Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

An irreverent look at the first three episodes of the series which cover the first book in the series.

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A quick introduction to our protagonists

Cormoran Strike

His name alludes to the bird cormorant however it’s actually the name of a giant in Cornish folklore, especially Jack the Giant-Killer. Strike is a very blunt indication to the audience of his manner. Considering the sort of names detectives have there’s no pont mocking how on the nose it is…

Has social connections currency (rock star father, supportive sister)

but is still down on his luck (has debts due to loans)

but even then can afford to bribe working class people.

Has fighting and investigation experience (Afghanistan veteran. Former military police.)

Limitations: A fake leg hence he isn’t fit for the army nor the police but has the skills hence he became a private detectives and moral convictions so he’s not a drug smuggler capable of knowing how to avoid detection.

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Robin Venetia Ellacott

Young.

Office temp.

The first time she met Strike he nearly bumped into her sending her falling down the stairs but then he saved her by grabbing her by the breast. This is never made an issue of and you half wonder if they’ll mention it at some point down the road.

Offered a job by Strike but the teaser for episode two suggests she already has a job interview elsewhere. Commitment issues then…

Inquisitive/breaches confidentiality (looks up data on Strike in depth though somehow has never heard of him despite his father being well known).

Engaged to be married so not a romance option… yet.

Given an expensive dress as a gift at the end. Because that’s what employers do of course.

Limitations: Commitment issues. Ginger. Her middle name is Venetia. She is a sidekick named Robin helping a detective who wears a lot of dark clothing. Even Strike remarks on it in the novel. Wink, wink audience I’m not a lazy writer it’s all meta-narrative intertextuality. I didn’t even bother to change the spelling to something like Robyn.

Verdict: Robin is a self insert fantasy version of Rowling and the sort of man she would like to do the dirty with. Taming him like Kathy tried to tame Heathcliff except Robin is going to be successful.

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The Case of the Clandestine Cuckoo’s Call

Episode 1

An introduction to the by the book cliches so we need never cover character development ever again. Ever. Even after the next ten or so books that Rowling has announced she has planned for Cormoran and Robyn to trundle through with their gradually building, unresolved, sexual tension.

A model leaves a party and returns home and changes into more comfortable clothes. Next thing we know she falls to her death from her balcony and lies dead in the street as the snow continues to slowly fall.

Three months later and it’s been ruled a tragic suicide… but is it? BUT IS IT?!

No, obviously, otherwise the rest of this show would have a very original ending for a detective series where Strike admits actually the police got it right. And Robin would be jobless but that’s besides the point. You tuned in to see a murder be solved not see the trials and tribulations of an office temp.

We begin when Robin, a plucky young point of view character, enters the scene.

She arrives at the office where someone angrily walks out.

We meet the dishevelled detective. Cormoran Strike. He has problems. He has a past.

The office is in disarray.

He is bleeding after a fight with his disgruntled ex-fiancée, Charlotte Campbell, who is exiting the scene. Also she plays no other role in the show except to cause Strike to go out and get drunk at one point so he and Robin can bond. So forget her name. In fact forget the name of everyone but Strike and Robin as they’re all cardboard cut outs you’ve seen time and time again in other crime dramas. Even in adaptions of Sherlocke Holmes no one notices if you omit Lestrade and Mycroft. Same thing for these books so I won’t bother with names for the most part.

As he chases Charlotte he accidentally bumps Robin who nearly falls down the stairs to her death. Except he grabs her breast. Heroic. How many women’s lives have been lost because a man feared to grab a woman by her chest when no other part of the body was in reach? We will never know…

He offers her the temp job. Maybe because he needs the help. Maybe to avoid an accusation of sexual harrassment. We will never know…

He heads out to go drink alcohol. Also to do research in places of group meeting. i.e. the pub.

Robin looks through his papers and looks him up online. Because you look up your employer after accepting a job obviously – and at work so you don’t waste personal time.

A squirely man, generically named John, comes to meet Strike and says his older brother, Charlie (who didn’t bite his brother’s finger), played football with Strike when little. Strike doesn’t remember him though he remembers Charlie. Ooh isn’t he blunt? Isn’t he honest? Already someones knees are trembling!

An investigative police detective offers him the police’s findings when meeting in a cafe. No pretext why… which is no doubt illegal. But that’s how it goes down in the dark underbelly of… wherever the hell this is set in London. Near a posh bit though meaning his office isn’t just run down but actively depreciating the value of properties around him due to how it looks. Really into that shabby chic look. Even has a completely random pipework piece of art on the wall to give it a more grungy look.

He goes to the apartment of the victim and the doorman lets him in to look around and there’s even a well timed coincidental meeting with the neighbours and their driver. Don’t worry the driver is irrelevant after a single conversation.

Strike goes to meet someone but UH OH it’s the uncle, Tony, warning him off the case! The uncle refers to his nephew John. Stop the investigation he warns Strike. John’s so jittery they’ve had to get a shake plate to counteract it as he’s doing structural damage to the law firms offices. He’s doing it at such a frequency he’s phasing through the walls now.

Then Strike walks down a street where out of the blue a working class woman offers him a blow job for money. Because that’s exactly what all working class women do with their day when you are a multi-millionaire author living in a mansion even though you yourself were on benefits once and should know better than describe them like that. He refuses but when he can’t instantly be given the information he wants from a drop in drugs rehabilitation medical clinic he pays the woman to create a distraction so he can trespass into the office, photo documents and contact the suspect.

He meets the suspect, Rochelle Lulla’s homeless friend she met at the drug rehabilitation centre, in a cafe but she runs away. However she only runs around one or two corners so even with the fake leg he keeps up with some effort.

During all this his leg gives him trouble going up stairs, and generally, seems to be an ill fit for him which he should get replaced. But after this episode it never bothers him again… in fact for a guy with a prosthetic he is rather sprightly… almost as if they never told the actor to be conscious that the rle required it whenever they did a full body shot…

The episode ends with him finding the homeless friend in a council flat lying dead in an overflowing, and steaming, bathtub. He tries to do CPR having first wasted time shouting her name in an over dramatic manner. Will she survive? This is the end of an episode and she isn’t Robin so obviously it’s no.

Also this show has really outdone itself. ‘Black guy dies first’ was in effect but also that women get it worse so the first two people to die are both black women… At this rate the door man needs to watch his back.

Episode 2

The homeless friend is dead. Life goes on. Apparently Strike is an Oxford dropout because we can’t trust anyone but a Oxbridge candidate to be capable of solving mysteries. Of course he is because ‘just’ being a former member of the military police wasn’t enough. He has a normal, if somewhat neurotically normal, sister who offers him a bed, which he refuses, and becomes instantly chummy with Robin as if they just instantly click. Meanwhile Strike goes to interview the dead girl’s mother and Lula’s boyfriend who wears a wolf mask because… that’s how Rowling sees the fashion industry? The model there strikes up a conversation with Strike. She was a Cambridge candidate… because we can’t have anyone who isn’t in the top 5% of society with money be a character it seems even for minor figures. She knew his friend and his father – but she assures him she hasn’t slept with them. Oh, okay, thanks… I mean did he need to know about that. Can you guess what happens? A detective meets a beautiful woman… come on… you don’t even need three guesses… that’s right they have sex because he is just that irresistible. She even likes the artificial leg. Then leaves him sleep in at her apartment as she goes off for a morning shoot. Because every detective is a lion sleeping on the rock in the midday sun.

