Indian Summers, S01E09 is the penultimate episode for the first series, and the final one to feature Patrick Malahide’s Lord Willingdon (we presume he’ll be conveniently “away on business” for the finale) until series 2, so we’re hoping some of those plot points that have been juggling furiously in the air begin to reach their conclusions, while still others are set up for the future. When last seen in S01E07 (ably reviewed by Admin), Lord W. took a break from Viceregal duties to play the role of curly-haired young rebel Algernon Moncrieff (as Admin says, total typecasting 😉 ) in the Simla Gaiety Club’s amateur production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Lord W. happily basked in applause while his private secretary, Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), tried unsuccessfully to drag his attention back onto Untouchables matters. But in this episode, he’s forced to pay heed to more serious concerns as the Viceregal office undertakes ticklish negotiations with the Nawab of Jaffran (Silas Carson). The reason is a little vague… something to do with rallies and power plants?… but the deal is important enough for the Viceroy to give Ralph a special briefing beforehand.
Secrets, Meddling, and Blackmail
But there are a few other details to clear up first. After being exiled by Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters) into one of the Club’s more cramped, dank basement rooms for inability to pay his bills, Eugene Mathers (Edward Hogg) suddenly drops dead of malaria overnight. A little more indication he was that deathly ill might’ve made his demise seem a little less abrupt, but there you have it. A flashback tells us that Eugene was apparently an architect, who came to India to do… something, we’re not quite sure what. In any case, he’s already been packed into an urn by his next appearance and his poor sister Madeleine (Olivia Grant), Ralph’s fiancée, is prostrate with grief. We never did find out why their relationship seemed so oddly creepy. I think she’ll be the only one who truly misses him.
Never one to pass up an opportunity, Cynthia uses Eugene’s death to “suggest” to Madeleine that she return to the States with Eugene’s ashes right away, thereby separating her from Ralph and erasing Cynthia’s mistake in matching up Ralph with the World’s Poorest Steel Heiress. Surprisingly, Madeleine agrees to go without a fight (which I found rather disappointing), so Cynthia immediately has her faithful majordomo Kaiser (Indi Nadarajah) book her return passage; Cynthia’s big on sledgehammer-type A-to-B solutions. She even tells Kaiser Madeleine won’t be back once she’s gone because “women like that” never return. Neither Madeleine nor Cynthia bothers to tell Ralph his fiancée is leaving; presumably Cynthia will spin her own version of Madeleine’s reasons once Ralph notices she’s gone.
Indeed, Ralph is already a little preoccupied with the Nawab’s visit. While he lobbies Cynthia to remove the Simla Club’s infamous “No dogs or Indians” sign as a one-off concession to the Viceroy for the occasion (Cynthia’s extremely grudging about it, not just because she’s horrifically racist (well, that too), but because the sign is a relic of her late husband, Reggie), Sarah Raworth (Fiona Glascott) has been pushed to her own extremes, losing (as Admin says) her last marble. She accuses Alice (Jemima West), Ralph’s sister, of encouraging Sarah’s husband Dougie’s (Craig Parkinson) attentions to Leena (Amber Rose Revah), his half-caste assistant. Alice denies it even though she has been encouraging the relationship, telling Leena she should follow true love. Mind you, Alice should know better than to put Leena on the firing line since she’s more aware than most that Sarah is just a tad obsessive and vindictive. Bent on revenge, Sarah threatens to reveal Alice’s secret at the Club’s big party; namely, that Alice is not a widow. Instead, she deserted her husband to run away to India with her baby and has been masquerading as a widow ever since. Fearing the social fallout, Alice begs her to reconsider, but Sarah’s gone a wee bit ’round the bend and refuses to listen. She’s determined to wreck havoc on Alice’s life.
Ralph, too, is experiencing some havoc due to secrets of his own. He receives an unexpected visit from his illegitimate half-Indian son, Adam (Shachin Sailesh Kumar), whose mother Jaya was murdered by an unknown assailant, although tea merchant Ramu Sood (Alyy Khan) has been tried and convicted of the crime. Adam presents Ralph with a clumsily handwritten note, calling Ralph “rakshas” (a shape-shifting demon – I wish the writers would elaborate on that concept) and saying that he knows Ralph is his father. Ralph is stunned by the encounter, but tells Alice nothing about it.
