Our protagonist Marlott decides to go visit the ailing William Blake. I have to call minor shenanigans at this – I mean you find that one of the missing girls has read a poem by William Blake and she has a dress the same colour so you go interview the author?
It’s a bit surreal especially with Blake maundering on about several kids disappearing and how it’s all the fault of a Beast with a Man’s Face and he needs to know the truth of the beast to find her.
William Blake then kicks the bucket and decides to leave his last work to this complete stranger on his death bed. And absolutely no-one considers that maybe someone should check that whole “sound mind and body” thing.
The last work is called “Prometheus”.
Let’s continue that theme with Marlott also visiting the office of the Home Office Pathologist (I’m not even sure why), Sir William. Instead he finds Sir William’s cousin Mr. Garnett there who we’re supposed to be all suspicious about because he gives Marlott shit for being a complete stranger in an important man’s office.
Beyond telling us we should see Mr Garnett who doesn’t want random strangers scuffing the furnishings, we learn that Sir William keeps creepy preserved body parts in formadehyde (because Regency Pathologist. This is not really unusual) and that he has a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus
I’m actually surprised to see that Frankenstein exists as a fictional creation within the world. That is unusual and really does turn the whole story on it’s head. Clearly we’re not going to run across a Victor Frankenstein in a basement somewhere making monsters.
But seeing this book, Marlott decides he absolutely needs to check this out – and he doesn’t even know what’s in it beyond it has the word “Prometheus”.
This is all just a little abstract a little too soon. I mean, it’s the second episode and Marlott has started paying attention to his mercury hallucinations – and he KNOWS he’s hallucinating. We know he’s hallucinating so why are we treating the hallucination as relevant? And now he’s looking at a poet’s very tangentially related last work and deciding to check out a book just because the city’s pathologist happens to be reading it. Is he so out of leads (well, yes) that he’s flailing this desperately?
I think we needed more pushing to the woo-woo before we start going this abstract and Marlott pursuing this many weird possibilities.
Meanwhile poor Nightingale is not filling with faith this character will be well used – he literally spends the whole book following people (and it would help if the show didn’t present him as the Only Black Man in London. Honestly how the hell was he supposed to unobtrusively follow ANYONE?).
But we do have a vague lead by laying a trap to allow Marlott to speak to a Grave Robber. Not a specific one. Not one who particularly knows a lot that’s useful. But he does tell them that he’s being undercut by competition who have super-duper-suspiciously fresh corpses. So there is someone out there doing some murdering for the sake of bodies to sell.
To back up on that we also have the girl from last episode, wearing Alice’s dress who works for Black Fagin, Billy who confirms to him that kids are disappearing. We needed her to tell us this? She’s wearing a dead girl’s dress after said girl went missing! No-one needed these dots connecting.
What we do get is some information about the grave robbers – like what a very comfortable living that said grave robber is making and how he isn’t doing anything wrong (except when he took a spoon hidden on a body)
This is actually almost true in an amusing/horrifying fashion. “Stealing bodies” wasn’t theft because, no, bodies are not property. It WAS still a misdemeanour though – but it’s a fine the apparently wealthy grave robber could probably pay since selling bodies is lucrative. But, yes, grave robbers literally avoided taking things like jewellery that may be buried with the corpse because THAT is theft.
We still don’t have a lot of information and Marlott pretty much proves this by just scatter shotting ALL THE THEORIES at Sir Peel.
The main issue of this episode, I think, as brought by Lady Hervey making a desperate plea to Marlott to throw his career in the bin to try and defeat Sir Peel’s new law.
Ok can I take a moment to return to my previous point about unnecessary abstractness and kind of forcing this whole spooky woo-wooness? Well we have the same here with the moral quandary of Sir Peel’s law – namely why the hell is Lady Hervey deciding to take tea in the lowly lodgings of a lowly police office and expect his lowly self to be able to do anything about this law? Why does she think he has this level of pull? Or is she paying unannounced courtesy calls to everyone who works for the Home Office? Again it feels like something not very backed by the story but the writers want to get it in there
And it’s good what’s there – don’t get me wrong. Obviously in a much more religious era the idea of cutting open the bodies of the poor, denying them a proper burial and therefore resurrection and going to Heaven is terrible. As one campaigner puts it, Sir Warbutton (who is definitely a baddy and not making bread), it makes Heaven a place for the rich people only
If you’re less spiritual there’s another issue – Sir Peel’s wonderful idea that all doctors should be regulated. This sounds like an excellent idea – no more untrained saw bones conning people and doing weird and wrong things to people’s bodies. Except… trained surgeons cost money. What will this do to the, admittedly less than ideal (but hey, 18th century. “Less than ideal” is kind of the motto of medicine in the 18th century) medicine available to the poorest in society? Even less than ideal, this may be the only medicine they can access to.
Look at those moral debates – this is definitely going to be a difficult one to chew out.
The spiritual side is also telling to Marlott who is full of angst and guilt and sadness because a) hallucination and b) his wife and child are dead. Apparently from syphilis – which they may have caught from him. So he is both looking for redemption and a nice heavenly afterlife where he can be with his family again
We have one other element – Marlott attends an anatomy lecture about nerves – and sees that bodies can move when you apply electric current – just like he saw last episode. Which is spooky for him. He also sees more evidence of protest against the surgeons and their law – paid for by someone (most likely one of those protecting aristocrats).
This also introduces him to Boz, a journalist tracking the whole story and Marlott’s new contact. And English Literature scholars take note – Boz was one of the pen-names of Charles Dickens
My fellow Dickens haters, yes, shocking though it may be, this man who broke records for his overwritten long winded books did actually manage to write, presumably, brief articles. Yes I’m shocked too – he must have had one hell of an editor.
I find myself in a position where I am liking a lot about this show – but it’s kind of convoluted how it is keeping this plot together and making it work