It's time to play Truth or Truth

By Kelly Connolly and Nivea Serrao
May 20, 2017 at 11:05 PM EDT
Simon Ridgeway/BBC America
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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, prisoner zero has escaped.

Roll Call

If you thought pop culture detentions were all makeovers, deep personal confessions, and warm hugs between kids from different social circles, you were about one-third right. Two-thirds, if you count Quill. When the Coal Hill group gets locked in a classroom and hurled into nothingness with a mysterious space rock, plenty of deep personal confessions follow, and the teacher gets a new look. But our alien-tested teens aren’t exactly hugging it out in the end.

So, about the classroom and the nothingness. Quill sentences Charlie to detention with the rest of the gang and bolts, but her plan has a probably-built-in flaw: April has a key. Just as she unlocks the door, a meteor shoots through a tear in spacetime and into the room. There’s a minor explosion in the corner, but that’s not the biggest problem: Everything outside is just… nothing. Just empty. Not even space. K-9, I have a feeling we’re not in London anymore.

After a fair amount of group panic, Matteusz grabs the meteor to throw it out of the room, but he grips it instead, flashing back to a time when his grandmother, who knew that he’s gay, asked him to tell her the truth about his sexuality. Now, he spills a new truth: He’s afraid of Charlie. He worries about what his alien boyfriend is capable of and what he’ll do with the power of the cabinet. April knocks the rock out of Matteusz’s hand, but now they know something more about what this “asteroid of truth” (Ram: “Meteor of truth”) needs from them.

The truth goes both ways — if the kids are willing to confess their secrets, they could learn more about the rock in return. Tanya takes one for the team and picks it up, admitting she feels like everyone sees her as the little sister. There’s her price of admission. Now, the show: They ask the meteor if it’s dangerous, and Tanya hears it telling her that it is. It’s a kind of intelligence — a prisoner. They’re trapped in a room with an escaped inmate from space jail.

What follows is a series of fights and accusations brought on by a reluctant game of meteor hot potato. Let’s look at everything they learn about the rock first: It comes from a meteor field that doubles as a space jail. Every rock is bound to the consciousness of a prisoner, and this one’s a murderer. He killed the four inmates imprisoned with him, and he wants the students to kill each other.

That’s starting to look like a possibility. The prisoner is transferring his anger to the group, which doesn’t exactly keep the mood light as their confessions start to tear them apart. On his turn, Ram admits he’s in love with April, and he’s afraid she’ll never be able to love him this much. On hers, April admits he’s right: She doesn’t trust how quickly he’s fallen or trust that their relationship will last.

Context is key here: When April grabs the rock, she sees herself looking into her father’s eyes and testifying against him. After a betrayal like her dad’s, it’s understandable that she’d have a hard time opening up, but Ram is miffed anyway, and the prisoner’s anger seems to be infecting him the most. The students turn on each other as each one takes the feeling of not belonging and turns it into a weapon.

But Charlie isn’t angry. He’s hurt by Matteusz’s fear and by Tanya’s accusation that he’s basically useless, but he isn’t mad; the rock must be affecting him differently. And he doesn’t want to be useless, so he decides to pick it up. Before he even touches it, he makes his confession: He wants to kill the Shadow Kin. Sometimes he even hates Matteusz for being the reason that he doesn’t.

Charlie grabs the meteor, and when it orders him to confess, he bites back, “No, you confess.” The rock tries to kill him (his nose and eyes start to bleed), but the prince doesn’t give in, and the prisoner’s voice eventually realizes, “You are my murderer,” as the rock breaks into pieces. The prisoner wanted someone guiltier than he was to end his suffering, and Charlie has plenty of guilt — in Rhodian culture, a wish is the same as an action, so wanting the Shadow Kin to die damns him as much as killing them.

The classroom is now back where it belongs, but this space jail isn’t quite done: It needs a new prisoner, and it wants Charlie. The fragments of the rock start to pull him in, but Quill appears in the doorway — hair longer, face scarred across the eye — and shoots the meteor until Charlie is free. She’s obviously been through an ordeal, but she came out of it with at least one thing she wanted: her free will (and ability to fire a gun). The Arn is out of her head.
(Recap continues on page 2.)

NIVEA: In a way, the hour kind of reminded me of “Midnight,” one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes — right down to the prisoner possessing each of the kids. Only it’s drawing out a different, angrier side to all of them. So, yes, this is also hands down my favorite episode of the season, largely because we got to see everyone deal with a personal “truth” of their own. I want to start with April and Ram’s combined truths because one of the things I’ve constantly been enjoying about this series is how it doesn’t fall into all the common tropes of TV teenage romances. April asking for the space to figure out her feelings was refreshing in how real it was, while Ram’s pain also made sense. (Side note: I especially appreciated his little bit of science knowledge because it means that maybe he’s been hanging with Tanya because they’re FRIENDS and not because he needs academic help. Have I mentioned how much I love this friendship?) What about you? Which truth jumped out at you?

