Last time on Wolf Hall: Our board was set up for the Great Game to play out. We met our major players: Cromwell, whose life up until this point was played out in quick flashbacks. Also taking their places: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Thomas More, Mary Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, Norfolk and all the rest.
This week, the power players begin to make their moves.
Cromwell: There's a converation I shouldn't have had.
Where last week spent an hour slow building to the arrival of the main focus of our tale--Anne Boleyn and Henry, this week starts off with something of a bang. Cromwell in Henry's presence, brushed off ansd sent away. We have a lot of Henry this week, as Cromwell's focus shifts from his entirely beloved Wolsey to the palace, as the coming chaos ladder descends for him to climb.
And not a moment too soon. Wolsey begins this episode heading north, away from Norfolk's threats, and on the King's own dime. Lewis' Henry is in an emotional bind over Wolsey's refusal (or inability really) to get him his annullment. He's unable to talk about the Cardinal in public, unhappy this split has occurred, and, when pushed, willing to pay the way of an old friend who was once his spiritual connection.
As we hear, once Wolsey reaches York, those who are still faithful to the Catholic Church booster his ego back up. Perhaps the tales of these crowds wherever the Cardinal goes are merely the last gasp of an elderly man who, having lost it all, is finding a way to feel better about himself once more. But from where we sit with Cromwell, nearer to the palace intrigue, the optics of it are clearly Not Going To Go Over Well.
Still, it might have been better for folks to wait for the optics to take their toll. Instead the Boleyns, in the form of a gang lead by Harry Percy, decide they cannot wait to take him down. They show up, and arrest the Cardinal. In doing so, they either poison him, or simpy ride him until he is too ill to continue. Wolsey dies, caling for Cromwell, who never came.
Bonvisi: A world where Anne can be queen is a world where Cromwell can be...?
This week also sees Cromwell, now that his wife has passed on, confronting the question of becoming entangled again. Even before the question is put to him so drunkenly by More's wife Lady Alice, we have already seen him considering his late wife's sister. (And the late wife's sister does not seem uninterested either, as we learn by the end of the episode.) Upon arrival at the palace, the rebellious and unhappy Mary Boleyn all but throws herself at him. And though she is clearly far too young for him, it is obvious from their short interaction that Cromwell harbors tender feelngs for the young Jane Seymour.
But this week's real romance is the one that springs up between Henry and Cromwell. While the mid-ranged lords look down on Cromwell, disliking his low upbringing and his "up by the bootstraps" class jumping, Henry has no such insecurities. In fact, what he sees in Cromwell is someone who remained loyal past the point of good sense to the now fallen Wolsey...a trait the king believes he could use more of in his life in that moment.
Rafe: He got us out of bed for a dream?
Brereton: Believe me, he gets one out of bed for far less than that.
Which is perhaps why the King calls Cromwell to him when the nightmares of his own pysche strike in the middle of the night. Henry has spent the last few years convincing himself his annullment request is well and good, because Katherine of Aragorn was once betrothed to his older brother Arthur, who died before he could take the throne. He has "sinned by stealing his brother's proper wife" or some such.
Now this version of reality has taken hold so strongly that Henry dreams of Arthur returning from the grave to stand over him and accuse him of sinning. But Cromwell is quick on his feet, as always, and turns it around to be a sign that Arthur wants Henry to stand up and be the King he could not and throw off the shackles of the Church. It is a neat rereading of events, and one befitting a man who hustled his way from an abused blacksmith's boy to one the king would call in the middle of the night to discuss his R.E.M. state mental filings.
With Wolsey gone, we close the episode watching Cromwell swear fealty to his new chosen master, the King. Prior to the ceremony are glimpses of the court, and the Boleyn clan celebrating the fall of the Cardinal. Cromwell stands to the back, watching, silently recording who will pay for laughing and replaying Wolsey's fall. Woven through it are Cromwell unwrapping Wolsey's parting gift--one of his rings, resized to fit Cromwell perfectly. And poor George, relaying the tale of Wolsey's passing, and how he wished for God to send vengence.
Cromwell: No need to trouble God, George. I'll take it in hand.
Next week, Cromwell takes his place inside the belly of the beast, as Anne's plans to become the next queen pick up speed.