Warning: while I do love this series, a lot, I may not take it entirely seriously in these reviews. Abandon hope of complete solemnity.
Speaking of which; before we do anything else, I’m going to get this out of the way, right now, because it’s something of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to visual depictions of historical fashion:
HAIR! HAIR!! HAIR!!! THE WOMEN’S HAIR IS MADDENING!!!
THEIR HAIR IS HANGING EVERYWHERE!!! THEY ARE WORKING OUTDOORS IN A HOT CLIMATE AND YET THEIR HAIR IS CONSTANTLY LOOSE!!!
IT WOULD GET CAUGHT IN STUFF!!!! IT WOULD GET IN THEIR FACES!!!!! IT WOULD BE SO INCONVENIENT!!!!!!
WHOSE IDEA WAS IT FOR PRACTICALLY ALL THE FEMALE CHARACTERS (except the housekeeper)
TO WEAR THEIR HAIR DOWN ALL THE TIME???????
HAIR HAIR HAIR HAIR!!!
Okay. Okay. I think I’ve gotten it all out of my
I’m fine. I’m good. The women’s hairstyles pissed me off at the start. I learned to deal with it. We’ve got a lot to get through.
This first episode begins with Elizabeth. She’s dreaming of a hangman’s noose, complete with many flashing images of her standing on the shore and ominous whispers. Which of course make her wake up with a scream, scaring the living bejeesus out of the guy sleeping next to her, Tommy, and just about every other guy in the hut. Which is unfortunate, since this is the men’s sleeping hut, she isn’t supposed to be here, and the soldiers outside who heard her screaming (and yet somehow didn’t spot her sneaking into the hut earlier?) come a-looking.
Elizabeth evades them and flees towards the beach. The female convict’s quarters presumably being stationed quite far away to prevent this sort of thing happening in the first place. It’s not very effective. Neither is hiding on the beach, among the…graves? Apparently they built the graveyard on the beach.
Anyway, one of the soldiers finds her pretty quickly. Naturally he’s a creep and offers to let her go if she’ll screw him; presumably deferred payment, since I can’t think of any sex act brief enough for the rather short space of time they have. She refuses, because there is a time and a place for sex, and on the beach is not it. And also because she hates him and doesn’t want to submit to a rather too enthusiastic soldier, as we shall see, but the inevitability of sand in all the wrong places is important too. Creepy soldier rats her out, and she’s bundled off to the jail and shoved in a cell.
(This was a really interesting way to begin this series. In another programme they might have started the story when everyone was still aboard the ships of the First Fleet during the voyage, getting to know each other and generally introducing themselves to us. Here we’re essentially in media res, with the colony already established – if on shaky legs – and with some relationships, enmities and tensions already formed, leaving room for others to develop. And, of course, it’s also a great introduction to Elizabeth herself.)
Rise and shine, convicts! It’s another beautiful morning in in the first ever penal colony of New South Wales! They line up with their dry ingredients for pancakes in order to make them into breakfast. One of the male convicts from the hut earlier (Russell Tovey, who I last saw in The Hounds of Baskerville) decides to play establishing character tropes more conventionally, and introduces himself as James Freeman to Anne, who is one female character who doesn’t annoy me in terms of hairstyle. True, she wears her hair down, but at least it’s tied back more or less out of the way and is much tidier than it could be. James tries to be friendly, but Anne isn’t too receptive and I can fully sympathise. It’s too early in the morning for socializing.
It’s not too early for theft, though; as she walks away, a tall guy (played by Rory McCan, aka Sandor Clegane, aka Lurch from Hot Fuzz; I half expect him to say “Yaaarp”!) forces her to give up her food. James, in response to her pleas for help, comes to the rescue, and makes the guy give the food back – only to then have his food taken, as punishment for acting against Marston. James is thus left with no food, no one to flirt with, an empty stomach, an enmity with Marston and no way to get any more breakfast, since the soldier in charge wants to know who stole the food and James of course can’t tell whodunnit. Otherwise he’ll be a snitch, and all prisoners hate snitches. Not a great start to his storyline.
