Outside the Government: The Lost

(42 comments)

It’s December 3rd, 2016. Clean Bandit remain at number one. Weeknd and Daft Punk get a seond song in the top ten, while Neiked, Maroon 5 ft. Kendrick Lamar, and Bruno Mars also chart. In news, a plane crash kills the bulk of Brazillian football team Chapecoense. Donald Trump sparks a touch of  international incident when he calls the President of Taiwan, while a fire in an Oakland art space known as the Ghost Ship kills 36. A man opens fire inside a Washington pizza restaurant because, basically, Mike Cernovich said there were pedophiles there. 

While on television, the season and de facto series finale of Class, “The Lost.” “The Lost” hangs over the rest of Class. Without it you have seven well-meaning episodes of various levels of success—a show that could frequently have stood to be a little braver, but that always meant well and wanted to be good. With it, however, the picture gains an ugly, cynical tinge. “The Lost” is not Class’s first bad episode. It is its worst episode, which is never a good thing to have happen with your finale. But more damning than its general crapness is the particular flavor of badness that it offers. There are, after all, many ways to suck. “The Lost,” however, picks one of the laziest approaches possible—one that it is difficult to feel anything other than contempt for.

God, where do we begin? The beginning, I suppose. This is an episode of television that attempts to deliver the line “do you ever feel like it’s so dark that it’ll never be light again” as an entirely sincere and meaningful piece of dialogue that sets out the basic terms for the episode. I mean, what do you even say to that? I cannot actually imagine how someone would sit at a computer, type that line, and think, “yes, good, I am writing serious and insightful drama about the lives of teenagers.” It’s shockingly crap in a way that suggests a complete failure to care.

From there we have the cheap slaughter of POC to raise stakes, a return of a villain we defeated two episodes ago with no explanation beyond “I had guile,” a plot resolution in which Tanya becomes the second biggest badass in the show after a quick training session, Ram’s complete lack of any involvement in anything, the absolutely appalling “Black is the Color” musical cue over April’s non-death… I mean, there’s a lot here that’s egregiously, painfully inept. This is the rare piece of media that actually does call for an “everything wrong with” video that points out all the massive plot holes and gobsmackingly lazy bits of writing it employs.

But the larger problem is just how dull the episode’s basic ideas are. The crap big bad comes back again, fridges some tertiary characters, and is then defeated by the MacGuffin that’s been pointedly hanging around all season. It’s utterly bog standard season finale stuff, made worse by the way in which the episode has one eye on setting up its season two plot, a frankly humiliating moment of hubris in light of how badly Class flopped. Nothing actually reaches a point of resolution in this finale—Quill is still pregnant, Charlie’s grief over using the Cabinet of Souls is totally unprocessed, and the remaining plot elements are left in the form of active cliffhangers. The show is so wrapped up in showing off the Weeping Angels it’s never going to use that it ends up forgetting to provide any resolution to any of its own arcs. 

It’s not quite devoid of ideas or interesting notes, although the biggest one is simply the payoff of a bunch of other episodes’ concepts. Indeed, there’s a strong sense that the story doesn’t really recognize how radical or unusual its decision to have Charlie wipe out the Shadow Kin actually is. Its engagement with this plot point seems to amount to little more than fretting about the stain on Charlie’s soul. The episode’s best moment around it goes, both unexpetedly and kind of wonderfully, to Tanya with her “how am I the only one who sees this” speech. 

Nevertheless, this is an episode that treats genocide as its big triumphant moment, and there’s something deliciously weird about that. It’s not quite moral satisfaction—the fact that it is outright genocide means that the episode goes a little too far, as opposed to offering a thoughtful exploration of the excessively taboo idea in sci-fi media that violence is sometimes an acceptable response to genuine moral depravity. But even if this isn’t quite getting morality in extremis right, it’s at least a flat-out defiance of sci-fi pacifism that is worth appreciating for its brazenness.

But the problem with Class is that intentionality becomes hard to read. If this is a show that’s deliberately fucking with our ideas of morality in sci-fi television settings then it’s being oddly tentative, evincing a weird caution at the precise moments where it should be strutting its stuff (and, correspondingly, showing off at many of its weakest moments). Whereas if it’s a show that’s just not quite getting its own expectations right, well… it’s demonstrably that. The arc of Class from “For Tonight We Might Die” to “The Lost” is roughly a show that goes from Chibnall done better to Whithouse done slightly worse. It’s difficult, in the face of that, to put much faith in any theory of deliberateness with the show. 

