We only saw a little bit of Lord Willingdon (Mr. Malahide) in the latest episode of “Indian Summers“, due to the fact that so many soap opera-y things happened in the previous ep (which he wasn’t in) that a lot of clearing away of stray storylines needed to happen. It seems that everything goes a bit squirrely whenever Lord W. isn’t around to keep an eye on things. I also thought there was a lot of missed potential to get his take on events, rather than just having him appear for an official announcement. But first, the soap opera!
Leena Prasad (Amber Rose Revah) has been arrested and imprisoned, still in her fashion show gown (yes, they had a fashion show at Cynthia’s club for some reason, vaguely explained as “for charity”) for attacking Lord Hawthorne (James Fleet) with a hurricane lamp when he attempted to molest her. In reality, Hawthorne’s attacker was Ralph’s illegitimate son Adam (Dillon Mitra), who was attempting to rescue Leena from Hawthorne’s increasingly forceful attentions. Hawthorne knows this very well and wants Adam caught and punished, while Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) will do just about anything to protect him, including sending Adam out of Simla with missionary Dougie Raworth (Craig Parkinson) while blaming Leena for the crime. When Superintendent Rowntree (Guy Williams) comes looking for Adam at Chotipool, Ralph’s wife Madeleine (Olivia Grant) covers for him with a believable lie about his whereabouts, proving she’s especially adept at thinking on her feet.
A Mysterious Photograph
But just because Adam should be on the run doesn’t mean he and Ralph can’t do some bonding, looking over old photographs and keepsakes from Ralph’s childhood. Strangely enough, for a man who spent most of series 1 trying to keep Adam’s existence secret, Ralph seems to have taken to his son with a rarely shown warmth in series 2. He even shows Adam one of his baby pictures, depicting Ralph’s mother smiling happily as she cuddles an infant Ralph (hmmm, not too many Edwardian photos where people grinned like that; the long exposure times tended to preclude it). But who belongs to that disembodied hand on her left shoulder?? And why is the photo torn in half? There’s only one other torn-in-half photo that’s been prominently displayed in the series, so the answer is a wee bit telegraphed… but we’ll soon find out for sure.
Meanwhile, the badly burned Hawthorne – who nonetheless retains his eyebrows, hair, and part of his mustache, and mostly looks like he’s got a severe sunburn – is recuperating at the club, attended by Cynthia (Julie Walters) and her faithful majordomo Kaiser (Indi Nadarajah), of all people. His treatment consists of being greased up with some sort of salve, to which Cynthia has added a “glug” of vinegar for extra spitefulness. I can’t say that I blame her for being so mean in this one case, but I do question why Hawthorne is convalescing at the club and not in hospital or at the Viceregal Lodge. Since he’s supposed to be a highly placed government official with influence over who becomes the next Viceroy, surely Lord W. wouldn’t begrudge hosting him while he recovers, with a nurse to attend him? Or maybe he would. The more we see of Hawthorne, the more we realize he just isn’t a very nice guy.
A Nighttime Earthquake
That night, a massive earthquake hits Simla, catching Alice (Jemima West) out of the house at Cynthia’s secret trysting spot with Aafrin (Nikesh Patel). She rushes back to prevent her husband Charlie (Blake Ritson) from discovering she was gone, only to be caught coming in the door. She makes up a story about being unable to sleep and hearing a dog barking outside which Madeleine, once again thinking quickly on her feet, backs up. I really liked Madeleine in this episode; in contrast to previous eps, she was very active and savvy, acting to protect both Adam and Alice. She’s also very present and keenly observant; even though she may not say much, she knows exactly what’s going on in her own house. Admin and I both think she has the potential to be a far greater asset to Ralph’s political career than Cynthia could ever be. Deducing that Alice was likely out meeting a lover, Ralph gives her a conspiratorial but approving “Good for you” behind Charlie’s back. However, his opinion might be a wee bit different if he knew her lover was Aafrin.
We are told by Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden) that the city of Quetta, 500 miles from Simla, got the worst of the earthquake. Nonetheless, the local situation is bad enough to close all outward-bound roads due to potential landslides, stranding Dougie and Adam and increasing the danger that Rowntree will track Adam down. We see some of the aftermath as Simla tries to pick itself back up again. However, what we are not shown, which I thought was a fairly serious oversight, was the Viceroy’s reaction to all this. Was he awoken by the quake? Briefed on what was going on? Shouldn’t we have seen his concern for his subjects as he received damage reports? It might’ve been nice to see him handling the crisis, delegating tasks and monitoring the situation, or even touring the worst-hit areas – you know, being a Viceroy. Maybe the writers wanted to portray him as aloof, but I don’t think the real Willingdon would’ve been.
