‘All Creatures Great and Small’ Season Two, Episode 4 Recap

Photo: Helen Williams/PBS

What Siegfried hath wrought, let his own blunder put asunder. The truth is out and Tristan learns he did not pass his vet exams. FINALLY, because I was getting tired of yelling at Siegfried about it on here (no, I wasn’t).

But before we get to that dramatically satisfying moment, let’s go back in time to earlier that day. It is Tristan’s birthday. Siegfried gives him that initialed work bag that Mrs. Hall ordered, and Tristan is very pleased. He also gets his own list of vet appointments. This is stressful until Siegfried says that James is going to accompany him. Look, I know that Tristan probably knows enough to practice veterinary medicine without an official license, but would you want an unofficially qualified vet looking after your animal’s life? Especially if your animals were your livelihood? I know things were different in the ’30s, but were they? Yes. Probably. It’s still bad, though.

Tristan tells Mrs. Hall he wants to have a birthday dinner for seven people that evening, which she accommodates because she is an angel from on high. He then goes to see a man about a horse. More specifically, he goes to the Sebright Saunders, who are Fancy People, to do some tooth rasping, which is when you file down teeth. The grumpy horseman he meets there is Mr. Monkham, who will proceed to be very judgy.

On the way to de-sharpen horse teeth, Tristan sees Margot Sebright Saunders, who looks straight out of a Noel Coward play and is, therefore, out of Tristan’s league. Will he get up the nerve to invite her to his impromptu birthday dinner, despite her usually going out with minor gentry? He will, but let’s pull off to the side for a moment because “minor gentry”?? Can you imagine someone being like, oh, what is your dating type, and your response is “minor gentry”? That doesn’t even sound good! Why aren’t you good enough for major gentry? What I’m saying is that this is embarrassing for everyone. Also, abolish the class system. Moving on, Tristan files some teeth and gets kicked in the knee by a horse. Mr. Monkham, the grumpy horseman, laughs.

Did anyone else understand what was going on with the crying dog plotline? I kept thinking something was going to happen, but nothing. Siegfried operates on a dog and then sets it on a blanket next to a space heater, where it cries for the rest of the day, apparently because it does not like to be left alone. I get it, dog. Siegfried later makes a reference to Keats’s “La belle dame sans merci” while addressing the dog (“what can ail thee, dog at arms, alone and palely loitering”), which I was very proud of catching because I spent too long on an essay about that poem in college. I kept thinking something would reach a crisis point with the dog, but it never does! It just cries if you leave it alone. Also — is this Siegfried’s dog, Jess? Jess seems to appear and disappear throughout the series, like some dog Time Lord who goes on unseen adventures, so I’m not positive what Jess looks like. But I think vaguely like this dog?

Tristan and James part ways to check on a pregnant cow and horse, respectively. James sees the horse at the Aldersons and is now very relationship-y with Helen. I have a note that Helen’s shirt is very ugly here. If you disagree with me, you may say so in the comments, but I’m pretty sure that shirt is factually hideous. James is supposed to tell Helen he has a job offer in Glasgow that his mother has prematurely accepted for him, but instead, he chickens out (great joke for the last episode). When she says it’s good he’s not in Glasgow because he would go soft, he says “HAHA YES” and drops the subject.

When James checks in on Tristan and the cow, Tristan has his arm way up the cow, and the farmer is calling him a brave lad for dealing with the apparently very painful contractions. Tristan delivers his first calf and later tells James he was exaggerating the pain he was in. TRISTAN. You are still not charming enough to pull this sort of thing off! The calf is overwhelmingly cute, and yes, we have too many cows in this world, ruining our climate and our future with their cow burps, but: CUTE.

Okay, so I’ve been resigning myself to a reality where maybe Mrs. Hall and Siegfried don’t get together, because why base my enjoyment of this very excellent show on such a gamble? It is unnecessary. But then we get Chairgate 1938 (no, it’s not a scandal, I just wanted to say “Chairgate”). Mrs. Hall is fixing a broken chair in time for the dinner party. It looks like tightening something? It doesn’t matter, but Siegfried helps her, and it’s cute, and they are very close to each other during it. Does this need to happen? I proclaim that this proximity is, as they would say in Tudor times, a clew.

