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List:
05 Nov 2016Class Season One - Episode 4 - Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart, by Matt Tiley
12 Nov 2016Class Season One - Episode 5 - Brave-ish Heart, by Matt Hills


Class - Ep4 - Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart - April (SOPHIE HOPKINS) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Sophie Hopkins,Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, 
Vivian Oparah, and Katherine Kelly. 
Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Phillippa Langdale
Released Online (BBC Three)  - 5th November 2016

This review contains spoilers.

 

As soon as the 'Previously...' montage starts, I could tell straight off the bat, that this, the fourth of eight episodes of the new BBC3 drama would have heavy links to the first instalment, glossing over what happened in the last two episodes quickly, and concentrating on a recap of episode one. Sure enough, as the episode itself starts, we open on the Shadow Kin's home world, where we find their leader desperately using any way that he can to claim the heart that he now shares with April for himself. 

Back on Earth, as a result of the Shadow Kin's desperation we discover that the link between the Shadow Kin leader and April to be getting stronger and stronger. It is first noticed when she heals quickly after cutting herself. Unfortunately from there, things rapidly escalate, with the link between the two of them actually starts manifesting swords into April's hands when she is angry, something that isn't at all helped by April having an increasingly shorter fuse as the Shadow Kin manage to get an anchor on the heart. As every minute of the episode passes, the link between the two gets stronger and stronger. None of this  is aided by the reappearance of April's father, Huw (played by Happy Valley's Con O'Neil)  who has just been released from prison and is desperate to make amends with April and her mother for any harm that he had previously done.

Elsewhere in the episode, we find out a lot more about the mysterious box that is in Charlie's bedroom. We also get a better insight into Charlie and Quill's 'arrangement'. And there is a sinister and well informed new head teacher at Coal Hill Academy, who makes Quill an offer that she really might not be able to refuse. Oh - I nearly forgot to mention, we also have the small problem of some viciously carnivorous, and rapidly self-replicating blossom that has a very nasty bite. The blossom has somehow found its way through the rift and has started feasting on squirrels and birds.....

The theme of the episode seems to centre itself around one of duty. Be it the duty of a Prince to his people - as Charlie ponders the fate of the population of his home world or the duty of a father and husband, desperately trying to reach out to a family that he has damaged beyond repair. We also have the duty of a protective Mother, plus - as Ram and April's relationship steps up a gear, the duty of a lover.

As we have come to expect, there is a lot of humour in the story, especially when the link between April and the leader of the Shadow Kin starts to work the other way during a rather passionate moment ("I don't suppose.......we could have a moment of cuddling?"). We also have more humour thanks to the wonderfully dysfunctional relationship of Charlie and Quill, as they wrestle with the thought of going to Coal Hill's parent's evening together. 

The cast are growing on me, this story has Ram and April front and centre, while the focus of last week's story, Tanya takes a bit of a back seat.The Shadow Kin as a race fair a lot better here than in episode one, where I must admit that I wasn't that impressed with them. They seemed quite a generic villain, but here on their sizzling home world, spewing boiling anger and desperation, they come across as a real threat.

Now, lets not forget the introduction of that killer blossom, which is a great move, and which elevates the episode above just having the Shadow Kin as the main threat, the blossom is a slow building threat that is at first ignored, and then only really addressed when it could well be too late.

Before closing off this review, I feel that I must mention the special effects, as they are very special. I loved the way that the home world of the Shadow Kin was depicted, it's as if their scenes were shot in the very heart of a volcano, all floating embers and shimmering heat, it was very atmospheric, and made those scenes feel very alien. But lets not forget that it is also about the more subtle effects. The scene that opens on Earth is truly beautiful, and something that has obviously been inspired by the feather at the beginning of Forrest Gump. We follow a single, innocent looking blossom floating slowly through the scene, and eventually down to the ground.

Co-owner of a Lonely Heart is very enjoyable episode, and is unique in the series so far in that it is not only a direct sequel to the very first instalment, but in true, old fashioned Doctor Who tradition, it ends on a cracker of a cliff-hanger that leaves at least two or three very important plot threads dangling.

