Now that Richard Rankin has been cast as Roger Wakefield, I figured I should get all of these in one place in case any of you Outlander fans want to see him in The Crimson Field. Intro thoughts about the series are in the first recap. Enjoy!
Well, it happened (again for those of you in the UK). The series ended and our cries blended into the universal weltschmerz. There was a brief hope at the time the series premiered in the U.S. that perhaps demand would greenlight it for another season, but a week after the finale, no word, and so we assume it will only live on in our memory. At least it gave us one final episode full of so much OMG, it can live forever in our hearts, and other parts of our anatomy that are now very fond of Richard Rankin.
We begin with noble doe Joan having her hand bandaged by Tom, who tells her he can’t give her any pain medication. She begs him to know if Anton has been caught and even if he tells her (not yet), he is anything but sympathetic and says that it would be better for her if they had, and that he doesn’t know what she thought she was doing.
**LOVEBACK** Anton and Joan in bed two weeks before war breaks out. He is telling her he must go home to check on his sick father. She begs him not to, despite his assurances that war will not break out between two nations with so “many shared interests” and that the English king is more German than he is.
As he gets ready to go, she tells him she is scared. “Liebchen, you are never scared,” he reassures her, and they kiss farewell. **END**
In the VAD tent, Flora is griping to Kitty and Rosalie about Joan and saying she would have never gone near her motorcycle, had she known. She is also worried that any suspicion could fall upon them for being friendly to her. Kitty asks if her affection for Joan is all in the past, and Flora replies that she has brothers fighting, and even showed her their photographs.
Kitty asks if Rosalie is also going to turn her back on Joan, but Rosalie reminds the girls that they have been asked not to speak of the matter by Matron, and she plans to obey. Later that day Kitty tries to make up with Rosalie, but she reveals that she knows about her marriage troubles, and lays into her not unlike Kitty did to her upon their arrival. She accuses her of trying to pretend to be decent, and of hiding.
Grace is telling a visibly aggrieved Roland that he should “distance himself” from the matter and let her accompany Joan during questioning as she is her staff, but he refuses because it is his hospital. “She must have been desperate,” he says sadly. What a good man to be in such a horrid position.
Joan is brought into the interrogation room and made to stand upon an X, whereupon she is accused in “aiding in the escape of a German Prisoner of War” by the only person who could have made this situation worse, Purbright. He tells her he wants a full account of events so he can present Intelligence with a “clear and concise” summary of events.
He also coldly informs her that she is subject to military law, and that if found guilty by means of her court martial, she will be “liable to suffer death.” A shocked Joan can only nod and tremble in silence when Purbright asks if she now understands her situation, and it becomes apparent that until that very moment, she very much did not.
Outside, Kitty waits for Tom to walk by so she can ask about Joan’s welfare, but Tom’s replies are curt and uncaring. When Kitty exclaims at his aloofness, he stops and asks her what she thinks they are doing there.
Flustered, Kitty walks away from him into the woods as he follows, his voice getting louder and his accent thicker with each sentence.
“What do you think this is? I don’t hack the limbs off men for fun.I don’t pull shrapnel out of their brains so they can spend the rest of their lives in a nursing home dribbling down themselves for fun. They’re not dying for fun.”
Kitty, obviously thinking that an explanation will help make sense, turns to him and tells him that Joan did not know Anton would be there, and thought it was only a letter. Tom fixates on how she knew beforehand, and Kitty says that she guessed, it wasn’t that hard. “But you knew and said nothing,” he insists, and Kitty asks him gently why he is so angry about it.
Tom says that it is because his boss, “a good man,” could lose his job over it. “He trusted her, and now his neck’s on the block. And you knew…and said nothing.” He stares at her in obvious contempt and accuses her of being complicit. “You’re as much to blame as she is. You’ll be in serious trouble if they find out.” He brushes past her as he walks away, and Kitty’s alarmed face tells that she had not considered that anyone would think her as aiding treason, mush less Tom.
Just a moment to get into the central conflict of this episode. It’s very tempting to be angry at all the people railing at Joan for her betrayal, because Joan has been a character that so strongly represented all that was noble and sensible about nursing-just as Margaret represented the opposite. The true crux of this, of course, is that every character has their fatal flaw, and Joan’s just happens to also be one of her most cherished virtues: her love for Anton. So Flora, Tom, and the others are not wrong in their estimation that Joan is a traitor to the English army, because in the strictest sense, she is. But they are wrong in assuming that her intent was to betray her side when Joan’s only intent was always to ensure Anton’s safety and their eventual reunion. It is a classic case of there being no right or wrong, and Joan and Anton’s situation is all the more tragic for it. All they want is to carve out a quiet, safe space for themselves free of greater allegiances, but war is no place for pacifists.
During Joan’s trial, people are called to speak to testify. One is Reggie, who lies about his embezzlement and confesses to having some guards “employ some encouragement” to remove her necklace, which is the reason Joan is bruised and hurt.
Purbright then asks Joan if she came to France to communicate with the enemy, but she says that no, she came to nurse. Purbright then tells Joan the story of three German prisoners, among them one Anton Ehrlich, who were put on a train for transport. Because Ehrlich was deemed to be intelligent and cultured, he was invited to tea with the officers. Seeing the coast from his window and discovering his location, however, Ehrlich breaks the officer’s jaw and escapes.
He asks Joan if she knows the man, and if he is who she met last night. Joan admits he was. Purbright accuses her of planning the escape by purposefully purchasing a greatcoat and a motorcycle prior to her arrival, which she denies. He brings up Jaco Tillen, and asks if he was a contact of hers to give her information, which she also denies. When told Jaco will be arrested upon his arrival in England, Joan confesses with tears that he knew nothing, she told him nothing and it was only her.
Purbright seizes upon this as a confession, and when she says she didn’t plan any of it, shows her the engagement ring and says she did, because her loyalties were always on the other side.
Among the new prisoners are Jimmy, a child-like cook who spilled grease on his leg and Greville, a stretcher-carrier who spent two nights holed up alone in a shell-hole “being nibbled by the rats.” A fever has left Greville hearing voices, despite Rosalie telling him there is no one there.
In the meantime, Flora has Jimmy, and upon recognizing his last name, deduces that he is brother. Flora tells Peter, and he rushes to see him. Jimmy hugs him enthusiastically and as they talk, one can see Jimmy is not as mature as he should be for his age.
Peter takes him to his tent and Jimmy asks why he left without saying goodbye. “No one talks about you.” Peter has not told his brother his secret, then, and attempts to take him back when Jimmy asks if he can wear his slippers home. Peter tells him he isn’t going home, and Jimmy confesses innocently that he burned his leg so that he would. Peter gets angry at his brother for “running from the enemy” instead of “wanting to kill them with your bare hands,” and leaves a crying Jimmy behind.
Purbright asks Joan how she met Anton, and she tells him that they met in LIverpool when he, a civil engineer, was working on the foundation of a building. He points out that she never mentioned this in her paperwork, and she says that after the sinking of the Lusitania, German families that had lived in England for years were “being dragged out into the streets to have their heads stomped on.”
Purbright points out that she lied, and she says it did not come easy. “Still, you lied to gain people’s trust,” he insists, and Joan begins to look resigned. Purbright’s questioning is less about arriving at the truth than justifying her guilt.
Into this sad state of affairs comes Margaret, back from her forced holiday from her brother’s house in Kent, where he must annoy her as she annoys everyone else.
She gives Grace her false sympathy on the issue of Joan, and affectionately tells her that she can rest, now she is back. Grace asks her pointedly if she thought while she was away, and she asks her forgiveness, saying she “is deeply ashamed” or her outburst and won’t “challenge her again in any way.”
Despite her meekness, Grace asks once more for the blighty ticket, saying that it is not the time for Brett’s loyalty to be called into question by that coming to light, and Margaret fakes her best outrage to insist that she destroyed it, which of course she did not. She tells Grace that “a show of unity” is what is needed, and offers to go with her to speak on Brett’s behalf.
Because the situation isn’t sad enough already, Grace receives a telegram for Roland and hurries to give it to him. As Purbright and Brett listen to Joan tell that she heard from Anton’s family that he was conscripted and likely sent to France, and then nothing more for an entire year, Grace tells Purbright she needs to take Brett out, and gently informs Roland that there “is no good way to do this,” handing him the telegram informing him of his son’s death in action.
Brett walks back into the interrogation in a seeming daze, holding the telegram in one hand, not unnoticed by Joan. When Purbright mocks Joan’s dedication to being a nurse, saying she has betrayed the men she cared for, Joan objects. Her quiet, tearful speech seems to be aimed directly at her former boss.
No, no. I am a nurse. I am a nurse. You bring me shattered men, with shattered bodies and shattered minds and I will try and put them back together again and if I can’t, I will stay with them ‘til the very last moment and beyond. No, I am a nurse.
Purbright tries to interrupt her to ask about her purpose in coming to France, but she speaks over him, openly weeping.
I was desperate! I thought the not knowing would send me mad. I thought I’d die from it.