Well, now that we’ve spent time with some of the convicts – and wasn’t it fun? – it’s time to meet the upper crust of the colony! Such as it is. Elizabeth is pulled into a building by Creepy Soldier, who can’t seem to keep his hands off her, in order to face a jury of her ‘betters’; thus introducing us to:
- Governor Philip, played by David Wenham very nearly fresh off Top of the Lake, and whose eyebrows are nearly invisible,
- Captain Collins, who really only exists to be snarky and so that we can get backstory for the convicts if and when required,
- Reverend Johnson, who when I first saw him nearly made me spit out my drink because holy hell it’s Spud from Trainspotters!
- Johnson’s wife, who for some reason is not only allowed to attend meetings of this nature but is also given a vote in proceedings, so good for them I guess,
- and, last but by no means least, Major Ross, who we know is meant to be our antagonistic character because he’s got tightly pulled back dark hair and constantly looks disdainful about everything and everyone.
The issue on the table: Elizabeth was caught sleeping with a male convict. Elizabeth says she was not ‘sleeping’ with a male convict; she was legitimately just sleeping, no inverted commas whatsoever, promise, next to the man she loves. And when Ross scoffs, she zings back at him that he manages that sleeping all by himself. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. A hit, a very palpable hit! She adds that Creepy Soldier, also known as Private Buckley, would have let her go if she shagged him; while she was desperate, she won’t ever be desperate enough to bang a soldier. Am I right, Mrs. Johnson? Mrs. Johnson agrees that she would not do such a thing either because, well, note the Mrs.
Philip wants to know who the lucky man is – so that they can hang him. Boy, are they strict! Elizabeth keeps her mouth shut. Philip says he’ll have her flogged otherwise. Elizabeth continues to keep her mouth shut. Philip hums and haws, then asks if said lucky man loves her and, if so, would he want her to take a flogging for him? I think he’d appreciate her taking a flogging for him so he doesn’t, you know, DIE, but that’s just me. And that’s also Elizabeth, who tells them all to go to hell. Right on, beautiful.
Philip, his bluff called, also calls for a round robin on how many lashes Elizabeth should get. The Johnsons, with no other option, go for the lowest count of 25. Ross suggests 50, which admittedly could have been worse, but still. Collins also settles for 25. “Elizabeth Quinn, you have the dubious honour of being the first woman flogged in New South Wales.”
Well, on the bright side…
On the way back to her cell, Elizabeth catches James’ eye as he works on…something to do with chopped down tree trunks and rope, all while standing nearly hip-deep in water. Your guess is as good as mine. She indicates for him to keep quiet and, by deduction, not tell Tommy. It seems like James didn’t know until now that she’d been caught, and has to hold himself up as he realises just how much trouble both she and Tommy are in.
Elizabeth is also seriously worried, because when she’s back in her cell she only takes a few moments to offer Buckley a hand job in return for bringing James to see her. But a quickie just won’t do; Buckley wants full on, presumably penetrative sex. “I want you” he says. Elizabeth agrees, then once he’s within grabbing range threatens to slit his throat if he doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Apparently the threat of being murdered is one hell of an aphrodisiac, because Buckley gets right to disrobing while Elizabeth turns her face to the wall.
(This, right here, is Elizabeth. If it’s just her own skin on the line, she’s prepared to keep to her principles. If Tommy’s in danger, though, she’ll immediately go against her standards just to give him a chance – and, in the process, potentially put James in danger. How suspicious might Buckley, or anyone else, be if they find out that she asked James to come see her? Might they not jump to conclusions?)
Ross, on his way into his tent, catches sight of a young woman in blue accompanying Anne on their way to the next laundry job, and looks after her for a moment. Then another moment.
To quote Tolkien: ‘it was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it’.
Is Ross sore about that ‘sleeping alone’ zinger from Elizabeth? I think he just might be, considering he tells Sergeant Timmins, who’ll be administering the flogging, to “lay it on” and make her weep. Timmins isn’t too happy when he learns he’ll be flogging a woman. Oh, sorry; a “whore”, according to Ross. Just in case you forgot that he’s our antagonist.
