Banished: Despair

David Dawson and Russell Tovey in Banished, Image BBCPreviously on Banished: Tommy beat the crap out of Buckley, which earned him a death sentence because striking a soldier is a huge no-no. Kitty had sex with Ross voluntarily, for reasons surpassing understanding, and Letters Molloy did Ross a solid, earning his gratitude and a favour.

The noose waits for its victim, so clearly James didn’t go hanging himself after the events of last episode.

In the jail, Tommy and Elizabeth wake up together and he tells her to always hold onto these few seconds of bliss first thing in the morning, those few seconds between waking and memory. Ok, that moment was actually rather sweet.

The convicts are wakened, and I’m guessing the ones who were partying with Tommy last night have a roaring hangover.

Ross and Kitty also wake up, he first, so he takes the opportunity to rather tenderly stroke her hair and back. She remembers that she actually does have some work to do and makes to leave, but he tells her she won’t have to do anything anymore and urges her to stay, so she snuggles back down. He asks her to come live with him and she immediately agrees. Seriously, WTF is going on here?

In line for breakfast, word spreads of the plan for the convicts to turn their backs on the hanging.

Kitty emerges from Ross’s tent and Macdonald goes to meet her with a sweet smile that’s kind of heartbreaking. He hesitantly says that he heard her and Ross the night before. She reminds him that he wanted that instead of talk and then asks him to take her to the soldiers’ tent so she can collect her things and go move in with Ross. Macdonald, heartbroken, asks if she really expects him to just stand by and watch her leave. She only says that she needs him to get into the soldiers’ tent, so he takes her there. I don’t get this at all.

Mrs J walks along the beach with Anne and asks how long she’s there for. She’s one of the 14-year unfortunates. Mrs J is only there for two years, assuming a new vicar arrives. I feel like that’s a big ‘if’. She admits that she’ll miss her sessions with Anne and Anne suggests Mrs J take her with her when she returns to England. Mrs J is totally game, though I’d love to know how she expects to explain that to her husband, and she promises to go talk to Collins about this, to see if it’s even possible.

Ross bursts into the governor’s cabin and tells him about the plan to turn backs on the hanging. Philip agrees that can’t be allowed to happen. Ross suggests they just string Tommy up from a tree right there and then and leave him there, like he’s some Tudor-era monarch putting heads on spikes as warnings. Philip says this’ll be an opportunity to show the convicts that, even when they act together, they fail. And fail they must, because Philip has to cut rations again, and now he can make it seem like a punishment, rather than a necessity.

Kitty packs up and Macdonald gets desperate and asks Kitty to marry him, reminding her that Ross will leave her behind and go back to his posh fiancée. She won’t listen. He continues to beg, offering to have her on the same terms the Major did, no sex, just talking, he really, really just wants her to talk, to connect with him again. She won’t even look at him. He promises to win her back or die in the attempt.

Ross enters and sends Macdonald away. A marine to the core, he has no choice but to obey. Ross tells Kitty she can cut out of Tommy’s hanging. She says that she has to attend, because if she gets special treatment, the others will turn on her. Ross takes her hand and says he may have to act harshly, and if that happens, she must remember that he’s only doing it because he has to, not because he wants to.

Collins goes to the jail, where James is sitting with Tommy. Tommy has summoned Collins to ask if Elizabeth can be married to James after the hanging, so no soldiers can claim her. Collins asks if she and James are both on board with this, and after hearing that they are, he offers to talk to Philip. James tears up and leaves and Tommy explains that he’s having a rough time, being such good friends with Tommy. Collins’s face says he knows that’s the least of it. He asks Tommy what he did to end up in NSW. Don’t you know, Collins? You have all the files. Tommy doesn’t say, but while he does admit he’s done many bad things, he claims he didn’t do what he was convicted of. Of course not.

