We Can't Live With Our Scars, Class: Nightvisiting, Reviews, 01/11/2016

Check out my first two reviews of Class, of "For Tonight We Might Die" and "The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo." You can support more TV review projects like this and even bigger things down the road at my Patreon page.
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Three episodes in makes me feel safe enough to offer a casual description of what Class is all about, at least in this first season. It’s grief. 

Exploring all the aspects of grief – how it appears in our lives, what scars and traces it leaves, how it shapes our personalities, the different ways to travel along grief’s line of flight. What grief makes of us and makes us become.

It doesn’t get more explicit in this episode, where,


cited, a hideous alien fungus that feeds off the intense emotional energy of grief squirms through the bunghole of time and manifests in front of thousands of Londoners as their dead loved ones. It speaks with all of them to amp their feelings of grief, sadness, and loss as high as they can go, then wraps them up in its spores.

If I could say there was one issue I had with "Nightvisiting," it would be
that the dialogue was a little too clunky at times. Tanya herself had
some of the most dangerously expository dialogue, occuring in an
emotionally intense dramatic conversation that lasted almost through
the entire episode.
Our Stories Make Sense of Us

The major confrontation the creature has is its talk with Tanya, manifesting as her father Jasper on the two year anniversary of his sudden death from a stroke. 

But it also confronts several of the other cast members, or at least tries to. It appears to Ram as his murdered girlfriend Rachel, naturally, as her killing is the central traumatic event that drives his character. 

The creature talks about how much humans crave closure in their lives, that they let grief and mourning torture themselves so much more than any other species it’s come across.

The reason why is rooted in how we make sense of our lives. Humans understand ourselves by telling stories about ourselves. These are our histories, at all levels of human development, whether as a family, a community, globally, or as individuals. 

We want our narratives to be comprehensive, complete, and clear. Comprehensive in that a narrative offers a full view of what it describes. The story takes in everything that matters to the development it describes. 

This is different from a narrative’s completeness. Being complete is to be definitive – it’s the only story about a person or a development in a person’s life that you need to tell, once it’s been told.

And a narrative is clear when its meaning as it ends is unambiguous, delivering a transparent set of messages. This is “the moral of the story” if I can talk like a mediocre grade school teacher for a moment. 

The ending stuck with you precisely because it refused to be clear-cut.
Most of us had to figure out the true ending, unable to accept the actual
ending of genuine ambiguity. We hate ambiguity enough in real life,
where it happens all the bloody time.
I would say that clarity is the most important feature of a narrative in that introducing even the least unclarity or ambiguity to the meaning or end result of a story is more upsetting than a shortcoming in comprehensiveness or completeness. 

Think of how obsessed so many people were over the ending of Inception. There, the story’s clarity was carefully manipulated to encourage just that reaction among its audience. Constantly arguing and interpreting together whether Leonardo DiCaprio was or wasn’t still in a dreamscape became part of the West’s cultural conversation. 

In that case, it wasn’t a flaw of the story, but an attentively calibrated part of the story itself. The arguments we all had over the meaning of the story were themselves part of the story. It was how Inception literally incepted all of our minds.

Humans fundamentally want the stories we tell to be complete, comprehensive, and clear. This is ultimately true for the stories we tell about ourselves – which is how we make sense of ourselves entirely. We understand our lives by making ourselves into a story.

This is a narrative way of describing what in more ontological philosophy is called the principle of sufficient reason – everything that exists has a cause or reason for its existence that all fits together in a perfect, if madly complicated, order. That the world fits together is the fundamental premise of human reasoning.

My mother even says this as a platitude, and she’s far from the only one. So many times when I’ve faced unforeseen problems or crises, she says, “Everything happens for a reason” to reassure me.

For all that Tanya's Vivian Oparah gets the extra-moving melodramatic
scenes in "Nightvisiting," April's Sophie Hopkins demonstrates the
most virtuoso (and also underrated) skill of any actor: She has some
of the most stilted dialogue in the entire episode, explaining her
history with her abusive alcoholic father to Ram. It's a moment of
simultaneous exposition and emotional rawness, nearly
impossible to carry out at its knife-edge balance.
I respond that this idea only makes sense retroactively, after we’ve already dealt with whatever disaster has been foisted on us. In the moment, I still have to wade through whatever shit that I have to deal with. Mom, you're a Leibnizian who raised an existentialist, and I'm sorry about that.

Grief is so troubling to us because the event of sudden loss or sudden ending destabilizes that premise. For example, Tanya describes how she would check in on her father whenever he came home from a night shift as a police officer because his patrols were a time of danger. 

If one night, Jasper didn’t come home, it would have been terrible, but it would at least have made sense to Tanya. There would be a clear cause in the potentially dangerous work that he did to his own death. Dying of a stroke in the bathroom makes a mockery of that coherence in her life.

That's the real horror of an existentialist look at the world. You accept the fact that a cause isn’t the same as a reason and that our narratives of our life won’t necessarily (or even that often) have clear-cut meanings and results. 

What Our Grief Reveals

Grief is the emotional and subjective dissonance when our yearning for a rational order in our lives meets the fact of real complexity and chaos. These moments of crisis can be quite revealing for a person, as it shows what we depend on to make sense of our existences.

The most illuminating conversation the creature has is with Quill, where it manifests as her sister. This sequence is the most sustained sequence of character development we’ve gotten for Quill so far, as we not only get to see her people’s paradoxical familial relationships, but also a look into her own motives.

Quill’s grief over her family and people – wiped out in the genocide of Rhodia – manifests as an image of who she should be. Ultimately, it isn’t love for her sister that most tempts Quill to let the creature capture her. In human ways of thinking, the pain of sudden loss would be the most enticing lure. 

One criticism that Phil Sandifer's review of the episode mentioned was
that the notion of Tanya's grief over her father being the strongest such
feeling in London seemed a touch sloppy. But I prefer to think of the
creature's focus on Tanya being a matter of her regular proximity to
the time bunghole as well, a mild piece of metafiction that the
interdimensional dangers of the rift affect the show's main cast the
most because it's their job to draw the rift's fire. They're the front
lines on these emotionally vulnerable alien invaders. Sounds like a
fine part-time job while you're finishing up high school.
But for Quill, it’s the fact that she’s been rendered impotent in so many ways. What truly draws her in is the prospect of being a true warrior again. The real object of her grief isn’t even the destruction of her people, but her loss of how she conceived of herself. The loss of her dignity as a warrior.

Charlie always held such emotional distance from his own family that he has no real grief. So the creature can’t even really manifest to him. Charlie’s story doesn’t have a rupture of the sort that breaks his sense of who he is. His narrative remains coherent as the guardian of the souls of his people in the Cabinet of Light.

We’ve already worked through Ram’s grief in the last episode, so Rachel’s spectre freaks him out, but then sends him out on the proactive role that he took on by the end of “The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo.” 

And April has, like Charlie, already repaired whatever breaks in her narrative were caused by the violent abuse of her alcoholic father. The events of her father’s violence became the foundation of her personal strength.

As for Tanya, her defeat of the creature makes clear what seems to be another theme of Class in this first season. She severely weakens the creature by feeding it with her anger instead of the subjective breakdown of grief, so that Quill’s physical attack can force it back into the rift. 

It's literally an instance of a character using the force of her personality to defeat the story’s monster, just as Ram did last week talking the dragon into leaving Earth. So here we have the moral of the story – each of us can find the strength within ourselves to vanquish our demons and become who the world demands we are.

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