After returning to the officer Robin tells him she didn’t gossip with his sister as if she did him a favour. She also tells him, after his given her a job that she’s got an interview for a HR job elsewhere and has written it in the work diary. I mean she is a temp so okay of course she has to apply elsewhere but to write it in the work’s diary is psychotic as if she thinks that’s normal and not throwing her current employment in his face. Strike visits the downstairs neighbours of Lula. Of course the wife is using the in door swimming pool because hey what well off past middle age woman doesn’t get introduced doing this activity? Oh also she wants grime like Strike. Because he’s a walking sex machine no woman can resist. He’s John Shaft – can you dig it? The doorman also uses that pool apparently we learn later. Robin goes to her interview, gives an incredibly vague answer and on the same day is offered the job… because that’s how life happens for some people apparently? I mean yes if you’re an internal applicant since you’re in the building but she is a temp from an agency presumably unknown to the company she just applied to.

Lula’s boyfriend is already in Strike’s office though the door was, presumably, locked. It’s never mentioned why he came in here and waited save we are meant to always detest him and suspect he did it. His characterisation is done so heavy handedly he risks going into a pantomime routine at any moment. Every scene he is in he is needlessly antagonistic to the point the only way he could realistically be like that is if he was permanently in withdrawal and mentally ill. But it’s never explained so ‘he’s just a nasty piece of work’ is all we can surmise. Also that he’s such a red herring that him actually being involved in Lula’s murder would have been a double fake out reveal.

So Strike figures out the neighbour wife was stuck out on the balcony because her husband is an abuser. We never have any interaction with the husband so we just have to accept this version of events. Women are always victims and men always broken in some way. So then we cut to Strike and the police detective discussing Rochelle’s (the dead friend) death. In a cafe. In the middle of the day. Apparently that doesn’t break any sort of courtesy rule let alone law leading to his immediate firing and likely sentencing for what might amount to an effort to pervert the course of justice if he’s unlucky. Nope – the metropolitan police are the reference library service of crime and you don’t even have to file a freedom of information act request to get extensive details from them.

Sometimes it seems like Strike assumes things and it happens to be true. A better writer might go with that and prove sometimes, even with his extensive training, he can be wrong by doing things by instinct.

So Strike talks again to the overly helpful doorman. Apparently the doorman uses the indoor pool. They seem to make a bit of a big deal about the fact he was away from his station for 15 to 20 minutes while going to swim. Personally I think he would be there longer if he did more than 2 or 3 lengths. Also, and more realistically, there are times when he would be away from the desk when he goes to the toilet. There seems to be some confusion between what a doorman does and what a guard dog does. He isn’t chained to the entrance. So the doorman gives Strike the CCTV recording of the night when Lula was killed. I guess as a pay off for not revealing he abandoned his post but still this is all a bit too easy…

Vashti comes up as a place where Lula tried on clothes on the day of her death.

Leather gloves come into the equation as they were a gift from Guy Some to Lula but the boyfriend also had a pair (why he has a pair of these unreleased fashion items is only, at most, brushed over next episode as Guy gives people stuff).

Strike finds clues like it’s going out of style. Oh wait no. They’re just being handed to him on a silver platter.

At the office Robin answers the phone and Strike’s ex is on the other end. He speaks to his ex and she has already, in what must be the space of a week at most, found a new man and is going to marry him. Hypergamy? Fear of becoming an old maid? We never know. She was a plot device to make us sympathise with Strike.

He says he’s going out for a while so Robin can shut up shop by herself.

She, for no real reason, goes looking for him and finds him in the pub from before. He is of course steaming drunk. However, unrealistically, he’s also terribly PC telling Robin she’s a good person and other such platitudes. The closest he gets to trouble is calling another man ‘beardy’ though of course he has something more than a 5 o’clock shadow himself.

So she takes him back ‘home’ to the office with a carton of chips.

He watches the CCTV on his laptop and announces ‘Got you’… because ‘oi beardy’ and wondering if he was about to get his clock cleaned would have been too funny a cliffhanger.

Oh and at some point he had taken his leg off and instead of putting it back on urinated in an empty cup and, when Robin offers the next morning to clear it away unaware what it contains, he quickly refuses and throws it out the window. If someone doesn’t find a clip of someone getting water thrown on their head out of the blue and made an edited together YouTube video of it then this is wasted potential. Also the uncle is having a fling with the abused downstairs neighbour wife (so maybe they get a happy end after the series though nothing is mentioned in the third episode).

Episode 3

We start immediately in a flashback of Sergeant Strike’s army days as part of a convoy of vehicles. A truck is blocking the path and he notices a guy use a mobile to phone someone. As the convoy is about to pass Strike calls out ‘wait!’ There’s an explosion. Next thing a boy, who was stood with the phone man at the side of the road, points an automatic handgun at Strike, looks at his missing leg and smiles before winking and walking away. The camera pans out and we see Strike lying on the ground with his leg missing surrounded by the corpses of his comrades.

He vomits upon waking. We cut to Robin, pristine walking down the road and arriving at Vashti’s to try on clothes and lure the shop assistant into gossiping about Lula’s last day alive when she visited there. Robin says Strike is her brother and when he turns up and gives his usual gruff offhanded assessment, after giving a a look up and down before revealing himself, that her dress is ‘nice’ and nothing more the shop assistant comments that her brother is like that too. With a little better execution this would have been an amusing scene but it loss a bit of potential in adaption.

Strike is still a bit hung over. Robin tells him what she learned about an abscent shop assistant having tapes a conversation with Lula where she divulges about being excited about meeting someone.

So it’s time to tick off another lead and they visit Guy Some at his studios which are filled with models and such. At reception Strike, unbelievably, pretends to be on the phone and walks by trying to blag his way in. Maybe it was meant as comedy or seriously – it’s hard to tell with this series. To be honest it should have been written a bit more as a comedy as it is so cliché. If it had been this series would be much better.

Guy stops them and calls them out on what they’re doing but allows them in. They go sit in his office and apparently his real name is Kevin. Again I’m not sure if this is meant to be funny or not. In fact he’s a little racist towards white people but nothing much seems to get made of it nor is it really commented on. Apparently that’s preferable to his story about how his father beat him when he wore a dress when little. They see the unreleased gloves and other bits which were given to Lula as a present. I think at this point Guy says he gave them to the boyfriend to so he’s off the hook finally.

So onto the next scene. They return to Lula’s apartment as if it’s got a revolving door. Strike bought flowers for no real reason besides a pointless face hiding moment. Why even return there really except to notice changes with are inevitable since it’s being cleared for the next tenant. They find a library card so Robin will go to the library tomorrow and do some research. Sure… I mean that was in your job description wasn’t it? He gives the flowers to Robin and this leads to her in the next scene having a minor conflict with her fiancé. He is talking of the future but she doesn’t know what she wants.

Meanwhile Strike is down the pub drinking and smoking.

The next day he goes to visit Lula’s adoptive mother. She insists on watching old movies which have a password on them for no good reason. The password is Leopard_1942. She says that’s the year she was born. Because you need to know she is old… no not just ‘of a more advanced age than myself’ no I mean the message is she is OLD O L D – the sort of old that children refer to when they speak about anyone who isn’t a child. Lula’s adoptive white mother is super old. So old. Practically dust already. Except… you know… there are still people that age alive and well so making such a grandstand of it is a bit convoluted but they treat her like she is over a hundred years old the way she behaves. The excuse of course being she is being heavily drugged medicinally so she is a bit out of it though it’s never specified in the adaption what the issue is save being terminally ‘old’. Strike bought some macaroons along to sweeten her up. She’s on a sort of drip feed medicine or dialysis machine so I don’t that’s wise.

So the nervous brother, John, appears. He tells Strike that Lula had been trying to find her birth father. I think it’s mentioned her birth mother was already dead.

Meanwhile Robin goes to the library and uses Lula’s card to see what books she checked out. Maybe things have changed since I last used mine but I’m pretty sure what she does using a computer there to see what ‘she’ last looked at doesn’t exist in real life. At the very least having access to digital copies of research papers… and if they were digital why would they need to be checked out when multiple electronic copies can be looked at simultaneously?

