After Grantchester's tropey Season 6 opener, the show returns to a standard season already in progress with an opening where Will is happily back where he belongs. This morning's vicaring includes that old fan favorite: The baptism.
The parents of Baby James are a slightly older couple, obviously well-heeled, named Marcus and Penny Asper (Miles Jupp and Polly Frame). But the ceremony is interrupted when Davy Connor (Eddie-Joe Robinson) shows up, insisting he's the child's father, whose name is Billy.
Will: And since when did you trust lawyers?
Considering how shifty Penny looked the whole ceremony, one suspects Davy has more of a case than Marcus says he does. But this isn't an affair, or a baby-napping, or even a custody dispute. This is adoption — except that Davy didn't get a say when his girlfriend, Molly (Madison Clare), decided to give their child up due to having too many mouths to feed already. Marcus is embarrassed to admit young James is not of his loins, hence trying to sweep Davy under the rug.
Davy's claims of illegal adoption are bupkis, as Will and Geordie find out when they go to check out the adoption operation run by Joan Beaumont (Christina Cole). What she's doing isn't just legal; it's state-sanctioned. This sort of social engineering, where middle-class social workers were encouraged to redistribute children to wealthier parents under the idea that affluence equated to a "better" upbringing, was part of the post-WWII social fabric. The conversation she's having with pregnant Nicola (Rebecca Stone) about giving her baby a better life is a prevailing view of the period.
It's easy for Will to sneer that women should keep their children, but this is also the reality of what it was like for poor women pre-birth control to be saddled with raising endless babies when the man of the house wasn't responsible enough to bring home the bacon. The series suggests it might dig into these opposing viewpoints for a hot second. After all, Geordie's already poking Will about how attractive Joan is; she could be the romance of the week. But no, because she turns up dead, found by Nicola, who returned for more counseling after Will and Geordie left.
Joan's death could easily have been Davy's doing, but his genuine surprise at her passing suggests it's not. Molly also apparently went to see Joan, but she genuinely believes the woman was doing God's work despite missing her child. Marcus also apparently snuck over to Joan's to steal James' paperwork that showed the baby wasn't his, but he too believes in Joan's mission. As for Penny, she's trying her best, but she was far happier childless and working and isn't bonding with the baby, but that's not a reason for murder. If anything, Penny's doubts and Molly's response to seeing her child again suggests perhaps that an open adoption might be a better choice.
However, all these clues are red herrings. Though Joan's life (and death) are the springboard for many conversations about the actual difficulty of poverty, birth, closed adoptions, and hard choices, the real solution to the mystery is relatively lame. Nicola turns out to be the child Joan gave up for adoption at 19, inspiring her commitment to the cause. She pretended to be pregnant to find Joan and then freaked the poor woman out so severely when she showed up sans fake belly, the woman stumbled backward and cracked her head on the stairs in the fall. Not murder, just misfortune.
But the murder of the week isn't even the real story. As noted at the end of last week's episode, the events of Merries are following Leonard home, and not just Mrs. C's instance of continuing to call everyone "campers." (Even Dickins hates it.) At first, it's poison pen notes with biblical verses like Leviticus 18:22 on them. Then it's blackmail, demanding £50. Leonard goes to Will in sheer terror, refusing to tell Daniel any of this is happening and desperate for help.
Will's best friend is Geordie, the local DCI. Does he take the blackmail to his friend and get it solved? No! Due to the nature of the issue (remember homosexuality was illegal in 1958 and will remain so for another decade), he decides to pay the bribe. To do that, he asks his step-father for a handout, pretending to have embezzled money from the church and gambled it away. He's assisted by his new (extremely attractive) stepsister, Tamara (Emily Patrick), a lifelong expert in parting their father from his cash.
Leonard arrives to discover it's Bryan who is blackmailing him. Now in deep denial of his sexuality, Bryan insists he was trying to entrap Leonard from the beginning. (As terrified as he is, even Leonard can see through that.) Will arrives and pays Bryan off, completely failing to consider he's just given the man all he needs to wreck their parish when he takes the £50 to the Arch Deacon. The Arch Deacon goes right to Geordie, who now has a homosexuality charge against Leonard and a criminal charge against Will for covering it up.
As Will blesses baby Billy, now in Molly's custody with Penny and Marcus as benefactors, he has no idea his friendship will Geordie just imploded.