Parade’s End: Rumour Mill

Previously on Parade’s End: Sylvia came back, promising to be a good little girl, and she’s actually stuck to it, surprisingly. MacMaster and Mrs. D consummated their affair, with predictable results, thereby ruining Valentine’s vicarious enjoyment of their flirtation. World War I broke out and Chris joined up, to the annoyance of everyone.

My God. Did this episode really take up an entire hour? Because I feel like I could recount the whole thing in just a few sentences. For those of you in a hurry, here you go: Christopher loses his memory after a concussion, but he gets better. In London, everyone gossips about him and Valentine, loses their minds, and starts believing things they know couldn’t possibly be true. Chris and Valentine fail to actually become lovers. Shocking, that.

For those of you after a bit more detail, read on:

Chris flashes back yet again to meeting Sylvia on the train, but he can’t seem to get any further in the memory than “My name is,” because in the now, Chris is in a casualty clearing station in France, and he can’t remember what his name is. It’s 1916.

In London, Sylvia’s at a candy shop or something, making a food order which is being sent to someone staying at Alexander Palace with a suspiciously foreign-sounding name. Elsewhere, Chris’s brother Mark shaves while his valet—I’m not kidding here—scrubs Mark’s pocket change with a toothbrush. Wow. And I thought ironing the paper on Downton Abbey was stupid. Oh, and someone sends MacMaster a white feather in the mail.

Valentine’s having trouble too—apparently the butcher’s being beastly, even though her brother’s out of jail and doing minesweeping work, or something of that nature. Her mother thinks they should move to London anyway, so she can do more writing and Valentine can get a job. She decides to write to Chris’s dad for assistance. Val wails about how the war’s turned ordinary people into perfect terrors. Her mother changes the subject and tells her Rev. D is being discharged from the asylum, having allegedly been declared cured.

Val goes to see Mrs. D, who’s quite upset about the Rev. being discharged, because that totally gets in the way of her ongoing affair with MacMaster. She’s apparently been funneling money to him as well, despite Chris explicitly telling him not to accept money from Mrs. D before they were married. Either Mac’s desperate or he’s reckless. Val suddenly notices some horrifically red water leaking down the wall and asks if Rev. D is in the bath. He is, and he’s now dead. Well, ok, then. So, no problems for Mrs. D anymore?

Chris is still at the casualty station. One of the other injured men freaks out at the sound of nearby explosions and launches himself at Chris, choking him, until a couple of nurses pull him off. Chris asks a nurse where he is and what his name is.

Sylvia’s at her family’s country estate, along with some male friend of hers named Brownie. She comes in for breakfast and he gives her attitude for locking her door the night before. Man, the reputation this woman must have. Nobody can fathom her wanting to be around them unless it’s for sex. And you know she knows that and just milks it to ease her own boredom. Brownie wants her to divorce her husband and marry him, for some bizarre reason. Oh, it’s because he loves her. Why? We have no idea. She tells him she can’t divorce, being Catholic and all, and anyway, Chris has never given her any grounds for a divorce.

Father C comes in, greets Brownie as Lord Brownley (I believe) and asks Sylvia where he might find maps of the local area. She tells him and jokes about him sending the info to the Germans. He says he’s just off for a walk and departs. Brownie returns to the previous subject and tells Sylvia there’s gossip that both Chris and Mac are keeping the same woman and sharing her. Sylvia laughs at the very idea but Brownie keeps pushing, saying Chris was seen with this woman—Mrs. D—on a train coming down from Scotland. See? I knew it wouldn’t work out any better for Chris to be seen escorting her away from her dirty weekend with Mac! Which begs the question—why’d Mac ask him up to do that in the first place? And why did Chris go along with it? Sylvia tells him what really happened and warns him to stop spreading lies about her husband. He tells her to ask Chris about Valentine, then.

Father C’s out for his walk and is observed by a policeman taking pictures of the shoreline.

