The second episode of Grantchester Season 8 doesn't waste any time on set-up, immediately jumping back into events of last week's dramatic cliffhanger, namely, whether Will Davenport killed a man. And, despite the suspicions of some of us (read: me) that this twist might be some fake-out or trick, it isn't. Will has, albeit entirely accidentally, caused the death of another human being.
The rest of the episode comes up with a somewhat overly convoluted story to explain why the man Will hit — a thirtysomething named John Mitchell — was in a position to randomly dash into the road in front of the vicar's bike and what extenuating circumstances caused him to run without heed for where he was going. However, it's all really just a lot of fancy plot window-dressing. Because while the story of Mitchell's last day (and of a second death that's tangentially connected to his) is the primary mystery plot of the show, it's also not all that important for its own sake.
The truth of the fight between Mitchell, Ray, Paulie, and Milton will keep Will out of jail, but it won't make him feel any better about what he's done. Because, accident or not, a man is still dead because of him, and he'll have to figure out a way to live with that — and to live with his family, friends, and parish knowing what he did — for the rest of his life.
Will's arrested almost immediately after calling emergency services, though Geordie has to be bullied into doing what is, technically, his job. His initial questioning goes about as well as you can expect — DCI Elliott Wallace is practically drooling at the prospect of throwing him in jail for a decade. Geordie's only concern is telling anyone who'll listen it wasn't his partner's fault (i.e., the road's dangerous, the guy was probably trash, and the bike had something wrong with it). On one level, it's very sweet — Geordie cares deeply about Will and also maybe has a pathological need to believe in his goodness above almost everyone else's.
But, on the other hand, his behavior is also more than a bit uncomfortable to watch because a guy did die, and it's unclear how much his it's-not-that-big-a-deal-attitude is helping his friend, who is quietly unraveling. After all, how many times have we seen Geordie jump to conclusions about guilt or innocence or fail to work a case with the dogged diligence he does here? If this were any other person sitting across from him, wouldn't he have accepted the facts of the case at face value? Would he have returned to the woods or worked so hard to suss out what was happening at the Mirage Club? I...don't think so.
While that's not bad (it's human nature!), the show doesn't do much to interrogate or acknowledge Geordie's biases, and Geordie gets proven right so quickly. It's not like anyone wanted Will to go to prison, and Grantchester will get plenty out of the emotional fallout from the accident. But isn't there some middle ground between "jail forever" and "released with zero legal consequences"? Although the legal angles surrounding this case are suspect, the hour is stronger when it leans into the emotional ramifications — and not just for Will. (After all, Wallace is hyped to lock him up not because of the crime but because of what happened with Maya.)
Grantchester is one of the few television shows that not only takes the idea of faith seriously but that tries to reflect a real understanding of what life as a person who believes looks like. Too often, our pop culture is openly uncomfortable with the idea of faith, and our entertainment rarely features characters who are believers, let alone who talk about God's love and its place in their lives. Religion, as a concept, is something to be mocked or blamed for society's ills, and very seldom do we get to see the other side of that particular narrative device.
To be fair, Grantchester also isn't concerned with proselytizing either — it's not interested in making one believe in anything they don't or convincing us it's right, and we're not. Instead, it simply uses belief as another avenue to illuminate who its characters are and the ways their faith influences and illuminates their lives. Will's devastation about the fact that he's taken someone's life, his desperation to pray for the dead man's soul, and his fear that he can't be forgiven for his action by either his God or his wife are all incredibly powerful (as is Tom Brittney's expressive face and apparent ability to cry on command.)
But the sequence in which Leonard comforts Will, quoting the Bible about the cities of refuge and telling him that God still loves him no matter what he's done, is some of the most beautiful work this show has done to date. (Al Weaver is a wonder.) And then when Will turns later in the episode and does the exact same for Paulie because we're all God's children, and His love for us is infinite.... Reader, I cried. Just gorgeously full of so many layers of meaning — particularly given Will's own complicated relationship with fatherhood, both in terms of his own dad and his new role in Ernie's life.
Coming to terms with the fact that he took another man's life, whether or not he meant to do so, will now be part of Will's life's work, and it's unclear what precisely that will mean for him just yet. Can he forgive himself for what he's done? Will he spend his life trying to atone for the life he took? Could it make him question his faith? How will it impact his marriage?
Of course, the status of Will's mental state after committing manslaughter isn't the only dangling question left out there by this episode, either. Elliot came this close to bullying Will behind bars and doesn't seem sorry for it. Geordie's still being pushed into retirement. It turns out Larry's actually capable of doing good police work (with timely and necessary assistance from the deserves-more-screentime Ms. Scott). However, he's also a raging homophobe, and both he and the village community are more than happy to make some unfortunate assumptions about the moral character of residents trying to get their lives back together at Leonard's halfway house.
(What I'm saying is that having already seen them falsely accused of a crime in the season's second episode, we should all be very nervous about where this subplot is going.)
And, of course, there's the fact that we now know that Brittney's turning in his vicar's collar next season — is this a way to begin to give his character a way out of Grantchester? Or the clergy entirely? We'll have to wait and see.