Adam and Leena Both Take the Blame
Meanwhile, Adam and Leena each attempt to save the other from prosecution for attacking Hawthorne, separately taking sole blame. Hawthorne doesn’t seem overly concerned that Leena might be charged for the crime (and will get ten years in prison for it), but he knows Adam did it and really wants him arrested as well. And Adam doesn’t make the situation any easier for Ralph by coming to the police station and confessing to Rowntree on his own. Ralph tries to get Adam to recant or change his story, but Adam refuses to budge, saying in effect that he had to act; Leena’s mistreatment at Hawthorne’s hands reminded him too much of his mother Jaya’s mistreatment. Attacking the problem from another angle, Ralph and Cynthia join forces to visit Hawthorne, telling him that the whole nasty business of his forcing himself upon Leena will come to light if he prosecutes Adam. But Hawthorne holds firm, insisting upon “justice” and evidently thinking his good name will hold up against Adam’s testimony. Ralph urges him to “reflect on it” a little further before he leaves.
The Viceroy Gives a Speech for Earthquake Relief
Finally, the Viceroy arrives at Cynthia’s club for his big announcement. Don’t ask me why such an important announcement wasn’t made at the Viceregal Lodge, although Admin has speculated (probably correctly) that Mrs. Viceroy didn’t want her gardens trampled by the crowds. I suppose the Viceroy might not have wanted everyone to empty his wine cellars, either. He goes on a nice walkabout, greeting people in the crowd and shaking hands. There seem to be more Viceregal bodyguards around than in series 1, but it’s still a very public (and brave) appearance for a man who survived an assassination attempt only a few weeks(?) ago. Cynthia, however, isn’t impressed. “Oh, here he comes. Old Rigor Mortis,” she mutters disdainfully to Ralph. “What an honour!” Well, actually it is, since he’s the King’s representative. Way to be grateful, Cynthia. 😛 And she further insults Lord W. by telling Ralph he’d better get over to his boss “before he starts to stiffen up”. Hey, we saw Lord W. playing cricket in episode 3, and he’s far from being “Old Rigor Mortis” just yet!
Ralph confides to Cynthia that he’s recently realized Alice has got herself “a young man”, but he also guesses from Cynthia’s lack of surprise that she already knew. He asks who the young man could be, and Cynthia replies that he’s “down there”, gesturing vaguely at the milling crowd on the club’s front lawn (side note: Sirene (Rachel Griffiths) and Maharajah Shamy (Art Malik) appear to have taken down their love tent for the occasion), which includes Aafrin. Ralph’s gaze first alights on the unfortunate Ronnie Keane, who waves back at him cheerfully and unknowingly. “Ronnie??” exclaims Ralph in disbelief. “Oh, Jesus wept, no!” replies Cynthia, directing Ralph “a shade to the right” to a fine, upstanding-looking, uniformed young man, Lieutenant Roger Roberts, who has no idea he’s being used as a decoy. So, bonus points to Cynthia for not ratting out Aafrin, but if Ralph’s previous behaviour is any guide, Lt. Roberts might soon be in for a push down the stairs. Cynthia then sends Ralph on his way to stand by the Viceroy’s side, saying his “daddy would be very proud” of him. Hmmm, foreshadowing!
Lord Hawthorne is “Persuaded” to Leave Simla
Lord W. then gives his speech, with Mr. Malahide putting an impressive amount of projection and volume into his voice. You can hear him all the way across the lawn and inside the building, where Lord Hawthorne is languishing. While Lord W. praises the Indian Army for their efforts in dealing with the earthquake’s aftermath and encourages the summer capital to make an effort to help, Cynthia goes inside to visit Lord Hawthorne again. In a – quite frankly, disturbing – scene, she proceeds to smear more vinegar-laced salve on Lord Hawthorne (not even taking off her gloves) while urging him to reconsider prosecuting Adam. Hawthorne seems to like the attention (ugh) but refuses to relent until Cynthia, while, er… rubbing an unburnt part of his anatomy… lies that she saw him force himself on Leena, due to “termites” gnawing convenient peepholes in her club. She threatens Hawthorne with exposure (sorry, terrible pun) unless he retracts his statement about Adam and gives Ralph a “glowing report” when he gets back home. Hawthorne, realizing he’s been outmanoeuvered, reluctantly agrees – even though it would still be a “he said, she said”, and one has to question how much the word of a club owner would be worth in court, anyway.
