Will S01E08: Your Houses

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writer: Mark Steilen
Starring: Laurie Davidson, Olivia DeJonge, Ewen Bremner, Mattias Inwood, Jamie Campbell Bower, William Houston, Lukas Rolfe, Colm Meaney

A review by Samantha Pearson

Will S01E08, Your Houses, is possibly one of the darkest episodes of the series. Under the direction of Jonathan Teplitzky, it immediately forgoes any whimsy offered in What Dreams May Come and replaces it with a gorey progression of the series’ plot.

Your Houses derives its title from Romeo and Juliet, specifically Mercutio’s speech just before his death: “A plague on both your houses!” With this curse, Mercutio damns the Montagues and the Capulets for spilling so much innocent blood in their feud. As we all know, the play ends with Romeo and Juliet both dead, as well as several other important members of each family. 

In Will, the quote and the S01E08 title focus on a different feud: the one brewing between the Protestants and the Catholics. Will, disgusted by the number of bodies piling up at Father Southwell’s feet, grows determined to take down the queen’s torturer, Richard Topcliffe. Then, Emilia informs Will that Topcliffe is next in line to become the queen’s main spymaster. The role would give Topcliffe even more freedom to do as he pleases. Distraught, Will opts to follow Emilia’s advice: “Some fight with a sword. You fight with a pen. … We must all be the hero we were born to be.”

In a scheme that directly mirrors the one written into Hamlet, Will decides to write a play that will illuminate Topcliffe’s treachery for the masses. Instead of reneging on his commitment to write a play discrediting Southwell, Will twists that play to fit his scheme. He tells Topcliffe he must know everything about him, in order to write him as the hero. Topcliffe will take down Southwell in the play, Will promises. He just needs information to build the character. Then, Will spends the afternoon taking notes on everything Topcliffe tells him.

Ewen Bremner embodies the twisted Topcliffe so well that it took me several episodes to figure out that I actually knew this actor. Although I still hate how Will is choosing to represent its canonically gay characters, Bremner’s performance is chilling. For every question Will asks about Topcliffe’s “methods” for gathering intel on Catholics, Bremner’s expression gives the slightest shift. His subtle performance plays incredibly well against Laurie Davidson’s wide-eyed guile. Topcliffe is the most dangerous man in London; exposing him could land Will and everyone he loves in very grave danger. Yet, he persists, spurred on by Topcliffe’s obvious pleasure in torturing innocent people for their faith.

In addition to the actors’ stellar performances in Your Houses, visual cues take a huge step up from previous episodes. Director Jonathan Teplitzky makes a habit of showing us the characters through filters. Candlelight, fences, privacy screens, crystal balls, and even the bodies of other characters act as frames throughout S01E08. These shots affect not only the clarity with which we see the characters, but the lighting of each scene.

While characters like Will, Richard, and Autolycus are bathed in golden candlelight, characters like Topcliffe appear in dark, blue-lit rooms and gloomy streets. The difference is striking, and immediately elevates S01E08 above the rest. This episode also relies more heavily on score music than punk tracks; the shift is a startling but effective tool for building tension.

Your Houses is rife with conflict, even beyond Will wanting to out Topcliffe as a monster. Alice, now a converted Catholic working for Father Southwell, refuses to accept Will’s apology (excellent) but also refuses to acknowledge that she’s doing the very thing she warned Will not to do in S01E02 (meh). She berates him for his changeability, though she ends the episode in his arms, the two of them praying for her brother Richard’s fate.

Oh, right. Your Houses also focuses on the literal plague. In previous episodes, the players at Burbage’s theater have placed bets on how many bodies the sickness has claimed during the week. In S01E08, one of the players, Atolycus, catches and dies from it. This plot is so poorly executed.

Until now, Autolycus has been a background character. He takes a central focus in this episode, however, and the reasoning behind it is infuriating. Richard Burbage, mocked for his vanity all season, finally proves that he believes in something: his best friend, Autolycus. This plot comes out of nowhere, and it’s clearly meant to give Richard some kind of humanity. That’s fucked up, since Autolycus is one of the only characters of color on Will. Why kill him to make a white man seem deeper than he is? This trope is one we’ve seen before, and to be frank, it’s tired. Mark Steilen, do better with your writing. Please.

What’s especially horrifying about the Autolycus plot is that he gets the plague after sleeping with his new love, Peg. They bond over birds after Richard shoves Autolycus at her so he can sleep with her friend. They kiss when she takes him to the bridge to see all the Catholic heads Topcliffe has had displayed as a warning for traitors to the Protestant faith. It’s a little weird, but also kind of sweet, and then it all goes to Hell when they both catch the plague. Richard runs into the condemned house where Peg is sleeping right before it’s sealed, thereby essentially condemning himself to death alongside his friend.

It’s… even more distressing that this entire plot happens to prop up Alice and Will. Historically, Richard assisted with the opening of the Globe Theatre. Presumably, Will cares at least a little bit about the history there and won’t kill his character. But I don’t know! This series has proven time and again that it has no problem playing fast and loose with Shakespeare canon, so we’ll have to wait and see.

At any rate, the final element of Your Houses that needs discussion is the plot of Christopher Marlowe. Last we saw Kit, he was pitching Doctor Faustus to Henslowe at The Rose. In S01E08, he actually writes the play, hallucinating that he can see the actual devil all the while. Although Kit has been integral in the Will vs. Topcliffe plot since the pilot, it isn’t until this episode that he reveals what he truly wants from Will: salvation at the hands of Father Southwell.

Considering that Catholicism is getting a lot of people ripped limb from limb, it’s apparently the Hot New Trend. After Marlowe’s desperate attempt to sell his soul, he now wants to find Heaven. In his attempt to convince Will to help him, he spouts off a bastardization of the most famous William Shakespeare quotes of all time, from The Tempest. “Go to Hell,” Will says. Kit replies, “I tried. Apparently it is empty and all the devils are here.”

At this point, with just two episodes left in Will‘s first season, it doesn’t look like anyone is going to make it through alive, which is… bizarre, seeing as most of these people are integral to much later events in Shakespeare’s life. Curious.

Verdict
Watch it
, definitely! Though Your Houses packs a lot of information and some pretty problematic plot points, it’s one of the more fast-paced episodes of the season. The direction and acting are also superb.

Samantha Puc
theverbalthing@gmail.com
Samantha Puc is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager residing in southern New England with her partner and three cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. She also loves vegan food. Her work has appeared on Rogues Portal, SheKnows, Femsplain, The Tempest, and elsewhere. For more, follow her on Twitter!

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