“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…