Last week I compared Henry’s house to that sacred space of homonormativity, the gay club. I was close. Henry calls it The Collective, a place within but away from society at large for queer people to call home. Form follows function with Cucumber. It scoops up all the wayward queers from Banana and puts them in a story together. With the end of Cucumber comes not only the end of The Collective but the end of shows about queer people as a society. At least for now. As the Cucumber finale screams at the top of its lungs from the moment it begins, life goes on.
Henry houses as many of the evicted tenants of the Calico Warehouse as will stay and then some. He pays the rent and the bills. He even does ironing, or maybe that’s just for Freddie. Regardless The Collective is born from Henry’s desperation. He wants to be surrounded by queer people, and there are so many in the Warehouse he can’t be alone.
He takes the honeymoon period as proof. Proof that The Collective is a system that can merrily sustain itself. Proof that queer people banding together can accomplish productive ends, like getting Henry his job back, which once again took gay men wielding injustice toward their own ends, and tracking down the men who first helped Daniel dip his toes in to gay life so they can testify against him. Proof that some good came out of this. That a lot of good can come out of this. “It’s nice, though, isn’t it?” he asks his sister as they watch the shirtless men do their morning tai chi. “While it lasts,” she replies.
The problem, as per always, is Henry. He has a poetic vision for The Collective, but he doesn’t lift many fingers to make it last. He doesn’t organize any system of even basic house rules, let alone chores. He doesn’t consider the schisms that might result from gay men who genuinely don’t respect lesbians living in such close company with some. He does nothing to prepare for future intakes. And while the others pitch in where they can with bills and housework, nobody harbors any illusions that The Collective is anything more than a trumped up group of friends living together.
So when push comes to shove, nobody has any reason to work things out. Dean “I’ll stay till I’m 56” Monroe’s the first to go, taking all that sunshine with him. Maureen and Floss and Helen find a place, Aiden disappears, half the occupants don’t live there anyway. When Freddie finds his undies folded in a neat pile on his bed, Henry’s doing, he realizes that Henry’s turned him into Lance, the man he lusts after but can’t close the deal with. They’re even living alone together now in Henry and Lance’s house. Freddie lashes out by loudly having sex with Cliff in the kitchen, and then he runs off. The next morning Meatballs drops off the keys, and he must have tidied up. Henry shutting the door on him is the last thing that happens before the episode starts skipping into the future.
The “happy endings” here are the easy ones. Henry getting his job back is inevitable, as is Daniel’s conviction. The others are illusions of time and distance. In the long run, Henry and Freddie are okay. Henry even eventually has sex. But that was never the root problem.
Really what happens in the finale is life going on. Characters and plot points resurface like painful memories. I welled up when Henry saw Francesco on the street as I identified who he is and where Henry knows him from. Even the structure tells the story. The opening is all party and flings and youth, the middle is fight and flight, and the ending is reconnection and acceptance. The buzzy new start gives way to the painful exodus, which gives way to the understanding epilogues.
Like Y Tu Mamá También, Cucumber ends with two sexually entwined men catching up years after their time together, in this case Henry and Freddie. Seven and a half years after Lance, Dean’s still Dean, getting caught up in wild adventures with strange men. Freddie has a tattoo he hates. That night with Cliff and Henry may have helped him process some of his emotions about his old teacher, but he’s still running. He doesn’t even use social media because he thrives on the freedom of hiding. He’s still like Henry.
Time is what helps Henry come to terms with what happened to Lance and Freddie and The Collective. Now he thinks he needs some more time alone on a beach somewhere to think. That’s our Henry. His whole life is governed by stasis. He says he accepts what Freddie said about him, all of it, which implies some serious self-examination. Freddie accused Henry of maneuvering people to meet his own selfish ends, which is a melodramatic version of pretty much what people do, only with conscious manipulation instead of unconscious interchange. The larger point is that, if Henry has truly accepted his responsibility for Lance’s murder, it follows that he has accepted the destructive and self-destructive consequences of his behavior, which includes refusing to examine himself and general stasis. But here he’s basically the same inert guy, spending years chasing a new unavailable hottie instead of actively bettering his life, apparently by retreating to a beach to come to terms with himself. What is he trying to accept? He delivers the series’ punchline before the smash cut to credits: “Being gay.”
Killer joke. Henry’s still stuck at the beginning of gayness, trying to do what he’s been trying to do for decades. Obviously Henry’s gay and knows he’s gay and accepts he’s gay. But like Lance said, Henry has so much shame attached to the act of “gay” sex. Henry really could stand to accept himself some more. But the last thing Henry needs to do is to go sit alone somewhere and think. He’s alone and in his head all the time. What’s more, he finally realizes Cliff gives him a cucumber, and he wants to run away? On top of which he’s adamant that running away is the solution to his problems, but even though he could have done it already, he hasn’t. This is the perfect recapitulation of Henry versus Cucumber. Change is hard, and it takes action, not stasis. Usually Henry sets off chain reactions that hurt other people, but this time the victim is himself. Henry’s forever stuck in a maze of his own making, unwilling to get around the first corner and deluded enough to be satisfied with all the freedom of that one short hallway. In the long run, it is kind of a funny story.
