So I’ve just finished the first series of Chocky and I’m a little spooked. When I started the process of playfully reviewing Chocky it was out of a nostalgia for my childhood and a renewed interest in both children’s fiction and psychic phenomena. I didn’t realise that the show would chime with so many of my own current interests/fascinations. Now there is obviously an argument to be made for observer bias, by which I mean that since I am thinking about these things so much I am seeing them in everything I experience, so I am seeing art theory in Chocky just like I’m seeing it in the English language text books I use at work. But bearing that in mind, I do find it a little spooky that I had already seen this programme, when I was very very young and didn’t understand most of what was discussed within it, and that coming back to it now, kind of out of the blue, I find a huge amount of me in it. The interplay between memory and the subconscious is a crazy terrible thing!
Anyhoo, the show got surprisingly dark in these two episodes focussing on two incidents that I imagine would strike terror into the heart of any parent or sibling.
Episode 5 opens with Matthew and Polly having fallen into the river and all the adults standing around helplessly saying “They fell in the river”. It’s a beautiful terrible line.
Just like with the painting and cricket it’s revealed that Chocky was working through Matthew as we learn that Matthew saved them even though Matthew can’t swim. From a story point of view this is a very nice turn for the show to make, really amping up the stakes. It’s life and death now, not just paintings and cricket. But what I also love is that if we were to view Chocky metaphorically for some hidden reserve of power and knowledge residing within us all then this moment becomes an incredible act of self-realisation. Matthew might never have learned to swim but he knew what he had to do to save his sister. Chocky was the structure that gave him the confidence to do so. She was the psychic conduit that allowed him to access his hidden reserves. But that’s if we view it metaphorically, whereas within the show it is clear that Chocky is real and once we learn that Matthew and Polly are safe the show takes a jump and Matthew is now a hero.
Now I’ll be honest, there’s always been some weird part of me that wanted to be involved in an act of heroism like rescuing someone from drowning or stopping a mugging (me and Phil kinda did that once in Paris, but that’s a tale for another time). I think it’s the part of me that lacks self-confidence, if I rescued a cat from a burning building then I would be worth people’s attention and affection but until that happens I amn’t. Not exactly a nice way to be, particularly since what I am actually wishing for is that someone or something is in grave danger and hoping that I pass by. There’s a darkness to that that I’m not cool with!
Anyway, Matthew becomes a hero but he is totally conflicted, as he knows/believes it was Chocky that did the saving, he was just the tool she used. Very interesting point if looked at theologically. The show presents journalists as incredibly intrusive and without any real ethics or scruples, looking back on the 80s in Britain I think that was kind of just taken for granted. But again, for content in a kid’s show it’s pretty heavy. Also the scary woman that comes to the house wanting to talk about angels is full on terrifying. She’s like one of Roald Dahl’s witches! But it’s interesting to wonder if I would have been conflicted as a kid, as I believed in angels as real and interventionist at the time, but that character was creepy as hell! I wonder how I felt.
The Dad’s friend who believed that Chocky was real rings up again and it’s interesting to see how the Mam doesn’t want him (Roy Landers) back to the house, it’s an unusually nuanced image of her turning away from the truth. She’d rather he stay away than face the possibility of Chocky being real.
There’s also the complexity of Matthew winning the art competition. They say “It won first prize” said like it’s a terrible thing. That’s a fairly complex plot point to be putting in a kid’s show, but it works since they tie it in with the fact that he had just received such acclaim for rescuing his drowning sister and now he’s one of the finest young artists in the country. “They’ll think he’s going mad” as the Mam puts it. If looked at metaphorically, if Chocky is just a part of Matthew’s subconscious, then a question arises as to why she has such little faith in her son. She wants to believe that Chocky is imaginary and yet if she is then the Mam thinks her son is going mad.
“He’s haunted” is just a great line
They take Matthew to a psychologist who is immediately creepy as all F. The office looks like a set from “Yes Prime Minister” but the hypnotic record is BRILLIANT! I want one. Also as a little side note for those of you watching along, the woman drinking coffee in the background of the café is my favourite thing. She is wonderful
So Dr Thorn the creepy ass psychologist is trying to convince the Dad that Matthew is just going through a phase and that he has built up an elaborate fantasy system. What I find interesting is that is made to sound like it’s a bad thing! Surely to create something as finessed and delicate as that is a good thing? The doctor then drops a line which ties in spookily with my first paragraph above “The subconscious is an amazing thing, amazing” I’ll just leave that there!