Strike returns to Vashti the next day and finds the other shop assitant there. He tells her recording conversations is illegal and demands a copy of it. So that’s some blackmailing going on there then…

Next Strike and Robin are sat where else but the pub.

Lula’s birth father was a Ghanaian academic but has died since. She shows Strike a photo of Lula’s birth father and birth brother. Strike recognises the belt of the brother’s military uniform instantly. He deduces she must have been going to meet her birth brother not their father. Well yes with the father being dead that would be the obvious answer unless this takes a turn for the occult.

Coincidentally the birth brother, Jonah, is still in the country and meets Strike at the embassy or military base. Her birth brother blames himself for her death as he couldn’t bring himself to meet her. Their father didn’t even know he had a daughter. He resented she was so well off while their birth mother suffered as Lula refused to aid her find her two missing sons before she died as she always sold her story to the press as she was so poor. Apparently Lula had informed him she was leaving everything she had to him and had wanted to piss off her adoptive uncle.

Later Strike encounters the uncle who immediately says he will have to add stalking to his charges against Strike for harassment. Strike says he paid the concierge to have an alibi though the uncle insists, from the very start, he had Lula’s best interests at heart.

Strike goes to a pool hall and enlists the aid of a down on his luck ex-soldier turned full time crook. He asks him to get someone to steal a particular sat-nav but not the car it’s in.

Robin turns the HR job offer down as she wants to be part of Strike’s line of work instead. She then goes home and has an argument with her fiancé. Out of the blue he makes a comment to the effect she will go sleep with Strike. He claims it’s a joke but there seems to be some previous event we, as the audience, are never told about which might tarnish our opinion of Robin. It’s a heavy handed scene to make us dislike him though we know so little about him. See ths guy? ‘I think he’s a wanker and you need to agree’ style writing.

Strike talks to the detective on the case and surmises that the killer will kill again if he needs to. Playa gonna play, killa gonna kill. At this point I do wonder if any women were ever under consideration apart from Rochelle. It’s a bit awkward the one working class character in the series to have relevance to the case was a former drug addict portrayed negatively (alongside miss ‘wanna blowjob’) while figures like Evan Duffield, Lula’s on and off boyfriend and depicted as nasty despite the drug use. The lower orders are animals who cannot control themselves apparently.

Back at the Creswel house the mother is drugged up and can”t remember anything about whether her son was there or not on the night. She then out of the blue comments on how her husbands friends were ‘queer’ and had good taste choosing John…

… um wait. Are we being told John a.k.a. Nervous brother was sexually abused by friends of the family? Or is she just severely homophobic (so we are back to the ‘so old…. she’s like a dinosaur’ image the show is portraying)? It’s a very out of place sudden moment.

Strike says he needs to use the toilet but really he’s going to go snooping around the house. There is usually a nurse present in the house so you would assume she was around but… I guess she was ‘using the indoor pool’ so she is out of the way without explanation.

The uncle arrives knowing Strike is there. How? Who knows but the pressure is on. Strike is in Lula’s old room, which he recognised by the red mittens her adoptive mother mentioned a few times, except actually it’s John’s room. He cracks the safe just in time to pretend to come out of the toilet and announce to the stunned uncle that he should give it a few minutes. Apparently the house had a few toilets which while possible would have been checked in minutes by someone determined to do so like the uncle just now.

Nonetheless Strike escapes with the documents. Next stop is the pool hall to pay off his criminal contact who laments that his ‘boy’ was very sad to have to leave the car where it was. Also he’s given a broken bike bell the robber also took for no real reason except I guess it was shiny and adds to a plot that never really gets developed during this adaption.

Back at the office Robin tells Strike she didn’t accept the HR job. He informs her that he probably won’t be able to keep her on once this job is done. She finishes for the day and… goes down the pub to cry and drown her sorrows. That must be one hell of a pub seat as it’s always the exact same pub and table they sit at.

Strike reviews the evidence. He has what is best described as a ‘recently on _____’ like episode recap of all the moments of the show so far in hopes the audience will instantly piece it all together. It’s trying to do the BBC Sherlock thing but on the cheap. It’s a bit embarrassing. Apparently when he said he ‘had you’ at the end of last episode he meant ‘I’ve a clue to follow’ rather than he identified the culprit.

John, with a bottle of wine, arrives to congratulate him on finding Jonah, the blood brother, to be punished for Lula’s death. Remember John, the adoptive brother, hired Strike to prove her death wasn’t a suicide, as the police concluded, but a murder.

But here is the denouement! He reveals the killer! He worked it out using the evidence suddenly… and because it’s coming to the end and someone has to be the culprit!

It was…

It was…

John! The guy who hired him!

Dun dun durr…

Strike had lured him out of the house via Robin setting up a false meeting and went and got the will. (Which I’m sure is illegal).

Strike tells him the following:

Tony, the uncle not the tiger, knew he killed her but couldn’t admit it to himself. How does Strike know this? It’s never really explained…

He lays out how Jon had the opportunity what with his mother being too drugged to know if he was home or not (oh also he lives at home with his mother – what a loser! I mean even if she is terminally ill let’s judge all people in a similar situation as weirdos right? Right? Because that’s what comfortably well off writer’s seem to be doing right now and ignoring the current housing economy and outdated things like family love), got the gloves at the flat to cover his finger prints (which is sheer coincidence) and framed Jonah for the murder (again how did he know Jonah was going to turn up? Another coincidence!) allowing him to remain appearing innocent. EXCEPT IT WAS PRESSUMED A SUICIDE SO HE WAS IN THE CLEAR IF HE HADN’T RANDOMLY DECIDED TO GET STRIKE INVOLVED. I have to assume he couldn’t find the will… but he had it already! There must be some other convoluted reason which the adaption glosses over.

He also knows he killed Charlie, john’s brother and Strike’s best friend when they were little, because he has the broken bell John kept in his car and the day Charlie died was the code to the safe in his room. The latter would be a memorable date and as for the bell it could have been recovered from the quarry Charlie fell into and John kept it in memory of his brother but… no it’s easier to suggest her took it from the crime scene when little as if to say he’s been a killer all his life. Some people are just born evil apparently and not because of circumstances moulding them COUGH-Voldemort and Snape-COUGH

The stolen will proves John is guilty. Maybe it wasn’t Lula’s old room but John’s so why did he have the mittens? A trophy? Maybe he wanted to be Lula. Maybe he’s gay. Maybe he’s a repressed transexual. Maybe he’s bisexual. Maybe it’s Maybelline. The show throws out the hints but never confirms it just like Rowling’s other works. Dumbledore was gay – the evidence was there in the series you just never put two and two together but Rowling can’t connect the dots for you otherwise she misses out on that lucrative super-conservative market of readers. And if you don’t notice it you’re a homophobe!

It’s obvious that John loved his adopted brother but when Strike took his attention away John couldn’t deal with it and committed an act of passion! And then Lula was with her drugged up boyfriend he knew he could be better for her but she rejected him and it was another crime of passion!

… and that’s what happens when you over read into things boys and girls.

Anyway so the will proves he killed everyone. Lula, Charlie – even Rochelle who ‘knew too much’ and phoned him to tell him about Strike and ended up paying with her life for it as she was deemed unreliable too (if John had a major issue with drug use, whether due to daily seeing what it did to his mother or otherwise, in the books it clumsily included here).

Strike declares that money was a secondary motive to John. The primary one was envy. Why? Because John kept Charlie’s bicycle bell. John’s mother liked to categorise her children: the smart one, the pretty one, the funny one – but John was always second in his mother’s eyes. (So add implied Oedipus complex too while we are giving him every issue under the sun to demonise him as bluntly as possible).