KELLY: I think what struck me most was just the episode’s treatment of the idea of truth as a whole. The truth here isn’t so much a capital-T, absolute Truth as it is a fragmented, malleable thing: Matteusz’s fear of Charlie is real, but it isn’t the whole of their dynamic. April doesn’t love Ram as much as he loves her, but she wants that to change. Tanya might not be right in her opinion that everyone thinks of her as a kid sister, but it’s how she feels, and that’s a truth too. I liked that nuance; feelings might not be right, but they are true by virtue of the fact that we feel them. It’s kind of Rhodian: Wishing for something is, on some level, the same as acting on that wish. That philosophy obviously can lead to a lot of undue guilt, but it does validate a person’s inner life, which is especially important when you’re dealing with teenagers who feel overlooked.

I also appreciated that the truth was allowed to be dangerous. When I called this a dark Breakfast Club, I was mainly thinking of the aftermath — the Coal Hill kids are walking away from this experience with a lot of open wounds. On the surface, their relationships are a lot worse off now than they were a week ago. The hope, obviously, is that they’ll rebuild and be stronger, or any other paint-by-numbers cliché, and I do think they’ll come back together, but I like this show’s willingness to fight back against the idea that everything is always going to be okay eventually. The truth is a worthy ideal, but it’s not a balm. What did you think of how we left things between the students?

NIVEA: I’m with you. I like that there was no pat answer, that Charlie’s confession didn’t result in a giant kumbaya moment among the teens. Yes, everyone was left hurting a little, but what they expressed was all very real and shouldn’t be glossed over or put aside. They deserve to process it however they need to. Do I wish they did it while wrapped in blankets on a couch watching Netflix? Yes. But is that what should happen? No. Life is messy, and we’re learning that the hard way.

I do think it’s an interesting point in the series for this to happen, for them to have to give up some of the “privacy” of their own heads, while also grappling with a being who is actually guilty of crimes. We’ve just come off a big arc, and we’ve faced a fair number of alien threats; you’d think everyone would be stronger together — which they are to some extent — but they’re all also processing what they’ve gone through so far, and it’s led them to ask more complicated, nuanced questions of their situations. Tanya thinks Quill deserves to be treated with respect despite what her previous crimes may be. Matteusz loves Charlie but is also beginning to fear him a little. Only, thanks to Prisoner Zero, they’re expressing the doubts we often feel and never get to say out loud.

KELLY: I like that you describe it as privacy; this is an episode about the prisons we carry with us, but there is something safe about keeping things to ourselves, even if it’s ultimately not authentic. Every secret these kids were keeping was in some way rooted in fear. Confessing freed them, but it exposed them, too. I’m curious to see where they go from here.

NIVEA: Me too. How are they going to band together to take on their next threat? Because it seems like everyone might need some individual distance. I do want to say, though, given the all-knowingness of the Governors, I wonder if they knew this was happening to the kids. I suspect not because that nasty scar Quill came back with in the end (sans Arn) seemed to indicate their attentions might have been elsewhere — which, of course, we’ll be finding out next week.
(Recap continues on page 3.)

Top of the Class

Charlie was faced with a big decision last episode that could have affected millions, but his choice to pick up the meteor prison (which only directly affected five people) was the one that had a bigger impact. It forced Charlie to actually dig into his feelings, both for Matteusz and about his lost crown, especially since this is a brand new experience for him: not being the Prince of Rhodia, the one thing he’d been raised to do since he was a child. It’s ironic: It’s only without a planet, or even subjects to govern, that Charlie’s been grappling with the kinds of decisions a ruler might have to make. And as this episode proved, he’s doing a good job of it. Even if he doesn’t seem to think so.

Parent/Teacher Conference

Quill has been stuck in a “parental” role of sorts this entire season, and while she might not like Charlie or his treatment of her, she still does show up at the end to save him and stop him from taking the prisoner’s place. That means something, because, as she notes, she didn’t have to do it. It remains to be seen whether Quill will still live with Charlie and Matteusz or go off and do her own thing. She’s officially the last of her kind, as he is of his. It’s hard to imagine her straying too far — even if she really despises him.

Comments

“At any moment you could destroy the species who killed our people. But here we stand… in a school.”

“No one in time and space can think for themselves.”

“I don’t want to die in here with you lot.”

“If this were heaven, you guys wouldn’t be here with me… Not in like, a mean way.”

“Don’t look at me like that. Athletes can have brains!”

“Narnia. Is that Canada?”

“Is this what Poland looks like?!”

“Don’t be an idiot about allowing me to feel complicated things.”

“I’m pretty serious about the brain frying. That’s why I’ve got this look on my face.”

“I don’t know how I keep getting myself into these situations.”

Episode Recaps

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