missing and - quelle surprise - is found to be in bed with creepy housekeeper Rose. Which has made me realise just why Rose is really there.
I thought/hoped Rose might be the baby's real mother and it was all part of a hideous plan devised by Andrew. That would have been far out.
Elizabeth staying at Carolyn’s apartment alone has been an interesting diversion. It feels wrong that she’s not at Ash Park: but that’s the point.
Yes, the prospect of Elizabeth going off to find herself was not a promising one -- again, it felt very early in the series to uproot her -- but it works, because she works.
Still at a loose end, Prudence ropes Elizabeth into fundraising for a refuge run by one Douglas Goddard. Could this be her Clayton Farlow?
Ha! Yes, that's exactly who he is!
We see her struggling to chop veg, then serving the food to the homeless vets - even cutting up food into small pieces for one. It’s a typical fish-out-of-water story that feels almost disposable. Almost. Because it leads to a moment where she has a piano brought in, then plays and sings When I Get Too Old To Dream, with the teary-eyed vets joining in. It’s slightly contrived (Elizabeth sings now? Whatever next?!). But entirely forgivable because it’s also effectively poignant.
Yes, it's lovely. Both Coronation Street and EastEnders used memories of WWII as a strong evocative backdrop in their early years. But with AP2CH being set in the decade between the war and the start of Corrie, you can feel the weight of that past pressing that much more heavily on the present. You get a real sense of the lasting damage to those who were directly caught up in the war, and that's something the "good" characters, Elizabeth included, intuitively understand and respect. Its an indication of their shared humanity really, and marks them out from the bigoted characters in the town who never went to war (like the wife-beater who got shot and the mean cop who beats Rene in his cell) and, of course, evil Katherine Wentworth with the chin.
Yet more reasons for me to keep Upstairs Downstairs on my viewing bucket list.
Ah, I couldn't remember whether you'd seen it or not. Maybe Willie can lend you his copy -- I don't think he was too impressed!
 

Willie Oleson

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Maybe Willie can lend you his copy
I would have given it if I still had it! When I realized that U,D wasn't for me, that boxset became a very unwanted item because I didn't want to be remembered of my unfortunate purchase. The money itself doesn't bother me, once it's spent it's gone.
And so...
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And I think I assumed that Mel already had his own boxset but just hadn't gotten around to it (because there was Home And Away, and then this and then that - we all know how it goes).
 

Mel O'Drama

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although I think someone in Models Inc wrote about a book about what happened in Models Inc during its first (and only) season!

Oh really? I can't remember that at all, but then it's been so long there'll be a whole bunch of stuff I've forgotten about.



I thought/hoped Rose might be the baby's real mother and it was all part of a hideous plan devised by Andrew. That would have been far out.

Oh wow. Having Andrew behind it would have been devilish.



Both Coronation Street and EastEnders used memories of WWII as a strong evocative backdrop in their early years. But with AP2CH being set in the decade between the war and the start of Corrie, you can feel the weight of that past pressing that much more heavily on the present.

Yes. The war feels very important to the series and I love how it's woven in to the fabric of the characters' stories, informing who they are.

I seem to remember some of the EastEnders prequel novels being set in WWII, and there was CivvyStreet, which I remember little about, other than Fay from Grange Hill was Ethel. I recently spotted a new series of Corrie and Emmerdale novels set around WWII, which I thought looked interesting.



Its an indication of their shared humanity really, and marks them out from the bigoted characters in the town who never went to war

Nice observation. I hadn't consciously spotted that.




evil Katherine Wentworth with the chin.

Ha ha. Yes.



I would have given it if I still had it!

Oh, that's very thoughtful Willie. Fear not, it's still widely available and on my radar to buy.


I think I assumed that Mel already had his own boxset but just hadn't gotten around to it (because there was Home And Away, and then this and then that - we all know how it goes).

We do indeed. That's essentially the reason I hadn't got round to buying it. Between Prime and a backlog of DVDs there are just too many series already lined up.
 

