All Creatures Great and Small (2020) s02e05 – The Last Man In

There’s not much veterinary procedural this episode. The most significant medical case involves Samuel West attending Patricia Hodges’s Pekingese on a sensitive matter. The only other animal is a pedigree bull, which Matthew Lewis offers to ex-fiancée Rachel Shenton and her family as penance for trying to get them to do bull fraud last season. Lewis is finally back from France; the episode starts with Nicholas Ralph heading out to his estate to attend the bull… and avoid Lewis’s questions about Shenton.

Instead of animals—or even romance, though Ralph’s frequently jealous of the returned Lewis—the episode’s about cricket. It’s time for the annual match between the farmers and Lewis’s wealthy friends. Every year, Hodges hosts the match on her private cricket pitch. She’s a cricket fanatic, it turns out, which I suppose her previous appearance this season did suggest, but it still all feels like a retcon. Especially the revelation Callum Woodhouse was the star player for the farmers in last year’s match; Ralph must’ve arrived in the village at the only time Woodhouse wasn’t home visiting from university.

Speaking of university, Woodhouse and West are still on the outs because West lied to Woodhouse about passing his exams and letting him think he was a qualified vet. The annual match is for farmers and vets, and Woodhouse is eager to remind him he’s not a vet, leaving the team a man down. No explanation why he was playing last year… it must be vets and those enrolled in veterinary studies, not unlicensed but practicing vets.

Woodhouse isn’t the only one mad at West about the deception; Anna Madeley is more frustrated than usual with West’s obstinance.

She gets a very sweet, very gentle romance arc with returning Will Thorp, who doesn’t know anything about cricket but goes to the match because Madeley will be there (scoring the game, in fact). Their courtship this episode repeats a couple beats from Thorp’s last appearance but does them better this time. Debbie O’Malley gets the writer credit this episode, and the script’s very thorough in finishing its character arcs. Ralph’s jealousy, Shenton’s apprehension, Lewis’s return, the episode works through all of them, and some outstanding arcs (not just Madeley and Thorp). It also introduces some new ones; Lewis observes Ralph’s got to impress Shenton’s father, Tony Pitts, now, as he’s no longer just a prospective suitor, he’s her fellow.

The arc with Hodges and West involving the dog—ever adorable and newly rambunctious Tricki Woo (the only animal on the show to get an acting credit; he’s played by Derek)—is pure comedy and pure delight. Since the matter’s so delicate, the rest of the cast doesn’t even know about it. It’s a good showcase for Hodges, who gets more of her own character this episode out of Diana Rigg’s formidable shadow.

It’s also O’Malley’s script. I really wish she’d written Hodges’s first appearance.

The show’s lack of continuity perplexes instead of vexes: it’s got source material. Non-fiction source material. Whenever there’s a seeming retcon, I wonder if it’s from the book. However, those moments pass quickly as the show’s charm—especially when it’s got a good script—is overwhelming.

Standout performance this episode from Lewis. It’s also another good one for Shenton, who’s got both farmer and love interest arcs here.

And, obviously, Derek is indispensable.

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