The Fades, Episode 6

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


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.

The Fades, Episode 5

“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.

The Fades, Episode 4

“I’m not important. I’m dead.”


So, in this week’s slice of teen fantasy horror adventure, Paul got to see things from the other side – literally. After being quite graphically hit by a truck last week, Paul was lying in a hospital bed, and the news didn’t look good as the doctor informed his distraught family that he was brain dead, and the only things keeping him alive were the machines. The viewer was way ahead of them though, as we’d already seen a perfectly normal looking Paul hanging around the hospital corridors. The conclusion was obvious – Paul was now a Fade himself. The question was, how would his superpowers inevitably save him?

After noting last week that writer Jack Thorne is obviously influenced by comics, the premise of Paul’s disembodied spirit hanging around the hospital where he lay in a coma was inescapably reminiscent of recent Hellblazer story, Pandaemonium, in which John Constantine finds himself in a similar position. Indeed, the whole of The Fades has more than a whiff of Hellblazer about it among its other noticeable influences. The mingling of life in an ordinary British town (and where is it set, incidentally?) with supernatural events of great consequence has been a Hellblazer stock in trade since the comic began in 1988. I’ve always fancied the idea of a TV show based on Hellblazer, particularly after the horribly botched movie adaptation Constantine. Perhaps as well as being Skins meets Century Falls via Moondial, The Fades can also be Hellblazer Junior

It’s certainly gruesome enough.  “Disturbing scenes from the outset,” said the BBC announcer, and he wasn’t kidding. Probably he was referring to a naked Joe Dempsie bludgeoning a well-meaning local to death with a rock, but for my money it was still more horrible to see, again, Paul’s interface with a Ford Transit in Mac’s “Previously on…” recap! Elsewhere in an even darker than usual episode, there was suicide, blood drinking, masses of vomited green goo, and plenty of flesh eating from characters good and bad.

Most of the flesh eating was done by Joe Dempsie’s revitalised Fade leader, ’John’. A belated look at the show’s website last week informed me that this character does actually have a name, which I’ve managed to consistently miss – Polus. As he croakingly relearned how to speak in his new body though, ‘John’ was the name he blurted out.  But who knows, perhaps Polus is a surname and John really is his given name.

Along with plenty of events and plot twists, much of this episode was devoted to John revealing his story, his methods and his motivations. In a lot of shows – particularly the recent Torchwood: Miracle Day – the plot would have ground to a halt while one of the characters explained everything. Jack Thorne, however, has the knack of blending exposition into action so that neither seems intrusive, and as a result, we learned a lot more about the Fades and the Angelics this week without having to put the action on hold.

So we followed John as he stumbled naked through the woods then drank from a handy cow trough. This sequence filled us in on how corporeal existence works for a still-dead former Fade – it hurts when he steps on barbed wire, he’s terribly thirsty, and like the reincarnated Master in Doctor Who story The End of Time, he has an insatiable appetite. Also like the Master, it seems that his appetite is best slaked with human flesh, a fact reinforced when John bludgeoned a passerby and was then seen to be wearing his clothes while licking blood from his lips.

And he was just the first of several unwilling clothes-and-flesh donors to John throughout the episode, as he ran rampant through whatever provincial town the show is set in to reach Paul at the hospital. From my perspective, it was rather a shame that he had to put on clothes at all, as Joe Dempsie is looking even nicer these days than he used to in Skins. But even in this world an (admittedly hot) naked man would get a lot of attention, so clothes it was to be, and his second set was nicked from his next victim, Anna’s irritating boyfriend Steve. I doubt she’ll miss him too much though – a choice quote was from the voicemail she left him, “”Remember when you blew raspberries in my twat and I didn’t speak to you for a week? This is worse.”

John’s quest through the town continued to fill in how ‘life’ works for him now, without having to resort to clumsy exposition. He’s tried eating ordinary food, but it just seems to result in him vomiting gallons of green goo while people look away in disgust. In fact, his speech is often punctuated by weird, hoarse swallowing, as though he’s trying to choke vomit down at all times. He’s had to haltingly relearn how to speak (so how exactly did he order that burger?) and he doesn’t mind stealing little kids’ toys.

