“The Spider in the Web”
The “spider” of the title presumably refers to Abner, but what flies has he caught, and what will he do with them? There is a theme of capture and escape this week. We get confirmation that Caroline Louisa is officially missing, Abner admits to imprisoning Cole Hawlings, and by the end of the episode Peter has been “scrobbled” too. But the really interesting one is Maria, whose loyalties were in doubt. She certainly comes up trumps here.
It’s a good little performance from Joanna Dukes. Maria is confident and defiant even when kidnapped, taking it all in her stride, walking into her own prison cell as if she owns the place. When Sylvia tells her not to be afraid, she says “I don’t get afraid”, and we believe it. Basically, Maria is a psychopath, but she’s a psychopath who is on Kay’s side, so he’s in luck there.
The strange thing is how she’s just allowed to go home. I think it’s just hubris on the part of Abner, who probably can’t be bothered to waste a cell on a child who can tell him nothing, gives him no tactical advantage, and has no power to harm him. All she can do is go to the police, and Abner has the “bloodhound of the yard” firmly in his pocket. You can see what’s happened here. Abner doesn’t even need to corrupt or threaten the Inspector. He has a willing ally, a man who talks about their shared “glee club” experience, and is proud of his association with a man of the cloth who runs a clearly wealthy theological institution. It’s all about social standing.
In the meantime, Ellen is lured away so the house can be broken into and searched. Finding their house has been invaded brings home the danger quite literally, and the director cleverly chooses to shoot the scene with handheld camerawork. Used sparingly, that technique can really emphasise a moment of wrongness, the wobbliness of the picture reflecting the wobbliness of the victims’ emotions.
The rest of the episode is all about Kay’s adventures infiltrating the theological college. The scenes of miniaturisation have aged better than the flying scenes, although people flying around always looks silly. Even as a young child, I thought Superman looked ridiculous, so it’s a hard sell. The Borrowers stuff is all great fun though, with a funny little moment where Kay goes to great trouble to climb up a step, only to get swept off again. This has not been a series that has tried to be funny very often, but when it does the humour works well to provide some light and shade. There have been funny moments right from the start, with the train conductor in the first episode shouting everything, even when talking to one person, and the rat is always amusing.
We end the episode with a bit of a history lesson, with Abner giving us an info dump about how Cole first got possession of the Box of Delights, in his alter ego Ramon Lully. I think nowadays this sequence would be achieved with a flashback, but the use of a drawing in a book is simple and effective, fading between artwork showing Ramon and Cole as we know him. Our cliffhanger ending, if you can call it that, is the revelation that Cole was around 700 years ago, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to any viewer who has been paying attention. On more than one occasion Cole made reference to pagan times. This is a consequence of the episodic format, with Alan Seymour seeming to struggle to find an exciting way to end each episode, but as soon as that beautiful theme music kicks in at the end, nobody is going to care anyway. As a child watching at the time, I just couldn’t wait to get to the next episode, and hear that music again. There were only two episodes to go, and Christmas was coming… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Box of Delights Episode 5