All Creatures Great and Small finishes season two with high hopes

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Public Broadcasting Service

The cast of the PBS show All Creatures Great and Small gathers together in Episode six.

Lizzy Camp, News Director

The extremely popular Public Broadcasting Service show, All Creatures Great and Small ended season two on Sunday night. Based on the book of the same name, All Creatures Great and Small focuses on James Harriot (Nicholas Ralph), a veterinarian from Glasgow who comes to Yorkshire to work under a country vet named Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West). The show premiered on PBS in early 2021, and quickly became popular for its comforting aesthetic and low-stake plot feel. Season one finished its run in the United States in February of 2021 with the popular Christmas episode, and was renewed for more seasons starting in early 2022. 

Season two started similarly to season one, with Harriot back in Glasgow, visiting his parents after the holidays. The dreary streets of Glasgow do not even come close to the lush green streets of Darrowby, the fictional town where the show is set. All Creatures Great and Small came to be known to my friend group as “the moss show”, lovingly dubbed so for its abundance of the green plant in the background. The actual show was filmed in the Yorkshire Dales, a protected national park known for its rolling hills and valleys. The lush landscape sets the tone for the show later. 

Harriot has taken up work in Glasgow for the few weeks when he is there, working at a new veterinary practice. He is impressed by the modern technology used there. He is used to working in the Skeldale House, a building that is used both as his home and Farnon’s veterinary practice in Darrowby. At the end of his stay, the owner of the Glasgow practice offers him a job there. Harriot says to consider the offer. His parents want him closer to home, and he would be making more money, but Darrowby has something else that Glasgow does not: love. 

James Harriot (Nicholas Ralph) visits Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton) on her roof in Episode three. (Public Broadcasting Service)

At the end of season one, Harriot’s longtime crush in Darrowby, Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton), broke up with her fiancé, after realizing that she did not truly love him. This season, Harriot took his chance. What I liked most about their relationship this season was that it was entirely up to Alderson. If she did not want to go out, then they did not go out. Harriot let her decide what she was comfortable with, and let her define their relationship. Even in episode two, after leaving him alone at a jazz club, Harriot stands by her. When Alderson later comes to apologize, she also thanks him for helping her out of her shell, after isolating herself after her breakup. “Last night was the first time I felt like myself again and I was only there because of you,” Alderson says with a smile.

Farnon’s brother, Tristian Farnon (Callum Woodhouse), is a big fan of Alderson and Harriot’s relationship, and often ends up being the one that tries to push the two towards their next steps. Tristan himself does not have much luck with the ladies, but tries his best. He has recently been admitted as a vet himself, and works as the third vet in the Skeldale House. In episode four, Farnon lets him take some more advanced calls, after Tristian complains that his skills are not being used to a full advantage. 

Things go about as well as they could go on his first calls, where he successfully files some horses teeth. Farnon is impressed, and lets Tristian go to a neighboring farm to help a cow that is having a difficult labor. The process of delivering a calf, especially in 1937, when the show is set, is extremely taxing on the vet. Tristan milks the pain that he is in a bit, knowing that the farmer will report back to Farnon, and he wants to impress his big brother.

Tristan returns to the Skeldale house for his birthday dinner, where things quickly unravel. After joking that he exaggerated the pain he was in during the cow’s labor, Farnon quickly gets angry and accuses him of being unprofessional. Tristan retaliates back, defending himself and saying that he is just as qualified as Farnon. This is when everything goes south, in a moment of rage Farnon reveals that he has lied to Tristian about his exam grade, and Tristian is, in fact, not a qualified vet.

Harriot (Nicholas Ralph) and Tristian Farnon (Callum Woodhouse) share a drink before dinner in the Skeldale House. (Public Broadcasting Service)

Tristian is shocked. “You let me think I was qualified when I wasn’t. And then you let me carry on, showing off like a complete idiot. All this time I’ve been a total laughing stock,” he says. Farnon attempts to defend himself, saying he was trying to build up his brother’s confidence, but Tristian does not listen. Farnon has broken his trust, and not once does he attempt to apologize, only defend himself. 

The major theme of this season seems to carry through, the idea that honesty and love is the best way to maintain a relationship. I especially love how this is shown through all the characters in the show. Farnon and Tristian’s relationship is hurt when Farnon lies to him, and Harriot and Alderson’s relationship hits a few bumps when Harriot conceals the job offer in Glasgow from her. The way the show writers take you through this journey is also especially lovely. It is not as simple as an apology to fix broken trust, and the show displays this. 

Episode five begins to mend trust between the characters. Farnon finally apologizes to Tristian after realizing his mistake. He vows to do better, “Life’s just too short, isn’t it?” he says. Another relationship mended in this episode is between Alderson and her ex-fiance, Hugh Hulton (Matthew Lewis). Alderson apologizes to Hulton for the pain that she caused him, and he responds in a very mature way. “I admit I was devastated. But in a way, once the worst has happened, it’s actually rather freeing… Maybe one day we can be pals again,” he says with a smile. I enjoyed this scene, mainly because it broke down the overused trope that people who have broken up are mortal enemies. 

