Episode three of The Halcyon begins with a wail of an air raid siren. In the bar, Betsy Day (Kara Tointon) peters out in mid-song, while the dancers and drinkers look up in exasperation.
When the all-clear sounds over the air raid shelter, the hotel guests clap like rowdy holiday-makers applauding after touchdown on their budget flight. It’s June 1940, and it is only just dawning on them how serious and dangerous this conflict is going to be.
Billy (Ewan Mitchell) doesn’t care, though. Just like William in Downton Abbey 16 years before, he’s the servant/employee/cannon fodder who can’t wait to pack his kit bag and sign up for an adventure. He is just a lad who makes fake machine gun sounds and is fed up of his mum telling him what to do. Billy has never even held a gun before.
But then: a baddie walks into The Halcyon. You can tell from the beginning that the Comte De St Claire (Eric Godon) is a baddie because he’s already rejected the Dorchester and the Savoy, he won’t hold his own hat, and even his right-hand-man Lucien D’Abberville (Charles Edwards) is snide as hell about him. The diagnosis of “baddie” is confirmed when he points his gun – a family heirloom – at quivering Billy, and tells him that all men are savages.
As all baddies do, he keeps sending his dinner back to the kitchen, where chef George Parry (Kevin Eldon) is fuming. “You expect me to grovel and scrape in front of that chump?” he rages.
“I am so glad we understand each other” – ah, Mr Garland has wit.
Instead, Chef sends in his “German” enemy Mr Klein (Nico Rogner) to do the grovelling and scraping. But the Halcyon’s miserable Austrian refugee, who is fast turning into one of the best characters in the series, instead gives him a lecture on food waste.
And then – oh boy! – the gun goes missing. This is Very Bad News (even if the Comte should definitely not be allowed to have a gun) and while Chef tries to pin the blame on Mr Klein, Billy makes this guilty face. Looks like he’s a little afraid of the locker search.
The locker search begins… but there’s a surprise. Mr Klein may not have stolen the gun, but he HAS nicked a nice pair of the late Lord Hamilton’s gold cufflinks. Mr Garland has never looked so sinister. On the other hand, Chef has never looked so gleeful.
It’s off to the police station with Mr Klein, but as he’s bundled out the door he manages to strike a chord with assistant manager Emma Garland (Hermione Corfield) and her bleeding heart. “It is my family, I had no choice. It was the only way I could get enough money,” he says. Next shot: Emma’s staring at a picture of Mr Klein with his wife and seven-year-old child.
Big boss Mr Garland is having none of Emma’s sentimentalism about poor Max Klein and his Jewish family stuck in France, so she seeks out American journo Joe O’Hara for advice.
“You’re thinking of getting involved,” he warns. “You check the temperature out there – people are increasingly suspicious of foreigners.”
“You’re a foreigner.”
“You know what I mean.”
Toby Hamilton is having a better day, because it may be the 40s but the barman is flirting with him.
“Some people drink to forget. I say, drink to remember… maybe that being Toby Hamilton is something pretty special,” he teases, brushing his fingers over the young lord’s hand. Explicit! But the evening quickly takes a turn for the worse with a mournful announcement by Mr Garland: France has fallen. The war is going badly.
Everyone is looking out for Billy. While Mr Garland gets fixer Feldman (Mark Benton) to save him from direct action in the war (something Billy is not very happy about), chambermaid Kate clocks his secret and offers to help return the gun to the suite.
Kate heads up to the Comte’s suite where she makes polite chat, but – Danger! Danger! – He locks the door behind her and demands she provide him with some “comfort” while forcing himself on her. She scratches him and runs away, but the Comte’s man hands her an envelope full of cash to keep quiet.
Billy and his gun head to the Comte’s suite, where he gives an admirable speech about sexual consent and the Comte calls him a “pathetic mewling baby” in return. The gun goes up – but Billy hasn’t got the guts to fire.
This could be the end of Billy’s career and the beginning of his time behind bars. However, when Mr Garland hears what happened to Kate he turns out to be a pretty good boss after all, threatening the Comte with exposure via the journalistic skills of Joe O’Hara.
He’s still stubbornly refusing to help out Herr Klein, but Emma turns out to have inherited her father’s calculating side. Going straight to Lady Hamilton, she gives her a very good reason to invite the Austrian back to the kitchen: “Because my father is against it.” So, Mr Klein is back and he has a promotion, after Emma fires Chef for basically being a racist, insubordinate, hate-filled man.
“Clever, using me as leverage with her Ladyship. I wouldn’t have thought of that,” Mr Garland tells her. “You undermined me. As your manager I am not happy at all. But as your father I’m a little impressed. Proud, even.”
The’s also romance in the air, but unlike in other period dramas, it’s the least interesting thing going on. Emma’s kissing Freddie, and she’s got a love-hate thing going on with Joe, and Lady Hamilton is enjoying a flirtation with D’Abberville who redeems himself by quitting his excellency’s service.
But the best moment in this episode? Undoubtedly, Kate throwing the Comte’s money back in his face. You tell him, Kate.
The Halcyon airs on Saturdays on ABC Australia