The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower" - Part 1

The Eternity Ring (July 1946); The Cage (August 1946); Sunflower (Aug/Sept 1946)

The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower" - Part 1

Postby starlight » Thu Jan 30, 2014 7:33 pm

Anthony Horowitz has favourited this tweet, so he clearly appreciates the compliment. :-P

Image
https://twitter.com/ramprana/status/428566851358965760

Feel intrigued to revisit the episode and see whether I agree with @ramprana (on his Twitter profile, he [feel sure it is a he] is a self-confessed "Avid Portuguese Poultry-Worshipper" :puzzled: , but each to his own).

Y'know, Twitter intrigues me by virtue of its vacuity. You can swoop in, make a sweeping statement and swoop out again. Nobody can tell whether you're a deep thinker or a prat. :cool:

Back later with an opinion, and maybe even some reasoned argument. Meanwhile, if anybody else wants to weigh in...

Starlight :rose:
Last edited by starlight on Mon Mar 03, 2014 6:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower"

Postby starlight » Fri Feb 21, 2014 11:58 pm

“The theme of morality could not have been argued/analysed any better than on Sunflower”

Tweet from @ramprana to @AnthonyHorowitz

@ramprana advertises himself on his Twitter profile as an “Avid Portuguese poultry worshipper”. :awkward:

Leaving aside for a moment the conundrum of whether the tweeter is an ardent Portuguese admirer of domestic fowl, or some entirely different nationality of bloke obsessed with feisty Iberian chickens :cool: , the tweet went down well with Mr Horowitz, who favourited it.

Great news for them both. Let’s have a look at Sunflower (S8E3) and see what might have prompted the tweet.

Anyone familiar with Foyle’s War will recognise morality as a pervasive theme in all eight series. The plots revolve around the consequences of all kinds of ignominious behaviour, all the more reprehensible, somehow, for occurring in a time of national emergency. Offences range from slimy opportunists circumventing rules for personal profit, to the ruthless murderer who kills to hide a damaging secret and then uses diplomatic immunity to escape justice. The series’ focus on individual moral responsibility is embodied in the character of Foyle himself, a man whose conduct, both professional and personal, is predicated on integrity, and seasoned with both human insight and compassion. Foyle’s business is The Law, but his guide in execution of his duty is his moral compass rather than the letter of the law. Foyle’s brushes in the line of duty, for the most part are with self-serving individuals chasing personal agendas at whatever cost to those around them. He faces down authority wherever it tries to put obstacles in his way. The murders central to the episodes represent the tips of moral icebergs, and invariably pull Foyle into exposure of concomitant dishonesty, corruption and hypocrisy.

Such moral issues are the tenor of Foyle’s War in general; but what is it that makes Sunflower worthy of particular attention? Certainly it addresses a common moral theme: the age-old dilemma of whether ends justify means. The final episode of Series 8 explores that theme via multiple and varied strands of plot.

Strasser Plotline

Most prominent amongst these plotlines is the circumstance surrounding SS Brigadefűhrer Karl Strasser, a “former” Nazi, resettled in post-war England under the protection of the British Government. Sophisticated, suave and erudite, he has been found a comfortable academic niche, pontificating about Dutch art to the doe-eyed adoration of young women students.

By contrast, we are shown a young man, limping—clearly from a serious war injury—who spies and recognises Strasser on the street. To Tom Nelson, Strasser is the devil himself. A former teacher, crippled physically and emotionally, Nelson’s nerves are shot, and he’s too traumatised, even, to resume life at the (relatively unthreatening!) chalkface where the worst behaviour he is likely to encounter from his charges is the surreptitious sucking of sweets. We’re left in no doubt that there is a terrible connection between the two men. Their chance encounter couldn’t make it clearer that a travesty has happened.

