Well, this is pretty much exactly what I was hoping Class would become, even if took two thirds of the season to get there. No matter: After keeping its ensemble largely split up for the preceding five episodes, “Detained” brings all the teens together and makes the whole episode about their interactions. It’s your classic bottle episode, really, except here the proverbial missing pen is instead a disembodied prisoner whose consciousness has been welded to a piece of space rock that compels all who touch it to confess their most brutal truths, all while its very presence transmutes the gang’s emotions into ever increasing rage. Coming on the heels of the last couple weeks’ show-defining two-parter, I feel comfortable in saying this: This is all just so uniquely, quintessentially Class. The show took time—probably a bit too much, given its run is only eight episodes—to define itself and its characters, and embracing the interconnectedness of its ensemble is what has clarified both those elements.
The character most in need of definition is the one who ends up at the crux of the episode: Charlie. To date, Greg Austin has held the character at a remove from the audience, fitting a character who is both an alien and a prince. Class has mostly presented him to us more as object than subject, someone other characters react to more than someone who acts in his own right. There’s Miss Quill and her completely unconcealed, eminently understandable hatred. There’s Matteusz, who struggles to navigate his love for somebody he understands so little about, and what he does understand scares him. There’s Tanya, who cannot stomach the ease with which Charlie orders around his slave. Tonight, the very fact Charlie doesn’t become a gurgling rage monster like all the others is reason enough to push him yet further away from the group.
While the show has transcended its Doctor Who roots—again, why I said this episode feels uniquely Class—it’s worth noting how closely Charlie’s story tracks with that of the new series Doctor, at least before “The Day Of The Doctor.” We get our first mention of the Doctor in a while when Charlie quotes his advice that you shouldn’t avenge genocide with genocide. But then, that’s what the Doctor flirted with several times in his encounters with the Daleks, with his new series run jumpstarted by a Time War that ended with him causing (and later un-causing) double genocide. And while Matteusz has more clearly articulated the Doctor’s moral philosophy—guy literally said he doesn’t like guns, a common Doctor line—it’s Charlie, the alien of noble birth who struggles to understand human emotions, who is the closer character match for the Doctor. What we’re seeing with Charlie is the same survivor’s guilt that defined Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant’s Doctors filtered through the context of a high schooler.
All of which is to say that however bad Charlie might have it, he’s surrounded by people who are convinced they have it just as bad as he does. And hell, maybe they do! “Detained” brings all the characters’ insecurities and grievances to the surface, with April listing off everyone’s problems—Matteusz got kicked out by his parents for being gay! Ram lost his leg after watching his girlfriend’s brutal murder! April’s mother was paralyzed after her father’s attempted murder-suicide!—in response to Tanya’s frustrations. The issues she raises are the most nuanced, as she vents about dealing with white people and their ceaseless optimism. This is where Class uses its diversity not a brainless sop to multiculturalism but rather as an opportunity to examine how the characters’ different identities inform their experiences, and how a young black woman like Tanya faces challenges that April can’t properly appreciate. Sure, Tanya can’t really pursue her point about April getting a typical white person happy ending with her previously paralyzed mother, as to do so would be wandering too far into the show’s metatext, but even a passing, rage-induced reference is an interesting acknowledgment of this tricky dynamic.
Perhaps the wisest decision “Detained” make is we actually learn precious little new about any of the characters. Just about everything we learn is something we could already work out. Matteusz hasn’t really hidden his concerns about Charlie, though here is the first time he’s forced to acknowledge that he is afraid of the man he loves. “Brave-ish Heart” heavily foreshadowed this episode’s reveal that Ram loves April, but April isn’t at all sure she loves Ram. And Tanya’s insecurities about being younger than the rest of the group has been alluded to several times before now. The episode is smart enough to know there’s no need for big, game-changing revelations, especially when we have already seen these characters go through so much. All the show needs to do is instead just give voice to all the petty worries and issues that feel like the biggest damn thing in the world when you’re a teenager. This is where, I suppose, Class actually makes its previous hesitance to bring all the characters together into a sneaky strength, by showing just how combustible this group is when forced to all be in proximity of one another for any length of time.
The fact that Charlie doesn’t feel those same little resentments and uncertainties that the others do emerges as the most fascinating thing about him. We have gotten precious little sense of the Rhodians as a people before this, with the best clues being Charlie’s enslavement of Quill and the hints of a general austere coldness, at least in the royal family. But Charlie’s unnerving forthrightness, as he says with what is seemingly total earnestness that he unreservedly looks forward to seeing his friends every day, points to a more basic difference between humans and Rhodians. It’s ultimately crystallized with his explanation that, on Rhodia, a wish is the same as action: Charlie and his people cannot readily understand humans’ proclivity to keep separate their internal and external selves. A necessity of human social survival is nigh incomprehensible for Charlie, driving a wedge between him and Matteusz and then him and the rest of the group.
In that context, that he would use the doomsday device at all is, as he admits, the same thing as actually doing it. Charlie is the guiltiest person there, except not by any human standard. That’s a brilliant way for Class to split the difference: Our understanding of Charlie now absolutely turns on which species’ lens we use. That’s the kind of specificity and complexity the show has been looking for, and after the frequently bonkers adventure of the preceding two-parter this episode is just the focus the show needed. The group ends this, if not exactly broken, then strained in a way they haven’t been before. And while Charlie and Matteusz still appear relatively strong, Ram and April face a potentially unbridgeable divide, while Tanya feels as out of place with the group as she ever has. And considering the perspective flip of next week’s episode means we may not see them properly in action again before the finale in two weeks, they are running out of time to figure where they stand with respect to one another.
- Yeah, I’d say Ram was dealing with more rage and snottiness than the rock’s influence alone should provide. And I’m actually a little surprised April didn’t bring up a salient point about their nascent love: She’d be well within her rights to wonder whether Ram is falling so quickly as a way to cope with the death of his last girlfriend.
- In our latest edition of “Matteusz is awesome in just all the ways,” that’s a damn accurate summary of the Narnia books he busts out, even if Charlie doesn’t really get his point in the end. And he read all the way to The Last Battle if he knew about just how shittily C.S. Lewis treated Susan at the end there. I bet he agrees with me Voyage Of The Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair are the real highlights of the series, though.