The Village: Closure

Bert MiddletonPreviously on The Village: Joe came home, seriously shell-shocked, which ended with him getting shot for desertion.

Old Bert watches video of the village’s World War I memorial being dismantled while he recalls the day and how the villagers insisted on being the ones to do it. Please tell me they reconstructed it. I mean, who the hell just takes down a war memorial like that? That seems so terribly wrong to me.

In the past, it’s 1920, and Bert—now a full-fledged teenager, thankfully (the kid who was playing him younger was great, but it was stretching credulity that he’d still look that young in his mid-teens)—climbs to the top of a building and gets his camera (the one Eyre gave him) ready.

Speaking of Eyre, he’s back, shuffling through the village, looking a bit like Jaime Lannister in captivity, what with the lank hair and scruffy beard. He passes a group of men dressed in women’s clothes, pushing baby carriages heading the other way and looks vaguely confused.

The men stop at Hankin’s factory, where Bert’s positioned, snapping away. The men want their jobs back, which confuses me. Wasn’t the reason they let the union in so easily because they wanted to hire back the men after the war and ditch all the women? Bert snaps a picture and hurries inside, past all the women still working away. Hankin comes back in, along with Edmund, and Grace immediately jumps on him, demanding that the women get to keep their jobs. Hankin can’t win, can he?

Eyre slides into the school, where Prof Douchebag is back holding court. Oh, of course he ended up coming out of the whole thing without a scratch. A little girl finds Eyre in the hallway and asks who he is. He says he used to teach there and asks her name. It’s Mary Middleton. Aww, little baby Mary, all growed up! Eyre, truly a broken man, won’t say his name, and when Douchebag pokes his head out, Mary says Eyre can’t remember his name. Douchebag briskly says he can’t help him with that.

All the baby carriages the men were pushing—with the babies inside—are now parked outside the Lamb while the men meet with Norma Hankin about the proposed war memorial. She’s clearly channelled all her sexual frustration into civic duty and a really chilly attitude. Eyre comes in and asks for whisky, and all the men turn to stare at him. The barkeep tells him that 137 men from the village marched off, and only 25 came back. Plus Eyre. Wow. And most of them have limbs or, in one man’s case, an eye missing. Guess that’s why Hankin didn’t hire them back at the factory. One guy complains about his three brothers being split up on the memorial, but Norma insists on the tablets being even, rather hilariously going on about how people who visit the village in hundreds of years will judge how they honoured their dead by the symmetry of the memorial. She gets pissy with them, gathers up all the plans, and marches out, saying that Lady Allingham will have the final say. Eyre asks, as he passes, if Joe is on the list and she just shakes her head. The men start singing Land of Hope and Glory while staring at Eyre. So, what’s the deal with Eyre? Was he imprisoned during the war or something? Did he not fight, and is that why they’re acting this way?

Outside, Bert snaps a picture of the babies and catches Eyre on his way out. He thinks Eyre doesn’t remember him, but he does, and notes that Bert’s now right-handed after all, which means Douchebag—whose name is apparently Ingham, but it’s too late, I’m still calling him Douchebag—won after all. Bert invites him up to the farm to visit. The other men come out of the pub and one of them demands the camera, while another punches Eyre in the stomach. Bert steadfastly refuses to hand the camera over, so the guys just wander off.

Chez Allingham, Clem watches Caro out walking with Dr Wylie while Bairstow starts to take over her dead husband’s study. Bairstow advises Edmund to put the men back to work if he wants to get back into Parliament. Edmund only fixates on Bairstow taking over the study, but since Clem has no objection, I guess it’s ok.

Clem goes upstairs, puts her widow’s black aside, and gets dressed for dinner in a lovely white lace gown. She then returns downstairs with a shotgun, which I guess she had in her room? Why? She locks and points it right at Bairstow, scaring the shit out of him briefly, before she says that needs putting away. What the hell was that all about?

