Previously on The Village: We met some of the most miserable people in Britain. The Middleton family is dysfunctional as hell, which sends eldest son Joe first to the ‘Big House’ (where he has a brief encounter of the sexy kind with rich girl Caroline) and then to war, with his mother’s blessing. Younger son Bert developed a crush on the reverend’s daughter, Martha, who’s got a thing for Joe, and who is, herself, crushed on by one of the Big House sons. Father John is an alcoholic mess, apparently haunted by some guilty memory, and mother Grace is just trying to hold everything together.
Older Bert’s interviewer asks him what his childhood was like. ‘Short,’ is his response, because they were so poor and he was hungry. Doesn’t make for a very magical childhood, that. He suggested they try dairy farming once, but his father shot that down because they couldn’t even afford to buy a cow. He remembers Joe telling him before he went to war that it was up to Bert to look after everyone. This memory dredges up a brief moment of grief, but then he remembers Joe sending them a postcard, and he produces it, looking happy for a moment, before descending back into the sadness of his memories.
And we’re back in the past, with Grace, now largely pregnant, receiving the postcard from the postman. She goes inside and tells Bert that it says Joe’s quite well. Bert goes to look after Peggy, an old woman from the village, and Grace looks down at the postcard, which we see is basically a form letter-type card, where soldiers could just circle or underline their message of choice (I’m quite well, I’m in hospital, etc.)
Bert waits in a hallway somewhere and a man—I’m guessing it’s the town doctor—comes out and gives him a leech in a matchbox. Bert takes it and, when the doctor goes back into his office, grabs three cookies from a nearby plate and pockets them.
A little later, he’s at Peggy’s bedside, where the leech is feeding on her neck and she’s stressing out a bit about her impending mortality. She’s worried they’ll accidentally bury her alive and she asks Bert to promise to do something for her.
At the big house, the housekeeper’s making up a solution of beer and water for one of the maids to scrub the floors with. Meanwhile, John lingers outside, the Allingham sons dress, and Caroline leans out her window and calls over and over for Baby, her dog.
At the Middleton home, Bert takes out a plate and carefully arranges the three cookies on it before calling up to his mother that he’ll see her at chapel. He leaves just before Grace comes down and spots the cookies. I spot the shiner she’s now sporting. Sigh.
At the Allinghams’, George hears his sister calling for the dog and asks his mother if she’s ok. Clem essentially throws up her hands and tells her son he’ll have to hurry. He says he’s not going to chapel.
The maid who was scrubbing the floors brings the bucket outside and gives it to John, who immediately begins downing the liquid she just used to scrub the floors with. And when he’s done with that, he sucks the scrub brush dry. Jesus. And I thought it was bad last week when he chugged that bottle of liquor in the bar.
On his way to chapel, Bert spots Martha heading for his house. He hides behind a wall and watches her pass.
Inside the house, Grace is trying to arrange her hat so her black eye doesn’t show. Martha comes barging in and tries to move the hat, but then sees the eye and backs off slightly, asking only if John’s there, because she thought she might walk him to chapel. Instead of saying anything, Grace offers up one of the cookies, insisting she take it when she tries to politely refuse. Martha urges her to go on to chapel and she’ll wait for John. Once Grace is gone, she notes the postcard, now propped on the mantelpiece.
Grace pauses on the road, rests against the wall, and looks around her, then down at her belly with a sigh.
Caro’s decided to take her search for Baby out of the house, and she’s now wandering around, into the woods wearing only a very flimsy nightgown. While she’s out there, John comes stumbling out from behind a tree, startling her. She hurries away, back towards the house, and he follows her. Inside, George notices the two of them and comes rushing outside, but by the time he gets to the yard both are gone. He calls for his sister, but there’s no response. A maid washing a window takes it all in.