James from London

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This leads to a scene of Sarah sitting in a park watching a mother pushing a pram framed with beams of sunshine to create a halo effect. It’s slightly depressing to think that Australian television doesn’t seem to have gained a new perspective on decisions around abortion since Caroline Morrell did exactly the same thing almost three decades earlier (in viewer time, of course. By character chronology, Sarah enacted this moment three decades before Caroline did).
Interesting. I've yet to reach that S&D storyline, but I've never been keen on the "woman decides to have an abortion then changes her mind at the last moment" cliche, with its implication that women are too dizzily indecisive to be trusted to make an informed decision about their own bodies*. But this didn't feel like that: Sarah's dilemma wasn't about whether or not she herself wanted to keep the baby, but about the wider implications of her decision. And needless to say, Caroline is a total moron while Sarah definitely isn't.
As the long surgery goes on, Jack tuts about the girl having a hysterectomy at 15 (I assume this to mean that the hysterectomy has been necessary as the result of a botched abortion, though it’s possible she was for some reason meant to have a hysterectomy at the black market doctor’s place). Anyway, the girl bleeds to death, and the only non-supportive character - an officious nurse at the hospital - tells the police what’s gone on. Elizabeth then uses her influence to discourage the officer from pursuing it.
I kind of liked Elizabeth becoming involved/implicated in this situation which is completely outside of her comfort zone. It felt satisfyingly knotty. And at the end of Season 3, it looks as if it has returned to bite them all on their Australian arses, which is all to the good.
One almost feels that an "issue" demands a statement. What statement this storyline makes about abortion is open to interpretation. There are certainly mixed messages. It's clear that black market abortion is A Bad Thing. So it could be supporting legalised abortion for the lower risk and trauma to women. The series protagonist has chosen a different path. But would this have been the case if she could have had the procedure safely and legally? That's unclear.
Hmm, I guess I felt the wider statement the show was making was linked to the grim medical procedures we'd already seen performed on Anna and James. Contraception, abortion, gay conversion thingy -- they're all about aspects of sexual freedom that we take for granted now but that were strictly prohibited then. And they do love close-ups of forceps.

*unless it only emerges that she changed her mind decades later when her long-lost child turns up looking for murderous revenge, in which case I'm all for it.
 
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Mel O'Drama

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I've yet to reach that S&D storyline

Oops. Apologies for any unintentional spoilers/refreshers.



I've never been keen on the "woman decides to have an abortion then changes her mind at the last moment" cliche, with its implication that women are too dizzily indecisive to be trusted to make an informed decision about their own bodies*. But this didn't feel like that: Sarah's dilemma wasn't about whether or not she herself wanted to keep the baby, but about the wider implications of her decision.

Spot on. The situations are very different, which I think became clearer as the season progressed. I think I was just struck by the similarities in the staging.




*unless it only emerges that she changed her mind decades later when her long-lost child turns up looking for murderous revenge, in which case I'm all for it.

Seconded!!



And needless to say, Caroline is a total moron while Sarah definitely isn't.

Ha ha. You won't hear any argument from me.



Hmm, I guess I felt the wider statement the show was making was linked to the grim medical procedures we'd already seen performed on Anna and James. Contraception, abortion, gay conversion thingy -- they're all about aspects of sexual freedom that we take for granted now but that were strictly prohibited then.

That works for me. They certainly do link up in terms of theme.
 

James from London

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Rose tells how she was strapped to the bed, her face covered with a sheet so she couldn’t see. And surrounded by people telling her she was a silly girl, and that the stillbirth was her punishment for being an unmarried mother.
Another account of a horrific sexually related medical ordeal.
 

James from London

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If anyone can deal with Sir Richard, it’s Carolyn. She’s not one to be impressed by titles. And she can dish it out as well as she can take it.
Those were the thoughts going through my mind when he started to attack her. I found myself thinking, "It won't happen, she'll be fine, she's not the type to get raped." More specifically, she's not the type to get raped on TV.
The scene is all the more fascinating because Bennett is played by an actor with a none-too-imposing stature. Sara Wiseman looks down at him during their scenes. He’s made imposing by the presence Mark Lee gives him. And this sells the scene. It also serves to make the outcome a little surprising, because early on in the scene there was every reason to believe that he wasn’t that serious a threat to Carolyn and she could have fought him off. It’s only as the scene progresses and Bennett becomes more determined that the threat level rises and Carolyn’s vulnerability and entrapment dawns on her and audience both.
So this was a good reminder for me that there is no "type". Carolyn might be older and taller and worldlier than your usual TV rape victim, but that doesn't render her immune.
This is the Fifties. Bennett is a knight. And Carolyn is a liberal woman. Her chances don’t look good.
Yes, now that you mention it, this where Carolyn's "free-thinking, woman ahead of her time" persona and the reality of that time collide. In contemporary-set rape storylines, particularly on soaps, "You don't have to accept this. You can get justice." Here, the message seems to be, "Back then, there was no justice, and you were expected to accept it." It's not a specifically medical ordeal this time, but it's another sexually-related one where society and "the system" are not on the victim's side the way they (theoretically) would be today.
 

