It’s been two episodes of “Indian Summers” since we last saw Patrick Malahide’s Lord Willingdon, and quite a lot has happened in the meantime… most of it taking a turn for the decidedly weird. I have to wonder if the writers weren’t asked to amp up the drama in the lead up to the series’ conclusion. Sadly, we’ve recently learned this will be the conclusion, as “Indian Summers” has not been renewed for a third series. Fortunately for the Viceroy, he should be back in Blighty by the end of episode ten. But first, what’s been going on in the meantime?
In episode seven, in a desperate bid to secure Maharajah Shamy’s (Art Malik) support for the India Bill, Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) goes on an ill-advised tiger hunt. Just before the tiger shows up, the Maharajah suggests swapping out the goat being used as bait for a child – specifically Ralph’s illegitimate son, Adam (Dillon Mitra). Needless to say, Ralph is somewhat opposed to this but still wants to suck up to the Maharajah, so he helpfully suggests his faithful manservant Bhupi’s (Ash Nair) son instead – earning him the enmity of an increasingly resentful Bhupi. The child survives the tiger hunt, but the tiger does not. Later that night, the Maharajah and Sirene (Rachel Griffiths) drop over to Chotipool for dinner. Knowing that the Maharajah wants to “spend time with” (make that, “have sex with”) his sister Alice (Jemima West), Ralph has carefully ensured that she’s out of the house for the night. Much like the tiger hunt, the Maharajah decides to throw his weight around and demands the attentions of Ralph’s wife Madeleine (Olivia Grant) instead; and much like the tiger hunt, Ralph chooses protecting one person (Alice) to the detriment of another. Facing undue pressure from all sides – Ralph won’t expressly forbid it, and the Maharajah and Sirene make it sound like the best thing she could do for Ralph’s career – Madeleine agrees. Ralph is obviously enraged (he’s right downstairs while Madeleine and the Maharajah are upstairs and indulges in some creepy hate sex with Sirene, himself), but he still doesn’t try to stop things.
But in episode eight, we find out that Madeleine’s sacrifice was all for nothing. The Maharajah leaves for Baden-Baden without telling anyone, and isn’t there to rally the princes or support the bill (and likely never intended to), which fails. Ralph (who, it has to be admitted, is still suffering from a huge amount of self-disgust since discovering he was really the son of Cynthia’s late husband Reggie in episode five) realizes he’s been had, and sees his chances of becoming Viceroy melting away. He then accuses Madeleine of… not doing her job well enough… for which she, quite justifiably, gives him a huge smack across the face. She also asks Ralph, point-blank, why he wants to be Viceroy in the first place and Ralph can only vaguely reply that his father wanted him to be. As I’ve mentioned to Fearless Admin, this makes Ralph seem like the kid who was forced by his parents into taking a major he didn’t want at university, but now is stuck with it; he’d love to be studying art history, but he’s forced to take business administration instead (no offense to either art historians or business administrators). Anyway, Ralph’s chances of becoming Viceroy (again, ignoring the reality that he would never be a serious candidate in the first place) are becoming vanishingly small.
And now, on to episode nine!
No New Viceroy Yet
The show opens with Cynthia (Julie Walters) debuting an apparently foul-tasting cocktail at her club. She jokingly says it should be called “First Past the Post”, or possibly “Winner Takes All”. She then takes Ralph aside to tell him that there’s been a meeting at Whitehall about deciding a certain appointment (she has remarkably good spy connections for a club owner). Ralph panics a bit because he hasn’t heard anything yet, but Cynthia tells him not to worry – Lord Willingdon would likely be first to hear who the next Viceroy will be, followed by Ralph. Ralph pointedly replies that the new appointee would hear first, but he’s already in a bad mood and now the suspense is going to kill him. Cynthia, however, seems much more optimistic.
Ralph Finally Learns Alice’s Secret
Meanwhile, Charlie (Blake Ritson), Alice’s abusive, psychopathic husband, has dragged her back from the trysting spot where she was meeting with Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel) prior to running away with him and her son Percy (Caleb Allen) to Australia. Charlie dragged Alice back to Chotipool and locked her in their room, conveniently forgetting to tell Ralph that he’d had the lock changed. Ralph is all set to free Alice until Charlie reveals the one bit of information that could possibly turn Ralph against Alice: that she’s been having an affair with Aafrin and planned to run away with him. Ralph, feeling betrayed, actually starts to listen to Charlie and agrees with him that having Aafrin locked up as a terrorist would be the best thing. He also makes the connection (due to the fact he and Alice were using the same secret room) that Cynthia was involved in the whole scheme, as indeed she was. For once, Cynthia is the voice of reason, protesting to Ralph that Charlie isn’t fit to be left alone with anyone (true), and that Aafrin isn’t a terrorist (mostly true, he’s more of a seditionist), but Ralph seems more inclined to listen to Charlie’s sympathetic, persuasive words instead. “I’ll handle everything from here,” offers Charlie, a chillingly sinister promise if ever there was one.
