Sunday, April 15, 2018

REVIEW: 'Howards End' - Henry and His Children are Thrown By the Details in Mrs. Wilcox's Will in 'Episode 2'

Starz's Howards End - Episode 1.02 "Episode 2"

After the death of Mrs. Wilcox, her family is thrown by her final request regarding Howards End. When Leonard Bast's wife Jacky appears on their doorstep, the Schlegel sisters take up the cause of her husband.

In the series premiere, it was clear that Mrs. Wilcox was suffering from some kind of illness. The show never gave it a name. But it was ominous that she was taking multiple sick days in a row where she couldn't get out of bed. Most of that was left to the background of the story. At the forefront of her story was her relationship with Margaret Schlegel. The two of them quickly formed a bond. It was bond longing to be more than it ultimately was. It was meant to be nothing more than a couple of weeks of companionship near the end of her life. That's beautiful and special. It's still quite limited. Margaret doesn't believe she had that much of an impact on Margaret. She never truly knew what was going through her head even though they were kindred spirits. Mrs. Wilcox wanted to show off Howards End to someone who would appreciate it. Margaret has no great affection for her family home. In fact, she was already starting to get worried about needing to sell it because they'll be evicted soon so that new flats can rise up in its place. But that home visit never occurred. There was a flicker of beauty and friendship. But it was quickly extinguished. The Wilcox family returned home at the same time that Margaret wanted to see Howards End. Mrs. Wilcox needed to return to her place as the matriarch of this family and help everyone get settled back in. After all of that was done, a new visit could be scheduled. But now, it's clear that that visit never happened. Mrs. Wilcox only got sicker. The second hour opens on her funeral. Margaret attends and delivers lavish flowers. But she is still not allowed inside Howards End to be with the grieving family. She is turned away once more.

That's what makes it so ironic that Mrs. Wilcox left the estate of Howards End to Margaret and not anyone in the family. Henry is furious about this suggestion. He and his children don't believe it's a valid and binding agreement. They happen to be all together when the mail is delivered. This letter is devastating to them. None of them actually know who Margaret really is. They just know her to be a woman who showed kindness to Mrs. Wilcox during her time in the city. They all abandoned her when she got sick. They went on their own adventures while she was on the path towards death. She still found love and accepted it into her life completely. It was such a beautiful bond that the two of them shared. Without it, the show is missing something vital and moving in this hour. But it's still remarkable to think of the impact these families have on one another. Margaret prides herself on speaking to everyone in the same way. She is frank but always courteous. She can play into the norms of society just as easily as she can stir up debate about the various issues of the day. She is still annoyed by her siblings and challenged by the best way to resolve her housing issues. But overall, she is a pleasant person who wasn't scheming to steal this ancestral home from its family. And yet, that's exact what the various Wilcox family members think. Charles' new wife even suggests that the letter isn't real because it is written in pencil. Then, Charles throws it into the fire to be done with this subject altogether.

But no one in the Wilcox family actually wants Howards End. Upon Mrs. Wilcox's death, they actually decide to rent it out. They sign new tenants to live there in a three year contract. It's a deal they make very quickly. They never even contacted Margaret to see if she showed a desire in the home. Yes, communications were sent to determine if she knew that Mrs. Wilcox left the property to her upon her death. After they learned that Margaret is in the dark about that detail, they are allowed to continue going about their business as if none of this has ever happened. The various families of this world are allowed to continue going about their days with their own concerns. And yet, the story keeps thrusting them together. The Schlegels are in need of a home. Whenever one of them runs into Henry, they ask him if he knows of any properties that are available. Time is running out for them to settle into someplace new. In fact, it's quite a stressful time for Margaret right now. She wants to continue to support her siblings even though they drive her crazy. Helen and Tibby are still very childish and annoying. Helen is very bold and presumptuous while Tibby is very posh and snobbish. They are certainly an entertaining family. They bring such a strong focus to the center of the show with only a few of the supporting characters around them actually popping out as well. Henry and Leonard Bast are also important. But it's much more engaging to see these debates amongst the three Schlegel siblings as Margaret aspires for something more out of life while still wondering exactly what she craves.

