Previously on John Adams: John was sent abroad to try and get money and support for the war, which he failed pretty spectacularly at, though he put in a good effort. Then, while he was in the Netherlands, the war ended.
John’s still in his sickbed, but he’s well enough to stumble to the door when someone knocks. His visitor happily tells him the British have surrendered, which amazes John, though he doesn’t seem to have the energy to get excited about it. After the news sinks in, he starts to cry and kisses the messenger’s hand.
Once he’s up and about, he meets with two of the businessmen from the last episode, who are now happy to lend $2 million to the new United States, at a 5% interest rate. John’s pleased with that and thanks them excitedly. One of the men exposits that John will be leaving soon, and he picks up the thread and explains he’ll be heading back to Paris to oversee the wording of their treaty with the British.
It’s now 1784, and Abigail is joining John in Paris, where the congress has, for some reason, asked him to remain. She drives up to a grand chateau, as John did some years ago, and seems shocked by her opulent new surroundings. John comes out to greet her and they don’t exactly fall into each others’ arms. How long have they been apart now? How bizarre would this be, to see your spouse after years and years, and have that reunion watched by half a dozen people?
John shows her into the beautiful house. They’ve clearly ascended to a whole other level from where they started at their little farm. Actually, they’ve ascended about a dozen levels. They enter one room overlooking the gardens, and John finally reaches out and touches her hand, kissing it, and then the palm, and soon enough his wig’s off and they’re closing the door and reuniting on one of the chaise lounges. And realistically, it takes forever for them to get through all their clothes so they can finally have sex. No quickies during that period, I guess.
Afterwards, Abigail confesses she planned to rip him a new one as soon as she arrived, but as she told Nabby earlier, she couldn’t bring herself to do so. And just as Nabby said, John swears he thought about her all the time, but couldn’t bring himself to write more often because all his news was depressing. Plus, he didn’t want to bitch about how rough he had it when he knew she had plenty of worries of her own at home. She forgives him and they promise never to be parted again.
Jefferson’s in Paris too, sent to negotiate trade agreements, but he’s having trouble getting anyone to listen to him. Tom, you’ve come to the right person. John tells Jefferson that there’s a fairly universal lack of confidence in the new United States, and nobody in Europe really cares about them at the moment.
Abigail joins them, and Jefferson lays on the charm with her. She asks him if his house is as grand as theirs is, and he reassures her it is, because in France you’re judged by how many servants you keep. They’re actually considered somewhat impoverished by their mere 20. Abigail jokingly suggests the gentlemen would be more successful in their negotiations if they had more servants. John moans about their lack of progress, and Jefferson tells him to cool it in front of the lady, because he wants to find out how she feels about France. She refuses to pass judgment on a country she’s spent so little time in and Jefferson commends her for her caution. There’s a little talk about the kids (Johnny’s now at Harvard) and Abigail passes along her condolences to Jefferson. It’s not clear if they’re condolences over the death of his wife (in 1782) or his youngest child, Lucy (in 1781). He thanks her and says Paris is the perfect place to distract a man from his troubles. As he would well know before returning home.
John and Abigail are off to some fancy function. She comes downstairs with giant hair, an ornate dress, and lots of makeup and accessories. She’s really uncomfortable with it all but John reassures her she looks great and she’ll be a huge success.
They go to the opera, where they’re seated in a box. If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say this is some adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I’m totally guessing here. Abigail’s enchanted, and Jefferson notices.
On a subsequent walk in the gardens, Abigail admits to being ashamed at having been seen staring at the ballet dancers in the opera. Oh, you uptight New Englander, you! Loosen up, you’re in Paris! Seriously, in 18th century Paris, a couple of people dancing on stage was the least offensive thing you were likely to see behind the footlights. She laughs at her foolishness and says she did enjoy it. Jefferson says he’s willing to set aside his embarrassment in favor of enjoyment.
Talk turns to how awesome women are, and Jefferson sadly says he can’t imagine Monticello without Martha. Abigail says she can’t imagine how hard it was for him, losing his wife and child in the space of a single year.
As she’s having her hair brushed before bed, Abigail observes that Jefferson is charming, for all his sadness. John starts to get a little snippy and jealous, which she handles with aplomb. She teases him a bit and finally works him around to a better mood, so they get to have some cute time together.
Lunch with John, Abigail, and Jefferson is interrupted by the arrival of Franklin and his elderly mistress. Franklin’s still wearing his odd fur-edged outfit. Abigail and the comtesse eye each other up and there’s a definite chill in the air. The comtesse mentions that Franklin’s asked her to marry him many times, and Abigail says his wife would be sorry to hear that. Franklin looks really uncomfortable and hands over a letter that’s arrived for John from Philadelphia. Congress is sending him to London as ambassador. Oh, man, what an uncomfortable job that would be. Can you imagine being the first ambassador to the country you just won independence from and humiliated? Not fun, I imagine.
