In the 'Grantchester' Season 9 Premiere, Will Confronts His Own Complacency

 Skye Degruttola, Kacey Ainsworth, Robson Green, Tom Brittney, Charlotte Ritchie in "Grantchester" Season 9

(Photo: Kudos, ITV, and MASTERPIECE)

It's the end of an era. (Again.) Mystery series Grantchester is once again undergoing what is rapidly becoming The Time-Honored Tradition of The Changing of The Vicars (three times in eight years!) as star Tom Brittney hangs up his collar. This first episode of the new season simultaneously serves as the start of a heartfelt farewell and a nod to a new beginning. Well...sort of. 

The hour sees Will decide after a long, drawn-out metaphor involving a girl robbing people to help her quit the traveling circus she's outgrown — that it's time for him to move on from Grantcheser. (That this story also involves some painfully on-the-nose platitudes about constantly seeking new challenges and refusing to coast through life isn't terribly out of the ordinary, but it's certainly not subtle.) Despite confirming with the bishop that he's down to take this more complicated position in a new parish, Will can't seem to manage to tell Geordie, even as his BFF enthuses about how they have to make the most of the summer together. Pack tissues for next week, is what I'm saying.

The Season 9 premiere is technically about a murder at a circus; in reality, it's one of those delightful installments where the episode's mystery isn't important. We know this is the last time we'll be seeing these particular characters on our screens together, and getting to watch all our faves on a family together is utterly charming. Leonard's quoting Chekov, Will's making remarkably off-color jokes for a vicar, Geordie's flirting with one of the magician's assistants, and Jack's busy buying all the Davenport/Keating kids candy. It's honestly lovely, and everyone looks so happy; you just know it can't possibly last. (Even without knowing the cast moves that will inevitably dictate much of the episode's plot.)

Tom Brittney in "Grantchester" Season 9

Tom Brittney in "Grantchester" Season 9

(Photo: Kudos, ITV, and MASTERPIECE)

With the mystery more of an excuse to have an episode, the bulk of the hour is given over to coming up with a reason for Will to leave Grantchester. It's a taller order than it sounds, given that he's freshly married with a new baby, a job he generally enjoys, and a side hustle solving crimes with his BFF/cousin-in-law. The idea that Will would suddenly want to leave all this behind to move to Newcastle is....well, surprising. 

But to the show's credit, Grantchester does a better job selling his exit than it did former star James Norton. Even if it's a bit hard to believe that Will's so checked out of his day job that he doesn't notice (or worry about) how thin his congregation is getting or that he'd suddenly decide the answer is to move away to a needier parish rather than trying to improve (or, dare I say, save) the place he's made his home. 

Bonnie's easy acceptance of the idea from the jump makes more sense, given that moving isn't a huge deal to her generally, and she's never fit the mold of what a vicar's wife was supposed to be in a place like Grantchester. She complains about being stuck talking to church ladies spying on their neighbors' flower beds, so maybe a chance to start over in a place that won't expect her to be some sort of paragon of belief is something she'll like. Besides, one of Grantchesters's main themes has always been that there are many ways to love God and even more ways to reflect that love in our ministry to others (whether or not the church is involved).

Melissa Johns and Bradley Hall in "Grantchester" Season 9

Melissa Johns and Bradley Hall in "Grantchester" Season 9

(Photo: Kudos, ITV, and MASTERPIECE)

Grantchester's weekly mysteries are rarely all that intriguing, which goes double for this week's installment. After the gang's trip to the circus in which Geordie gets drawn into the magic act with a pretty assistant, Feathers, after it's clear her boss is incapable of doing the show properly the illusionist turns up dead. He was shot with his own rifle, which is technically not even supposed to work. It's a mess, of course. 

The other performers and the belligerent circus owner insist that their troupe is a family that could never hurt anyone. Right. A family where the dead magician turns out to have been a drunk who was constantly screwing up. A family where he and Feathers plotted to run away from the circus to take their act to a more stable theater that might let them put down roots. A plot they were financing by following circus attendees home and robbing them. As likable and boundary-pushing as she is, Feathers is a garden variety thief who literally stole a locket with someone's dead husband's ashes in it! And yet, this is who we're supposed to root for to find a new and better life? The show spends no time questioning that. (Is this your king?!?!)

The twist here is that Errol, the dead magician, wasn't the actual target of the murder. He's only dead because he decided to do some after-hours practice for once — if he'd just kept to the drinking, it would have been Feathers who died tragically when the magic prop rifle accidentally fired an all too real arrow. Who could want her dead? The suspect list is longer than you'd think. Erroll resented Feathers' talent. After all, she tells Will and Geordie that she carried their routine. The shady circus owner certainly didn't want any of her "talent" jumping ship for greener pastures. (A problematic desire to square with the whole refusal to pay them a wage thing.) 

Charlotte Ritchie in "Grantchester" Season 9

(Photo: Kudos, ITV, and MASTERPIECE)

In truth, either of these culprits might have been more interesting than the guilty party the show does settle on. (Not to mention the utterly hamfisted, unsubtle metaphor his identity is meant to represent.) That would be Jerry, once a star athlete before he was the head clown of this troupe. Sadly, now he's middle-aged with back pain and a drug habit, as well as a wild resentment of anyone who tries to get ahead in a way that he himself couldn't. Jealous of the success Feathers is attempting to carve out for herself, and furious that she's taking risks he couldn't bring himself to when he had the chance, he decides to bump her off. 

That the episode throws some uncomfortable sexism and misogyny on top is unnecessary, though probably fairly accurate to the time period. (Sigh.) Anyway, in case you missed the memo spelled out in giant letters across the sky, settling for things and coasting in one place for too long can spawn such powerful regrets it can make you become a murderer! Clearly, Will has no choice but to carry some coals to Newcastle! (Ed note: Sorry, I spent the entire episode thinking it.

In many ways, it might have made more sense to have Will leave at the end of last season. His departure would have felt like a natural extension of the story the show was telling at the time, and if Will needed to give himself a fresh start in a place that didn't remind him of his worst mistake, we all would have understood. Instead, we get this story about Will's sudden longing to do or be more than he has been, which mostly feels like it came out of nowhere and exists only because something has to get Brittney and his character out the door. We'll have to see how Geordie takes it next week. 

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A vicar turned sleuth helps a grumpy cop in the Cambridgeshire village of Grantchester.
Grantchester: show-poster2x3

Lacy Baugher

Lacy's love of British TV is embarrassingly extensive, but primarily centers around evangelizing all things Doctor Who, and watching as many period dramas as possible.

Digital media type by day, she also has a fairly useless degree in British medieval literature, and dearly loves to talk about dream poetry, liminality, and the medieval religious vision. (Sadly, that opportunity presents itself very infrequently.) York apologist, Ninth Doctor enthusiast, and unabashed Ravenclaw. Say hi on Threads or Blue Sky at @LacyMB. 

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