Purbright interrupts again, asking louder if it was her purpose in coming to France to communicate with the enemy, and a hysterical Joan responds honestly.
It was just a letter! That’s all it was, it was…it was just a letter. I was just asking if he was still alive.
Purbright, unmoved, repeats the same question. Joan looks away, wipes her face, sighs once, and resigned to her fate, looks sadly forwards as she whispers, “Yes. Yes, yes it was.”
That night, laying on her cot, she remembers Anton’s proposal, the morning he left to see his sick father. He gave her the ring and upon seeing her expression, told her not to answer him at that moment, but when he came back home.
Anton is asleep in the woods after waiting all day for Joan. He wakes up, notices he is still alone, and gets up. At camp, Peter gives his condolences to Brett, and it is this polite gesture that finally causes the officer to release great gulping sobs.
The next morning, Peter spits in Joan’s breakfast and calls her a traitor. Kitty sees Tom about the camp, but the do not speak and she seems overcome by fear that he will tell of her involvement.
Joan is brought in once more to the interrogation room, but instead of questioning her, Purbright tells her that at dawn that morning, Edith Cavill, a Red Cross nurse in German-occupied Belgium, was executed by enemy firing squad. Joan, unsteady, asks why. Purbright replies that it was for aiding the escape of Allied POW’s from German territory. “Aiding escape. Treason. The same crime to which you have confessed.”
Joan guesses she will be court-martialed for treason, and both Purbright and Brett urge her to give up Anton’s location, since she may invoke leniency if he is found. Purbright reminds her of the penalty, and demands she be helpful, but she is aware, and says, “I won’t betray him. I’ve got nothing more to say.”
She stands, quietly dignified and resigned. Brett tries one last time before she is taken away, but she only says that she enjoyed working for him, that he is kind, and she is sorry for the trouble she has brought upon him, and is taken away by a guard.
In one brief, blunt conversation, Kitty and Miles get to the heart of the matter. Kitty says Joan is not a spy, but was “just in love with the wrong man at the wrong time.” Miles says that it doesn’t matter, because those sorts of mitigating factors blur the clear lines “the machine” needs to keep them their toes, and that “examples must be made,” though he admits under duress that he does not think her a spy. When Kitty asks if Brett is one of the examples and tells Miles that he didn’t know anything, Miles points out that he facilitated, knowing or not. Kitty admits she is happy she got to know him better, and he smiles.
In a surprise to no one, Reggie flatters Margaret with the sort of hyperbole that she seems to demand of her gentlemen admirers and reveals that she came home because he sent her a telegram. He has kept copies of Brett’s signature on the passes and urges Margaret to speak up and say that he can’t run the hospital, and she can be put in charge. “The hospital or the war?” Margaret asks with a smirk, because Margaret is the worst.
Ugh. He even calls her “Matron Quayle” at one point.
She goes into her tent and breaks her figurine, pocketing the blighty ticket and leaving the broken pieces purposely arranged to draw attention. When Grace comes in to look for her, ready to have her testify on Brett’s behalf, she finds the broken figurine and succumbs to the mindf*ck.
Margaret then dodges Grace and goes to speak to Purbright alone, wearing her medal because one sycophant recognizes another. Grace walks in, and when Purbright asks if Margaret has any reason to doubt Brett’s leadership, the music and the lighting lead you to believe that she will use the opportunity to gain power as Reggie suggested, but she does not. Margaret compliments the Colonel lavishly, calling his competence and judgement “beyond reproach,” and says she wouldn’t care to serve under anyone else.
Both Grace and Purbright are surprised, but the latter accepts.
The morning the soldiers with blighty tickets are getting ready to leave, Peter makes up with his brother by hurting him enough so he has to be sent home.
Jimmy’s screams wake the delusional Greville, who wanders out into the woods. Rosalie sees him and follows, despite the fact that he has stripped off his pants. She stops him when he says he must get to the lost men “out there” and chastises her “a lady” for being “in that terrible place.” Rosalie smiles reassuringly at him, and says that it is all right because ‘I’m not a lady. I’m a nurse.”
She wraps him in a sheet she took from the line and when he compliments her “beautiful eyes,” gently guides him back. Later on when he awakes to see her fixing his glasses, he does not remember her, and introduces himself by taking her hand. Rosalie tells him her name, and smiles.
The next morning at the service, Flora tells Reggie that he is wanted in theater for his brother’s injury, and Rosalie tells a grateful Kitty that she burned the newspaper her story appeared in without showing it to anyone else.
She admits that Kitty was right when she said she volunteered to escape, and Kitty says she did, as well. As Joan is walked by on her way to interrogation, the singing in the tent stops, and Matron hurries over to reassure a lost-looking Joan with a firm nod. Suddenly, a motorcycle comes roaring through the archway, and Joan throws herself forward, struggling against her guards.
It is Anton, come to turn himself in. He takes off the greatcoat she gave him and announces that Joan did not help him escape and he is no longer at-large.
As a half-dozen soldiers apiece try to hold them apart, the couple reaches desperately for each other, barely managing to touch hands before they are pulled apart. HOLY F IT’S ROMANTIC.
Some time later, Joan is alone when a pair of soldiers walk silently into her room. They have Anton between him, and are giving him an opportunity to speak to her though they separate them with their bodies. Anton asks if he can stand with her, but is denied. He notices she is hurt, but she says she fell and asks about him. He says he was offered an arrangement: Joan would go home, be monitored, and Anton would act as a spy on behalf of the British.
Joan asks him a bit wryly if he thinks she will let him agree, and he explains that since he is no longer escaped she would not be shot, but she would go to prison, hard labor for the duration of the war. “I really don’t want you to go to prison.” Joan says lovingly that if he is caught, he would be “up against a wall,” and that he would be caught, because he is “a hopeless liar.” She smiles indulgently at him and he briefly smiles back. “I don’t care about prison,” Joan says calmly. “I don’t care if the duration is 20 years. I want you to tell them no.” She tells him that if he loves or thinks anything of her at all, to say no. “Then, liebchen, that is what I will tell them,” he responds gently, immediately followed by “Are you going to marry me?” This surprises a laugh out of Joan. “Yes,” she says, still smiling.
When Anton starts forward as if to kiss her, the guard stops him with a hand on his chest, but Joan’s voice is still sweet as she comforts him. “It’s only the duration. It can’t last forever.”
Left alone with Brett, Purbright bemoans the damage to the hospital’s reputation, “all because of one bloody stupid woman.”
Roland, not in the mood for any of it, points out that she had him “on the ropes at one point,” and Purbright strikes back without thinking, telling Roland that he ought to be grateful Quayle wore her medal, and that part of the problem is his attitude toward his subordinates. “For Christ’s sake, toughen up! Stop trying to be a father to everyone!” Roland’s head falls toward his chest, and he holds a hand to his mouth, upset.
Purbright is alarmed at upsetting him, but not enough to apologize. Instead he lowers his voice and haltingly asks which of his sons it was, and whether his wife knows. Roland answers while looking away (Freddie, the eldest. His youngest, Alexander, is still at school. He imagines his wife Hetty knows.) Purbright mows on, saying precisely the wrong thing to the bereaved man: that it is tough for the mothers (when Freddie’s father is so clearly suffering) and that at least there is a comfort in knowing it wasn’t “a wasted death” because it “meant something” (when the death of a child will always be an unconscionable weight to a parent.).
Roland asked if there was any diplomatic intervention for Ms. Cavell, the nurse. Purbright says that the Americans tried, as they do, but Brett insists, asking about the British Army. Purbright says they didn’t want to make it worse for her. “She was going to be SHOT!” Roland yells at him, distraught,” How the HELL could it get ANY WORSE?” Purbright tells him to control himself, and later, to shut his mouth, but Roland keeps going, giving his assessment of the situation.
It is bitter, sardonic, brutal, and by Purbright’s reaction to it, likely true.
We’re going into a second winter when we weren’t supposed to have the first, and there’s no end in sight but nothing gets the shoulder to the wheel like an executed nurse. That’ll reignite the fervor! Everyone behind the war effort, no matter what! So… not a wasted death, then. It meant something.
Purbright tells him icily that he will overlook what he is saying due to his recent bereavement, and as he walks away you can see on Roland’s face that he is somewhat grateful for the reprieve.
Now would not be the best time for him to court disciplinary action.
In Grace’s office, a smiling Margaret waits for her praise, but finds none. She takes the blighty ticket and says she wouldn’t get rid of something “so invaluably damning.” She hands it over to Grace, as a “lesson in the true value and meaning of loyalty.”
Margaret really is the Littlefinger of this show. She tells Grace that Brett is lucky to have Grace, and that in turn, she is very lucky to have Margaret. She reminds her that she meant it when she said she wouldn’t challenge her again, and leaves.
Whatever goodwill she possessed exhausted by her efforts with Grace, Margaret sees Reggie walking Joan’s motorcycle and tells him she wants her share when he sells it. Alone in her office, Grace burns the blighty ticket.
