This third episode is set a few years in the future and basically just starts by kicking you in the teeth with the news that John Bold is dead, leaving Eleanor widowed with a small son, and the death of the elderly bishop. Most people assume Dr. Grantly, as his son and the parish’s archdeacon, will succeed him, but external politics conspire to prevent that from happening.
The bishop’s replacement is the ineffectual but nice Mr. Proudie, his ballbusting wife, and his slimy assistant chaplain, Mr. Obadiah Slope.
The Rickman plays Slope, who really is one of the most off-putting characters I have ever watched. He is simultaneously an ass-kissing smarm machine, an insufferable pedant, and an overbearingly arrogant schemer. All of that’s to say, he is also an incredibly awesome character who is endlessly entertaining to watch. Rickman somehow manages to infuse him with a snake-like quality. I’ve never seen another person walk or move their head like a snake, but Slope does. It’s unsettling and amazing all at once.
When Rickman passed away a couple of months ago, I saw a lot of people mentioning their first introduction to him came in this miniseries and bemoaning how it’s shame he is not really remembered for this role anymore. I second this sentiment wholeheartedly. If you like Rickman, you can’t not watch him in this show.
He rolls in and tries to ingratiate himself with both Harding and Grantly by telling them how much he already knows about them. At this point, he just seems mildly annoying–like the kid in class who always knew the answers, but it’s probably one of his least offensive moments in the entire series.
He kicks off his campaign of assholery with a seemingly mild request. He seems really enthusiastic to learn more about the local church system.
When Harding and Grantly stutter out less than satisfactory answers, Slope pounces and begins to interrogate them and even berate them about a number of other issues, all with his snakey body language and an infuriatingly fake politeness that just barely masks how much he’s enjoying this.
He also wages battle with a notebook that he is always consulting. He has your every sin noted and every fact known to man recorded in it, and he does not hesitate to bring any of it out when he needs to win a fight.
Needless to say, it’s a pretty fucking awkward conversation that is also hilarious to behold.
While Mrs. Proudie is Team Slope all the way, Mr. Proudie has enough decency to recognize how awkward this is and tries to be more accommodating to Harding and Grantly, though he doesn’t dare try to rein Slope in. Slope is not amused, but he can’t really tell his boss to fuck off. The resulting Rickman faces are glorious.
Pictures really can’t do it justice. I did not slow the timing down. Watch Slope’s disdain in real time:
Grantly tries to be snide back to Slope, but he receives a verbal bitchslap as Slope schools him on how to be a smug asshole.
Grantly and Harding finally escape and compare notes on the experience.
Next page: Slope’s sermon.