The Consumption of Fire
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The opening shots of Jaya’s body floating in the river as if the camera was underwater were sublime in their melancholia, gazing up at the forlorn morning. Summers is transitioning into an entirely different beast than what it was on its onset, buoyed by an assured pacing and narrative grasp that seemed to elude it in its earlier outings. The characterizations are yet to completely cemented and the central forbidding romance still feels a bit uncooked, but the series no longer feels like it is merely taking steps forward nor is there an aura of slightly hollow but beautiful surroundings standing in for plot. The murder of Jaya in the darkened night sees Ramu Sood implicated, served unintentionally on a golden platter by the naive Ian McLeod to a rousing British bureaucracy who cheer with unabashed, unashamed euphoria at the proverbial noose tightening around his neck. Indian Summers, for its faults, has never been a series that shied away from the abominable privilege the British ruling class enjoyed at the expense of an entire nation and this sham of a trial is another triumphant display of such open and wanton cruelty. There is no doubt that Sood is completely innocent and a fair amount of the Brits watching the trial with such wanton glee are aware of that fact. They simply do not care either way. It’s all a circus, an entertainment upon whose crux lies the fate of an innocent man whose life for all intents and purposes means nothing at all.
The reality of privilege is a concept ingrained with the harkening of civilization, where a social hierarchy had set in in accordance with factors as inane as wealth, sex, ethnicity, religion, et cetera. The ones who receive the most benefits from social privilege are often the ones who are most oblivious not necessarily to the privilege itself, but how they benefit from it in the first place. The existence of said privilege is justified through a superiority complex taken as imminent fact, buoyed by the unfortunate advent of Social Darwinism. Once the benefits from the privilege are explained, there are often two resultant expressions that arrive from it. The first is a blatant acceptance of the rewards that arrive at the top of the social hierarchy, a complete ownership of the benefits from privilege, and an absolute lack of giving a damn likewise. The Viceroy fits this bill, his thinly veiled racism and ethnocentric commentary barely masked by paper-thin euphemisms. The second is a shocked reaction as to how such an accusation could possibly occur and even within that aspect there is another division. Either the person(s) in question is genuinely shocked because they’re unaware, or they simply had buried the knowledge deep within themselves, only to be perturbed when it bubbles back to the surface. And here that privilege, in its most damning moment, sentences an innocent man to hang for the real crime of daring to stand up to the Brits as an equal. The British ruling class see that moment as justice while the Indian crowd knows all too well that that privilege had never truly given justice a chance.
The most awkward thoroughfare, to take a lighter turn (in the slightest of ways) is a dramatic interpretation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, attempted notably by Cynthia and the Viceroy. It’s a great meta narrative for the series to pick up on, ending in what may be the most obvious line uttered yet in the series, just in case anyone was somehow expecting the opposite: “The good ended happily and the bad ended unhappily. That is what fiction means.” Wilde’s work, phenomenal and dense in all the right ways, has a main thoroughfare that could be spun into the opposite of it’s title. Earnestness is an attribute one could ascribe to perhaps a child who worked wit due diligence on a project and wants to make sure that his or her parents are proud of their accomplishment. It’s an attitude that a young adult may ascribe to when setting the placings for a dinner date, wanting to ensure that every single piece of the figurative and literal pie is perfection. It’s an attitude embodied by Ian, who recognizes upon Jaya’s death that she was the Tamil woman whom he had given work in Sood’s fields and who had stolen Kavitha’s wedding dress. The earnestness of wanting to help offered up Sood as the perfect scapegoat, the trial crafted to conform Sood into a monstrous native who had the indecency of murdering a woman just because she had taken his late wife’s wedding dress. Ian was aghast at his mistake, committing himself to ensuring that somehow Sood would garner the justice he deserved.
It’s a dark and depressing thoroughfare for Summers and it permeates profusely throughout almost every singular narrative. Sood, to his immense credit, urges Ian to not work towards his freedom. He would only be condemning himself as even more of a pariah than he already has become. Ralph finds himself more and more constrained between the dichotomy that is ripping him apart. It’s difficult to discern yourself from a place where you have spent all of your life, where your world has come into a fully realized being and that struggle is ripping away at Ralph as if he could find no semblance of solace in his marriage to Madeleine, his political ambitions upon whom he had focused so much of his life, and the realization that he has a progeny from a former relationship. The ambiguity of the character is tremendous, even though at every juncture my sympathy for Ralph wanes significantly and it’s not just because he’s a key member of the oppressive ruling class whose “benevolence” is at the mercy of imperialism. A character’s wishy-washiness can only take one so far and Ralph’s constant juxtaposition of where he wants to be as a character is frankly not that endearing. Speaking of endearing matters that are clearly doomed in every potential aspect, there’s no way that Aafrin and Alice’s budding relationship is going to bloom into happiness in any fashion. But for now, let them enjoy their theatrics and joy. The curtain will surely fall soon.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Episode Seven):
+“I’ll end up just like him. Except I don’t even have an empire to lose.”
+Gandhi’s hunger strike and Ralph noting the realpolitik at play
+“How could you possibly understand?”
+“Yes, you are constantly signing his praises. You were practically sycophantic.”
+Alice saw Ralph backing into the forest at the cremation
+Leela’s characterization is finally shaping up a bit more. That she picked up Ralph being Adam’s father in about two seconds is a testament to her intelligence.
+“I dared to stand up to them as their equal. And that, that, Mr. McLeod, is my real crime.”
+“I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.”
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Episode Eight):
+Sooni in law is something I could get used to
+“We’ll be living with what you leave behind.”
+“Don’t throw your life away for me.”
+“Demon. It means demon.”
+Sarah vomiting as Dougie stands up in Leela’s defense
+“I thought it would be fair.”
+“What is so special about you people?”
+“Your great Rudyard Kipling.”
+“Miss Whelan, and it’s a little late for apologies.”
+“Do you do landscapes?”
+“I was so impressed that you could draw my portrait from memory.”
+“We are not for sale.”
+The final shot of the sandals on Ralph’s feet. The symbolism there is magnificent.
Episode Title: Episode 7
Alternative Title: The Meaning of Fiction
Written by: Lisa McGee
Directed by: Jamie Payne
Image Courtesy: Masterpiece PBS
Episode Title: Episode 8
Alternative Title: Portraits of Earnestness
Written by: Anna Symon
Directed by: David Moore
Image Courtesy: Cultbox