In the storage room, Kitty is putting packages away when Tom walks in to speak to her. She shrinks away, and he asks if she thought he was bringing the intelligence officers for her. “Yes,” she says quietly.
He asks if she honestly believed that he would deliver her up and watch while they dragged her away. She looks down, and does not answer, and his voice gentles. “Why would you think that?” His voice rises again in emphasis, “You drive me mad, but…” lower, almost shy, “I’d never hurt you.”
Now it is he that looks down, and Kitty begins to speak, telling him why she came to the hospital. She tells him that she wants him to understand, and that she has a daughter back in England who she is not allowed to see. Tom gasps quietly, then seems to compose himself and asks why not. “Because I made a terrible, terrible mess of things,” she says, tearing up. “I really made such a mess.“
Her head is down, and she cannot look at him. Very kindly, he asks about her daughter, and what she is like. The details come at first slowly, then rush forth as Kitty warms to her subject. “Her name is Sylvie… She’s six… She likes climbing trees. She hates wearing shoes. She wants a dragon for Christmas.“ At this, Tom grins.
“She’s beautiful,” Kitty whispers, overcome,”and utterly fearless. She really is such a fierce, spiky little thing.” Tom is emotional as well, and covers it with a bit of dry humor. “Can’t think where she would get that from.” It has the intended effect, and Kitty laughs.
Suddenly the door opens and a nurse walks in, and Tom walks past her to leave but Kitty catches his arm and whispers urgently to him. She asks him to meet her in an hour, in the same place they agreed upon before. “I’ll be there,” she says upon his doubtful look. “I’ll understand if you’re not-but I’ll be there.”
Alone for a moment, Peter explains to Flora that Jimmy was born with the umbilical cord around his neck and he couldn’t leave him alone, because he needs to be cared for. She asks him why he left, if it was because his family found out “what he is,” and he scolds her for thinking he wants his life laid out like that all the time.
Flora tells him her secret then: she is not twenty-one but only nineteen, and she locked herself in her room for two days so her family would lie for her and let her come be “a girl nurse.” She points out that he can trust her with his secret, now he knows hers, and asks him to be careful. “Where’s the fun in that?” Peter replies with a smirk.
Outside, Joan and Anton await their transport and lay eyes on each other for the last time until the end of the war. In the most romantic moment of my life that isn’t actually part of my life, they look at each other and wordlessly reach their hands out to touch before they are separated.
Suddenly Joan wrenches free and rushes to Anton, grabbing his face and laying a kiss on him that lasts just as long as Purbright’s exasperated “For Christ’s Sake!” before they are pried apart. As they are forced into their separate trucks their eyes never leave each others’, and in their last instant staring at each other, they both smile.
KILL ME NOW. No wait don’t kill me because….
Kitty is darting to the edge of the woods looking about as suspicious as anyone can, and does not notice Miles observing and then following her.
When Miles sees Kitty linger he smiles and seems inclined to approach her, but suddenly she is no longer alone.
Tom walks up to Kitty, takes off his hat, and Kitty smiles at him. Miles sighs deeply and retreats.
For a few moments Kitty and Tom just look at each other, their eyes darting, until Tom swoops in and kisses her.
Kitty, who is no dummy, wraps both her arms around his neck and gives back as good as she gets.
I can’t believe I won’t ever see these two move past first base.
DAMN YOU, BBC.
Out for her morning rounds, Grace observes Brett doing paperwork, and moves on.
Finally, a quote from Edith Cavell, who was a real person and yes, was executed. She has a holiday on the Anglican calendar in her name (though not a feast day), October 12.
So this is it. I wanted to make this one a bit more detailed since it is not only the season’s end, but thanks to the unexpected cancellation, the series’ end. I will forever mourn this little gem of a show for its depth, detail, and its richness of character and emotion. The Crimson Field did more than present truly nuanced individual stories with the lightest of touches; it managed to communicate real truths about war and human nature: that violence can expose both the best and worst of us, and that in doing so, it forces us to become the heroes or villains of our own lives. And that was just one season. I will never stop wishing to know how this all ends.
The next to the last episode of this complex drama, and things only get better.
We begin with a flashback to Joan’s conversation with Jaco, when he promises to send her letter to Germany and asks where he should leave any reply. She is currently out at night looking for just such a reply, buried in a can by the barb-wire fence. It says simply, “Meet me. Tomorrow at midnight.”
She obviously intends to, but her plan is foiled when Matron asks her to take the night shift at the hospital that same night. Brett mentions her fiance, telling her that he will allow her some leave when he has his, and later, Miles jokes about doing something outrageous and knocking her “off her pedestal.” She snaps at being the subject of gossip and when Kitty asks what is wrong, she complains that everyone has such “boring, little lives” that all they can discuss is her, finishing by stating that she just wants everyone to leave her alone.
Among a new batch of wounded is Major J. Ballard of the 5th Punjabi Rifles, a cranky bastage who does not want to be there and isn’t shy about asserting it.
Grace tells him calmly that she will inform Col. Brett that he wishes to speak to him and asks for his weapon. When he will not give it up, he snaps at her that he doesn’t like taking orders from a woman and to go get her CO. He ends this with an exclamation in Punjabi, and is surprised when Grace replies to him in the same language, enough to hand over the bullets, if not his gun. Grace sees Roland on the way in, and tells him to speak to Ballard ASAP. He notices her color and asks if she has been running with SUCH A LOOK on his face that I instantly ship it.
Grace, flustered, replies that she never runs.
In the meantime, Peter is taking care of a sniper by the name of Gorman that says he has business with Ballard, and asks Peter to pass on a message from him that he says hello. When Peter tells Ballard, however, he denies knowing him. Gorman tells Peter that Ballard is a famous marksman, and so is he, and no matter his denial, he knows him.
Later on when Ballard steps out for a smoke he speaks to Gorman, who reminds him of a contest he lost to him some six months back, and asks for a rematch. Ballard tells him he is due to go back to the front and that he’ll “just have to stay beaten,” but Gorman says very friendly that he can wait forever, once he has a man in his sights, and he’ll see him there at his convenience.
Flora wants to mark the three-month anniversary of their arrival at the hospital by a “do,” just games and maybe songs and asks Kitty, Reggie and Rosalie for their participation.
She sweetly asks Roland for permission, and when she tells him it will be fun, give a boost and bring them together, he tells her to carry on. Kitty asks Miles for his participation and he good-naturedly throws out options, but when Tom happens upon them and gives her a monosyllabic “no,” it is clear he is still hurt.
In the office’s tent, Ballard is grousing that he has not been spoken to yet, and tumbles the table over in his anger.
Roland finally stops by, none too happy at being summoned this way, and Ballard tells him he has to be released, since the man he left in charge speaks fluent Greek, but no Punjabi and cannot communicate with his troops.
Brett tells him he isn’t going anywhere as he has an open wound. Ballard then says that it is confidential, but there is a push that cannot be executed if the soldiers can’t understand their command. Brett agrees to let him go the next morning if he will let himself be treated, and be quiet. Ballard says he will allow Matron to treat her, and she agrees, despite Roland’s assertion that she is not there to “dance attendance” on him.
Later when she is curing him, Grace mentions that she should expect his sort of behavior from a man who belongs to a regiment called “The Fire Eaters.” He notices dryly that he thought her interest was in himself (ME TOO), but now thinks it is in his regiment. He asks her if there is someone she would like to ask about, and at her denial, he tells her she is lying. She asks if he has a lot of experience with women, and he qualifies that with “real women, yes,” but not with the “unbreached, untouched, unloved” “professional cold fish” army virgins.
She tells him he is trying to provoke her but does not rise to the bait. He confesses to being intrigued by what would make a woman like her take up the life of a nun, what does she get? “I help people,” Grace answers. He tells her he doesn’t need her help, but is only submitting to get out of there. She tells him to be good, and then he will get what he wants.
As Rosalie and Flora get ready to rehearse for the show, they wonder where Kitty is. The answer is that she is dropping off some supplies in the pre-op tent, and trying to have a quiet chat with Tom, who is laying out instruments.
She asks him baldly if they are going to continue to ignore each other, and he answers her not with her christian name, but by her surname, saying he would prefer it. He is trying to avoid even looking at her, but Kitty does not move from in front of him until he gruffly points out that she is in his way.
She takes a step back and asks if they can’t at least “be civil.” Tom answers reasonably that he avoids her for a reason which should be clear to her, but is unsure of what she wants from him. “Come running when you click your fingers? I’m sorry to ruin your fun.”
His perception of her angers Kitty, who asks if he thinks she is having fun, to which he responds that he does not know. “Maybe it’s entertaining for you. Maybe you collect men and tie us up in knots for your amusement. Well, find someone else to dance to your tune because it’s not going to be me.”
It is obvious he is hurt by her rejection and jealous of seeing her with Miles, and has assigned it the only explanation he knows. What he does not know is that this is a woman who has had her integrity called into question one too many times, and is done with being judged by righteous men. Kitty finally reaches her breaking point, and slaps him.
He gasps, pauses and then hauls her up with both hands on her hips. It is HOT. I wonder who is panting, and realize it is me.