Caroline, still only dressed in her nightgown, is now in town, asking random people where Baby is. Ooookay, it looks like Caroline is officially a few sarnies short of a full picnic here. She finds Bert and asks him, and the kid looks sad. Even sadder than usual, that is. He’s the most tragic looking child I’ve ever seen. I guess the little assholes throwing stones at the dog last week were a bit more thorough than I thought.
Clem, Edmund, and Clem’s husband (presumably) arrive at chapel, and everyone in the town, including the reverend, turns to the nearest wall. Ok, that’s pretty strange. It wasn’t weird when the servants did it, because that’s what servants actually had to do back then, but not townsfolk, and not the reverend who, socially, was usually treated as almost an equal by the local wealthy folk. So I’m guessing this is something Allingham himself demanded, presumably because he’s self-conscious about the scars on his face, but how did that memo go out? What a strange arrangement.
Bert shows Caro the tiny grave Baby lies in. She sinks to her knees beside it while Bert dashes back to chapel.
There, the reverend’s delivering a strange sermon about Jesus taking a machine gun and mowing down German farmers, because God’s on their side, which I guess means Jesus gets to become Rambo.
John returns home to find Martha waiting for him, asking if he was at the pub. He asks what she wants and she breathily asks him what he thinks the answer to that is. As she approaches him, she urges him not to be afraid and tells him she’s there. John, looking terrified, tells her to get away, but she puts out a hand and fiercely tells him she won’t take no for an answer.
Together, they go to chapel, where the reverend’s still spouting nonsense.
Caro is now rushing back from the grave carrying a tiny bundle. Oh, Jesus.
After chapel, Martha observes that there was feeling in John’s singing. He tells her she doesn’t know him, and she says she knows that despair is easier than hope, and self-pity feeds despair. He tells her to go ahead and smell his despair, and, sensing trouble, both Grace and George Allingham, who showed up after all, intervene. Martha introduces George to Grace, which is a bit awkward given their wildly different social standings. John tries to slip away, but George stops him and asks what he was doing up at the house that morning. John lies that he wasn’t there and escapes.
Martha marches over to the Lamb and yells at the barman for serving John. Look, Martha, the guy’s trying to make a living. It’s not his fault John can’t control himself, and it’s not his job to baby him. The barman and the other customers mockingly sing a song at her. Martha marches out in a snit and finds George outside waiting for her. She’s in a terrible mood and is really short with him. He tries joking with her, and then says he went to chapel to see her and asks if his suit is hopeless. Her silence speaks volumes. He asks if she’ll tell him who his rival is and she refuses to say more than that he doesn’t know her feelings. As she starts to walk away, he asks her if it’s Joe Middleton. Wow, good guess.
At the Middleton home, John spots the postcard on the mantle and starts to reach for it, but he snatches his hand back when Grace approaches. He apologises for hitting her and she only asks for his beer-stained shirt so she can wash it. They break the tension by making fun of George, but when Grace playfully repeats George’s question about John being up at the house, the bad mood returns and John just says he wasn’t doing anything at the house before going outside to chop some wood/relieve some tension.
Caroline’s back at the house, her nightgown now all bloodstained down the front. She goes into the laundry room, where the housekeeper is puttering around, strips off the nightgown, and asks the woman to wash it. In some alarm, the housekeeper grabs a blanket and wraps it around Caroline, just as Clem returns home and finds this scene. She takes over wrapping up her daughter and asks the housekeeper to see to their luncheon guests, who are all gathered in the hall just in time to hear one of the maids upstairs start screaming bloody murder. Clem heads up to see what’s happening and finds the mouldering corpse of her daughter’s dog on one of the beds. She just barely manages not to vomit.
But, like a good hostess, she pulls it together and goes downstairs to tell everyone the maid just saw a mouse.
The housekeeper quizzes the maid who was cleaning the windows that morning, Polly, who’s smug as hell now she’s got some good gossip. Polly tells the housekeeper, Mrs H, that she saw John Middleton come out of the woods behind Caroline that morning.