Paul too was learning about life (or death) as a Fade. He can’t open doors because he can’t touch anything – though if Fades are so incorporeal why can’t they just walk through them? But unlike other Fades, he’s shown running right through a mortal without disintegrating into ashes. Plainly, even as a Fade, Paul is special.

Obviously Fade-Paul and John would encounter each other at some point, and this happened via a chase to the roof of the hospital, where John explained how it all started. He’d died as a young man in 1943, found himself unable to ascend, and hung around his wife as his Fade aged. When she slit her wrists rather than die from cancer, he noticed that the blood dripping onto him left patches that could feel and touch. And so the quest for juicy human flesh began.

Again, all this exposition could have slowed things down a lot, but it was cleverly framed within John’s plot to get Paul to lead him to the Angelics. Now up on the roof, Paul couldn’t get back down unless John opened the door for him. Not only that, but John cleverly began to sow seeds of distrust in Paul by revealing that the Angelics were not quite the good guys we’d previously thought. Paul found this only too plausible, as he’d already left in disgust when Neil started to torture the captured Natalie.

As I suspected last week, the Angelics can be pretty nasty if they want to be. As Fade-Sarah remarks to Neil, “You’re a principled wanker who gets confused sometimes.” The Angelics had a bit of a bad time this week; not only did Neil’s methods cause two of them to leave in disgust, the other two ended up as Fade food when John turned up to rescue Natalie, having been led to their hideout by the overly trusting Paul. And yet if John is to be believed (though that’s debatable), they have a hand in causing all this in the first place. They chose not to help when the ascension process started to fail, instead casting themselves as prison guards for the dead trapped on earth.

This was meaty stuff. The good guys aren’t as good as we thought, and the bad guys possibly not as bad. With all that going on, however, we still managed to get the usual depth in the regular characters; particularly Mac, whose self-inflicted guilt about Paul’s accident was hardly helped by Neil commenting, “Sounds like it was his fault.” Daniel Kaluuya was again the highlight of the episode, his performance genuinely heartbreaking as he watched his best friend die and wept about how much he loved him and needed him. It’s cleverly done insofar as it sidesteps the obvious innuendo about whether there’s a sexual aspect to their friendship; I suppose that may yet turn out to be the case, but from where I’m sitting, you really believe that these are two lifelong friends who simply mean the world to each other.

Anna too was developing well this week, with Lily Loveless making the most of her transformation from thoughtless uber-bitch to caring sister. She’s as abrasive as ever, but it seems like realistic sibling relationships that when the chips are down, she’ll be there for her brother. And as a number of people have suspected, she may have some powers of her own that she’s yet to find out about. Certainly she was surprisingly willing to go along with the plan that Mac formulated with the “wizards” from the Angelics: “I’ve found the exhaust port!”

Fade-Sarah also got do some soul-searching this week. As I mentioned last time, it hardly seems healthy for either of them that she’s spending her afterlife hanging around her husband all the time, a fact he underlined himself when he, basically, told her to sod off. Lesson learned, it seems, but as she runs back to Neil she’s starting to come apart; her hair’s coming out in clumps and her fingernails are falling off. But she’s back in the fray, and it seems she’s willing to help out by being the Angelics’ “man on the inside”. Trouble is, she’ll need to eat some flesh to qualify. Luckily, there’s those two dead Angelics lying conveniently on the floor. Ewww…

It wasn’t much of a surprise that the episode climaxed with Paul’s miraculous resurrection. As previously mentioned, it’s unlikely that your superpowered hero will stay dead for long in a story like this – another testament to Jack Thorne’s comic book influences, probably. After a pretty cool looking ritual involving “soul donation” from Anna singularly failed to work, Paul managed to use his healing power in the nick of time just as his machines were switched off. Given that we knew about his healing power already, that wasn’t much of a surprise either, but really, how else could it have been done? And it was an excellent set piece as his body started to twitch, then the expected live moths began to crawl out of his mouth. But this was going to need a lot of healing, so as he sat upright an entire swarm of butterflies spewed out of him, fluttering eerily around the room. It’s a lovely, imaginative touch in a series that’s already shown itself to be full of them. As Paul gasps the first breath of his new life, he reacts, I think, exactly as we all would: “Fuck…”