Later, John and Franklin are relaxing in the garden and attempting to bury the hatchet. Franklin thinks John’s a great choice of ambassador, because the English love an insult. Come again? I’ve met lots of British people and not a single one of them likes to be insulted. I think Franklin’s talking out of his ass, maybe to make John feel better about what I feel is a pretty thankless appointment. Franklin reveals that he’s heading home, to be replaced by Jefferson, and there’s a convention planned in Philadelphia to work up a permanent Constitution. Jefferson dourly predicts that any constitution created in Philadelphia will be just as compromised and messed with as the Declaration of Independence was. Man, someone’s in a rain-on-your-parade mood today, isn’t he? Jefferson believes it’s wrong to bind one generation to the beliefs of one that came before it (you know, like the beliefs that everyone should have guns or that black people are only 3/5 of a person). I’m with him on that, to some extent. John thinks a constitution is necessary to hold the country together, and Jefferson agrees that they need something like a constitution, but he thinks this one will end up violating some of their revolutionary ideals. If he explains just how he thinks that’ll happen, or which ideals will be violated, I missed it. Franklin says the only way on is forward, so they can prove that the former colonies won’t wind up destroying each other now their common enemy is defeated. John naively thinks they’ve come too far to be undone by petty rivalries, but Franklin knows it’s no small task to build a whole new country.
A colorful and well-dressed crowd has gathered to watch a hot-air balloon take flight. John doubts it will ever fly, so I guess he missed the news that Jean-Franҫois Pilatre de Rozier and Franҫois Laurent d’Arlandes made an untethered manned flight in 1783. There’s some talk about the Adams’ impending departure (John will miss Thomas, Thomas will miss Abigail, who laughs). The balloon, with two men in the basket, takes flight, and the men holding it to the ground let go, releasing it. Thomas comments that their umbilical cord to the earth has been severed for the first time. Is this supposed to be that first flight, then?
In London, John’s being schooled by some court official ahead of his first meeting with King George, which I imagine will be much, much chillier and even more uncomfortable than John’s last meeting with royalty. I think the official’s being played by the same actor who played Brother Jerome in the Cadfael mysteries. Good to see him again! John gives the bowing a try, but he sucks at it and doesn’t bow low enough. His last one’s the most successful. The official suggests John get a different outfit too—something a little more “English.” What’s that supposed to mean?
John arrives at Hampton Court for their audience. Odd choice, since no monarch after George II lived there, and George III never once stepped foot in the palace due to bad memories of his father. I guess the producers went with this one because it has a really well preserved interior and exterior they could use without having to dress the place up too much. Courtiers eye John and whisper as he passes. He’s dressed in a sober black suit and wig. I think he mistook “English” for “New English”, because he looks almost like a pilgrim.
John’s shown into the throne room, where the king is standing next to the throne, eyeing him in a really unfriendly manner. Hey, the king’s played by Tom Hollander! That makes me happy—for some reason, I like seeing Tom Hollander. Especially when he’s not playing a villain. John does his bowing and manages to do ok, I guess, but the king’s not going to ask him to stay for drinks or anything. He practically shoots daggers with his eyes when John mentions the United States of America, but John goes on, formally introducing himself as the new ambassador. He even manages to throw in some fancy compliments in an attempt to win George over. The camera gives us a wide shot of the room, making John look incredibly tiny and insignificant in this big, fancy room.
The king takes his time answering, but when he does, he voices approval of what John’s just said and agrees they should all be friends. And he’s glad that John’s their choice of minister. I’ll bet that’s the first time John’s heard that. He manages not to cry with relief and even exchanges a smile with his former monarch. George says he hears John’s not terribly attached to France, and John chuckles and admits he’s only attached to his own country, no others. And with that, the audience is over. As John goes to leave, George adds that he hopes the States don’t suffer for want of a monarchy. It’s hard to really think of now, but at the time it was almost unheard of for a ‘civilized’ country to be without a king or queen or royal family at least nominally in charge. Ancient Greece and Rome were like idealized fairy stories, and even they had kings and princes running around.
Over breakfast with Abigail, John reads the newspapers, which are less welcoming of him than the king was. He’s enraged to read one’s claim that he was tongue-tied during his audience. His secretary urges him to ignore the stories, but John’s not about to do that. He’s pissed at being accused of vanity and reminds everyone there that he’s spent years in the service of other men. He picks up another paper and laughs at its call for him to be hanged. Abigail’s had enough. She asks the secretary, Colonel Smith, to remove the papers, which he does, post haste, including the one in John’s hand. Heh.
