Every season, the Drama After Dark team gathers ‘round the (currently virtual) conference room table to watch the latest and greatest in British dramas. This month we’re covering MASTERPIECE’s remake of the classic series All Creatures Great and Small. The series does not disappoint, with eccentric characters, adorable animals, and the vast, rolling hills of Yorkshire. I’m stepping in to recap the season as it happens, while Jackie Bruleigh will be your guide in recapping Miss Scarlet and the Duke (and don’t miss us both covering the latter on this season of Drama After Dark!).
It’s Christmas Eve in Darrowby… but you could never tell by looking at it! As Sweet Baby James sets off into the field for his first visit of the day, there’s not a stitch of snow on the ground; just sunshine and gorgeous rolling hills, quaint farms and happy little animals, per usual.
[Pardon the writer for a moment as she gazes out at the snow beyond her window and contemplates the possibility of wintering in Yorkshire next year.]
SBJ’s first patient for the day is Susie, a precious, very pregnant English Shepherd. Her owners are an equally adorable couple of empty-nesters, and my vote for series spin-off: Bert, gruff and foot-in-mouth, and Anne, gentle but with a snark that matches her husbands’ grumpiness. As only makes sense, Anne cuts right through her husbands grumpy bluster, revealing that Susie is basically his new baby ever since their kids left home. Adorbs!
Back at the clinic, Miss Ma’am and Horrible Boss bicker over an envelope that has arrived in the post — one that, apparently, contains Leslie/Tristan’s grades. But despite Horrible Boss’ assertion that Christmas is supposed to be all funny hats and family arguments (good point; well made), Miss Ma’am begs him to put the arguing on the back-burner until after the holiday. HB concedes, but it’s only after she leaves to squirrel away the letter that we see why: a package, carefully wrapped under the tree, from Miss Ma’am to her son, Edward.
Well, this can only end spectacularly or terribly.
Heading into the street to buy the groceries for their Christmas feast, Miss Ma’am and Horrible Boss run into a rather inebriated Leslie/Tristan, returning from his foray to the city. Though the poor sot suspects that his marks have arrived, HB and MM lie through their collective teeth, saying that the holiday has held up the post. Oh noooo!
As Leslie/Tristan moseys away from the grocery-bound pair, blissfully ignorant, he bumps into SBJ in the square. Surprise and delight are exchanged, particularly at the fact that James hasn’t yet fled town. Why you might ask? Well, L/T has your answer: it seems that Helen and Neville have decide to add insult to injury, and are planning to be married on Christmas Day. Because what everyone wants to do with their holiday is go to your wedding, I’m so sure.
As much as Sweet Baby James isn’t exactly keen on the upcoming nuptials, it seems that he’s been endeavoring to keep his mind off the event by continuing to see Cheek-Kiss Connie from last episode. It seems, however that L/T has not been so ‘lucky.’ In fact, when they see Sly Girl selling bushels of mistletoe in the square, she immediately gives him the brush off. In a weird fit of revenge, Leslie/Tristan buys her whole lot of plants to decorate the house with.
I guess that’s one way to ‘catch’ a girl?
Later, the clock ticks down to party time, and Miss Ma’am adds to a growing spread of finger foods on the pantry table; Leslie/Tristan hangs the mistletoe with care; and Horrible Boss dresses up in a classic Father Christmas get-up, deputizing L/T to be his elf. In no time, the house is filled with merry adults and giggling children — the latter of whom are queuing up to get an orange from a tippling Father Christmas.
That is, except for one. Sly Girl’s younger brother, a wee lad named David, skulks around the edges of the party in a Joseph from the Nativity get-up. When he’s offered the chance to sit with Father Christmas, he balks and runs away. A mystery is afoot!
Meanwhile, Dorothy has arrived to gossip with Miss Ma’am as they lay food out around the house. It seems that Miss Ma’am’s son, Edward, has promised to be in attendance tonight. And while Dorothy thinks he should owe Ma’am some groveling, it’s clear that Miss Ma’am is just excited to see her boy. Quite excited; when the bell rings, it’s a mad dash to the front door, only to wind up greeting Helen, Jenny, their Da’, and Neville.
