King Gary and his court: repetition and prolepsis in ‘The World’s End’


The World’s End is the final film in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy and what binds the films together, apart from the Cornetto references, is that all three are about attempted takeovers in which human beings are assimilated and homogenised. In Shaun of the Dead, those affected by a zombie plague turn other people into zombies; in Hot Fuzz, the attempt to build a utopian village means that those who don’t fit in are murdered; in The World’s End, the utopian theme is present again when an alien force known as ‘The Network’ (voiced by Bill Nighy) turns people into robot versions of themselves when they refuse to comply. As the character of Basil says,

“It’s not an invasion, it’s a merger. They don’t want to get rid of us, not if they can help it. They just want to make us more like them. Change the way we think. Bring us into line with all the others. Become another link in their chain. Which is fine – unless you say no.”

Given the underlying theme of the trilogy – that of assimilation – visual and verbal repetition is naturally a strong feature in all three films and repetition takes both spatial and temporal forms in The World’s End. Spatially, repetition is seen in the ‘Starbucking’ of Newton Haven: chains such as Starbucks have taken over and the pubs are identically furnished, right down to the same fake chalk handwritten signage. Basil refers to The Network’s wish to incorporate humanity as another link in the ‘chain’, and this wish is metaphorically embodied in the homogenisation of the spaces in the film. In the final scene, Gary and Andy confront The Network with its ‘Starbucking’ of human beings: each identical pub has a robot landlord who, in an identical movement to all his robot counterparts, slaps a bar-towel over his shoulder.

Temporally speaking, Gary (Simon Pegg) is an ideal hero, because he is hopelessly stuck in the past: he wears the same clothes, drives the same car, listens to the same music (on the same cassette tape!) and still possesses the same map as that which was consulted when the five friends didn’t quite finish the Golden Mile over twenty years ago. Gary persuades his friends to join him in the ill-fated recreation of 22nd June 1990 and the short vignette into the past which accompanies Gary’s voiceover at the beginning of the film more or less provides the reader with the entire storyline (minus the robots). This vignette is a kind of proleptic annonce, as described by structuralist and narratologist Gérard Genette: it’s a narrative flashforward, containing information about the characters’ future. As the film progresses, the viewer watches the characters re-enact the events of that night, and although the presence of the robots means that everything is essentially different while only appearing to be the same, the narrative structure of the vignette is broadly identical to the larger storyline of the film. And beyond the confines of the film’s story, there is even more repetition on a grand historical scale: The Network tells Gary and Andy that mankind endlessly repeats the same cycles of self-destruction.

“You are children and you require guidance. There is no room for imperfection.”

Here’s Gary’s opening monologue in full, courtesy of IMDB:

[opening monologue] “Ever have one of those nights that starts out like any other but ends up being the best night of your life? It was June the 22nd, 1990. Our final day of school. There was Oliver Chamberlain, Peter Page, Steven Prince, Andy Knightley, and me. They called me “The King”. Because that’s my name – Gary King. Ollie fancied himself as a bit of a player but really he was old man. We called him “O Man” because he had a birth mark on his face that was shaped like a six. He loved it. Pete was the baby of the group. He wasn’t the kind of kid we would usually hang out with, but he was good for a laugh. And he was absolutely minted. Steve was a pretty cool guy, we jammed together. Chased the girls. I think he saw us as rivals. Sweet really. And Andy. Andy was my wingman. The one guy I could rely on to back me up. He loved me, and I’m not being funny, but I loved him too. There was nothing we were going to miss about school. Maybe Mr. Shepherd, he was one of the good guys. He used to ask me what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I just wanted to have a good time. He thought that was funny. It wasn’t meant to be, not that night. Newton Haven was our home town, our playground. Our universe. And that night was the site of a heroic quest. Our aim? To conquer the Golden Mile – 12 pubs along the legendary path of alcoholic indulgence. There was the First Post, the Old Familiar, the Famous Cock, the Cross Hands, the Good Companions, the Trusty Servant, the Two Headed Dog, the Mermaid, the Beehive, the King’s Head, the Hole In The Wall, all before reaching our destiny – The World’s End. We took my car into town that night. We called her “The Beast” because she was pretty hairy. And so our journey into manhood began. We were off. We didn’t waste any time, we hit pub one and we hit it hard. There was drinking, there were laughs, there was controversy, there were ladies, there were shots, there was drama, and of course there was drinking. By pub 5 we were feeling invincible, and decide to purchase some herbal refreshment from a man we called “The Reverend Green”. Pint 6 put O Man out of commission, so we carried on without him. Good thing, I bumped into his sister at the next pub and we went into the disableds, and then I bumped into her again. Sam tagged along for a while, but then I had to let her go, I had another date that night. And her name was Amber. Nine pints in and it was us against the world. Things got mental in the Beehive so we tailed it to the Bowls Club, or as we called it “The Smoke House”, which is where it all went fuck up. Everyone got paranoid and Pete chucked a whitey so we had to bench him. In the end we blew off the last three pubs and headed for the hills. As I sat up there, blood on my knuckles, beer down my shirt, sick on my shoes, knowing in my heart life would never feel this good again.

