Oh, we were doing so well. But this final installment nearly brought on an appropriately Victorian attack of apoplexy.
First, the positives. With Tulkinghorn out of the way, a large chunk of tonight's viewing was devoted to Alun Armstrong's simultaneously charming and unsettling Inspector Bucket. I particularly enjoyed Bucket's cheerful habit of interviewing people while Tulkinghorn lay defunct on the floor. (As Mr. Smallweed noted, Tulkinghorn didn't look at all well.) Lady Dedlock suffered nobly and died sadly, Ada Clare gained some (rather out of character) backbone, and Mr. Jarndyce relinquished Esther with considerable elan. Even Lady Jane put in yet another appearance, sitting (with characteristic feline aplomb) on John Jarndyce's last will and testament.
Nevertheless, I spent most of the two hours sputtering incoherently at the screen. To begin with, I had the oddest sensation: I felt like I was watching LoTR: Return of the King. No, not because Gollum chewed off Esther's finger, but because the episode had at least four endings. #1: Hortense is arrested. #2: Lady Dedlock dies. #3: Richard dies. #4: Esther marries Woodcourt (a.k.a. the actual conclusion). The multiple climaxes--some of them probably an artifact of the original episode divisions--both disrupted the narrative's pacing and wrapped up some of the plot elements far too early. Hortense, for example, was dispatched with startling speed (and without, I fear, the doughty Mrs. Bucket's assistance). Even worse, Lady Dedlock's flight was utterly botched; we got the beginning of her deliberate, symbolic de-classing (the abandoned jewels), but not the end (the dress), and very little of Esther's long journey with Inspector Bucket.
Other little, yet significant, details prompted me to further exasperated mutterings. I shook my fist at the screen after Woodcourt responded rather, er, inappropriately to the news that Esther was engaged to Jarndyce. I battered my head against the wall when Esther described Ada's and Richard's lodgings as a "damn poky little place." Language, Esther, language! I winced when Jarndyce was, once again, too obviously jealous of Woodcourt. And I cringed when Ada showed up at Esther's wedding plus child but minus mourning dress. All of these things are insensitive readings of the original text, and quite frustrating to pedants like, well, myself.