A Strange Taste to This Status Quo, Class: Brave-ish Heart, Reviews, 15/11/2016

The full series of my philosophical essays on Patrick Ness' Class. Sponsor the project (and a bunch of other upcoming projects) at Patreon.

1) For Tonight We Might Die
2) The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo
3) Nightvisiting
4) Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart
• • •
As I set out to write this review, I realized that it will likely end up a bit shorter than the other posts in this series. For one thing, it stuck to the fundamental themes of its first part, so there isn’t a whole lot more for me to say about those.

It’s the same story, just the beats that close up the plot instead of advancing it and setting up the pieces. There are some aesthetic and ethical problems with the episode that are starting to appear in the show. Let’s talk aesthetic first, because those are easier to dispense with.

Sophie Hopkins and Fady Elsayed get some great scenes to stretch
their dramatic muscles, which unfortunately are largely hidden in
shadow. It's appropriate for their physical setting for most of the
episode, but it isn't the best for communicating actual drama.
Actors Love It When You Play to Their Faces

I have to praise the cast once again, especially Sophie Hopkins and Fady Elsayed. This is praise with faint damnation, because they delivered such hammy dialogue so well. Punchy dialogue about how neither of them wants to say they’ve fallen in love with each other can work great in a lot of contexts.

When you’re about to have a gladiatorial contest with the supervillain leader of a species full of literal ash demons on a planet that makes Io look like a Bermuda beachfront resort? Maybe you’re stretching it a little here.

The parents’ dialogue amounted to the same mess. Ram’s dad Varun mostly got a bunch of nervous babbling. And since this constitutes


April’s dad Huw’s speech about his despair and how strong she’s become didn’t come off nearly as well as it could. The thing is, Doctor Who itself can do this kind of emotional confessor dialogue in the most ridiculous situations.

It seems as though the direction dropped the ball on this one. The Shadowkin’s planet is too dark a setting, and the camera holds back too much from closer shots on the actors’ faces. Huw’s speech seriously suffers from this, as he’s held almost entirely in wide shots when the camera should focus on the power of his face.

My discussion of the material nature of a creature's existence owes a
lot to the philosophical vocabulary of Gilles Deleuze and Félix
Guattari, particularly their chapter on their concept of 'becoming-
intensity' in A Thousand Plateaus. If you're interested in a good
#longread open-access article, check out this piece by one of my
favourite Deleuze scholars (and quite a nice guy), Manuel
Existence Itself as Plague

One success for the direction, however, was in making the carnivorous petals properly menacing. Indeed, director Philippa Langdale did a better job of displaying the petals’ agency than she did the emotional power of her human actors’ performances.

Not only do her cinematographic choices one-up M. Night Shayamalan’s pathetic attempts to make plants scary in The Happening. They also display the peculiar character of the carnivorous petals – they sweep across the screen, cluster and build their presence to take over more and more of the viewer’s field of vision.

The petals express their agency in their motion as a cluster that literally infests the sets, spreading across the visual fields of the viewer’s sight and the physical fields of the sets and actors’ movements. They’re a living infection of physical space, a plague of visual domination.

The parallels with the Shadowkin are clear, yet so are the differences. As Headmaster Dorothea says at the end of the episode, the petals likely only consisted of one soul – one centre of agency. The one-dimensional drive to infest.

The Shadowkin function as a plague in their attacks, especially in this episode, as they manifest as a literal smoke that consumes the petals entirely. But despite their telepathic links and strictly hierarchical society, each individual Shadowkin is a distinct subjectivity.

Although they seemed to move as one with the direction of their King in the first episode, “For Tonight We Might Die,” the Shadowkin are individuals. They have a society, and a morality that links an ontological conception of their nature with a religious perspective about their purpose in the universe. And they have political principles that organize the strict and brutal monarchy of their politics.

"Brave-ish Heart" also has a moral problem of April's healing her
mother's paralysis. Although it was born of violence, Jackie at least
tells her daughter than her act of healing was equally a form of
violence. She had accepted her wheelchair-bound condition, and
April overwrote her mother's agency to repair what she saw as an
injustice. I hope we'll see more of this conflict between them in
the future, as it makes for a burning paradox at the heart of
April's otherwise morally upright character. It's also potentially
very awkward, since the actress Shannon Murray is herself
wheelchair-bound in real life. So filming walking scenes will
get very weird, or just will not happen.
The Shadowkin’s swath of destruction throughout the universe isn’t a function of some autonomic plague nature, but of their morality and religion. Their ethics, their self-conception. What April learns through her link with Corakinus in “Brave-ish Heart” demonstrates that wiping them out would in fact be a genocide.

The Heart of Ethics

Fady Elsayed also gets one of the only philosophical monologues on the Shadowkin world that actually comes off well, despite a few clunker lines. That’s his discussion of the ethics that come with his Sikh heritage.

The outward signs of Sikhism – the five Ks of the long hair and turban, ceremonial comb, bracelet, dagger, and underpants* – are ethical signifiers to yourself and others.

* All these words start with the K sound in Punjabi, you know – Kesh, Kangha, Kara, Kirpan, and Kachera, respectively.

For Ram, they and his father’s more open embrace of them are the links to his heritage. But they’re also his ethical reminders that he must always act in the world so as to do what’s right and best. He wears the most ethically important sign of Sikhism, the Kara, the bracelet that is literally a reminder to yourself to let justice guide your actions.

