The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 3

SPOILER WARNING – I’M GOING TO TRY AND REVIEW THESE EPISODES AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE ORIGINAL U.S. TV BROADCAST. IF YOU’RE IN THE U.K., AND PLANNING TO WATCH THE BROADCAST ON FX THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY, BE AWARE THAT MAJOR PLOT POINTS WILL BE DISCUSSED!

Save the Last One

WalkingDeadShane

It was (almost) straight back into the thick of the zombie action in this week’s Walking Dead, but for the first time this season, it felt like the characters had more dramatic heft than the events surrounding them. For the first time this season, this episode felt like a drama punctuated by zombie action, rather than zombie action interrupted by lulls in which characters stated the obvious.

It was dark territory indeed this week, no mean feat for a show that’s set in a post-apocalyptic hell roamed by flesh eating corpses. But it wasn’t the scenario in which our characters found themselves that made it so dark; rather, it was a series of cleverly intertwined musings on the desire for survival versus the choice to opt out and die.

That this seemed more interesting than the zombie shenanigans faced by Shane and Otis at the infested school medical centre was perhaps the first time this season that the characters have felt fully rounded enough to actually care about. The depth of the characters in the first season was one of the reasons the show was part of that group – including Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones – that propelled genre television into the ‘serious drama’ realm. I must confess that, until this week, I hadn’t really felt that season 2 had managed to recapture that; this episode, by show newcomer Scott Gimple, amply made up for it.

The theme of whether it was worth living in a world like this, or better just to give up, was what drove the episode, and was first brought up in a truly intense scene between Rick and Lori. With their son Carl still in critical condition, and Shane’s return with the necessary medical equipment very much in doubt, Lori had started to wonder whether it would be better if Carl didn’t make it after all. Why, she argued, would a child want to live in a world like this, eventually to become nothing more than a hunted animal himself?

This is a theme touched upon in the original comics on several occasions, but the performances of Andrew Lincoln and Sarah Wayne Callies gave it a lot more oomph than just reading it on the page. And as in the comics, you found yourself wondering whether giving up might be the more sensible thing to do. As Lori pointed out, their friend Jackie (who chose to die in the explosion of the CDC) hadn’t had to see any of the terrible things that had happened since. Rick, of course, was more optimistic – he’s the hero, he has to be. But even then, when it looked like Hershel was going to have to take the risk and operate on Carl without equipment, it was Lori he asked to make the choice.

In an episode where death seemed more significant than it has recently, Andrea and Daryl found themselves having a similar heart to heart as they went on a (somewhat inadvisable) trip to the woods by night to continue their search for little Sophia. Darabont regular Laurie Holden (best known to me as Marita Covarrubias in The X Files) has been varying anger and despair in her portrayal of Andrea since Dale persuaded her not to remain in the CDC as well, and this is obviously going to be a running character thread.

As I mentioned last week, of all the characters, Daryl seems best equipped psychologically to deal with the situation, and he countered Andrea’s hopelessness with similar optimism to Rick. He’d been lost in the woods as a child too, and after all, he’d made it ok. But he gave Andrea’s death wish short shrift as they encountered an all too gruesome reminder of the consequences; a man who’d hanged himself from a tree but neglected to shoot himself in the head, leaving his reanimated corpse dangling helpfully while others munched on the flesh from his legs.

This was a nicely gory way of ramming home the point of their argument, as Andrea confessed she wasn’t sure if she still had a death wish. But later, as Dale apologised for taking away her decision and gave her back her gun, you had to wonder. You also had to wonder whether Dale had a death wish of his own as he went on a ramble through the darkened traffic jam in search of cigarettes. I’m a hopelessly addicted smoker myself, but even I would probably rather endure nicotine withdrawal than wander around a dark area that might be full of zombies. Still, nice to see that Dale smokes Morleys; this fictional ‘almost-Marlboro’ brand may be most associated with The X Files, but it’s been a staple of TV shows since at least the early 60s.

In contrast to last week, pretty much all of the characters got a moment in the spotlight here, with none given a raw deal. We got to know Hershel’s daughter Maggie better this week, and I particularly enjoyed the growing intimacy between her and Glenn. Glenn as a character has sometimes got short shrift in the comic, but has sometimes seemed even more perfunctory in the TV version; it was nice to see Steven Yeun given some decent material at last, as he caught the character’s blend of smartassery and adolescent awkwardness. Lauren Cohan as Maggie seemed a lot more ballsy than she does in the comics, which is no bad thing, and it looks like she and Glenn might grow close…

Leaving earlier than he did in the comics, though, was Pruitt Taylor Vince as Otis. Otis in the comics always seemed a bit of a spare part, as though Robert Kirkman introduced him then had no idea what to do with him. Vince’s characterisation actually gave him more depth, but he certainly didn’t outstay his welcome. I may have been concentrating on the character drama this week, but the intervening zombie action was still pretty thrilling as Otis and Shane struggled to get away from the infested school.

There were some well-directed shock moments like when Shane was about to jump from a window and a zombie suddenly reared out and grabbed him; or when a horde of them, previously unseen, lurched into the chain link fence Shane and Otis were resting against. But nothing like the shock moment that was revealed in flashback after Shane returned, alone, to Hershel’s farm. For it transpired that, despite Shane’s tale of heroic sacrifice, Otis had actually been shot by Shane himself to decoy the zombies while he got away.

The moment this happened was a genuine shock, despite previous heavy signs that Shane was a wrong ‘un. Remember last season, when he sighted Rick with his hunting rifle before Dale turned up? Or when he practically tried to rape Lori in the CDC? Shane’s badness came to light fairly early on in the comics and he was duly despatched (though Rick had to dig him up again later to shoot him in the head properly). It’s one of the best decisions of the TV version to change this, as Jon Bernthal’s charismatic performance makes him believable and likeable even though you know what he’s capable of – in this case, not even leaving poor Otis the last bullet to shoot himself before the zombies tore him apart.

As Shane took the opportunity to shave his head back at the farm (to hide the marks Otis had made struggling with him), he looked like the very devil himself in the steamy bathroom mirror. Unfortunately, in one of the few missteps this week, we’d seen this in the pre-credit sequence. It works well as a device causing the viewer to wonder why this was significant, which was revealed at the very end of the episode. But while I can see the intention, I thought it also drastically undercut the tension of Shane and Otis’ deadly mission; after all, we always knew Shane would make it back, because he hadn’t shaved his head yet.

That criticism notwithstanding, this was far and away the best episode since the show’s return. The drama was compelling, the zombie action thrilling, and the dramatic balance between the two far better struck than in previous weeks. The characters too seem finally to be shining the way they did last year. Despite the fact that the overall plot has, technically, barely moved, I was gripped throughout, and hope we can have more episodes of this kind of quality.

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 1

“Maybe it’ll be different this time. Maybe there won’t be any shit going down.”

Misfits Yr 3 Group

Yeah, right. At last, E4 have brought us the long-anticipated third series of their hit teen/comedy/drama/fantasy show Misfits, a surprise hit when it debuted a couple of years ago. Dismissed early on as Skins meets Heroes, the show was far more vital, far more inventive, and just far more scatologically funny than either of those. An everyday tale of five disparate young people on community service who unexpectedly gain superpowers, it was witty, well-written and well-acted.

