Marchlands, “Episode 5” (1.05)

Teenage Scott and young Amy together on the couch, Scott holding an arm around Amy to comfort her.

And now, for the grand finale of the spooky British miniseries about a little girl named Alice. A review of the finale, written by Stephen Greenhorn and directed by James Kent after the jump…

“You must know, you know everything else around here!” – Ruth (1987)

What happened: In 1968, Ruth and Paul decide to leave town, while Robert reveals to Evelyn his part in Alice’s death. In 1987, Helen has an encounter with Alice and decides the family needs to move out of Marchlands. In 2010, Mark and Nisha finally discuss the tension between them, while Ruth discovers exactly what ASKOR means: Ask Olive Runcie.

The structure of this miniseries was interesting, and I’d like to talk about that before I do any of the resolutions it offered.

The four episodes that preceded this finale have been fantastic, but I’ve wondered the entire time how it was going to close off in only five hours. To be honest, they felt like the first four episodes of a really good 22-episode season. It focused on small things – Nisha’s loneliness, the tension between Paul and Ruth, Amy’s diagnosis  that could have run for much longer and gained some real momentum in a longer run, leading up to a more intense, dramatic finale. The way they told quiet, realistic stories about people was fascinating to me, but it also meant that it felt like it could have slow-burned a bit longer.

And the big takeaway is this: because the stories were so small, because the stakes were still rather low, the resolutions carried very little power. Helen’s turnaround is spurred by one supernatural moment, after the tension between she and Eddie has begun but before there’s any real danger in it. So, the family’s troubles are solved quickl within the hour: Helen encounters Alice, learns Scott has epilepsy that they’ve been ignoring, and they decide to move. Nothing really bad ever happens; presumably, Amy ‘gets better’ once they move, and we’ve seen that Scott lands on his feet. While the ‘everybody hugs’ scene was a little moving, and reminded me of my own family, it feels like this could have been pushed further for a more moving finale later down the line.

The tension with Mark and Nisha suffers the same fate, because a whole story had to be told within five episodes. It doesn’t go very far – Mark is a bit shouty at her, she worries about things in the house – before they sit down and sort through it, and this makes it feel like a very small argument that they won’t really remember five years down the road (except for, of course, the important revelations about Olive and Mark that surfaced ). Plus, their issues are resolved almost instantly because there needed to be room for them to chase down Ruth, upon learning her real name – something that, again, lacked tension because we all knew there was no real danger to new Alice in that scene.

And if anything was an anticlimax, it was the reveal of what really happened to Alice. Early on, with Alice missing her coat and cross, there was an implication that someone could have kidnapped and abused her, or something equally horrifying. Instead, the secret isnt at all about Alice, and the explanation is that Alice ran off into the river after discovering her grandfather in bed with another woman. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to sensationalistic North American stories, but things were much less intense than they were hinted at by the end of the pilot, and thus instead of fireworks at the end here, the episode merely meandered through the reolution of its plots, often hitting the quiet emotional notes it does so well, but never reaching the height a finale should.

But, if you disregard the bigger problem I took issue with, and the fact that very little happened to shock, it was a great little finale in terms of hitting the emotional notes it wanted to. Each family had a great quiet scene: Paul and Ruth in the train station, Helen announcing that she agrees with Eddie about moving, and Nisha and Mark laying their cards on the table and talking about their issues. Alex Kingston was brilliant here in the moments where this very rational-minded woman was forced to see there were things she didn’t, or couldn’t, know and, particularly, the moment with Scott’s seizure in the bathroom. I’ve never seen Dean Andrews elsewhere, but he really impressed me over the course of this miniseries too, completely inhabiting the role of Eddie to a degree than reminds you of how showy or off other ‘naturalistic’ performances can come off. Jamie Thomas King and Jodie Whittaker, to, nailed every emotional beat they were given in the grief and rage of the aftermath of Alice’s death. And Tessa Peake-Jones, the quiet villain in the 1968 era, somehow made Evelyn simultaneously awful and believable, making her final cruel decision all the more effecting.

Ultimately, though I was a bit disappointed with the ending, I really enjoyed the quiet resolutions to each character’s plots. I wish more were coming, but I’ll stick to enjoying the work these folks will be doing in the future. This has done one thing: made me more interested in checking out miniseries. I’ve often skipped over them, because the length would be as frustrating to me as a one-season show would. But Marchlands, in my confusion over its eventual fate, was a very enjoyable experience, and I’d hate to miss out on another like it.


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