Skip to main content

You know what a scrounger is, my dear?

The Box of Delights
4: The Spider in the Web


The pace picks up again in the fourth episode, including a ream of exposition expertly delivered by Stephens. Before that, there’s the little matter of the treacherous weir to deal with. Woo-hoo! This is as typically Sunday Children’s Classic looking as the serial gets (well, that and some of the journey-through-time scenery in the following installment). What keeps it from becoming too twee is the presence of jovial antagonists (“Nothing like children for leading one a dance, what?”)


Returned to full size and back at the freshly burglarised Seekings. Kay launches into a remonstration of Ellen for deserting the house (bloody working class servant types, eh? They need thirteen year olds to keep them in line!). The poor woman is only recovering from the sick trick used to get her to leave (that her mother was terribly ill). 


The return of Maria finds Dukes yet again commanding attention (“I… was scrobbled!”) Unlike her peers, she isn’t the type to get upset or frightened (“I knew I shouldn’t have gone without a pistol!”).


Sylvia: You know what a scrounger is, my dear? We put you in it, and it has a thing that goes round and round. That is the scrounger. And pretty soon you come out as dog biscuit!

The flashback to Maria’s imprisonment by Abner’s gang mostly revolves around an effective cell set, shot at high angles. Abner and Sylvia introduce themselves from hatches at the sides. Maria’s refusal to join forces with this “pretty shady lot” is marked out by the unswerving insults she piles at Sylvia (“It can’t be too nice, or it wouldn’t have you in it”, says Maria of the gang). The scene is also noteworthy for Sylvia’s “Put her in the scrounger!” moment, as she explains how Maria may soon end up as dog food (those dreadful adults!) 


Rye knows just how conjure up menace; the cell goes dark, then the door opens and (Charles) enters putting a sack over Maria’s head. To underline that none of this has fazed Maria in the slightest, she summarises her adventure with “Well I’m here now, and I didn’t join their gang. What’s for dessert?


For some reason, Kay chooses to bring Peter along with him to investigate Abner’s masquerade as the head of Chesters Theological College (over at Chester Hills; actually Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire). Aside from his colourful vernacular (more “Purple pims” and now a “Gives me the fantods!”) Peter proves a resolutely unresourceful companion, and promptly gets himself captured when they split up (for which another sack is employed). 


There’s further indication that Kay knows the ways of the natural world, although this time in a less “nature spirit” manner. He makes light of Peter’s concern over discovery; there are clearly no gamekeepers about as, if there were, they would see signs of pheasants, and dead stoats and weasels.


Charles: I can feel the corpuscles coursing through my veins.
Abner: I wouldn’t have thought so.

Abner’s failure to hold his roguish crew in check may be his greatest failing; if not for his displays of the dark arts in the final episode, we might suspect his abilities at all. Instead of acting decisively or appointing reliable henchman, he persists with Charles and Joe and, most damagingly, continues to be advised by Sylvia. So he reluctantly takes a swim with Charles, who is none to good at disguising his canoodling behaviour (“Oh, jolly good sort old Sylvia… er Mrs Brown”). 



Perhaps Abner believes Charles’ fey, slightly campy manner signals him out as posing no real threat. Full respect to Stephens (and his beer jacket) for braving what looks like a very chilly lake. Poor old Chubby Joe; it appears that, when not scrobbling, he is ascribed menial tasks such as raking up leaves (clad in a monk’s habit).


Structurally, it is evident that what works on the page isn’t necessarily quite so effective on screen. Kay returns home to report Peter’s capture, makes yet another call on the police (this time with Maria), and then returns to Chesters. This serves to fill us in on some significant details (a newspaper bears the legend “Bishop of Tatchester kidnapped”) and confirms the abduction of Caroline Louisa (“She left two days ago to come home”) but it also diminishes the urgency of the situation. Still, Maria’s response to the Inspector’s blithe lack of concern is priceless; “Stupid man. Talking to Abner Brown himself”).


Fortunately, it's time for another of Kay’s hallucinogenic dreams; it appears that this time he needs no chemical inducement to trip-out. Yet again, he sees a vision of the Old Lady morphing into Caroline Louisa. We also see a watery vision of Rat, and his governess’ cry of “Kay!” before a wolf-headed figure pulls her away from her bedroom window (very suggestive, really). Regarding the Caroline Louisa/Old Lady connection, it occurs to me that they share scenes in the final episode thus making their link with each other even more oblique.



The final portion of the episode finds Kay, in miniature, back at the College and eavesdropping on Abner and Joe. Abner, using his globe/monitoring device, is listening to his chubby stooge complaining. Why do they need to get their hands on this perishing box; scrobbling clergy is “plain foolishness”. Abner would have maximum respect if he singularly did for Joe at this point, but he unwisely displays his own brand of foolishness by (apparently) capitulating to Joe’s suggestion that “If I knew why” he might be on board with the scheme.


