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ETV Episode 9: Wild Rover

Hold onto your italics, Mid-Victorians! The description for Episode 9 is as follows:

A new teacher comes to town and forms a bond with Emily. He has a new style of teaching which is different from the current teacher. He also was a drunk, which causes a problem when he confronts Aunt Elizabeth about Emily's talent.

We begin with a letter to Emily's father, dropping us neatly back in canon territory after the prolonged Out-of-Book Experience of episodes 6-8. She reminds him that he was her only teacher when he was still alive, which is true in the books but not in the show we have been watching, wherein Michael Moriarty pulls Emily out of school after an adorable First Nations child is beaten by her racist martinet schoolteacher for being made entirely out of stereotypes. As Emily and Ilse walk to school, Ilse gleefully makes fun of Miss Brownell. When a buggy driver calls out, “One side!” Emily shouts back, “Oh, there's lots of room!” The girls laugh, a little raucously, and Ilse sticks out her tongue. In the TV show, Ilse really is a bad influence – when they're together, Emily's distinctively prim and introverted personality is swallowed up in an imitation of Ilse. That's a fairly realistic way of imagining their friendship. Unfortunately, Emily hasn't been well-written enough so far to support it. Instead, it plays like the writers are only able to imagine one unconventional eleven-year-old girl at a time.

Meanwhile, in front of the school, Miss Brownell tries to keep order, largely unsuccessfully. Oh, and here's the buggy from the scene before. And is it. . . YES! “This is Mr. Carpenter. He's applied to teach at one of our schools.”

But. . . Are they just going to walk up and take her job from her? Are they seriously going to do that, while she is in front of the school she is about to be fired from? That is COLD, Blair Water school board!

And here are Emily and Ilse to laugh at her while she frowns as if someone has just pulled a chair out from under her. Ilse, I know you are an adorable ragamuffin, but if you keep making that face, it is going to freeze like that, and all the giant flower hats and exotic oriental perfumes in the world won't do your looks a lick of good.

All right, they're not going to take her job away while the miserable brats watch from the door; they just want her to help them evaluate Mr. Carpenter’s suitability as a teacher. THAT'S HOW IT STARTS. See, Mr. Carpenter's a brilliant man, but a bit unconventional, and they'd like to give him one more go as he's willing to work for a first-year teacher's salary because he's a miserable drunken failure he's just that great a guy.

Besides, they want to see how he handles secret cabals of infant genius difficult students, and the superintendent or whoever this is has heard Miss Brownell has one or two of those, heh heh.

Well, roll credits and let's see where this goes.

She's wearing a big puffy shirtwaist with one of those sweet new ties from Jones and McCallum's. It's a good look for her, a richly architectural outfit that hides her thinness; I imagine it's what she wears when she needs a little extra confidence. Mr Carpenter will be observing the lesson today, and the lesson today is on the form of poetry known as the sonnet. My Scotch Highland great-grandmother reports a sinking feeling that this lesson is going to have Miss Brownell made foolish by the rakish longhair Carpenter, to the delight of our Core Four.

Here we go. She reads the first line of a sonnet, whacking the blackboard once for each syllable. “Ten and ten only,” she says. “Shall. I. Com. Pare. Thee. To. A. Sum. Mer's. Day.” And before she can continue, Mr. Carpenter is there with the next line. “I thought you might want to read the poem aloud, for its beauty.”

And Emily, who never learns to keep her mouth shut, joins in: “Oh, please, Miss Brownell!”

And the superintendent, the traitor, agrees that this is an excellent idea. Is this an observation, or are you just going to interrupt the whole time?

So Miss Brownell, “who was not devoid of a superficial elocutionary knack,” as we're told in Emily of New Moon, reads the rest of the sonnet while the superintendent watches with a look our gossipy schoolgirls seem pretty sure is The Look of Love.

Well, at least he's going to marry her before he replaces her.

The superintendent claps heartily and Miss Brownell smiles at him. Yay, humanization!

Back at New Moon, we get a closeup of the cat, and Emily is writing a sonnet. Oh, but this time it's schoolwork, so Aunt Elizabeth can't object! Take that, Aunt Elizabeth!

“Shall I read it for you?” says Emily. And without waiting for an answer, she does.

“Who in their right mind would spend time on a rhyme?” says Aunt Elizabeth. Emily giggles and says, “You just did!”