Having successfully pulled off the “difficult second album” with series 2, series 3 actually has a bit more to deal with in terms of weight of expectations. An admittedly somewhat convoluted timey-wimey storyline has meant that writer Howard Overman has to pay very close attention to continuity, without alienating the viewers with masses of back references. On top of that, at the end of the last series, our heroes finished their community service, meaning that there was really no reason for them to stay together as a group. In order to retain the show’s flavour, it was necessary to get them back on the wrong side of the law. And to cap it all, loudmouthed (but funny) Nathan has left, as Robert Sheehan took advantage of his star-making turn to leap into a movie career.

Replacing Nathan was always going to be difficult. With his cocky attitude, loud mouth and propensity for highly inappropriate sexual references, he may not have been the smartest of the group, but he certainly stood out the most. This first episode of the new series rightly concentrated on presenting us with a new super-powered character to replace him, as we met Rudy, incarnated by Joseph Gilgun (best known as the hapless Woody in This Is England and Eli Dingle in Emmerdale).

At first glance, Rudy seemed a little like a carbon copy of Nathan (albeit more Northern and less Irish). He’s loud, he’s cocky, and he has a slightly disturbing fixation with anal sex.  But even before the opening credits we got an inkling of how he was going to differ. We first encountered him visiting “that mysterious cool guy who sells powers”, giving us the natural assumption that he wanted to buy one. But as he left after a fracas and cornered his mysterious assailant on a very dangerous looking rooftop, it became clear that he already had a power, and he obviously wanted to get rid of it.

As it turns out, Rudy’s power is that when he’s feeling down or insecure, those parts of his personality physically manifest themselves as another version of him springing from his chest. It’s in keeping with our heroes’ original powers, which reflected their personalities; and that’s where Rudy differs from Nathan. You often got the sense that there was a more sensitive (ie less crass) side to Nathan, but it was only ever hinted at. With Rudy, it’s right out there next to him. Or, more frequently, fighting with him, as his sensitive side seems to have a knack for exposing his insecurities. Their first disagreement on the roof showed that Howard Overman has lost none of his talent for very dirty (and very funny) humour: “Remember in the showers at PE when you got turned on by Richard Saunders soaping his balls? Yeah, and then you thought about it while you wanked into that fake vagina you made of mum’s rubber gloves.”

Gilgun is excellent as Rudy, delivering two quite distinct performances as the different versions of him. His public face is so boorish as to be almost a cartoon, but when the morose version pops out, you realise there’s more to him than someone who loves unprotected anal sex (“Nice girls never get HIV”). And in the calmer moments when he’s not fighting with his other self, both sides reveal themselves to be a bit deeper than the bloke who very publicly gets it on with his girlfriend in a bar (“Is he fingering her? Eww.”).

With Rudy nicely introduced from the outset, and already on community service with two new girls, it was time to wonder what had happened to the heroes we know and love. At the end of the last series, they’d sold their powers to “that mysterious guy” whose own power was to redistribute those of others (following this?). Finding normal life less rewarding, they’d gone back to him and asked to buy their powers back; but he’d already sold them on, so they had their pick of a bunch of new ones. The question, at the opening of this series, was which powers they’d got.

The script cleverly eked out this information throughout the episode. We first found out that gobby Kelly (Lauren Socha, still superb this year) has now got the power of being… a rocket scientist. Literally. Her only ability is to design rockets. This turns out not to be all it’s cracked up to be, as her attempt to sell a design for a ballistic missile fell foul of a snobbish CEO who refused to believe that anyone who sounded like her could be capable of designing rocket propulsion systems. On the face of it, this power seems rather rubbish, but Overman has previously shown ingenuity at making each power crucial to one story or another – I look forward to seeing what plotline that’s going to resolve.

Curtis, meanwhile, has lost his ability to reverse time and change the outcome of events (which always felt like a copout way of getting out of things, anyway). And like Kelly, his new power, on the face of it, doesn’t seem that useful. He can change into a girl. And that’s it. The same girl each time, a female version of himself (causing Rudy to muse “I’ve always fancied a vagina… mind, I’ve heard they’re quite high maintenance, cleaning and that”). This is a bit of a sore point for Curtis, who admitted, “I was the last one to pick, and all the other powers had gone”. But it’s already been useful evading a pursuing policeman, and I’m guessing there’ll be some interesting… sexual issues coming up as the series progresses.

Alisha can now put herself “into someone else’s shoes”, and see what they’re seeing – potentially very useful. And Simon? Well, as of this episode, we still don’t know what Simon’s new power is, but he’s continuing to grow in confidence as the group’s nominal leader. Iwan Rheon has delivered a cleverly progressing performance as Simon has developed from the painfully shy and slightly creepy introvert of the first series into his destiny as the black-clad “super-hoodie”. This week, we saw him practising the free running we know super-hoodie will be good at, even if he bottled it at one particularly dangerous jump.

The most obviously superhero-like of the characters, Simon’s comic book knowledge is serving him well, and he still has the mysterious Batcave-like lair he inherited from his future self (now there’s a timey-wimey paradox for you). He’s also been working out, and I was rather happy that the new series continues the trend developed last year that every episode will feature at least one scene of him shirtless and displaying his impressively toned body. But exploitation aside, Iwan Rheon continues to give Simon a more mature feel – witness the touching scene this week as he consoled the guilty Alisha, ashamed of her past as “the cockmonster”.

With all this setting up to do for this year’s events, it was perhaps sensible that the actual plot (such as it was) was what has already been established as a standard Misfits story. The gang encounter someone else with a power who’s misusing hit, and have to engage their ingenuity to stop them. This time, it was one of the two new community service girls, who, after a misunderstanding with Rudy’s duplicate, took against him rather. As it turned out, she had the power to freeze people (though not time itself; the frozen barman’s pint continued to pour, overflowing into the drip trays) and do whatever she liked to them. Predictably, this escalated because of Rudy, who declared, “If you fuck me, I’ll fuck you right back with a cherry on top.”

After Rudy had framed her for nicking a charity box, she handily used her power to escape from the police. It all came to ahead as she froze Rudy and his equally anal sex fixated girlfriend, then stabbed her and placed the knife in his hand before they unfroze. And then Alisha happened upon them, and a bit more freezing later, she and Rudy were perched on the back of chairs with nooses round their necks.

This was the first instance of Rudy’s power coming in handy, as his morose other self came to their rescue – though not before Rudy had kicked their attacker over and accidentally killed her. Cue the funny scene in which Rudy is initiated into the Misfits tradition of burying the bodies of those they’ve accidentally killed; Kelly was hysterically blase as she smoked a cigarette and shrugged, “you just bury them and move on”.

