Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Programme Name: Strange & Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep2 (No. 2) - Picture Shows:  Jonathan Strange (BERTIE CARVEL) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire

Previously on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: Mr Norrell travelled to London to resurrect magic in England and make it respectable again. He managed to win over the secretary of state for war by bringing the man’s dead fiancée back to life, but he had to bargain with a fairy in order to do it. Jonathan Strange, meanwhile, was told by a conjurer, Vinculus, that he was destined to be a magician.

We begin at the Port of Brest in Northern France. It’s pouring rain and the soldiers on watch look kind of miserable. In the distance, someone spots ships coming in and the alarm is raised. Everyone races to battle stations and wonder why the ships weren’t seen sooner. The man in charge can’t believe how many there are and thinks there’s something a little funny here. Another officer agrees that they look strange, these ships, so the admiral is rowed out to them. There are no men manning these ships, and the admiral and his second wonder if these are ghost ships, or ships made of glass (they are quite shiny). The second reaches towards one ship and realizes they’re made of water. Just an illusion to…accomplish what, exactly? Distract the French from the actual invasion? It’s never made clear.

Norrell enters the chamber at Westminster to thunderous applause and looks quite pleased with himself. He performs a little trick for the MPs, showing them in his metal bowl what Wellington is up to (riding around somewhere, reviewing his troops). Someone suggests sending a magician to the Continent but Norrell says he doesn’t travel well. Another man asks if they can start resurrecting war heroes, like Nelson or Marlborough. Alarmed, Norrell tells them that’s a dangerous thing to do. For one thing, those guys have been dead a while, and all you’re going to resurrect is bones. Well, you’d have terror on your side, then. He offers up more blockades and some magical sea beacons. Everyone’s cool with that. He also asks for the government’s help getting rid of street magicians so magic can be made respectable again. The PM promises the government’s help, if Norrell holds up his end.

Honeyfoot and Segundus visit a tumbledown house that once belonged to a Miss Abselon. Segundus enters the grounds and starts to get dizzy. He stammers that there’s someone performing magic there, just as he collapses.

He enters some sort of dream where he walks through a gate into the house and finds Jonathan, with Arabella at his side (they’re married now), performing a spell to summon a lady in white robes. As soon as the lady sees Segundus she disappears and Jonathan yells at him for interrupting.

Segundus wakes up, with Honeyfoot hanging over him, and Jonathan emerging from the house, still yelling. Arabella tries to calm Jonathan down, but Jonathan’s really annoyed that his chat with Miss Abselon, the enchantress, was interrupted. Honeyfoot and Segundus are amazed he managed to summon her at all, because such a thing hasn’t been done for centuries. Jonathan shrugs that he read about it in someone’s book, even though that someone’s spells never worked before.

Arabella and Jonathan sit down to a picnic with the men and Honeyfoot explains their interaction with Norrell. The name is familiar to Jonathan, since Norrell always seems to get his hands on the books Jonathan wants before Jonathan can get there. They’re astonished he’s learned so much without books, and in just a few months. He admits he did have one book, courtesy of Arabella: A Child’s History of the Raven King. Segundus tells Arabella that her husband is a marvel. She says she knows nothing of magic, but she supports what Jonathan’s doing. She asks what the other two are doing poking around and Honeyfoot replies that Segundus wants to establish a school of magic. Well, apparently you’ve already got a grey lady, so you’re a quarter of the way to Hogwarts. Jonathan admits that he has trouble properly controlling his magic and Honeyfoot suggests he go apprentice with Norrell. Jonathan scoffs, since Norrell clearly doesn’t like other magicians, but they say he only hates theoretical magicians. Jonathan’s a practical magician, and Norrell’s equal. They offer to write to him on Jonathan’s behalf.

