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Marchlands, “Episode 2” (1.02)

Ruth (Jodie Whittaker) is pained upon being accused of neglectful parenting.

A review of the second episode of this creepy Brit drama, written by Stephen Greenhorn and directed by James Kent, after the jump…

Recap: In 1968, Ruth and Paul Bowen are ordered to conceive another baby in order to honour their contract with God – their marriage. In 1987, the Maynards begin to look into reasons behind the existence of ‘Alice’, and are advised it may be psychiatric, while a teenage Mark begins a flirtation with the deaf Olive. In 2010, after Nisha complains that she is feeling a bit alone in the house, Mark hires a housekeeper to help out without asking – a housekeeper who, it turns out, is an older Ruth Bowen…

Following very much in tone with the premiere, the second week of Marchlands moves quite slowly, preferring to spend time lingering over its characters rather than overdosing on mythology. The connections between the times continue, with Mark showing up in 1987 and Ruth in 2010, and the spaces between the times are causing some intriguing tension. My main question of the moment isn’t, “What happened to Alice?”, bur rather, “What happened to Amy Maynard?” We begin to see that story play out here, with hints that she’s doomed to be burdened with a psychiatric diagnoses, but I’m very curious about her ultimate fate.

We also get some additional information about the circumstances of Alice’s disappearence – Robert, Paul’s father, was looking after her, and left her alone briefly when the dog ran off. If Alice was a good girl who wouldn’t wander off, like Ruth insists, then whatever occurred happened in those minutes. That is, if Robert is a trustworthy source after all. His guilt could stem from this, or could stem from something even worse. I don’t feel that’s what the show is hinting, but it’s hardly off the table.

More interesting than the mythology, though, are the expansions on these characters. The struggles of the Maynards were played wonderfully by Alex Kingston and Dean Andrews; Helen’s reaction to the problem is to try and solve it by reading all the books and figuring it out, while Eddie merely wants to pretend that nothing’s wrong. The dynamic between Nisha and Mark also intrigues, as they argue while pretending like they’re not arguing. In fact, twice in this episode, men go behind their wives’ backs and establish something, and force them to accept it: Mark, in hiring Ruth, and Paul, in pushing Ruth to meet with Father Boyle. Funny that in both 1968 and progressive 2010, the husbands are comfortable in superseding their wives’ right to an opinion if they think it’s for the greater good. Meanwhile, both have ulterior motives; Paul has been bullied into it by his awful mother, while Mark is wounded by Nisha’s mother’s unheard criticisms.

Mothers, in fact, are a big theme in this series so far. You don’t just have our three female leads, who are all mothers at different points in their children’s lives, but Paul’s mother Evelyn, Olive’s mother, and even interjections from Nisha’s invisible mother via the phone. Of all of them, the only one who seems to struggle for control in her life is Ruth, who is constantly spoken over by her mother-in-law, and even she has a great independent spirit the rest try to deflate.They are constantly pushing to stay in control and fix the problems in their lives, even if they are like Evelyn, whose preferred version of making things better is ignoring grief and moving forward. Fathers, too, are a theme, but the running thread through them is more a sense of helplessness and being lost: Paul withdraws within himself after Alice’s death, Eddie just wants to ignore the problems with Amy and have her be his little girl, and Mark, even being the only mobile one, seems to constantly feel outmatched by his ever-prepared lawyer wife. Robert, too, seems to drift in and out of scenes more than walk firmly on the ground.

Mad Men is often praised as a great look at how damaging norms of previous generations worked in daily life, and though I don’t know how strict to detail Marchlands is, it feels very much like its also putting up a reflection to some ugly attitudes, particularly in the 1968 era. The baldness by which Evelyn, the policeman and the priest intercede in Ruth and Paul’s lives, dictating how to deal with their grief and tossing Ruth’s night classes back into her face, is horrifying from a present-day perspective. It’s clear that these people understand just how things are, but having never been a great proponent of how things were back then, it effects me quite a bit to see someone as smart and resourceful as Ruth bend under the thumb of a society that wants her to be quiet and follow orders.

Going forward, the questions aren’t just the fates of Alice and Amy, but what will happen between Nisha and Ruth? Will Ruth finally learn the whole story? Are Math and Olive set on a collision course, as it seems the show is implying? One thing this show excels at, in it formula, is showing how people and circumstances change. I’m interested to see what happens next.

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