Inside, Edmund abruptly tells that businessman who was talking about making boots last week that he shouldn’t get caught with his trousers down. Businessman’s response is essentially, sorry, what was that? So Edmund explains: conscription’s coming soon, and those conscripts are going to need boots. Businessman realises he’s going to need more workers if all of his are going to be marching off to war, and Edmund suggests he start hiring women.
The doctor’s been sent for to examine Caroline, and he reports to Clem that Caro’s ok. Great, another quack. Because Caroline is clearly not ok. He is competent enough to determine that Caro’s five months pregnant. Ohhh, sorry, show, but that math doesn’t work out at all. Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914. If Caro’s five months pregnant, it’d be December at the earliest by this point, and yet outside it looks like fall, and everyone’s running about in relatively light, autumnal clothing. Fail.
Clem delivers the bombshell to her sons and tells them that they need to work very hard to make sure nothing else happens, because there’s just too much happening. Edmund starts word vomiting some nonsense about ‘them’ (presumably the lower classes) coming into their lives and mucking everything up, but Clem shuts him up. He tells her he’s sent for a detective to come out. When did he arrange that?
George, meanwhile, decides to do his own detecting and asks Polly what she saw that morning. Polly’s suddenly oddly tearful and tells him that she saw John grab Caro’s arm and that Caro was calling out. George is no idiot and quickly realises that Polly’s lying. Polly bizarrely starts hyperventilating as he walks away from her, and then she claps a hand over her mouth. Why is everyone in this so incredibly odd?
Caro’s in bed, which is George’s next stop. He gently asks her why John was there that morning. He asks if John raped her, and she freely tells him that the father of the baby isn’t John. George realizes it must have been Joe Middleton, and Caro giggles and asks him not to tell.
John carries some of the wood he’s chopped to the pile to be stacked, as Bert comes trotting home. John, for once playful, holds up his fists in a mock boxing stance, which perhaps isn’t the best way to bond with his kid, especially with Grace still sporting that shiner. Bert just gives him a look and continues past.
Grace goes into the village to do a bit of marketing, but it seems the price of bread’s gone up, so she can’t afford it. And for what it’s worth, the girl running the shop has a really bitchy attitude. Bert and a friend of his watch all this go down.
At school, Bert’s got Joe’s postcard. A group of bullies spot it and say it’s for men who can’t write. Bert defends his brother’s honour, until Douchy comes along and breaks up the fight and sends everyone inside.
In the classroom, he demands Bert hand over the card, but Bert refuses. He asks Bert who he thinks he is and Bert honestly replies that he’s Bert Middleton. ‘Are you trying to be funny?’ Douchy asks. ‘No.’ ‘You must think I’m a complete fool,’ he continues. ‘Yes,’ replies Bert. I’m amazed this kid can still walk with the balls on him. Douchy starts punching and backhanding Bert in the face and shouting at him. Once Bert’s on the floor, Douchy takes it up a notch by stepping on his hand and grinding down. ‘You will know what day it is!’ he shouts nonsensically. Bert sits up and informs him that it’s ‘bloody well Monday, sir.’ Wow.
The detective has arrived at the Allinghams’, and I wonder why he still needs to be there when Caro freely told George who her seducer was. What’s this guy got to detect? George pops his head into the drawing room where the man’s waiting and asks for a word. He barely gets one out before detective’s asking him what his feelings were when he saw Caro with John. George says he was concerned, because it seemed odd. Detective asks what he thought had happened and George says he’s not quite sure. He adds that just because John was there one day doesn’t necessarily mean he had anything to do with the pregnancy. Ok, I know Caro asked George not to say anything about who the father was, but why the hell doesn’t he at least tell the detective that it’s not John? And why isn’t the detective talking to Caro? This episode is frustrating me, because nobody’s behaving like a normal human being would, and it just creates unnecessary drama.
