A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The first series of Indian Summers arrives to a spectacular, dark close as the summer of 1932 comes to an end of its own. The time of the British ruling class in Simla wraps up, dealing one final, fatalistic blow to any idealism that may have remained alive and setting the stage for a towering ascension followed by an even steeper fall to come. Paul Rutman’s series struggled on the onset to find an assured pacing and rhythm, as if not quite sure of the story it truly wanted to tell, the tone of what that story would depict, and how each character fit within it. The episodes were solid but there was something lying underneath that felt like the series wasn’t reaching its full potential. It has yet to truly accomplish an episode that takes it to that heights, but it certainly no longer feels as if the series is a thoroughly entertaining endeavor dressed in breathtaking visuals without the thematic depth to match. The darker the series became, the more intertwined its narratives, and the more morally complex its characters became. Summers subsequently became much more daring in its narrative scope, damning the privileged oppression of colonialism at every opportunity garnered and more. And the increasing daring strokes of the series afforded it the ability to evolve into a much more prescient beast than it seemed completely capable of at the onset. That isn’t to say there still aren’t issues, but the finale (aired as a singular episode on PBS) served as the most confident installment to date while leaving a plethora of intrigue for the second series to follow.
The plot of Summers was suffocated at times by a meandering approach to its storytelling. Certain characters became relevant and then irrelevant before they became relevant once more and that gave the series a sense of unfortunate whiplash that undercut its storylines more often than it should have. The finale, as good as it is, exposes those weakness in a harsher light in hindsight, casting a doubtful shadow on my episodic grades that felt higher than they ought to have been. Ramu Sood is a key example. One of the characters to receive stronger writing in terms of character and surrounding plot, Sood began his journey as an Indian man in a colonially frowned upon relationship with a Scottish man by being in a position of relatively higher power. That relationship, despite however poorly regarded Ian’s uncle was as, was at complete odds with the social hierarchy of the day. Cynthia’s declaration of injustice when Ian’s uncle fell upon the ground was the beginning of the British backlash against that construction and no matter what had happened after that, Sood’s fate was sealed. As some of the more promising characters started falling by the wayside, the relationship between Ian and Sood blossomed into something resembling a cohesive friendship, a note of blossoming positivity in a dark, dreary land. That it would end in tragedy was inevitable, as the sham trial gave way to the sentence of hanging. It is an odd choice then to have Sood largely be missing from the first hour and then arrive back towards the second half for his death. It’s a mournfully constructed sequence but an effective one, ending the life of one of the few characters that had espoused any shred of decency so arduously.
Sarah is surprisingly one of the characters who benefits the most from the finale. A bit scattered and skewered as a character, Sarah often felt like the inconvenient plot device to make Alice’s life a bit difficult and in those instances it was difficult to feel as much sympathy for her even when the strained relationship with her husband came to constant light. Here it’s equally difficult not to feel sorry for her and that switch is an incredible feat of storytelling to accomplish. At the heart of it all, Sarah is someone who knows that her poorly structured relationship was done and that any shred of hope she had espoused for its remaining future was negligible at best. A traditional woman raised in an orthodox tradition, she felt that marriage was her anchor, but the receding ground only made it wash back out into the water. The only thing that remained was something that would give her some semblance of society and structure and it ended up being a place for her son at a prominent English school. I’ve never felt as much for Sarah as I did in the moment when she vehemently thanked Alice, that emotional heft unspooling out of her edifice as the veil of nastiness fell away. As Dougie said goodbye to her and Matthew, all of the remaining vestiges of togetherness simply snapped way and fell to the roadside. There’s a slight, whispered promise of meeting in the near future but they both know that that is something that they would simply never do. They might try at some juncture perhaps, but there is little left to salvage, little in fact that they could salvage at all. It was the only thing they could bring themselves to do at that moment by promising one another that a moment of unity may come in the future, for their child if perhaps nothing else at all. I don’t know if we’re going to see Sarah and Matthew once more, but if this was it, this was a fitting and emotional end to their journey.
Everything and everyone else was just as messy and emotionally turbulent, but emotionally affecting in another sense. Aafrin and Alice’s romance that had begun so inevitably yet oddly in the Garden of Debauchery (still my favorite sequence in the series so far) reaches a crescendo here and one that is surely barreling towards catastrophe. Ralph has descended remarkably from being someone of perhaps some conscience to having adapted the dark side for political gain, a move that not only seals the fate of his character but negates a chance for Aafrin and Alice to go public with their relationship. It is almost madness that the two would even consider such a thing, but love is an odd thing and certainly Alice would have little reason to feel that her brother would be so vehemently opposed to her happiness. But Aafrin, after having discovered that Ralph had sent Sood to his death to save his own skin, faces a crisis of conscience. For so long Sooni had urged him to fight for what was right, to fight for the realities of what British oppression truly was and Aafrin had conformed instead to the ideals of civil servitude. Aafrin, due to a combination of loyalty, duty, and love had ignored all of the signs that pointed towards the inner darkness of Ralph’s that became so evident when push finally came to shove. In that long, frantic run to save the life of an innocent man, there’s something that clicks within his psyche and the Aafrin who appears in those final sequence is simultaneously the most different but the most exciting Aafrin yet. When the Simla Club votes to desegregate but Cynthia only allows two Indians into the club, it conveniently turns out to be Aafrin and he brings his father with him. If there was any doubt in Aafrin’s mind as to his future trajectory, it was cleared right then and there. There would never really be true equality under that system and the juxtaposition between Aafrin and his father and a cursed Ralph and Cynthia climbing the stairs together was a perfect encapsulation of that. See you all next year.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Sarah hugging her maid
+“They will tear you apart.”
+“What was he doing in that filthy room?”
+“I’ve seen strong men go to their graves between tea and suppertime.”
+“Courtesy is never wasted.”
+The note of Gandhi’s fight with the
+Cynthia prevented Jaya and Ralph from getting together
+“You try and be the man you think they want.”
+Bhupi tried to hang himself
+“The most loyal friend in the world.”
+The dark shadow of trees formed like storm clouds
Episode Titles: Episode 9/Episode 10
Alternative Titles: The Club/Vande Mataram
Written by: Paul Rutman
Directed by: David Moore
Image Courtesy: PBS