Beecham House is so frustrating precisely because it should be good. On paper, it’s a story that hasn’t really be done before, set in a period we rarely get to see in shows like this. In actuality, however, it’s a trope-filled retread with tremendously dull storytelling, generally unlikeable characters and a chaotic plot that is so messy I can’t even summarize it easily.
It’s difficult to choose just one element to rank as the most terrible and ham-fisted thing about this episode. Is it poor Lesley Nichols, stuck playing a racist and wildly offensive older British woman who renames the Indian servants because their names are too difficult for her to say? Is it the flashback to Beecham heroically getting kicked out of the military for refusing to join in the gleeful brutalization of several dozen people? Is it the deadly dull side plot where Hot French Soldier Played By Gregory Fitoussi seems convinced that John is really some secret agent working undercover for the benefit of the East India Company? Perhaps it’s actually the simultaneously plodding and nonsensical romantic quadrangle between John and a bunch of women we barely know but who all, at first glance, seem to deserve better?
Perhaps the Henrietta subplot would be more entertaining if it leaned into the character’s soapy and meddling nature, rather than making her as vile as possible. We get it, she’s the worst sort of Englishwoman, a colonialist who looks down on the people of India as beneath her even as she overindulges in opium and is rude to both her of her son’s maybe-possibly love interests. She has, at least thus far, exactly zero redeeming characteristics, and no arc to speak of that I can see. Perhaps she’ll eventually get the typical feel-good white lady story where she learns not to be a terrible racist hag thanks to some servant or random person who is kind to her despite her terrible attitude, but even that feels like it may prove tough going at this point.
The arrival of Chandrika, another mysterious and completely random woman, is clearly meant to spark further speculation in the who is baby August’s mother sweepstakes. But I have to wonder, do any of us actually care who August’s mother is? I barely care who John is, at this point. The show Is treating this mystery like the most compelling of dramas, but it’s apparent to me from her first moments that Chandrika someone who is high-ranking in her own right and most probably royal or at least royal-adjacent. (I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if she still turned out to be August’s mother down the road here, but sure, we’ll go with “aunt” for right now.)
This show is not as subtle as it thinks it is, is really what I’m saying. And perhaps that would be a good thing if it were even the slightest bit self-aware, or capable of winking at the busload of tropes and stereotypes that seem to fill each episode. It’s not, and that’s a shame.
While Henrietta is busy terrorizing the household servants, John spends a big chunk of episode searching for his brother Daniel, a character whom I regret to inform you is not just a dirtbag but a boring dirtbag, to boot. (Seriously, show, if we have to have this many reprehensible characters on the canvas, can they at least be entertainingly bad?)
The fact that we’re introduced to Daniel in what is essentially a brothel should probably tell us all we need to know about this character, but he’s surprisingly charming and played by Sanditon’s Young Stringer himself, Leo Suter. Given his flirtations with both Violet and Chancal, there’s literally no way he doesn’t break someone’s heart before this season is over.
I’ve also decided to ship John with Margaret, not because Beecham in any way deserves her, but because she’s the only character whose story, as currently written, that I’m actually interested in seeing more of, and by attaching her to the series’ lead, I might actually get the chance to do so. How is Margaret allowed to live on her own, with no name or money in India? What is the whole sad backstory with the brother that Hot Soldier Played by Gregory Fitoussi is busy searching for?
Mostly, I enjoy Margaret because she’s one of the only characters on this canvas that’s surprised me. She’s so often referred to with diminutive language like “an English rose” that it’s easy to assume from the start that she’ll be some sort of delicate, quiet flower without a thought in her head. That’s distinctly untrue, and that makes me very interested in finding out more about her.
“Until you can be completely honest with me, I don’t know what your word counts for,” she tells John, as he insists that he can actually control all the rude women in his house, which made me love her instantly, though the fact that she apparently decides to stay in India because John wants her to in virtually the next scene is something of a downer. (Granted, she doesn’t say so, but it’s clearly what’s going on.)
The hour ends with another batch of racism from Henrietta and a knockdown drag-out fight between Mrs. Beecham and Chandrika, which ends with John telling everyone that she’s August’s aunt and he’s a widower, and then declaring that they’re all going to stay in Dehli and be happy together. TBH, it sounds like a threat, but I’m not sure whether it’s for the characters on the show or those of us out here watching it.
What did you think of the second episode of Beecham House? Let’s discuss in the comments.