Chris’s dad is out hunting with a friend of his and they gossip about the war a bit. Friend tells dad there’s also been some gossip at the club—apparently there’s only one club in London and all the men belong to it—about Sylvia being pro-German (oh? Why would anyone think that? I’m honestly asking, because other than her visiting Germany that one time, which was not an unusual thing to do in those days, we’ve never heard her talk about or reference Germany at all. Is this one of those situations that makes sense if you’ve read the book?) Oh, and apparently Brownie owns a bank and there’s a bit of an issue with Chris’s account. Dad promises to have Mark ask around and see what’s what.

In London, Mark joins his roommate (or perhaps that’s his “roommate”) in the study and asks what the news is. Roomie gossips, and since he’s in that mood, Mark asks him to put out some feelers and see what he can find out about Chris.

Mac and Mrs. D have apparently gotten married, even though she’s still in deep mourning. And they’ve got a lavish spread put out in celebration. Keep it classy, you two. Along with them is Valentine, who seems rather uncomfortable, as any reasonable person would be. Mac explains that it doesn’t look good for a single man to be staying out of the war, but now he has a wife, he has an excuse! Oy. Valentine tells them she’s going to be working at a school in London as a games mistress.

Sylvia’s standing at her window, doing some calisthenics when she notices Valentine leaving the building (remember Chris and Sylvia live right across the hall from Mac).

Chris is heading home, looking a bit shell-shocked, to be honest.

Sylvia prays by her bed, and then goes into Chris’s room, where he’s sitting on the edge of his bed, seeming lost. She asks him what happened, and I guess his memory came back, so that’s another introduced complication that just got resolved in a second, same as Reverend D’s return. He tells her a shell went off a little too close for comfort. He also paints a pretty brutal picture of life at the front, choking himself up as he does so. He gets up suddenly and says he has to report to the war office nearby, but she urges him to lie down and finally gets him back into bed, where he almost immediately falls asleep. She curls up beside him, looking sad, or maybe annoyed and impatient. Or both.

Later, Sylvia’s having tea with someone named Lady Gorvina, who offers to give her the name of some service where she can buy handknitted bits she can then pass off as her own work for the benefit of the soldiers. Well, that’s one pretty enterprising way to profit off the war. Sylvia refuses to do anything of the kind. Lady G tells her she needs to do something public to offset her apparent friendship with a  few Germans, which isn’t reflecting too well on her. Oh, I guess that’s why people think she’s pro-German. Lady G lays it out: Sylvia’s friendships are holding Chris back. Lady G suddenly asks if Sylvia knows Major Drake. Sylvia certainly does, or did, before her marriage. Apparently he’s now in the intelligence service and he’s marked Chris as someone who’s not to be entrusted with confidential work. I guess that would be a problem if Chris was still working back in London, for the statistics office or something, but he’s enlisted, so is this really a major issue? I guess it is, to these people. Sylvia insists that Chris is the last decent man in England.

Mark’s roomie reports back, and Mark reports to dad. There’s the totally bogus story about Chris having an affair with Mrs. D. Mark says that the money Chris inherited from his late mother must have gone towards setting Mrs. D up with Mac. Ok, I can understand strangers or mere acquaintances perhaps believing that Chris could take a mistress, but his father and brother? These two people would know him reasonably well, and would have to know that it’s completely out of character for Chris to do such a thing. He’s so completely upright about everything, I can’t see how they would even fathom something so absurd as the idea that he’d be stepping out, even on Sylvia. And not only stepping out, but sharing a woman with his friend? Come on!

Mark also tells dad that Sylvia’s kid probably isn’t Chris’s, which doesn’t go over well, as you can imagine. Career-wise, Chris has been written off as a French spy. What? Why? Is that just because of Drake being vindictive? Or is it because Chris was over in France…fighting? What the hell happened in the past two years that we’ve missed? This all makes very little sense to me.

As the cherry on this awful little sundae, Mark reports that Chris is said to be Valentine’s lover, and allegedly he got her pregnant before the war. Um, ok, hold up there. Before the war, wasn’t Valentine living in the Groby neighborhood? An illegitimate pregnancy would not have gone unremarked-upon in a small community at that time, so dad would have heard about it back then. And people saw her out and about and clearly not pregnant during that time—she was at that cricket match at Eton! And if she had a kid, where the hell did it disappear to? Why on earth would dad, who knows this family well (he was, after all, very close friends with Val’s dad and was in close communication with her mother) believe this story? It makes no sense!

