Friday, 30 March 2018

TV Review - Survivors S1E03: Gone Away

It hit me rewatching this episode that Survivors is actually a lot more optimistic than Blake's 7. Sure, 99.5% of the human race die but once that's done with (basically in the first episode) everything's back on the way up. Not without obstacles and diversions, of course, but as the seasons develop there's a positive response. It's not a bad thing and the show is basically a tenet to the hardiness of the human race, and the real nihilism of B7 (the abject failure of the heroes to destroy the Federation and their increasing irrelevance as opposition to it) didn't come in until Terry Nation's fingers came back out of the mix. In Survivors there's never anything as broadly depressing for the species as the huddled figures moving from campfire to campfire in the opener or Abby living out of the back of a Volvo estate.

"Gone Away" really is an optimistic episode. Yes, it ends with Abby's first foray into building a settlement being ruined but really that's just because she short-sightedly sets it up a few miles away from a known dickhead and some of his men are vindictive pricks. But the canvas is there - in this middle England with its' villages and country houses there are plenty of places to set up and there are clearly enough supplies to start up if you pick one that's not near someone who claims to be a representative of the government. So the clear lesson here is just to move to a different location.

The other thing "Gone Away" shows is Abby's group growing and showing that it can quite easily grow as well. Jenny almost immediately becomes a borderline acolyte. I'm not crazy about Jenny to be honest; she seems to be pitched as a normal person compared to the driven Abby and the somewhat laconic Greg but the result is that she's a bit wet. In addition to her job we never really find out much about her really; Abby obviously we get a genuine sight of her life before the death and Greg has his whole nihilism thing going on with his hated wife. Jenny's just sort of there for some thirty-odd episodes reacting to whichever one of them (and later other characters) say to them as a sort of sounding board, and while she claims to think of herself as an independent sort (cf. sensible clothes, short hair) she'll basically spent the first series jumping at every traditional gender role going her way. For now she defines herself as a follower of the stronger more wilful Abby; she has absolutely no thoughts of her own and wholeheartedly subscribes to Abby's precise plan (even though she's never really bothered explaining it). The line about pleasure motoring doesn't exactly stop her looking vapid either; the series will make a habit of directly or indirectly lambasting this sort of dim thinking and here's Jenny saying it. It might just be the actress, though - Greg's line before ("not at those prices!") scans as a joke but Jenny just sounds like hers is an actual sudden realisation, staggering considering the gravity of the situation.

Abby meanwhile is forthright and stubborn. Greg's initial apathy and Jenny's complete lack of a mind of her own leave her as the driving force calling the shots for the trio. While these are great attributes and you dread to think how listless the narrative would be without them she does come across as a bit thick in this one. She's basically come straight from Wormleigh's, seen him setting up a feudal system and executing another man for flimsy reasons and she decides to set up on his doorstep before raiding the local supermarket. The warning in the store really should show her that her idea isn't viable but she plunges on anyway, and while she's right in saying the goods in the store are fair game her belief that she can debate this with three armed thugs is the hopeless idealism of the middle-class housewife claiming a plague is impossible with all these modern drugs. It feels like it's in the wrong place in her arc when she learned that people are still greedy power-grabbing tossers last week and her breakdown after the escape is only partial mitigation.

However, for a series with a strong female protagonist and a secondary female lead who's probably meant to be once again the most interesting character is Greg and his unconventional character arc. This is the man who by default will be our heroic lead for two years and will dominate the third without being in it, but he spends the start tagging along with Abby and Jenny because... well, it's not entirely clear. He brushes off not finding Ann as not his problem, talks about finding a separate car and it seems at the first time his odd moral compass deems it acceptable to walk away from the pair of them he will. Throughout the supermarket scene he's downright obstructive, even refusing to fetch bags of flour and constantly saying they should go without actually making any move to do so.

He remains passive and non-committal even when the trio of Wormleigh's men turn up; he fires off one typically caustic remark to the group's platoon leader Dave Long but soon quietens down. So why suddenly halfway through the standoff does he decide to get involved, and in such a full-throttle way - going from hands in pocket to taking shotguns off people and shooting tyres? Like many of the best character moments in the show there are several reasons why it could be and no definite answer - it could be that as Dave is clearly out-psyching Jenny it's simple self-preservation. Dave, Reg and John would probably forgive the girls for swiping the gun or at least give knocking the shit out of them and dragging them back to Wormleigh's place as sex toys or breeders or whatever a shot but they've no use for Greg, who's a clear loner. So taking control of the situation saves his bacon. 

