Tom Jones winds up with a happy ending — did we ever doubt it? Not really, although this episode plunges us briefly into the darkest moment of the series before wrapping up everything in a parcel of sweetness and light, along with a neat grace note that grants Tom fortune and status. The stalemate that strands Tom and Partridge penniless in a squalid riverside hut, and Sophia as a prisoner in her grandfather’s London house ends.
A woman can reach her lowest ebb and never know that the dark night is ending. But a man can face defeat and exile and come back fighting one last time.
First, Aunt Western arrives, and while she’s been critical of Sophia in the past, she’s now even more annoyed with the Squire, but still insists Sophia must marry someone. Squire Western gets sentimental about carrying on the family line, and to a certain extent Sophia agrees with him, although her idea of doing so is to honor her mother, Bereba. Aunt Western’s other pressing issue at the moment is that since Sophia lost her maid, no one can do her hair properly.
Tom, however, has to deal with the pesky problem of Lady Bellaston, and the peskier problem of doing so while keeping his pants on. He consults Nightingale, his fellow lodger at the Millers’ boarding house, who greets him with great affection and invites him to serve as best man at his wedding to the eldest daughter Nancy Miller (Florence Guy).
Nightingale suggests Tom propose marriage to Lady Bellaston. As we’ve seen, the merest hint of love, or even friendship, scares her to death. Tom doesn’t want to hurt her, but even he admits that it might be difficult to appeal to Lady Bellaston’s better nature (if it even exists). A letter is drafted, but Tom is very ambivalent about actually sending it. Nightingale, far less scrupulous, delivers it the next day. So Tom is rather surprised when Lady Bellaston turns up in her carriage specifically to call him a worthless villain who is only after her money, and refuses to marry him.
Tom’s next visit is to Squire Western’s house where Sophia is imprisoned, and where he meets Black George, glad of the opportunity to say good bye to him. Black George finally comes clean and admits he stole the money Squire Western had given Tom. He’d used it to build a new house. Tom, bless him, can’t hold a grudge. He hugs George, and tells him how glad he is that it made a difference in his life. He then climbs up the ivy to see Sophia, possibly for the last time, and she admits she loves him, but they have no future together. Childhood is over.
As for Blifil, he’s not exactly everyone’s favorite. Squire Western is cooling toward him, but Blifil, having seen Tom clamber up the ivy to Sophia’s room, reports it to Lady Bellaston and Aunt Harriet. Lady Bellaston plans an elaborate revenge, and sends invitations to just about everyone to attend an art gallery viewing in her house.
Partridge visits Squire Allworthy, and confesses that although he is not Tom Jones’s father, he has come to plead his case. Allworthy asks his help in deciphering a letter, and Partridge, with years of teaching experience under his belt, is able to read it. It’s from Honour, warning Allworthy that Sophia is about to be forced into a marriage, and Allworthy sets off for London.
Honour and Sophia are reunited, and for Honour, things are about to change. When Sophia sent her into a pub in London for directions, she discovered a place she felt at home, where other Black people gathered. She is engaged to be married to the landlord Robert Janes (Tolu Kingba). Now she’s resuming her role as a maid to Sophia out of friendship and mutual distrust of Lady Bellaston. Honour sums it up nicely: “Lady Bellaston is a cow.”
All of our main players are at Lady Bellaston’s soiree, which rapidly descends into chaos. “Let battle commence,” Lady Bellaston crows. She whispers in Sophia’s ear, and makes sure she reads the proposal letter from Tom. Sophia runs out, and as Tom follows, the drunken, disreputable Captain Fitzpatrick turns up, drunk as usual, sword drawn, and picks a fight with him. Tom is unarmed and tries to evade him, but eventually gets hold of the sword and Fizpatrick is injured. As he collapses, Lady Bellaston tells Tom he’ll be hanged.
Tom is imprisoned, and while Allworthy, Partridge, and Western are horrified, unfortunately, Blifil visits Tom in his filthy cell. He’s come to gloat, but Tom sincerely tells him he understands how Blifil has felt, coming in last in the Allworthy household. Mrs. Waters shows up (of course she does!) and meets Partridge, who recognizes her and is shocked to learn of her brief affair with Tom. Partridge tells Tom that Mrs. Fitzpatrick is the former Jenny Jones and tries to reassure him that it’s not his fault he committed incest, just bad luck. For the first time, Tom breaks down and weeps.
But outside the prison, Team Tom is gaining strength. The unlikely duo of Mrs. Waters and Aunt Harriet, two women united by Fitzpatrick’s abuse, take charge (and it’s a relief to see Aunt Harriet choose the right side). Fitzpatrick started the fight, Tom was unarmed, and the magistrate was bribed to rule against him. Fitzpatrick, despite sickbed histrionics, is by no means in any danger of dying. Tom is released.
Still mulling over Tom’s behavior, Sophia seeks comfort and advice from Honour over a beer in her fiance’s tavern. Honour persuades her that forgiveness and faith in Tom will save their relationship. Partridge, Nightingale, and Mrs. Miller visit Squire Western and Aunt Harriet to plead Tom’s case. Mrs. Waters seeks an audience with Squire Allworthy, Aunt Bridget, and Partridge to confess that she is the former Jenny Jones but not Tom’s mother.
So who is his mother? Aunt Bridget steps forward to admit that Tom is her child and then runs after Blifil, whose luck is running out. Blifil blurts out that she always loved Tom more, and sadly it’s true. He doesn’t even try for any sort of reconciliation but goes to throw himself upon Lady Bellaston’s mercy and slithers into her house.
Sophia and Tom are reunited, and Allworthy now introduces him as “my older nephew Tom Jones” to Team Tom. After everyone else is pushed outside to give them privacy, Tom proposes to Sophia, and she refuses. She can’t trust him. He argues that he’s grown up and knows the difference between happiness and pleasure. She suggests they wait a year, during which she’ll observe his behavior and give an answer.
Team Tom crowds back into the doorway, and Squire Western tells Sophia to do what she is told, which is to marry Tom the next day. The wedding is a joyful, riotous affair. Tom and Sophie still don’t know who his father is, and no one seems inclined to ask Bridget. Between them, Squire Western and Squire Allworthy represent more than enough in father material. As Sophia concludes:
And so the past becomes a place we leave behind. New lives begin. Two families united where secrets are abandoned and blame is forgotten. For at the end of all our adventures, here begins the biggest adventure of all.