Collins returns to his tent, where he soon receives a visit from Mrs J, who asks if it might be possible to take a convict home who’s done exceptional service. He says it’s possible and asks who she has in mind. She gives him Anne’s name and he asks what the service was. Talking to ghost children probably won’t cut it, so she just says it’s personal and asks him to take her word for it. He asks if Anne would travel with her and stay with her in England. She would have to speak to her husband about it, but possibly. I highly doubt the Rev would want Anne in your house, Mrs J. Collins agrees to look into it.

James goes to the Rev and says he wants to confess, which is a problem, because Church of England doesn’t do confession. Johnson offers to listen if James wants to talk. James sits down and admits he was planning to confess and then drown himself, although that’s problematic, because suicide is a serious sin, so he’d be damned anyway. So, he’s going to have to hang his friend, unless Johnson can get Tommy off the hook. Johnson says he tried, but James urges him to try again.

[cryout-pullquote align=”right” textalign=”left” width=”33%”] ‘Not a glowing reference, I agree,’ says Buckley drily. Ha! Good to see he’s got a sense of humour[/cryout-pullquote]Johnson goes to see Buckley and begs him to forgive Tommy and ask for mercy on his behalf. He asks what Buckley wants in exchange for that. A woman, of course. Johnson says he can’t give that, because he’d have to introduce Buckley to anyone by explaining that he took advantage of another man’s wife (who wasn’t his wife at the time, but whatever) and then bragged about it out of spite, and when he got his ass handed to him, he failed to land a single blow, but he then took revenge by gloating from the sidelines while Tommy was hanged. ‘Not a glowing reference, I agree,’ says Buckley drily. Ha! Good to see he’s got a sense of humour. Johnson says that, if Buckley shows forgiveness, the whole narrative changes. Buckley considers it, and then points out that this would be done privately, in front of Philip, who will likely refuse amnesty, in which case nobody would know about this great, magnanimous effort on his behalf, so it wouldn’t matter, in the end.

Ross summons Macdonald and asks if he’s ever used a pistol in anger. He has not. He asks if Macdonald could look a man in the eye and shoot him with it. Macdonald thinks so, but he can’t know for sure until he’s done it. Fair enough. Ross reminds him that there were times when Macdonald wanted to shoot him, but guesses the young man lacked the stomach. Madonald says the only reason Ross is still alive is because he’s a marine and Ross his commanding officer. Ross tells him to take the pistol that’s on the desk and bring it to the hanging.

Anne is called to Collins’s tent, where she finds both Collins and Johnson, who’s mightily pissed off. They produce proof that she knew how to read and write before she left England, which makes her reading and writing lessons with Mrs J quite suspicious.

Mrs J is now brought in so she can hear about Anne’s subterfuge. Anne admits that she did this to get close to Mrs J, but denies that it was to win her confidence. She says she just wanted to ease the woman’s pain. Rev asks what Anne did for his wife and Mrs J tells him about speaking to the kids. He is horrified and scolds her for engaging in pagan rituals and taking such a woman into her confidence. Anne is then called on to tell Mrs J why she’s in NSW and Anne tells her she stole money from a vicar’s wife. She swears she never lied to Mrs J, but this is just too much for Mrs J, who collapses onto the floor, sobbing. Collins looks really sad right now. She pulls herself back to her feet and leaves the tent. Anne asks to go after her but Rev forbids her. He promises to have her flogged for having exploited the woman he loves. She firmly tells him that she told his wife what she believed, and it brought her comfort. What he believes brings her nothing but pain. He yells at her for comparing her faith with his and she yells right back that the only difference between their faiths is that he’s done better with his. He’s got his freedom, food, and shelter out of it while she got some ready cash and a noose around her neck. Go Anne. She calls him a hypocrite and leaves to go comfort his wife.

She finds Mrs J at the under-construction church. Mrs J says they all need to pray for Anne, because her soul is clearly black. Anne repeats that she didn’t lie to Mrs J and offers to stay away, but when Mrs J has her baby, Anne will approach her again and remind her that she saw all of this coming. She tells Mrs J that Johnson plans to have her flogged and Mrs J promises to talk him out of it. Before Anne goes, Mrs J asks her not to talk to anyone else about this, because she feels rather raw and exposed just now. Anne agrees. I doubt she would have spoken of this even if Mrs J hadn’t asked.