Ok, so dad’s just going insane and believing whatever, I guess. Or maybe he’s just distracted by his horror that Groby’s going to go to some Catholic slut’s kid. Groby’s been in Protestant hands for 10 reigns, but now it’s slipping away.

As Mark and dad go to leave the club, they meet Chris coming in. Chris’s dad refuses to even say hello to him. Damn, dad, that’s seriously harsh.  I know you’re upset about some of Chris’s questionable life choices (or presumed choices), but he is, after all, just back from war and likely to return. This is not the time to hold grudges.

Dad goes back to Groby and returns to his rabbit hunting. While he’s out, he spots one through the bushes and crawls through to fetch it. We hear a gunshot ring out.

The phone rings at Mark’s flat, where he’s in bed with some woman, so I guess the roommate really is a roommate after all. He listens seriously to what’s being said on the other side.

The phone rings next at Chris’s.

And then we’re all at Groby, where Chris explains to his son that his grandpa wasn’t the kind of man to leave a wounded rabbit on the wrong side of a hedge.

Over dinner, Chris asks Mark to include Val’s mother on the funeral luncheon guest list. Sylvia clocks that but says nothing. After the meal, Mark lights a cigar and the vicar wonders if the inquest will be straightforward. That seems tactless. Mark says that plenty of farmers die the same way every year, dragging a gun through the hedge with the safety off.

Back in London, three months later, Chris visits Val’s mom and tells her he saw her new novel in the widow at Hatchard’s. That place is awesome. Mrs. W, with no hint of irony, says she’s been thinking about writing about war babies, but there don’t seem to be any more of them now the war’s on than there were before. Chris wonders if half the men are being more reckless because they think they might die while the other half are being more careful for the same reason, thus balancing everything out. She says he’s saved her and asks him to accompany her to one of Mac’s tea parties.

Val bursts in, just home from work, and she and Chris have some cute-awkward conversation. She says she’s glad he’s back and explains that she’s just home to change before picking up Mrs. D at the train. Chris quickly excuses himself and Val runs out to the outhouse to get some privacy and smile happily to herself.

Chez MacMaster. Mrs. D flutters about, playing the hostess in a very red dress. Chris is there, along with Mrs. W, and then in comes Sylvia, waaaay overdressed compared with everyone else. It’s a very “look at me!” look. Everyone stops and stares, but Chris, being a gentleman, rescues her and escorts her to Mrs. D and Mac. Mrs. D tries to introduce Sylvia around, but all Sylvia’s interested in is Mrs. W. Sylvia goes over to her and introduces herself while Valentine watches Sylvia looking all fancy and pretty and looks a little sick.

Chris, being a gentleman, goes to rescue her and they sit down together. She observes that he seems happier and he tells her he worked out a problem for Mac, which has made him a bit chipper. She wants to know what the problem was, and he seems surprised that she’s interested. Apparently, he, in some way, proved that destruction in France was no worse than it would be in any given year in peacetime. I find that very hard to believe, but apparently he was convincing.

Sylvia finds him and says she’s heading over to some other party. He promises to meet her there later.

Brownie’s in his office, and in comes his clerk with a couple of bounced cheques from Chris. Brownie delights in telling the man to go ahead and bounce them instead of giving Chris a day or so to sort things out. Not a gentleman.

Valentine’s at the train station with Mrs. D, who tells her the king’s going to knight Mac. Val says that’s wonderful and she’s sure Mac deserves it. Mrs. D says he did something special and Val figures it was working out that whole war damage thing. Mrs. D guesses Chris told her and snaps that there’s not a more discredited man in London. I doubt that, Mrs. Whitefeather. The two ladies get into a cab and Mrs. D gets really bitchy and snotty and tells Val that, in hers and Mac’s position, they can’t really be seen to be consorting with the wrong sort. You know, the sort like Val, who even Mrs. D thinks had a baby with Chris. Oh, come ON! Mrs. D and Val have been shown to be very good friends who saw each other frequently. Mrs. D would, therefore, certainly know that Val was never pregnant! Is she insane? Was she mysteriously away for the last year and a half? Why would she believe this? And who the hell is she to go casting stones anyway, when she got pregnant by MacMaster back in 1914? And while we’re on the subject, what happened with that? Did she get that abortion? Was the baby born? Explain, show! EXPLAIN!

