Previously on The Living and the Dead: Nathan Appleby and his wife, Charlotte, decided to leave London behind and give late-19th century farming a go, taking over his family’s place in Somerset. But apparently this place is haunted as hell, because first the vicar’s daughter appeared to be murderously possessed, and then Nathan saw a woman wandering around his house with an iPad.
First, some housekeeping matters.
Charlotte is bummed to get her period. Apparently she wants a baby, and has for some time, and since no doctors can find anything physically wrong with her, she’s just being told to ‘be patient.’ As a woman who’s been in that position, let me just say right now that is NOT WHAT SHE WANTS TO HEAR. Nor is that even the teensiest bit helpful. Charlotte distracts herself by appointing herself the new farm manager. The people who work there are silently all, ‘Awesome! A city girl with absolutely no experience in farming whatsoever is now in charge! This should bode well!’ Gwen, meanwhile, goes old-school and ties one of Charlotte’s bloody rags to some talisman tree at the edge of the village, then whips up a folk remedy concoction for Charlotte and Nathan to drink, promising it’ll totally get them pregnant in no time. We’ll see.
Nathan and Charlotte have appealed to the railway to put in a branch line, and so there are surveyors around, checking to see if the area’s sound enough for it. Charlotte has grand plans to turn the whole farm over to strawberries, if they can get that branch line and access markets in the big cities.
Nathan’s still puzzling over iPad girl, as well he should be, because that would seriously blow anyone’s mind. He notes that one of the pictures Harriet drew in her own blood on the wall appears to be a stick figure of someone holding a glowing book, and amongst Gabriel’s things is a similar drawing, so apparently he’s not the only one seeing this woman. And one night, while out walking the dog, Nathan sees headlights bearing down on him at high speed. Hmm.
But all that is pushed to the backburner when the Haunting o’the Week appears. This week’s victim is Charlie, the young son of Agnes, one of the women who works on the farm. He keeps seeing five incredibly creepy boys standing out in the fields, all of them covered in some sort of red dust that basically makes them look all bloody. These kids are also enticing him out to play at night, which understandably freaks out his mother. Nathan agrees to look into it.
He has a talk with Charlie, who uses some toy soldiers to illustrate how these ghost kids surround him and keep calling to him to play with them. They’ve got names, too. Charlie finishes by saying he doesn’t belong there.
Nathan asks Agnes if there’s any reason Charlie might feel like an outsider, and she admits that Charlie’s not really her son. He was her sister’s child, and her sister died when he was only one, so she took the boy in and raised and loved him as her own. And to the woman’s credit, she does, obviously, treat and love him as her own, this does not appear to be a ‘neglected child’ situation. Agnes has a lock of Charlie’s mother’s hair, and a letter her sister wrote to her son, explaining everything, which she’s to give to Charlie ‘when the time’s right.’ Umm, when might that be? The kid’s about 11 or 12 and this is a small cottage. He’s really likely to find that letter sooner rather than later.
Nathan decides to try taking Charlie under his wing a bit, hoping to eradicate what he thinks might be nightmares or hallucinations. But a shooting lesson goes terribly wrong when Charlie turns the gun on Nathan, and very nearly shoots him in the head. So, maybe it’s time for a Plan B.
While all this is going on, an elderly tramp is wandering around the neighbourhood, reciting a list of boys’ names over and over again, in a broken voice. He eventually ends up at one of the barns, asking for Mr Appleby. Nathan’s not there, but Charlotte is, and when she introduces herself as Mrs Appleby, the old man slashes at her with a scythe.
He somehow manages not to do any damage, and Charlotte, being either insane or super sympathetic to any living creature, brings him back to the house so Nathan can talk to him. Nathan is not happy to hear that someone’s just tried to take a slice out of his lovely wife, but he listens to the man’s story, and hoo, boy, is it a terrible one.
The man grew up in the workhouse, and waaaay back in Nathan’s great-grandfather’s day, the Applebys owned a mine and staffed it with workhouse boys (they weren’t willing to risk the village lads). The boys worked in truly awful conditions, and used to call each others’ names on the hour, to reassure each other they were still alive. (Deep breath). He recites the names and Nathan recognises them as the names of the boys haunting Charlie. The man continues, saying he was responsible for opening the air shafts periodically, which required him to spend 12 hours a day lying in, basically, a coffin. (Deeeeeeep breath). He hit his limit one day and escaped topside, just for some actual air, and there was a landslip. He wasn’t in his position, so he couldn’t warn the boys down in the mine. He ran to the overseer’s office, but Mr Appleby told him it was too much of a hassle to rescue the boys. So they left them down there to die slowly, listening to them cry and beg for help for days. I struggle to wrap my head around how far divorced from basic humanity you have to be to actually do that to any human being, let alone children. But, if history (hell, the last week) has taught us anything, it’s that man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds.
The boys are taunting Charlie again, calling and calling for him to come out and play. He tries to resist, but eventually he’s tempted into the front room of the cottage, where he finds his mother’s letter and the lock of her hair sitting out on the table.
He runs away, and Nathan immediately assumes he’s gone to the old mines, which apparently were never properly sealed up. He’s prepared to go in after the kid, despite one of the surveyors warning him that this area’s a bit volatile. The vicar, Denning, goes in too, because he’s a nice guy.
Down below, they snake through tunnels and start struggling for air in an environment that is not exactly oxygen rich. And then they find the five dead boys, now reduced to skeletons, lined up in one of the tunnels, holding hands. It’s a sight so tragic the two men momentarily forget what they were doing and just stand there, blinking sadly. Then Denning begins praying over the bodies and Nathan continues his search. (Just a sec, folks: if these boys died because a landslip sealed them in, how were Nathan and Denning able to just walk right into this tunnel, facing no obstructions at all?)
Nathan reaches a crossroads in the mine and doesn’t know which way to go. But a tiny hand (too small to be Charlie’s—this has to be Gabriel) reaches out and gently turns him the right way. He finds Charlie, but it’s too late. Another dead child. He sits on the floor, cradling the body, shocked and not quite able to handle it, as another landslip threatens and Denning urges him to get out now. The ghostly sound of Gabriel’s voice snaps Nathan out of his shock, and he and Denning return to the surface with Charlie’s body. When she sees it, Agnes bursts into the most heartbreaking wailing you could possibly imagine, while her super creepy, dead-eyed daughters just stand there, staring, apparently unconcerned by the fact their brother’s dead.
The mine is, finally, properly sealed.
That poor old man collapses underneath the talisman tree and dies. Because this episode wasn’t quite tragic enough.
That night, in bed, Nathan admits he feels terribly guilty about Gabriel’s death (Gabriel apparently drowned and I guess Nathan was the one who taught him to sail), and now he feels guilty about Charlie, too. Charlotte reassures him there’s nothing he could have done and that this sort of self-flagellation won’t help anyone. They embrace, and then have sex. What do you think, boy or girl?
The last shot is of the five mine boys, now hand-in-hand with each other and Charlie, walking through one of the fields, and then disappearing. That’s…not a happy ending at all. Excuse me, I now need to wake my son up and hug him as tightly as I possibly can.