- Every episode is written by Russell T. Davies, and these last two episodes are directed by Euros Lyn.
- In another context, the scene of Henry flanked by Freddie and Cliff, all slo-mo strutting in suits and shades, would be cool. Here it’s a sight gag.
- Freddie: “There’s nothing innocent about you. You’re so powerful you bend the world around you.” That’s clearly about the teacher, right? Henry falling back into his customary lifestyle is hardly supervillain manipulation.
- Tomas is a “Republican shock jock vlogger” now. A clip: “AIDS: It’s like a filthy fag disease.” Henry says they (ex-Collectivers) just recently found out, but they have a plan for retaliation. “We’ve got things he never broadcast.”
Banana, “Episode 8”: Vanessa and Zara
The Vanessa and Zara story is the first one that doesn’t have to do with attraction and sexuality, but it’s still focused on the margins. Zara is one of several Nigerian women in indentured servitude for a man named Jonjo. She’s assigned to Vanessa to clean up the Calico Warehouse while Jonjo and the other girls work at a different cleaning site. Zara barely speaks English, and their culture clash is mined for comedy, inspiration, and suspense when Vanessa’s afraid to drink her tea because she suspects Zara put some rat poison in it. But eventually Zara does get some English out. “Rap…rrrap…Jonjo rape me.”
Vanessa flips out and orders her back to work. She’s angry that she’s been confronted with such injustice and that now she has to decide what to do about it. So she lashes out. She protests there’s nothing she can do. She insists Zara should be smarter, stronger, better able to take care of herself. She finally confesses that she knows Jonjo doesn’t treat the girls well. She must know. And she’s always known. She’s just pretended not to. After a bunch of ebbs and flows, she gives Zara some money to go with the wad of cash Zara finds in the wall and begs her to flee to London to find her friend, Ayaba, or at least that’s her impression of their opaque exchange. Even when she’s trying to help, Vanessa’s filling up the soundtrack with grating shouts. Unfortunately Jonjo and the others show up right when Zara gets out the door. Vanessa easily covers for her, and when Jonjo leaves, she realizes that the escape plan was doomed anyway. The friend Zara has in London is Queen Elizabeth. “What the hell do I do?” Vanessa asks. It’s a rhetorical question. She knows they can’t answer her.
Responsibility is the name of the game. Is Vanessa responsible for poisoning the woman of her dreams 14 years ago? What does she do now that she knows Jonjo is not only mistreating and underpaying the girls but also raping them? What do any of us do when confronted with the uncomfortable circumstances of the least privileged? During a mini musical sequence of choreographed cleaning, Vanessa spits venom at the camera, singing, “Look away, look away! Don’t pretend you give a fuck!”
So what the hell does Vanessa do? Two things. The first is to clean. Literally. She’s a cleaner. It’s what she does. There’s relief, pride, contemplation, creativity, abandonment in the routine. The second is a more metaphorical cleaning. She decides to make Jonjo a cup of tea while fingering a packet of rat poison. “That’ll put a smile on his face.”
Strange as it sounds, it’s a bit romantic. Vanessa has it in her head that she once killed someone she loved, and now she wants to redeem herself by saving someone. By killing someone who deserves it, I guess. And with such melodrama. Usually Banana steadfastly refuses grandeur. Think of Josh and Sophie’s flight from her wedding followed by him saying, “Yeah, you’re on your own.” Cucumber’s even less rosy. But here with Vanessa and Zara, going so far as to poison Jonjo is going to solve the problem? And then what, Zara and the girls hide out in the Calico Warehouse until the heavies show up again, only this time, there’s no Henry to pick up the pieces?
It’s a provocative ending, and given Cucumber, I suspect these are the kinds of questions Russell T. Davies expects us to be asking. It’s one thing to scold people for standing idly by while people are abused. It’s another to suggest those witnesses take things into their own hands. But murder is just one woman’s warped version of the moral here, such as it is. Nothing is changed by stasis. It takes action to make your life, or the world, a better place.
- “Episode 8” is written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Al Mackay, who also directed Amy and Kay’s episode.
- Vanessa: “You’re not following a word.” She takes a sip. “I poisoned someone once. Killed this woman stone dead. Her name was Claire. I loved her.”
- Vanessa tells Zara about the time she made baked cod with sea salt for Claire and it gave her a heart attack. “I said to the doctor, ‘Was that my fault?’ He said, ‘No.’ But I said, ‘But you can’t really say that for sure, can you?’”