Will S01E04: Brave New World
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Writer: Craig Pearce
Starring: Laurie Davidson, Olivia DeJonge, Ewen Bremner, Mattias Inwood, Jamie Campbell Bower, William Houston, Lukas Rolfe, Colm Meaney
A review by Samantha Pearson
Will S01E04, Brave New World, deals primarily with the definition of virtue. Alice (Olivia DeJonge)’s virtue is of particular focus, as she has started sleeping with Will and is now “ruined” for marriage prospects. Meanwhile, Will’s refusal to help Father Southwell legalize Catholicism suggests he is unvirtuous in his faith.
Furthermore, Brave New World takes a critical look at Will’s newfound celebrity status, mocking his earring as well as his apparent vanity. Until now, Richard (Mattias Inwood)’s vanity has been the brunt of many jokes. Will being a writer who seems more than happy to be in the spotlight is something of a lark… Several characters comment on it, including Alice and Father Southwell. He refers to Will’s “swelling legend”, which is really phallic, and definitely comments on Will’s infidelity as well as his sudden stardom.
As Robert Coffil pointed out in a recent conversation on the Rogues Portal staff Slack, this idea of celebrity being something to covet is fairly modern… Superimposing it on William Shakespeare in Will perhaps doesn’t fit. But as Craig Pearce and Shekhar Kapur have already demonstrated, on this series, anything goes.
S01E04 thus kicks off with a quote from Henry V: “I would give all my ale for a pot of fame and safety.” David Bowie’s “Fame” follows up, and we see that Will is hooking up with Alice in her father’s theater despite the fact that he is married and she is nearing engagement herself. We also see that Father Southwell — still going by Mr. Cotton — has come to the theater to see Two Gentlemen of Verona and check on his cousin. Will is… less than pleased.
Father Southwell’s appearance in this public space indicates two things. One, he is getting bolder in his quest to legalize Catholicism. Two, he is getting more determined to make Will assist with his manuscript for the queen. While the players in the theater are making bets on how many plague deaths have struck England this week, Father Southwell attempts to sell Will on the importance of making his manuscript read as poetically as one of Will’s plays. Will’s desire to be known as the greatest poet in London pushes him to agree… despite the fact that Alice explicitly warned him against putting her, her family, or their theater in any more danger.
Meanwhile, he also completely discredits Alice for essentially co-writing Two Gentlemen of Verona. Yikes. Not a good look, Will. Especially not with a woman you claim to have written deeply romantic, poetic verse about.
Alice’s anger at Will actually drives her to agree (however grudgingly) to her mother’s insistence that she accept a wealthy suitor’s proposal. He attempts to present her with a book of poetry, which is “Outlandish, I know, to put poetry into a book, but I’m told it’s all the fashion.” The comment is honestly hilarious; she misses his visit because she’s too busy having sex with Will. Her mother forces her to have lunch with the suitor and his ailing mother instead, something Alice does to get back at Will for treating her poorly.
First, she attends a party with Richard, Moll, and Will… who’s dragged out by Kit Marlowe. The tension between Jamie Campbell Bower and Laurie Davidson is once again ridiculous in this scene. As they move through the party, Kit introduces Will as “William Shakespeare, a purveyor of that new kind of play called the tragicomedy, so called because it is almost moving and barely funny.”
The joke gets repeated until Will asks, pointedly, when Kit last wrote a new play. Thus beaten at his own game, Kit shuts right up.
Kit convinces Will to leave his friends for a more “exclusive” party hosted by Sir Francis Bacon, whom Kit describes as “a notorious sodomite”. T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” plays over the raucous, orgy-esque party downstairs. The music fades as Will and Kit essentially do bong rips with an astrologist who supposedly predicted the Spanish Armada. Kit wants Will look into the “magic fire” and tell him what he sees. He thinks Will’s faith will allow him to make better sense of the spirits.
Instead, Will has paranoid delusions of Richard Topcliffe coming after him, Alice, and everyone he loves. “”Tell me, are [the demons] real?” Kit says, “I cannot write unless I conquer them all.” Bower plays Marlowe as the jealous, spiteful, mad playwright, which is fascinating. However, this characterization is very concerning since Marlowe is canonically gay. (Note to the Craig Pearce: gay men are not inherently crazy, or sex addicts, or horrible snakes. Depicting them as such is harmful. Thanks!)
Will sprints from the room in horror. Downstairs, he punches a very drunk Richard Burbage, who shouts at Will for being “too good for his own friends.” Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” narrates the rest of the scene. Will runs back to his room at the inn and burns Father Southwell’s sole copy of his manuscript. Alice stops him from destroying it completely. Then she rips him apart for lying to her about his faith, the contents of the manuscript, and his involvement in Father Southwell’s mission.
Olivia DeJonge is especially explosive in this scene; Alice tells Will to make his excuses to the theater and then leave, or she’ll tell her father and brother what he is (a Catholic). The threat is powerful. If they don’t ruin Will, they’ll make sure Richard Topcliffe does. Then Will’s dream of success in the theater will be over. He’ll likely die. And so will everyone he loves.
All of this happens against a backdrop of Richard Topcliffe continuing to torture Mathew, who still refuses to give up any information about Father Southwell’s location. Mathew dies in this episode, when Topcliffe bludgeons him to death while he prays. Prior to his death, Mathew’s nipple is ripped out with a fishing hook and then he is hung from the ceiling by large hooks through his back. The torture scenes in Will are brutal, especially in Brave New World. Will has visions of people’s intestines being ripped out and all of Mathew’s scenes are simply horrifying. The grotesque, gory nature of these scenes calls to mind similar sequences on shows like Game of Thrones.
By the end of Brave New World, Alice has forgiven Will, who’s turned his back on Father Southwell and also removed the earring that was the outward marker of all his success and fame. He’s also apologized to Richard for breaking his nose at the party and offered to write him a new part: the lead in Henry VI, following Richard’s suggestion to write plays from history.
In the final scene, Topcliffe commissions Will to write him an anti-Catholic play that will appeal to the masses. He’s given one week in which to complete the script. Working with his cousin to make Catholicism appeal to the masses feels obligatory because they are family. Writing this play for Topcliffe is actually obligatory because otherwise Topcliffe can (and will) rip Will limb from limb. It’s a terrifying and shocking twist on the plot thus far, driving Will deeper into life-or-death conflict.
Watch it, if only for Olivia DeJonge’s performance and the incredibly cool effects when Will gets high. There’s also an incredible discussion of King Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream near the end of the episode. Moll (Abigail Hardingham) is especially delightful. I also love how well Laurie Davidson displays Will’s emotional conflicts and selfishness in Brave New World, as it will clearly motivate the plot moving forward.