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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell recap: Arabella

Jonathan Strange’s life—and wife—are about to get a lot stranger.

Posted on

BBC America

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

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

Episode 5 opens in the thick of battle at Waterloo (couldn’t escape if we wanted to): death, destruction, and our own Mr. Strange at the center — twirling water from a well to put out a fire, whipping vines into soldier-stranglers, conjuring a massive mud fist to squeeze the life out of a rampaging ax wielder. This isn’t doing parlour tricks from the sidelines; Strange has now seen and done ugly things, and it seems obvious that he won’t be the same man going forward.

With that in mind, his recent split with Norrell seems relatively low on his current list of priorities (when his wife asks about it, he dismisses their feud as a “dull academic controversy”). But the feeling isn’t mutual: Norrell is doing everything he can to stop the dissemination of Strange’s opposing views on magic, spluttering to the very blasé publisher of Strange’s upcoming book that his writings are “dangerous and seditious.” His cohort Mr. Lascelle delivers what he thinks will be the trump card: “Publish, and you shall have no more editions of The Friends Of English Magic Sir!” which basically gets a shrug, a chuckle, and a big fat whatever from Mr. Publisher.  

Clearly, though, Norrell is not letting this one go: “Why on earth does he insist on punishing me in this manner?” he asks Lascelle moments later in their carriage, referring to the mostly-oblivious Strange. “Whatever wrong did I do him? There is a danger both in what he will say and in the very fabric of the books themselves. Really, it would be most agreeable to me to never see or hear from that man again.” Are we looking at the possible beginnings of a murder plot? Or will he just unfriend Strange on LinkedIn?

If you’re wondering what happened to the peat-bog Arabella doppleganger Thistle Down hatched at the end of the last episode, the answer appears to be that she is wandering the moors blank-eyed and shoeless, while the real Arabella talks babies and beech trees in the bedroom with her husband. Which is bittersweet of course, because this cozy little scene is basically here to remind us how unlikely it is that they’ll ever get the chance to live the blissfully boring domestic life they had planned before magic came in the picture. And indeed, in the very next scene Arabella is roused by a midnight knock on the door and a summons from Stephen the Butler, who says that Lady Pole needs her — but as we know now, he has gone fully over to the Thistle Down dark side. It’s a trap, Arabella! Lady Pole knows it too, even if she’s not quite sure what she knows; she begs a servant to warn Strange that his wife is not safe. Too late.

A search party is pretty much useless when your wife has been taken to another dimension, though poor Jonathan can’t know that. Just like he can’t know that the “Arabella” who eventually shows up clammy and disoriented is not the real one. The real one is trapped in Lost Hope with Thistle Down, who helpfully informs her, “Your husband has bargained you away, madam. He has sold you to me in exchange for a piece of wood. You are to be mine for all time and never leave.” (Ah yes, the old wood-for-wife switcheroo. Classic!) And then Thistle does something to Real Arabella’s face with his super creepy Barbra Streisand fingernails that apparently hypnotizes her into submission.

Back at the Strange home, Jonathan wakes up at his fake-beloved’s bedside to find her grey-skinned and staring blankly at the ceiling. She is clearly dead, but he doesn’t have much time for grieving; he’s going to bring her back to life, he decides almost immediately — which as we know from past experience with Lady Pole and the Italian soldiers is 100% a terrible idea. He can’t do it alone though, so he reaches out to Norrell, asking for his help in bringing her back and promising in exchange that he’ll never practice magic again. Childermass and Lascelle have very opposing views on how to handle this, which leads to some golden moments of passive-aggressive bitchery between the two (“Could we talk without the servants present, Sir? It is most vexing.” [slowly, sarcastically] “No, let’s not speak without the servants present.”)

NEXT: Arabella’s goodbye