Cheap shot, writers.

Emily tells the cat of her intention to set up the superintendent (A Mr. Plover, so I guess in this continuity Miss Brownell is not destined to become Mrs. Henry Blake for the sole purpose of forging familial ties between Emily's past and future antagonists). So she writes another fake love letter, then reads it aloud to the rest of the Cabal of Infant Genius before stuffing it into Mr. Plover's coat. Mr. Plover, incidentally, was given that name by a beneficent deity solely so that Emily could rhyme it with “lover.”

Back in the vest today, I see, Miss Brownell.

Mr. Carpenter will be leading the history lesson today. But everyone knows history is boring, so Mr. Carpenter pulls a Dead Poets' Society and makes fun of the reader for a few seconds before snapping it shut with a glib expression on his face. The children watch enraptured. As whacking the blackboard once for each syllable was the Martinet Strawman of the previous day's lesson, Meaningless Names and Dates is the strawman of this one. Brownell and Carpenter have a fairly stupid argument over the relative importance of facts and stories while Mr. Plover, having found the note, fails to discern any difference between a love poem written by an eleven-year-old girl and one written by a grown woman. This is a perfect example of TV Emily being exactly as precocious as the writers need her to be. Plover invites Brownell to dinner after the lesson we don't see, and Miss Brownell overhears Plover and Mr. Carpenter discussing the latter's drinking problem. Someone is about to start a rumor!

The unconventional teacher who fills his student's lives with luminous permission (with or without rigorous high standards) is a difficult character to do well. It's easy to show a guy ripping pages out of a book on the first day of school, and very hard to depict any actual teaching that follows in a way that isn't cloying or unbelievable.

Mr. Carpenter, Book Version, manages to avoid a lot of the problems that come with the Unconventional Teacher by not actually being a very good teacher. He's perfect for Emily and the rest of the Cabal-- his chosen people-- but indifferent and even harmfully negligent toward poor or ordinary students. If you don't have an immediately apparent talent that he personally finds interesting, the best he'll do for you is draw a vacuous smiley face on your essay and go back to sleep. After his favorites go off to High School, it's only a few years before he checks out entirely.

Sometimes he pulls off a good lesson for the rest of the class. In the book, he teaches various famous battles by having the pupils reenact them on school grounds, with helmets and toy swords. That's a decent idea, and it would have been easy to convey in just a few seconds. But they don't show it here, or anything of the actual lesson. He wags his head at a book and drops it on the floor.

Jimmy is back! And he finally gets to do some exposition! He's known May Brownell since she's a li'l girl. She always liked flowwrs, pretty things. Other kids all teaseder. It turns out she gave up her life to take care of her sick grandmother. Miss Brownell is L.M. Montgomery!

Here's Mr. Carpenter, passing a tavern. The music pours out into the winter air. Just walk on by, Mr. Carpenter.

Here's Mr. Carpenter in the classroom, telling the kids that everyone has a talent. I hope you practice what you preach, TV Carpenter! This gives Perry a chance to announce his future candidacy for Prime Minister and one of the nameless mean girls to note that Perry has ideas above his station, which is technically true. Perry says he's, ah, good at speechifyin, sir, and stands up! To give a speech! It's like Christmas came early, then forgot and turned up again! It's not a very good speech, but it is Perryriffic.

Blah blah, Ilse, blah blah Teddy, Mr. Carpenter was a writer once, blah blah blah. And just like that, he's focusing all his attention on the Cabal of Infant Genius and ignoring the rest of the class. At least you're consistent, Mr. Carpenter.

Here's Miss Brownell at New Moon, warning Elizabeth and Laura that Mr. Carpenter is a drunkard.

Mr. Carpenter gives Emily a whole bunch of paper, and there's another silly facts-vs-stories discussion at New Moon, and Emily misses her dad.

Finally, Mr. Carpenter does about six seconds of actual teaching before he's interrupted by Plot! Mr. Plover's come by and he wants Mr. Carpenter to give him some romantic advice. Mr. Plover, what you need is a lesson on boundaries! Sadly, Mr. Carpenter does not take the opportunity to clap him on the back and advise him to get a few tumblers of currant wine into the old girl and don't worry about the words. He stands there for whole minutes, feeding Mr. Plover a bunch of lines while the latter writes them down. Oh, writers! Couldn't you have handled this subplot a little better?

