Due to the ineffable whims of scheduling, the last two episodes of Grantchester Season 8 arrived together, airing back-to-back on PBS Masterpiece as a two-hour block. And, while that particularly broadcast decision was perhaps an unintentional one, the pairing of the final two episodes of the season ultimately really works out, allowing viewers to avoid the painful cliffhanger that would have been Will's disappearance at the end of the fifth episode and making the vicar's descent into rock bottom feel seamless and propulsive.
Granted, it's not like Will's downward spiral is much of a surprise; the bulk of Season 8 has been focused on the fallout from the motorcycle accident that kicked off the season and the death that he (albeit accidentally) caused. From recurrent PTSD episodes and constant chainsmoking to a palpable fear that God has abandoned him and a sudden addiction to anti-anxiety medication, the vicar was clearly spiraling toward a dark place long before he decided to abandon his wife and child.
There's something terribly tragic about Will turning to bar fights just to feel something again, but in many ways, it completely tracks with the lost boy life he's always lived, and maybe finding someone to throw a punch at him is a coping method that feels most familiar to him in an especially dark place when the larger support systems in his life (his faith, his family, Geordie) are absent. Granted, they're absent in large part thanks to Will's own behavior, but it doesn't make the hole they leave in his spirit at this moment any less real.
Surprisingly, despite the fact that we already know Tom Brittney is leaving the show and nearly every narrative signpost over the past few episodes has felt as though it's building toward his exit, Will still ends the season in a fairly contented place. Bonnie gives birth to a son that the pair name James George (aw); he effortlessly kicks his sort-of addiction to pills, and, most importantly, he finally seems to have an emotional breakthrough while comforting a young boy in a similar position. That he manages to finally stop blaming himself for a death he didn't intend to cause is a relief, but I have to admit I was fully prepared for Will to decide the only real way to heal himself was to leave town and start over in a place that didn't constantly remind him of his worst mistake.
In some ways, that probably would have made more narrative sense and would have been a natural end for the story this season's been telling. But because the powers at be behind Grantchester have decided that they do their cast changes in premieres rather than finales, the show will now have to find another believable reason for Will and Bonnie to uproot their new family next year. True, it's hard to be so mad about the season's ultimately happy ending, given that the end result is we get to see several deeply satisfying scenes.
Maybe I'm just a total sucker for Will's insistence on being present for the birth of his son (tbh, Bonnie forgives him for disappearing way too easily!), or I just love Brittney carting around an adorable baby; I don't know. But his lakeside walk with Geordie is one of my favorite scenes the pair have ever shared, and it feels like a tremendous shame that Grantchester has only finally made the dad/son vibes between them so explicit when we're about to lose this relationship forever.
Geordie gets to keep his job after Elliot inexplicably decides to get physically violent with Leonard at the precinct. (Because, of course, he does, this character's rapid descent into total villainy is one of the season's rare complete and total missteps.) Cathy gets to embrace her promotion, Larry manages to prove he might actually be a good cop, Ms. Scott gets to help out directly on a case, and Leonard and Daniel get back together. (If they were ever even really on a break in the first place. More like a pause, maybe.) There's genuine growth for almost everyone, save poor Bonnie, but at least she's not shunted off to visit her parents for the fourth time this season, so huzzah, I guess.
But, perhaps most importantly, forgiveness abounds. Bonnie almost immediately forgives her husband for disappearing. Leonard apologizes for the harsh words he had for Will, recalibrates his life priorities, and literally runs to find Daniel and make things right between them. (As a fellow person who does not run unless a life or death threat is present, I absolutely understand the depth of this gesture.)
Even Geordie and Larry seem to have achieved something like a new understanding, and everyone comes together (including Dickens puppies!) to celebrate and support the Davenports as Bonnie gives birth. It's a nice reminder that the genuine community aspect of this show is a big part of what makes it special --- and probably the primary reason it's likely to survive its third major cast change in eight years.
Although Grantchester is a technical show with a religious figure at its center --- and one that certainly references a fair amount of Biblical texts and themes --- at its heart, it's a show about service. A story about all the ways that we can and should minister to one another in the world, no matter what our belief structure might happen to be; it's hopeful without being overtly proselytizing or requiring its viewers or even its characters, for the most part, to believe in something they don't. There are so many ways to serve one another and to be a light for others wherever you find yourself.
We see it so clearly throughout this season, and in this final pair of episodes specifically, as characters repeatedly show up for one another, love one another, and find ways to bloom where they're planted. Geordie realizes not only the true depth of his love for Will but pushes him to be the person he knows he can be. Jack wholeheartedly supports Leonard through a rough patch with Daniel. Mrs. C is clearly on the path to becoming the Keatings' new nanny because being a caretaker is simply in her nature. Even the kind police officer Mac ultimately embraces a pair of lost kids as the children of his heart, if not his body.
None of these things are, in the grand scheme of the world, huge things. But that's okay -- to paraphrase Mother Theresa, we may not all be able to do huge things. But we can do small things with great love, which is what makes all the difference.