Detained

(11 comments)

Well that was a pleasant surprise, albeit on the whole more pleasant than surprising. It’s not quite fair to say that bottle episodes are easy to do well, because they’re very definitely not, but once you’ve got them working they tend to end up with enough momentum to pull off impressive things. “Detained” is a case in point. It doesn’t shed Class’s persistent problem of never aspiring to anything more than cliches done well, but it does at least manage to take the cliche to an interesting place that’s based firmly on what Class can do as a show.

What that is, given the singular lack of an original idea at any point so far this season, is good character work with an impressive ensemble. Which is maybe an obvious thing to say about a bottle episode - character work is what they inevitably end up hinging on. But “Detained” is a bracing reminder of just how good a cast of characters the show has. Even Matteusz and Charlie, who have generally been the weak links in the cast, get moments to shine here. The use of Matteusz as the first person to pick up the stone on one level speaks to his marginalization (and Ram also points out his odd status), but it also works, and not just because it doubles to establish him as the one of the crew who does things like step up and pick up a weird alien rock to throw it away.

Charlie, on the other hand, gets the last slot in the “pick up the stone and confess shit” list, and thus gets the episode’s primary hero moment, something he’s not actually gotten prior to this episode. This is interesting. On the one hand, he for the most part doesn’t behave how you’d expect. I mean, the existence of contours between regalness and vulnerability is obvious, but they come in fairly interesting places. On the other, most of these places are absences as opposed to presences. Other than the revelation of his claustrophobia, the most interesting things revealed are things like his relative lack of anger. Which is legitimately interesting, and yet still somehow falls short of developing him as a character. Still, it’s progress in what had been the show’s weakest area.

The other three characters, meanwhile, are also generally well-served. Of them Ram has the oddest episode, largely reverting to type in the face of the stone’s (somewhat contrived) ability to make everyone in the room angry. But his surliness sparks interesting confrontations as well. His breakup with April is devastating in the way that it’s at once obviously self-defeating and utterly in character, and the brash recklessness with which he picks up the stone is fantastic.

April is similarly good - I loved her account of herself after her confession, which highlights the sort of emotional maturity and practicality that makes her such an interesting character. But even more than that, I liked the way in which she still made mistakes, especially in her anger. April is a character it would be easy to write as too perfect - she’s by some margin more grown up than anyone else in the show (Quill included and perhaps especially), she’s routinely used as the show’s primary moral voice, and she’s got magic powers stuff going on. Ness’s ability to write her as a character with flaws who is still uncharitable and rash sometimes is impressive.

And then there’s Tanya, fresh off of two episodes that were painful in their underuse of her and once again restored to her role of being the person who figures things out for the group. In many ways she ends up being the character best served by this episode’s premise - the moments where she confesses her anxieties or expresses her anger are sharp and inspired, with the racial dimensions of her life experience acknowledged and validated while still allowing her to be wrong and unfair to her friends. It’s a remarkable and subtle bit of characterization, and probably the thing that best illustrates the show’s strengths.

As for weaknesses… well, Patrick Ness still has a tin ear for dialogue. And that’s a bigger problem for a bottle episode than most. This is at times a clumsy and over-obvious thing that falls into tell-don’t-show (not inherently a problem) with awkward and over-emotive telling (very much a problem). Especially when combined with the on-its-sleeves nature of its tropes, it has the frustrating tendency to feel less intelligent and creative than it’s being. But this is a small complaint in the face of an episode that very much renews my hopes that this show could make something of itself, even if it feels like it might need a second season to really do it.

  • The sense of renewed promise is only increased by next week’s episode, which looks to be a Quill-centric not-actually-double-banked counterpart to this one that, at least from the trailer, has no obvious formula it’s following. Color me intrigued.
  • Speaking of season two, anyone know the odds of that? One assumes it’s not made more straightforward by the change in management on the parent show, although there’s obviously room on the schedule for it in 2017 at least.
  • So the Problem of Susan gets its first on-screen mention. That’s nice, and doubly so given that it happens in Coal Hill School itself. One doesn’t get the sense that Ness is much of a C.S. Lewis fan, mind you.
  • Despite being the best episode so far (ooh, I just spoiled the rankings didn’t I), another complaint: the ending’s a bit of a mess. Too many revelations about what the precise rules are in rapid succession, not enough room to let the emotional beats land. That’s clearly just sort of the unfortunate way things work with this show - a bunch of little niggles that leave it at a B instead of an A.

