This review contains spoilers
Although their names may appear together in the title of this series, the two protagonists of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell could not be further apart in ideals. This week we see their differences coming to blows, as Jonathan now decides to leave his apprenticeship with Mr Norrell. In an episode that is heavily based in heated discussions between various characters, we now take a step back and allow for some serious plot set-up to develop, as the show progresses into the latter half of its series.
It is very difficult to decide which of our protagonists we are compelled to side with in this confrontation, as both have their flaws. Mr Norrell’s are perhaps the most blatant, as his compulsive lies and inflated self-importance make him quite unlikeable at times. Even after he has taken a bullet for him, Childermass is still none the wiser about what magic Norrell really performed to bring Lady Pole back to life, hence why he seeks her out at Staircross. Plus, there’s only so much we can hear Norrell speak about doing “respectable” and “modern” magic without giving any tangible reason as to why he despises the work of the Raven King. Yet, there is something quite pitiable about him when he is trying to make concessions in order to get Strange to stay with him, especially with the solitary tear at the end when he realises there’s no hope for it. He’s a very peculiar little man who seems to have sought only to have a quiet life studying books and performing respectable magic. The adventurous, explorative path that Jonathan wishes to take with magic just cannot exist alongside Mr Norrell’s own desires.
Line of the week: “We must work to destroy him, before he destroys us. – Mr. Norrell
Jonathan Strange, as we have already become well aware, is the polar opposite of Mr Norrell, and this week we have seen this pushed to its limits. The story of a young, passionate man being suppressed by an authority figure who doesn’t allow him to explore his full potential is one that many people can probably relate to. Jonathan’s humour and excitement are quite infectious, furnishing his character with a whole other level of likeability than we get with Norrell. He does have a bit of cocky side, however, which this episode does a great job of showing. His constant references to his time in the Peninsula are similar in tone to that annoying gap year person that everyone knows, who cannot talk about anything other than their ‘enlightening’ experience in Asia or whatever. This week we see him caught between his desire to explore the King’s Roads further and his romantic duty to Arabella, leading to a rather serious argument between the two of them. Seeing him caught between his craft and his love is a horrible thing, and when he initially sides with magic we feel quite disappointed in him. Thankfully, towards the end, just before he is whisked off to war again, he chooses Arabella. Despite all of his recklessness and oftentimes blindness to anything but magic, Jonathan Strange is perhaps the more likable of the two protagonists. Although it does appear that his actions will eventually lead him into hot water…
This is most definitely the case now that the Gentleman’s plan is getting underway. Speaking of water, what exactly is this ‘Moss-oak’ thing Stephen has to pull out of a pond towards the end of the episode? The kind of mystical clone of Arabella that is born out of it will definitely have will have a dire impact on the Stanges’ already tense relationship. The Gentleman’s desire for Arabella can appear, at times, a little stretched, especially when Jonathan has thwarted his plan for Stephen to slay the king and he says: “we must destroy him utterly… and take his wife”. This addition just seems oddly irrelevant under the context. There again, the Gentlemen does always appear to have women on the mind and he is quite a bizarre character anyway. There surely must be more to his desire for Arabella than simply lust? I’m sure we will find out as his plan gets further underway in the subsequent episodes.