In the first of this season (series?) ending double-bill, we start with the morning after Hugh’s less-than-pleasant behaviour at his own kind-of-surprise birthday party. He wakes up, of course, at Penny’s, and is promptly – and physically – thrown out by Jarrod. I don’t much care for Jarrod. (Although he has a bit of a point: maybe not at this precise moment, but in general.) Betty provides another bed for Hugh, and then explains the facts of life to him: if he keeps behaving like this, ultimately no-one will want to have anything to do with him, and perhaps he could start by seeking forgiveness from everyone. As ever in her quieter scenes, Belinda Bromilow nails it. Gosh, she’s good.
At least Penny, Hugh, and Jarrod don’t need to worry about The Pretty Titty, which is casting a huge, bosom-shaped shadow across Whyhope and its residents. Meryl is getting the blame for allowing it to be opened, and eventually collapses under the stress. Rod offers Hayley a job as manager, which she takes without telling Ajax, on the basis that they need the money and Ajax is kind of an idiot, who has already issued an ultimatum regarding Hayley’s hobby. “It’s me or the pole!” he declaims. Given that choice, I for one would be hanging upside down trying to execute a Half Flag Invert. But given that Hayley’s management MO involves regular prayer meetings, and an insistence that there will be no “disrespectful and objectifying behaviour” – I mean, I don’t disagree in principle, but then I’m not running a titty bar – the crowds start to migrate to Charlie and Matt’s bar, where they’ve hired “himpies”, including Hugh and Ken, to cavort for the benefit of the patrons. Ajax, however, is long gone.
Penny, meantime, spends most of this and the next episode wanting Hugh to tell her again that he loves her, preferably this time sober. We’ll get to that in due course. At the end of this episode, though, she’s out late, driving, and demanding to know if Hugh meant it, which is what I had in mind when saying that Jarrod has a point. Hugh can’t get to clarify his position, because at that precise moment Penny is involved in a car crash.
And so to the season finale: I wondered whether it was going to be suggested that Penny was distracted and caused the crash, but apart from a throwaway reference to the driver of the other car maybe having fallen asleep at the wheel the cause remains unexplored. Nor are the physical consequences terrible: Penny has a cracked rib or two but is essentially fine (there’s a scene in which she’s being examined by one Dr Hugh Knight, about which the less said the better, I think), and the occupants of the other car all live as well.
Jarrod, however, has really had enough of waiting for Penny to get over Hugh: he’s been offered a job in Broome (which, according to my highly uncertain knowledge of Australian geography, is about as far away from Whyhope’s nominal location as it’s possible to get); he’s going to take it; and he wants Penny to come with him, which she agrees to do. Hugh’s response to this is to immediately sign a three-year contract to take over as hospital administratior, for which he rightly gets accused of being manipulative. And I’ve said this before, but one of this show’s strengths is its reluctance to give Hugh a pass on his behaviour. He’s much more than a loveable bad boy, and in particular he has quite a cruel streak; he knows what Penny wants to hear, and he’s going to make her – and us – wait for it.
We get there in the end, though: yes, he was drunk; yes, he loves Penny. But what about her? How does she feel? “I love you!” she blurts out, somewhat stunned that he would even wonder about that. It’s all moot, though, because she flies off to go and join Jarrod. I half-expected her to be standing on the runway after the plane took off, but no. She’s gone.
In fact, the final few scenes had the feeling of a farewell: as well as Penny heading for Broome and Jarrod, Matt and Charlie are off travelling; the Pretty Titty burns down; Ajax goes to college; and Hugh sits, alone, at the boss’s desk in the hospital. I’m ride-or-die for the Hugh/Penny ship, but would it ever work out between them? (YEAH it would.)
Given the contortions involved in funding this season, I wonder whether this is the last we’re going to see of the Whyhope crew. In which case the show at least checked out while it was in a good place. Even though creator and original writer Tony McNamara (who is also Mr Belinda Bromilow) has moved onto bigger and better things – specifically, co-writing the screenplay for The Favourite, for which he won a BAFTA and was nominated for an Oscar – I thought this might have been the best season since the first.