We’re back at our cozy English town, and airing All Creatures Great and Small in January in the United States is brilliant because it alleviates the post-holiday slump. It may be cold outside, but there’s a warm fire on PBS, and James is still taking care of those cows.
If you, (like me, frankly) forgot most of what happened last season, worry not: This show isn’t about plot so much as vibes. The premiere does a good job of cluing you in, though! Everyone this episode keeps talking about James’s wedding, so you go, “Oh yeah, James and Helen are getting married. Right.” Also Tristan can now do vet stuff! Siegfried and Mrs. Hall are inching closer and closer to acknowledging they are basically already married, and — oh. We are now definitely in World War II. WE’LL GET THROUGH THIS.
Right from the beginning, we have James pulling off to the side of the picturesque road as he stands there in awe of a warplane. James acts like he’s ten anytime anything comes up about the war. Planes are big and they go fast! I’m positive there is some crossover fandom between this show and people who know a lot about the airplanes of World War II, so please forgive the possible error here BUT, based on some very basic Googling, I think it was this plane. I point this out only because when I first saw it, I thought it was someone crop dusting the fields, and then I felt embarrassed. In my defense, it kind of looks like the plane Russell uses for crop-dusting in Independence Day before he uses it for destroying evil aliens.
This week, the veterinary practice has to get through a bachelor party, a wedding, and some potentially sick cows. And now that it’s come up, can we just agree that traditional bachelor parties are stupid and dumb and we should ban them forever? Who decided men should get blackout drunk the night before they get married? Do you know how many photos you have to sit through on your wedding day? I am all for pre-wedding parties in the weeks leading up. Do it. But every time I watch the episode of The Office where Jim gets wasted on his WEDDING EVE and then Pam has to drive Andy to the gd hospital to get his scrotum repaired, I am livid.
All this to say, I do not love James’s bachelor party at the local pub, but him waking up in a pile of hay is funny and I approve. Before he heads out for the party, though, he and Helen meet up at the practice and Tristan tries to get James started early by handing him a drink. Mrs. Hall intercepts and downs it (also an excellent moment) and pours James some milk, which he and Helen drink. (I thought this milk-drinking was going to be a large plot point later in the episode so I paid extra attention to it, but, as we’ll see, it was not.)
They sit down to dinner, where James and Helen are wearing matching blazers and red sweaters (this has to have been a deliberate choice by the costume department, but to what end!). Siegfried is extremely put out that James has the nerve to get married, and during their busiest season. I haven’t been a huge Helen fan in the past, but she continues to grow on me, particularly when she’s making fun of Siegfried (or wearing a snood). He quotes the “marry in haste, repent at leisure” proverb to them, and when James and Helen just stare at him, he says, “Oh, no, not you two. I meant people. Other people. You’ll probably be fine.” Helen asks James if they’re sure they don’t want Siegfried to say a few words at the wedding. I lol’d.
As the men head to the pub, Tristan and James see a man in the town square trying to recruit soldiers. Siegfried immediately grabs them and says their work falls under “reserved occupation,” which basically means, we’ll need you to keep doing this during the war, so you don’t have to fight. The country needed veterinarians to keep animals healthy to keep the food supply secure. James is not totally swayed by this argument, but he forgets it for a bit while he’s drinking a literal yard of ale, which Tristan orders from Maggie the barmaid. Maggie is now married to Arthur, who also wears sweater vests but seems much more responsible than Tristan.
Because James is James, the reason he wakes up the next morning in a pile of hay is he met a man at the pub who has sick cows, and James insisted on looking at them the day of his wedding. JAMES. I mean, that is very nice to offer. But, JAMES. Come on!
(Okay, and this is where I thought the major milk crisis was going to come into play. The cow man is concerned because a cow he sold has tuberculosis, and if his other 70-plus cows have it, their milk could be infected. So I thought, “Gasp! Helen and James drank milk at the beginning of the episode and that was so weird that the show specifically showed them doing that. But they drank infected milk and now they have TB!” But no, that is absolutely not it and none of the cows are sick. Helen and James were just drinking milk.)
For some reason, Tristan was put in charge of James’s wedding ring. Why would you give this responsibility to Tristan! TRISTAN. I would give Tristan something to hang onto if I never wanted to see it again. Just because he continues to wear excellent sweater vests does not mean he is a responsible holder of things. Sure enough, that ring is eaten by a dog (or so he thinks), as Siegfried actually pocketed the ring box, then left it on the sideboard. Unfortunately, someone left a large tray of meat out, and a very cute dog named Clancy ate the meat and the ring box. So Siegfried feeds Clancy an emetic (throw-up tonic) and brings him to the wedding, in the hope he will barf up the ring. ROMANCE.
James is unaware of all the ring drama, because he’s been checking 77 cows for TB. There’s one missing, though, so of course he can’t go to his own wedding yet. I’m gonna point out right now that James is going to smell absolutely terrible, but since Helen grew up on a farm, she’s probably okay with it. I went to college in a semi-rural area, and when the wind blew a certain direction on campus, we’d go, “Yep, there’s the farms.” (Manure. It smelled like manure.)
James discovers the missing cow, but its front leg is broken. James says they’ll have to put it down, and the cow owner’s son (or employee or whatever) is like, oh, so you have to stay because of your vet job, but you’re not even saving this cow? Shut up, Wilfrid. So James stays with the cow, even though he’s not going to be able to help it. Siegfried finally shows up, and essentially says “James! Wedding! Also that the cow cannot be helped and is in terrible pain.” Siegfried tasks Tristan with putting the cow down, because this show always wants to remind us about how vets need to kill animals (thanks, I hate it). Tristan tries, but he hasn’t done it before and can’t, so Wilfrid is all, someone’s gotta do it, and he takes the gun. It’s okay, Tristan! Cows are extremely cute, even if they are ruining the environment with their burps.
James gets to the church, where the small guest list includes Tricki Woo, complete with embellished cushion. I love that damn dog. Clancy, the other good boy, barfs up the ring box, but — twist! There’s no ring inside. James smugly is like, oh yes, I took the ring, and it’s right h—oh, it’s in my other jacket. So all the men failed at their one job other than “be at the church.” But Siegfried saves the day because of Mrs. Hall, who told him she’d been married with a little loop of twine, which he re-creates for James and Helen. It’s very sweet and I look forward to Siegfried and Mrs. Hall’s own twine loop.
“What about James’s ring?” you ask. Well, he doesn’t have one. NOPE. Just Helen. Don’t worry, I looked it up and found reference material that says men really started wearing wedding rings during World War II. I need a little sign I can nonchalantly raise while talking that just says sexism. Then we can see how many times the sign has to be used per media property/academic lecture/man explaining something to you at a party. Anyway, this is not a James condemnation; this is a cultural-norm condemnation.
On the way to their honeymoon, Helen tells James this is the furthest she’s ever been from home. Hahaha okay, Samwise Gamgee. We see none of their honeymoon, but they do immediately break their bed upon returning to the vet practice. James is still tempted to sign up for the army, but while he was gone, Siegfried puts James’s NAME on the practice. He’s a partner now! I love my little veterinary 1930s family.