Revisiting ‘The Paradise’: Series 1, Episode 1

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Aww, nostalgia: "The Paradise" Series 1 key art. (Photo: Courtesy of (C) Jonathan Ford/BBC 2012 for MASTERPIECE)
Now that we know US viewers are finally going to get to see the second season of the popular, lavish period drama The Paradise for themselves – and we know that so many of YOU all out there love it – it’ll be joining the recap lineup here at Telly Visions later this Fall.

However, that would also be about the time that I realized that if I’m going to recap the new season, I need a refresher on the old one. And I bet some of you do too! So, welcome to another installment of our Retrospective Recap Series – because we’re gonna do Series 1 of The Paradise here on the blog over the next few weeks. I hope some of you out there love it (or me?) enough to stick around and chat about it. If you too need a refresher, or would like to watch along with me, the entire first season can be streamed online via both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video (though, sadly, not the Prime service).

On with the show, shall we? Let’s get to chatting about The Paradise Season 1, Episode 1. Enjoy! 

For those who’ve never experienced The Paradise before, you might be concerned that the drama seems a little too much like the similarly themed Mr. Selfridge. But let’s just get that out of the way now – while the two dramas share similar settings, they’re not really very like each other at all.

So, A Girl Walks Into a Town. Our story opens with a shot of a pretty blonde girl walking down a city street, carrying a satchel and looking around at everything with the sort of starry-eyed wonderment that tells those of us who watch TV regularly that this girl is from the sticks. She pulls up short outside of a building with a sign heralding it as “The Paradise”, which also lets us know that whoever is running this joint is pretty much the opposite of modest. Starry-eyed country girl gazes into the shop window longingly, taking in the fancy dresses and ribbons displayed there. She locks eyes with a handsome gentleman inside who’s showing off a figurine to a customer and they stare at each other in a way that would be creepy in real life, but on television means that they will definitely have a thing. This goes on for a second, before she wanders into a much less fancy shop across the street, where an older gentleman looks surprised and pleased to see her.

We learn that Blonde Girl’s name is Denise, and that the older gentleman is her uncle. He looks taken aback at the pile of luggage she’s brought with her, and Denise apologizes, claiming that she knew she should have written to say she was coming, in that way that means she totally didn’t write him on purpose because she knew he would have said no. He tries to explain that even though he promised her she could come to the city one day, his business isn’t doing great at the moment and he can’t employ her. Uncle Whoever says maybe she can come back in a couple of months? Denise looks unhappy. 

Meanwhile, Back at The Paradise. The guy who was exchanging Twlight-level stares with Denise is watching customers wander back and forth across the shop when an assistant approaches him. Turns out his name is Moray and he’s the guy that runs the store. The two gentlemen talk about Saturday sales figures and congratulate themselves on succeeding at some goal that we don’t care about because we don’t know what it is. Random Assistant Guy drops some foreshadow-y dialogue about how he can just tell that Moray is in a restless mood or something like that because, reasons. IDEK.

Anyway, Denise apparently spent a grand total of thirty seconds with her uncle once she found out he wasn’t going to give her a job, because she’s shot straight over to The Paradise to spend some time gazing around at its posh interior in wonder, and to ask about working there. She’s sent to see a woman called Miss Audrey by a kind guy named Sam that she meets in what appears to be the housewares department and he tells her to remember that Miss Audrey shaves her face when she inevitably looks down her nose at Denise. Because Denise might as well be wearing a sign that says she is From The Country.

Of course, all the shopgirls in the ladies’ department are instantly terrible to Denise – they assume she’s a cleaner and then laugh at her when she says she wants to work in their store. Miss Audrey gets especially snooty when Denise revealed she once had a job in a local drapery shop Down in the Country. Luckily for Denise, Moray happens to wander into the room just as she’s revealing she’s the niece of Mr. Lovett across the street. He stares at her some more and says archly that if Mr. Lovett can’t find work for his own family, then they can surely give her a job. Miss Audrey says they’ll be in touch, Moray stares at Denise some more because that seems to be a thing, and she trots back off to her uncle’s store. 

