When we left off last week, the poor, tortured Lady Pole had escaped house arrest to come after Norrell, the man she blames for the waking/dreaming hell her back-from-the-dead life has become—remember how he refused to help her, and basically told her to shut up about it so his reputation wouldn’t be ruined?—but his faithful manservant Childermass leaped in and took the bullet instead.
Maybe (definitely) Childermass’ loyalty is unearned, because as episode 4 opens, Norrell the neurotic human chipmunk is busy fretting over his reputation once again (how many times can one man say “What will this do to English magic?”?) instead of, you know, using some of that goddamn magic to help his poor Childerman, who is writhing on a makeshift exam table in the next room having bloody buckshot removed from his body without even a wooden spoon to bite down on.
Well anyway, he pulls through, no thanks to his boss, and he wants to know what was emanating from Lady Pole in the square before she shot him: “Mr. Norrell, that place just breathed magic and she was at the heart of it.” Norrell tells him he was probably drunk, and there is no such place, and he should just hush up. And also: “I’ve been in the most desperate need of you, but you’ve been useless. You’ve been asleep for days.” Gratitude!
Meanwhile, Strange gets a cute makeout session with his wife, and then heads out to meet Norrell so the two can do “magic by royal appointment,” a.k.a. help the King of England, who is mad (as in loony, not angry), and can’t do much besides grow his Rip Van Winkle beard and bonk blankly at a harpsichord. But they very much don’t agree on what approach to take; Norrell wants only modern magic, Strange is willing to take a crack at the older, darker ways. So Strange returns later on his own and lights a match, and suddenly the rheumy-eyed king comes to life: “I am a king, you are a king. Let’s all be kings together!” He also says, “The last time I was permitted out of these rooms was on a Monday in 1810—946 years ago,” which is not explained any further. And then sizzle, poof! Into the mirror he disappears, leaving only a little royal slipper behind. Now this episode’s title is starting to make sense.
We don’t know why the king reappears on a road in a field facing Stephen the butler, or why a sword materializes in Stephen’s hand and pulls him forward against his will, but Strange casts a spell just in time to bring the king back to his castle, and Stephen’s sword slices through thin air instead of priceless royal flesh, so that’s a relief. But guess who’s not happy about that? Our powdery friend Thistle Down, who has this delightful exchange with a very bewildered Stephen:
Thistle Down: All our wonderful plans have been rudely overturned, and once again it is the stupid magician who thwarts us.
Stephen: Who was that old gentleman, sir?
Thistle Down: Why, the King of England, of course. I had brought him here so that you might fulfill your destiny, by cutting off his head and taking his place.
Stephen: But the King has 13 children, sir. The crown would be passed on to one of them and certainly not to a man such as I!
Thistle Down: No, the King’s children are all fat and stupid. Who would wish to be governed by such frights, when they might instead be governed by you, Stephen, whose noble countenance would look so well upon a coin?
Yes, surely the people of 19th-century England would prefer a black butler with a strong profile to a fat, stupid royal. So the two decide together that the enemy is Strange, and they need to destroy him “utterly—and take his wife.”
NEXT: Someone finally takes pity on Lady Pole