Playing with Fire
The Windass-Armstrongs are playing with fire, literally and metaphorically. Phelan pushed Owen too far by hiring a new foreman, overseeing everyone including heretofore manager Owen. Obviously happy to be in Phelan’s pocket, the new guy tells Owen what a safety hazard the site is. As he talks, and smirks, he grinds out a cigarette butt on the worksite floor and lights a new one.
Lit cigarettes amid the new wood, sawdust and shavings gives Owen an idea, a crazy one but understandable. At the end of the day, he tells Gary to go on without him. He piles skids in the middle of the building, then pulls out a Zippo. Fortunately Anna comes in. She was worried when he didn’t come home with Gary, and she knows he’s at the end of his endurance. She coaxes the lighter away from him, then tells him off. What good does he possibly think this is going to do for anyone, etc.
He realizes he had indeed lost his mind. How can he continue taking the physical punishment of the hours Phelan is demanding, the mental punishment of humiliation dished out by Phelan, and the continued strain of total financial ruin? Owen is a good man. A hard man, even a bully, but at heart he has honourable intentions and is willing to do whatever is necessary, good or bad.
After his death this week, I saw a quote from Cape Breton writer Alistair McLeod: “And then there came into my heart a very great love for my father and I thought it was very much braver to spend a life doing what you really do not want rather than selfishly following forever your own dreams and inclinations.” That, I believe, applies to Owen. And Anna too.
Gary pukes up, gets despondent, has tantrums and then, more seriously, panic attacks. Izzy says she can’t take Gary’s moods and ‘wot’s it all doing to little Jake?’. Katy either mouths off at Phelan or speaks platitudes like ‘we all have to pull together’. Faye gets disappointment after disappointment but does her best to ‘pull together’. And Anna and Owen just keep putting their heads down and forging through in order to survive.
Both Owen and Anna are barely keeping themselves together, but they cannot show the extent of their despair. The whole family would fall apart if they did. The night before his mad plan to burn the place down, Owen did tell Anna just how desperate and exhausted he was. I found I was holding my breath throughout the scene. Ian Puleston-Davies conveyed Owen’s words and emotions with frightening intensity.
And Anna’s contribution to resolving the situation? Mother love will stop at nothing. Phelan gives her a choice: prostitute herself and he will let Owen out of the contract and destroy the incriminating video, don’t and he won’t. Rock, hard place.