Wednesday, 4 April 2018

TV Review - Survivors S1E06: Garland's War

Survivors is overall a positive show - it might start off with the near-annihilation of the human race but really it's about the reaction to the death, one that is quite often positive. To some degree the likes of Abby, Greg, Charles Vaughan and even the likes of Arthur Wormleigh and Ann Tranter are thriving, using skills and knowledge that would have been locked away in their day-to-day lives. Maybe even Jenny was even wetter and thicker in day to day life before the plague, though I'll admit that is a push. Terry Nation returned to script the sixth episode (he wrote seven of the first 13 for the show before leaving) and it makes this theme explicit in the form of Jimmy Garland.

Garland dominates proceedings in much the way Charles did, with most of the regulars reduced to wrap scenes at the start and end with a token scene or two in between to remember they're here. Once again everyone's hunting for Peter still though it's more clear than ever that Greg at least thinks it's ultimately a waste of time, with Jenny falling in. There's an odd opening where their search brings them on a man and a boy who deliver a handy infodump about nearby Waterhouse as well as proving another obvious build up/let down for Abby when it turns out this lad Peter isn't her Peter - predictably. John Carroll, played by Dennis Chinnery, is an engaging but narratively awkward character - there's no real sign of who he is, what he wants or what he's doing capering around with this other Peter, he's just instantly treated as a reliable source of information about Waterhouse and then left, never to be mentioned again.

What the episode does do is bring Abby Grant back very much to the fore after three episodes of Greg moving ahead of her in the dynamic. Nation's books based on the series show which character he prefers for sure and you wonder if this was a bit at odds with the rest of the production team; how much did tension play into Carolyn Seymour's sacking and the retool for the second season without Nation? It's certainly worth thinking about. It also means her first meaningful development for a little while and she's actually allowed to do something other than pine over Peter; her falling for Jimmy Garland is just about the first fun she's been allowed to have and brings her more in line with other characters moving on in their lives.

Jimmy himself is super fun, played with considerable charm by Richard Heffer, as the sort of guy who turned up in WW2 films played by someone like David Niven with an unorthodox plan to blow up something deep behind enemy lines. It's a brilliant part and his unabashed delight in actually being challenged by life is inspiring and due to the careful writing and performance; he's right on the brink between confidence and arrogance and it makes for a hugely entertaining guest performance. Being given something more positive to do brings the best out of Seymour too and the pair have fantastic chemistry.

Heffer is mirrored well by Peter Jeffrey as Waterhouse's usurper and Garland's nemesis Knox. Despite looking quite unwell Jeffrey has that charm to him and it's quite easy to believe the veneer of decency when talking Abby around, and part of that is - as in much of Nation's work - there's that ambiguity in there. Knox has taken command of Waterhouse and turned it into a community which seems to work (albeit on authoritative lines) apart from the guy who owns the house and his aptly-described Boy's Own antics, so he takes the steps necessary to end the problem - and while he's not overly helpful to Abby once he's got Garland he does let her go when it would be just as easy to kill her as well, or use her as leverage with Abby. So whether he's actually all that evil is open to debate.

Despite taking a backseat for much of the script both Greg and Jenny get some development here. Greg's growing discontent with the quest for Peter is interesting but more interesting is his role in the last-minute rescue of Garland, where he's confident enough to wait in a hut and take out two armed thugs in one shove, and then ride shotgun on the front of a Land Rover. Who the fuck is this guy? It's a shame he doesn't really get to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Garland that much; while he's less conventionally dashing it's hard to argue with him getting the job done. And Jenny for the first time in ever actually shows a glimmer of personality in actually arguing back to Greg about Abby.

But the best thing is that there's actually a bit of action. Talking is great about the right subjects but having a bit of fun breaks things up a bit without necessarily lowering the intelligence, and the manhunts and shoot-outs all give the episode a bit more zing without feeling out of place - a story about a man of action without any action would be something of a shame. The only problem - and it stands out miles in a series so well-made - is the obvious switch to studio scenes for a shots of the stationary Land Rover, I'm guessing as a result of some sort of production problem. It is strangely distracting.

And the reason it's so distracting is that "Garland's War" is near-perfect otherwise, with a fizzing script with a couple of twists, great performances, a welcome bit of forward motion for Abby and a couple of interesting guest characters all add up to a very strong episode. It's a welcome bit of excitement with a strong core, tying into Nation's view of the human race as skilled, indomitable and adaptable.

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