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This is my first attempt at long meta.  I hope it's not too convaluded. I haven't written a true essay in a long time.  (Warning, spoilers for Zurich.)

Hercules Shipwright for Dad of the Year

Let me begin by saying that I love Herc Shipwright. I love that he has the voice of the perfect man. I’ll admit to a bit of bias on that point. I love that he has a silly name, and the sense of humor to go along with it. I love that he unabashedly and unashamedly loves opera, something not often considered manly. I love his cocky swagger, and his confidence. I love that he doesn’t back down from a challenge, but that he also doesn’t feel that going on the attack is always the best way to win. I love that his great fear is sheep, one that most people wouldn’t understand, mainly because they’ve never come face to face with an angry ram. Most of all, I love that he is always sweet, kind, and accepting.

I like him as a romantic match for Carolyn. Herc is not just the typical, sappy love interest you’ll find in any sitcom. The man is a match in every way for this strong, independent woman we have already fallen in love with. Their entire relationship begins with a slight misstep on his part that Carolyn is not afraid to call him on. In fact, she grabs on with a vengeance and follows it with an onslaught that would send most people running for cover. But not Herc. He meets her head on, matching her step for step and wit for wit. He’s not afraid to bicker when she needs to bicker, to listen when she needs to vent, and to just be there when she needs someone to quietly lean on while never admitting to it.

Herc is also ready and willing to love her. Whether she doesn’t want to deal with it, or is not ready to open her heart and be vulnerable again, or just wants uncomplicated company, he doesn’t let her forget that he does, all the while never pushing unless he believes she needs to hear that there is someone who cares. Of course, Carolyn’s initial dismissal of his proclamations are completely understandable. The man has been married four times. A serious red flag for any intelligent woman. But, as we see behind Herc’s sky-god façade, we begin to understand how this could have happened. When Hercules Shipwright does something, he does it completely. And when he loves, he does it with everything he has. Therefore, it would be in his nature to express his love to the fullest he knows how, asking a woman to marry him and be with him forever. On the other side of this, it is also easy to see the women with whom he keeps making this mistake. Younger ladies who are drawn to the prestige and daring persona of his profession. Not to mention the dashing figure we all know he strikes in his uniform. But with their youth and beauty comes inexperience and impatience. His is a profession that takes him all over the world for long periods of time. How long before his young wife’s lack of independence and her growing distrust in his fidelity takes its toll on a fledgling marriage. I’m not trying to say that his past is the fault of his ex-wives, but it’s easy to see Herc falling for the pretty, but not yet mature enough to be his equal, girl, and doing it over and over again. This is why his falling for Carolyn is such a surprise to him, and why the woman she is turns out to be the exact woman he needs.

But Carolyn would have always been fine and even happy without Hercules or, indeed, any man. The reason I love Herc above all is because of everything he is and could be for Arthur. You’ll notice that the title of this says ‘Dad of the Year’ and not ‘Father of the Year’. This was done very much on purpose. Arthur already has a father. Gordon Shappy, a man who has no chance of being mistaken for a good father, much less a good human being. Through all of MJN’s adventures and mishaps, Arthur’s demeanor and outlook on life alters very little at its core. He sees the world with a childlike joy and contagious cheer. He believes with all of his being that, if he and the people he cares for are together, everything will turn out well. Even if it’s not what he would have hoped for, it is for the best. There is, in fact, only one time we ever witness Arthur panic, and that’s at the mere idea of seeing his father.

Children shouldn’t react to their parents this way. It’s clear to see, even though the show never touches on it exactly, that Arthur’s relationship with his father must have been one of abuse. The way Carolyn attempts to protect him, the way Arthur reacts in St. Petersburg when he hears that Gordon is coming, the way he scrambles to make every effort to please him. This could point to any number of forms of abuse, but we finally see it when Gordon blows up over the gin. This is emotional abuse. The kind that you never know what will trigger. The kind that leaves you in constant fear. And Gordon is the type of man who would never be happy with a son like Arthur, and always let him know about it. It is a testament to Arthur’s resilient spirit that his joy and innocence survived a childhood with such a parent.

