Welcome, Class-mates! Take your seats for the latest Doctor Who spin-off, which trades all of time and space for the halls of Coal Hill Academy. It may have gotten a slight redesign, but it’s still the same Coal Hill School that’s brushed paths with the TARDIS so many times since 1963, and that makes it a magnet for timey-wimey trouble. Having a couple of aliens in its ranks doesn’t hurt, either. Every week, Nivea Serrao and Kelly Connolly will be issuing report-card recaps to break down the latest happenings at the Academy. This week, our characters get to the “Underneath” of it all.
Following April and Ram’s leap into the Great Unknown (or the Planet of the Shadowkin, a.k.a. “The Underneath”), her parents are panicking about getting her back, while Tanya kindly reminds everyone that Ram’s gone missing too and so they should inform his dad. (Clever girl!) Luckily they’ll need to head back to the school anyway because Quill — who is now partnered up with Dorothea Ames (a.k.a. Space Umbridge) — has summoned them there so they can deal with this carnivorous petal situation.
Ames wants Quill to convince Charlie to use the Cabinet of Souls (the final resting place of his people, which is also a giant weapon) to get rid of the flowers that are growing more powerful by the minute — not that Ram’s dad and April’s parents are really noticing. They’re too busy bickering amidst themselves until Tanya sticks up for her friends.
Following Ames’ orders, Charlie and Quill head home to get the Cabinet, but as we see, the Math teacher has other plans. She wants Charlie to go after the Shadowkin, the alien race that left them the last of their kind. Only Ames knew Quill would double-cross her because Quill is nothing if not single-minded and predictable. And she’s brought Matteusz along as back up and as a hostage.
With the rest of the world in danger and only one course of action in front of him, Charlie dithers over making this big decision. Either way he’d die. If he doesn’t use the Cabinet, Matteusz will be shot; if he does use the Cabinet, he’d lose everything he believes in. But being a stellar boyfriend, Matteusz makes his decision easier. First, he rescues himself, knocking out Ames and disposing of her gun, then he suggests turning these petals and the Shadowkin on each other — because the enemy of my enemy is… my enemy? (Honestly, I was imaging a weird, floral shadow villain for a moment.) Thus Charlie aborts his use of the Cabinet, disappointing Ames and Quill, who is just thick with grief and anger at this point.
Meanwhile, on the planet of the Shadowkin, April and Ram are journeying Lord of the Rings-style to Corakinus’ castle for April’s big one-on-one duel with him. On the way, they indulge in some relationship-like small talk, touching on religion (Ram’s a non-practicing Siky, who respects his father’s devotion), her lack of plan (and general inability to get them back), and her growing knowledge of the Shadowkin lifestyle.
Faced with Corakinus and his troops, April and Ram define their relationship somewhat, because why not? The Shadowkin are slow walkers and April might die fighting them. But once actually going up against the Shadow-King, the teen girl not only holds her own, but manages to stave him off a few times. Turns out, hell hath no fury like a teen scorned. (Though he does attempt to cheat by sending troops after Ram, which she quickly shuts down.)
Back at the school, Tanya’s realized April’s mum is connected to her daughter thanks to that bit of Shadowkin-healing April indulged in before leaping into that rip in time and space. Activating that connection let’s April actually cut through the fabric of reality, giving Ram a way to return. But since he’s being a devoted friend, his dad and her dad step through instead.
With April on the verge of killing Corakinus, her dad tries to reason with her. He apologizes but then tells her he knows what a great person she’s become, says she refuses to give in to how terrible her circumstances have been. (Has he been reading these recaps?!) He even almost quotes her line about not being made of glass! Even Ram agrees with this summation. (Side note: I appreciate that they managed to squeeze in a father-son moment in the midst of this harrowing battle. A+ parenting Mr. Singh.)
In the end, April does not kill Corakinus, but emerges king of the Shadowkin, having bested in him battle. She orders him imprisoned, and steps through the rift, only to discover the dire situation they’re in with the petals. Thankfully, Ram and Matteusz are on the same mental wavelength — which I suspect is a delightful byproduct of their being good boyfriends — and he realizes she can now use her new position as alien royalty to save the world. Which is exactly what April does.
In the aftermath, April reveals that sending back the Shadowkin and having them sever their connection to Earth while closing the rift got rid of her own heart-sharing bond with Corakinus, and took away her Shadowkin powers. But in terms of her personal life, despite that moment with her father, she doesn’t want him in her life, telling him she’ll contact him when she’s ready, which might be never.
Meanwhile, Quill goes about trashing a car, only for Ames to tell her it isn’t hers. (LOL.) The Governor’s rep then tells Quill they knew this is how everything would play out (WHAT?) and that she should come to Ames’ office first thing on Monday to get her Arn taken out. Dun. Dun. D-Arnnn…
And speaking of Ram’s dad, I was pleasantly surprised to see all three parents in the episode actively participate in all the alien stuff — especially that Ram’s dad AND April’s dad traveled to the Underneath. That almost NEVER happens this early. Buffy’s Joyce Summers, Teen Wolf’s Melissa McCall, and Vampire Diaries’ Aunt Jenna didn’t find out until at least a few seasons in. But I guess given the fact that we only have eight episodes, the powers that be didn’t want to wait to get them involved. (Even the theme song kind of hints at that!) Honestly though, I kind of like that. It’s both refreshing and realistic of parents who are as involved in their kids’ lives as April’s mum and Ram’s dad are.
