Old Bert fingers a marble, starts to talk about Joe getting ready to go back to the Front, and then drops the marble (he’s losing his marbles!) The music starts to get a bit concerned.
Young Bert plays marbles on the floor of the Middleton home while Grace sews and Joe sits at the table, hunched over, tired and scared looking. Bert gets up to close the shutters, slamming them, not noticing that Joe winces with every sound. Grace notices, though. Bert sees he’s lost a marble, but Grace tells him to go to bed before asking her husband to go look to the door to the cowshed. John tries to put it off, but she says if he waits much longer, the cow’ll be wandering all over the place. She adds, a little sharply, that she can’t do everything, so he gets up and goes to see to it.
Once he’s gone, Grace notes that Joe hasn’t been sleeping, and then talks about her grandfather’s insomnia, which presumably wasn’t caused by massive psychological trauma. But Joe seems rather soothed by it. Bert listens in from the second floor. For those interested, Grace seems to have come from a family of shepherds. Joe suddenly says he’s glad his father’s not drinking, and Grace urges him to say so to John before he leaves. She starts going through Joe’s bag and finds some wire cutters. She asks what they’re for, which seems like a stupid question. What the hell do you think they’re for, Grace? Joe shortly says they’re for cutting the wire, and then he slightly hysterically starts telling her how the artillery’s supposed to clear away the barbed wire before a charge, but they never seem to manage it, there’s almost always just one hole, and the men all bunch up there, even though they’re not supposed to, and that’s where the machine guns get trained, and then there’s a slaughter. With this and other Joe scenes, this show is perhaps giving one of the best depictions of the horrors of World War I I’ve ever seen, and we haven’t seen a single shot fired. Well done, Village. Definitely puts Downton’s poor battlefield moments to shame. Also: I’d like to stand and applaud the actor who plays Joe, because he’s fantastic. I’d never have guessed at his talent when watching him on that dreadful reboot of Upstairs Downstairs. Grace rushes to embrace him.
John returns and hesitantly gives Joe a Bible to take back with him. Yeah, well, it was the answer to all of John’s problems, so why shouldn’t it save Joe as well? Joe says he’ll sit for a while, and Grace, hands shaking, kisses him on the head and goes upstairs before he can see her start to cry.
In bed, John suggests he and Grace have another baby. Because this poor woman doesn’t have enough on her plate these days. Grace takes that as his way of saying he doubts Joe will survive the war, but she believes otherwise.
Downstairs, Joe starts having a breakdown and takes refuge underneath the table, where he sits, curled in the foetal position.
The next morning, the sound of Bert opening the shutters wakes him, and Joe climbs out and tosses Bert the marble he lost, which he found under the table.
Grace and Mary join Joe at the breakfast table, where Joe tells her to do what she can to improve the world, because when all this is over, things have to be better.
The family gathers to see Joe off. Grace embraces him fiercely, and Bert runs back inside, upset to see him go again. John offers a hand to shake, his eyes full of pain and concern. Joe takes it, turns, and starts to walk up the muddy lane. From the second-floor window, Bert watches him go.
Joe marches across the wide, lonely, frozen fields, but PTSD is a powerful thing, and it doesn’t take him too long to lose it completely. He drops to the ground, ripping off his hat and shoulder bag, clutches at the grass, and then begins to belly forward, like he’s ducking machine gun fire.
At the big house, Edmund observes that Caro, who’s never far from her creepy doc, is now under control, at least. Clem sniffs that he means Caro won’t embarrass him, and figures he’s afraid Clem will embarrass him too, and ruin his political future. He tells her to chill out, but Clem will not chill. She tells him that, the nice thing about having been humiliated as she’s been is that things can’t get worse. Oh, yes they can, Clem.
Some guy waits outside the factory for Grace. When she shows up, he tells her to meet him later at the Lamb, because he’s there to change his life. Grace, as soon as you hear someone use a line like that on you, RUN! It’s always connected with a scam or something else that will be to your detriment.
Grace obediently shows up at the Lamb, where the Good Neighbour greets her as ‘the mother of the family.’ Grace sits down with the guy, who’s a union rep, and immediately starts babbling about how awful and dangerous it is to work in the factory. But not so terrible and dangerous that you weren’t willing to bring your baby to work, Grace. Once she’s finished, off she goes, passing by Bairstow as she goes. He invites the Rep to join him in a game of chess. Rep makes it clear that he’s primarily interested in seeing that the factory is in a good position to welcome back all the men when they return from war. He doesn’t give a crap about the women. Bairstow says he might be in a position to help.
Off he goes to the Middleton farm, but on the way he spots Joe’s kit on the ground, and then finds Joe himself. He trirs to haul the boy to his feet, but Joe’s deeply, deeply screwed up and fights with him. Bairstow finally manages to get him walking and they make their way to the farm together.