And of course, Margaret and Helen are forced to interact with Leonard and Henry once more. Leonard decides to go for a long walk and his wife, Jacky, believes he has left her to spend more time with the Schlegels. She doesn't know any of them. They barely know Leonard as well. It's all one big misunderstanding. But it also inspires this intellectual family to take action to help the poor. They are still a family of means even though they are being evicted from their home. They have the funds to move. They just haven't found the right place to call home just yet because Margaret really doesn't know what she's looking for. Leonard and Jacky are clearly a lower class, working family. He's still well-educated and shares the same interests as the Schlegels. They met during a grand performance at the symphony. But ever since that moment, it has felt like Margaret and Helen have been trying to fix Leonard and his life. That's incredibly aggravating to him. He wants to be viewed as a human being and not just a social experiment for the wealthy to play with for awhile. That's how Tibby views this precise situation. He sees Leonard as Margaret and Helen's attempt to actually do something with their philosophic studies. Meanwhile, Henry and his daughter, Evie, see a family that is just too compassionate. Margaret and Helen are forcing their will on this young man not truly knowing his full story. He may just continue to take and take from them until they have no more left to give. Henry does share that Leonard's employer may be going out of business soon. Margaret and Helen present it as a helpful tip. But Leonard is still too prideful to appreciate the gesture. All he sees are people above him who believe to know what's best for his life when he is just wandering around in it himself.

Having these debates is infuriating for Helen. She is trying to do the right thing by Leonard. She gets yelled at by him because he feels like he is being held as a captive until he agrees to do exactly what this family says. He sees two women who wish to control his life and the opportunities he finds in this world. Meanwhile, Helen sees it as very patronizing of Henry to tell her and her sister what they should be doing with Leonard. She doesn't care for Henry anymore. She is not inspired by their spirited debates where they are always on opposite sides of the issue. She can still be very pleasant to him in public. She values his expertise as a businessman when it comes to offering suggestions for how to help Leonard. But she doesn't wish to have an abstract conversation with him about the subject when it becomes clear that a real life hangs in the balance. And yet, Margaret sees that as invigorating. Of course, it's always ominous when she brings up Howards End to someone in the Wilcox family. They all know what the will stated and that she is entitled to that property. But that news still isn't shared with her by the conclusion of this hour. Instead, there is more of a spark developing between Margaret and Henry. After his wife's funeral, Henry wasn't acting like himself. He only became passionate again after learning the fate of Howards End. He didn't want Margaret to have it. But now, he's actually interacting with her and seeing the same compassionate person that Mrs. Wilcox saw. He is seeing the attraction. He sees that they were kindred spirits. Yes, he's still trying to understand why Mrs. Wilcox did what she did for someone who had never been to Howards End. But he's also just enjoying Margaret's company because her sense of humor and desire to see the world from a fresh perspective is very amusing and kind.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 2" was written by Kenneth Lonergan and directed by Hettie Macdonald.
  • Aunt Juley doesn't appear until the end of the episode when she is visiting her family once more. And yet, it's fun that she always seems to visit just as the siblings are teasing each other about one of them possibly getting engaged. There's nothing to tell about Margaret and Henry. But that still gets Aunt Juley worked up and trying to understand how this has happened in her absence.
  • It's such a pointed statement for the show to make when Jacky barges into the Schlegel home and one of the servants is apologizing profusely to Margaret and Helen. It's a strong moment because it's the show having such an awareness on race and that these two characters are often looked down upon and forced to apologize for their every action.
  • Margaret takes great offense to Tibby treating her like an old lady who couldn't possibly dream of getting married and starting a family. She notes that she is only 28 years old. She's very mature for her age. Of course, it still seems like a slight stretch because Hayley Atwell is almost a decade older with Philippa Coulthard and Alex Lawther both looking younger than what they are playing too.
  • It's just so amusing to see Tibby always injecting himself into any tense situation saying the wrong thing and not particularly caring about what the consequences will be. He has his interests in the world. In all other aspects of life, he just lets the truth out there with no consideration for how it may affect his sisters and what they are trying to accomplish with their guests.
  • There have been a lot of new relationships in the Wilcox family as of late. Last week Charles was getting married. This week Evie is getting married while Henry has become a widower. And yet, Margaret and her family believe the Wilcoxes to be so fascinated with them because they are trying to set Margaret up with Henry. To them, it seems obvious. To the Wilcoxes, there are additional teases of something more going on to keep tabs on Margaret.