[shows Gary in a group therapy setting]

And you know what? It never did.”


In this speech and its accompanying visual sequence, we are introduced to the friends as they existed in the past; during the opening credits, we see them as their adult selves more than twenty years after the events of that night.

Gary is a king with his court. In conversation with Peter, he makes reference to The Once and Future King, who, of course, is King Arthur in T. H. White’s novel of the same name. Gary’s attempt to conquer the Golden Mile is elevated to the level of a quest and many of Gary’s speeches have an epic tinge to them:

“Tonight, we will be partaking of a liquid repast as we wind our way up the Golden Mile. Commencing with an inaugural tankard in The First Post, then on to The Old Familiar, The Famous Cock, The Cross Hands, The Good Companions, The Trusty Servant, The Two-Headed Dog, The Mermaid, The Beehive, The King’s Head, and The Hole in the Wall for a measure of the same, all before the last bittersweet pint in that most fateful terminus, The World’s End. Leave a light on good lady, for though we may return with a twinkle in our eyes, we will in truth be blind – drunk!”

In the final confrontation, The Network refers to Gary as King of the Humans, and as previously suggested, Gary is the perfect leader and hero of this tale because he hasn’t grown up or moved on, and he doesn’t want things to have changed since 1990. He embraces the biggest change when it comes because it takes him backwards in time, not forwards, and he ends by recreating his court with the robot versions of his friends when they were young.


King Gary’s Court

A page is a young male servant, an apprentice to a knight, and Peter Page (played by Eddie Marsan) is the baby of the group. His death is foretold in the opening vignette: everyone gets paranoid in The Smoke House as before, but on this occasion it’s because they can’t be sure that everyone present is still human. Peter gets benched at this stage of the Golden Mile as he did twenty years ago when he is entrapped by his childhood bully in robot form and distracted for long enough to enable the robots to close in. His friends can only look on in horror. Earlier in the film, Pete predicts his own demise in a proleptic announcement: “We could end up dead in a field. I hate fields.” But it’s not quite all bad: the adult Peter is seen in the opening credits looking very uncomfortable in the company of his offspring and hiding behind a newspaper to avoid his parenting responsibilities, but the robot Peter is seen having fun entertaining these children with his detachable hand at the end.

A chamberlain is an officer in charge of managing the household of a sovereign, and the adult Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) has become an estate agent and works, therefore, with property. His trademark mobile phone is first a brick-like device and then an in-ear piece. Oliver’s death is also signposted for the attentive viewer: it was the sixth pint which put young Oliver out of action, and, twenty years later, after pint six in The Trusty Servant, it isn’t Oliver who returns from the toilet. Robot Oliver is seen showing a couple around a property at the end of the film, and in fact this is the same young couple who couldn’t afford the house priced at £1.2 million during one of the film’s opening sequences.

A knight is a vassal who serves as a fighter for a lord, and Andrew Knightley (Nick Frost) is the most ferocious brawler of the five friends. Andy fights bravely in the toilet when five robots line up western-style facing the five humans; things get ‘mental’ in The Beehive as they did before, and it is Andy who begins the fight. He and his wife ‘go organic’ at the end, a reference to an earlier conversation, and this is what allows the fleeting Cornetto reference when a discarded wrapper of the same sweeps past Andy’s nose. Gary narrates the story for us at the opening, but it is Andy who is our closing narrator.

“A man of your legendary prowess drinking fucking…rain! It’s like a lion eating houmous.”

The prince is one who will eventually take over from the king, as Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) does when he wins the heart of Oliver’s sister Samantha (Rosamund Pike) in an echo of the Lancelot and Guinevere narrative. Both the young and adult Gary repeatedly shove Steve out of the way to get to Sam, but Steve wins in the end. Steve is shown with his 26-year-old fitness instructor in the opening credits and in his shack with Sam at the close.


