Farthing Watch – 1.04

Last Week – The animals managed to get away from the army land, but then got caught up in a wild fire. Fox proved his mettle and Badger and Moley’s bromance was set in stone. We lost our first animals as the newts were cooked, just when they thought they’d found a new home. The rest of the animals mourned their loss (well, a bit) and then seemed thrilled at the prospect of heading onto farm land …

As the title suggests, things do not go well. Firstly, it’s raining. Toad and Adder are loving it (‘ssssoothes the sssscales ssslithering through thisssss, niccccccce’) but the others are finding it hard going, with the smaller creatures getting bogged down in the mud and Mr Rabbit catching a cold.

Meanwhile, the birds are sheltering under a tree. Mrs Pheasant sticks one of Owl’s feathers on Mr Pheasant, replacing his blasted off tail-feathers. Upon learning the provenance of his new plumage, Mr Pheasant exclaims ‘Owl? That dowdy female?!’. Is the gender politics one of the reasons it took so long to get this out on DVD? Mrs Pheasant is so caring for her horrible husband, it’s almost painful to see the way he treats her. I know I keep harping on about them, but…

Toad leads them to a barn, where it’s dry. Fox has his misgivings but Toad convinces him that humans don’t like rain. Kestrel takes first watch from a plum tree and Pheasant is due to relieve her. Mr Pheasant, however, refuses to wake up, so it is his wife who goes out, poor tragic heroine that she is.

The door to the farmhouse opens and a pair of feet and a shotgun barrel step out – ‘Just going to collect the eggs, love’, says the farmer. Well okay, but…with a gun? What on earth were you expecting? What kind of terrible dystopia do you inhabit where you need to be armed to collect eggs?! There’s a mean farm dog, too, called Bruno. We know Bruno is mean because he has mean eyes and eats very noisily. But life isn’t all rosy for Bruno. The farmer admonishes him for letting foxes kill his chickens (some nice artful shots of dead birds here), calling him a ‘useless mongrel’ and kicking him in the face. I’m not sure but I feel like they wouldn’t get away with any of this nowadays…

Bruno gets a chance to redeem himself, however, when he alerts the farmer to the presence of Mrs Pheasant. The farmer promptly takes aim and kills her.  Just like that. A close up on the double barrel, Mrs Pheasant’s look of horror, then Hare and Pheasant jumping at the sound. You might think that this is already pretty extreme for teatime telly, but it only gets worse. Trust me. The effect is strengthened by Weasel’s sarcastic laughter in response to the others’ fear (‘I’m not nervous!’).

The farmer locks the animals in the barn, planning to get revenge on Fox, whom he believes to be guilty of murdering his chickens. Owl looks out the window and sees him carrying Mrs Pheasant’s limp corpse. Her response? ‘I’m afraid your wife’s going to be the farmer’s dinner, Pheasant’. WHAT?! Seriously? A creature as erudite as Owl couldn’t come up with something subtler than that? What’s worse is that the other animals don’t even offer any sympathy! Pheasant is properly crying too.

While Owl tries to think of a way out of their predicament and Bruno growls outside the door, the farmer steps back into his house to reload. Luckily for us, his wife tells him that his dinner won’t keep. His response? ‘Ohhhh, women!’. Seriously, misogyny is endemic in this series! Did nobody think of rewriting it a bit? I know this is quarter of a century ago, and the original book is even older, but it’s a bit Enid Blyton at times…

Owl suggests digging their way out, and Badger nominates Mole as the best digger (which is weird, because he is a badger and clearly would be much better at digging a hole big enough for them to actually use…). Mole gets to be a hero for all of eight seconds, until he realises that he can’t dig through wooden floorboards (but bless him for giving it a go). Luckily one of the squirrels suggests that the rodents work on it, and they all club together for a group gnaw. Meanwhile Adder slithers out to distract Bruno (‘hello ssssstranger!’).

Mole asks Badger to follow him and widen the hole, so we get the ridiculous sight of Badger’s nose following Mole through a tiny tunnel. Again, why? I’m all for giving Moley some heroic stuff but this just doesn’t make any sense!  Pheasant is worried about getting dirty in the hole, so Fox growls at him. This makes both of them seem pretty callous, doesn’t it? Mrs Pheasant isn’t even cold yet!

The farmer almost gets Fox but Bruno’s incompetence makes him miss his shot. It would be nice to think that Bruno was getting some redemption, but he really is just useless at his job (‘sssstupid beassst!’ claims Adder, before ssssettling down to ssssnooze). That said, he does manage to follow their scent. Fox leads him off, and engages him in conversation. ‘My master wants you dead!’ slathers Bruno. ‘So? He wants every fox dead’ replies Fox, who really is absolutely badass here. Fox uses a bit of psychology to convince Bruno to let him leave – ‘you’ve got me tied in knots, you clever dick!’. Fox is cool as a cucumber, but as he gets away we see him sweat.

Just when everything seems okay again (well, apart from for Mrs Pheasant obviously), Badger realises that they’ve left Adder behind!

Join us next week, when things get REALLY dark.

Wild Wisdom of the Week – ‘With our bonds forged strong by danger we set out on the next stage of our journey, glad simply to be alive’ (Badger)

‘Can’t you try to remember that moment when we all stood together against the humans, one for all, and all for one?’ (Fox, but a few others repeat the last bit. Bunch of wannabe Musketeers)

‘Any bolthole in a storm…’ (Owl, so good she says it twice)

‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you HAHAHAHAHA!’ (Weasel)

‘Watch it! My bite’sssss worsssse than my bark’ (Adder)

‘When running away, watch your back Fox’ (Owl)

‘Consider that without the hard climb, there could not be the easy descent’ (Owl – pretty cheeky considering she can fly).

Deaths – Some chickens at the farm, then Mrs Pheasant is blasted with a shotgun. The speed with which she is dispatched makes it all the more appalling.