“Nightvisiting” is a bold choice for the third episode of Class, even allowing for the brevity of a British television season. It’s a story intended to reveal more about the main characters by looking at who they have lost, which is a fine way to let us in our protagonists’ heads. Yet it’s also easy to imagine this episode being still more powerful three or four episodes down the line, when we have more of a sense of who these characters are on a day-to-day basis. As it is, this is a strong, strong episode, likely one of the show’s best, but I can’t shake the vague sense that there’s something a trace too mechanical about the episode’s storytelling, as though Class is on some level merely performing profundity and depth instead of really doing the legwork to bring those out organically. You would be forgiven for wondering what the hell that means—I’m not sure I quite get it myself. This is an odd one. Let’s take this in stages, starting with the parts of the episode that feel weakest.
We get two major romantic escalations tonight, as Ram and April kiss and Matteusz declares his love to a largely receptive Charlie. Both feel rushed. And sure, I realize these are high schoolers we’re talking about, and it would probably be more unrealistic to not have the characters pairing off at a breakneck pace. It’s just that Matteusz was absent from last week’s episode and didn’t have an especially large role in the premiere, so he’s still something of a stranger to the audience as he talks through his problems with his father and confesses the depth of his feelings to Charlie. The scene is still affecting, because Jordan Renzo is good as Charlie and Patrick Ness’ script gives him good material to work with. But the material is familiar—universal if you’re feeling charitable, rote if you’re not—because it’s not inflected by anything that feels especially specific to Charlie. The gay teenager struggling with disapproving conservative parents is an archetype. It’s admittedly an archetype that still isn’t represented nearly enough on television, especially when adjusting for the historical erasure of LGBTQ characters, and so that’s welcome on a cultural level, but that doesn’t make the scene deeper in terms of characterization. Again, the scene works—there’s just a hint of empty calories here.
In fairness, April’s story about her father is plenty specific, so I can’t just trot out the exact same criticism twice. And hers is, in fact, a very nicely observed monologue about an abusive father and trauma and coping, and Sophie Hopkins is more than up to the challenge of bringing out the nuances and making them feel true to what we know so far about April. But the episode doesn’t really land how this is meant to explain why she is, as Ram puts it, always so goddamn sensible. That isn’t meant to be obtuse: She says she’s at war, and her being nice and sensible is the best defense she has against the cruelty and insanity of the world. Her father’s attempted murder-suicide taught her that lesson, and now she just copes as best she can. It all makes sense conceptually, but it’s perhaps all too a little removed from the main action to have the desired effect. The next episode trailer promises an appearance from her estranged father, so perhaps this is meant as setup for that interaction. As it is though, this feels like one monologue too far in an episode already driven by people talking.
Indeed, let’s back up to put that scene in context: “Nightvisiting” is a talky episode, with the two main strands driven by long, tense conversations between Tanya and her “father” and Quill and her “sister.” Talky is often used as a pejorative in criticism, but these things are contextual. It’s fine for a story to be dialogue-driven if the performances and direction are strong enough to wring every last bit of tension and suspense out of two characters chatting. It also helps if we get some action elsewhere, with Quill once again coming through in a big way here by attacking her non-sister and attacking the Lankin with a damn double-decker bus. Good stuff there. It’s just that the episode’s general wordiness leaves little space for a character-building monologue from April.
In any event, Tanya and Quill’s stories represent the heart of this episode, with both encountering ghosts of their past. Vivian Oparah does excellent work as Tanya, as she like all the other main characters is immediately skeptical of the Lankin’s supposed promises. She communicates the love Tanya had and has for her father, and how much she misses him, but she also gets across some sense of just how incomprehensible and awful it would be if the legitimately impossible happened and a dead family member were suddenly sitting by the window in one’s room. This is an inherently unrelateable experience, but Oparah makes it possible for the viewer to understand some portion of what Tanya is going through by conveying more familiar states like grief, fear, and suspicion. Where the episode struggles is in explaining precisely why Tanya would abandon her skepticism and come to believe, even temporarily, that this is her father. Once again, I don’t mean to be obtuse, as the Lankin is adept at preying upon Tanya’s deepest wishes and sowing seeds of doubt by telling her things only her father (or a mind-reader) could know. But the episode also makes her father so obviously threatening and deceitful, with his every weird blink a reminder that there can be no doubt in the audience’s minds of his true intention. That leaves little space for Tanya to waver in her own beliefs while not looking at least a little foolish.
On balance, Quill’s scenes are stronger, in part because they more readily defy viewer expectations. We still know little of Quill’s species (which are, um, the Quill), and her interactions with her dead sister hint at how much more there remains left for us to learn and understand. Theirs is not a species that understands sibling bonds in even remotely the same way humans do, as Quill survived her sister’s initial efforts to kill her in the nest. Quill does not appear to be taken in for even a moment, in part because this version of her sister is too disgustingly nice to convince, but the episode sticks by the show’s established rules by pointing out she can’t use weapons or take any especially aggressive action until Charlie is under threat. Technically speaking, I suppose this means all scenes before that represent stalIing tactics, with Quill revealing little of herself to the audience when she’s aware the entire time this is a trap, but this is balanced out by how terrifically entertaining it is to watch Quill turn the tables and exact her revenge.
I’ve been hard on “Nightvisiting,” and perhaps I’ve psyched myself out a little with this one. Then again, the resolution is legitimately bonkers, as Tanya apparently defeats the Lankin by giving it her anger instead of her grief—that she admits she didn’t know if that would work doesn’t really make it any less incoherent. I wouldn’t harp too much on that ending, but it does suggest some sense of the episode’s challenge: It chooses an ambitious premise for a story that demands an assured, confident storytelling, and it gets the style of such a story right. But there’s something lacking about the substance of this episode, as characters’ stories progress rapidly and without the kind of prior context for them to have all the desired specificity and impact. An episode like “Nightvisiting” absolutely illustrates the potential of Class, but it doesn’t realize it as well as it feels like it ought to. Until then, the style—and the performances from a uniformly strong main ensemble—is enough to keep the show entertaining, whatever these issues.
- Two quick Ram-related notes and then I’ll skedaddle: I appreciate that Ram immediately ran away from the Lankin of his dead girlfriend. He’s not dealt with all his issues, but he processed enough last week to know when to not trust the impossible.
- I did also like the acknowledgment that April and Ram really aren’t friends, at least not as much as either of them is with the others. That they kiss by episode’s end is a little disappointing, as I wouldn’t have minded seeing a friendship develop first, but that’s high school for you.
- For the record, if you think I’m massively overthinking this one: Yeah, it’s totally possible. I’ve never been quite so simultaneously impressed by and disappointed with an episode I’ve reviewed like I have with this one.