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'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell' recap: 'The Education of a Magician'

Posted on

BBC America

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Bertie Carvel, Eddie Marsan
Toby Haynes
BBC America
Fantasy, History

Poor Lady Pole. Will she ever find peace? Episode 3 opens on yet another midnight misery for Sir Pole’s reanimated bride. At least she has the company of Arabella, who is now apparently a regular visitor. The oily Mr. Drawlight—“that odious, odious little man” who always seems to be everywhere he’s not wanted—catches Bella leaving the Pole home and sidles up for gossip: “You know,” he trills (does he ever not rrrroll his r’s?) “some people think that her resurrection has made her proud and unwilling to mix with ordinary mortals, but I think the truth is quite different. I think it has bred in her a taste for morbid experiences.” If only it were a taste she could spit out. Bella gives him nothing, but he isn’t put off: “It’ll be found out in the end. I always find it out.” Meanwhile, Mr. Norrell is intercepting letters meant for Jonathan Strange, for purposes we don’t exactly know yet—and just to make sure that every woman who darkens the doors of the Pole house is completely miserable, Thistle Down pops by to ask Arabella if she’s heard from her man, who as we know is off in Portugal, freelance magicking for the cause: “How is your husband? Is he still wherever he is? He is sure to be bored at home, Madam, as soon as he has tasted war.” Never not stirring the pot, this one.

In fact, Strange is not having an easy time in Lisbon; he can’t find Lord Wellington anywhere.  “Lord Wellington does not stay in one place, sir,” he is informed. “Lord Wellington goes wherever he is needed. And Lord Wellington is needed everywhere” (to wrap beef filets in delicious pastry?). When Strange finally does find him, it does not go well. The Lord is busy and his men are hungry and he wants to know if Strange can conjure more artillery and more soldiers. He could make it rain, he says. Not the answer the Lord was looking for: “You and this other gentleman have been a great nuisance to the army, sir. These visions you’ve shown the ministers have convinced them they know how matters stand in Portugal. They do not! Only I know what needs to be done in Portugal, sir, because only I am acquainted with all the circumstances.” How about a plague of locusts, then? Strange offers. “You’d do just as good to drop roast chickens on them,” he replies. Thank you, and goodnight.

Lady Pole, having realized that she’s basically trapped in a hell she can’t describe to anyone without speaking words that make no sense, has started embroidering her stories instead: Stephen the butler wearing his crown, Thistle Down (she calls him “The King of Lost Hope”) looking poofy and nefarious. She needs Arabella to tell her husband what she’s made, she insists; he’s the only one who can help her. Arabella goes to Sir Pole to plead for relief for Lady Pole, but he is dismissive; he thinks it’s just madness, not the mess caused by bringing a completely dead girl back to life so you can have her dowry. 

Someone should really be looking out for Arabella; Thistle Down is officially obsessed with her now, and he has a plan: “We can carry her to Lost Hope,” he tells Stephen excitedly, “where she will be loved and admired as no man has loved or admired her before.” He tends to love women right into the asylum, so that’s not promising.

In Portugal, Strange offers his magician skills to a group of soldiers around a campfire, but they don’t need spells, they need a man who can read their letters from home, so he does. He’s actually starting to make friends! Even his Lordship might be softening, if he can really help to make the road they need. In a quick flash of pebbles and dirt, he gets it done, and just like that, he’s their new favorite Merlin. (But don’t call him that, please; Merlin, if he ever existed, was a low-class vagabond.)

Norrell’s right-hand man Childermass wants to know why he’s being instructed to intercept all the letters between Jonathan Strange and Arabella; there’s nothing scandalous in them, so what is it for? Norrell admits that he’s worried about the conversations between Lady Pole and Arabella, and he has Childermass break into the Pole home to find what he must have known was there: the Tapestry from Hell that Lady Pole has been furiously embroidering.