A Meeting with the Nawab of Jaffran
Whew! So all of this is in the background as the Viceroy briefs Ralph on the upcoming meeting with the Nawab. He’s to address the Nawab as “Your Majesty” and treat him “as a gentleman”, but it shouldn’t be too onerous a task because Lord W. considers the Nawab “an entertaining fellow” (more on this later 😉 ). Ralph’s mission is to talk the Nawab out of providing his personal support for an Indian National Congress rally taking place in his province, celebrating Gandhi’s return to health after his hunger strike. He’s to find out what the Nawab wants and “haggle”, which Lord W. can’t be seen to do (beneath his pay grade). While the Nawab might “push for cash for his jumped-up little army”, Lord W. strictly instructs Ralph that he’s not to concede that ground “on pain of death”.
Then, surprisingly, the Viceroy begins musing on “all the unpleasantness between the Indian side and ourselves”, wondering in a moment of insight if the British “slip[ped] up” at any point, or if things could’ve been improved with “a little more civility” or “one more handshake”. He’s a little late, but at least he’s thinking about it. Ralph pointedly asks, “Whose hand would that be, sir?”, a completely ironic question since he’s been pushing for improved relations with the Untouchables all this time. But Lord W. fails to pick up on the irony, replying somewhat predictably, “Well, the better class of Indian. The princes, obviously.” Hobnobbing with lower-caste Indians wouldn’t be worth his time. However, after further thought Lord W. then adds, “Educators. We have more in common with them than we realize.” “Mmm,” agrees Ralph, who hasn’t yet mentioned his half-caste illegitimate son to his boss. The garden is full of irony today.
Ralph then tosses the question back to his clerk, Aafrin Dalal (Nikesh Patel), who has been following them as part of Lord W’s entourage. After the intimacy of the preceding conversation, I was startled to realize they weren’t alone; at all times, Lord W. either has an entire entourage with him or at the very least, his personal bodyguard, Captain Percy. “What do you say to that, munshi?” asks Ralph and Aafrin replies, “My father says, courtesy is never wasted, sir.” Aaaww, we like Mr. Dalal. 😉 The Viceroy likes Aafrin’s answer, too: “Sound fellow. Does he play billiards?” I would love to see a scene where Mr. Dalal (Roshan Seth) was invited to the Viceregal Lodge for a game of billiards. I bet they’d get along famously.
Lord W. then brings Ralph’s attention to the Washington papers, calling his newspaper wrangler (delegated from brolly-bearing, perhaps) forward to hold it open for him – no way is he going to get ink on his own fingers. He points out the headline, “Gandhi at War with India’s Poorest”, while gloating, “I think the Americans have finally got the hang of it.” If he can’t make any headway against Gandhi, he’s only too pleased to see him receive negative press. But again, there’s something ironic in the Viceroy relishing Gandhi being called out for being “at war” with “India’s poorest” while he himself has a man whose sole job it is (assuming he doesn’t double-up as a brolly bearer) to hold his newspaper for him. “Poor old Gandhiji,” chuckles the Viceroy, still gloating. “Won’t know what hit him. Not used to it, you see. Not like some of us. What was he thinking of? Tying himself in knots over these poor Untouchables.” Of course, Lord W. is completely ignoring the fact his own private secretary has been tying himself into knots over these same Untouchables for the past few weeks – presumably because he’s ordered Ralph to drop the subject and assumes he’ll obey. Sometimes the Viceroy misses a few things.
The Nawab Arrives
Later, Ralph takes the Viceroy’s Rolls to go meet the Nawab – the Viceroy, of course, owns one of the only three cars allowed in Simla. While he and Alice wait for the guest of honour to appear, she finally confesses that Sarah has uncovered her secret and is asking uncomfortable questions. Ralph gives Alice the benefit of the doubt at first, chalking up her desertion to Charlie’s (Alice’s husband) being abusive and threatening to kill him. Based on how he dealt with Captain
Flashpants Farquhar in episode 6, we now know it’s not just an idle threat. But Alice asserts that Charlie wasn’t abusive; she just… didn’t want to be with him. Ralph appears shocked by the news, but before Alice can find out if he’s angry with her, his attention is diverted by the arrival of the Nawab’s horse-drawn carriage.