But our gang were still free from community service; that is, until they took a ride in Rudy’s car, which turned out not to be Rudy’s car after all, but the property of “some guy with a perm”. It may have seemed a little convenient to get them back onto community service so quickly, but that’s the show’s formula, and Howard Overman is wise enough not to screw with it. Besides, it means they’re back in the purview of amusingly callous probation officer Shaun, who’s managed to somehow not be killed yet. Drily played by Craig Parkinson, Shaun is clearly a spiritual cousin to Mr Gilbert from The Inbetweeners: “I’ve found a new vocation. I’m going to totally rehabilitate you. I’ll get on with that after I’ve watched Homes Under the Hammer.”

A strong start, then, and a likeable new character who seems to work well as a replacement for the much-beloved Nathan. So what’s to come? It looks like “the mysterious guy who sells powers”, aka Seth, is going to be much involved this year. It looks like he’s “lost” a power. And it’s an important one. Perhaps more worryingly, there’s more than a hint that he’s going to end up romantically entwined with Kelly. The Alisha/Simon romance continues to develop, as she matures into something more than “the cockmonster” and he sensitively takes his shirt off once a week to make me happy. And I’m sure Curtis’ sex swapping ability is going to lead to all sorts of confusion, and give Rudy the opportunity to make some really dirty jokes. Watch this space…

 

Addendummy Twitter friend Rob Taylor (@Stupid_Face_Rob) has pointed out that it looks like Simon’s power is to see into the immediate future. Hence the bottling out of the jump. I didn’t pick up on that, assuming he was just imagining the result, but I’m sure Rob’s right!

The Fades, Episode 6

“It’s today. It’s the end of everything.”

FadesEp6

It’s apocalypse now, as The Fades reaches its much-anticipated climax this week. Paul’s dreams of the end of everything are becoming more frequent, as Reborn Fades wander the deserted streets in search of fresh meat. But we know from last week that Paul’s visions of the future can be changed. Or is it just that he doesn’t have the full picture yet?

This final episode paid off in spades all the concepts and plotlines that have been so carefully set up through the series’ run. I had been slightly worried that writer Jack Thorne wouldn’t be able tie the myriad of imaginative concepts and likeable characters up satisfactorily, but actually this really did. Almost – because then there was that coda…

But to begin at the beginning: it was a nice touch, in keeping with the story’s continuity, that Mac’s “previously on” recap was delivered from inside the boot of Neil’s Vauxhall Vectra, into which he’d been unceremoniously shoved at the end of the previous episode. You could tell this was going to be a dark episode when even Mac was so downbeat: “In the beginning was the word. And the word was shit.” It set a grim tone that was reinforced by some atmospheric montage shots of the deserted town, with bodies lying strewn on pavements and in rivers. (Incidentally, thanks to Alex from the Love and Liberty blog for enlightening me that this “everytown” is mostly South Oxhey and surrounding areas of Watford.)

Clearly then, the Fades had won; a fact hammered home by John as he led his little troupe of Reborn acolytes into the office of the Mayor, pausing briefly to chomp on an unfortunate council employee who hadn’t had the sense to get out of town. Joe Dempsie continued to impress as John, who, like all the best villains, had believable motivations; as he put it, angrily, “70 years of suffering!” Dempsie managed to convey a real sense of threat and menace without descending into Blofeld-style melodramatics, even when likening his story to that of Lot and the Sodomites.

John was so scary precisely because he didn’t want the problems solved. Possibly mad after his decades long post-mortem ordeal, he’s happier as a flesh eating revenant than he would be to Ascend. And with the last Ascension point closed by Paul, his followers seem to feel the same. But Dr Tremlett made some sense when he pointed out that there were no people left here to eat any more, and they should move on. John, however, was fixated on killing Paul, his motives murky. Was it out of a genuine sense of strategy, knowing that if his Reborns were to thrive, he had to remove the only one who could stop them? That’s what he told them, but the way he clasped the now-gone Natalie’s necklace suggested that there was more than a hint of revenge there, and those out for revenge rarely think clearly.

That such an outlandish villain could have such an understandable, even sympathetic set of motivations is a mark of how well Thorne writes characters. But John wasn’t the only villain this week. Building on the hints of single-minded fanaticism that had been present throughout the series, Neil emerged as just as dangerous a threat, leaving Paul caught between two polar opposites of psychosis. Johnny Harris has been excellent as Neil from the beginning, never a sympathetic mentor figure in the Obi-Wan Kenobi mould; so when he dragged Jay out at gunpoint to coerce Paul into going along with his plan, it was a very convincing threat.

And I have to say, given how well the character had been built up, it was perfectly believable that he did, ultimately, shoot her. The only problem, if it can be said to be that, was that Neil’s fanaticism had been built up so well that it almost seemed a foregone conclusion, but that in no way lessened the shock. Clearly, this was a story that was taking no prisoners, and any of the characters who’d been so lovingly and likeably drawn was fair game.

I was a little surprised that Paul, having failed to heal her (this limit on his power felt necessary to inject the sort of jeopardy often missing from superhero stories), would so quiescently follow Neil, capitulating to his plan to kill John. But really, what choice did Paul have? Jay was gone, but Neil still had his mum, his sister and his best friend salted away in undisclosed locations. With the threat that real, obviously Paul would have no choice.

The scene of all three confronting each other amid gunfire in the Mayor’s office was directed with a masterful tension, as they taunted, cajoled and exposed each other’s weaknesses. John’s contemptuous assessment of Neil as an orphan who nobody liked echoed Neil’s earlier, revealing, exchange with Mac when he confessed that, as an orphan with no friends who saw dead people, he’d once thought he was Jesus Christ – probably the ultimate sign of monomania. But John came off no better, rejecting Paul’s attempts to help him. So I couldn’t help letting out the first of several “Yay!”s this episode as Paul, tiring of both of them, stood up and threatened to blast them both with his hand rays before dashing off to fix the real Ascension point – the disused shopping centre where he’d first found Neil, John and Sarah.

Sarah too was getting some closure. Having been unable to resist trying to kill Mark while having sex with him, she’d fled to threaten John – as much as she could – before having a soul-baring tussle with Alice, the last of the Angelics. As Alice told her the unpalatable truth that, as an Angelic, she just didn’t do well enough, it gave her a necessary resolve. Paul had told her that the visions of the future could be changed; and she had to do that before Paul’s watch reached the fateful time of 4.20, at which John would stab him to death.

Mac, meanwhile, had been locked into a shipping container with Anna, as they resolved the love/hate relationship built up over the series. Well, sort of resolved it, anyway. Locked in a container surrounded by hungry Fades trying to smash their way in is an odd situation in which to confess your undying love, but Mac managed it. In an episode full of performances turned up to 11, Daniel Kaluuya still managed to steal every scene he was in, even outdoing the excellent Lily Loveless as Anna. Nevertheless, Anna too continued her journey towards being sympathetic as she started to thaw towards Mac – though perhaps not as much as he believed!

Of course, that scene wouldn’t have worked so well if Paul and Anna’s mum had been locked in there with them. If I have a real criticism of this conclusion, it’s that both she and Sarah’s husband Mark didn’t really get a resolution to their storylines. Neither, really, did Mac’s dad, though there was at least some kind of circular conclusion as he ended up rescuing Paul’s mum from where she was tied up in her house. Mark, meanwhile, just got the hell out of town with Vicky, his recent on-off shag.

