When last seen, Mr. Pickwick (Nigel Stock) was languishing in the Fleet prison, having staunchly refused to accept guilt and pay court costs or damages in the breach of promise (of marriage) lawsuit brought against him by his former landlady, Mrs. Bardell (Jo Kendall). While there, he was surprised to meet up with his old nemesis, Alfred Jingle, who had inexplicably and improbably been caught by someone extraordinary (he’d have to be extraordinary to catch Jingle) and stuffed into prison for debt, along with his faithful (if filthy) manservant and companion, Job Trotter (Pip Donaghy). However, seeing his former nemesis in a state of severe sickness, starvation, and deprivation as well as exposure to the rest of the Fleet seems to have quenched any desire for revenge in Mr. Pickwick, who has in fact taken his former sworn enemy under his wing. He’s also refused any help from Sam Weller (Phil Daniels), not wanting to condemn his own faithful servant to a life in the Fleet when he’s got his whole life ahead of him. And that pretty much brings us up to speed for Episode Eleven.
Mr. Pickwick Won’t Leave, So Sam Gets Himself Thrown In
The episode opens with Sam and Mr. Weller (Howard Lang) hashing the matter out at the pub. They’re both worried that Pickwick will be “eaten alive” in the Fleet (and indeed, he probably would be) and trying to figure out how they can best extract him with as little fuss or muss as possible. Paying the fines is out of the question, so Mr. Weller attempts to be helpful by coming up with some fairly exotic schemes: “…getting him out in a turn-up bedstead unbeknown to the turnkey, or dressing him up like an old woman with a green veil.” (Why does it have to be green?? Mr. Weller doesn’t explain.) Then Sam comes up with an infinitely more practical and cunning solution; he asks his father to lend him £25, which he consequently refuses to pay back so that his “unnatural vagabond” of a father can sue him for it – and thus he’s thrown into the Fleet as another debtor and can look after Pickwick without the latter being able to object.
Pickwick does object at first and offers to pay Sam’s debt to his mysterious creditor, but it’s quickly apparent that he’s actually extremely grateful to have Sam there – although he doesn’t go so far as to let Sam stay in his private room, which puzzled me just a little bit. There’s also another sharp little piece of criticism of the Victorian legal system when Sam’s new roomie mentions that he’s been jailed for twelve years for the relatively mild crime of contempt of court. Sam comments that he’s had to “pay dearly for being obstinate” (hmmm… perhaps also a bit of a comment on Pickwick’s situation?) but his new roomie doesn’t seem to appreciate his insight.
The Pickwick Club Visits and Mr. Winkle Behaves Mysteriously…
Pickwick is also visited by the rest of the Pickwick Club, who’ve gone out slumming for the occasion. In particular, Mr. Winkle (Jeremy Nicholas) seems especially overcome; he’s in tears (which he manfully tries to hide) at seeing Pickwick’s room. He also seems to be concealing a secret. He cagily mentions that he has some “private business” out of town to attend to, for which he wanted to borrow Sam (something requiring Sam’s special sort of expertise?) but now he’s just a wee bit peeved at having to pull it off solo. Pickwick can’t figure out what might be up, but Sam suggests that it might be that Winkle’s “been crossed in love”. Sam’s guess proves to be correct as the next scene is Winkle marrying Arabella Allen (Sarah Finch), whom he met at Dingley Dell and was completely smitten by in Episode Eight.
In another poignant scene, Pickwick attends the deathbed of the Chancery prisoner, the man who rented Pickwick his private room and went to live in the Fleet’s “poor” section. The Chancery prisoner is suffering much the same sort of terminal illness and workhouse death that Jingle eerily foretold for himself in the previous episode; it’s a glimpse of what could have happened to Jingle had Pickwick not intervened to help him. I don’t know if Pickwick saw the situation in that light, but I certainly did.