James and the other convicts working on…whatever they’re making, are spooked by something slipping by in the water. Something with scales, so either a python or a crocodile. This place just keeps getting better and better. James is only too glad to get back on dry land, even if it is to go with Buckley.
Once James gets in to see Elizabeth, she begs him to not let Tommy know what’s in store for her. James guesses that she’s let Buckley bang her and is pretty scathing about it, but also pretty shamefaced when he learns it was so she could speak to him. The crux of the matter is this: Tommy can’t come forward while she’s being flogged, or else he’s a dead man. James’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to keep his mate from doing or saying anything that could lead to him ending up on the scaffold. Elizabeth can take 25 lashes, but losing Tommy would destroy her.
As he’s leaving, James needles Buckley about shagging Elizabeth – fortunately, “she did not notice.” (I do love this script.) Buckley goes back inside and sarcastically asks if Elizabeth needs him for anything else, or if he’s served her purpose, and when she thanks him just as sarcastically, spits and calls her a slut. Says the guy who used her dire predicament as a means for getting sex. I don’t like Private Buckley very much.
Cut to Timmins escorting Buckley (with the lady who caught Ross’s eye and Anne in the background again; it’s like Where’s Wally) back to Ross’s tent, where Timmins volunteers the private’s services instead of his for the big event at 12 o’clock; he does not have the stomach to flog Elizabeth. Buckley is apparently not at all averse to flogging her himself, meaning Timmins is off the hook. Only not, because Ross can easily tell there’s some bad blood between the private and the prisoner. While he’s perfectly happy to order someone flogged, it’s apparently beyond the pale for someone else to carry out said flogging not just because of orders, but also because they’d be getting off on it. Let that be a lesson to us: everyone has their limits.
After sending Buckley packing, Ross reassures Timmins that he won’t actually have to give Elizabeth 25 lashes; the man she’s involved with will surely step forward after two or three strokes, right? Right. Timmins doesn’t look so sure, but agrees to do the deed nonetheless.
It’s 12 o’clock, and alllll’s weyaaaaalllll! Some of the male convicts presently chopping wood are summoned to watch the much discussed flogging; James, both faint with hunger and sad because he knows what’s coming, enlists some of his mates to restrain Tommy. The poor sod has no idea what’s in store until he’s boxed in by James and the crew, and learns the awful truth.
Buckley leads Elizabeth to the whipping post and generally is taking far too much pleasure in all this. Ross tells her to remove her blouse; not because he’ll get a kick out of it (or maybe; who knows?) but because if it stays on, cloth will get into the wounds and infect them. You’re all heart, Ross. When she refuses he turns on the insults about her being a whore, it’s a bit late for modesty, etc, but at least she gets to keep her blouse on. Ross moves her hair aside so as not to impede the lash, and then actually wipes his hands off on his coat as he gives the order for it to begin.
Elizabeth whimpers, but doesn’t scream. Tommy again tries to break free. Ross starts up about how the convict women belong to his soldiers, that the convicts will not go near a woman unless she’s his wife, and if she’s not then she belongs to the marines.
(I…will come back to this. Have no fear.)
Ross calls for a second stroke.
Tommy struggles desperately. James ain’t budging. Ross calls out Elizabeth’s unknown man for standing by while a woman is flogged. Oh, so she’s a woman now when it’s convenient? He calls for a third stroke. Tommy cannot bear it, but James points out how easy it’d be to simply give in, step forward and die for it, and break Elizabeth’s heart. Not on his watch.
Ross calls again for a third stroke. Timmins doesn’t want to lay on three. Ross says if he doesn’t flog “this whore” he’ll die, then points a pistol at Timmins’ head. This will do wonders for their working relationship, I have no doubt.
Timmins, with such encouragement, carries on with the flogging.
Now Elizabeth screams. Ross twists Timmins’ hesitation around to make the soldiers look good and the convicts like scum; no soldier would stand by and watch this. Even though a soldier is ordering it to happen and another one is carrying it out. Ross’s logic is a tad warped.
