One of Tristan’s tasks at the surgery is to answer the phone, but when James is awoken by an insistent ringing on the latest installment of All Creatures Great and Small, he discovers that his bed hasn’t been slept in. He dashes to answer the phone and it’s an urgent call from Mrs. Pumphrey: She thinks Tricky Woo is dying, and he leaves immediately.
So where is Tristan? He’s downstairs asleep on the sofa with Maggie, the barmaid from the Drovers’ Arms, which may be innocent, or not; possibly his worst crime has been to raid Siegfried’s good whiskey. Whatever they’ve been up to, there will be hell to pay if Maggie is discovered, so he shunts her from room to room, from the surgery to the storage cupboard. Mrs. Hall who knows everything that goes on in the house, deftly releases her as Siegfried comes downstairs and begins to harangue his younger brother.
Tristan’s job, he’s reminded, is to answer the phone and make up medicines. The brothers are both heartily sick of each other, and Tristan is anxious to return to college in a week. He’s not yet received a check from Siegfried for his expenses, though, and it’s a delicate subject.
James examines poor Tricky Woo, who is grossly overweight. Mrs. Pumphrey is terribly concerned, fearing her darling may have the Spanish flu, a weak heart, or even be suffering from malnutrition. She confesses that she has embellished his diet with treats like Beef Wellington. James suggests that Tricky Woo’s only chance of recovery is to be cared for at Skeldale House, and his distressed owner summons a small parade of servants to pack “a few essentials": Pillows, hampers, and toys.
At Skeldale House, rudely awakened from a nap while mixing medicines, Tristan looks on in astonishment at the procession of servants bearing Tricki Woo’s essentials, and he is particularly interested in the hamper. Discovering it is full of exotic pates and other gourmet treats, he starts in, groaning with pleasure. A delightful cross-purposes conversation between Siegfried and James takes place:
Siegfried: He’s been spoiled.
James: I know it comes from a place of love.
Siegfried (dubiously): Of sorts. He’s got so many bad habits, eating, the lack of exercise, the inability to carry out the most basic of instructions …
James (Tricki Woo offers his paw to shake.): Oh, I don’t know. He gives paw pretty well.
Siegfried: He can’t even answer the bloody phone.
James: The phone? I don’t know how he ever would.
The phone rings and keeps ringing while Tristan and Siegfried argue. Mrs. Hall answers it.
Since it’s a Sunday, Siegfried and Mrs. Hall go to church, giving Tristan the opportunity to lie on the couch and throw a ball for Tricki Woo to retrieve. James goes out to investigate a problem with the Aldersons’ bull Clive, who has been hired by another farmer to service his cows. But Clive isn’t interested. Mr. Dobson (Jon Furlong), the owner of the herd is annoyed, and Helen is relieved to see James. As he examines the animal (“Impressive … healthy”), James learns that the Aldersons’ landlord is his rival Hugh Holton. Helen and Hugh have known each other since childhood, getting closer when her mother died and he lost his father at around the same time. James gives Clive a testosterone shot, promising immediate results, and we see him lumber with intent towards the herd. Mrs. Dobson invites James and Helen in for some Yorkshire hospitality, which means a huge roast lunch. They stagger out, and James offers to drive her home.
The debate on masculinity continues as they encounter Hugh with a flat tire, waiting for help, only slightly embarrassed that he doesn’t know how to change it, or what tools are in the car. James offers to fix it and gets to work while Hugh flirts with Helen. But after the tire is changed, Hugh apologizes for his outburst when James had to put down his thoroughbred Andante. He says, tellingly, that his father once made him shoot a stag in some bizarre upper-class rite of manhood, and he still regrets the destruction of such a beautiful creature. They part, if not friends, at least on better terms, but Hugh is the one to drive Helen home.
Back at Skeldale House, Joe Mulligan (Sean Carlson) brings in his large, fierce dog who’s been suffering from an upset stomach. Siegfried backs away and sends in Tristan to do an examination. “What a delightful animal,” Tristan announces, keeping his distance from the snarling behemoth. Not only does the dog bark deafeningly, but his owner has trouble hearing, which Siegfried speculates is damage from the war. Upon learning that the dog is fed mostly scraps, Tristan gives Mr. Mulligan a bag of dog food, for which Siegfried berates him. They both tell each other they’ve fully examined the dog.
