One very long school year comes to a close

By Nivea Serrao and Kelly Connolly
June 03, 2017 at 11:05 PM EDT
Simon Ridgway/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, everybody definitely does not live.

Roll Call

And so Class goes out with a bang. And a whimper. And light. Genocide. Genocide by light. A planet collapsing in on itself. A certain familiar stone statue. A brand-new body. And at least one impending, possibly matricidal alien baby, thanks to, well, a bang.

The season 1 finale of Class wastes no time making it clear how this hour is going to go: Ram’s dad is stabbed through the heart by Corikinus on the football field. When Ram tries to touch him, he turns to ash and is scattered on the wind, lost. In Tanya’s home, her mother promises her that things will get better; she’ll grow up eventually. “You sure about that?” Tanya asks. The once (and apparently current) Shadow King proves her point, stabbing her mother through the heart.

They seek out people who will understand: Ram goes to April; Tanya goes to Quill. Quill — suddenly very pregnant, straight out of a six-day hibernation, and considering the possibility that her offspring will eat her (“oh crap, that is part of it, isn’t it?”) — decides to help her student learn to fight for herself, and she doesn’t mind when Tanya names the Cabinet her weapon of choice. Ram is gunning to use the Cabinet too, forcing April to remind him that she’ll die right along with the Shadow Kin.

Right on cue, Corikinus arrives to complicate the list of prospective casualties: He holds April’s mother hostage and demands that April come live on his planet, where he can keep their shared heart under his watchful eye. Charlie rushes in, Quill’s gun in hand, but the king hits Charlie’s heart with shadow — meaning that, like April, Charlie can only kill the Shadow Kin by killing himself.

The battle lines are drawn, and Ram spells them out: “We either sacrifice our families, or we sacrifice each other.” Tired of playing the game, he decides to run away, but April declines his offer to come along. She can’t leave her mother unprotected.

Meanwhile, our motherless teen and mom-to-be are dragging the Cabinet to Coal Hill. Their first stop is the library. Tanya’s brothers are supposed to be there, but she hasn’t been able to reach them since her mom died, so of course she fears the worst. Her fears are proven wrong and then almost right as the Shadow King corners the guys. Just as he’s about to leave Tanya completely alone in the world, Quill knocks the king out of the way.

The king disappears into a tiny tear in spacetime; they’re popping up everywhere, small enough that only shadows can squeeze through, which is how the Shadow Kin made their unwanted return in the first place. Ames brushes it all off to Charlie and Matteusz like it’s nothing — the Governors are really so sorry, they had no idea, and it couldn’t be helped, you see: They’re busy preparing for “the arrival.” And that’s all she’ll say on the matter.

While Ames claims to be looking into this whole situation, Quill and Tanya train in the school gym, and it turns out Tanya isn’t bad at defending herself against a pregnant alien who still knows how to rock an all-black ensemble and a sharp heel. But defending herself against her friends proves more emotional. Matteusz is opposed to using the Cabinet, while Charlie is about as confused as he’s ever been. The king shows up to force the prince’s hand, putting his sword to Matteusz’s throat and taunting that this is where Charlie will draw the line. He’s not wrong.

April, fresh off an “I love you” voicemail to Ram, marches in to demand a truce. Corikinus will let Matteusz — and all humankind — live, and she’ll go with him. The king says he agrees, but when he grabs her in the standoff, she reads his mind and realizes that he’s lying. By this point, the Shadow Kin have invaded the whole planet. They stand ready in every shadow, and the king has no intention of making them back down.

Without spelling it out in so many words, April begs Charlie to shoot her. He does. Ram, who got her voicemail, arrives in time to catch her as she falls.

The king dies with April, but the rest of the Shadow Kin don’t leave. And although Charlie is technically their new king, they seem poised to respect him about as much as they wound up respecting April, so he decides to take a more permanent action. He opens the Cabinet. A fight breaks out, Charlie recites his spiel to activate the weapon, and the souls of the Rhodian people flood the Earth, killing the Shadow Kin and destroying their shadowy planet. One last soul takes aim at Charlie, but Quill knocks him out of the way. The soul makes a beeline for April instead — and she wakes up in Corikinus’ body. Long live the king.

