That is the classiest tracking shot of bouncing breasts I’ve ever seen.
Episode Specifics: The Count introduces himself to the Danglers family, securing a bank account with no upper credit limit from Danglers by depositing an enormous sum, and winning Madame Dangler’s affection by first buying her prized horse only to return it on seeing her upset. Having acquired a box at the opera, the Count invites Albert and his fiancée Eugenie – and, it turns out, all their friends – to attend the show. The Count, meanwhile, has engineered his own show: the resplendently dressed Haydee, center of the night’s attention, faints dead away at the sight of Fernand de Morcerf.
This episode features two minor but interesting rearrangements of character: first of all, that Albert is far more present for the Danglers business than he was in the novel, further enmeshing himself in the Count’s plans and serving as a source of information (in this case regarding the horses) in place of the many informants the Count employed in the book. It’s a consolidation of narrative detail, but it also adds to the sense that Albert in particular is the unwitting architect of everyone’s downfall, and not just one of the cogs caught in this machine of vengeance.
Secondly, there’s the fact that Maximilien and Valentine barely know each other in this version. While one would think that would make the story more trite (and certainly it’s arguable that these kids have no idea what they’re getting themselves into), in truth the awkward fumbling of these two newly smitten, earnest kids is far, far preferable to the longstanding affair that’s been going on when we meet them in the book. Max is kind of awful, y’all.
“This is why you have become so bold, Maximilien; this is why my life is at once very sweet and very unhappy, to the point where I often ask myself which is better for me: the sorrow that I once endured because of my stepmother and her blind preference for her own child, or all the perils of the happiness that I feel when I see you.”
“Perils!” Maximilien exclaimed. “how can you say such a hard and unjust word? Have you ever seen a more submissive slave than I? Valentine, you permitted me occasionally to speak to you but forbade me to follow you. I obeyed. Since I discovered the means to break into this plot of land and speak to you through this door – in short, to be so close to you without seeing you – have I ever asked to touch even the hem of your dress through the gate? Tell me. Have I ever taken a step towards climbing over the wall, a trivial obstacle to one as young and strong as I am? Not a single rebuke for your harshness towards me, not a single desire spoken aloud. I have kept my word as scrupulously as a knight of old. At least admit that, so that I may not think you unjust.”
“Yo, I need you to tell me what a good good boyfriend I am for honoring your basic requests for social safety and bodily autonomy, while I remind you how easily I could not do those things and be a threat to you. Praise me.” Good guy Maximilien, everybody.
Character Spotlight: Every child in this show breaks my damn heart. Someone help them. Of the main trio, Eugenie has it worst of all: she lacks Franz’s ability to move with relative freedom throughout society; she’s also, unlike Albert, acutely aware of all the rotten goings on and ill intent within her family. It’s no wonder she’s a speed demon whose main dream is just to get away. In all the disgusting opulence her house offers, it’s the one thing she can’t have.
Of all the characters in the story, Eugenie is probably the most fundamentally changed. While her longing for freedom is the same, the book’s version of the character flatly wants nothing to do with Albert, preferring to spend time with her close companion and piano tutor Louise D’Armilly.
[Eugenie] spoke two or three languages, had an innate talent for drawing, wrote verse and composed music; this last was her great passion, which she studied with one of her school-friends, a young woman with no expectations but (one was assured) with everything needed to become an outstanding singer. It was said that a great composer took an almost paternal interest in this girl and encouraged her to work in the hope of eventually finding a fortune in her voice.
The possibility that Mlle. Louise d’Armilly (this was the name of the talented young person) might one day appear on the stage meant that Mlle. Danglers, although she received her at home, did not appear with her in public.
Yes, that is absolutely the Classic Literature version of “Just Gals Being Pals” you read right there, and it’s about 80000% intentional – the two even run away together at the end of the novel. Of course, the caveat for this rather amazing existence of events is that the narrative is, ah….kind of a dick about it? Eugenie’s not written with near the same sympathy as Mercedes vis a vis her rather extraordinary skills. In fact, the preceding introductory description of Eugenie goes (in part) like this:
A glance at the girl might have gone some way to justify the feelings [of fear] to which Morcerf had just admitted. Mlle. Danglers was beautiful, but, as Albert said, her beauty was somewhat strict […]
For that matter, the rest of Eugenie’s person was of a piece with the head that we have just attempted to describe. As Chateau-Renaud said, ,she was Diana the Huntress, but with something even firmer and more muscular in her beauty.