There, Grace finds the Bible John gave Joe, still on the table. Inside, it’s inscribed ‘To My Son Joe, from his father Fight the good fight’. She tries not to look too bitter.
She’s quickly distracted by the arrival of Bairstow, hauling Joe, and she rushes to help him get Joe to a seat at the table. Joe’s gasping for air and trying to dig his fingernails into the table, desperate to hold onto something. Grace gets him upstairs while Bairstow looks sad.
She comes back down to find both Bairstow and John waiting for her. She asks what they’ll have to do now and Bairstow says, not unfeelingly, that Joe’s a deserter, and as soon as he fails to report back the authorities will come for him. Grace, panicking, babbles that they have to hide him and begs Bairstow not to tell anyone he’s there. Bairstow silently agrees.
Later, as he’s leaving, he runs into Martha on her way to the farm. He warns her not to disturb them, but Martha’s got some souls to save, and she refuses to just leave these people alone, saying that John’s journey has only just begun and there’s work to be done. Bairstow sneers at her, calling her out on how all dressed up she is and says she’s just in love with the idea of saving people and in love with herself. Wow, he’s got her number, hasn’t he? John Middleton’s a project for her, and she’s being kind of an asshole about the situation, actively driving a wedge between him and his family when they so desperately need to heal.
John and Grace discuss the current situation. John goes to get the doctor so he can certify that Joe’s not right in the head. While he’s gone, Grace goes upstairs to comfort her son. She remembers him as a baby, all warm and fat, and shows him how she used to cuddle him.
At the bathhouse, Margaret remembers how she won over her husband with her baking. Agnes giggles as she listens, while Mrs H is impassive.
At the Middleton home, Joe struggles to even get out of bed.
The bathhouse is mostly empty, save for Agnes and Mrs H, who perches herself on the edge of Agnes’s tub, screws up her courage, and tells Agnes that her husband can’t manage to have sex with her, despite the fact that he was very keen before they were married. Apparently he’s able to get excited, but he can’t get the job done. Wow, I feel kind of bad for Mrs H now. No wonder she was such a raging bitch last week. Agnes asks Mrs H (whose name is Norma, thanks for giving me that, Village), if she and Hankin love each other. She desperately tells Norma to tell him how much she loves him. Norma gets up and leaves, and Agnes weeps, undoubtedly thinking of poor dead Paul.
She returns home to find Bairstow relaxing in her kitchen, reading the paper, like a husband. He immediately asks her for the gossip, and though she tries to stay mum, he grabs her by the wrist, sits her down, and tells her to talk. Like an abusive husband.
The Doctor examines Joe and diagnoses shell shock, probably from an explosion too near him at some point. The only thing for it is rest and indulgence.
Grace tends to her son, washing his shaking hands, and asks if he got too near a shell. He only says ‘punishment.’ Grace reports to John that there was no shell, which confuses him, because how could it be shell shock if there was no shell? I’ll bet he believes the earth was literally created in seven days. Though, to be fair, the notion of PTSD was only really starting to be recognised during this time, so I’m sure there was bound to be some confusion. He goes up to talk to Joe and Grace tells Bert to go stay with Margaret for a while.
The parents sit down with Joe and ask what he was being punished for. Joe tells them about his code with Bert and says that the higher ups found out about it. Wow, how’d they figure that out? Some pretty good code crackers reading the mail. Joe got into trouble for it, and his officer yelled at him, so Joe pushed him, which is not something you do to an officer. Instead of shooting him, they tied him up and left him out all night. Behind the lines, but still, he could hear everything, and felt so terribly exposed, and his brain basically broke. Unbeknownst to everyone, Bert’s been listening this whole time. Immediately blaming himself, he runs and runs and runs, through the darkened fields, until he trips and hurts his ankle.
Bairstow meets with Edmund and advises him to let the union in, so he can deal with patient men instead of annoying women. He also pushes for more money, as Clem comes strolling over and asks what news there is of Hankin. In Latin, Bairstow tells her the man’s impotent. She asks for that in plain English, and he gives it to her, just as the Hankins arrive for lunch. Ohh, this is going to be awkward.
Bert’s crawling through the fields, just as Joe was, but for rather different reasons. His hurt foot drags behind him, useless.