They both pause, staring alternately at each other’s eyes and mouths and I am rolling on my carpet in a squee so deep I am hoping to travel through time and smoosh their faces together.
But alas, it is not to be. Though it is obvious Kitty is ready for a kiss, Tom sighs again, dropping his gaze, and pushes her away, turning silently back towards his tools and silently ignoring her until she stalks out, only a flexing jaw betraying his emotion.
When she does, he throws the instrument he was holding on the table, and turns to look in the direction she left.
OMG YOU TWO GET IT TOGETHER. At this rate they’ll never make babies by the end of next episode!
At a quarter to midnight, Joan sneaks out to meet Jaco at midnight, only to learn that he and his daughter are leaving. The situation has become too dangerous for them, and he regrets not having a response to her letter. Joan tells him that she feels in her heart her fiance is dead, and thanks him for trying.The next morning, she comes into camp as Rosalie is planting some bulbs she got in a package from home outside her tent.
The young VAD tells her she wanted to make up for letting the news slip about her engagement, and Joan thanks her, but mentions she may not be there next year. “Oh yes, the war might be over. Anything’s possible,” an optimistic Joan says, mistaking her meaning. That same morning as Jaco tries to leave, he is intercepted by a group of men from town, and he sends his daughter off running to find Joan before they find his German book of poetry, and punch him off a bridge.
Matron checks on Ballard, and notices that he cannot see her waiting by his bed. The next morning when Ballard is getting ready to leave, she has Roland examine him to prove her suspicions. Ballard is annoyed, dismissive, and then defeated when Roland notices he is losing his sight. He is left with only his peripheral sight, and losing that quickly.
Roland tells him he cannot stay in France, but must go back to England that night. Ballard finds Matron and complains bitterly that she would have tricked him, calling her an “empty husk, all rules and duty.” She tells him that he needs help, and he cuts her down in a cruel, beautifully written little sentence:
Well, when I am in England, a country where I’ve never lived, when I am having my food cut up for me and being poked and prodded by pitying hands, when I am just a diagnosis on a scrap of paper, I shall think of you standing here and your remorseless help.
Walking outside after his disappointment, Ballard finds Gorman waiting for him, and agrees to revisit their wager at that moment. Later, when Matron goes to give him his pass to return to England, she finds him gone and hears a shot. The contest has started, and Gorman good-naturedly shoots a shot glass off Ballards’s head. Ballard announces it is now his turn, and waits for them to exchange places, but he never gets to take the shot. Grace finds them and whispers at him to stop.
Ballard doesn’t put down the gun, however, and it is not until Gorman overhears Grace ask if he can even see him that she forces Ballard to give up on proving himself. Gorman hobbles over and looks at Ballard, calling him a “poor bastard” and lamenting that he cannot even claim victory. It is a bitter pill for such a proud man. He laments Grace’s competence, and she in turn shares some of her background with him. She tells him her father was an unhappy man with many guns, and she spent her childhood hiding the bullets.
When “the inevitable happened,” she blamed herself. Ballard realizes that this is at the center of her need to help save people now. When they are ready to leave and he is unsure of which direction he is facing, she tenderly takes his arm. Later, as they wait for his transport, he reminds her that if she does, as he suspects, have a question for him, she should ask it now. She finally gives in, and asks if he knows of a Subedar Major Amar Singh. His initial assertion that he does know him makes such a girlish, hopeful expression appear on her face it is hard not to tighten with gleeful anticipation…
But it is not to be. Ballard clumsily admits that Singh has fallen. Grace struggles to hold back tears, and calls him “a passing acquaintance of many years ago,” but Ballard guesses correctly that he was more. She admits it, and her grief is compounded by the belief that she always harbored that she would know if he fell, and when the time came, did not. Ballard cannot respond, and leaves her.
In the woods, Kitty and Reggie find Jaco with Matilda’s help. When Reggie leaves him alone with Kitty for a moment, he mistakes her for Joan and tells her to “Go to the house…waiting…” Later, Roland tells Joan that Jaco is suspected of being a spy. Joan says that he and his daughter were hoping to go to London, and seems surprised when Roland tells her to pack up their things so she can help. Joan asks if he doesn’t think Jaco is a spy, and he says instead he was “incredibly naive and stupid.” Roland mourns a world where one is beaten for a book, but tells Joan Jaco is lucky he did not hang.
As they discuss their performance that night, Rosalie is putting away her bulbs, and happens upon an article in one of the newspapers where they speak of Kitty’s husband petitioning for divorce with her signed confession, portions of which are transcribed and admit that she was “guilty of taking up residence with Mr. Fraser Morley during their marriage…”
Joan sneaks in to speak to Jaco, and he manages to relay the message he previously told Kitty. As the concert begins, Kitty is waiting in Joan’s tent to confront her about going back to Jaco’s house. As she dresses to go, Joan says it is to get a book of Mathilde’s, but Kitty doesn’t believe her. Little by little as she says things out loud, Kitty begins to put together that the fiance Joan has tried to keep secret is not British.
Joan doesn’t admit anything, but can’t hold her gaze. Kitty is horrified, and tells her “They’ll crucify you, Joan,” but Joan pleads with her, saying it is only a letter, and the means by which she will find out if he is dead or alive.
“I have to know. It’s just a letter. Please. Please,” she whispers, tears in her eyes, and Kitty steps aside to let her pass.
At the performance, Kitty has not shown up and Rosalie begins to play while a terrified Flora misses her first cue. She tries again, launching into a shaky rendition of There’s A Long, Long Trail A-Winding, and Rosalie joins her with a soprano in the second line. Miles and Brett smile from the audience as Kitty runs with her alto and joins her onstage. While the girls sing, we cut away to scenes both inside and outside the tent.
Inside, Thomas comes in and Kitty makes eye contact, seeming to sing directly to him with a sweet expression. He fights a smile, perturbed, and leaves.
In her office, Grace opens a box and takes out a picture of young, mustached man with a turban to stare at it: Amar Singh.
Reggie sneaks out with his contraband, and poor, lovelorn Joan goes one last time to Jaco’s now empty house to look for her letter. As she searches vainly in the dark, a man’s voice whispers “Liebchen?” She peeks over and walks forward like a woman entranced. There, alive, is her fiance, Anton. He got her letter, and escaped to come to her after being taken prisoner.
Who can be a patriot with a jawline like that? As she cries, they embrace.
Joan is worried for him and tries to convince him to go to a crossroads where she can bring him clothes and food and he can move on. He says he is not leaving her there, but she rightly points out that she is the one with the British uniform, and not the one they will hang or shoot if caught. “You are. So you are leaving now,” she says lovingly, his face in her hands.
She walks him out and gives him her motorcycle and coat. As in any good story, I can’t help but put myself in her shoes, and to marvel at the way simple, declarative sentences can so vividly paint the portrait of this couple. Joan and Anton are more than in love, they are soulmates. What a thing to allow a war to corrupt. I can’t say I blame them.
As they exchange I love you’s and kiss, their reunion is being observed by Reggie, who reveals himself to Joan after Anton leaves with an ominous, “Good evening, sister. What have you been up to?”
This episode opens with a funeral, and a chaplain asking us not to mourn the passing of eight men buried in a mass grave, but to “rejoice” in their great sacrifice. The language is flowery, and the sight itself is brutal. TCF is a show that has not shied away from the cost of war, but also from the things people do to cope in times of war. Like crack jokes, maybe.
One such group is the men of The Lucky Thirteen, whose leader, a man they affectionately call “Dad” gently and honestly tells them that there is no joy to be found in the death of good men, and reminding them that they are in it together and by luck before he asks them to bow their heads.
It’s Margaret’s birthday, and Grace is gently reminding Roland that he needs to make her feel appreciated, which he smartly calls out as her guilt at being chosen Matron, though she denies it. When she insists he show appreciation, he tells Joan he appreciates her because ROLAND IS A BOSS.
In line for breakfast, Tom asks Kitty about her plans for the day and she answers coyly that she though about tidying the tent and darning socks.
I am sure that is code for “making out.” He notices her uncharacteristic humor, and asks her quietly to meet him.
At her whispered, furtive “yes”, he is so surprised he takes a moment to come up with a location: the woods, around two.
These two dumplings are so adorable. I just want to gobble them up. I also want dumplings now.
Also at breakfast, one of the men of the Thirteen, Deeley, speaks to Dad about a secret they both share. Apparently Deeley is worried that Dad might get into problems if they listen to his chest, and it would kill the men to lose him.
Dad calms him, assuring him it won’t happen because it’s luck keeping them together. Don’t say that, Dad. Now you know bad stuff will happen, DAMN IT.
Back in their tent, Tom is making Miles blissfully happy by giving up his day pass so that he can stay and meet Kitty-even though he tells Miles he’ll be doing some darning and cleaning the tent.
Miles meets Roland on the way out, and he warns him to be back by seven. As he walks away, Matron hands Roland a note, and he comments that someone has “connections.” It turns out that the note is a summons for Kitty from Mr. Elliot Vincent, asking that she meet him in town that day. Matron gives Kitty the news and tells her to be at the entrance by two o’clock if she wants a ride into town.