Eyre has taken up Bert’s invitation and is having dinner with the Middletons. Bert tells them about all the babies outside the Lamb and Eyre adds that they were talking about the war memorial and asks what Joe’s up to, assuming he survived the war since he wasn’t on the memorial. The heavy silence pretty much answers that question, but John does shortly say that Joe died on 11 November 1916. It does seem that Eyre was in prison for the war, and John clearly resents him considerably. Grace is more forgiving and asks where he’s staying these days. Bert answers that Eyre doesn’t know, so Grace makes up Joe’s bed. John is not happy at all with that, but we know who’s really wearing the pants in this family now. From the landing, she looks down, smiling fondly, as Joe shows Eyre the camera. She comes down and offers Eyre a bath and he smiles gratefully.

He soaks in the tub in front of the fire while John stews in the next room and finally marches through, puts on his hat, and leaves.

Bert shows Eyre the photographs he’s already taken and tells him how he tries to make himself invisible while he’s taking the pictures, because people in the village don’t seem to like him. The photos are really impressive—looks like Bert could have a future in this. He darkly comments that there are no photographs of the dead; clearly his brother’s still weighing heavily on him.

Grace finds John out in the barn and he poutily says he doesn’t want Eyre there.

That night, in bed, Grace says that Joe isn’t going to be on the memorial, because nobody wants to think about him and what happened. John asks if she plans to fight everyone. She remembers Joe saying that they needed to make the world better, which brings her back around to Eyre, whom she knows Bert wants there, because he’s sort of an older brother/father figure the kid needs.

John paces before the hearth the following morning, and when Bert comes down to leave, he offers to go with him. They hike across the fields and Bert warily asks him what he wants. John notes that the kid’s cold, so he invites him to sit in a sheltered spot near a wall where he starts prattling about Jesus and the crucifixion, of course, and how it’s too bad there’s no photograph of that so nobody knows just what it was like. Bert seems to just be wondering how long he has to sit there and freeze and listen to the crazy. John talks about his pain and suffering and then starts shouting that this isn’t cold. He strips off his jacket and shouts for the cold to do its worst, because they have nothing, nothing! Bert drapes his father’s coat back over him and tells him they have their name.

In the village, Bert and Eyre watch Douchebag marching up and down, like he’s still in the army. Apparently he does this every day. You can take the man out of the army…

Eyre reports to the Rev and asks for his teaching job back.

Outside the church, Bert intercepts Martha and asks her why she’s going to stop teaching. She briskly tells him he knows why. He accuses her of stopping living and losing all her conviction after Joe died. She coldly starts to say that this is none of his business but he stops her cold by reminding her that Joe was his brother.

Rev sits down with Eyre and tells him the village is hurting, and he’s lost his faith, so he’s not the best person for Eyre to come to for help just now. Eyre admits that, while he stands by his convictions that the war was wrong, he knows that the position he took was also motivated by fear. Rev takes a different view, saying that none of the men who marched off had the courage to reject suffering as Eyre did. Eyre asks him what happened to Joe, as Martha comes in, and the Rev tells him he was shot at dawn. And everyone knows what that means.

George comes marching up to the church, and outside Bert takes the opportunity to tell him that Martha doesn’t love him, she loved Joe. George accuses Bert of being in love with her and says he’s hiding behind a dead brother. Wow, George, that was cold.

He goes inside and we learn that he and Martha are getting married, which is why she’s not going to be able to teach anymore. Looks like Eyre has his job back.

Bert goes to work, herding sheep, fixing a fence, hauling brush. Back at the farm, the Good Neighbour’s meeting with John and basically offering to buy the place and let the family stay, as tenants. Bert comes in as they’re leaving and John says they just want right of access. He then asks Bert to show him his photographs. Seems like Grace telling John that Eyre had a deeper relationship with his only surviving son may have struck a chord.

At the school, Martha introduces Eyre to the kids as their new teacher before she departs, honestly looking like a shadow of her former, somewhat fiery if obnoxious self. Once he’s alone, Eyre tries to write his name on the board but finds he can’t, for some reason. Douchebag notices his distress and comes in so he can make fun of him in front of the students and tell them he’s a coward. Eyre rushes out.