While all this is going on, the Viceroy finishes up his speech by dropping a big handful of cash into a collection bucket, first holding it aloft in a gesture that reminded me (just coincidentally – maybe there aren’t that many ways to hold up cash) of Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” pose. Hopefully the implications aren’t the same. He also gives Ralph an oddly questioning glance, but it’s hard to say why. Does he sense Ralph’s unease, or is he merely wondering if his speech went over well? Or did C4 cut an earlier, smaller scene that might’ve explained it?
So Lord Hawthorne departs from Simla in high dudgeon. His character had a lot of wasted potential; for someone built up as a credible threat, we saw him do very little besides making a few promises to Ralph, mildly annoying the Viceroy, and sending lots of telegrams on the Viceroy’s shilling. He ended up fizzling out in a rather lacklustre and skin-crawlingly creepy fashion. I was hoping there might be more politicking and behind-the-scenes action that might’ve justified his presence, but we didn’t even see Ralph attempting to curry his favour much after his introduction, either. Nor, for that matter, did Lord W. bother to visit him in hospital, which you’d think he would’ve done for politeness’ sake for a prominent guest, even if he didn’t like the guy. Heck, Lord Hawthorne probably didn’t contribute anything towards the earthquake fund. And poor Leena has to serve ten years for a crime she didn’t commit.
Ralph Learns About His Real Father
Meanwhile, Ralph finally figures out where Chekhov’s Photograph came from. He goes to the club and compares his half-photograph to Cynthia’s half-photograph of her beloved Reggie – and surprise, surprise (not really), they match! So, not only is Ralph the product of an illicit affair, the participants were brazen enough to take a formal photo together, which seems totally unwise and extremely strange, especially for Edwardian times. Even more remarkable that both halves survived and were preserved, under the circumstances. However, it does explain Cynthia’s considerable (and sometimes offputtingly inappropriate) over-attachment to Ralph, since she apparently regards him as a surrogate son. Cynthia reveals that she knew Reggie was Ralph’s father all along; according to her, Reggie set his sights on Ralph’s mother and seduced her, with Ralph’s mother eventually succumbing and “making herself quite unwell” over him. Cynthia claims she “tried to keep things decent” to no avail, at which point Ralph suddenly snaps and slaps her across the room, shouting at her to “Shut up!” Now nursing a bloody nose, Cynthia takes the slap with surprising equanimity, saying she “deserved” it. But she tells Ralph once again – in an echo of her earlier words at the Viceroy’s speech – that his father “would be very proud of [him]”. Ralph can’t take any more and angrily strides out, while Cynthia tearfully continues talking to herself, saying that Ralph’s becoming a “figure of a man” and a “gentleman” would “[mean] the world” to Reggie.
So now, all the soapy storylines are in play. In addition to his illegitimate son, Ralph has his own illegitimate birth to hide – and having finally gotten Hawthorne to promise a Viceregal recommendation, he knows this new revelation would ruin his chances for good if it were to become known. I wonder if he’ll tell Alice or Madeleine? We also heard Aafrin’s sister Sooni (Aysha Kala) mention the King’s Jubilee, an upcoming gathering of the British Raj’s aristocracy to be hosted by the Viceroy, which Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur) has already staked out as a target for his box of Chekhov’s Dynamite.
Still, I found this episode somewhat disappointing from a Viceroy point of view. Lord W. was only on screen long enough to deliver one speech (which we only heard bits of, which is too bad because Mr. Malahide was particularly impressive giving it), and then he was gone again. I liked watching him go walkabout and greet his subjects, especially the children, but as mentioned, I think it would’ve been far more interesting to get his take on some of the more pressing events that were going on, like the earthquake or Hawthorne’s burns. Surely he’s not that insulated in the Viceregal Lodge? I do hope we see more of Lord W. being much more active and involved in the episodes to come.