Sunday, April 22, 2018

REVIEW: 'Howards End' - Henry Has an Offer for Margaret While Helen Tries to Help the Basts in 'Episode 3'

Starz's Howards End - Episode 1.03 "Episode 3"

Margaret receives an offer from Henry which changes her plans significantly. Helen is distraught to learn the Basts have slid into poverty. In a dramatic encounter at Evie Wilcox's wedding, the three families collide.

Howards End has proven to be a fascinating meditation on the meaning of life. Is it working a job every day to ensure that the family one has created is cared for and happy at all costs? Is it being able to lift oneself up to the next class of society so that one can experience the more artistic and magical sides of life? Is it about becoming so wealthy and influential that one doesn't need to worry about the people below? Or is it about giving back to the less fortunate? These are all central themes and questions the show is asking. It's telling the tale of three distinct families that all have very different views on the world. Leonard Bast is struggling to care for his wife. He's a prideful man who doesn't want to keep asking for help even though it's the advice that he received that led him to quit his stable and well paying job. The Schlegels are stressing out about where they are going to life. And yet, it's through their connections to the rest of the world that it is never a huge concern or makes them worried that they are about to end up on the streets. They just need to find a place that can feel like their home. And then, Henry Wilcox is an awkward man when it comes to expressing his emotions. He is quite drawn to women who speak their mind and force him to challenge his perspective. But he's also a very successful businessman who has his limited concerns in the world and lets every other detail just fade into the background without a care at all. These characters are challenging one another. The premiere hour was so terrific because it focused on one relationship of yearning to be understood. And now, the show is delving into the complexities of trying to understand life. They see what the others have and don't have. There is a desire to connect and fill out their lives even more so now. But they struggle with the unpredictability of life and not always knowing or understanding the choices that each other are choosing to make. It's very complicated and very lovely at the same time.

Of course, the central idea of this episode is Henry and Margaret becoming engaged and trying to figure out the specifics of this new arrangement. It happens so unexpectedly too. The two of them were simply just growing closer as friends. Margaret always sensed that there were some romantic overtures to their dynamic. She thought his family was trying to set the two of them up. It also felt like the Wilcoxes were just choosing to keep a close eye on Margaret should she ever stake a claim to Howards End knowing that Mrs. Wilcox left it to her. In doing so, Henry has quite enjoyed the time they spent together. He was willing to help her search for a new place to live. It still seems inevitable that she and her family will end up in Howards End. But it's important for the show to keep bringing up this idea of finding a home that is lovely and meaningful to the people who will be living there. Howards End was never important to the Wilcox family beyond Mrs. Wilcox. She's the one with a personal connection to it. Everyone else was going off to explore the world and have fun adventures. She was left behind and that's how her friendship with Margaret blossomed. Margaret is so alluring because she always speaks her mind and already seems to have an understanding of everything going on in Henry's world. She knows his driver as well as the serious question he wants to ask her. He fumbles his way through asking her to marry him. He keeps doubting that she'll actually agree to it. He doesn't want her to think that this is a condition of renting this apartment from him. He wants to be more than accommodating with that search. But Margaret also puts in the work to assuage his fears.

This is peculiar engagement because Margaret and Henry haven't been dating. They've been flirting as friends. They could sense that there was a yearning for more. It just happens very quickly. Margaret largely makes this decision and then tells her family about it. Helen is very reluctant to support it because she no longer has any tolerance or respect for Henry. She sees him as a cruel businessman who doesn't care about the lives he affects. He sits aloof from the world only really engaging by the concerns for his life. She's supportive of Margaret's desire to try to change Henry and get him to see the world from the Schlegel perspective. But that's not what Margaret wants to do. She's not even sure that she loves him. But she does like and respect him. She believes that could one day turn into love. She believes this is a relationship that could be very beneficial to both of them. She understands it from a very pragmatic way. They aren't getting engaged out of love or necessity. They just feel a spark that could eventually grow into something more. It's a way for them to be less alone in a world that seems designed to isolate them. They love their respective families. But they don't always understand what Margaret and Henry are going through. Margaret wishes to embark on this journey herself. She does so with the full understanding that there are parts of themselves that they'll bring into this union that will always be kept secret. There are things that will never be allowed to change. She's not hopeful of trying to reform Henry to make him a better citizen of the world. She is content with the bond they share as of right now. If that's all that it is, she sees that as a very pleasant life.

