*Warning: contains major spoilers for The Luminaries episode six*
Eleanor Catton’s sprawling murder mystery, The Luminaries, broke records as the longest novel to ever win the Man Booker (it’s over 800 pages) – so you’d be forgiven for being a little confused by all the intricate, interweaving storylines in the book’s BBC adaptation.
The TV series focuses on Anna Wetherell, a sex worker who is accused of murdering Crosbie Wells, the husband of Anna’s former employer, brothel madam Lydia Wells.
Anna is also accused of potentially murdering Emery Staines, a prospector who has been missing since Crosbie was killed.
Staines, whom Anna met on the boat to New Zealand, is also Anna’s “astral twin”, and throughout the series we see that the pair have an intense, supernatural connection, experiencing pain and physical injuries whenever the other does. Although separated at the beginning of the series due to Lydia’s schemes, they eventually reconnect and become lovers.
However, since Emery is missing, Anna now has no alibi or plausible explanation against the charges that have been brought against her – and at the beginning of episode six, it seems likely that she’ll hang for murder.
What happened in The Luminaries episode six?
The Luminaries (BBC)
In The Luminaries episode six, Anna wakes up in her cell to discover that there’s a bundle of letters, addressed to political Alistair Lauderback and written by Crosbie Wells – Lauderback’s bastard half-brother, who had travelled to New Zealand mistakenly believing Alistair to be Lauderback senior, their father.
The letters had been uncovered by Scottish newcomer Walter Moody, Anna’s eventual lawyer (in the book, Moody is a main protagonist).
In his letters, Crosbie wrote that he had been betrayed and robbed, and that it was only through the help of Anna that he was alive, and now holed up in a lakeside cabin.
Things began to fall into place: Lydia Wells’ lover Frank Carver had impersonated Crosbie Wells, blackmailing Alistair by using both the knowledge of the letters, and Alistair’s affair with Lydia, to obtain the ship called the Godspeed, which he intended to use for smuggling Crosbie’s hard-won gold.
Lydia Wells stitched the gold into dress seams, but when the ship ran aground, the dresses were bought on the cheap by Anna’s pimp, for her to wear.
The Luminaries (BBC)
In the courtroom, Anna used the letters against Lydia, pointing out to the judge that it seemed suspicious that Crosbie would write as though he’d never met his half-brother, Alistair, when only shortly before ‘he’ had purchased an expensive ship – the Godspeed – from him. Someone (Frank) had clearly impersonated Crosbie.
As Frank Carver’s past misdeeds began to return with a vengeance to haunt him, Emery Staines finally returned – he had been found by Maori greenstone hunter Te Rau Tauwhare, who had befriended Crosbie and (in the TV show) Staines.
Emery Staines testified in court, including an untrue claim that he had been involved in Frank Carver and Lydia Wells’ scheme to rob Crosbie and smuggle the gold away on the Godspeed, before reburying it and pretending to dig it up legitimately .
He lied (to save Anna) by using as evidence the real Aurora land claim that Carver has coerced him into taking out, in order to convince the judge of his collaboration in the scheme.
He also lied by stating that it had been him that had stolen Anna’s purse (in reality, it had been Lydia Wells, who later tried to use it to incriminate Anna).
His testimony helped clear Anna’s name – as did Frank Carver’s real admission of guilt – and she was acquitted, while Emery himself was sentenced to nine months of hard labour for his ‘part’ in the scheme.
Lydia Wells was left bereft following Frank’s death, but Anna gave her some words of comfort and a gift of the remaining gold – Anna decided to pan for gold herself instead, as she waited for Emery to return from prison.
Who killed Crosbie Wells, and was Anna Wetherell guilty?
The Luminaries (BBC)
Anna Wetherell didn’t kill Crosbie Wells – quite the reverse. She prolonged his life by warning him of a plot against him.
It was Frank Carver who killed Crosbie Wells by drugging him with laudanum. It was also Frank who impersonated Crosbie Wells in dealings with Wells’ half-brother, the politician Alistair Lauderback, after Lydia Wells uncovered letters revealing the familial connection.
At the end of the episode, Frank Carver was killed by Te Rau Tauwhare, who had become a close friend and “brother” of Crosbie Wells – and was hellbent on avenging his death.
Lydia Wells was also embroiled in the plot, but at the trial, Frank managed to convince the judge that he had acted alone.
You can now watch The Luminaries as a boxset on BBC iPlayer. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide.