Will S01E09: Play the Devil

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writer: David Rambo
Starring: Laurie Davidson, Olivia DeJonge, Ewen Bremner, Mattias Inwood, Jamie Campbell Bower, William Houston, Lukas Rolfe, Colm Meaney

A review by Samantha Pearson

Will S01E09, Play the Devil, picks up immediately after Your Houses. Director Jonathan Teplitzky maintains the dark, moody atmosphere of S01E08, beginning with Richard Burbage’s release from the plague house. Nine Inch Nails’ “The Day the World Went Away” serves as the soundtrack as he leaves the house, strips off his clothes in the public square for burning, and otherwise falls deep into his grief.

Play the Devil focuses primarily on the Burbage siblings. We see Richard grieving for the loss of his best friend and Alice acting as an emissary for Father Southwell. Meanwhile, Will finishes Richard III (which he apparently didn’t write in the pilot, despite several of its most famous lines appearing in the episode) and Kit Marlowe realizes that faith has to come from within.

S01E09 is by far the darkest episode of Will thus far. It’s also the first episode of the season to end on a genuine cliffhanger. The characters in this series have played fast and loose with death since it began, but in Play the Devil, their luck starts to run out.

After Richard emerges from the plague house looking like a ghost, he cloaks himself in his grief — literally. He spends his time in the theater, but won’t actually act, despite Will writing the role of Richard III exclusively for him. It takes almost the entire episode for him to finally agree to play the part. When he does, there’s an overwhelming sense of relief from the entire playhouse. This reverence is a far cry from the mockery Richard suffered in early episodes, when his sister Alice called him the worst actor in the company.

Richard grows rapidly as a character in Your Houses and Play the Devil. All season long, he’s been concerned with looking pretty on stage and getting under the skirts of as many women as he can. All the while, he’s ignored his growing feelings for Moll and refused parts that would make him look unmanly (like Oberon, though he eventually agreed).

After Autolycus dies, that changes. Though all of the players feel this loss, Richard feels it most heavily. Mattias Inwood plays this growth beautifully. I was blown away by his performance in Play the Devil. I hope that Will is picked up for a second season so I can continue to watch Inwood play this character, which isn’t something I thought when the series began.

As Richard works through his grief, Alice slowly begins to reconcile with Will. However, even after he apologizes for the horrible things he said, she refuses to turn her back on her newfound faith. As an emissary for Father Southwell, Alice is responsible for getting his manuscript to Queen Elizabeth. It’s a dangerous role, and one she surely wouldn’t have taken on when the season began. Alice’s purpose in Will has changed rapidly. When her romance with Will goes south, she falls in line with the cousin he cut ties with to keep her, her family, and their theater safe. It’s a bizarre, but effective means of retribution.

Unfortunately, it also puts Alice in serious danger. Both she and Kit Marlowe spend their time with Father Southwell in Play the Devil. Marlowe, desperate to find God now that the Devil has let him down, stays with Southwell to learn about faith. But as he puts it, “It’s all just fabulous shit. Heaven, God, salvation, none of it is real.”

Meanwhile, Alice asks to be baptized. The event quickly turns from a spiritual celebration to a deathly mess. One of Southwell’s followers turns him into Topcliffe in exchange for the life of his son. Therefore, Topcliffe and his men raid Southwell’s latest hiding place. In the mad rush for the tunnel beneath the house, Southwell’s manuscript is left behind. Alice returns to grab it, but doesn’t know the location of the trapdoor in the basement. Topcliffe catches up to her, takes the manuscript, and puts her in chains.

Play the Devil begins with Richard having survived a plague house and ends with his sister Alice in a literal cage. Marlowe’s involvement in this episode is particularly interesting; he’s wholly unselfish in his attempts to save Alice from Southwell’s influence, and he’s the only one who tries to do anything for her once she’s in Topcliffe’s clutches. 

S01E09 of Will changes our perceptions of several of its characters. We already know that Topcliffe is evil, so Will writing a play to expose him makes sense. However, the series has also taught us that Marlowe’s madness makes him untrustworthy; that he’s utterly selfish, desirous only of whatever might bring him inspiration for a play. That includes sacrifice. But it’s Southwell who’s truly willing to let anyone else die in his place, even Alice, whom he claims is in more danger from Will’s “corrupt love” than from Southwell and the Catholic faith.

This episode begins with a variation on the Richard III quote, “And thus I clothe my naked villany / With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ, / And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.” Its meaning isn’t obvious until the end, at which point a horrible cliffhanger leaves us on the edge of our seats.

Watch it.
Mattias Inwood is a revelation and the incorporation of individual plot lines into one overall arc is done exceptionally well in Play the Devil. It’ll make you want to dive right into the next one (the season finale! Already!). In my opinion, that’s always the mark of a very good episode of TV.

Samantha Puc
Samantha Puc is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager residing in southern New England with her partner and three cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. She also loves vegan food. Her work has appeared on Rogues Portal, SheKnows, Femsplain, The Tempest, and elsewhere. For more, follow her on Twitter!

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