“From the Pen of Gertrude Reece”

1 November 1997
[And in this corner...] Written by Rupert Holmes.

Directed by Howard Meltzer.
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What a wonderful, wonderful episode. With all the allusions to previous episodes, it was obviously crafted with the WENN lover in mind.

I'll go ahead and get one thing out of the way now--Yet ANOTHER B5/WENN similarity!

Babylon 5 - Sheridan and Delenn have their first kiss before they have their first kiss. Explanation: "War Without End". Sheridan's consciousness is thrown twenty years into the future into his body of that time. While there, he meets the 20-years-hence Delenn. Upon meeting her, she rushes into his arms and kisses him. Within the chronology of the series, though, Sheridan and Delenn have yet to have their first kiss.

Remember WENN - Victor and Scott have their first on-screen meeting before they have their first on-screen meeting. Explanation: "From the Pen of Gertrude Reece". Gertie writes a radio play based on people she's known at WENN. Within the play, Victor Comstock is found to be alive and for the first time, interacts with Scot (Scott) on-screen. However, it's a play and we've yet to see Victor and Scott together in the WENN universe.

The question comes to mind "How long has Rupert been planning this Casablanca homage?" Season one had a thread of a budding Victor/Betty romance. Season two started developing a Scott/Betty romance. But no triangle existed until "Magic", the wonderful season two closer. I've been digging a little bit into the encyclopedia for some background today.

In the early 1930s, Spain was torn by internal conflicts. In November, 1933, rightist and center-right parties won a majority. In October, 1934, a Socialist-led insurrection lasted 2 weeks before being crushed, precipitating a further shift to the right. A new leftist coalition, the Popular Front, scored a narrow victory in the elections of February, 1936. The Socialists in this coalition became more radical and Communists were also included in the Popular Front. Under General Emilio Mola, a conspiracy to overthrow the government gained support with thousands of military officers. On 18 July, 1936, a military revolt began and a long civil war followed. The Popular Front, also known as the Loyalists or the Republicans, received help from the USSR. They were also aided by the International Brigades, idealistic European and American volunteers. The rebels, known as the Nationalists, received help from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Guernica, for instance, was a Loyalist stronghold that the Germans devastated by air bombardment in 1937. The Nationalists found a strong leader in General Francisco Franco. Madrid fell on 28 March, 1939, and the civil war ended on 1 April. Franco became Spain's dictator.

With this in mind, let me quote from "Casablanca." Early in the film, Captain Renault tells Rick that he's familiar with his record. He reminds him that "in 1936, you fought in Spain on the Loyalist's side." Victor Laszlo has also heard of Rick Blaine and tells Rick he knows Rick: "...fought against the Fascists in Spain."

Now, quoting Scott Sherwood himself in "Magic": "I did a little cryptography for the Popular Front during the Spanish Civil War...I ran into a little trouble when I was promoting the 'World League of Bullfighting' out of Madrid. They claimed that the final match between the Holy Toledos and the Barbarians of Seville was fixed. So the choice was three months in the hoosegow or six months fighting Franco...[I] broke [codes], or tried to. I was getting pretty good at it, but then the Germans teamed up with Franco and everything we learned went out the window. Two more days and we would have known about Guernica before the Germans leveled it."

So by the end of "Magic", a romantic triangle has been created. Victor could be seen as the man who "opened up for [Betty/Ilsa] a whole beautiful world full of knowledge and thoughts and ideas." Thinking Victor has been killed while working for the Allied cause, Betty/Ilsa allows herself to have feelings for Scott/Rick, who worked for the Loyalists in Spain against Franco.

Along with Betty, we were surprised at this revelation about Scott's past ("Where did you get a phrase like 'geometric cipher'?"). We knew he had been a world traveler and that although he knew little about the radio business, he did seem somewhat familiar with the principles of radio ("frequency modulation"). (Obviously, he picked up a little trying to intercept transmissions.) I think it's safe to guess that Scott's background on the Popular Front was a move to align him with the Rick Blaine character. Therefore I think Rupert has been planning this since he wrote "Magic". How soon before then, only he can say.

All this and NOW I'm ready to start on this episode.

Gertie drops her script almost literally into Betty's lap: "Rendezvous in Rabat", a play for radio from the pen of Gertrude Reece. Gertie explains how she cleverly changes Scott's name to Scot. With an allusion to Scott's code-breaking in "Magic," Betty doubtfully replies, "I'm sure no one will break that code."

Gertie's story is one that "if we don't tell it now, someone else will!" With that brief acknowledgment of "Everyone Comes to Rick's"/"Casablanca" out of the way, we're soon winging our way to French North Africa. The map seems to be a current one (1990s) since there's no reference on the map to Spanish Morocco. However, sure enough, Rabat is on the map in "Casablanca."

