The latest episode of All Creatures Great and Small begins with a celebration: It's Tristan's birthday! During breakfast in Skeldale House, Tristan carefully unwraps the large leather case with his name and professional qualifications embossed in gold. It’s a magnificent gift and he is duly impressed and grateful, even more so when Siegfried hands him his very own client list for the day.
This indication that he’s ready for solo practice is a major step forward, and while Siegfried may fret, Tristan is confident and ready to go. James, all smiles since his rooftop kiss with Helen in Episode 3, will accompany him but not in any supervisory capacity.
Mrs. Hall quietly asks James if he’s had a chance to talk to Helen about the Glasgow job, and he tells her he’ll do so today when he visits the family’s pregnant mare. And while we know that James’s intentions don’t always result in action, he’s quite sincere about it. Meanwhile, Siegfried fusses over Tristan, reminding him about the obvious (extra instruments and so on) while they discuss his birthday celebrations. Originally planning a very civilized evening at the Drover’s (“Try not to get completely legless,” Siegfried interjects), Tristan suggests a dinner party at Skeldale House that evening, and Mrs. Hall takes up the challenge. Tristan increases the numbers by announcing he’ll have a guest, yet to be announced. It’s a technique that's worked for him before.
The first call on Tristan’s list is a visit to the Sebright-Saunders’ family pile and their aristocratic stable. While he’s anxious to establish himself, the idea of working on pedigree horses, even if it’s only to file their teeth, is daunting. His confidence slips a little and he admits to James that Siegfried may be setting him up to fail. Sure enough, when they arrive, dour stableman Monkham (Steven Hartley) asks for Siegfried, who is the equine specialist in the practice. Tristan firmly announces that he is to do the work, and grumbling all the way, Monkham leads him to the stable. Tristan sees the glamorous Margot Sebright-Saunders (Jessica Clark) in the stable yard and realizes his smart appearance, as well as the letters after his name, may raise his stakes in the dating game. They eye each other up and she is duly impressed, mentioning that she’ll be riding after lunch.
Tristan treats a couple of horses, with Monkham standing nearby making the occasional snide remark, and then announces that there’s a third one to be done––the extremely lively black stallion prancing around in the yard. Ominously, his name is Satan. He kicks Tristan in the knee. “Did he get you? Evil bugger,” Monkham comments with a laugh. As James points out, it’s Dales humor.
Siegfried meanwhile is fretting about his brother’s solo flight. Mrs. Hall sternly tells him that he does not need to check on Tristan, nor does he need yet another spare rasp. Leaving Mrs. Hall alone with a dog that’s recovering from anesthesia, Siegfried slips out of the house. The dog Bonnie howls piteously as Mrs. Hall works and later that afternoon, when the annoying males are gone, she allows her into the kitchen.
When Siegfried returns, James and Tristan are having lunch, and James tells him that Tristan does not need his oversight. Sure enough, he did visit the Sebright-Saunders’ stables and received a favorable account of Tristan’s work. In a gesture of goodwill, Siegfried allows Tristan to take his beloved Rover on his visit to Mr. Dobson (Jon Furlong) who has a cow in labor and in trouble. Tristan takes a detour to the Sebright-Saunders estate where he happens to meet Margot. She is very impressed with the car and accepts his invitation to dinner.
This time it’s Mrs. Hall who is worried about Tristan, since he’s never done a solo delivery before and she asks James to stop in after he’s visited the Aldersons’ mare Candy. The horse, who belonged to Helen’s late mother, is in fine shape with a week to go. Her foal has been promised to Jenny, who grumbles about not being allowed to drive the tractor. (Although you’d think the foal would be ready to ride about the same time she’d be old enough to drive the tractor.) James performs an examination with much eye contact with Helen, while Jenny sniggers and Mr. Alderson makes paternal grumbling sounds. But he misses the opportunity, when they’re alone, to talk seriously about the Glasgow job offer.