Meeting Old Acquaintances
Sam gets his own shock of recognition the next day when, while taking a constitutional around the prison with Pickwick, they run into Job and Jingle doing much the same thing. Jingle is looking a bit better than he did before, which is to say he looks only mildly terrible at the moment. He’s barely ambulatory and obviously still requires Job’s assistance, swaying on his feet and looking like he might drop at any second. But at least his sartorial situation has improved; he has his famous green coat and (hideously tatty) cravat back as well as his top hat, which now has a few new dents, dings, and dirt – but those are the only new things about it. “Well, I am damned!” says Sam at the sight, quite understandably. Apparently Mr. Pickwick never filled him in on this interesting piece of gossip!
Pickwick tells Sam to wait with his own arch-nemesis, Job, while he has a private word with Jingle. In contrast to his previous sharpness and mental agility, Jingle doesn’t seem to be quite all there – but he’s been deathly ill and starving, so we’ll cut him some slack. He admits as much, saying, “Legs shaky. Head queer, round and round. Earthquaky sort of feeling, very.” He’s not so weak that he doesn’t have some pride left, though. He initially refuses Pickwick’s offer of a supporting arm (“No, no, indeed. Rather not.”) although he eventually takes it anyway, knowing full well he’d fall down if he didn’t. Their exchange is a delightful frame and contrast for the background action in which Sam is directing a killer glare at an abashed-looking Job and obviously getting ready to tear a strip off him.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear Pickwick and Jingle’s mysterious conference because the action switches back to Job and Sam. Job is just as meek and obsequious as he ever was, although he seems to genuinely mean it this time, appearing somewhat ashamed at being caught like this by Sam. He’s also surprisingly and flatly honest, telling Sam that neither he nor his master has been eating or drinking very much lately. Sam ponders this for a second, then immediately goes off and stands Job to a pint of… something, much to Job’s shock and amazement. Either Sam has the same altruistic streak as his master, or he just wants to make sure Job can give him a fair fight.
An Angel in Tights and Gaiters
Sam then insists Job consume the drink at once and Job drinks it down with an air of deep gratitude. Sam offers to stand him to another pint or some “vittles”, but Job reveals that Pickwick has actually been looking after him and Jingle, providing them with money for decent food and their own room, and even going so far as to redeem Jingle’s signature green suit from the pawnbroker’s which “improved his spirits” greatly, aawwww. Not only that, Pickwick looks in on them at night when he thinks no one’s watching , although presumably he doesn’t actually tuck them in. In fact, Job says Pickwick is the only other person he’d “serve until [he] fell down dead at his feet”, although that seems to get Sam a little professionally jealous and possessive. However, it’s only because Sam regards his master as an “angel in tights and gaiters” (now there’s an image) himself.
Making Jingle an Offer He Can’t Refuse
Meanwhile, Pickwick appears to have been proposing some sort of deal or arrangement to Jingle, which hardly seems fair when the man is so feverish with an “earthquaky” feeling that he can barely stand up, let alone think with his usual acuity. Whatever Pickwick has proposed seems to have left Jingle at an uncharacteristic loss for words, even as Pickwick tells him to “think on what [he has] said”. As Jingle and Job go back to their room, Sam comments that Jingle is “doing something in the water cart way”; I didn’t get the slang and couldn’t find a definition when I looked it up, unless Sam is referring to the water carts that sprayed Victorian roads to keep the dust down, ie. Jingle is slowly leaking out his life essence and health(?). But Pickwick’s only reply is to say that he’s “seen enough”; his head and heart ache with everything he’s seen in the Fleet and he’s determined to spend the rest of his sentence without leaving his room.
However, it seems that the Fates have other ideas and haven’t forgotten the breach of promise lawsuit. Since Dodson and Fogg haven’t gotten their costs and damages from Pickwick, they turn to Mrs. Bardell, the plaintiff, and throw her into the Fleet for non-payment instead. The bailiff, Mr. Jackson, is very cunning about it and doesn’t actually tell Mrs. Bardell where she is until she’s stepped through the door; he even makes sure to bring her son into the building first so she’ll be sure to follow. Upon learning she’s in the infamous Fleet, her immediate reaction, of course, is to faint onto the floor in complete shock.