James tells Tommy that he loves Elizabeth just as much him, and he can take watching this, so Tommy should be able to as well. Ross is going on about how scum must not breed, even though I believe the whole point of bringing women along to the colonies is so that there WOULD be breeding, in order to give the colonies a next generation and workforce. Again, I will come back to this. Buckley, the bastard, is smirking.
We’re up to six now.
James warns Tommy to do nothing.
Tommy is in utter agony, but James is the one who’s crying.
Elizabeth screams, the whip cracks and we cut to black.
…how far into the episode are we, again?
Twenty minutes??? We’re only twenty minutes in???
Sheesh, this plot is heavy.
Elizabeth wakes up later, having passed out at some point, with Tommy by her side. He has sea water for the wounds. (Tommy, NO. DON’T DO IT.) Timmins, no doubt feeling like a right shit, turns a blind eye to the obvious and even recommends trading with Private MacDonald for some willow bark for the pain. Jolly decent of him.
It really isn’t James’s day; Marston has decided he’s his new target and nicks his food again, even though James protests he should spread his bullying around a bit more. He asks Anne for some of her food. Unfortunately for James, this is not the type of feel-good prison narrative where doing a helpful turn for someone automatically creates and strengthens bonds between the pair of you, and so Anne doesn’t lift a finger to help him.
Tommy treats Elizabeth’s back with what did I say about using sea water on open wounds???
Now that he’s probably increased her chances of infection by 100%, Tommy has a question for Elizabeth – but then James turns up to beg some food from them. Only to find they’ve traded it away to the aforementioned Macdonald in order to ease her pain. Faced with the two people he helped to save, Elizabeth innocently chewing on the willow bark, James can’t bear to bring up his own weakness and problems. He leaves, giving Tommy the perfect opportunity to ask Elizabeth to marry him.
Philip is not enthusiastic when they bring the matter before him. Tommy just stood by and watched the supposed love of his life get flogged; not a great basis upon which to build a marriage. (Unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case go for it.) Collins also points out that both of them are already married to other people back in England. Tommy’s resigned himself to never seeing his wife and children again, while Elizabeth’s well glad to be shot of her husband, so they don’t mind about that, but unfortunately everyone else does. Johnson refuses to grant them an annulment since there are no good grounds for it. So they can’t sleep together unless they’re married, but they can’t actually get married. Does this count as a Catch-22 situation?
Tommy says he’ll lie with Elizabeth tonight and they can’t stop him, and he shouldn’t even be here in any case because he’s innocent. So neh. He basically dares them to hang him and out he goes, with Elizabeth hot on his heels trying to calm him down. Philip looks on and clearly feels somewhat of a scab.
And so he goes a-walking along the shoreline.
Ross turns up and Philip starts talking about how hanging Tommy Barrett simply because he can’t get married is a pretty wasteful thing to do. Does Ross agree? No, Ross does not; Tommy’s a convict, and with him gone there’ll be one less mouth to feed. Both Philip and Ross contemplate their navels for a few seconds, the amount of food obviously a concern.
Philip rallies and says London will be sending more women, suggesting Ross’s men share the ones already present. Ross protests that it’s right the women are meant for the exclusive use of the marines. Er. It is?
(See? I told you I’d come back to this.
Going into this series, I was pretty sure at first that female convicts were included in the First Fleet for the same reason that the rabbits in Watership Down needed to find does, thus kicking off the second act of the book: “No does mean no kittens, and in a few years no warren.”
However, after a check on Wikipedia – I know, ‘cutting-edge research’, dishonour on me, dishonour on my cow – it turns out that, while marriage between male and female convicts was encouraged in order to create the next generation, women convicts still often turned to prostitution to support themselves, since they had no official accommodation, food or bedding. The women on the Second Fleet attached themselves to seamen or soldiers on the trip over as a means of protection and bettering themselves. Also, apparently later on in the transportation era, colonists would swarm to the docks when female ships arrived in order to bargain for a ‘servant’, and high ranking officers got first pick.
Hold on to that last fact. It will be important later on in this series. There may be a quiz.)
