Season 1, episode 2
This review contains spoilers. You have been warned.
Joss Whedon once said that the first incarnation of BUFFY was “just the idea of some woman who seems to be completely insignificant who turns out to be extraordinary.” So perhaps reason that I like the BBC supernatural horror drama THE FADES so very much is that its premise reminds me somewhat of Joss’s creation, but with a gender switch. Think of it as if Xander were The Chosen One instead of Buffy. For in THE FADES, our originally unwitting high school hero is an adorable angsty male nerd, who comes complete with the requisite one-parent household, an in-your-face bitchy twin sister and an even geekier scifi-loving best pal who has enough energy and one-liners to portray the whole Scooby Gang all by himself.
“But you can’t quote a film, you can only quote a character IN a film!”
The second episode started with a video blog entry by Mac, our hero’s wise-cracking BFF. This splash and dash clip neatly summarized the previous ep, outlined the show’s general premise and introduced the characters for newbies without sounding in the least like a boring “last week on” recap. BTW, I’m continuing to be blown away by just how great 22-year-old actor/comedian Daniel Kaluuya is in his role as Mac.
This ep concentrated on laying down character development, and we learned a bit more about what kind of challenges lay ahead for our reluctant hero Paul (Iain de Caestecker). He’s now seeing his mum, sis and gal friend dead/dying in his dreams, which may indicate a subconscious realization that his confusing new “specialness” could end in tears for those he loves. Or maybe it’s a truly prophetic vision. Dunno yet.
The police are still out looking for history teacher Mark’s (Tom Ellis) missing wife Sarah (Natalie Dormer), who was in fact killed by the Fades last week and is now one herself. Previously an Angelic and a Fade fighter, she’s having difficulty adjusting to being dead and being unable to ascend (talk about seeing things from the other side’s point of view!) and has begun stalking her still-alive husband and following his every movement with sad puppydog eyes.
Totally unaware of both her secret life as a Fade Fighter and her current ghostly presence, Mark brings home a sleepover date. Sarah naturally gets upset while witnessing the ensuing shenanigans. I feel that these two and their relationship post-death is just one of the many threads of a complex plot teased up a tiny bit and then gently put aside to be worked on again later.
“The sh** has hit the fan and you’re standing right in front of it.”
Paul’s mentor Neil (Johnny Harris) shows up unexpectedly at the high school to take him to meet Dead Eric, an ancient Fade and one of the first Angelics. Neil also manages to spout a good deal of exposition right about now, which is actually helpful because of the twisty scenario. I do get the feeling that all will become clear, or at least less opaque, as the series progresses, though.
Approached and then led astray to near death by Fade Natalie (the wonderfully spooky-looking Jenn Murray), Paul gets rescued by Neil and then presented to Dead Eric, who waves glowy hands over him and pulls light streams out of the boy’s eyes. Final decision is that Paul is indeed “important,” presumably in the fight against the Fade uprising. Not surprisingly, Paul finds the whole Lite-Brite experience confusing and the idea of becoming a supernatural soldier terrifying, and runs off.
What’s with all the dead birds?
On his way home, Paul is amazed to find that his touch resurrects a dead bird. (Another power revealed that might come in handy later…?) When a group of nasty-looking Fades corner him, he finds the misfiring lightning bolts that suddenly seem to want to shoot out of his palms more puzzling than protective, so luckily he’s once again rescued by a gun-blasting Neil. (Handy guy to have around, this Neil.) Paul’s mentor of sorts counsels that the high-schooler should simply say goodbye to everyone he knows and then go underground in order to fight the good fight. Paul is naturally distressed by this idea, but soon becomes far more upset when they discover a party of Fades out in the woods chowing down on some 12-year-old punks whom we first met earlier as they bullied Paul and Mac. Neil promptly surmises that eating the flesh of humans has somehow allowed the Fades to develop the ability to touch. (A small quibble here: if they couldn’t touch how could they tear into people in the first place? But I digress.)
Soon after a still-in-shock Paul witnesses an outburst by Mac’s dad (Surprise! He’s the DCI in charge of the missing wife case) which leaves Mac emotionally battered and bleeding. Both boys are amazed when Paul touch heals Mac’s wound completely.
“How do you say goodbye?”
Later at a school party Paul practices saying goodbye to his friends without much success, but does finally blurt out to his friend Jay that he really likes her, and is surprised when she returns his interest. Her confession that she feels like two people, one who enjoys being popular in school and hanging out with his bitchy twin sister Anna, but who is also attracted to him despite his nerdiness, inspires him to accept Neil’s proposal to join in the fight against the Fades, but determine to also live a separate life as a normal person. Unfortunately Neil is not in a position to hear this revelation, as he is at that moment he is being torn apart by a gang of Fades. So much for Team Angelic. We must wait for Episode 3 to discover whether or not Paul shows up in the nick of time to use his new-found powers of healing to save Neil. After all, what are mysterious god-like powers good for if not that?
I appreciated that the flesh-rending scenes were sudden, shocking and realistically gruesome, and feel they point to an ever-darkening direction for this series. A limited amount of VFX used so far works in the show’s favor, especially compared to most TV and movies where almost everything is CGI-enhanced. And special kudos go to the show’s makeup department for the wonderfully unearthly and deteriorating “look” of the Fades. CGI is marvelous in its place, but old-fashioned makeup magic and careful lighting can be just as effective and astonishingly creepy when used properly, as it is here.