James goes to Philip for one last plea on Tommy’s behalf, telling him that, while this may be maintaining law and order, it’s not justice, and after he made such a big deal out of making a new, shiny set of laws, abandoning justice right now really sucks. He also tells Philip that there’s talk amongst the convicts of rebellion. Philip asks for the names of the ringleaders and Ross correctly guesses that Spragg is one. James confirms it and offers to be an informer, as long as he doesn’t have to hang Tommy. Philip tells him that informants are easy to find; hangmen, not so much. James asks for his extra rum ration, saying he can’t do this sober, but Philip won’t even give him that. Geez, Philip, help the poor man out.

Philip gets all dressed up for the assembly, telling Deborah that he’s required to dress like this so he’ll be encouraged to look down on the convicts, they in their rags and he in his fancy suit. She smiles sadly and says she knows he’ll do the right thing.

The convicts head for the assembly, and Elizabeth runs to fetch James to the jail. Tommy knows this is the end and takes her hand, asking James to promise he’ll marry and look after her, and asking Elizabeth to have James as a husband. They promise, though neither are happy about the circumstances, and James is just out and out sobbing now. For his part, Tommy promises to look out for them both and bring them a ship full of food and help them survive.

Soldiers and Philip come in to take Tommy. Elizabeth cries and begs them not to take Tommy. She prevails on the reverend to help her, but he’s already done all he can and just starts praying. She continues haranguing him and the governor as they walk to the noose. She goes on and on about what an amazing man Tommy was, though I kind of wish we’d seen more evidence of that, because from what we’ve seen, he’s a selfish, hotheaded man who gives no thought to the consequences of his actions and who was willing to coldly strangle a man with his bare hands and waterboard his friend into a false confession. Tommy mostly seems like an asshole. Philip tells Elizabeth that striking a soldier is one of the worst things that can be done and that he needs to show his support of said soldiers, because without them, everyone’s dead.

Tommy is led through the crowd, which starts shouting in protest. Philip climbs the scaffold, accompanied by Johnson, who’s looking a bit terrified. Philip calls for order, and once the crowd settles down a little, he points out that they need the soldiers to protect them from the natives and from each other. Without them, there’s only chaos.

The order for everyone to turn is given, and everyone instantly does, though Elizabeth is prevented from doing so by Timmons, who’s holding on to her. Philip continues, saying that rebellion is death, so they’d better turn back around. They do not. He calls on Ross to do whatever it takes to get everyone in the crowd turned back around. Ross calls for Spragg to identify himself and Spragg does so. Ross sends Macdonald over to him, orders Macdonald to draw his pistol and shoot the man in the head if he hasn’t turned to face the scaffold after Ross has counted to ten. Ross counts down and Macdonald obediently fires, shooting Spragg at nearly point-blank range, but horrifyingly, he doesn’t die, just lies on the ground jerking. Eeeeek! Everyone’s horrified, Macdonald too. Ross orders him to reload and move to the next man down. Deborah is fighting back tears, as is Mrs J. Kitty’s shaking. The next man is Molloy. Ross starts counting down again and Molloy calls out, identifying himself to Ross, who allows him to live. Talk about calling in a favour. Macdonald is sent to the next man, William, the new blacksmith. Again, Ross begins counting down, and now the guy screams that he’s the blacksmith, and they need him. Ross pauses. Timmons takes advantage of the moment and asks for permission to put Spragg out of his misery. Ross denies it. William shouts that he’s essential to the running of the colony. Ross keeps counting, so William turns just as he gets to nine. ‘I’m essential,’ he whimpers. ‘I am indispensable!’ he screams in frustration. Macdonald moves on to the next man. Ross counts and gets as far as two before the man turns, followed by all the rest. Ross orders Macdonald to put Spragg out of his misery and this, at least, is an order Macdonald can obey without guilt.