Repetition and prolepsis

Everything in the film is a repetition of something that has gone before, even down to its framing Arthurian narrative: we already know this story. The pub names are repeated in sequence over and over again, like a verbal map of the quest as recited during an oral narrative. The five friends have their spoken catchphrases and almost every conversation is a repetition of something previously said: Steve repeatedly mentions his 26-year-old fitness instructor; Oliver has his WTF?; Andy with his references to selective memory and his rebuff, ‘It’s pointless arguing with you’; Gary keeps telling Steve to write down potential band names. Numerous visual images are repetitions of something that has gone before: the landlords with their bar-towels have already been mentioned; Gary ringing the doorbell and running away; Gary jumping over objects and obstacles (not always successfully, and in fact, this is a running gag throughout the trilogy); the ‘Starbucked’ pubs, the view of Newton Haven from the road…and in fact, it is a repeated visual image that tells you something is very wrong. The sequence of pedestrians who walk past the five friends is identical in two separate instances: it’s not just that the woman with the pram is still out walking her baby after dark that gives the viewer the shivers, it is the fact that she is seen in the same position in the sequence of passers-by. This is not normal. This is Uncanny Valley. Something is Going On.

“I still think nothing that has been suggested in the last 10 minutes beats ‘smashy smashy egg men’.”

There are other proleptic annonces signposting the deaths of Oliver and Peter outside of the opening vignette. The Beast herself, Gary’s car from the 1990s, is a metaphorical annonce: more or less everything on this car has been replaced, so although it looks like the same car, it isn’t. The car, therefore, is a metaphor for the robots: they look the same as the human they replaced, but the likeness is only superficial. The Oliver and Peter we see after they have been replaced look more or less the same as they always did, but they are nothing more than mechanical facsimiles of their human selves.

In addition, the two deaths are foretold in the many and various references to The Three Musketeers which are voiced throughout the film:

Gary King: And here we go! Just like the Five Musketeers!

Steven Prince: Three musketeers, wasn’t it?

Peter Page: Four, if you count d’Artagnan.

Gary King: Well, nobody knows how many there were, really, do they?

Oliver Chamberlain: You do know that The Three Musketeers was a fiction, right? Written by Alexandre Dumas?

Gary King: A lot of people are saying that about the Bible these days.

Steven Prince: What, that it was written by Alexandre Dumas?

Gary King: Don’t be daft, Steve! It was written by Jesus!

Gary then goes on to say that five musketeers would have been preferable to three because ‘Two could’ve died and they’d still have three left’, and, of course, this is exactly what happens. The film ends with the most famous quotation from Dumas’ novel when Gary, surrounded by his new court of the robot versions of his friends, insists that the landlord in The Rising Sun serve all five of them with pints of water because it’s ‘All for one and one for all’.

“Gary thinks we should keep up with the crawl because they know what they’re doing, but they don’t know that we know what they’re doing, and basically no one else has a better idea so, fuck it.”

The last point I’d like to make (for today, anyway) is just about a nice little bit of scriptwriting. The friends drunkenly discuss pronouns in one of the pubs – I forget which – and later on, one pronoun becomes very important.

Steven Prince: We need to be able to differentiate between them, them and us.

Peter Page: Yeah, I think the pronouns are really confusing.

Gary King: I don’t even know what a pronoun is.

Oliver Chamberlain: Well, it’s a word that can function by itself as a noun which refers to something else in the discourse.

Gary King: I don’t get it.

Andrew Knightley: You just used one.

Gary King: Did I?

Andrew Knightley: “It” is a pronoun.

Gary King: What is?

Andrew Knightley: It!

Gary King: Is it?

Andrew Knightley: Christ!

A change in pronoun features in a later conversation and provides a clue as to the events to follow. In The Mermaid, the robots have been able to access the DNA of Gary, Peter and Andy. All the pub names in The World’s End carry some significance, and here the mermaids are of course the two blondes and a redhead which make up the Marmalade Sandwich, but their role is really that of the Sirens: the robots knew that these three would not be able to resist a school uniform. (Point of note: mermaids and Sirens are not the same thing, but they have long been conflated in the collective consciousness. Sirens are in fact bird-like creatures and not mermaids at all.) When the friends exit The Mermaid, Gary challenges Oliver with not having lasted this long on the previous pub crawl. Oliver is of course Robot Oliver by now, and Gary has hit on the truth without realising it – he has given the viewer the clue that he can’t quite work out for himself.