As with all the characters, these had been well-drawn enough that I’d hoped for their storylines to end with something more conclusive than just tailing off or leaving. But I can perhaps excuse Jack Thorne in the sense that these characters were necessary for the more important one to play off, and he’s a good enough writer that even if secondary, they came off as fully rounded personalities. Perhaps if there’s a second series we can see more of what happened to them…

And a second series there may well be, if the end of this is anything to judge by – though I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. It all climaxed with a heartstopping confrontation between Paul and John in the disused underground shopping centre where it all began, and we realised that Paul’s visions of an ashy apocalypse were premonitions of this event; as he reopened the howling beam of Ascension from beneath the fountain, ash rained down all over the place.As foreseen, John showed up to stop him, and a really rather brutal fight ensued.

One of the things I’ve always liked about teenage fantasy fiction books – unlike their childrens’ TV equivalents – is that the books don’t shy away from putting the heroes through the physical wringer. We got that here in spades as Paul was shot, and beaten, and had his hand broken by John with a wince-makingly believable ‘crack’ sound. But just as it looked like the premonition was all coming true, Sarah popped up to redeem herself, by interposing herself between John’s fatal shard of broken glass and Paul. At which point, Paul, already rather badly injured, surprisingly threw himself off the high balcony they were now on.

And here I couldn’t resist another “Yay!” as Paul’s wings extended and he flew. A true Angelic, with emphasis on the ‘Angel’, he hovered above the Ascension point, blasting power into it until it reopened fully, at which point all the Reborn Fades disintegrated into a shower of light, then formed into birds and flew off. (A word about the birds, incidentally – I think this is inspired by Stephen King’s The Dark Half, where, as in many cultures, birds are characterised as psychopomps, their duty to escort recently deceased souls to the afterlife.)

So Mac and Anna were saved as Dr Tremlett and the other Reborns melted away, while fittingly, John’s much-delayed Ascension actually seemed really painful. But in the end he went too, and the shot faded out on Paul’s watch, showing that fateful time of 4.20. Was he dead? It seemed not, as Anna and Mac found him bloodied and crying sitting on a shopping trolley. But as Neil cowered in the doorway of the Angelic HQ, muttering that, “you don’t mess with Ascension”, the grey skies turned red. Clearly it’s not all over, and it’s far from clear that the Paul we saw was properly alive, given the injuries he’d suffered.

As I said, I’m not sure this is a good idea. This has been a compelling, enjoyable story, but the ‘cliffhanger’ ending felt a little tacked on, as though somebody at BBC3 had had a premonition that the show would be a great success and asked Jack Thorne if a second series was possible. While I appreciate that viewers will always want more of something they enjoyed, I thought that the show had had a proper ending and probably should have been left to stand alone as a great story. The classic children’s fantasy TV that this often reminded me of tended to do just that; I don’t recall TV execs clamouring for a second series of Children of the Stones or The Changes.

Of course, that’s all just theorising, and Thorne may have always had a continuation planned. If and when it happens, I hope it can live up to this story, which has been one of the best bits of fantasy TV in ages. A lot of people said it started slow, with too much of the Skins-influenced bits of Paul’s ordinary life, but I actually thought these were essential in building the characters and the environment they inhabited. It was also an obvious tribute to the comics that must have influenced Thorne; the superhero leading a double life as an average everyman like Clark Kent or Peter Parker. I thought the two strands were deftly interwoven throughout, cleverly combining into one big supernatural thriller by the final two episodes.

The dialogue and the cast were superb throughout, too. Iain de Caestecker as Paul perhaps suffered a little from being in the shadow of the more voluble Daniel Kaluuya as Mac, but he had the sort of intense introversion you see in the better superheroes; notably Michael Keaton’s Batman. Johnny Harris is fast becoming a guarantee of gritty, scary hard men who nonetheless have tragic vulnerabilities. I’m continually impressed with Lily Loveless, who also put in a great turn as a homeless girl in The Sarah Jane Adventures, transmitted while The Fades was halfway through. And how good was it to see Daniela Nardini again?

I’ve loved this show all the way through, and have to congratulate Jack Thorne on creating such a complex and imaginative mythology from scratch. As I say, I do rather wish it had been left to stand alone as one story. But equally, if the second series can live up to this one, I may change that opinion.

What science fiction said would happen

Clive James once said, when reviewing the 1930s Flash Gordon, that nothing dates a society quite so much as its vision of the future. But when it comes to science fiction, nothing dates it quite so much as, well, a date.

Many books, movies and TV shows striving for a sense of gritty realism in their near future worlds make the fatal mistake of assigning an actual date to them that’s not too far in the future. As a result, they’re left looking slightly foolish when that actual date comes and goes without the projected future actually happening. Never mind flying cars, I’m still waiting for the black market brain recorders we were promised by 1999 in 1995’s Strange Days.

As a bit of fun, I thought it might be interesting to go through some dates in recent history that were once projected as fantastic futures in science fiction, and compare what the visionaries thought would happen with what actually did. So here goes!

1975
What science fiction said would happen:
A genetically engineered plague would sweep the world, causing the extinction of humanity. Only Charlton Heston would remain, to do battle with the mutated vampirelike survivors. (The Omega Man)

What actually happened: Abba swept the world, causing the extinction of good taste in music.

OmegaMan

Reality vs Fantasy: Which is more terrifying?

Abba

 

1984
What science fiction said would happen:
A monolithic, all-controlling Party called Ingsoc would subjugate humanity in its quest for ultimate control and power. (1984)

What actually happened: A monolithic, all-controlling Party called the Conservatives subjugated the UK in its quest for the ultimate free market and profit.

1984Conservatives

Spot the difference?

 

1986
What science fiction said would happen:
Shrivelled space vampires from Halley’s Comet would terrorise London, sucking the “life force” from their unfortunate victims (Lifeforce)

What actually happened: Yuppies from the Home Counties terrorised London, sucking the character from formerly working class neighbourhoods by filling them with wine bars.

LifeforceYuppie

Which would you rather moved in next door?

 

1991
What science fiction said would happen:
Intelligent slave apes would rise up against humanity and conquer the planet at the behest of their leader, Caesar. (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes)

What actually happened: Apathetic slackers from the American Northwest rose up against major music labels and got too stoned to achieve anything, at the behest of their leader, Kurt Cobain.

Caesar Kurt

Which one used more hair products, I wonder?

 

1996
What science fiction said would happen:
The world would become engulfed in an ideological war between normal humans and genetically engineered supermen led by the tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek: Space Seed)

What actually happened: The UK became engulfed in an ideological war between the increasingly corrupt Conservative Party and the spin-engineered creation that was New Labour, led by the tyrant Tony Blair.

Khan! Blair!

I know which one I’m voting for.

 

1997
What science fiction said would happen:
LA would be a violent dystopian wasteland where police struggled to maintain control against heavily armed drug gangs while an alien creature stalked the rooftops on a hunt for humans. (Predator 2)

What actually happened: Actually, pretty much the above. Just without the alien creature. Unless you count Michael Jackson.

predator Jackson

“You are one UGLY mo-“

1999
What science fiction said would happen:
The Moon would be blasted out of Earth’s orbit by a nuclear explosion, and the crew of the Moonbase established there would have unconvincing adventures as the satellite travelled improbably fast to a different planet every week. (Space 1999)

What actually happened: The Greenwich Peninsula was blasted out of recognition by an architectural monstrosity known as the Millennium Dome, and the owners came up with unconvincing excuses as it haemorrhaged more taxpayers’ money every week.

