The Essex Serpent (Season 1), Episodes 1, 2 Review, Recap & Ending Explained: Apple TV+ is bringing their A-game these days, taking the fight to all other bigwigs of the online streaming services. With hits like ‘Ted Lasso’ and ‘CODA,’ one could say that they are not far behind. And if the words from my colleagues are something to go by, then they have already delivered two winners in the form of ‘Severance’ and ‘Pachinko’ this year already, at the very least.

So, an adaptation of a successful gothic mystery novel, ‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry, as Apple TV plus’s latest offering, is bound to be a source of intrigue. The production, which was to begin by late 2020, was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the departure of Keira Knightley due to familial reasons. Her shoes were filled by Claire Danes, and Tom Hiddleston joined the cast couple of weeks later. The show finally hit the streaming service in the second week of May this year, with the first two episodes being released this Friday.

The Essex Serpent Episodes 1 & 2 Recap:

In this set-in-Victorian-era story, Claire Danes star as Cora Seaborne, aptly named as she spent her early years at the coasts. She is currently living in London with her young son Frank, a companion named Martha (Hayley Squires), and an extremely ill husband. The show does not take much prodding to make Cora ‘free’ of marital shackles. Widowed, she takes a commanding control of her life, control that eluded her most of her life.

She decides to take off to Essex, where a rumor has started to circulate about a mysterious serpentine water beast (The newspaper called it Sea Dragon), correlating that with a girl being missing. As a naturalist by passion but never allowed to pursue it, Cora is heavily intrigued by the rumor. Her hope and enthusiasm for finding a creature, which has escaped natural evolution, are not shared by her son or Martha. Nor by a young and promising surgeon, Luke Garrett (Frank Dillane), whom Cora has started to see after her husband’s death.

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Undaunted by her doubts, Cora, along with Frank and Martha, reaches Essex. The vista change from Victorian London filled with meticulous detailing of that time to that of obscured marshy meadows immediately changes the show’s tone. This is where Cora meets Will Ransome (Hiddleston), the vicar of the local church. Cora and Will do not immediately get along but gradually develop a friendship. There are enough seeds planted for both possibilities of this friendship turning sour or becoming more than a friendship. Either way, this could mean trouble for both Will and Cora, along with Stella Ransome (Clemence Poesy), Will’s wife.

The two episodes focus on Cora probing the locals about the beast, referred to as ‘The Serpent’. This raises the eyebrows of many. Cora’s academic interest in the beast clashes with the locals’ belief of the Serpent being something of a devil, plunged into the waters of Essex to take the ‘Sinful’ away. The continued lack of return of the missing girl raises the tension in the locality. The show does well to subtly provide some premonitions of Cora’s possible conflict with the locals. Although sympathetic to Cora’s cause, Will does not believe in the existence of any serpent-like creature and tries to protect the sanity and sanctity of his parish. The first episode ends with the locals, along with Cora, finding the dead body of the missing girl.

In the second episode, what at first seemed to be a sub-plot, also starts to take quite a lot of screen-time. It is the parallel story of Luke, with his colleague and friend, Spencer (Jamael Westman), trying to do a successful open-heart surgery at a time when the London medical society was not quite open to the idea of it. Pun intended. Martha, coming back to London for a couple of errands, accompanies Luke and Spencer. She witnesses the first successful open-heart surgery, operated by Luke. Martha, a socialist, empathizes with the patient’s family, an Indian family living on the bare minimum at a shady slum-like colony in London.

The episode ends with Cora trying to organize a science class (paleontology, to be precise, with her fossils) with the local children. This class includes Naomi ( Lily-Rose Aslandogdu), sister of the at-first-missing-but-now-dead girl. During the chaos brought by the topic of the Serpent, a jar of liquid smashes, and all the children point toward Naomi, saying that she did that. Disturbed by the rising accusations, Naomi gets into a fit, and the children drop on the floor one by one. Whether they died or fainted, that is for the next episode.

The Essex Serpent Episodes 1 & 2 Review:

The show promises to be a slow-burning mysterious take on science, religion, and socio-political stigmas, with a heavy dosage of the portrayal of lives and communities in Victorian-era England. As someone who has regrettably not read Sarah Perry’s novel, I am exempt from knowing the story’s true nature. So, to me, the unaware, the show pretty much has the mystery of the genre itself. There is a horror element in the first two episodes. However, they are subtle, leaving the unawares to wonder whether there would be some scientific explanation at the end of the story.

The story, set in the late nineteenth century, revolves around various dichotomies. The dichotomy of science and faith is signified by the conversations between Cora and Will. The dichotomy of the societal class is handled in the subplot, spearheaded by Martha. And then, there is the dichotomy of supernatural explanations and scientific explanations.
In this regard, ‘The Essex Serpent’ reminds me of the first season of the AMC show, ‘The Terror.’ ‘The Essex Serpent’ also has a mythical beast in its central lore, the driving force behind most of the proceedings. The moody and atmospheric mystery would test viewers’ patience; however, every sign of that patience is rewarded. Just like ‘The Terror’ did.
The performance of all the actors is on point. Claire Danes get the most scope to shine as Cora, and she does just that. Hiddleston is starting to establish Will as his own. In the two episodes, Frank Dillane gets his chance to show his mettle, and he is quite excellent as the determined and somewhat arrogant Luke.
Technically, this show is top-notch, as expected from Apple TV plus. The cinematography brings the beauty of the foggy marshlands of Essex and the neat compositions of the structural symmetry of Victorian London. The opening credits’ artwork is something to behold, paying homage to the book cover of Sarah Perry’s novel.

The Essex Serpent Episodes 1 & 2 Ending Explained:

Although the subheading says ‘Explained,’ the ending of the second episode is something that can be explored at this point and not explained. The ending serves its purpose of raising multiple questions. The first one is, is there anything supernatural going on at all?
The opening shot of the series, featuring the dead girl and her sister, Naomi, did set the tone for this. Unless Naomi imagined that, which would be pretty anti-climactic, a serpentine movement was shown in the waters just before her sister disappeared. She is now known to be dead. So, the possibility is high that there is a beast. Whether this serpent-like creature is something that can be explained by science, like Cora intends to do, or it is of the supernatural territory, that remains to be seen.

The classroom scene also carries the same intended confusion. Naomi’s fit, the children dropping like flies, Jo (Will’s eldest daughter, played by Dixie Egerickx) leaving the scene running; all these could still have a scientific explanation. However, I must add this is currently chartering towards the supernatural zone. All of these make me eagerly awaiting the next episode.

The Essex Serpent Episodes 1 – 2 are now streaming on Apple TV+

The Essex Serpent Links – IMDb, Wikipedia
The Essex Serpent Cast – Tom Hiddleston, Claire Danes, Clémence Poésy, Frank Dillane, Hayley Squires, Dixie Egerickx

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