Splendidly attired in turquoise silk with gold accents, the Nawab does indeed seem to be a most entertaining fellow who doesn’t stand much on ceremony. He turns down Ralph’s offer of the Rolls with a breezy, “Stuff and nonsense! I’m here for the champagne air!”, and invites the Whelans to share his carriage to the Club instead. This means squeezing in with his five Pekineses, who are already taking up most of the room; both of Cynthia’s rules are about to be destroyed at one fell swoop. 😉 Ralph holds a Pekinese on his lap for the journey, smiling gamely, but probably wondering how much dog hair he’s getting on his best suit and fantasizing about chucking it out of the carriage. At the Club, Ronnie Keane (Rick Warden) assists Alice with dog-wrangling duties; the Pekes might be wearing their best little formal coats, but their manners are atrocious. Cynthia’s gardens are sure to be ruined. 😉
At the Club, the Viceroy invites the Nawab to enjoy “the famous mountain view”, which does indeed look pretty spectacular. However, the Nawab says it isn’t a patch on the Cairngorms of Scotland. He asks Ralph if he’s ever visited the Cairngorms and when Ralph replies that he hasn’t, quips, “Well, you must – once you are all finished here.” This earns some serious side-eye from Lord W., although he did say the Nawab was entertaining. But the Viceroy is not without some wit of his own. “We’re in no rush to go anywhere… quite yet,” he rejoins, with a mischievous glint in his eye. Who says he doesn’t know how to do this diplomacy thing?
Over milk punch, Ralph fishes for information concerning the Nawab’s support of the Gandhi rally. But the Nawab disavows any knowledge of such a thing, saying that Ralph must be “better informed” than he is. “See? Didn’t I tell you. False alarm,” comments the Viceroy, with a knowing smirk in Ralph’s direction. He then gives Ralph the signal to begin negotiations, saying Ralph “puts these things so much better” than he does, and Ralph is just getting started… when he sees the Raworths enter the club. Realizing the scandal that would occur if Sarah makes her threatened scene, Ralph abruptly breaks off his conversation with the Nawab in mid-sentence. He speeds away with a hurried “Two minutes!” in the Viceroy’s direction, to the latter’s complete consternation. Looks like he might have to haggle after all! (Side note: I also noticed that the Viceroy’s newspaper wrangler had now become his homburg minder in this scene, holding the Viceroy’s hat and staring at it as if he expected it to do something. Seems like a rather boring job!)
An Offer the Raworths Can’t Refuse
Ralph heads off the Raworths before anything gets started, noting that he saw their son Matthew (Julian Fenby) playing outside and asking what provisions they’ve made for his education. By chance, or more likely by design, Ralph has cunningly managed to hit on the one topic guaranteed to completely derail Sarah, who doesn’t like Matthew mingling with Dougie’s half-caste orphanage children and wants him to have a proper English education. Ralph says he can pull some strings with his old school in Hertfordshire to get Matthew a placement and Sarah jumps at the chance, although Dougie remains suspicious of Ralph’s motives – as he should be. Of course, it would require Sarah temporarily moving back to England to be close while Matthew settles in – which conveniently gets her out of Alice’s hair. The Raworths leave, Sarah gleeful at receiving such an unexpected favour and grateful to Alice (Ralph says it was all her idea), while Dougie is far more distrustful and unenthusiastic. But it does appear Sarah will be keeping her last marble for now.
Finally free of her blackmailer, Alice is relieved to discover her brother is such an effective fixer, and also (as it turns out) that he’s not angry at her for deserting her husband. When Ralph asks why she was so afraid of Sarah, Alice replies that she was worried she’d lose her son. “Why?” asks Ralph, although the answer should be obvious. “Because I love him,” answers Alice. Apparently the thought has never occurred to Ralph, who’s also never considered what, if anything, he should be feeling about his own son. Alice then tells him she’s sorry Madeleine is leaving, which is news to Ralph. But he rapidly puts two and two together and comes up with Cynthia. It might take more than two minutes for him to get back to the Viceroy, who doesn’t appear to be enjoying the negotiation process and is becoming just a little impatient, going by his “What the…??” gesture.