The next morning, Madeleine holds an ice pack to her head (did she tie one on the night before? I think C4 may have removed part of the scene that might’ve told us) while an expressionless Ralph listens to Alice screaming to be let out of her room. Madeleine, who seems to be the only one with a lick of sense, tells Ralph he’s let Charlie take over his house (okay, she uses a much less complimentary term for him) while Ralph “hid[es] in his shirt” as Alice loses all hope. The phone rings with an urgent summons from the Viceroy for Ralph to go to the Viceregal Lodge immediately, to learn who the new Viceroy will be. But instead of heeding Lord W’s call, Ralph… abruptly takes a rather lengthy detour to straighten out his family problems first. It’s a relief that he finally listens to Madeleine, but extremely rude (and unlikely!) that he’d keep his boss (you know, the King’s representative) waiting, with news about the job Ralph supposedly wants most in the world, while he does it. Poor, hungover Madeleine really deserves better!
A Slight Detour on the Way to the Viceregal Lodge
There’s an unlikely meeting of concerned parties at Cynthia’s club. Ralph, still willing to believe (or make excuses for) Alice’s innocence in the whole thing, tries to turn her against Aafrin by revealing Aafrin had a girlfriend while he was in Bengal, and was involved (less than Ralph thinks) in the attempt to bomb the Viceregal Lodge in episode six. Alice will have none of it, saying that she still loves Aafrin, in part because he at least tried to get her away from Charlie, while Ralph seemed content to keep her as a sort of hothouse flower in Chotipool. Ralph finally appears to decide that perhaps Aafrin isn’t quite as bad as Charlie has made him out to be, and will try to help him and Alice to get out of Simla – when Superintendent Rowntree (Guy Williams) shows up to bring Aafrin back to jail. Some new information has come to light, courtesy of Charlie bribing Ian McLeod’s (Alexander Cobb) tea workers to say they’ve seen Aafrin with the now-deceased terrorist Naresh Banerjee (Arjun Mathur). But there’s a further interruption: a cannonfire salute from the Viceregal Lodge marks the announcement of the new Viceroy.
The New Viceroy is Announced
Ralph finally arrives at the Viceregal Lodge, where a party is already underway. Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden), who has to be aware of Ralph’s Viceregal ambitions, draws out the suspense a bit, but at last gleefully reveals that the new Viceroy will be a “younger chap”, the Marquess of Linlithgow – who did, indeed, historically succeed Lord Willingdon, so “Indian Summers” isn’t playing that fast and loose with the facts. Forced to save face, Ralph agrees with Ronnie that Linlithgow is a “very fine choice”, but internally he’s seething. Obviously none of his machinations, from framing Ramu Sood, to blackmailing Lord Hawthorne, to trading Madeleine to the Maharajah, have amounted to anything at all. Mind you, at least he would’ve found out sooner if he’d been on time for his meeting with Lord W.
Ralph then meets with Lord W., who is trying very hard to be conciliatory and sympathetic. “The truth is, you had it on merit,” says Lord W., “But first we took a dreadful hiding with this India Bill.” “And then there was the matter of my family,” adds Ralph, which is news to us – did he tell Lord W. about his illegitimate parentage off-camera? If so, that was kind of an important detail to leave out, “Indian Summers” and/or C4! Lord W. still looks as if he’s got something to say, so Ralph asks if there was anything else. Visibly uncomfortable, Lord W. reluctantly admits that word had got around that Ralph was “in over [his] head with certain debts at the bank.” This offends Lord W’s sense of propriety: “I told them, it’s not for a gentleman to go raking over another chap’s private affairs, but I can’t pretend it didn’t damage your case.” “Yes,” Ralph replies, “I have an idea how that rumour might’ve come about.” Thinking ahead, Ralph is already in damage control mode by characterizing it as a “rumour”. But ooooohhh Lord W., if only bad debts were the half of it!
“The truth is…” Ralph starts to confess, but Lord W. interrupts him. “It doesn’t matter!” he says, putting his hands on Ralph’s shoulders for emphasis. “I know what you’re made of. My boy!” It’s really quite touching, yet hard not to have a rather slinking sense of foreboding about this scene; Lord W. obviously cares for Ralph and is counselling him almost as he would one of his own sons. When Madeleine (wearing a large but rather nice red picture hat) calls Ralph aside, Lord W. gives a “whew!” of relief at having accomplished a distasteful but necessary task. Nothing worse than having to discuss a chap’s finances, right?
