HBO’s adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s gripping series continues with a looming sense of catastrophe. The damaged horse, the broken mirror, the stalking Fish Eagle, the death of Christopher’s mother, the butchered painting – everything in this episode seems to symbolize the coming destruction. The escalating European conflict, however, is not the focus of our attention. Rather, we dive deeper into the psyche of our protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, and his siren wife, Sylvia. And, of course, Christopher’s infatuation with the lovely Valentine.
Upon hearing news of his mother’s death, Christopher and Sylvia make their first public appearance since her adulterous rendezvous to the Balkans. I find these two to be the most dynamic characters of the series. The same sense of boredom that drew Sylvia away from Christopher is the very same that draws her away from other men. She’s infatuated with him, like he’s a puzzle she can’t quite solve. Through all the bitter resentment and desire to make him suffer, all she wants to do is please him. Christopher’s rejection fuels her loathing along with her desire for attention, a rather tortuous combination.
Valentine is also burdened with loneliness. Despite the passing years between her and Christopher’s sunrise ride in the mist, she still can’t help but think of him – and he of her. They do, in fact, reunite. Just in time for Christopher to announce his admission into the Army. He’s had enough of the bureaucratic negligence in the upper epsilons of a corrupt British government. He believes he’ll “be more useful in the trenches” – a notion not shared by many.
“Your such a paragon of honorable behavior, Christopher. Your the cruelest man I know.”
This episode exposed the insecurities that live in all of our characters. Sylvia wants to be noticed and appreciated. Valentine wants to know that she’s worth something. Christopher, well, Christopher is a complex man. But I believe that, above all, he wants to be respected. He clings to his honor – like a medieval knight living solely by his vow. He’s stuck in the middle of his own morality, his sense of duty, and what he truly wants. He loves Valentine but is bound to Sylvia. He wants to be respected but is met with coarseness. He knows everything but couldn’t be more lost.
“Higher than the beasts, lower than the angels, stuck in our idiot Eden.”
This is a beautiful series. Expansive, deep, and rich with quality writing and complex characters. The deteriorating situation in Europe is a parallel to the deteriorating way of life for our characters and the social traditions of England. Everything will change.
(Part I ) – (Read Part III)