Matters of the Heart
Episode 2 of The Essex Serpent starts with Cora awakening from a bad dream about the serpent. Part of this seems to stem from memories involving her ex, Michael. Martha reassures her when she awakens in the middle of the night, claiming that “Michael can’t hurt you anymore.” We said in the last recap that there could have been physical abuse in their relationship, and this seems to confirm it.
In the morning, Cora remains determined to find out what’s happened. She decides to double down on investigating Essex, much to Garrett’s displeasure. He points out that this is her grief and anxiety talking, and struggles to talk her out of moving. So off they go, into a quaint cottage in the countryside.
The whole village is still mourning the loss of Grace, with some of the men whispering that this is because of her sins. Will reassures him that this isn’t the case, but it’s hard to rationale with people overcome with fear and sadness.
The wake is interrupted by Cora showing at the tavern, and in the wake of some suffocating awkward silences, she takes her leave. Will is surprised to see her, especially as he learns that she’s there to “look into things.” Will reminds her that people are scared so she needs to be careful and tread lightly. Will does, however, approve her search for the truth.
Back in London, Doctor Garrett does his heart surgery and it’s a big success. Martha grows closer to Spencer in the wake of this, while she also reveals at one point that her brother died in the past. Spencer is also introduced to the more squalid parts of London, with Martha intending to try and make changes, writing a letter to a government minister by the name of Ambrose to improve the housing conditions for the poorest in the community.
Speaking of truth, Will speaks to Naomi who admits she’s seen the serpent herself. She claims it comes for her during the night, slithering into her dreams. Will again tries to rationale with her, pointing out that it’s just her fears manifesting themselves.
To be fair, there’s not a whole lot of drama in this episode, which slows down to flesh out the characters and explore their psyches. One of the more focal characters is Will, who admits to Cora that he wants purpose rather than achievement. He’s well-read, has an equal in his partner Stella, and enjoys his time in Essex.
Cora meanwhile, used to live by the coast before moving to the city with Michael. She has deep emotional scars from her time with her husband, but before she can elaborate, the pair look out at the horizon and notice a sailing boat.
Martha eventually arrives in Essex, where she meets an excited Cora who has been doing research into the boat. For Will, he’s starting to doubt his own story. With barricades set up around the perimeter of the village and a lookout for the night, Will has heard enough and suggest they let Cora talk to the schoolchildren.
That night, a seagull ends up stuck inside Naomi’s house. Naomi is shocked and immediately believes this is a bad omen, signifying that the serpent is coming for her.
This paves way for class the next day, where Cora speaks to the kids and demands to know whether there’s a serpent or not. Cora is backed into a corner and tells them all that she’s there to find out the truth to that very question. She honestly doesn’t know.
Off the back of this, the kids all break into a cacophony, shouting “serpent” repeatedly. “She did it,” One of the kids breaks through the noise, pointing to Naomi as if she’s responsible. Naomi appears to be possessed, as she rocks back and forth on the spot, eyes rolling in the back of her head.
The Episode Review
The Essex Serpent is a fascinating little case study into faith and fear, including how the two can be entwined together to create mass hysteria. It appears that what we’re dealing with here is the illusory truth effect. For those not quite as geeky as me, that essentially means people tend to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure.
In the case of The Essex Serpent, this entire community is dead-set on believing that the serpent is real and that it’s somehow infecting people and starting to distort and change the community. One could argue that this parallels the more extreme forms of Christianity and other faiths. It would appear that this is what The Essex Serpent is almost portraying as an allegory.
At first glance the ending is completely ridiculous but then at the same time, it also reinforces the impressionable minds that have been led to believe this serpent is real. Whether the creature is or not remains a mystery but the story is definitely intriguing.
It’s a pity then that some of this show is drawn out, with a slow pace that requires a lot of patience. If you’re taken with the story and can take to the deeper themes then this is a really good watch but I can imagine some people are likely to be clock-watching at parts of this. Despite that though, the ending certainly leaves the door open for the rest of the series to follow.