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North & South, 2/4

Okay, I'm not going to lie. The screencapping got a leeeetle intense on this one. In my defence, so much of the storytelling goes on in the imagery that partly I was just trying to capture some of that, but it really is somuch that it's almost impossible. I spent most of my time whittling them down to some kind of manageable number. Plus, I'm trying to prod bitterlimetwist into watching it, so I had to include a few more of Thornton, obviously.



North & South, 1/4

Picking the action right back up again at Thornton's Mill and that reality. Child labour, the "fluff" in the air that gets stuck in the workers' lungs ... and Mrs Thornton striding into the scene, just as Thornton strode us out at the end of the last episode. She's assistant-running the place, basically, extremely firm but apparently fair, with Thornton's complete approval.

Establishing Mrs Thornton's position and involvement in the mill; it is clear from the first that he is in charge, he is the man of the house in every sense of the word. Also showing that her grasp of the workings of the mill is almost as good as his. If the previous episode was establishing characters' preconceptions, this one goes to work exploring the boundaries of their understanding, even as some of them (*cough*MargaretandThornton*cough*) work on expanding them. Also, his profile. *burble*

Ooh, Margaret's visiting Mrs Thornton (to get the name of the doctor, for her mother's "low spirits", oh dear), and Mrs Thornton is not warming to Margaret AT ALL. Last episode Margaret suggested that Thornton wasn't all that (scorned!), but at the same time, it's not like Mrs Thornton WANTS Margaret taking notice of her son either – she's already got some concern that he might be interested in her, and certainly does not want THAT encouraged. *conflicted*

But what we get in dialogue is Margaret's naivety about the strike and Mrs Thornton's contempt for it; Mama Bear that she is, she can only see the strike in terms of the consequences for her beloved son, and for his business that she puts almost as much into as he does.

Aw, and outside Margaret displays that she's developed wide contacts and friendships among the workers. Time has passed, and she's made significant inroads into the society up here, understanding it through relationships at least; she's still "foreign" but she's accepted.

"I'll answer your questions as honestly as I'm sure you ask them." If they understand nothing else about each other at this point, they at least understand (and honour) each other's directness of speech and meaning.

EEEEE, civil conversation between Thornton and Margaret! He doesn't leap to conclusions about what she's doing asking his workers about a strike, and she honestly puts her question to him as well, both an attempt to explain (I'm not stirring up dissent, honest!) and to learn more from all perspectives.

And he's so ... pleased to talk to her about all this, to explain himself and the North, the pride he has in their attitudes and values, and she's listening to what he has to say, valuing it. *swoon* My conversation!kink is going off like gangbusters.

Straight out of the Dutch Masters, I'm telling you. And Caravaggio would swoon at the chiaroscuro, although he'd probably throw some nubile half-clothed young man into the composition, so we're probably better off sticking with Vermeer-type every day gritty realism here.

Contrasts! \o/ Helstone, bright land of innocence and hope and romantic notions and potential and non-half-clothed young men.

This is flicking past at a cracking pace. Straight to visiting Bessy, and we learn that she's dying (within a moderately dramatic timeframe) from "fluff on me lungs" AND that Margaret has an older brother! Fred! Who was a sailor in the navy who "mutinied" against a sadistic and monstrous captain who abused those under his power (themes, people, themes! The moral and ethical courage of this family, please take note – this is, in its own way, comparable to Hale's stand of conscience), and is now living safely in exile in Spain.

Some more cosy domestic scenes.

The Thorntons are going to have a dinner party! How nice. Fanny, ragging on Thornton for presuming to understand the Hales and declare that they don't have mercenary motives for mingling with the upper crust of Milton society. And then mother and daughter start in on Margaret, and Thornton jumps in to defend her! ❤ Which so worries Mrs Thornton that she tells him Margaret would never have him, and oh, his little look! Just when I think I can't love him more. He stands up under all these little slings and stabs so quietly; he doesn't take it personally that Margaret would never be interested in him.

Until of course Fanny mouths off again. But then she's the annoying little sister, and patience under THAT is superhuman, which Thornton most definitely is not.

Oh, Boucher. You're barely scraping a living as it is, with your six children and your worn but (it's implied) beloved wife. And oh, Nicholas. Your beloved, motherless daughter – your partner as much as Mrs Thornton is her son's – is dying because the workers have no defence against being used and discarded by the masters, and this grapple for leverage is ten years too late to save her, and that cost only drives you harder and blinds you to the cost others will pay too. And no one's entirely right and no one's entirely wrong and no one understands enough.

