After a year of nearly all-male all-procedural mysteries on PBS, Flesh and Blood has felt like a breath of fresh air. As viewers round into the finale, we still don't know who to suspect or who the victim is.
But, as one might imagine, after sitting with Mary, Natalie, and Jake, it's Helen's turn this week. Her story opens with less than 24 hours until the birthday party and an ill-fated decision by all three kids to attempt an i9ntervention on their mother' marriage with the evidence of Mark's first wife and the suspicious "suicide."
Vivian: The police investigated it thoroughly.
Vivian, as one would expect, is horrified. None of her children are letting her be happy now that she's married to Mark. Moreover, she knew the wife committed suicide; Mark told her everything about Charlotte, the deep depressions, the emotional labor he did to hide their troubles from the world. According to Mark's side, he saved his wife from several attempts to take her own life ahead of the final successful one. She is appalled at their pushing her on this, furious. In a way, she gave up decades of her life for them. This is not how she wanted to be rewarded, especially now that she may be ill.
But it's not clear if Vivian is ill or not. The top of the episode notes that she slept in, which she never does. Moreover, she practically collapses upon getting home. But this isn't necessarily because Mark is drugging her. The emotional exhaustion of the scene at Helen's would be enough to make anyone collapse. And yet, notably, Mary is right there for her, making tea, and nosing into Vivian's business. "Don't worry about what the kids have to say about his wife."
But Mary's poison resonates, the same way Jake's suggestion that Sophie isn't real did last week. That night, she starts going through Mark's luggage, finding medicines and bottles of things. (We don't see what they are.) Mark has excuses, of course. Over the years, a doctor learns to be prepared, especially overseas. And his argument that without trust, their marriage is already over feels real. After all, he lived through an inquest where people got up and accused him of murdering his wife. He moved away from everything he knew to this seaside village, desperate to start over, to get away from the whispers and rumors, and here they all are again. Can you blame him for being angry?
As for Vivian's children, Lily's Instagram comes full circle for Helen, as the video of mum with her head in the toilet is one of the many images Meera has gathered as part of a wrongful dismissal suit against the NHS, with threats to embarrass Helen and the NHS in the press. The board's response is to ask Helen to resign "to protect her." Helen is deep in denial about this, the same way she is about George. Her promises to George this is a wake-up call rings as hollow as Jake's lies to Leila. Blessedly, George is not coming back.
Neither is Leila, despite all Jake's sweet talk. The irony is that Stella is doing the right thing, leaving Jake so he can repair his marriage. But that goodbye leads to one more roll in the hay, and Leila walking in on it. Realizing she's just falling for another set of lies, Leila walks out, this time for good, leaving Jake to cry for real as his illusions are shattered. Natalie's illusions have been shattered too. Despite Tony crawling back, promising this time he's initiated the divorce, here's the house they'll share, she cannot go back, especially once she sees the nubile replacement taking over her job. Once a cheater... Even though she might be pregnant this time, it's time to end these cycles.
With all three children shattered in their lives, now the fun begins, as they each arrive at Vivian's. Mary is first, blowing right by Mark trying to guard her against going upstairs, having brought a present: A quilt made from the scraps of clothing the children left behind. She's also wearing one of Vivia's old dresses, refitted for herself. Meanwhile, downstairs Helen's been drinking, Jake is drunk, and Natalie is rushing to catch up, as they all ignore any attempts by Mark to be nice. It's all too much for him. Mark has broken, pouring back the champagne and chain-smoking out on the balcony.
When it's time for toasts, Helen starts it off praising Mum, and Natalie and Jake join. But then Jake has to bring up their dad's memory, and Vivian allows it because she's let them live that lie their whole lives. It's all too much for Mark, who is drunk and belligerent. As he picks a fight with Jake, Helen tries to stop him, and Mark violently pushes her away. Vivian faints from the stress of the argument, collapsing just inside the balcony door. Mary, Helen, Natalie all rush to her, automatically blocking Mark any access, even though he's a doctor. Mark, naturally, loses it entirely and punches Jake. In an attempt to keep him from lashing out again, all three run siblings run at Mark, pushing him away from their mother's body, and, somehow, he goes over the railing.
When this series began, I compared it to an Agatha Christie story, as the feel of it somehow struck me as similar. And yet, despite every last one of these characters being a terrible person, it's still a shock to realize this is Murder on the Orient Express. They all did it. Stuck dumb and frozen, Mary, bless her heart, steps up, and takes charge. Vivian passed out; only the four of them know. So here is the story: He slipped and fell because he'd been drinking. This is not a lie because if Mark hadn't drunk so much, the fight and the fall wouldn't have happened. She then proceeds to go down to the body and "does everything she could".... everything she could to make sure he is good and dead, that is.
In that, Mary fails. Mark is not dead, but the fall, the booze, and the downers he had been taking that night to keep himself in check have put him in a coma from which it is doubtful he'll awaken. (Oh, btw, Sophie does exist, and she's on her way from Spain.) Vivian goes into shock and depression, having, for now, lost the dream of a happy life. But it's nobody's fault. The police investigated it thoroughly and ruled it an accident. And Mary is right there for her. They'll be together now, just the two of them.
But has Mary gotten what she wanted? As Flesh & Blood ends, Mark's eyes open.