When last seen in the Indian Summers series 2 opener (as ably reviewed by Fearless Admin), Patrick Malahide’s Lord Willingdon had just managed to survive an assassination attempt (by (thankfully) fake grenade) and a subsequent “little heart attack” as threats to his final year as Viceroy, while remaining convinced of his private secretary Ralph Whelan’s (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) unswerving loyalty. However, little does he realize he’s about to be subject to much more insidious betrayals from within (*cough*Ralph*cough*), with episode 2 setting up some the machinations that will be at work.
The episode opens with the search for the seditious pamphleteer, who is actually Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel). However, Superintendent Rowntree (Guy Williams) has shot Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur), one of the more violent revolutionaries, as the culprit by mistake, due to a deliberate misidentification by Aafrin’s current girlfriend, Kaira (Sughanda Garg). While searching for Banerjee, Rowntree and his men turn up Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) living rough in the woods, looking rather like Ralph’s illicit love Jaya upon her first appearance in series 1. Leena had been working for Simla’s mission orphanage for half-caste children, so obviously something has gone drastically sideways in her life. Anyway, Aafrin tries to direct the investigation away from where Banerjee is, fearing that he’ll be revealed as the pamphleteer if Banerjee talks.
A Visitor to the Viceregal Lodge
Meanwhile, back at the Viceregal Lodge, the Viceroy is *not* delighted to greet Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet), a highly placed official with the Indian Office, upon his arrival in Simla. Everything about Lord W’s demeanour suggests he’s not exactly thrilled by his new guest, but he’s trying to be polite. Mind you, Lord Hawthorne doesn’t make it any easier by presenting the Viceroy out with a large box which turns out to contain a croquet set instead of the expected champagne. “How kind,” says Lord W, with exactly the same enthusiasm as if he’d received a dead fish. He was much happier about the socks he got from the Widow Cardue in episode 1. Lord Hawthorne’s arrival also prompts the Viceroy to give Ralph some bad news he’d been putting off: namely, that Lord Hawthorne will likely be the next Viceroy, scuttling Ralph’s chances. (Side note: Realistically, Ralph’s chances would be nil anyway because (1) he’s a commoner, (2) he has no aristocratic connections besides Lord W., and (3) he’s never been a governor of anything. “Indian Summers” has played a bit fast and loose with Viceregal selection ever since series 1.)
Ralph is understandably incensed to discover he’s been shut out of the job he’s been sorta-kinda promised, especially since he thinks Hawthorne, who has little experience of India, is a poor candidate. Ralph’s angry at Lord W. too, for not telling him sooner that his “old friend” (seriously, I don’t think Lord W. even likes the guy) has been earmarked for the job, saying that he (Ralph) “should’ve sent the old man packing when [he] had the chance” – which isn’t very nice. Ralph then decides to get petty revenge by serving the cook’s “famous chili mutton” when Lord Hawthorne and the Viceroy come to Chottipool for lunch the following day. Apparently the dish is “famous” for causing gastric upset, even resulting in Indians like Bhupi (Ash Nair) being laid up for an entire week after eating it. Knowingly food poisoning your guests! What could possibly go wrong??
A Croquet Game Turns Unpleasantly Political
But before Ralph inflicts chili mutton hell on everyone, he first shows Lord Hawthorne the sights of Simla, with Lord W. tagging along. Hawthorne gets to experience all the usual tourist attractions, including having his wallet stolen at the monkey temple. Then it’s back to the Viceregal Lodge for some genteel croquet and politics. Lord W. is pleased that the Government of India Act (I assume they mean this one) has been passed over Churchill’s objections, but Ralph feels it “falls far short” and proceeds to tell Lord Hawthorne exactly why – while Lord W. eyerolls in increasing exasperation at his temerity. Lord W. attempts to play mediator, saying that plenty of Indian Congress party members are “willing to compromise” on the Act, but Ralph immediately shoots that down (and by implication, Lord W’s opinion as well) by saying those party members haven’t got any influence. Ralph says Nehru and Gandhi want complete independence, not a “set of muddled reforms”.
Sensing hostility in the air, Lord W. tries to change the topic by diplomatically suggesting they adjourn for tea, but Ralph barrels on – perhaps feeling that if he’s not going to be Viceroy anyway, he might as well burn some bridges. He suggests that what’s needed is “a message of real change that [they] can sell to these people”; it’s a vaguely worded sentiment, although more or less what he’s been pushing for all along with the Untouchables. But Lord Hawthorne bluntly disagrees, declaring that if Ralph (and by extension, Lord W.) can’t “sell the message [they’re] given” then “we’ll jolly well shoot the messenger and get some other bugger along who can”. He and Ralph eye each other with increasing animosity, at a definite impasse. Horrified at the way the conversation is going, Lord W. steps in to try to break the tension. “Gentlemen! Shall we?” he asks in cheerful tones, while giving Ralph a bit of a “What the *hell* are you doing??” sort of look. I don’t think he anticipated he’d be stuck doing damage control. Speaking of petty, Lord Hawthorne then asserts his superiority by symbolically beating Ralph at croquet, spitefully sending his ball far off into the grass. No wonder Lord W. doesn’t like the guy.