Blah blah, writing lessons for Emily. Mr. Carpenter is too harsh with his criticism and Emily runs away crying. Mr. Carpenter is so dismayed at having crushed this delicate narcissus that he walks right into that tavern and drinks himself down into the mud. Emily vows never to write again and Elizabeth hides a letter from that romance placeholder guy intended for Laura, but is caught out. Now everyone is unhappy.

But wait! The letter reveals that Mr. Placeholder doesn't love his haughty fiancee! No one ever loves their haughty fiancee! He loves Laura! He uses the phrase “kindred spirit!”

Well, here's Mr. Carpenter, staggering along the beach with a jar of beer or whiskey or something, and here's our awkward dinner between Plover and Brownell, in which the latter believes the former intends to fire her, and the former hopes to make his feelings known. Watch as both their lives are dashed mercilessly against the iceberg of momentary misunderstanding like a pair of giant ocean liners in the dark.

No, that doesn't happen; we need them to get married so the plot can progress. Miss Brownell says she won't resign and Plover says the rules are clear against married women teaching and she is all “Dude, what?” and in one nervous breath he dumps on the table all the smooth lines he wrote down from Mr. Carpenter's mini-lesson on How To Talk To A Lady and she smiles tolerantly as he touches her hand.

Then Emily-in-the-Glass tells Emily-out-of-the-glass to quit her whining about how she will Never Be A Writer, and Mr. Carpenter shows up at the door of New Moon to rage drunkenly at Aunt Elizabeth for being a book-burner and a paper-denier and Emily, who is eavesdropping for what? The sixth time this episode? gets to hear all about how super-ultra-talented she is. Every teacher dreams! Her genius drives men to drink! Jimmy sticks him in the barn to cool off and they have a nice little talk about their differently stifled powers and how Emily needs a teacher who cares about her, and I guess Mr. Carpenter is going to apologize now for crumpling up Emily's poem before.

And now it's evaluation day! And Perry threatens to cure Mr. Carpenter's hangover by throwing water on him, but is thwarted! Elizabeth is still promising to have Mr. Carpenter run out of town on a rail of shame, and is put out that Emily seems to have used her best teapot just to annoy her (there really isn't any reason at all why Mr. Carpenter should have the best teapot for his hangover tea, but Jimmy seems fixated on the idea that breaking out the best teapot for an unwanted guest = psychological victory over Elizabeth).

“Are you aware,” says Laura to Elizabeth, “that stealing another's mail is a criminal offense?

Then she THREATENS ELIZABETH WITH JAIL TIME unless she lets Mr. Carpenter be hired!

Elizabeth tries to scoff it away, but she isn't quite sure she can!

Having been successfully THREATENED WITH JAIL TIME, Elizabeth offers to lend Mr. Carpenter Jimmy's Sunday clothes to wear to the school.

And I guess all the kids have banded together to make it look like Mr. Carpenter is a more competent teacher than he is?

And Miss Brownell announces her engagement to the class, just like that.

And I guess Miss Brownell and Mr. Plover are so consumed by passion that they just sort of throw Mr. Carpenter at the class in an attempt to get out of there as quickly as possible?

And the Nameless Mean Girl from early in the episode keeps trying to tell on the rest of the class for faking like Mr. Carpenter has solved the discipline problem, but Miss Brownell just shuts her down, Brownell style, one last time for good measure. Goodbye and godspeed, Miss Brownell. It's been a good run. May you live a long and blissfully pedantic life and never notice that the superintendent is a bit of a doofus.

Wild Rover wasn't so bad as this series goes, and Mr. Carpenter's arrival to the cast is cause for celebration, but it didn't come together nearly as well as The Tale of Duncan MacHugh. Still, I was glad to be drawn back into the outer orbit of the source material after our long sojourn on the distant worlds of Secret Murray Baby Drama, Non-Burnley Romance, Non-Burnley Romance Reprise, and Secret Murray Baby II.

The next episode, The Ghost of Wyther Grange, promises to bring us even closer to our original storyline, wherein Emily meets her catty but very interesting Great-Aunt Nancy and. . . dare I hope? . . .Dean Priest?



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Feb. 4th, 2013 05:39 am (UTC)
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blase ev

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