(AKA: THE EVEN CHANCE)
Oh, lighten up!
"Shore boat ahoy!"
From having no first name to having the first line of dialogue in no more than a step -- Archie's role is already looking up!
And Hornblower is off to a rousing start in this first episode, thanks to strongly defined characters, exciting adventures, welcome doses of humor, hints of dark tragedy, and a thoroughly hissable villain possessed of a wicked wit and horrendous hair.
This was originally supposed to be Archie's only episode. But something about the character obviously clicked, for he is disposed of in a conveniently inconclusive manner ...
A RATHER LONG SUMMARY
It is a dark and stormy night -- er, day -- and a man sits in an open boat, heading towards a huge ship. The man peers out from under a dripping bicorn hat. He looks like he probably gets about as much joy out of life as a blind man in an art gallery. His sea chest is inscribed "H. Hornblower." Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
But then we hear a voice calling out, "Shore boat ahoy!" Horatio looks askance at boarding the huge ship, to which the voice reassuringly advises, "Jump! You'll be all right!" Horatio makes it on board -- to be met by another man who flashes a huge smile and says, "Welcome to Purgatory!" He introduces Horatio to Lts. Eccleston and Chad. Eccleston addresses this man as "Mr. Kennedy." Our sidekick, ladies and gentlemen.
"Mr. Kennedy" takes Horatio on a long and funny tour of the raucous ship, during which he explains that the crew has grown undisciplined through boredom. The only hope is war with France. Then they arrive in the midshipmen's mess, where we learn that "Mr. Kennedy" has a first name: "Archie." We also learn that the ship is called the Justinian; we meet the other midshipmen Clayton, Hether, and Cleveland; and we watch Horatio projectilely vomit (the first of several notable expulsions of bodily fluids by our hero).
After Clayton tends to the seasick Horatio, we are treated to a really glorious shot of Archie staring off into space the next morning. He soon snaps out of his reverie to inform Horatio that Captain Keene is coming aboard. Keene is a rather intolerable old man who coughs and wheezes in a generally disgusting way and lectures Horatio about life in the navy.
The midshipmen are all drinking together; Clayton is playing a fiddle (from an incorrect position, as far as I can tell); and Hether and Cleveland are waxing poetic about the West Indies. A shadow darkens the room: "You're in my seat," a menacing voice cuts in. Enter Mr. Midshipman Jack Simpson, who used to be an Acting Lieutenant and had expected to become a Lieutenant ... but not that he's bitter or anything. Simpson immediately christens Horatio "Snotty" and demands that he "donce! donce! donce!" whilst alternately yelling at poor Archie, who has taken to staring off into space again. He orders Archie to wake Horatio every half hour.
Night in the midshipmen's birth. Archie is making strange choking noises; he screams and falls out of his hammock to the floor, where he begins shaking violently. Simpson, the soul of compassion, complains, "Kennedy! I said wake Hornblower, not me and the whole damn ship!" (inexplicably one of my favorite lines). Horatio and Clayton help Archie through his fit, which Clayton implies was caused by Simpson's proximity.
The next morning, Seaman Styles tells Horatio that he is ordered to go to the fighting-top -- and watches his progress with a quite nasty smirk. Horatio is afraid of heights and makes a hash of it. Simpson, from up above, offers the helpful advice: "Mind you don't drop."
The midshipmen are at their math lesson. All but Horatio get the answer wrong, but Keene is particularly scathing of Simpson. This does not bode well, and sure enough Horatio gets the stuffing knocked out of him in the next scene -- all part of a little initiation ceremony Simpson charmingly dubs "The Inquisition." At one point Horatio emits a rather large and indefinable pink blob from his mouth, which has fascinated countless viewers. Clayton intervenes, at some implied large cost to himself.
A fairly lengthy Archie-less sequence follows, during which Horatio refuses to admit he was in a fight and "thinks" a pleasant letter to his dad while hanging in the rigging. He tells Clayton that someone should stand up to Simpson; Clayton warns: "you don't know half of what he's capable of." Horatio ends up challenging Simpson to a duel, which leads to one of my personal highlights in the episode: Archie just looks utterly yummy when he exclaims: "A duel! Are you mad?"
Clayton offers to act as Horatio's second, but instead he knocks Horatio out and goes to fight the duel in his stead. A noble gesture which of course means he's doomed. Simpson takes a shot in the shoulder, but for some reason Dr. Hepplewhite pays far more attention to him than to Clayton, who has pitched face forward and has blood bubbling from his mouth. Only Archie goes running to Clayton.
Clayton gets an appropriately touching death scene with Horatio, although Simpson warns that he's not finished yet and will "flay you alive!" Oh, that irrepressible Jack. In the meantime Archie informs Horatio that the French have executed King Louis, and "it means war!" In the next scene, an especially bouncy Archie announces that "we few, we fortunate few" are being transferred to the frigate Indefatigable. Horatio is his usual jolly self and mopes to Keene about how he was sworn to serve on the Justinian and blah blah blah. Heroes are all very well, but sometimes you just want to strangle them.