The Poles are giving a dinner party, and naturally everyone’s talking magic. Apparently fake magicians are coming out of the woodwork. During the conversation, a servant spots the Gentleman appearing briefly in a mirror and starts, dumping a plate of food over Norrell. The butler, Black, takes Norrell aside to clean him up and apologises, saying the other servants seem to think the house is haunted. Norrell returns to the party as Lady P goes to beg her husband for a dance. He goes with her, merrily inviting everyone to join them.

That night, a bell starts to ring and Lady P twitches in her sleep and startles awake, seeing flashes of the Gentleman and others swirling around a room.

She goes down to breakfast, looking like hell. Pole asks if she’s ok and she quickly responds that she’s fine, just fine! He mentions a ball that someone’s giving and she fiercely says she’s tired of dancing and never wants to do it again.

Norrell is summoned to the Pole home to tend to Lady P. She tries to explain what’s wrong with her, but just starts talking gibberish. She says that’s not what she meant to say but the gibberish gets worse. Pole looks distressed, and she’s getting frustrated. Norrell regretfully tells Pole that magic can’t cure crazy.

That night, he summons the Gentleman, who’s not all that happy to be called up. Norrell demands to know what he’s done to Lady P and Gentleman says he’s taking her to a ball. He does, after all, get half her life, and he’s taking  it in nights for the next 75 years. Good lord, that poor woman. Norrell’s concerned, because her husband is his champion and is most distressed by all this (he couldn’t possibly care less about the toll this is taking on Lady P herself). Gentleman promises her husband will never know where she is when she sleeps, so Norrell has nothing to worry about. Norrell wants the Gentleman to go back from whence he came and Gentleman says he was happily on his way there, when he was so rudely summoned, with no thought to magical etiquette. He offers to teach Norrell the proper way to do things, but Norrell is not interested in becoming this man’s apprentice.

Late at night, Black hears a long-neglected bell in the servants’ hall start to ring, and he goes upstairs to investigate. The room it’s attached to has become the Gentleman’s hideaway and is filled with dead vines and a table with a shaving kit. The Gentleman appears and tells Black he’s on his way to a ball and needs a shave. Black is clearly kind of freaked out but collects himself and gives the Gentleman a shave, doing such a fine job the Gentleman rewards him with an invitation to his ball. He asks Black to bring him a box, as there’s a token inside he’d like his lady to wear. Black fetches it and finds it contains the rest of Lady P’s missing finger. He is curiously un-alarmed by that.

Images of dancers swirling give way to Black staring off into nothing. He’s called to attention by a fellow servant who wants to give notice. Black wishes him well and tries to give another footman orders, only to learn that he, too, is leaving.

Jonathan and Arabella arrive at their long-shuttered London home, which is a pretty nice place. In need of a little TLC perhaps, but nice. He finds a portrait of his mother and remembers how she used to bring him to London as a kid, to escape his father. Arabella murmurs that she’s sure the son will be a better husband. He says he hopes to be. Aww.

They go to visit Norrell and find Laselles and Drawlight there. Lascelles is now publishing a periodical called The Friends of English Magic. Jonathan thinks little of it, but he refrains from saying so right to Lascelles’s face. Lascelles explains that Norrell is the only magician in England, so having another claimant around simply won’t do. Norrell interrupts and asks to see some of Jonathan’s magic. He takes the periodical and carries it over to a mirror, telling them this is one of his own spells. He sets it down in front of the mirror and steps back. Norrell walks over and looks, then smiles, delighted. He tells Jonathan that this is remarkable, some totally new sort of magic. The others come over and Norrell invites Drawlight to try and pick up the periodical. He can’t, because the one in front of the mirror is now the reflection, and the real one is inside the mirror. Jonathan admits he has no idea how to get the periodical back out again, he’s mostly working on instinct with his magic.

Norrell agrees to take him on as an apprentice and sets up a ten-year plan with a massive reading list. While they get to work in the library, Drawlight and Lascelles listen in through the keyhole. Norrell fetches a book but is reluctant to hand it over to Jonathan. He finally does and they get to work. Drawlight and Lascelles kind of sulk and decide they need to break up this new friendship for reasons that are not at all clear to me. Why are they so invested in Norrell remaining isolated?

