“If I Could Create a Virus . . .” Class: The Lost, Reviews, 06/12/2016

My full series of Class reviews is at these links.
1. For Tonight We Might Die
2. The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo
3. Nightvisiting
4. Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart
5. Brave-ish Heart
6. Detained
7. The Metaphysical Engine
• • •
Well, in terms of episode quality, Sandifer’s review was on the money. A big ridiculous mess – some characters are gone prematurely, some storylines are thankfully ended, and the season-ending cliffhanger was completely ridiculous.

I’d actually rather like it if this was the only season of Class, even though I rather like the show. I simply think it would be hilarious for the show to end on such a batshit cliffhanger, though I can't discuss it without an inevitable warning about

If there is a second season of Class that has to deal with the frankly
insane situation of April's mind being trapped in Corakinus' body,
its nature will have radically changed. From a sci-fi story rooted in
the lives of realistic young people with human domestic melodrama,
it would become a sci-fi cartoon. Nothing wrong with that, but it's
quite a different program and appeal than the original pitch.

because the spectacle of April transported into the body of Corakinus the Shadowkin is the kind of cliffhanger that completely changes what the show is supposed to be.

The Nature of Class

When Class was first announced, its governing concept was to be a youth-oriented sci-fi adventure show rooted in realism. The characters all had remarkably dramatic storylines, but their concerns were rooted through inevitably human situations and perspectives.

Sci-fi premises and storylines – and co-stars – would intrude into their lives. But ultimately, the human cast of Class were ordinary people thrust into extraordinary problems. And their ordinary backgrounds and histories actually supplied them with the emotional and ethical resources to handle their sci-fi stories.

Ram could summon the intense emotions and deep dedication to the things and people he loved to overcome the trauma of seeing his old girlfriend’s death and his injury. April’s personal strength came from her confrontation with her father’s crime. Tanya grows through the losses she experiences in her family, which we see best in “Nightvisiting.”

If we get a second season of Class, I hope we see more of the strange
relationship of Charlie and Quill. "The Loss" implied that they'd stay
associated, and possibly even become friends. They're now the last
survivors of their people – the culture and history that made them
enemies no longer exists, and they're bonding through their common
nature as stranded aliens on Earth.
Of course, Tanya also loses her mother in “The Lost,” just as Ram loses his father. The problem with this episode, aesthetically speaking, is that it’s just too much of an over-the-top spectacle for any of this tragedy to sink in.

“Nightvisiting” makes for a great contrast that can show us what this episode misses. The entire storyline of “Nightvisiting” was centred around Tanya’s confrontation with the emotional legacy of her father’s premature death. It wedded her progress in coming to terms with that event to the resolution of the sci-fi plot.

In “The Lost,” the murders of Varun and Vivian are treated as plot points. The characters don’t do much other than rage. They don’t really have time to do much more. Tanya gets some chance to complexify her performance through her relationship with Quill – she teaches the young girl the power of righteous spite.

But there’s just too much going on here. “The Lost” is Patrick Ness pulling a full Russell T Davies model Everything-Including-Six-Kitchen-Sinks season finale. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have nearly the skills that Davies did at assembling these sci-fi adventure carnivals.

If you read Davies’ book The Writer’s Tale, you see that creating these massively complicated kitchen-sink adventure stories had to send him almost literally into a kind of trance state.

We should and must ask just what these creatures are. Part of that isn't
just their physical nature, but what it is they do.
And even in such intense circumstances, Davies often had trouble sticking the landings. I’d say he really only did it flawlessly with “Doomsday.” Ness just kind of flails around.

Returning to the Genocide Question

If there’s one genuinely interesting element of “The Lost,” it’s the show’s return to the fundamental philosophical question of Charlie’s entire character arc this year. It’s that thorny question of what constitutes genocide.

Remember the question that I set up in my review of “For Tonight We May Die.” It’s whether it’s ultimately right to wipe out the Shadowkin. I worked through the argument implied by the episode, and it amounted to a conclusion that the act would be genocide.

It’s because the Shadowkin have individual personalities, self-consciousness, social relations and moralities. They’re self-conscious subjects, and to kill a self-conscious subject is a moral wrong. To wipe out an entire species or culture of self-conscious subjects is genocide.

But “The Lost” introduces a different twist on this argument. To state it sounds very disturbing – it introduces a situation where genocide is not only the right thing to do in a practical sense, but it’s also a virtuous act.

