blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

All Creatures Great and Small (2020) s01e02 – Another Farnon?

This episode’s got a couple concerning elements. Slightly concerning. It’s also got Diana Rigg in a fantastic guest spot as the BBC period piece equivalent of a “Best in Show” dog mom, which could probably let the show get away with anything.

The first concerning bit is the episode using the same dramatic beat as the last episode. New rural veterinary assistant Nicholas Ralph has screwed something up, and he’s worried boss Samuel West is going to fire him. The big difference between the two incidents (besides the animals involved and the setting) is new seeming regular Callum Woodhouse. Woodhouse is West’s younger brother, who arrives at the beginning of the episode like they forgot to introduce him in the pilot. West apparently not telling anyone is even a plot point.

Woodhouse arrives by train—meaning there’s a closer station than wherever Ralph went last episode (because Ralph then had to take what appeared to be a long bus ride to town)—in his evening wear. This episode establishes the landed gentry around town, something the previous episode wholly ignored. Again, Rigg’s one of the landed gentry, so it’s all fine. But still.

Woodhouse quickly becomes Ralph’s rival after a reckless ride back to the village (with some car damage, no less). Woodhouse has just finished his examinations at veterinary school, and older brother West is as prideful as he seems capable of expressing. For instance, he brags to rival vet Kriss Dosanjh about having two assistants now, and Woodhouse keeps trying to one-up Ralph without actually being particularly helpful.

Especially not once Ralph and Woodhouse start going on calls together.

In addition to Rigg’s adorable Pekingese, this episode also has a cow patient. It’s actually a jam-packed human episode: in addition to introducing Woodhouse, Ralph’s got a developing filtration with farmer’s daughter, Rachel Shenton, and then housekeeper and sage Anna Madeley gets her backstory developed. She was in the war (First World War) and ran a nurses unit; one of her friends from there, Maimie McCoy, visits. At first, it seems like McCoy’s going to flirt with West, but they’re just going to talk cars.

Again, toot toot.

West will turn out to be a very eligible bachelor—at least in Rigg’s eyes—while Ralph will discover he’s got competition for Shenton’s attention. And not Woodhouse, apparently, though the episode constantly establishes Woodhouse’s existing relationships in the village give him a leg up on Ralph.

An indeterminate time has passed since the first episode, but apparently, long enough Ralph’s not immediately worried about losing his job just for annoying West… though maybe he ought to be.

The second concerning bit is Madeley as sage. The show gets away with it. It’s able to launder Woodhouse through Madeley’s sympathetic gaze to make him into far less of a twerp by the end of the episode, which is good if he’s sticking around.

All the performances are fine or better, even Woodhouse at his twerpiest, with Ralph managing to stay in focus even as the frame’s more crowded. Madeley doesn’t end up with as much to do as the episode initially suggests she will; her character development’s like a second C-plot here. West’s better this episode than last; his character’s got a little more depth now, especially with the Woodhouse subplot.

The ending’s a little light, too, given the various plot reveals and West’s explosions, but it’s still rather charming.

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