Alpha Dome

Moonbase Alpha was later leased to Tottenham Hotspur

 

2001
What science fiction said would happen:
Man would travel to Jupiter to investigate a mysterious black slab that had something to do with our evolution. (2001: A Space Odyssey)

What actually happened: The West travelled to Afghanistan to investigate a mysterious terrorist who was never there in the first place.

Slab taliban

Cradle of civilisation?

 

2010
What science fiction said would happen:
We would go back to Jupiter to reactivate the murderous computer HAL 9000 in the hope he could tell us what had happened to the first mission. (2010: The Year We Make Contact)

What actually happened: We went back to Afghanistan to plead with Prime Minister Hamid Karzai in the hope he could stop the Taliban from blowing things up.

HAL PD*27814796

“I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that.”

April 21, 2011
What science fiction said would happen:
The third iteration of “Judgement Day”, as Skynet becomes self-aware and launches nuclear weapons to destroy humanity. (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)

What actually happened: TV news outlets the world over devoted an excessive amount of screen time to the fact that this is the date of “Judgement Day” in The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Terminator Cooper

“And I understand you have a book coming out…”

 

That’s just a few, and I’m sure there are many others. Why not try and list some yourselves? And with 2012 just round the corner, we could think what else is due to happen soon…

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 2

SPOILER WARNING – I’M GOING TO TRY AND REVIEW THESE EPISODES AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE ORIGINAL U.S. TV BROADCAST. IF YOU’RE IN THE U.K., AND PLANNING TO WATCH THE BROADCAST ON FX THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY, BE AWARE THAT MAJOR PLOT POINTS WILL BE DISCUSSED!

Bloodletting

The Walking Dead (Season 2)

After a strong start with last week’s season opener, the second episode of The Walking Dead’s second season felt a lot more low key. There was much less zombie action this week, as new showrunner Glen Mazzara’s script focussed more on the drama surrounding the characters – particularly Rick’s son Carl, who’d been accidentally shot by a hunter at the end of the last episode.

The episode opened with a flashback to pre-apocalypse days, as we saw how Shane informed Lori of her husband’s shooting, and how she then informed Carl. Obviously intended to provide a counterpoint or parallel to the situation now, as a dramatic device this felt a little obvious. Admittedly it paid off plenty as Rick and Lori agonised over their injured son, and we heard how they dealt with Rick’s comatose condition before the dead started rising; nonetheless, the flashback seemed unnecessary to highlight the similarities, as though the viewer needed to be cudgelled over the head to get the point.

Which was fortunate, because there wasn’t much other head-cudgelling going on this week. Perhaps because of the reduced budget (and admittedly, knowledge of this is going to have me scrutinising every episode for evidence of it), there was comparatively little zombie action this week. In fact, Andrea’s encounter with a lone walker was beginning to look like it as far as zombies were concerned; thankfully the showrunner knows that, however respectable the drama, a zombie show is going to need some zombies, so by the end we were back in the thick of them – briefly at least.

But to go back to the beginning – as in the comic, Carl’s shooting led our heroes to the farm of one Hershel Greene and his family. Hershel seemed almost awesomely prepared to deal with Carl’s injuries, leading the viewer to the obvious conclusion that he must be a doctor; but for readers of the comic, it was no surprise when Lori winkled out of him that he was, in fact, a veterinarian.

Actually this shouldn’t cause too much concern. There’s an episode of 70s BBC post-apocalypse drama Survivors where a similar situation crops up, and the vet in question points out that, unlike doctors, vets are trained as applied scientists. This is because they might at any point be called on to treat an animal whose physiology they’re unfamiliar with, so they’re taught to adapt basic principles. As that vet pointed out (in the UK at least) it’s illegal for doctors to operate on animals, but perfectly all right for vets to work on humans.

Mind you, it does point out one little problem, if you’re a fan of the comic – that there’s a good chance you’ll know what’s going to happen next. The Walking Dead has generally treated the comic more as an inspiration than a direct storyboard, which is by far the best approach. Hence, some well-remembered set pieces from the comic are retained, but generally the show is its own animal. It’s just that when, as last week with Carl’s shooting, the show reproduces a moment from the comic very faithfully, you tend to know what’s coming next. It might be interesting if, at some point, a script lifts an incident directly from the comic and deliberately changes the result of it, to wrongfoot those of us who are familiar with the story in its original medium. However, the conversation between Rick and Hershel as to “God’s plan” with the plague, and its potential cure, hints that we’re quite likely to see the next part of that plotline in the near future as Rick investigates Hershel’s barn…

Most of the episode, though, was spent agonising over whether Hershel could dig out the six fragments of bullet that hunter Otis had left in Carl. I must say it seemed impressive/implausible that Hershel could tell how many fragments there were without the aid of an X ray, but we’ll ignore that for now. There was also much soul searching among the now fragmented group of heroes; Rick and Lori were beside themselves worrying about their son, while the search party for little Sophia discussed the advisability of asking God for help (Daryl, pragmatically, concluded that it was a waste of time) and back at the RV, Dale had to deal with T-Dog’s cut becoming dangerously infected.

All nice, character developing stuff, but it did feel as though the story moved very slowly while it was going on. As a character, Norman Reedus’ Daryl is already becoming far more likeable (if less exciting) than his more overtly redneck brother Merle; it’s a telling indication of the occasionally survivalist mentality of zombie stories that he’s coming across as one of the best equipped to deal with the situation. Not that the script ignored the other tendencies of rednecks in general, as T-Dog told the incredulous Dale that he felt a bit worried being the only black man with “two cracker sheriffs and a redneck”. It’s nice to see IronE Singleton as T-Dog getting a bit more to do this season, and in a way this speech felt like a critique of him having been almost the “token black” last year.

Nevertheless, the tension built up by his feverish infection and the apparent lack of antibiotics to treat it was immediately undercut when the returning Daryl nonchalantly produced a handy bag of pills from his motorbike. This had the effect of making the entire subplot feel very much like filler. And the decision of Dale, Andrea and Daryl to remain with the RV – in case Sophia comes back – while the others head back to Rick smacked of a certain limit in settings. I said last week how impressively expensive the corpse-strewn traffic jam looked; it seems now that this will have to be justified by some of the characters spending a lot of time there. Budgetary considerations again?

Elsewhere, the story did gain a bit of momentum again as Shane joined up with Otis to try and scavenge some much-needed medical supplies from a local FEMA emergency shelter. Pruitt Taylor Vince was somewhat typecast as Otis, though the revelation that he had medical knowledge from volunteering as an EMT expanded his role somewhat from the comic. The other new characters on Hershel’s farm, though, were far more paper thin. Otis’ wife got barely more than a few lines, while the unidentified teenage boy didn’t get to say anything at all. At least Hershel’s daughter Maggie got to be a bit hardass, as she rescued Andrea by cudgelling a zombie from horseback. Let’s hope that the others at least get a chance to talk in the upcoming weeks, but it actually felt like the show might be getting a little overmanned in terms of characters again.

