That is, Jack Simpson: the incomparable villain from "The Duel." Did he or didn't he?
Rabbit caught in the headlights
(WARNING: This page is not for the squeamish.)
For your consideration: the case of one Mr. Midshipman John "Nasty Jack" Simpson, the thoroughly hissable villain in The Duel. Based on his actions in this episode, few would dispute that Simpson is a bully, a sadist, a liar, a cheater, a murderer, and ultimately a coward -- and, I must add, his hair is a fright. But is he also ... a child molester? A sexual predator? And of poor Archie in particular?
Many, though by no means all, viewers have concluded that the answer to this conundrum is, sadly, "aye." And although I normally need to be struck on the head with a 16-ton weight before I notice such things, I do count myself among the aye-sayers. However, for those who are interested, here is the evidence:
THE CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION
(NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, these events all occurred in Episode 1, "The Duel")
* Archie's personality changes drastically whenever Simpson is around. When Simpson is absent, Archie is talkative, good-humored, and generally high-spirited. When Simpson is present, Archie becomes quiet and withdrawn.
* Although Simpson always seems to be beating up people or threatening to beat up people, he never does either to Archie. Yet Archie seems more terrified of him than anyone else does. Which begs the question, what is Simpson doing to him?
* Archie's fits appear to be triggered by Simpson's presence, or by reminders of Simpson. Another character, Clayton, explicitly makes this connection. In one scene, he and Horatio help Archie through a fit, and he says, "They've started again. Damn. I'd feared as much." Horatio asks, "What ails him?" Clayton nods in Simpson's direction and replies, "What ails us all?"
* During the "Inquisition" scene, Simpson announces his intention to determine what "dirty little secret" Horatio is hiding. His first guess is rather odd: "A fancier of other boys, perhaps?" Projection, perhaps?
* After Horatio has suffered a particularly severe pounding, he tells Clayton that someone should stand up to Simpson. Clayton responds, "The beating he gave you is nothing. Believe me, you don't know half of what he's capable of." Which begs the question, so what else is he capable of?
* One of the most heavily analyzed and debated scenes in the whole series, despite lasting only about 30 seconds at most. Archie goes down to the midshipmen's mess to get his hat. Suddenly Simpson emerges from the shadows and says: "Hello, Archie. It's been a long time. Jack's missed you, boy." Archie's horrified reactions are as follows:
"Hello, Archie. It's been a long time. Jack's missed you, boy."
(R, Center, L) from "The Duel"
Fortunately Horatio arrives at just that moment, before any further ickiness can transpire. Strangely, Archie appears more nervous than relieved, and Simpson himself is uncharacteristically hesitant when he says, "We were just catching up on old times, Mr. Hornblower." Immediately following this scene, Archie has a fit.
* In Episode 3, The Duchess and The Devil, Horatio ends up in the same Spanish prison as Archie. Archie has a fit. Upon recovering, Archie says to Horatio, "I was having a fit, wasn't I? Strange. I had not been troubled by them. Not until you came. I'll not go back to the Indy. Do not ask me to!" Evidently he does not know that Simpson is dead; at least we never see Horatio tell him so.
* Also in The Duchess and The Devil, Archie attempts to commit suicide and in general seems to have a very low opinion of his self-worth.
* Also in The Duchess and The Devil, Archie wakes up from a nightmare gasping "Simpson! Simpson!" This is two or three years after the events of The Duel.
* The 18th century Royal Navy was said (by Winston Churchill, I think) to have run on "rum, sodomy, and the lash."
CHARACTER WITNESS #1 - JAMIE BAMBER
In his remarkable and quite lengthy 1999 interview with A&E, the actor who plays Archie, Jamie Bamber, gave the following answer (which can support either side, really) when asked to address the issue:
"That is certainly something that interests me. There was a very, very threatening element physically. A lot of people have said 'Was it a sexual thing?' I wasn't specifically playing that, but I think certainly what brings on the seizures is the presence of this man who beats me, he violently abuses me, whether it was sexual or not. All that really interested me was that there had to be a plausible reason for these fits and the fits could be caused by a stressful situation like being bullied by a superior or even a peer..."
CHARACTER WITNESS #2 - DORIAN HEALY
In The Making of Horatio Hornblower by Tom McGregor (published by Boxtree / Meridian, (c) 1998), the actor who plays Simpson, Dorian Healy, offered the following tantalizing tidbit:
"[Simpson]'s more than just a bully. I've tried to give him some more modern neuroses to
make him more interesting as a character -- and more interesting for me to play."
THE CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
* This is a family show.
* By the Articles of War, Simpson could have been hanged for such behavior. (SeeThoughts for more on this point.)
* Simpson probably was beating Archie up; we just don't see it.
* Archie was just a wuss and couldn't take the heat.
* Yuck, can't we talk about something else?
* If Simpson really were abusing Archie in this manner, why didn't Archie say something?
By the Articles of War, the punishment for sodomy was death by hanging. Simpson appears to have no trouble getting senior officers to accept his versions of events and would doubtless have twisted the facts to Archie's disadvantage. Tragically, it appears that Archie would have been the one to hang had he chosen to speak up. Or perhaps more insidiously, Simpson may have merely convinced him that such would be the case. No, if this were indeed Simpson's own dirty little secret, it would be safe with Archie ... unless a positive force entered Archie's life and persuaded him to spill the beans. Which brings me to ...
* Why does Simpson try to murder Horatio and Archie during the cutting-out of the Papillon?
When Horatio interrupts the notorious "Jack's missed you boy" scene (and I honestly don't think there's any other plausible way to interpret that line), he says, "These are new times, Mr. Simpson. You have no hold over us here." Simpson responds sourly, "No. I can see that." Horatio, sounding quite chipper, says, "Time we were away, Archie!" Simpson watches them leave with a look of pure evil.
Could it be that Simpson realizes a positive force has entered Archie's life? That if anyone is likely to get Archie to speak up, it's Horatio? In other words, that the jig is up and he'd better get rid of them both to avoid the noose?
Just my tuppence ...