Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Episode Six - The Black Tower
Tuesday, 23 June 2015 - Reviewed by
In the background, we finally learn the true nature of Vinculus, and Stephen shows signs of beginning to wriggle free from the Gentleman’s thrall, as Vinculus reveals that his skin also has significance, and the two men share a moment. It doesn’t end well for Vinculus, naturally, but as he was as much book as man, can you really kill an idea?
In the foreground, Strange and Norrell are still at odds, even with Strange currently on the run. Norrell is appreciative of the quality of Strange’s book, but is making every copy of it disappear, and sending the disgraced Drawlight to spy on Strange, under threat of magical menaces.
Norrell’s involvement in this episode is mostly limited to hanging around in the background, plotting against Strange. And where is Strange?
He’s in Venice, trying to drive himself mad enough to summon a Faerie, in the mistaken belief that he can revive Arabella - who he still believes dead. Increasingly unkempt and raddled, he falls in with the Greysteels, suspicious Father James (Clive Mantle), and starry-eyed daughter Flora (Lucinda Dryzek). The latter is a bit too taken with Strange for her Father’s liking, even if he is tunnel-visioned on reviving Arabella.
Strange eventually turns a crazy cat lady into a cat herself in return for the hallucinogenic mouse that allows him to finally tip over the edge enough to see a Faerie. He really picks his Faerie as well, summoning the Gentleman, who’s somewhat aghast that Strange can finally see him. The tension between the two in this episode is electric, with an unwitting Strange first asking the Gentleman for the bargain of the return of his wife, before eventually coming to the realisation that the Gentleman - and by extension, Norrell is responsible for his loss, as Strange finds his way into the enchanted ballroom of Lost Hope, and finds the enchanted Arabella. The Gentleman is caught on the back foot for the first time by Strange’s power, and his fury.
A furious magic battle ensues between the two, with Strange only just losing, as the Gentleman imprisons him in a ‘black tower’ of darkness. The increasingly pathetic Drawlight is drawn in, and sent back out with tale between legs by Strange with a promise to Norrell. He is coming.
Toby Haynes outdoes himself visually again, with the scenes in Venice and the darkness of the sequences in the Black Tower and Lost Hope, as well as Vinculus's demise all standing out. The episode ends with hordes of ravens smashing through Norrell’s mirror, the latest in a long line of spectacular images. The scripts are superb. The central performances, from the understated Eddie Marsan, to the increasingly maniacal Bertie Carvel, and the quiet malevolence of Marc Warren's Gentleman are quite inspired. Within a week this series will be no more. We may not see its like from the BBC again.