The Fades ep 6

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

Throughout its debut run, one thing The Fades has definitely not been scared of is incredibly high stakes.  In this season finale, Paul was faced with a series of hellish distractions from his already impossible task of re-opening ascension and saving the world on his own terms: fallen Angelic Neil’s pain and desperation has turned him into John’s mirror image;  Jay, Anna, Meg and the faithful Mac are all in mortal danger; and there are body parts in the streets since the Reborns have either run everyone else out of town or eaten them.  End times, yes, fun times no.

Well, end in one sense anyway.  A slight issue with the episode was that the story clearly wasn’t intended to finish there.  Mark’s story suddenly went in a very odd direction, with his decision to leave town quite cheerfully with Dawn (I think?) entirely out of kilter with his earlier declaration to Sarah: did I miss the scene where they broke up again?  Mac and Anna’s relationship suddenly kick-started, the juxtaposition of their scenes in the container cleverly done but detracting a bit from the power of the big bloody showdown at the shoping centre.  The fate of the world was in the balance, you guys – and yes, so was Mac and Anna’s, but those scenes seemed slightly petty when compared with a bruised, battered and broken Paul relentlessy fighting, fighting, fighting; wings, blood and all.

But these things were all there because there’s surely meant to be more to these people’s stories than just this one season.  It was originally planned as a trilogy, and I really hope BBC 3 makes that happen because, regardless of everything I’ve just said, this episode and this series have been amazing.  Dark and downbeat, warm and witty, gruesome and supernatural but deeply, deeply human, The Fades has been something very special and if the finale could have been tighter (and it could), it doesn’t really matter because it was still all kinds of astounding.

As in every episode, there were no easy answers anywhere.  The Angelics have been decimated.  What Neil did has destroyed him, and maybe not him alone.  Paul (“the Angelic Swiss Army Knife”) may have “saved” the world but he may just have condemned it to a different type of hell as well.  And the ride to get to that last ominous shot of the furious sky was as heart-stoppingly frightening as it was superb.  I watch a lot of fantasy tv, and The Fades has been up there with the very, very best of it.  Bring it back.  Soon.

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The Fades ep 5

“Very few people come out of a coma healthier.”

But Paul’s managed it.  He’s back from the dead, and better for it; confident, strong and more at ease with himself than he’s ever been.  Unfortunately, though, he’s not the only one: the “reborn” are glorying in their new bodies, with people being killed and eaten, and killing and eating, left, right and centre.

The police don’t know who’s doing the killing and the eating or what the hell is going on, but they’ve set up a crisis centre for volunteers (to do what?) at the school, because they need to do something.  Of course, they don’t realise that doing something means sharing a building with Cannibal HQ and what remains of all the, um, missing persons….

Gosh, this show is scary.  Scary, sassy, and shocking, with plenty of wickedly funny lines, numerous brilliant ideas executed beautifully and a load of sheer bloody horror.  Too much sheer bloody horror for me, in all honesty: I couldn’t stomach the gruesomeness of the all-you-can-eat buffet of corpses in the seamy red darkness of the boilerhouse and I had to physically turn away from Sarah crossing the point of no return by jumping on that body like a starved animal.  (I’m pretty sure poor Mark will do the same when he finds out.)

Yet the marvellously ordinary sight of Steve, in the reassuringly familiar, brightly lit school corridor, was almost as horrifying.  I can’t quite forget the dawning dread of that moment where I wondered, “Wait, is Steve not dead, then?” And then immediately realised “Oh God, Steve is….and he’s not the only one.”

With that, of course, the stage was set for battle, with all the characters (except Jay, who was really just there as monster-bait) rising to the occasion with applomb.  Paul, finally taking charge of his powers and the challenge thrust upon him as he confronted Dr Tremlett in the gym: “I’m bored of being afraid of things like you.”  Mac being the best, truest friend and sidekick anyone could be, and Anna – when did Anna get magnificent? Round about the time she picked up that fire extinguisher? Or maybe I just didn’t see it before.