Meet the Annoying Girlfriend. Sort of. Suddenly, we cut to Moray in a completely different outfit walking around a garden with a somewhat snooty looking lady whose name turns out to be Katherine. She says that her father has “agreed to speak to him”, apparently about some sort of loan for The Paradise. Katherine says that she’s bullied her father into not sending Moray to the bank, and Moray hopes that once her dad hears his grand plans for the store, he’ll think that giving him money is a smart business decision. Katherine then launches into a story about how she’s invited some people over for tea because they were all just dying to meet Moray, so apparently the two of them are dating in some way. Okay.

Moray ends up having tea with Katherine and her friends, regaling them with tales of custom-made perfumes and their general hypnotic effects. These ladies are practically drooling and Katherine looks remarkably pleased with herself. Whether Moray is actually kind of a pompous loser or is just playing up his stereotypical status for their benefit is unclear, but whatever it is, it sure is slimy. Yuck. Anyway, the ladies are thrilled by his story, and Moray uses this as an opportunity to encourage them to come and do some shopping at The Paradise. One of the ladies is especially put off by that suggestion, and acts shocked by the possibility that she could end up shopping at the same counter as a grocer’s wife. (Ewww, the working class! Noooo!) Katherine looks awkward, but Moray plays it off well, saying that he’ll just have to live without looking upon their radiant faces since they won’t be there and pay attention to the butcher’s girls in the shop instead. It’s very smooth, particularly the bit where he implies that he’ll just have to pine away in the shop until they show up. I’m not sure who is more reprehensible in this exchange (probably the women), but I have to respect a savvy business sense. 

Denise Gets a Job. To the shock of no one, Denise receives a letter from The Paradise, offering her a position there. She breaks this news to her uncle, who looks annoyed and says she can’t possibly work in that place. (I guess it must be a competitor but since no one has said what Uncle Whoever does, it’s not clear.) Denise, quite sensibly, insists that she needs to earn some money by working somewhere, and if he can’t give her a job, then oh well. Her uncle looks resigned.

She heads to her first day and meets Arthur, the young boy who shows her around and tells her that he was born in The Paradise. Miss Audrey brings her a uniform and explains the rules about tardiness, deportment, and the general fact that they will basically be lit on fire if they have any relations with men. We learn that Denise will also be living at The Paradise, must be in bed at ten o’clock and will be sharing a room with the slightly awkward Pauline, who’s quite nice but apparently a snorer. 

Pseudo-Engagements and Loans. Back at the world’s most awkward tea date, Moray goes to talk business with Katherine’s father, while the ladies loiter about to discuss how attractive he is. They quiz Katherine on whether Moray has proposed to her yet, and she manages to make them think he has without ever saying so outright. Her friends declare that they must all celebrate, but Katherine insists that would be premature as the two have barely spoken of it. (Translation: He hasn’t actually asked whoops.)

Meanwhile, Moray reveals himself as something of an awkward sexist during his campaign to get money from Lord Glendening, as he admits that he means to exploit the weaknesses of women in the name of business. Did you know that women just have to have perfume and fripperies solely because they’re women? We ladies love shopping don’t you know. Anyway, Moray vows to prove “what The Paradise can do” to illustrate that the loan would be a good investment. After he leaves His Lordship asks his daughter why in the world she seems so set no having Moray – he tells her that he’s exactly the kind of person that could conquer the city, but probably wouldn’t be much of a husband. Katherine insists that her father must make Moray feel unsure and work for his support and when her dad implies that he doesn’t really approve of the scheming nature this man brings out in her, she insists that is just the way the romantic chase works. 

Denise Learns the Ropes. Pauline helps Denise with her new uniform and explains the way things are run at The Paradise. All the womens wear girls add their name to a board and take turns helping customers according to their position on it, which is deemed as the fairest way for them all to earn commission. After her first day, her new roommates – flighty Pauline and the rude girl who first greeted her in the shop, whose name I have not actually learned yet – attempt to convince Denise to come out on the town with them. Denise says she can’t because she doesn’t have any money and then decides to randomly inquire about whatever happened to Mr. Moray’s heretofore unheard of dead wife. The girls look at her in shock, and Mean Girl Whose Name I’m Unclear On ominously intones that Denise must NEVER EVER ask about the late Mrs. Moray in The Paradise because IT IS FORBIDDEN. Seriously, is this Sleepy Hollow? Why? Reasons, I guess.

