The North Water episode 2 recap – “We Men Are Wretched Things” cabin fever

July 24, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Weekly TV
4

Summary

“We Men Are Wretched Things” is an even grimmer hour with the premiere as Sumner investigates the rape and death of a cabin boy.

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4

Summary

“We Men Are Wretched Things” is an even grimmer hour with the premiere as Sumner investigates the rape and death of a cabin boy.

This recap of The North Water episode 2, “We Men Are Wretched Things”, contains spoilers.


The first episode of The North Water was a grim, serious tale of immoral men at sea, and it ended with its ostensible protagonist, Patrick Sumner, slipping beneath an ice floe on a seal hunt and almost freezing to death. Yet “We Men Are Wretched Things” makes that opener seem like child’s play in a seedy hour that includes such highlights as a whale being killed and butchered, and a young cabin boy being violently sodomized and murdered.

Despite all this, The North Water remains a beautiful show. Here in its second episode, Drax fatally harpooning the whale is an act of bloody barbarism playing out against a beautiful, frozen natural backdrop; there’s a weird momentousness to it as the sailors rejoice in the act, the whale’s blood spurting up through its blowhole and showering them in claret. Sumner, having healed from his ordeal, watches through a monocular with morbid fascination. As cruel as the act is, this is the job of these so-called wretched men. Sumner doesn’t judge. Not the whaling, anyway.

The case of cabin boy Joseph is another matter. He goes to Sumner complaining of stomach pain, but an examination reveals he has been sodomized by a man with venereal disease. But Joseph isn’t forthcoming with details. Even when Sumner informs Captain Brownlee, and the Captain summons the boy to his quarters, he still refuses to reveal who his attacker was, presumably out of fear. Nevertheless, the next we see of Joseph, he’s dead, having been strangled and stuffed inside a barrel. Brownlee orders Cavendish to get to the bottom of the matter, and he intends to by essentially framing the ship’s carpenter, Samuel McKendrick, who is a rumored homosexual. Despite Sumner examining McKendrick and declaring he has no sores and no injuries that might have been caused by a scuffle, Cavendish is adamant about finding “proof” that McKendrick is guilty.

Here in The North Water episode 2, a clear rivalry between Sumner and Cavendish begins to emerge. It’s a battle between Irishman and Englishman – Cavendish won’t let Sumner forget his heritage, despite the fact he rarely claims it – set against the backdrop of Sumner’s secretive past; in his quarters is jewelry and documents that question his credentials as a surgeon and raise questions of his activities overseas, which clearly include a dead Indian boy whom he swore to protect.

In the McKendrick matter, Drax intervenes on behalf of Cavendish, claiming to have seen McKendrick fraternizing with Joseph. He’s clearly lying, but everyone is eager to condemn a known sodomite, so even with McKendrick’s claims that Drax is a vicious cannibal, he’s considered to be guilty by everyone, even if they know otherwise. Brownlee is more concerned with his own mission, which Cavendish and Drax are privy to, to scuttle the ship for the insurance payout. Any villain will do.

But perhaps not for Sumner. “We Men Are Wretched Things” might imply that he has committed acts as wretched as the one that troubles him in The North Water episode 2, but he still seems removed from Cavendish and Drax. Whether that will prove his undoing or theirs remains to be seen as we progress.

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