Horatio's protests not withstanding, we next see him and Archie in an open boat heading toward the Indefatigable -- and Archie flashes his biggest grin of the entire series. Next we meet Captain Pellew, who makes a thundering speech to the effect that "there is no power on earth that can withstand the might of the British navy!" (Apparently we are discounting those former 13 colonies ...) Archie looks like an excited little chipmunk, and Horatio comes to within a few dozen degrees of almost barely cracking a quarter of a smile when pulling off his hat and chorusing "God save the King!"
Another Archieless sequence during which Pellew berates Horatio for the duel that cost Clayton's life and puts him (Horatio) in charge of Simpson's old division. These seamen are a rough lot: Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, Finch, and some others who aren't important enough to warrant names. Horatio catches them gambling -- which seems to horrify him more than the fact that Styles likes to pick up rats with his teeth -- and warns them that they will have to earn his trust. Then at last, Archie jumps in (looking quite dashing) and announces that all hands must beat to quarters: their first battle has begun.
During the battle, Horatio and Archie both get to yell "fiyah!" and Horatio does some noble hero stuff with a wounded member of his division. When he returns from sick berth, Archie rushes up to him babbling excitedly that he "killed two! Well, one, certainly ... " Even covered in blood and behaving a bit -- well, un-post-modernly -- he looks mighty fine! Horatio's division is rather touched that Horatio cared about the wounded seaman.
Pellew orders Horatio to take command of a captured French ship, the Marie Gallante. Archie, after what appears to be some thought, says "Your first command. My congratulations." And this is his last spoken line in the episode -- yet some of his most important scenes are still to come.
There then follows a looooong Archieless sequence aboard the Marie Gallante during which Horatio does more hero stuff and earns the respect and loyalty of his division and finds it necessary to abandon ship. The Indy rescues him and his men in the nick of time (which will get to be a habit), and Archie welcomes him back aboard with another big grin.
The Indy is then attacked by a French ship, the Papillon, which has already sunk another English ship. Caught between the Papillon and some shore batteries, Pellew orders a retreat and sends out boats to pick up survivors from the destroyed English ship. Lucky Horatio fishes out of the water the one and only Jack Simpson.
During a briefing in the Captain's cabin, Simpson sheds revolting crocodile tears and Archie is seated at an especially flattering angle with the sun behind him. Pellew outlines a plan to cut out the Papillon during a night attack, but both Horatio and Archie are too busy suffering audial flashbacks to pay attention. Simpson wants to be a part of the cutting-out party and is given the green light by Eccleston. Archie looks particularly dismayed at this development, but Simpson just gives everyone a rather nauseating "poor me" look.
Archie goes down to the midshipmen's mess to get his hat. Simpson emerges from the shadows with a menacing "Hello, Archie. It's been a long time. Jack's missed you, boy." Before we can find out what this might mean, Horatio arrives and tells Simpson he has no hold over them on the Indy. Simpson glares.
As they prepare to attack the Papillon, Horatio asks Archie if he's nervous -- evidently it's escaped his notice that Archie hasn't said a single word and can barely breathe. They are already heading off in the jolly boats when Archie falls into another fit. Horatio, looking properly anguished, hits him over the head with a tiller to shut him up.
Next we get the extended Papillon sequence, the most important bits being -- from an Archieological standpoint -- that (1) Simpson cuts the jolly boat loose while Archie is still lying unconscious at the bottom of it, and that (2) just as Horatio notices the boat drifting away Simpson shoots him.
But 'tis only a flesh wound, and for much of the rest of the episode we see Horatio being ever more heroic: denouncing Simpson, taking command of the Papillon when Lts. Eccleston and Chad are conveniently crushed to death, and single-handedly saving the Indy from three French corvettes by sailing into their midst under false colors (a trick we shall see again in due course). Still insisting that Simpson shot him, he fights yet another duel with our badly-bewigged bad guy. This time Captain Pellew steps in and shoots Simpson quite dead. The end.
ARCHIE BY THE NUMBERS
Scenes: 27 of 74
Smartass remarks: 3
Nose scrunches: 7
Lip licks: 0
Loose hair scenes: 1 (possibly 2)
Lost-in-thought trances: 5
Times Horatio says "Ah-chie": 8
Noble friendship gestures: 1
(NOTE: for particulars, see the Observations pages.)
(?) UNSOLVED MYSTERIES
* How long has Archie been on the Justinian? He says "most of us have been here six months already." Does he include himself in the "most of us"? Did he serve on other ships before? How old is he?
* Where was Simpson during his Acting Lieutenancy? The implication is that he was not on the Justinian, yet in later episodes both Horatio and Archie remain on the Indy when serving as Acting Lieutenants. Or was Simpson simply on another part of the ship, fraternizing in the officer's wardroom instead of terrorizing the midshipmen's mess?