As for Ames, she’s in big trouble with the Governors. Their “arrival” plan never accounted for Charlie actually using the Cabinet. Ames turns to find a Weeping Angel waiting for her, and she screams more than anyone being sentenced to a little time displacement should. But she might have good reason: It looks like this Angel kills her rather than sends her back in time. Don’t blink.
(Recap continues on page 2)

Independent Study

KELLY: So, “Just this once, everybody lives” this was not. That was a little bit brutal! This episode ended on two unexpected reversals: April seemed to die and was “reborn” as the Shadow King, while Ames was murdered by a creature that usually just sends you back in time. And with all respect to the “April is now a giant lava monster” twist, I want to talk about the other one.

It’s fitting that a Weeping Angel would be Ames’ executioner; she toyed with people’s fates, and now she’s at the mercy of an alien race that essentially dictates the rest of your life with the touch of a hand. But this Angel doesn’t do that to Ames; it just kills her. Even if the explanation is simple — she’s not human — it still seems significant. What do you think? Why trade time travel for death?

NIVEA: Well, considering they’re at Coal Hill, which is time and space rift central right now, the Angels should be more than well-fed on that energy at this point. So I figure it’s just the Angel acting on its anger. Since that stone bas-relief sculpture is still missing a huge chunk (that head), having the Cabinet of Souls full and ready to go seemed like it was a large part of whatever this “arrival” business is about.

Though, like you said, Ames’ death probably hints at both the Governors and her being inhuman. Also, that man at the end TOTALLY blinked, and the Angel didn’t seem to move. I will say that I wish this season had a few more episodes — not only to actually space out some of this episode’s huge beats but also because I want to delve into what the Weeping Angels’ master plan might be if not to find a food source for themselves. But I digress. Let’s circle back to April becoming an actual Shadow King. How do you feel about her being trapped in that form?

KELLY: I think she and Ram are going to have some new things to work through, but overall, I’m not thrilled by it. The way I see it, the two most basic options are: She stays as a Shadow Kin (at least for a while), or she finds a fairly quick fix to get back in her body. (There is a third option, which is: There is no season 2. But for the sake of teasing out this cliffhanger, let’s ignore that one.) I’m hoping she doesn’t have to stay as a Shadow Kin for long because this show is good at grounding itself in human emotion and the Shadow Kin feel like cartoons. But the quick fix also feels like it goes against this show’s very admirable tendency to avoid quick fixes.

That’s the danger of being unafraid to let your show make big moves and live in the consequences — not all of the consequences are fun to live with. (Is this a me problem? MAYBE.) What did you think?

NIVEA: I’m a big fan of consequences in storytelling — and like you, I am a fan of Class’ consistent ability to revel in the human. But I think this hour was a little too full of big moves, a lot of which have huge consequences. April’s mum can’t walk again, Charlie is wracked with guilt and grief, Ram has officially seen three people he loves die (even if April’s didn’t quite stick), and Tanya has now been rendered an orphan. In terms of the last two twists, not only were they gut-wrenching, but they felt on a similar level dramatically, so we didn’t have as much build-up between each new and equally shocking development — we didn’t even get to fully appreciate Quill’s newfound pregnancy, especially since it probably means her death. Part of me wonders if this ties into our discussion last week about how Quill, as the last of her kind, can remake this “tradition” or myth. Maybe her baby (babies?) won’t have to kill her. If they’re Ballon’s, could they be half-shapeshifter?

It didn’t strike me until Quill and Tanya’s exchange in the library, but what she’s going through is not only what we saw her goddess go through in the last episode (making her an embodiment of her own creation myth), but it can be considered a metaphor for one reading of the mother-child relationship — especially since she might literally lose her life for her kids to live on. In the same way, Tanya represents the flip side of that, where she is now a legacy of both her father and mother. Did this take a weird turn? Yes. But this episode is full of big turns. I guess my question is: Am I reading into it a bit much? Because it might have to do with how much I enjoyed seeing Tanya and Quill bond and respect one another.