A Scottish Gate-Crasher Bearing Tea
Unfortunately for Lord W., worse is yet to come. He spies gate-crashing Ian McLeod being detained by his guards – and no wonder, since Ian is disreputably clad in a sarong and loose cotton shirt, his usual casual wear. But we do get to hear Lord W. (and Mr. Malahide) use some Hindi as he tells the guards to let Ian through. Hmmm… very trusting for a man who had a dud grenade thrown into his car only a few weeks ago, and was recently almost blown up by a box full of dynamite at the King’s Jubilee. Shouldn’t those guards at least take a peek inside the box Ian’s carrying first?
Despite his attire, Ian starts off on his best behaviour, saying it’s an honour to meet Lord W. and he’s brought “a wee box of [his] very own Armitage tea”, so that when Lord W. is “home in his armchair thinking of us, [he] can taste these hills again.” Aaawww Ian, you silver-tongued Scotsman! But then he reveals his true purpose, asking Lord W. if he’s “ever heard of a man named Ramu Sood”. “No, I don’t believe I have,” replies a puzzled Lord W., while Ralph, noticing the situation, rushes back outside for more damage control. “I’m sorry to hear that, sir,” continues Ian. “You should always make a note of the men you hang.” And while Lord W. looks completely baffled and Ralph attempts to intervene, Ian goes even further: “Not only was he innocent of the murder of Jaya Mohan, but your man here [indicating Ralph] knew it. He knew it and still he let him die! Didn’t you? Didn’t you??” Ralph orders the guards to remove Ian while Lord W. stands dumbfounded, holding his box of tea. What… just went on here?
The Viceroy is Completely Baffled
Well, the truth is we viewers are a little confused, too. In S01E08, we learned from Ralph that the Viceroy had written (and signed) two letters, one sentencing Ramu Sood to life imprisonment, the other sentencing him to hang, for Jaya’s murder – which he did not commit. Ralph told Aafrin that the Vicereine favoured life imprisonment, but that the Viceroy (who was going away on business) was leaving the final choice up to Ralph(!), because he apparently had no preference either way. Now… not only did I find that really hard to believe at the time, I also didn’t think Lord W. was likely to be so cavalier about death sentences. Given his bewilderment at Ian’s revelation, I now have to wonder if he didn’t know anything about Ramu Sood’s situation at all, and just signed whatever Ralph put in front of him – with Ralph filling in the details later. It would certainly explain his utter confusion. In any case, Lord W’s name was used to unjustly condemn an innocent man.
The Viceroy turns around and gives Ralph a perfect look of blue-eyed bewilderment. “What a business!” he says, almost bemusedly, although he’s already beginning to eye Ralph with a newly apprehensive, more thoughtful sort of gaze. He appears to be mulling over whether there could possibly be any truth to Ian’s story. But Ralph makes no attempt to defend himself or explain and instead changes the subject, telling Lord W. he should go get changed for the dinner being held in his honour later that evening, presumably as a sort of “finishing up his term” thing.
The Viceroy’s Doubts Begin to Grow
That evening Lord W., now properly attired for dinner, stands with Ralph watching guests arrive. There’s an interesting sense that while they’re both doing something they’ve done many times before (Ralph providing Lord W. with names when he’s forgetful), something vital is missing. The Viceroy is still processing the dreadful shock he had today, but he’s suspicious enough of its veracity that he’s beginning to be disillusioned. He’s being forced to consider that Ralph is not his surrogate son or the man he believes he’s known for all these years; now there’s the very real possibility Ralph is actually a ruthless man who’s fully capable of lying or even putting a man to death to achieve his own ends. Adding to the sense of estrangement is that they’re watching the changing of the guard for their administration; Ralph identifies one of the guests as Sir Cecil Thompson, incoming advisor to Lord Linlithgow. One of the Viceregal guards tells Lord W. that it’s time for the band, and Lord W. remarks to Ralph, “Ah, the band! Very bracing.” But it’s obvious things are weighing heavily on his mind, as he doesn’t say it with the sort of zest he might have only a few hours ago.
Lord W’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The crowd begins to move out into the garden, Lord W. and Ralph trailing behind, and Lord W. can’t resist talking about what’s obviously weighing on his mind. “That fellow at the gates,” he asks casually, “what was he barking about?” “Oh, some local crime,” Ralph replies, equally casually. “Yes, I thought as much,” says Lord W., seemingly easily reassured. But it seems Ralph can’t resist picking at the scab either. As they stand in the doorway, he asks Lord W. if there’s anything he wishes to ask. “No,” replies Lord W., still quite casually. But Ralph can’t help pushing it further, throwing his usual caution to the winds: “Don’t you want to know if there’s any truth in it? The fact is… it’s all true. Every word.”
