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Aghhh, not more oatmeal ...

If you're more into character than plot (and I suppose I am), then The Duchess and The Devil is a rewarding episode on several of levels. Despite posing more than the average number of Unsolved Mysteries, it features more character development than we've seen thus far -- not just of Horatio, but of the supporting players as well.

This episode also features what I regard as rather unique: a female character in an action/adventure film who is strong, smart, and resourceful without being bitchy; funny without being insipid; attractive without being a bimbo (or particularly young, either); and possessed of a heart as big as a barn. The Duchess is a popular character, and understandably so.  (Unfortunately, lightning won't strike twice when we get to Episode 4 ...)

But on to the important part: Archie returns! This would be cause to break out the champagne under any circumstances, but it is the manner of his return that earns my especial admiration for its sheer audacity. For this is no joyous homecoming, and Archie clearly will not settle for being simply the Sancho Panza to Horatio's Don Quixote. What was only hinted at in The Duel now comes to the fore: Archie is a complex soul, in a great deal of emotional pain -- but, thankfully, not entirely beyond help or hope.

A Rather Long Summary

Archie by The Numbers

Unsolved Mysteries


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Horatio and his men capture a French ship called La Reve by pretending to be, of all things, French. His reward is to sail the ship back to England. His punishment is to attend a dinner held by Sir Hew Dalrymple, the governor of Gibraltar. Before the dinner Horatio is gently teased by Lt. Bracegirdle and maliciously teased by Mr. Hunter. At the dinner Horatio impales a pig and meets the Duchess of Wharfedale, an extraordinarily forward woman who will accompany him back to England as a passenger on La Reve. Captain Pellew gives Horatio a set of dispatches and warns him that they must not fall into the wrong hands. Styles says he hasn't seen a woman in six bloody months. La Reve sets sail. The Duchess throws up. When a fog rolls in, Horatio orders an alteration in course over Hunter's vigorous protests. As it turns out, La Reve sails straight into the middle of the Spanish fleet. Horatio tries to finesse his way out of it by pretending to be, of all things, French. The Spanish are not fooled, the Duchess persuades Horatio to let her take the dispatches, and Horatio surrenders to the Spanish. Oh, and by the way, it turns out the Duchess speaks Spanish.

And that's the first half hour of the episode. Good lord, I used more space to describe the first ten minutes of The Duel. Why the haste? Because the moment we've been waiting for is now at hand:

Horatio and his men are escorted to a Spanish prison amidst jeering children. Once in the prison Horatio and Hunter are given a cell of their own. Hunter sits down on one of the bunks, then jumps up like he's been bitten and makes a sound like Curly of the Three Stooges. He rips the blanket from the bunk to reveal --

Archie!!!! With long, loose hair and big, wide sky-blue eyes!

The euphoria from this development lasts approximately five seconds, for Archie screams, "No, go away!" Horatio looks appropriately bewildered as we cut to a commercial.

Back with our regularly scheduled programming, it turns out that Archie was captured during the night attack on the Papillon in The Duel, when Simpson cut the jolly boat loose. He has "lost the use of his mind and the use of his legs," as Hunter sensitively observes. Hunter urges Horatio to leave Archie behind and escape. Horatio refuses on the grounds that Archie is still one of the Indefatigable's midshipmen. Which is all very nice, except that Archie himself is anything but encouraging: he reveals that he attempted to escape five times, and after the last attempt he was put "in a hole in the earth for a month, with no room to stand up or lie down. Now leave me alone." Hmmm.

Hunter again urges Horatio to leave without Archie. Archie has a fit, which (in a scene inexplicably cut by A&E) he notes has not happened until Horatio arrived on the scene. "I'll not go back to the Indy!" he insists. "Do not ask me to!" Hmmm. Call me crazy, but it seems like Archie may have a few issues to work out here ...

The Duchess, through explanations too convoluted to go into, arrives at El Ferrol and obtains a parole for Horatio from Don Massaredo, the prison warden. While Horatio walks about with The Duchess (who assures him she still has the dispatches), Hunter takes Archie's food away from him -- with no noticeable protest from Archie.