Philip reminds everyone that he represents the king, and to turn their backs on him is to turn their backs on the king, which is not allowed. Tommy is asked if he has any last words. He does not. The hangman is called, but before James can respond, Buckley asks to speak. He’s given permission, and Buckley publicly forgives Tommy for attacking him and asks Philip to show him mercy. Philip thanks Buckley, but says that Tommy is not being hanged for what he did to one private, but what he did to the uniform, to the flag, to the king. He calls for the hangman again, and reluctantly, James comes forward, to the horror of absolutely everyone. Your next husband, Elizabeth!

He shuffles forth like a zombie, hollow-eyed, knowing his life is over one way or another. As he gets up on the scaffold, he tells everyone why he’s doing this, pointing out that they all would have made the same choice he did. Philip orders him to bind Tommy’s ankles, and James does, then has a last word with Tommy, telling him that God gave Tommy courage, and James none, and that’s the difference between them. Tommy says it’s not courage, it’s love. ‘I loved you too much to do this to you,’ he says. To do what? Is he saying that, were he in James’s position, he’d refuse to hang James? It’s easy enough to say that, but once you’re actually in the situation it’s often a different story. James says he loves Tommy too, but he loves life more. Fair enough. Tommy tells him that everyone will be gunning for James now, as if James doesn’t know that. Johnson steps forward and begins praying. Elizabeth, standing just in front of the scaffold, starts telling Tommy how much she loves him and everything he does and how they’ll be together in paradise. As she desperately repeats ‘I love you, I love you, I love you,’ James pulls the trapdoor and Tommy drops and dies. Wow, I almost didn’t think they’d go through with it. Elizabeth immediately begins serious ugly crying as Philip says this should dispel the myth that he doesn’t have it in him to hang a man. He then orders Buckley to be James’s personal bodyguard, warning him that if James dies, Buckley dies. What about when Buckley has to sleep? Surely this needs to be done on some kind of shift basis?

Philip then douchily tells everyone that he had been considering increasing rations, but today’s disobedience proves they have energy to burn (because turning around takes lots of energy), so he’ll be cutting the convicts’ rations by a quarter. Furthermore, if anyone harasses James, they’ll be shot. Everyone is ordered to disperse. James is still clutching the handle, shattered, and Elizabeth is still screaming and wailing at the foot of the scaffold. Philip quietly tells her she can go to him, then tells James to take the man down.

Johnson goes to Elizabeth and hands her the bible, which she takes. James asks Buckley to help him and the soldier readily steps forward and gently helps lift Tommy’s body onto the scaffold. James cradles his friend and cries. I wonder if his guilt is increased exponentially by the fact that he was the one who suggested they join that card game in the first place. Elizabeth finally gets to her feet and makes her way onto the scaffold, where she proceeds to start smacking James viciously with the bible. Buckley jumps forward and threatens to shoot her, but James tells him not to shoot and subdues her. They cry together, trapped in utter hell. She spits in his face, and he takes it, because what else can he do? And he feels he deserves it, though he doesn’t, because when he agreed to be the hangman, in a moment of desperation, it certainly never occurred to him that he’d have to hang his best friend.

Collins returns to his tent and stares at his papers for a bit. Molloy comes in and Collins asks if he could write a letter back to Tommy’s mother, telling her the absolute truth of the man’s death, which Collins sees as an act of bravery. Molloy agrees.

Tommy now lies in the very morgue where all this began, and in voiceover we hear his last letter to Elizabeth, in which he tells her he refused the hood because he wanted her face to be the last thing he saw. She gently lays the queen of hearts playing card on his chest.

Tommy is buried on the beach. All the convicts with lines attend, along with Mrs J and Macdonald, Timmons, Deborah, Philip, and some of the soldiers. Will steps forward and gives Elizabeth an iron cross that he’s forged, with Tommy Barrett written on it. He tells her it’s the first thing he’s ever written and it would be an honour if she accepted it. Oh, man, that made me tear up more than anything else this episode.