Another excellent episode, in a series that hardly seems to pause for breath and yet never sacrifices the integrity and believability of its characters among all the supernatural weirdness. The pop culture references are as much fun as ever (“nanoo nanoo”), and the regular cast continue to put in superb performances. Joining them this week, Joe Dempsie too is great. His performance as the much loved Chris in Skins was so effective that it made the character’s death genuinely upsetting, and here we see that he can go to quite the other extreme and play an absolutely evil bastard. While still looking incredibly attractive…

Next week: with only two more episodes to go, I expect the action’s really going to ramp up. Paul’s superpowers must be getting to be pretty common knowledge by now, and John’s victims this week add to a mounting death toll that’s pretty unusual for… wherever this is. The police are still baffled, the Angelics are seriously down in numbers, and there’s still an apocalypse to avert. Can Jack Thorne pull all this together to give the story a great ending? Let’s hope so…

The Fades, Episode 3

“The things that scare you about me… Imagine I’m Stevenage. Some things have changed about me, but fundamentally I’m just ordinary. I’m Stevenage.”


Things continue to rattle along at an extraordinary pace in this week’s episode of The Fades, both in the supernatural thriller and ordinary suburban life aspects of the plot. It’s a testament to the quality of Jack Thorne’s writing that he’s able to pack so much incident into one hour of television and still retain so much character depth without that pace ever dragging (yet).

The style continues to be a combination of Skins-like teen drama crossed with classic children’s fantasy, in the most enjoyable of ways. After having decided to try and live a double life in his capacities of normal teenage nerd and Chosen Being of Destiny, teenage hero Paul falls at almost the first hurdle in a classic secret identity fail. What with last week’s references to Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Alan Moore, and this week’s to Neil Gaiman, it’s becoming clear that another of Jack Thorne’s influences is comic books, and every superhero, in comics and films, must at some point face the plotline of people finding out who they really are.

For Paul, this happens at comically inconvenient times, as he begins to discover new aspects of his powers. We first encounter him this week indulging in the normal practice of most teenage boys – having a wank, while fantasising about his sister’s best friend Jay. For most teenagers, this would end by reaching to the nightstand for the Kleenex, but for Paul, his climax results in him suddenly growing a huge pair of angel wings, which might have been even harder to explain if his mum had caught him at it.

This led to one of the best lines in the episode, as Jay asked whether she should know anything about him: “When I ejaculate I grow wings.” It’s a sign of Paul’s nascent confidence with girls that he can mention ejaculation, but Jay obviously takes the “growing wings” part as a surreal gag. She soon learns better when Paul’s reliably bitchy sister Anna and her truculent Scouse boyfriend find Paul and Jay snogging. Finally driven to uncontrollable anger at Anna’s fairly horrible sniping, Paul unintentionally wields his glowing-palm power to literally seal her mouth shut.

So the cat’s out of the bag, and pretty early on too. Paul manages to reverse the trick – though we aren’t shown how – but three more people now know that he’s not quite the normal teenage nerd he seems. This scene is classic wish-fulfilment stuff, familiar to every downtrodden teenage geek who reads fantastic stories; the moment when the wimpy hero finally stands up to the bullies by displaying his superpowers. But Thorne wrongfoots the comic fan here by actually going on to humanise his bully, as we start to learn that Anna is so nasty to Paul simply because she feels excluded by him in their family. Finally given some depth to play with in her character, Lily Loveless excels this week, showing more of the undoubted talent we saw in Skins.

What with his powers out of control and beginning to have his first sexual experiences, Paul is pretty neglectful of his best friend Mac, continuing the thread we saw last week. This week, it’s Mac’s birthday, but nobody’s remembered. His mum hasn’t sent a card, his policeman dad is totally preoccupied with the mysterious disappearances and murders clogging his casebook, and now even his best friend is too busy to be there for him.