Lord W. at first tries to deny what he’s hearing, mostly to himself. “What rot!” he says, trying to make a joke out of it. But Ralph, for his own inscrutable reasons, seems compelled to continue. “Her name was Jaya Mohan and she bore my child. There’s more. I’ve lied. And I’ve lied. And I’ve lied again. About who I was,” Ralph murmurs into Lord W’s ear, like a devil sitting on his shoulder, tormenting him. Admin has speculated that Ralph’s self-loathing is such that it’s almost a form of punishment for him to induce Lord W. to hate him too, and I think she’s probably right. But considering how self-interested and duplicitous Ralph can be, I also wonder if there isn’t some part of him that enjoys twisting the knife, showing Lord W. how mistaken he’s been about his private secretary all these years. At any rate, emotions begin to flicker quickly across Lord W’s face as the camera closes in tightly; we see denial, vulnerability, and shock (“Look, stop this,” poor Lord W. pleads at one point), followed by betrayal, anger, and ultimately, sadness. It’s a devastating blow for him to realize that his trust has been so misplaced, his judgment so mistaken. His heart is breaking right there. And I must say that Mr. Malahide plays the entire scene masterfully, using only his expressions.
Heartbreak and Disillusionment
After what must have surely been the Dinner from Hell – although he likely wasn’t even aware of most of it – we see Lord W. in his bedroom, being helped out of his shoes by his valet. He’s still so distressed that he seems completely oblivious to the man’s presence or even his surroundings, though his valet realizes only too well that Lord W. isn’t himself. “All is well, Sahib?” he asks in Hindi, and Lord W. replies in the same language (again, kudos to Mr. Malahide!), “Never better, my friend. Never better.” He seems touched by his valet’s concern. After so many scenes where Viceregal servants have been treated as mobile coat racks, hat minders, and newspaper holders, it’s good to know that the Viceroy can, in fact, have a friendly conversation with his subjects in their own language (you’d hope so, after the years he spent governing) and treat them with a certain amount of respect. But only a few seconds later, we see the Viceroy is just putting up a brave front; his eyes are full of tears and his face a mask of sorrow as he goes back to thinking about Ralph’s betrayal. Damn you, Ralph!! >:-(
Oh, and in case you were worried about Aafrin, that situation is resolved when Alice offers to submit to Charlie in every way possible – even if he “breaks” her, which sounds unbelievably horrible – in a bid to get Aafrin out of jail and keep herself from being separated from Percy and committed to a mental institution (a veiled threat from Charlie). All of this is conditional on Alice’s breaking up with Aafrin, which she does, as soon as he arrives at Chotipool after his release. She’s observed by Charlie the entire time, making sure that she fulfills her end of the bargain. She puts on a convincing enough act to get Aafrin to leave, but it remains to be seen if he stays away. It would be really handy if Charlie were to get stung by some highly poisonous scorpion some time in the near future.
Well, this episode featured the unsuccessful culmination of Ralph’s Viceregal hopes – and the ultimate betrayal of his mentor and father figure, Lord W. I’m still puzzled why Ralph decided to burn his bridges so thoroughly, but perhaps he felt he had nothing left to lose. For such an intelligent, scheming character, I found myself a bit disappointed that he didn’t at least have a cunning contingency plan or two in mind. Was he really that certain he’d be the new Viceroy? Didn’t he think he might have to ingratiate himself with the incoming administration if he wasn’t? And if he wasn’t, wouldn’t it be a good idea to keep on Lord W’s good side as a valuable connection? Yes, yes, I’m probably being too pragmatic for “Indian Summers”. 😉
But the highlight of this episode for me was Mr. Malahide’s performance. From his visible discomfort at having to discuss Ralph’s finances, to his bewilderment at Ian’s revelations, to his dawning apprehension and disillusionment with Ralph, and finally to his grief and heart-brokenness at being so badly taken in and mistaken… Mr. Malahide simply did a masterful job at seamlessly conveying everything the Viceroy was going through. And I particularly liked that we got a brief glimpse of what he was like in his private life, without Ralph around. The two of them have been pretty much constantly together since the series started, so it was nice to see Lord W. as an independent entity, conversing informally with his valet in Hindi – even though he was going through some serious turmoil at the time. He came across as believably and entirely human. It’s kind of a shame that “Indian Summers” is ending, but I’m glad that Mr. Malahide’s Viceroy will be getting his proper closure with the final episode of the series.