The quieter moments are the ones that shone through this episode—perhaps with no giant dramatic scenes to upstage them, the showrunners let them breathe—namely the lovely shots of old, burnished mirrors and what seems to be happening on the other sides of them. An early scene places Norrell and Childermass in a bedroom, Childermass recovering from the shot Lady Pole fired last episode. “She was at the heart of it,” he tells Norrell, referring to the magic he sensed concentrating around her.
Despite Norrell’s best efforts to keep magic contained and respectable, magic is seeping outside his control in the most contemptuous ways. Not only can Childermass perform his own small magic and sense it swirling through London, but Segundus—never having before shown aptitude as much as enthusiasm toward magic—also senses it around Lady Pole and Stephen. He sees a rose in both their mouths, but he doesn’t know what it means. Magic is finding its way out from under the doors of Norrell’s neat library, seeping across England.
Meanwhile, Strange tries in his own bumbling ways to challenge Norrell, who is still his teacher and still intent on controlling Strange’s magical education. Yet Strange, as he brings up several times, has been to the Peninsula. He doesn’t really need Norrell any more, and he grows increasingly frustrated as Norrell’s stodgy adherence to what he calls “respectable” magic and his refusal to engage with the Raven King, whose magic Strange had been practicing during war. After they fail in an assignment to help the mad King George III, Strange returns on his own to try some of that disreputable Raven King magic, which causes a sudden loosening of both the King’s tongue and the mirror in the room: George steps neatly into Lost Hope, leaving a slipper behind like Cinderella. It’s a great, fun scene, with George turning up right in front of Stephen and the Gentleman, brought back to his chambers by Strange just as Stephen is forced to raise a sword and try to murder him. (The Gentleman sure is stupid in this episode, thinking Stephen running the king through with a sword will mean he takes his place.)
It’s a good thing this episode has those brief, lively scenes, because most of this episode is stuffed with the dull exposition and relationship beats that should be spread out over several hours of television, not crammed into this single one. Many relationships come to an end or part ways. As far as our titular characters are concerned: Does anyone care that Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell parted ways? The show has covered a great deal of ground in a mere four episodes, introducing us to a singular world of English magic with lots of creepy plots and memorable characters. But the relationship between the two main characters is not one I have grown to care about over the course of the show.
That’s why this episode’s main arc between Strange and Norrell—most of the drama of which is predicated on the status of their relationship—doesn’t get the same emotional highs from previous episodes that see more minor relationships somehow attaining much more gravitas, like Lady Pole and Stephen’s misery in Lost Hope together, or even the (too brief) relationship between Strange and his war-time assistant, Jeremy. The factions that are formed through their split is sure to pay dividends in the future, but now it’s only enjoyable for hearing the word “Norrellite” for the first time. Rushing through hundreds of pages in three episodes didn’t give the main characters’ relationship the weight this episode goes for. The tragic figure at the heart of Norrell is briefly on display here: Eddie Marsan shows, once again, how good he is at making a singularly unlikable character sympathetic. Promising to share his library at last with Strange, it’s too little, too late, both for Strange and for me: Sad as it is, I just can’t bring myself to care much.
It isn’t just the magicians who part ways. What was more affecting to me was the parting of Lady Pole and Stephen, though as she says, it’s ridiculous to think of them as parted when they’ll meet every night in Lost Hope. Still, they are the only ones in the English world who knows what’s really happening to the other, and I found their parting scene much more saddening than the bigger parting in this episode.
The hangers-on Drawlight and Lascelles also part ways in another plot point that feels rushed through in this episode. Drawlight, it turns out, has a little debt problem, which he pays off by pretending to be Strange’s assistant in teaching commoners magic. Strange’s confirmation of the scheme is neatly combined with his discovery of Lost Hope, walking through a mirror into an M.C. Escher-looking world and coming through a different mirror at some other place in England. Very nice.
In another show of magic running rampant through England, the Gentleman pulls a creepy stunt with a piece of wood, making the final parting—that between Strange and Arabella—the most haunting. The episode does a fine job of building it up, too, putting the couple through their paces and testing their resolve and commitment to each other before throwing it all in doubt. Arabella has put up with a lot, so it’s no wonder she’d like to return home with her husband to a quieter life. It’s just not meant to be, though, as Strange is called away at the end of the episode to help once again with the war effort. Arabella’s encounters with the Gentleman and his hints of horror waiting in store, planted in previous episodes, reaps dividends in the second-to-last shot of the episode, after Stephen pulls the “moss oak” out of water and the Gentleman peels away a layer to reveal Arabella’s face. A horrible gurgling noise, the white fish-like eyelids, the way she stares blankly up out of the wood—this is the kind of eerie image Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is so apt at delivering.
“All The Mirrors Of The World” serves an expository purpose, so it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s not very exciting, memorable, or affecting. Showrunner Toby Haynescan can tick a healthy number of plot points off the list to move the story forward, and it felt like just that: rushing the characters through what they need to continue the narrative. It’s not a great way to tell a story, but hopefully it means that next week’s show will be full of the propelling drama I’ve come to expect but found lacking.
- There wasn’t a quote that grabbed me enough to mention this episode. Commenters, you got anything?
- The Raven King depicted in the painting—the first time Strange, and us, have seen him depicted thus—was darn creepy, especially with that Gentleman lurking in the background like a photo-bombing ghost.