The leather gloves were the fatal mistake. They are porous. Criminals sweat and so John sweated over everything despite thinking he avoided leaving evidence. How Strike knows this and that John didn’t wipe every surface as well as wear the gloves is beyond me though it makes logical sense. It comes across more as a bluff than astute knowledge unfortunately. I mean skin flakes and hairs would also be left behind inevitably to be picked up by a thorough investigation. At least this has up to date, if glossed over, modern forensics being mentioned.

Strike says criminals sweat – and John is sweating.

So do people who exercise… Getting thin to manipulate people. Building muscle to strong arm people. It’s all there. People who sweat are all criminals. And if you don’t exercise but are sat in a very warm room the police are already onto you too. In Summer everyones a crook.

So that is the ‘playground taunt’ necessary to start the inevitable attempted murder fight. John breaks the bottle over Strike’s head. Then they tussle. Then the bottle is broken and being lowered onto Strike’s neck as he resists. They throw each other about a bit and break the frosted glass of the the door.

Then Robin appears and hits John with a fire extinguisher through the broken window. However, now having the advantage, Strike begins to repeatedly punch the unconscious John repeatedly in the face until Robin tells him to stop. There are no consequences to Strike’s assault. Act of passion and all that.

Time passes.

Time passes.

So John’s mother is also dead now. Thus all the Cresswell family members are dead save the uncle. He maybe be an adulterer but it’s with a woman in an abusive marriage which makes it okay (apparently). He says he will honour Lula’s will. He says he didn’t know what happened with Charlie and wanted to protect the family. (I have no idea why Lula didn’t like him actually though that seemed to play a part throughout it all with everyone assuming there was animosity between them). Also he will pay Strike what John owed him. Which wouldn’t happen in a noir story – the detective would just be thankful he got out alive.

At Strike’s office Robin answers the phone which won’t stop ringing constantly. Hey guess what Strike bought her ‘a bonus’. It’s the green dress she tried on at Vashti’s. She reminds him she knows how much it costs. He assures her it’s fine as they’ve plenty of work so he can afford to give her a permanent job as he was able to pay off all his debts.

For the final shot he walks out side, lights a cigarette and walks down the road in slow motion.

The End.

Fun fact: I looked up things and the downstairs neighbour’s wife is the sister of the partner in the uncle’s law firm. So everyone is connected however if it was mentioned in the show it is a very blink and you miss it moment. Hence why they were having an affair. Also Guy Some called Lula cuckoo so that’s where the title comes from. She didn’t call anyone though at the time of her death so… yeah. ‘It’s just a cool sounding title’… There are a lot of small elements you would have to be intensely focused on listening and absorbing in a short period of time but the overall tone and pacing of the show suggests it’s more easy going that it is. In fact there is a lot the adaption glossed over to the point a few minor characters got cut.


The collections of scenes from the episodes were compiled by Katerina Varela so please go visit her YouTube page and show her some support.

I quite enjoyed the story, cliche filled as it was, but it did have a lot of conveniences and I’m guessing a lot has been lost in the adaption from book to screen including seemingly minor, but essential, pieces which connected the various dots of the narrative.

Well I hope that was enjoyable. I will try to do it for the rest of the series too. Next is The Silkworm so that will be up in a fortnight unless they mess around with the scheduling again as they did by having episodes one and two on consecutive nights then left about a week until showing episode three which concluded this case.

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The Living And The Dead Episode 3

BBC Episode 3 Description: “The farm and its future are under threat. Can Nathan and Charlotte save their crops and expose the dark secrets of a disturbed young man before he does any more damage?”



Credits
Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Peter Hare: Robert Emms
Maud Hare: Elizabeth Berrington
Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
Agnes Thatcher : Pooky Quesnel
Clarity Winlove:Katy Michael
Jack Langtree: Joel Gilman
Bathsheba Thatcher: Amber Fernee
Simon Merrifield: Ben Fox
Lizzie Merrifield: Sarah Counsell
John Roebuck: Steve Oram
Martha Enderby: Fiona O’Shaughnessy
Writer: Simon Tyrell
Producer: Eliza Mellor
Director: Alice Troughton


Victim(s) of the Episode: Peter Hare, due to persecution, and by extension his mother Maud. Clarity Winlove in the past due to similar persecution.



Synopsis

Nathan’s walking through the hay fields. The boys from last episode fade into the field, the modern-day red coat woman is flashed on-screen. Charlotte catches up to him and talks of the harvest. Banter. Backlit by the sunrise and kissing. Trailer shot accomplished.

Peter Hare dreams of being told he must make the sacrifice before waking. The voice tells him to ‘do it’ as he looms over his mother, Maud Hare, who awakes.

The workers are stood in a row awaiting Charlotte’s tasting of a single a grain and if she will declare if they’re to start the harvest today. She says tomorrow so the foreman, Gideon, tells them to all go. So she has gone from an urban house wife to knowing the intricacies of harvesting techniques which would take others a lifetime to develop? By this point she is a mary sue or as its more commonly called the protagonist of a romance novel. Or a pale shadow of Bathsheba Everdene. Your choice.

Charlie’s mother has packed up and is leaving after his death. Her three daughters sit silently on the cart. She says that he, the smart doctor, obviously knows their minds better than they do after he says it would be better for them if they stayed. She leaves in tears and the littlest girl has her doll wave and says ‘bye bye’. At least they are not ignoring that character’s have their own will but I feel there was more of a story that could have been told with them only for them to be gone now they’ve served their purpose.

The disturbed young man Peter goes for a swim. He sees a corpse and so goes and tells Nathan the ord of the manor authority figure. Nathan then himself goes for a swim to investigate. He doesn’t see the ghost/delusion. Peter, in front of Nathan, tells the voices in his head to shut up. Nathan notes maybe he needs help. Peter excuses himself and leaves as Nathan looks, bare-chested, into the distance. For the ladies. We get it – you’re marketing this towards a female audience you don’t need to be so heavy-handed about it.

Later all the fish in the lake/pond are dead so Nathan and Charlotte go back inside. She has her photo equipment and they talk of the mill’s history. Then he gets all soppy over a dandelion seed floating on his hand. Then as she sets her equipment up they make out.

The workers are down the pub complaining they’ll not be paid until next week and don’t like it. The reverend Denning sticks up for the Applebys toasting ‘the new and the old’. GET IT NEW AND OLD/LIVING AND DEAD/GABRIEL AND (SPOILER). Nathan visits the Peter’s mother Maude. Maude says the school master said he could go to university on a bursary but she thought it ‘better he learn a trade’. Nathan reckons Peter poisoned the mill pond. Nice leaping to conclusions with no evidence there Mr Protagonist. Then makes comments that he’s sure his, and his wife’s minds are fine… Peter says he’s glad it’s only dead fish and not dead people Nathan sees. FORESHADOWING. Charlotte develops her photos as Nathan bursts into her room. She sees a woman in her photograph but blames the bromide process having inadequacies.

They’re unlikable protagonists really as they seem so apathetic. They boss people around and stick their nose into things that are not their concern. But whatever – they own the land and by extension the people who work it in accord with feudalism traditions it seems. Are they landowners then to the level people pay rent and taxes to them?

Peter is told by the voices in his head to sacrifice his mother’s blood or else the harvest will fail. Very old school pagan view there. Wonder if they’ll indicate where he got these beliefs from as either way he had to have learnt it from somewhere as it is quite an old testament kind of idea.

Nathan is in his study at night and sees bugs on his copy book thus foreshadowing the next day’s events.

Next morning and Peter crosses paths with the Gideon, the foreman, who is suspicious of what he is doing up at that time of day.

