blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Around the World in 80 Days (2021) s01e05

A couple things jumped out from the opening titles for this episode. First, there’s a new director—Brian Kelly—but more interestingly, there’s a “story by” credit. “Around the World in 80 Days” is a novel adaptation. Debbie O’Malley gets the story credit, Jessica Ruston gets the writing credit. Jules Verne gets his credit, too (but not his residuals). Once more, not having read the source novel, I’m ignorant.

There are several plot points I wouldn’t guess are in the original. Maybe David Tennant’s adventurer being stuck in Hong Kong because bad guy Anthony Flanagan has impersonated a cop and told the bank not to give him any money because he’s a con man. Maybe Ibrahim Koma knowing someone in Hong Kong. But not Koma’s friend being a Chinese crime boss (played by Thomas Chaanhing), who wants him to steal back an artifact from the British.

Koma’s in a good spot to steal back the artifact because the British governor, Patrick Kennedy, throws Tennant a party for being an adventurous Englishman. Well, actually, Kennedy’s throwing the party because his wife, Victoria Smurfit, and all her friends think Tennant’s a dashing romantic hero. Thanks to Leonie Benesch writing a feature article about Tennant’s lost love, which Tennant told her in confidence (actually while tripping) and wrote about without permission.

I doubt the romantic hero thing is in the source novel. Though maybe Verne did address toxic masculinity. Also, probably not Benesch’s father, Jason Watkins, supporting his daughter’s attempts to make the newspaper medium more writerly.

Definitely not the thing about the artifact’s potential return to the Chinese being justified. Though the episode doesn’t hold its punches when characterizing the British empire.

It’s a reasonably simple episode, albeit one with a lot of drama. Without cash, Tennant has to rely on Koma to find them lodgings in Hong Kong, the least eventful plot point in the episode. The need for money leads to all the problems, whether it’s Tennant palling around with Kennedy and Smurfit or Koma trying to get a loan from Chaanhing. Tennant’s character drama starts later in the episode—and ends up being shockingly intense—while Koma’s got a lot going on from the start since he knows what’s Flanagan’s doing but can’t tell without revealing too much truth about himself.

Benesch’s attempts to keep Tennant from reading her article are the closest thing the episode has comic relief, though it’s definitely got its dramatic moments as well. Director Kelly balances things well, and Benesch does an outstanding job this episode.

The episode ends with a big cliffhanger and not just Tennant starting to learn more about Koma; “Around the World: Season One” seems to be heading into its third act.

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