Outside, Bairstow notices him nearly have a panic attack and briefly fingers what looks like a red spot or a scar on his own throat. What’s that from?

John pores over Bert’s photographs while Bert looks on nervously. John comments, confused, that they’re all of the village, but none of him.

In comes Bairstow, once again delivering a broken man—this time, it’s Eyre, who’s not looking so hot.

Bathhouse. Margaret’s daughters splash around in one of the tubs while Margaret talks about what a grand funeral she’s going to throw for Paul when his body’s brought home. Norma bitchily says she’s not sure a funeral like that would be right, like it’s in any way her place to make that call. And you’d think she of all people would know better than to go meddling in other people’s lives. Margaret says he’s slipping away from her, and she doesn’t want to fight anymore, she wants to grieve for her son. Martha suddenly says she knows how Paul died.

The Allinghams look over the model for the war memorial, and George reveals just how bitter he still is about his experience by saying he’d replace the helmets around the cross with intestines or bluebottle flies, which used to live off lavatories and bodies. Lovely. In a creepily matter-of-fact way, he tells his mother and brother how he used to position a sniper aimed at the German lavatories, and when a swarm of bluebottles rose, they knew to fire and most of the time, they felled their target. Again, this show does a fabulous job of depicting the horrors of war in a very real manner, without once showing us a battlefield. I applaud that.

Bathhouse again. The women are silent, and both Agnes and Margaret are weeping.

Bert cutely outfits Mary to go out and leaves with her, for school, I suppose. Upstairs, Eyre tries to get up but seems to be in a lot of pain. He manages to get downstairs, where he finds John sharpening a knife. He takes this opportunity to ask John if he thinks Joe was a coward. John threatens to kill him if he says that again. Eyre continues that John wouldn’t be frightened of him if he didn’t think Joe was a coward. John puts on his coat and tells Eyre to clear out.

Eyre goes back upstairs to pack, but he’s having trouble breathing and staying on his feet. He folds onto the floor and lies there, shivering.

Ahh, looks like Bert was taking Mary to a village meeting about the memorial. Bairstow takes a moment to big up Edmund before he goes to address the crowd. Properly prepped, Edmund starts the meeting and announces that the government has decided to leave the bodies in France, united as one in their memories. Margaret is not happy about this and is quite vocal about it. Norma stands and says that November 11 will now be a day of remembrance for them all. Grace adds her voice of dissent, and properly calls bullshit on Norma’s claim that it’s more meaningful if they all join together (not so much more meaningful as less costly). ‘We know why you’re saying this, Grace,’ Norma says coolly. Grace dares her to continue that line of thought, but John shows up and silently asks her to be cool. She sits, but Bert takes up the cry, reminding them that the war ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, but men still died unnecessarily at ten, or ten thirty, they just set this arbitrary time because it sounded more poetic. He adds that his brother was shot dead and asks if any of them will wake at dawn and remember him. Edmund says that this isn’t about individual grief, it’s about collective mourning. That’s their point, Edmund. Nobody’s getting a say in this, the government is basically dictating how they’re allowed to grieve for their dead, which is wrong. Not everyone wants to join in on an orgy of wailing with their neighbours, they want an actual grave to go visit and lay flowers on. Edmund stupidly says that they all remember the pre-war days as a golden age, which just sets Grace off again, as she argues that it was a golden age for him, but not for the rest of them. Sure as hell wasn’t for her. Edmund tells them all to turn their attention back to the memorial, but this thing’s gone too far off the rails now.

After the meeting, Bairstow finds John outside and offers to match whatever the Good Neighbour’s offering him, in return for inside information on what Grace is up to in the factory. Hmm, that’s an intriguing development. The others start coming out, and Norma, of course, stops to sniff at John that Grace is his wife, and he should really be able to control her.

Inside, the Allinghams chatter about Joe and Clem asks Martha if she thinks there’s such a thing as a collective conscience beyond rules and law. She continues that they all dwell on Joe’s death, but they have to resolve it somehow, or it’ll destroy them. ‘Joe Middleton is our problem, His name is our conscience,’ she says.

