I approached Brave-Ish Heart with some considerable trepidation. I wasn’t immediately enamoured with the Shadow Kin in For Tonight We Might Die, and thought it best if they were left until the series finale. Saying that, I really like April (Sophie Hopkins), and more time exploring her situation with Corakinus (Paul Marc Davis) could be interesting.
Similarly, I had mixed feelings about Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart, the opening part of this two-episode storyline. On the whole, it worked, but the sex scene (and Corakinus’ subsequent line about cuddling) was cringe-inducing, and the ending was too muddled.
Sadly, Brave-Ish Heart, too, is a mixed bag. It certainly has a lot going for it, but too much holds it back from the heady heights reached in the wonderfully-unsettling, Day of the Triffids-esque Nightvisiting.
We join Ram (Fady Elsayed) and April in the realm of the Shadow Kin, where the latter is on a suicide mission. The actual situation with the shared heart is brilliantly abstract, but the stakes aren’t defined enough. We know April won’t die there and then, so the threat is lessened. She’s already on the trajectory to becoming ruler of the Shadow Kin, so it’s no great surprise when exactly this happens, and without the need for bloodshed. (Do the Shadow Kin have blood anyway?)
Her posturing with huge rocky knives makes for good imagery, but she’s already demonstrated that she’s stronger than she looks. It’s down to solid writing by Patrick Ness and great acting by Hopkins that her strongest moments are when she’s just being April, not when she’s marching around the Underneath, looking for a fight: it’s at the end with her mum, Jackie (Shannon Murphy); it’s when she tells her dad, Huw (Con O’Neill) to just leave them alone until they contact him; and it’s that smirk when asked what she can do with an army of shadows.
The Shadow Kin, once more, don’t live up to their promise. They should be really cool. They’re living shadows! They’re one step beyond the Vashta Nerada! It has to be said that the design lets them down. Anyone who’s familiar with Marvel Comics’ The Sentry – and more specifically, his alter-ego, the Void – knows how I envisioned the Shadow Kin.
It’s fair to note that they had to look a product of the Underneath, aka the realm of the Shadow Kin, hence their distinctly rocky appearance. The gravelly voice is an extension of that, though the reasoning behind them doesn’t make them any better. For one, I always struggle to understand whatever Corakinus says, making these two episode particularly difficult to get through.
You can’t help feeling that Class would fare better if its villain were the Shadow from The Armageddon Factor (1979)…
The Underneath itself is an interesting idea, not only revelling in religious allegory but introducing the idea that such a world exists as the universe’s shadow. Mull that over for a while because it’s gorgeous. It’s a great coda to the notion of parallel dimensions, and, in a yin-and-yang way, makes you question whether there’s something above the universe too. Despite all the gore, deaths, and unnecessary sex, this is a more positive show than Torchwood (Captain Jack’s assertion that, beyond death, there’s nothing is just too chilling a thought, not something I feel easy with in comparison to Doctor Who‘s ever-hopeful outlook).
This positive approach is echoed in Charlie’s (Greg Austin) Cabinet of Souls, the epitome of opportunity. For “young Charles,” it’s a chance to bring back his race – somehow. For Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly), it’s a way to rid the universe of her enemy. And for Dorothea (Pooky Quesnel), it’s a potential way of saving the Earth.
The scene of Charlie opening the cabinet is obviously just there to foreshadow what’s surely to come later in the series; there’s no way it would really be used this early in the show, certainly not when April’s got an army behind her.
And that’s the thing: the petals are the more fascinating and scary plot thread, but it’s undermined by the inevitable. The petals are a massive threat to the whole world; meanwhile, April’s fighting for control of a force that can wipe an entire species from a planet in seconds. It doesn’t take a genius to work out how that was going to go – which makes Tanya’s (Vivian Oparah) slow realisation of this pretty painful. Especially as she’s supposed to be the smartest one of the group.
It’d be interesting to have seen how the group got rid of the devouring petals without the Shadow Kin. Would Charlie have used the Cabinet of Souls without the gun to Matteusz’s (Jordan Renzo) head? What if he didn’t have it in the first place? As her duty to protect Charlie, how could Quill have stopped the petals? Ah, missed opportunities.
Still, we’re afforded stunningly grim visuals, namely of people succumbing to the flowers, and blood being streaked across a car windscreen. I might go as far as saying they’re a more disgusting threat than even the Krynoid…
There are, of course, further minor niggles, plus, for me, one major one. The minor is that Ness, more than capable of writing for youngsters (I’ve read some of his books and they’re brilliant), underestimates what they know. April doesn’t know Lord of the Rings? And Ram thinks it’s just some “old movie” his dad likes? Really?! Ram doesn’t know what regicide means? Just unbelievable. Even if you’re not particularly a fan of Tolkien, some things are too ingrained in the nation’s consciousness not to acknowledge.
Nonetheless, April and Ram have great chemistry, and, despite their ignorance of certain things, seem to have wisdom beyond their years. It’s testament to the show that Ram’s faith is explored. I can’t think of another series that explored Sikhism in such a way, and his honesty – that he can’t explain all the bad things people do – is refreshing. Again, it’s that optimistic streak that makes Class very watchable.
(The only naff point in their relationship was April telling him, right near the end, when she’s defeated a murderous king and saved the Earth from a vicious invader, that she needs saving. Pfft. As if.)
I think I’m saying something controversial here, but I’m still determined to stick my neck out. If they’re the positive example of a relationship, Charlie’s and Matteusz’s is the exact opposite. They’re there for people on social media to “ship” but right now, it feels like dead weight that should be thrown overboard. I hate people who are utterly defined by their relationship with one person, and that’s Matteusz to a tee. He gets some great lines, but it’s not enough. We’ve seen Charlie’s life away from him, albeit briefly, but Matteusz doesn’t seem to have a purpose otherwise. Has there been a scene of Matteusz on his own? I don’t mean talking to himself – I mean, away from Charlie. With anyone other than Charlie. Even just with Quill.
Matteusz and Charlie just seem too needy, what with all their talk of being lost. Nobody talks like that. Or if they do, I certainly wouldn’t want to hang around with them. Which is a shame. Matteusz shows he can be very likeable, his moral compass and wit shining through even amid all that lovey-dovey boringness. Dorothea and Quill’s dialogue about the purity of young love just doesn’t feel true either. I just want to slap Charlie and Matteusz, and tell them to get a grip.
Maybe Detained will improve things. Fingers crossed.
Still, Brave-Ish Heart has its moments, despite a few scenes that’ll make your eyes roll. Its inevitable conclusion isn’t particularly a bad thing: it’s the journey that counts. In Class‘ journey, this two-parter is a slight stumble, but not enough to put you off the whole trip.
The cast remains the strongest part of the show, with moral dilemmas and a surprisingly optimistic tone as its spine. Class is a series with heart, and that’s to be celebrated.