A Villainous Rage, Class: Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart, Reviews, 08/11/2016

Previous philosophical reviews of Patrick Ness' Class:
Episode One: For Tonight We Might Die
Episode Two: The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo
Episode Three: Nightvisiting
• • •
Some critical notes to start my thoughts on this episode of Class. I think it’s a wonderful story, with seamless transitions in tone and style between over-the-top sci-fi spectacle, melodrama, and awkward comedy.

Even when they're disturbed by Cronenbergian alien incursions into
her own body, April and Ram are still pretty adorable. Casting
probably tested all the actors in the top ranks of auditions for
these roles for chemistry with each other.
Patrick Ness sometimes has a tendency to write some very cheesy, clunky dialogue. But he’s also very aware of this limitation of his, and is actually very good at lampshading his dialogue problems. The romantic dialogue between April and Ram is the best example of this I’ve seen in the show so far.

And if we’re going to take all of contemporary Doctor Who into account, he’s far from the worst offender in occasionally clunky writing.

Regarding the philosophical themes of the story, grappling with grief remains a significant part of the Class tapestry. Though it isn’t nearly as important here as in “Nightvisiting.” Actually, the scene where grief as a theme appears, Charlie’s conversation with Matteusz and Tanya about the Cabinet of Light, brings a much more interesting idea to the show.

Of course, I won't even be able to introduce the title of my section about this idea without warning you of some pretty significant


No Royal Wants a Person’s Freedom

I’m not talking about something as ordinary as Prince William being a dick to chauffeurs or anything like that. No, “Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart” introduces a character dynamic to Class that has a transformative potential for the show.

Quill's storyline in this episode is fascinating in its own right. As plot,
it largely feeds into the following episode, but it's of a piece with the
subtlest trick of the Class storyline – How Ness makes you forget over
the intervening episode from the premiere to this week that Quill is a
freedom fighter forced to become an indentured slave.
The first episode “For Tonight We Might Die” introduced the strange dynamic of Charlie and Ms Quill – Charlie is the monarch of the kingdom that defeated Quill’s rebellion. As I said in my analysis of that episode, if the Doctor had appeared on their homeworld during Quill’s campaign, he more than likely would have been on her side.

Charlie would have been the sympathetic villain. Perhaps a villain who comes to see a path to peace instead of violence, defeat, and reconquest. But he’d be a villain nonetheless, the dictator of a government that oppresses and disenfranchises Quill’s ethnic minority.

And let’s be honest with ourselves – a monarch is a dictator. It’s just a dictator that we Westerners feel has a little more legitimacy than a military ruler or a totalitarian party-state. That nasty little concept of the king’s divine mandate can take a long time to wiggle out of our cultural imaginary.

See what Charlie does in this episode – acting more like a dictator than he ever has before. Faced with the potential awkwardness of their parent-teacher night, Charlie gruffly orders Quill to come up with some bluff.

Phil Sandifer’s brief review of this episode spent a moment lamenting Tanya’s relatively small role in this episode. But although she didn’t have too many lines, Tanya and Matteusz are the perfect characters to force Charlie’s darker nature into the open.

The most important aspect of Charlie's character that makes him
different from his friends isn't that he's an alien, it's that he's a monarch.
Matteusz comes from a Polish family, an immigrant community in Britain who until only a few decades ago lived under a police state. Matteusz’s parents would have been born and grown up at least into their teenage years under a communist dictatorship whose government included a powerful secret police institution.

He can recognize in Charlie’s talk of duty and a higher morality for kings and leaders the justifications of state violence that killed many thousands of Poles at the hands of the SB.

And Tanya, as a black woman whose parents are Nigerian and Jamaican, stands in the prime positionality to tell Charlie that his forced servitude of Quill constitutes slavery. His appeals to the different morality of Rhodia can’t stand up to their arguments.

It’s not so much that Rhodia’s morality is irrelevant given the total genocide of that society, though that is what Matteusz and Tanya mention. What carries the real power are their universal ethical objections – that Charlie’s stewardship over a weapon of mass destruction and keeping of Quill in servitude is a stand against freedom.