Immediate exposure and punishment of Strasser as a war criminal would be the straightforward resolution. Except that this is 1946. The war is over. The rules have changed, and this former SS officer’s knowledge of Soviet spy networks has proved, and is continuing to prove, invaluable—it has even, as we learn, saved British lives. And so the riddle posed is whether Strasser’s usefulness to the British Security Service can justifiably be held to cancel out whatever crimes dwell in his Nazi past.

It would be naïve to imagine that in such situations moral choices haven’t been, and aren’t still, sacrificed or compromised: at best, right and wrong turn into relative commodities defined by neither law nor justice, and at worst they are replaced entirely by expediency. The question then becomes a simple question of degree: how much of a compromise can be deemed acceptable in circumstances such as this?

One justification for Strasser being allowed his freedom under this relativist code might be his reputation as a “desk-Nazi”, without direct involvement in atrocities. Although this possibility is negated early on by Tom Nelson’s reaction to Strasser, it crops up on the lips of Sir Alec Meyerson, head of MI5, as he attempts to justify the special treatment Strasser is accorded..

To Meyerson, the choice is clear: he has a duty to protect Strasser, and disapproval in the ranks of the man’s past makes that duty harder to perform. Therefore, Meyerson elects to draw a veil. He salves his own conscience, and offers to salve Foyle’s with the fillip that Strasser wasn’t active in the field. Meyerson refuses to speculate on Strasser’s past, though Foyle voices his concerns from the outset.

In examining the character of Sir Alec Meyerson, it is worth considering that a man in his position wouldn’t have got to his position on a diet of altruism. Meyerson’s first loyalty is to his career, his second to the job, then, somewhere further down the list come his convictions, which he chooses to suppress because they conflict with his objectives. In terms of conscience, he takes refuge in the service of ‘the greater good’, and, Strasser being a keystone of the bigger plan, Meyerson absolves himself. One line of dialogue epitomises him:

Do I need to know? I did not think so.


Meyerson’s strategy for lightening the heavy mantle of responsibility is to make very sure he doesn’t have to shoulder blame. At pains to stress that Strasser’s status as a “ward” of MI5 pre-dates his own time in the job, Sir Alec hastens to imply he can’t be held responsible for how this situation came about. Nowadays, the moniker of ‘Teflon man’ would suit him well. But although nothing sticks to Meyerson, his own thumbs must resemble Spiderman’s to cling so firmly to the greasy Whitehall pole. He uses casuistic arguments to salve his conscience, though one suspects he might not quite believe them if he searched his soul.

By Sir Alec’s own rules, then, his conscience remains clear, provided he can say with honesty he doesn’t know a thing,. This makes of him a moral ostrich.

It’s tempting to bracket Hilda Pierce in with her boss: evasive, slippery departmental “fixer” that she is—in meetings with outsiders, long on listening and observation, but short on words. At his interview with Meyerson, American Lieutenant Colonel Hoyt Jackson is not fooled by appearances. He remarks afterwards to his aide:

He’s in charge, but she pulls the strings. Bitch.


It’s a great line, reeking as it does of casual misogyny, but also comically reminiscent of the Fall of Man, reminding us how neatly Adam shifted the blame on to Eve. It conjures up a vision of Sir Alec hiding from the wrath of God behind Miss Pierce, while Hilda argues points with The Almighty. For me, Pierce merits more respect than Meyerson: her stated motive (and apparently her only one) for shielding Strasser, is to save lives now. This is consistent with the aims declared to Foyle in The French Drop (S3E1).

Two qualities appear to separate Hilda from Sir Alec: firstly, she gives no appearance of playing the game to safeguard her own position, and secondly, she has the good grace to look uncomfortable with the compromises she admits to making. Unlike Meyerson, Hilda makes no bones about the truth surrounding Strasser. To her, the truth just doesn’t matter, and she says as much:

No matter what the truth...

and
I make no apology for using him. The stakes are too high.