Daniel Kaluuya continues to be the best thing in the show in his funny, sensitive and heartfelt performance as Mac, with his constant stream of pop culture references. The relationship between him and Paul is a beautifully portrayed teenage friendship, of the kind that is never as intense again after one of the friends discovers girls. A later scene with Paul spells out the sort of feelings we all had at that age, which we never really recaptured: “You know, whatever happens with Jay, you know you’ll always be more important to me.” Of course Mac mocks him by asking if they’re in love, “cause I’m flattered, but…”, but their relationship is convincingly real and intense, and beautifully played by both actors.

With Paul having finally remembered Mac’s birthday (a day late) and made apologetic amends, Mac repays the favour by helping him win back the (understandably) freaked out Jay, in a scene which is an unashamed but enjoyable ripoff of Cyrano de Bergerac (though Mac probably thinks of it as 1987 movie Roxanne). Perched up a tree, Paul follows the hidden Mac’s prompts to charm Jay by comparing himself to a space probe; perfectly in keeping with what we know about both boys.

It probably helps that the tree magically blossoms purely as a result of Paul sitting in it; what girl could fail to be charmed by that? Obviously Jay is, as within a few scenes she’s in Paul’s bed and taking his virginity, in a depiction of first time sex that’s both sweet and funny. And luckily for Paul, this time wings don’t shoot out at the all-important moment. Mind you, it’s an echo of Skins once again that they’ve gone from Paul’s first kiss a couple of nights beforehand to full on sex so quickly – but as Jay comments, “it’s not 1955… people don’t have to wait any more.”

What with Paul having a fairly eventful teenager’s life, he doesn’t find much time to pick the phone up to Neil. Which is unfortunate, because over in the supernatural part of the plot, things aren’t going too well for the Angelics. Neil wasn’t actually killed by the hungry gang of Fades last week (and there’s still a question as to why), but his stomach’s been pretty nastily mauled. Being the tough hardcase he is, he eschews hospital in favour of sewing up his own guts in the back of his pickup, an inadvisable medical technique for anyone.

Fortunately, when he inevitably collapses, Paul has turned up, and it’s time for him to exercise the healing power we discovered he had last week. Not only does he manage to heal Neil’s wounds, he also sorts out the eye that was damaged in episode 1’s Fade attack. Fade-Helen is impressed – “He’s done more than I ever could” – and advises him to just let it come when the inevitable live moth crawls out of his mouth: “Tickles, doesn’t it?” Daniela Nardini as Helen has been a highlight of the show for me, as I used to love her as Anna in This Life, so when she finally ‘ascended’ it felt like rather a shame. Whatever the show’s take on the afterlife is, it’s pretty definitive that there’s no coming back from that. Johnny Harris too played that scene beautifully, tearing up as Neil revealed that he didn’t feel strong enough to deal with things without her.

Indeed, Neil’s been humanised quite a bit from the initial armed supernatural warrior we first met. This week, he also tries to sort things out for Fade-Sarah and her distraught husband Mark, by first convincing Mark that his dead wife is hanging around him then acting as translator so they can have a chat. Whatever Neil’s conscience might be telling him, it’s hard to disagree with Fade-Helen that this might not be the best course of action. Mark now knows that his wife’s ghost is hanging around him unseen at all times, which is hardly going to help him move on!

Neil’s also decided that he can’t handle everything by himself, and summoned “the rest of the Angelics”, which is just as well as it’s hard to be a secret society all by yourself. As it turns out, “the rest of the Angelics” is only another four people, but hey, every bit of reinforcement helps. They’ve hatched a plan to try and interrogate one of the weaker Fades by capturing it, and inevitably it’s Neil’s ex Natalie that they grab. Interrogation is possible because the Fades’ consumption of human flesh has not only given them corporeal bodies, they can now talk too – or, in Natalie’s case, scream. One wonders whether next week’s interrogation will show the Angelics as not being the all-out good guys we thought they were…

That may not be foremost on Paul’s mind, though. In a moment that was genuinely shocking, while horseplaying with Mac, Paul absently wandered onto a road and was hit by a truck for his inattention. Coming so abruptly after a heart to heart two-handed scene with his best friend, this was a real jolt that made you realise how likeable Paul is, and how much I at least had emotionally invested in the character. It’s also a mark of how well this series mixes the supernatural and the mundane that the Chosen Hero, marked for death as an Angelic, is seriously injured by something as normal as not paying attention to the traffic.

