This is a spoiler-free review. Read on at the bottom for spoilers. Not caught up with Class? Check out our reviews of the show so far here.
Last week’s Class represented a massive leap forward in the season arc, digging into the meat that we expected to go untouched until the finale. At the midpoint of this first two-parter, April and Ram threw themselves into a tear in space and time, while the rest of the gang were left behind in a London that is gradually becoming overrun by carnivorous, Tribble-like petals. However, while the series has quickened its pace, it’s also dropped the ball with Episode 5.
Brave-ish Heart is probably the most dialogue-heavy so far, or at least the most laden with exposition, as we hop between stories. In the shadow realm, April warns Ram that her quest to defeat Corakinus is probably a suicide mission and on Earth, Charlie is faced with an impossible choice as Dorothea and Quill both urge him to use the Cabinet of Souls for different ends.
This episode has a serious problem with telling instead of showing, as April makes the most of her new shared knowledge of the Shadow Kin by endlessly explaining their history and customs to Ram. It’s the kind of exposition that comes right before or after it becomes important to the plot, almost giving the impression that the characters are making it up as they go along, which isn’t what you want out from this kind of show. Patrick Ness remains a savvy writer for young adults and while he continues to have loads of fun bucking the clichés of this genre, he’s not as good at the sci-fi stuff.
Director Philippa Langdale doesn’t do the script any favours either. Two of the big sustained showdowns in the episode fall completely flat, in part due to the unearthly amount of characters in play at any one time, but it’s mostly because of the static, uninspired staging. When April and Corakinus finally come face to face, there’s some really unconvincing choreography that recalls Power Rangers even more strongly than in last week’s outer space cutaways.
Charlie’s storyline falters for broadly the same reasons as Episode 4. Pookie Quesnel and Katherine Kelly are alternately framed as the Faustian angel and devil over his shoulders, while Jordan Renzo’s Mattuesz feels like a spare wheel in an episode where there’s already an awful lot of verbal wheel-spinning going on. (See also: All of the parents running around in the episode’s main plot.)
On the plus side, the estranged MacLean family – April, Jackie and Huw – remain at the centre of the action and all three of the actors are marvellous. Sophie Hopkins continues to be an extremely likeable and charismatic heroine, Shannon Murray is great as her fiercely protective mum and Con O’Neill gets a big speechifying scene that perhaps no one but he could sell so well. Towards the end of the episode, it zeroes back in on the relationship between these three and this makes the very last scene a particularly promising reminder of what Ness, and the show, does best.
Episodes 4 and 5 have certainly been designed like a modern Doctor Who two-parter, pivoting on a cliffhanger and changing things up drastically in the back-end, but Brave-ish Heart is extremely eclectic. It’s unconvincingly executed from top to bottom and the cast, although reliably good, are often left stranded with inaction or naked exposition. It’s not bad television and it’s not going to turn you off if you’ve already been won over by Class – as we have – but it’s beneath the quality we’ve already seen in the series to date.
Class: Season 1 is available on BBC iPlayer until 11th February 2019. It is also available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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– Aside from staging, Charlie’s plot doesn’t do anything to endear him to us. The prince is much too changeable here, first refusing to save the Earth and then wondering who best to murder. The culmination of his existential bickering with Quill and Dorothea plays like the build-up to a reality show elimination. (“The entire race I’m going to exterminate tonight, is…!”) Compare this to last year’s 10-minute climactic scene from Doctor Who’s The Zygon Inversion and you can’t ignore the almost laughable lack of tension here.
– Moreover, the info dump from Dorothea afterwards betrays the stakes and continues the episode’s infuriating trend of telling us information either right before or after it becomes important to the plot. So far, Quill is still the most consistent character in the series and she gets her Basil Fawlty moment out of this contrivance in the car park afterwards. We hope she continues to play as big a role in the remaining episodes as she does in this one.
– The petals turn out to be a suitably weird and scary threat that feels wasted in the B-plot of this more spaced-out episode, especially in the way that they’re eventually removed. The episode then has to immediately revoke April’s Shadow King status by having Corakinus sever the anchor between them, or else why wouldn’t she just set her subjects on any old alien threat that appears?
– Sophie Hopkins is really let down the most by the execution here – her defeat of Corakinus is equal parts Christmas Invasion, in that she offers him an honourable surrender instead of death, and Buffy, in that she totally kicks arse with swords and whatnot. The fight choreography isn’t up to much, but Hopkins doesn’t hold back. It was equally awesome that the nice April is still part of her newly attained Shadow King persona by the end of the episode, though. We like nice April.
– “I’m glad my mum didn’t come!” Oh, Tanya, we couldn’t agree more – there are far too many parents about already. We like that Varun is the kind of dad who looks out for his son and goes through the tear without even thinking, but he’s just another character doing nothing in that awkward quarry scene. Again, all credit to Con O’Neill for making the most of Huw in what could have been yet another scene in which one character baldly pontificates about why another is so great.
– To end on a positive note: next week’s detention episode looks more in the show’s wheelhouse, if the trailer is anything to go by. “The Breakfast Club in space” feels like just the ticket after this double-bill.
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Photo: BBC/Simon Ridgeway