And this, in many regards, is the real frustrating problem with “The Lost.” Endings carry unusual weight, retroactively setting the tone of everything that went before. And so “The Lost” taints the entire show, making it appreciably harder to respect its good points and considerably easier to embrace the case against it. So after seven weeks of feeling about for a redemptive reading of Class, let’s just give up and ask the alternative: if we wanted to just completely trash this show, what would we say?

The simplest angle of attack is that the show is a cynical attempt at addressing a business necessity. On one hand you have a year long gap between Doctor Who episodes. On the other you have the need to generate high profile shows for the new online-only BBC Three. Since the previous incarnation of BBC Three saw its biggest success with a Doctor Who spinoff, pushing one into production was an obvious call. But as Moffat only grudgingly wanted to do another season of Doctor Who, there was exactly no urgency for a spinoff coming from him. And so we got this, a fundamentally soulless show with only a tenuous relationship to its nominal parent show.

The thing that cuts against this is Patrick Ness, who never appeared anything less than thrilled to try his hand at the Doctor Who universe, and who seemed genuinely gutted when the show was cancelled. I’ll leave an actual look at Ness’s prior work for the book version, but he’s a serious talent the hiring of whom shows a real effort to make something worthwhile with this show. The underlying logic of making the show may well have been as cynical as all that, but his presence makes it impossible to really argue that the cynicism goes all the way down.

Nevertheless, it’s clear he was in over his head. We cannot know, of course, how compromised his vision might have been. He’s not made any bitter complaints about being rewritten, but it’s certainly easy to believe that the BBC would not give a first-time TV writer and showrunner a free hand to create something if they had as many financial interests wrapped up in it as they clearly did here. Maybe Ness drove for something bold and ambitious only to be constantly pulled back to “can you make it more like Buffy?”

Even if so, however, there’s a clear degree to which Ness wasn’t up for the job. Class wasn’t just constantly less ambitious than it should have been, it was routinely inept at that lack of ambition, repeatedly relying on the basic correctness of the selected trope instead of trying to sell the substance of it. It generally didn’t feel calculated so much as it felt timid. That’s a different problem.

There is one final point we ought to make about this show before we move on to better things, which is the show’s diversity. This is, at least, not one of the areas in which the show was timid. It trumpeted its commitment to diversity, and constantly returned to it. It’s a show with literally no straight white men in it. That’s good. And yet it’s also a show that fridges POC to up the stakes, and whose sense of how to handle its racial diversity is often stilted lectures as opposed to something that emerges organically. The bit of diversity it does consistently well is Charlie and Matteusz’s relationship, and not coincidentally, that’s the bit of diversity that lines up with Ness, a white guy in a same sex relationship.

And this is perhaps the most important lesson in Class. I don’t want to suggest that Ness was a bad hire, because he was a cool voice worth trying, and openly queer voices aren’t represented enough on television. But neither are women, people of color, or other types of queerness. And if television is going to make diversity into a sellable brand, as both his and the Chibnall era do, it needs to make sure that diversity extends behind the camera. The single easiest thing Class could have done to be better would be to not have all eight episodes be by the same white guy. And this is also one of the things that hobbles the Chibnall era—for all its commitment to diversity, it’s still dominated by white guys. If you want stories of women and people of color to be told well, they need to be allowed to tell their stories instead of diversity being reduced to, essentially, just another genre that’s still dominated by white guys.

Was Class worth trying? Yes. Absolutely. Its moments of potential and even success are clear enough to justify the attempt. But it was worth trying harder, on every level from its conception to its staffing to its execution. This isn’t why it failed—it stumbled fatally out of the gate. But it’s why the end result of its failure is a shockingly forgettable spinoff that improbably seems destined to have less long-term impact on Doctor Who than Faction Paradox. Oh well. Moving on.

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Maybe the show should've kept some straight white men around for the purpose of fridging, since they are the only people that can be fridged without comment, these days. But if the show forgoes them entirely, any character they kill off is going to cause an outcry.

Link | Reply

Kim 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Well, that’s a perfect excuse to do away with fridging altogether then, isn’t it? As it’s a tired trope which speaks to lazy storytelling and is often used instead of much more effective alternatives I, personally, will be glad to see it gone.

Also, first time commenting here! Don’t know why it’s taken me so long - I’ve been lurking since about 2014. Love the site, El, thank you so much for it!

