Look. I like The Hour a lot. I really do. But the second episode of the second series was chockablock with things that people might use to make fun of The Hour. There was the crime subplot, which continues to feel extraneous, despite directly involving one of the three main characters. There was a scene where Freddie read to Camille from Allen Ginsberg as the two lolled in bed together. There was another random subplot about fascists that was interesting, sure, but didn’t really go anywhere (unless this is going to be yet another major story thread for the season). There were the sorts of jagged character development that are typical for six-episode drama seasons, but that will always feel disjointed, no matter how good the actors. And there were several scenes of Marnie landing a job as the host of a cooking show, like the cut-rate Betty Draper she is. If you were of a mind to mock the show for its pretensions, you could hardly do worse than starting here.
I’m not of a mind to do so, though. So while I rolled my eyes at least once at all of the above—and especially at poor Romola Garai having to figure out a way to play Bel Rowley: Detective—I still found myself largely enjoying the episode. The crime storyline is just something I’m going to have trouble making myself care about because it adds yet another layer of characters to a story that already has too little time to do as much as it might with the characters it has. While it’s interesting to see that the Commander is the guy who’s involved with Kiki, and while the storyline about Bel apparently trying to uncover some sort of underground pornography ring (that also seems to extend into prostitution, surprise, surprise) at least displays Bel’s investigative smarts more than anything in season one, it’s still hard to grasp just why she cares once Hector’s out of jail. She cares because she’s supposed to, and after some of the goofiness surrounding the spy story in season one, I’m finding it hard to care myself about this once Hector’s off the hook.
The best reason to watch The Hour, though, is still for the character development, and the character stuff in this episode is mostly very rich. I love the way the show is toying around with the fact that Bel and Hector used to be lovers—and that Marnie was aware of that fact and vaguely sort of okay with it, or at least as okay as any wife would be with her husband sleeping with someone else—without having the two sit down and talk about their feelings. Their former connection gives a charge to every scene they share, even if they never get back together again (and I hope they don’t), and it casts Hector’s increasingly desperate drinking and carousing into sharp relief. Last season, he wasn’t doing this, perhaps because he was in love with The Hour and infatuated with Bel. Now, his marriage is dying, if not already dead, he’s unlikely to ever sleep with Bel again, and he’s lost his passion for The Hour. When he returns to the club—the club whose showgirl he was accused of beating, mind—it feels like the act of a man who has nowhere else to turn, so he simply decides to get back on the boat headed toward the waterfall.
Meanwhile, the perils of six-episode seasons and character development were most evident in the Freddie and Camille side of things. Camille was held back as a surprise for last week’s episode, which wasn’t a bad call, even if it was obvious that Freddie had gotten married from right around the first time he appeared in the episode. However, this means that we only get five episodes to really delve into who Camille is, and even less if she heads away in order to facilitate the hookup of Freddie and Bel, a hookup prophesied by Winston Churchill himself. Thus, in the grand tradition of character shorthand, we mostly find out that Camille is really French. We know this because Bel tells us at a dinner party, and because she throws things at Freddie and yells at him about how he’s in love with his stupid Hour. (We also know this because the actress playing Camille is French, she has a French accent, and her name is Camille. Duh.) In a 10- or 13-episode season, we’d get a good sense of how Freddie and Camille’s relationship works. In a six-episode season, we mostly just get told that it works and then get dropped into the middle of Freddie reading his bride Ginsberg, the same day she through a cup at him. True love!
I can’t complain too much about Freddie and Camille because they also led to one of my favorite things about the episode, a sneering fascist kid whom Freddie decides to put on TV, because why the hell not? The government doesn’t want fascists on TV. They fought a war against this sort of tripe, and there’s no good reason to start promoting it now. But Bel and Mr. Brown convince the board members to simply sit through a taping of a confrontation between Freddie and the fascist, a confrontation that ends with Shay coming in to explain just why he loves the U.K. Is it a little schmaltzy and self-congratulatory? Yes. It plays just a little too “Way to go, Britain!” to wholly work for those of us from other countries, but it would all be worth it—and I seriously mean “all,” like, even if this show had turned into a weird vampire drama—if only for the scene where Mr. Brown talks to the fascist about when he once knew an angry young man. Peter Capaldi is so good with so little dialogue, and Abi Morgan’s writing is giving him sentences with snap. It’s fun to watch him toy with them.
But, of course, the true reason to be into this is for those blessed moments between Bel and Freddie, when Garai contorts her mouth into seemingly impossible shapes to say “stupid” when letting Freddie know she wishes he had called before getting married. Garai seems to be having fun enough playing the little scenes where she walks around and questions prostitutes and showgirls, but she’s much better grounded as a character back at the office. This is a show about lonely workaholics who are bound together by a greater mission they don’t really understand. It seems oddly appropriate that this episode would end with Freddie rehearsing lines he’s already said, Hector falling back into his old patterns, and Bel eating chips with the nice ITV man. Bel’s always the one stepping forward, even if those steps aren’t going to always take her exactly where she needs to go.
- Romola Garai in glasses watch: Yes. She even looked at old-timey pornography through them, which is totally the best reason to get old-timey glasses.
- Ben Whishaw with a beard watch: Sadly, the beard is gone. We do get a short shot of him smoothing his hair, which I know will entertain those of you who enjoy his lovely mane.
- Marnie now has a television show. I’m not entirely sure where the series is going with this, but the scene where she got her husband out of jail, then read him the riot act, was probably the best scene we’ve gotten from the character in both seasons. More of this Marnie, please!
- ITV guy has a dead wife and a living daughter, or so Lix seems to intimate. You’d think he’d be spending a little more time with his kid if she exists.
- That opening cocktail party scene was a lot of fun. I just enjoy seeing this cast hang out and bounce lines off of each other.
- Isaac is writing plays, but he doesn’t really want Freddie to read them. The folks down in drama have a little more experience, don’t you think? Sorry, Freddie.
- So: Who of the many, many recurring players this season is going to be “in on it”? I think it’s obvious ITV guy is in on it. I don’t know how, but all of the weird mystery surrounding him is just begging for an episode-five reveal. (Okay, so it’s not so much “mystery” as a describing his daughter like she was an odd woodland creature. But I’ll take what I can get!)