Whoever Vincent is, he is a master c-blocker. Poor Tom.
Another romance facing hard times is that of Flora with shy, awkward Charlie from The Lucky Thirteen. His fellow soldiers try to hook him up by asking Flora her name and setting him up for a compliment, but he fails spectacularly, snapping irritably at her instead.
As they tease him, a Captain Oberston arrives to inspect and approve them for service, and Deeley tells Dad that his luck may be in, as the Captain is a bit deaf and obviously not all there. As Deeley watches him, he notices he is not listening to the men’s lungs, but his hopes are shot when Joan notices the exams are taking long, and offers to help him, picking up his unused stethoscope and hanging it about her neck.
As Kitty waits for her transport, she is surprised to note that it is Miles who will be driving her into town.
Margaret notes that it’s only a matter of time before all the girls want unchaperoned trips and get knocked up, because Margaret is THE WORST. On their way there, Kitty asks him about the hotel, and he tells her about his plans. In the woods, Tom waits in his dress uniform, and my heart just breaks for him.
Miles flirtatiously invites Kitty to a steak dinner and later a bath, and she becomes outraged and gets out of the car, saying she will walk there and back. Miles attempts to convince her to get back in the car, but finally tells her he’ll be outside the hotel at five to drive her back, and that he gives up on her.
Back in the wards, Joan wants Dad to come through her line, even though he offers to wait for the doctor. He pushes his chair back nervously when she insists, and the sound sets a patient off. The sick man dives under his bed in a panic, and as they all rush to his aid, goes into convulsions. Roland is there and goes to examine him, when he notices it is Prentiss, the man he thought he had Margaret send home in defiance of orders.
At the hotel Rose Sur Mer, Kitty waits for Mr. Vincent, who unknown to her, is sitting behind her, observing her as she fidgets. Miles sees her in the dining room, but goes on to his room without saying anything.
Back at the hospital, Tom gives up his wait and leaves the woods.
Flora is turning Joan’s motorcycle engine over to keep it running when Charlie comes up to her and shyly begins to chat with her.
Flora’s natural honesty and friendliness cause her to talk about what a modern girl she is, and seemingly overwhelmed, he excuses himself to leave. Rosalie notices them talking, and warns her fellow VAD about giving the young man ideas, which makes Flora angry.
In the tent, Joan finally examines Dad and he confesses to pleurisy, a double pneumonia that “sounds much worse than it is.”
He begs her to keep it between them, but she will not. Dad begs Captain Oberston not to make the findings official, saying he “holds his boys together.” Still, Oberston stamps him C-3 instead of A-1, and Dad asks Joan what he is supposed to do. “Go home and wait for the telegrams to start coming?” Joan tells him gravely that she had to do what was best for him. Dad goes out to the beach and sees him men playing soccer, and when he tells Deeley, the younger man shouts that they’re all dead now and tries to run.
Dad warns him not to run lest he get shot, and that they won’t die because he won’t let them. The unit walks back as one in the dusk.
Roland confronts Margaret about lying to him, informing her that if she did as she said, it would be impossible for Prentiss to be there. “With me, Sister Quayle. Now,” he growls, and asks her to go to his office. There, together with Matron, he demands answers, and she tells him she was late, missed the convoy, and lied so he would think well of her.
Roland says he would have thought better of her had she told the truth, and dismisses her. When she leaves, Matron remonstrates him for going against orders, but he tells her that he had a chance, and now he has grand mal seizures and almost no control of his limbs. He is still angry that Margaret lied, and obviously tortured by Prentiss’s fate.
Matron notices a shadow in the doorway, and assumes Margaret was listening at the door, which she was. Margaret rushes to her room and finds the pass Roland gave her, hiding it in a porcelain figurine. Roland goes to Prentiss and tries to play the music that once soothed him, but it sends him into another seizure.
Kitty is anxiously waiting when Mr. Vincent shows up and strokes her as he comes around the table. He admits to being busy, but says he had to see her, and hands her papers telling her he wants her full confession so that proceedings may take place and he can marry again. So this is her husband.
She reads the confession he hands her and although she did not write it, she signs it when he tells her the fact is, she did have an affair. Elliot tells her to ask, as he knows she wants to. “How is she?” Kitty says, and he tells her she is getting taller, losing her baby teeth, and that she lives with his sister. “She’s happy,” he says, which causes Kitty to tear up and ask if she asks about her.
His response is that she scared her, and that she shouldn’t have taken her away. Kitty wants to write to her, to tell her she isn’t forgotten, that she loves her more than her own life, and that she thinks about her “every minute of every day.” Elliot says she can tell her herself, and slides a key towards her. Kitty is overjoyed that her daughter is there, and rushes up to the room to see her, calling out for “Sylvie.” Outside the room, she takes a fork she had hidden in her sleeve and leaves it outside, letting herself in…
…but the room is empty. It is a trap set by Elliot to get her alone. His calm demeanor is suddenly threatening, and Kitty begins to cry when she realizes Sylvie is not there and she will not see her again. She tries to get herself under control, telling him bravely that she is going to leave, as she is expected at the hospital and they will come looking, but as she tries to get out, he, slams the door on her, and grabs her by the hair and throws her into the hall.
She grabs her fork and holds it out, backing her way down the hall as he advances, but thank the Lord, Miles appears, and warns him off. He takes one last chance to call Kitty a whore and malign Miles’s rank, but as he starts after him, he notices Kitty cowering in the corner and goes to her.
She gamely picks herself up and casually says they must get back, but when he tries to hold her upright, she flinches and sobs in fear, pulling away. Poor Kitty. How limited her options were as a battered wife, and how badly her brave attempt to leave it all behind turned out.
That night, Matron tries to tell Margaret that Roland is mad at the situation, and not really at her. She asks if she destroyed the pass, and Margaret of course lies and says that she did, and never wanted to have it in the first place.
Matron stares after her when she walks away, and it is obvious she does not believe her.
The men of The Lucky Thirteen are being dismissed back to the front lines, and as Dad says goodbye to each individually with words of encouragement, he notices Charlie is missing. He has gone to see Joan, who he earlier recognized. He tells her that he was a waiter at a restaurant she used to frequent with her German fiancé.
Joan asks if he is blackmailing her, and he says that for two weeks he said nothing, but now he has to use what he has to keep his mates together. He tells Joan to work out what means more to her, giving Dad the green light or having her situation come to light, and Joan stamps an A-1 on a new report, handing it over in tears.
Before he goes, Charlie tells her again that he takes no pleasure in what he has done, and almost apologetically tells her that she and her man “look good together. Right.” War is hell, guys. Charlie runs back out to the line and tells Dad to line up and not ask questions, and he gets through.
Miles and Kitty arrive back, and Miles tells her he will not gossip. When she thanks him, he says there is nothing to be thankful for.
That night, at her birthday celebration, Margaret brings up publicly that Joan is engaged and asks to know about her fiance. As Joan demurs, Rosalie realizes she may have spoken out of turn.
At Margaret’s insistence, Joan shows them the ring from around her neck. Margaret continues to ask his name and rank (Charlie, Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers, she lies), and Joan, upset, starts to cry and leaves. Later that night in bed, she reads of the German casualties, and throws the papers away, frustrated.
Matron observes this unkindness and also leaves, but she goes into Margaret’s tent to look for the pass. Margaret finds her there and accuses her of turning against her, her oldest friend, in favor of her new master. Matron tells her that it is because she has known her for so long that she knows she did not throw away the pass because she knows she can use it against Roland, and all because she still resents not becoming Matron.
“You should have turned it down!” Margaret shouts in perhaps her first honest utterance of the series. “But I didn’t!” shouts Matron, and keeps looking as Margaret complains about the humiliation of everyone expecting her to get the position, and the shame of being passed over for her protege instead. Margaret reminds her that she saved her, and expected her loyalty. “Perhaps I’d have been happier if you hadn’t,” Matron says, and Margaret sneers that instead she would have been “ruined, a laughingstock, a pariah,” and certainly not Matron.
She tells Grace that there is a rumor she and Roland are “especially close,” but she could dispel that, as she knows her tastes are much more exotic. Matron is shaking with anger, but her voice is calm when she says that Margaret is obviously exhausted, and that she is sending her home on two weeks’ leave, and that while she is on leave, she should think about whether or not she can continue to work there, under her. If she cannot, she will arrange for a transfer “as far away as possible.”
Margaret is shocked into silence, and Matron leaves with her head held high, but once outside appears shaken.
At dinner, Kitty finally sees Tom, and walks outside where he follows so they can talk by the supply crates. She tells him she could neither get him a message or turn down the pass. He says with a chagrined smile that “no one turns down a pass.” He mentions she probably made Miles’s day, to which she says she only saw him in the car, and he was very polite.