The throw-forward to next week is deliberately cagey about Paul’s chances, as it should be. There are a couple of shots of him unconscious in a hospital bed, but no more. Of course, as the hero of the show, and a superpowered one to boot, I think we can safely say that he’ll be back in action before long. But it’s a measure of how well the show does suspense that I had to think a moment to remember that.

If and when he’s back on his feet, though, he’s going to have more problems than he expects. His dreams of the ash-covered apocalypse have come back, with the added detail of a mysterious young man who tells him that, “it’s all inevitable, you know.” Meanwhile, the bald, emaciated Fade who’s been so terrifying in leading the attacks has been spending this episode actually pupating, hanging in a slimy cocoon from the roof of a tunnel.

The episode climaxed as the cocoon hatched, and out slid a rather sexy nude man, seen only from behind. With Paul on the verge of death, my first thought was to wonder if he’d somehow switched places with the Fade leader. But no, as I perhaps should have guessed (and might have if I’d recognised him in Paul’s vision), it’s yet another member of the Skins cast! Yes, through some process as yet unclear, the Fade leader has remoulded himself as a rather buff looking Joe Dempsie. Joe has never looked so good – and as he turns and snarls at the camera, his eyes turning yellow, he’s never looked so scary either.

Three episodes in, and The Fades has become must-watch TV, for me at least. Its irresistible combination of teenage soap, Being Human-like supernatural drama and classical children’s quest story make it one of the most enjoyable shows around at the moment. And the concepts continue to get screwier and more imaginative each week. I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next; and whatever it is, I’m sure it won’t be easily predictable!

The Fades, Episode 2

“It’s inevitable… The world is coming to an end. There’s nothing you can do.”


After a storming first part, new BBC3 teen/supernatural/horror drama The Fades continues to impress – albeit with some rather puzzling leaps in logic. In what looks like a regular thing, the plot so far is summed up pre-credits by the hero’s best friend, the affable nerd Mac. And immediately I was a little bit confused, as he referred to mystery mentor Neil and his dead friends as ‘The Angelics’ – a phrase I don’t recall being mentioned at all in the first episode.

Still, ‘Angelics’ is what they call themselves, and contrary to the impression created in part one of there being just about three of them, it seems that they’re an established secret society who’ve been around since the 40s. Plunging the viewer into a world this complicated is not easy, which is why Neil spends most of this episode as Mr Exposition. In essence, he has to explain the rules of what’s happening to reluctant young hero Paul, and by extension to the audience. Fortunately, Jack Thorne is a skilful enough writer to intersperse this deluge of information with some more of the spooky, unsettling set pieces that made episode one work so well.

So Neil whisks Paul away from school to visit a particularly scary looking haunted house, explaining all the while. This is still germane to the plot; said haunted house is actually the abandoned Monica Bryant County Care Home, and we discover that this where Neil grew up. We discover this by means of an old photo uncovered under the guidance of the spooky young dead girl that Paul saw so much of last week, along with the disturbing (to Neil at least) revelation that the Fades are now capable of touching things. In this case, it’s a fuse box, and Paul nearly gets the shock of his life as she turns it on and allows bare wires to swing around the pool of water he’s standing in.

But that’s not the point of their visit; no, Neil wants to introduce Paul to his dead friend Eric, a Fade who was one of the first of the Angelics. At this point, the show’s internal logic does seem to waver a bit. Eric’s been dead a long time; since 1946, and he was 70 then. Neil says that, even dead, he’s continued to age since then. So if the Fade that tried to electrocute Paul was Neil’s teen girlfriend Natalie, why does she still look about 17 when he’s plainly pushing 40? Also, why is Eric not “getting a bit shitty” like Fades who’ve been dead for a far shorter time? And how can he still talk (even if it appears to be telepathically, so that only Neil can hear)?