A Little Blackmail Before Lunch
The day of the lunch party, Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) arrives early for a little light blackmailing to whet her appetite. In episode 1, her faithful majordomo Kaiser (Indi Nadarajah) spotted Alice (Jemima West) kissing her former lover, Aafrin, at the club, and Cynthia is determined to shield Ralph’s career from the damage the relationship could cause, at all costs. So she suggests, much the way a mafioso would (and just as she suggested to Madeleine, Ralph’s wife, in series 1), that the oft-blackmailed Alice would be better off leaving Simla for England as soon as possible if she doesn’t want her tryst revealed far and wide. Adding insult to injury, Cynthia remarks that any white woman being involved with an Indian man makes her “sick to [her] stomach”. Already being held as a sort of hostage by her abusive husband Charlie Havistock (Blake Ritson), Alice is (once again) caught between a rock and a hard place. It seems villains just can’t resist blackmailing her. But we also see that Cynthia’s not the best judge of character, either; she thinks Charlie’s a great guy until Madeleine (Olivia Grant) gleefully reveals that Charlie’s nickname for Cynthia, “Mrs. S.” (not “Evil in pin curls”, alas), refers to a Mrs. Sparrow, the charwoman or “char” he used to have in England. Image-conscious Cynthia takes this about as well as might be expected, so Charlie’s days are now likely numbered. Everyone’s going to be in a great mood for the party!
The Mad Hatter Luncheon Party
Luncheon finally arrives. Ralph describes the main course, “Running Mutton”, to his guests as “India on a plate”. It appears to be swimming in enough chilis and sauce that you can almost smell it through the screen; heck, it might even be delicious for a second or two before it starts to kill you. 😉 Lord Hawthorne looks somewhat doubtful, but Lord W. dives right in and promptly gets a hit of spice. “Whelan! You spoil us!” he jokingly exclaims. Aaaww, he’s a good sport… or maybe he’s just more used to Indian food. Ralph exhorts his guests to “shovel it in” with “plenty of gravy” while Cynthia mutters to Madeleine that she should rein Ralph in. “I can’t control him,” replies Madeleine serenely, likely enjoying the spectacle too much to even try.
Then Leena, newly hired by Alice as a governess for her son, happens to walk by outside and any semblance of order is abandoned. Lord Hawthorne immediately runs outside to creepily and uncomfortably hit on Leena. No doubt thinking he’s being charming, he drags her back inside and insists she curtsey to the Viceroy while he condescendingly coaches her on the proper technique. Charlie thinks this is the height of hilarity and emits a braying laugh at the sight while Lord W. dryly remarks to Ralph about Lord Hawthorne, “Ever the clown?” He’s more right than he knows.
Chaos Breaks Out
Then lunch promptly degenerates into complete chaos. Lord W. calmly continues eating while Lord Hawthorne takes a reluctant Leena outside, retaining possession of her hand while trying out his best game on her (she goes completely rigid in an attempt not to cause offense). Cynthia, Ralph, and Madeleine conspiratorially whisper about Lord Hawthorne at the other end of the table; Cynthia says that even if Hawthorne is a boor, Ralph should be polite because he still has to work with him. They all seem unaware that Lord W. can likely hear everything they’re saying. Then Aafrin suddenly bolts from the room because he’s received a note his father has allegedly taken ill, followed by Cynthia excusing herself, saying she’s “running like the mutton”. The Viceroy must be easily amused, because he thinks this is funny. Cynthia goes outside to extract Leena from Lord Hawthorne’s (literal) clutches, but unfortunately for Leena, it’s only so Cynthia can lecture her on maintaining proper decorum while she’s in Ralph’s house. However, Leena is intelligent enough to realize that “proper decorum” is only the pretext for Cynthia’s real concern: reassurance that Leena won’t reveal Ralph is Adam’s father, and Cynthia’s willing to destroy Leena’s reputation to ensure her compliance. All while the Viceroy finishes his lunch. Now… granted, it’s an informal luncheon, but in the presence of the Viceroy would anyone actually get up and leave the table while he was still eating? Then go outside to hit on random women? Or carry on hushed conversations well within his hearing? He’s supposed to be the King’s representative! It all just seems incredibly rude. :-/
Things Go From Bad to Worse
But believe it or not, it gets even worse. For after-dinner entertainment, Charlie bullies Alice into repeatedly playing “Camptown Races” on the piano while he leads a singalong. He belittles her the entire time, loudly criticizing every mistake and forcing her to start over again while hinting she’s drunk and/or just stupid. But not even the Viceroy is immune from his attentions. “No slacking at the back, Lord Wellington!” he orders, when Lord W. fails to show sufficient enthusiasm for the singing. Again, I don’t think anyone would ever refer to the Viceroy by the wrong name to his face on purpose, even if they’re a horrible bully like Charlie. I also noticed that Lord W. seemed to set himself physically apart from everyone else in this scene. I wondered if he was conveying his covert ostracization by Ralph and Lord Hawthorne, or just showing he really didn’t like where the party was going. Can’t blame him for either. I was disappointed that he didn’t call Charlie out on his ungentlemanly behaviour somehow, or at the very least, shoot Ralph a freezing glare for his brother-in-law’s conduct and leave early in the face of such blatant disrespect.