They both smile, and Kitty, weighed down by the events of the day, drops her bomb. “Maybe it was for the best…not meeting.” When Tom asks why, she clarifies, ”I’d be the one sent home. Not you. I don’t want to be sent home.” They hear the click of a lighter, and Tom pulls her down into a crouch. It’s Sgt. Soper, stealing some whiskey from a crate, but as they stay quiet so as to not be noticed, Tom and Kitty stare into each other’s faces, and the attraction is practically a third presence.
Tom notices as well, and leans in to kiss her, when Kitty blurts out that she came to work, “not to get entangled.” It’s about all the rejection poor, proud Tom can take for one day, and he removes himself from her person, standing and quietly voicing his acceptance. “Understood.”
Kitty shuts her eyes in frustration as he walks away because COME ON. She could have locked lips with that and it’s gotta sting.
Outside the camp, the men of The Lucky Thirteen are marching to the front and as promised, Flora is there to wave them off. “Goodbye! Good luck!” she calls out sweetly, and when he hears her, Charlie finally decides to go for it. He breaks ranks and runs to her, even as Dad has to reassure his Sergeant he is not making a run for it. He stands in front of Flora and takes her face in his hands, and kisses her as his mates coo at them.
He tells her that he “reckons she’s the prettiest girl ever” and at her delighted, “Ooh, Charlie Dawlish!”, kisses her again and runs back into line with a smile on his face, where Deeley gives him a hug, and the men of The Lucky Thirteen march off as Flora waves. I can’t hate, kid. Carpe diem.
So we’re at the halfway mark, and when most shows would still be introducing you to their characters and rounding things out, The Crimson Field instead presents you with an allegory on love, loyalty and boundaries. HOLD ME.
Running like a descant over this episode is the story of Nicholls, a man whose hand is mostly gone after having held a detonator; an event that he claims was an accident. His surgeon, a pompous bag named Major Yelland, assures Brett it is self-inflicted, in which case Nicholls would be court-martialed as a deserter. Brett agonizes over his decision, but ultimately cannot ignore the claim.
While others view the man as a coward, or “a ghost,” Matron and surprisingly, Miles, treat him with
compassion. Miles writes down his observations that the injury is consistent with an accident, and hands them to Joan so Matron can add them to his things. Joan calls his expected punishment “monstrous” and “barbaric”, a view which Miles urges her to keep to herself.
Jaco and Mathilde, Belgian refugees, come to Joan for help. Mathilde burned herself, and as Joan tends to her, her father drops a book of German poetry. Joan returns it, but urges him to keep it to himself lest someone think him a spy.
She sends them home, promising to come later to check on the girl.
In the woods, Peter the orderly looks around as he walks deeper in, and does not notice Flora observing him nearby.
Also featured are two Irishmen, Sergeant McCafferty, and his obvious favorite and surrogate son, Lance
McCafferty is a duty-bound sort who obviously dotes on his charge, and has a strange respect for Sister Margaret, who he holds in high esteem for saving his life in heroic fashion. If only he knew she was a cake thief. Eh, probably wouldn’t care.
Margaret is equally taken with him, but it doesn’t stop her from giving awful advice. Peache receives news
that his mother is being harassed due to his enrollment in the British army, a brick thrown through her window, and his brothers and sisters are being jeered at in school. Peache wants to take leave so he can show his face, but McCafferty tells him that he can’t, and there is nothing he can do about it.
Later, at a tea with Margaret, the Sergeant seems inclined to help in some way, but Margaret, fresh from her disappointment with Matron, tells him he is the boy’s Sergeant, not his father.
In the wards, Captain Gillan is doing his rounds and discovers that a patient upon who is he
attempting an experimental procedure has been neglected on Major Yelland’s orders, and his wound become re-infected.
The patient, Mostyn, is not 100% on board and in pain, but Tom is adamant to continue. As his patient is being prepped for surgery to clean the wound, Thomas encounters Kitty in the storage room.
She thanks him for his discretion in not telling anyone she was swimming, and Tom replies in the curt manner of a man who was DEFINITELY NOT fantasizing about her in wet underthings at the top of the hour by snapping that what she does is no concern of his. Kitty, who has looked down and knows she’s packing, seems as flabbergasted as the rest of us.
Thomas goes into surgery to clean Mostyn’s wound, and Yelland stops by to insult his intelligence, technique, and call him a torturer in front of the conscious and suffering patient.
Tom replies with Scottish surgeon for “piss off”, a clipped “You’re in my light, Sir.” After surgery, a pain-ravaged Mostyn complains to Tom that he is being treated as an experiment, a piece of meat, and demands his leg be cut off, but Thomas finally loses his temper, saying he doesn’t care who says what, the
wound is to be irrigated every two hours, and walks out.
In the meantime, Peache tries to get his leave by any other means he can, speaking to the chaplain and Thomas, who both echo the Sergeant’s assurance that the British Army does not allow for him to take leave to go see his family and that it would have to be his Sergeant speaking on his behalf. Later that day, he speaks angrily about his disappointment in the British Army, and when McCafferty hears him say that it’s not his country, gets punched in the face by his hysterical superior.
The Sergeant’s aggression masks his fear that Peache will be overheard and marked a traitor, but the young man cries on the ground, frustrated and desperate. Later that night, Peache turns his back on his mentor, angrily staring at nothing as McCafferty explains that he hit him for his own sake, because it doesn’t take an actual desertion to be taken away, to become a ghost. It can happen for “flapping” his
mouth. “I did it for you, Peache. I did it for you, son,” the Sergeant whispers furtively, but Peache does not react.
In the wards, Joan, already off-center due to the episode with Jaco, is shocked to discover a trophy hanging from the neck of one of her patients-a pair of ears. Miles finds her and gives her a flask so she can self-medicate, waving away her apology for her unprofessionalism. He tells her that while nasty, it does not bear thinking about. Joan asks him how he does it, and he replies with his characteristic mix of candor and humor: “Willpower and gin.”
Like Matron earlier, his kind advice draws a harsh line between “them and us”, and does not comfort Joan as much as increase her anxiety.
Brett tells Matron that Nicholls is to be court-martialed for cowardice, and expresses frustration at the time spent healing him only to have him stand trial. Matron gives Nicholls the news, and tells him that Peter will help him until they come for him.
Joan visits Jaco and Mathilde at their home, and is thanked for her kindness and discretion. Jaco trusts her enough to confess that Mathilde was not a mute from birth, but stopped speaking all together when her father told her never to mention her German mother, afraid she would betray herself and her father. “This world,” Jaco mourns, and notices that Joan looks ill.
Joan tells him she cannot stop thinking about the terrible things she has seen, and Jaco guesses that she must have someone fighting. Joan, in tears, says she has not heard from him. When Jaco asks why she would not be able to get information about his location being that she works for the army, Joan becomes uncomfortable and attempts to leave…and Jaco realizes that it is because “he was on the wrong side.” Joan confesses that she met a German man before the war, and cries at not knowing anything about him.
At her assertion that she will go mad, Jaco kindly gives her pen and paper, urging her to write to him so he can get the letter through to the other side. Joan looks terrified, but she writes.
Dinnertime. Matron embroiders a handkerchief for Nicholls when Margaret brings her dinner and takes a look at it, asking if it is “for the coward.” Matron chastises her, saying that they cannot condemn a man simply because he is not meant to be a soldier, but Margaret’s sarcastic “Can’t we?” is hatefully succinct.
Elsewhere, Nicholls plays cards with Peter, and asks him if he ever killed anyone. Peter tells him to look at the cards, but the accused man warms to his subject, telling him that it is not like in training, when they stabbed sacks of grain, and no one tells you that the person’s face is “right there. I could feel his breath. I just wanted it to stop.”
Later that night when he is walked out to his transport, Nicholls has a moment of panic, and balks, shouting “No, no, no!!” and turning away. Matron Carter holds him gently and shows him the handkerchief, telling him she made it so he would know that she is thinking of and praying for him. Nicholls seems to draw strength from this kindness, and walks quietly but uprightly, supported by Matron and Peter, to his fate.
Joan returns and takes a moment for a sponge bath, but Rosalie spies her ring, hanging from her neck.
The two women are still estranged, and Rosalie has grown close to Margaret, who she later tells about Joan’s supposed engagement. Margaret mentions that Joan did not list it on her personal information, and gleefully ponders the significance.
In the officer’s hall, the surgeons are having dinner, and Yelland takes the opportunity to talk down to, ridicule and otherwise insult Tom.
The envy is strong and Tom would perhaps have let it slide with his customary respectful dismissal, but despite Miles’ caution, Yelland goes off on a monologue that downplays his achievements as a soldier and a surgeon, intimating that he didn’t earn his position and asking what his “tribe” and parents in “the tenement” say to him “now they’re his inferiors”?
The entire table falls under a tense silence, waiting to see how Tom will react…and it’s unexpected. Tom laughs, looking at Yelland right in the eye and when the latter comments that it is funny, delivering one of the best put-downs on film:
Kidding. That one’s good, but this one’s better.
“Isn’t it? You sitting there like you’re God almighty when everyone here knows that as a man, you are a waste of skin… and as surgeon, you couldn’t find your c*ck with both hands…Sir.”
