Friday, 6 April 2018

TV Review - Survivors S1E08: Spoil of War

"Spoil of War" was the first of two episodes written by M K Jeeves. If that name sounds like a pseudonym it is, one assumed by Clive Exton, rather a posh playwright who had co-written Hammer horror spoof The House in Nightmare Park; he'd already written the screenplay for Richard Fleisher's 10 Rillington Place and would later write Red Sonja and later the Jeeves & Wooster TV series. So a heavyweight really. His first episode is the first with the group firmly established at the Grange.

Despite the addition of Tom, Barney, Emma and Wendy last episode there are still four more additions to the cast this episode but it's actually not as bad as it sounds. With a base the group are no longer particularly trying to hide and obviously they're going to attract visitors. There are also signs that considerable time is now elapsing between and even occasionally during episodes, which helps. What the episode does very well is set up a few interesting things for Exton's second episode, which comes straight after this.

Only one perhaps assimilates too quickly, and I can give it a pass because it's Paul and he's great. It's nice to have someone with a bit more of a critical look at the farming side without going into too much detail and it helps that he's cheerful and charismatic. Christopher Tranchell captures well the mix of optimism and realism in the character; his sad recounting of his daughter's death followed by the immediate need to pep himself and everyone up is well-played. There's some initial friction with Greg but he calms down very quickly and within about 24 hours Paul is a trusted member of the commune. But he is nice, though, isn't he? Plus it's hilarious that he makes a big thing of telling everyone it's "just Paul" and then they just throw Paul Pittman up on the credits.

He makes a good team with Greg, especially once they go on the road later. Strangely Greg warms to Paul considerably once Jenny jokingly makes it clear she's not interested in Paul physically but it's probably largely that however long with Tom and Barney just makes him more agreeable to any non-annoying male. He's very much in command now they're based at the Grange, calling all the shots, though it's fun to see him shot down well by Arthur later on. Jenny meanwhile tries to be sarcastic in an argument about farming with someone who anyone with a single brain realises knows more about farming than her because there are rocks on the moon that know more about farming than Jenny.

Arthur and Charmaine are a bit of an odd addition as they don't really bring much beyond numbers to the scenario (their plot function of having a Land Rover and some food could easily be covered elsewhere). They're actually nice well-rounded characters well-performed - and the first instance of two people who knew each other before the death who had a pre-existing relationship, depending on whether you count Bronson seeming to roughly know who Abby was. But they don't really add much here beyond meaning Emma, Wendy and the kids only get a couple of lines so that we know they're all around somewhere - though one of the advantages of the Grange setting is that a character can just spend an episode gathering hay or tending to the sheep somewhere out of the way.

Tom meanwhile is mainly hanging out with Barney and almost being a useful member of the community, tinkering away with Greg on the salvaged tractor and then being trusted on a supply run. With his skiving and stupidity - plus a shave and some slightly tidier clothes - he's bordering on a comedy character rather than the sinister, selfish figure of his early appearances, which will be very interesting with what's to come. His teacher/mentor owner/pet relationship with Barney is also rather disarming and John Hallet does a fine job with his part as well with his utter joy at being given a toffee.

The second half of the episode is devoted to Greg and Paul's attempts to rescue Tom and Barney from an unsuccessful attempt to raid the quarry seen back in "Genesis" for supplies. It's not too much of a surprise that it's inhabited by a half-deranged Vic as we know he survived despite Ann Tranter claiming otherwise but there's a little innovation in there, not least bringing back a loose end from six episodes before. We didn't see much of Vic in his first appearance but his showing here hints at his intelligence and determination, and his interaction with Greg once his Portakabin is breached is excellent. 

Greg clearly feels guilty, not so much for the job he did on Vic's legs (which to be fair he's survived without embolisms or anything, weighed against the presumed original belief of Greg that his impromptu surgery contributed to Vic's "death") but for misjudging how much of a piece of shit Ann is and accepting things at face value. It's a well-directed action sequence too, nicely undercut by Paul's joking around and complete inability to use a shotgun in any sort of useful way. 

"Spoil of War" is a decent episode on the whole, making good work of adding four more regulars to the growing community while expanding a couple of characters well and having a good action quotient. It's a good start to the Grange format and a decent base for the episodes that will bring the season through to an excellent climax.

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