Outside, the car’s not waiting, so Clem suggests they just walk home, even though it’s raining. She falls into step with Wylie and asks him if he loves Caro. He says he does and she laughs that of course he does, because he created her, and we all know that Pygmalions love their Galateas. It’s inevitable. He snaps that he understands Caro better than Clem could possibly imagine and Clem says that she’s talking about love, not understanding, as if the two are mutually exclusive, though with this guy, I can see her point. Caro was some puzzle for him to solve, a broken doll to fix, not a person. ‘All you’ve got is feeling. I have insight, and that gives me the whole picture,’ he snaps. ‘Imagine how much of a fool you’d feel if you were wrong,’ she says. He stomps off, and behind them, Martha runs in the opposite direction.

She finds Bert in the now empty hall, taking pictures of the memorial model. She quietly thanks him, but he can’t even look at her.

The Middletons return home to a very silent house. John says that Eyre is gone, and Grace goes upstairs to check. She finds Eyre in bed, feverish, babbling about the children. John realizes what this is right away and, horrified, asks Grace what she’s done.

Grace goes to the store first thing for some supplies, and Norma immediately realizes what she’s buying all this for. Grace refuses to say anything, just hurries home to tend to her invalid. But John blocks her from going upstairs and tells her not to risk passing this on to Mary. Eyre’s on his own.

Margaret’s the next at the store to breathlessly ask for rhubarb and treacle, because now her girls all have influenza too.

Back home she goes to tend to her many invalids.

The doctor arrives at the shop and tells Norma there are 40 cases so far. He’s there for a bottle of rum, mostly to relax people, because apparently fear is a close friend to influenza.

Bert makes his way to the memorial, which is under construction, and tells Martha that he thinks Eyre is going to die. She takes his hand and gently says she’s sorry. George spots them and yells for Bert to get away from her. Bert responds with a little ditty:

I had a little bird

His name was Enza

I opened the window and

In flew Enza.

He continues that people are singing songs about it because they think it’s over, but apparently their village, which escaped the initial bout during the pandemic, is dealing with it now. Bairstow, thankfully, tells Bert to stop clearing his throat and just be out with it already. Bert says they can’t let it start again—they need to do some serious quarantining.

Bairstow seems to agree, but Edmund is reluctant to shut the place down. Bairstow talks him around by saying that making such a bold move would sit well with the bigwigs at Westminster. He’s really the Edmund whisperer, isn’t he?

The village is quarantined, with supplies being left at the edge for people to bring in.

Martha goes to see George and announces she doesn’t love him. He takes a minute, sits down on a step, and says he can never win, can he? He says that this is his fault, because he thinks that if he had allowed Joe to remain perfect for Martha, she might have found room for George, but when he told her about Joe and Caro, he tarnished Joe. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to me. Clem, once again wearing her white lace dress, listens to this from around a corner, then steals away for lunch.

There, she finds Wylie being super creepy with Caro, wondering at how she was alive for 23 whole years before they met and saying that she was waiting for him. Not really, Wylie. Clem looks alarmed and rather sickened by this, and when Wylie tells Caro to go ahead and eat her soup, she breaks in and tells Caro she can choose whether or not to eat her soup, just as she can choose whether or not to tell Wylie about her baby. Well, I guess she doesn’t have to now, does she, Clem?

Martha gives George the engagement ring back and hurries out of the house.

She rushes to the Middletons’, runs upstairs, and begins tending to Eyre while the rest of the family just sits downstairs.

One of Margaret’s daughter’s dies. Jesus, can this woman get any more kicked around by life? She wraps the child up and takes her outside, leaving her on a stone bench or something out in the yard.

John hauls a big pail full of milk into the house and starts bitching at Grace about how the milk’s going to be wasted, since they can’t sell it outside the village. So, how about you sell it inside the village, John? Or use it yourselves? This man has no imagination. No wonder he’s a failure. And it’s not anyone’s fault that influenza rolled in. Bert says that the village wants to postpone the memorial service. John suddenly recalls Bert saying that they have their name, even if they have nothing else, and he runs off to the village, where Bairstow reminds him of his proposal and how this is a very good time to take him up on it.