Still, all of this may make sense given further doses of lengthy exposition, so it may be unfair to quibble at this point. What matters is that, after Eric’s touch of Paul creates a bit of a psychedelic light show, both he and Neil are convinced that Paul is someone special, someone very important to the oncoming war. “You’ve got a destiny,” states Neil sagely. “I’m sorry kid, but that matters.”

As with last week, this again gives the feel of so many classic kids’ stories of the supernatural, in which an unassuming young person (usually, but not always, a boy) discovers that he’s far from ordinary and has a special destiny as ‘The One’. It’s a staple of stories like this, from Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising novels to the likes of Russell T Davies’ Century Falls, and seeing it here only reinforces that feeling that The Fades is, basically, a classic Children’s BBC drama with added adult bits to appeal to the more aware teens of today. How much you enjoy it may depend on how much you think that’s a good thing; personally, I rather like it.

So Paul is ‘The One’. Or ‘a’ One, at any rate. We see a bit more of what that means for him this week. He’s still seeing the dead, and plagued by dreams; nor world-ending apocalypse this week, but a genuinely scary bit of business whereby he sees the dead bodies of his prospective girlfriend, his mum, and his bitch of a sister strewn around his house. While Mac chortles at the idea that Paul has a subconscious desire to see his own sister dead, nude, and in his bed, the implication is clear – his involvement in all of this is, like Clark Kent, or Peter Parker, going to put his nearest and dearest at risk.

But he can help them too; as he discovers when he inadvertently heals Mac’s cut arm, he also possesses the same healing powers as Daniela Nardini’s pistol-packing vicar from part one. This has the decidedly surreal side effect of causing the wielder to cough up a live moth whenever the power is used – a very weird bit of business that will, presumably, be explained later. Along with the fact that Paul can now raise birds from the dead and shoot lightning out of his palms when threatened.

Iain de Caestecker continues to be a likeable presence as Paul, perhaps because he is such a convincingly ordinary teenage nerd. As the more voluble Mac explains, they’re the lowest in the school’s social pecking order. So low in fact, that Paul can be mocked by a couple of twelve year olds, with the (admittedly rather bizarre) taunt “Am I a rabbit then?” when they overhear that he’s been seeing things. Paul’s the kind of boy I recognise, probably from myself; a troubled introvert from a broken home, with an obsession for pop culture and an almost pathological inability to speak to the object of his desire. It’s a laugh out loud moment when he finally plucks up the courage to tell his sister’s best friend Jay how he feels about her. He can only express this by listing a discussion he’s had with Mac about the ideal woman, which for them is apparently a combination of comic and movie heroines with George Lucas – “we thought about including Alan Moore as well, but the big beard would get in the way.”

And that’s indicative of the other thing that makes this series so enjoyable. Apart from an elaborately constructed world of supernatural menace, it’s also set in a very believable suburban secondary school, at which Paul and Mac are half-heartedly doing their A Levels. Jack Thorne’s background as a writer for Skins clearly comes in handy here, though this group of teenagers are pretty far from the drug-fuelled, hedonistic Bristol gang. Paul and Mac are believably beaten down and insignificant, while Anna, Paul’s utter bitch of a sister (the brilliantly nasty Lily Loveless) is the most popular girl in school.

And a debt is perhaps also owed to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Thorne’s adept use of pop culture references, mostly via Mac. This week, it was a slew of Star Wars quotes; even as a Star Wars fan, I’m actually getting rather sick of its’ neverending stream of references in everything from different TV shows to my everyday life. Nevertheless, Mac’s persuasion of Anna and Jay to keep on fighting for the cancelled school ball “because there’s always an exhaust port” was a stroke of genius, as was his straight faced comment on Neil, “your friend’s quite a mercenary. I wonder if he really cares about anything. Or anybody.”, which of course Neil doesn’t get.