Ranking

  1. Detained
  2. The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart/Brave-Ish Heart
  4. For Tonight We Might Die
  5. Nightvisiting

Comments

Tom Marshall 5 months, 1 week ago

Pretty clearly the best-written (and *certainly* best-directed; they need to keep Wayne Che Yip around) episode the show's done, and I have high hopes for the Quill-centric one too, though I wonder if it might fall into the "excellent, but problematically excellent because it's only excellent because it isn't doing what the show normally does every week" category you sometimes used to describe those SJA episodes where the Doctor turns up and slightly cheapens everything around him.

I posted this under the Ep 4 review, but that's a way back now so bringing it up just for anyone who was interested in the discussion about April's mother Jackie and her "recovery": Basically Patrick Ness has been talking about it on Twitter.

Someone tweeted him to say:

"Sorry but I'm actually pissed because April's mum is walking again I liked having a character in a wheelchair. We don't get too see many disabled characters on tv, they're always magically cured or were evil and able-bodied all along Btw, it's not like I'm such a bad person who wishes people bad stuff. I'm just a wheelchair user, so this is important to me."

[which is more or less my position, apart from my not being a wheelchair user]

Then he replied:

"We cast a wonderful actress who uses a wheelchair. She was so good, I thought, let's do the opposite of decades of able-bodied actresses playing disabled characters. Why not use FX to give a fine actress cool stuff to play? Genuinely, it was about smashing open doors for an actress, showing the stuff she could do. And letting an actress who happens to use a wheelchair the chance to take back decades of roles that went to able-bodied actresses. She was great. & there's more to come. So that was my thinking. We cast a wheelchair user, loved her, wanted to smash forever the idea that any roles were closed to her."

FWIW, the person who made the first tweet seemed pretty happy with this explanation. And Shannon Murray [the actress] wrote in response, "just got home to read this exchange & it's made me cry." She seems pretty happy with the role and what it entails.

What you think of Ness' stance may vary.

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Daibhid C 5 months, 1 week ago

I'm ... not sure. I can see ways in which it's problematic, but if the original tweeter and Murray are both fine with it, well, they know what they're talking about and I don't.

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Wack'd 5 months, 1 week ago

I think the odds of a season two are fairly good, if only because the odds that Chibnall will need a gap year like Moffat got are fairly high and the BBC will no doubt want something to leverage Who's IP with in the meantime. Of course, that assumes it's been doing a good job in that department this season, and I'm finding it surprisingly hard to find any solid numbers.

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Tom Marshall 5 months, 1 week ago

Chibnall won't need a gap year. The writing team started work on the scripts for Season 11 and 12 in earnest about a month ago, apparently. Plus he's a very, very fast worker. Part of the point of hiring Chibnall I suspect is so that they can put out a whole series every year with no more gap years - Series 10 in spring 2017, then Series 11 in spring 2018 and Series 12 in spring 2019, regular as clockwork (in fact, regular as the RTD years).

Whether Class does or does not get a second season won't have much to do with this, though if so it'll be something to keep us ticking over between Series 10 and the 2017 Xmas special.

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Daibhid C 5 months, 1 week ago

the most interesting things revealed are things like his relative lack of anger.

Interesting, because I'm not sure I picked up on that as a character thing at all, so much as an alien thing; IOW, I didn't think it was so much that he naturally tended to be less angry than the rest of the cast, just that he wasn't affected by the stone in the same way they were.

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dm 5 months, 1 week ago

You know what this show needs? Scenes where all the characters go to a cafe and hang out and have fun.* Heartfelt chats about what it is to be strong when you're young are great, but you can shortcut a whole bunch of character and relationship development by just having your gang of friends eating pizza together. Boomtown is my case in point here- we've only been introduced to Captain Jack in the previous story, in which he was a conman who almost killed the entire human race through greed and carelessness, but just having him hang out with the Doctor, Rose and Mickey in Cardiff cemented a totally unearned relationship between them. By the time we get to Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways, it's the culmination of a redemption journey that must have happened off screen, but still rang true.

*I've only actually seen the first three episodes but from synopses I can't see this happening in the following 3

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Tom Marshall 5 months, 1 week ago

That's ... actually q a good suggestion.

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Riggio 5 months, 1 week ago

Definitely with you on this being the best episode so far. Right from the beginning, the entire Doctor Who aesthetic (including all the spinoffs) has been so well-suited to bottle episodes that set all the major characters against each other. This is their Edge of Destruction, and I found that it lives up to the legacy.

Fascinating material in here, as well as a cracking tight story. Piggybacking on you as usual, Phil.
https://adamwriteseverything.blogspot.ca/2016/11/tell-me-your-truths-class-detained.html

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