Alderson, Tristian, and Harriot gather together during the Darrowby Cricket Match in Episode five. (Public Broadcasting Service)

The penultimate episode of All Creature Great and Small was perhaps my favorite in the entire season. The episode starts by clearly displaying the backdrop that the show has been hinting at the entire season, the start of World War Two. In this episode, video from Nazi Germany is show when Harriot and Alderson go to the movies, the radio plays broadcasts about peace between nations, and Tristian is seen reading the book Biggles Goes to War by W.E. Johns. These small details hint at a larger plot narrative in the upcoming season three. I think this would be an interesting choice, especially considering the show’s overall peaceful aesthetic. 

The rest of the episode, however, is extremely happy and satisfying. Urged on by Farnon, Harriot proposes to Alderson. She accepts, but in his fear, Harriot has forgotten to ask her father for her hand in marriage. This causes Harriot some worry, Alderson has been engaged once before and he is concerned about how her father might react. But Alderson’s father takes it well, and gives Harriot his late wife’s ring to give to Alderson, since their original proposal was done in a rush of fear and excitement. “I can’t picture her [late wife’s] face the way I used to…Helen has her smile. I see it sometime when I catch her looking at you,” Alderson’s father says when Harriot asks for her hand in marriage.

Harriot’s parents also come to visit Darrowby in this episode. Harriot has still not informed them that he intends to stay in Darrowby and reject the job proposal in Glasgow. They come with Harriot on a few of his calls. His mother (Gabriel Quigley) does not enjoy the trip at all, but his father (Drew Cain) seems proud of Harriot. They later go to the Skeldale House for dinner, where Harriot intends for them to meet Alderson. 

It’s this place and those hills.”

— James Harriot

While picking up Alderson, Harriot’s mother spills what she thinks is the truth, that Harriot will be leaving Darrowby to work in Glasgow. Farnon was not aware of the job offer that Harriot received and feels betrayed. Harriot soon arrives with Alderson, but the mood of the house has become sorrowful. Farnon brushed off Harriot’s arrival, mad and disappointed at the news that Harriot’s mother spoke of.  

Finally, Harriot gets a chance to explain himself. Much to his parent’s disappointment, he says that he will not be leaving Darrowby. “I’m staying here and it’s not only because of Helen,” he says. “Thinking about [the job offer] has made me realize all the more how much I love it here. Every day is different. I wake up and have no idea where the job will take me. I could be up in the High Dales wrestling cattle, or helping a dog that’s had his paw caught in a trap. It’s this place and those hills.”

A view of Heston Grange, the farm where Alderson lives in Darrowby. (Public Broadcasting Service)

Alderson also adds in, remarking how much Harriot has helped the community since he came. She says that he has been able to make a real difference in the town, and that everyone is lucky to have him. Harriot’s father seems content, he is happy that his son is engaged and that he is doing work that he enjoys. Harriot’s mother, however, seems less so. When he drops them off at the bus to go back to Glasgow later in the episode, she is visibly distressed and tells him to come home when he can. 

The season two finale rivaled episode six for my favorite episode of the season. Every season of All Creatures Great and Small ends with a Christmas episode, since it premieres in the UK during Christmas time. These episodes always have the homey, lovely feel of Christmas, and it feels like everything is right with the world, even when it most certainly is not in Darrowby. 

Mrs. Pumphrey (Diana Rigg), the town’s wealthiest resident, and her infamous dog, Triki Woo, are one of the main plot points of this episode, with Triki Woo falling ill. The entire plot point puts a downturn mood on the episode, where it is revealed that Pumphrey has no one else to celebrate Christmas with. Newly engaged Harriot and Alderson have a disagreement over where to celebrate Christmas lunch, and Tristian gets rejected by a girl he loves. The entire Christmas celebration seems to be in a downward spiral. 

Tristian (Callum Woodhouse) carries in a Christmas tree to Pumphrey’s manor. (Public Broadcasting Service)

But it is Christmas, and the healing power of love fixes all, or most, of the problems in Darrowby. Triki Woo miraculously recovers, thanks in part to Harriot accidentally saving a sheep’s life earlier in the day. With Triki fully healed, he returns to Pumphrey’s house for Christmas, where they celebrate alone together. That is until Harriot, Farnon, and the rest of the Skeldale House crew show up with Christmas lunch and decorations. The scene is lovely, with off key Christmas carols, delicious looking food, and a sense of family and love that cannot be rivaled. 

Season two ends on an ominous note, as the camera pans away from the Skeldale House where Harriot and the rest have retired for the night, a British military plane flies overhead. World War Two is just around the corner. It will be interesting to see how the writers intertwine the event into the show. I have high hopes for it, however. Director Brian Percival also worked on Downton Abbey, another favorite PBS masterpiece of mine, and he handled the events of World War One wonderfully, if not heartbreakingly.

Overall, season two of All Creatures Great and Small did not disappoint. The show delivered the calm, low stakes feel it has become known for, but also hit on important topics and historical events. I am very excited for this show to continue and see what season three brings.