There's also the chance that he's not quite the bastard he pretends to be; despite his protestations so far he's helped Vic the best he could, kept to his word about returning to the quarry with medicines even though Ann is setting off massive alarm bells, picked Jenny up, drove her to meet Abby and then stuck with the pair of them, moved into the church and went on a raid for supplies. He's clearly more instinctively protective - at least of women - than he lets on. It might also be a sign of his intelligence; he's often quite cold and rational and his aloof behaviour during the initial part of the stand-off at least might simply be scoping out the situation. He picks the absolute best moment to intervene when Dave's attention is totally on Jenny, Reg has Dave blocking his shot and John is disarmed and clearly not about to do anything particularly daring to get his gun back; after seemingly let Dave win the argument in the supermarket by choosing to stop arguing back Greg sort of melts into the background of the scene with his hands in his anorak pockets and everyone seems to forget about him until he turns the scene on its' head. And while we never really learn much about his past for an engineer in land reclamation he doesn't half handle a shotgun well - and this won't be the last time in even just the first series that he tactically betters a seemingly superior force when seemingly holding no cards. Isn't it interesting how Abby suddenly sees victory when Greg belatedly takes her side? She's still worried when Jenny has the gun on Dave but as soon as Greg involves himself she literally smiles. Is it because she sees another follower? 

Tom Price meanwhile briefly joins up with the group and illustrates in a starker way than Greg the other reason why Abby's plans for a commune make sense - there are people who will just go along even if they don't buy into her ideals, even a terminally short-term thinker like Price. What's interesting is his scene with Greg; while Abby and Jenny seem indifferent to Price (Jenny despite already meeting him twice and having found out he's an opportunistic fantasist) Greg takes an instant dislike to him and pegs his character in seconds. He makes a veneer of politeness out of it because this is apathetic Greg before he shows his hand at the supermarket but anyone smarter than Price would pick up on the utter contempt at the Welshman's "you stick with me boy" schtick. Abby's still trusting of basically everyone though and, with Jenny incapable of independent thought and Greg not giving a shit he's left in charge of the store and predictably throws in his lot with Wormleigh when the supermarket guards come looking for petty revenge. We're also given even stronger hints that he's an absolute piece of shit here too; there's the confrontation with the ill boy early in the episode which shows him to be selfish and stupid while a great show is made of him fondling the drying underwear in the church (he explicitly moves along the girls' knickers and touches the crotch of each pair). Up to now he's been something of a comic character with his Rolls Royce and his talk of the Yanks coming over to fix everything, but his behaviour here is altogether more sinister. It's actually quite brilliant how this random tramp is building up; this is by far the most screentime Talfryn Thomas has been given yet and it's really working as a slow build.

He's curiously mirrored by John Milton, the third of the Wormleigh heavies. He's a notably passive presence in the supermarket while Dave's doing his used car salesman pitch about coming under Wormleigh's wing and Reg is the big dumb muscle (all three are well-written and well-played, feeling like real people - the guest characters especially in the first season of Survivors are some of the best in a show with such a huge regular cast). He's then disarmed by Jenny, something which clearly doesn't go down well with the other two but he's still willing to argue with them as to whether tracking Abby's group down is worth the bother. John takes no part in plotting which of the girls he's planning on raping or even the destruction of the church and then sticks his neck out to even warn the returnees. It's clear that he's fallen in with the wrong crowd but is simply too scared to outright turn against them - but there's still enough of a decent man in there to know right from wrong; in contrast Price falls in with the right crowd despite being basically a bad person and can still never tell right from wrong despite everything falling at his feet. This simple man we never see again basically saves our three leads for no reason other than he doesn't think they should die and it's quietly, thanklessly brilliant.

While "Gone Away" still sees our survivors homeless this is really the conclusion of the opening arc setting up the leads as a group working together towards the same loose aim of a settlement, with Abby still waxing on her determination to find Peter. Really it's just a matter of where they're going to pitch up now but it's good for the series to begin to find a sustainable shape moving forwards and the strong but unconventional characterisation, the series' hallmark, is firmly in place.

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