This review contains spoilers.
1.10 A Vast And Fiendish Plot
Copper has had a winning season. BBC America’s first original series, it had the network’s highest-rated premiere and quickly became its highest-rated drama series with over a million viewers a week. Combined with season seven of Doctor Who, it gave BBC America its most successful quarter since the cable network was founded in 1998. Now it has passed its final test: Copper will return next summer with a thirteen-episode second season. In the end, this unjust series proved that there is some justice in the world.
I hate to say this about the season finale, but A Vast and Fiendish Plot is not one of the season’s best episodes. Its main concern is with Kennedy’s plot to burn New York to the ground, but we already know that New York did not burn to the ground in 1864 and the episode did nothing surprising with Corcoran and co.’s fight to prevent it. I appreciate that the writers didn’t wait until the last episode to reveal Ellen, but at the same time, this episode could have used something to give it a little more oomph.
Here’s one thing it has going for it, though: a lot of it is true. The attempt to burn down New York City with Greek fire is a true but mostly forgotten episode in history. A Vast and Fiendish Plot was the newspaper headline given to the incident by the New York Herald. The episode even included a line about giving the fire enough oxygen, which is what foiled the plot in the real-life incident; the fires went out because the Confederates who set them left the windows closed.
In Copper’s version of the tale, Corky and Morehouse team up to stop the attack, with help from a large squad of New York’s finest. In one of the episode’s more satisfying moments, Morehouse finally sticks it to his dad, who has to give up his riches and go live as a small businessman in Atlanta. Score one for the ninety-nine percent!
Annie also seems to be on her way to change after Eva warns her that she is going to end up alone if she doesn’t stop being such a whoring creeper. I have always found Annie creepy in an entertaining way, but a lot of viewers don’t like her, so they should be happy to see that she seems to be taking Eva’s words to heart. There’s a seed of a family there with Annie, Corcoran, and Ellen living under the same roof, and that is the greatest hope offered in an episode that overall ends on an unusually positive note.
Okay, so my standards for “positive” are pretty low at this point. But it is more or less positive, up until the very last scene when Corcoran shoots up drugs and then hallucinates his daughter. Then we are reminded of what he has lost, and that he will not let go of that easily. Order has been restored to the world, as much as it can be, but Corcoran cannot find his own personal happiness. It’s a fitting end to the season, one that captures the overall mood of the show without dumping an all-out depressing ending on us.
They implemented Shakespeare to unusual effect this episode. Superimposing the performance of Julius Caesar over shots of Corcoran deciding whether to rescue Francis from the fire made for a nice dramatic scene, although it was a little disorienting, possibly because Copper has never done anything like this before. Still, I’m of the mind that Shakespeare is appropriate for any occasion. Corcoran does rescue Francis, and afterward Francis admits that he inadvertently murdered both Madame Grindle and Mary Lockwood in attempts to get the abortion ledger. Corcoran doesn’t exactly forgive Francis, but there is an air of redemption about their interaction, just as there is about Eva and Annie’s interactions with Ellen.
It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, Eva killed Molly for sleeping with Corcoran. Now she watches over Ellen, and when Corcoran breaks off their relationship she tells him she always knew it would end and graciously accepts it. Is she for real? She seems sincere, and it would be completely believable if it weren’t for that one murderous psycho moment.
Elizabeth has an interesting scene this week: we see her getting dressed. That hoop thing under her skirt is crazy. Seriously though, the most interesting things she did all season were hang a nude painting on her wall and model nineteenth-century fashions. I don’t know why there’s a big Elizabeth head on the cover of the DVD/Blu-Ray release because the character is boring in the extreme.
Dr. Freeman, on the other hand, is even more interesting than usual when he goes and punches out the snake oil merchant who sold an elixir to Sara. Sara’s illness is strange; is she really just anxious, or is there something physically wrong there? Dr. Freeman says she’s fine, but he spends so much time reassuring her that it’s got to be automatic for him by now, and he’s obviously never been pregnant. Then again, Sara does have every reason to be anxious, and anxiety can have physical symptoms.
So what do we have for next season? Ellen is back but still in bad shape and convinced that she’s a monster. Annie is living with the Corcorans and seems poised to start acting like a normal kid (or trying to, anyway). Eva agrees to back off -suspiciously easily. Francis is wounded and a murderer, but it looks like he’s still got some fight in him. Robert Morehouse’s dad isn’t there to boss him around anymore, and presumably the younger Morehouse will step into his father’s shoes as one of New York’s most powerful men. Dr. Freeman and Sara are preparing to welcome a hopefully healthy baby. And Corcoran is a junkie who still can’t let go of the past.
That’s plenty of material for a new season, without any major loose ends to drive us crazy until Copper returns next summer. Until then, we’ll sadly have to find our weekly helpings of violence, scandal, and injustice elsewhere.
The early episodes of Copper were injected with a generous dose of shock factor, but in time the series grew into something more thoughtful. It is still unsettling, but without bombarding or desensitising the audience. Its people and events are not just bad, but good and bad and both and neither. In other words, the world of Copper is fabulously real, and that’s what makes it well worth the trip.
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