Monday, June 04, 2007

Extract from Dead Like Me.

Another Hamlet sighting, this time in the US fantasy series Dead Like Me. For the unitiated, this ran for two series in the mid-naughties and is the story of a group of photogenic grim reapers tasked with collecting souls at the points of accidental deaths. Although notionally an ensemble, the general focus is Georgia, a post-teen who was hit by a falling toilet seat in the first episode and who provides a voiceover reflection across the rest of the series.

One of the twists is that the reapers still have a corporial existence and have to hold down jobs and pay rent and eat and do all of things they would have had to before they died, lingering on Earth until they've reached their reaping quota. Georgia works at Happy Time, a temping agency and in the episode In Escrow has to interview and select a candidate for a job with an important client. She can't decide -- one flatulent, one's too pushy and the other's too needy.

Towards the end of the show she sits on a bed with the candidate's application forms in front of her in the apartment she shares with fellow reaper Daisy Adair, an actress from old Hollywood who apparently died in a fire on the set of Gone With The Wind. She just can't decide between them:
Why on earth is this so hard for you?

Because they all want it and they all can handle. Who to choose. How to choose.

You sound like Hamlet.

What do you mean I sound like Hamlet?

Indecision. I was Ophelia in Province Town.

Seems appropriate. Ophelia was the one who drowned right?

Yeah. Six nights a week and twice on Sunday.
After they're interupted by another reaper, Mason, seeking to use their record player, Daisy suggests, 'Let God decide.'

I can actually see a link between the episode and Hamlet. Something the series always tried to do was thematically join many of the stories together with the title as the hint as to what that theme might be. In plot terms, the title In Escrow describes the story of how Georgia's mother and sister are selling her old family home (one of the attempts to ground the series in reality is to keep those characters around even though they're not connected to the main body of the series) and their portion of the episode is about coping with the period before the closing of the sale.

Hamlet is all about waiting for the right moment, between the prince finding out about the murder of his father and carrying out his revenge. But the indecision is in when that revenge will be carried out -- it doesn't happen when Claudius is at prayer and actually some critics have had problems with dealing with the length of time it takes him to do the deed. If he didn't care about it being in a public arena why didn't he just carry out the execution much sooner. Instead he leaves enough time for Claudius having realised that his nephew is aware that he is his father's murder to develop a range of schemes to bring his downfall. In the end, it's Claudius who forces the issue and Hamlet who leaves his fate in God's hands. He lets God decide.

Which is also what Georgia does. Towards the end, she lays the application on the table and places her pet frog in from of them. 'To jump or not to jump...' she says as the frog steps forward. For reasons that spoil the ending of the episode it turns out that her choice, whatever it might have been would have awful consequences. At the close of the episode, Georgia reflects: "I actually read Hamlet in high school. The guy can't make a decision and everybody dies. [...] I am Hamlet and everybody died."

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