Class, Series 1, Episode 2
The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo
Tony get inked.
‘Watch Episode 2 of Class,’ they said. ‘It gets better,’ they said.
Well, that depends on your definition of ‘better.’ It’s bloody, and deals with the trauma of seeing your partner torn apart, rather than simply, as is too often the case in slick sci-fi drama, having such a death be ‘the incident of the week.’ It deals with the reality of young people’s reactions and worlds in the 21st century, and it kills a character that’s been there since the beginning. It delivers gore and horror and one gratuitous but entirely worthwhile ass-shot. Oh and dragons. Did we mention the dragons?
Bottom line, The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo is a not entirely subtle but condensed, intense drug allegory, quite fittingly worked into the sports world of Coal Hill Academy. You could say it’s about chasing the dragon, and what happens when the dragon starts chasing you instead. It’s about what people want, and when they get a chance to have it, what they’re prepared to do, to themselves, to others, to the very nature of their lives to keep it.
But it’s about more than that too – very often the second episode of any show is the one you really need to look at to determine what it will be like on a week-to-week basis, once it’s done devouring the meat of its origin story. Here, Class promises a healthy shot of science fiction magical realism, emphasis on the realism – the Junior Torchwood vibe is strong in this episode, with Ram, the football jock who in Episode 1 suffered the dual shocks of losing his girlfriend and losing half of one of his legs, only to have it replaced with a spacey synthetic, going through a genuine emotional mill over both losses, and making the journey from sullen, insular rejection of the Coal Hill Gang’s new world-saving mission to being a part of it, and letting out some of his grief and trauma, and finding the beginnings of a pathway back to the sporting excellence that meant so much to him.
Storywise, this feels like the satisfying opposite of Episode 1, which was left open and bleeding in so many ways – will the Shadowkin return, will April ever get full use of her heart back, will the team ever come together etc. This is tighter, more compact storytelling, free of the burden of origin story, but committed to delivering consequences in a way that feels real to the teenage audience. The coach represents what Ram describes as ‘the right kind of scary’ in an adult, the pushing kind, the kind that makes young people strive to go behind their self-perceived limits. But there’s a price for that inspiration, and it all crumbles to nothing when the ‘addiction’ he has is revealed. It’s only really by freeing himself of his preconceptions and his locked-in pain that Ram can find the strength, albeit a clouded, still agonised strength, to stand up to both the coach and the dragons, in a way that will remind some viewers of the epic Twelfth Doctor speech from The Zygon Inversion, matching pain for pain, matching consequence for consequence, prepared to put his life on the line, but nobody else’s. It’s a scene among many that make this episode very much belong to Fady Elsayed, who plays Ram, though there have to be honourable mentions too for Vivian Oparah as Tanya, Aaron Neil, who plays Varun, Ram’s dad – look out for some touching, almost heartbreaking short scenes here where the father tries to get the son to open up, and one touching one when the time is right to do so – and of course Katherine Kelly, still acting her socks off when fed good material. Patrick Ness is no fool, and feeds her a sub-plot here to do with the OFSTED inspector of the damned.
At least two of the on-screen deaths here feel shocking because we rather liked the characters who do the dying, but be warned – all the deaths are gruesome, and the BBC did say that Class was ‘not for younger viewers.’ True enough, some of the directorial decisions from Ed Balagette here, including the amount of blood and some almost horror-movie shots of what happens to it – running into troughs, literally hitting the fans etc – would be enough to trouble the kind of children traumatised by some of Series 9 of Who. But that aside, what The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo delivers actually is a better episode than Episode 1 was – real consequences, real-feeling teens dealing with some freaky stuff, not Scooby Ganging too readily, but able to see the benefit of working together when the chips are down.
Grab at least a cushion, if not an entire couch to hide behind, and The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo will give you a satisfying dose of Class action.