What Cynthia Knew, and When She Knew It
Ralph confronts Cynthia, who has completely changed her tune about his marriage to Madeleine since the engagement party in episode 5. While carefully avoiding any mention that it was all her idea for Madeleine to leave, or the state of Madeleine’s finances, Cynthia now says Ralph and Madeleine are actually completely unsuited for each other as a couple. In fact, she was really against it the whole time. She paints an extremely negative picture, describing Madeleine as leading “a wasted life in a country she can’t begin to fathom” if they were to marry. It would be “for [Ralph’s] own good” if they were to break up. She also tries to sway Ralph to her way of thinking, and after some prodding, she does get him to admit that he doesn’t know if he really loves Madeleine, which is likely true.
Just as he’s on the point of returning to the Viceroy, who looks as if he might explode if he has to talk to the Nawab any longer, Ralph suddenly returns to Cynthia to demand what she knows about Jaya and Adam. After much convoluted excuse-making and evasion, her story twisting this way and that, Cynthia finally admits she knew Jaya was pregnant with Ralph’s child when he was an assistant magistrate in Madras. She (somehow!) arranged for Ralph to receive a new posting a thousand miles away in Burma before he found out, putting a stop to the relationship. She also sent a note to the headman of Jaya’s village warning of her involvement with an Englishman, thereby guaranteeing Jaya would be ostracized and punished for the sin of bearing an Englishman’s child – a consequence which bothers Cynthia not at all, since she seems to think Jaya somehow deserved all the ill treatment. Of course, Cynthia’s getting rid of Jaya, like getting rid of Madeleine, has all been for Ralph’s own good. Beginning to realize what a smothering horror Cynthia actually is, and how uncaringly ruthless she can be, Ralph recoils from her in disgust, fending her off like a Hammer Films monster before he flees. However, Cynthia takes a final parting shot; she screeches after Ralph that Madeleine’s family is broke, something she’s carefully kept from him up to this point. Ralph speeds out of the club, past a bewildered Viceroy, just in time to prevent Madeleine from getting on the boat and foiling Cynthia’s plans for now.
Don’t Make the Viceroy Angry. You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Angry.
Later that night, a furious Viceroy comes steaming into the Viceregal offices, looking for Ralph and not in the best of moods: “What the hell happened to you?? I felt a complete fool! Haggling over every last anna like some… village money lender!” It’s exactly the scenario he wanted to avoid. Trying to deflect his boss’ anger, Ralph apologetically explains that his fiancée’s brother has just passed away and she’s not taking it well (technically true…) and the Viceroy, while still very angry, at least makes an effort to be understanding: “Well, for heaven’s sake! Why didn’t you say so before??” Ralph blames himself, saying it was “unforgivable” of him not to do so, and in the face of his contriteness, the Viceroy begins to bend a bit, even though his tone is still angry: “Well, nothing’s unforgivable!” He seems willing to open a loophole. Maybe he has a thing for redheads, or just ones he’s thrown pre-French Revolutionary engagement parties for.
“I’m Not Made Entirely of Stone”
Realizing he’s not quite out of the woods, Ralph apologizes yet again for leaving Lord W. “in the lurch”. His temper already beginning to burn off, Lord W. switches moods in mid-sentence, replying with an angry “Yes!” followed by a somewhat mollified, “Still.” (It’s a wonderful little bit of seamless acting from Mr. Malahide.) Now in a somewhat gentler mood, he sincerely asks Ralph to convey his condolences to Madeleine. Stepping closer to Ralph’s desk for a more personal note and making direct eye contact, he chides Ralph quietly, simultaneously both deeply wounded and trying to remain approachable: “You may confide in me, you know. I’m not made entirely of stone.” He’s at once hurt by Ralph’s inability to talk to him, but trying so hard to remain the favourite uncle that it’s almost painful to see him falling for Ralph’s (mostly) lie. To top it all off, Mr. Malahide delivers the line with a lethal puppy-dog-eyed gaze that would melt the hearts of most normal people (myself included). How can Ralph resist?? It’s my favourite scene of this episode. 😉
Ralph Puts the Boots In
Sensing his advantage now that the Viceroy’s in a more amenable mood, Ralph decides to put the boots in on Cynthia. He “reluctantly” (not really) admits to the Viceroy that there’s one other little matter: the Nawab caught wind of Cynthia’s “no dogs or Indians” rule and was grievously offended – not at all true, but a very believable lie. “Oh Christ!” exclaims Lord W., facepalming in exasperation. Playing on his boss’ frustrations, Ralph also suggests the Nawab’s anger might’ve been “the real reason he drove you so hard today”. If the Club’s colour bar were to be removed… it would be a gesture of appeasement to the Nawab and other high-caste Indians, as well as a bit of political propaganda the Viceregal office could use. Oh, and it would also really annoy Cynthia and be a nifty bit of revenge for Ralph, but he doesn’t mention that. We’re not shown the Viceroy agreeing to the idea, but since the club’s membership votes on the issue in the next episode, we can guess he might be pushing for it to go through. As for our last glimpse of Cynthia, she’s fiercely polishing her late husband’s cavalry saddle (it’ll soon have no leather left at the rate she’s going), in a fit of pique because she’s on the outs with Ralph. She doesn’t yet know what he’s got in store for the club if, or when, he gets his way.