Then we have a number of Archieless scenes, basically of Hunter stirring up trouble among the men and Horatio insisting "We go when I say we go." Matthews and Styles are stalwart, Oldroyd is wavering. The Duchess brings the men some fruit. Archie (with long loose hair!) catches sight of her from the prison window. Hunter stomps on the fruit and throws it down the oubliette -- the "hole in the ground" that was the place of Archie's earlier horrific punishment. Then there are more walks with the Duchess -- who really knows how to tease Horatio in a way that confuses his poor li'l heart -- and Styles starts to complain about Horatio's apparent indolence. Which brings us to ...

It's raining; Horatio is staring glumly out the cell window. Archie, in a voice that's barely a whisper (and in his first spoken dialogue in quite some time) asks, "No walk for you today, Horatio?" Horatio, seeming very far away, says no. "It must be something," Archie gasps, "to walk in the sun with such a lovely woman." Clearly preoccupied with thoughts of the Duchess, Horatio asks Archie if he has a sweetheart in England. There is no reply. "Archie?" Horatio inquires (or, as he pronounces it, "Ah-chie."). Some subtle camera work reveals to us that Archie is quite out of commission. "Ah-chie? Ah-chie! Ah-chie!" As Horatio calls to the guards for help, Hunter reveals that Archie has not been eating his rations and that he assumed Horatio knew. Horatio gets Archie to the infirmary and berates himself for his inattention. The Duchess arrives and starts to help -- but Archie looks at her and, for the first time in this episode, manages something like a real smile. He says, "Nothing is left remarkable beneath the visiting moon." The Duchess quickly dismisses this as a bit of delirium.

Next comes one of the most important scenes in the development of the friendship between Horatio and Archie. Archie's issues surface with a surprising amount of bitterness. After waking from a nightmare about Jack Simpson, he refuses the water Horatio offers him. Horatio's considerable patience finally snaps and he orders, "You're going to drink, you're going to eat, and you're going to get better!" Archie still refuses, resulting in this remarkable exchange, unprecedented in the Annals of Sidekickdom:

H: Or don't you want to get back?! Stand on the deck of the Indy! Hear the
     wind in the rigging!
A: And hear how Horatio Hornblower rescued his shipmate from prison?
H: It wouldn't be like that!
A: It would be just like that.
H: You'd do just the same for me if I were in your shoes!
A: But you're not. And you never would be.
H: Archie, I won't survive if you don't help me. None of us will.
A: You don't need me.

But Horatio, bless 'im, does find the words that Archie most needs to hear: "You're one of us. We don't leave unless you do. You can't let us down. You must get strong." Which is to say, Archie does belong and can take control of his life, if only he'll try. It does the trick, at least to the extent that Archie finally drinks. That's our hero: Horatio Hornblower, R.N. -- Royal Navy and Registered Nurse.

Meanwhile Oldroyd has joined Hunter's group in planning an escape. The Duchess peeps into the door of the infirmary where Horatio is asleep in a chair by Archie's bedside. Archie is awake if still rather the worse for wear -- although his hair does seem to be improving. Once again he catches sight of The Duchess. There is some more nifty camera work as they both appear to recognize something in each other. The Duchess quickly exits. Horatio wakes up and actually MAKES A JOKE about sending for a feast from an innkeeper. Archie tells him that "The Duchess" is in fact an actress named Katherine Cobham. Horatio says he's raving -- but Archie has managed another weak smile, so we know he's in his right mind. "My word on it, Horatio," he adds. Well, what more does the guy need?

After a brief and I must admit rapturous view of Horatio leaning against a wall outside and slowly fingering his lips, we fall into another long Archieless sequence. The upshot is that a Frenchman named De Vergesse has also recognized The Duchess as Katherine Cobham and accepts a particularly delicate bribe for his silence. Then we see Horatio spoon-feeding Archie a mass of repellent-looking oatmeal and unconvincingly maintaining that he's "just planning our escape." Archie manages to swallow it (the oatmeal, that is; I doubt he swallows Horatio's lame excuse for a minute) and settles back into his pillow with an almost beatific look on his face. Hmm, a bit of oatmeal: evidently it doesn't take much to make Archie happy, after all.

