**Starting on June 25, Disney Plus began airing the first season of The Mysterious Benedict Society, based on Trenton Lee Stewart’s book series. This column recaps and analyzes each episode. This article contains spoilers for the seventh episode of The Mysterious Benedict Society (and the corresponding novel).**
Episode seven of The Mysterious Benedict Society picked up right where it left off: with action (courtesy of action-centric “trapeze goddess” Kate Wetherall). Frustrated by the paralyzed tension among the other kids, she purposes to break into Curtain’s underground facility and disrupt his computers all on her own. However, she is nearly caught, barely escaping with her life. But no one on the island thinks she’s guilty: suspicion is split between Reynie, who Curtain doesn’t trust, and Martina Crowe, whose key card Kate had forged. In the fallout from the search, by the episode’s end, both Martina and S. Q. have realized that their “friends” (our heroes) betrayed them, as I believed they would. The adults have decided to try to get to the island, while in the end, the four members of the Society wind up back together with renewed purpose, intent on stopping the Improvement.
One ought not act unless action is preceded by reflection, by consideration of all the options. And that action, once decided, should be accomplished in fellowship, in society, among peers or friends.It is appropriate that the seventh episode begins with Kate moving; even its title, “The Dance of the Celestial Orb,” connotes movement. Variants of the word “Go” can be heard over and over again, probably close to a dozen times in the hour. What ought we to make of all this going? The answer isn’t simplistic; at times, the writers seem to commend the emphasis on going, while on other occasions, it appears they are critical. “Going,” it seems, isn’t intrinsically good or bad: rather, it depends on how you are going. . . and whom you are going with.
Our villain, Curtain, is a man of action. From the beginning, he has been pushing the timetable of his carefully orchestrated plan. While he presents a superficial veneer of paternal patience, we see that patience running thin as his plot gets threatened. In past episodes, he sought to accelerate his Improvement mostly through slick interpersonal doubletalk. In this week’s episode, he is terser, more direct, often shouting, “Go!” at his employees.
In the end, this emphasis on constant forward movement is consistent with the character as the series has presented him. From his days as a child at the orphanage, he has always wanted to go, in contrast with his bookish brother Nicholas, who seeks out reflection in solitude among books. (Curtain’s own books, one realizes with close attention, are painted on the wall of his room.) Curtain himself admits, “I’m committed to looking forward. It’s the cornerstone of my technology for living. I actually think reflection can be a crutch, an indulgence, a limiter.”
It may be worth taking apart this last line just to see how deviously wrong Curtain actually is—and what the consequences of his folly might be. Seeing “reflection” as a “crutch” suggests that it is unnecessary, that our best accomplishments can just easily be attained without it. Regarding reflection as an “indulgence” paints it as something not only unnecessary but actively luxurious: only people without important things to do can afford to waste time thinking. To call reflection a “limiter” indicates Curtain’s belief that reflection restricts great achievements, curtailing progress that could be possible without it.
Of course, this is hardly surprising; Curtain wants to create a world that is effectively free from any reflection. His test of the Whisperer’s ability in the previous episode demonstrated that he could compel people to go out an act foolishly without any conscious thought. In the device’s dry run, that only meant a sudden surge of bad fashion, but as Benedict points out, the long-term implications are far more dangerous. Curtain has spent his whole life unthinkingly careening from one innovation to the next; the Whisperer allows him to impose that force of unreflective will on others.
Nor is Curtain the only character trapped by “going” in the episode. As noted, the opening frames show us Kate on the go, prowling through the corridors of Curtain’s hidden lab in her solo attempt to derail his plans. This attempt ends in abject failure. Kate is detected by Jackson and Jillson before she can ever get to the server room. She barely escapes getting caught or killed, almost loses her precious bucket, and inadvertently frames Martina Crowe in the process. In the end, Kate realizes that her decision was wrong, concluding, “After further review, it might not have been the best idea for me to try to go at it alone.”
The wording here is, I think, significant. “After further review” suggests reflection, a reflection she impetuously spurned when embarking on the mission in the first place. Once again, we see the word “go.” Note that she has not concluded that going was wrong per se. Indeed, its value is foregrounded in Kate’s conversation with Milligan; he has saved her life, but in the process, she has apparently lost her precious bucket, the emblem of her individualism:
Milligan: Let it go, Kate.
Kate: No. No. What am I going to do?
Milligan: The only thing you can. . . keep going.
Clearly, Milligan’s counsel here is meant to be wise. Kate ought to “keep going.” But she must keep going by letting go of her stubborn self-reliance: she must not “try to go at it alone.”
This, then, establishes the conditions under which action is appropriate in the world of The Mysterious Benedict Society. For Curtain, progression, “going,” is the whole point, and because of his ego coupled with his childhood trauma, that movement is always solitary. For Benedict and his disciples, the impetus is different. One ought not act unless action is preceded by reflection, by consideration of all the options. And that action, once decided, should be accomplished in fellowship, in society, among peers or friends.
Such a process is what we see in the adults. Before the series has started, Mr. Benedict has agonized over whether to send the kids to the institute. Having done so, he allows himself to be persuaded otherwise by Miss Perumal. The show’s depiction of Benedict here borders on wishy-washy; unlike his literary counterpart in Stewart’s novels, Tony Hale’s Mr. Benedict often doesn’t seem like a humble yet confident leader and often needs to be reined in by his compatriots. Still, his willingness to keep an open mind is ultimately a welcome contrast to his decisive yet rash and shallow brother.
It is therefore appropriate that by the end of the episode, Mr. Benedict is resolved. He will lead a mission to the island to join the children and try to stop Curtain’s plans. Doing so requires quickly assembling transportation, which he, Rhonda, and Number Two accomplish. Having reflected on their options, they finally decide, and they act together.
The same holds true for the children. They’ve spent several episodes squabbling, pulling apart; but their differences were in part the very reasons Mr. Benedict selected them. Having debated and argued, they finally decide to stay on the island and to act, continuing the mission they began. In one sense, they are staying put, as they will resist the temptation to flee the island, to “go.” In agreeing to work with her friends against Curtain, Kate says, “I’m not going anywhere.” Yet their staying isn’t passivity or inaction. It is a carefully considered movement toward a definite and important goal.
According to the commonplace cliché, “The only constant is change,” a line which is frequently leveraged to justify any number of terrible developments, assuming change as at least an inevitability, perhaps even a virtue. That throttling, technologically-oriented forward movement is a key characteristic of Curtain. It is the kind of facile and unstable approach to metaphysics and society that C. S. Lewis warned about in The Abolition of Man, a book of reflections on education. Curtain’s L.I.V.E. exemplifies all the worst traits of educational philosophy that Lewis observed; but under the tutelage of Mr. Benedict and their own cultivation of virtue, our four protagonists are situated to resist the onslaught, to reflect rather than acting rashly, to “keep going” by staying put—together.