Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart
Judging the first part of a two-parter is always a pain in the neck. (Remember when I thought Under the Lake had promise?) And there are other factors complicating this, like the nagging worry that Class isn’t ever going to transcend the fact that you can snarkily describe it as “The Sarah Jane Adventures with fucking.” Certainly we’re in familiar territory here, both in general and for Class, which is to say that we’re running through a fairly standard set of genre paces with a couple of unique spins. In this case, the basic mode is the mid-season finale, with the most obvious model being the “Surprise/Innocence” two-parter of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Class is at least consistently good at throwing itself into whatever it’s doing with zeal, and so four episodes in its reliance on old standards has consistently been outshone by the flare with which they’re being done. All the same, my fondest and most adamant hope for the second part of this, or at least for something in the back half of the season, is that we get an episode that’s actually doing something new instead of adding a bit of spice to a cliche.
All of which said, once again the cliche is very tasty. Ness continues to be very good at striking a balance between the show’s instincts towards taking place in a TV school and its instincts towards emotional realism. The scene among Ram, April, and her mother is probably the highlight in this regard, with Ram being perfectly pitched both as a genuinely decent guy (“I didn’t want her to think bad of you.”) and as a mildly rebellious “bad” kid (“I had some condoms.”) It’s a smart balance, and more to the point one that’s ultimately derived from Doctor Who’s own longstanding balance of melodrama and actual drama. (And, of course, from Buffy.) And there are other bits of genuine intelligence around this. The “April feeds back into Corakinus” beat is entirely expected. Corakinus asking to cuddle after sex, on the other hand, is absolutely inspired. (Less successful – Tanya’s “I think they had sex” seeming to exist entirely to set up the moronic “Ram and the Shadow Kin?” joke.)
This last parenthetical also brings us to the things the episode is doing that at least offer real potential for going in a boldly original direction. The most interesting thing the show has going for it remains the Charlie/Ms. Quill relationship, which is clearly being pushed gradually to the forefront. It’s frustrating that this is often some of the clumsiest writing, with Tanya and Matteusz getting to flail uselessly against Charlie’s conviction of his moral rectitude, both on the slavery issue and on the owning weapons of mass destruction issue. This sets up the odd phenomenon of a plot that’s simultaneously the show’s best hope of turning in something that really makes you sit up and take notice and that’s flopping around on the table unsatisfyingly.
In a similar and more successful vein is the new head teacher, Dorothea, who tragically isn’t played by Sophie Aldred or Jackie Lane, but who is otherwise charming. Satisfyingly, she continues the show’s utter disinterest in building drama out of “but what if the grown-ups find out about the aliens” plot, instead having her show up and take a default pro-alien fighting position while also driving an intriguing wedge between Miss Quill and the rest of the cast. The basic structure of tempting Miss Quill to what’s not so much the dark side as another somewhat shiftier wing of the light side is smart. As is the plot she’s actually involved in, the evil flower petals, which are a pleasantly creepy quick jot of an idea, and not quite one we’ve seen before.
And this sets up what’s perhaps the most promising bit of the episode, which is its cliffhanger and the resultant possibilities for next week. These fireworks, for me at least, started with the scene where April’s threatening her father, a moment where, given the amount that the show has quietly turned tropes on their head, managed a small but genuine note of tension in which I wondered if they were actually going to just have April become a killer and explore the consequences of that. Ultimately I suspect they made the right choice, but it says something that the show has earned enough credibility that it seemed within the realm of plausibility. And more broadly, the two-parter structure means that Ness has enough space that most of the obvious configurations are now done and the story mostly only has interesting places to go in the second part.
Of course, that looked to be true about both The Rebel Flesh and Under the Lake. So we’ll see.
- One thing that does have me excited about the second part is the wonderfully upsetting imagery of people being eaten by flowers. I think Class’s relationship with gore and horror has been one of the most interesting things about it, despite (and perhaps even because of) it not really seeming motivated beyond a general sense that this show needs some bite and sense of edginess. I just find it charmingly dissonant.
- Somewhat less enthused by Ram and April in the realm of the Shadow Kin, which is by far the most textbook element of the trailer for next week. Part of this is that the Shadow Kin are alarmingly crap for a series big bad. Though one would hardly be surprised to see them wholly squared away next week and replaced by a bigger bad. Pity the obvious candidate’s Dorothea…
- Tanya is unsurprisingly pushed to the background a bit this week, which you’d expect after her focus episode, but there are ways in which chasing Charlie and Matteusz around is not a great use of her even given those circumstances, not least because it ends up further emphasizing Matteusz’s status as a problem character. Maybe he’ll end up being the show’s Rhys, but I’m not really seeing it.
