But the finale takes a while to get going. Back in the war effort, Tietjens isn't much liked, and after more actions (mostly by his wife) that bring dishonor to his name, he is sent back to the trenches. Sylvia always remains a spectre, forever stirring the pot, determined to make him hurt, yet protective of him all at the same time. It's been said before and should be said again, Hall really smashes this performance, turning the character into one who is certainly easy to despise, but whose psychology is plain to see. You don't quite empathize, but you do understand where she's coming from, and it's important when Sylvia so could easily be a one note bitch. And just like everything else in Tietjens life thus far, just when he's on the cusp of finally reconciling with Sylvia at a hotel near the army camp, and invoke his long-awaited marital duties, they are interrupted by a knock at the door from a senior officer, separately wiled by his Sylvia's charms and promises.
Injured again, he finally returns to London, but not directly to Sylvia. He takes to his flat opposite Valentine, that's now completely empty. But finally returning to the family estate at Groby, he bears witness to Sylvia's trump card: she has ordered the 200 year old cedar tree cut down. It's absolutely wrenching, a horrifying act that doesn't just sting Tietjens, but everyone in the area (including an officer on the battlefield, in a beautiful moment shared over tea in the trenches) who united around its comfort and history. Again, Tietjens is nearly unflappable, but the straw has finally broken over his back. Saving a few logs from the felled tree, he brings them home, and they add to some rather beautiful symbolism later on. If the parade ends, then both Tietjens and his brother Mark honor the occasion by letting go of the past and Groby, burning what remains of the tree in their respective fireplaces at key moments.
Meanwhile, Wannop has a sexual awakening just in time for Tietjens' return. The blue balls they likely both feel as this point is nearing the breaking point, and among her students' belongings, she finds a sex advice book for married couples. As she notes with the other teachers at the school, sexual education for young women is simply not available, and since many of her students will soon graduate and become married themselves, don't they want them to be prepared? As viewers will remember, Wannop herself was shocked to learn that one can have sex without getting pregnant, so this noble argument for her students is for her own edification as well. It's all a little contrived, considering that Tietjens and Wannop finally consummate their passion (and a little corny when the passage read aloud from the book by the giggling school girls about a kiss on the bosom is physically mirrored during the brief sex scene), but we reckon time was running out.
But perhaps that's not a bad thing, to be left wanting more. "Parade's End" is wonderful accomplishment, smart, adult television that is truly a drama that doesn't need to be beefed up or spoon-fed, and does leave the lingering question as to whether or not Tietjens was simply a fool. Clinging to acting like a gentleman and struggling to keep up appearances to leave one failed marriage for another relationship that has the odds stacked against it, he may be just as responsible for dooming his own parade. But love is a mercenary sport, and as Tietjens has shown, he's not easy to beat at any game. [B+]