Horatio confronts Katherine (or Kitty, as he refers to her) about De Vergesse. She proves to him that his dispatches are still safe. Horatio emerges from the experience with a new respect for Kitty, but unfortunately she then leaves for Portugal on a ship called the Almeria. She leaves Horatio a Spanish dictionary and a copy of Don Quixote.

Hunter and the men are still plotting. Archie reveals that he speaks Spanish "a little." We see him and Horatio going over the lexicon, and for the first time Archie has his hair tied back. His stages of recovery can be reliably charted by the state of his grooming. Unfortunately for Archie's recuperating hair, Hunter chooses this instant to launch his escape plan. He gets shot in the leg for his trouble, and the attempt ends in ignominious failure, with Hunter whining "Let me at him, let me diiiiiiiiieeeeee ..." right in front of Don Massaredo. You'd think this would conclusively settle the question of who was the ringleader. However ...

While Hunter listens in agony from his cell, Don Massaredo demands to know who was responsible for the escape attempt. Horatio insists on taking the blame. Don Massaredo doesn't believe him, but he just can't make the connection to that guy who was whining "Let me at him, let me diiiiiiiieeeeee ..." in the previous scene. When Don Massaredo warns that "Mr. Kennedy is a friend; he will tell you I am not afraid to be cruel," Archie quietly urges, "Tell him, Horatio." Horatio still claims responsibility and is put in the oubliette as punishment.

Oldroyd gets some grief from Styles and Matthews for his part in the escape attempt, and Hunter is tended to by Archie -- who, if I'm not imagining things, fastens Hunter's bandages with just a little more force than is strictly necessary. Horatio makes the acquaintance of a rat. Archie urges Hunter to eat with strangely familiar words: "You must eat. Eat! Stay strong! He'll need you!" Hunter sobs movingly into his oatmeal.

At last Horatio is released from the hole with little more than a bad case of chapped lips, but Archie still feels compelled to ask, "Are you all right?" Horatio says yes, other than feeling bent in two, and then in Noble Hero Mode he inquires about the state of Hunter's leg. Then he falls over and says, "Oh dear," which for some reason strikes them all as terribly funny.

Soon Horatio is up and about again, and just as he happens to be strolling along the beach he spots - the Indefatigable! That ship does get around. The Indy fires upon a ship which Don Massaredo identifies as the Almeria -- Kitty Cobham's transport to Portugal. The ship crashes on a reef called the Devil's Teeth. Horatio -- now in full Noble Hero swing -- gives his parole and his men's, and in a long and almost-impossible-to-discern-anything sequence they rescue the survivors. Archie is in there, but it's hard to see him on account of the rain and wind and waves. Kitty Cobham is among the rescued, and yes, she still has Horatio's dispatches. Oh, and Hunter atones by rescuing the Almeria's captain, but he himself is swept away by the sea. The next morning Styles spots "the bloody Indy" (I told you that ship gets around) and they are all brought aboard.

Captain Pellew does a bit of harrumphing over Horatio's entrusting of the dispatches to "The Duchess," but then he announces that owing to Horatio's bravery in the affair of the fire ships (see Episode 2 -- oh, never mind), he is being promoted to lieutenant. Then Horatio reveals that he must return to prison on account of his parole, and Pellew harrumphs some more. Pellew tells the men that Horatio's word does not bind them, and they are free to stay aboard the Indy. Archie is the first to speak: "If Mr. Hornblower has given his word, that holds good for me." Oldroyd seconds this on behalf of the others.

Kitty Cobham tells Horatio that she will always count him as a friend. "In high places or low?" asks he, to which she responds sincerely, "The highest, Mr. H!" And what do you know -- Horatio actually manages to crack a smile that is not only measurable but actually quite engaging as well!

Horatio, Archie, and the men row back to prison while the Indy fires a salute. They all flinch a little at the shots, but Archie -- by now almost unrecognizable from his Robinson Crusoe incarnation earlier in the episode -- seems especially affected.

Horatio and Archie return to their cell. "It almost feels like home," Archie remarks, showing something of the humor we remember from him in The Duel.

