Published on June 30th, 2015 | by Michael0
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Episode Seven
Jonathan Strange told Drawlight last week that he was coming back. Turns out, he’s not the only one. Things are in a pretty sorry state both on the continent and back in Blighty, and they probably aren’t a barrel of laughs in Lost-Hope either, come to think of it. In Venice, Strange is still trapped in the vortex of shadow that surrounds him. In England, Mr Norrell has high-tailed it back to Yorkshire and Lord Pole has had to tender his resignation from Parliament, what with magic running riot thanks to Strange’s machinations last week.
Having to deal with both the tower of black and the magic running amok in England is the unfortunate Drawlight, who returns to the Motherland with Strange’s messages in tow. He doesn’t get to deliver them, though, because he runs afoul of arch-bastard Lascelles, who shoots dead his former partner and steals the box containing Lady Pole’s finger (and proof of Mr Norrell’s deception). The devious Lascelles is no match for the uncannily perceptive Childermass, who not only rumbles his schemes but allows his face to be carved open just so he can pick Lascelles’ pocket. I’ve maintained all along that the servants and lackeys in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell are as important to the narrative as the main players and here once again they are driving the plot: Drawlight as the go between, Lascelles as the snake in the grass and Childermass as the bloke who has finally, finally had enough. When he storms off out of the library and out of Mr Norrell’s employ, Lascelles gives chase, getting lost in Mr Norrell’s labyrinth as a result. So that’s probably the last we’ll see of him.
Childermass, meanwhile, goes to visit Lady Pole to ensure that some plot happens, because God knows no bugger else will. With the help of the ever willing John Segundus and Mr Honeyfoot, Childermass sets about trying to re-attach Lady Pole’s finger and thus free her from Lost-Hope and the snares of The Gentleman. Before they can do that, though, they cotton on that Stephen Black has more than just the one master these days. The beleaguered Butler is promptly locked in a cell, babbling nonsensical stories. Quite why this doesn’t twig Segundus and Honeyfoot that Black is under enchantment is beyond me, especially after Mr Honeyfoot’s Columbo moment two weeks ago.
The best laid plans of men go very much awry when John Segundus, against all odds, manages to reattach Lady Pole’s finger and draw her soul back from Lost-Hope. Not only does that incur the wrath of The Gentleman but it also somewhat scuppers Jonathan Strange’s escape plans for Arabella – Lady Pole was to lead her enchanted friend to safety. Of more immediate concern is The Gentleman’s reaction to his ‘property’ being stolen. Once Mr Honeyfoot’s walnut shotgun proves predictably useless, his ears are enchanted off. Lord Pole is struck blind, Lady Pole becomes a literal bed of roses. Childermass has escaped this attack by dint of his tracking down of Vinculus, having heard how The Gentleman and Stephen Black hanged him the previous week. Of which more later.
Jonathan Strange has made good of his promise and has come to Mr Norrell’s house in an awful temper. Mr Norrell’s attempt at duelling is to throw something at Strange’s head and then run away, very fast. He does eventually make it rain inside his library, which draws laughter from Strange. Mr Norrell’s reaction is quite touching – ‘Please do not laugh at me Sir. It is cruel to laugh’. I said some weeks ago that Eddie Marsan excels and playing inadequates and that shines through here. Sure, by many measures Mr Norrell is a great man but there’s always something of the lonely schoolboy about him. Strange, decent chap that he is, praises Mr Norrell’s ability to affect the weather. As it happens, he hasn’t turned up for revenge against Mr Norrell, he wants his help to kill The Gentleman. And to do that, they must summon John Uskglass, The Raven King
Much of this episode boils down to the simple dynamic of the two magicians and their magic. Each is full of praise for the other. Mr Norrell admits that he lacks Strange’s imagination. Strange tells Mr Norrell that he performs spells by copying Norrell and adding some refinements. Strange’s ultimate plan is to return all of English magic to The Raven King, before entreating him to kill the Gentleman. In the event, The Raven King does show up (looking like the lead singer of some Scandinavian Black Metal band), restoring Vinculus to life, enchanting and the disenchanting Childermass before leaving. Magic is a tricky thing though, and as anyone who has ever read a genie story will know, you have to be careful about the wording. When casting his spell, Strange says that all the magic in England (which sadly includes all of Norrell’s books) should be channelled in to the Nameless Slave, The Black King, The King in the North. The result… well, Mr Norrell puts it best: ‘We have channelled all of English magic into a Butler!’. Yes, all Strange’s appellations could apply to Stephen Black, finally afforded some agency courtesy of all the magic in the land. Whereupon he is immediately shot by Lascelles, finally free of the Labyrinth. Well, if you thought The Gentleman was pissed off before… An interesting aspect of this series has been The Gentleman’s relationship with Stephen Black. In most ways Black is just another of his victims but The Gentleman truly seems to care for him, wishing him to be King, including him in his plotting and so on. In revenge for the apparent murder of his friend, The Gentleman turns Lascelles in to pottery, as you do.
As you all suspected, Black’s wound was less than fatal. He is soon up on his feet, wasting no time, only faeries, sealing the poor Gentleman in a tree. Yes, Black wasn’t so into the whole friendship thing. He does make amends for his previous inaction though, helping Strange and Norrell pull Arabella to safety. The magical duo had arrived at Lost-Hope via the King’s road and it was a delight to see Mr Norrell experience them for the first time. He danced around like The Doctor at his most manic and joyful, the gruff scholar apparently lost forever. ‘Lost forever’ could also describe our magicians at the end of their scheme – no happy ending for Messers Strange and Norrell, who are remain trapped Mr Norrell’s library, before the whole house (and the black tower) disappear into the sky. It’s not all bad news though, every so often Jonathan Strange can appear to his wife in a well in Venice, so that’s cool.
Vinculus (now adorned with new text) and Childermass are left to pick up the pieces back in England as the series ends where it started, with the learned York magicians, who now count women and commoners among their number. He presents Vinculus in all his topless glory, hoping that these learned men and women can decipher his secrets and perhaps even find a way to bring Strange and Norrell back. Whether they succeed or not is unknown to us, what is known is that they won’t be seen on TV again – there’s no sequel to Susanna Clarke’s novel, and anyway the viewing figures have been frankly wretched, which is a crying shame because the series has been terrific throughout. Eddie Marsan and Bertie Carvel have proved inspired casting, as much of us thought when it was announced. Charlotte Riley (Arabella) and Enzo Cilenti (Childermass) have also excelled, indeed it’s hard to think of anyone who hasn’t. Even the effects, while occasionally betraying their TV roots, have generally been up to snuff. Let’s hope the next time the BBC puts out something of this quality, it gets the audience it deserves.