Jonathan asks about summoning fairies but Norrell lies (poorly) that he doesn’t know anything about that.

A clock chimes at the Poles’ and Lady P comes rushing down the stairs, screaming for Black to stop it. She then smashes a mirror. Her husband arrives home and she gasps that the bells summon her to the dance and she mustn’t dance. Pole suggests she get some rest but she screams that she mustn’t go to sleep.

The Gentleman’s bell rings, summoning Black, who goes back up to the hideaway. As he steps inside, he finds himself transported to a fairy wood, where the Gentleman is waiting for him. Gentleman greets him and says he’s destined to be a king. He gestures to a nearby mirror and Black sees himself wearing a crown and holding a scepter and orb. Gentleman explains that Black’s under an enchantment that brings him to his home, Lost Hope, where they’ve all been dancing for days and days. Black asks him to release Lady P, but Gentleman says that’s impossible, so Black drops it. They go to the mansion, which looks like something right out of Beetlejuice. Inside, guests (who also look like something dreamt up by Tim Burton) dance and spin. Black sees the Gentleman bow to Lady P and is then whirled away by the others. Lady P spots him as she’s spun again and again and again. Black calls out to her, but he too is swept up, looking a bit terrified.

Lady P wakes, unrested yet again.

Over breakfast, Jonathan wonders why Norrell hates the Raven King so much. Arabella’s more interested in an auction of books owned by the late Duke of Roxburgh.

Pole arrives and asks for Jonathan’s help locating some French ships that have slipped through their blockade. Apparently Norrell isn’t available.

Jonathan and Arabella go to Pole’s and Jonathan is taken upstairs while Arabella wanders around. She finds Lady P reclining on a sofa in one room and Lady asks her to stay with her a bit, since she never sees anyone. They talk a little bit about Venice and Arabella explains that her husband is Norrell’s acquaintance. Lady P hates Norrell for being unable to help her and says she’d be better off dead than as she is now. She asks if Jonathan ever does magic on his own and Arabella offers to ask Jonathan about any problems Lady P is having. Lady P again tries to explain what’s happening to her, but again, it’s gibberish. Black comes floating in and tells Arabella that new people make Lady P babble a bit. He offers Lady P his arm and as she leaves, she sadly says she hopes Arabella comes again, because she sees no one. Or, at least, no one she wants to speak of.

Jonathan finds that the ships are headed to the West Indies. Pole asks if Norrell ever mentions his wife and Jonathan says that he doesn’t. Pole asks if what was done to his wife can be undone, because neither of them can stand this much longer. Jonathan promises to look into it.

Norrell is upset that Jonathan was summoned to Pole’s and not him, and he’s even more annoyed to hear that Jonathan was successful. He brings up the beacons he’s been working on and Jonathan offers to help. Jonathan brings up fairy magic but Norrell says that’s dangerous and he’s never done anything that needed a fairy’s help. Jonathan mentions the Raven King, who was taught in the fairy kingdom, which is why Norrell is no fan of his. Norrell gets really snappy, and then excuses himself, saying he has a headache. Jonathan leaves, passing by Drawlight and Lascelles, who apparently just spend their whole day at Norrell’s. Drawlight draws Lascelles’s attention to the notice about Roxburgh’s death, but they decide to tell Norrell later.

At home, Jonathan tries summoning the Gentleman but only half succeeds. The Gentleman appears, along with Black, but Jonathan can’t see them. Gentleman says that Jonathan’s just as stupid as the other one, and nearly as ugly. ‘What?’ says Jonathan, startling the Gentleman. Jonathan calls Arabella and asks if she can hear the voices next door, because he heard someone call someone else stupid and ugly. They laugh about that and then Arabella brings up his first spell, which was meant to be a spell to show someone what their enemies were doing. You’ll recall that that spell revealed Mr Norrell sitting by his fire. Jonathan wonders why Norrell should be his enemy and tells Arabella they need to get on the road. Gentleman eyes Arabella and definitely likes what he sees.