George asks Detective if he’s spoken to John, and Detective says he prefers to draw a character of a man before he speaks with him. You mean you like to get a preconceived notion? That seems like good detective work.
Detective then goes to speak with Polly, who says John grabbed Caroline as if to pull her back. He says that’s not what George said and Polly, who’s got the attitude back, says George made it clear he didn’t like her account of what happened. Detective tells her not to assume he’s on her side just because they both come from working-class stock.
Bert and his buddy are cutting some kind of deal with one of their schoolmates: he gives them sixpence, and if the teacher beats him, they’ll pay up, depending on how bad the beating is. So, is this some sort of elementary protection racket? And what’s to keep any of the kids from getting smacked on purpose so they get the cash? The kid agrees. And so do many of their classmates, to Bert’s delight. Out in the yard, the Good Neighbour’s son approaches, but Bert and his friend refuse to pay up because the kid was constantly getting caned. (See?) Annoyed, GN’s son snaps that they’ll have Bert’s family’s farm by the end of spring. Bert jumps to his feet, but GNS’s friends hurry him away. Another kid comes over, and Bert’s friend is reluctant to take money off of him, so Bert slashes the rate and tells the kid it’ll just be a penny. Later, Bert and his friend count up the cash and Bert asks him how much a cow is.
Detective finds George at the Lamb and asks about Joe. All George says is that Joe was their waterman. In comes Martha to be an obnoxious buzzkill and pour out the detective’s beer before threatening to report him for drinking on the job. Detective tells her that a little less zeal helps him with his work, and it might help with hers as well. Heh.
That night, Bert counts his money again.
Martha runs into the businessman on the street and demands he give a man a job. Edmund, who’s there as well, tells her the man’s not hiring any women. She asks him to hire Grace, then. Without even asking her.
She happily reports to Grace at the bathhouse that she’s found work for her, at Arnold Hankin’s boot factory. Thank God this guy finally has a name I was able to catch. Grace is uncertain, saying that John wouldn’t like it before she hastens out of there. ‘Too busy doing what he does like,’ Polly snarks from a nearby tub once Grace is gone. When Martha sharply tells her to elaborate, Polly just smugly smiles. She starts telling the others how John was going after Caroline, all drunk and she half dressed. Someone else adds that she’s pregnant. Wow, how did that news get out? I’d have thought the family would have kept that kind of hushed up, but I guess with a detective crawling about that would have been a bit difficult.
Martha runs into Bert taking a duck for a walk. He tells her he’s taking the duck snail hunting. Martha tells him she’s there to see his dad.
Inside the house, we catch up with her apparently having just told John about what Polly’s spreading around town. He tells her to sit down and begins confessing to a hell of a story. Apparently, back when Grace was pregnant with Joe, her sister, Catherine, came to visit. And Catherine got really, really cosy with John, even though he tried to resist. (At about t his time, Grace comes in and stands to one side, clearly tortured to be reliving this.) But then one day he gave in. Martha asks where Catherine is now, but John doesn’t answer, just tells her how she kept coming back over and over again, even though he kept telling her to stay away and refusing to sleep with her. But she wouldn’t stop, and then one night she told him she was pregnant. Man, these are some crazy fertile men in this family. John told her never to come back, and she smiled before she left. They found her, drowned, the next day, the baby obviously dead too. Wow, so I was actually right on both my guesses over John’s guilty secret. That’s a first.
There’s a ruckus outside, and we see the villagers have organized a charivari. Inside, Grace sternly asks John if he did what they say he did. He desperately says he didn’t, and that he hasn’t ever repeated that mistake. The villagers reach the front gate, yelling, waving farm implements, while John collapses onto the table, terrified and guilty and sobbing. Grace goes outside and yells at everyone that he’s her husband. Bert spots the Good Neighbour in the crowd and tells her he wants their farm. Luckily, the detective shows up and tells everyone to get lost, and they do.
