Skip to main content

Happiness and peace are the reward of the believer.

Children of the Stones
5: Charmed Circle


The fifth episode ups the ante further, as two central characters (Margaret and Sandra) fall under the spell of Hendrick. Indeed, the serial is building towards the climax from this point on. There’s no longer the need for subterfuge, even if outright discussion and accusation between the opposing parties is saved for the finale.

HendrickPoor old Dai. Still, there’s no escaping one’s destiny is there?


But Adam is rightly beginning to lose his cool with Hendrick, whose smooth superiority leaves him casting doubt on matters they both know he has answers to. So the disappearance of Dai’s body, replaced by a number of stones; Hendrick makes cryptic remarks, and dismisses the idea that he is dead (and, sort of, he is right, as Matthew attempts to explain to Adam that “He’s just not here any more”).


The threads in this episode are more concentrated; Adam and Matthew reacting to the circumstances of Margaret and Sandra. For the former, this revolves around Matthew’s newfound talent for psychometry. He’s lucky he has such a laidback father who seems willing to let him dabble in the occult and arcane, get into danger, and who treats him as an equal in every way other than his revolting tastes in sandwich filling.


The first example of this is the rather inspired (this whole show is inspired, which makes it more difficult to single aspects out for praise) piece of time loop invention with Dai’s amulet. Occasionally the series places a reveal that we think must have happened earlier, as it isn’t that dramatic (the news that there 55 people in the painting, just as there are in the village; the realisation that it may be some kind of prophecy has been keyed in to the viewer since the visions in the first episode). 



Revealing an exact match between the fragments of the amulet left by Dai’s body and the fragments of the amulet left next to the Barber Surgeon centuries before is the kind of fancy genius that rejects any clear, rigorous analysis but is greeted with pleasure by the most impressionable parts of the brain. It makes more sense the less closely you look at it.


Demin’s psychically receptive performance isn’t perhaps the most enthralling of possessed states, and the word soup he comes forth with lacks sufficient jumble to allow a truly poetic deduction of its meaning, but the “bright shining visitor” as reference to the supernova is a nice turn of phrase. Later, Matthew will enter this altered state again as he tunes in to Sandra’s experiences at Hendrick’s, through holding her scarf.

HendrickVery perceptive, that son of yours. Perceptive and formidable.


The dinner deal at Hendrick’s provides a volume of additional information and confirmations. It also introduces us to a rather nattily designed set; Hendrick’s “dining room” where he serves his guests to the supernova.


Before this, we’re introduced to Link, his butler (the always superb John Woodnutt). There’s a conversation between the two that invites a gay reading of their relationship. Hendrick references the lateness of his guests, commenting that women are delightful creatures but punctuality is not one of their virtues. When Link responds (below) there’s a brief cut to Hendrick that is full of unspoken meaning.


LinkThere’s much to be said for the celibate lifestyle.
HendrickAnd yet I have my children.
LinkThe best of both worlds.

It’s surely significant that the conclusion sees the two men reunite as before, to go forward together again.


The episode repeats several times the prioritisation of the guests at Hendrick’s table; they must be processed in order of precedence to the village. The writers are careful to provide sufficient foreshadowing that we understand why Adam and Matthew are allowed to walk free as they are. So too with the use of atomic clocks, to ensure the precise moment at which the guests give themselves. It sets up the cleverness of the Adam and Matthew’s escape plan in the finale in such a way that we do not question it.

HendrickA hymn of celebration.
MargaretCelebration? What are they celebrating?
HendrickDeliverance from the past. And their entry into the future now.


Cuthbertson is utterly in command during the dinner scenes, which grow increasingly eerie, as the background noise of the villagers chanting outside becomes a constant. His conversation with Margaret is very clearly a sufferance, and he most definitely looks on her as a mere inquisitive child. Just as a parent expects obedience from a child beyond the point of having to explain things, he informs her that she doesn’t need to understand (the connection between the table and the circle). It is only necessary “that you believe me when I tell you; all works towards good”. He takes the role of priest, but he is equal parts parent and politician. Cuthbertson gets some wit in too. He has a nice line about the mason who worked on the room going out of business “ages ago”. But mostly there is an establishing of the formidable status of Adam, and particularly Matthew – as Hendrick earlier recognised – whose insights enable Margaret and Sandra to explain the workings of the room to Hendrick before he can inform them (of the table, and the bishop’s stone underneath, and how the house is at the centre of the circle).


