Posted by: Ali Davis | November 1, 2011

Courage, New Hampshire: The Recap (Chapter 4)

Chapter 4 – Trial 1

A torch-carrying mob!

Well, actually more of a polite, trudging mob. But still. They show up at the inn concerned that the visiting lawyer is going to try to besmirch poor Sarah Pine’s name. Because if there’s one thing that kept Colonial New Englanders up at night, it was making sure that no one talked smack about unwed mothers.

The mob has heard that Lawyer Trapp has lined up some ne’er-do-well to make claims about Sarah, and they want to run Trapp out of town.

Rhodes talks them out of mob violence, on the grounds that it would just prove the King’s men right. Or something. And so the mob politely trudges away. Phew!

Morning! Bob Wheedle and Mean Simeon Trapp are walking to the trial. Wheedle seems vaguely concerned about Sarah Pine’s reputation, but Trapp shuts him down. No mercy! He will sully this young woman’s reputation if that’s what it takes.

(On a side note, please, please do not mistake these conflicting needs and desires for an actual buildup of dramatic tension.)

With the exception of the multifaceted weaseling of Mr. Trapp, (and for that I raise my tankard to Basil Hoffman, by far my favorite actor in the production), every character delivers his or her lines in a dutiful fashion and then seemingly resigns himself or herself to whatever is going on as the scene ends. There is no inchoate longing, no delicious anticipation. Just a sense of “That’s that, then.” and maybe a sigh. Perhaps it’s a secretly ingenious way of showing the influence of a fatalistic Puritan worldview. Or something.

Anyway, trial!

It’s being held in the Darkest Meeting Hall in all New Hampshire.

Personal note to Writer/Producer/Actor/Director James Patrick Riley: I know that Colonial meeting halls probably were exactly this dark, so points for authenticity there, yes. However, you are making a TV show, one about a put-upon unwed mother and the laws of God, and sensitive viewers may need to be reassured that this is not about to turn into a horror flick.

What I’m saying is that you are allowed to discreetly hang some klieg lights up in the rafters so we can see.

Michele Bachmann fought hard for your lightbublular freedoms, sir. Don’t toss them aside so lightly.

(Though, having said all that, I would totally watch Goodwife Carrie or Rosemary’s Colonial Baby. Get on it, film industry!)

OK, for real this time: The trial! Did I mention it’s just the teeniest bit boring?

Mr. Fox, Sarah’s attorney, goes into his case, finally fully explaining the whole deserters/kidnappers thing from half an hour ago: The King’s 29th captured some deserters, but since they were ordered (By whom?) to dress in plainclothes while doing so, the townspeople of Courage thought the soldiers were really kidnappers and mistakenly – but totally understandably – arrested them.

So while Bob Wheedle was temporarily imprisoned in the Pines’ barn while everything got sorted out, he seduced young Sarah.

Which, you’ll notice, still makes no damned sense.

I’ve been puzzling about why this torturous plot point has to be in there at all, but it makes sense if you work from the point of view that Saintly Sarah has to be really truly unassailably pure and good. Which means she can’t have just gotten to know Bob Wheedle while he was stationed in town over a long period of time because then she would have been brazenly talking with Redcoats.

This way, when Bob is temporarily imprisoned in the Pine barn, he and Sarah are thrown together, because what you do when you have a possible kidnapper tied up in the barn is send your naïve niece out to feed him and make sure he has enough freedom of movement for some sweet sweet loving should she happen to decide that God wants them to be married.

I’m pretty sure that method of confinement is recommended in Poor Richard’s Almanack somewhere.

The weird kidnapper/soldier in disguise thing allows Sarah to be in close quarters with a man but saves her from falling in love with an actual criminal, and really, once you think about it, the whole thing could not be more neat and tidy. I don’t know why I even brought it up.

Sarah Pine comes to the stand and for some reason has picked out some long scarlet gloves with a matching bonnet ribbon. Evidently Mr. Fox isn’t a master of trial prep.