Pauline explains that she had an accident and people started all sorts of vicious rumors about what happened. Mean Girl declares that it’s just because people are jealous of Moray’s awesomeness and success at life. Pauline tells Denise that she should join in and have fun with the other girls, because if she doesn’t she won’t last long. Denise promises to come out with them the next time. 

Moray’s Grand Vision. The next morning, Moray is standing in the street outside his shop appraising the store windows like he’s Harry Selfridge. He’s busy thinking, because he has to prove that The Paradise can “conquer this whole city”, but we can’t tell exactly how big a project this might be, as at the moment this city seems to consist of this one street where everyone is. Moray looks determined.

He tells his staff that he wants to triple their usual orders, and fill the store to bursting with products. He says that they’re going to have a reduced price sale in every single department, to bring in more customers. His Nameless Yet Vaguely Attractive Chief Assistant urges caution, saying that they could just have a sale in a department or two, in order to minimize risk. Moray thinks that idea sucks, and says that he doesn’t want to live in a small world with small rewards. He says that they’re going to stall on paying for the goods until after the sale has provided them the money to pay, which seems like a totally great and smart business practice. Genius! 

Hey Moray’s Creepy Butler Guy is Creepy. Denise literally runs into Mr. Jonas – you know, that creepy older guy who literally threw her predecessor out in the street? (Seriously though, these characters need nametags.) She looks awkward and terrified – and presumably that feeling intensifies when Mr. Jonas creepily tells her that he knows she was asking questions about Moray’s wife. Because he is a stalker. Denise admits it, but says she didn’t mean any harm. Jonas tells her that when the foundations for the store’s first expansion where being dug Mrs. Moray fell, and it was a tragedy, and that’s that. He says that now she knows and has no need to ask anymore questions about it. He also tells her that there’ll come a day when Moray will call her to his office, and she should be ready for that. All of this basically sounds like the start of an Edwardian version of Dial M for Murder, which is nice and not at all terrifying.

Dramatic Events Ensue at the Shop. Katherine shows up at The Paradise with her two BFFs and Pauline helpfully explains to Denise and us that not only is she beautiful, she’s one of the richest women in the city. She says everyone at the store thinks that Moray and Katherine ought to get married. Denise responds to this by vaguely squinting in Katherine’s direction and for some reason Pauline decides that this gesture is enough to confirm that her new friend is madly in love with Moray. Denise denies it in that completely awkward and obvious way that actually serves as confirmation and even though this is the type of show where you absolutely expect Denise to have a thing for Moray, it still feels exceptionally lazy to just jump to the OMG, YOU’VE TOTALLY FALLEN FOR HIM HAVEN’T YOU literally out of nowhere. Wow.

Pauline says that it’s cool, because every shop girl gets a crush on Moray when they first arrive. Denise looks awkward, but decides to ask what Jonas was talking about with that whole “expect a summons to the office of doom” thing from earlier.  Pauline explains that since Denise is technically on probation, she’ll find out whether she’s to stay or not when she gets called to see Moray. She also implies some girls who are afraid they’re about to get let go might visit his office for other reasons, but then again, it could just be stories. Because this store has more creepers than the whole of London, apparently.

Meanwhile, Mean Girl – whose name I have identified as Clara – obviously and dramatically wipes Denise’s name off the Board of Commission, declaring it’ll be her turn when she can actually sell something. Denise says she needs the money and wants to know why Clara is singling her out like this. Clara snarkily responds that she can’t see what a country girl like her would need money for when she’s being given rooms and food. Miss Audrey arrives in the middle of this and takes Clara’s side, insisting that Denise can’t be trusted with the store’s regular customers until she knows what she’s doing. She tells her to go fold some stuff and shut up about it. Yikes. 