John goes into the Lamb, where he finds Hankin, sits down with him, and asks everyone if there’s anyone there who hasn’t lost a loved one. He urges them all to stand together and remember the dead. Hankin asks what he can do for John.

John next heads up to the Allinghams’, where he seems to just look around, observed by Clem.

Martha’s done tending to Eyre, who’s resting more comfortably. She leaves.

Grace puts some potatoes in the oven and is startled when Eyre suddenly appears and asks what day it is. It’s 11 November.

She goes upstairs and changes the sheets on his bed, stopping to stare at the small dent his body’s left. She then gets started washing the sheets.

John, Bert, and the rest of the village are gathered for the unveiling of the memorial. Clem looks around, notes that someone’s missing, and slips away.

She hurries to the Middleton farm, where Grace is hanging up the sheets to dry, and tells her she really should be at the ceremony. Grace reminds Clem that the village doesn’t want her son. She can’t be part of something that ignores Joe. Clem says she understands and goes on to say that Joe had a child with Caro, a child that draws both women together. Grace’s face breaks.

Apparently that convinces her, because she accompanies Clem back to the village for the unveiling. Looks like Norma had an, ‘oh, the hell with symmetry’ moment and put those three brothers together after all. Or Clem insisted on it. Paul’s name is up there as well, of course, and Margaret’s tearfully happy to see it. Grace and Mary step forward, and though Joe’s still not listed on the memorial itself, there’s a plaque on the ground for him, noting that he was one of the first to enlist and was a worthy son of his father. The Middletons embrace tearfully around it, while the Allinghams look on, smiling sadly.

Ooof. That’s a tiring one. I have to be honest with you guys, I don’t think I’m going to be able to cover this one when it comes back in 2014 (yes, it is coming back). Not because it wasn’t good: it was excellent. The acting was fabulous, and the photography was top-notch. As a snapshot of a particular time, place, and way of life, it was gorgeously done (there were some story problems, but we’ll get to that). But it was so unrelentingly bleak and depressing that I found I had to force myself to sit down and do these recaps. I could hardly bear to rewatch the episodes  (though, I will admit I tended to find a lot more to appreciate the second time around. I noticed things more that made the rewatch a richer experience.) To be perfectly honest with you all, I’m dealing with some things in my personal life that have been a bit distressing, and I have enough to be depressed about without loading this show on top of that. And even if that weren’t the case, this is a tough way to finish up a weekend. Is this really the note to start the workweek off with?

Was it wonderful? Yes, undoubtedly. Perfect? No. Like I said, there were story problems. A lot of characters acted bizarrely for no apparent reason. What, for instance, was the deal with Lord Allingham? I kept waiting for at least some explanation of how he got those scars, and why he was the way he was, but it never came. What was up with Clem having that shotgun in her room? There were lots of moments like that, and while it’s true that in real life plenty of things go completely unexplained, I tend to find a reliance on that to be fairly lazy storytelling. A writer throwing in odd moments just for the sake of it and then brushing it off with, ‘well, that happens sometimes in life,’ when really they can’t think of a reason for it either. If your characters aren’t driven by anything tangible to the audience, the audience is going to have a hard time connecting to them or the action.

There were some wasted characters as well, which I found frustrating. Bairstow in particular didn’t seem to have much of a point. He was just sort of there, not given anything to do for several episodes except exist, and then wandering around, feeding Edmund information that didn’t really seem to go anywhere, having a creepy affair (lots of those in this story) with Agnes, connecting with the psychologically wounded men staying with the Middletons but not really developing much himself. That disappointed me. It seemed like he had the potential to be an interesting character, but he wasn’t given much room to grow. Maybe he’ll develop in series 2.

I’m not sorry I watched this, despite what I’ve said. I have no doubt it’ll be appreciated for many years to come as a work of art, which it is. But unrelenting tragedy is wearing on the soul after a bit, and I’ll admit I’m glad to have a bit of a break.

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