About a third of the way into the first series finale of Rev., Adam tells Colin while sitting in a bar that he feels like a “remnant of something people used to believe.” It’s a smaller moment in an episode that often leans toward the broadly comic (in a way that almost undermines what the script is going for), but it’s perhaps the most skillfully executed in the whole first series. Of course Adam would doubt his calling. Of course he’d want to take a day or two off and find that he couldn’t. And of course he would take out all of his dissatisfaction on the people who are the most faithful to him, the most “on his side,” as it were. He lashes out in various ways at everybody else in the cast in the episode, and it’s only because we’ve seen how much he means to them—and, crucially—they to him that we buy that they’ll forgive him when the episode ends.
As made explicitly clear in the first episode of the series, Rev.’s most important conversation is one between Adam and someone who doesn’t talk back, someone who might, indeed, not even exist. The more Adam tosses his prayers into the void, the less it seems like he’s getting the answers he might want. Sure, his prayers are “answered” most of the time, but they’re rarely answered in a way that could give him the encouragement he clearly wants from God, and they’re occasionally answered in a way that would suggest if there’s a God up there, he’s actively trying to screw with the vicar. He reaches a breaking point in “Is The Answer Jesus, Sir?” (which has been retitled “Ever Been To Nando’s” by Hulu, in one of the few re-titlings that makes any sense), and even if Alex says he does this every six months or so, this one seems worse than what we might imagine the usual to be.
Adam’s job is a “calling.” It’s not something he can back off of if he wants a day off. It’s an extension of who he is. The episode has a fascinating runner about how people are often just extensions of their uniforms, how the clothes they wear for their jobs define them in the eyes of the public more than who they actually are. See a police officer’s badge, and you know exactly where you stand in relation to that person. See a vicar’s collar, on the other hand, and the relationship is almost more about what the vicar can give you than what you can give him. The relationship with the police officer is at least reciprocal on one level: Commit a crime, and he’ll arrest you. Don’t, and he won’t. But Adam’s relationship with his parishioners is one where he’s constantly giving and they’re constantly taking. It’s wearing him down. How could it not?
The breaking point appears to be a review on a website that goes around and looks at local pastors, then grades their services. On a scale of 1 to 10, Adam has received a -1, and though he insists the anonymous reviewer went to his church on his one off day, nobody else seems to much buy this explanation. Both Nigel and the arch-deacon make the same joke about how Adam’s doing a good job of pretending to be a vicar when they hear about a man who’s wandering the neighborhood and impersonating a man of the cloth, and they laugh about it. Everyone else in Adam’s life thinks he shouldn’t make so much of the review. It’s just some dumb, snarky blogger who attended one bad sermon by happenstance. Who cares?
But Adam’s going through something much deeper and more troubling than simply fretting over a bad review. One of the best things in the episode is when he sits in thoughtful prayer and his concerns go from the personal to the global. Why did someone give him a bad review? Why are there no more bumblebees? Why are women in Africa raped in horrifying ways and to a horrifying degree? The problems keep getting larger and larger, more and more unsolvable. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that to be a vicar is to admit that you believe in God, yes, but you also don’t really understand why God allows so many awful things to happen in the world, that religion has taken some stabs at the whole “why is there evil?” question but has yet to satisfactorily answer it while keeping an all-powerful man in the sky as a central tenet of any given faith. But it’s also a wry nudge to remind us that the only reason Adam’s really thinking about this stuff is because he’s having a shitty couple of days. The global is what’s truly important and awful here, but Adam only gets there once he thinks about his own problems.
Everything that follows vacillates between the deeply profound and the very, very silly. Tom Hollander is a marvelously gifted physical comedian, but it still feels a bit odd to watch Adam polish off drink after drink and do an embarrassingly awful dance at the “Tarts and Vicars” party he insists Ellie hold in the church. Furthermore, his increasingly brazen flirting with Ellie is very nearly a step too far. The show has done such a great job of building the two as professional colleagues while still giving hints that Adam has the tiniest bit of a crush on her that to make the whole thing text instead of subtext seemed like a dangerous move. (That said, it was really great to have Alex be much less annoyed by her husband hitting on another woman than she was by the fact that he wouldn’t just snap out of his existential funk.) Yet the broad comedy—Adam falling over in a chair or Nigel trying to join Adam on the dance floor—kept things from getting too turgid. It’s a mix that shouldn’t work, yet does, remarkably.
It all ends in another way that should feel like a fairly big cheat, as the dying woman whose health Adam has mostly been avoiding dealing with throughout the episode finally succumbs, after Adam is able to administer last rites to her (because the police officer came to find him and take him to her bedside). It’s an enormously blatant version of a story conceit that rarely works—hey, you think your problems are bad, well, look at this guy, served with a side of see, you didn’t know how important you were after all!—but Rev. makes it so small and beautiful and powerful that it works. When Adam refuses the police officer’s offer of a drink, it’s the moment when he puts off his crisis again to resume his calling. He may never have the answers. He may never be overwhelmed by God and may continue being underwhelmed. But he has a calling that extends as much to the people of his congregation as it does to anything unseen, and so long as he has that and keeps his eye on it, he’ll be fine.
- I’m amazed by how thoroughly Miles Jupp’s portrayal of Nigel works in concert with the writing to keep a character who could be a terrible, over-the-top person within this universe from becoming that. Nigel feels absolutely a part of this world, yet also as if he could only exist in this world.
- Colin’s final moment with Adam in the police car also felt note perfect. After Adam says such mean things to him earlier in the episode, he gets to realize the only reason Colin’s always hanging around is because he’s so needy for some of what he imagines Adam to have. (And of course Colin was the person impersonating the vicar. Who else would it have been?)
- Both Alex and the Arch-Deacon get their fair share of wry punchlines in this episode, and I’m starting to think the success of an episode of this show is tied directly to how many asides these two get.