Class S01E06 “Detained” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Miss Quill places Charlie, April, Tanya, Ram and Matteusz in detention (for very spurious reasons in some cases, though possibly not in Ram’s).
- Shortly after locking them in (somebody call Ofsted!) a splinter of glowing rock makes its way through a space/time tear and slams into the classroom.
- Instantly the classroom is taken out of space and time, and the teens inside start becoming very niggly with one another – their anger threshold has dropped dramatically.
- Matteusz picks up the rock and is transported back to the day he told his grandmother he’s gay – the day she demanded the truth.
- Then, despite himself, he starts telling the rest of the group the truth about him: he loves Charlie but he’s also scared of him. Then April knocks the rock out his hand with a text book.
- The team – despite constant bitching at each other – work out that if they pick up the rock it will force a confession out of them, but they can also force it to tell the truth as well, and reveal its true nature.
- But each of them can only pick up the rock once otherwise their brains will be fried.
- Using this process, they learn that the rock is a prison with the consciousness of a murderer attached to it. He is seeking someone whose guilty confession is worse than his own to kill him and end his torment (has Amnesty got wind if this?).
- The other “confessions” we hear from the team are:
• Ram is scared that April doesn’t love him.
• April doesn’t love Ram as much as he loves her, and doubts she ever will.
• Tanya thinks the others merely tolerate her, and don’t really like her.
• The only thing stopping Charlie using the Cabinet Of Souls to commit genocide is that Matteusz wouldn’t love him any more.
- Okay, that last one well and truly trumps the others…
- The rock criminal agrees and lets Charlie “murder” him.
- The classroom returns to Coal Hill.
- But now the rock prison wants a new inmate – Charlie. For Rhodians thoughtcrime is as bad as actually committing the crime, so Charlie is as guilty as hell.
- Luckily, Miss Quill turns up at this point and destroys the rock.
- Tanya, Ram and April all storm off, still pissed with each other even though the rock isn’t influencing their behaviour any more.
- Charlie is more concerned that Miss Quill now seems to be acting independently.
- “You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had,” she says, to Charlie’s surprise, as their adventure with the rock has only lasted about 45 minutes.
- She hands him a plastic bag. Inside is the Arn. It is no longer controlling her and she is no longer Charlie’s slave.
- Oh, and she has a gun.
- Things, she promises, are going to change.
Once upon a time bottle episodes were the bane of TV drama. In case the term means nothing to you, a bottle episode is one made to save money, using no (or very few) guest stars, no new sets and the minimum of effects, action, stunts or anything else costly. The ultimate bottle episode is “main cast gets stuck in a lift and they all talk about their feelings”. For decades, producers have tried to convince viewers that bottle episodes are actually great, because they force the writers to concentrate on character and drama. Occasionally, this was true (Star Trek: The Next Generation’s courtroom episode “The Drumhead” for example, or Doctor Who’s “Midnight”). More often, bottle episodes were just very very dull filler material.
This has slowly changed in recent years with the increasing serialisation of episodic TV drama. Because now a bottle episode need not exist in isolation; it can be a chance to take stock of ongoing issues and relationships, and fundamentally change them. Now if our main characters do get stuck in a lift for 45 minutes, they’ll be thrashing out problems we’ve seen brewing previously, and the fall-out can have an effect on subsequent episodes
“Detained” is about as pure an example of a bottle episode as you could imagine. No guest stars. One set (two if you include the corridor outside the classroom). And lots and lots and lots of jaw jaw about –ugh – emotions.
And it’s also brilliant.
The whole “rock prison” shtick is merely a gimmick to get the five teenage leads to play the most factious game of Truth Or Dare ever (though it’s actually more “Truth And Dare”). What looked set to be The Breakfast Club with aliens instead drags all the characters through an emotional shredder from which none of them emerge unscathed. Indeed, along with Charlie revealing himself as some kind of Rhodian antichrist, the biggest shock of the episode is how they don’t all shake hands and make up at the end of the episode. That’s the standard trope: they may have been at each others’ throats for 45 minutes but they’ve all reached a better understanding. Not here. Everybody exits stage left pursued by a grudge. And that makes the episode even more powerful.
There’s great acting throughout and some marvellously awkward moments as the “truths” are revealed. A couple of the speeches (Tanya’s “typical white people” strop especially) come across a little clunky but the sentiments behind them feel genuine. And that feeling of “not connecting” is a theme that’ll ring true to anyone who’s even been a teenager that’s ripped right open and left raw and bleeding here.
Another bonus is that for a bottle episode it remains constantly visually appealing. You would have thought that being set in one classroom, the episode would soon become rather drab. But a combination of clever scripting (not having the scene with Charlie thrusting his arm out of the door too soon; having each confession end with a violent disconnection from the rock) and some very stylish direction means that there always seems to be something interesting to look at… even if it is just Ram with his head inside an extendable plastic globe thing.
If the episode does miss a trick, it’s having some good humoured bonding between the main characters before it all goes wrong. Okay, this is a series so we know how the characters gel from previous stories. But a few minutes reminding us why we like seeing these characters together before that all gets ripped apart would have helped emphasise the loss.
That’s a minor quibble, though, in a possibly the strongest episode of the show so far. And one that leaves us with a tantalising tease about Quill’s been up to that ensures you’ll be back next week…
- Excellent, stylish direction from Wayne Che Yip. It’s almost impossible to take a screengrab that doesn’t look exquisitely composed and even the lighting is more interesting than usual.
- The acting is strong all round but extra kudos to Greg Austin for an outstanding performance as Charlie this week from his early confusion to his final heartfelt confession.
- He also gets the line of the episode, and nails the delivery: “You think you know me, but you don’t. You want to know who’d be the last one standing out of the five of us? I would.
- Matteusz’s literary criticism of The Chronicles Of Narnia puts into words what so many of us found uncomfortable about the books growing up: “There’s this one girl called Susan, and all the the time I’m reading these books I’m thinking, ‘This author really, really hates Susan.’ Because, well, for one thing she doesn’t get to Heaven because she wears make-up.”
- The business with Charlie thrusting his arm out of the door is actually a really simple effect, but it’s imaginatively shot for maximum impact.
- Ram’s pragmatism strikes again: “Anyone know the symptoms of radiation poisoning?” “Agony, followed by death.”
- The voice of the prisoner is a bit ’80s-movie-trailer-voiceover-man.
- We suspect that Tanya’s odd insults (“Air bag!” “You big Polish giraffe!”) and supposed to be amusingly goofy, but they actually just sound self-consciously scripted.
- The rationale behind the “asteroid field prison” really doesn’t bare close scrutiny; you just have to write it off as the product of a judicial system that has a really warped sense of humour.
- Would have been nice to have had some scenes of the teens bonding and in good humour before everything fell apart.
And The Random:
- That series of close-up shots, done (whether consciously or not, we have no idea) in ’60s Star Trek Shatner close-up style (see here) with a highlight of light across the eyes, are simply glorious, and are crying out to be a series of character posters.
- We swear one of the notice boards has a poster about the origins of anti-matter. Is that on the national curriculum now or just at Coal Hill, where knowing about such things might be useful?
- Expression of the week goes to Ram – his reaction when Charlie puts his arm through the door is priceless.
- Speculation: could Charlie’s claustrophobia be a by-product of the fact that he knows the fate of his race is to end up crammed into a small cabinet?