I was starting to think Freddie’s face was stuck like that. Until now he’s had all the range of a magazine model, pretty, unavailable, and disgusted with you. He’s the same old Freddie all through the quiet morning visit with Henry’s family, Cleo and the kids, although there’s a hint of something more when Cleo stops by his room to tell him to send Henry home. The camera pushes in on him as he says with the low-key thrill of provocation, “I don’t give a fuck.” (That’s not the “something more.”) Then she gives him one last mom stare and leaves, and it seems to take. But from the moment he runs into old family friends Sally and Gregory, Freddie’s a different person. He retreats into his shell, and that’s just the beginning of Freddie Fox’s surprisingly rich performance this week. Is there some family history he’s trying to shake? Is he just embarrassed he dropped out of college? No, Gregory was Freddie’s old flame. He was also his teacher and pederast.
It’s a relief (and, this being a Russell T. Davies joint, a punchline), to hear someone finally say out loud in no uncertain terms, “This man is a rapist!” It’s been an elephant in the room but an invisible one, because of course Gregory and Freddie wouldn’t define their relationship that way, one out of legal and social self-preservation and the other out of deep psychological self-preservation. Freddie even rolls his eyes and denies it after Henry shouts, which is what gives the moment its humor, well, that and the fact that Gregory has wrestled both Freddie and Henry to the floor in an attempt to keep Freddie from sending Sally a picture of Gregory getting dressed at his place, the high stakes never undermining the slapstick lunacy. But regardless of how Freddie sees their relationship or his own maturity at 15 or his wild imbalance of power with his teacher at the time, the fact is Gregory took advantage of Freddie, and suddenly Freddie isn’t a stand-in for Grindr millennials but a very specific person who’s been warped by very specific events in his life. There’s a reason our first inkling of what’s weird between Freddie and Gregory has to do with the fact that Freddie couldn’t hack it in school after his affair with his high school teacher.
Before we know the details—and see the graphic comic panels Freddie’s drawn of them—what’s weird is Gregory’s predatory intensity. He deliberately unscrews the lid on his daughter’s drink in order to spill it on her in order to send his wife with her to the bathroom in order to get some alone time with Freddie, and he goes right from baby talk with his child to looking Freddie in the eyes and saying, “It’s like I can smell that space between your legs.” He doesn’t even know where to go or how to get away, but he has to have Freddie one last time, and Freddie’s so unusually demure that it highlights the power Gregory has over him. Cue a montage set to caper music as Gregory tries to shake his family and arrange for a quickie with Freddie in a public restroom. It’s exciting before we know exactly what their relationship was. But then Freddie stands outside the restroom door, held back by jitters. He flakes, and when he steps outside and takes a breath of fresh air, it feels huge, but Cucumber doesn’t dwell. All that energy built up by the montage gets released instead in a rapidfire comic bit where Henry watches as Freddie rushes in the door to release his own energy with two Grindr hookups and Dean.
But Freddie can’t stop thinking about his, as he sees it, first love. First he texts Gregory, knowing he’s not in town but hoping for something anyway. Or maybe he’s just hoping to rile Gregory up again, the way he did when he left him hanging. When Gregory responds with a nicety and a “Delete this number,” Freddie hauls out his comic panels and texts a particularly salacious one to Gregory. That gets his attention. He shows up at Freddie’s while nobody’s home, leading to an incredible sequence of emotional shifts and power plays and eventually the dogpile, our heroes rescued by a kick from Lance of all people. The whole final act is an intoxicating tonal whirl: the tension produced by the confessional comic, the nonchalance of Dean, the jealousy of Henry. Freddie and Gregory are trying to be quiet, because Gregory’s still trying not to get caught. Then Freddie asks to top, and it feels a little sinister, like it’s a trap, but it’s also maybe cathartic for Freddie to turn the tables on this guy finally. When Gregory decides to call it quits, Freddie says to the ephebophile, “Am I too old for you now?” He has a beef with Gregory, but not for the predatory sex. He’s upset because their affair forced Freddie to stay in the closet. Gregory passed on shame to Freddie.
The themes of the Gregory story run throughout the episode. That childhood repression resonates with Henry’s story, as his sister tells everyone how he’d seize up in terror whenever a shirtless man would show up on TV. Daniel and Lance are blurring the lines in an instructional setting, too. Henry’s taken aback by his more indirect exertion of power over adolescents, when he drafts Adam and a peer to do a shirtless lip-sync video for cash that results in them kissing. Daniel and Lance and Adam and his friend are all looking for excuses to touch each other, to undress together, to test the waters. While Freddie and Gregory chat like they’re survivors of a torrid love affair and Adam and his pal are great at pretending like they’re not actively interested in kissing each other, underneath is a story of trauma and experimentation and boundaries. The subtext isn’t just expanding or augmenting the text. The subtext is the real story of the episode.
Take the sequence after Lance kicks us to a blackout. When we come to, there’s a wide shot of the apartment, Henry on the left, Lance on the right, and Gregory between them but down the wall from Lance a little ways. Freddie’s off-screen. He’s being protected. Another angle shows just Henry and Freddie, and Henry tells him to send the incriminating text to Gregory’s wife. Back in the wide shot, Gregory lunges, but both Lance and Henry move in. They’re standing between Freddie and Gregory, two responsible adults restoring the boundaries between the one-time teacher and student. It’s the turning point of the episode.
