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“Duncan MacHugh” may be the most stereotypically Canadian name it is possible to assemble without using any of the top five most stereotypically Canadian names. That, plus the total absence of anyone named Duncan or MacHugh from the books this series is based on, make this an intriguing Episode 8.

. . .
We begin with fog. Emily's walking in some mist and ferns, thinking about a condemned man-- the titular Duncan MacHugh? We don't know yet.

“He must be bad,” she thinks. “He killed somebody. Maybe he started out good, but a lot of bad things happened to him along the way.” She arrives at a prison with a noose dangling theatrically in front of it, and the shadow of a man in the window. (Wait till Elizabeth finds out where you've been!) “. . .He's in there now. Waiting. Waiting without hope. He walks back and forth, inside the wall. It's the last thing he'll ever see.”

So the Tale of Duncan MacHugh is going to be a Johnny Cash song.

TV Emily sees a lot more of the dark side of life than Book Emily, who practically had a panic attack when she found out that

. . .Ilse's mother had (ALLEGEDLY) run away with another man when Ilse was a baby. When she hears her waspish great-aunt Nancy relate this rumor, she is so distracted by it she can't eat or sleep for days.

After all, she grew up in a tiny house in the country with her perfect-but-consumptive father and the memory of her loving-but-dead mother. She's had very little contact with other children and their less-than-ideal families. Ilse is her first really close friend, after the false start of Rhoda Stuart, and the rumor about Ilse's mother (which Ilse doesn't yet know about but which is well-known among the grownups) is a real shock to Emily.

Anyway, back in ETV-land, Ilse shows up to help with the exposition. I really like the girl who plays Ilse. We learn that the Mystery Shadow Man “killed a preacher” and will now pay “the ultimate ultimate price.” Ilse relishes the thought of his torture, but Emily whispers at the camera that he must be scared to death. Then there's some cheesy fog effects and the guy's face and Emily screams and runs off. ROLL CREDIT SEQUENCE.

Outside the school. A little boy is limping around with a lunch bucket. Some girls taunt him about being the son of a murderer and a future murderer. Any bets that our Core Four will come to the rescue?

Surprisingly enough, they don't. Good gritty realism, ETV! Miss Brownell has a nice moment where she glares at the girls and puts her hand on the little boy's back. Good humanization, actress playing Miss Brownell!

The little boy is the titular Duncan, and according to Rhoda Stuart, his mother was a sinner and he's the child of her sin-- a defect. According to Ilse? “You're the defect!” Rhoda says that Aunt Elizabeth knows all about it. Come on, don't make Elizabeth do all the exposition! It isn't in character! Why don't they ever let Jimmy do the exposition?

Hey, Miss Brownell! Good quote from Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Are we going to get a sympathetic role for Miss Brownell in this one? Oh, no, she's just going to talk about the necessity of capital punishment while Emily looks distraught.

Luckily, Perry is here to ask how you get to be an executioner, miss. La Brownell doesn't dignify this with a response.

Then Duncan stands up to ask what the murderer's name is. She doesn't know-- McGrath or something.

“Or. . .McHugh?” says one of the mean girls. The class laughs; Duncan pees his pants; Duncan sits down despondent. Then Miss Brownell tells him he'll have to clean it up, and he runs out of the schoolhouse. Poor Duncan.

On the way home, Ilse is indignant about Duncan's awfulness. “He ought to be dug up and put in a pot,” she says vehemently. Emily can't understand why she's so angry. And Duncan himself is watching from a tree as they pass.

Here's Duncan coming home. He tells his mother the other kids pushed him in a creek, but it was his own fault. She's lying in bed when he comes in, but she gets up and puts a shawl on when he comes in. “Don't make me go back,” he says. But I guess the county is after her. She doesn't want trouble with the county. He asks if his father is really dead, and she pulls him onto her lap and asked if someone's been saying anything different. Guess she doesn't like talking about it, and seems unwilling to confirm his death. I really, really hope he's not a Murray this time.

Cut scene. Aunt Laura with a piglet in her arms-- aaaaw! Emily gets to feed it, and learns about the plight of the runt. My goodness, that piglet is cute. I guess Elizabeth knows Duncan's mother, and they had a fight, but she doesn't like to talk about it? Of course she doesn't like to talk about it. She is Elizabeth Murray. She is the combined emotional repression of the entire Upper Midwest condensed into a single Canadian. Emily decides to name the adorable piglet after Duncan. Well, that's nice.

