Starring: Sophie Hopkins, Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Vivian Oparah and Katherine Kelly.
Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Philippa Langdale
Released Online (BBC Three) - Saturday 12th November 2016
This review contains spoilers
As befits the first two-part story in Class, there's certainly an epic scope to this tale. The threat of genocide hangs over proceedings, with all of humanity about to fall prey to a bloom of exponentially amassing petals... unless this floral invader can be completely wiped out instead. At the same time, April and Ram are on a mission to defeat the King of the Shadow Kin. Either storyline would be compelling by itself, and in many other series the build up of petals would probably be enough to carry the main plot, but Patrick Ness ups the ante by cleverly intercutting between these two story strands before finally integrating them. 'Brave-ish Heart' also shows a spirit of parental inclusion by having Huw and Varun cross over into Corakinus's world as well as April and Ram. Consequently, it isn't just the teenagers who are taken out of ordinary Shoreditch life, as the wonder of the fiery 'Underneath' (perhaps unintentionally resonating with Stranger Things' 'Upside Down' realm) incorporates a cross-generational presence. Elsewhere, this episode feels insistently marked by Ness's ethos of inclusivity - for example, at a vital moment Matteusz proves crucial to events instead of somehow being placed as a supporting character (and he's given a sharp, smart line about his Polish identity too). And despite an escalating narrative threat, the show's creator-writer also finds time to sketch in more of Ram's cultural background, but without making an issue of it.
There is much to marvel at, even if there are occasional mis-steps. Personally, I didn't believe that Huw would simply wander off at the end, readily accepting April's wishes: this felt more like a character being made to do what the writer wanted to telegraph as the right thing. And for me there was also a tension between the dialogue given to April's mum at the episode's conclusion and the logic of storytelling; what we're shown here doesn't seem to entirely fit with the expressed sentiment that there was nothing "lesser" about her previous way of life. But Patrick Ness is highly alert to the pitfalls and problems of representation, and is actively trying to counter particular ways of responding to this storyline. Class is keen to impart its lessons without being misunderstood.
Dorothea, played with sinister precision by the always excellent Pooky Quesnel, tells us that the multiplying petals can't be destroyed by conventional means - hence the need for the Cabinet. Yet at one point we witness a smattering of petals on a car windscreen being squished like bugs. This visual image is a striking one, especially as blood squirts out, but it doesn't quite make sense in relation to the petals' alleged indestructibility. As their massed ranks grew and grew, I couldn't help but be reminded of Star Trek's infamous Tribbles, even if they were animal rather than vegetal.
Where the petals offer an offbeat, skewed threat, the Shadow Kin sometimes feel more akin to a generic fantasy race. Their realm is effectively represented, though I should note that the BBC's episode preview marked some of these sequences as "work in progress", so final heat haze effects and so on were probably still to be added. But the Shadow Kin really come alive in the moments where their portentous fantasy selves are undercut by a more everyday depiction - we hear a grumble of "teenagers!" when April and Ram's romantic interlude is interrupted, for instance. Too much of this comedic undermining would, of course, undo the Shadow Kin's 'warrior race' designation, but it adds tone and colour to what can otherwise feel like a programmatic image of villainy.
The previously alluded to "Governors" start to take on a greater role this week, and I wonder if we might actually encounter their collective before (or during) episode eight. As Coal Hill Academy has been taken over by a suitably shifty organisation, presumably one I. Chesterton is no longer involved. But the gradual emergence of this shadowy group presents Quill with a new set of possibilities, and Katherine Kelly again makes the most of her character's enforced ambivalence and caustic attitude. Mind you, the ethical weight of genocide isn't explored as much as I'd expected it to be, becoming more of a story calculus or an equation to be solved - who will commit genocide against who? - rather than an unsquarable circle or a morally impossible act. While Charlie anguishes over his Princely duty, however, Matteusz sees the situation rather more clearly, and even adopts one of the Doctor's key tenets.
'Brave-ish Heart' is a busy episode, always bristling with dramatic action and character moments. Tanya's impassioned defence of April and Ram is one such delightful instant, as is Ram's hilariously strained attempt to sound laddish. Setting in motion what promises to be a powerful story arc for Quill while revisiting Charlie and April's defining dilemmas from the opening episode, Class continues to more than make the grade.