Neil’s story was the punch in the gut, though.  His unwavering faith in and love for Sarah, his disillusionment with Paul, his storming Die Hard moment with that machine gun, even his impromptu kidnap plan – all twisted and terrific.  I’m with him, too: I’d go for killing John and company one by one, and never looking back but Paul has other plans.  Superman doesn’t need to be a killer if he doesn’t want to, after all.  So go on, kid, find us a better way.  I’m looking forward to it.

The Fades ep 4

(Warning: herein be significant spoilers. No way to write this up without them.)

“I’m not important.  I’m dead.”

You know you’re dealing with something audacious when the death of the main character isn’t even the most disturbing thing about the episode.

I spent the whole hour with my mouth open, and panic written across my face, as things got grimmer and grimmer by the moment.  All of human weakness was here, as Paul made a deal with the devil – who calls himself John and loves Swiss chocolate – and was young enough to be suprised when the devil reneged, Neil crossed one line too many in trying to track down the Angelic-killer and paid far too high a price when he found him, and Sarah finally decided to join the fight against the Fades, in the most gut-wrenchingly horrific fashion she possibly could.  I don’t know who shocked me more: score draw?

And, in amongst all that supernatural warfare, or course, was Paul’s mum’s grief, cruel (“You were careless with him, Mac”) and understandable, and Mac’s love, sorrow and guilt.  This was not for the faint-hearted, and I’m not even talking about the Immortal cannibals.

There were a couple of issues for me, though.  I don’t think the Immortals make sense entirely: I can’t quite accept the process or the result yet, to be honest, and that annoys me.  But there’s no denying the sheer, visceral horror of them – I was unsettled enough to dream about flesh-eating zombies last night, and I don’t think it was a coincidence.  The soul transplant was a bit of a cop-out too, albeit an elegant one, with the show trying to have its cake and eat it in terms of Paul’s accident; I did wonder for a second whether I’d perhaps been fooled into thinking The Fades was a lot braver than it ever was.  But then I thought back over what the characters had done to themselves and each other over the episode, and I thought of all the broken hearts and broken bodies, and I realised I was right the first time.  This was astonishingly powerful and unnerving, with more courage, invention and daring than any other supernatural drama on tv just now.  Zombie dreams or not, I’m hooked.

The Fades ep 3

Few shows would be confident and daring enough to start an episode with the teenage hero masturbating as he fantasises about playing strip paper scissor stone.  Even fewer would have him sprout wings (actual, made-of-feathers, big birdy wings) as a result; despite all its affectionate references to films and tv (this week, Twilight, The Fly, Star Wars and Superman amongst plenty of others), The Fades is definitely a bit different.

For something so unabashedly frank, though, the show is also surprisingly sweet, although I find the friendship between Mac and Paul is the relationship I’m invested in, rather than the romance with Jay.  The scene where Paul made up for forgetting Mac’s birthday was adorable and even the romance-related stuff works best when Mac is helping out; the Roxanne-like sequence with him feeding Paul lines was lovely.  Despite not being too impressed with him at first, I now officially love Mac.  He’s brilliant.

Sweetness and sexuality aside, however, back to the horror.  Paul’s powers are becoming impossible to hide (is it just me, or should Anna and co not have been a lot more freaked out when he MAGICALLY SEALED HER MOUTH SHUT?), the rest of the Angelics have arrived, Neil is playing Whoopi Goldberg in Mark and Sarah’s version of Ghost, and, oh yeah, the Man-eating Monster comes out of a cocoon as….well, I’ll not spoil that.  Although that wasn’t even the most shocking cliffhanger of the episode.  I won’t spoil that one either. Very, very good stuff, once again.

The Fades ep 2

I don’t quite know how they managed it, but this was grimmer and scarier than last week’s.  I mean, the dead are cannibals, now?

Shiver.  As if things weren’t apocalyptically bad for our poor hero already – the dead have stopped ascending, the nightmares are getting even worse, and Mac’s father’s gone off the deep end – the fades are also organising so they can kill Paul now as well as anyone else daft enough to be out after dark.  Which seems to come very early in wherever the show’s meant to be set; daylight lasts about 10 minutes!