It’s an acknowledgement at least—more than we get from higher up. But at what cost? My vision of Miss Pierce and Meyerson in dark of night is Alec fast asleep and snoring like a drain, while Hilda’s lying, sleepless, staring at the ceiling. (I don’t mean to imply they’re in the same bed :lol: . Even in my fervid imagination, I can’t see that happening).

And so, on balance, if the series were called Hilda’s War, I think her motives would stand up to scrutiny, and though the exercise would not be guaranteed to win her friends, her judges might have difficulty despising her, since at least she is in touch with her conscience.

Conscience. There’s the rub.

Let’s look at Strasser’s conscience. It might be tricky to locate.

Flashbacks to a field of sunflowers grow more vivid as the episode progresses. They’re overlaid with strains of haunting melody, whistled by a figure revealed later to be that of Strasser. I asked, via Twitter, what the whistled tune might be, and Mr Horowitz responded:

“Amazingly, I know this...”


—an answer which implies he left the choice of tune to someone else. No matter, for the choice is apposite: Es geht alles vorüber, originally sung by Lale Andersen, was a morale-boosting ditty aimed at German troops away from home procuring Europe and North Africa for the Fatherland. The title translates as ’Everything passes’ with a sense of ‘Chin up!’. Its message is simple and trite: that after the trials of war, the comforts of home and loved ones are waiting. But the most telling part of the song is:

...
Und verliere nicht den Mut!
Denn gibt es auch Zunder und Dreck,
Das alles, das geht wieder weg.

...
And don’t lose courage!
For though there be fire and filth
It all goes away in the end


—in other words, the muck won’t stick. For Strasser to be whistling this air as he nonchalantly picks his way across a sun-drenched field to shoot a cowering Tom Nelson in cold blood, speaks to both his icy sociopathic detachment and his cynicism.

Let’s look at Strasser’s self-image. He likes to think of himself as a mild-mannered academic, rediscovering peace after an unfortunate period of upheaval. In Sunflower’s opening scene, he speaks of Rembrandt:

In his last self-portraits, I think you see a sense of calm and resignation. He had known so much turmoil and personal unhappiness that at the end he found an acceptance. It was, perhaps, a triumph of art over life.


To hear those words without prejudice at the start of the episode, one might give Strasser the benefit of the doubt, but learning as we do, and rapidly, the truth about his past, the speech reeks of pretence or self-delusion.

For all Strasser’s self-image as a “sensitive soul”, his sensitivities don’t extend to harsh judgments of himself. Strasser’s attitude to his own behaviour is that he is a realist. His parting words to Foyle when he believes he’s safe in the final scene reveal as much:

Doubtless, I disgust you. It was war. I make no apology.


The “no apology” echoes Hilda Pierce’s words. But unlike Hilda, Strasser is delusional. Worse, he hides behind sophistry—both of which traits Foyle confronts in their first scene together.

To rewind to the first encounter between Foyle and Strasser. Strasser makes two separate attempts to cloud Foyle’s focus and engage him in his personal delusion: first with talk of Rembrandt (Foyle’s reaction? ‘Nnnot part of my brief’), and then by drawing parallels between himself and Foyle’s own son, both fighting for their countries. Foyle ignores the overtures. Next, Strasser tries to hide behind his academic background, focussing Foyle’s attention on his artistic studies at Hamburg.

Foyle leaves Strasser in no doubt that he’s familiar with his record, and that he knows that Strasser joined the Nazi party at the outset, back in 1933; also—and Foyle stresses this—that Strasser studied law at Hamburg. To know Foyle’s character is to understand the implication of his emphasis on law: Strasser’s legal training means he must be well versed in the difference between lawful and unlawful. And that’s the point that would convict him of a war crime in a court of law, before the ethics of the matter even got a look-in. It blows Strasser’s “It was war” defence out of the water, exposing his utter moral bankruptcy—and, satisfyingly, does so in terms of Strasser's own formative rules.

That deals with Strasser.