Hah, Perry, I thought Elizabeth fired you! Look at you, trying to wash your hands in a Murray washbasin like a Murray. Oh, well; when you're Prime Minister, you'll have a separate gold washbasin for each of your fingers! Elizabeth predicts that Perry's washbasin-using pretensions will land him on the wrong side of a prison wall one of these days, though it's not quite clear how that follows. Her Popeye-style sleeve-puffs are my favorite thing in this episode so far that isn't a piglet. Elizabeth tells Perry and Emily that she forbids them both from attending the hanging tomorrow.

But what's this? Perry and Teddy sneaking through the woods? They get Emily to climb down out of her window and join them. Looks like we're going to see a hanging after all! Oh, Emily, my Highland Scotch great-grandmother's second sight tells me you aren't going to like this at all!

COME ON. If there are even a few other people from town at the hanging, Aunt Elizabeth is going to know about it in .05 seconds. This is a terrible plan.

But after reaching the prison gates, Emily declines to go in-- probably the best decision for her mental health, if this Emily is going to be anything at all like Book Emily. Sad music plays as strangers file past her. She sees the noose fitted and the doors swing closed, and she sits down next to little Duncan, who I guess has been there all along.

Back to Laura and the piglet. Aunt Elizabeth is less than pleased to learn that Emily has named it Duncan after “Alma's son.” YAY CLOSEUP OF THE PIGLET. Elizabeth thinks Alma should keep that boy at home, FOREVER. I wonder what's wrong? Then she tells Laura to get rid of the piglet. NO. Elizabeth, we have BEEN THROUGH THIS.

The scene that follows is nicely done. Emily and Perry return, and Emily says, “You were right. We shouldn't have gone.” Very quiet and simple, no fuss. I like Aunt Elizabeth here. “Now that you have witnessed this unholy event, perhaps you'll come round to my view [that capital punishment is immoral]. You may discuss it with me if you wish.” We see the positive side of her Presbyterian rigidity-- she isn't going to win these kids over to her with that stiff invitation to discuss the issue, but she's willing to offer it, despite her obvious discomfort, because it's that important. She's really trying here, and Susan Clark gets it exactly right.

Of course, Emily has to go and derail by asking if the murderer was Duncan's father. Elizabeth is angered by the question and leaves the room without answering it.

Back at the MacHugh house, Duncan also has questions about his father. Was his father hanged? If he died when Duncan was a baby, where's he buried at? She recites a poem by Robert Herrick and tells him his father knew that poem, which I certainly hope is not meant as a clue to his Murrayship. She sends him off to school and does that emotionally-exhausted leaning-against-the-door-after-you-shut-it thing. He hides in the pines as the snow falls.

In school, Ilse is telling others about the hanged man “floating for a second like a drownding fish.” Then everyone turns to look out the window and Duncan is watching. Miss Brownell goes outside to call him in, but he runs away. “He needs our help,” says Emily.

“Some people can't be helped,” says Teddy. “Their problems are. . .too big.” Funny, Teddy, I was going to say the same thing about you.

Emily follows Duncan home and tells him she can be his friend. And hey, there's Duncan's mother! Is it time to learn the secret?

No, it's time for Emily to walk away without saying anything. Good wasted opportunity, Emily!

And now it's Alma MacHugh's turn to walk away when Duncan says Emily lives at New Moon! Come on, stick around!

What. She went into the house and LOCKED THE DOOR. Let your small child in out of the snow, Alma! Poor Duncan. Maybe he and Teddy can bond over Having A Crazy Mom. Now Emily is back at New Moon, provoking Aunt Elizabeth to try to get the truth out of her. Susan Clark's performance is really great here, as she moves beautifully between piety and barely suppressed rage. But why didn't she snuff out the candles before she left the room? Now Emily's just going to write all night and reflect poorly on the Murrays in the morning. Tsk, tsk.

Here's fretful Laura with a candle, and Elizabeth still awake. Time for a reveal!

“I wish Stuart MacHugh had been hanged,” she says. After all, he was a destroyer of lives.
“He cared for you, Elizabeth” says Laura.

!?

“What he cared for was New Moon.” (Beat, accomplished by rocking chair motion). “The day he proposed he had a signed railway contract in his pocket.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Laura then instigates some reminisces about Stuart, and Susan Clark's face! Her face! It's not a wholesale revolution in acting or anything, but it's really beautiful, all warm and resigned and bewildered and angry and wistful and shutting-down-as-we-speak. Apparently he went off and married Alma, who had a bit of land of her own, and left her with nothing. “Served her right,” says Elizabeth. And her coldness is a hard-earned triumph, and her coldness is a prison.

Meanwhile, in the land of less-awesome acting, Emily is writing a poem about Duncan. And back at the MacHugh house, Duncan's mom wants to know what he's doing out there on the porch. Good question, Mrs. MacHugh!