We enter the cafe and we're bathed in color and sound of another place, another time. We meet WENN's version of the Deutschbank representative whose money was no good at Rick's, here played by Julian Holloway, the same actor who was Mr. Winthrop in two episodes of the first season. He interacts with Eldridge's Franz character (taking Carl the waiter's position) before we move on to Jeff and Hilary's characters (Jeff and Martine Hilaire), showing that although Gertie has been working on the script for 7 months, she's kept it up to date. Then Mackie's Captain Renault (Major Peugeot!) is introduced talking to Lillie, one of the numerous persons (Maple in this case) trying to get out of Rabat. This episode had me cracking up constantly such as when Lillie describes her route to freedom: Lisbon, Montreal, the Caribbean, and then New York! This time, it isn't Signor Ferrari who has handling charges, it's Peugeot (Renault), although that is an apt description for some of Renault's fees in "Casablanca."

Now it's time for Scot's big entrance in his white jacket. We meet the bartender (C. J.) and the man who runs the roulette table (Jeff). It's back to Sam (Samantha, who we saw energetically playing "Polly Wolly Doodle" ("Fare Thee Well"?) earlier much like Sam played "Knock on Wood" in "Casablanca") at the piano where we see Maple's character is annexing another "Casablanca" character: the club's singer. They're there at the best restaurant/broadcasting station east of New York ready to play any requests...except..THAT song! "We don't do...THAT song." Another hilarious moment since possibly the most famous quote from "Casablanca" deals with playing that song. (Of course, the quote, "Play it again, Sam", is wrong. Much like "Beam me up, Scotty" was never uttered by Captain Kirk in the original "Star Trek", "Play it again, Sam" was never said in "Casablanca." The real quote is "Play it, Sam.")

We finally find where the gambling Jeff talked about earlier is: it exists in the broadcasting studio when they're playing records! Now we find that Lillie's first character was specifically that of Annina's, the young Bulgarian refugee. However, the playing of Maple's character as not being all that bright (except when noticing that Betty seemed strangely defensive of Jonathan Arnold) continues, and she misses her chance to escape Rabat by gambling away the money Scot obviously arranged for her to win.

When we finally meet Rick in "Casablanca", after all the build-up, he's playing chess with himself. Scot's a little simpler, he prefers checkers. Ricotti takes the Ugarte role of providing the all-important letters of transmit/transit to Scot/Rick. Finally, Roberta and Victor arrive. Victor requests a booth. Jeff, sadly, admits he doesn't have a Booth...anymore. When asked for his name, he says "Victor...Victor Comstock."

This jolts us back to WENN where Betty presses for an explanation. "Well, wouldn't it be wonderful if Victor had somehow survived that terrible explosion and if he were still alive somewhere overseas fighting for democracy." Gertie's honest "Beg Pardon?" to Betty's "How could you know?" rules out, in my mind, Gertie's knowledge of Victor's survival. (Although it could be argued that the chances of her inadvertently coming up with this plotline are a bit on the unlikely side.)

One person on the chat last night mentioned that it would have been nice to see Victor crack a smile. I pointed out that he was playing the Victor Laszlo character, leader of a movement to save thousands of lives and on the run for his and his wife's lives. However, John Bedford Lloyd was still able to get some comedy in through physicality. Watch the next scene where Samantha recognizes him. His body movement when Sam turns him around, "Oh my gosh, Victor" and the his facial tic when they go in for the close-up. The guy is comical, even under these circumstances. And I can't help but feel that a little bit of the way this scene was played had in mind the people that assemble the previews. I was also reminded that Eugenia was the first person Victor had to hide from the night of "In the WENN Small Hours..." Here, Victor shields his face but is unsuccessful in hiding from Sam.

Sam disabuses the notion of an identical relative but accepts the idea of an identical friend. And then the piano just comes rolling over. And I'm rolling, on the floor laughing. More references "In the WENN Small Hours..." follows: "A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. The Allegheny. The Monongahela." And then, the light ball drops out of the ceiling! I might as well stay on the floor.

Scot rushes out to put an end to "Remember When" and finds Roberta. "I'm sure you'd like to meet the man you told us you knew so well." Scot looks around for Victor, who's sitting right in front of him. "Victor. Victor," he calls.

"I'm Victor Comstock. Who's this?" "Scot Sherwood." "Who's Scot Sherwood?" Oww! I gotta watch out for sharp objects in my carpet. I go back back to rolling and laughing some more.

Mr. Foley appears as Commandant rrrRauss and, after an interlude of physical comedy, starts speaking! At first, I thought they were letting Foley speak, but in a funny voice. Somewhat like they've let him hum and make other sounds. But it turns out to be Gertie speaking in a funny voice through her character. I'm starting to create patterns in the carpet where I'm wearing it down.

Martine Hilaire is a reflection of the Yvonne character from "Casablanca", who in a fit over Rick's rejection, begins warming up to the Germans. However, by the end of the "Wacht am Rheine"/"La Marseillaise" sing-off, she has clearly had her French patriotism stirred. Of course, this is "Remember WENN" and the battle is raged between "London Bridge" and "Frere Jacques".

Rick came to Casablanca for its waters. Scot came to Rabat for its frozen waters, therefore he has a sno-cone each morning at 10AM. The hallway, er, marketplace scene does a good job of comparing the overzealous marketplace salesmen to their modern-day American counterparts: "And if you order right now, we'll throw in a bamboo frisbee for free! Operators are standing by."

