Wednesday 2 December 2020

TV review: Vera series 3 episode 3 (‘Young Gods’), ITV (2013)

Overall, there’s a lot of good material in this ep, but I wasn’t happy some of the ideas behind the script, especially with regard to the way the private school is portrayed. This kind of imagining is preponderant on Twitter but it doesn’t reflect what a private school is. There seems to be this idea that all private schools are full of entitled, selfish and uncaring individuals – children and teachers both – but this isn’t the case IRL. In fact, if anything the continued use of these tropes reflects the limited pool from which scriptwriters is drawn.

A lot happens in this episode, including the murder, its solution, and the uncovering of a history of emotional abuse. But in addition Kenny (Jon Morrison) gets his hair dyed because he’s got a new girlfriend and a suspect, who’s gay, takes a shine to him. Comedy offsets the weight of darker fantasies associated with death (later in this review I’ll explain).

There’s stunning landscape featured in this ep, Vera’s (Brenda Blethyn) car moving spectral across the lonely moors on single-carriageway blacktop under grey skies. The photography in these shots privileges the sky, so you see a wide swathe of cloud above, then below that Vera’s incongruous, antiquated, boxy car – tiny within the obsessively studied framing – shunting along the road, and then, at the bottom, just a thin band of grass where no trees grow. 

The landscape sets the tone for the drama, its isolation echoing the abandonment of death – when the body ceases to function and (some say) the eternal soul escapes to go elsewhere.

It also points to the sense of being apart that belongs to the police. In fact this ep makes this idea a feature as a woman who’d been the victim’s girlfriend had been abused by him and, despite repeated complaints, the cops didn’t help her. In the end Maggie (Jill halfpenny) left Gideon Frane (Darragh Horgan) but her colleague (whose name I couldn’t find in the IMDB list, but who is the gay hairdresser) excoriates Vera and Joe (David Leon) during the interview they conduct with him as they search for answers.

This sense of apartness of authority figures in also evident in the writing for the character of Dr Vivienne Ripman (Maureen Beattie), the head of the boarding school where the Frane had been educated. Ripman, whose memory Vera and Joe rifle as they search for answers, is dry and sharp, full of a sense of importance that isn’t shared either by the audience or by Vera and Joe, though her similarity to Vera is underscored in the script – Ripman launches a wry barb at Vera on account of the two of them being women in positions of power – and because Vera is also quite sharp (in this ep she verbally lashes out at Joe for trying to help sort out her lonely personal life).

But there’s a form of redemption in the character of Sister Benedict (Rita Davies), a nun Joe and Vera talk with. Sister Benedict remembers Vera from Vera’s schooldays – the nun is now so old she needs sticks to help her walk – and the ep actually ends with the two women getting together over a bottle of grog. Addiction is highlighted in this ep in the context of Vera’s solitary life outside the Force, and mental health is again touched on with the character of the forensic pathologist Billy (Paul Ritter), who invites Vera into his world in an affecting scene in the lab as the body of the dead man lies there in front of the two of them, a grisly reminder of the importance of connection here and now. As with police procedurals from other filmmakers, ‘Young Gods’ uses the beauty of decay and death to entrance the viewer, inviting them into another world and, in that context, allows them to examine their conscience for flaws. Who am I – the filmmakers seem to want them to ask – who will end up, like this, a piece of meat on a metal slab with strangers standing around discussing nothing of importance to me?

Vera fights her demons alone, and won’t invite Joe into her life. On such terms – Joe is married and has three children, as mentioned in the last review on this blog – Vera has too much pride to open the doors to her heart. Vera stands in for everyman and -woman: a fragile loner, encased permanently inside a shell that is prone to failure and animated by feelings outside his or her control. If this is what we are, it might be better to be a corpse wandering through a remote landscape under lowering clouds, like Frankenstein’s monster searching for his destiny.

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