This is our final post in a series of discussions about the PBS Masterpiece series Indian Summers that aired on PBS. Sacred Matters’ managing editor Michael J. Altman and Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst, assistant professor of religion at the University of Vermont, will offer their reviews of the series as it airs in the United States. NOTE: THERE ARE SPOILERS.
Episode 9, a two-hour season finale, tied together plot mysteries, advanced character arcs, and suggested conflicts on the horizon for season 2.
IMF: This finale seemed to be about loyalty to me, Mike. I’m dying to hear what you think about it.
Most obviously–and let’s just start with the major spoiler–the loyalty of Bhupinder is nearly unfathomable. He killed Jaya. I assumed Ralph wouldn’t have done it, ultimately (it isn’t good TV!), but I wasn’t convinced of anyone else’s half-motives, either. Bhupinder makes sense as both TV drama and a plausible relationship: Jaya is murdered with Ralph’s motives, with Ralph’s knowledge of where she’ll be and when, motives and information perhaps overheard by Bhupinder, perhaps told to Bhupinder by Ralph. While Ralph denied any involvement, I think there’s still a considerable lack of clarity around his role in Jaya’s death, even if he does not carry out the actions. But the relationship of Bhupinder and Ralph circles back to the in-between-ness of our characters, as you pointed out last time. After Bhupinder’s attempted suicide, Ralph holds him, cradles him, affectionately touches him while recounting their childhood friendship that knew no differences between them–until their fathers enforced their racialized, imperialized statuses, keeping each boy on one side of the compound. If we take Ralph’s narrative of their childhood at face value, we’re left with another relationship not merely complicated by but effectively defined by the Empire and its strident insistence on categorical boundaries.
Now that I’m invested in these story lines, I’m satisfied that Bhupinder is the murderer. It leaves Ralph culpable, to an unknown degree, but also highlights (again!) the ways in which meaningful relationships between Indians and Britons exist in the periphery of public spaces. What’s your take?
MJA: And, now, compare Ralph and Bhupinder to McLeod and Sood. McLeod/Sood is the inverse of Ralph/Bhupinder. Sood is an innocent Indian hung by the imperial justice system. Bhupinder is a guilty Indian saved from hanging by a colonial official. Ralph and Bhupinder grew up together but imperial categories separated them. McLeod and Sood come together by transgressing imperial boundaries. McLeod is passionately loyal to Sood. Bhupinder is passionately loyal to Ralph. Ralph saves Bhupinder. McLeod cannot save Sood. These are colonial relationships moving in completely opposite directions–mirror images of race, class, and colonality.
Also, note that the shows most intimate homosocial relationships are between men: Sood/McLeod and Ralph/Bhupinder. The major relationship between two women, Sarah and Alice, is completely dysfunctional and based on blackmail and manipulation. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it’s interesting.
IMF: Loyalty came up in a few other places, too. Ramu Sood was hung in a particularly gut-wrenching scene, after which Ian McLeod becomes a folk hero of sorts by stealing his cremated remains from the constable’s office.
The Viceroy had this amazing line about British loyalty to India(ns) when he discusses Indian disloyalty to the throne: “Could all of this been avoided if we offered just a little more civility?” he asked. His soliloquy hinted at wishing for more loyalty of Britons toward India and Indians in the years prior, so that all sides would have a better and firmer sense of British rule now.
Aafrin and Alice continue their relationship–this time, rather unglamorously, in a shed. In bed, they decide to tell Ralph about their affair, but after the Bhupinder confession, Aafrin decides Ralph cannot be trusted. His loyalty here is to neither Alice nor Ralph, but to a somewhat unrealized idea of right and good.
Aafrin joined Nalini Iyer, the activist, and Singh, the Sikh guard blackmailing him, in their pursuits, which may or may not include “terrorism,” to quote Aafrin himself. He’s disillusioned with Ralph, the mechanics of Empire, and his own lost position within it. But while I think Aafrin has decided to be disloyal to the British broadly and his British employer specifically, I’m not sure he’s loyal to this group of revolutionaries yet.
There’s more, but that’s probably enough to show that I’m struck by the trope of loyalty. Do you see it at work, too? If not, what stood out in the finale for you?
MJA: The changing approaches to race across the show really climaxed in the finale with the arrival of Aafrin as the first Indian member of the club. The way the combination of Ralph’s rebuke and Aafrin’s membership sent Cynthia into a drunken spiral spoke volumes about the importance of race to the identity of Britons during the height of the Raj. It was also interesting to see how Ronnie Keane went from being the most racist character on the show to the first person to buy a drink for Aafrin and his father.
Cynthia represented an earlier generation of Britons whose entire identity in India rested on the fundamental difference between the British and the natives. That sign outside the club barring natives and dogs signified Cynthia’s identity and sense of herself. On the other hand, Ralph Keane’s racism was much more practical all along. He surely doesn’t think Indians equal to Britons, yet it seems that racial difference was more an issue of governance (the everyone in their place line from the engagement party planning) than of essential difference in identity. When governance required the admittance of an Indian clerk to the club, well that was good enough for Keane. And so, he buys the two Indians a whiskey soda.
When I first heard about Indian Summers I thought it would be Downton Abbey but in the colony. It certainly isn’t Downton Abbey. The writing isn’t as good. But, like Downton, the show is fundamentally about a moment of rapid social change and the ways those changes challenge existing hierarchies. For Downton the main hierarchy is class, in Indian Summers it’s race.
IMF: Next season, I’m looking forward to:
Less Sarah. Now that she and Matthew, the minister’s son, are off to England for his education, hopefully we see less of her. I just never found anything redemptive here, even if I can sympathize with her loneliness and sadness.
Ian McLeod. He seems righteously angry and bold. This probably means he’ll be jailed or deported or join up with Sooni’s activists and revolutionaries. Which means I’m also watching for Sooni and Ian. Seriously, what is going on there?
Aafrin and Alice. I know, I both despise and don’t buy their relationship, too, Mike. But they’re central, and if the center doesn’t hold interest, I’m not sure what to make of Indian Summers as TV.
MJA: I just hope Aafrin and Alice becomes a tolerable story. For me it’s all about Ian McLeod. He’s by far my favorite character in the show.
I’m also curious to see what happens to Sooni. Will she dive into the resistance? Sooni and Aafrin have been opposed forces for all over season 1, what happens when they are on the same side?
Also, I think Singh is a pretty interesting character and I hope we get more of him on screen while still keeping him rather ambivalent.
And can we just have a moment of silence for Eugene Mathers.
Finally, will we ever see Gandhi?! He’s the most important character to never appear on the show.
IMF: The summer season ended for our characters, and so did the TV season. Mike, I have to say: this has been fun. See you next time in Simla?
MJA: Yes, see you when the heat drives us back to the mountains! I’ll bring the bad whiskey.