In any case, Ross protests that his men are all volunteers (wait, who the hell would actually volunteer to travel nine months to New South Wales to guard a penal colony???) and since food and booze supplies are already low, if their one small area of comfort is taken from them, it’ll be anarchy. Anarchy, I say! Anarchy.
Philip passes Tommy and James – who is not looking good – while pulling a wagon of logs, on his way to talk to Collins. Philip starts winding up by talking about how they’re in a godforsaken corner of a godforsaken country, across a godforsaken ocean-
Collins nips this right in the bud. “I will not do it sir…You are about to ask me to annul Tommy Barrett’s marriage, and Elizabeth Quinn’s, and…I will not, sir.”
Well. Okay, then. Can Philip do it? Well, yes, but he can only handle the annulment bit; the remarriage is Rev Johnson’s jurisdiction. Okay, fine. Philip goes back to his house, where Johnson appears to have been waiting and fretting for…I don’t know, ever since Philip set off on his walk? Johnson refuses to marry Tommy and Elizabeth, since their spouses are still alive. Philip points out none of them will ever see each other again anyway. Oh yeah? What does he know about God’s will? In a year’s time, I might be dead, or he might be dead. Or maybe, just maybe, the horse will talk.
That last bit was just me. It wasn’t actually in the episode.
…anyway; Johnson will readily accept they love each other, but harps on the fact that it’s till DEATH do they part, not an ocean. “You want me to administer that solemn oath again, knowing they both just shat on it?” (God, I love this script.) Johnson seems to think the problem will be solved if Tommy just stays away from Elizabeth, but Philip knows that’s not going to happen. If Johnson feels so strongly about this, would he be willing to hang Tommy should the need arise?
Johnson hesitates. Just a little. “Yes.”
And Philip closes the trap about the reverend; he’ll be hanging Tommy at dawn, then, with two soldiers to escort them to the gallows. Philip seems absolutely certain of that.
James, having had nothing to eat all day, tries another approach come dinnertime: abject surrender. He apologises to Marston for showing off that morning. It’s a very genuine performance. Marston still won’t let him into the line to get food. Tommy points out that Marston should steal from someone else for a change, but isn’t willing to give up his own food when challenged. So that was really helpful.
James is so desperate by this point that he’s going to do what no self-respecting convict ever would – perform the action described in the episode’s title, make like Elizabeth didn’t do, and tattletale. He’s going to turn grass.
And so he approaches Philip and brings up the whole situation, pointing out that Marston’s been stealing food from everyone for months of the journey, and has really stepped up his game now they’re on dry land. Naturally Philip tries to find proof by questioning everyone involved, but Marston obviously lies and Anne, who’s brought in as a witness, likewise lies, since she doesn’t want any trouble. Although note that, when they’re allowed to leave, Marston asks her what she’s staring at and she says “a dead man” rather spookily. Is Anne playing the long game here? Does she know that it’s unlikely that the higher ups will charge Marston, thus encouraging James to take matters into his own hands? Or is she just trying to build up her own reputation and image?
In the end, the fact remains that Marston is the only blacksmith the colony has, while James is illegitimate, something that Ross latches onto for some reason. Issues, Issues up to his ears. Philip tells James that no action will be taken, and when James protests, he states that there’s no proof of any food being stolen. James tearfully points out that his having blabbed will make him into a pariah, but the cold reception he gets once he returns to barracks hardens something in him. If higher authorities won’t help him, he’ll have to do it himself.
Mrs. Johnson is not pleased that her husband has said he’ll hang Thomas Barrett. The reverend says a convict won’t die for a principle, so nothing will happen. She doesn’t seem so sure. Neither does he, for that matter.
Tommy goes to find James on the beach and starts on about how to grass –
James tells him to fuck off.
Tommy continues unabashed, saying to grass is bad enough, but to grass and not be believed is disaster. James says in that case, Tommy had better not be caught with a grass like him, so please fuck off. (I do so love this script.)
Tommy sees James is making a cosh out of a sock and some stones, and asks if it’s for the blacksmith. What the hell do you think? Tommy points out that will kill him. Yes, Tommy; try to keep up. James fishes for whether Tommy’s going to go to Elizabeth tonight, perhaps hoping for a partner in crime, but when Tommy replies in the affirmative and then offers to help, James snarks that he’ll be getting hanged. “Busy night all round, then.”