Over lunch, Clem brings up Bairstow’s Latin and asks if Hankin speaks it. Norma volunteers that he does, so Clem merrily suggests they test his knowledge by repeating Bairstow’s phrase. Man, what a bitch. As soon as she says it, Caro’s doctor and the other guy attending the lunch (local doctor, I think) get very knowing looks on their faces, but Hankin clearly has no idea what she’s saying. Doc mentions that Joe’s still hanging around, but he won’t say why. Caro’s Doctor immediately says Joe’s not a malingerer, because the lower classes are rather too tough for that. Clem says there’s no way of judging how someone will react when constantly under fire, and CD’s doctor says a man confronting danger needs either courage or stupidity. Pretty much out of nowhere, Clem accuses him of seducing her daughter, which begs the question—WHY IS HE STILL THERE? Clem is the worst mother ever, and that’s saying something. I do watch Game of Thrones, after all. Edmund tries to do some damage control, explaining that his mother’s still a bit shocked after her husband’s death, but she baldfacedly tells it like it is: husband blew his brains out. And then she laughs. So, yeah, it’s official, this whole damn family is crazy. Dr Wylie keeps digging deeper, saying that Waterloo was won by the idiot poor, who were too dumb to be scared. Clem stands up for the ‘idiot poor’ from the village who died at the Somme, and for all the men at Waterloo, saying that, if someone has the courage to stand in their place and fight, someone should call it something finer than stupidity.
Joe’s still trying to get around the house, without much success.
The Allinghams are done their lunch, but Wylie tells Caro to come back to the table and finish her food. She reluctantly sits down to continue stuffing her face, while her mother and brother just leave. Worst. Mother. Ever. As she eats, Caro asks Wylie to go see Joe and Wylie agrees to consider it. She goes on to say that he could cure him, as he cured Caro, because he doesn’t fail. He understands a challenge when he hears one.
Back home, Hankin grabs a Latin dictionary and looks up the phrase he heard. Norma unwittingly comes in, all smiles, but I don’t think she’ll be getting any smiles from her husband anytime soon.
Martha prays with John, because she just doesn’t have any idea when to stay away. Grace comes downstairs and asks if God made Joe like this. Martha has no real response to that, so she stands and just says that they’re asking God to heal him. Grace, all mama bear attitude, which I LOVE, by the way, confirms that prayer is to persuade God, whom we must never question, to fix a mistake that he made, even though he’s always supposed to know what he’s doing. Amazing how fast religion tends to fall apart when you think too hard about it, isn’t it? Again, Martha has no response, so she just reminds Grace that she hasn’t been to chapel. Grace sharply says that she’s got her hands full taking care of the farm and working at the factory and keeping her family together, so she doesn’t really have time to be wandering off to chapel. ‘You must make time for God,’ says Martha the high-and-mighty. Screw you, Martha. How about you help her make time for God? Or how about God makes time for her? After all, he’s got all of it! Grace tells Martha to tell her what Joe’s done to deserve this. Martha has the gall to intimate that this is because of Grace, who’s turned away from God, which goes over about as well as you could expect. Grace demands to know what else God wants from her. After all, he takes every spare hour her husband has for himself. Martha accuses Grace of consorting with Bairstow, which is bizarre, because I can hardly remember her speaking to Bairstow recently, except when he brought Joe home the other day. Grace shouts that she saved her husband from his drunkenness, not Martha and not God. She finally tells Martha to get the hell out of her house and tells Joe it’s either Martha or Grace. Like the sanctimonious prig she is, Martha looks heavenward and says it’s either Grace or God. I know who I’d choose.
Grace reports to the Lamb, where Bairstow tells her Rep’s not around. He tells her that the problem is all in Joe’s head, which she doesn’t really understand. Rep comes in, so she goes to speak with him. He tells her Hankin will recognize the union, so it’s a good day for the factory. ‘And for the women who work in it,’ she says happily, before thanking him and hurrying out. Poor woman, this is the one good thing that’s happened to her lately, and it’s not even real.
John goes into Joe’s room and starts to pray, drumming his heels on the floor rhythmically, seemingly without realizing it. Joe squeezes his eyes shut, trying to keep the noise out.
Bairstow tells Rep that Agnes has been made ill by her work at the factory. While they chat. George comes in, in his uniform, and downs a whisky in one gulp before asking for another one.
Bairstow hastens to the Allinghams’ to shake Edmund down for more money. He says he’s doing it because Agnes’s doctors’ bills are getting pretty steep, and she’s too important to lose. And maybe he actually cares about her, because right now he’s looking slightly desperate. Before Edmund can give him a yea or nay, Caro comes to fetch him to welcome George home on leave. George is not pleased to see that Wylie’s still there, but Caro says Wylie saved her and now he’s going to stay and look after her. Great.
Inside, George tells his mother he didn’t ask to come home when his father died because he didn’t want to leave his men. She tells him she’s very proud of him for making that sort of sacrifice, but he doesn’t seem to share her notion of him as brave and noble.
