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