Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In honor of Netflix’s Special Correspondents, we’re honoring our favorite military-themed comedies.
Blackadder, the character played by Rowan Atkinson who travelled through different eras of British history, never felt as sad or as poignant as when putting underwear in his head and pencils in his nose. Atkinson played Blackadder—cunning, cynical, dry—in four different series and several one-off movies. While each series varied in time period, Blackadder was generally the same character, a man visited with near-constant misfortune, often of his own doing, who spent his time trying to better his station and self, often at his own expense. As the series progressed, Blackadder became smarter and wittier. But that still didn’t save him in the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth.
In that fourth and final series, Atkinson is Captain Blackadder, fighting for the British in World War I. But in “Goodbyeee,” the series finale, Blackadder isn’t fighting, he’s dying. “Goodbyeee” has all the elements of classic Blackadder, but it’s sadder and darker than anything else the character appeared in.
The platoon hasn’t seen much action since they got together. “We’ve been sitting here since Christmas of 1914 during of which millions of men have died and we’ve advanced no further than asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping,” Blackadder says. Then Blackadder, enthusiastic patrician idiot Lieutenant George (Hugh Laurie), and the similarly dim-witted Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson) are given their final orders by General Melchett (Stephen Fry): It’s time for them to go up over the trench wall for “the big push.” The idea becomes more ominous as it approaches. Blackadder is the only character who realizes everyone going to die, and so immediately tries to scheme his way out of it.
“A large crisis requires a large plan,” he says to Baldrick. “Get me two pencils and a pair of underpants.” Cut to Blackadder with underpants on his head and pencils in his nose in an effort to seem insane and get shipped back to HQ. Here’s where Blackadder’s genius lies: Atkinson’s character can discuss the changing nature of warfare and the mistakes of the British campaign with underwear on his head with pencils in his nose. But the scheme doesn’t work. The threat of the big push looms large.
At first, the sadness of “Goodbyeee” only occasionally breaks through the Blackadder absurdity, but this feeling of dread soon pervades the episode. The last scene is the episode’s gut punch. Lieutenant George realizes that “I’m the last of the tiddly-winking leapfroggers from the golden summer of 1914. I don’t want to die… I’m really not over keen on dying at all, sir,” he says. Just as they’re about to go over the edge of the trenches, Bladrick tries to come up with one last plan to flee, but Blackadder rebuffs him. “Whatever it was, I’m sure it was better than my plan to get out of here by pretending to be mad,” Blackadder says. “I mean, who would have noticed another madman ’round here?”
Availability: All five seasons of Blackadder are available on DVD and for digital purpose on iTunes and Amazon Video.