Being the middle point of the entire series, the fourth episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell concerns itself with bigger emotions the the previous entries. It contains affections and discoveries and a parting of ways that stings terribly.
(Spoilers for the book version of JS&MN, for events that occur outside this episode.)
After the cliffhanger of last week’s episode, we find that Childermass survives his gunshot wound, though he knows something about Lady Pole is amiss that Norrell will not explain. (Norrell acts suspiciously toward his servant for using magic, to which Childermass rightly points out he has been learning from him for the quite some time.) The magician insists that Lady Pole be sent away, and she is taken to Mr Segundus, who has become a caretaker in absence of his plans to create a magic school. Once he drives Childermass from their door, Lady Pole begins to trust him. Mr. Segundus can perceive roses at her and Stephen’s mouths, but no one can teach him about the enchantment ensnaring them both.
Jonathan Strange finds that someone has been using his good name to give false magic lessons via correspondence. It turns out to be Drawlight, whom Strange confronts after taking a journey through the mirror from a club; he attempts the feat when a man visiting the establishment from the country persisted in claiming that he was Strange’s student. Strange emerges from the mirror in the home of Mrs Bulworth, who is meeting with Drawlight over a list of actions she would like Jonathan Strange to take against her husband and mother-in-law to name a few people. He refuses and returns home, telling Arabella that in the mirror, he found the Raven King’s Roads. Arabella is growing concerned over the danger of Jonathan’s work, and wants him to stop being a magician altogether.
Norrell and Strange are asked to come before the King of England and perhaps produce a cure to his madness. Norrell insists that magic cannot do such a thing, but Strange goes back without him and attempts his more instinctual brand of magic. Eventually, the blind king comes to see the Gentleman, but Strange cannot. The king is drawn through a mirror and ends up on a road in the countryside where Stephen is riding. Stephen suddenly finds a sword in his hand and is forced to charge the king, but Strange recalls his majesty just in time, not understanding what he did. The Gentleman had been hoping to make Stephen king of England once he took the current king’s life. He has Stephen pull a moss oak from the ground and turns it into Arabella by giving it tears from her handkerchief.
Lascelles warns Drawlight away and sends debtors after him to keep his standing with Norrell. He helps to pen a book elucidating Norrell’s version of magic, and Strange finds it deplorable. He pens a review of the book, and denounces it entirely. Then he decides he must part ways with Norrell, something his teacher is quietly desperate to prevent. But Strange goes and tells Arabella that they will move back to Shropshire together. As soon as he does this, he’s ordered back the army again–Napoleon has left exile and Strange is called to Waterloo.
The manner in which Childermass is revived was very well-conceived in this episode, with he use of imagery and different locations. In fact, the new locations in general were impressive, and the King’s Roads were rendered well with the use of some smart effects… though I wish we’d gotten to see more of them.
There is a bit of paring down here; it’s never explained the Mrs Bulworth is seeking revenge against Lascelles as well, who was meant to be her lover that she planned to leave her husband for. While it doesn’t make much of a different from a storytelling standpoint, we miss out on one of Strange’s more interesting exchanges, the point where he admits that he find it unfair that she, a woman, is being punished for this situation when Lascelles is not. (But watching him chase Drawlight from the room is hilarious.) We also have Lascelles as the author of Norrell’s book rather than including the entirely new character of Lord Portishead. Again, it makes less of a difference in the story.
We’ve seen enough episodes that the performances are getting easier to grasp and pick apart. I found myself endeared to Bertie Carvel’s way of walking, which I noticed more in this episode; he has Strange sort of stumble about, almost as though he’s surprised to find himself wherever he ends up. This wobbliness tend to leave him when he’s in the process of performing or observing magic, which is utterly fitting. Childermass’ intimidating body language was also worth note, his presence while wounded showing the strength of his character. We see very little of the Gentleman in this episode, and it seems odd, as is his decision to try and get Stephen to kill the king to usurp him. (In the book, he plans to kidnap the man.) It seems a clear cut to push the story along, and as a result, the bit with King George seems entirely unimportant.
There’s far more romance in this episode, a level of contact and constant reassurance or dialogue between Arabella and Jonathan that never existed in the book. Arabella is for more openly upset with Strange for his dabbling in unknowns with magic. It’s unsurprising for a screen adaptation; character relationships are often built up because audiences expect a bit more melodrama on television and in film, but it has the odd affect of making Strange seem more noble–because he’s less absentminded and more attuned to Arabella’s emotions, he becomes a more sensitive character. It will be interesting to see how that plays in the continuation of the story, particularly in its conclusion.
Many of these events are occurring out of order with the book this time around, particularly in having Strange agree to leave for home with wife, only to be instantly called back into the war. It’s likely that Waterloo will go by in the rush, considering how ground has to be covered in the next episode, with so many loose ends given.
Norrell received far less attention in this episode, but what Eddie Marsan was given he used to his benefit in every possible way. His loss of temper and apology to Childermass, his use of Drawlight’s ridiculous pronunciation of his name when he’s introduced to the king, his quiet admission to Lascelles that his conversation with Strange did not go as they rehearsed. This is one of the most important points of the story, their parting of ways, so it makes sense that they put this moment smack in the center of the whole series. The scene is played to a hushed perfection by both parties, and it’s masterful to watch the way the Marsan uses the slightest cracks in Norrell’s comportment to indicate his heartbreak.
Here’s hoping that next week’s offering gives its all like this one.
Emily Asher-Perrin is kind of in love with Childermass, which is appropriate given that he was one of her favorites in the book. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.