Link | Reply

kevin merchant 2 weeks, 5 days ago

How do you kill off a character in Dr Who without invoking the "Fridging" trope? Characters have always died in Dr Who and most of them have a metaphorical target on their back. How do you make death "meaningfull". It definitely seems to be a problem in the more diverse Who. Which I like BTW (ie more diverse)

Link | Reply

MattM 2 weeks, 4 days ago

A character dying isn't automatically a fridging (though some people like to claim it is!). A fridging is where the sole reason for the character's death is to motivate the main character.

Link | Reply

Elizabeth Sandifer 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I'm trying to think of shows that have fridged straight white men. Whedon has done it occasionally—Doyle in Angel, and I guess you could argue Walsh in Serenity, though none of the angst consequences of that decision ever come up.

Oh, Killing Eve totally fridged a straight white guy. Game of Thrones has fridged several, though it is of course disproportionately a show about straight white guys.

But past that? As I think through shows I've watched lately, the fridgings don't generally come for straight white guys. Which badly aggravates the existing disparities of representation in media.

Link | Reply

mx_mond 2 weeks, 5 days ago

“Oh, Killing Eve totally fridged a straight white guy”

If you mean Bill, then he wasn’t straight.

Link | Reply

Elizabeth Sandifer 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Oh right, they totally established his bisexuality moments before killing him. 😡

Link | Reply

TomeDeaf 2 weeks, 5 days ago

It's in the same episode, but not quite moments before, it's part of the plot point of "why he knows Berlin so well", and they also take pains to have his wife and baby in the episode - so I'd say it's more of a holistic (and slightly clunky) "make this guy more sympathetic by adding more characterisation/home life/history" before offing him rather than *specifically* cynically playing the bi card.

And there's two (brilliantly written) bi leads, so it's hard for me to be too angry at the show on that front.

Link | Reply

David Anderson 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Chibnall is almost certainly trying to cast Jodie Comer as Missy.

Link | Reply

Tom B 2 weeks, 5 days ago

JMS fridged some straight white men on Babylon 5. Marcus was one, they had the Starfury pilot on for the 2nd season just so they could have the Shadows eventually kill him. You could argue that Sheridan was fridged, but that turned out to be a Princess Bride type thing where he was only mostly dead.

Link | Reply

Aylwin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

"I'm getting better!"

I think the pilot (Keffer) was killed off because he had only been included in the first place at the behest of management, plus the actor was a pillock. That was the rumour anyway.

And surely it wasn't a fridging in any case, because no one gave a toss he was dead.

Link | Reply

Roderick T. Long 1 week, 4 days ago

JMS has indeed said explicitly that Keffer was added at the behest of management, because they wanted a hotshot pilot character (whereas JMS found such characters tiresome). While I don't know what the actor was like, JMS has also said he was planning to kill off Keffer from the start, and thus presumably before the role was even cast.

That said, JMS has occasionally fibbed about the reasons for an actor leaving the show (most notably Michael O'Hare).

Link | Reply

kevin merchant 2 weeks, 4 days ago

The best fridging of a straight white male was the opening scene of Buffy the Vampire first episode

Link | Reply

Przemek 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Was that fridging? Aren't we using the term too loosely here? I don't recall that guy causing anybody any angst or driving the plot of more than one episode...

Link | Reply

Comment deleted 2 weeks, 4 days ago

David Moran 2 weeks, 4 days ago

IIRC

Doyle had to be fridges on Angel because the actor had substance abuse problems that, alas, eventually killed him. Keffer in B5 was indeed imposed by the network and JMS fridged him because, as Aylwin said, the actor was an asshole, as recounted by several regulars at the Blackpool Wolf 359 conventions all those years ago when I was less than half my present size.

Who else ? Oh, Wash. My wife can't watch Serenity because of THAT scene, but let's keep in mind Whedon also fridges Shepherd Book and he's a Person of Colour. So, swings and roundabouts.

Link | Reply

Leslie L 2 weeks, 3 days ago

The first thing that came to mind was Lionel Luther from Smallville, which happened a few episodes before the finale for a season 7.

That was almost 11 years ago.