If I’m being honest, the amount of hope she’s pinning on this visit is making me very wary indeed.
As Helen settles in chatting with Connie and SBJ, we find out that quite a bit has gone into this wedding — at least on Neville’s side. The whole town is going to be in attendance at the church, and then at a pig roast down at the pub after. Well… the whole town minus Sweet Baby James. It seems that SBJ is required back in Glasgow for the holiday, a statement that we suspect is somewhere between the truth and an excuse. Which, fair enough — it’s not every day you have to watch a girl you’re head-over-heels for marry another man.
I’m sure that, in this party of painful interactions, I’m not the only one who’s thankful when the phone rings in the hall.
Said phone call happens to be Bert, the farmer from the beginning of the episode. It seems Susie, our precious preggo shepherd, began giving birth… but it’s not going smoothly. While the party’s just getting started, and Connie is rather put out (but not enough to deign to traipse about a farm, apparently), Sweet Baby James heard the call to duty, and is off to gather his things.
But like all things in his life, SBJ can’t even seem to escape the party easily. As he goes to gather his tools, he finds Helen sulking in the clinic, watching the snow fall. And it seems like the only thing colder than the view is her feet: “Everyone wants to talk about the wedding. I’d just rather talk about anything but.” And while SBJ is 100% ride-or-die, even he knows this is not a topic he wants to be chatting about. But when he tries to tactfully leave, Helen is having none of it.
So really, what other option does he have but to take her along on his house call?
The upside of Sweet Baby James absconding with the bride-to-be is that it gives Miss Ma’am some temporary respite from her Edward concerns. Where are those two going to, and why?! Is this for romance? Cold feet? Some queer Glaswegian bachelorette ritual? If she was the fainting sort, I swear she’d be in full swoon right now.
It’s as all this mishegas is going on that Leslie/Tristan spots little David, Sly Girl’s mysteriously quiet younger brother, loitering by the front door. But this time, when Leslie/Tristan checks on him, he doesn’t run away — he actually speaks! It seems that in the midst of the town’s nativity scene, his donkey has taken ill… and David is convinced that it’s all his fault. L/T to the rescue!
Up in the Dales, Helen and James arrive at Bert and Anne’s just in time to find that Susie struggling to birth the first puppy of her litter. It seems that he’s a heavyweight (for a puppy, at least) and has gotten stuck in poor Susie’s birth canal. Yikes! James and Helen get to work right away trying everything to get Susie’s pup’s birthed.
Finally, James goes in with the forceps, a practice that good ole Bert notes as “bloody medieval.” And he’s not wrong — but neither is Anne when she reminds him that men don’t have to do any of the work, just smoke and drink and get handed a cute little baby at the end of the whole thing. I knew I liked her.
What I like less is that, despite her worry for Susie, Anne doesn’t miss the opportunity to remind Helen that this time next year, it‘ll probably be her giving birth. And, as I’m sure you can imagine, Helen is simply delighted by this comparison.
James finally gets the wee puppy birthed, only to find it’s not breathing. And while James can feel a heartbeat, it takes a bit of work — and Susie’s mother’s touch — to get the little guy going. Now she’s ready to begin birthing the other pups.
Back down at the practice, Horrible Boss has finished his Father Christmas act, and is finally back in his civvies. Just as he plucks up the courage to hit Dorothy up with what I’m sure would be the smoothest, non-cranky pick-up line ever, Leslie/Tristan appears on the scene, dragging HB away to see about David’s donkey.
So, naturally, once HB makes it to his patient, it seems like his bedside manner is a bit too brusque for the shy David. All the boy can mutter is “I didn’t mean for it to happen,” which, while endearing, is less than helpful when it comes to diagnosing sick animals. With a huff, Horrible Boss turns the patient over to L/T, flouncing back in the house, presumably to peer around corners at Dorothy.
