Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr, Norrell: Season 1, Episode 6: Black Tower

There are now wanted posters going up for Jonathan Strange – a wanted fugitive. At the same time his book has also gone on sale.

Norrell reads it and seems both pensive and sad – crying as he reads it (especially the inscription to Arabella). He also starts hexing the book – making them disappear from the hands of people who have bought it. The publisher, rightly, calls this theft.

In Parliament, there is more talk of uprisings using the name of the Raven King – and this is all being blamed on Sir Walter since both his magicians are now disgraced: Jonathan for being a fugitive after being suspected of his wife’s death and now Norrell for being a thief.

Sir Walter goes to Norrell to rage at him for just that. Norrell tries to justify himself but it sounds very weak and self-serving. Norrell’s also worried about where Jonathan is, fearing retaliation. Childermass, somewhat randomly, asks where Drawlight is. To the debtor’s prison! Which is most unpleasant – hoping Drawlight knows where he is. He does have gossip about Jonathon taking drugs and potions and actively trying to make himself mad – since Drawlight has a skill for gossip they want to send him to find Jonathan. And Norrell goes further into the darkness – threatening Drawlight with magic if he doesn’t obey.

Jonathan has fled to Venice and is looking very very worse for wear indeed as he experiments with magic – watched by The Gentleman.

Also in Venice and English doctor James Greysteel and his daughter Flora decide to visit an old lady who is rather mentally unwell – surrounded by cats and squalor and eating the rats they leave. As he doctor and his daughter leave they find Jonathon arguing with his Venetian supplier and she offers to translate. The Venetian is warning him that the ingredients cause madness – which is exactly what Jonathan wants (so he can then see the fae and bring Arabella back. As plans go it has one or two teensy little flaws).

Since his supplier fell through they decide to have a meal together where he disturbs Dr. Greysteel by talking about his dead wife and his attempts to claim a fairy servant. He hears about the cat lady and they suggest he could cure her – but again, magic can’t cure madness, in fact it’s possible the old magicians didn’t think madness was a condition in need of curing but an asset. Flora adds her own insight seeming to agree, that madness can be an asset.

She is also fascinated with Jonathon and hopes to hang around. While he visits the Cat Lady so she can teach him madness. And my Jonathon can pull off creepy. He casts a rather terrible spell on her, turning her into a cat as she wished and taking the4 essence of her madness – a mouse, which he then eats. This will not end well – but he does spit it out to turn it into a potion so he can only take a small dose of madness. This will also not end well.

He summons The Gentleman – and can see him this time. The Gentleman seems quite put out by this. Jonathon hails The Gentleman’s power though he is more concerned with what magical object Jonathon has to see through his invisibility. He pokes random objects looking for it; Jonathon proposes summoning him again to formalise an alliance with a quite bizarre grin on his face. I think The Gentleman may be disturbed.

Ominously, back in London, Childermass’s tarot cards are all showing the Raven King’s symbol again.

At Honeycut and Segundus’s asylum Stephen speaks to Vinculus who continues to call Stephen a slave even as Stephen protests no man in England is enslaved – but also wants to know why Vinculus calls him “your Majesty” which suggests some connection with The Gentleman. Vinculus wants to be let go – and offers freedom from the fae in exchange. His ranting and rambling is not reassuring. Lady Pole continues to worry about Arabella – and the now missing Jonathon.

The Gentleman visits Stephen to rage about Jonathan’s arrogance demanding an alliance and rants about how Jonathan, like all foolish magicians will make a deal for something and then he will be in The Gentleman’s hands. This prompts Stephen to leave for London – and bring Vinculus with him. He asks Vinculus about how he knows about the Gentleman and he says he has a book – the Book of the Raven King which tells about the magicians and Stephen.

Back in Venice, Jonathon hurriedly borrows Flora – she seems quite content to go and her father quite bemused by the whole thing. He’s looking for clothes for Arabella while Flora praises Jonathon for his success; he also, prompted by her, says he will teach all the women and the poor men magic. They talk about restoring the Raven King, an ideal, rather than a person

Jonathon also hears news about Norrell destroying his book before summoning The Gentleman again. the Gentleman agrees to an arrangement and offers to give Jonathon anything he desires in exchange for a “little token.” Of course Jonathan wants Arabella restored to life which The Gentleman is quick to duck out of – it’s impossible for him to bring Arabella back from the dead (of course, because she’s not dead). This is everything that Jonathan has been working for since the fake Arabella died – his whole reason for contacting the fae. Jonathan is utterly, totally, brokenly tragic. Utterly perfectly so

While The Gentleman tries to tempt him with something else, Jonathan talks about Lady Pole and The Gentleman, trying to sharply change the subject, says it was a different matter – revealing he was involved in bringing her back to life. Jonathan is craftily cunning and demands The Gentleman give him what he last received when dealing with an English magician – The Gentleman tries to refuse but he has already made a binding offer, anything that Jonathan wants.

In between raging, Jonathan finds what The Gentleman brings him – Lady Pole’s missing finger, the token of his claim on her. Jonathan now drinks the entirety of his madness potion to inspire his magic, using the finger to guide him into the mirror lands. He follows it through the scarred and broken lands of the fae to arrive at The Gentleman’s ballroom and his eternal dance.