There is a delicious beat of silence, and then Yelland jumps up and runs over, demanding that Tom stand up. Tom does so immediately, and follows by holding his fist out and saying “Anywhere you like. You first.”
Yelland does not take him up on it, instead shaking his finger in Tom’s face and flouncing out. Tom sits down to resume his meal as the other officers begin once more to chat around him, and I fall a little more in love with the hidden depths in Capt. Gillan.
Morning. McCafferty’s unit is getting ready to leave the hospital, While Peache is at Mass, the McCafferty takes his swim, washes up, and gets dressed in his khakis to ready himself to leave. When he approaches his men, however, Peache is naked, saying he will do his duty, but not in an English uniform. Instead, he will do it in his “own Irish skin.”
The Sergeant drags him into a tent and begins to lecture him angrily on what he owes the British army. As it goes on, however, he begins to cry, and it becomes clear that the biggest rejection he mourns is that of himself. Peache is amazed, and speaks gently to calm him, which only prompts McCafferty to shout at him to put the uniform on. Peache does, but he tells him quietly that while the men might think he is a hardass, he will know different. “The army is your family, Sergeant. Not mine.” He stops next to him, and quietly delivers the killing blow. He tells him even if he could not get him home, trying alone would have caused him to love him “like a father forever.” But he didn’t, so now he is nothing to him. Just a ghost.
In Brett’s office, Tom is being censured for the events at last night’s dinner. Thanks to Miles, who roused himself early to plead his friend’s case, Brett understands there is a reason, if not an excuse for why he snapped at Yelland but informs him that he is “brassed off” at everyone involved and tells him to “go away.” Instead Tom turns to ask Brett if he is correct in insisting on such a painful experimental treatment when it makes him feel “like a torturer.” Brett snarks that he isn’t allowed the expensive equipment simply because he is “assailed by wild and uncontrollable doubt” at the probable success. He issues a polite “Kindly bugger off and do your job” and sends him on his way.
In the woods, Flora has been trying to find out more about Peter, and begins to tell him about how she has never been kissed. When he asks why she is telling him, and if she expects him to do something about it, she casually responds that of course not, because he’s homosexual.
Peter freezes and demands to know who told her, but she assumed from seeing him go to the dunes and because her brother is also a homosexual. She cautions him to be careful, but he angrily tells her she doesn’t know what she is talking about, and walks away.
In one of the wards, Kitty stands quietly when Tom comes in, questioning if she is doing anything.
At her calm assurance that she is, he wanders over to Mostyn and explains that yes, the treatment is an experiment and he will amputate at his request, but he is young, and he would like to see him walk through life on two legs. Kitty observes this with interest. Given a choice to quit or continue, the young soldier chooses to keep going.
Tom’s smile is gentle, and genuine, and it’s a good, redeeming moment for a character who hasn’t seen too many wins.
Across the ward, a patient with a head wound becomes agitated and utters his usual complaints about children climbing on his trees. As Tom watches her, Kitty runs over and holds his hands, preventing him from tearing off his bandages and telling him kindly that she has spoken to the children’s mothers.
The man calms down, and Kitty walks over to Tom and explains that this is what she was doing, “not that it is any concern of his.” Tom drops his indifference, and tells her that when he saw her clothes on the beach, he thought someone was drowning.
Kitty tartly apologizes for alarming him, and he matter-of-factly declares his intentions, causing her head to whip up and both pairs of eyes to lock on each other. “I’ve been alarmed since the moment you arrived.”
Now that’s how you tell a girl you want a pound of what she’s selling, boys.
One of the joys of this show is what you can infer from each character in the silence between dialogues. Sarah Phelps has a way of layering motivation as well in pauses as she does in words, like a delicious quiet tiramisu. When she does deliver blows verbally, however, they are as direct and unadorned as bullets. This episode features several such of my favorite moments, and remains an example to me of the perfect integration of main and subplots.
Kitty isn’t sleeping all that well, maybe because she keeps getting up to write heartfelt pleas for help to her mother and mailing them in the wee hours of the morning. Matron catches her during one such occasion, and after ordering her to work, uses her key to open the mailbox and read her outgoing letter.
Back in the wards, two patients await visits from their families. The first, a Private George Shoemaker, is catatonic and needs to be spoon fed by Kitty, his expression one of unchanging surprise. It is during this that she is told that the second, Major Edward Crecy, is awake. She goes into the surgery tent to tell Thomas, who snaps at her to leave.
She seems unruffled by his bad mood, calmly stopping him as he leaves to tell him to take off his apron before he enters the ward.
Major Crecy is being looked after by Private Byeford, the man who saved him by bringing him to the hospital. Thomas informs Crecy that his wife is on the way, and asks if he would rather be moved to an officer’s ward, but he would rather stay with Byeford, the only other survivor from his unit.
On the nurse’s side, Joan presses for additional training and responsibility for the VADs, which Margaret disagrees with because Margaret is some sort of nurse purist. This character is a bit of a conundrum. She does seem dedicated to the care of her patients, sweetly cleaning Pte. Shoemaker’s wounds and demanding his nurse feed him, but also seems to get a perverse pleasure from gainsaying Joan’s orders, even though they benefit the hospital.
Unknown to her cranky colleague, Joan goes ahead with her plan to give Rosalie and Flora additional responsibility after the former confesses that she felt useless before the war, and thinks that Joan is brave.
In a smaller side plot, Lt. Col Brett rescues Joan’s motorcycle from being confiscated by Reggie, who claims that he needs to track the petrol it uses. Col. Brett is not fooled, and warns Reggie that he knows the latter makes some things “disappear” in the bureaucracy in order to line his own pockets, ordering him to release the motorcycle back to Joan.
Outside, a recently arrived Mrs. Crecy can no longer wait as asked, and leaves to find her husband. Maj. Crecy is nervous to tell his wife that he is a double amputee, so Pte. Byeford makes him laugh, suggesting funny things he can say to his wife when she arrives. Even Kitty is amused, but the lighthearted moment is broken by Mrs. Crecy’s intrusion into the tent, and her sudden, panicked flight out as she realizes her husband has lost both legs.
It would be easy to discount Adelinde Crecy as an annoyance, but the truth is that the women we see at the hospital are prepared for and somewhat inured to, the horrors of war. Here is a housewife, a woman of means, facing what her life will mean with a husband who no longer embodies what she feels a husband should, and the process by which this is shown is finely drawn and as painful to watch as it must be for her to process. First she complains bitterly to Capt. Gillan, his surgeon, about the amputations, and when he assures her that they were necessary, changes tack and focuses instead on reinstating what status she can by asking that he be moved to the officers’ ward.
When Kitty comes to tell her that she thinks it a bad idea to split the two men up, she tells Kitty that she is grateful for the private’s actions, but discourages further contact between him and her husband.
Later that morning, Matron calls Kitty into her office and informs her that she has read her outgoing mail, as is her custom. Kitty does not wish to discuss the contents of the letter, but Matron insists, confirming that Kitty has a child from which she is forcibly being separated. She tells Kitty that “no woman is a blank slate,” and she is not about to claw apart through her history. Aside from reading her correspondence, I suppose she meant.
Kitty, a mother herself, is convinced her mother will forgive her, but Matron asks her to consider what may happen if forgiveness does not come. When Kitty rushes outside, overwhelmed and in tears, she is intercepted by Thomas, who is attempting to explain why he was rude to her earlier that day.
She waves it aside, tells him she is sorry about his patient and starts to walk away and Thomas, annoyed, tells her that most people “have the decency to accept an apology” when it is owed them. Kitty, desperate to get away, points out that not only does he not owe her anything, he also hasn’t actually apologized.
When he returns to his tent, he finds that an article he wrote on femoral trauma wasn’t published. To top it off, Miles asks him if Kitty has ever smiled at him, and he denies ever having spoken to her. Better luck next time, Tom.
That night at dinner, Mr. Shoemaker speaks frankly to Adelinde Crecy about his son. George cannot speak after sustaining a wound in the head. He tells her he suspects the boy neither sees him nor knows he is there. He says he doesn’t think he will make it. All this is too much for Adelinde, who reassures him with vague platitudes. “It will all be as it was before. I am certain of it.” When she leaves, looking alarmed, he stares after her with pity.
The next morning as he says goodbye to his son, he speaks to him as you would a child, asking him to “be a good boy” for his dad, and pausing at the entrance to the tent for one final, pained look before departing.
The Crecys dance nervously around each other, unsure of how to deal with their new dynamic. Both their attempts (his with humor and hers with flattery) fall terribly flat. Late that night, Maj. Crecy attempts honesty, and unburdens himself by sharing some of the horrors of war with his wife.
Adelinde, unable to deal, tells him he must forget it, because she “does not want that, all that filth and ugliness.” To her assertion that he is no longer a soldier, Crecy tells his wife that then he is nothing, and bitterly asserts she should not have come. Adelinde walks out in tears, and Crecy hits his legs repeatedly until he causes wets his bandages with a hemorrhage.
