TV Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Series 1 Episode 5: ‘Arabella’

Magic and madness are never too far apart in this week’s episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. reviews

This review contains spoilers


Image: BBC/JSMN Ltd/Matt Squire

Image: BBC/JSMN Ltd/Matt Squire

The battle of Waterloo was one of the most devastating defeats in French history and in this week’s episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, not even the victors are spared from the devastation of war. In the face of certain death, Jonathan is forced to use his magic in a way he said a gentlemen never should; to kill another person. This gruesome beginning sets the tone for the rest of the episode, as this week Jonathan faces the most crushing series of events of the series so far.

By the end of the episode Jonathan Strange’s cheerful demeanour is all but gone and he is almost unrecognisable as the man we’ve grown to love. This isn’t without good reason either, since no man would be able to go through the back-to-back traumas of war, losing a loved one and being imprisoned, without being somewhat changed. When he questions at the end, “how does one work up a little madness in oneself”, you know that he has come close to the edge! The moment where he breaks into Norrell’s home desperately asking how to revive Arabella is both one of the most intense and heart-breaking moments of the episode. Bertie Carvel’s performance as Jonathan Strange is at its best this week as he genuinely makes us feel every agonising moment of his character’s experiences.

Line of the week: “Watching this fellow try to do magic is like seeing a man sit down to eat dinner with his coat on backwards.” – The Gentleman

Amongst all of the chaos it is only fitting that we see the return of Vinculus (Paul Kaye), the show’s resident madman/soothsayer. We hear that he has been affecting the Johannites in the north, inciting them to smash machines and swear allegiance to the Raven King. These off-screen events provide us with the sense that momentum is building up toward something dramatic and serve as a reminder that the events we see onscreen do not exist in isolation. The return of prophecies about the Raven King, this time with a much greater following and hence with much greater force, gives a sense of the growing strength of one of the show’s antagonistic figures and therefore of the increasing threat toward our protagonists. Vinculus’ arrival at Starecross is marked by some pretty serious, albeit very cliché, pathetic fallacy. The return of a madman in the back of a carriage during a storm can only mean bad things, but I guess it’s quite fitting since the Raven King’s prophecy states, “the rain shall make a door for me and I shall go through it”.

While we’re on the subject of Starecross, it is quite remarkable how Segundus and Honeyfoot have begun to make real headway with solving why Lady Pole is mad. They have pretty much worked out that the riddles she speaks in when distressed have some connection to fairy tales; something that Honeyfoot has a very convenient knowledge about. They are probably not far off working out the Gentleman’s connection to it all, much to Stephen’s dismay. It’s important to remember that these two have studied and been part of the magical world for quite a while now and therefore it is quite likely that they are aware of the connection between fairies and magic. However, it would appear that Segundus has much more of a sense of these things than what can be found in a book. He is able to sense an aura around both Lady Pole and Stephen that other people cannot. What kind of power is this? Is he much more of a magician than we might think? Either way, his path is leading him and Honeyfoot straight to the discovery of the Gentleman’s involvement in the entire affair!


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