KELLY: So much of this genre depends on keeping parents out of the loop; it’s the ultimate way to affirm that teenagers are dealing with complex problems. They’re slaying demons or vampires or aliens, and their parents don’t even know. And the idea that no one understands what we’re going through isn’t really a feeling we ever grow out of, which is why shows like this still resonate outside the “YA” age range. Obviously, it’s a much more mature outlook to say that you can let people in on your problems, and good on the show for not only making that point but making it so soon. But I’m curious to see where it goes from here; the more people know what’s happening, the harder it is to keep the tension.
To that point, the parents did clutter up the first half of the story for me; we got some good jokes out of their Greek chorus of confusion (“How do you have an army? What are you gonna do with an army?”), but I mostly wanted them to stay out of the way. But — and I really didn’t expect to say this — I think April’s dad made the whole parental subplot worthwhile. His selfishness convinced April to walk away from a selfish vengeance quest. Speaking of: What did you think of April’s motives this week? What was her big plan?
NIVEA: I don’t think April had a big plan going in because it seemed like everything she was doing was based on the information she was slowly gaining through her and Corikinus’ Horcrux bond. As she admits to Ram, she wasn’t able to get them back (at least at that point). When it came to the two of them dueling though, I don’t know how I feel about it. On the one hand, I thought it was a bit strange that April was not only able to hold her own against him for so long, but best him as well, since he’s clearly had more experience being the king of a warlike species. On the other, I figured he’s either not used to actual combat because the Shadow Kin are always using sneak attacks, so when faced with an angry teenage girl, he was not at all ready to face someone with as much anger as him.
Also, I really like that the show’s solution was not all out war with the Shadow Kin (at least for now) or really resolving her having to share a heart, but rather to make April their king. It allowed for a solution that I’m very proud of Matteusz for coming up with (turning both enemies on each other) and disappointed in myself for not seeing earlier. They’re really using their brains in these situations, and it kind of harkens back to a few weeks ago, when April was lamenting that people have to keep dying in their efforts to save the world (a far cry from what almost happened this week). And while we’re on “big life-taking decisions,” what did you think of Charlie’s choice?
KELLY: Charlie. Lucked. Out. I kept expecting him to announce some magical third option, but he obviously got out of that one. Which is fitting in a large-scale, these-kids-are-connected sense, but in terms of his story alone, I was a bit disappointed that he got an easy out that he had nothing to do with. It wasn’t his idea; he just got really lucky. After so much buildup about choice, that resolution felt passive to me.
In the long term, that might be intentional. April’s heroic ending was to choose to walk away without killing; Charlie made no choice but was ready to kill (conflicted as he was). Action, to paraphrase Ram, can be a kind of religious expression, if it’s the right action, and Charlie was denied it. He did get a bit of an arc with Matteusz — allowing himself to move forward with this new relationship without having to lean on the past — but most of his story felt cut short, in a way that I hope is building to something. I’m still waiting for him to face proper consequences for being such a vengeful Nice Guy, or at least listen when his friends tell him why he’s wrong to be so ready to kill to restore his people. Granted, that’s a trauma beyond my imagining, but he’s awfully high and mighty about it. When he went on about how using the cabinet would metaphorically kill him, and Quill rolled her eyes, I was with her.
NIVEA: Actually I was a little frustrated with that story line. As big a decision Charlie is faced with, I feel like he and Quill kept having the SAME argument again and again. I almost wanted him to use the cabinet so that something new would happen. Since last episode we’ve known what the ramifications of using the cabinet are, and while this does seem like the show “putting a pin in it” for now, I’m not looking forward to Quill and Charlie having the same argument again in the future. I wish we could have seen Charlie let go of some of his tightly held hostility toward Quill, because for the few moments that we sort of saw them on the same side, the dynamic felt very fresh and untrodden. What would it look like for these two to put their differences aside and work together without sniping at each other the whole way through?
I can’t wait for their dynamic will look like once the Arn is out, because as we’ve consistently seen, Quill truly is alone, where as Charlie now has Matteusz (who I’m very proud of not being a damsel type this week). It’s going to be interesting to see what life looks like now that the Shadow Kin threat has mostly been neutralized (a wee bit too fast if you ask me) and what other monsters the teens might have to face. Though I do have a bit of a theory that April’s mum is now connected to Corikinus as a result of their weird Horcrux bond that formed between April and her, and that we might see them face off come finale time. Also, can you have a three-way Horcrux? Is that a thing?
But I’m also intrigued about what we’re getting next week, which is some kind of ALIEN INFLUENCED BREAKFAST CLUB?! (Honestly, my favorite trope of all time is a bunch teens locked in a room confronting their feelings about life and love.)
“If you think about those sentences, not one of them makes any sense.”
“Don’t say that you love me.” “What? I wasn’t. I’ve known you for like a month.”
“Um, yeah. The world’s ending. But you were busy.”
“Frodo?” “It’s some old movie my dad likes.”
“There’s 30 million of us. Try to learn something.”
“The threat is ongoing and somehow four kids are going to fight it?”
“Venus fly traps ingest matter. They don’t have souls.” “Or so you think.”
“Just stay out of the way and try not to die.”
“Tanya would have got that.”
“It was a violent thing you did, April. I’d accepted my life. It was full and happy and in no way less.”
“There are still men who won’t listen to a woman who’s smarter than they are.”
“Oh hell’s bells, I’d forgotten how up themselves the Rhodians were.”