There is still some light amongst the (perpetual) darkness, though.  A quick, eerie visit to an abandoned care home confirms that Paul’s very special indeed (why the dead are so keen to kill him in particular, maybe?), and the moment where he and Mac realise what he can do gives us a surprisingly sweet affirmation of their friendship.  Much more convincing than the Jay romance which, for me, is the only false note in what’s a very accomplished, gripping piece of horror drama.  She’s just so boring.  I’d rather spend more time with the boys and with Neil, who is just awesome.  The attack on him was a little too obvious (though the outcome wasn’t) but I was really worried and upset for him.  Could the monster not take the loathesome Hannah instead?

The Fades ep 1

Paul’s life sucks.

Really, properly sucks.

Not only does he have standard BBC teenage angst – he doesn’t fit in at school, his vacuous sister hates him, he’s got a crush on her friend, his dad’s long gone – but he also has utterly petrifying apocalyptic dreams every night and can see the dead during the day.  Good times.

To cap all this off, he may now be required to save the world from some horrific monster that goes about trying to eat peoples’ faces.  (I don’t mean that in a good way.)  If the creature wins, his pals take over the world, and we’re all done for; that’s a lot of pressure for a teenager.  And for a programme on BBC 3.

For the most part, both cope (poor Paul’s bed-wetting aside).  Having lights shining out of people’s chests and out of the hands of a quite literally magical vicar means there’s always the danger of the whole thing coming across as ludicrous, but the writing and the admirably grounded acting managed to keep at least this first episode scary enough and interesting enough to avoid that.

Paul’s friend Mac was perhaps a little too generous with the comic relief – no one jokes that much, no matter how nervous they are – and I’d have been tempted to thump him several times if I were stuck with him, but I did smile at writer Jack Thorne using him to openly acknowledge all the show’s influences (including obviously The Sixth Sense and Nightmare on Elm Street) by narrating them all the way through. The mood needed lightening and he did it well.  He also became a lot less annoying as the show wore on.

Being British supernatural drama, no-one’s very glamourous, the sets are defiantly grey and dark and the themes resolutely downbeat, but all that suits the story fine. I’ll be back for episode 2.

Public Service Announcement 36 of 2011: Glee, Modern Family, The Fades

As we get into September the American networks start to wheel out their big guns, and two of the biggest are also returning to British screens this week.

First up is season 3 of Glee, now on Sky. Say what you like about BSkyB – and I have, more than once, for and against – but at least they don’t fuck around with the scheduling of American shows the way that most other UK broadcasters do; transmission dates over here are generally pretty close to transmission dates over there. So it starts on Fox tonight, then on Sky on Thursday. That doesn’t really make up for the phone hacking thing, but credit where due.

Anyway, where’s Glee going to go this time round? Frankly, I have no idea. I expected season 2 to be dreadful, and actually it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. (CJ would like it to be known that it was every bit as bad as she thought it was going to be.) But the core season 1 cast is still intact, even if the writers don’t seem to know what to do with them much of the time; Blaine and his Warblers were a welcome addition; and every now and again the magic flared up. On the other hand I detest reality TV, and I’m not remotely down with the whole Glee Project thing. So who knows? I’m expecting a solid return, then 20 or so episodes of inconsistency (Thursdays, Sky1, 8pm).

Then the day after sees the return of Modern Family, fresh from retaining its Best Comedy Emmy. With the best ensemble cast in the business and writers who know what they’re doing, the show’s biggest enemies are complacency and over-familiarity. But most of the time it’s smart, funny, sentimental as hell, and one of the most purely enjoyable things on TV. Yes, it gets a bit baggy and slack every now and again, but that’s what family life is like. Double-bill to start, incidentally (Fridays, Sky1, 8pm).

And to round off, a new British show: The Fades is some nonsense about the supernatural which at least has Daniela Nardini in it. CJ’s probably your go-to person if you want a more comprehensive preview, but I’m giving it the same care and attention as she gave to the mighty Curb Your Enthusiasm. The Radio Times thinks it might suit people waiting for the return of Being Human. Not me, then (Wednesdays BBC3, 9pm).