Back at New Moon, the piglet's not dead yet. And back at the MacHugh kitchen, Duncan isn't speaking. Alma MacHugh is understandably both upset and obtuse. She runs out of the house and goes. . . we don't know where yet.

Will she show up at school and make a scene? Miss Brownell is handing back compositions and making fun of everyone except Rhoda, who is invited to recite while Teddy shows a picture of her he has too-conveniently just drawn (and where did that paper come from? Has Emily been sneaking him letter-bills? There are pages and pages in Emily of New Moon on the scarcity of paper).

She IS! She IS going to show up at the school!

As an aside, I love how ridiculous Rhoda's school dress is. It's got this big blossom of lace right under the chin, and matching ruffs for the sleeves. I don't love how the elimination of the Rhoda backstory makes Rhoda just another Josie Pye-style designated foil. There's no sting in her being Miss Brownell's favorite.

And here's Mrs. MacHugh demanding to know what they did to her little boy to make him refuse to go to school. All right, fair enough, but you don't think leaving him out in the snow might have something to do with his present distress? I'm just saying. She accuses Miss Brownell of being a witch and putting a spell on him. Emily runs out the door and away while Miss Brownell and her hideous vest push frantic Mrs. MacHugh authoritatively toward the door. Then she scolds Mrs. MacHugh for not being a good mother, and she kind of has a point!

Meanwhile, Emily runs to Duncan's house and finds him under a blanket. She tells him about the piglet and that he can come see it. Unfortunately, this means that when Mrs. MacHugh comes back to the house, she's going to find him gone and have a total meltdown. At least leave a note, guys, come on.

Instead, Emily leaves her hat when it's freezing out and Mrs. MacHugh has to infer that they went to New Moon. Wait till Elizabeth finds out that you ran all through town in your bare head, Emily Starr! Murrays do not run bare-headed in the streets like common harlots and French girls!

As soon as Elizabeth sees Duncan, she tells him he has to leave, and Laura tries to calm her, and then Mrs. MacHugh shows up and Elizabeth hears her voice.

Now there's a confrontation about rotten old Stuart MacHugh long ago, and Elizabeth says in front of everybody in that clear, steely Colleen Dewhurst voice, “That ring on your finger once belonged to me” !!!

I'm not sure I entirely believe this confrontation, but the actors are selling it just as hard as they can. I guess-- Stuart was cooling on Elizabeth and Alma used her pregnancy to trick him into marrying her, and I guess Elizabeth has been using the Murray clout to keep Alma an outcast in Blair Water. Now Duncan is angry because his mother has been lying to him this whole time; fair enough, and in a sense it is all Elizabeth's fault. So many ruined lives are your fault, Elizabeth! Can you see them? Everything is your fault forever. The weight of guilt on your head should be enough to kill a man. But you are staunch enough to go out after Duncan when he runs away and the MacHugh woman is collapsing in your parlor, because you are Elizabeth Murray and you do what needs to be done, because whatever else you are you will not refuse your duty.

Now Duncan's down by the water, telling the piglet about how his dad is coming back from the Indies any time now. Get that piglet out of the cold, Duncan; it's too cute for this sad story.

And it's Aunt Elizabeth who wraps Duncan in her shawl when they find him down by the beach, because it has to be.

Aunt Elizabeth may not be able to conceal her contempt for Alma's housekeeping when she shows up in the MacHugh house a scene later, but she's a damn fine woman in her way. She's not here to apologize, so don't suggest she is. She's just here to see to it that someone bakes a loaf of bread in this house for once.



So ends the first really good episode of Emily of New Moon. It's as melodramatic as any of them, but somehow it works this time. Duncan's not too appealing to be a plausible pariah, his mother is a believable mix of sympathetic and awful, and until the final confrontation, no one breaks character in order to reveal too much to someone who shouldn't be asking impertinent questions in the first place.

Sadly, part of the reason this episode works so well is because Emily has comparatively few lines. But not-so-sadly, Susan Clark as Aunt Elizabeth nails her part down to the ground at every turn, even when it's not as well-written as it could be. We see her vindictive, pious, and wounded, and her performance carries the episode. Miss Brownell gets to be both petty and humane, a tiny taste of the complexity she was never allowed in the books. Perry and Teddy both get lines, there are no ghosts, and there's an adorable piglet everyone can root for. What more could you ask from an episode of Emily of New Moon?

The next episode is called Wild Rover, and it's about a new teacher and. . .is it? Could it be? Is Mr. Carpenter joining the cast?

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
sur_le_quai
Feb. 4th, 2013 04:11 am (UTC)
Evelyn (because that is your real name, of course...here),
I love you[r comments].
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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