Alas for him, Miss Ma’am has finally calmed down enough to take him in hand. Catching him in said act of peering around corners, she forces two glasses of champagne into his hands and tells him to put up or shut up. How does he take it? Well…
HB: The flesh is willing, but the spirit is lacking.
With his excuses falling on deaf ears, Horrible Boss finally forces himself to Dorothy’s side. Once there, he commences to make downright painful small talk: putting down L/T’s capabilities and then comparing relationships to parasitic plants. Needless to say, after about five minutes of this conversation, Dorothy remembers why she’s single and is off to ‘check on’ Miss Ma’am. Smart girl.
Back outside, Leslie/Tristan is still working on getting David to talk, though now they’ve gathered a crowd of what appears to be all of the town’s children, still in their nativity garb. And as we all know, L/T works best when he has an audience. In a stroke of genius, L/T relates to the bashful boy that, even though he used to also be quite shy, he has a magic mask that lets him pretend to be anyone he likes. Someone brave, someone funny. Someone who can speak up. L/T let’s David ‘try on’ his mask — and David finally summons the courage to tell him what’s wrong. Apparently his donkey, Bob, got a taste of mistletoe, and was eating what remained of Sly Girls’ crop that morning.
Up in the dales, Helen and James are getting ready to leave Anne and Bert’s, now that Susie is back on track with her puppies. But when they walk out the front door, they find themselves in a veritable pea-soup of fog. And Anne and Bert both suspect that they won’t be making it home that night.
…Which bodes great for Helen’s Christmas morning wedding, I assure you.
Calling back to the clinic, James lets Miss Ma’am know where they are. She gives him a good whatfor, as is her right. After apologies, Sweet Baby James tells her his plan for getting Helen to the alter in time — but when she asks that SBJ promise he won’t do something he’ll regret? Well, his answer, or lack thereof, leaves something to be desired.
Heading back to Bert and Anne’s, James reassures Helen. And while she does seem a bit flustered, we get the feeling that it’s not about being caught out the night before the wedding.
As they settle in for the long night ahead of them, Bert falls asleep in his chair, and Anne goes about lighting candles through the living room for Helen and James to see by. As she goes, she relates to Helen and James the difficulty of her and Bert’s romance. As a woman of color, people didn’t approve of her relationship with local-boy Bert. But as she says, love doesn’t come from the eyes — it comes from the heart.
Anne’s eyes may not have been where her love for Bert came from, but they are still pretty keen. When Helen goes to the kitchen to fill the tea kettle, she turns her smirk on James.
Anne: Does she know?
When denial doesn’t work, James resorts to puppy eyes. Thankfully, Anne takes pity on him, resorting to pointed looks as Helen comes back with the tea. As the night goes on, Susie finally births all her puppies, happy and healthy. When Bert and Anne finally head off to bed, Helen can’t help but comment about how they’re still so in love.
Makes one think, huh Helen?
Back at the clinic, folks are beginning to leave for midnight mass. And when Sly Girl comes to pick up David, she discovers him entertaining the other children by the fireplace with sleight of hand tricks. Looks like the magic mask lives up to its name!
As Dorothy takes her leave for the night from Miss Ma’am, we discover that, sadly, things went for MM about as expected — Edward never showed. And while Miss Ma’am makes excuses for her boy, it’s quite clear that she is rather hurt.
It’s only as the women close the door behind them that Horrible Boss finally gathers the gumption to emerge from… wherever it is that he’s been sulking. Catching Dorothy just before she gets in her car, he apologizes for his inattentiveness, and then proceeds to stumble over a mixed bag of nouns and conjunctions. Luckily, he’s in good hands with Dorothy. She charms him into calming down, into admitting that he’s quite taken with her, and finally into kissing her.
Up in the dales, Helen and James trade the small details of their lives. And as they talk about the things they would change if they could, James says, “I might have told you…”
And finishes with, “that going up to the high Dales the night before your wedding was a very bad idea.”
With that mood killer, they decide to go to sleep: Helen on the couch, James in a chair by the door.
