Grantchester's Season 3 finale finds Sidney's crisis of faith running headlong into the reality of what he loves to do. Choices are made, hearts are broken. It's better for everyone that way.
Sidney: "I had an overactive imagination as a kid. Didn't make me a liar."
Geordie: "What do you mean had? You still believe in a big fella watching over us from a cloud."
I was so relieved at how that finale played out. Not just Sidney's future (which we'll get to in a moment), but the mystery of the week that went along with it. Two school-aged brothers find themselves vaguely menaced by a person we can't see, and their parents and Geordie think they're making it up. Until one goes missing.
The issues at play will be familiar. There's an openly philandering husband and depressed (postpartum?) wife who assumes the nanny is caring for the kids. But the nanny is having an affair with the husband, so, in the end, no one is taking the slightest bit of care of these children. Enter a school teacher, who clearly cares too much about both boys.
Accusations of pedophilia fly, thrown about by the father (accusing poor Daniel with the still-regretfully-popular blurring of homosexuality to somehow equate with having sex with children.) But Grantchester already went to that well once, with a story that then colored almost all of Season 2. Were they really going there again? Blessedly, no. The school teacher was just acting out of grief because his own son had died. The child is returned to his parents physically unharmed, to join his brother in merely emotionally suffering through growing up trapped inside a disastrous marriage.
This mystery is only there as a pass through anyway, so let's pass through it. Ther real heart of the hour is Sidney's fight with himself, and his attempt at giving in to Amanda's ultimatium at the end of last week's episode.
Mrs Maguire: "Four vicars I've seen come and go. Makes no odds to me whose socks I darn."
Our episode opened this week with Sidney telling the Archbishop he was going to resign. He admitted his love for Amanda out loud, and said he was choosing her, not the church. But from the outset, this all rang false. The letter to the Bishop tendering his resignation never appeared to go in the mail. (It didn't.) He had to be pushed by Amanda to tell Leonard and Mrs. Maguire. Geordie didn't even hear about it till nearly the halfway mark of the episode. This is not a man eager to leave, but one who is merely obeying orders.
Amanda's "You're certain?" was telling. She knew this wouldn't happen, as she admitted at the end of the episode. She and Sidney had played at house, but while it sounded fun to move to London and argue over the merits of jazz records, this was not what Sidney wanted. When reality finally struck at the end of the hour, after he failed to turn up to rent the London flat -- because he was too busy helping Geordie solve the case -- it was a relief.
And like that, she was gone. Amanda didn't even turn up for Mrs. Maguire's wedding, or get to judge whether the grey dress made the cantankerous old biddy look like a harlot or not. (Spoiler alert: She looked nothing of the kind. As Leonard properly judged, that was not remotely possible.) It left Sidney broken hearted, while everyone else found their way back to their proper partners: Geordie with Cathy, Leonard with Daniel.
I cheered. This probably seems like blasphemy for the "Amanda and Sidney 4eva" crowd. I get that. I am in no way trying to look down on the millions of fans who feel that way. But hear me out.
Amanda: "As far as I'm concerned the only people who enjoy jazz concerts are the musicians. It's all the twiddly bits. Why do there have to be so many twiddly bits?"
Grantchester is a show that feels like someone took every trope from PBS and smooshed them all together to create the ultimate Masterpiece Theater hour of television. Take the crime-solving vicar from Father Brown, make him young and handsome like Sherlock, but emotionally vunerable like Wallander, yet intellectual like Endeavour, give him a working class buddy cop partner like Inspector Lewis, and make it a detail-oriented period piece. Then, just as the audience settles in to their predictable crime-of-the-week series, take the whole thing, turn it on its head, spin it round sideway and graft an A Place To Call Home sopa opera drama angle onto it.
As a student of television, this was a fascinating exercise. How many PBS shows can one fit inside a 50-minute hour without the entire enterprise collapsing under its own weight? There had to be a limit.
That limit is what the show ran up against in the finale. Audiences aren't tuning in to see Chambers collarless, trying to find a 9-5er, supporting a wife and baby girl, while living in a cramped moldly old basement flat in London. For all the soap opera desires, Grantchester is like The Simpsons. By the end of every adventure, everything resets to the mean. Lisa is always too smart for second grade, Bart is perpetually about to fail fourth grade, and Maggie will never say more than her first word that one time.
So it is with Grantchester. By the end of every adventure, Sidney is back in his rectory, collared, preaching to his flock with a monologue that sums up this week's theme very nicely, thank you. Geordie may cheat on his wife but, in the end, he will be back home as a family man of four, because Grantchester is morally upright. Leonard will never marry a woman, despite his efforts, because Grantchester can't bring itself to be so cruel. And while Mrs. Maguire just became Mrs. Chapman, you can bet good cash money she'll be in that vicarage darning socks in the morning.
Geordie"Now that you're happy you're going to ditch me"
Sidney: "I'd have ditched you before if I known how."
In the end, Grantchester's DNA is too deeply indebted to the Sidney Chambers book series it was based on: A series of short stories where a vicar named Sidney Chambers was perpetually single, solving crimes and listening to jazz. The chemistry between James Norton's Sidney and Morven Christie's Amanda might have been so good that the show wanted to play it out as long as they could. But there was only so far it could go. At least for now, the show has found that limit.
Not that I don't think the upcoming Christmas special and next season will somehow be devoid of soap opera drama. I'm sure there will be plenty. But it was time for Sidney, and for the production, to remember where the heart of the series lies, and let the tide of drama roll on back.