Nathan has been up all night and written nothing. Black devil insects destroyed the harvest just as they did back in ’62. Foreman Gideon says Peter cursed the harvest. Again blaming him without proof. Wife declares they have an infestation and it’s not a curse nor are they devils. I’m quite sure the workers didn’t literally think they were devils. (Again it makes me less sympathetic to the character before the big conflict later in the series… ) So she says they’ll harvest the insects one by one then harvest the wheat. No magical answers here, just hard graft.

Peter says he hears voices. The woman under the water. What she told him about the sacrifice. Nathan says he doesn’t have to do that but doesn’t stop him either when he runs off and gets a sickle!?

Charlotte reads her farming books, instead of consult with at least Gideon about what to do, to see if there isn’t an answer and gets frustrated.

Nathan asks boy’s mother and she doesn’t remember it as she’s too young. She refutes it when Nathan said her son will become aggressive. He tells her to lock her bedroom door. He knows what will happen but lets her walk off!?

Charlotte creates a wonder solution ‘with science’! She is going to set some flammable incense off and needlessly tells the workers to ‘beware the crops catching fire’. You mean the workers who are not setting something on fire in the middle of the field and have been toiling away? She tells the workers to plant the others. I get the impression this stuff is actually similar to DDT and more hazardous than just accepting the crop failed.

Peter meets that actor Jack Langtree who reminds me of that actor who always plays west country rural workers. Clearly Peter has been like this before. The foreman Gideon, who it also passes is Jack’s uncle, says ‘the mistress has broken the spell so lets not have anymore of this okay’ to Peter still apparently believing he had a hand in the failed crops. Then Jack doused Peter in water ‘like a drowned rat’. So Peter is persecuted then by the others still.

The harvest is finished and Nathan asks Peter how he is then talks of insects ‘crawling into our minds’. Nice. Subtle. Not likely to spark him off whatsoever. Psychology 101 qualification don’t forget. Invites Peter to the Appleby house and hows him a photo of his mother as a child and Peter notices the lake woman in the photo. She was a healer who disappeared in the village. Charlotte asks if he is concerned about Peter but Nathan says ‘you can never be sure of what people are capable of’. Nice bit of prejudice there then, Peter is a worker with capabilities above his station being born intelligent and needs to be put back in his place and made to conform via persecution. No wonder he is so screwed up from living in this community. The writers might have had a point but by allowing Nathan to make such comments it makes him complicit and a far less sympathetic figure. (Again in the lead up to the part of the series where we are expected to be sympathetic to him).

Then at night Nathan sees the ghost woman as Charlotte lying next to him awakes and realises the harvest will be ruined by the sudden storm. He seems rattled by his experience just now. People toil in the field under the heavy rainfall. There’s some ominous Enya style music. ‘the devil wants to drown us all’. Peter has the voice tell him to do the sacrifice so they don’t blame him for the rain. His mother, Maude, had locked her door heeding Nathan’s advice from earlier. They discuss Clarity Winlove a.k.a. the drowned ghost woman. Maude denies knowing her. She adds terrified that though he might not love her she loves him. Peter calls her a liar and walks away.

Charlotte tells everyone to go home to rest and pray for better weather. Bossy boots Bathesheba wannabe. Jack and Gideon talk. Jack wants to end it ‘the old way’ but the Gideon is unsure. IS IT A DROWNING? IT’S A DROWNING ISN’T IT?

Nathan considers the events just a case of bad luck. They saved a quarter of the harvest. Nathan says maybe he brought the curse with him. Maybe its her Charlotte adds. YES LETS HAVE A PITY PARTY THAT’LL MAKE US GOOD PROTAGONISTS. She lists how she wasn’t born there, brought the machine and judged the reaping wrong. He says its lunatic talk, monomaniacal, the devil. The misfortunes nothing to do with her, there is no curse. She goes to change her wet cloths. He stares at the photo of Peter’s mother as a child and the healer woman.

He asks, the following day, if Maude knows Clarity Winlove. She denies it but then says Clarity went to America to see a distant cousin. Apparently that’s the ‘official’ story. Jack came looking for Peter and Nathan realises that Jack is going to attack Peter.

Jack find Peter in the old mill. He thinks that’s where Peter does his spells and such. Peter tries to run but he captures him easily.

Peter’s mother bangs on the Applebys’ door saying its her fault not her sons.

Jack ties Peter up to drown him as the ghost tells Peter that’s what was done to her. ‘You’ll reap what you sow’ and claims Peter is a witch as he floats in the pond so weighs him down before running off. Peter’s mother finds him face down. Nathan and his wife arrive and try to pump his lungs which works. His mother immediately goes to cut her wrist as payment for what she did years ago. She drowned Clarity due to the poor harvest just as Jack was going to drown Peter. She saw a potion Clarity had given her mother to put in her father’s meal to aid fertility. She knew what Clarity was but claimed she was a witch and had the others tie her in chains and drown her. Again she goes to cut herself but Peter runs up and tells her she must forgive herself.

Nathan looks pensively at the ghost of Clarity, stood in the doorway of the mill, as the others leave for home. He calls out to her to show herself saying she sat by his wife and touched her womb. ‘Was it a blessing or was it a curse?’ he demands before leaving and going to the pub to confront Jack.

Jack Langtree thought Peter was dead but Nathan assures him he isn’t otherwise he would hang Jack for murder. Jack says there’s something wrong here as he was trying to rid them, the community, of evil. Nathan tells him to go and never return to his land as he is banished. Jack defiantly claims he was going anyway and that the place is damned, calling on the others to deny it, ever since Nathan returned.

Charlotte urinated on some flowers to see if she is pregnant. Gwen says she think she is. Charlotte doesn’t want Nathan to know until she is sure.

The workers are gathered in the field as the last of the grain is gathered and Charlotte recites a rhyme before everyone celebrates in the night. Reverend Denning says it has been a strange summer. Foreman Gideon apologises to Peter for what his nephew Jack did. Nathan intrudes on the conversation and asks what Peter thinks. ‘water under the bridge’ and Nathan tells Gideon to get himself a drink.

Then Nathan and his wife dance as everyone around them sings. Nathan says he feels so alive. SO SO ALIVE. NOTHING WRONG CAN HAPPEN NOW.

Then of course we need a cliffhanger mysterious stinger to keep you watching the rest of the series at this halfway point. Cut to a wet child holding a toy wooden yacht watching them. This won’t be covered in the next episode so it’s a random tease of Gabriel who was stated to have drowned in the lake.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03z7h8b/player


Review

There is a theme of anti-intellectualism by the common folk in today’s episode. Poor, poor, landowners being put upon by their indentured serf workforce. It is a good episode in that capacity but the series long arc regarding the Applebys takes away time from developing what would have been a far more evocative narrative.

Wait Peter didn’t die? But he isn’t seen anywhere in the rest of the series and [spoilers which you would expect his reaction to]. What happened to him? I don’t think it is explained and I spent the rest of the series under the impression he was dead.

The ending part reminds me of ‘How Green Was My Valley’ as it seems the leads have no concept what they perceive is a very rose-tinted view of the community. The workers are not celebrating their own work, not they are celebrating their masters the Applebys.

There is nothing very supernatural here really as they present Peter as delusional throughout never as someone being haunted. It also becomes jarring as we are never shown Peter seeking isolation or other things which would imply secretive behaviour. He is a misfit but otherwise seems to keep in line until the events of this episode which amount to Gideon seeing him out early one day. PErhaps the creators thought what was presented was enough but I feel an extra scene with him talking to himself in front of other village folk, not just Nathan which might have been a one-off event, would make us understand the persecution more. Presenting irrational persecution as purely irrational, giving no reason for people to single Peter out until now, doesn’t make sense in and of itself.

