I’m starting a very important Kickstarter dedicated to getting all these sad children hugs. But especially Franz though.
Episode Specifics: The night at the opera goes on, with Max issuing an impassioned challenge to Franz over his claim that he only likes Valentine as much as any other girl. The next day, Albert attempts to sneak Max onto the Villefort escape, where he proclaims his love for Valentine. Albert tries to smooth things over, but Valentine is having none of it, angry that many people want to tell her their feelings but never consider hers. Meanwhile, the Count makes flirtatious contact with Heloise de Villefort, discussing toxicology with her and gifting her a ring meant for covert poisonings. Elsewhere, Baptistin springs a young man named Benedetto from prison for unknown purposes.
New marks in the “we’ve made the Count deliberately more callous in this adaptation” ledger: Haydee seems to have been genuinely unaware that Fernand would be at the opera, meaning her distress was absolutely genuine. And yet, though she is silent, she forgives him. Book Count, for what it’s worth, is pretty straightforward with her as far as why he’s keeping her in reserve as far as his larger revenge plot. Here, this change puts Haydee more in line as a foil to Albert: two individuals deeply enamored with a version of a man, with their feelings little more than inconvenient parts of a master chess game; the question then being, is it better to know or to play one’s part in ignorant bliss, believing only the surface of the game?
The idea of the Count’s actions as spectacle plays heavily into the opera scenes. While it’s convenient for the writers that the opera has no dialogue or lyrics, it’s not laziness. Rather, the cuts to the decontextualized moments on the stage encourage us to think about how not only the Count but the various nobles at the opera are acting on a stage for one another, and how many layers deep that goes –from the Count’s revenge scheme to Franz’s concealment of his feelings for Albert.
I would also like to point out that Albert shows some actual emotional intelligence this episode in regards to Valentine (if not Franz), and I think we should all clap for him.
Character Spotlight: You would think it would be time to talk about Valentine, the poor young woman. But we’re going to hold off a bit longer on her spotlight, and talk about the second Madame De Villefort instead. Something of a step along the way, if you will, since Heloise is in many ways portrayed here as a foil to Valentine – it’s no coincidence, for example, that the Villefort family portraits we’re shown so parallel the two women even as it shows them in opposition. The visuals of this episode emphasize separation and isolation over and over, and that’s as much true for Heloise as her stepdaughter. While the Morcerf and Danglars family introductions emphasized the relationship between the spouses, Heloise is notably on her own. She discusses the terms of Noirtier’s inheritance without speaking of Villefort at all, and keeps her son close to her as if she were a single mother who happens to be attached to this grander family. There’s a very real sense of how precarious her position is and how little power she has to affect it (clearly the man who should ostensibly love and care for her has done nothing to assuage her fears).
All of the women in this story grapple with the question of how to bear with living in a patriarchal society, with the delineation often coming along lines of age: Eugenie and Valentine both long for escape; while the married women, with children or social obligations that keep them from leaving, look for monetary comfort as a way of making their lives bearable. (As an aside, while Valentine’s story received the most rewrites in an attempt to make it less gross, Heloise’s talk with the Count features a small tweak too: the “it’s unusual for a woman to know this much” line originally belonged to Edmond rather than being Heloise demurring).
Incidentally, it’s left as subtext in the episode whether Heloise had actively planned on poisoning Valentine before the Count’s intervention. The book puts his manipulation in black and white.
“So Richard III, for example, was wonderfully well served by his conscience after the elimination of Edward IV’s two children. He could say to himself: ‘These two children, sons of a cruel tyrant, had inherited the vices of their father, though I along was able to detect this in their juvenile dispositions. These two children stood in the way of my efforts to bring happiness to the English people, to whom they would certainly have brought misfortune.’ In the same way, Lady Macbeth was served by her conscience: her desire, whatever Shakespeare says, was to give a throne to her son, not to her husband. Oh, maternal love is such a great virtue and powerful impulse that it can excuse many things. Hence, without her conscience, Lady Macbeth would have been a very unhappy woman after the death of Duncan.”
These frightful axioms and horrid paradoxes were delivered by the count with his own peculiar brand of ingenious irony. Mme de Villefort received them avidly.
Those are some pretty cockeyed interpretations of the plays in question, of course, which is how you can see Dumas writing his vengeful hero out of guilt for this situation: if she’s too stupid not to get his irony, well then how is he to blame and all that. But of course she takes the version that will comfort her on its face, beginning to think about how noble it would be for her to do something dreadful in the name of protecting her son’s future (sympathy on this front is made harder by the fact that her son is an abominable little shit, but in abstract it has its elements of nobility). He less nudges and more pushes her into a course of action that he knows will lead to Valentine’s death, but doesn’t care at the time because “sins of the father” and all that. Which means the book takes some utterly bullshit turns with this subplot when the Count has his change of heart. The anime really improved on this section in just about every respect, even tweaking the dialogue to the point where you could possibly argue that he’s setting a backup plan where Heloise could murder Villefort for him (in discussing how Lucrezia Borgia murdered her own husband).
Courtly Intrigue Update: Okay, so Heloise is Villefort’s second wife; his first was sickly and presumably died when Valentine was young. In terms of succession, the line is presently set up so that Valentine is the sole heir, leaving Heloise and her son with nothing. While she presents in a very demure fashion, Heloise is rumored to beat Valentine viciously (according to Madame Danglars, anyway) and has said that the girl will “die young.” Though she may have been making plans beforehand, her conversation with the Count spurs her into taking action on behalf of her son.
Adaptation Corner: Today’s entry went down an extremely strange rabbit hole, going by the title “did you know that there’s a sequel to The Count of Monte Cristo, written contemporaneously to Dumas?” It’s true, readers. Copyright laws were more vague then, though I’m sure it still wasn’t appreciated by Dumas’ publishing house.
I want to tell you a greatly fascinating plot summary, recounted from the heart in full and ripe detail. After all, we’re talking primarily about women this week. What I have to confess, however, is….oh my God it’s boring. It’s boring, readers. It’s almost as long as the original novel and none of the characters are half as interesting. I can tell you from skipping to the end that we end with the central mysterious aristocrat revealing herself to the people she’s been manipulating and then telling them how they need to fix their lives (in this case by taking over the positions of societal service that our Countess had been filling with her various alter egos). Also all the ladies ended up married. I’m sorry, I know I’ve failed you on this front, but…but it was so, so many dull pages. Dumas was well known for padding to raise his paycheck, and I respect him for that. But it is not fun to read. And there aren’t any cliffnotes or anything. It IS a public domain work though, so if you’re feeling braver than me then I say go for it.
Incidentally, while the book never received a film adaptation, there are TWO films of the same name, both centering around the conceit of a young woman pretending her way into pretending to be a countess.
Themes: Okay, so besides the really blatant sexual metaphor going on with the title of this episode (and by the way, I have a weird respect for the masturbation scene, given the whole double standard about showing female pleasure shared by a lot of media), images of constraint are all over the place. Characters peer out of small portholes within larger windows, stand in front of grid patterns on the wall, or crowd themselves into the corner of the frame in dark rooms. There are a great deal of two-shots as well: characters rarely share a frame here, blocked instead so that the camera has to change angles to catch each one and highlight how distant they all are from one another. It creates a profound sense of loneliness to the lordly halls of Villefort’s manor beyond the empty glamor we’ve seen previously, and it makes the moment of the Count’s seduction almost as shocking for us as it is for Albert by comparison. Visual storytelling: this is how you do it.