Clique series 2 episode 1 review: uncomfortable truths about internet culture

Clique series 2 provides perhaps the best depiction of internet culture seen on television. Spoilers ahead in our premiere review...

This review contains spoilers.

When Jess Britain’s teen thriller Clique’s first series aired last year BBC Three was relatively fresh from its move to online-only, and it was reasonable to think that this show was the channel’s attempt to alert viewers to its new mission statement and brand identity. In reality, Clique’s placement meant it probably didn’t get the attention it deserved, and its series two’s job to rectify that.

And it’s off to a brilliant start, taking the issues of today and folding them into an established drama with an increasingly fascinating lead character. Almost everything about this first episode feels like a reboot, but a reboot that doesn’t do away with its established history and character development. The first year of Clique was promising but wonky, this year looks set to take its best bits and run with them.

After the events of the previous school year Holly (Synnove Karlsen) is determined to stay as strait-laced as possible. She’s living in the house with Louise (Sophia Brown, one of the few carryovers from series one) and two ‘randoms’ with personal boundary issues, working at a bar in town and attending all of her lectures. She’s boring now but, much like a recovering addict, she knows deep down that she’s attracted to chaos like a moth to a flame and it’s only a matter of time before her new identity is shattered.

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She meets a group of lads after a shift and, used to the attention from drunken students now that she’s internet famous, she disregards them. What the audience knows, however, is that the quartet are responsible for a bunch of pranks around campus, one of which served to taunt the ‘snowflakes’ protesting against the lack of trigger warnings on campus by glitter bombing them with actual snowflakes.

One of the guys, Jack (Leo Suter), catches her eye, and sure enough Holly’s involved again. She, Louise, and new housemates Rayna (Imogen King) and Fraser (Stuart Campbell) attend a party, and it all ends with a brutal attack that will form this year’s big mystery.

It’s unclear as yet which side the show wants to take on the ‘lib-tard’ versus ‘alt-right’ debate, but the language used and the bitterness exhibited across the dividing political line is so accurate to our current climate that it doesn’t matter. It’s perhaps one of the best depictions of internet culture and real life bleeding into each other that I’ve seen on television, and that immediately makes Clique a vital watch. In short, young people will dig this.

As for the ending, it’s always difficult to assess a rape storyline before it’s had a chance to play out in full, and it’s quite possible that Clique will kill itself off by daring to ‘go there’ at a time when such things are unfortunately a topic of daily conversation. But that’s also precisely what makes it such a bold choice for a show that’s already tackled the more subtle and insidious ways that people can be victimised. There’s no grey area here, no explaining away.

As far as referencing previous events, Georgia isn’t even mentioned – probably a smart move given the different direction this episode pushes the show in, and Holly’s trauma is very much rooted in the Rachel reveal and all of the things she feels responsible for in their joint past. We didn’t get nearly enough of sinister Rachel in the finale, and Rachel Hurd-Wood is such a dynamic presence here.

Karlsen, too, is just wonderful. While Holly started out as a blank slate in series one, the reveal of her past and potential motivations seems to have imbued the actress with a newfound understanding of her character and the show is much better for it. She’s not just a flawed character – she’s potentially unhinged in a way you barely get to see from a female protagonist.

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Everything about Clique series two feels more confident, weirder, and with more to say. It establishes itself as a show with legs that could run for several years, confronting its audience with uncomfortable truths from all sides, and dares us to pay attention.