The basic concept of this week's episode of The Larkins is simple. Ma's sister Bertha - who is, naturally, her complete opposite in virtually every conceivable way - comes to visit the farm and friction ensues. And, as such things go, it's fine. I mean, there's a fully ridiculous car chase around the outskirts of the Larkin property that comes about almost solely because Ma gets tired of hearing her sister and brother-in-law go on about their fancy new Jaguar.
But, unfortunately, it ends up being an example of the limits of this show's cozy worldview. (Or at least how annoying it can become when it tries to be about anything other than a cozy worldview.) And that's because The Larkins seems utterly incapable of presenting an opinion or life choice that runs contrary to the family's love of their bucolic small-town lifestyle as anything other than a mistake. This is part and parcel of the show's reluctance to look too closely at the difficulties that should naturally be part of the way the family chooses to live, a sort of dark twin to its inability to admit that Pa's kindly grifting should in no way be able to keep food on the table for all of them.
Whether it's Bertha and her family's dislike of the outdoors, Hot Tom's campaign to bring more modern businesses and accommodations to Littlechurch, or Mariette's longing to see the world, The Larkins seems loath to acknowledge that anyone might want something different than they've already got or that change can - and often is - a good thing. (Would it be in this instance? I'm not sure. But no one seems to be interested in even contemplating that it might.)
By the end of the hour, even snotty urbanite Bertha admits that part of the reason she's so awful to her sister is that she and her husband are jealous of the Larkins's happy farm life and rollicking confident children. I mean...really? This is clearly a woman who hates the very concept of things like mud. Can we all just admit that everyone's life choices are valid? I don't know. (But at least the sisters' reconciliation ends up being sweet, even if Ma eventually just straight up says she has no desire to visit the town where her sister lives like, ever. Whew!)
Perhaps this thematic choice wouldn't be so annoying if both the episode's plots weren't structured around it. While Ma is dealing with her sister, Pa is doing his best to thwart Hot Tom's development plans for his new hotel - and, eventually, Littlechurch itself. Not content to simply build his snazzy new hotel, Tom has dreams of adding a whole bunch of new shops and other businesses and hopes to turn the town into well, a real town. (Complete with housing estates and a new road.) Pa is about that life, particularly when it requires the removal of a beloved ancient tree known as "Spreading Linda".
Instead of finding some compromise here, Pa gets Edith Pilchester to call a meeting of the Parish Council to vote on the plans and does his best to bribe the vicar to vote his way. Tom, for his part, is leaning on (the already established as vaguely evil) Alec Norman to help him "persuade" some folks in a similar manner. And the vote ultimately goes against our hottie newcomer when Primrose reveals his dastardly plan to increase local infrastructure because this show's dedication to the idea that idyllic nature be left undisturbed is just that intense.
(Though, I do think Tom brings up some valid points - if Pa and Ma are so worried about Mariette leaving, shouldn't they be working to give her - and their other kids! - both reasons to stay and places to live?)
Elsewhere, Charley is working up the nerve to finally tell Mariette how he feels, and this somehow necessitates his moving out of the Larkin house and in with the Brigadier, who I really cannot think about in any capacity without assuming this is some sort of weird Doctor Who fanfic, no matter how much I honestly enjoy his sister, who hates everything for reasons the show hasn't bothered to explain. (You are very relatable, girl!)
Mariette, for her part, is sort of dating Hot Tom, but also sort of seems to not like Hot Tom at all, which is very confusing, and only makes the inevitability of a Mariette/Charley endgame less interesting to me. (The part where she makes the horse kiss Tom certainly seemed like a definitive choice to me!) The show seems torn between portraying Tom as a sort of smarmy jerk and a well-meaning guy who wants his chosen town to accept that the future is happening whether they want it to or not and find a way to thrive in it, and it makes everything about his relationship with Mariette less compelling than it might otherwise be.
Still, it's interesting that she apparently has lit out for France almost entirely in response to him telling her she'd never go, though it seems more likely than not that it'll be Charley that heads off to track her down.