Inside, he sits down with John and tells him what Polly said. John doesn’t think he ever laid a hand on Caro, but he doesn’t sound sure. Detective asks him to put a hand on the Bible while he answers questions. He asks if John’s ever been unfaithful, and Grace immediately says that she’s forgiven him. He gets the whole story, and asks where John was when the woman died. He answers that he was at home, and Detective asks if anyone can verify that. Seems not. I think Detective’s bored with this case and looking for something jucier. He gets up to leave and John asks him what happens now. Detective has no answer. Completely freaked out, John grabs his hat and heads into town, where he starts to go into the Lamb before pulling back and going out into the hills and praying.
Grace waits at home, cradling her belly. Bert counts his money and realizes it’s not quite enough.
The next day, Grace sends Bert off to see to Peggy. John’s still not home, having spent the night outside. He wakes, pulls out Joe’s postcard, reads it, and leans back against the outbuilding he’s sheltering against, looking like a desperate, haunted man.
Bert arrives at Peggy’s, and it looks like she’s finally shuffled off the mortal coil. Before he carries out her final wish, he sees an entrepreneurial opportunity, charging his classmates sixpence to get in to see the body. While they’re gathered around the bed, Bert cuts her hand, as she asked him to, to make sure she’s really dead. Everyone agrees that she is, indeed, the late Peggy.
Detective returns to the Allingham home to speak with Caro, though Clem tries to forbid it. She grabs his arm to stop him, so he grabs her wrist, and she hisses at him for touching her. Her husband emerges from his room, not wearing his usual hat and drapery, and Detective goes into Caroline’s room. He asks her if John forced himself on her, and then leaves without waiting for an answer. The hell?
At the Middleton farm, Grace is going about her day, while John fetches a long length of rope and a crate. Oh no. He tosses one end of the rope over a tree branch while Grace goes to hang up the laundry on the line out back. John hesitates, but then with a sudden burst of conviction, he takes off his jacket and hat, tosses them aside, gets up on the crate, loops the noose around his neck, and kicks the crate away.
Bert’s walking home, unaware that his father is strangling to death.
Grace, on the other hand, is very aware, having just happened to spot her husband as she was going inside. She screams hysterically, yelling for help as she rushes to him and tries to support him. Bert comes running and manages to prop up the crate under his father’s feet, saving his life.
The family gathers inside, Grace looking completely wrecked and John looking exhausted and defeated and a bit ashamed. Bert, unsure what else to do, runs upstairs and grabs his money stash, which he puts down in front of his father. John looks at it, takes it, and leaves. Oh, marvellous. Grace and Bert exchange concerned looks and then settle in to wait for John’s return, together.
Their quiet afternoon is disturbed, however, by Grace going into labour. Bert helps her upstairs and offers to run for the doctor, but she begs him to stay. They probably can’t afford to have the doctor come anyway. Bert stays with his mother throughout her labour, while John goes out and buys a cow. Wow, good for you, John. He’s walking it home when he hears his wife screaming inside. Bert helps deliver the baby—God, this kid’s going to be so warped—and it’s the cleanest newborn you’ve ever seen. John comes in just after Grace cuts the cord and they all have a nice family moment together, for once.
Ooof. This is a bleak one, folks. And look, I have no problem with bleak stories—I’m not expecting everything to be all happy and fluffy all the time. But a few glimpses of sunshine every now and then wouldn’t hurt. Most people have at least a few moments of happiness in their lives, even if their lives, for the most part, suck. Can we see just a couple of those? Because otherwise I’m afraid this is going to be kind of a slog. A hugely depressing (and, let’s face it, not very realistic) slog.
But other than people acting strangely, this was a fairly good episode. Nice to get some more backstory on John (and after hearing that story, Martha’s behaviour at the beginning seemed soooo much more menacing, didn’t it?) and to see Bert really step up. It remains to be seen how this foray into cow farming works out for the family, and how Caroline’s pregnancy works out for the Allinghams.