Johnson starts to say the service but can’t get past the first few words before he starts to break down, so Mrs J steps forward and starts to sing Rock of Ages. Macdonald looks over at Kitty, who’s joined by Ross. Macdonald turns and slowly wals away, unnoticed. He wanders down to the water’s edge, a little distance away from the funeral, walks into the surf, pulls out the pistol, holds it to his head…

…and we cut immediately to Collins making a bonfire out of his files. Philip comes over and asks what the hell he’s doing and Collins says that these files mean nothing, they don’t tell him any truths about the real people they describe. The files describe people without morals, but they’ve all been proving the exact opposite.

Later, Elizabeth sits at Tommy’s grave. James joins her there, trailed at a distance by Timmons and Buckley, who wait and give them their space. James sits beside her and says he’s sorry. Really, really, really sorry. He tells her he gets more rations and he could give her some, reminding her that he promised Tommy he’d look after her, and he will, as long as he lives. However long that is. Elizabeth doesn’t respond. It’s been a hell of a day. She just stares out at the ocean.

Oh, I really hope this show comes back, you guys (and from what I understand of the viewing numbers, the BBC would be kind of crazy not to order another series). It was good. Much, much better than I was expecting. I’m not saying it didn’t have its flaws—the storyline with Kitty, Ross, and Macdonald really needed some more room to breathe, and I never warmed to Tommy as much as I was told I should have. But other aspects were splendid. Buckley showing character growth, with Timmons’s help? Bring it. Sweet William now dealing with the news that his wife has left him? Sure. And let’s give a special slow-clap to the show’s MVP, Russell Tovey, because man, he ROCKED the part of James. He was cheeky, affable, raw, emotional, and heartbreaking. (And might I just say that, between this and Poldark, it’s awfully nice to see the BBC giving so much employment to former castmembers of Being Human and The Paradise). More of this, please. I want to find out if Macdonald really shot himself, if William will go after Molloy, if Anne and Mrs J will ever mend fences, if Mrs J will have that promised baby, and most importantly, how the hell Elizabeth and James are going to move forward from here.

More please, BBC!



4 thoughts on “Banished: Despair

  1. Thank you once again!
    A few thoughts:
    – I understand the pace of events a lot better knowing, from the writer of the series, that what we’ve seen so far took place in the first 2 weeks of convicts and soldiers arriving in NSW.
    – According the the author, although the events are based on historical notes made at the time, the relationships are more intensified to rev up interest in the characters. In principal, it’s the story of how NSW got its first hangman!
    – I think I do get the Kitty/Ross connection. I don’t think Kitty really ever forgave McDonald for agreeing to the “share”, even though she finally did do it to save McDonald from execution. Plus McDonald had been acting like a big baby the whole time and really doing everything he could to push Kitty away. Not knowingly of course.
    – I think, as it was shown, Kitty starts feeling attracted to Ross when he shows his sensitive side. And he is clearly more mature than McDonald, which usually is more appealing to most women. The deal is clinched when she discovers Ross doesn’t consider her a whore anymore, but still wants her.
    – All that said, Ross is very, very clever! He tells McDonald he doesn’t consider Kitty a whore anymore so won’t pay her. Somehow hearing it from McDonald is more convincing to Kitty than if Ross were to tell her himself.
    – The final nail in the coffin for McDonald is when Ross makes him shoot the convict. Yes, he is following orders, but Kitty is absolutely horrified he’s doing it. As Ross knew she would be. I do then really feel sorry for McDonald.

    Last, but not least, the last scene between the three of them is both sad and sexy. Ross knows he has “won” Kitty and his body language shows it when he then stands behind her as a sign of possession as well as protection. Poor McDonald is heartbreakingly cruu-ushed.

    I really would like to see this story continued as well, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that there have been any talks, nor for that matter is anything written. Keeping my fingers crossed …

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