Welcome to the third edition of Starke Struck, the online newsletter for the The Official Anthony Starke Website.
One of our regular features is an essay on one of the characters portrayed by Anthony Starke. This month, we are featuring Michael Patrick of The Pretender. We also have a feature about the benefits of copying movies versus purchasing the original version.
If you'd be interested in writing a regular column or a feature piece, please feel free to contact me about this. I am, in particular, looking for individuals interested in writing reviews of Anthony Starke's work. Other ideas are always welcome.
Be sure and check out the news section of this website. If you're a Magnificent Seven fan, we have some very exciting news to pass on.
IN THE LAND OF MAKE-BELIEVE
Michael Patrick - THE PRETENDER, episode #1.10 - The Better Part of Valor
First aired - 11 January 1997 on NBC (USA)
This sci-fi series ran from 1996 for several years and gathered a devoted audience interested in both the week by week action and the ongoing background story arc. "There are extraordinary individuals among us known as pretenders, geniuses with the ability to insinuate themselves into any walk of life - to literally become anyone" the narrator told us at the start of the episode and the focus, obviously, was on one such "pretender" - Jarod Russell, played by Michael T Weiss, best known for his role in Dark Shadows. The premise was simple - Jarod had been taken from his family in childhood and was raised in seclusion in the Centre by Dr Sydney Green, a psychiatrist. Dr Green treated him well and taught him to use his special skills but, before he could benefit from his years of work, Jarod ran away, planning to expose the Centre's secrets and to find out whether or not he had been told the truth about his real family. In an attempt to avoid the fall out from Jarod's revelations, Miss Parker was set on his trail, determined to eliminate him. Needless to say, she failed in this endeavour.
The show evolved as it went on, with the addition of extra characters and more layers, but The Better Part of Valor was a first season episode.
This is definitely something you should watch at least twice, because the first time around the nuances that determine who Michael Patrick is are so subtle they are easy to miss. For a fan of The Pretender, that is a bonus, because at no point does Anthony Starke betray the plot prematurely, but for a fan of Anthony's, it's nice to rewatch it and see that sensitivity of touch he brings to the role. The signs are there - you just have to know to look for them. And, first time around, you don't.
Although we do not know it from the beginning, Michael Patrick is a character who fits in perfectly in the convoluted world of The Pretender. He arrives unexpectedly at a time when one of the show's main characters - Miss Parker - is clearly unsettled by the latest turn in the search for Jarod. So much of the show is fuzzily defined - Miss Parker does not even have a first name and fans have great fun trying to identify what it might be from "clues" they pick up. So the arrival of an old flame could be the opportunity for the elusive name to be revealed. Except, despite their obvious closeness in the past, Michael only refers to her as "Parker".
The main theme of the episode is, of course, what Jarod is up to and the action switches back to him frequently. Here he is a fire-fighter investigating a mystery surrounding the death of another fire-fighter. To most of the engine crew, there is nothing mysterious about her loss, only tragedy. But Jarod is convinced that she has been murdered and is determined to find out why and by whom.
Meanwhile, back at the Centre, the search goes on for him and it has entered the realms of fantasy. A psychic is employed to try to establish Jarod's whereabouts by pinpointing relevant newspaper items and Miss Parker's scepticism mounts as the search goes on. So, at the time of Michael Patrick's arrival, she is frustrated and angry - convinced they are on a wild goose chase. The writers bring Michael Patrick into the storyline quickly and neatly, using very few lines to provide both his cover and establish the foundations of their past. They meet in a restaurant where Miss Parker is about to lunch with Sydney. Their greeting is warm and friendly and, on her part, almost predatory - "I cannot get over how terrific you're looking," Michael tells her. "Despite the lack of good sex," she replies, disconcerting both Michael and Sydney. While he is clearly pleased to see her, he quickly backs away with an almost dismissive remark about inviting her to join him at the bar. Her instant abandonment of her plans in order to spend time with Michael help to show the intensity of their earlier liaison and, while he seems both amused and flattered by her attention, there is a wariness there too.
This later manifests itself by him pointing out to her that, as a married man, he should be spared her seductive skills. In an innuendo laden scene we, once again, fill in a credible backstory - they have known one another in college and the wariness he feels is nothing new. Michael tells her that she has the same attitude of "half invitation, half intimidation" he recalls and that she should not tempt him but she merely smiles and says, "too late". There is nothing to indicate that he is not serious - either about his marriage or the reluctance to renew their previous relationship. But, the next time he appears, it is obvious that he has failed to fend her off - if he ever intended to do so.
The one time Parker questions him about his current life it is the sort of query anyone might raise - that his job is not what she would have expected him to be doing - he tells her that he works as a travelling salesman for a pharmaceutical company. Michael laughs it off, saying that, without it, he would not be there. As it turns out, that is probably true but not in the way she realises.
Miss Parker becomes distracted by Michael's return and her anger at the developments at the Centre, which she continues to feel are a waste of time, disperses. Her colleagues are bemused by her out-of-character actions while Michael is around, but clearly relish some relief from her biting tone.
