REVIEW: Will S1, Ep2, “Cowards Die Many Times”

I spent a full week mulling over my opinions of the first episode of Will and not thinking much about the second. Both aired last Monday as a two episode series premiere, but only episode one was released for free on iTunes, which made repeated viewings much easier for me and my horrifically spotty internet connection.

After finally taking the time to rewatch episode 2 one thing stood out to me more than any other. The quote from which episode two takes its title, “Cowards die many times before their deaths, The valiant never taste of death but once,” (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) hints at what I’d assume the writers wanted the theme of the episode to be: bravery versus cowardice and the consequences of our decisions. Unfortunately, my viewing of the episode was a bit different.

I was raised Catholic. And not just going-to-church-on-Christmas-and-Easter Catholic (aka C&E Catholic). I went every Sunday and holy day. I wore an ugly plaid jumper to my Catholic school. Some of my classes were taught by nuns.

So why the personal tangent? I need to establish credibility and prove that I really know what I’m talking about.

One thing that Will has made abundantly clear from the very beginning of episode one is that Will’s Catholic faith is going to cause him a lot of trouble in Protestant London.

In episode two, the writers easily establish that Will is definitely Catholic. Because he experiences a whole ton of Catholic Guilt.

Catholic Guilt is the unique phenomena wherein literally every Catholic ever feels incredibly guilty for literally everything. Sometimes it’s something major that was your fault, and you appropriately feel guilty. Sometimes, it’s something entirely out of your control that no one blames you for – but the Catholic Guilt will still rear its ugly head.

In episode two, Will learns that Marlowe framed Baxter (Tadhg Murphy) as the Catholic playwright with the cut hand. Immediately, I recognized the gleam of Catholic Guilt in his eyes. Will nearly offers himself up, but Marlowe convinces him that Baxter will be freed.

The Catholic Guilt abates for only minutes, as the next day Baxter’s corpse is delivered to the theatre. Will’s Catholic Guilt returns with a vengeance, amplified by Alice Burbage, who knows his secret. He tries collecting money for Baxter’s widow and children to assuage his guilt. It’s a temporary solution, and I’m sure the Catholic Guilt (and reasons for Baxter’s wrongful death) will return later.

While all this is going on, Will is also facing a conflict about his plays. They are Serious Plays. But Kemp (William Houston) is a comic actor – and a crowd-pleaser. After Will confronts Kemp about playing his characters more seriously, Kemp is then lured away by another company.

After one performance without him, it becomes obvious that they need Kemp. So Will’s Catholic Guilt comes back and he pleads his case to Kemp: he will write Kemp a character that will not only make the audience laugh, he will make them cry. He throws in some familiar lines, and by the end of his appeal he’s attracted a crowd who applauds him.

All in all, I liked episode two of Will much more than episode one. Maybe it was because I was able to separate my knowledge of the historical Shakespeare from the fictional-ish Will. Maybe it was because I recognized something of myself (Catholic Guilt) in Will. Maybe it’s just because the drama is seriously picking up.

I’m still bothered by the Will/Alice stuff (note that I didn’t even mention them until now because I’m so bothered), and I still definitely want to see more Marlowe. For now, he seems to be the man behind the scenes, and I just want more everything about him. I’m also definitely looking forward to seeing more of Will’s plays develop. What are you looking forward to seeing in Will? Is anyone else as bothered by Will and Alice as I am?

Will airs Mondays at 9/8 central on TNT.

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