STRIKE! It's on; the union has called it and it begins this Friday. Oh, Nicholas. This unruly mob of crazed, half-starving workers, ready to resort to violence at the thought of strike-breakers and he has to keep them under control. "Masters expect us to behave like animals. We will show them we are thinking men! We will not be out-thought. The only enemy of this strike is ourselves!" The fact that he keeps a lid on this lot for an entire month is an astonshing testimony of his leadership and strength of will.

The Thorntons show that it's not that they don't want to pay more, they can't afford to, amongst talking about the whys and wherefores of the industry so we have some concept of the difficulties on all sides. And Thornton shows his phlegmatic, philosophical grasp on the situation: "This is a young industry. These problems will iron themselves out.... We should go on as before, no more, no less." He's in the trenches but he's got a good overview too; the value of the education that was interrupted with his father's death and which he's pursuing again now with Hale, even to the derision of his mother. (Not a mama's boy. He respects her and loves her, but NOT a mama's boy.)

I mean, the pants alone. I can't even. Mr Bell has the distinction of being the only character who immediately divines the heart of the matter before him; he understands everything, except how to engage the story significantly; with the exception of his exit, he is always the cynical observer.

Mr Bell arrives! Oh, Mr Bell, you snarky bastard, come and sit by me. We'll laugh at the whole world to their face and they'll (mostly) never know the difference. And already you're vaguely age-inappropriate. Well done.

The commentary and character-reactions going on in this scene are so intricate, while Hale basically expositions the entire situation (from his simple, sympathetic perspective) for our benefit.

I cannot stop tracking Boucher through this episode. Seriously, it's a steady, relentless breaking down of my heart to watch him. (I hope I'm not giving anyone the impression this is going to end well. Just in case I haven't been foreboding enough.)

Gah, the melancholy music as the strike begins. Ooph, it's such a quiet beginning to such a destructive conflict, so effective in imagery, lingering on Boucher's expression as he's dragged into this thing that he knows will be the end of his family, Nicholas's promises to him notwithstanding.


"All around there is desperation." I can't remember when I first noticed Margaret walking past the child-sized coffin during that letter-to-cousin-voiceover, but I cannot not see it every time now. And going straight from that to Boucher completely falling apart in front of a furious Nicholas, argh, Margaret just sums it up perfectly. "We do what little we can. I feel guilty that we do not go hungry; and helpless in the face of so much suffering." It's been a month; her little offerings of charity and her "baskets" are not refused now.

And Bessy is doing badly too. Nicholas is pacing the cage of his circumstances, frustrated and hurting and trying to find the way out. Meanwhile Margaret is trying to get a sense of the wider economic issues of business sustainability, trying to understand both sides, as she later says at the dinner party to Thornton's approbation. That understanding of both sides is what eventually leads to resolution of the problems, and Margaret will become the bridge that allows that to begin – that's the benefit of being an outsider.

Margaret sees the raw, cruel desperation of the workers; she's in amongst it every day. In this rarefied setting, she does not (yet) have the relationships or the understanding to see below appearances to the exact same precariousness of position; so far, the desperation of the Thorntons has only been revealed to the audience, in quiet half-coded conversations; and the strength of mother and son to face it is not in their wealth but their tried and tested characters.

To the opulence of the Thornton's dinner party and some biting remarks about the strike from Mrs Thornton. I do love her, in spite of her bitchiness. And Fanny the vapid counterpoint.

She deliberately takes his hand; I adore how subtly he expresses pleasure in her company, like he's so hardened by life, and so self-controlled, but he just can't quite keep it from spilling over in these tiny little smiles, or keep himself from looking at her too long. In the book it describes his pleasure in simply looking at her and it is so well played in these lingering touches and eye contact and *flail*


And so begins another little thread: of her looking back at him. She actually does it twice in quick succession in this scene, and I think he sees it both times; once when he's pulled aside from her, and once when she's pulled – I guess not!aside? – by Mr Bell wanting her to circulate in the company more. OH THESE LINGERING LOOKS, IT'S LIKE YOU'RE TRYING TO MAKE MY SCREEN COMBUST. Don't stop.