Once the democratic principle exists in any society, its force drives a universalizing impulse. Democratic inclusion will never stop expanding until there are no exceptions to the freedoms it lets you understand and demand. And his central scene in “Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart” shows that Charlie fundamentally stands against that democratic will to freedom.

Quite a big revelation about someone that’s been set up as a hero since the first few minutes of the show.

The words the Shadowkin often have to say make them seem like
they're made of burnt ham. But they also provide some of the
biggest laughs of an otherwise very serious episode precisely
because they're so cartoonishly evil.
Who Is April? A Regicide

At first glance, it might seem that Charlie’s conversation about his kingly ideas appear like a separate storyline from the main plot this week about April. But it’s actually an important thematic parallelism to April’s plot.

So on the surface, April’s storyline is a return to her conflict with Corakinus the leader of the Shadowkin – he wants his heart to stop phasing in and out of her plane of reality so he can regain his full health. His chief scientist’s shadow-technobabble shenanigans help strengthen the link between him and April.

That causes some entertaining and embarrassing fluctuations in both their personalities. April goes on a rant about the glory and necessity of dying foolishly in battle in the middle of a history class. Corakinus the king of the fearsome and hideous Shadowkin gets an urge to cuddle after the brutal, weird, violent sex of his kind.

But what’s really intriguing about April’s story is that so much of her rage doesn’t originate with Corakinus. Aside from the cartoonish anger of her rant about the Dunkirk evacuation, all April’s anger is rooted in the shit-storm of her father’s return.

Huw is a man whose alcohol abuse and mental illness literally destroyed his family, paralyzing his wife and almost killing them all. He was in prison, and is still subject to a restraining order. All the rage that April has bottled up for years to keep herself and her mother in a sane state spills out.

The fundamental trauma of April's family is entirely in the open this
episode. I think the most illuminating moment comes in Jackie's
supremely awkward conversation just after catching her daughter in
the afterglow of losing her virginity to the former captain of the
football team. She's horrified that April would form any romantic
attachment to anyone at all. When April exclaims that Ram isn't
like her father, Jackie responds that her father wasn't like her
father when they met either. Jackie represents that fatalism that
any emotional openness or vulnerability will end in betrayal and
She's a better vessel for the anger of Corakinus than you expect when you look at her. And I think that’s an extra element of what frightens her about what she’s becoming in this episode.

And the parallel to Charlie’s subtly brutal morality of punishment, power, and entitlement? In the climactic moment of the episode, April is raging at her father, and about to kill him with the Shadowkin scimitars she manifests when she’s channelling Corakinus’ rage. Her rampage is played opposite Corakinus’ own anger at the apparent failure of his new scientist/lover’s plan.

As she’s about to kill her father, Ram appears and says another of Patrick Ness’ clunky phrases – that she’s April and wouldn’t do this. At the same time, Corakinus is spouting dialogue in the Shadow world that’s barely one degree removed in pompous cartoon villainy from “You have faired me for the rast time, Arrec Barrdwin!

So April uses some Shadow techno-magic to heal her mother’s spinal column and refuses to slice her father in half. Her giving gesture is a strong contrast with Corakinus slashing another subordinate’s torso to bits. You’d think, based on this, that April is fundamentally not an angry person. That she’s not violent, but a healer. And that’s true.

But she is also actually, genuinely violent. She’s not going to sit back and wait for another attack from Corakinus, especially now that she knows he’s coming for her and the Earth again. April is still enraged, filled with anger. But she’s not channelling her rage into killing the pathetic idiot that’s her father.

Ram is the voice of a more pure mercy in this moment. April’s motive remains her anger. But it’s an anger directed at the proper place – at the figure of an autocrat who rules through violence and control. Corakinus is the brutal king of the Shadows, and April dives into the rift intent on a righteous regicide.

And earlier in this episode, our ostensible hero Charlie has been shown to have just the same brutal streak as any king. If Class is taking care of its Shadowkin plot for the mid-season two-parter, then maybe this last conflict will be the heart of the season’s real climax.

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