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'Nolly' Recap: Episode 2

Daniel Hautzinger
Larry stands behind Nolly and holds her as they both look upwards
Nolly visits her old friend Larry Grayson as she worries about her future. Credit: Quay Street Productions and Masterpiece

Nolly airs Sundays at 8:00 pm on WTTW and streaming. Recap the previous and following episodes.
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Nolly is witty, friendly, and calm as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan sits down across from her for a television interview that will be the first of a prime minister conducted by a woman. She was already considered the “queen of the midlands” back then, in 1958, and she’s still beloved in Birmingham and the surrounding region in 1981.

But that popularity doesn’t save her from being fired from her soap opera, Crossroads. She and the rest of the cast are desperate to know how her character will be killed off as the end of her contract nears. At the end of filming every week, they eagerly tear through the next week’s scripts for hints, but even two weeks before her departure they know nothing.

Nolly’s own questioning of the writers hasn’t revealed anything; they won’t share details since she announced news of her firing to the press. All the head writer Jack Barton will tell her is that he wants the end of Meg to be even bigger than the famously popular Dallas episode revealing the shooter of J.R. Ewing that recently aired in America. All the speculation around Meg’s impending departure has made Crossroads more popular than ever.

There’s all sorts of speculation, including that a newly introduced character with a dark past – his wife and child died in a fire and he changed his name – might murder Meg by burning the motel down. Nolly’s final episode is airing on Bonfire Night, after all. There are rumors that the writers have several possible endings; Jack has been filmed locking the final script in a safe for a news show.

The approaching end has even changed the production of the show: the actress who plays Meg’s daughter, Jill, was called to film on a Sunday for the first time, on location instead of in the studio. The scene showed her crying next to Meg’s coffin in a cemetery – a difficult shot to get, given the media helicopter hovering overhead for news about Crossroads. Meg has drawn up her will, and Jill gets everything.

One of the last scripts finally shows that the writers have included multiple possible deaths for Meg: she falls asleep next to a bottle of pills, and the motel burns down. The new character suspected to be her murderer dies in the fire trying to save her.

Nolly is upset by the prospect of Meg dying in a fire: she knows how cheap previous blazes on Crossroads have looked. But she learns from a make-up artist that the crew has dismantled a set of the motel in the studio, where it has stood for eighteen years, to move it to an airfield, where they will film it burning down. ATV is breaking out the big bucks for this finale, even though Crossroads typically had a shoestring budget.

Nolly’s final script comes to her at home. She cries when she reads it, and then goes by herself to see a comedy show by her old friend Larry Grayson. He made two cameos on Crossroads over the years, as a difficult guest at the motel and as the chauffeur for her wedding. Nolly stops for a drink in his dressing room after his show to tell him that Meg doesn’t die after all: she sails off on the luxurious ship the Queen Elizabeth II to start a new life in America after the motel burns down and everyone thinks her dead. Perhaps her begging to Jack helped after all. 

Larry is happy that Meg will get a suitable sendoff. He himself is leaving his popular game show The Generation Game; it has been beaten in the ratings, so he has decided to retire. The industry is passing them both by as they age.

Once upon a time, Larry accepted a joking marriage proposal from Nolly on This Is Your Life; some people still write to both of them asking when the wedding will take place. But now Larry will settle into his hometown with his sister, while Nolly has no one to retreat to as her career ends. No station will take her; she has asked them all, but she is a middling, middle-aged actress. She doesn’t know what to do.

Nolly’s final day of filming takes place on the actual QE2 – a simultaneously grand and ignominious close, given that it means she has to ride the boat to France in order to be filmed waving goodbye, and it’s too big to turn back. On her very last shot, she is alone, separated from the cast and crew. She knew their birthdays and was beloved by them; she even drove one woman to her wedding in her fancy Rolls Royce.

Realizing that Nolly will be alone, her friend and costar Tony leaves rehearsal for the next week of shows without permission to hop on his sailboat and wave goodbye. Good thing, too; onshore, Jack yells for Nolly to give a more emphatic goodbye as the ship sails away, but Nolly thinks that’s dumb – until she sees Jack on his boat and begins enthusiastically waving with both hands, satisfying Jack.

At home, Nolly makes a sandwich and pours champagne for the airing of her last episode – then decides to go out with Tony instead. She opts to ride the bus with him, astonishing the fans on it. They’re all eager to know what happens to Meg, and why Nolly was fired. Who did it to you? they ask, and Nolly responds to her female interlocutors that men did. All the women nod in understanding.

A male passenger chimes in to share that he doesn’t know who Nolly is, and dismisses the show as a dumb program for women. Nolly lambasts him, to the delight of the women on the bus, who laugh and cheer.

She and Tony get off and decide to have a fancy dinner; Tony will pay this time. Nolly will have to sell the flat she rents to him, as well as her Rolls, but she advises him to just carry on in his role on the show, while warning that it’s ruthless – a truism illustrated by the cutting of the young actress playing Poppy, who learns she’s out when she doesn’t receive a script one day. The cast carries on, per Nolly’s instruction; the actress who plays her daughter even reverently takes Nolly’s chair in the rehearsal room.

Tony asks Nolly what she’ll do next, and she reassures him that she has plans – despite her earlier laments that she was lost and couldn’t see any next steps. Larry helped her find one that night when she visited him at the theater. He brought her onstage and reminded her that theater is where she started – in a long-running production of Brigadoon. It’s where she belongs.

He overcomes her skepticism by recalling her past glories and telling her to show those domineering men and doubters. She’s ready for a new chapter.