Roberta tries to get the letters of transmit from Scot who tells her one of them is for himself. Her love for Victor pushes her to request just one...for Victor. Of course Scot just wants to take off with Roberta by his side. Her concern for Scot leaves her not wanting him to be stuck in Rabat, either. She's so confused, she leaves the decision up to Scot.

Independently, Victor approaches Scot. Much as Victor Laszlo quickly sized up the situation between Rick and Ilsa, he's realized there's something between Scot and Roberta. His love for Roberta pushes him to request just one letter...for Roberta so she can accompany Scot to safety. The conflict between the two is nicely symbolized by each of them trying to depart the area in the same way (as each of them want Betty) and continually bumping into each other.

Now we get down to the fateful final scene. In "Casablanca", Rick realizes he's been turning his back on the Nazi menace for too long. The first order of business is ensuring Victor Laszlo's safety. But it would be useless unless Ilsa accompanies Laszlo. He knows if Ilsa stays with him, Laszlo will crumple just as he did when Ilsa didn't show up at the train station.

In "Rendezvous at Rabat," we're talking about Scot. Scot Sherwood. So of course he ties up Victor and Lillie in a mail sack and puts them on the plane so he can have Roberta all to himself. I had only just managed to drag myself back into the chair when this socks me back out of the chair. It's so...Scott.

After Scot and rrrRauss exchange gunfire, each falls dead to the ground. As the camera watches rrrRauss fall, "London Bridge (Is Falling Down)" plays. As Peugeot cheerfully offers to help Roberta (no doubt with handling charges), they walk off into the night, "You know, I think this tragedy could be the beginning of a beautiful, beautiful friendship."

"No! No, Gertie. That can't be the right ending." Betty's been emotionally pulled into the story, showing that maybe Gertrude has a future in writing.

Rick sending Victor and Ilsa off to Lisbon was never in doubt as the film was made. What kept changing was how it happened. (I once read or saw something on the editing of the final scene with Rick, Renault and the French police. It's amazing how it was almost edited differently in a way I don't think would have worked. The brief moment of indecision by Renault over what to do and Rick's worried look while he waited was the result of the re-edit. I think before it was instantaneous with no look at Rick at the time.)

In recognition of that, we are treated to multiple endings to "Rendezvous at Rabat." In Hilary's ending Jeff repents and wreaks vengeance for her on the Czechoslovakian hussy by sending her to a menial job in Japan. Then she rewards him by ditching him and using the remaining letter.

Gertie then volunteers her alternate ending. Scot and Victor send Roberta off alone, keeping each from having an unfair advantage over the other and allowing her time to make her decision. Scot gives the second visa to Franz Eldridge, who unfortunately sells his to Major ("Handling Charge") Peugeot! Scot exclaims that they must make a u-turn on the road to Morocco and suddenly images of Scot and Victor having hilarious adventures around the world with Roberta as their sarong girl enter my mind.

They walk off into the fog-enshrouded night ruminating over the feared question, "But what if neither one of us gets her?"

We return to WENN where Betty claims that Roberta would never just ditch both of them. Gertie then asks Betty how she would end it. "I think that if Roberta could fly off into the horizon with either gentlemen, her name would be.... Mrs....Roberta....um, yep...." By this time, she's typing the name on a sheet of paper in the typewriter and instead of voicing the last name, she simply types it. But then, before she gives the paper to Gertie, she's says Gertie should come up with her own ending and leaves Gertie and Hilary hanging.

Hilary points out that she counted 8 letters being typed for the last name. "Comstock" is what comes to Hilary's mind. Meanwhile, we can see Gertie counting with her fingers and she points out that "Sherwood" is composed of 8 characters. The women exchange frustrated looks; they'd like to know what Betty's choice would be.

On the chat channel it was pointed out that Eldridge's name has 8 letters. While not necessarily mathematically impossible, I feel comfortable in ruling out Franz and Tom Eldridge. Of course Bloom has 5 letters and Singer has 6 letters. But several of us realized the other name that's been batted around the newsgroup (and championed by James Young for some time now), Doug Thompson, DOES fit.

As we often see on WENN, the camera moves away just before we get clues. But let's take a look at that footage again. It looks like, in the brief moment we see before the camera moves away, her left hand hits the shift key (since the first letter of a name is capitalized and we see the typewriter shift in response to being hit by the shift key) and her right hand hits the letter. However, C, S, T and even E are all left hand keys.

So, I'll assume she hit the shift key and the first letter with her left hand in one smooth move and then she was putting her right hand up to type the SECOND letter. Well, now we're getting somewhere. Let's see...C...o...a right-hand key. Comstock! But we must check out the others. S...h...@#%$. "H" is also a right-hand key. And "h" is also the second letter in Thompson. What the heck...E...l...even l is a right-hand shift. Every single one of these names begins with a left-hand key followed by a right-hand key!!

Is this Rupert Holmes a devil or what!? Just how carefully is he putting this together. Even jms couldn't get the footage of Delenn's hand on Sinclair's shoulder successfully re-filmed in "War Without End." Something I thought would've been easily done. But this...this...this planning of letters in names to match up with how typing is done. It's insidious. It's inhuman. It's...it's...it's a miracle!

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