And finally, for Horatio being a noble hero pays off a second time: Don Massaredo informs him that out of gratitude for rescuing the crew of the Almeria, he and his men are being released. He adds that he wonders if the Spanish government knows they are releasing a man who will be a thorn in their side for many years to come.

And Horatio, atoning for that godawful intestine-churning "distances we travel" closer in Fire Ships, responds with the far-from-scintillating but mostly harmless, "I shall endeavor not to disappoint them." The end.

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Scenes: 25 of 72

Smiles: 6 (very, very faint)

Smartass remarks: 0

Nose scrunches: 6

Lip licks: 3

Loose hair scenes: 14

Lost-in-thought trances: 3

Fits: 1

Times Horatio says "Ah-chie": 21

Noble friendship gestures: 2

(NOTE: for particulars, see the Observations pages.)

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* The dating of and geographical references in this episode have baffled just about everyone. Cape St. Vincent? 1798? El Ferrol? 1795? Cadiz? Lisbon? Call it as you see it.

* Who exactly is the "devil" of the title? Mr. Hunter would seem to be the obvious candidate, yet he comes across as more disgruntled and resentful than evil. (Mr. Simpson need not worry about losing his "Most Hissable Villain" title.) Moreover, by the end Hunter has redeemed himself -- which, as is traditional with this type of story, means that he's doomed.

NOTE 12/31/00: Or is it just a reference to the "Devil's Teeth" ?
(Thanks to Grace for the suggestion!)

NOTE 5/1/01: Or is it more metaphorical -- that is to say, the devil of temptation?  The temptation to sit out the war or renege on his word and stay behind on the Indy?  I confess myself too shallow to have thought of this before ...
(Thanks to Cynthia for pointing this out!)

NOTE 8/25/01: Or could it even be a reference to Horatio himself?  After all, as Matthews observes, Our Hero does have "the devil's own luck."
(Thanks to Annalissa for the suggestion!)

* How did Archie end up in a Spanish prison when he was presumably captured by the French? Was he in other prisons before the Spanish one? How long has he been here? Was he the only prisoner before Horatio and Co. arrived?

* There has been some, shall we say, comment to the effect that the starving Archie does not appear to be particularly malnourished. Was he really starving? Without going into the sordid details, I'll just say that dehydration has been suggested as a likelier explanation.

* What season is this story taking place in? For most of the outdoor prison scenes the men are in shirt sleeves, and the Duchess wears a bonnet as protection from the sun. Yet when Archie is taken to the infirmary, some Spanish soldiers start building a fire in the fireplace. (OK, so it's raining outside. But still ...)

* Does Horatio ever tell Archie that Simpson is dead? This might not seem particularly relevant to the events of the episode, except that at one point Archie wakes up from a nightmare gasping "Simpson! Simpson!"

* Why does Horatio seem so freaked out by that rat in the oubliette? It's not like he's never seen one before! In fact, he saw one hanging out of Styles' mouth in Episode 1, which ranks far higher on my personal Yuck-o-Meter than one just looking for a little companionship ...
(Thanks to Grace for pointing this out!)

* The whole beard question. After a while in prison Horatio acquires a bit of a stubble, which the Duchess teases him about. We later see him shaving it off. This is the only shaving scene. Yet when he emerges from a presumably lengthy stay in the hole, he is perfectly clean-shaven! And while there is much evidence of five-o'clock shadow on most of the other men, they never actually grow beards. And Archie has been in prison for two or three years and has nary a single whisker to show for it! For that matter, Don Massaredo, whom one would think has more ready access to shaving equipment than his prisoners, always appears with an unruly mesquite goatee ...

* Does Horatio ever actually think of an escape plan?

* Does anybody on the Indy actually notice that Archie -- the guy who seemed lost forever two or three years before -- has returned? There is not a single line acknowledging this extraordinary development. Really; no one so much as says "Why, Mr. Kennedy -- you're back!"

* What was in those dispatches, anyway?

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* The main theme of this episode appears to be redemption. A number of characters initially appear at less than their best, but through painful experience they grow and change for the better. The most obvious example is Hunter, who clashes with Horatio throughout most of the episode , but who ultimately sees the error of his ways and dramatically atones for it.