Perhaps hoping for better conversation, Lord W. joins Lord Hawthorne and Ralph under a portrait of one of Ralph’s ancestors, “Great-uncle Toby, Infantryman in the 32nd Cornish”. Lord W. notes that Great-uncle Toby “died in the Mutiny, so the story goes”, indicating the Whelans’ history in India goes back for generations. Meanwhile, Charlie’s unrelenting bullying succeeds in driving Alice to the point of tears. While everyone stands around in uncomfortable silence (I do wish Lord W. had said something!), Ralph leads Alice outside to get away from him. Once outside, Ralph tries to comfort Alice, telling her he’d rip out Charlie’s throat if he could (and he would; we’ve seen him make good on those kinds of threats before), but that he keeps Charlie around because it means Alice is there, too. However, he doesn’t mention that he’s currently heavily reliant on Charlie’s money, which makes him almost as helpless as Alice.
An Offer Ralph Can’t Refuse
Ralph then takes Lord Hawthorne aside to show him the view from one of Chottipool’s verandas, and challenge him with the fact (ferreted out by one of Cynthia’s sources) that Lord Hawthorne is not, in fact, about to become the next Viceroy. Instead, Ralph surmises all of his questions about Ralph’s family and background indicate that he’s actually vetting Ralph for the job. Lord Hawthorne admits that it’s true, explaining that even though Viceroys usually come from the aristocracy, a “school of thought in London” now says “things need to be different this time around”. This conveniently gets around the problem of Ralph’s middle-class birth and appeals to his ambition at the same time. (I also think it’s primarily a plot device to make it vaguely plausible for Ralph to be Viceroy, but whatever.) Hawthorne then flatters Ralph, saying the job needs “a younger man” (oh, Lord W.!) with “a grasp of the terrain”. But Ralph reveals that he wouldn’t be content as a mere yes-man implementing a few “muddled reforms” and selling them to the Indian people. Instead, he has far higher plans. He wants to place India “on the same footing as Australia or Canada” by moving towards self-rule “with all due deference to King and Empire”. It’s a hugely drastic step, which Lord Hawthorne doesn’t think Parliament or the King would ever accept. But Ralph seems to think he’s the only one who could do the job properly, even if he goes down in history as “the one who knew how to leave”. Hawthorne appears to be giving the idea serious consideration – but the scene cuts just before we get a definitive answer.
So, the stage is set. Ralph is willing to work behind Lord W’s back if he thinks it will eventually achieve his ambitions, but I also suspect that Hawthorne is playing him, saying what Ralph wants to hear in order to find out how far he’ll go. And Lord W. appears oblivious to all the machinations, at least so far. But a politician who’s lasted as long as Lord W. can’t remain that oblivious for long, nor would he never have faced a challenge to his power before. Granted, he’s in a vulnerable position since his term is winding down, but you’d think he’d still have a say in who his successor should be. It’s painful to see him being shuffled off to the side.
As for the episode itself, it was filmed and shot beautifully, with the settings and gorgeous plants and flowers as vibrant as ever. Charlie is an interesting (if despicable) addition to the cast; it’s fairly easy to see why Alice dumped him. It’s only a shame she can’t do it again, or that Ralph hasn’t pushed him down some stairs yet. And Cynthia is as venomous as ever. I do wonder exactly what she’d get out of Ralph becoming Viceroy, except a sense of achievement. Perhaps she’s hoping for a bunch of tax breaks and other perks? Or just bragging rights? I also like that Madeleine seems to be taking a slightly more assertive role in Ralph’s career, although it seems odd that a key plot point that took up much of series 1 – Adam’s parentage – is disposed of in a couple of throwaway lines when Ralph flatly admits to Madeleine that yes, he’s Adam’s father. He seems far less concerned about the whole thing now, but why?
If I have one criticism, it’s that the episode seemed a little choppily edited, resulting in the story not flowing smoothly. There seemed to be a few trailing plot points, like Bhupi’s apparent illness (his hands were shaking as he poured drinks at lunch), that were not explained. Sometimes action appeared to jump suddenly from one scene to another, like Mr. Dalal’s (Roshan Seth) sudden appearance outside after being inside enjoying cake with his family. I noticed, upon watching the series 1 DVDs, that the Channel 4 broadcast had omitted a few small parts of scenes which nonetheless added greatly to the characters, or to the storylines as a whole. I suspect the cuts were made in the interest of broadcast time, but it’s really annoying to miss out parts of the story like that. I hope there weren’t too many cuts made to Mr. Malahide’s role; Fearless Admin and I want to see as much of the Viceroy as we can. 🙂