“I never in my wildest nightmares imagined I’d be repeatedly asking this, but – did you shag my mum?”
A more sombre episode of Misfits this week, though not for the reasons you might expect. With the last original character having fairly dramatically died last week, you’d think there’d be some fallout; but this was pretty thin on the ground. Instead, Howard Overman concentrated on Finn, who’d recently discovered that the man he thought of his father actually wasn’t, and his quest to find his real dad. In the process, it delivered an emotionally charged and affecting piece of drama only tangentially related to the show’s fantasy element, which ironically I found far more affecting than last week.
There was still plenty of comedy along the way, as Finn made the uncomfortable discovery that his mum had had the nickname “Anal Mary” due to her unconventional sexual preferences, while Rudy, as ever, stood ready with a constant stream of innuendo and greed: “so, does your new dad have a car?”
But really, the focus of this episode was fundamentally tragic. Working from an old photo of people his mum might have shagged at a party where he was allegedly conceived, Finn eventually narrowed the list down to one – Dan, played with some power by genre stalwart Francis Magee (Yoren out of Game of Thrones and Paul’s therapist in The Fades). What prevented it from being a happy reunion (for Finn really is the unluckiest guy in the show) wasn’t a plot point based in the show’s style of fantasy but something far more real and dramatic. Dan was in the last stages of dying from incurable cancer.
I’ll admit at this point that this makes it hard for me to judge the drama objectively. My stepfather died an unpleasant lingering death from cancer some years ago, which was one of the most traumatic events in my life, so this really hit home for me. Francis Magee’s gaunt, haggard features lend themselves well to such a situation, but it was the acting that really sold it; I can testify to how uncomfortably accurate that was.
It wasn’t all bad luck, though, as Finn also got to meet his half-sister Grace, who was dedicated to the care of their dying father. Which is where the show’s fantasy aspect did get to play a small part. Grace (a sweet performance from Charlie Murphy) had a power; it was none too certainly defined, but whatever it was, she was using it to keep her father from dying. But it wasn’t curing him – just keeping him alive in an ever-increasing level of pain. He wanted to die, but Grace couldn’t see that, so he tasked Finn with taking her out for the evening and trying to convince her.
It was a pretty eventful night out, twisted up with the ongoing mystery involving Jess’ object of desire, the oddly reluctant Alex “from the bar”. This is now the only continuing plot thread, and it remains to be seen what Alex’s deal is. For now, though, the jealous Finn was trailing him, with an intrigued Grace in tow, to try and prove to Jess that he really was gay.
Their search led them to an underground car park, where Finn used his cellphone to film Alex giving another attractive young man a wad of cash. Typically, he believed it was payment for sex, but Misfits is seldom so obvious; whatever Finn believes, plainly something weirder is going on. In the event, he was forced to use his power to distract Alex from discovering him, letting Grace in on the fact that he had a power too (albeit a really crap one that extended to barely moving an empty lager can).
Grace then had to watch her newly-discovered half-brother making a dick of himself trying to convince the object of his desire that her lust object was really only after other guys (which didn’t work). Not only did that scupper Finn’s attempt to discuss their dad’s situation, it was then compounded by Rudy’s unwelcome appearance (“I’m genetically programmed to fuck sisters”). And just when it couldn’t seem to get any more awkward, Finn looked round to see his sister attached at the mouth to a burly gorilla of a man who didn’t take kindly to his intervention (“can I ask what your intentions are towards my sister?”).
Nathan McMullen as Finn is very much growing on me as the show gives him more depth as a character. He’s actually rather sweet and unassertive; not quite the painful introvert Simon used to be, but something similar. This episode showed a progression of him having to learn to stand up for himself, though – first in the inevitable bar fight he provoked, then against Grace herself as she headed home and didn’t take kindly to his attempts to stop her prolonging Dan’s pain even more.
I think, for me, that scene was the most painful to watch, as Grace tearfully realised that her efforts were motivated not so much by love as selfishness; she couldn’t bear to let her dad go no matter how much pain she was causing him. It was an affecting scene, with tearjerking performances all round, as Dan gathered both his children to him and quietly, finally slipped away.
As I say, my own experiences perhaps make it hard to judge whether that would be as powerful for anyone who hasn’t been through it. But it certainly felt more emotionally affecting, the death of this character we’d only just met, than last week’s death of Curtis, the last original character the show had left.
Indeed, considering that should have been a fairly seismic dramatic event, it got notably little reference this week. On reflection, though, why would it? Of all the characters currently in the show, only Rudy had known Curtis for more than a couple of weeks. Hence, it was he who was summoned to hardass probation worker Greg’s office for some frankly terrifying ‘grief counselling’ – “I’m going to skullfuck your living brain… so, have you been feeling isolation and despair?”
It was a blackly funny scene, well-played as usual by Shaun Dooley and Joe Gilgun. But again, I felt that the exit of the show’s last original character maybe deserved something more as an epitaph. It’s symptomatic of a major problem I’m having with the show this year – the current gang of lead characters don’t seem to have much in the way of emotional bonding as the original gang did. Yes, there’s the will they-won’t they tension between Finn and Jess, and the growing, uneasy friendship between Finn and Rudy. But as a group, they just don’t cohere the way the original five, with their shared experience of the storm and its aftermath, did.
Perhaps they will, by the end of this series. But to make yet another parallel with the similar events in Being Human recently, even before the new characters there had bonded as a group, I’d found myself liking them individually. I can’t say the same is happening here. I don’t (yet) really care about Finn or Jess; and Rudy, while he’s a lot of fun, rarely drives the drama.
It might help to have some new blood; the show’s original lineup of ‘heroes’ was five, and we’re down to three now. A logical step would be to have Grace return as a regular. We still don’t know exactly what her life-prolonging power is, or how it works; but notably, it hasn’t been removed or neutralised in the way the show’s usual plot concludes. Perhaps it has something to do with just why she was suddenly so keen on snogging that guy at the bar?
And perhaps Alex too is being groomed as a new regular. Jess’ attempt to search his flat for stereotypical indications of homosexuality (co-ordinated clothes etc) was amusing but answered with what looked like a genuinely passionate kiss. Nevertheless, there’s something weird going on with Alex’s sexuality (as witnessed in the “Next Time on…”), and I’m betting it’s to do with a power. But will he be misusing it, or is it something that the gang will find useful?
So, there are a few hopeful plot threads going on, and this episode’s central plot was an example of how good the show can be as drama, whether fantasy-based or not. Finn’s newfound self-confidence and growing depth are making him more likeable, and perhaps the ‘relationship’ with Alex will do the same for Jess. Next week certainly looks interesting, with a giant rabbit, numbers on our heroes’ foreheads, and Alex’s urgent demands to see another man’s cock. But so far, regardless of the strength of this episode, it still feels like the show as a whole is floundering somewhat. Given how much I’ve always enjoyed it, I hope Howard Overman can change that by the end of the run.