Val says she certainly did not and tells Edith to be sensible. Mrs. D responds by kicking her out of the cab. What a bitch.

Chez Wannop. Mrs. W gets a telegram that her son, Edward, is safe and back on shore. Val, meanwhile, is trying to telephone Chris, but she gets Sylvia on the phone, and Sylvia tells her Mrs. D is already Chris’s mistress and Val should “keep off the grass.” So now Sylvia believes these rumours about Chris too? When she was quite insistent earlier they couldn’t be true? What changed her mind? Certainly nothing she saw at that party. Whatever, I’m too tired to make this make sense anymore. She tells Val that Chris will be at the war office that afternoon.

Chris and Sylvia have an awkward lunch. She pushes food around her plate and suddenly asks if Mrs. D is really his mistress. He informs her that she’s been Mrs. MacMaster for six months. Sylvia asks about Valentine and Chris sets her straight. Neither of those ladies is his mistress. Sylvia tells him this all upset Brownie so much he’s going to refuse Chris’s cheques, just to get back at him on Sylvia’s behalf, but she told him not to do that. She observes, as Val did, that the war is making everyone beastly. She gives him her blessing to pursue Val, if he wants, so that’s good of her, I guess.

She goes on to say that he doesn’t need to go back, and he replies that he prefers to, before producing those two bounced cheques, which only bounced because his army pay was a tiny bit late going into his account. Sylvia observes that this means his ruin and he says, well, yes, it does. He doesn’t seem all that concerned by it. She hysterically breaks out that, if he’d just once taken her to task for all the awful things she’s done, they might have had a chance of making their relationship work. Why? Because they’d be on more even ground or something? He tells her he never disapproved of her actions (why not? They were reprehensible!) She says she’s not going to listen to him (when did you start?) and he observes that she was let down by a brute, so she has the right to let down a man in return. Chris! No she doesn’t! She has absolutely no right to take out all her disappointments on you! As a young, unmarried woman she recklessly got involved with a married man, surely being aware of the possible consequences. She has nobody to blame for how things ended up but herself!

Val goes to the war office to meet Chris, who’s currently having a conversation with Mark, who asks about Mrs. D as well. Chris tells him that the rumours about him and Mrs. D and Val are all false. Mark seems to believe him. They talk about their dad, and Chris seems to have some pent-up anger towards the man for not making a will, not speaking to him at the club before he died (valid) and probably forgetting to leave his nightlight on at some point or something. Chris just wants to be mad at someone, I think. Mark urges him to take some money but Chris refuses. Of course he does. They watch a truck full of soldiers rumble past and Chris observes that the army that saw them through the last hundred years is all dead now, and civilization has gone to the front in their place, making everyone a barbarian.

At the war office, the two men meet up with Valentine, who’s surprised to learn that Chris has a brother. What? You grew up in his neighborhood! Your fathers were best friends! How could you not know that Mark existed? That’s too absurd to even account for. Val shakes his hand and pulls Chris aside to ask, point blank, if Mrs. D is his mistress. Jesus, come on! Why would she believe that! “Don’t you know me?” Chris asks her. Seriously! Val says his wife believes it and Chris tells her that Sylvia believes what she wants to believe. Val’s so happy to hear this completely stupid gossip isn’t true that she starts to cry. Chris asks Mark to look after Val while he goes and gets his marching orders.

Mark sits Val down and tells her that his father left her mother a lump sum that gives her an annuity of 500 pounds. Not bad. For some reason, even though he’s only known her for about 5 minutes, he thinks she’s good for Chris. Well, she can’t be worse than Sylvia. Mark wants to get Chris into a safer line of duty at the front, but Chris comes back and tells him that’s not going to happen. Mark makes himself scarce so Chris can ask Val to sleep with him that night. She eagerly agrees and tells him to meet her at home while her mom’s at MacMaster’s party that night. Well, this all seems strangely abrupt, but then, a lot of tonight’s plot points have felt that way.