Norrell is out on the beach in Portsmouth, concentrating on the spell to build his beacons while a crowd behind him watches. Pole complains about how badly the war’s going on the continent, but at least the magic industry is booming. Norrell turns back to the crowd and says the defenses are now in place. They’re invisible, but there. Drawlight tries to raise a cheer but gets a very lukewarm response. Jonathan and Pole stroll away from the crowd and Pole asks if he thinks the beacons will work. Jonathan proclaims faith in Norrell. Drawlight and Lascelles comment on what a nice pair Jonathan and Pole make and Norrell pouts his way off the beach.

Jonathan is wakened early in the morning by the Port Admiral, summoning him to take care of a packet ship that’s run aground. Norrell won’t come because he has a headache, poor thing.

Jonathan makes his way down to the beach, clearly not happy to have been wakened, and asks how this happened. The Admiral thinks it’s because of the invisible beacons. The Prime Minister suggests a good breeze so Jonathan gets ready to whip one up. Admiral says that, with the wind the way it is, the ship will be battered on the shore and everyone will drown. Jonathan, just tired of all this nonsense, marches down the beach, levels up in badass, and plunges both hands into the sand.


Massive cracks emanate from his hands and form into half a dozen galloping horses made out of sand. They charge towards the stricken ship, pulling it upright and turning it, pulling it off the shoal it’s stuck on. That was pretty awesome.

Norrell, who’s finally gotten his ass out there, looks a bit astonished and devastated. Everyone else applauds. Jonathan brushes off his hands and asks who wants breakfast. Pole tells the PM they should really send Jonathan to the Continent.

Norrell is not happy at all at this suggestion, but he doesn’t really have a say, especially because Jonathan wants to go.

Back in London, Drawlight and Lascelles tell Norrell about the Roxburgh sale. Norrell worries that, with all the interest in magic, someone else might get their hands on these. Drawlight fakely says that, if the books are sold to someone else, Norrell can just get the government to requisition them, because he should really have all magical books. Well, he or Strange. Lascelles adds that, if the books are sold privately Norrell could probably convince Strange to let him have them, but if they go to auction, all bets are off. Of course, these are going to be auctioned. I still don’t know why these guys want to cause a rift between these two.

So, Norrell conspires to get Jonathan away from London ahead of the auction and gives him his blessing to go to the Continent. Jonathan asks to take some books with him. Norrell is reluctant to part with any of his books, but this is the price that must be paid to unload his apprentice. As the books are packed up, Norrell grouses to Childermass that he wishes he’d just stayed home, because none of this is worth the loss of 40 books.

Lady P is getting increasingly hysterical. Pole locks her up in her room and asks Black why the house is in such disarray. Black, as sleep deprived as his mistress, can’t seem to articulate an answer.

Arabella sees her husband off. Before he goes, she tells him what Lady P babbled to her and he kindly tells her that Lady P’s kind of nuts. Arabella says that Lady P hates Mr Norrell. Not much he can do about that right now. He kisses her and she urges him to be careful. He jumps into the carriage and promises to write every day and look out for her. She calls after him to look out for himself.

She goes to the Roxburgh auction, where her attendance is noted by Norrell. The auctioneer (hey, Brother Jerome from Cadfael!) gets things started. Norrell and Arabella start bidding against each other, and things swiftly escalate. Norrell sees the Gentleman appear beside Arabella and suddenly bids £2000 guineas, which was a huge amount of money back then. Arabella looks upset and the Gentleman offers her a handkerchief. She thanks him but refuses and bolts. The Gentleman gives Norrell a hard look as he passes him.

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