Link | Reply

AG 2 weeks, 3 days ago

It's easy enough to find examples. It's literally what TvTropes is for.
(Although, Doctor Who is basically like a slasher for most of their episodes, so it's got quite the straight white guy body count already)

-Arrow begins by fridging the titular character's Dad.
-The cop protagonist of Psycho-Pass has his partner fridged.
-Jason Todd
-Inigo Montoya's father
-If Doyle is being counted, then Qui-gon Jinn
-Alias fridges their lady spy protagonist's fiance. Same for Nikita.
-Damages has two lady protagonists whose love interests do not fare well at all
-How to Get Away With Murder centers around the murder of the protagonist's husband
-BtVS also fridged Xander's friend Jesse in the pilot.
-Assassin's Creed II fridges their protagonist's father and brothers. Where is the mother? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
-Uncle Ben
-Hamlet's dad
-Professor X is fridged for Logan's manpain in Logan
-The 1990 Flash kills Barry's cop brother
-The current Flash show fridged Caitlin Snow's boyfriend/husband Ronnie Raymond twice!
-Tifa Lockhart loses her father to Sephiroth in FF7
-Apparently, older TV procedurals like MacGyver and Walker Texas Ranger had a rolodex of "old friends" who kick off the episode plots by getting fridged.
-Olivia's Dunham's boyfriend was fridged in Fringe. Myka Bering on Warehouse 13 gets the same.
-Once Upon a Time gives a fridged boyfriend as the backstory for their Evil Queen (whose redemption arc is a core part of the show). One of her new loves also gets fridged in later seasons.

Link | Reply

TomeDeaf 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Can we count Hamlet's and Inigo's fathers if they don't appear or die on screen/stage? I thought that was very much part of the fridging trope - that they are introduced only to get killed off.

Maybe there's more of an argument for old King Hamlet, who is at least in the play if only as a ghost.

Link | Reply

AG 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Some of the examples given above my post don't fit the "only introduced to get killed off" definition. Some of them are regulars/recurring. Neither are most of the most infamous examples of women, including the trope namer.

It's more important that they function as a source of angst for someone else. Not every Spiderman or Batman story shows the death of their parental figures.

Link | Reply

Voord 99 6 days, 18 hours ago

I’m coming in a bit late to this, but I tend to see the gendered aspect of fridging as important to it being fridging in the first place.

One can definitely extend it to gay, trans, ethnic minorities, etc., to head that reasonable objection off. But even there it might be analytically (as distinct from morally) useful to make some distinctions. The death of Tara on BTVS is definitely an instance of a terrible anti-gay trope that shares territory with fridging. But the fact that the character motivated is Willow puts it a little out of the territory of fridging for me. (While still terrible!)

But can you fridge a straight white man without stretching the definition of fridging beyond its usefulness? I’m very hesitant to say that — or at any rate I think it would take some doing. Take Uncle Ben in Spider-Man — let’s specifically take Sam Raimi’s Uncle Ben. Isn’t he a bit too much of a patriarchal voice of authority who provides the film with its moral center for one really to feel that this is fridging? (I pick that Uncle Ben, because there are things that I like about that version, mostly that he’s uncompromisingly working-class.)

In general, I think fridging is like the Bechdel test. One of the main things that it tells you is obvious but still important: we don’t have enough stories with female (gay, trans, ethnic minority, etc.) protagonists. Because it’s trivially easy for stories to pass the Bechdel test elegantly if they have female protagonists, but quite hard otherwise, because an awful lot of talk in stories is necessarily talk that includes or is about the protagonist. Similarly, things that happen in stories are going to be framed in terms of how they emotionally affect the protagonist.

It is therefore quite impressive that the most recent series of Doctor Who managed to have a fridging in a show with a female protagonist. That takes effort.

Link | Reply

Elizabeth Sandifer 6 days, 13 hours ago

*looks at the portion of the essay on The Six Thatchers she's already written*

Have you been reading my drafts? Cause damn. Well-anticipated.

Link | Reply

Voord 99 6 days, 10 hours ago

Thank you. That’s very nice to hear.

Link | Reply

MattM 2 weeks, 5 days ago

"The thing that cuts against this is Patrick Ness, who never appeared anything less than thrilled to try his hand at the Doctor Who universe"

Did he, though? I got the feeling that he was excited to have his own television show, but had to fit it in as 'a Doctor Who spinoff'. Apart from the Doctor's cameo in the first episode and the Weeping Angels shoved into the finale, there seems to be pretty much no engagement with Doctor Who in any way, shape or form. Which is a big problem given that it was marketed as a Doctor Who spinoff.

Link | Reply

TomeDeaf 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Yeah, they invited him in to write a Doctor Who episode, and he got excited at the Coal Hill spin-off possibility also suggested as it chimed with something he'd wanted to write anyway (IIRC).

