In this week’s almost-final episode of The Grand Tour, Hammond falls off a bike, Hammond falls off a bike, and Hammond falls off a bike.
The Grand Tour’s first proper special of the second season begins with an introduction to their mission: to end world hunger by transporting fish from the Mozambique coast to its fish-starved interior. It’s technically a mini-special, which is ironic because it’s actually the shortest episode in weeks by a few minutes. The beginning of the episode feels like the beginning of an African documentary, with beautiful aerial shots of bustling African markets, but the effect is somewhat marred by the three old white dudes in bad outfits. The journey from the coast town of Maputo to the village of Bingo is only 200 miles, but it seems a lot longer than that.
James is driving a 1984 Mercedes station wagon much like the one he previously drove across Botswana, with a fish tank in the back to keep the fish fresh on their journey. Clarkson is in a slightly tatty Nissan Hardbody pickup which seems to be largely unmodified, and Hammond has a sparkling new TVS Star HLX E5 which Jeremy notes is a bit crap. And he’s right, because it only has 7 horsepower and costs just a grand. After casually burglarizing a hotel for its ice machine, Clarkson begins fitting it to the back of his Nissan, which provides us with many gratuitous and entirely unwelcome shots of his stomach. Clarkson is then forced to tow James away from the skip where he’s loaded up his Mercedes with water, which breaks the Nissan’s gearbox and immediately drenches James.
Jeremy and Richard are next forced to do fishing in a boat named Claudio, and after failing to get past the initial rowing step, decide to just get out and push the boat themselves. This is one of the most Top Gear-ish segments of the entire Grand Tour, mostly because the three are comprehensively out of their element and being filmed screwing up over and over. Of course, they screw up so badly that they instead give up and ride back to shore with the camera crew.
Unbelievably, James’ fish-storage solution seems to work, with most of the fish inside being alive at the start of the trip, aside from dumping water all over the inside of the car. The same sadly cannot be said for Clarkson and Hammond, with the former’s drying rack adding considerable weight to the back of his bike and the latter’s roof bucket nearly tipping over immediately and dousing its driver. 50 miles into the trip, Richard has lost at least 90% of his fish, and May’s Mercedes gives up the ghost after going through a puddle, first once and then multiple times. The trio then has to sit and wait for his engine to dry out before it’ll restart. Hammond keeps crashing.
After a night in a settlement when Clarkson refills with water and the other two catch up to him, James’s car breaks again and gets left behind in a village to fix it. Clarkson and Hammond move on to a shockingly bad dusty surface which causes Hammond to wreck many, many times. In fact, I honestly believe that if one were to compile all of Hammond’s crashes from this episode into one montage, it would then equal the time difference again between this episode and a regular one. James, having fitted a tarpaulin around his aquarium, seems to be running well, until it spontaneously catches fire. Jeremy also modifies his exhaust system to “smoke” the fish with diesel under a tonneau cover in the bed. Hammond keeps crashing.
With about 50 miles to go, the trio are forced to drive through a literal lake on top of the road which handily reaches up to the top of Jeremy’s hood and forces Hammond to drive around the edge, leaving May alone on the opposite side. The trip across indeed kills his engine, and the car is thus converted into the least comfortable trailer in human history, situated behind a coal-rolling ape with a lead foot, eventually forcing May to join Clarkson in the Nissan’s cab. Hammond keeps crashing.
Finally, the presenters reach Bingo, with about four fish and only 2.5 cars. Clarkson’s lead foot has ended up murdering both his and James’ fish, but they nevertheless insist on setting up three stalls from which to peddle their thoroughly rotten wares.
Overall, I think this was possibly the most Top Gear-feeling episode of The Grand Tour this season. There’s a genuine pervading sense that the film crew as well as the presenters are far, far out of their element with very little backup (apart from the convenient helicopter they leave in at the end), and Hammond’s accidents provide real laughs throughout. A strong conclusion, no doubt, to the massively-improved second season of the show–now all that’s left is to wait a few weeks/months for the Columbia special. Should be worth it.