Will S01E06: Something Wicked This Way Comes
Director: Magnus Martens
Writer: Corinne Marrinan
Starring: Laurie Davidson, Olivia DeJonge, Ewen Bremner, Mattias Inwood, Jamie Campbell Bower, William Houston, Lukas Rolfe, Colm Meaney
A review by Samantha Pearson
The individual subplots of Will finally begin to connect in S01E06, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Anne and the children try to adapt to life in London; Will tries (and fails) to stay away from Alice; the queen’s men slaughter more Catholics; Presto becomes a sex worker at the behest of his sister’s madam; and Marlowe’s lover, whom we met last episode, perishes in his sleep.
There are a lot of moving parts in Something Wicked This Way Comes, all of which have been set up throughout the first half of the season. Now that Will is moving into the back half of its season, its plots are moving more rapidly, tunneling toward their conclusions. This is both good and bad, depending on the plot. To be frank, it’s impressive how on the ball the writers have been with the various plots of this series since its pilot episode. However, many are lacking in depth, which causes the entire show to suffer.
In The Marriage of Two Minds, Will’s wife and children surprised him in London and, after a tumultuous episode wherein Will supposedly broke off his affair with Alice Burbage, he convinced Anne to stay. Anne realizes the London theatre scene is not for her. Nor is it meant for her children, who witness an extreme amount of violence in the opening scene of Something Wicked This Way Comes. London is big and scary and Not For Them.
By the end of S01E06, Anne decides that it would be best for her family to return to Stratford. Anne tells Will to send money and keep writing. She also reminds him that he will always be her husband and the father of their children. There’s a subtle hint to Deirdre Mullins’ performance in this scene that says more. By leaving, Anne is effectively giving Will the freedom to live in London as a single man.
It’s a scene that physically hurts, after the events of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Despite the infidelity, Will‘s writers have set us up to root for Will and Alice’s relationship. From their first kiss in The Play’s the Thing to their conversation in The Marriage of Two Minds about working professionally even if they can’t be intimate, the chemistry between these two has been outrageous and undeniable. Laurie Davidson’s Will never shines brighter than when he’s opposite Olivia DeJonge’s Alice. The level of emotion in their scenes — even when they’re little more than sexy interludes — is always intense.
Last we saw Will and Alice, they’d agreed to break things off. Alice said she would marry Keenan Cooper. Will said he would ask Anne to stay in London so he could make their family life work. However, after Alice suggests that Will give up his idea of a Henry VI sequel and instead write a prequel, the two of them work late into the night and discover that they can’t actually keep their hands off each other.
This lack of control poses a threat to their respective partnerships. Anne, as mentioned above, decides that London isn’t for her. Keenan, who’s politely sought Alice’s approval with gifts of poetry and repeated requests for her time, isn’t aware of Alice’s affair with Will. Alice’s mother, on the other hand, is all too aware of it, and believes that it’s ruined her daughter’s prospects for a good marriage. Alice’s virtue has been a topic of discussion throughout the season, and that comes to a head in Something Wicked This Way Comes.
After Keenan breaks off their engagement, Alice seeks out Will at the theater, presumably to try and continue their affair. Before he can join her in the costume room, however, Alice’s mother corners him backstage. She reveals her knowledge of their affair and says he absolutely must end things with Alice. They’ve already gone too far. “Expectation is the root of all heartache, Master Shakespeare,” she says. “I do not wish my daughter to suffer, but you must be cruel to be kind. If you love her, let her go.”
Will takes these words to heart. In what is perhaps Laurie Davidson’s most striking performance all season, Will hurls horrible insults at Alice. He demands that she leave him alone. Olivia DeJonge, who’s imbued Alice with a fierce independent streak and a natural cynicism, falls to pieces under this onslaught. It’s an awful scene to watch, especially because it’s very obvious that it’s meant to be a temporary break for Alice and Will. The “star-crossed lovers” trope is super real for these two. It’s… very meta, but it’s also great, so that’s fine.
There’s a moment at the end of S01E06 wherein we see Father Southwell approach Alice, which presumably sets up Alice’s plot for the final few episodes of the season. He calls Will a very selfish person; Will’s betrayal of them both gives them something in common that will definitely cause drama. Will agrees to destroy his cousin’s reputation by writing him as a sodomite and a pedophile in a play for Topcliffe. Why? Because Topcliffe threatens to hurt Anne and the children. Southwell thinks this decision is cowardly, given how many people have died for the Catholic cause.
All season, we’ve watched Presto flit in and out of Will’s life, always dragging Topcliffe into things. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, Topcliffe is revealed to be a pedophile who prefers little boys, which makes him a “special client” for Presto’s sister’s madam. She forces Presto into selling himself. Topcliffe’s identity clearly aims for shock. Unfortunately, it falls flat. Plus, a disturbing realization immediately overshadows it.
Will frames all of its gay characters as crazy, evil, or some combination thereof. Presto stabs Topcliffe in S01E06, which will surely have consequences in the latter half of the season. His sister was killed as they tried to escape the brothel, which leaves him truly alone — though the players believe he’s Will’s younger cousin. Hmm.
Topcliffe wanting Will to write Father Southwell as a pederast, when he himself is one, is gross. The argument that all homophobic men are actually just closeted gay men is homophobic in and of itself. Topcliffe threatens to rape an accused Catholic with a torture device that “blossoms”. The description is graphic. It makes the scene horribly uncomfortable, even though there are no visuals. It also sets up Topcliffe’s “evil homosexuality” well before he ever unmasks in front of Presto.
Furthermore, this plot point brings Will‘s total of canonical, recurring gay characters up to just two: Richard Topcliffe, the torture-happy, anti-Catholic psycho, and Kit Marlowe, the insane, arguably nymphomaniacal writer. These are not good representations of gay men. It’s also incredibly tone deaf to focus only on these representations, when homosexuality in Elizabethan England was far more nuanced. Certainly, pederasty was rampant, but this essay by author Anne Lyle dives into other considerations of homosexuality in this period quite thoroughly.
William Shakespeare’s plays dive headfirst into questions of sexuality, gender representation, and expression of both, so why is Will so determined to only present homosexuality as something bad? It’s not a good look for a Shakespeare show, especially in the year 2017.
Shakespeare himself wrote 126 sonnets to a man, 28 to a woman. Several people argue that he was likely bisexual, although that term didn’t exist in that period. The writers on Will seemed keen to set up a sexual relationship between Will and Kit in early episodes, so why the about-face? As great as the chemistry is between Will and Alice, seeing him embrace a love for more than one gender would be absolutely ideal. It’s horrifying that the show has chosen to take the “gay is unnatural” route.
What is interesting about the gay representation in Something Wicked This Way Comes, and possibly the only positive of it, is that Kit Marlowe vehemently denies the idea that being interested in men makes him inevitably bound for hell. “Hell is a children’s story to frighten us into being ashamed of who we are,” he says, when his dying lover insists that it would be better for Marlowe to turn his back on his preference for men and find a way to redeem himself and reach Heaven.
Something Wicked This Way Comes deals very heavily with trauma, including sexual assault and death. It ends with Presto setting the costume room in the Burbages’ theater on fire, attempting to rid himself of the dress the madam made him wear for Topcliffe. The last few episodes of Will‘s first season look like they’ll be plot-heavy and fast-paced, after the events of S01E06.
Hmm, watch it, but be wary. This episode is especially heavy and difficult to get through, though several of the performances are off-the-charts incredible.