Michael's story line is interspersed with Jarod's search for the truth, which takes up the larger part of the episode, and we never see him on his own until late on - all his story line is tied up in the interaction with Miss Parker. Thus, his function appears to be to provide a focus for Parker's withdrawal from the Centre's current search technique and to provide her with some rare humanity. That they have been lovers in the past is never in question, and the intensity of that relationship is quickly renewed. Miss Parker is firmly in charge, but not to the point where she completely overwhelms Michael. There is nowhere where you feel he is being entirely led by her, just that he is also being distracted from his work.
Apart from the initial moments where two old friends are catching up with one another's lives, and, despite his initial reluctance, there is nothing to suggest that Michael's interest in her is anything other than romantic or even just sexual. No interrogations or sly questioning, no manoeuvring to trick her into telling him anything about herself. In later seasons of The Pretender, some of Miss Parker's past was revealed - her father returned, Jarod had killed her mother, another character was her twin brother. These things were exposed to Parker as much as they were to the viewing audience but whether they had always been in the minds of the writers or simply developed as the show progressed is impossible to say. What is clear though is that, here, there is nothing in her relationship with Michael in The Better Part of Valor to betray any of her past beyond the brief glimpses of what had happened between them before.
At the moment Miss Parker gets a phone call to tell her that the psychic has actually succeeded in tracking down Jarod, her dismissal of Michael is abrupt almost to the point of rudeness. For her, he has been nothing more than an enjoyable interlude and it does not even appear that she has been reliving a happier time of her life. Michael's reaction can be read several ways - irritation or even anger, but also bemusement that he is being cast off so carelessly. Miss Parker finds a photograph of him with his wife and son in his wallet just before she tells him he should go back to his "pretty family" - he has served his purpose and now she has work to do. The repercussions that might await him never seem to occur to her and you are left feeling that she really does not care one iota where he goes next. For her, he has fulfilled his role - a short affair, so lust driven they never even made it as far as her bedroom, to distract her when she had nothing better to do. So is Michael now facing the possibility of having to confess all to his wife? Of going home knowing that he should have stood up to Miss Parker's seductive wiles and walked away, as he presumably did once before? For the audience, it appears that his role has run its course and that will be the last we see of Michael Patrick. Unless, of course, he decides he won't tolerate that sort of treatment and turns nasty with her. Since she has never been specific about her work, perhaps the regular viewer expects that and relishes the fact Michael would come off worst if he had the audacity to take that route.
Instead, we next see Michael elsewhere and unexpected - confronting Jarod with a gun having beaten the Sydney and Parker to his current location. Suddenly, his role is revealed. Far from being an old flame of Miss Parker's, now travelling in pharmaceuticals and surprised to see her, reluctant to be dragged into a heated sexual fling when he has his family to consider, Michael Patrick was using her to find Jarod. And using her successfully. In a perfect world for Anthony Starke fans, Michael Patrick would have succeeded in his mission at this point! Sadly, as the guest star of the week, it was obvious that it would all go wrong for him with Jarod getting the better of him only for Miss Parker to show up before he makes his getaway. Parker's method of squeezing the truth out of Michael would make the men in the audience wince and adds a deft allegorical touch to the closing scenes. When she learns that he, too, works for the Centre she is on the brink of killing him, walking away only when Sydney cautions her about the repercussions. The best that can be said about the conclusion of The Better Part of Valor is that Michael survived although he never returned to fight another day in The Pretender.
Having felt certain we knew a lot about him - more than we ever learned about Miss Parker - by the end it was obvious we knew very little. Did the wife and son shown in the photograph really exist? And, if so, was he following a course they were aware of? So how much did Michael already know of her current life before he walked into the restaurant and "coincidentally" ran into Miss Parker? Had he been brought in by someone else in the Centre specifically because of his past relationship with Parker or was it mere coincidence that was capitalised on? How long had he been after Jarod? And what detective work went on offscreen that led him to his prey ahead of the Centre - he knew where the last sighting of Jarod had been because Miss Parker repeats it when Broots calls her with the information but still had to trace him from that? There were almost more questions than answers by the time the end credits rolled.
This was a strong role for Anthony, particularly since it called on the skill so sadly lacking in many actors these days - the ability to not only become another person but to do it in a way that hides who we are looking at even then. We had to be convinced by him twice - once when we thought him the old boyfriend then again when his true hard edge appeared.
Even the costume chosen for Michael Patrick in his first two appearances in the episode reinforced the idea that, despite their past, he was a little out of his league with Miss Parker - he was smart and stylish but succeeded in appearing to be exactly what he was claiming to be. There was nothing to suggest that he was hiding anything at all. On a personal note, I loved his suit because the shade gave him a softer look than some I have seen him in. It created the false impression Michael Patrick had to and contrasted nicely with the darker look they gave him when his true identity was shown. For the keen eyed, the clue that he was playing a more important role than it appeared was his place in the credits - third in a long list of 10 guest stars for the episode.
Anthony slotted neatly into place in the story line and with the regular cast. He came to it from guest starring in Suddenly Susan, and if any effort was involved in switching from comedy to drama then back to comedy to reprise the role of Kip Richmond opposite Brooke Shields then it did not show. Around the two very different characters he worked in Dutch in De Kersenpluk before moving on to The Magnificent Seven. Together they showcased his versatility as well as winning him more fans. It is easy to skip over Michael Patrick as a memorable role in Anthony's career, but the effortless portrayal of his multiple layers is always a pleasure to watch.
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