The Living And The Dead aired on BBC America on October 27, just in time for some Halloween weekend binge watching. It’s a mystery and ghost rolled into one, with some great acting from the cast, and is definitely worth a watch. It’s available for streaming, so go forth and watch.
Charlotte and Nathan Appleby come back to his family’s farm for an extended visit. It ends up being a permanent relocation when Nathan Appleby’s (Colin Morgan) mother dies. Nathan and his wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) want to bring modern ideas to this rural, resistant community, in order to modernize the community and save the farm. Nathan can’t seem to escape his former life as a pioneering Victorian-age psychologist. One odd case after another appears at his doorstep. Are they in need of his help as a psychologist? Or is something supernatural haunting, even hunting, them?
Nathan comes to the farm with a definite bent towards science and rational thought, having worked on the emerging science of the mind. Charlotte shares this tendency, which is underscored by the arrival of technology to the farm, as well as the impending railway. However, the happenings in their rural community slowly undermine their belief in science and rationality. As Nathan delves further and further into these cases and their cause, he risks losing his farm, Charlotte, and his own sanity.
I am generally not a huge lover of horror and spooky things. That being said, this felt much more like a mystery embedded in a ghost story. It was good fun Halloween watching. There were plenty of moments where I jumped, gasped, or had to watch between my fingers, but none that gave me nightmares later on. I was engrossed in the mystery of Nathan trying to figure out what was causing all this devastation in the village, and in the very related mystery of Nathan’s personal story of grief over the loss of his son from his first marriage.
The haunting of the village and Nathan’s grief over the death of his son from his prior marriage are so inextricably linked in this series, both as a plot device and as a theme. I watched this series in the aftermath of losing a family member. The idea of grief becoming so strong that it takes on a physical manifestation so that it can wreak havoc on the life of the grieving person and others really struck me. It seems to be a rather apt metaphor for how the grieving process often plays out.
Overall, I found the acting to be excellent. Colin Morgan is, of course, a gem. He’s brilliant, and this is a great role for him; it allows him to move quickly through several stages of his character. He makes Nathan’s disintegration believable and sad to watch. Charlotte Spencer was also a delight to watch and was a breath of fresh air in the first episodes. Charlotte and Nathan’s marriage might have been too cloying if not for the way Spencer was able to balance out her character’s sweetness with a harder edge and some grit.
I was frustrated with the ending. Of course, part of the reason why the ending is a bit frustrating is because there was no season two renewal. A second season would have addressed some of my remaining questions. The series ends with people from the future summoning Nathan and asking him why he killed his wife. This WAS a great set up for a second season. It would have been another mystery arc for Nathan to work through. Alas, though, there is no season two. That’s always a chance you take with cliffhangers like that.
I also found Gabriel, Nathan’s deceased son, to be at turns creepy, annoying, and tiresome. I suppose creepy was certainly part of the intent. The ending is really what put Gabriel over the top for me. Throughout the series, we saw a mysterious woman who was clearly from the future appearing at odd moments. She is Nathan’s great-great-granddaughter, and Gabriel is haunting her, too. When she dies, Gabriel appears, smiles smugly at her, and tells her he can be his mother now. This entire sequence rubbed me entirely the wrong way, at the last possible moment.
Overall, I very much liked it. The writing was engrossing; the visuals were breathtaking and very Victorian. Besides being a mystery and a ghost story, it also touched on themes of grief, progress, and rationality and spiritualism. It gave the series more heft than just a spooky story. The visuals are great, and the acting superb. Give The Living And The Dead a watch this Halloween weekend; I think you’ll enjoy it.
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