Elizabeth sits and waits in the female quarters while other woman chatter in the background, clearly hoping against hope that Tommy is not going to be an idiot. Alas, an idiot is what she’s fallen in love with, because she turns around and there he is! She gives him an ‘you are going to be the death of me’ look but goes to him for an embrace anyway, because she is going to be the death of him. They hug, they kiss, it’s all very beautiful and tender. Then the soldiers come in and drag him away, while the other women protest and poor Elizabeth is left bereft.
The reverend gets news that Tommy has signed his death warrant, by way of a gift from Ross – a bag to put over Tommy’s head when he’s hanging him. He reassures his wife that this time, when Tommy’s on the scaffold, he’ll be offered a reprieve and he’ll snatch at it. Mrs. Johnson is by now thoroughly unimpressed, even when her husband starts on ranting on about solemn vows and how he’d die rather than break them. She’d die too, but: “I doubt that I would KILL.” Well played, Mrs. J. Well played.
She leaves their tent, takes up a lantern to guide her on her way-
-and walks the short distance to the governor’s house. The door is opened by Philip’s housekeeper, who is just about the only lady who has a sensible hairstyle in this story; even Mrs. Johnson, the reverend’s wife, wears her hair down and doesn’t seem to know what a comb is!!! But I digress.
She points out that her husband is in an unbearable position, forced to either bless a bigamous marriage or hang one of the offending parties. And it’s all because of a law that forbids male and female convicts from mingling. She begs Philip to get rid of that law so that her husband doesn’t have to kill someone, although I like to believe she’s thinking of the wellbeing of the convicts as well. Hopefully.
Philip rehashes Ross’ argument: that he needs to keep the soldiers sweet so they’ll do their duty. They’re the ones really keeping law and order, after all; they’ve kept the convicts behaving and they’ve kept the natives away. (Ah, yes. The native Aboriginal people and the lack thereof in this series. I will be coming back to this as well, never fear.) This law that Mrs. Johnson so despises is apparently what stands between her and lingering death by convict or native. Crushed, she thanks him and leaves.
Outside, she locks eyes with Collins, and that makes her even sadder? I guess? Walking back to her tent, she hears hammering and sawing. She sees the gallows being constructed. In utter despair she returns to her husband’s side, saying nothing but forgiving him for what he knows he is going to have to do. Behind a beautifully embroidered veil, they sit and pray together.
Tommy narrates a letter for his mother to Letters Molloy, one of the guys who helped James restrain him…was it only that morning? Timmins stands guard and generally feels awful about it all. So what’s new? Tommy is baldly honest about what’s going to happen to him, but Letters suggests softening the blow. No loving mother wants to lose her son to a penal colony for what may be forever, only to be told that he got hanged before he’d been there a month. Letters instead prescribes a nice heavy dose of fever, and gradual preparation throughout the letter for a diagnosis of ‘dying’ right at the end. Sure, let’s go with that.
James is engrossed in watching a tarantula cross the floor of the barracks, before Marston feels a call of nature and goes outside to do his business. James follows him to sock him over the head with his homemade cosh, but can’t bring himself to do it. Give it time, James; hunger’s a great motivator.
Tommy’s next letter is to Elizabeth. Yes, he’s know she’s already here and will be with him on the scaffold, but he wants these words to be for after he’s died; that he refused the hood because he wanted her face to be the last thing he sees. Will that do, do you think? Letters is nearly in tears. It’ll do.
James comes to see Tommy off, so to speak. Timmins, in a running theme of being obliging, leaves them in peace. James lies that he didn’t manage to kill Marston because “someone came along” and has to repeat it a few times. Tommy says he believes him. (Yeah, right.) James asks what’s going to happen to Elizabeth, and volunteers to take care of her. Tommy twigs that James has always loved her. Awww. That’s the most awkward yet heart-warming version of ‘if you die, can I have your stuff?’ I’ve ever seen. Tommy, after consideration, gives his blessing – although wait until he’s safely dead, all right?