There are a few other Who tidbits here and there - references to Zygons, UNIT, and the like. But yeah, not much else.

Link | Reply

Tom B 2 weeks, 5 days ago

I wouldn't have minded a second season just to see what Ness had planned with an Angel civil war. I could easily see it being its own version of a Time War as allies of the Angels on each side are sent back in time, in this case possibly one side of Angels sending their own allies back in order to have them set things up to stop plans the Angels on the other side are carrying out.

Certainly, with hindsight we'd have been better off if Ness had given this idea to Chibnell to use for his Doctor Who series and in exchange Class got Tim Shaw.

Link | Reply

Sleepyscholar 2 weeks, 5 days ago

For some reason (can't imagine why) I wasn't paying that much attention at the end of The Lost. How did you know it was an Angel civil war? Did someone say?

Incidentally spooky PS: I only yesterday downloaded the album Amends, by Them Are Us Too, whose Cash Askew passed away in the Ghost Ship fire. I had never heard of either until two days ago.

Link | Reply

TomeDeaf 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Patrick Ness tweeted that that's what Series 2 would have included, yeah.

Link | Reply

FezofRassilon 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Why do all the aliens want to have their civil wars at Coal Hill School?

Link | Reply

Aylwin 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Hey, was "Politboro" in the strapline always spelt that way? Have I just not noticed before?

Link | Reply

Przemek 2 weeks, 4 days ago

All I've got to say about "The Lost" is that I'm glad we can finally go back to the good stuff on EP. Well, at least until we get to S11...

"And this is also one of the things that hobbles the Chibnall era—for all its commitment to diversity, it’s still dominated by white guys."

My main problem with the Chibnall era is the fact that it's dominated by one particular white guy.

Also, apparently "Class" is going to Big Finish now because of course it is. This feels like scraping the bottom of the barrel, even for BF...

Link | Reply

Comment deleted 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Elizabeth Sandifer 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I will not be covering any additional Big Finish material (whether in books or on the blog) beyond things I’ve already committed to in public or private.

Link | Reply

Dan L 2 weeks, 1 day ago

"and not even picking up after the S1 cliffhangers, apparently, on the off-chance it got renewed"

I assumed that BF's Class range would follow the same pattern as their Torchwood range - some standalone stories from in between existing episodes to prove that they can make the show work on audio before they are given the reins of the official continuation.

Link | Reply

TomeDeaf 2 weeks, 1 day ago

I think that's what Scott Handcock has said, yeah. At first they weren't allowed to continue the series and could only set them during the television run, in case of plans to keep it going, but I think - sales permitting, should they make any more - they could pick up after the cliffhanger now if they want to.

Link | Reply

Citizen Alan 1 week, 2 days ago

I am suddenly giggling over the idea that 10 or 20 year from now, the actors from Class will still be doing BF stories in which they gamely try to pass themselves off as high school students despite having gravelly middle-aged voices.

Link | Reply

Comment deleted 2 weeks, 4 days ago

David Moran 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Yeah, I need 2500 words on the origins of World War Two with reference to the theories of AJP Taylor by Friday, Logo.

Only i need it to be legible. Any thoughts ?

Essay writers. A wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Link | Reply

Roderick T. Long 1 week, 4 days ago

Do the 2500 words need to be in any particular order?

Link | Reply

Daru 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Well out with a self-destructive whimper went Class. Really a shame. Totally agree regarding the dominance of white males behind camera - I feel so bored of storytelling coming from this template now. So bored.

It did feel genuinely good at the time when Jodie was cast, but I know underneath I still had in the whole lead up to series 11 a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction (that I still did my best to not take into the series) at the the lead writer and producer both being white men.

Watched the hell out of Russian Doll recently, and really dug the fact that the lead female actor was also one of the creators, a writer, director and producer, as well as there being a large number of other women involved. I could feel it and hear it.

Link | Reply

TomeDeaf 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Yes! Or Fleabag, or Killing Eve, or A Discovery of Witches, or Sex Education...

Link | Reply

Daru 1 week, 6 days ago

Absolutely! I still need to watch Fleabag and Killing Eve, but it is SO GOOD that those shows like others you list have women at the forefront in both the camera and the creation. there are many templates now on how to have real diverse voices and creators involved, rather than (sadly) like Chibnall did in a way that has felt somewhat hollow.

Link | Reply

New Comment

required

required (not published)

optional

Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Authors

Feeds

RSS / Atom