However, Henry may not have the same perspective when it comes to marriage. He makes this proposal and is so nervous about it. He is still so taken aback by how comfortable she is talking about money. She's more than willing to share how much money she makes in a given year. He understands things from a business perspective. There are things that they must discuss before they get married. They have to decide where to live and how to split the inheritance so that it is fair to everyone in the family once Henry dies. The Wilcox children continue to see this as a ploy orchestrated by Margaret to get her hands on Howards End. The property just happens to be vacant once more. The subletters have abandoned their claim and made Henry furious in the process. But it does create an opportunity for Margaret to visit Howards End for the first time. She does so not knowing the value that it has and how it could potentially change her family's lives. She just sees it as an option that is quickly ruled out for where she and Henry should live as a couple. He doesn't want to be that close to his eldest son and his family. Charles is very cold to Margaret because he sees all of this as a deceitful action. Henry got too close and his mind has been corrupted by her charms. Charles and Evie allow these thoughts to enter their minds even though they must continue living their lives as well. It just proves that Henry is not as good a communicator as he hopes he is. He wants everyone to know they'll get a fair and just split of the inheritance. He's willing to pass the family business down to Charles if he shows an understanding and respect of it. He's not trying to force his will onto others. But everyone still gets that impression from him a lot of the time because he has no idea just how powerful his suggestions can be.

Margaret and Helen chose to tell Leonard about his employers possibly going out of business because of a tip that Henry gave them. Henry has no recall of that interaction at all. He doesn't remember this whole situation with the Basts. He just sees it as a lesson for why the wealthy shouldn't try to fix the lives of the poor. There is a lack of understanding and empathy for what they want their lives to be. Helen is furious that everyone is so willing to allow Leonard and his sick wife fall further and further into poverty. She feels responsible for him being laid off at his new job. She is willing to storm into Evie's wedding with the Basts just to demand better lives for them. She barges into this event not really caring how it will be perceived. Margaret is able to catch her long before she makes a scene. She is doing all of this not really thinking. She is just so passionate about helping this friend experience the world as she sees it. Margaret has cruel words for her about this being the exact wrong time to be doing something like this. Henry is still more than accommodating in hearing what has happened and trying to find a strong resolution to it. But that only reveals that Jacky was his former mistress. The personal dynamics between the three families have only grown more complicated. This twist probably wasn't all that necessary. But it also leads to such a strong moment where Helen is actually listening to Leonard talk about his life while trying to understand all that he is willing to accept from the world. He is perfectly fine with a marriage that is nothing more than companionship. He loves Jacky in that way despite her past and his family's objections. He's willing to risk everything to be with her. That's inspiring while also forcing Helen to see things from a new perspective. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 3" was written by Kenneth Lonergan and directed by Hettie Macdonald.
  • The hour ends with Margaret writing yet another letter to Henry. This series has really showcased how the art of writing letters was how one communicated one's intentions during this time. Here, she has to tell him whether or not she is willing to move forward with their engagement after learning about his relationship with Jacky. It really could go either way though it seems more likely that she'll stay committed to him.
  • Margaret shows such a curiosity in exploring the various homes that she visits. She wants to see the grounds to know what to expect from life in this location. That's her desire. At times, it seems like the men in her life stomp on those aspirations. It's awkward when both Henry and Charles assume she'll want to get cleaned up after her journey simply because they are operating with information she simply doesn't have yet.
  • Henry also shows very little regard in asking Margaret to break away from her family's traditions as established by Aunt Juley. Henry spends quite a bit of time with the Schlegels this week. And yet, an opportunity presents itself to visit Howards End. Margaret wants to go and see the place for the first time. But it means also disappointing Aunt Juley and her plans for this week away.
  • It's so important that Margaret walks into Howards End by herself for the first time. It's such a quiet and personal moment for her. She has heard so many stories about this place from Mrs. Wilcox and Helen. She understands its personal significance. And now, she is finally witnessing it herself. To her, it's absolutely beautiful and everything she has looking for in a home. There's then an awkward beat where she is startling by the elderly woman she didn't know was there at the time.
  • There's quite a bit of bickering going on between Leonard and Jacky as well. He is so reluctant to ask for help or go on this grand journey to demand it. He doesn't want to be a burden to the people from this wealthy world. He just wants to make his own way in the world to protect and care for his family. But Jacky sees the value in doing this. Plus, she is able to enjoying a couple glasses of champagne before seeing Henry once more.