Daniel Kaluuya continues to be probably the best character in the show as Mac, which if anything is a little bit of a problem. He’s clearly the wisecracking sidekick, but unfortunately his volubility next to Paul’s introversion means that he’s actually more charismatic than the hero. Kaluuya’s gift for deadpan humour makes this more pronounced, notably in the scene where Paul convinces him that Fade Natalie is sitting behind him in a cafe making eyes at him. His attempt to woo her with his teeth (“because dead people love good teeth”) is another brilliantly laugh out loud moment.

But it is also a very touching portrayal of the sort of friendship most people outgrow when they get much older than this. Baffled by Paul’s healing power, Mac asks him, “What are you?”, to which Paul instantly responds, “Your best friend”. And of course Mac’s response is, “don’t leave me behind”, which articulates perfectly how these relationships tend to go, particularly with the addition of a girl into the equation. You don’t need to live in a world of supernatural menace to have  your heart broken by the friend you love abandoning you, a point made starkly clear when Mac sees Paul kissing Jay, then is brutally told by Anna that he needs Paul more than Paul needs him, a fact he clearly already knows.

The extension of Mac’s character beyond mere comic relief into actual pathos also intersects with the developing subplots of the show. His parents, it seems, have split up – “I bet they’re fighting over who doesn’t get custody” – which causes his dad to get quite violent with him in front of Paul. But his dad’s also stressed out by work. By a somewhat contrived coincidence, he’s the police Inspector who’s not only investigating the disappearance of dead Angelic Sarah, but also the murders of the two prepubescent bullies having a go at Paul earlier. The bullies were in fact murdered by the more militant Fades, led by that creepy bald one who sucked out Neil’s eye last week, and they’re murdering people to eat them and gain corporeality – a gruesome scene shows Natalie chowing down on their bodies. So The Fades are more than ghosts now. They’re getting to be like Romero zombies, but I’m betting you can’t take them down by shooting them in the head. And if they’re corporeal, you can’t make them disintegrate into ashes by passing through them any more, either.

Also inextricably linked into all this is Paul and Mac’s history teacher, Mark (the dishy Tom Ellis, who seems to spend a lot of time with his shirt off). Mark was Sarah’s estranged husband, and after a sympathy shag with a friend (watched by a presumably awkward feeling Sarah-Fade), he’s found some photos which reveal troubling facts about his wife. Mostly they seem to be of her in a mental ward, either strapped up or with her wrists bound. Clearly this is something Mark knew nothing of, so he takes them to the police, who don’t want to know. As a dramatic device, it’s fine, akin to a similar revelation to a husband about his dead wife in The Constant Gardener. But I have to say, I did find it rather odd that someone confined to a mental ward in, presumably, the aftermath of a suicide attempt would decide to have pictures taken of herself; even more odd that she would then keep and treasure them. Again, though, perhaps explanation will be forthcoming later…

This week’s episode concluded with Paul deciding that he couldn’t just abandon his life to ensure the safety of his family and friends. In keeping with his – and the show’s – endearing nerdiness, he’s taken inspiration from Peter Parker and Clark Kent, and is going to try to live two separate lives, one as ordinary schoolboy, the other as superpowered supernatural warrior. Actually, put like that, it sounds more like Buffy than Spiderman! Neil would probably be troubled by this, but a gang of Fades are busy trying to eat him, so he’s got other things on his mind. For some reason they haven’t finished the job, but it looks suspiciously like they may have had his intestines out. He’s in luck though – as I predicted last week, death has been no boundary for faith healing vicar Helen. This is a good thing, as Daniela Nardini is too much fun to waste in a one episode role. Now let’s see if she can put Neil back together again. But first she too has Paul on her mind: “Tell me about the boy.”

All developing nicely then, with a second part just as thrilling and intriguing as the first. Next week, it looks like we’re up for even more weirdness, as the throwforward depicts Paul waking up with angel wings (though his total nudity meant I was looking elsewhere than his wings). I’m looking forward to it, though I’m starting to wonder if such a labyrinthine story can be concluded successfully in just six episodes. I do hope Jack Thorne has written a proper conclusion that nonetheless would allow for another series, like Being Human, and not left everything on a cliffhanger that might never be resolved like so many recent US shows.