Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves – Episode 3

James Gallagher

I apologise in advance if this review is a bit of a mess but, well, it’s pretty damn hard to write coherently when you can’t stop crying…

The final part of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves is a tragic but beautifully fitting conclusion to the tale of Rasmus (Adam Pålsson) and Benjamin (Adam Lundgren). It takes all of the themes that have thus far lingered in the background and throws them into the open in all their ugly glory. No longer can the shame of how the victims of HIV were treated remain hidden as members of the group that we have come to love die, often slowly and in crippling agony. Jonas Gardell – the show’s writer – invites us to look at the real, unspoken hatred that these people encountered and pulls no punches in his condemnation of the victims’ treatment at the hands of those who were meant to love them unconditionally. As this tragic tale of love, loss and self-discovery in 1980s Stockholm comes to an end, Gardell’s exploration of just how awful the situation was is scathing, raw and suitably unflinching.

This is both the most personal and the most political episode of the series. We begin with the funeral of Bengt (Christoffer Svensson), the tragic individual who took his own life in last week’s episode upon being diagnosed with HIV. Even in death, Bengt is denied dignity when his parents attempt to conceal their son’s sexuality from the congregation. Later, at the funeral of Lars-Åke (Michael Jonsson), a collection is taken for a cancer charity because the family is too ashamed to admit that he died from HIV. To dress it up as love is ludicrous, yet that’s exactly how people excused their own bigotry. Gardell wants us to realise that for many gay men not even parental love was able to overcome the prejudice that was so engrained in such a fearful society. In doing so he refuses to wash over the double tragedy of what happened, an attitude that is just so refreshing.

However, it is the tragic conclusion to the romance between Rasmus and Benjamin that packs the biggest emotional punch. We’ve always known how their story would end but that doesn’t make it any less affecting. The sight of Rasmus dying in a hospital bed, surrounded by those who love him but refuse to accommodate each other, is devastating and Benjamin’s subsequent treatment at the hands of Rasmus’ parents is both heart-breaking and infuriating. Imagine being told that you’re not welcome at the funeral of the person you love more than anyone else in the World or being told that your existence in that person’s life will be outright denied. It might seem like a product of the prejudices of the past that none of us will ever have to endure but alas, like so much of what this excellent series explores, it’s horribly contemporary

Now, the series up until this point has been a showcase for some incredible talent and the final episode is no exception. Gardell’s script is intelligent and witty from beginning to end, and the performances from everybody involved are all superb. Pålsson and Lundgren handle the rollercoaster of emotions that their characters are experiencing with respect and subtlety, with neither of them overplaying the drama or ignoring its brutality. All of the characters are complex and rich in personality and the transformations that each of them undergo are believable in every way. The show never dabbles in stereotypes or caricatures but in difficult characters with whom we can all relate on some level, which then serves to make each of their deaths all the more upsetting.

The whole of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves – each tear, each laugh, each bitter burst of indignant rage – has been an utter triumph. In just three hours the show shone a light into a human scandal that must never be forgotten, but it did so without ever getting preachy or descending into melodrama. Not once was it ever manipulative or sugar-coated, rather it simply relied on the natural power of raw, unashamed realism. Its combination of the political with the personal was a complete success from start to finish and I feel like I’m at a bit of a loss now that it’s all ended.

For me, Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves has never been about gay men, nor has it even been about HIV. No; Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves has always been about hope and, despite its melancholic tone, the show ends on an optimistic note, in which Benjamin gets some closure after all these years of waiting. In spite of all the sorrow, this is a finale that looks to a future free from prejudice and hatred. Gardell never wants us to forget the heartache that people like Rasmus and Benjamin suffered – and rightly so, for to forget is to enable people to repeat the mistakes of history – yet the definitive message is this: the best thing anybody can do to honour those who passed away so needlessly is to ensure that we never allow them to die in shame ever again.

All three episodes of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves are available on iPlayer until 22:59 on December 23 and I just cannot recommend them to you enough.

Now please excuse me while I go and cry into a bottle of gin…

About James Gallagher

James is a film addict, a bitter misanthrope and a graduate from the University of Sheffield. Raised in Birkenhead, he is like a (very) poor man's Paul O'Grady. He has lots of opinions – almost all of which are wrong – and can normally be found reading, writing and drinking whisky. @theugliestfraud