This review contains spoilers.
Introducing a new character part-way through your series is quite a risky move. Doing it the week after one of your most popular characters has departed is even more inviting of viewer distaste. Respect to Bryan Elsley and newcomer Sam Jackson then, that the episode doesn’t come off too badly, but it’s still a huge step down from the quality on display last week.
Since the second series, a main character has been offed in each generation’s second outing, but never has it been so early in its run. Having Grace depart in episode two allows this cast to live through the grief without the series finale in mind, and thus allows the episode to do something a little bit different.
As a memorial service is planned, for example, the show openly comments on the crassness and disingenuous rituals that remembering the young often brings out, and I hadn’t seen that on a television show before. Like with Chris’ funeral in the first generation, the characters aren’t allowed to say goodbye to their friend, but we’re never shown the fallout, and she is barely mentioned until the final few scenes.
This is mainly because of the episode’s focus on new character Alex, and outsider on the group’s grief and a new perspective on the characters we already know. Some results of this tactic work better than others, with his relationships with the father and grandmother feeling a little forced when taking precedence over the more interesting goings on elsewhere. His story threads end up commenting on the nature of death and the importance comforting one another, but it’s a struggle getting as far as this pay-off.
The episode is at its best when we’re spending time with the ensemble; their dynamic showing the awkwardness and slight mundanity of that shared, fresh grief that happens when a group loses one of their own. It’s a smart choice to exclude Rich from the episode entirely, even if the episode feels like it’s lost an arm as a result. Altogether, there is no outpouring of grief or even very much support between the peers; there are just people coping very badly and turning to their most unattractive character traits.
Which brings me to Liv, who is pretty much the secondary character in this episode. Even if she’s popular elsewhere, I have to admit that she is the character I have bonded with the least, and one who often downright infuriates me. No matter how hard I try, there are few redeeming features to her portrayal, and she seems only to be a tool for bringing new characters to the show. Last year, her episode introduced Matty through a whirlwind romance, and here is pretty much the same, if only Alex wasn’t gay.
Even though I wasn’t too taken with Alex’s character this week, I predict that he will settle into the group dynamic quite nicely. We were in need of a gay character now that Franky’s bisexuality has been watered down (if not washed away completely), so he’s also welcome in that regard. Overall, this introductory episode is a good watch, and doesn’t disappoint in light of last week’s revelations but next week looks like a classic in the making, as we delve back into the complex mind of Miss Franky.