KELLY: I don’t think you’re reading into it any more than Quill is; she’s the one who points out that her culture gives strength by dying, whereas humans share their strength with each other while they’re alive, which makes Tanya’s situation all the more tragic. Tanya is living a Quill reality, and she shouldn’t have to. The line between the Quill experience and the human one is blurry: When April decides to die so others can live, isn’t that basically what Quill is facing? Death is coming regardless (“all of us die, genius”), and the only say anyone has in the matter is who dies and how they handle it.

But as much as I appreciate that none of the choices these kids have to make are easy, this episode is so overloaded with death-or-death problems that little moments never have a chance to land. Charlie and Matteusz are, like, telling each other how good they smell while Tanya is recently orphaned. It makes the characters feel somehow less important than all of this high drama they’re stuck in, which I think is the opposite of what the show is going for. Tanya is the only one who rises above it because she recognizes it; she calls out how ridiculous it is that the boys expect her to put her friendship with them over her feelings for her mom.

On that note, I feel like the best conversations this season all had the same subtext: “Just because we’re on a show together, that doesn’t mean I have to listen to you!” Which I love, but it’s kind of self-destructive. Which might be why I love it! This show is so weird. I’m interested in letting the kids question how much these friendships matter in the face of trauma, but right now the answer is, “Not much,” and I don’t know how sustainable that is beyond season 1. Especially since everyone else is pretty much dead now.

NIVEA: I’m totally with you there; I felt like the schism from the detention episode was never really overcome before we were thrown into this super sudden Shadow Kin invasion. If we’d had a chance to see the kids reforge those bonds and just maybe have a chill day or two off, I would feel like there was breathing room (and grieving time) between each big moment. I will say, Matteusz and Charlie renewing their feelings wasn’t as effective for me because we didn’t see how much pain they were in apart — though I do admire the show’s commitment to addressing teenage romance issues on the same scale as life-or-death ones. It’s in keeping with previous episodes. I also high-key love that April got a chance to sing. It was the most CW thing to happen on Class.

But stepping back to the Shadow Kin stuff, I’m actually a little confused. Shouldn’t April have retained her kingliness? I assumed the title sort of still held even though she abdicated her throne. (Did the Shadow Kin go full-on democracy and elect Corikinus back?) And wouldn’t erasing that path have taken April’s mum’s ability to walk in the first place?

In any case, April being in Corikinus’ body presents us with a metaphor for how being a teenager can make you feel like an alien. I feel like that’s been one of the strengths of this series in general, giving us solid visual depictions of feelings. In this way, it’s very much a true descendant of Buffy. But it also gave us one of the most interesting and timely explorations of metaphysics on television, which I think was something truly original. I’m just a little sad we never got to see that expressed in action.
(Recap continues on page 3)

Top of the Class

Tanya takes home this season’s final prize. Despite being filled with grief at having witnessed her mother’s death and out to seek revenge against the Shadow Kin, the youngest member of the team still maintained a firm grasp on what was important in each situation. What’s more, she recognized that her best defense against such a shadowy foe — and one that threatened to take even more from her — was a solid offense, asking Quill to train her. April may technically be the “practical” one of the crew, but week after week, Tanya’s been able to show that she doesn’t just recognize what needs to be done; she takes matters into her hands and does it.

Parent/Teacher Conference

There were a few brief-but-sweet parent-child moments in the episode: Ram’s dad encouraging him to keep practicing, Tanya’s mum checking up on her friendships, April’s mum trusting her to go into battle. But the most parental moments in the hour came from a duo who aren’t even the same species: Quill and Tanya. The pair came to an agreement to help one another, as Quill trained Tanya while the motherless teen helped the expectant alien convince Charlie to use the Cabinet. And their bond extended beyond quid pro quo, as the pair not only saved each other’s lives but came to a deeper understanding of each other’s cultures. It’s only a shame it couldn’t have happened sooner.

Comments

“Crowns can easily be reclaimed with the right guile.”

“You’re pointing a gun at me.” “You’ll get over it.”

“Has a pony hurt its legs somewhere, or… ?”

“I may have been 14 when we started this year, but I am 100 years old now.”

“They take our strength as their first gift and our last legacy. But that’s not what you humans do, is it? You give your strength every day. You give your legacy as you live, and that’s because you can shape it, rather than it shaping you.”

“The trick is to keep on living.”

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