TV Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Series 1 Episode 6: ‘The Black Tower’

Jonathan and the Gentleman finally come face-to-face, in what is probably the best episode of the series so far, says

This review contains spoilers

★★★★★

Image: BBC/JSMN Ltd/Matt Squire

Image: BBC/JSMN Ltd/Matt Squire

The penultimate episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is perhaps the best one yet, as Strange’s quest for madness leads him to Venice and into the hands of the Gentleman. Jonathan Strange’s (Bertie Carvel) search for a way to bring Arabella back to life leads him to meet with the fairy that stole her away. Jonathan is now trapped, both physically and mentally, by the Gentleman’s will, but he is not defeated. As we already know, it is hard to kill a magician and the task only becomes more difficult should Norrell choose to help Strange out. ‘The Black Tower’ is the spark that ignites the flame for the show’s closing conflict between good and evil.

The crux of this episode was Jonathan Strange’s search for madness; every scene where Carvel had to act mad was perfectly executed. These moments were expertly performed using body convolutions, facial distortions, nauseating spinning and just about all of the cinematic techniques possible, in order to make it seem as though Jonathan were falling down a psychological rabbit-hole into madness. The concern that arises out of this, however, is precisely one that has been emphasised from the very beginning of the show; how magic cannot cure madness. Will Jonathan’s actions cause irreversible damage to his mind? At this stage, without Arabella in his life, does he even care? All that we can know is that at this very moment, his main priority is to get revenge on those who have scorned him.

Line of the Week: “Do you wish to be shot? Then behave differently.” – Dr. Greysteel to Drawlight

It would be difficult to say for certain who exactly is at the top of Jonathan’s hit list at this stage: Norrell or the Gentleman. For a long time, we have seen the former essentially taking a backseat to the show’s action and spending most of his onscreen time working with Lascelles in the petty book squabble. We still see a lot of this side of his character this week as he steals all the copies of Strange’s book and sends Drawlight to spy on him, but towards the end he is forced to admit that Jonathan’s dire fate is all his fault. Not only that, but after some heated critique of Sir Walter Pole in Parliament, he must face that his actions have led to magic becoming disreputable in England. He has been forcibly pushed off his high horse and now he plans to leave London to be with all of his books. Let’s hope that this means that he is going to come to the aid of Jonathan Strange in the series finale; instead of continuing to stand on the side-lines complaining!

One character who has definitely has some grounds for complaint this week is Stephen. After spending some time with Vinculus and hearing even about the Raven King’s prophecy (which, by the way, was awesomely tattooed all over Vinculus’ body) he had finally been given some hope for freedom. Of course, this was swiftly taken away from him by his oppressor, the Gentleman. It is heart-breaking to watch the hope leave him, as he watches Vinculus hang from the tree and is then instructed to “return to the dance”. He has been a slave all of his life, a symbol of how “meaning is written on our skin” and all he wants is the freedom to be treated more than just “a curiosity”, more than “nothing”. The Gentleman claims that he still will be a king, but at the moment Stephen is still trapped as a figure of subservience.

Next week’s finale promises to be spectacular. ‘The Black Tower’ has done a great deal of setup for there to a mass conflict and all of the characters are lined up in their final positions. Strange is already engaged in a conflict with the Gentleman, whilst also promising to bring about a battle on another front when he tells Drawlight to “tell Norrell I’m coming”. He is “opening the doors” and returning magic to England through the use of the Raven King’s old systems. We still don’t know who or what the Raven King exactly is, but we are sure to find out next week. We can expect the prophecy to really come into being in the finale. Our characters’ destinies will be fulfilled, some will succeed and some will fail, but in the end we shall see just what becomes of magic in England.

 

 

 

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