The vicar of Grantchester has faced a plethora of internal struggles in Season 5 of the 1950s-set British mystery series. But so far Rev. Will Davenport (Tom Brittney) has been able to vent his frustrations about things like his mother’s impending nuptials and his own rejected marriage proposal by pummeling a punching bag at the gym and having a heart-to-heart with the owner, Vic Morgan (Ross Boatman), who seems to have gone out of his way to help troubled youths reform.
Not anymore. Vic becomes another fallen idol in a year of disillusionment for Will in Grantchester’s fifth episode, written by series creator Daisy Coulam, who also penned next week’s season finale. This heartbreaking installment is the year’s strongest episode so far, since the crime that police and Will were trying to unravel wasn’t connected to characters we were meeting for the first time, but ones we’ve been following all season, and it involved vulnerable youths at the mercy of a deceptive authority figure.
Well-intentioned Will has been sending boys like Matthew (Jim Caesar, who terrifically captures his character’s deep-seated emotional turmoil) to the gym to straighten them out after they committed minor offenses. He never imagined what horrors were happening to them outside of the boxing ring, but Vic’s evil deeds come to light after the gym hosts a boxing tournament. The event initially has Will in unusually good spirits. “This is as close as I’ve felt to God in such a long time,” chirps the enthusiastic vicar.
At one point, the match between Matt and another boy, Lucas (Jack Donoghue), looks as if it could turn into an all-out street brawl. Things get bloody, but Lucas is declared the winner after Matt appears to throw the fight. Then, when Will and Vic return to the gym later to look for the boys, they find a locked door. When they break it down, they make a horrifying discovery: Matt and Lucas lying unconscious in the boxing ring.
At the hospital, Will and his police detective confidant Geordie (Robson Green) find an empty bottle of Benzedrine among the boys’ things. Was this a suicide pact? Will doesn’t want to believe that, and they don’t find a note. But Geordie uncovers a receipt for an ad Lucas placed in the local paper offering his services as a male companion. The response he got came from a Mr. Burrows (Rupert Holliday Evans), who had just been to the police to report being mugged.
Worried that he pushed the boys too hard, Will keeps vigil at Matt’s bedside and realizes something’s up when Matt asks him if he got “the note.” The young man explodes when the vicar tries to put a reassuring hand on his arm and gets even more upset when Vic shows up. Will gradually realizes that Vic has been molesting the boys entrusted to his care and doubles down to try to get Matt to admit what happened. After some coaxing, and after he sees Lucas die in the hospital, Matt finally opens up to Will about what happened and why they thought suicide was their only way out.
Matt explains how Vic manipulated his charges into believing that they wanted what was happening to them, and Lucas placed the ad in the newspaper trying to at least profit from the men who would abuse them. Will is wracked with guilt, remembering how Matt had acted up to try to get away from the gym, and instead Will pushed him back to it.
But proving the allegations is another matter. Geordie brings Vic to the police station, but he denies the charges. Even Matt’s mother (Sarah Stanley) thinks he’s lying. “I know my son: rotten through and through like his father,” she says in front of Will and Matt, who at this point is churning with despair and rage, and even hits Will.
But Will refuses to give up. Recalling that he saw Vic’s wife Marie (Sandra Huggett) talking to Lucas and Matt before the fight, Will deduces that she knows what’s going on. When he confronts Marie, she gives him the suicide note, and after more persuading, agrees to testify against her husband. “When you live with someone like him, they erode you,” Will tells her, no doubt calling up memories of his own abusive father.
Geordie leads Vic to a cell, but his thoughts are on Will. “This has broken him,” the detective declares to Vic, before getting in a rather satisfying punch to the gut. But it won’t be enough to assuage Will’s guilt.
And speaking of guilt, what are we to make of this hour’s other storyline? The reconciliation of Mrs. Chapman (Tessa Peake-Jones) and her husband Jack (Nick Brimble) after she learned he’d smuggled people across the India/Pakistan border a decade ago was played as a lighthearted romp, as Leonard (Al Weaver) conspired to bring the couple back together.
Despite some whimsical moments — the look on Mrs. C’s face when Jack announced he’d made quiche was priceless — how disappointing that she agreed to go back to him! Not that one should never be forgiven for past mistakes, but Jack only seems sorry because he got found out. “I make my fortune through good means and bad,” he tells his wife. “I’ve made my peace with that.”
Wow! What a contrast to the enormous responsibility Will feels over what happened to Matt. But it seems that when you’re rich, forgiveness is easier to come by. Jack promises Mrs. C that he’ll be better in the future and tells her that he’s contacted Tariq, the young man who threw a brick through Jack’s window because he wouldn’t talk to him about the fate of his father, and offered the family financial support.
Mrs. C, who shed all the nice things Jack’s money had bought her when she found out about his past, is satisfied. “I miss my lovely jewelry,” she tells her husband. All, apparently, is forgiven.
But not for Will, who closes the episode by delivering a bitter sermon about sin. “God will always forgive, he will always offer salvation, but I don’t believe all of us deserve it,” he tells his astonished parishioners. “If you sin, you do not deserve his love.”
Let’s hope next week’s finale offers some hope and forgiveness for our tormented vicar.
Grantchester, Sundays, 9/8c, PBS