As promised, James drops by Mr. Dobson’s farm where Tristan is up to his armpit in laboring cow. He is giving an Oscar-worthy performance, grunting and groaning with effort. Both the cow’s anatomy and the position of the calf are causing problems, but he won’t let James take over. Mr. Dobson hovers anxiously, offers tea to Tristan, and holds the mug to his mouth. “You brave lad,” the farmer says. An adorable calf is born safely, and Tristan makes a point of rubbing his shoulder as they head to their cars. James is concerned that Tristan may not be able to drive, but Tristan grins widely and demonstrates that his shoulder is working just fine; knowing Mr. Dobson will report to Siegfried, he wanted to make sure his efforts were appreciated. Sure enough, as they arrive, Siegfried is finishing up a phone call with him.
Helen has arrived early for the birthday dinner to see if Mrs. Hall needs a hand, and Mrs. Hall discovers that James has not talked to her about the job offer. Helen hides her emotions, but clearly, she’s upset. Shortly after Diana Brompton arrives with a bottle of gin, and then Margot, holding a large bunch of flowers. Mrs. Hall had no idea she was invited, and Margot addresses her as Mrs. Farnon. That embarrassment sorted out, sherry is served, and they sit down to dinner
Diana suggests Siegfried and Tristan exchange places so the birthday boy is at the head of the table. The conversation turns to the subject of horses but turns awkward when Hugh’s name is brought up. Margot has noticed the intimacy between James and Helen, and when Hugh’s exile in France is mentioned, angrily defends him. Hugh is devastated, not just for missing riding competitions, but because he’s too ashamed to show his face in the neighborhood, and that, she implies, is Helen's fault. Margot and Hugh, it turns out, are very good friends.
Attempting to sort out the derailment, James tactfully praises Mrs. Hall's cooking. Siegfried offers a toast to honor Tristan on his outstanding work, and Diana comments that he sounds like a proud father. But unfortunately, James’s reaction tips Siegfried off that something unusual may have occurred, and the story of his performance with Mr. Dobson’s cow comes out. Tristan explains:
I mean, I may have exaggerated the effort involved a little; a few well-placed groans, some unnecessarily straining sinews, and the final howl of pain ... I may have got slightly carried away, but it had the desired effect.
Siegfried is very angry. He doesn’t resort to “playacting and tomfoolery” to please his clients. But he does––Tristan brings up his trick of causing a chemical reaction in the shape of a purple cloud to impress owners after he’s cleared an abscess in an animal’s hoof, “blinding the great unwashed with the magic of science.” Their angry exchange continues:
Siegfried: That is entirely different.
Tristan: I don’t see how.
Siegfried: Because I know what I’m doing.
Tristan: Yes, well, so do I.
Siegfried: I seriously doubt that.
Tristan: Well, I’ve the qualifications to prove it.
Siegfried: Or so you think.
A horrible, embarrassed silence falls. Mrs. Hall ushers everyone else out for drinks leaving the two brothers alone. Siegfried, clearly in the wrong, tries to bluster his way out of the situation he has caused. Tristan responds with admirable restraint:
You let me think I was qualified when I wasn’t. And then you let me carry on, showing off like a complete idiot. All this time I’ve been a total laughing stock.
Diana and Margot leave, ushered out by Mrs. Hall and Helen. Diana tries to laugh it off:
Dinner and a show. Who could ask for more?
She offers Margot a ride home. Margot apologizes to Helen for her ill-timed remarks about Hugh and admits it was a difficult situation for her.
Mrs. Hall finds Tristan, who’s clearly been crying, in the kitchen, knocking back Siegfried’s good whiskey, and I don’t blame him a bit. Yes, she knew about the exam results, and she’s sorry. Tristan has also guessed she ordered the bag. It's hard to see him demoralized, hurt so badly by his brother's behavior.
James now has to take Helen home and tell her, a little late, about the job in Glasgow, and how torn he’s been, although clearly, his heart is here in Yorkshire. He knows he should have told her before, but he didn’t want her to feel pressured. She’s far more understanding than he deserves, and tells him they’ll have to work something out.
Back at Skeldale House, James attempts to comfort Tristan by telling him that there are plenty of vets without qualifications. As usual, James means well, but he’s missing the point. They decide to go to the pub, where clearly they will both be getting completely legless.
This has been an emotionally fraught episode, and you have to wonder how, or even if, Tristan and Siegfried will rebuild their relationship. How do you think Siegfried will make amends to his brother? Do you think Tristan’s hard-won confidence will be shaken? Let’s discuss!