NEXT: Lady Pole is not happy[pagebreak]

Back in Portugal, Lord Wellington, who now has full confidence in Jonathan Strange’s magic skills, has decided he’d like him to move a forest that is inconveniently positioned. How hard could it be? Strange is reluctant, because unlike churches or roads, trees are living things: “They will have humours of their own. They may not care for soldiers.” Clearly, this is a terrible idea, but of course they go ahead with it. The trees make some whale-song noises, which attracts the attention of the French, and a cannonball almost immediately takes out Strange’s precious supply of magic books. In the chaos of the battle, he pulls out a relatively unscathed Child’s History of the Raven King and releases… not exactly a Kraken but a very big mist. Lord Wellington isn’t pleased that he didn’t manage his tree magic, but he still saved lives.

Arabella only wants to save Lady Pole, who is officially spiraling now; Thistle Down has a proposal for her: He will remove the Lady’s madness, in exchange for something he won’t exactly specify (“I should not ask for anything that would not be exquisitely desirable to you.” So does that mean like, another pinky finger?). Arabella is no fool. She smells trouble and gives the only sensible response: “If you can do such a thing, if it is within your power to help, then, for the love of God, do it. But do not make a bargain of my friend. You will forgive me, sir. We should not meet again without my husband present.”

Her husband, it turns out, is busy bringing Neopolitan corpses back to life for intel, at Lord Wellington’s insistence. But it’s not modern magic, it’s ancient Raven King magic, so three guesses whether that’s a good plan. Anyway, they get the information they want, from a trio of terrifying, hell-dialecting zombie soldiers, so Wellington is happy.

Lady Pole is very, very unhappy, and a visit from Norrell doesn’t help when he tells her that she needs to shut up and stop weaving tell-all tapestries and also, does she know that she will be stuck in this living nightmare for another 75 years? Magic! Then he tells her husband that she should be kept away from Arabella; it’s not good for her emotional state. But of course, he only cares that she is kept from spreading her stories and putting a black mark on his reputation. And when Stephen tries to tell Arabella that she’s not welcome at the Pole house anymore, his mouth is taken over again by nonsense talk about a parson in 1349 and a tiny man. What do these stories mean that get channeled any time someone tries to impart information that Thistle Down or Norrell don’t want shared? We have to have faith that at some point they will all make sense, just like we need to believe that the Italian zombies that Strange resurrected will be killable at some point, because shooting them doesn’t seem to work, and Norman Reedus isn’t here to stake them. (Sidenote: Lord Wellington is verrrry casual about this whole thing, isn’t he? First he didn’t believe in magic, and now he just wants to hurry all that undead-Italians business along so they can all get back to their “wives and mistresses.”)

Having been thwarted in his attempts to draw in Arabella, Thistle Down turns his attention the Stephen the Butler. He tells him he can make him a king. Stephen, bless him, tells him he already is—”of my own little land in Harley Street. I flatter myself known amongst the best servants in London.” His current master Sir Walter’s father, he tells Thistle Down, was very kind to him, christened and educated him. Thistle Down shows him in a vision that shows how he was born on Sir Walter’s own slave ship, and that his mother died in chains, gasping his name. “This is what has been done to you. This is what has been taken from you. I can make you king.” Thistle Down does not quit. 

Strange, at least, has made it home to England safely, and all seems well for a minute, but things are not good for Childermass: He’s woozy and there’s a crazy green light in his water glass, courtesy of… Lady Pole? Rushing outside, he sees that she has escaped the DIY prison of her home, and she has a pistol that’s aimed straight at Mr. Norrell—who of course she blames (not wrongly) for everything that’s happened since her tortured resurrection, including his recent refusal to help her or even let her share what’s happened to her. A group of men rush to stop her, and Childermass, loyal to the end, takes the bullet at close range. If he dies, will a woman as privileged (if miserable) as Lady Pole be tried for a murder she committed in broad daylight? Will Norrell and Strange keep their uneasy peace pact? Will Strange be called back to the front to do more unwise things to trees and corpses? There are no crystal balls to tell you now, but there is another episode next week.