* What is that pink blob that squirts from Horatio's mouth during the Inquisition scene? Did one of those fake blood capsules get left in the fridge too long?
* What happens to Clayton after Simpson knocks the pistol from his hand and says "But I know you for the coward you are, don't I?" and gives that rope an evil twist?
* At one point Clayton, speaking of Simpson, says "You don't know half of what he's capable of." So what's the other half? (For the most frequently expounded theory, see the -- well, the Theory page, under "Nasty Jack.")
* Why doesn't Archie seem very upset about Clayton's death? I refer, of course, to the oft-criticized "He's dead -- no, you fool, not Clayton -- Louis!" scene. Well, I would respectfully remind viewers of the scene where Horatio first bursts in on Clayton's sickroom: Archie gives him a little shake of the head. In other words, he already knew Clayton was going to die and had time to prepare for it. Either that or ... or the script writers just needed a way to introduce Louis' death and found Archie a convenient means of doing so?
* Why does Simpson try to kill Horatio and Archie during the cutting-out of the Papillon? It all seems a bit sudden. Did he simply take the opportunity when it presented itself? Did something not explicitly stated light his fuse? Was he having an exceptionally bad hair day, even by his standards?
* Why does everyone seem so brokenhearted when Lt. Eccleston buys the farm? Not only does he let Simpson get away with all his little games, he can't even remember the name of the guy whose funeral he's presiding over!
NOTE 1/7/01: I consider myself chastised: as the crew of the Justinian numbered somewhere around 800, perhaps we can forgive Eccleston for forgetting a name here and there. Horatio, on the other hand, was the head of the dead guy's division and had gosh-darned better know his name. This is what I get for going for the cheap laughs!
(Thanks to Paula for pointing this out!)
* When Simpson says, "I'm going to kill you, Snotty -- just like I killed Clayton and your little pal Archie," why does Horatio say, "Kennedy?" I mean, how many other Archies does he know who've just met mysterious fates at Simpson's hands?
* A hallmark of the Hornblower series, as we shall see, is its strongly defined characters: not only the principles like Horatio and Pellew, but also the secondary ones like (of course) Archie, and even the tertiary ones like the seamen Matthews, Styles, and Oldroyd. Even Clayton (who is probably on screen for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, total) gives one the sense of a tragic history, a life of dreams deferred, roads not taken, etc. And Simpson: one could probably spend a lifetime psychoanalyzing him, everything from why he sounds so educated while conducting himself like such a lout, to why he becomes SO furious when told he's "not worth the powder," to just what may be the other half he's capable of, to why he never seems to avail himself of a comb.
* From a few lines of dialogue we glean a little information about Archie's background. He says his father has a gillie, which my illustrious Webster's New World Collegiate Dictionary (2nd ed.), defines as "1. in the Scottish Highlands, a sportsman's attendant; 2. a male servant." During his second fit (in the jolly boat), he seems to be shouting the name "Maria." This is the last we ever hear of the mysterious gillie or the even more mysterious Maria.
* We will never again see Archie as giddy and gung-ho as he appears in some of the early scenes in this episode. In a way it's a shame, but on the other hand one can argue that his subsequent misfortunes give him a maturity and perceptiveness he might otherwise have lacked.
* The friendship of Archie and Horatio gets off to a relatively uncomplicated start; they're just two kids on an adventure. Some hint of complexity appears when Archie seems to have to work himself up to congratulate Horatio on getting command of the Marie Gallante, but nothing further is made of this whiff of jealousy -- at least, not in this episode. Yet when Simpson boards the Indy, all bets are off: Horatio interrupts a vaguely icky scene between Archie and Simpson, Archie has a fit at the worst possible moment, and it falls to Horatio to knock him out to keep him quiet. If Archie remembers anything about this incident, his last clear memory may well be of his presumed friend clobbering him on the head with a tiller. Not smooth sailing ahead, it would seem ...
* I must admit that while I thought Archie was absolutely adorable, what most held my attention when first viewing this episode was Mr. Simpson. As villains go, he's simply one of the very best -- the most compelling since Darth Vader. And Darth, of course, later went soft on us and turned all nicey. But Jack never lets us down! From beginning to end he is just plain evil. That in itself wouldn't necessarily interest me; what really makes him such a treat is that he has fun being evil. He jokes, he smirks, he oozes sarcasm -- he's having the time of his life! And since few of the other characters -- with the notable exception of Archie -- seem capable of raising the corners of their mouths more than a millimeter, Simpson's perverse joie de vivre makes for utterly compelling viewing.
* Having sung my praises of Nasty Jack, however, I cannot leave The Duel without returning to my favorite subject: Archie! In my opinion, he looks his best in this episode: lots of big smiles, lovely feathery light hair, a nimble little bod, and big sky-blue eyes. Just watch him when he says, "A duel! Are you mad?" Be still, my heart!
* Oh, and one other thing. Despite appearances, Archie is not dead. He's just resting ...