TV Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Series 1 Episode 3: ‘The Education of a Magician’

This week, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell must both face up to the consequences of their magic. reviews

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell episode 3


This review contains spoilers




Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has continually proven its value as a fantastic show, and has now really got onto its feet, with its characters well-established and its storylines beginning to develop far beyond where they initially originated. For example, the Gentleman’s role has begun to branch away from his initial desire for Lady Pole into more of a lust for Arabella, and hence his motives are beginning to shift. Lady Pole’s madness and Mr Norrell’s increasing deceptiveness are two story arcs that both originated from Norrell’s initial dealings with the Gentleman, but now have become ever more established through the course of this episode. In ‘The Education of a Magician’ we are beginning to see the show delve further into the consequences of the events of the first two episodes.

Line of the week: Lord Wellington: Can a magician kill a man by magic?
Jonathan Strange: I suppose a magician might, but a gentlemen never could.

The closing scene shows Childermass saving Mr Norrell from a deranged Lady Pole, but receiving a seemingly fatal gunshot wound in his chest in the process. You know you have become attached to a character when a scene like this makes you yell out at your television screen. He had better pull through, the show needs his continual Yorkshire wit! Either way, Mr Norrell will now have to face up to the consequences of his actions. He’s created the very monster that has now potentially taken his closest friend away from him. His deferral of any responsibility or mindfulness towards Lady Pole’s situation cannot sustain itself. He cannot continue to just step back and keep his credibility intact, without considering how his actions have impacted on anyone else. Throughout this episode we have seen him attempt to play puppet-master with everyone else’s lives, intercepting the Stranges’ letters and convincing everyone that Lady Pole is merely mad, but in this final scene we see this all come crashing down upon him as reality refuses to be ignored any longer.

Jonathan Strange must also face the consequences of his magic this week. After bringing the dead soldiers back to life in order to question them as to where the Neapolitans have taken Lord Wellington’s cannons, he cannot “make them dead again”. He spends the night sitting up in the rafters of the windmill, continually trying to reverse what he has done, and it clearly takes its toll upon him. In that moment he begins to realise what he is dealing with, especially since he only had the means of performing the magic of the Raven King. He seems much more content when creating roads for the English army than when he is dabbling with matters of life and death. You could argue that this is the kind of struggle that all soldiers must face when at war, but for Strange there’s a whole new element. Sure, he experienced a similar traumatic experience when his attendant, Jeremy, was killed by artillery fire, but seeing him trembling with a gun in his hand when facing the living corpses is something else. Mr Norrell will not be pleased by Strange’s use of the Raven King’s magic and there is a moment towards the end of the episode where he says that Jonathan will have to tell him about the exact kind of magic he used whilst abroad. Will Strange be honest about his actions, unlike Norrell, or will he try and keep it secret too?

Another crucial moment in this week’s episode is when Stephen is shown the true conditions of his birth. He tells the Gentleman that Sir Walter Pole’s father has raised him well, but when he is shown the slave ship where he was born and how his mother was treated, it is unlikely that this appreciation will continue. Of course, this is all a part of the Gentleman’s plan to make Stephen feel that he deserves some reparation for his fate as a servant, effectively encouraging him to follow the prophecy that Stephen is to “kill the King and take his place”. Who that King is isn’t clear at this stage, but the Gentleman clearly is hoping that it is Jonathan Strange, although he concedes that it is difficult to kill a magician. The use of slavery here, alongside the Napoleonic War seen in other parts of the episode, helps place the show in its historical context. Stephen’s argument that no man is a slave on English soil reflects the legislation of the period, but as the Gentleman proves, that does not mean that slavery is operating through other means. Stephen’s life of servitude to a white Lord clearly reflects that fact, and therefore he is enticed into desiring revenge. He may be a pawn in the Gentlemen’s game but it is difficult to deny that Stephen would have a just cause.

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