Never Fear Though: Denise Conquers the Mean Girls Club. Katherine shows up at The Paradise because, as she tells Miss Audrey, she “heard it has the latest fashions”, which okay, whatever, but Katherine’s already been in the store at least three times in the first twenty minutes of this episode so she sure is slow on the uptick. Anyway, Miss Audrey and Mean Girl Clara can’t throw themselves in front of her and suck up fast enough, but Katherine’s appalled at the mere suggestion that she might buy something that’s off the rack.

Clara, because she is the worst person on earth, suggests that perhaps Katherine might feel differently if she could see the new tea dress they’ve got in modeled. She tells Denise, who for some reason is just loitering in the doorway staring at Katherine, to go put a dress on and show it off for their customer. Denise looks horrified – duh – but Miss Audrey says she has to do it. Clara makes things worse by purposefully choosing a dress in the wrong size and leaving Denise to try and struggle into it on her own. A long, awkward minute passes, as we wait for her inevitable failure to dress herself, and it’s as bad as you’d expect.

Denise eventually emerges with the dress halfway on and halfway off, apologizing that it must just be the wrong size because she can’t get it on right. Katherine’s eyebrows go up and she snarks that she can’t imagine why any of them thought she’d ever wear anything like that to begin with. Miss Audrey sniffs that it’s the model not the merchandise, because Denise is incapable of wearing clothes properly. Katherine rolls her eyes and says she’s had quite enough, but Denise quickly interrupts her before she can leave.

She says it’s of no consequence how she looks in the the dress, when all that matters is how great Katherine will look in it. She says Moray went to Parish himself to check out the latest fashion and she wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t tell Katherine why she ought to buy it, even if Denise ends up looking a fool doing it. (FYI: Moray of course has wandered in to the back of the room in time to overhear this exchange because of course he has.) Katherine sizes up Denise, while the other staff looks horrified, and says she’s very forward. Denise says she just really believes that Katherine will look great in said outfit and if she’s wrong, Miss Audrey can fire her. She then launches into a speech about all the great features of the dress (no corset, yay?) while everyone looks stunned at her bravado. Of course, Katherine ends up buying the dress, which should shock no one who has ever seen a television program before ever.  

Eavesdroppers Often Hear Highly Instructive Things. All the shopgirls head to That One Bar Across Our One Street for drinks, and so that Mean Girl Clara can complain about how much she doesn’t like Denise who she thinks is just pretending to be a simple country girl since that's obviously a well known technique for entrepreneurial advancement. Ugh, whatever.  Denise has stayed behind to wander around the store in the dark and rearrange mannequins and displays, for fun I guess, because that’s a great night off.

Moray and his creepy assistant Jonas just happen to wander into the darkened room that Denise is rearranging displays, so she has to hide behind a completely transparent curtain, but I guess that’s okay because they don’t bother to turn a light on. Anyway, Denise overhears Jonas tell Moray that he’s concerned about the loyalty of Nameless First Assistant, because he saw him meeting with some of the store’s suppliers and apparently telling them that they won’t get paid if the store’s sale doesn’t go well. This plot is so boring, we don’t know these people well enough to care if Moray is being rash here or if Nameless First Assistant is a betrayer or if Jonas is a stalker. There are no emotional stakes. 

Wow, Katherine is Pushy! Katherine bullies her father into giving her her mother’s wedding ring, because she’s determined to marry Moray. Her dad, quite sensibly, tries to explain again how Moray isn’t the kind of man who will make her happy, but she doesn’t care.

Moray comes over for dinner and she passes the ring off to him, explaining that it belonged to her mother. She lies that her dad gave it to her after he talked to Moray before, but Moray plays dumb about why in the world he would do that to begin with, sporting an extremely hilarious look on his face. Katherine says they have to stop skirting around the issue – she knows it’s hard for him as a widower and all, but it’s time for him to find love again. She tells Moray that they’ll announce their engagement the next day and he’ll see how happy she can make him.

