Class – Series 1, Episode 4
Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart
Tony goes on the heart attack.
There’s no way Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart should be Episode 4 of the first series of Class.
Sorry, but we need to get that out of our system immediately. This first part of a two-part rematch with Episode 1 villains the Shadowkin should be the Series 2 opener. It has the scope, the emotional (ahem) heartbeat and the landmark events you’d need to kick off a series, and what’s probably more important, it would have given the Shadowkin enough of a break from our screens that we’d actually welcome their return. Three episodes since they last stomped on-screen, killed some people and stomped right off again, it feels far too soon, evoking both the sense of ‘How can we miss you if you won’t go away?’ and, more worryingly, the idea in viewers’ minds that maybe writer Patrick Ness hasn’t got as many great ideas for the series as it was starting to look like he might have. You book a return engagement with fan-favourite villains or those that seem to have more to say. The Shadowkin have yet to prove they’re either of those things, so once you know what the episode is about, there’s every chance you’ll stiffen against it.
That would be a shame, because as an episode, it’s packed with great stuff, and it allows Sophie Hopkins as ‘nice girl’ April MacLean to really show us what she’s made of, impressing us and leaving us wanting more of her in the second half of this story.
The storyline deals with the consequences of the first episode, in which April and Corakinus, the ShadowKing, ended up sharing a single human heart through a space-time rift. It beats just as many times as a normal human heart would, but it has to sustain both of them on different sides of the galaxy. Let’s ignore, for the sake of science fiction, the fact that assuming April had a normal resting heart rate, at half that rate, both of them should be weak as kittens, prone to fatigue and fainting, potentially brain dead and not up to invading anywhere but the grave. The shared heart works, for reasons that were never made at all clear, like Harry Potter’s scar, allowing April to see the ShadowKing from time to time, and even allowing him to take over her mind and body. What it doesn’t allow him to do is have any idea where the hell she actually is. If he knew that, he’d come stomping back and try to force the heart to obey only him.
This episode is rich and layered, as April’s once-suicidal, drive-off-the-motorway-leaving-his-wife-in-a-wheelchair dad gets out of prison and comes looking for his family…just at the point when April’s in the grip of a severe bout of PSM (Post-Shadowking Mania), and she threatens him with scimitars. So there’s a degree of backstory development here, and Hopkins delivers the rage – infused with Shadowkin, but ultimately entirely human – that April usually keeps supressed, with a dose of snarling relish on at least a couple of occasions. In between them, there’s some of the cheesiest, most awkward ‘Shall we have sex now then?’ dialogue you’re likely to hear in one lifetime and some fairly good, tender post-coital stuff as April and Ram get it on – and are then promptly discovered by April’s mum.
At the same time, we do learn quite a lot more than we already knew about the Shadowkin – their belief system is essentially that they’re a universal mistake and should never have been born in a universe of light. That’s going to give you quite a hefty chip on your craggy, ‘Honest, I swear we’re not Pyroviles’ shoulder, and so they want to destroy everything but themselves. It’s an effective motivation for an otherwise convenient stompy monster, and when the ShadowKing gets influenced by April’s actions, he quickly mates with the scientist trying to help him secure the heart in his body, promising her a seat at his side if she succeeds.
As it turns out, the heart of a human teenager can feed back into the brain of a mighty ShadowKing – which is probably meant to remind us how remarkable a teenager April is, but also runs the risk of making us ponder how naff the Shadowkin just might be.
Alongside all of this, we have another storyline developing, which will go on to take a degree of precedence in Episode 5. There’s a new headteacher at Coal Hill, the gloriously named Pooky Quesnel as Dorothea Ames. And goodness me, but she’s creepy. She’s halfway between Kate Stewart and Dolores Umbridge, and she’s been appointed on behalf of the Governors – the body which, in the previous episode, sent an android from ‘OFSTED’ to observe Miss Quill’s classes. This lot are quite aware of Quill and Charlie, and right about now, they need Quill’s help.
They need her help for a very specific reason – while the Shadowkin represent one strand of monster behaviour, inasmuch as they’re big, and stompy, and will stab you to death soon as look at you (no idle statement, as we know from their first visit to Earth), they’re not exactly as insidious as their name suggests. Whereas the other alien threat in Episode 4 – that’s properly insidious. And hungry. Unbeatable numbers and an appetite for blood make the other threat in this episode just as deadly, if not moreso, and it’s certainly the one that Ames and the Governors are out to stop, and they intend to use Quill, and her influence on Charlie with his cabinet of souls to do it. Oh yes, the cabinet of souls? It’s a weapon, as well as an afterlife. So…that’s convenient.
As Charlie gets more authoritarian in his treatment of Quill, and his friends, including Matteusz and Tanya, start questioning the values of his Rhodian civilisation, April’s battle with her half-hearted nature comes to a peak when she’s confronted again by her father. Saved from killing him by arguments from Ram and her mother about who she is, who she wants to be, and the importance of carving her own path, April leaves the man who ruined her life alive – and goes in search of the ShadowKing, to settle their dispute once and for all, Ram foolishly, impulsively, and probably more than a little inspired by the fact that his relationship with April has just entered a new phase, leaps after her, leaving us wondering at the end of this episode how, if at all, they’ll ever get back.
And the other threat, the quiet one, keeps on coming.
Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart is, as we’ve said, a really rich, well-textured, well-acted episode of Class. It just really shouldn’t be Episode 4 of Series 1. It’s good enough to be the launch episode of a second series, and by being placed so soon in the first run after the initial Shadowkin story, both the episode and the series feel much weaker than they are. Series creator Patrick Ness is a good writer – he’s proved that with all four of the first episodes of this series. But by giving the Shadowkin a return engagement so soon, he does himself and his series no favours, despite Co-Owner Of A Lonely Heart being a highly watchable episode of an increasingly watchable show.