Bloody Traces, Class: “The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo,” Reviews, 27/10/2016


I wanted to take a couple of days before digging into the deeper philosophy of the second episode of Class, even though it premiered simultaneously, and the story follows immediately from the debut.

Dense Narrative Mesh

The show's chief producer and head writer Patrick Ness is crafting a very subtle television serial in Class. In that way, it's very much a creature of the current time, especially since it’s on an online-only platform – the cut-from-TV BBC Three. 

Even though the series will unfold largely at a pace of one episode (or in this case two) per week, it has a density of webbed connections that will reward binge-watching. The 21st century’s addictive and attentive viewing style that resurrects the mass-audience page-turning novels of the early newspaper era when Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky would publish massive serial novels. 

There are a bunch of small moments and sub-plots indicating where the season’s story will go over its next few weeks of episodes. Of course, I can’t discuss any of their details without warning of 

Another point for the space below the spoilers tag: I have to use official
publicity photos for these posts, but in the show, you get to see Fady
Elsayed's bum as he gets into the shower. And it's a very nice bum.
Makes me wonder how nobody else on the team ever sees his artificial
leg when they have communal showers.
SPOILERS!!

There are moments and scenes throughout "The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo" which clearly foreshadow future payoff. The most obvious to anyone following the series is Tanya's discussion of her father’s death two years prior, as she helps Ram deal with his grief over Rachel’s refrigeration in the premiere. 

If you know the basic premise of next week's “Nightvisiting,” you know that the spectre of Tanya’s father is going to become central to that episode. And you can guess that April will play an important role in that story, thanks to a brief moment near the end of this week’s episode where she refuses to acknowledge a text from her own absent father.

And an important part of Ram’s own arc in this episode is coming clean to his own father about his situation, the aliens invading his high school, his extraterrestrial artificial leg, and the truth about his girlfriend’s (and both of his coaches’) deaths. 

So navigating the human kids' relationships with their families will be central to the character arcs of these eight episodes over seven weeks.

But that's character. What about the threads of the plots?

The clearest subplot with future payoff is Quill’s fight with the government’s school inspector – a silent, robotic man with perfect reflexes – who turns out to be an actual robot. In an otherwise emotionally wrenching episode, this B-plot is played with the dark comedy natural to Quill’s ego and sarcasm.

Quill's subplot with this school inspector shows just how well
Katherine Kelly's performance can do comedy integrated with all the
violent adventuring of this show. Quite like how Doctor Who has
always worked, pretty much from the start.
And it ends with the robotic man actually being a robot, sent not by the school district’s board of governors but by some mysterious organization called the Governors. It makes me wonder what poor old Headmaster Armitage knew until that dragon the football coach was controlling skinned him alive. 

Yes, did I mention that this week’s story focussed on the campaign of violent murder perpetrated by an interdimensional dragon who skinned people alive for blood to feed its life-mate, who was trapped in the skin of Ram’s testosterone-id football coach? 

Because that's the central idea driving the plot of “The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo.” It makes for some chillingly effective cinematography as the camera lingers on the last few drops of blood that the tattoo dragon wasn’t able to drink or Coach Dawson wasn’t able to clean from each killing site.

And it makes for an exciting background for Ram to deal with his trauma while becoming even more traumatized by walking into scene after scene of bloody, gory, wretched murder.

The Crack-Up

“The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo” is most explicitly the first of what will probably be a series-long engagement with grief as a phenomenon. So dealing with grief, mourning, and loss will probably recur in pretty much every episode and the season finale will probably require a detailed grappling with the concept.

Instead, I want to focus on Ram’s own psychology, as every stability in his quite generically successful life has catastrophically fallen to pieces. The phrase “crack-up” is an appropriate description for what’s happening to him. 

The episode also works as an incredibly blatant critique of toxic
masculinity, especially as it manifests in athletic culture. This is one
aspect of the show's approach that – at least in terms of popular
culture engagement – is actually now rather behind the times.
Ram’s life, prior to prom night in “For Tonight We May Die,” exists on a strictly defined, flat territory. Rather like the football pitch. He moves on a flat plane, free of complications, with perfect command of the space. 

The footballer who has become his territory so intimately that he’s a true expert of it. He even has the most ego-fuelling position on the squad – first row striker, earner of the most transparent glory.

All that comes crashing down at the end of the first episode. And at the start of “The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo,” that flat space becomes utterly alien to him. Not to his mind, but to his body, as he must literally train his leg almost from its first principles of movement to become part of his own body. 

In that regard, it’s a more destabilizing state than even when he was learning to walk as an infant. Ram's body and mind is already expert, but his leg is an infant again.

His territory has become rocky and difficult in an instant – a physical flat surface torn into a tortuous space in an instant. And he didn’t choose this transition – the change is a burden to him for which he could prepare nothing. 

Ram's life cracked into thousands of fractures, on which he literally trips with his body that's become literally alien to him. If I ever get the chance to teach people about philosophy again, I’d use Ram’s story in this episode to explain what Gilles Deleuze means by deterritorialization.

Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze's concepts to describe how life forms
act in networked relationships are remarkably useful for understanding
Ram's story in this episode, and Ram's story makes a great model to
understand their theories and concepts.
“The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo” is a portrait of a rupture, what Deleuze and Guattari call a “deadly and alive, nonsegmentary” becoming. It’s the kind of rupture that is literally a “time to die.” 

Ram is ripped from the territory on which he functions as a person in society and as a living organism. Those are two aspects of the same phenomenon – the development and becoming of Ram himself in all his facets. 

He tells the dragon that he should be dead, that he wishes he was dead. That great rupture – in his body, his field, and his mind – is itself a kind of death. He's no longer the Ram that he was becoming before the Autumn Prom. So he now has to become another Ram.

3 comments:

  1. Love the Deleuze connection. Both of your recaps so far have been fantastic (don't actually know if you've written a third yet, just watched the second episode), looking forward to reading the rest!

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  2. Cheers for these posts Adam, reading through them all and enjoying them as ever!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. I do it for my love of the Doctor Who universe (and go into extra detail for my Patreon sponsors). I really appreciate the love.

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