Total mass murder of the Shadowkin is a good act because of what the Shadowkin do. Remember how they invade a world and kill its inhabitants. They invade a world as a mass and simultaneously kill. They’re an indiscriminate force of death, and are unstoppable once they appear.

When I watched what the Shadowkin do, it reminded me of the
Doctor's dialogue in his legendary first long conversation with Davros
in "Genesis of the Daleks."
When they’re generally living in their mundane existence on their volcano world, Shadowkin are ordinary deranged people. When they’re attacking a world, they’re literally an infestation, a plague, a virus.

The Horrifying Power of Being Boring

For all the ways the Shadowkin are ridiculous, in one way, they’ve one-upped the Daleks. When the Doctor travelled to the origin of the Daleks, he confronted Davros with a thought experiment.

Imagine if you could make a virus. A virus that would be lethal to every other form of life. It would travel the entire universe destroying every form of life it touched, until the only thing left was itself. Would you release that virus into the world?

Davros would do it. Gladly. It would make him a god. Yet the Daleks never really become that vision. They’re too invested in actually being Doctor Who villains – taking part in stories, always being able to generate more adventures.

Daleks are evil forces of destruction, but they can’t literally have the power to destroy the world. They need the world so there are always stories about the Daleks.

Yet however bloodthirsty the Daleks might be, they were never the
nakedly efficient killers that the Shadowkin clearly are. They much
seem to prefer being at the centre of amazing stories.
It’s the very emptiness of the Shadowkin that make them able to fulfill Davros’ dream. They aren’t really interesting enough as creatures to have any more motivation than killing everything they see.

So they can actually lay claim to the power that prevents there from being any interesting stories about them at all. They don’t have the potential to exist at the centre of actually interesting narratives. They appear, they kill everything within minutes, they disappear again. That’s every Shadowkin story.

Could you imagine a “Power of the Shadowkin?” Or “Remembrance of the Shadowkin?” Hell, even a ridiculous carnival shit show of a story like “Shadowkin in Manhattan?” Of course not. They show up, kill everything in minutes, and disappear.

Without the Shadowkin, maybe Class will be able to tell more interesting stories. Like all the stories and moments within stories that didn’t feature Shadowkin.

Punishment and Crime

Yet the show maintains that Charlie has committed a heinous act in destroying the Shadowkin. He feels immense guilt that he wasn’t killed himself in the act of mass murder, and it’s clear that the Cabinet of Light itself keeps its user alive so that he can live with the act of genocide.

In all these ways, Class just couldn't get out fully from under the
shadow of Doctor Who. The heart of Charlie's pathos in any possible
second season of the show would be an inadequate repetition of the
Doctor's own character arc over eight years of the show.
It sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? Because it’s exactly the conclusion of “Day of the Doctor.” Rhodia’s morality is pure Kantianism – the intention alone of genocide is the same as its commission. And unlike what turned out to have happened to the Doctor, Charlie actually did kill all the Shadowkin.

The reason the Doctor, when he regenerated into Christopher Eccleston, believed that he had committed genocide to punish him for the intention. Charlie is now receiving a deeper, more authentic form of the same punishment. The Cabinet of Light made him live with the terror of his act for the rest of his life.

Yet there really was no other way to stop the impassive, immovable enormity of the Shadowkin. They’re narrative and mortal nothingness – death in the story and death to the story. They’re giant talking smallpox viruses.

The show itself demonstrated that there was nothing wrong in destroying them. Yet the words of the story demanded that an evil was committed. As if Class is afraid to stare its most intriguing, highest-potential concepts, and truly explore them.
• • •
Because ranking is a thing, here is a rank, from best to worst in my view.

With regard to episode quality, I think direction helps or hurts as much as script. Ed Bazalgette made decent episodes ("Nightvisiting," "For Tonight We Might Die") good and already good episodes fantastic. Wayne Che Yip did a great job on the bottle episode, and made the shit-show "Metaphysical Engine" marvellously fun. But I hope "The Lost" director Julian Holmes doesn't come back to the world of Doctor Who.

1. Detained
2. The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo
3. Co-Owner of a Lonely Heart
4. Nightvisiting
5. For Tonight We Might Die
6. Brave-ish Heart
7. The Metaphysical Engine
8. The Lost

1 comment:

  1. "it’s clear that the Cabinet of Light itself keeps its user alive so that he can live with the act of genocide."

    No. Charles thought it would kill him because he had a little shadow on his heart. But he was wrong. It wasn't enough. There was never any reason for him to die.