All Creatures Great and Small Season-Finale Recap: A Declaration of War

All Creatures Great and Small

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Season 3 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

All Creatures Great and Small

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Season 3 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: Vulture; Photo: PBS

We have arrived at another finale for All Creatures Great and Small, though, as always, it’s that weird British thing where after the finale you have a Christmas special. So this is the penultimate episode!

I know they filmed this some time ago and also that it already aired in the U.K., but I’m pretty sure they heard and incorporated my feedback, because this episode addresses several of my complaints. There are cute animals, the family is back together after several weeks of being off doing their own things, and, yes, there is one dead cow — but it doesn’t die onscreen, so I’ll take it. There is also the looming specter of war, which finally stops looming and just full-on arrives at England’s doorstep.

We begin on September 1, 1939, which means very little to most Americans (including me! A person who cares about history!), but it is two days before Britain and France declare war on Germany as a result of its invasion of Poland. Everyone is on edge because the prime minister issues an ultimatum to Germany that if it does not withdraw troops from Poland, Britain will declare war. There’s a lot of denial about war happening, which makes me wonder if that was really the case. Didn’t it seem pretty inevitable at that point? (European people, please post your great-grandparents’ remembrances in the comments if I’m wrong.) I guess I shouldn’t be surprised about denial given how terrible World War I was.

Now, to bovine tuberculosis!

James is still checking all the cows in town for profit (he said it, not just me!), and he finds one infected cow in Helen’s father’s herd. This means his farm will be shut down for a month, and Mr. Alderson is understandably upset. He tries bargaining with James, pleading with him to just shoot the infected cow. We don’t really need to tell the Ministry of Agriculture (or “MAG”) about all this, do we? James, the eternal hall monitor, says it’s about public safety and he can’t make exceptions. I think I am still not understanding just how serious bovine TB was, because I’m like, Yeah, why can’t he just have the cow killed if the rest of the herd was okay? This is, again, one of many reasons I am not a vet.

Helen is still helping James with paperwork, and she had already filled out the Alderson form saying there were no infections. She props up the unstamped envelope with the form in it on the table and is like, “I’ll just correct that later,” and you know what is going to happen. Just put the form under the envelope, Helen! You live in a house with so many other people, several of whom are kind and/or helpful! Of course Mrs. Hall mails the incorrect sick-cow form, and Alderson has the cow killed by our pal Jeff, so now everyone is in a panic about James getting fired by the MAG. But let’s leave them to their panic and see what’s going on with Tristan.

Tristan is getting very serious about Florence Pandhi. He meets her parents, who are very fun and drink him under the table. When they mention they think Shakti is okay with their drinking, Tristan says that Shakti sounds like his kind of man. Florence informs him “Shakti is the great divine mother,” and Tristan looks properly mortified. Mortified, but still determined to immediately make things even more serious with Florence. First, though, he visits Mrs. Pumphrey to … inoculate? A cat? I might have missed why he does this. There’s a stray orange cat that Mrs. Pumphrey has captured in a wicker basket, and while Tristan gives it a shot, she talks about her victory garden and how she wants her home to be a sanctuary for those who need it. It’s a very patriotic speech, but I can’t take her seriously while she’s holding a bushy Ewok (hello, Tricki Woo!).

The Pumphrey Sanctuary for Those Who Need It comes in handy, because someone leaves a beautiful Springer Spaniel named Dash tied up outside the practice with a note that reads “Please look after me.” Mrs. Hall instantly is like, “I’ve only had Dash for a day and a half, but if anything happened to him, I would kill everyone in this room and then myself.” Siegfried says they can’t keep him, because what do they then do about the next abandoned animal, and the next. Also because of his HEART OF STONE.

Tristan, after a pause to ask what James will do about the war because James always does the right thing (awww!), goes to see Florence. He pulls up a flower, roots and all, from outside her home, and then asks to speak with her in the fresh air, right by a drain. If you’re thinking, Surely Tristan is not proposing, I am sorry to disappoint you. Prepared as always, he pulls his keys off his keyring and tells Florence he wants to plough his own furrow and plough it with her, a line he immediately knows is not good. Florence, being a sensible lady, gently turns him down, saying it’s not the right time, and maybe Tristan needs to learn more about who he is first. And, also, they barely know each other, what’re you doing, buddy? Tristan is sad, but agrees these are all good points.

Back to the panicking Herriots. James the Hall Monitor determines he shall go to the MAG, turn himself in, and try to explain that he was not, despite appearances, trying to lie to the government to save his wife’s farm from temporary closure. Helen goes with him, because they have a very nice, supportive relationship. Is there chemistry? Well, not really. But it’s still nice. They have to see that shouting Harcourt man, who, as expected, shouts. He bellows that James was trying to pull the wool over his eyes, etc., etc., which makes no sense, since James is there to tell him all about the murdered cow and the incorrect form. Harcourt is being an ass to Helen, too, but she interrupts him with a whole monologue about how amazing James is and how hard it was to convince the Dales farmers to go along with the testing (true!). If James gets struck off by the MAG, none of the farmers will agree to more testing. Harcourt grumpily agrees. Hurray!

Well. Hurray, except … It’s September 3, and Britain officially declares war against Germany. This scene is just the radio and shots of our beloved Darrowby 2297 family, and I crieddd. Why can’t you stay isolated and bucolic forever, with your gentle piano music and animated sheep?

Helen knows James is still troubled after the successful MAG meeting, and he finally tells her if he doesn’t volunteer for the war, he could never forgive himself. Aghhhhh, war. Helen supports him because of course she does.

Sure, there’s a world war starting, but I know you’re worried about Dash the Springer Spaniel and Mrs. Hall’s eternal love for him. Tristan suggests that Mrs. Pumphrey could take in Dash, so Siegfried calls her to pick him up. But Mrs. Hall’s face when she realizes he’s going to go. Her son is going to war, Siegfried! Everything is terrible! Let her have the dog! To Siegfried’s credit, he picks up on this. Without saying anything to Mrs. Hall, he tells Mrs. Pumphrey he’s sorry for the trouble of her coming out because they will be keeping Dash. Yay! When he confirms with Mrs. Hall, she says, “As you wish, Mr. Farnon.” Because of The Princess Bride, we all know what this phrase means, so this scene was 12 out of ten.

In the town square, James and Tristan walk to the recruitment line as Mrs. Hall and Siegfried watch. Helen stays inside on the stairs. Siegfried tells Mrs. Hall that he never thought they’d be here again, and she says that all wars end eventually; normal life will return. Don’t say you didn’t think of the 2020s and get emo, because I’m not sitting with these feelings by myself. The church bells are ringing, and they wonder if they will stop ringing like during the last war, and if this is then the last time they’ll hear them. MY EMOTIONS. Then — then — Siegfried and Mrs. Hall double clasp hands; I am not talking about two hands being held, I am talking about ALL HANDS. Did I already mention The Princess Bride because MAWWIAGE.

James and Tristan get closer to the front of the line, patting each other on the back. Helen cries on the stairs. We exit on the church bells still ringing. I CANNOT WITH THIS SHOW.

All Creatures Great and Small Season-Finale Recap: It’s War