Another example is Oldroyd, who went along with Hunter's escape plan -- with disastrous consequences. When Horatio takes the punishment for the men, Oldroyd's regret is sincere. When Horatio is released from the hole, Oldroyd is the first to tell the others. And after Archie says he will return to prison to honor Hornblower's word, Oldroyd adds that he speaks for all the men.

And yet another example is (yay!) Archie. When we first see Archie in the prison, he is a physical and emotional wreck -- more than a little bitter toward his old friend Horatio, jealous of Horatio's success and better luck. The scene in the infirmary is perfectly played by both actors: "It wouldn't be like that." "It would be just like that." But Horatio helps Archie get his bearings back, and by the end of the episode he has taken two big steps forward: 1) persuading Hunter to eat (while Horatio is in the oubliette) with the same words Horatio had used on him; 2) being the first to volunteer to honor Horatio's parole and return to prison. Once back in prison he even recovers some of his old humor: instead of complaining or relapsing into depression, he manages a smile and a little (admittedly, very little) joke: "It almost feels like home."

And then there's Horatio himself, whose journey is so involved I have found it necessary to treat separately:

* I'm sorry, but some of Horatio's behavior in the earlier parts of this episode strikes me as downright slapworthy: snapping at the men and dismissing out of hand all of Hunter's suggestions (many of which don't seem to be all that unreasonable). And when he tries his patented false-colors ruse yet again, the Spanish officer remarks that Horatio plays very loose with the rules of war. To which Horatio responds: "I play to win." Urghhhhh. Horatio, if I could, I'd make you sit in the corner for that one. His awkwardness at Sir Hugh Dalrymple's dinner goes some way toward compensating for all this, but it seems clear that Horatio has to learn the difference between cockiness and confidence. Fortunately, by the end of the episode, he does.

Once in prison, the situation quickly deteriorates. Horatio keeps repeating as a mantra to his impatient men, "We go when I say we go" -- as if simply saying it should be enough (i.e. "I play to win."). All but Styles and Matthews openly disobey him and work on an escape plan with Hunter, and even Styles expresses doubts about Horatio's walks with the Duchess. Horatio, the commander, has lost control of his men. And almost imperceptibly, he's lost control of Archie as well. Archie's precarious health is the reason Horatio gives for delaying an escape attempt, yet he has no idea that Archie is slowly killing himself. The moment when Hunter reveals the situation is shattering: Horatio shouts, "Why didn't you tell me?!" Hunter responds smugly and smoothly, "I assumed you knew." The wind has been taken from Horatio's sails, which was precisely the medicine he needed.

Throughout the rest of the episode, we see Horatio growing as a commander, as a man, and as a friend. His cocky assurance that he has all the answers vanishes; he is willing to listen to and make allowances for others. His punishment in the oubliette reduces him to his bare essence, and from there he builds himself back up again. The edifice is more structurally sound than it was before, and I would strongly argue that Archie has a great deal to do with this. He keeps Horatio grounded in reality: a living reminder that things do not always go as they should, and that just saying something doesn't necessarily make it so.

* We learn a little bit more about Archie's background in this episode. He speaks Spanish "a little" and "knew Drury Lane like it was my home." He also quotes Shakespeare (Antony and Cleopatra) from his sickbed. These sides of him were not evident in The Duel. Probably the only reason for them is simply to facilitate the plot, but Archie as a man of culture is still an appealing image -- and invites all sorts of speculation as to how he ended up in the navy, where he would seem least to belong.

* The moment when Hunter stomps on the fruit is one of the most groan-inducing of the entire series.

* Horatio and the Duchess/Kitty have terrific chemistry in their scenes together, and it's especially delightful to watch the older, worldly-wise woman taking the mickey out of our stone-serious hero. Even though they eventually drop the flirtation and settle for friendship, their interaction is that of two equals -- as I said in the introduction, unique in an action/adventure film, and all the more enjoyable for it.

Which makes it pretty frustrating to have to leave the Duchess behind and move on to Episode 4 and (ugh) the dreaded Frogette ....

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