Wylie checks out Joe, who’s still shaky and sweaty and unable to do much. Wylie asks him if he wants to go back and Joe says he does. The doctor collects his things and goes downstairs, where he tells John this is because of hereditary weakness of character, passed down through the male line. Wow, could this guy be any more of a quack?
On his way out, Wylie runs into two MPs arriving to arrest Joe. John begs him to help, to talk to them, so Wylie goes to meet them. He tells them that Joe can’t be moved, not that they care. He suggests they rest up at the pub for a couple of nights, and he’ll give them an easy prisoner to take back to France. They bluntly tell him they won’t be taking him back, because that’s not what they do with deserters. He plays politics, claiming to know the provost marshal and threatening to mention their names. They agree to go back to the village for the night and ask why Wylie’s doing this. He says it’s professional pride, then reports back to John that they have 24 hours. He’s sure they’ll see he’s not a coward once he’s better.
Grace heads into the village for a bath, passing the Good Neighbour as she goes. He watches her pass by with some interest (but not sexual interest. At least, I don’t think so.)
John goes to check on the cows, only to find them missing from the barn. He goes searching for them, running into Good Neighbour, who laughs at him for losing a herd of cows. John takes a swing at him, and GN easily ducks and gets him on the fence. John growls that GN just wants his land, and GN says he certainly does, but not because he’s a jerk, because he can’t bear to see such a good farm go to waste in John’s rather useless hands. He reminds John that he used to waste all his time in the pub, and now he wastes all his time with Martha (he really has just traded one addiction for another, hasn’t he?), while Grace works herself to the bone keeping everything together. Nice to see someone giving Grace her due and dishing out a bit of reality to John.
John heads to the Lamb, where he finds the two MPs and tells them this isn’t Joe’s fault, it’s John’s fault for passing down his weakness. They laugh, so he gets insistent, shouting at them to take him away instead, so someone drags him out.
Martha shows up at the Middleton farm, knocks once, and just lets herself inside. She goes up to Joe’s room and finds him in bed.
Bert’s found a hiding place, and it looks like the cows found him there.
Martha prays with Joe, but all he wants to do is kiss her. And have sex with her, which she’s quite willing to go along with. Saintly Martha, saving souls in whatever way she can, right?
George finds his mother reading some of his writings. She looks up at him, wounded, and says she doesn’t understand. He suggests she go see Joe Middleton.
Joe and Martha lie on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, saying nothing. He finally rolls over onto his side and gets up.
At the bathhouse, Norma, hurt, tells Agnes she trusted her, before whirling out. Meanwhile, Grace is chatting with Margaret and asks her how Bert is. Margaret’s like, how should I know? and Grace immediately begins to panic.
She passes Martha in the street, looking a mess. Martha can hardly look her in the eye. Grace doesn’t have time to care. She gets home and asks Joe, who’s back in bed, if Bert’s been back. Then she finds John and they start searching for him everywhere they can think, including under bridges and in the woods.
Clem sits in her room and slooooowly turns to look out the window.
Joe finally gets up and out of bed, managing to get down the stairs, weak as someone who’s been sick for quite a while, walking like the floor burns him.
Clem puts on her hat and coat and heads into the village, where she stands in the street and watches Joe, now back in his uniform, ducking from doorway to doorway in the rain, hearing shells and gunfire that don’t actually exist.
He heads into the countryside and begins calling for Bert, climbing rocky hills, and finally finding him passed out in his hiding spot. He carries him home.
The MPs reach the Middleton farm, where Grace is freaking out, because now both her kids are gone. She begs them to help her find her children, but the MPs are only interested in Joe. They go outside and see Joe walking down the lane, carrying Bert, and observe that there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with him. Grace screams the boys’ names and runs towards them, closely trailed by the MPs. She clutches for Bert, asking what happened, trying to wrap him in her coat, trying to understand what’s happening here, but the MPs are right there, trying to drag Joe away. She screams wildly for help, and Joe screams his worry for Bert, as the MPs pull the brothers apart. Grace goes to cover Bert with her coat, and one of the MPs, for no reason at all, throws her to the ground. That only freaks out Joe all the more, as he shouts for her. She gets up and tries to drag the MPs off of Joe, as John just stands there, watching all of this. One MP pulls his pistol and aims it at Joe’s head while the other one punches Grace and throws her into the mud. Finally, John gets his ass moving. The panicked MPs both have their pistols out now, and one of them is aiming at John, yelling for him to stay where he is. John keeps running, and gets pistol-whipped in the back of the head. He has no choice but to watch as they drag his eldest son away.
Later, Bert wakes to find both of his parents, teary-eyed, standing over them. He asks where Joe is, and the tears rise further, as the screen goes to black over the sound of a single gunshot.
I don’t know if I can take much more of this.