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Class - Ep5 - Brave-ish Heart - Miss Quill (KATHERINE KELLY), Dorothea (POOKY QUESNEL), Charlie (GREG AUSTIN), Matteusz (JORDAN RENZO) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Sophie Hopkins, Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Vivian Oparah and Katherine Kelly. 
Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Philippa Langdale
Released Online (BBC Three) - Saturday 12th November 2016

This review contains spoilers

 

As befits the first two-part story in Class, there's certainly an epic scope to this tale. The threat of genocide hangs over proceedings, with all of humanity about to fall prey to a bloom of exponentially amassing petals... unless this floral invader can be completely wiped out instead. At the same time, April and Ram are on a mission to defeat the King of the Shadow Kin. Either storyline would be compelling by itself, and in many other series the build up of petals would probably be enough to carry the main plot, but Patrick Ness ups the ante by cleverly intercutting between these two story strands before finally integrating them. 'Brave-ish Heart' also shows a spirit of parental inclusion by having Huw and Varun cross over into Corakinus's world as well as April and Ram. Consequently, it isn't just the teenagers who are taken out of ordinary Shoreditch life, as the wonder of the fiery 'Underneath' (perhaps unintentionally resonating with Stranger Things' 'Upside Down' realm) incorporates a cross-generational presence. Elsewhere, this episode feels insistently marked by Ness's ethos of inclusivity - for example, at a vital moment Matteusz proves crucial to events instead of somehow being placed as a supporting character (and he's given a sharp, smart line about his Polish identity too). And despite an escalating narrative threat, the show's creator-writer also finds time to sketch in more of Ram's cultural background, but without making an issue of it.

 

There is much to marvel at, even if there are occasional mis-steps. Personally, I didn't believe that Huw would simply wander off at the end, readily accepting April's wishes: this felt more like a character being made to do what the writer wanted to telegraph as the right thing. And for me there was also a tension between the dialogue given to April's mum at the episode's conclusion and the logic of storytelling; what we're shown here doesn't seem to entirely fit with the expressed sentiment that there was nothing "lesser" about her previous way of life. But Patrick Ness is highly alert to the pitfalls and problems of representation, and is actively trying to counter particular ways of responding to this storyline. Class is keen to impart its lessons without being misunderstood.

 

Dorothea, played with sinister precision by the always excellent Pooky Quesnel, tells us that the multiplying petals can't be destroyed by conventional means - hence the need for the Cabinet. Yet at one point we witness a smattering of petals on a car windscreen being squished like bugs. This visual image is a striking one, especially as blood squirts out, but it doesn't quite make sense in relation to the petals' alleged indestructibility. As their massed ranks grew and grew, I couldn't help but be reminded of Star Trek's infamous Tribbles, even if they were animal rather than vegetal.

 

Class - Ep5 - Brave-ish Heart - April (SOPHIE HOPKINS), Ram (FADY ELSAYED) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)

Where the petals offer an offbeat, skewed threat, the Shadow Kin sometimes feel more akin to a generic fantasy race. Their realm is effectively represented, though I should note that the BBC's episode preview marked some of these sequences as "work in progress", so final heat haze effects and so on were probably still to be added. But the Shadow Kin really come alive in the moments where their portentous fantasy selves are undercut by a more everyday depiction - we hear a grumble of "teenagers!" when April and Ram's romantic interlude is interrupted, for instance. Too much of this comedic undermining would, of course, undo the Shadow Kin's 'warrior race' designation, but it adds tone and colour to what can otherwise feel like a programmatic image of villainy.

 

The previously alluded to "Governors" start to take on a greater role this week, and I wonder if we might actually encounter their collective before (or during) episode eight. As Coal Hill Academy has been taken over by a suitably shifty organisation, presumably one I. Chesterton is no longer involved. But the gradual emergence of this shadowy group presents Quill with a new set of possibilities, and Katherine Kelly again makes the most of her character's enforced ambivalence and caustic attitude. Mind you, the ethical weight of genocide isn't explored as much as I'd expected it to be, becoming more of a story calculus or an equation to be solved - who will commit genocide against who? - rather than an unsquarable circle or a morally impossible act. While Charlie anguishes over his Princely duty, however, Matteusz sees the situation rather more clearly, and even adopts one of the Doctor's key tenets.

 

'Brave-ish Heart' is a busy episode, always bristling with dramatic action and character moments. Tanya's impassioned defence of April and Ram is one such delightful instant, as is Ram's hilariously strained attempt to sound laddish. Setting in motion what promises to be a powerful story arc for Quill while revisiting Charlie and April's defining dilemmas from the opening episode, Class continues to more than make the grade.             

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