Mel O'Drama

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Those were the thoughts going through my mind when he started to attack her. I found myself thinking, "It won't happen, she'll be fine, she's not the type to get raped."
So this was a good reminder for me that there is no "type". Carolyn might be older and taller and worldlier than your usual TV rape victim, but that doesn't render her immune.

Yes. I thought it played against expectations with the rapist as well. Richard has a chip on his shoulder and a good degree of entitlement, but he's not the rugged, brutish type that might spring to mind when thinking of this kind of scenario, especially on TV. Watching this, I felt very similarly to how I'd felt with Kathy and Wilmott Brown the first time I watched that play out. Which was a very similar setup, now I think about it.



Yes, now that you mention it, this where Carolyn's "free-thinking, woman ahead of her time" persona and the reality of that time collide. In contemporary-set rape storylines, particularly on soaps, "You don't have to accept this. You can get justice." Here, the message seems to be, "Back then, there was no justice, and you were expected to accept it." It's not a specifically medical ordeal this time, but it's another sexually-related one where society and "the system" are not on the victim's side the way they (theoretically) would be today.

Absolutely. It all adds to Carolyn's entrapment and isolation.
 

James from London

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Doris has certainly become a supportive and understanding character.
It's kind of amazing how she seems to have done a 180 degree turn from an almost monstrous character to, by time of Rene's funeral, a pretty heroic one, all without really changing her personality, simply in response to what's going on around her -- at least that how it feels. (It's pretty much the opposite of Charlie on S&D whose transformation from shallow society queen to merrily cooking meals down on the farm is enjoyably implausible.)
Doris gives her a tonic to take home
Who would have guessed that tonic would become such a dramatic part of the plot?
René’s been an interesting part of the series for me. In particular, it’s his inaccessibility that has reeled me in. He’s difficult to get to know, and hasn’t always been especially likeable. But I do like him. Ben Winspear has helped create one of the series’ most complex characters, and it comes across strongly that truth is more important than being liked. Which is how it should be.
It's an interesting one. In another soap, he would simply be the Mark Graison/Ben Gibson obstacle to Sarah and George's eventual happiness, but because he's already Sarah's husband and because of everything he's been through, he can't be dismissed as such, even though, because of his inaccessibility, we can't warm to him as much as George - who sort of has become the Ben Gibson obstacle to Sarah and Rene's happiness. It's complicated!
Technically, René dying frees Sarah to be with George who now knows she’s carrying his child. But Regina’s soapy scheming has put paid to that.
Yes, it's like Mark Graison dying only for Pam to find out Bobby's engaged not to Jenna, but to Nazi Katherine.
 

Mel O'Drama

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It's kind of amazing how she seems to have done a 180 degree turn from an almost monstrous character to, by time of Rene's funeral, a pretty heroic one, all without really changing her personality, simply in response to what's going on around her -- at least that how it feels.

I know what you mean. I think there was also some misdirection in Doris's early episodes. Or at the very least some ambiguity around her motives. She looked quite sinister going through Sarah's papers, for example, and since we didn't know her it could have been read any number of ways.

As you said, all of it rings true for Doris. The person who spies on her tenants and reports to their enemies; the woman who judges others; the strict Christian whose sensibilities are easily upset; and the "good stick" who'll take great risks and even overlook the law if it's for the greater good.


(It's pretty much the opposite of Charlie on S&D whose transformation from shallow society queen to merrily cooking meals down on the farm is enjoyably implausible.)

Very true.


Who would have guessed that tonic would become such a dramatic part of the plot?

I love that it did.



Yes, it's like Mark Graison dying only for Pam to find out Bobby's engaged not to Jenna, but to Nazi Katherine.

Yes. Yes!!
 
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