The season finale of The Larkins is here, which sees the series finally confront its one season-long narrative arc: Mariette's future. Given that the eldest Larkin child is played by buzzy Bridgerton star Sabrina Bartlett, it feels very unlikely that Mariette has left Littlechurch and the family farm behind her forever, but Season 1 does at least gift her with the opportunity to forge her own future for a little while - sending her off to France for what will at least be the space between this finale and the upcoming Christmas special. (Which had already aired in the U.K. but will arrive in America in two weeks.)
And maybe I'm a monster, but I want Mariette to love the crap out of France. To see that there's more to the world and can be more to her life than this strange stasis everyone in Kent seems to be stuck in. I don't think I'll get that since the show has seemingly decided that she's in love with Charley without bothering to really show us how that happened, but I can dream, can't I? Seriously, when did Mariette decide she was in love with Charley? We've seen her be jealous of her former BFF for flirting with him, we've watched Charley pine over her for half the season, and then there was the Hot Tom of it all. But other than Charley like moving into her house for an unspecified amount of time, I'm not sure when, precisely, this relationship formed?
That said, the fact that the episode ultimately ends with Charley deciding to go with Mariette, rather than ask her to stay behind for him, is a refreshing change, even though I think we all know there's not much show if her French adventure sticks beyond more than a hiatus or two. Bartlett and Tok Stephen have a charming sort of chemistry, and one can only hope that should the show continue, we'll actually get to see their relationship achieve a greater depth than the one-sided pining that has largely characterized it here.
I do wish that The Larkins had been content with simply allowing Mariette to choose Charley on her own terms, for his own sake, rather than suddenly deciding to make Hot Tom a complete jerk. (And thereby making the "correct" choice glaringly obvious.) I mean, sure, I believe he's upset that his building plans have been thwarted by the Larkin family's meddling, but up until this point, he's just been presented as a different kind of man from Charley, who represented a different sort of future for Mariette.
And you can agree with that for her or not, but Tom was certainly never an all-black wearing Disney villain who delights in humiliating others and announces to a crowd of his neighbors that he'd dodged the bullet of Mariette's supposed illegitimate child. I mean, seriously? At one point was there ever any hint that this was the kind of man he was? He might as well just grow a mustache for the explicit purpose of twirling it.
Honestly, why isn't it enough for this show to let the virtues it so loves: The Larkin family generally, the idyllic nature of Kent, the boisterous charm of small-town life just speak for themselves? I thought the episode actually did a great job with Charley's disastrous (yet weirdly charming) attempt to compete in the showjumping competition - yes, it's humiliating and cements his reputation as a lovable loser, but it also shows us just how dedicated he is to Mariette. Or at least it did until it became all about a literal Tom vs. Charley fistfight, rather than anything to do with the reasons Mariette made the choice she did.
I think what it is, is that while I accept that a big part of this show is the cozy, unchanging family vibes given off by the entire Larkin clan, its dedication to its premise is such that it means no one ever really changes. Or grows. Or does anything except go on being the quirky, big-hearted stereotypes they began the season as. Half the town thinks Pa Larkin is a constant philanderer, and he leans into it by flirting with everyone female in sight, yet The Larkins could not be less interested in what any of this says about him as a character. (Or about Ma, and how she became so comfortable with all this that she essentially encourages it. Doesn't it seem like there's probably a good story there?)
The Larkins seem to be constant targets of village gossip - a hilarious segment in this episode sees multiple people question whether the baby that Ma Larkin is helping care for is secretly Mariette's child - yet are utterly nonplussed by it, with no concern or effort involved in doing so. The family is supposed to be the ultimate representative of working-class strivers, yet they never seem to struggle financially, despite Pa's wild schemes, the addition of another random child to their growing brood, and their seemingly endless breakfast and dinner table spreads.
Furthermore, the town also seems to love them - for their apparently bottomless generosity, for their sense of fun, for their sense of civic duty and pride. (Pa did save the railway, after all, even if he doesn't pay his taxes. .) Yet these are the same people who think Pa's quietly committing crimes and fathering illegitimate kids, and no one seems to even try to square this particular circle in any real way. Perhaps I'm overthinking this - I haven't encountered a show that's so determined to be quaint and soft and utterly inconsequential in some time, and maybe asking it to be more than a colorful bit of escapism was always going to be too much for it. But, still. It's hard not to think about how much better it could have been, than a simple bit of fluff.
(That said, I am looking forward to The Larkins' take on Christmas.)