Spoilers ahead for All Creatures Great and Small Season 3, Episode 1, “Second Time Lucky.”
It wouldn’t be All Creatures Great and Small without a veterinary emergency, and the Season 3 premiere, “Second Time Lucky,” delivers not one, but two such crises. Just hours before his wedding, James (Nicholas Ralph) commits to testing an entire herd of cattle for tuberculosis, and he’s forced to make a difficult decision when he sees that one cow has an untreatable broken leg. Back at Skeldale House, Siegfried (Samuel West) discovers that a four-legged patient has eaten Helen’s (Rachel Shenton) wedding ring, but despite his best efforts to induce vomiting, the dog refuses to cooperate.
While James’ struggle with the cattle drives the episode and provides some foreshadowing about his season-long arc — “His sense of duty will be the death of him one of these days,” Tristan (Callum Woodhouse) says of him — it’s the dog vomit storyline that’s quintessentially All Creatures. The tidy subplot is emblematic of what the British drama does so well: utilize small moments of comedy as a jumping-off point for a greater examination of the characters’s evolving relationships.
All Creatures plays the ring-eating dog plot for laughs almost immediately, as Tristan, who has been entrusted with the ring box as James’ best man, pretends to have misplaced it during dinner (shockingly, no one finds this funny). Soon it becomes a pawn in Siegfried and Tristan’s feud: Believing Tristan can’t handle the “responsibility” of keeping the ring safe, Siegfried surreptitiously takes it, only to follow his brother’s lead and leave the box lying around the kitchen. Enter Clancy, a nauseous German Shepherd staying in the practice overnight for monitoring. With the humans of the house distracted with wedding preparations, Clancy goes counter-surfing and finds a plate of leftover bacon, eggs, and sausage. He licks it clean, scarfing down the ring box next to the plate for dessert.
When we next see Clancy, he’s whimpering as Siegfried shoots a syringe of mustard down his throat (as Siegfried explains, the linseed oil and salt water weren’t able to “force the issue”). But with so much left to do before the wedding, Siegfried and Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley) can’t wait around for Clancy to vomit, so he rides along in the back seat, Turner & Hooch style, as they drive up into the Dales to fetch James. The shot of Clancy sitting between a frazzled Siegfried and Mrs. Hall is a visual delight, but the moment is made even better by Mrs. Hall’s clear disapproval. “You really are the most ridiculous creature,” she says, as Siegfried asks whether she’s referring to him or the dog. He receives only a sidelong glance in response.
Because Clancy’s well-being is never seriously at risk, the situation affords Mrs. Hall an opportunity to impart a lesson to the men of Skeldale House, one of the show’s favorite themes. Over the past two seasons, she’s offered quiet admonishments as Siegfried and Tristan have bickered about everything under the sun, but in “Second Time Lucky,” she explicitly points out the cost of their brotherly squabbles. “Sticking your beak in it created this mess,” she tells Siegfried, explaining that the ring is missing because he refused to trust Tristan. Mrs. Hall’s forthrightness marks a shift in her relationship with Siegfried, which transforms in surprising ways over the course of Season 3.
Meanwhile, the dog vomit subplot is like a gift that keeps on giving. Clancy does eventually retch in the car, earning a round of cheers from Siegfried (West’s “Well done! That’s absolutely perfect timing!” might be the best line read of the episode). At the church, he tosses the partially-digested ring box to Tristan, but when he opens it, it’s empty. As Tristan panics and Siegfried prepares to throw his brother under the bus, James reveals he pocketed the ring the night before — only to realize he’s left it in his other jacket.
Here, All Creatures Great and Small comes armed with another lesson. Remembering an earlier conversation with Mrs. Hall, in which she says she and her husband “tied a knot in a length of twine” because they didn’t have time to buy a ring, Siegfried hands James a makeshift ring of his own. Helen’s reaction — “Absolutely perfect,” she says — serves as a reminder of what really matters on this monumental day. It’s not James’ post-cattle examination stench, or his mismatched shoes, or the improvised wedding band that are important, but that these people are together, celebrating the love between James and Helen, and their affection for one another. All Creatures’ unwavering belief in the power of positivity and community is its greatest strength, and it’s what keeps viewers coming back for more, week after week. And to think, we have a German Shepherd with digestive issues to thank for this happy ending.
All Creatures Great and Small airs Sundays at 9:00 PM ET on PBS. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.
TOPICS: All Creatures Great and Small, PBS, Anna Madeley, Callum Woodhouse, Nicholas Ralph, Rachel Shenton, Samuel West