James promises he’ll be there when Tommy hangs. They clasp hands and he leaves in tears, after thanking Timmins for allowing him this favour. A soldier, doing a convict a favour out of the goodness of his heart? Quite a turnabout from Buckley’s extortion, and MacDonald’s trade for willow bark. Tommy seems to have spotted this as well, and even shakes Timmins’ hand, apparently having forgiven him for flogging his girlfriend until she fainted earlier.
(By the way, I’ve only just realised that Elizabeth is moving around very well for someone who got 25 lashes on her back earlier that very day. Shouldn’t she have needed longer to recover?)
As Letters sings a mournful song, a new day dawns. Elizabeth stands on the shore looking mournful, much as she did in her dream – which, if you think about it, is what caused this whole mess in the first place. Stupid traumatic dreams.
Rise and shine, Tommy! It’s a beautiful day to be hanged! Even as they’re on their way to the scaffold, Elizabeth begs the reverend to see sense; if Tommy backs down he’ll be seen as a coward, while if the reverend backs down no one will mind! Except the reverend himself, of course. She offers him the same reward she gave Buckley, saying as Christ gave his body, so she’ll give hers. It’s all very awkward and heart-breaking.
No dice; Tommy goes up the scaffold and the soldiers start up with the Lord’s Prayer. Tommy refuses the hood, as he said he would. The poor reverend is begging Tommy to just stay away from Elizabeth; is that so hard? Apparently it is. Mrs. Johnson’s come out in her nighty and with her hair justifiably down for once, to try her luck in reasoning with the condemned. No change.
The soldier standing at the foot of the scaffold has his eyes closed as he prays, perhaps just as miserable as everyone else involved in this tragic farce. The reverend tries to do what he’s been charged with, shoring himself up with scripture, only for his wife to cry out that this is essentially a crucifixion!
Johnson looks like a man already dead. He stumbles off the scaffold and walks away, as his wife weeps. He stumbles all the way to the beach, in fact, with the graves in the background, and tries not to cry as he stares at his own wedding ring.
Philip waits for the result, with an empty glass of what I presume is some form of alcohol. There’s someone at the door.
Meanwhile, back at the gallows, Tommy, Elizabeth and the rest are playing the waiting game. Buckley walks over to the lever that opens the trapdoor, and just stands there. Staring at it. Smirking at Elizabeth. The bastard. Elizabeth alerts Mrs. Johnson, who says that if he does what he’s thinking about doing, she’ll do her best to make sure he’s hanged too. Right on, you likewise beautiful person. Right on.
Philip asks if Tommy accepts that, as far as England is concerned, he’s a dead man? Yes. That his banishment is no longer for fourteen years, but for the rest of his life? Tommy, realising where this is going, starts to grin. Yes. Elizabeth likewise agrees, although her sentence was only for seven years. The reverend starts to do his stuff; Tommy’s released and they get married on the scaffold itself. There but for the grace of God.
James looks both highly relieved that Tommy didn’t swing, and heartbroken that Elizabeth is now more out of his reach than ever. Tommy sees his anguish, which adds just a smidge of awkwardness to the marriage vows. Still, they get through them and Johnson pronounces them married. Mrs. Johnson weeps with joy, Tommy and Elizabeth kiss, Philip goes off satisfied, Tommy swings Elizabeth up over his shoulder – isn’t that rather precarious on a scaffold? At least wait until you’re back on the ground! – the reverend and his wife exchange meaningful looks, the happy couple depart to presumably screw like bunnies now they don’t have to hide anymore.
(Quick question: where was Ross during all this? I know that, for narrative purposes, he couldn’t actually be present, otherwise he’d object and drag it out. It’s still odd that he oversees Elizabeth’s flogging and yet doesn’t oversee the hanging of a convict who has also broken the law. And a law he’s pretty passionate about, at that. Maybe he’s just not a morning person?)
James is left alone to stare at the scaffold. Now that it’s been built, it’s not going away. And it’s surely only a matter of time until it’s actually used.