Chris is at the party, killing time. Mark’s roommate asks if he’ll be at the club later, and Chris says he’s resigned. Roomie lets slip that, thanks to Sylvia, his resignation has been rejected. Can people do that? Not accept someone’s resignation? What if they really, really want to resign?

Chris peels off and finds Sylvia, whom he stiffly thanks. She says that Brownie has positively begged to have Christopher continue to be a customer at his bank. I’ll bet he did. She asks if Chris is leaving and he tells her he is, because he has an engagement. But Mac catches him on the way out, hoping to explain…something. Maybe why he didn’t put a stop to the rumours about Chris and Mrs. D? Which he really should have done even if he wasn’t hiding the fact that he was married, because that’s a hell of a black mark against the wife of someone clawing his way up the social ranks, isn’t it? Chris tells him not to worry about it, because what’s scurrilous gossip between friends? Chris excuses himself and Mac tells him to tell Val that, even if Chris is killed, Mac will never abandon her. Which is more than we can say for Mac’s wife, right? From the top of the stairs, Sylvia watches her husband leave.

Valentine bathes, arranges the room just so, and briefly imagines herself as a sort of Rokeby Venus. And then, of course, who should show up but her damn brother and some friend of his, visiting on their shore leave. This is why you go to a hotel, Val. Never trust an empty house to stay empty for long.

Chris finds her outside, sitting miserably on the street while Edward and his buddy party inside. Chris apologizes and wonders if this is some crazy divine intervention. She says they can try again when he comes back. They walk down the street together and she says she’ll be ready for anything he asks, when he asks it. As he puts his hat on and prepares to get in a waiting cab, she asks him to come back. He salutes her with a sweet smile, gets in the cab, and goes home.

And there, he meets Sylvia, who’s creepily waiting in the dark. She guesses immediately that he didn’t go through with it with Val (she has very finely tuned sex-dar, doesn’t she?). He says she’s right and she throws a total wobbler, pissed off, apparently, that he didn’t bring himself down to her level by having an affair after all. Chris distracts her by telling her he’s decided to allow her to bring their son up as a Catholic. He doesn’t think he really deserves to be bringing up a kid anyway, since he can’t put rumours to rest or remain solvent, even though that whole thing was completely out of his control and, actually, someone else’s mistake! My God, but he’s a bit obnoxious with the poor-me, let me fall on my sword nonsense, isn’t he? He’s like Bates, always self-punishing for no reason.

Chris suggests she get Father C (whose name he can’t remember, so I suppose his memory’s not all back after all) teach the kid, but she tells him that Father C was hanged for being a spy. Ok. Chris leaves and goes back to war.

2 thoughts on “Parade’s End: Rumour Mill

  1. Tietjens’ memory keeps coming back by fits & starts through the rest of the story. (Ford Madox Ford was knocked out by a shell at the Somme–he lost several weeks & had aftereffects for years.)

    We saw Sylvia ordering some fancy foods for German officers at the beginning of the show; that’s how she became “suspect.” She probably knew them before the War–but she got a reputation for being “pro-German.” She actually thinks the whole thing is a stupid waste but is not about to join the Pacifists; the only fashions she follows are the ones she wears.

    Valentine grew up in Oxford, where her father taught. Later, her widowed mother had a small cottage in Rye (where Ford lived when young, as part of a “colony” including Joseph Conrad, H G Wells, Henry James & Stephen Crane.) Groby is in Yorkshire.

    But idiotic rumors, gossip & misunderstanding are a constant theme–in the books & in the show. People like Sandbach (General Campion’s brother in law) & Mark Tietjens’ flatmate enjoy making up evil tales out of lies or misunderstood facts, then telling the stories to people who ought to know better. Mark wasn’t a gossip & he’d never discussed “personal” matters with his little brother, so he believed the lies–until he took the time to actually ask Christopher. (Who had been in France for much of that time.) Living in Rye, Mrs Duchemin/Lady Macmaster knew that Valentine hadn’t had a child. But she was over-sensitive because of her new husband’s upward mobility–& the revelation she’d made to Valentine when she thought herself pregnant.

    Just go with the flow. The books are like that, too…..

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