It was looking like that lone zombie might be the only one we saw this week, and I was beginning to think that, for budgetary reasons, Shane and Otis’ mercy mission would take place entirely offscreen. But here was the first evidence that my eagle-eyed search for budget cuts wasn’t always right. As they turned up at the local high school converted into a FEMA shelter, it was swarming with zombies. This did revitalise the episode somewhat, as they had to figure out how to get past them and get at the medical supplies. This was neatly done in a tensely directed scene as Shane had the bright idea of distracting them with lit roadflares from the back of a handy police cruiser – though I couldn’t help being reminded of the fireworks used to distract zombies in Romero’s recent Land of the Dead. Perhaps a love of shiny things is part of official zombie lore now.

Unfortunately, Shane and Otis don’t seem to have worked out an escape plan, and the episode climaxed with them barricading themselves in the school, and their flimsy barricade about to give way. It was a pretty tense last few minutes that almost made up for the general slowness of the rest of the episode.

So, a much less exciting episode this week – though it remains to be seen how much this feeling was caused, for me, by familiarity with these events from the comic. Still, the characters and performances continue to engage, even if the structure of the story could have used a bit of work. With Shane and Otis in the thick of some real zombie action at the climax, let’s hope next week is rather more evenly paced.

Spooks: Series 10, Episode 6

“I left because I always thought there’d be too many secrets between us. Stupid really, because, you and I… we’re made of secrets.”

SpooksHarryRuth

It’s the saddest day ever in Thames House, because it’s the end. The very end. And in keeping with the style of the show we’ve come to know and love over the last ten years, it’s not a happy one.

In contrast to last week’s high octane, action-filled episode, this was a season finale that was, basically, a bunch of people in a few rooms talking. But rarely has such talking been so tense and hyperdramatic, as all the secrets about the Big Plot, stretching back over more than thirty years, were gradually uncovered while all those concerned still tried to deceive and manipulate each other. As our heroes got together with the Gavrik family in an abandoned nuclear bunker to chew over events recent and old, the tension was palpable, based on knowledge of the stakes being played for.

But first, there did have to be some actual action, as the drama couldn’t proceed with Harry still in the custody of the vengeful CIA. After taking something of a back seat last week, Erin and Dimitri were properly back in the fray as Elena Gavrik suddenly and unexpectedly revealed that she knew everything, but the only person she’d talk to was Harry. Thus, Erin and Dimitri hatched a plan that was worthy of Harry’s disrespect for official channels – they were going to spring him from CIA custody as he was transported to a secret flight out of the country, presumably for a bit of rendition.

The CIA, it seems, transport their prisoners ‘inconspicuously’ in convoys of giant black SUVs, as obviously a giant Hummer with blacked out windows blends perfectly into the British countryside. Knocking out the electrical systems of the Hummer’s equally inconspicuous escorts (two giant Chevy Blazers), Dimitri fearlessly stood in the Hummer’s path until taking a shot at the very last moment to blow out its front tyre just as it was about to hit him. A nicely choreographed moment, to be sure, though I had to wonder why the vehicle didn’t have bulletproof tyres, or why it was so easy for Dimitri to just pull open the door and point guns at the occupying agents – surely the CIA would have made the Hummer as secure as a Group 4 van? Nonetheless, Harry was revealed to be locked in the trunk, as Dimitri perhaps unwisely pulled off his balaclava to reveal to him (and, presumably, the CIA) his true identity. As Harry commented, “this will probably come up in your next pay review.”

With Harry free, he was taken to an old MOD nuclear shelter handily equipped with police style lockable interview rooms (why the post-nuclear wasteland would require these was not explained). And it was here that, as the episode progressed, the important characters in the Big Plot gradually gathered. First to arrive were Ruth and Calum, bringing the now very dubious looking Elena, who’d ditched her husband’s security retinue with the surprisingly mundane cover of an interview for the Women’s Institute. Also along for the ride was Sasha, now in possession (he thought) of the true facts about his relationship to Harry Pearce, and just as eager to catch up with him as Elena was. And of course, he’d brought his gun, which seemed somehow to be the only one in circulation at this meeting of top security professionals.

And so the revelations began, while a sinister bald man started getting up to nasty things on a flight from Moscow to London. This was apparently “Plan B” for the shady group of Russian conspirators glimpsed occasionally as the story progressed. I must confess, as it was now clear that Elena was working directly for them, I wasn’t too sure exactly what Plan A had been. Elena obviously didn’t really intend to get either herself or her husband killed (or did she?), so the original plan must logically have been to sow seeds of discord between Britain and the US by framing the CIA as being behind all the attacks and subterfuge. Except, surely by driving a wedge between the US and the UK, they’d only push the UK closer to the very alliance with Russia they were trying to prevent? Still, it’s often the case in spy stories that motives are murky and methodologies unclear – at least that’s the excuse I’m using in case I missed something in the flood of revelations that subsequently occurred

I commented last week that Elena’s tearful conversation with Harry seemed implausible and melodramatic, but here we saw why it rang so false; because it was. Alice Krige was masterful in her performance of an apparently genteel Russian lady with a hitherto unsuspected core of steel and a rabid fanaticism about her nation. So, it transpired that she’d been lying to Harry from the moment she met him. Recruited by a black ops group within the KGB to pretend to be an asset and work as a double agent, she knew that Harry’s story about her parents being tortured by the KGB was a lie to recruit her. She did confess that she had real feelings for Harry, and had hoped he wouldn’t use the lie; but he did, and the die was cast.

And so she spent decades acting as an asset, all the while manoeuvring herself closer to Harry for some unspecified future masterplan. Again, what that was was unclear; I doubt that, at the height of the Cold War, the Russian conspirators foresaw the still rather implausible alliance between Russia and the UK. Still, they had something in mind, and apparently hoped one day to turn Harry. This indicates they didn’t do their research very well, as everything in Harry’s psychological makeup argues against that even being possible. But still, a disillusioned Harry had to give her credit for such successful duplicity: “You’re ten times the spy I ever was.”

But why come out with all these revelations now? Apparently, “Plan B” involved an attack that would kill hundreds, and “we all have a line won’t cross”. Plans within plans, as our heroes were led to a middleman who lay dead by a shredder containing a jammed photo of the sinister bald man. Calum’s usual lightning checks revealed him to be a former Spetsnaz agent currently on a flight into Heathrow – a flight which hadn’t been answering calls from Air Traffic Control. Jumping to the inevitable conclusion that a 9/11 style attack was in the works, Harry was straight on the phone to the frantic Home Secretary, and jets were scrambled to shoot down the suspect airliner with its payload of 312 passengers.

Of course, it was all a lie, too convenient to be true; the real plan was to force the UK into shooting down a Russian passenger jet and torpedo the nascent alliance. Typically, it was Ruth, with her talent for empathy, who was clever enough to figure this out. Elena had been prepared to defect to the West with her son, and have him brought up as British despite her nationalist ideals. That level of dedication smacked of fanaticism, and fanatics very rarely have lines they won’t cross. Sasha discovered this too as Harry threatened to shoot him if Elena didn’t come clean, and she still stuck to her lie.