- The “that’s one battleground where I can guarantee you he’s going to lose” exchange is absolutely adorable, btw.
- At the halfway point, I’m really starting to wonder where this is going to slot for me among the Doctor Who spinoffs. I enjoy it more than The Sarah Jane Adventures, but I suspect that’s mostly down to being closer to its target audience as opposed to a clear-cut difference in quality. I think it is clearly better than Torchwood thus far, but I admit that I was shocked how badly Torchwood held up to a rewatch, and while Class has yet to drop a Cyberwoman or a Countrycide (or worse, because I have more time for those two than many people do, an Adam or a Sleeper), it’s also yet to do a Small Worlds or an Adrift. So really, a lot is going to hinge on whether it demonstrates some grander ambitions than it’s had yet. Still, I really can’t muster much of an angle of complaint against the show beyond, perhaps, that no one would care without the Doctor Who connection.
- Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart
- The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo
- For Tonight We Might Die
November 7, 2016 @ 2:49 pm
Yeah, this one was… not bad. I can’t find much in the way of things to complain about, but equally I can’t find much to praise. I certainly agree with your assertion that the Shadowkin are unexpectedly poor for the Big Bad, and I hope something else does take their place. I spent the whole episode debating whether they’re really cool or really shit, and I’m sticking with the latter until I get evidence to the contrary.
I’m so pleased they’ve bagged Pooky Quesnel as Dorothea! I adore that woman. So much charisma.
I’ve loved Quill to bits, and by the sounds of Detained and The Metaphysical Engine, the next couple of episodes after this two-parter will start to explore her as a part of the plot. I really hope the second half of this series is as good as it looks to be.
At the end of the day, my biggest fear right now is that Quill will become a villain (even a sympathetic villain would anger me) and Charlie will have to stop her, and, ugh, I don’t think I’d come back for Series 2. I absolutely despise Charlie. He’s condescending, basically classist, and not to mention he’s more or less a slave-driver, and for that reason I love Tanya’s outburst. Heck, there is literally no way his treatment of Quill can be allowed, and I hope to God that his sexuality doesn’t get in the way of Ness exposing what an utter prick he really is, and giving Quill, the revolutionary, the story she deserves.
November 7, 2016 @ 2:59 pm
I like that they made him a prick, though (particularly this week, and fairly deliberately too).
I also like the nod in Ep 1 to the fact that the Doctor would never criticise Quill for being a freedom fighter (with the tacit understanding that if he had wandered into Rhodians v Quills, he’d have been on her side and Charlie would have been the villain). It was only because she has a somewhat skewed ethical compass that allows her to kill innocent students that pissed the Doctor off. That bodes well.
November 7, 2016 @ 4:20 pm
Oh, yeah, I definitely agree. I’m just kind of worried that Ness doesn’t think he is a prick – I’m getting real “misunderstood hero” vibes from him which, if that’s the case, no.
And yes, that’s what I’m clinging on to. If they bring back Capaldi, even better. Though at this stage the show has a strong set of characters, so it’s not obligatory.
November 8, 2016 @ 1:58 pm
Very much agree with your points here. I quite love what they’re doing with Charlie, revealing the parts of his personality that fit the fact that he was raised as a monarch with absolute power. Far from being sidelined, I find that Tanya and Matteusz play a small but important role in Charlie’s development this episode. He considers his treatment of Quill as well as his actions and responsibilities as monarch entirely justified. But it’s his black friend whose parents were raised in British colonies who reminds him that he’s essentially enslaved her. And it’s his boyfriend whose family grew up in a communist police state (How easy is it to forget these days that Poland is less than three decades removed from having a vibrant and violent secret police?) who tells him how undemocratic his morality is.
I actually found that the episode’s whole storyline is structured around a three-way parallel of Corakinus, April, and Charlie on the question of absolute power and the use of violence. Piggybacking as usual, more details are at my review. 😉
November 8, 2016 @ 2:19 pm
Just wanted to say I have been reading, and very much love, your Class reviews. Always on point.
November 7, 2016 @ 2:56 pm
Again seems fair, though I think the Ram/April intimate scenes are hampered by Hopkins just being quite a bit more naturalistic than Elsayed.
I do agree that we’ve yet to have something that makes you sit up and go “well, that’s new!!!” – which is no huge criticism after a mere 4 episodes of something that’s more or less relaunching Buffy for people who are too young to have ever seen Buffy before – but on the other hand it would be good, as you say, to have something of that kind in the back half. For pure innovation. A mini-classic of that ilk would be nice.
