It's been nearly a year and a half since Grantchester last aired on PBS, and there have been some changes since the Season 5 finale. Though that season ended with Mrs. C. accepting Daniel as Leonard's "BFF" and reconciling with her husband, things have gotten way closer in the vicarage and with the Keating family. Everyone (Will, the Keatings, the Chapmans, and Leonard & Daniel) is apparently up for a holiday as a big family group. Does this seem odd to you? Who, for example, is running the rectory right now? Dickens the Dog?
Will: "It's ok, I'm a vicar."
This week's opening episode may not make a lot of logical sense, but as a period-piece mystery, it's embracing one of the most standard tropes of the genre: The Busman's Holiday. Detective and friends go on holiday, death follows, instead of fun in the sun, it becomes all suspects and shadows. At least Grantchester has fun with it, reviving the era's Butlin's holiday camps as the fictionalized "Merries." It's also a place to put a lot of period piece easter eggs. Leonard's been getting into socialism with Maxim Gorki, while Esme tries to be cool, reading her Famous Five novels alongside him. The camp even features a 1950s British pop cover band played by real-life vintage musicians Dylan Kirk and The Killers.
After being a season-long love interest, journalist Ellie seems to have headed out to write for new publications because she's nowhere to be seen. Instead, Will's lack of sex life is again a running joke, as everyone else gets to "have a snooze" while he smiles weakly. There's even a throwaway remark about his nun-laden affair in last seasons' finale thrown in for good measure. At least Leonard gets the best lines, pointedly poking at Will that the single lady at the camp he should hit on, an ever-smiling employee appropriately named Sunny (Jordan Alexandra), is too uncomplicated for his taste.
As for this week's mystery, the group meets, in rapid succession, owner Roy Reeves (Andy Nyman) and his wife Babs (Annette McLaughlin), followed by Sunny and the camp's house photographer, Bryan Stanford (Michael Abubakar). There's also a pair of guests who have the house at the end of the row where our group is staying, Sid Danker (Nick Holder) and wife Margie (Rachael Stirling). It takes the episode a good ten minutes to decide which of these people will be bumped off, at first faking out that it will be Sid before deciding to take out Roy. The local DC, Gerry Wicks (Sam Phillips), tries to write it off as natural causes, but Will and Geordie know better and are on the case.
It's not a tough case, nor is it meant to be. A quick survey of Roy's office turns up compromising photos and reels of blackmail footage documenting the naughty activities of various well-heeled non-single male guests. Most of them were seduced by the camp's previous leading female entertainer, Margie before she married Sid. He was a guest who fell in love with her and took her far away from all this. (Well, not that far, as he's brought her back for their wedding anniversary.) Babs knew everything but, trapped by her marriage giving Roy ownership of the camp, which is her family's legacy, she could do nothing but smile and pretend it wasn't happening.
That's two suspects right out the gate, and Sunny makes three. As she and Will have a nighttime swim, Geordie discovers new footage of her dancing seductively with at least one male in the camp. But when that turns out to be Roy, Will and Geordie learn Bryan is also in on this, forced by his employer to record the incriminating footage. No guest star left without motive this week! But Margie's been the clear guilty party from the moment the show feinted that Sid might be the victim. It turns out Margie meant the poison Roy drank for Sid, the emotionally abusive creep she mistook for an escape hatch. Perhaps Wick's continuing insistence to episode's end that Roy died of "natural causes" is the correct answer here.
But back to Bryan, the photographer, who loves art and socialism and hates his job at the camp taking pictures of happy couples all day. Leonard's got a thing for artists, especially shutterbugs, and while Daniel is off enjoying the "enforced fun," Leonard follows Bryan back to his quarters to oogle the photography. Bryan was also hoping to oogle a few things of Leonard's, much to the curate's shock and embarrassment. Not that he isn't attracted to Bryan, but he's a one-man guy. Unfortunately, the inability of gay men to talk openly means Leonard runs off in haste without explanation, leaving Bryan feeling humiliated and frustrated.
Daniel, being far more casual about these things, thinks it's cute Leonard nearly got kissed. But then Bryan decides to show up in Leonard's camp quarters in the middle of the night while he and Daniel are "having a snooze," and none of this is cute anymore. Bryan isn't just humiliated and frustrated, he's now a man scorned, and all of Leonard's protestations this was a misunderstanding, and they can be friends are words for the wind. Bryan is out for blood and heads right off to report Leonard's homosexuality to Will, who should rightly be horrified as Leonard's boss.
There's a real uncomfortable aspect to the scenes that follow, as Will tried to hush up the affair and tell Bryan to "let him handle it," much as church higher-ups have done for generations, even if we as viewers are supposed to be on Will's side. (Protect Leonard at all costs is a fan-mantra.) But as the episode ends and the cast head back to Granchester to pick up the season already in progress, the situation is already spinning out of Will's control. Bryan's surreptitious photos of Leonard and Daniel engaged in a kiss are already developing.