Although Tom’s been ever-present throughout series two, he’s not exactly been front and centre of too many storylines. The final episode of S2 somewhat makes up for this, as the fallout from the Lynnette’s break-up becomes the key theme.
Tom’s been haunting the yard every day, desperately searching for a reason “why” the catamaran broke up. Avril believes he’s simply torturing himself (“three days of prowling around in a hair shirt”) but Tom needs to understand. To this end he visits Mrs Travis, which is an understandably awkward encounter. When she tells Tom that she feels sorry for him, it’s a statement that can be taken several ways – but the meaning becomes clear after she serves a two million pound writ on the Mermaid yard.
It’s fascinating to see how Avril and Jack deal with this crisis. To begin with, Jack is convinced there was a design flaw in the catamaran – he maintains that you can’t simply become a skilled boat-designer overnight, it takes decades of hard work, not months or years. Avril is initially more supportive, but she’s the one who decides they have to serve a writ against Tom and suspend him as the Mermaid’s designer.
She believes that she’s acting in everybody’s best interests – if the worst comes to the worst then at least they have a chance of salvaging the yard. It’s telling at this point that she tells Tom that Jack shouldn’t have to lose his yard (he instantly picks up on the comment that it now appears to be Jack‘s yard). And at this point Jack does something of an about turn. Although previously he was dismissive of Tom’s design, he now supports it and is reluctant to side with Avril.
But side with her he does and the writ is served. It’s a throwaway moment but it goes to prove that for all his bluster, Jack Rolfe isn’t quite the buccaneering individualist he often claims to be. Although he made a half-hearted attempt to convince Avril that they needed to stand by Tom, not isolate him, in the end she got her way.
It’s easy to see the sense in Avril’s actions – at this point, with a question mark hanging over the Lynnette, it seems logical that Tom steps away from the design board, but he believes her true motives are quite different. Charles has invited Avril to take over as managing director of Relton Marine and she’s accepted. Oddly, we don’t see Avril tell Tom this (it’s only reported second-hand). It’s a little hard to understand why such a key scene like this wasn’t played out.
If Howards’ Way has an unconscious theme, then it appears to be that successful career women are required to sacrifice any hopes of a successful personal relationship. We’ve already seen this with Jan and now Avril seems to be heading the same way. Tom is convinced that Avril accepted this new job at Relton in order to rekindle her relationship with Charles, whilst she maintains that it was the only way to safeguard the Mermaid’s future. It’s hard to side with Tom at this point, meaning that his character flaws (jealousy as well as the previously seen desire not to heed other’s advice) are now quite pronounced.
As with the end of series one, the fate of the Mermaid hangs in the balance and we’ll have to wait until the S3 to see how things play out.
Abby’s story seems to have reached a natural conclusion. Her time with Curtis is terminated very swiftly (again this is something important which happens off-screen). He asks her if she’d like to go up to Birmingham with him, as he has to show the red-card to a man who kicked his dog to death. Abby clearly didn’t realise precisely what would happen (presumably she thought he’d just give him a severe ticking-off). Instead, Abby tells the ever-sympathetic Leo that Curtis viciously attacked the man, continuing to kick him even after he was unconscious. It proves that Leo was right all along to be suspicious about Curtis, although he’s mature enough not to crow about it.
The Abby/Curtis relationship is of special interest because it’s the reason why Abby discovers that Charles is her real father. This is done in a slightly contrived way though – Polly is concerned about Curtis and asks Charles to do some digging on her behalf. That’s reasonable enough, but then she asks Charles to visit Abby and tell her what he’s uncovered. If he does so then it seems obvious that Abby’s going to put two and two together (Charles Frere’s not the sort of person to pop around doing good turns like this for anybody).
Why didn’t Polly do it? It’s true that her relationship with Abby is strained, but they’re at least speaking at present (Abby didn’t leave home this time because of a spat with her mother – it was more about making a bid for independence).
But she doesn’t and Charles does, leading to the inevitable conclusion. Given that she despises Charles and all he stands for, it’s no doubt something of a shock, but that’s not the major plot-point here. Rather, it makes Abby finally understand that she shouldn’t have given William away, since it’s exactly the same mistake that her father made with her. So she sets off for America, to be reunited with William and a possible marriage to Orrin.
This could have served as a fairly tidy ending to Abby’s story, but as we’ll see that proved not to be the case. Although it’ll be a little while before we see her again.
The other major event in this episode concerns the death of Claude, mown down by a speedboat (a pity the man steering it wasn’t looking in the right direction). Although it doesn’t operate as a cliffhanger (in the way that Lynne falling into the water at the end of S1 did) it’s still highly dramatic. Lynne sheds more than a few tears (that’ll be the last we see of Tracy Childs until the sixth and final series) and even Jan is a bit teary-eyed.
It’s interesting how Claude’s fight for life is intercut with Jan bustling around, preparing to launch Claude’s collection. The undeniable impression given is that the fashion world seems even more trivial when matters of life and death are being decided elsewhere, but in Jan’s defence she was unaware of the accident. It seems a little strange that nobody decided to tell her how seriously ill he was (or even that Claude was in hospital) although this does give us a moody final scene as Jan, together with Leo (who’s travelled down to London to break the news of Claude’s death), both sit alone amongst the discarded clothes and rubbish from the fashion show.
The mood, as so often this year, is broken by leading into the end credits and the warbling of “always there” but no matter. Series two built nicely on the first, with a largely stable cast of returnees. The third series would see a little more fluidity amongst the regulars, with several notable absentees and some heavyweight new arrivals ….