Ooh, a young and pretty Miss Latimer (who doesn't get a single line of dialogue the entire show). Competition! But then Thornton's attention is drawn to Margaret and he crosses the room to her – and she shakes his hand!  \o/ Progress! Aww, his little smile as she offers that she is "learning Milton ways" – an understood apology for giving offence before. A tiny step forward! Before he is "c-blocked", as another of my viewing companions termed it once, and dragged off to speak strike business by another master.

The dinner conversation – I love how, initially, their views are approved by the other. And then with a little more prodding and stirring, from Mr Bell and others – as the practical outworkings of their different views come out – BOOM, desperately awkward antagonsim. "You do the man, whoever he is, more harm than good with your basket." ... "But surely to give a dying baby food is not just a question of logic?" He challenges her naivety about the situation, she challenges his inhumanity about it, and neither's partial understanding comes off well at all. Meanwhile, Hale attempts to rescue the conversation with compliments to the table settings. Aw, Hale. ❤ You are not well-equipped, but you try, and that's the main thing.

Again, Milton is a fairly consistent leveller; your position and wealth matters a great deal less to success and survival than your strength of character and spirit.

They come home and Margaret, not being oblivious, spots a man leaving their house! Two seconds of rigourous interrogation of Dixon reveals that it's the doctor, making his "usual visit". So make that three families who have to deal with upcoming death due to the adversity of Milton, although at least there's the small mercy of this prospect being a parent, not a child.

I love how the master-servant relationships are depicted, both good and bad. How good masters inspire fierce love and loyalty among those who serve them – Dixon being the paragon of these servants (and Thornton slowly learns to become exemplary of the masters). The way that love and loyalty is transferred to Margaret, just as she takes on the care and kindness of her mother toward Dixon, is a beautifully sweet scene.

Contrasted immediately by cutting to the train tracks (train tracks! They instigate everything!) in the dead of night, where a scavenging Boucher sees Thornton smuggling in workers, "hands", from Ireland, and the score kicks it up a notch. This is going to be a problem.

Half mad and already doomed. Boucher. *weeps*

The next day, Margaret is running errands; a quick letter to her brother in Cadiz to summon him to his mother's side before she dies, and then to the Thorntons for the waterbed Fanny was nattering on about at the party. Just in time to be swept up in the vortex of violence, to finally witness first-hand just what a strike can entail as the enraged mob of strikers swarms the mill, Boucher and Stevens at the head. Once more she pricks at Thornton's humanity (and manliness), and he at her naivety, in a moment when the steel in both their characters come out in the face of danger.



The soldiers will make them see reason.
Reason – what
kind of reason? Mr Thornton, go down this instant and face them like a man. Speak to them as if they were human beings. They're driven mad with hunger! Their children are starving! They don't know what they're doing! Go and save your innocent Irishmen.

Seriously, Margaret? Are you not catching the inconsistencies in what you're saying, there? But Thornton cannot stand to be thus emasculated by your words, and strides off potentially suicidally to face the mob in person. At which point, and I always love this, Margaret is suddenly struck by the danger and calls after him, "Mr Thornton! Take care!" Uh, yeah, lady.


But she races out to put herself bodily between him and the danger of hurled cobblestones; her gender theoretically should buffer the situation, but Thornton's blood is up and he is not helping. Thornton then tries to manhandle her inside to get her out of harm's way, she tries to shield him, Boucher throws his stone and hits Margaret in the head by mistake, and that's the ballgame, kids. Thornton is struck to his very core (I tell you!) at seeing Margaret unconscious and bleeding and is ready to take everyone on barehanded, but the mob is already starting to disperse just as the soldiers ride up and start clobbering.

Pictured: moxie.

Thankfully, we have the Fanny-and-maid Jane double act for some comedic relief, because that was intense. Margaret recovers consciousness at least, and woozily insists on going home so as not to alarm her mother. Meanwhile, Mrs Thornton was the only one – in a household that presumably had at least a few male servants – brave enough to go out into the streets to fetch the doctor. These two ladies got moxie, I tell ya.

Which Boucher does not. He's limping away, a ruined man. Oh, Boucher.

Thornton can't believe Margaret was allowed to go home, while Fanny and Jane exchange significant glances, continuing from the earlier gossip that Margaret was (zomg) clinging to the master and that marriage proposals must-needs be in the air. Mrs Thornton appears to be equally convinced, because she outright asks Thornton not to go to the Hales as he, in his concern, is bent on doing.

