Gemma Arterton in Black Narcissist

Black Narcissus episode 1 recap: what is happening to Sister Ruth?

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Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode one of BBC One’s Black Narcissus, so do not read on unless you are fully up to date with the gothic horror series.

The first must-watch installment of BBC One’s Black Narcissus has left viewers with a lot of questions. A lot of questions.

In the episode, we watched as Sister Clodagh (Gemma Arterton) and the sisters of St Faith start a school at the mysterious palace of Mopu in the Himalayas, helped by the ever so distracting Mr Dean (Alessandro Nivola). 

It is not long, though, before isolation and illness begin to take their toll. And the haunting atmosphere of the palace hasn’t just given viewers cause to suspect there are ghosts and ghouls afoot; it’s made them wonder about the volatile Sister Ruth (Game Of Thrones’ Aisling Franciosi), too.

Throw in Sister Clodagh’s surprising past, and the mysterious disappearance of the Brothers of St Peter, and we have reason to suspect this breathtakingly beautiful horror will take more than a few twists and turns before the big finale.

So, has the first episode of Black Narcissus left you with more questions than answers? Don’t worry: Stylist’s digital editor-at-large Kayleigh Dray is here to do her utmost best to unravel them all.

First things first, what is the deal with Sister Ruth? 

From the very get-go, Sister Ruth is set up as Sister Clodagh’s nemesis: indeed, the latter expresses reservations about the former joining the mission at all.

“She seems to wish so much to be important,” she tells Mother Dorothea (Diana Rigg). 

“Then you have a great deal in common,” the older woman notes wryly.

While Clodagh and Ruth do seem to have some things in common, though, they differ in many other ways. The latter, as quickly becomes apparent, is racist and naturally disposed to discriminate against the local people of Mopu. 

She is, too, far more impatient than Clodagh, and less sure of her place within the sisterhood. In fact, she seems to be seeking an almost maternal, mentor-mentee relationship with Clodagh – not usurp her, as Arterton’s character seems to suspect.

Most notable of all, though? Well, obviously that she’s being plagued by headaches and seeming hallucinations, which are beginning to toy with her mind. 

Is she suffering from altitude sickness? Emotionally unwell? Or (gulp) possessed by an evil spirit?

Well, without giving away too many spoilers, those who have seen the original film will know that Sister Ruth quickly proves to become the story’s most terrifying character – not least of all because of her “demonically lustful” urges.

Speaking about her character with the Radio Times, Franciosi says: “I found Sister Ruth… a really interesting character because in the world of this religious order you are asked to strip yourself of all identity… and the psychological effects that it would certainly have on me and I could see having on Ruth, that was something I found really interesting.

“As with any role, an actor always has choices to make, interpretations they can explore, and [in Sister Ruth] I really found there was quite a vulnerable and fragile young woman who was grappling with this world I feel she had been thrust into.

“I kind of found the story that was laid out in Amanda [Coe]’s scripts and having read the novel, that there was another interpretation to be explored of Sister Ruth, so I thought I would take the opportunity.”

Why did the Brothers of St Peter leave Mopu?

Early on in the episode, we learn that a group of monks abruptly abandoned their own St. Saviour’s School at Mopu.

“Why did the German brothers leave the palace?” asks a perturbed Mother Dorothea. 

“I was unable to discover the reason,” admits Father Roberts (Jim Broadbent).

Nobody seems to know why the Brothers of St Peter left Mopu – and those who do are utterly unwilling to talk about it.

Will the Sisters of St Faith wind up making the same mistakes as their predecessors?

What happened to Sister Clodagh’s mystery man?

In a series of apparent flashbacks, we see Clodagh in a happy relationship with a mystery man. 

What happened to him? And what was it that drove Clodagh to a new life within the Sisterhood? 

“I think the real Clodagh is someone who is very wild, free and physical, and she shuts all those impulses down when she goes into the Order,” Arterton tells The Express of her character.

“Her whole body becomes as stiff as a board,” she added, before going on to explain the pain she felt when embodying her character.

“I found myself getting shoulder and neckache playing her as I was so stiff! You want to give her a massage and tell her to loosen up.”

What is Clodagh’s relationship with Mr Dean?

She seems to loathe the man on sight, yet there’s obviously chemistry between the two of them… and she clearly finds him attractive.

“Emotionally, she has it all going on inside her but she doesn’t allow anyone to see it,” says Arterton.

Will she wind up breaking her vows before the series is over?

What happened to the General’s sister?

As we saw at the beginning of the episode, something terrible happened to Srimati Rai (Gianni Gonsalves), although it remains unclear what.

Does her spirit truly walk the palace halls? And, if so, why has she targeted Sister Ruth?

And what does Angu Ayah mean when she says it has started?

We know already that Angu Ayah (Nila Aalia) has a tragic connection to the so-called House of Women. But what does she mean when she says, “It has started” come the final moments of episode one?

Clearly, she has seen Mopu’s strange energies wreak havoc on those who have lived within its walls before. And, as such, she predicts that a tragedy will befall the Sisters before their time in the Himalayas is up.

The next episode of Black Narcissus will air Monday 28 December at 9pm on BBC One.

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Images: BBC One

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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