This episode of Misfits offers an interesting example of how preconceptions can alter an episode. Having seen the “next time on Misfits” and, or comments on how a zombie episode was coming up, I knew what to expect. So there wasn’t much of a surprise here, although I did admire the way it was put together. I do have to wonder how someone who wasn’t aware that it was going to be a zombie episode would have perceived the slow rising tension of the first twenty minutes or so. Maybe it was obvious regardless.
What Misfits did best to keep the tension slowly building was to keep the action small-scale. Part of that is budget, of course, but those constraints work seamlessly with the plot. This isn’t a total zombie apocalypse, it’s the start of one, which the misfits have to work to prevent. It’s one cat, one old woman, Seth’s dead girlfriend, a neighbor, a squad of cheerleaders, and a new probation worker. Not much of an apocalypse, at least, not yet.
The tension comes not from survival, but instead from the characters slowly discovering the problem, and then having to convince themselves to do what needs to be done to stop the zombie threat. Namely, whether they can kill a zombie cat or not. “Now come on. You can kill numerous probation workers, you can’t kill one cat.” “Probation workers don’t count.” Meanwhile, Seth and his resurrected girlfriend Shannon are coming to terms with the fact that she’s not right since coming back. The misfits dealing with the cheerleaders and cat are largely comic, whereas Shannon’s storyline is more tragic, creating a conventional, if effective, tension.
That “conventional but effective” idea extends to the overall concept of the episode. It’s about the Faustian bargain, or Frankenstein, or a genie from the Arabian Nights, or any number of iconic stories. A character finds a power that can upset the balance of nature, and when they use it, they find that the results are far worse than they’d anticipated. Seth’s obsessive search for a person who can bring back the dead doesn’t end the way he anticipated, and results in a necessary return to relative normality.
This is an interesting aspect of most supernatural shows: they tend to be on the side of the status quo. Characters may use their powers, and they may like their powers, but they still end up justifying a certain brand of normality. The show may introduce a world-shattering power, like the ability to bring back the dead, but it has to do something to revert to normality. This makes sense because it’s generally easier: budgeting is easier when the world is generally normal, and writing stories that tweak reality slightly is generally easier than working with an entirely different setting.
In comments last week, one of you suggested that part of the problem with the slightly weaker third season of Misfits was that it didn’t go beyond the constraints of the community service when it could have. Even though I can understand why the show doesn’t and hasn’t, due to budgets and inertia, that is the kind of thing that does become necessary.
Regardless of whether the episode shows some of the cracks and difficulties of serialization, this was still a fine hour of Misfits. From Simon trying not to laugh as Rudy explained his issues with cheerleaders, to the regretful glee with which the kids smashed up the zombie cheerleaders, there was a lot of fun to be had here.
“What the fuck is going on?” “Hi.”
“So even when we don’t kill our probation worker, we have to kill our probation worker.” “Oh come on, someone’s definitely fucking with us here.”
“We’re just in the wrong place, at the wrong time…a lot. We’re really not bad kids.”
Zombies seems like the wrong term, doesn’t it? They were more of a cross between zombies and vampires.