But the very fact that Elena wouldn’t tell Harry what he wanted to hear (even if it was a lie) when her son’s life was at stake was enough to convince him, and he was straight on the phone to the Home Secretary (now in a rather low-rent recreation of the COBRA meeting room) to call off the jets. Obviously, the Spetsnaz agent was jamming the plane’s signals to engender the necessary suspicion, and the plane should be allowed to land normally. But the Home Secretary didn’t believe him, and the jets were only a couple of minutes away from their target.

Step up then, Ilya Gavrik, who had turned up at the bunker in time to witness his wife’s confession to decades of deception. He’s put the weight of his government behind the plea to call off the fighters – but only if he could have the key to the interview room where Elena was detained. Obvious alarm bells were going off in our heroes’ (and the viewers’) minds, but really, what choice was there? So there followed a genuinely tense sequence as the Eurofighters got closer… and closer… then pulled away with less than five seconds to go. And so the Big Plot was done, the crisis averted, and all that remained was to pick up the pieces of the human wreckage.

The most obvious wreckage being to the Gavriks, now revealed as possibly the most dysfunctional family the Cold War ever produced. After last week’s excellent summit between Harry and Ilya, Jonathan Hyde again gave a chillingly believable performance, reminding us that, whatever Ilya is now, he used to be a KGB man. He knows how to kill. So, inevitably, he locked the door of the room before our heroes could get at him, and got on with the job of exacting vengeance by strangling his wife in front of their son.

Which went down about as well as could be expected. Tom Weston-Jones has been broodingly handsome as Sasha throughout, but now we saw some real acting chops as he showed us quite how a young man who’s just had his whole world overturned would react. He’s found out, in short order, that Harry was his dad; then that his mother was a secret agent first for one side then the other; then that Harry wasn’t his dad after all; then that his mother was prepared to let him die in order to carry out a mass murder. And to cap it all, he then got to see his actual father strangling his mother. This is not going to make anyone feel well-adjusted, and it came as no surprise when he surreptitiously pocketed a handy shard of broken glass. The only question was, who was he going to use it on?

I’ve been saying since the beginning of this year’s series that, on prior evidence, there would be no happy ending for Harry and Ruth. The only question was, which one wouldn’t make it? I’d been tending towards it being Harry, going down in a blaze of glory as he saved the country single handed. But with the immediate crisis averted, that looked unlikely. Obviously Sasha and his broken glass were on the way, to deal retribution to whoever he thought responsible for the situation. Harry had engineered the whole thing, but Ruth had been the one who gave Ilya the key to the room where Elena was held. All bets were off.

But it was only fitting that, before the inevitable heartbreak, Harry and Ruth got one last scene to resolve their on-off relationship from the last few years. Theirs has been one of the most touching romances in recent TV drama; entirely chaste, fraught with the potential of future happiness continually thwarted, with two very likeable people seemingly resigned to the fact that their happy ending was never going to come. In Peter Firth and Nicola Walker, this has been conveyed with such quiet dignity, such unspoken British repression of feeling, that it’s been irresistible viewing.

As they began what turned out to be their final conversation, it looked – for a moment – like there might be a happy ending after all. Ruth continued her theme of this year about hating the secrecy so necessary in their profession: “I’ve always thought, the longer we keep secrets, the more our true selves got buried. That one day, I’d go looking and I wouldn’t be there any more.” But there’s an out; she’s leaving the service, and buying that nice house by the seaside. And Harry could go with her. “Leave the service. With me.”

Like, I’m guessing, a lot of viewers, I was silently wishing that the show’s writers would, just this once, let these two most likeable of characters have a deserved happy ending. But this is Spooks, and those are pretty rare here. So, with Wagnerian inevitability, Sasha approached with his lethal shard of glass, and both Harry and Ruth tried to take the fall for each other. But it was, surprisingly (to me, anyway), Ruth who caught the stab wound as she tried to push Sasha away from Harry.

Sasha was quickly taken out of the action by a handy pistol shot from Erin, and we got one of the more painful death scenes I’ve seen – not painful in a physical sense, but emotionally. It was hard to keep from tearing up as Ruth coughed her last, knowing full well that the show she’s been in for years doesn’t allow for happy endings: “We’re not meant to have those things.” And then, finally, Harry’s face cracked into heartbreaking tears as Peter Firth finally allowed himself to show the emotions his character was feeling.

All else was – literally – post mortem. Another quietly devastating scene followed as Harry went to inspect the house Ruth almost bought, and left, unable to stand it. For a moment, we wondered if he really had taken Ruth’s suggestion of quitting the service. As he drove away, the Home Secretary told him on the phone, “Nobody expects you to come back to work. Ever.”

But this is Harry Pearce, and his quiet nobility and devotion to duty are one of the show’s eternal mainstays. So it should have come as no surprise that, whatever his current reputation, his next stop was the Grid, and back to work. But before heading to his office, we got an emotional sendoff to the series as a whole, as he popped down to the previously unseen MI5 memorial wall to the fallen to pay his respects to “R. Evershed”. And she was the last name on a long list that, touchingly reminded us of all those characters we’ve seen die in the last ten years: Tariq, Ros Myers, Adam Carter, Jo Portman, Zafar Younis, even timid little Colin Wells from the tech section. And as if to emphasise the show’s past, its very first hero Tom Quinn (Matthew MacFadyen) put in a (widely rumoured) quick appearance, privately hired by Harry to take out the head of the Russian conspiracy.

It was a sweet capstone to a show that’s been (however frequently implausible) one of the most enjoyable British dramas of the last decade. And as Harry settled back down in his office, it was a comfort to know that, however unhappy, we’ve got this team of four people carrying on defending our land. Asked to sum up the day’s reports, Calum put it best: “Bad people want to kill us.” As good a summary of the situation as I ever heard, and as Harry, after a masterful pause, picked up the phone to hear what the next crisis would be, it felt like closure. No happy endings, to be sure. Just the safe and certain knowledge that we’re secure in these people’s hands. It may not be realistic, it may be wildly improbable, and they may only have four people against hordes of the nation’s enemies. But it’s good to know that, even if we don’t see it any more, life on the Grid goes on.

The Fades, Episode 5

“I didn’t come back to be a monster. I’ll find a way to help you.”

FadesEp5

Whoa, the Fades are taking over!

As I expected, events are ramping up in this penultimate episode of Jack Thorne’s consistently excellent teen/supernatural/fantasy/horror drama. This week saw the ordinary and supernatural worlds of… whatever provincial town it’s set in mesh, as the disappearances/flesh eating Fades began to rapidly multiply. And Paul began to find out just how powerful he actually is, much to Neil’s discomfort.

It was a high-octane, thrilling episode, as the ‘crisis centre’ the local police had handily established was co-opted by the growing number of Fades as a kind of convenient fast-food outlet, and Paul, his family and friends found themselves locked inside with John’s rapidly growing army of flesh eating minions. Basically, what we were seeing was the classic siege scenario used so successfully by any number of horror films (and Doctor Who episodes, come to that), but given a new twist by its location in the very school we’d come to think of as separate from Paul’s thrilling supernatural adventures.