There he finds Stephen (who warns him that The Gentleman hates Jonathan) and Lady Pole – and Arabella, still enchanted and unable to recognise him. The Gentleman notices his uninvited guest and clears the room. Dramatic confrontation time – The Gentleman throws magic (a storm of leaves) at Jonathan until he vanishes: the Gentleman collapses gasping to Stephen that he has weakened Jonathan, dealt him “such a blow.”

Stephen wakes, despairing, next to Vinculus and demands the freedom he promises – demands to see the book. The book, by various oddities, is actually inscribed on Vinculus’s body. He is the book. He tells Stephen that his meaning is written on his skin like Stephen’s is – and Stephen sums up what his skin means starkly. After so long saying “he’s not a slave” and denying his condition, he harshly surmises that he will always be considered nothing because of his skin colour, no matter his accomplishments. Vinculus again repeats the promise that Stephen will be king.

Back in London, Norrell gets news that Jonathan is in Venice and that he’s hunting a fairy with which he will restore English magic and bring Norrell down. Norrell sees something in the waters showing him Venice and panics – he insists he must go back to Yorkshire with all his books while at the same time saying it’s all his doing.

In Venice there is a huge black tornado over the city, through the vortex the night sky can be seen. Flora runs towards the storm until she finds a dark threshold and crosses over into an odd, possibly fairy deserted Venice. There she finds Jonathan who gasps about Arabella being stolen and trapped. He both blames Norrell for his lies and accepts he was right – that fae are beyond control and are very dangerous

He rambles and rages and tells her she must go because he has been trapped in a tower of eternal night – the fairy’s curse. She can help him – but not yet – and he tells her to go (just as her father comes to collect her, holding him at gunpoint.

Things continue to be spooky.

Back to London again and Norrell is seeing the bright side – if Jonathan has been captured by the fae then he can’t use magic. Lascelles laughs at the idea that fairies exist. Norrell snaps at him. Lascelles also grumbles about Childermass running in unannounced – all the mirrors in the house are making ominous noises, which worries Norrell – and he insists the mirrors must not be broken.

The prime minister and Sir Walter go to Norrell to demand he reign in Jonathan – and Norrell snaps back that he warned them several times about disrespectful magic and they ignored him and this is the consequences (as the mirror creaks ominously behind them) and that Jonathan has been dealing with naughty bad evil beings. He does not know if he can stop Jonathan.
In Venice, Flora intends to stay – and she has a covered mirror she says is from Jonathan.

Drawlight is sucked into Jonathan’s prison to deal with the rather unhinged Jonathan – Jonathan has recruited him and tells him what the fairy is doing – and he is to tell Childermass everything and give a present to Lady Pole. He also intends to return magic to England – to open the doors. He throws in a few threats to convince Drawlight – and he says there are many magicians, everyone who wanted to learn, despite Norrell trying to silence them. And he warns Norell “I am coming”.

Steven and Vinculus go to a tree that Vinculus assures him is where he will meet someone about the whole king thing – and The Gentleman appears, looking quite worried. He says “all the doors shook”. Someone is apparently trying to open them which isn’t a good thing. Vinculus speaks to The Gentleman – English magic is returning and they taunt each other (well taunt and ramble), Vinculus also says The Gentleman’s story is also told in his book. The Gentleman decides to kill him, this doesn’t bother Vinculus.

The Gentleman hangs Vinculus and adds the rest of the prophecy – the magicians will fail. Stephen cries as The Gentleman returns them to the dance

In Norrell’s study, ravens (what Jonathan calls the messengers of the Raven King), shatter his mirror – and a flock of ravens surge into his study

Norrell’s quest for respectability has gone so far he has actually severely damaged his reputation in the process, actively sabotaging his quest. His obsession and his arrogance
have very neatly and very realistically undone exactly what he was trying to achieve. He is descending further into darkness and, gasp, disrespectability

In fact this whole episode seems to be about both wizards hurrying towards their own destruction, each representing such extremes in their schools of wizardry (order at all cost, power and chaos to the extreme) that they are destroying themselves. It’s interesting to think that if they had found a way to work together, to counter each other’s greatest excesses, they would have found some level of balance.

Interestingly with the Raven King being used as a symbol for the rioting dispossessed, we also have Jonathan pledging to teach women and poor men magic. There’s a definite thread of the Raven king being magic and empowerment for the marginalised – and the discussion of this makes me hope that Stephen, Lady Pole, Arabella and possibly even Flora may yet have an important role to play – but it’s very late in the season for it. We have a lot of nods to these concepts but not a lot of follow through especially with the action heating up so much

These messages also bring a whole new slant to the idea of respectability vs chaos – it’s also one of privilege vs underclass – Norrell uses his wealth, privilege and status to suppress those beneath him, to control people, to intimidate them, happily sacrificing people like Stephen and Lady Pole in the process. While the Raven King is used as a banner for those fighting for freedom – not just Jonathan and his legion of magicians, but Stephen and Lady Pole and the workers rising up. Order, in Norrell's respectable view, also means control, very tight, narrow control with very few in power