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Like many of you, I’ve been faithfully watching Series 2 of Last Tango in Halifax, a late-in-life romance/family drama. But half way through last Sunday’s episode I started to wonder why we haven’t done recaps of this exceedingly chat worthy show. I won’t lie, more than once I’ve rolled my eyes at the constant barrage of melodramatic circumstances that have befallen the Buttershaw/Dawson clan. But I’ve also witnessed authentic family dynamics that ring so true I feel that they are speaking directly to me. In my opinion, the merits outweigh the soap opera elements. In fact, I liken it to a more serious and decidedly adult-themed Brady Bunch for our time.
So Last Tango fans, here’s my rehash of the most important developments in the very eventful lives of our favorite West Yorkshire residents. So far this series has boiled down to three major themes: estrangement, money and babies.
Episode 1. When we left our reunited sweethearts at the end of series one, Alan (Derek Jacobi) and Celia (Anne Reid) were engaged to be married; however, stressful situations brought family peacemaker Alan to the breaking point and he suffered a serious heart attack. As the new series begins we find that Alan is recovering in hospital. Alan’s daughter Gillian (Nicola Walker) is relieved and grateful to Celia for giving her cherished dad a reason to live. Alan is discharged and he and Celia resolve to essentially elope by marrying at a registry office soon as possible with a minimum of fuss and no family or friends in attendance.
Gillian’s gratitude soon turns to jealousy and anger when she begins to suspect that her new step-mother is coming between her and her dad. These accusations arise from two specific incidents. It’s decided that Alan will move into Celia’s apartment in Harrogate to aid his further recovery. Gillian worries about Alan being so far from her and feels the loss of being denied her father’s constant company and support.
Secondly, after a lovesick call from Celia’s son-in-law, John (Tony Gardner) Gillian decides it’s best to come clean and confesses to Celia’s daughter, Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) that she had a drunken one night stand with John, Caroline’s estranged husband. Caroline seems to laugh it off, but soon after confides in her mother that it bothered her. Celia tells Alan and for the first time we see evidence of his disappointment in his daughter. He brings up her aborted pregnancy at fifteen years of age and sternly informs her how it broke her mother’s heart. Gillian is hurt and dumbfounded by Alan’s disapproval and begins to feel that the change in her father has arisen from falling in love with Celia who has subsequently turned his head.
Meanwhile back at Caroline’s, John continues to flounder. When his declaration of love to Gillian gets him nowhere, he calls up his back-up girlfriend, Judith, to have an apparent drunken food fight in Caroline’s precious kitchen. This is the last straw for Caroline who takes decisive action by asking her girlfriend Kate (Nina Sosanya) to move to the house in hopes that John will get the message and vacate the premises.
As episode one ends, Gillian comes upon an appointment card for Alan and Celia’s wedding in cushions of her settee. Hurt and irate, she calls Caroline to confirm that she too was kept in the dark about the ceremony then sets off to confront the bride and groom at the registry office.
Episode 2. As Alan and Celia are just about to begin taking their vows, Gillian bursts on the scene to tell off the happy couple. Her hurt and rejection are only eased by the fact that she wasn’t the only family member excluded from the blessed event. When Gillian later looks for commiseration from her boyfriend Robbie (Dean Andrews) he assures her she’s overreacting and perhaps is a little envious of Caroline. All Gillian knows is that she’s had very little contact with Alan and that Celia must be forcing a wedge between father and daughter.
Meanwhile Caroline is on a mission to save her home. John has been dropped by his publisher which means he can’t afford his claim on the house. Caroline wants to buy out his share, but needs a considerable amount of money from the sale of Kate’s house plus an investment from her mother. Celia agrees to do what she can and Kate is on board with one condition – she wants a baby before she’s too old to conceive and she wants to raise the child with Caroline. She even has a former university boyfriend in mind to be the biological father.
And speaking of babies…Gillian’s son Raff (Josh Bolt) brings home Ellie. Further unwelcome proof that Gillian’s loose morals have been passed down to son, Raff’s apparent friend with benefits is purported to be eight months pregnant. Ellie actually goes into labor at the farm and Alan and Celia take her to the hospital where she gives birth to a baby girl. Gillian frantically calls around to find Ellie’s parents who, when finally located, seem to care very little about their daughter or their responsibility as parents of a teenage mother. At the hospital we find out that Ellie’s granddad is Alan’s friend, Harry (Paul Copley).
Episode 3. The drama intensifies as Kate lets it slip in a roundabout way that she wants a baby in front of Alan and Celia. When questioned by her mother, Caroline explains that she’s not really up for it, but she doubts Kate will be able to conceive because she had four miscarriages when she was married. Caroline’s less than forthright plan is to take Kate away for her birthday and try to dissuade her from attempting to get pregnant.
We also learn that Kate has a dangerously serious peanut allergy. Random? I doubt it.
Later Celia imprudently mentions Gillian’s teenage pregnancy in front of Robbie who realizes the aborted baby must have been his because he and Gillian dated before she married Robbie’s older brother, Eddie. He is understandably upset at not being informed about his paternity at the time and leaves the farm in a snit.
Raff and Ellie are useless when it comes to caring for their newborn (and still nameless) daughter. It’s as though they’re in shock that this all this grownup stuff is really happening. Raff is also under pressure from his mother and grandfather to stay in school and not ruin his chances to go to university even if that means Alan giving the young couple money to care for the baby in the meantime. A tearful Raff is comforted by his granddad who concedes that the young man might need to take responsibility to get a job and go back to university when things have settled down.
Celia and Alan go house hunting, just to see what’s out there mind, and fall in love with a very smart bungalow. They decide that they’ve helped their families out all their lives and this is their time. Though Celia can come across as selfish, her concern for Alan’s health the precious time she has left with him is her utmost concern. The cardiologist has said he will not survive another heart attack, even a small one.
And finally, Ellie has flown the coop and left her baby at the farm without a word to anyone. So if you’re keeping track, Gillian has the farm, her work at the local shop, her falling out with Robbie and now her baby granddaughter to contend with. She reaches out to the only person she knows will listen. John arrives and she lays out all her problems at his feet including the fact that she and Robbie would have probably not worked out in the end and it all has to do with Gillian’s husband (and Robbie’s brother) Eddie.
Through Gillian’s conversation with John and Alan simultaneously relieving this burdensome secret to Celia, we hear a more accurate retelling of the story of Eddie’s suicide. Gillian admits that when she found her husband in the barn he was still alive and she held off contacting the emergency services when they might have been able to save him. Alan adds that Gillian actually finished Eddie off with a hunk of wood, putting the question in his mind if Eddie had even tried to commit suicide at all. Gasp!
The second series so far has revealed many of the characters to be more complex than we first thought– Gillian truly has no impulse control, Caroline can be pragmatic to the point of scheming, dear sweet Alan has a limit to his patience, Celia doesn’t appear to know the meaning of the word discretion and John might actually be able to love someone other than himself.
Now it’s your turn. What’s been your favorite part of Last Tango thus far? What gets on your nerves? Have any of the characters disappointed or shocked you? Let’s have a good old natter about the show in the comments section!