Episode 5 ends with Chocky saying that Matthew must forget her and she must leave. It’s too dangerous for her to stay. Now within the story we know that that is because of the evil doctor and his nefarious plans but if we look again at Chocky as a metaphor then we can see a moment that many creative people feel they go through in adolescence which is the need to hide their light under a darkening bushel or else face the suspicions and ridicule of their society who doesn’t understand them, their power or their expressions. Dark stuff
The finale kicks off with one of the darkest and most troubling scenes I think you could possibly have in a kids drama. The holidays are over and Matthew is back at school and as he leaves one day he gets into a strangers car and disappears. The hero of the show, a small child, has just been kidnapped! Now I don’t know about you but when I was a kid I was terrified of being kidnapped, so this is not the kind of fodder I would expect on ITV at 4.30 on a Wednesday afternoon. The parents are obviously terrified but as if to throw fuel on the fire of darkness the Dad drops the line “”If he was going to do anything silly he’d have done it a fortnight ago”. Yep, the Dad just said that if their son was going to kill himself he would have done it 2 weeks ago when Chocky first left. This is five minutes into a kids TV show and we’ve had kidnapping child murder and suicide brought up quite casually as themes! Fair play Thames Television, you certainly weren’t pulling any punches!
Fortunately, Matthew is alive and well and in Birmingham Matthew and has come to no harm, no harm at all. But then the show enters another one of my all time fears. Through flash back we learn that Matthew was drugged, taken to a hospital, given repeated injections and unnecessary surgery. The themes, tropes and tone this passage are all lifted directly from UFO abduction lore. The description of the white room, of time passing strangely, of needing surgery yet feeling no pain, having no memory of getting there and likewise no memory of leaving. The way they shoot the scene really ties into the eeriness of it all, with the fish eye lens and black and white fruit. I do love though that they gave him “a stereo with buckets of tapes”, not an ipod or spotify account to be seen!
After all the excitement of the last 30 minutes (of show time) the programme makes a sudden gear change and returns to the homely, quiet suburban themes that characterise so much of the first half of the series. But now there is a strangeness. Everyone’s gone to bed except the Dad. He’s still up and Matthew comes to talk to him because he can’t sleep. As a kid who had terrible insomnia this strikes a tremendously loud chord.
In an interesting way to close out such an action packed series, the dramatic climax takes place at Matthew’s bedside and in the form of a conversation between Matthew, his Dad and Chocky. It’s strangely peaceful and at the same time eerie. I won’t go as far into the content of the conversation as I might like suffice to say that it does tie up an awful lot of questions one might have had about the plot.
The following quotes from the final conversation really stood out to me. Chocky described herself by saying “I am an explorer, scout, teacher”. When speaking of intelligent life she says “It is a holy thing to be fostered and nurtured”. He goal was to lead Matthew to “Discovering and demonstrating the use of cosmic power”. But having been discovered under hypnosis by the evil psychologist she now has to decide if he relationship with Matthew is “Valuable or dangerous?” and to ask “How much would a little boy’s life count?” Finally, to protect Matthew, Chocky tells the Dad “You must encourage him to take more interest in Art”. Now this all ties in with the plot and is really well written and works from a plot point of view but from the point of view of me and my own mental ramblings over the last few months its like I could have written it. It’s spooky. It’s fascinating.
Chocky leaves to continue her mission elsewhere and while Matthew paints an old country house the Dad has life-saving medal engraved to say “awarded to Chocky for a valorous deed”. It’s a beautiful way to tie up a beautiful series.
It’s strange, from one point of view this process has just been a nice way of looking at old TV show that I remembered enjoying as a kid. From another point of view there is a strange confluence of content, time and memory that has left me feeling a spooked and very intrigued. I wouldn’t have described myself as any kind of a believer in fate or determinism but this experience has, in a very mundane and pedestrian way, opened my mind a little to a new way of thinking about fate and memory.
I’m not sure that that was ever the point but I hope you enjoyed reading this. I’ve no idea what I’ll do next blog wise, but I think I might just watch season 2 of Chocky and not write about it. I might also read the book. If anything comes to me, and the muse strikes, I’ll be sure to let you know.