Something of a holding pattern episode, executing a bog standard premise whose primary virtue is clearly that it’s cheap and depends primarily on interior shots in which two people talk or street scenes in which static monster tendrils are strung about. This is, of course, not something to complain about – “the cheap one” is a thing Doctor Who has always had to grapple with. Sure, it ends up being the downside to the decision to drop the first two episodes together, in that you don’t really want your cheap holding pattern episode to come on your second week, but that’s a pretty minor complaint. And on the bright side, Class is intelligent enough to burn off “people are mysteriously visited in the night by their dead relatives” as the cheap midseason episode, which is more than can be said for Babylon 5, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or, the most obvious comparison, Torchwood.
On top of that, “Nightvisiting” has what can increasingly just be described as Class’s usual instinct to avoid genre defaults in favor of more interesting routes. For one thing, at no point are any of the main characters particularly tempted by the Lankin, so that at no point does the drama hinge on the fact that the audience knows genre tropes and the characters don’t. Particularly satisfying, after two episodes focusing pretty hard on his trauma, is Ram’s reaction to Rachel showing up at his window, which is basically to go “nope” and run like hell. But Tanya’s consistent and intelligent interrogation of the situation and eventual self-rescue is good stuff as well.
There are certainly some ways in which the script is sloppy. The idea that Tanya’s family constitutes the biggest reserve of grief in London on the two year anniversary of Tanya’s father’s death is… sloppy, though wisely buried in the denouement when things are happening quickly enough that you don’t notice. On the other hand, the sequestering of Charlie and Matteusz in the bedroom, lampshaded explicitly by Ms. Quill when they finally make it down to involve themselves in the plot, is hard to treat as anything other than a particularly clumsy bit of storytelling that serves to keep Matteusz at an odd remove from the main characters, dropping out of the story for an episode and then popping up having been thrown out of his house, as opposed to us getting to see him get thrown out. It’s odd, because there’s no obvious reason for him not to be given roughly the same weight that Tanya, Ram, April, and Charlie get, and yet he very clearly isn’t. It’s also a bit puzzling to do this as your third episode, such that your ghosts are all characters we’ve never seen before, which ends up being somewhat underwhelming. Tanya’s father is at least well-set up by the previous episode and the intro montage, but Mrs. Quill’s sister is an utterly damp squib.
But for everything that’s clumsy there are bits that are deft and intelligent. The obvious thing to talk about is April and Ram’s conversation, in which April gives something like a full account of herself (at once re-expositing and expanding on her previous description of her mother’s accident) followed by some charmingly ill-advised (and against the run of tropes, which would have had Ram and Tanya hooking up) smooching. It’s not some extraordinary piece of television, but it’s a good character bit, and let’s face it, the dodgy bits aren’t searingly awful either.
So at the end of the day we have a very standard setup for a show like this that’s played close to textbook, but with enough differences to seem thoughtful and not rote. It’s not extraordinary, and is probably (spoilers) the weakest episode of Class so far, but if this is the show on an off-day, well, we’re on pretty good ground. I’ve remarked before that a spin-off tends to both be not as good and not as bad as the original, and certainly this comes nowhere near to Under the Lake/Before the Flood in its inanities and gaps of logic. (It goes without saying that we’ve not come anywhere close to Kill the Moon or Hell Bent in brilliance.) For a show that’s obviously grappling with the need to do a very cheap episode while also still figuring out what it wants to be, “not bad and occasionally pretty good” is a result that’s hard to complain about.
- There was some pushback regarding Rachel’s death last week and some surprise that I didn’t discuss it in terms of fridging. Let it never be said I don’t give the people what they want. Yeah, sure, it’s a textbook fridging. There’s no getting around that. Rachel is unequivocally killed for no reason other than to give Ram some angst. The two things that I think significantly mitigate the harm of it. First, there’s no headfake to it. Rachel isn’t ever established as a character – she shows up as Ram’s date and dies quickly. There’s not the sense of an interesting character being tossed aside so that a male character can be moody for a bit. Rather, and this gets to number two, she’s there to establish Ram’s baseline. Which is to say, unlike most fridgings this isn’t a second/third act twist to provide a painfully limited vision of “maximum drama” to an already established character – it’s a decision made to start what looks set to be a long arc about Ram’s reaction to major trauma. That doesn’t make it “not a fridging,” but it at least strikes me as a good faith effort to avoid harm and tell an interesting story.
- What I am a little more irked by is the extent to which Tanya is sidelined within her focus episode, especially in comparison with Ram last week. It’s not just that she’s closed off into her own bubble essentially spinning her wheels and waiting for the rest of the plot to get to her, as opposed to Ram who got to be the major engine of the plot, but the way in which she simply disappears for a seven minute chunk slap bang in the middle of the episode, mainly so the big Ram/April scene can happen. It’s not so much that I suspect she got shortchanged for being a black girl so much as that I think it’s terribly annoying that the black girl is the one who got shortchanged.
- Not, of course, that the white boy has had a single interesting thing happen to him outside of flashbacks yet. One hopes this will happen in the next story, which based on titles and descriptions is set to be a two-parter and thus a digression from the “focus episode” structure of episodes two and three. Which is clever, actually – I like doing a two-parter in the middle of the season as a structure.
- I’ve not read any of Ness’s books yet (I figure I’ll get to them when I write Class up for the volume of Eruditorum that was previously just going to be Torchwood, Sarah Jane Adventures, and Sherlock so that gets to have something more enticing than just the Sherlock S4 essays as new content), but I am finding myself wondering… is dialogue one of his strong suits? Because it’s not especially here. He’s not bad at it, but there’s a certain… stiffness to it.
- Speaking of stiffness, after being the best thing out of the first two episodes I find myself looking at Ms. Quill and fretting that she’s becoming a bit one-note. The confrontation with her sister was, as I said, flat, but worse are just the ways in which she’s feeling like a one-note joke. The “no one disgraces the memory of my sister by making her nice” line is probably the worst offender here, but it’s not great to watch her bounce off the rest of the characters celebrating at the end of the episode for the second time in a row. She’s starting to feel like she’s in a different show from everybody, not least because she’s yet to have a meaningful scene with anyone who isn’t Charlie.
- Oh, and speaking of awkward, having April actually in the midst of writing a piece called “Nightvisiting” is rather excessively on the nose.
- Also, as is probably obvious, these aren’t always going to be high-priority same day reviews. In fact, let’s go ahead and assume they’re going up for Monday from here on out, with Monday’s usual content taking up either the Tuesday or Friday slot depending on whether Jane or Daniel/Shana have something that week.
- Right. Rankings.
- The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo
- For Tonight We Might Die