As the staff waits for a convoy of wounded to come, tiny but significant character moments. Miles plays golf in the dark, and assures Kitty of his continued dedication to winning her over.
Once the convoy arrives, Flora is energized to prove herself upon Joan’s request (and does so admirably), and Rosalie, asked to help a soldier wash, is put off by the realities of a male human body and leaves him, unable to finish her task.
The next morning, Joan finds Rosalie in the linen cupboard and kindly offers to teach her about the male body by using corpses as examples, but she only manages to outrage her even more, so that Rosalie confesses Joan’s methods to a self-satisfied Sister Margaret.
Kitty finally receives the letter she was waiting for, and the news isn’t good. She wanders into the woods in a stupor to cry, but comes upon Mrs. Crecy, who was informed of her husband’s suicide attempt.
She heroically sets aside her own grief to ask after the Major and listen to Adelinde mourn the “giant of a man” she sent away, and the “ghost with a head full of horrors” she got back, a man who would rather be dead with his soldiers than home with her. Kitty points out she should be back with him, and Adelinde falls apart, crying that she is not prepared to do what she must. “Everything is over,” she cries, and Kitty walks over, handing her the letter her mother wrote, where she tells her she is “dead to her” and will never see her daughter again. In a speech that has me in tears every time I hear it, she reminds Mrs. Crecy not of what she has lost, but of what she still has.
Adelinde walks back with Kitty to her husband’s room, and sits with him, holding his hand. He admits that he cannot remember their children’s faces, to which she responds with a calm, “You will.” Her speech to him is no less touching, and I am electrified anew at the way we as women have such a power within us to feed others with our strength, and to heal.
She kisses him sweetly, and leaves him with a “See you in England, darling.” I have such hope for these two crazy kids.
Much as Kitty did for Mrs. Crecy, Matron provides Kitty with the motivation she needs to go on. When Kitty tells her the contents of her letter fell way below her expectations, Matron kindly but firmly advises her to do her job. “The work saves us, Trevelyan. It saves us.”
I have to wonder at what caused Matron Carter to commit to a life of nursing.
At the beach, Kitty sighs deeply, tearing her mother’s letter into tiny pieces and taking her uniform off on the shore, running into the water in her shift in a sort of baptismal renewal.
She is surprised there by Cap. Gillan, who seems as entranced as the first time he saw her.
As Kitty walks out in her wet shift, Tom politely looks down, but she seems not at all embarrassed. She forthrightly sticks out her arm, asking without words for the uniform he absentmindedly picked up upon discovering her, and as he gapes after her, she turns once, and SMIZES at him.
Many of you might ask why I am recapping a show that the BBC axed after only one season. Others might wonder where I am at and if maybe I’m going to get back to work on other recaps soon. My answers would be because when my head talks I type, and yes, I promise. I really meant to take June off, but then PBS decided to air what I lovingly refer to as my “British Firefly,” so here I am with a short one. Just because it called to me.
If you aren’t watching TCF, please do. It is poignant, intimate, and lovely. The story feels less like you are observing it on a flat screen and more like an oral history. I love a good epic, but I also love the quiet series, the ones that tug at your heart in the gentlest, most indelible way. TCF is that for me. Let me hit you up with an analogy.
Downton Abbey : Call The Midwife :: Poldark : The Crimson Field.
Maybe you just scrolled past that. Who knows.
In any case, roll with us for six eps and then we can all cry and drink together.
TCF deals with a hospital encampment near the French border during WW1. Our main POV character, Katherine (Kitty) Trevelyan is on a boat with fellow VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment) uptight Rosalie and bubbly Flora, neither of which observe her gazing mournfully into the water and chucking a wedding band into it.
That kind of sagacity really makes you cross your fingers for those wounded soldiers. Still, you get a good sense from the scene that Kitty has something to hide, and that she may not have volunteered solely from a sense of duty.
Back at Hospital 25A, the wounded are being tended to by Matron Grace Carter, who seems a calm, capable sort. She asks the chaplain to comfort one she thinks won’t outlive the day, a Private Malloy. She also asks another nurse, Sister Margaret, to look after him, but Margaret objects to the reasons Malloy joined, and is reluctant to assign anyone, pleading shorthandedness. When Matron points out there is help coming, she then objects to the help because Sister Margaret is just a pain who is obviously going to be a problem.
It turns out Matron Carter is new in her position, and Margaret thought she would get the job instead of her younger protege. When Matron brings it up, however, she claims to be fine with it, an obvious lie.
We also meet Lt. Col. Roland Brett, the gentle-yet-firm head of the hospital. Matron brings a soldier named Prentiss to his office where Brett plays him classical music, and the man cries cathartically, obviously racked by what is now knows as PTSD. Brett tells the Matron that he will put him on “the list”, which is to say send him home from active duty.
In the meantime, the VADs have arrived, and with them, one of my favorite meet-cutes in all of film. SO much is said here, and at the same time, nothing at all. The VADs arrive at the hospital and are met by Captain Thomas Gillan, who is eager to see if his typewriter is on the same transport. When he sees the volunteers, he offers up his hand to help each woman off in turn… until Kitty. Welcome to the glowing blue coal that is Kitmas (When you name your own ship, no one ships harder. Captain, indeed.)
This is also coincidentally when I fall in love with Kitty, because I LOVE a good hater. It’s not only that Kitty doesn’t like Thomas-she doesn’t like anything. Unlike Flora and Rosalie, she is neither gratuitously solicitous, particularly patriotic, or eager for friendship. She stands up to the tyranny of the Rules of Conduct and Deportment, and slices an uppity Rosalie with the rapier of pop psychology. She is the Heather to my Heather, you guys. Kitty FTW.
My single bone of contention with my VAD soul sister is that she seems to be put off by soulful blue eyes. I’m sure that there’s a reason, and I am also sure that I don’t care what it is. I SHIP IT.
In the meantime, things clip along. Flora gets sent to contract a bloodborne disease boil and roll bandages and finds dismembered toes, Kitty helps a man smoke instead of making beds, Sister Margaret uncovers that it was Brett who made the call to hold her back in her current position and Brett himself gets a visit from his superior, Col. Purbright, who is there to make sure anyone who can stand upright and shoot goes back out to the front lines.
I immediately wish for he and Sister Margaret to fall violently in love and run away together. And then fall in a swamp.
Back to Tom, who has nothing but a typewriter to give him warmth and comfort and that’s not why we’re fighting this war, dammit. With me on this is Tom’s friend and fellow surgeon Captain Miles Hesketh-Thorne, the B.J. to his Hawkeye. Miles wants to know if any of the new VADs are cute, but Tom says he didn’t notice.
Both men, as well as Col. Brett and Matron are called in to a meeting with Purbright, who complains about the various ways soldiers are mimicking injury to avoid the front lines. Purbright makes the call to have Prentiss rejoin his regiment, despite claims that the soldier is not fit for duty. Brett later gives Sister Margaret another pass for the man in defiance of orders, and tells her to find Prentiss and put him on the convoy for home.
Back in her office and no doubt flush with the frustration of dealing with Purbright, Matron calls Kitty in to reprimand her, and dismisses her from her post when the VAD questions her methods. Kitty marches away with her head held high, but later seems to regret her decision. Kitty tries to find Rosalie, but instead stumbles upon a hiding, delirious Private Malloy, who has stolen a pair of what look like scissors. When he threatens to kill her saying he has “nothing left to lose,” Kitty tells him to go ahead.
Malloy seems confused that she won’t beg, but then starts to cry after admitting that he is dying. Kitty tells him that she will stay with him. She is found by Matron, and they both stay at Malloy’s bedside as he pours his heart out and passes away. Matron tells Kitty that she must write his mother and say he “died peacefully and without pain,” which is what they always say, even if the death is not. A humbled Kitty answers with a quiet “Yes, Matron.” The women reach an understanding. Kitty stays under probation, and later apologizes to Rosalie for being cruel.
Kitty writes her letter in what looks like the cafeteria tent, and is approached by a flirtatious Miles and an apologetic Tom. Miles could not have chosen a worse time to trot out what are very obviously well-used come-ons, and Kitty shoots him down before walking off with the calm disinterest of a woman who is all out of f*cks. It surprises a laugh out of serious Tom, but Miles isn’t discouraged at all, giving himself a week before she is eating out of his hand.
Later that evening, the last of the new arrivals appears on a motorcycle, Sister Joan Livesey. Matron is thrilled with the addition of another actual nurse, and Margaret is not thrilled with how thrilled she is, which no doubt informs her decision later that night.
The VADs stand outside as the soldiers head back out to the front, and as the camera pans over the troops, we see Prentiss is among them. A resentful Sister Margaret never gave him the pass entrusted to her by Col. Brett, so back to the front he goes. As Flora wishes the men a fervent “Good luck, boys!” we get one last glimpse of Sister Joan, inside the tent she shares with them, absently fingering an engagement ring on a chain around her neck. She raises it to her lips and whispers “Stay alive for me. Stay alive. Stay alive.”