Then Mary is on her way over to fetch Margaret, because Bessy is dying by inches and "been took so very ill!" This is the same damn day, IT NEVER ENDS, holy crap. And this isn't even the most depressing episode. Thornton strides about in the graveyard, Margaret sits beside her best friend as she gasps for air, only able to offer a comforting arm around her.


Character note: this tightly-controlled, private man is instinctively relaxed and open where he is understood and loved. Tuck that little visual cue away for the end.

Okay, now, look, I know this scene when Thornton goes home and has this gorgeous conversation with his mother about proposing to Margaret where they exposit the ins and outs of the social constraints – his own sense of honour demands he rescue her reputation by proposing after she "displayed" her feelings publicly by saving his life – which he just could not give a damn about because he loves her and he knows she doesn't love him back but he has to take his shot because he can't live with himself if he didn't (oh, the contrast with Cpt Awkwardpants) is all charactery goodness, and swoony feels (homg the FEELS, *swoon*), but I get so freaking distracted by his open collar. Take that, wet shirt! It's only the smallest scrap of skin at his neck, nothing any of us don't see all the time, and is therefore an amazing demonstration of how sexy the tiniest bit of intimacy can be when it's a relaxation of strict boundaries. Now excuse me, I need to ogle.

... Aand we're back. The strike's been broken; the violence of a few made the entire endeavour illegitimate in the public eye, and everybody's hurting. Nobody got what they wanted and it cost everybody a heck of a lot of money, including the masters.

But he tries to offer that openness where he hopes for even the tiniest possibility that he will be understood and loved.

Yeeah, that doesn't last long.

Maybe if he opened his collar.

And now, the proposal. I can't speak. Type. Whatever. *braces self* Argh, already they're arguing and misunderstanding each other and so prickly and proud and misinterpreting EVERYTHING. Thornton at least realises that arguing is not going to get him anywhere and changes tack. Haltingly he tries to articulate the fact that in spite of everything, he loves her, and she goes with the patented Margaret proposal way of "please stop". Full of righteous indignation that he's presuming to think he needs to rescue her honour, she pulls out the "not a gentleman" card. *crumples* More heated words and he tells her off and she realises she was ungracious and tries an apologetic explanation, which he takes the wrong way and AAARGH you people.

Please, understand, Mr Thornton –
I do understand. I understand you
completely. *storms out*


North & South, 3/4
North & South, 4/4


( 6 speakses — have a speak )
Jul. 9th, 2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
**basks in the perfection of this commentary**

Back with thoughts later. For now? I bask. :D
Jul. 9th, 2012 03:05 pm (UTC)
And the pics. Don't forget to bask in the pics. Mmmm, bare Thornton neck.
Jul. 9th, 2012 03:13 pm (UTC)
His neck. OMG. Just that single button undone.

**ogles with you**

And their intense staring contests. It's like, the words coming out of their mouths couldn't be nice even if they tried, but their eyes-- the eyes tell a different story entirely.

Edited at 2012-07-09 03:13 pm (UTC)
Jul. 9th, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
They are just so utterly fascinated with each other. It's such an addictive mixture of understanding and mystery, and they can barely drag their attention away from each other. The stares are SO INTENSE. APPROVED.
Nov. 26th, 2018 12:03 am (UTC)
You wrote this ages and ages ago but I'm writing a long research paper about the politics and implications of North and South and stumbled onto this and it's so! good! It's like god's own cross between a strong argument to go watch this series, damnit, and an analysis of the themes (many of which I didn't even think of before reading this, like the symbolism of the cemetery being the green space). And you write so beautifully, highlighting the poignancy of the series with things like "And oh, Nicholas. Your beloved, motherless daughter – your partner as much as Mrs Thornton is her son's – is dying because the workers have no defence against being used and discarded by the masters, and this grapple for leverage is ten years too late to save her, and that cost only drives you harder and blinds you to the cost others will pay too. And no one's entirely right and no one's entirely wrong and no one understands enough." That's such a lovely way to say that! I love it! Anyway I hope you don't mind if I use a few of the ideas in here for my paper, and that you're living your best life. :)
Nov. 26th, 2018 12:00 pm (UTC)
Wow, blast from the past! Thank you for commenting, N&S sounds like an excellent subject for a paper, there is certainly a lot in it – Gaskell did such an amazing job of observing and exploring those issues in her work. I'm glad you enjoyed my own flailing and thoughts about it! Good luck with your research :)
( 6 speakses — have a speak )

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