Even non-consciously, justice and fidelity to the people you care about motivates Ram’s actions. He even jokes, after following April through the portal, that footballers are well-known for impulsively acting without thinking or understanding why. But his impulses aren’t the typical “acting without thinking” of selfishness and malice. Justice remains his motive force. His ethics is built into his subjectivity itself.

I'm quite hopeful for the potential of Matteusz, whose character isn't in
the main cast yet (and he should be, given his talents and role in the
show) in developing through his relationship with Charlie and Quill.
Ethics is, of course, the domain of philosophy about the creation of character, personality, and subjectivity. It contains the concepts that revolve around what and who a person is – the concepts that are the building blocks of a personality.

Those concepts could come from religion, ontology, morality, politics, and even the theory of knowledge or other sciences. What unifies these disparate concepts as ethics is their use – to answer or explore the questions of who you are and what your purpose can be.

If anyone needs that grounding, it’s Charlie, who is tortured by his conflicting loyalties to his murdered people, the traditions of his crown, and his new home on Earth. I’m quite impressed with how central Matteusz has become to this thread of the Class story, and I’d like to see his role expanded in the show’s next season.

Because it looks like Charlie’s ethical mooring will be an important element of the conflicts that define the rest of this season. And since a bottle episode is coming next week, all those conflicts are coming to the forefront.

I love bottle episodes. It’s the theatre nerd in me.


  1. Another great piece. Your "Class" reviews are some of my favourites, and your Who ones quickly rivalling Sandifer's in my affections.

    Reposting below a comment I made on GallifreyBase about the interesting *range* of religious faiths Ness has included in Class, to my mind more than we'd find in your average 5 episodes of Who:

    "Actually, thinking about it, the religion stuff is one of the most interesting aspects of "Class". It's not groundbreaking by any means, but it must be about as "multifaith" a view of the universe as the Who world has presented; the Rhodian, Shadow Kin, Christian and Sikh religions all get a look in, none of them are utterly lambasted or championed above any other, all are problematized and have holes poked in them.

    The Rhodian religion with its "soul"-dominated afterlife probably looks to most eyes rather like Christianity. Christianity in some variations specifies that each person will "get a new body" in the afterlife, which ties in rather neatly with the method by which Charlie hopes to resurrect his people (and the Cabinet could be seen as a kind of Purgatory, or Limbo, waiting for the final Day of Judgment). Of course, Christianity doesn't mention that there's a genocide that needs to happen first before the Day of Judgment, so Ness is obviously problematising this line of thought and not remotely presenting the Rhodians as straightforward good guys. The Rhodians are also the upper-class imperialists who are chill with slavery, which isn't a bad fit with Christianity as these things go. Yet their religion also isn't presented as utter baloney: there really does seem to be a whole bunch of souls in that cabinet.

    The Quill, interestingly, don't believe in souls (Andra'ath says as much to Orla'ath in Nightvisiting). Defining themselves as opposite to the Rhodians. Andra'ath calls the idea of all Quill souls being together "hell" whereas her sister Orla'ath thinks it's "heaven" - echoing the notion in Heaven Sent that heaven and hell may as well be the same thing, since they're both an eternity of losing feeling. Hell is "just heaven for bad people". There are also quasi-Nietzschean elements to Quill culture, or at least survival of the fittest - Quill sisters try and kill each other in the nest."

    1. (continued)

      "This bring me on to.... the Shadow Kin religion, which is also quasi-Nietzschean, I'd say, in that it takes as a basic assumption the idea that everyone in the universe is out to get you and crush you into a pulp so you ought to do it to them first (as April explained in this episode). Note the parallel of Untermensch (yes, the Nazi term for the subhuman, but it stems from an author influenced by Nietzsche's superman/Ubermensch concept) with the Underneath. Unter and under, starting from a position of weakness and fear and trying to lash out. They obviously fear the Doctor, too, calling him "the great destruction of the universe" - he's part of what they try and lash out against. Mythologised within their culture as part of the oppressive trappings pushing down on them as cave ceilings push down on stalactites towards the ground.

      Ram's take on Sikhism is of course a distinctly pragmatic, liberal, Western one as opposed to his dad who is at least a little more conservative when it comes to the five Ks, yet both seem relatively respectful of the other's take. Ram's semi-wishy-washy "do-good" attitude (that to be good to other humans is what gets us closest to God) gets called into question by April in that it doesn't explain all the cruelties of the world, yet his response "I don't know. Wish I did" is relatively dignified, rather than pontificating at her about the true way or whatever.

      Then there's Tanya's mum, whose strict opposition to her daughter associating with boys and her Nigerian origin would both point to a middlingly conservative Anglicanism (at a guess), though we haven't seen so much of her of late. And, of course, there's Matteusz' parents, who are 99% likely to be Catholics, if they're strictly orthodox, from Poland, and not accepting of homosexuality. And finally there's the more pagan "folk religion" behind the song Night Visiting which April plays on the violin - the idea of our loved ones appearing to drag us down into hell, or to warn us from danger.

      I'm not saying this makes the show exceptional or anything, but it struck me that Ness (an atheist, like most of the Who writers) was including more religious worldviews in his scripts than we generally get with this show or its spinoffs."