Of course Foyle, as the hero, is exempt from moral scrutiny and deserves a free pass... or does he?

In a series where Foyle’s moral compass never (?) fails him, you could’ve knocked me down with a feather when the privilege of shopping Strasser to the Americans fell to Valentine.

For me, that raised an uncomfortable question: why didn’t Foyle do the honourable thing? It bothered me. I hate to see his integrity impugned. But on further reflection, Foyle’s behaviour in this instance is entirely in character. He challenges authority, and is more than ready to expose malfeasance outside his line of command, but he has never yet betrayed a superior. He’ll manoeuvre the superior into compliance, or invite it to do the honourable thing and remove itself, or he’ll resign from under its authority. But he hasn’t yet told tales.

So Valentine takes on the role of martyr. Actually he’s the one I would’ve least expected to offer his breast to the blade. Cynics might opine that his actions smack of “deus ex machina” - his character being conveniently sacrificed to save Foyle doing what needed to be done (and hence ensuring Foyle survives to make another series!). I don’t know though. Perhaps that’s just a consequence of poor editing decisions. Valentine’s actions aren’t so wide of the mark really. His dogged interest in Foyle’s every move, and his tendency to edit any information shared with Foyle are clear attempts at safeguarding the working methods of the Service from Foyle’s alien approach.

To Valentine, the job’s important, that much is apparent. He certainly wouldn’t want to lose it on account of his sexual leanings, and he is duly grateful to Foyle for drawing a veil over his tastes. But apparently, Valentine’s moral sense will not extend as far as sheltering a Nazi guilty of cold-blooded murder. He’s also wise to how things work inside the Service; he understands that the “honour” card Foyle keeps up his sleeve to wave at his superiors cannot be played in this context. And so he sings to the Americans, saving Foyle the trouble. It strikes me as ironical that, in an age when Valentine’s sexuality would have unjustly labelled him immoral, he is ultimately the one who sticks his head above the parapet. I like him a whole lot better because of it. Turns out that Valentine is all heart after all :wink:

And I find I’m out of puff for now. But this is just the first instalment.

Coming soon in Part 2: Secondary plotlines
    The RAF Mutiny in India,
    Charles Roper and The Land,
    Sam and Foyle
    Sam and Adam.

Hope somebody else will nibble at the topic and contribute in the meantime.... :lol:

********
Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei

Auf Posten in einsamer Nacht,
da steht ein Soldat und hält Wacht,
träumt von Hanne und dem Glück,
das zuhause blieb zurück.
Die Wolken am Himmel, sie ziehn
ja alle zur Heimat dahin,
und Dein Herz, das denkt ganz still an sich :
"Dahin ziehe einmal auch ich."

Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei,
auf jeden Dezember folgt wieder ein Mai.
Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei,
doch zwei, die sich lieben, die bleiben sich treu.

Und als sie voll Sehnsucht ihn rief,
da schrieb er ihr gleich einen Brief :
"Liebe Hanne, bleib mir gut
und verliere nicht den Mut.
Denn gibt es auch Zunder und Dreck,
das alles, das geht wieder weg.
Und vom Schützen bis zum Leutenant,
da ist die Parole bekannt.

Es geht...

Doch endlich kommt auch mal die Zeit,
auf die sich der Landser schon freut,
denn beim Spiess, da liegt schon sein
unterschriebner Urlaubsschein.
Dann ruht er bei Hanne zuhaus
im Federbett gründlich sich aus.
Darum fällt der Abschied doppelt schwer,
doch sie sagt:
"Jetzt wein ich nicht mehr !"

Es geht...

GOT ANY ENERGY LEFT? Part 2 is now posted here!
Last edited by starlight on Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower"

Postby Wolesley » Sat Feb 22, 2014 10:09 am

Starlight wrote:
"In a series where Foyle’s moral compass never (?) fails him, you could’ve knocked me down with a feather when the privilege of shopping Strasser to the Americans fell to Valentine.