Hendrick: Bon appetite – my children.

A particularly chilling line, one step short of something Hannibal Lector would come out with. What makes this episode particularly strong is that the writers are willing to turn two of the lead characters. We don’t really expect this, and it lends the sense that there may be no escape for our main protagonists.


HendrickHappiness and peace are the reward of the believer.

Hendrick also utters some incantatory words, to the effect that the new additions will complete the circle, and be at one with nature and the elements. The opening of the roof and the brilliant white light that floods the room is appropriately full-on as it reflects the same imagery as the painting. 



I suppose one might snipe that the sacrifice of the Margaret and Sandra is a cop-out, since a reset button is pressed in the last episode. But that would only really be fair if it was a total reset. What Burnham and Ray do is filtered through a veil of pervading unease.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Everyone wants a happy ending and everyone wants closure but that's not the way life works out.

It Chapter Two (2019)
(SPOILERS) An exercise in stultifying repetitiveness, It Chapter Two does its very best to undo all the goodwill engendered by the previous instalment. It may simply be that adopting a linear approach to the novel’s interweaving timelines has scuppered the sequel’s chances of doing anything the first film hasn’t. Oh, except getting rid of Pennywise for good, which you’d be hard-pressed to discern as substantially different to the CGI-infused confrontation in the first part, Native American ritual aside.

That woman, deserves her revenge and… we deserve to die. But then again, so does she.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2  (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’m not sure I can really conclude whether one Kill Bill is better than the other, since I’m essentially with Quentin in his assertion that they’re one film, just cut into two for the purposes of a selling point. I do think Kill Bill: Vol. 2 has the movie’s one actually interesting character, though, and I’m not talking David Carradine’s title role.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
(SPOILERS) It sometimes seems as if Quentin Tarantino – in terms of his actual movies, rather than nearly getting Uma killed in an auto stunt – is the last bastion of can-do-no-wrong on the Internet. Or at very least has the preponderance of its vocal weight behind him. Back when his first two movies proper were coming out, so before online was really a thing, I’d likely have agreed, but by about the time the Kill Bills arrived, I’d have admitted I was having serious pause about him being all he was cracked up to be. Because the Kill Bills aren’t very good, and they’ve rather characterised his hermetically sealed wallowing in obscure media trash and genre cul-de-sacs approach to his art ever since. Sometimes to entertaining effect, sometimes less so, but always ever more entrenching his furrow; as Neil Norman note in his Evening Standard review, “Tarantino has attempted (and largely succeeded) in making a movie whose only reality is that of celluloid”. Extend t…

Check it out. I wonder if BJ brought the Bear with him.

Death Proof (2007)
(SPOILERS) In a way, I’m slightly surprised Tarantino didn’t take the opportunity to disown Death Proof, to claim that, as part of Grindhouse, it was no more one of his ten-official-films-and-out than his Four Rooms segment. But that would be to spurn the exploitation genre affectation that has informed everything he’s put his name to since Kill Bill, to a greater or less extent, and also require him to admit that he was wrong, and you won’t find him doing that for anything bar My Best Friend’s Birthday.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Where’s the commode in this dungeon? I gotta have a squirt.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)
(SPOILERS) I’m not shy to admit that I fully bought into the Tarantino hype when he first arrived on the scene. Which, effectively took place with the UK’s reception of Reservoir Dogs (and its subsequent banning from home video), rather than the slightly tepid post-Sundance US response. That said, I think I always appreciated the “package” more than the piece itself. Don’t get me wrong, I admired the film for what it achieved, shrewdly maximising its effectiveness on a limited budget by, for example, making a virtue out of notshowing the all-important heist. But its influence was everything, more than the sum total of the film itself – that slow-motion parade in cheap matching suits (not so much Chris Penn’s track one), the soundtrack CD that was a fixture until, basically Pulp Fiction came out, the snatches of dialogue, most famously the “Like a Virgin” monologue, even the poster, adorning every student’s wall for the next half decade – so I wouldn’t quite say I …