Abigail’s brooding over a letter in the parlor when John joins her and observes her poor mood. She brings up some rather grand estate near their farm that’s suddenly become available for a mere £600. She admits she’s not happy in London, and she’s worried about the kids who have been without their parents for too long. John agrees that London kind of sucks for them, and he’s pissed he’s missing the Constitutional Convention. He offers to write to the congress and demand they recall him.
Recalled he is, and he gets an extravagant welcome in Boston as he steps off the boat. There’s a band and gun salute and everything. The kids, now adults, are waiting for them, and I’m delighted to see that Nabby’s played by Sarah Polley, who I used to love in the Road to Avonlea series when I was younger. John barely even recognizes Charles, who greets his father a little awkwardly while Abigail throws herself in Johnny’s arms. John saves his tenderness for Nabby, and introduces Colonel Smith, who can hardly take his eyes off Nabby.
At their new estate, John and Abigail entertain a friend, who’s surprised to hear John speaking of retiring, but John’s over the endless traveling, he just wants to relax on his farm. The friend—I think it’s Benjamin Rush, but don’t quote me on that—tells John they could really use him, because the congress is becoming troublesome. He says their first elections are imminent and John’s name has been mentioned a lot, for plenty of positions, even president. John scoffs that Washington would be the logical choice for that, but he doesn’t object to the idea of having his name put forward. Abigail breaks in and tells John he has to at least be vice president, because anything else would be beneath him. Behind every great man…
The Adams family sits down for dinner and raises glasses to their new home, Peacefield. Charles is clearly enjoying his wine just a little too much, and his siblings all take note. John immediately starts in on him, saying he’s heard bad reports of his behavior at Harvard. Charles tries to laugh it off, but John’s not laughing, and neither is anyone else. He scolds his son sharply and urges him to apply himself to his studies, like a good boy. And after he and Thomas graduate, John promises to see to it that they’re apprenticed to the best lawyers. Thomas is all about keeping the peace and quickly thanks his dad, who rewards him with a wink, while poor Charles, the kid who can never, ever please his dad, just smiles weakly.
John next asks Johnny how his clerkship with some lawyer’s going. Johnny just says it’s pretty dull compared with St. Petersburg, and Thomas playfully brings up his brother’s courtship of a young lady. Ohhh, talk about throwing cold water on the proceedings. Johnny kind of glares at Thomas, who sits back, abashed. Abigail asks how long this has been going on and learns it’s been about a year. Johnny speaks highly of the young lady, clearly quite in love, and Nabby adds that she’s delightful company. Charles takes another swig of wine and makes an overly extravagant compliment and Johnny looks like he wants to punch him in the face. Abigail asks how old this girl is and learns she’s 15. Wow. She started dating Johnny when she was 14? Even for that time that seems young.
John takes Johnny for a walk and lays it out for him: he’s too young to be married or even attached, because right now he needs to study the law and work his way up. Struggling to retain his temper, Johnny says he’s well aware of all that, but John interrupts to say he can achieve anything as long as he applies himself. John offers to set Johnny up with his own practice and an annual stipend immediately, if he dumps his girlfriend. Nothing like bribing and emotionally screwing with your kids, right? Johnny asks for time to consider the proposal but John demands an answer immediately. Johnny gives in, looking like he wants to cry.
Back at the house, Nabby clears the table while Smith tries rather awkwardly to speak with her. He’s kind of sweet. She asks about his service in the Continental Army and he offers to tell her stories about his campaigns, if she wants him to. They’re smiley and cute with each other.
The election results are in, and John hands them over to Abigail. He’s gotten fewer than half the electoral college votes, which means he’s VP. That, of course, isn’t good enough to him. Abigail points out that he got more votes than all the other candidates combined, except for Washington, of course, who was unanimously elected. John whines a bit and suggests he might not accept the appointment, but Abigail shuts him down and tells him he’s vice president now. She hands back the letter with a knowing smile and playfully calls him Mr. Vice President. He starts to recover his good humor and calls her Mrs. Vice President.
John goes to Philadelphia and accepts the appointment with absolutely no grace at all. His incredibly awkward speech is, thankfully, interrupted by the arrival of Washington, who receives the accolades of the congress and stares John off the podium. It takes John ages to get the hint, but he finally scrambles down and tells Washington they’re ready to administer the oath of office. Washington, trailed by John and the congressmen, goes out onto the balcony, overlooking a street where a huge crowd has gathered to watch the first ever inauguration. Washington acknowledges their cheers as John tries to peek out from behind others. The oath is administered and Washington repeats it in a voice so low even the people on the balcony can’t hear him. He adds “so help me God” at the end. I didn’t realize he was the one who added that. I should probably brush up on my knowledge of the early American republic, shouldn’t I?
Everyone cheers again, and John shakes Washington’s hand warmly, finally seeming genuinely happy for him. Washington draws him forward so he can share in the adulation as well. Aww, Washington’s such a nice guy.