So Gregory limps home—another trick of the post-blackout sequence is the gradual reveal of who exactly Lance kicked—and Freddie sheds a tear, which I honestly thought was biologically impossible an hour prior. On his way out he takes a picture of Henry for some reason and walks off. Millennials do the darnedest things! Then Lance and Henry trade some mature, touching words. Lance tells Henry he might try to go for Daniel. Henry says there’s no need to tell him, but Lance insists that there is. “Well, I hope he’s nice.” Okay, cutting things off with Adam was one thing, but now I know Henry’s been Stepfordized. But Freddie does something selfless too. That pic he snapped was for a dating profile, and Henry has a date already. “Oh, and he’s a top. Is that okay?”
Henry doesn’t hesitate. “Yeah.” We’ll see about that. Henry seems genuinely ready to face his fears, but if he couldn’t with a patient partner like Lance, how will he fare with some stranger with expectations?
- Freddie throws his underwear-clad hookup in Henry’s family’s face. Cleo: “Well, three years ago they built me a new vagina, so nothing’s gonna shock me.”
- Swimming lessons start with Daniel showing his ass in the locker room, go on to feature the instruction, “Just push yourself toward me, nice and gentle,” and involve Lance aiming for Daniel’s crotch. Also Daniel gets excited by the prospect of Lance’s hands-free blowjob, so don’t think this isn’t a two-way street.
- The sneaky Freddie-Gregory sex scene is interrupted by Henry’s arrival. “Anyone in?” Dean trudges out: “Can you still pay my rent?” “Be fair. That was once.” “Was it? Who said so?” “For God’s sake.” “Ugh.” The words don’t do justice to Dean’s eye-rolling and Henry’s exasperation, but it’s a hilarious bit, not least for its juxtaposition with the two secret lovers.
- Henry barely glances at the comic before he’s triggered into action: “Oh my god. How old was he?” Gregory and Freddie answer simultaneously: “Eighteen!” “Fifteen!” Henry: “My nephew’s fifteen, you cunt!”
- Henry’s depressing, but at least he’s beautifully depressing. “I saw these boys today. They were so fearless. I was so scared when I was a kid.”
- Pattern: So far, all the queer men’s initials come from the top half of the alphabet (Henry, Lance, Dean, Freddie), and all the queer women’s initials come from the bottom half (Vivienne Scott, Vanessa, Sian, Violet). If the trend holds, Daniel and Adam are in for a treat!
Banana, “Episode 3”: Sian & Violet
Like Sotty, Sian (Georgia Henshaw) and Violet (Hannah John-Kamen) are moving way too fast, but their story is a lot more straightforward and simplistic. There’s not a single moment with the complexity of Scotty’s chat with her crush. Or Scotty’s chat with her crush’s husband for that matter. Sian and Violet meet, they flirt, they kiss, they have sex, they fall in love, they move in together, they get prickly, they split up, they get back together. Furthermore it’s the old characterization of the only child who can’t share meeting her foil in the free, open foster kid. The only funny bit is when Dean hops over from Cucumber to borrow some lube. No matter how loaded Georgia Henshaw makes a turn of the head or how transporting it is to see Hannah John-Kamen dancing across the room or how splashy the shoe store montage is, the overall effect is to say, “That was a cute episode,” and never think about it again.
It’s also the first Banana to end as if everything’s resolved. Surely Violet has some more growing to do, but the episode gives into the rom-com finale, where the decision to try to grow is the important thing. Compare that to Dean’s total neglect of his problems or Scotty’s escapist delusion and “Episode 3” comes off almost quaint. Then again, as I seem to keep saying about Banana characters with my fingers tightly crossed, we’ll probably see more of Sian and Violet and Vanessa, since they already showed up in Cucumber last week, introduced by Dean as his real family. Incidentally, does that mean this episode took place a while ago relative to the Cucumber timeline, or is Dean just talking about Scotty, Vanessa, and Sian, and he threw in Violet on a probationary basis? I suspect there’s no timeline distortion beyond the compression of Sian and Violet’s relationship into 20 minutes, because we also got to see Francesco again, safely out of jail and doing okay by the looks of things.
But the mural’s more important than the puzzle. If a happy ending makes the episode shallow, it at least adds some shading to the series. Banana ought to thrive on diversity of experiences, and so far it hasn’t even been capable of a dysfunctional relationship. What’s more, the fact is television doesn’t have many lesbian relationships period, let alone young, romantic ones. As overedited as the first kiss is, there’s some easy magic in the simple sight of two young women getting to know each other as they walk down the street. The fact that Sian’s the daughter of another lesbian is another rarity, and Lynn Hunter’s so good you forget she’s not actually Sian’s mom.
At the end Vanessa lets Sian have it. She will not apologize for being the gay mom that made Sian different on the schoolyard. And she won’t apologize for falling in love with so many different women while Sian was growing up. The problem is Sian never had a model for a successful long-term relationship, and now she doesn’t know how to share her life with someone. Vanessa takes a beat after fuming. Her shit stinks, too, and she knows her first little rant was not precisely right. So she distills it to its essence: “I love you, darling. Grow up.” And so Sian returns to Violet, and last we see her, she’s standing across the room beaming at the woman who will take her back. It’s an intoxicating final image, that uncontainable smile, but it doesn’t make the episode any more interesting.
- Dean: “Can I borrow some lube? We’ve gone dry next door.” Sian: “Lube? Wow, things really have moved on since a cup of sugar.”
- I’ve already said Fisayo Akinade seems to bounce everywhere, but in this episode he literally skips out of Violet’s place. I love how physical his performance is. There’s so much story in the way he sneaks a glance to gauge Freddie’s reaction to something or the way he pouts with his headphones.