The episode started with a montage of ‘Missing’ posters amid chaos in the local police station, handily establishing that the occasional disappearances had multiplied into a much bigger crisis. Meanwhile, Paul had been discharged from hospital, despite his doctors’ disquiet that he’d actually become healthier than before his accident. Even his mum was slightly disturbed: “Very few people come out of a coma healthier. It’s… odd.”

Thankfully, Mac was on hand to prove that this was still the same old Paul, by prompting him to nitpick the plotholes in Lord of the Rings and The Matrix.  In a time of crisis, Mac can be relied on to provide the humourous asides, but it’s well judged in the sense that it doesn’t undermine him as a believable and likeable character. Daniel Kaluuya continues to be excellent, and it’s a reminder that, for me at least, this kind of apocalyptic drama doesn’t need to be played with po-faced solemnity.

The wisecracking pop culture references intermingled with a cleverly orchestrated growing of tension, as we realised that the ‘crisis centre’ wasn’t all it seemed. This was first signalled by a surprisingly violent reappearance of Paul’s therapist, Dr Tremlett (Francis Magee), as he spoiled for a fight with Sarah’s widower Mark and his recent shag before unexpectedly lamping them and having them dragged off. Paul and the gang soon realised something was wrong too, as Anna’s missing boyfriend Steve was mysteriously ‘alive’ and well and volunteering there. I must admit, there have been a few leaps in logic in the show, and this was one – how exactly did Paul know that Steve had been killed by John? He might have put it together when he was a Fade last week, but I don’t recall him seeing John wearing Steve’s clothes. And even if he had, does Paul have such intimate knowledge of his sister’s boyfriend’s wardrobe? Just because he only has the one set of clothes himself (his ‘superhero’ costume perhaps?) doesn’t mean Steve did.

Still, that’s nitpicking a little, especially when Steve’s true identity was amply signified by the green drool he was wiping from his mouth. Cue much running around in corridors in classic Doctor Who style, as even Anna began to realise what was going on. Lily Loveless too was great as Anna, her character still pretty hardass despite her obvious concern for her brother. It was a great moment as she tried to take out Fade-Steve with a fire extinguisher to the head, while still finding time to tell him, “I can’t be scared of someone with a dick as tiny as yours!”

With Paul’s girlfriend Jay captured by John, our heroes rushed to discover where the Fades were keeping everyone. This turned out to be the school gym, converted into an impromptu larder, and it was here that we saw a well-played resolution to the relationship between Paul and his therapist. I’d wondered whether Dr Tremlett would prove to be mixed up in things, but he’s obviously just been converted into a Fade, which allowed for some much more effective ‘therapy’ than he’d previously been giving Paul: “You make me sick. All that whining about being afraid.” Paul’s standing up to him – “I’m not afraid of things like you” – was a well-written development for a character we’d first seen wetting his bed in fear of his dreams, and well-played by Magee and Iain de Caestecker.

It all came to a head as Paul traced the captive Jay to the boiler room, where new Fades were being born and allowed to eat from a handy pile of corpses. This begged the question: if you die and come back as a corporeal Fade, can you eat your own former body? Of course, even if you could, we’ve seen that one is never enough for these guys, so it would hardly be a remedy!

Jay’s presence was, of course, a trap by John, to lure Paul to where he could kill him. But John had reckoned without Neil and his trusty machine gun; and even more, he hadn’t realised that Paul’s magic ray shot from his palm can kill these corporeal Fades for good. This was graphically demonstrated as he actually shoved his hand right through Fade-Steve, and the resultant hole began to glow until Steve actually exploded.

So now we know what Paul can do, and how can he stop John’s rapidly growing Fade army. More importantly, Neil knows too, and he’s less principled than Paul when it comes to collateral damage. Waving his machine gun around the school hall, full of mostly normal people, he urges Paul to “kill them all”, but Paul’s badly aimed hand-ray brings down Natalie instead of his intended target John.

Johnny Harris as Neil is still a forbidding presence, and a nice subversion of the usual role of mentors in this kind of story. Obi-Wan Kenobi he ain’t, as his single-minded sense of purpose and disregard for anything else reeks of monomania: “What we did, we did for the good of everyone.” And he’s not too happy that Paul doesn’t want to go around killing everyone just in case they’re Fades.

For that matter, Paul’s not too happy about the morality of killing the Fades either, and this formed a large part of the post-siege part of the episode. Comic-book tropes were very much to the fore here, as Mac demonstrated that how Paul used his lethal powers was up to him. Proved, of course, by using analogies about Superman: “He doesn’t just melt the Daily Planet because he’s had a bad day at the office.”

Also familiar from any number of comic book stories (and fantasy in general) was the inevitable but very well done scene in which the hero and the villain come face to face on equal terms, and the villain tells the hero that they’re just alike. Here, Paul recognises the beginning of his nightmare in which all his family are dead by the moment when he drops a jar of sauce; and it’s neatly established that he can change the future he dreams of when he catches the jar and it doesn’t smash as it did in the dream.

Rushing outside, he comes face to face with John. John’s intent on killing those Paul loves as vengeance for Paul’s killing of Natalie. Joe Dempsie continues to be superb as John, all smiling menace, but what really made this scene work for me was the traditional comic book scenario being played out in the mundane setting of an everyday suburban street. Once again, Thorne displayed his aptitude at juxtaposing the fantastical with the purely ordinary to great effect as John accused Paul of being his side’s ‘monster’ just as John was for the Fades: “Everyone I kill comes back. Everyone you kill is wiped from existence. Which of us is the real monster?”

Of course, Paul’s trying to be a real hero (perhaps informed by all those comic books he and Mac have been reading), and reiterates what he told Neil: he doesn’t want to kill the Fades, he wants to help them. He’s going to try and reopen Ascension. John, of course, doesn’t believe him – “Yeah, a real help you’ve been so far” – and I’ve got a feeling that next week, John’s going to be impossible to ‘help’ and may have to be properly destroyed. And in order to spare Paul the moral dilemma, I think Neil’s somehow going to be instrumental in it.

Because Neil, unwilling to accept Paul’s refusal to kill all and sundry, has kidnapped Mac in an attempt to force his hand. Meanwhile, Mac’s dad has advised everyone to leave town (slightly implausible – since when did a provincial DCI have this kind of power, and how come nobody in the country at large is paying attention to what’s happening? Ah well). And Fade-Sarah has discovered that blending in with the flesh-eaters is a tall order if you don’t want to be a flesh eater yourself.

So the stage is set for a big final battle next week, as Paul, Neil, Mac and what’s left of the Aneglics face off in a deserted town (where is it, exactly?) against bad old John and his army of flesh-eating, near-invincible Fades. This series has been so consistently enjoyable, imaginative and well-realised that it’ll be a shame to see it go. But on the other hand, I’ll be disappointed if this doesn’t come to a proper, thrilling conclusion. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m pretty confident that it will.