Do not be broken by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness, for the light is you.(L.R. Knost, author, activist)
It’s been four years since Major Bernie Wolfe was wheeled into Holby City Hospital, the point many of us consider the beginning of #Berena. Four years since the fandom rode a rollercoaster of emotions, from elation to misery, from celebration to mourning. When #Berena broke, so did a lot of us, with a grief that time hasn’t chipped away at. Perhaps Knost is right—what we need is not time, but intention.
An intention to listen, learn, and fix is unlikely to come from Holby City unless things change very fast. Maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.
Recent episodes of BBC One’s crime drama Silent Witness (“Hope: Part 1” and “Hope: Part 2”, aired 27 and 28 January 2020) saw Jemma Redgrave playing Detective Inspector Jill Raymond. The similarities between DI Raymond and Bernie Wolfe were striking, even though Raymond seemed a few notches higher up the butch scale than Bernie had been. In fact, some of us choose to believe that Redgrave tipped her hat to Bernie (and by extension an acknowledgement of Berena fans?) in how she played her Silent Witness character.
Or maybe it was just a coincidence, and Bernie Wolfe and Jill Raymond just happened to be played by the same actor. An actor who has always been circumspect in her public life, to the extent that her silence on #Berena had raised some questions about her role in how it ended. In fact, she has been indirectly blamed by Holby City for being responsible for the catastrophic ending of the story.
Perhaps it was also a coincidence that these two episodes of Silent Witness were directed by Tracey Larcombe, who also directed Redgrave in a few Holby City episodes, including “The Right Kind of Animal” (you probably don’t need reminding, but this was the one where Bernie and Serena split). Plus, on the production team was writer Lena Rae, who worked on a number of Holby City episodes with Bernie in them too. She was story producer on “Dark Night of the Soul” (Ric and Bernie clash over a patient), “Prioritise the Heart” (Alex Dawson’s first appearance), “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” (Bernie receives divorce papers) and others. Rae was script editor on some other key #Berena episodes, like “Indefensible” (the one about love being defending the indefensible) and “Missing You Already” (Bernie turning AAU into a warzone), among others.
That’s a lot of coincidence to wade through. We won’t even mention some of the script similarities (which perhaps were coincidences!).
Or there is the alternative: that this was a tacit acknowledgement to the fans who demanded better representation. Maybe the backlash from the #Berena fandom did not leave the Holby team entirely unmoved—that is, disregarding the backlash to the backlash whereby the dissenting fans were painted as abusive—but those who sided with the fandom were unable or unwilling to speak out.
The truth is, we will probably never know. Even so, it makes this a good time for taking stock and start thinking about healing. A healing and a moving-on that must be done without the acknowledgement and support of the powers-that-be at Holby City, the accidental creators of the once-groundbreaking love story of Berena, as well as the purposeful destroyers of the same.
So then, let’s talk about Silent Witness instead, and everything we loved about DI Raymond. That scene where she is in scrubs (definitely a coincidence, right?). Then, the wardrobe—the waistcoats and long jackets, and the dress shirts with cufflinks, the specs, the somewhat girly shoes adding a dash of unpredictability. Finally, the mannerisms—the strut, the hands-in-pockets, the body language, um, the fingernails. DI Raymond screamed “gay” in rainbow highlights. And this was significant because her sexuality, either way, was of no consequence to the story.
This is what representation looks like; not using a lesbian suicide bait to create “drama” or blowing up gays. The everyday-ness of existence, of getting things done, of being a small part of the larger scheme of things. Of taking up space without it being pointed out or commented on, but still taking up that space without asking for permission or needing to blend in.
None of this is extraordinary. In fact, representation is about the ordinary stuff, the mundanities—it’s about Jill Raymond popping mints (or nicotine gum or whatever it was), and leading a murder investigation. And maybe—at least we can imagine—going home to a wife.
So maybe we were heard behind the scenes in Holby City, but they didn’t listen. They were never really interested in us beyond what we could do for their viewing figures. Neither did they ever grasp the politics of representation. Most importantly, they have shown no intention to learn from the mess they made, no interest or inclination in opening a dialogue with fans.
No. If we were heard, it was by people with the intention to do better. They are the ones who matter. That is a victory. For now.
By Payal Dhar
Image credit: BBC