As for her upbringing, if there was anything to be said against it, it was that, like some traits of her physiognomy, it seemed more appropriate to the other sex.
So, yeah. Book Eugenie is basically written as the 19th century version of the Man Hating Lesbian stereotype, though with the bonus that she gets out of this whole toxic society at the end. And I would’ve gladly watched that version of the character in adaptation, make no mistake (indeed, it seems that was the plan at some point, since the very early trailer for the series features a shot of the two kissing at the piano).
But I also don’t necessarily resent the Eugenie we’re greeted with in Gankutsuou. As with Albert she’s younger, giving her even less agency than even her book counterpart. She doesn’t seem to have the same escapes of being a professional artist, and while we see her with friends in this episode they never make any kind of serious impact on her home life. Her powerless observances of what goes on her house make her the kind of person who bottles things and all but dissociates from the difficulties of her life through music. She’s interesting in her own right, even if her later appearances do turn heavily on her role as a love interest.
And on that last point: part of me is glad we don’t meet Louise in this story, solely on the grounds that every romance in Gankutsuou is a failed one. Even the ones that worked out in the book. I’d rather live happily in my headcanon that the now-grown Eugenie met Louise while traveling the world (though it would’ve been quite nice to glimpse her in the finale) than have her included only to be a tragic unrequited love or yet another gay woman put on the narrative chopping block.
Courtly Intrigue Update: The Count has now endeared himself to two of the three major families in Paris, with the Villeforts next in line – Danglers is reluctantly won over by the funds the Count has deposited in his bank, while Madame Danglers is endeared by his charm, gifts, and apparent respect for her relative to her husband. And speaking of the Madame, she’s currently sleeping with Lucien Debray, a young politician working his way up in influence and member of Albert’s social circle apparently from childhood. As part of this arrangement, Lucien gives Danglers insider trading tips, and presumably earns favor and backing in response.
Meanwhile, the Count’s debut at the Opera in the box belonging to “the deceased Prince” (I truly respect this show’s dedicating to vaguing its way around French History) makes him a prime subject for gossip and awe, and also ensures that when Haydee collapses at the sight of Albert’s father, the entirety of high society is there to see it.
Adaptation Corner: We take a break from film this week to pop over into radio, with a 1938 broadcast done up by Orson Welles and his theater company in a style not dissimilar to his famed War of the Worlds broadcast. Like the early talkie we covered a few weeks back, this adaptation spends the first half (30 minutes of an hour long drama) focusing on Edmond’s arrest and time in prison, then sprints through the revenge portion of the story with frankly alarming speed.
But adaptive fidelity isn’t really the point with this. Like Chimes At Midnight, this is a case of “Orson Welles wanted to play a famous literary character.” And also like CAM, it’s hard to complain much because Welles is a damn fine actor. The drama is formatted in the first half with Welles-as-Edmond narrating events as well as acting in the scenes, and his performance is anguished and moving enough to finally excuse the prolonged lingering on the setup of the story. If Robert Donat was clearly cast for his ability to play the mysterious Count, then Welles excels as the passionate, wounded young Edmond. There’s rather little to recommend beyond Welles’ performance – the rest of the cast is fine but has almost nothing to do, and the story’s almost unrecognizably truncated – but if you’re a fan of classic Hollywood at all, it’s an enjoyable gem.
Themes: Given that Eugenie’s main source of solace is the piano, it’s only fitting that sound plays a big part in this episode. Not just in the piano music – though there’s something quite telling about the fact that Albert interrupts Eugenie’s cathartic piano playing as part of his plan to cheer her up – but in how the soundtrack as a whole comes to the fore here. The negotiation scene in particular is a tour de force, with its sharp crescendos tuned to the Count’s movements while the underlying bass just builds and overwhelms the scene at large. The soundtrack at large is compelling, but normally it settles for an ominous bass, a haunting string, or a gentle piano ballad to set a given scene’s mood. Here, for a few minutes, the music is an active player in the events on screen, almost as much a director as the Count himself. It draws our attention to its influence inescapably, serving as a reminder of the elements that drive and manipulate our emotional reactions to the work as surely as Danglers himself is backed into a corner.