In fact, Oliver is just about to be outed as a robot version so this is an annonce of a sort: if the viewer hasn’t already spotted the switch, it will become obvious during this exchange. Outside the next pub, Oliver says to Andy ‘It can’t start without you,’ which he changes to ‘We can’t start without you,’ when Andy asks him to repeat his remark. The change in the pronoun is significant – the friends are about to be directly ‘invited’ to join the robot community by a robot version of Mr Shepherd – and Andy knows what a pronoun is, even if Gary doesn’t. ‘It’ is more likely to refer to something outside of the group of friends, in this case, the issuing of the invitation, whereas ‘we’ conceivably refers to the five friends partaking of their next round. Andy has all the clues he needs now to put two and two together: Steve’s information from Basil about how the robots collect human DNA in order to create robotic clones, Gary’s challenge to Oliver and Oliver’s curious response, then Oliver’s slip over that pronoun. That’s why it’s Andy who spots that Oliver’s birthmark has returned. Then he knocks Oliver’s robot head off.

I Had That Sherlock Holmes In The Back of My Cab The Other Day


I’ve been living with my DVDs of the recent TV series of Sherlock (Gatiss and Moffat) for almost two weeks now and it’s got to the stage where I just have to write a blog post in order to clear my mind. As things stand at present, I cannot focus on anything except this new obsession of mine and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since watching the first episode (too excited to sleep!). Once this blog post is done, perhaps I’ll be able to get down to rewriting my chapter on the repetition in Muriel Spark’s use of prolepsis which has to be submitted in about six weeks’ time…I hope so, anyway. Otherwise I’ll end up frantically searching for a way to haul my conkers out of the fire. Again.


So, let’s begin by stating the obvious: in creating a series based on Sherlock Holmes, Gatiss and Moffat were dealing with a character already familiar to many: the super-sleuth of Baker Street, a violin-playing, drug-abusing loner, isolated by his intellect, but (marginally) humanised through his contact with Dr John Watson. Watson is the I-narrator and focaliser of the original Conan Doyle stories: he is the medium through which we observe events unfolding, and we watch Holmes solve the crimes through Watson’s eyes. Watson’s narratives are, of course, translated into a blog for the twenty-first century and the contemporary setting has necessitated other changes: Holmes and Watson refer to each other by their first names – there’s no ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’ (although I’m not entirely sure Conan Doyle’s Holmes ever said that anyway – I’m afraid I’m in a position of relative ignorance as far as the original stories are concerned), and obviously the technology is different – twenty-first century Sherlock uses a smartphone to access the information he needs. Sherlock’s brilliance is explained in twenty-first century terms – he describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath with a hard drive for a mind and John Watson makes reference to Asperger’s Syndrome in the Hound of the Baskervilles episode. But what is interesting is the extent to which the new Sherlock is still Conan Doyle’s Holmes: the way he talks, the way he dresses, the appearance of his flat at 221B Baker Street, and the fact that he almost always travels by taxicab. I was pleased that the villain in the first episode was a taxi driver, because taxis are important in this series (hence my title). So, the coat and scarf, the habit of talking in paragraphs or at least perfectly-formed sentences, the dated decor of the flat and the ubiquitous taxis, together create a distinctly nineteenth-century atmosphere. He is Sherlock Holmes still.


As far as the TV series is concerned, John Watson is not our only narrator. The camera closely directs and controls our view of proceedings, and in addition to this, many scenes are complemented by the appearance of words or symbols actually in the frame, appearing next to or on the characters: we see the wording of texts and other written messages, or signs either linguistic or pictorial that reveal a little to us of Sherlock’s thought processes. All this is easy for a twenty-first century audience to assimilate, of course: thanks to the internet, we are used to reading words and images together and I’m guessing most viewers would take the appearance of words onscreen on board without batting an eyelid, especially those well-versed in comic books. It’s only a form of caption, after all. The fact that we can see, for example, the words ‘Number blocked’ in the frame when Sherlock receives a phone call negates the necessity for a verbal explanation or a close-up of the mobile phone in question. The close-ups we do get are, for the most part, of the almost impossibly beautiful Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, which is ironic, because of course we are not close to this character and never will be. We watch him work as he unravels the latest mystery: he looks directly at us so that we take the place of the object he is gazing at, but in spite of this physical proximity, we are kept at a distance by Sherlock’s personality: by his genius and by his inability to relate to other human beings, his failure to understand, for example, why a woman should still mourn her still-born daughter of fourteen years ago. He is apart from us. In fact, as far as he’s concerned, we may as well be the corpse he is studying so closely. It’s very noticeable that in the odd moments here and there when Sherlock pretends to be ‘normal’ in order to get someone to do what he wants or to draw them out in some way, the effect is jarring and just a little bit scary.