Moray gets all angry and asks why Katherine is trying to trap him, since he’s never suggested to her that they should get engaged. Katherine angrily says she just wants to love him and doesn’t understand why he keeps pushing her away.  Then she conveniently gets overcome by breathing problems and has to beg Moray to loosen her dress for her so she can get some air. This ploy is so obvious that aliens from space can see it, and as soon as Moray gets near her she throws herself at him and they end up kissing. Isn’t this romantic? Just how every girl dreams their proposal will go.  Yikes.

Denise Gets Called to the Boss’s Office. Denise finally gets her long-awaited summons to visit Moray’s office, ostensibly to find out what’s up with her whole probationary employment situation. Not that you would know that from the show – which kicks up the dramatic music to eleven and films her march to the boss’s office with all the subtlety of Dead Man Walking, complete with the eyes of all her coworkers following her.

Moray gives her what I assume is the standard speech about how there are like a hundred girls who would happily take her place blah blah blah and asks whether she likes working for him. Denise says she likes The Paradise and wants to remain at her job. By this point the two are standing very very close together, and it’s kind of weird and inappropriate, especially when Moray reaches out to stroke her hair and talk about how it’s like perfectly imperfect or something. I don’t even know, it’s weird. Denise looks taken aback, because this is Class A creeper behavior, but says nothing.

He tells her he heard that she sold a dress to a notoriously difficult customer and was quite the saleswoman about it. He looks proud, before telling her that her probation is over and she’s officially part of the Paradise family now. Denise looks relieved and happy, before he drops the knowledge bomb on her that he saw her creeping around and rearranging displays at night. He’s pleased that she has spirit and tells her she’s not like the other girls. Dun dunnnn. 

Clara’s Big Secret. After hearing that Denise is to be kept on at the store, Clara looks all kinds of mad. That night, sneaks up to Moray’s office herself and looks a really strange mix of excited and nervous when he opens the door. She says it’s taken all her nerve for him to come and see him, and that the last two times she’s tried she was too scared to knock. Moray advises her to find herself a kindly young man, but she says she’s not going to ask him for anything. She wants to know if there isn’t some part of him that can give her just one night, like they used to.  Moray just says no and closes the door in her face. Womp womp.

So…. the reason Clara is awful is that she had a thing with Moray? And she can see that Denise has a thing for him? Apparently so, since the next thing she does is attack Denise while she’s asleep. Clara tells Denise that she’s nothing and that she doesn’t matter just because she’s happened to catch Moray’s eye. She declares that Moray used to lay in her arms and cry and bare his soul after his wife died and that meant something okay. Denise looks shocked and terrified, as anyone of sense would when a complete psycho wakes you up in the middle of the night. Clara continues ranting, saying that it would serve Moray right if she just up and blurted the truth about how his wife died out in the middle of his precious Big Sale. Pauline says of course she’d never do that but as Clara is clearly crazy, how do we know?

Finally: It’s Sale Day. Everyone is setting up for The Greatest Sale in the History of Time, looking proud of themselves and their departments while voiceovers remind us of the emotional and financial stakes of this event, in case we’ve somehow forgotten bits of the episode we saw twenty minutes prior.

Of course, it’s a huge success. There’s a positive mass of people outside waiting to rush in and buy virtually anything and everything. Moray proudly surveys the mass of people wandering around, while Denise tries to convince Clara that there’s nothing between the two of them. Lord Glendening arrives at the height of the crowd with his daughter and praises Moray for getting women out and about spending money. Moray gives his Selfridge-style pep talk about how much is possible with the power of shopping, and asks him to be part of his rise. Glendening says sure he’ll lend him the money because of course he will, there still seven episodes of this season to go. Moray also takes the opportunity to tell Katherine that he can’t get engaged to her just yet since so much of his business at the moment relies on charming women and flirting with them. Her father almost gleefully sides with Moray and says that haste is the enemy of love. Katherine looks put out, and it’s awesome.

So…that’s Episode 1! What do you think? Which character is your favorite? Your least favorite? How do you feel about the set up of the Denise and Moray flirtation?

Let’s chat in the comments!