Tom Jones airs Sundays at 8:00 pm and is available to stream; WTTW Passport members can stream the whole series. Recap the following episode.
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Once upon a time in the idyllic countryside of merrie England, a boy came to Paradise—Paradise Hall, that is, the estate of the magistrate Allworthy, who is indeed worthy of praise: his servants love him, he is upright—and he’s rich. The boy came from nowhere: the widowed Allworthy simply found him in his bed one night after returning from a trip.
Well, not quite nowhere—that’s impossible. Allworthy’s servant Miss Wilkins quickly ascertains that the boy in fact came from Jenny Jones, the bookish housemaid to the local schoolteacher. Jenny doesn’t give Allworthy anything under questioning about the boy’s father, except a name for the boy: Tom Jones.
Allworthy decides to raise Tom as his own—and soon Paradise Hall has another boy as well. Allworthy’s sister Bridget gets married to the obnoxious Captain Blifil, who strongly objects to Allworthy’s choice to keep Tom. But Blifil is only around long enough to produce an heir to the Allworthy fortune, William, and secure a guarantee from Allworthy that Tom won’t inherit the estate, before dying out of the narrative.
His son lasts much longer in this story, as a supercilious antagonist to Tom. Tom would rather spend time with lower class people like Black George, who teaches him to shoot. The association almost gets Tom into trouble, when he runs to fetch a pheasant downed by Black George and strays onto the land of Squire Western. There, he meets Sophia, a girl his age, and is startled by the Squire himself, who promises to punish Tom for poaching—jokingly, as he recounts, guffawing, years later, when Tom is around twenty years old.
But in recounting the story he gives Tom’s cousin William a chance to blame Black George for the poaching, thus leading Western to demand that Allworthy arrest and sentence Black George. He could be hanged or shipped overseas, leaving his large family to fend for themselves.
Tom tries to appeal to Allworthy but can’t sway him from the law, so he goes to warn Black George. He is distracted by George’s daughter Molly, who immediately pulls him into bed.
Wait, what about that meet-cute years ago with Sophia? Who is she, anyway?
She’s a girl from the other side of the world: her mother was a Caribbean slave who died in childbirth, while her father was a slave owner who died of illness when she was young and granted Sophia freedom in his will. She was thus sent to England and her aunt, to live with her grandfather, Squire Western. He immediately adored her, seeing his late son in her.
And so the two outcast, parentless children, Tom and Sophia, came to live in the same charmed corner of England. But Sophia was sent off to learn to be a lady from her unpleasant aunt in Bath. Her absence allowed Tom to be distracted and fall into bed with Molly. But now Sophia has returned to her grandfather and a seemingly destined romance with Tom, with her city-loving maid Honour in tow.
Unlike Honour, Sophia loves the countryside—except the hunting. She “can’t see the point in chasing things that don’t want to be caught.” She’ll soon change her tune: upon becoming reacquainted with the errant Tom, she is immediately lovestruck.
But first, he has to disentangle himself from Molly, and he’s not ready to do that. In fact, he’s ready to devote himself completely to her, given that she has gotten pregnant. She is marched before the magistrate Allworthy, but Tom interrupts before she is condemned. His adoptive father is disappointed in him, and makes him promise not to see Molly again. Allworthy will support the child financially. William later inveighs against Tom to his uncle, who has begun to doubt Tom.
Tom, chastened, tells Molly that he can’t see her anymore, and this time resists her charms, such as they are. All he has is the love of his adoptive father; he can’t lose it.
He at least was able to help Molly’s father by asking Sophia to appeal to her grandfather, who grants Black George a job as gamekeeper instead of punishing him under the law. Black George immediately gets to supervise a hunt. Sophia’s horse bucks during it, and Tom catches her as she falls, spraining his arm in the process. She convinces her grandfather to let him stay overnight and recover.
Honour warns Sophia against falling in love with Tom, seeing as he has already stained another girl’s honor, according to gossip. But Sophia dismisses it.
In fact, you might say Tom’s honor was taken by Molly. When he goes to speak to her and promise to provide for her and her child, he discovers a naked Thwackum, his tutor, in her room. Thwackum and Molly’s mother both tell Tom that Molly has many lovers; the baby is not Tom’s. Molly was Tom’s first love, but he wasn’t hers. He tells her he’ll always think of her with affection, and she tells him to go away—and advises him to try to keep his britches on.
Tom is now free for Sophia, who gazes at him lovingly from behind a wall before accidentally dropping her basket of apples—and a handkerchief. Tom picks it up, and after some back and forth she lets him keep it, her heart aflutter.
Meanwhile, William complains to his mother about seeing Tom on the Western property; she defends Tom and tells William he has nothing to envy, given Tom’s lack of parents.
Indeed, it seems that Tom might soon have William to envy. Aunt Western arrives from Bath and is horrified to see Sophia playing cricket with Tom and Squire Western. She wants Sophia married as soon as possible, and William is a wonderful—wealthy—candidate.
Sophia finds William ghastly, but Squires Western and Allworthy approve of the match, even if Allworthy and Bridget are a bit skeptical of a transactional marriage that doesn’t involve love. Squire Western, despite his adoration of Sophia, has no such objection.
Yet another obstacle is thrown into the way of the love between the boy from nowhere and the girl from the other side of the world.