As a counter point we are presented with Gwen’s hedge witch behaviour (which is how she defines herself later in the series).I have to wonder if the village folk know of it or if it is kept secret (aside from Nathan and Charlotte knowing of it). If they killed Clarity for her abilities wouldn’t they also want to kill Gwen? Admittedly maybe Clarity’s ability was miraculous while Gwen’s are herbal, thus traditional and ‘good’ in the minds of the village folk, but still there seems to be double standards. We never really learn much about Gwen during the series either – she just appears in one scene after the Appleby’s arrival and she is already Charlotte’s righthand woman. Do they protect her from persecution? It makes no really sense in the narrative as everything else seems fair game for challenging by the Applebys’ modern perspective in criticising their workforce.


 

Like, Follow or Comment – Give it a go.

Has anyone been watching this? It seems to not know which audience it wants to aim for and thus tries to be something to everyone but ends up nothing to anyone.

A delay on uploading as I was busy. The BBC apparently have stopped uploading preview clips to YouTube and their embed function on their own series page just gives the link not an embedded video. They also stopped doing episode specific galleries (correction they are just delayed by a fortnight or so which is fine as the images will be up prior to an international audience seeing the series but for Brits its a disservice). They must already have given up on promoting the series seriously for the British audience a third of the way into it’s run which is a shame as someone probably took promotion photos and everything and now won’t see the fruits of their labour… or maybe there will be a tie-in book with all of it in. Probably not but it used to be a given the BBC would do that with many series. I like the production design I just feel it’s scripts are not focused on depicting things effectively.

The Living And The Dead Episode 2

BBC episode 2 description: “When a little boy is disturbed by terrifying visions Nathan must do everything he can to protect him. But Nathan has been having visions of his own.”

Credits:
Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
Charlie Thatcher: Isaac Andrews
Ebenezer Alsop: Michael Byrne
Smith: Harry Peacock
Agnes Thatcher: Pooky Quesnel
Harriet Denning: Tallulah Haddon
Simon Merrifield: Ben Fox
Bathsheba Thatcher: Amber Fernee
Mr Woolford: Rupert Procter
Jack Langtree: Joel Gilman
Mary Denning: Marianne Oldham
Producer: Eliza Mellor
Director: Alice Troughton
Writer: Ashley Pharoah


Victims of the Episode:
Charlie and by extension his mother in 1894 with a penitent Ebenezer. The ghost boys who died in the unsafe mining conditions back in the days of Nathan’s grandfather.



Synopsis:

I end up going into West Country mode again during this account of events…

Charlotte notes she hasn’t conceived yet but wants Nathan’s baby. More sitting in fields admiring the scenery and the workers complaining about changes like the surveyors blowing massive holes in nearby fields to see if an aqueduct can be put through the area. A boy named Charlie sees ghosts so he talks to him.

Then later a modern-day ghost car rushes towards him on a lane after the boy has disappeared. FORESHADOWING (In a very heavy-handed way). So everyone goes searching for him. After some spooky music he finds Charlie and brings him home. the boy swears calling them all Bastards and liars. His mother says he ain’t like that he ain’t. So they go and talk about him in the corridor. He was worried bout the changes he is she insists. Next day Charlotte has more ideas how to progress the farm – husband he does and goes tells her be the new farm manager she should. I reckon she likes the idea. Be a right Bathsheba she will. Then there’s bloke wandering in the field and back to the boy in his bed. Has the boy show him, with use of tin soldiers, how the ghost boys did circle him.

There’s gathering of workers as Charlotte, with Gwen in tow, does tell thems she is the new farm manager so she is. Maid/valet/henchwoman Gwen does back her up when there is silence gainst her. Charlotte does admit she got lot to learn. Will be ‘first there in morning and last to leave’ if and she does say so herself. Silence. Says theres a lot of preparation for the harvest needs doing and does walk away laving them to it. As they walk away Gwen says that went well.

Workers aint best pleased. ‘Off to hell in a handcart’ one does say.

Nathan does interview boy’s mother. Says can’t be no secrets if he’s to be helping. They goes to her house and reveal Charlie’s real mother did ‘fall into low company’. Brings out a lock of the woman’s hair that she done kept locked in a safe. Took boy in as her own and got letter from the real mother explain all if n when he wants it. Nathan says she done fine job and will know when time is right to tell him. Aye is foreshadowing boy will find out very soon.
A scream and Charlie boy is stood in the field covered in red clay what does looks like blood. The old guy from before is stood on a tree and wandering the field where he do find workers eating their lunch. One of the workers finds entrance to something. Nathan is teaching boy how to shoot a rifle. Admits he thought he would be teaching his own son. Charlie says he liked Gabriel and they used to play together. They has bonding but boy points the gun at him. Nathan tells him put it down. Charlie fires the gun as he has seen Gabriel stood by the lake where he did drown. Then he runs away. Old guy recites names and walks to the house. Ominous I dare say n all.

Down the pub reverend Denning reckons the boy is playing up pretending about seeing Gabriel. Nathan reckons Gabriel is trying to be in touch as Denning’s daughter Harriet drew a drawing like one his son did on the wall in the last episode and all that. Workers be chatting doing traditional stuff. The old guy comes at Charlotte with a scythe swinging it at her. Cut back to Nathan and Denning as a worker runs in to get him.

Next thing we be back with the boy Charlie and his mother. asks if she’s his mother. She finds it odd as he was told he don’t belong to the village and all. She tells him it’s where he belongs.

Nathan’s wife Charlotte is fine. Said the old man is confused but Nathan is enraged and wants to be giving the man a talking to so he does. The old man is cryptic and all talking of voices drawing him back because of the Appleby mine where he done work as a wee lad. Weren’t good place to be working. Turns out the dead boys be his workmates what died in them mines as boys back then and been haunting it ever since.

Meanwhile the ghosts call on Charlie as he lies in bed. He ain’t liking it.

Old man was the trapper and the boys were cart pushers. he was tasked with opening and closing the doors to let them through.

Charlie gets up and sees the tin soldiers. Five in a row. His mother’s asleep. His three sisters are sleeping in another room. They serve no purpose to the plot except to indicate how overburdened the mother is who took him in as well. A saint she is. Sees after a bit of night-time snooping the letter meant for him from his real mother. DRAMA BOMB!

Old man were an orphan. Left mine without permission and the mine collapsed. As the trapper he was meant to sound the alarm but he wasnt there to do it. Went to overseer, old man Appleby, who is Nathans grandfather. Calls on him for help. hears the boys screams for days til he don’t no more. ‘Only workhouse boys’, he reflects sadly. Orphans so what does it matter to other folk? But now he hears them again.

Next day Denning is going with Nathan down into the mine opening to find Charlie who has wandered off down into them. Land worker comments on the land swallowing them up. Charlotte orders people about to get supplies. She is leading her people like a natural leader – i.e. shouts at people to do things and does nothing herself.

Later, to the maid Gwen, Charlotte says Nathan was dashing young man dedicated to his work but when he stopped he was a sad bloke. When they first met and she vowed to love the sadness out of him. Wants children with him. Bring him that joy again. Maid says she’s sure she will. (So Charlotte is his second wife? This is a thread left open for the possibility of a second season so don’t expect any answers about this).

Down in the mine, which is very spacious considering they laboured the point it’s barely enough for a child to work in, Denning needs to stop a moment. They find stuff and Nathan vows to keep asking questions. This is meant to be heroic but its a bit too ‘made for the trailers’ in its bluntness.

