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.