The second clew is when Margot Sebright Saunders shows up with flowers and hands them to Mrs. Hall while calling her “Mrs. Farnon.” Mrs. Hall is flustered! Siegfried’s date Diana teases him! This is EXACTLY the sort of thing television writers do when they will eventually pair up two people. Naysayers to the back of the room, case closed, no further questions (unless I am wrong, in which case, I deny everything in the above).

Before Margot shows up, Helen stops by to help because she is nice like that, and Mrs. Hall mentions James’s job offer in Glasgow. She does this because he told her he was going to tell Helen. So now Helen knows, and she knows that James has kept this from her. Withheld information: a theme for this episode!

Tristan arrives home and thinks perhaps because Siegfried talked to all of Tristan’s clients, that Tristan would get some praise, but Siegfried says nothing of note. Siegfried! And on his birthday. Because Margot is Fancy, she is friends with Helen’s recently jilted fiancé. Margot says they were all devastated about her and Hugh. Well, I guess we hate Margot. She apologizes later, but get outta here, Margot! Your brightly toned appearance clashes with our beloved muted aesthetic!

The dinner party is terrible. Everyone is awkward and quiet. It is very reminiscent of “Conversation Piece” from Wonderful Town, mixed with The Office’s “Dinner Party.” Margot keeps talking about Hugh and being snippy to Helen. It’s the kind of awkwardness where someone praises the food and everyone loudly echoes this because it’s something to fill the void. You all! Mrs. Hall made Beef Wellington! There are so many conversational topics related to that alone: “How long does it take to cook a Beef Wellington?” “When do you think this dish was invented?” “What are your thoughts on the Duke of Wellington?” “How would YOU have defeated Napoleon?” Come on, people.

Siegfried stands and makes a toast to Tristan and his first day out as lead vet. All the reports of Tristan’s work have been uniformly excellent. It is a lovely moment, but Tristan looks unhappy. He tells Siegfried he may have exaggerated the difficulty of the calf’s birth, and Siegfried immediately starts berating him in his Siegfriedian way. They exchange words about veterinary skills, and when Tristan says he has the qualifications to prove his, Siegfried says, so you think. IT HAS COME OUT. IT IS SO DRAMATIC. TRULY THE RED WEDDING OF ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL. 

Everyone leaves but Tristan and Siegfried. Tristan just missed the mark on one paper, parasitology. So, good thing he wasn’t treating those cows with husk last week, huh? (Not the moment, Alice.) Tristan is extremely upset, and he should be! This is such a terrible thing Siegfried has done! And then Siegfried says he doesn’t think he’s necessarily in the wrong, which is full-out bonkers. Tristan goes to the kitchen, where Mrs. Hall finds him. He asks if she knew, and she says yes and apologizes, which is what Siegfried should have done, but nope. She tries to explain Siegfried’s motives and feelings and then apologizes again. Tristan remains upset. This episode gets a 5/5 for PATHOS.

Helen and James talk out the evening, and Helen says the road to hell is paved with good intentions, which yes, thank you, Helen. Aphorisms are useful sometimes for clarity. They finally talk about Glasgow and have some good communication about it! Well done, you two. James feels that no matter what he decides, he’ll be letting people down. He wants to be with Helen, but he wants to support his parents. Helen says they’ll work it out, which is such a nice relationships-are-a-partnership statement.

James says he better get back and check on Tristan because he is nice and everyone is great and what a wonderful show.

Tristan is drinking Siegfried’s special whisky in front of the fire. James tells him there are lots of fine veterinarians without qualifications, and they know Tristan can do the work. It’s a well-intentioned sentiment! They decide to go get drunk at the Drovers for Tristan’s birthday. Good work, guys.

• What if we all just piled into the Farnon parlor and read our books in front of the fire?

• I know James doesn’t go to Glasgow, but what if James goes to Glasgow?

• A Doctor Who spinoff starring a dog would be terrible, right? Or just terrible enough to work?


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