Nightvisiting is, in concept, a cheeky inversion of writer Patrick Ness’ own best known work. While A Monster Calls, both an award winning book and recently released movie, sees a giant plant monster appear at a teenager’s window in the middle of the night, in order to help him deal with loss and grief relating to a dying parent, Nightvisting is about a giant plant monsters which appears at a teenager’s window in the middle of the night and offers to help teenagers with their sense of loss over a dead parent – but it’s a trap and the plant monsters want to eat them.
This episode is presented as the chance of Tanya (Vivian Oparah) to shine, and the focus is on her as that teenager confronted by her own dead father. Neatly, Ness doesn’t allow the illusion to be held onto for too long. TV literate viewers will already largely be concluded her ‘Dad’ is a fake, so Ness has him admit early on that actually part of a giant alien tree called the Lankin (in fairness, the giant, oozing, tendril like branch growing out of his back was a bit of clue), which has stretched its branches through the tear in time and space which sits at Coal Hill and has reached out to her. The Lankin, it claims, collects the souls of the dead as they pass from our dimension but communing with living loved ones can help those loved ones find their way to them when their time to die finally comes.
There then follows a game of mental cat and mouse, as the Lankin tries to persuade Tanya to willingly give herself to it, while the usually strictly logical and scientific Tanya tries to stand up to its emotional blackmail and manipulations. Elsewhere, the rest of the gang try to gather their forces as they find Shoreditch completely covered in criss-crossing vines and the cocooned bodies of earlier victims.
Nightvisiting builds on the strengths of the previous episodes, while jettisoning most of the weaknesses. Ness’ interest and intent with this show clearly lies with the emotional lives of the kids and the core of the episode really is the normally keenly intellectual and logical Tanya having her emotional defences broken down. Oparah does a fantastic job here, bringing her character through a voyage of suspicion, fear, sorrow defiance and, finally, rage. But the Lankin, as a monster and antagonist, fits in much better with its episodes themes than its predecessors. In its various guises, it spends most of the episode simply sitting in a chair, talking about feelings, like some malevolent psychiatrist and its MO of playing on people’s guilt makes the synergy between it and Tanya’s situation seem much more organic. It’s also provides small scale enough drama to be manageable on the show’s budget without compromise.
The resolution, perhaps, is the weakest part of the episode and relies on Tanya deploying the logic of a TV viewer rather than anything she could have worked out from what she experiences herself. There’s also a mismatch between script and visuals, which is starting to look like a recurring problem for Class. This time there’s repeated references to a central trunk of the Lankin, from which all the other branches extend, but the FX team have depicted all the various vines as pretty much identical in size and type so the characters, again, seem positively inspired to be able to follow the ‘main’ branch across town. The episode also sets up the folk music tradition of “Nightvisting” in its title and in dialogue as if Ness expected that to provide the soundtrack for the story, but the music we get is solid but standard TV stuff.
That’s largely nitpicking though. This is a powerful piece of television about grief and anger and the various responses to it, with an effectively creepy monster. It pretty much completes the fleshing out of our main characters and also sets up some interesting strands for future episodes. That Charlie never really liked his parents enough for the Lankin to be able to use them against him doesn’t seem like much but adds to the moral grey area around him. The ticking time bomb that is Miss Quill takes another tick towards exploding as she saves the world again, only to be excluded from the celebrations just as she was starting to feel like part of the team. It seems that, for all her spikiness, she actually does want to belong, and that may make her more dangerous than ever if she continues to be treated like a servant. Tellingly, her own Nightvisitor in the form of her elder sister (they trade stories about trying to kill each other in the nest) doesn’t extend a message of warm fuzzies in its attempt to entice her ‘sister’ but offers her a gun she can use despite the inhibitor in her skull.
Increasingly it feels like the series will ultimately come down to the choice Quill will inevitably face by the end.
[Five TARDISes Out of Five]
Class airs on BBC One in the UK on Monday nights at 10.45pm and is coming to BBC America in the Spring. It’s already available on Region 2 DVD and Blu-Ray and online at BBC Store.
By: Peter Nolan