I realize that we’re meant to feel a sort of resonance with Hester Prynne here, what with the scarlet and the affair and the secrecy, but, again, this pushes us into difficult territory. It’s as though Writer/Director/Actor/Producer/Dreamweaver Riley hasn’t noticed that a heavy portion of the Tea Party membership would be firmly on the side of the Puritan bluenoses if not for one notable hiccup during the 2008 presidential campaign.

But since that hiccup did happen, and many people on the Tea Party side came to the sudden realization that every woman lives in a difficult and unique web of circumstances and choices when it comes to her sexuality and it’s wrong to rush to judgment, maybe we could ease up on single mothers a bit? Perhaps even stop being such hard-liners when it comes to getting reliable contraception? Maybe that’s where Riley is secretly leading us? No? Just checking.

Sarah seems pretty chipper about the whole thing – she clearly sees this as the “cute meeting” story she’ll tell on her anniversaries.

Sarah elaborates that she cared for Bob while he recovered his strength and by the next evening he was telling her stories, which means that on a small, busy working farm she was apparently allowed to spend hours at a time with the prisoner in the barn and no one noticed.

This whole pregnancy thing may have been a blessing in disguise. It was only a matter of time until the Pine clan had Sarah take their life savings to Atlantic City to find a good investment.

Mr. Fox asks if Wheedle offered her his friendship and she replies, “I would say he offered considerable more than that.”

Too much information, Miss Pine!

The whole courtroom is embarrassed until we clarify that Bob offered a marriage proposal – or at least what Sarah took as one. For some reason we never quite resolve that point.

Mr. Fox asks Sarah to confirm that her romantic prisoner/fiancé-in-the-barn encounter is her one and only, which, duh, it’s what every girl dreams of for her First Time, and she’s finally done testifying.

No, wait! She isn’t! It’s Mean Lawyer Trapp’s turn!

Trapp intends to – oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Trick? Snare? Entangle? I’ll think of it one day. Anyway, he intends to ambush and box in the innocent Sarah Pine.

Trapp sure does have a lot of fancy words… Only we don’t hear any of them. Instead we get a montage of shots of Trapp talking while Sarah looks beleaguered. None of her answering him, mind you. Just him apparently haranguing the court.

This is another ingenious sidestep.

You might think that in an episode entitled “The Travail of Sarah Pine,” the part with the actual travail in it would be the centerpiece. Perhaps she’d engage the Godless Trapp in a firey back-and-forth of villainy vs. righteousness, or at least some “You can’t handle the truth!”–style dramatic screaming.

…But such a thing would require thinking of new ways to talk about the pretty basic facts we’ve already gone over. And, more important, such a thing might require Simeon Trapp to say a few things out loud that – even though we’d all agree such things would be truly wrong to say – our writer/producer/director/glue that holds this Colonial community together would rather people didn’t connect with Sarah Pine or her invisible companion character, Brittle Pine.

So instead we get a Montage of Implied Lawyerly Jerkishness. And it works just swell except for the part where you don’t get any of that exciting dramatic tension, and it’s mostly done in long shots so Sarah looks like she’s less beaten down and despairing than sort of annoyed by the whole thing.

After five or six shots of montage, Rhodes steps in and tells Trapp to knock it off.

So Trapp asks poor Sarah a question out loud: If they were married(ish), why did Sarah hightail it back to her room instead of spending the night in her straw-covered marriage bed?

She doesn’t have a great answer for that, saying it didn’t seem proper. Trapp notes that her propriety instincts kicked in at an odd time and the whole courtroom goes wild with umbrage!

Rhodes adjourns court until the next day and takes Trapp outside for a stern talking-to. Not that he’s an activist judge or anything. Trapp points out that he’s just pursuing his case and Rhodes says that if people lose faith in the king’s justice they’ll make their own, and then essentially threatens Trapp with the wrath of the Politely Trudging Mob if he doesn’t shape up.

You’re on Colonial tenterhooks, aren’t you?

Next up: Chapter 5 – More trial!

[Bewildered? Catch up on chapters 1, 2, and 3!]

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