For me, that raised an uncomfortable question: why didn’t Foyle do the honourable thing? It bothered me. I hate to see his integrity impugned. But on further reflection, Foyle’s behaviour in this instance is entirely in character. He challenges authority, and is more than ready to expose malfeasance outside his line of command, but he has never yet betrayed a superior. He’ll manoeuvre the superior into compliance, or invite it to do the honourable thing and remove itself, or he’ll resign from under its authority. But he hasn’t yet told tales."


I've watched this closing scene again and confirmed my belief that Foyle and Valentine conspired together to hand Strasser over to the Americans.
Colonel Jackson nods at Foyle to signal his thanks.
Valentine may have made the phone call, but I believe they were in it together.

Then Valentine steps up, as the senior agent, to take the blame and confront Pierce because he feels she's gone too far, using and protecting this Nazi, and he's had enough. It's clear Valentine has allied himself with Foyle in the earlier scene in Meyerson's office when Sir Alec chastises him, "You're not a policeman, stop talking like one!"

I really enjoy Valentine's gradual transfer of loyalty away from the Security Service over to Foyle and the side of Law and morality.

But I do hope Arthur will be back in the next series. Oh, I just checked Tim's page on IMDB and he has FW S9.1, .2, & .3 listed! Hilda Pierce is also listed for Ellie Haddington in S9, so perhaps she will explain how she decided to overlook Foyle and Valentine's 'treasonous' behaviour.

Your analysis of the theme of morality in this episode is a fascinating read. And your sleuthing of the tune being whistled is a huge addition to my understanding of the complexity of the character of Strasser.

I look forward to the next part!

Lesley
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower"

Postby Lynnedean » Sat Feb 22, 2014 3:58 pm

"Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long." ~ Ogden Nash
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower"

Postby starlight » Sat Feb 22, 2014 4:36 pm


Yes, sadly neither that link nor the link in my text will play on mobiles, but this one will

One more thing about the text of the song: it speaks from the perspective of the humble foot soldier - which appears to be how Strasser regards himself. Totally deluded.
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower"

Postby ayresorchids » Sat Feb 22, 2014 5:34 pm

Very well thought-out. Wow.

You wrote:
[Foyle] challenges authority, and is more than ready to expose malfeasance outside his line of command, but he has never yet betrayed a superior. He’ll manoeuvre the superior into compliance, or invite it to do the honourable thing and remove itself, or he’ll resign from under its authority. But he hasn’t yet told tales.


Not that I'd term it betrayal or "telling tales" per se, but I imagine Foyle was the one to expose AC Summers as the head of the crooked committee in The German Woman.
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower"

Postby Sunshine » Sun Feb 23, 2014 12:30 am

And that, too (AC Summers in "The German Woman") involves the law directly in a case that Foyle is investigating.

Another circumstance in which Foyle didn't come completely forward to reveal someone wayward: In "War Games," when he keeps Devlin's evidence-tampering activities concerning young Harry Markham to himself, and explains why to Devlin.

Great discussion! :foyle1:
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Re: The Theme of Morality in "Sunflower"

Postby kitchentease » Mon Feb 24, 2014 11:47 pm

A wonderfully nuanced analysis, Starlight. You got me thinking about S8 as a whole and why it had to be different from the previous series. In the WWII years the battleground is fairly clearly drawn, Foyle's integrity and moral soundness are also clear and we love him for these. In the postwar years the ground underpinning both political and social structure is starting to move. Friends and enemies are harder to distinguish, power bases have shifted and the previously allied nations lack a common purpose, the validity of common societal values is questioned so choices become more difficult. AH wouldn't have been true to the world in which they found themselves if Sam and Foyle had stayed the same (much as I wish they had.) I was so thankful to Valentine for "sticking his head above the parapet" in this episode and saving it for me.
But, what does the brain matter....compared to the heart?
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