The old man wanders the heathlands some more. Nathan finds the corpses of the boys huddled together. OH THE HUMANITY. The old man collapses above ground unable to breathe. Reverend Denning says some prayers over the mummified corpses of the boys as Nathan ventures onwards. He finds Charlie almost immediately. However the ground is settling overhead and a worker suggests they evacuate. Charlotte defiantly takes exception saying she will judge if its something to worry about or not! No basic scientifically recordable events like gravity, soil density and other factors will. The entrance, under the immense weight of third act drama pressure, collapses. Nathan and Denning hear a croaky voice further in the mines so go to investigate it. Oh wait no they got out alive as this was the entrance. Denning first and then after a dramatic pause Nathan carrying Charlie who is unconscious. So that was a bit pointless. The mother begins to cry in the distance so Charlie, we assume, is dead? The old man says Charlie’s name so I guess he is also suddenly dead. The ghosts apparently claimed them out of the blue with no lead up. That’s lazy writing. DIABLO EX MACHINA!DRAMA CONVENIENCE!

Then Nathan gives a morbid account of seeing his son, Gabriel, die in the lake. Feels he has failed Charlie too now. It’s all about him obviously not the bereaved family or clearing up and burying the old man. He didn’t want to believe there were ghosts (which considering the previous episode’s events makes it a bit suspicious and he’s denying it out of spite when he has already seen evidence). Wife reassures him ‘there are no ghosts there’s just you and me and [that he, Nathan] is alive. They embrace a moment before making out and starting the baby making process. If you saw Poldark its a bit like that. All sensual and such. All this while some reflective sad music plays and we see the dead boys walking arm in arm into the field fading away into history.


Review:
A decent episode with a few good moments and the cinematography is, as through the rest of the series, very strong. As it is the second one I am still giving them a chance but it feels uneven when trying to integrate the Applebys’ story arc with the otherwise episodic nature of the series. It has the most interesting side family of the series as we never learn anything about Charlie’s step sisters so there seems a lot more that could be done with this family but they are put on a cart at the start of the next episode fleeing the cursed community. On that point we are never really made to identify with the old man. His name is Ebenezer (get it? Like in A Christmas Carol – He’s an old man) but good luck knowing that from just watching the episode and not looking it up. Even now I am calling him ‘the old man’ as whatever name he is given is never stated or if so it is said inconsequentially in the middle of more important exposition or dialogue. He is more a narrative device than a man whose only purpose is to explain today’s ghost’s origin story. We don’t learn what he has been doing since running away all those years ago and might as well have been revealed to be a ghost to. In fact he is so inconsequential we are never reminded of him, or the events of this episode, later in the series.

I like it and wish the series stayed true to this episodic nature instead of its gradual descent into melodrama as they don’t make the continuity between episodes strong enough (people fleeing the town aside) but don’t make each episode a strong enough single narrative. Instead there is a lot of padding with the Applebys’ melodrama which for me became quickly tiresome as the early depiction of them made me dislike them so the later events just seem like an ironic karma. The ahead of her time woman becomes dependant on others once pregnant. The man of science descends into madness when he has an unquestionably encounter with a ghost from his own past.

The scythe scene is the only unquestionable issue I have with this episode. It feels like it is there as an advert break cliffhanger rather than part of a BBC drama being watched as a single, uninterrupted, piece. I understand there may have been foreign investment but the scene makes no sense. If the old man was seeking help why would he pick up the scythe at all? Because the workers earlier were not receptive to a strange old man muttering strange things when he emerged from the wilderness? Welcome to the rural, superstitious, town old friend you might remember you lived here and should have known how they would react.

There is a lack of internal logic to the series which often destroys my immersion. The 1894 workforce find an access point to the mines. Was this always present or are they implying the aqueduct works revealed it? If, at the end of the episode, Nathan and Denning were close enough to the entrance (and it is definitely the same access point they went down since everyone is there when they emerge out) to escape so quickly does that mean they completely missed Charlie by, I assume, turning to the left when they would have found him instantly if they turned right? That’s the only way I can explain the inconsistency with the amount of time they’re implied to be down there versus the almost instance it took for them to escape. What killed Charlie exactly? He was possibly weak from not eating yes but not injured in any way and was a healthy boy. Are they implying the ghost boys took his soul? Why, apart from drama, did Ebenezer die too? Just because he was an old man? Because he corrected his wrong by helping them be found? He was off wandering again over land so was he implied to be running away again?

I did like the poetic image of the young boys ghosts walking into the golden fields closing out the episode. Potential – that’s the word that comes to mind often with this series. If the scripts were more focused or more ensemble pieces then it could work but the way they do it comes across as the level of writing I expect from the Saturday evening adventure series like Merlin, Atlantis, Robin Hood and maybe even the Musketeers (which actually has had good writing throughout while balancing adventure and melodrama elements) not a big budget drama series from people as notable as the creators of Ashes To Ashes.

On a side note I am finding it hilarious that I have to go to the official website on the BBC to find the names of these episodes. THey actually give decent clips and galleries on there so go check it out if you like the look of the series.


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The Living And The Dead Episode 1

This week, and each week following, I will be covering each episode of the BBC series ‘The Living and the Dead’ which premiered on their iPlayer service recently. This first episode review is brief and acts as an overview of the major characters. The following entries will be more in-depth when covering the later episodes.

So let’s be introduced to the series and meet our cast of central characters!

Nathan Appleby and his wife return to his farming community hometown as he inherited his family’s estate, farm and the workforce attached to it. When he arrives ghosts begin to harm the townsfolk and its up to him to solve the mystery. Are the ghosts real or just figments of the superstitious people’s minds? will he be able to explain the spooky going ons with his professional skills in the budding field of psychology?

Part ghost detective series, part ‘the old ways were better’ cozy Sunday afternoon TV visuals’ similar to Larkrise to Candleford and part ‘the times they are achanging’ industrial revolution on an agricultural farm drama. It alternates in tone between Victorian ghost story and the aforementioned rural life drama tones very successfully though I wish it was one or the other to be honest. Overall it seems to be about the prevalence of the Spiritualist movement which became more and more popular towards the end of the Nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth.

From the minds that brought you Ashes to Ashes… so there is a twist which was obvious at the end of the first episode. He is investigating ghosts but he himself, or someone else, is seen as a ghost by modern-day people. So it’s a bit like the Nicole Kidman film The Others. Except for the most part the series doesn’t seem to want to make up its mind whether it embraces if the ghosts are real or if they are just figments of people’s imagination until the last episode where it turns into ‘I hate the mentally ill’ and there is explicitly at least one ghost whose existence is unquestionably real. Oh and the last-minute ‘twist’ which you see coming a mile away – in fact I guessed it even before watching tone minute of the series though, if they do another series, it sets up some interesting possibilities.

I will only cover a few of the major recurring characters here as there are so many names and such it is easy to get lost. Suffice to say many characters, though reoccurring in later episodes, only play significant roles in one episode and support roles in others if at all.

Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Merlin grew a beard and got a deeper voice. A psychiatrist whose come back home to his inherited farm lands after his parents deaths. A man of science who contrasts the Reverend Denning who is a man of faith. Is his faith in science unshakeable or will something arise which makes him question reality? A generic protagonist who offers little beyond reacting to events until his ‘twist’ towards the end and then he crumbles into some overwrought acting by someone’s idea of how the mentally ill behave rather than a more natural portrayal.

Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Nathan’s Wife and amateur photographer, which was an exceptionally expensive pastime for the era, who takes over the running of the farm while he… um… that’s a good question. If he wasn’t playing skeptical occult detective what would he be doing? She tends to order the servants about a bit and is not good at making the babies apparently at the start. She is trying to update the farming practises but meets opposition because ‘they havent updated their farming practises since the Roman days’ as she says in episode 2. Is she truly a loving wife or just over compensating? A generic ‘I want to be both a modern woman and a mother’ character, as required by BBC mandate to avoid complaints, set in a time period where such behaviour would be very unusual. Her efforts in running the farm made her come across like a pale imitation of Bathsheba Everdene from Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel Far from the Madding Crowd. Perhaps it is hinted she takes inspiration from the novel and tries to become the character but realises the difference between fiction and reality (which of course gets challenged by the existence of ghosts and other matters in the town). Then again maybe I am giving them too much credit considering some of the characterisation in the series.