Episode 6, with its “detention turned into being trapped in no-time, no-space” synopsis and Episode 7, with its inspired title “The Metaphysical Engine, Or What Quill Did” both sound a bit more exciting than “killer flower petals and Shadow Realm” (though that may be fun along the way).
What do you think of the, well, “class” dimensions to it? It’s mostly through the sci-fi prism right now (e.g. the Rhodian culture, Charlie and Quill’s different perceptions of it, slavery, the black one and the immigrant one being the ones who call this out, Rhodian/Rhodesian, Charlie as imperialist, etc., all of which parallels Corakinus as an imperious ruler to his own underlings) – but I think it’s a shame the show hasn’t really touched on class issues in the real world… everyone is very middle-class and comfortable, really.
Also I don’t think Dorothea is so much the big bad as the big bad henchman. The Governors, surely, are going to be the big bad.
November 8, 2016 @ 12:52 pm
Still haven’t quite given up hope that the governors are good guys and still chaired by I. Chesterton.
Did anyone else get a sort of Missy vibe from the new headMistress, or was that just me?
John G. Wood
November 7, 2016 @ 4:10 pm
Finally caught up enough to comment! So far, only one episode has really grabbed me (Nightvisiting), but that was true of Torchwood too at this point (Ghost Machine, for that show). And I certainly like the characterisation better here. My daughter May and I are both kind of sorry that all the older teens are pairing off with each other, and particularly sorry they all get straight to the sex rather than, you know, having some representation for the people who don’t (Tanya doesn’t count). But that’s kind of expected.
In a similar vein, neither of us was happy with what they did with April’s mum. As soon as it was clear that she was regaining the use of her legs, May said in a pretty annoyed way, “well, there goes the disability representation” – and I have to agree. We saw nothing of what it was actually like for April or her mum living like that before you get to the magical cure (even if that cure comes at a price, which it looks like it might).
Still, it has built up enough goodwill for us to keep watching, at least for the rest of this series. Beyond that…well, hopefully it’ll have had a few more sparklers by then.
My rankings so far:
2. Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart
3. The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo
4. For Tonight We Might Die
November 7, 2016 @ 4:22 pm
Agreed on the disability representation. I totally related to April, a character caring for a disabled mother, but where mine grew slowly worse with her degenerative illness, April’s got a magic cure. It’s a bit insulting, really.
November 7, 2016 @ 4:48 pm
I’m witholding judgment on that until we see what the consequences are and how it plays out. Certainly it’s a twist that could leave a sour taste, but I don’t feel like I can judge based on the handful of minutes we’ve got of it so far.
November 7, 2016 @ 5:31 pm
Yeah, I mean, who knows how it will go.
If anything, the show’s just scaring me at this point with the uncertainty of what the next few episodes hold. It’s either going to be an early Christmas present for every minority person ever, or one of those really bankrupt things we wish weren’t connected to Doctor Who.
November 7, 2016 @ 8:18 pm
Er. Where are people getting the cure thing? It seems more like April just moved the Shadow Kin anchor into her mum somehow.
November 7, 2016 @ 8:37 pm
She moves her legs, and seems to stare at them in surprise. And is, I think, standing up in the trailer.
November 8, 2016 @ 1:20 am
Erm, she’s not standing in the trailer, since Shannon Murray (the actor) is actually wheelchair-bound. This is the aspect which makes me think there won’t really be much of a cure storyline at all.
John G. Wood
November 8, 2016 @ 2:25 pm
Well, that’s interesting, and (at the risk of sounding crass, given that this is a real person’s disability we’re talking about) somewhat hopeful for the storyline. It also illustrates Phil’s point about judging the first part of a two-parter before seeing the second.
Having said that, I think first impressions are also useful to note (I still thoroughly enjoyed Under the Lake on first viewing, even though it’s now been poisoned by the wretchedness of Before the Flood). Based on the comments here, May and I were not alone in thinking April’s mum was being cured, and I wonder if the scene was simply pitched wrong for those members of the audience who didn’t know that Shannon Murray was wheelchair-bound. (I for one assumed that April was tyng her to the Shadow King so that she would be able to walk instead of him). And yeah, it was her reaction to her legs moving that cemented the idea in my mind, at least.
November 20, 2016 @ 10:21 am
This seemed to get answered this week, folks. 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.
November 30, 2016 @ 11:08 pm
Adam and Countrycide were great!