At the clinic, Tristan is ‘cleaning up’ after the party (aka, finishing any unfinished drinks that are lying about), when he finds himself standing under the mistletoe. And just in time, too. Before he can take the branch down, Sly Girl rushes in through the door. Seeing him, she smiles, and they embrace. A lovely Christmas gift, indeed.
Meanwhile, it seems that the whole town has gathered for midnight mass. As they sing through the standards, we see Miss Ma’am standing alone in her pew. Looking at the happy families in the church, her cheery countenance slowly fades. But just as her voice cracks on the song, a helping hand and shoulder to cry on arrive: Horrible Boss, who grasps the psalm book and takes the seat beside her.
As the night winds down, and HB and MM leave the church, she finally comes clean on just why she and Edward are estranged. It seems that the wretched boy stole from her previous employer; and when Miss Ma’am turned him in, he got sent to prison for six months. But when she apologizes for not telling not-so-Horrible Boss sooner, he tuts at her. Who else would put up with him?
The next morning, Sweet Baby James wakes Helen with a cup of tea. The fog has lifted, but even that can’t seem to make Helen smile.
Down at the clinic, Miss Ma’am is making another immaculate feast — honestly, if Edward doesn’t want her as his mum, I’ll take her — I only steal hearts!
Horrible Boss rolls into the kitchen, tutting about SBJ and Helen, and grumping about Leslie/Tristan. When the last young man in question comes in from checking on Bob the Donkey, HB makes a crack decision: they’re going to look at L/T’s grades.
Yeah, sure, that’s a great plan for Christmas morning. [end sarcasm]
Standing by the fire, HB cracks the seal and gives the pronouncement — Leslie/Tristan has passed! But while L/T takes a toast to himself, our own joy is short-lived. Horrible Boss glances at the letter once more, revealing that Leslie/Tristan actually failed Parasitology, and only just squeaked by a passing grade in Pathology.
HB burns the letter. Just what does he have up his sleeve?!
Shortly thereafter, Jenny arrives with her Father, who is wringing his hands over Helen’s whereabouts. And he should be, too — for she and Sweet Baby James come crashing through the door with only moments to spare. As Helen is whisked up to change, James skulks in behind her, pale-faced and glum. Ignoring Mrs. Ma’am’s glare and Tristan’s smirk, he accepts a glass of sherry from Horrible Boss and grimly stares out the front window.
As his adoptive family gathers around him, SBJ summons the iron determination of a Jane Austen hero, and casually mentions that he’s fine, he’s just considering staying in town instead of taking the long drive home. Mrs. Ma’am and Horrible Boss immediately jump in to convince him otherwise, HB even offering up the Rover as incentive. Our boy does as he’s told and sets off, just as the church bells start to chime.
But Sweet Baby James doesn’t get far before he finally, finally, decides to listen to himself for once, pulling a swift three-point turn and racing back to Darrowby. As soon as he arrives at the church, he’s greeted by a smirking brothers Farnon. Just what is going on?
Heading into the church, James’ finds out just what he missed — it seems that Helen ended the whole shebang at the altar. And it’s there that James’ finds her, sitting in a pew. “I told you I’d make a fool of meself,” she says.
As she cries, James comforts her, before escorting her outside to her father and Jenny.
Back at the clinic, the whole gang welcome him back with paper crackers and a delicious dinner. In true form, Leslie/Tristan pokes fun, Horrible Boss makes a speech that is both charming and insulting, and Miss Ma’am scolds them both.
We leave them by the fire, listening to George VI’s Christmas Speech as it closes: “[We] wish you… health and prosperity, in the years that lie ahead.”
And with that, I leave YOU, dear reader. Until we meet again, keep that fire crackling, tea steeped just so, and forceps ever at the ready.
Read the recap of All Creatures Great and Small, Episode 6 here.
Read the recap of All Creatures Great and Small, Episode 5 here.
Read the recap of All Creatures Great and Small, Episode 4 here.
Read the recap of All Creatures Great and Small, Episode 3 here.
Read the recap of All Creatures Great and Small, Episode 2 here.
Read the recap of All Creatures Great and Small, Episode 1 here.