Vanity Fair Episode 4 Recap: Oh, What a Lovely War!

Last week saw two weddings which were unlikely to make for happy long-term marriages and which REALLY annoyed all the in-laws. Also, Napoleon got bored of Elba and decided to head back to France for a little while.

War! Hooray, because things were getting so dull in London, right? And expensive, for Becky and Rawdon. A nice little war gives them some breathing room from the creditors.

This is the attitude everyone seems to be adopting. Very few of the principles seem to understand that war = dead people. Dobbin, of course, is a notable exception, and before everyone sets sail, he goes to the Osbourne house to see if he can broker a peace between father and son. He cannot. Mr Osbourne has well and truly washed his hands of his son, and when he insults Amelia, well, Dobbin has some sharp(ish) words for him.

On the eve of setting off, George receives a note from his father, officially disowning him, along with a cheque for £2000. Now, £2000 in 1815 was worth around £150K today, which I think a lot of us would consider a decent windfall. But George, obviously, was expecting a lot more someday, and he’s unaccustomed to having to live on any sort of budget, so his reaction is to completely flip out on Dobbin, whom he accuses of having ruined him, for persuading him to go ahead with the marriage to Amelia. Poor Amelia gets a front-row seat to her husband’s little wobbler and now feels like she’s really to blame here.

Things are going better for Becky and Rawdon. Rawdon’s using his skills at the card table to make a nice temporary living (mostly off of George), while Becky is deploying her skills at flirtation to advance her husband’s career. Before long, he’s aide-de-camp to General Tufto, which puts him and Becky in very fine company indeed.

The finest company Amelia can manage is Major O’Dowd’s wife, Peggy, who’s a lovely, delightful, warmly maternal figure, but also Irish, so you know she gets looked down on a lot. And she, in her turn, looks down on Becky, whom she declares to be kind of a slut. George, meanwhile, is embarrassingly kowtowing to the odious Lord and Lady Bareacres, and their even more odious daughter, Blanche. But George lacks Becky’s skills in this area and his feeble efforts are just cringeworthy to watch.

And it takes no time at all for George to fall under Becky’s spell along with everyone else. Whether she starts targeting him because she simply can’t help herself or because she wants to mess with his head a bit is unknown, but Becky definitely isn’t reining herself in, or realising just how upset Amelia’s getting.

To be fair, there’s a lot to distract her. Apparently going to war was a never-ending party for the officer class: there are operas and balls to attend, and bouquets to send and assignations to make. Even Jos shows up to join in the fun, which is a moment I find really questionable. Hasn’t he been in India? It took a LONG time to travel from India to Britain (or anywhere in the northern part of Europe) in 1815. We’re talking MONTHS, and it would have taken just about as long for news to reach India. Napoleon’s escape from Elba and march north was called the Hundred Days for a reason. There’s no way Jos would have had time to receive word that Napoleon had escaped, arrange passage to Belgium, and actually travel there before Waterloo. So, the only way this would work would be if he was already in Britain, or somewhere in Europe when Napoleon escaped, and if that’s the case, then why the hell hasn’t he helped out his bankrupt family? It’s been established that he has lots of money, and he doesn’t seem like the type to hold on out family in need, so what’s going on here?

Ok, sorry. The party finally ends when word comes that Napoleon is approaching. Everyone scrambles to head off to war, and George slips Becky a note asking her to run away with him. She totally laughs it off, because why the hell would she do that? Dobbin drags George aside and once again reminds him that Amelia’s rather nice and George is being rather a dick to her. At which point George’s conscience wakes itself back up again and he and Amelia reconcile before he goes marching off.

Becky waves Rawdon off with about as much concern as she would have if he were heading out for a pint with the boys. She then goes to visit Amelia, who turns on her, both guns blazing, and accuses her of being a terrible wife who doesn’t love her husband, and also an all-around terrible person. It’s a good scene, but seems kind of surprising, coming from the rather mild-mannered Amelia.

Becky certainly seems taken aback. She heads back outside, where she first hears the guns from the not-too-distant battle. She and other people in the marketplace turn towards the gunfire–hidden behind a painted background so embarrassingly fake it wouldn’t pass muster at a high-school musical. Did they blow too much of the budget on the opening carousel? Or was it the rights to all these end-credits songs that are eating into the bottom line?

Oh, and on that subject: our closing song is Running up that Hill by Kate Bush, which really takes me back. My parents had the cassette (yes, that’s right) of the album this song was featured on and we used to listen to it a lot in the car when I was a kid. The nostalgia makes me kind of forgive the jarring end credits music this week.