Episode 1 of The Essex Serpent starts with a pregnant woman in the water, praying. Something appears to approach, and as her scream pierces the air, a little girl runs away.
We then cut across to Doctor Luke Garrett in London, who wants to operate on a man who’s about to die. The man (Michael) refuses, wanting instead to pass from his world “unscarred.” Luke urges Cora, his wife, to comply. It’s a simple procedure and one that would save his life. She refuses, and he passes in the morning.
Cora breaks the news to young Frankie in the morning, who’s pretty indifferent to the news, while he points out that Cora isn’t crying. Still, that doesn’t stop her showing up at the funeral along with numerous other people – including Doctor Garrett.
Garrett is still disappointed that Cora didn’t let him operate, but the pair talk about the nature of operating and, specifically, what it feels like to do surgery. Chats with Martha, the maid, seem to hint that Cora has been locked away and shut off from the world from her oppressive husband, but that’s not completely confirmed. Speaking of which, Cora notices a newspaper clipping confirming that a sea dragon has been sighted in Essex.
Cora decides to head off and investigate, which brings her and the family across to the country. Whilst there, Cora meets Will Ransome, who’s having some trouble with his sheep. She gives him a helping hand, and goes on to tell her to head home, claiming there’s nothing to see. Still, Cora wants to research the sea serpent. Whilst there, she meets Charles, an old friend who’s also a scholar.
Remember that woman from the start of the episode? Well, she’s called Gracie and seems to be well-known in the community. She’s been missing for a while and rumours are that the sea serpent has got her.
Cora is intent on finding out what’s happened, and she’s eventually joined by Garrett, partly out of curiosity following Cora’s letter (“I still have your heart? What does this mean?”) When he shows up, he soon learns that Cora is diving into this investigation head-first.
Despite Will’s best attempts to calm everyone down, pointing out that the serpent isn’t real, the curiosity and fascination about this creature is just too strong. Even in church, as Will steps up as pastor to talk to the locals, they can’t be persuaded otherwise.
Will’s sermon about fear and overcoming hardship is overshadowed by a local, who ends up finding a cross in the shallow parts of the marshes. Everyone charges out of the church, running into the marshes to try and find Gracie. She has been found… but she’s dead.
“The devil. The devil has come.” One of the men says, as Will tries to calm them. It’s no good though, as this is the last straw for the villagers who now believe the serpent has struck again.
The Episode Review
Is the serpent real? Or is this all a big folk tale? This is essentially the question hanging over The Essex Serpent as the first episode
sets the scene nicely for what should be a moody, intriguing period drama to follow.
The story has done well so far to introduce all the characters, and the atmosphere in this series is easily the best part of it so far. With another episode released today, thankfully we don’t have to wait too long to find out what happens next.