Sam and Pickwick hear about Mrs. Bardell’s imprisonment first thing but rather than basking in the poetic justice of it all, Sam immediately sends Job trotting (on incredibly filthy feet) to go fetch Mr. Perker (Milton Johns), Pickwick’s lawyer. Perker acts as intermediary, wearing down Pickwick’s resistance to paying any of the costs by producing a written apology from Mrs. Bardell that says she’s very sorry for all the inconvenience (how nice!) and she’ll drop her demands for the damages if Pickwick will only pay the court costs, which will free both of them. Perker points out that not only will Pickwick have taken the high road, he won’t be condemning both himself and, by extension, Sam, to languish in the Fleet for his stubbornness (shades of Sam’s contempt of court roomie).
Romance In the Air
Before Pickwick can make up his mind for certain, he’s interrupted by the timely arrival of the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Winkle, with yet another reason for Pickwick to get himself released from the Fleet quickly. Winkle condenses a large part of the novel’s action down into a few sentences as he explains everything to Pickwick – his wooing of and marriage to Arabella and her maid Mary’s role in helping them – and here again, I was extremely pleased to notice how closely this scene paralleled the original illustration by Phiz, down to Sam and Mary’s (Tamsin Heatley) dancer-like pose. But being a Dickens story, there must be complications… Not only has Arabella not broken it off with Sawyer, the drunken medical student her equally drunken brother Benjamin wants her to marry, Winkle hasn’t been able to bring himself to tell Winkle Senior that he’s married, afraid of his father’s reaction and that he might be cut off from his trust fund. Furthermore, Sam is sweet on Mary (whom we first met in Episode Seven) and it would go a lot easier on them as well if Winkle Sr. approved of the marriage. The upshot of it all is that both couples need Pickwick to smooth their way, Arabella with her brother and Winkle with his father, since Pickwick has been Winkle’s advisor and de facto guardian all these years. In the face of so much heartfelt pleading (Winkle in particular unleashes some deadly puppy-dog eyes) Pickwick can hardly refuse and he finally agrees to let Perker make the arrangements for his and Sam’s release.
Mr. Pickwick Leaves the Fleet
We get another intriguing hint as to what arrangements Pickwick has made when he takes his final leave of the Fleet. He seems to have made himself an indispensable part of prison life during his sojourn and a great many well-wishing and improbably cheerful debtors gather to wish him well, including Jingle and Job. Jingle doesn’t say a word but at least he looks happier and somewhat steadier on his feet. He even respectfully doffs his hat, showing just how much he’s changed since his imprisonment, as Perker ominously exhorts him to “live to remember and feel deeply what [he has] to communicate” and says he’ll be seeing both Jingle and Job tomorrow. Then Pickwick, Perker, and Sam finally leave the Fleet and you can almost smell how much fresher the air is once they’re outside.
What’s Next for Mr. Alfred Jingle?
So, the stage is set for a great many developments. Will Pickwick be able to reconcile Winkle Sr. to his son’s marriage? Although really, you’d think Winkle Sr. would be pleased and grateful that Winkle Jr. managed to marry so well and find himself such an attractive, level-headed wife. Will Sam get his romance started with Mary? And most importantly, what (possibly nefarious) plans have Perker and Pickwick cooked up for Jingle and Job that require Jingle’s deep thought and contemplation?
Even though Mr. Malahide doesn’t get a huge amount of screentime in this episode, I still found what glimpses we got of Jingle to be incredibly moving. We see yet again how much Jingle has changed from his original, insouciant self into a pale, drawn, and subdued man who wouldn’t have been able to survive the Fleet at all (shades of Pickwick’s Chancery prisoner landlord) if it weren’t for Job’s dedication and devotion. He really suggests Jingle’s illness and fragile state as he sways on his feet like a feverish man, conveying touching vulnerability as he first refuses Pickwick’s assistance out of pride but accepts it when he realizes he really needs it. Yet Jingle’s slow recovery is a sign that he now has a few shreds of hope. But what is the hope that Pickwick and Perker are holding out to him? Stay tuned for the next (and final) episode to find out!