The conversation further highlights that Abner is surrounded by idiots, as the vacuous Joe suggests facile means of extracting the truth from Cole; “Just threaten him a bit or using itching powder to keep him awake”. But, to be fair to Joe, at the start of the next episode his straightforward mind will hit on the truth of matters in a way Abner’s labyrinthine cerebrum cannot. Abner brings Joe, Kay, and the audience, up to speed on the relationship between Cole Hawlings and Arnold of Todi.


We learn that Arnold was a philosopher in the Middle Ages, back when a philosopher studied many things including magic. He encountered one Ramon Lully, who was also a philosopher in the Middle Ages and not “the chap who used to do the box trick down at Brixton Music Hall” at all. Lully travelled Spain, France and Italy on his quest, and offered his elixir of life to Todi in exchange for Arnold’s magic powers “which were contained in the box”.  However, soon after that, Arnold of Todi disappeared. Abner informs Joe that, according to legend, Arnold went into the past by means of the box but could not get out again. Setting up Kay’s journey in the next episode, it appears that one cannot take the box on travels into the past;  you enter at own risk and must find your own way out”.


Abner is oblique concerning whether or not Lully thieved the box. As Abner puts it, “There are people who believe that Ramon Lully got the box after Arnold went into the past without it”. And, in episode five, Arnold expresses no ill will concerning Lully’s actions. But it does imply a different side to the Cole we see, one for whom opportunism and undirected knowledge rather than wisdom may have been the order of the day.


And so comes the dramatic pay off, and the best cliffhanger out of the five. This is one that advances the plot by way of revelation, rather than ending on an action beat. Abner draws Joe’s attention to the picture of Lully in a dusty old tome;  You see who it is, don’t you?” Lully gradually becomes wrinkled and whiskery before Joe’s eyes and realisation dawns (lest we had not already reached such a point ourselves);


Joe: It’s him! It’s the old Punch and Judy Man! But he must be five… 700 years old!


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

The past is a statement. The future is a question.

Justified Season Six
(SPOILERS) There have been more than enough damp squib or so-so show finales of late to have greeted the demise of Justified with some trepidation. Thankfully it avoids almost every pitfall it might have succumbed to and gives us a satisfying send-off that feels fitting for its characters. This is a series that, even at its weakest (the previous season) is leagues ahead of most fare in an increasingly saturated sphere, so it’s a relief – even if there was never much doubt on past form – that it doesn’t drop the ball.

And of those character fates? In a show that often pulls back from giving Raylan Givens the great hero moments (despite his maintaining a veneer of ultra-cool, and getting “supporting hero” moments as he does in the finale, 6.13 The Promise), it feels appropriate that his entire (stated) motivation for the season should be undermined. He doesn’t get to take down Boyd Crowder, except in an incarcerating sense, but as always he is sanguine about it. After…

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…

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.

It’s not every day you see a guy get his ass kicked on two continents – by himself.

Gemini Man (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ang Lee seems hellbent on sloughing down a technological cul-de-sac to the point of creative obscurity, in much the same way Robert Zemeckis enmired himself in the mirage of motion capture for a decade. Lee previously experimented with higher frame rates on Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, to the general aversion of those who saw it in its intended form – 48, 60 or 120 fps have generally gone down like a bag of cold sick, just ask Peter Jackson – and the complete indifference of most of the remaining audience, for whom the material held little lustre. Now he pretty much repeats that trick with Gemini Man. At best, it’s merely an “okay” film – not quite the bomb its Rotten Tomatoes score suggests – which, (as I saw it) stripped of its distracting frame rate and 3D, reveals itself as just about serviceable but afflicted by several insurmountable drawbacks.

You’re only seeing what’s in front of you. You’re not seeing what’s above you.

Mr. Robot Season 2
(SPOILERS) I suspect my problem with Mr. Robot may be that I want it to be something it isn’t, which would entail it being a much better show than it is. And that’s its own fault, really, or rather creator and writer-director of umpteen episodes Sam Esmail’s, who has intentionally and provocatively lured his audience into thinking this really is an up-to-the-minute, pertinent, relevant, zeitgeisty show, one that not only has a huge amount to say about the illusory nature of our socio-economic system, and consequently the bedrock of our collective paradigm, but also the thorny subject of reality itself, both of which have been variably enticing dramatic fodder since the Wachowski siblings and David Fincher released a one-two punch at the end of the previous millennium.

In that sense, Mr. Robot’s thematic conceit is very much of a piece with its narrative form; it’s a conjuring act, a series of sleights of hand designed to dazzle the viewer into going with the flow, rath…

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You’ll just have to face it, Steed. You’re completely compromised.

The Avengers Season 6 Ranked – Worst to Best
The final run, and an oft-maligned one. It’s doubtful anyone could have filled Emma Peel’s kinky boots, but it didn’t help Linda Thorson that Tara King was frequently earmarked to moon over Steed while very evidentlynot being the equal Emma and Cathy were; the generation gap was never less than unflatteringly evident. Nevertheless, despite this imbalance, and the early hiccups of the John Bryce-produced episodes, Season Six arguably offers a superior selection of episodes to its predecessor, in which everyone became perhaps a little too relaxed.