There’s one aspect of this episode I haven’t yet addressed; namely, the romance between Aafrin and Alice. I’m sorry, but it just remains completely unconvincing and uninvolving to me. They don’t seem to have much chemistry and their relationship is one of “Indian Summers'” weak spots. In the course of the show, we discover that the
Macguffin forged certificate Aafrin stole, which implies Ralph’s would-be assassin was politically motivated, is currently in the hands of a revolutionary group who are willing to use blackmail to enlist Aafrin in their cause, and violent methods (as opposed to Gandhi’s more peaceful ones) to achieve their ends. Aafrin is left weighing his career and his loyalty to Ralph against his ideals.
This was an interesting episode that answered some questions while creating others, and as always, I enjoyed the lush scenery and settings of Penang, standing in for Simla. Some scenes were so vivid that one could almost smell the flowers in the garden, or the woodsmoke and food scents in the village. The Nawab (and his Pekes) was a particularly entertaining guest star. And besides Mr. Malahide, Fiona Glascott, Julie Walters, and Henry Lloyd-Hughes have also done outstanding jobs throughout the series.
The episode also gave Mr. Malahide the opportunity to show us more sides of the Viceroy. I liked his casual air as he strolled the gardens, briefing Ralph – simultaneously talking about class conflict while unconscious of the entourage at his back, including one man whose sole function is to carry his newspaper (later, his homburg). And of course there’s a bit of foreshadowing when the Viceroy says he can’t be seen to haggle, yet ends up doing that very thing. Although considering that the real Lord Willingdon began his diplomatic career as his father-in-law’s aide-de-camp, I think he’d know enough about haggling to hold his own. Still, I enjoyed Mr. Malahide’s portrayal of Lord W’s frustration at being forced to deal with the Nawab. Perhaps he should’ve had Mrs. Viceroy drop by to take over the negotiations (from what I’ve read, she’d be formidable), or distract the Nawab by complimenting his Pekes.
I especially enjoyed the final scene, with Mr. Malahide’s Viceroy progressing from steaming anger, to steaming anger with caring and understanding shoehorned in, to sincere sympathy for Madeleine, and finally to genuine hurt at Ralph’s inability to confide in him and a desire to remain approachable. He really does want to be Ralph’s caring yet meddling uncle, but he’s his boss, too, and Mr. Malahide effectively showed his emotions changing almost from second to second. He was so sincere about being approachable (wanting to be liked?) and so obviously cares about Ralph that I really did feel hurt on his behalf that he was taken in by a lie.
I also rather wish the writers had allowed the colour bar’s removal to be the Viceroy’s idea rather than Ralph’s. We know the real Viceroy didn’t agree with such things and even set up his own open-membership sports club in Bombay (now Mumbai) to demonstrate his principles, so it would’ve been historically accurate for him to be opposed. I suppose the need for drama required Ralph to use the Viceroy as a means of revenge against Cynthia, so it had to be his idea. Still, Mr. Malahide’s Viceroy is a man trying to do a job in the midst of great change. We can hope that Lord W’s character develops even more in series 2, with (hopefully) more attention to historical fidelity to the real person and more screen time. Until then, Mr. Malahide still has one of the best puppy-dog gazes in the business. 😉