They are one of those couples so into each other you figure there is a massive bust up on the horizon (oh how true this is) or they are simple-minded. Both are presented as very comfortable in enforcing class rules where their orders are followed without question. They also embody the generations disparaging view that as middle class people they are superior in all ways due to their formal education unlike their workers who rely on passed down skills, knowledge and folk practices. Their workers are little more than biblically named drone to do as they bid. This elitism extends as far as in episode 3 where Charlotte, whose only knowledge of farming is from her books and not personal experience, gets to dictate when they do the harvesting unchallenged. Of course the workers grumble about it down the pub but the fact they accept their lot in life is true to the mentality of the time until issues mount up over the run of the 6 episode series and many flee.

Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
The reverend of the local parish who lives with his wife and daughter. The foil to Nathan’s quasi-man of science during the series. In the first episode we see Nathan help his daughter and throughout the series he act as Nathan’s counterpoint. The Vicar Denning and his possessed daughter. He becomes a sort of Captain Haddock/Dr Watson like foil to Nathan. He gets his big scene in episode 5. Is his faith unshakeable? In a community where many old folk beliefs are still practised does he hold that much power?

Harriet Denning: Tallulah Haddon
The reverend Denning’s daughter who is possessed in the first episode of the series and serves the role of an unintentional clairvoyant. An ingenue who has a face that reminds me of the Engineers from the film Prometheus. When possessed she does a funny gravelly voice. If you know of the Conjuring 2 and the real life Enfield Poltergeist it was based on then you know the voice. It is not at all scary.

Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Maid/house keeper/lady in waiting to Charlotte who ‘speaks with a regional accent so is working class’ stereotype. Yes marm, no marm, three bags full marm. I would die for you if you asked marn. Cops off with an intinerant worker at the end of episode 1 and again a bit later in the series. Otherwise she just says ‘Yes Mam’ to all Charlotte’s wishes and appeases her constantly while acting as all but her personal valet. The only time this image is broken is episode 4 when she is handing a rifle in a comfortable manner suggesting she has had a life long access to it but it’s never explained. IT comes across like an action movie star suddenly forced into a Victorian setting which is quite jarring. She is also a hedge witch. You see hints of it early on but it doesn’t come into play until the last episode or so. Is she a faithful servant or maybe the real power holder in the community as she is in the role of the traditional ‘wise woman’ practising folk remedies the community still believes in. Kerrie Hayes reminds me of Natalie Dormer.

Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
The foreman of the workers. Old fashioned and faithful. He tends to be the go to character to show the old practises of harvest and such often acting as the voice of the workforce to his masters and as the voice of his masters to the workforce. A west country haywain stereotype who is more a narrative device, if that, than a satisfying character in and of himself. He reminds me of James Cromwell’s role as Farmer Hoggett in the film Babe.

Lara: Chloe Pirrie
Mystery character I can’t comment on without spoiling the series for you. Suffice to say once you see her its obvious what the twist of the series is upon sight. I am not sure what the creators were thinking showing her in the first episode as she probably should have only appeared in the last episode or so. But this is by the people who did Life On Mars so you know there will be some twist and I am guessing they were forced by producers or something to have a hook in the first episode to bring people back. She reminds me of the actor Kevin Sussman who plays Stuart Bloom, the comic book shop owner, from the comedy series The Big Bang Theory.

The field workers and village folk – West country ‘ooh arr ain’t got much o that book learning’ stereotypes. Don’t like progress and the changes from ‘the old ways’ both in cultural and work practises. A superstitious lot – but when there are ghosts and such it’s not a negative thing although the show makers obviously focus on the middle class leads. They ain’t much for change. Their the sort of ‘happy in servitude’ character’s Leo Tolstoy would have loved to write about. A few are named and play roles in various episodes but most are interchangeable.


Victim of the episode:
1) Harriet Dennings: possessed by the ghost of a man who wasn’t baptised. She swears a lot and acts out. Relevance to the overarching series plot: Drew a stick figure woman in red on the wall just like Nathan’s dead son did.


BBC’s Episode 1 Description: “Supernatural drama series. Pioneering psychologist Nathan is faced with a disturbing and eerie case – a young girl manifesting terrible voices.”


Synopsis:

I began writing notes and it devolved into a West Country’s accent. I would apologise but it makes the review more authentic. Just like that Chinese microwave meal you bought down the supermarket last week.

The opening reminds me of the work of Kyle Cooper who did the opening to Se7en and many other films. We see flashes of images and items that may, or may not, be relevant to the series overarching storyline. Its meant to set the tone and I feel is very successful in achieving this.

It’s the 1890s and we are in the rural West country of England. Nathan Appleby has a wife who is an amateur photographer. A very expensive hobby which means we definitely will at some point get some spirit photography during the series. They inherit a farmhouse and its land from his dead parents.

Charlotte, his wife, brings in one of them there new fangled steam engine things what does plowing without horses. needless to say staff dunst like it and its gets broken. Wuz it the staff, wuz it dem ghosts or wuz it just a fickle piece of rubbish? (… It’s never said but presumably its just a poor piece of equipment and there is no one around to fix it. Later in the series it apparently got stuck in some marshland and sank.)

but ahm getting head of ‘self. He is what you call a psychologist and this be heady way before their time stuff as its science only just now curring to people exists. There’s girl Harriet. Reverend’s daughter, and she got possessed by ghost o man who ain’t been baptised by his own priest father he weren’t. Things dus happen and servant girl Gwen has it up gainst tree with yearly field worker what says ‘see ya next year; and she replies ‘aye n even if ahm married’. Saucy cow that she is.

Well Nathan he done go an hypnotises girl Harriet and goes down tut river and has her own father baptise the ghost out o her. and that’s end of first episode.

E bye gum lad these reviews will be far longer and ain’t gonna be in this here accent from now on…


Review:

As Tolstoy said “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The Applebys are far too happy. It comes across as so overwrought you assume they are both lying but the end of the series suggests that no they really do feel this way. There is of course an issue which arises but it never felt like it was unrepairable until the denouement of the last episode – and please don’t think I couldn’t recognise a gradual escalation if it were presented but this is all too forced and unnaturally paced. The conflict seems very forced as Nathan continually makes clear how he is a man of science, in contrast to Denning who is present for these scenes specifically to be his foil as the local reverend, but we see Nathan completely shift in manner once the ghost of his son is present later on.

I think, having seen the whole series, Denning and his daughter Harriet could be far more interesting protagonists than the Applebys if they were developed more. Yes there is conflict during the series for the Appleby couple to overcome but many of the side characters who are part of the community seem more compelling. Charlie’s families (episode 2 and the first scene of episode 3) and the Hare family (Episode 3 and recurring) are far more interesting than the Applebys but are quickly sidelined for more panning shots for dark houses and tense looking people. Perhaps the Applebys are written to be bland protagonists so we project ourselves onto them but I feel this fails and so they go through the motions when there are characters with far more potential. Instead these characters get ‘ghost of the week’ episode issues which the Applebys resolve with varying levels of success and are soon returned to the background. This series would have been far stronger as an ensemble piece with no definitive central protagonists it feels.

The first episode comes across as if it were the standalone pilot and they should have removed the twist of the modern day person at the end for the released version. It’s a good stand alone episode and certainly, excluding the time dedicated to introducing the Applebys as our main characters, this is a nice ghost story in the classic mould.


More tomorrow hopefully but if not then be assured it will be uploaded the following day.

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