Tristan carries Tricky Woo to the pub when he refuses to move. Maggie the barmaid makes a fuss of Tricky Woo but is dismissive of Tristan who expects sympathy for having to work. Seeing Tricky Woo hoover up crusts on the floor, Tristan finds a way to make the dog walk, by dangling food in front of him.
Home alone (although he’s told Mrs. Hall he’s been meeting with the vicar), Siegfried gives way to temptation and raids the hamper of luxury food. He and Mrs. Hall discuss Tristan again when she returns. At church the vicar preached a sermon on the prodigal son, and Siegfried can’t help identifying with the son who stayed home and feels resentful.
And now comes the gastronomic highlight of the week: Mrs. Hall’s roast beef Sunday dinner, and she is offended when both Siegfried and James have no appetite for the feast. Fortunately Tristan arrives with his usual healthy appetite. And so does Tricky Woo, who waddles off to the hamper, finds it open, and helps himself.
The next morning, Mrs. Hall receives back the care package she’d sent to her estranged son; he’s not at the address she’d been given. Siegfried, seeing she’s upset, offers to drive her to Scarborough and find Edward, but she says she’s chased him long enough and it’s up to him now. Siegfried and Tristan have yet another furious argument over Tricki Woo’s weight—somehow he’s managed to get heavier despite diet and exercise.
James drops in at the Aldersons’ farm, having heard that Clive the bull has serviced the cows, and finds Helen collecting eggs. She thrusts a handful of eggs into his hands, and goes off to get something for him—the Dobsons’ hospitality has convinced her that she should offer him some food. Helen’s father, Richard Alderson (Tony Pitts), finds him with a handful of eggs and accuses him of stealing. James has only met Helen on his visits, and Mr. Alderson doesn't know who he is. Helen returns with her younger sister Jenny and some blackened items on a baking tray. James tries to choke one down, while he realizes that her baking is a joke with the family and confesses, as everyone laughs, that it's the worst he’s ever had.
An unexpected visitor arrives at Skeldale House, Mrs. Pumphrey, come to visit her beloved pet; she’s already phoned and demanded that Tristan give him a kiss from her and bark hello (Tristan does the barking; the household watches with delight). Today, Siegfried can’t find Tricky Woo and tells her that James and Tristan are taking him out for a walk. But when Tristan arrives home alone, he and his brother realize that the dog has disappeared. Worse, Mrs. Pumphrey knows she is being lied to and is offended. James returns home and finds the household in a panic, searching for Tricky Woo. He casually flips open the lid of the hamper, now in the kitchen, and discovers Tricky Woo inside, comatose. With horror, he discovers the dog has gorged on liqueur chocolates, a lethal combination. Once Mrs. Pumphrey has left the house, they pump Tricky Woo’s stomach.
We now see James, usually so tolerant and patient, get angry with Tristan, blaming him for leaving the hamper accessible. His outburst clearly expresses the resentment he’s experienced ever since Tristan came home. Mrs. Hall’s stern, reproachful gaze prompts Siegfried to swallow his pride and confess it was his fault. Tristan doesn’t bother to hide his glee.
Siegfried finally writes the check for Tristan to return to college, making us wonder if we’re about to see a kinder, gentler version of him, or if he’s still subdued after making his embarrassing confession. He’s not convinced he’s doing the right thing; James tells Siegfried how his parents sacrificed to get him to college, but the difference, they both know, is that James applied himself. Siegfried and Tristan leave for the station, making a detour to take Tricky Woo home. The little dog rushes to Mrs. Pumphrey, who exclaims at his weight loss (which we haven’t actually seen happen), “He feels like a sack of spanners!”
As they leave, Mrs. Pumphrey starts to give Tricky Woo inappropriate treats before they’re even out of the room. Something clicks for Siegfried: people don’t change, and the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over, knowing it will fail. He tears up the check and announces that Tristan is not going back to college to squander money; he will stay home and Siegfried will tutor him.
Mr. Mulligan and his gigantic fierce dog visit the surgery again and Siegfried orders Tristan to give the dog a full physical exam. Tristan treats the growling as a bluff and receives tail wags and a licked face. Mr. Mulligan is less surprised than you’d expect; because of his damaged hearing, he was unaware that his dog growled most of the time. The sweetness and charm Tristan so often displays—usually when he is out to get something—do actually exist.
Do you think this is the wake-up call Tristan needs? How do you think Siegfried will handle being Tristan’s tutor? Let's talk about this episode.