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.
Over the course of eight episodes, Class having a shorter run than Doctor Who’s 13, or most of the US teen fantasy shows that it sits alongside, has worked both for and against the series. There’s no filler and no shortage of ambition in Patrick Ness’ first season, but it’s been a mixed run in which some important story beats have felt either premature or vague. And after so much breathless world building, The Lost feels suffocated.
From the very first episode, the show has demonstrated it’s not playing around when it comes to killing off characters, but the Coal Hill kids are divided as Corakinus the Shadow King arrives on Earth to deliver his promised revenge. Having fallen out in Episode 6, Detained, the group find themselves at cross purposes.
April is determined that no one else will die because of her, while Ram pleads with her to run. Tanya decides that she needs to prepare for the battle ahead, with the help of a vengeful and newly re-fanged Miss Quill. And Charlie begins to doubt whether his good intentions are enough to save Earth from the Shadow Kin, even if the alternative is unthinkable.
Season 1’s arc dipped in the middle, with the muddled and perfunctory mid-season two-parter and, funnily enough, the show got better in the looser and more conceptually adventurous two-parter that followed. However violent and emotionally wrenching the finale may be, it doesn’t recover from that, and, indeed, doubles down on many of the less convincing aspects of the Big Bads’ last appearance.
The biggest problem is still related to exposition. The main conflict between the characters here is about how people keep dying, while they keep quibbling over what is the right thing to do, against a genocidal enemy that doesn’t care about morality. It’s an interesting ethical dilemma for human teenagers to face, and one which couldn’t trouble the Doctor too long in the parent show. While it presents Class with a unique opportunity, it’s executed as a series of scenes in which characters gather in rooms and shout at each other.
There’s some heavy emotional lifting for the young cast here, but given how much better Detained was with an episode that literally depended on characters gathered in a room shouting at each other, this finale feels dramatically limp. It makes you wonder whether these characters ever really needed to be in contact with a space rock to shout at everything they’re thinking at each other, because that’s too often been the default mode of delivery in this season.
Some characters benefit from their development thus far outside of the Shadow Kin, including Charlie’s dutiful angst, Matteusz’s position as his conscience and Quill’s potentially lethal pregnancy, which manifests a maternal instinct that seems absolutely alien to her. April and Ram are a little too tangled up in the Shadow Kin, and Tanya’s development in the space of this 45 minutes should feel empowering, but comes off as deeply silly.
On our end-of-term report for Class Season 1, The Lost would be a “must try harder”, if it weren’t already trying so hard. The earnestness of Ness’ characters sometimes goes awry, particularly when coupled with frantic exposition over major plot developments, and that has never been more true than in The Lost. However, there are a couple of big surprises that make this worth the watch and the show has been promising enough in earlier episodes that we hope the expected second season will be better on average. If that’s the case, then thank goodness for the BBC, because on any other channel, Class might be dismissed.
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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Extra-curricular activity (spoilers)
– A disappointing rule of thumb we noticed in this episode – if you’re white, Corakinus will hold his blade to your neck and have a chin wag, while you freeze like it’s the Mannequin Challenge. Meanwhile, Ram’s dad Varun and Tanya’s mum Vivian get sudden, hideously violent deaths. Corakinus is spoiling to kill off even more POC characters when he goes after Tanya’s brothers, but they’re saved by Katherine Kelly doing her Buffy thing. About time too!
– The training sequence in the middle of the episode is patently ridiculous and seems to have been air-dropped into the finale at the last possible moment to give Quill someone to watch her back in the final fight. Tanya is the most hard done by the twists in this one – she’s an orphan now and that she can also do the Buffy thing because of that and 20 minutes of sparring with a pregnant woman is what lost us in this episode.
– After the massive deal made of April becoming Shadow King and jailing Corakinus a few episodes ago, that’s all undone in a line of dialogue, in an episode that wants to punish its characters for being good more than it wants to make any sense. In another line, Charlie realises he has to shoot April with Quill’s gun and open the Cabinet of Souls. He’s punished for this too, when he doesn’t get to die with his people. Nobody comes out of this season well, especially not the now-eight-foot-tall Shadow Kin version of April.
– Farewell, Dorothea, we barely liked ye. Pookie Quesnel was great in this part when she got to be funny, but Ness’ tendency to use the headteacher to make rubbish quandaries for characters she supposedly wanted on her side was maddening. She does a lot of the set-up for Season 2 here, before she owns up to the Governors on her failure to stop Charlie using the Cabinet and she’s executed by…
– Oh, you want us to talk about the Weeping Angel? Well, fair enough – it seems as if the mysterious Governors are laying the ground at Coal Hill for “the arrival”, an invasion of the Angels. As we learned in the 2010 two-parter The Time Of Angels and Flesh & Stone, the Angels can use cracks in time as a food source, so the school would obviously be of interest to them. They’d certainly be a more interesting Big Bad than the Shadow Kin, but honestly, we’re more curious to find out if Cyril Nri is reprising his character from The Sarah Jane Adventures, who also mucked about with time…
Photo: BBC/Simon Ridgeway