Arthur is thirty when Herc enters their lives. An adult, but still very much a man-child. And this cheerful young man is who Herc meets in Newcastle. In the middle of a rather heated debate with a woman he’s just met, Herc becomes trapped on a grounded airplane playing games with a very excitable young man. All through their exchanges, while both Douglas and Carolyn give Arthur their long-suffering sighs, Herc’s voice never loses its cheer. He, in fact, continually engages with Arthur with genuine interest and good humor. And, when their flight is over, it is Arthur who Herc is impressed with and offers career help to in a meeting he put into motion long before knowing he might have any chance of a date with Carolyn. Herc likes Arthur for Arthur, not as a way to get in well with his mother.

In Ottery St. Mary, Herc and Arthur don’t interact at all. But, if you listen, you can still catch a hint of Herc’s growing fondness of Arthur. After goading Carolyn by teasing her about having a ‘ridiculous’ dog, he finally hears her shout the name, Snoopadoop. What glorious ammunition in their war of wits. Then Carolyn snipes, “Arthur named him.” Three words that explain everything. After that, while Herc will still tease her about owning a cockapoo, he never again uses the dog’s name as a ribbing point. A small thing, but telling.

Before I explain why I think Herc is so suited to be a dad to Arthur, let me acknowledge that many would argue Arthur already has two wonderful father-figures. While I love the place that Douglas and Martin have in his life, I think they treat him more as older brothers would than fathers. They play around and pick on him, they make jokes, sometimes at his expense, call him a ‘clot’ and such, and they show their frustration when he makes mistakes. I will never say that any of this is not done with great love, but it all strikes me as brotherly love, with Carolyn doing her best to look after them all as her ‘boys’. Herc, on the other hand, has all of the qualities Arthur truly needs in a dad. He always treats Arthur with kindness. He builds up Arthur’s talents rather than pointing out his short-comings. He recognizes Arthur as a man in his own right and will stand back to let him deal with his own problems, only stepping in when he is clearly needed. When he does need to intervene, he has shown signs of being fiercely protective. And finally, he makes Arthur’s mother happy, something that any child of divorce can tell you is important to the well-being of both parent and child.

Even seeing all of this in Herc’s all too brief appearances during the last two series of the show, it wasn’t until Yverdon-Les-Bains that I was sure he loved Arthur. While trying to share his meal, and a new experience, with Arthur by offering the Dragon fruit, Herc inadvertently caused Arthur harm in the form of an allergic reaction. Seeing the young man in trouble, Hercules panics. This is the one and only time he loses his cool about anything. Arthur is in trouble and he’s ready to bring the plane down right then and there if he has to. And, while Herc telling Arthur to stay calm and Arthur wondering if there’s a reason to panic, plays as comedy to us in the audience, I’ll never forget the feeling I had behind the laughter. The feeling that this man didn’t care that he had dropped his cool in front of an old rival, that he might look foolish in front of his girlfriend, that he was being ridiculed for overreacting. His only concern was for Arthur’s safety. That is dad love.

All of this is why, in Zurich, when Herc finally convinced Carolyn of how he felt and she became Mrs. Shipwright, I cheered and cried. All because I was so happy for Arthur. Our wise innocent finally had someone worthy to call dad. Someone we can tell he adores just from the way he says the name Herc. The only thing that would have made me cheer more was if there had been a scene where Herc quietly took Gordon aside and informed him that Arthur didn’t need him anymore. By that time it was something Arthur had figured out, but Gordon might not be such a quick study. And no one can ever tell me that conversation did not happen. Hercules Shipwright, dad of the year.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 22nd, 2015 04:40 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry about your treacherous computer. If sound wasn't the problem I would have happily shared the series with you. I hope you do get to hear it sometime soon. A warning as to the library though: will cause laughing out loud.

Oh, and I'm really happy you liked the essay. As I said, it's been a long time. But this was something I've been wanting to talk about.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 22nd, 2015 05:04 am (UTC)
LOL. Is it weird that I completely know what you're talking about. Just shoot me a message with your email if you ever want me to start setting up files for you. You will not be my first convert;P
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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