Review of Episode 1 here.
I come to you once more with a review so gushing in its admiration for what Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves has achieved that you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m on the payroll of SVT, the Swedish television station responsible for commissioning the show…
This week’s episode picks-up where last week’s left off, with Rasmus (Adam Pålsson) and Benjamin (Adam Lundgren) now in a relationship which can still only end one way: with Rasmus’ death at the hands of HIV. Compared to part one, however, this chapter of the tale undergoes a tonal shift that is incredibly striking. Whereas part one offered a slow, nuanced exploration of the series’ themes, episode two is much more blunt about the severity and tragedy of the situation.
The themes upon which the first episode was built – those of fear, prejudice and discrimination – were this week dragged into the open and examined in all of their nasty glory as the terrible effects of what was happening in Stockholm and throughout the Western World began to take hold. This lack of subtlety isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s absolutely necessary – but it does mean that a lot of the humour and warmth of part one has been abandoned in favour of something much more foreboding.
The most striking thing about this chapter of the story is that its exploration of the discrimination that each of the characters suffers remains distinctly contemporary. Benjamin is met with nothing but hatred from his own family, despite their protestations that they love their son very much. This rejection – from the people who are meant to love you unconditionally – is something that gay men all around the World still have to endure and the inexcusable manner in which Benjamin’s parents treat their son is a note-perfect representation of how religious beliefs can poison a person’s tolerance, even of their own child.
Benjamin’s parents disown him but, before doing so, they stress the fact that they love him. At one point Benjamin’s Mother even writes to him to tell him that she pretends he doesn’t exist – by all accounts a hateful and vicious thing to do – yet still she claims that it’s all in the name of love. The show exposes this contradiction for the fraud it is, yet the effect of the woman’s words – words that represent the views of people all over the planet – is no less infuriating or upsetting.
It’s not just religious discrimination, however, that this episode highlights. Ignorance of HIV is still a major problem, and the show doesn’t whitewash the fact that gay men can be just as prejudiced – if not more so – towards those with the disease as the rest of the World. Little moments, such as one man’s refusal to drink from his glass after one of his HIV-positive friends has done so, tell a far greater story than the refusal of Benjamin’s parents to come to terms with their son’s sexuality. This lack of understanding and empathy from your own community, from the people who are meant to defend you from such crass discrimination, is a truth that still goes relatively unspoken today, yet it’s one to which this series is unafraid to draw attention.
Allow me to put that into context; when one of the characters reads that an “innocent” man has caught HIV from a blood transfusion he poses the pertinent question “If he’s innocent, what does that make the rest of us?” The discrimination against those with the disease runs far deeper than simple homophobia. The show suggests – quite accurately – that this prejudice is also built on a dislike of those who indulge in promiscuity; it’s a perverse form of moralism that can often be just as prevalent in gay men as it can in other sections of society. For all of its attacks on social and cultural conservatism, the show never forgets that “traditionalists” don’t have a monopoly on hatred and that gay men can be just as abhorrent to those suffering from HIV, or indeed to anyone who happens to be different to them, as anyone else can.
Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves is, however, a personal and human story and the writer (Jonas Gardell) never loses sight of this. All of the themes that it explores are examined through characters with whom anyone can relate. Rasmus and Benjamin are complex people, both of whom want different things out of life but still love each other very much; hardly a conundrum experienced solely by gay men. This week’s episode takes a much deeper look at their backgrounds, their relationships with their families and how each of them approaches their newly found freedom in Stockholm. Their relationship with each other is fraught for dramatic effect, but realistically so, and we get a great insight into how they – and their many friends – approach the threat of HIV alongside the more general issues that you everyone faces living in the city.
For me, episode two is a vast improvement on something that was already superb. The performances remain brilliant, the story is still gut-wrenching and there are far fewer “artistic intrusions” (a.k.a. no white elks…) this time around. The manner in which the plot falls into place grants the episode a real sense of dread. We’re never comfortable or content because we know what’s happening. Characters disappear with barely a mention and we know that they have died. At one point, the episode jumps from scenes of jubilation in a theatre to scenes of heartache in a hospital and back again. It’s a powerful form of storytelling and one that really gets under your skin and the juxtaposition between the wonderful lives that these characters could have led and the untimely death they ultimately suffered is just heart-breaking.
This is a show does a sensational job of making you thankful for the fact that society has evolved so much, yet it also makes you realise that there’s still a long way to go. Whatever happens next week, the first two chapters of this story have been beautiful, tragic and utterly engrossing, and I apologise in advance if next week’s review is just a picture of me rocking back and forth in the foetal position as I try to come to terms with the conclusion that we all know is coming…
Episodes one and two of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves are available on BBC iPlayer. The final episode airs at 10pm on December 16th.