And our camera-narrator works hard to emphasise this distance between him and us in another way, almost an opposite way: Sherlock is put behind glass for us, as if the roles have been reversed and he is the specimen we are to study. There is a proliferation of scenes in which we see Sherlock through windows, reflected in mirrors or in his magnifying glass, in reversed images viewed in the rear view mirror from the point of view of yet another taxi driver…once you become aware of it, it’s astonishing how many times some kind of glass frame falls between the viewer and Sherlock, particularly in the episode entitled The Great Game. Other blockages and obstacles obscure the audience’s view: scenes featuring a single light source are wreathed in shadows and the characters seen in silhouette as a result; often an object in the foreground is blurry and the viewer is forced to focus instead on what lies behind the object; physical objects obscure the full picture and the viewer is left looking at a blind spot; characters shift in and out of focus so the viewer’s concentration is directed at the character who can be clearly seen. Even the scene changes are very often marked by something moving across the screen and temporarily obscuring what we can see. In this way, our view is closely directed and manipulated, as I said earlier, all of which is very fitting for the detective-story genre, when all is opaque until the detective can reveal what happened and why. And the why and the who and the how is finally revealed in the kind of analeptic narrative sequence much-beloved of the genre in which we see what we have seen before, but Sherlock’s voiced-over narrative directs us to view events in a different light.

TV Sherlock 4

The shiftiness of the narrative doesn’t even end there: in the credits for The Great Game, James Moriarty is listed simply as ‘Jim’, recalling his brief stint as Jim from IT, but we know who he is by now so why not list him as Moriarty? And am I right in thinking that Mycroft Holmes is never listed at all? If so, this is a nice touch – a gesture towards verisimilitude – we’re not allowed to know who Mycroft really is because he occupies a position of some importance and it all has to be kept very, very secret. Nice. I like it. Trying to make us think that the fiction is a reality – good! It’s all gone a bit meta– now, and that’s the way I like my fiction. Yes, Series 1 and 2 are pitch-perfect.


But what the hell happened in Series 3? The show went from Best Telly Ever to slap-in-the-face let-down. What had been a winning formula was overturned in favour of a dumbed-down version, with the intention of selling the show to a bigger audience, perhaps, but at the risk of alienating the existing body of fans. My DVD arrived complete with a flyer trying to sell me Sherlock-related merchandise, and three episodes later I felt the characters had been turned into marketable versions of their former selves. This was not the same show. These were not the same characters. I can’t fault the performances – the hugely talented cast are all working with the script that’s put in front of them, after all – but the writing was just awful: it was disrespectful to the characters, to the relationships that had been established between them, and worst of all, to the faithful audience. The end of Series 2 was incredibly powerful: an hour and a half of emotional intensity, which left me with the most appalling headache. The crying certainly didn’t help. No one is going to outdo me on grief here – the sight of poor smashed Sherlock on the pavement with blood all over his lovely face, and John Watson desperately trying to reach his friend – well, I had my knuckles in my mouth to stop me from screaming. By the time it got to John Watson’s graveside eulogy for his lost friend (‘please stop this, please don’t be dead’), I was blowing snot bubbles in between racking sobs.

…And what do I get in the first episode of Series 3? Silly slapstick in restaurants. Sherlock pretending that he and John are about to be blown to smithereens and then laughing at the expression on John’s face. A show that had fallen in love with its own cleverness and was attempting to emulate the parodic self-referentiality that so many US shows do so well: much of the humour of Buffy, for example, lies in the show’s ability to poke fun at itself and parody various genres within its own framework. But that’s not going to work with Sherlock, I’m afraid. We don’t want jokey fun Sherlock. We liked the sociopath. We don’t want a Sherlock who seduces women (Janine) in order to gain access to their bosses – he’s not James Bond, he’s Sherlock. I loved the disregard for gender that featured so strongly in the first two series: John’s sister is gay, Irene Adler tells us she is gay but she still fancies Sherlock, Sherlock might be gay but is fascinated by Irene Adler, etc. – it’s all people being attracted to other people regardless of genitalia, and this set-up is infinitely preferable to the repulsive James Bond-type scenario.


As you may have guessed by now, in spite of my horror at the travesty that is Series 3, I am utterly and irredeemably Sherlocked. But I won’t be buying the T-shirt. Please, Gatiss and Moffat, please bring back Sociopath Sherlock, the one we really loved. Otherwise he truly is dead.