All Creatures Great and Small
Oh no, I’m going to be such a bummer! And about the CHRISTMAS episode. But I did not like it. We went out on such a literal good note last time with the church bells, Siegfried and Mrs. Hall’s double hand-holding, and Tristan and James signing up to fight, which is scary and sad but also brave of them! That was all so great! And now THIS. Merry bloody Christmas indeed, episode title.
I know it’s February and everything is bleak and terrible, but try to imagine it’s December and everything is bleak but also draped in lightbulbs. Timeline-wise, this is set after the season-three finale, so James and Tristan are waiting to be called up, and now there’s a little Jewish girl named Eva staying at Skeldale House as part of the child-evacuation program. Eva is enamored of The Wizard of Oz, which makes sense since it has just premiered and also is about a girl whisked away from home due to a cataclysmic event beyond her control. You have picked a clear metaphor to relate to, Eva.
This episode is about Siegfried convincing himself it’s okay to injure a horse to protect Tristan and Mrs. Hall deciding she’s into Gerald. I don’t approve of either of these plotlines, so what is there? Toto the kitten? Okay, Toto’s pretty good. James and Eva bring him back from Mrs. Pumphrey’s so Eva will have something to love and take care of. Also because kittens are cute and let’s see more of them on this show.
Siegfried is called out to see “the colonel’s” horse, River. Remember River? He was the difficult-to-train horse who made Siegfried remember all the horses that ended up being killed in World War I. Well, now River has a stress fracture in his leg, but he has a race coming up. The major (different from the colonel) wants River to race. He also tips Siegfried on the fact that Tristan will be getting called up in the next few days. The major and Siegfried strike a deal that if River can race, the major will put in a word to keep Tristan at home. SIEGFRIED. This is immediately a terrible idea, and it only gets worse.
I get why Siegfried is doing this. It’s his brother, and Siegfried fought in a war and knows how bad it is. Sure. Also Siegfried needs to control things, and Tristan being off, not under Siegfried’s supervision, in an extremely dangerous situation must be maddening for someone with his personality. But as Tristan is realizing, you can’t control his entire life, Siegfried! Also stop putting this horse in danger!
Tristan, the man himself, is bored. Very, very bored. No one needs surgery for their animal, so he paces the practice until he realizes he can go to the Drovers. Sure, why not. Have a drink, then perform surgery. Regardless! He chats with Maggie, and THIS is another thing: The vibe this episode is weird between him and Maggie. We never see her husband, and when Tristan talks about Florence, he says she got too attached before admitting he asked her to marry him. The way he talks about her sounds like they’ve definitely broken up. Maggie does get Tristan to admit he proposed next to the drain on the side of her house, so that’s fun. But between this semi-flirty scene and their interaction at the party near the end, I do not like it. Bring back Florence! Maggie does, though, show Tristan his very lengthy bar tab, which makes him distraught. I sometimes think I’d like to have a tab somewhere, but then I remember that owing anyone money makes me break out in hives.
Ugh. Okay. Here we go. Mrs. Hall runs into Gerald in the center of town. We last saw him when Mrs. Hall definitely told him she just wanted to be friends, and Gerald dropped some flowers on the ground in a gesture that was probably supposed to be sad, but which made me say, “YEAH, WALK AWAY, SIR. WALK AWAY.” But now he’s back. Back with his Mole from Wind in the Willows vibes, and we’re supposed to be into it, I guess. Gerald has gotten a job in Hull and is just in town to winnow down his items and then leave. Mrs. Hall invites him over for the next evening, saying they’re having a few people over, when they are NOT having a few people over. Or not yet, anyway. Mrs. Hall tells the hooting masses, a.k.a. Tristan and James, about it, so they can invite some people.
Throughout late December, the Darrowby 2297 gang brings in little touches to help Eva feel more at home. Even though Hanukkah is over, Mrs. Hall finds eight matching candles and lights one, and Eva sings the blessing. Eva is jazzed to see what’s up with this Christmas thing, but it’s no replacement for her family’s faith, so good job, Farnons et al. (it was mostly Mrs. Hall).
Tristan gets a letter from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, whose badge is a CENTAUR, but Siegfried hides it or at least doesn’t show it to him. Tristan, still bored, follows Siegfried to the major’s and sees that River is injured. Siegfried, horse girl, is willing to give a horse that needs three months of rest plus physical therapy an injection to run a race, which could make the horse break its leg. When Tristan objects, Siegfried orders him back to the practice, then he does a full-on horse-girl, nose-to-nose conversation with River, saying sorry but he’s my little brother. I don’t like it. I get that it’s a moral quandary, but I just don’t know that it’s a Siegfried moral quandary.
But this is solved for Siegfried because Tristan rats him out to the racecourse vet and River is banned from racing. The major is FURIOUS, which is funny because he is extremely unlikable. Siegfried is also furious, which is less funny. He storms into the Christmas party (sorry, I believe Mrs. Hall terms it “a gathering”) just as Gerald finally shows up, and Mrs. Hall excuses herself to go mitigate circumstances (circumstances are Siegfried shouting at Tristan in the kitchen).
When Tristan tells Siegfried the animal always comes first, Siegfried says not in this case, then they fight about Siegfried trying to keep Tristan out of the fighting, and they have a nice sibling heart-to-heart that I would have appreciated much more if I liked the rest of the episode. Siegfried gives Tristan the RAVC envelope and tells him he doesn’t have to go, but Tristan says he does. Lots of noble but also emotional statements are given around this time.
Mrs. Hall stays in the kitchen and talks to Siegfried, and I was like, Oh great, this is showing how her actual life and emotional involvements are here at Skeldale with the Darrowby 2297 gang. But instead, just as Siegfried is saying he should have listened to Mrs. Hall and she always knows what’s best for him, she runs out to try to catch Gerald, who has left. But you know he’s coming back, and he does (okay), and they kiss a couple of times. It’s fine. We see Siegfried looking at them kissing, and my life raft here, as I watch my ship sink, is that this might finally spur him to realize his feelings for Mrs. Hall. I mean, GERALD?
Eva gets ruby slippers for Christmas, but she expects them to work like in the film, and Eva and Siegfried have a nice chat in the kitchen about how you can be somewhere lovely and still miss home or be sad. Siegfried takes Tristan to the train and tells him not to do anything stupid. They hug good-bye, and Tristan goes off to war! But not before telling Siegfried that Tristan is leaving him with his extensive bar tab. Who will be smug and lazy next season if not Tristan? There will be a hole in Skeldale that no carpentry (which Helen surely knows how to do) can patch! I guess we’ll see.