Episode 5 picks up where 4 left off creating the first unofficial two-parter of the series. I say unofficial because it’s not considered a two-part story, but that doesn’t change the basic premise that this episode is directly connected to the previous one. And I almost wish I reviewed it as a single story because on its own, part two is not as strong as the first. The problem is not with the cast or the story but the dialogue. And there too, it’s not that the dialogue is actually bad; there are some great lines. But I was amazed how the dialogue created this sense of going into labor. You knew what was coming but you had to sit through a lot of contractions to get there!
Let me paraphrase the dialogue in simplistic terms: “You need to use the box to save mankind!” “But I will lose myself if I do!” “But you’ll save us!” “But then you’ll hate me.” “No I won’t!” “Wait, use it for this other thing.” “No, then I’d be no better than the other other thing and the first other thing is really the threat for this episode.” “So will you use in?” “How can I?” “If you don’t, I’ll shoot Matteusz!” “No you won’t” “OH yes I will!” “Then do it!” “No, we still have 44 minutes to fill in with this kind of inane dialogue!” What stinks is that I really like the relationship with Ms. Ames who ends up being responsible for a lot of the silly back and forth. She reminds me a bit of M from James Bond; she knows way more than she lets on, but this M has ties to aliens, making her way cooler. (Sorry, Dame Judy!) So there are moments during these interactions where she elevates the scenes but every time the camera went back to Quill/Charlie/Matteusz and Ames, it was just that pregnancy thing. We knew the baby was coming but those sequences were laborious!
Meanwhile the bits with April and Ram were more fun but this asked a bit more of the seasoned boxers in the room. “In this corner, April “the carebear” MacClean, coming in at 100lbs soaking wet. In the other corner, seasoned warrior Shadow “the mumbler” King, weighing in at… well, he’s a shadow, so who knows!” The sword fight between them might be explained by the fact that April picked up some of his skills through their connection but it’s a tough sell. Still, her win is fun, and she saves the day… only for us to learn that Ms. Ames knew that her winning was a possibility all along thus negating the entire story thread she was pushing forward. Oh, how quaint. In other words, the entire birthing process could have been avoided? That means Patrick Ness, who has given us some great stories up until now, really dropped the ball on this one!
Like I said, had I reviewed it as one whole story, I might not have felt this way. And the truth is, it’s not a bad episode but Ness has given us so many strong stories that the first really action-packed one feels weak by comparison. Maybe that proves that action is all glitter, but the real gold can be found in the slower, emotional episodes.
Unsurprisingly, that still gives us a lot to work with. Quill references UNIT. The Shadow planet is called The Underneath (which is just down the street from The Upside Down). Charlie’s box is considered a weapon of mass destruction. And April’s dad uses a drink tray as a door barricade because they are notoriously… ineffective. (But it sure was funny!) There are also a lot of great lines, often very comical though some felt misplaced. Quill also gives a great performance mourning the death of her people, but I definitely see that Charlie is the better person while she is consumed with wanting revenge. Tanya has a great moment when each family is reunited and says they “have much to talk about”: “Well, I’m glad my mom didn’t come!” The funniest moment goes to April and Ram: just before going into battle, Ram prepares to say something and April interrupts: “Don’t say you love me!” Ram looks stunned and says, “I wasn’t!” The energy of the moment staggers as the Shadow King waits for battle. However my favorite moment is after their victory, Ram goes to hug April and his dad puts up a hand to stop him saying that she’s an alien now. Ram ignores him and says “Dad, at least pay attention!”
Barring dialogue there are a few other standout moments. The bloody deaths from Cherry Blossom petal were movie-quality and very disturbing. It does make me wonder how they will cover up those deaths, but like Doctor Who, we won’t worry about the larger reality. I was a bit disappointed that April was so dismissive of her dad at the end. He seems to genuinely be repentant for what happened 8 years earlier, and I didn’t want the unrealistic “ok, everything is forgiven” but when she says goodbye, he adds “for now.” I was just hoping she’d offer him some hope; an acknowledgement that it’s goodbye for now. But I’m a sucker for hope! I was also impressed when April talked to Ram about his cultural heritage and how their belief is to always do good and that in doing good, you prove that God is there. I think even a few lines about another culture educate the viewer but I do think that sort of thing is very important to get right!
So this isn’t a bad episode of the series, it’s just a very long trip to get to a fairly obvious conclusion. So far the series has been coming in with solid 8’s out of 10’s, so to see one drop a point is not a big deal. We’re still invested in a series that was miles ahead of its time. Class dismissed. ML