After several disastrous episodes, ranking among the worst of the year, can Between‘s penultimate episode recover its narrative footing?
Let’s bitch it out…
I’m willing to concede that ‘End Of The Rope’ is a step in the right direction for Between. That statement comes with a pretty heavy disclaimer, however; to say that this is the best episode of this series is still setting a pretty low bar. Without a doubt Between has squandered its intriguing premise, but for the sake of focusing on the positives as opposed to revisiting my rant from last week, let’s dive in.
If there’s one thing that works in this episode, it is a sense of inevitability. Between has really struggled with its plotting and characterizations, but it hasn’t been afraid of depicting the occasionally gruesome fate that awaits children in a town without adults. Thus far the writers’ morbid interest in killing kids has consisted primarily of the youngest and most helpless members of Pretty Lake, which has the unanticipated response of making the series feel emotionally manipulative. It’s as though the writers of Between desperately want us to feel horrified at this situation and the best method of achieving that is by killing young children.
‘End Of The Rope’ switches up that dynamic by killing teens (what a change of pace!). There’s a dual pronged narrative at play, which sets up a series of escalating scenarios that culminates in tragedy. It’s predictable, but at least it feels like we’re finally moving away from the same old, same old that has dominated the middle stretch of this first season.
Basically episode five is sick kid week. Vince, one of the few cast members of colour on the series, is suffering from a burst appendix and needs evacuation to an hospital asap. Thankfully, because he’s Chuck’s (Justin Kelly) friend, he has access to a plane and another friend, Kevin (Wesley Morgan) who had flying lessons before all of the adults croaked. What could possibly go wrong?!
The fact that it takes more than half of the episode to find out is one of Between‘s problems. It’s clear from the moment that Chuck insists someone fly Vince out of the quarantine zone that the plan is doomed to end in tragedy, but when the plane is shot down, it is still treated like an unexpected development. Even assuming that audiences weren’t savvy to conspiracy series, there’s no surprise here: the pilot ended with Adam (Jesse Carere) getting shot by armed soldiers and he and Wiley (Jennette McCurdy) later discovered land mines on the perimeter’s edge. The use of lethal force is to keep these kids inside is an established fact. If anything, Chuck and Gord’s (Ryan Allen) surprised reactions prove how little these characters actually talk to one another. Perhaps if everyone stopped behaving like everything is a contest for leadership bragging rights, they would have realized that no one, not even a plane, is getting out of town alive.
The second narrative prong is more problematic. Pat (Jim Watson) and Tracey (Jordan Todosey) need Wiley’s help to secure medicine for a young girl named Annie who has an injured leg, but because of Ronnie’s (Kyle Mac) earlier antics, they can’t go into town. Initially this seems reasonable: we’ve witnessed how Ronnie’s poor choices over the series have repeatedly escalated the conflict between the rich and the poor.
Wait, you may wonder: who’s Annie? Ummm yeah…we’ve never met her before now. It’s the kind of artificially convenient narrative development that Between loves: introduce a new/random character, preferably one in jeopardy, in order to advance the conflict in the most unconvincing fashion possible. In this case, it is a sick girl that everyone must rally around and her desperate need for medication initiates a number of ill-advised events like a falling domino: Pat and Tracey hold baby Jason hostage to force Wiley to do their bidding; Wiley ineptly confesses who the drugs are for when she runs into Chuck and Gord, prompting their refusal; this ensures that Wiley and Pat have to sneak back at night and, in the latest telegraphed development, they strike and kill Amanda (Krystal Hope Nausbaum) with their car.
On one hand, it’s easy to see why the writer’s chose to go down this route. There’s no better way to escalate the conflict between Chuck and the Creekers than by murdering Amanda. It is “inevitable tragedy resulting from misunderstanding” screenwriting 101. It’s just a shame that Amanda is the victim since a girl with Down’s Syndrome is a rarity on television. While arguably Amanda has been a one-dimensional nuisance character who lies and (unintentionally) causes trouble, it has been interesting to see how this unconventional character fits in this new world and what kinds of complications arise when her primary caregiver is her narcissistic, selfish brother.
My issue is how Between has used Amanda as a character. With her death, it is clear that Amanda had one sole purpose on the series: she was here to die. The character, like so many other characters, was underdeveloped. Unlike other characters who interact with other characters, however, Amanda’s sole relationship was with Chuck. Even then she was little more than a problem for him. Amanda was also inherently a victim: her dialogue consisted of a lot of apologies and we were repeatedly told how dangerous it is for her to leave the house, a fact the narrative reinforced when she accidentally set the kitchen on fire or was held at knife point by Ronnie. Her final interaction with her brother might as well have stamped DOA on her forehead: of course they exchanged heated words and then she unwittingly repaired his broken relationship with love interest Samantha (Abigail Winter) – in doing so the character checks all of the boxes that a narrative cipher must achieve before expiring. Amanda’s death ensures maximum grieving and blind fury from Chuck while also setting up his expected heteronormative relationship. No wonder Amanda died: she fulfilled her sole narrative function and with her passing, we can now move on to the finale <le sigh> Oh Between…
- In the aftermath of Kevin and Vince’s death-by-rocket, Chuck and Gord finally come to blows. This round goes to Chuck, who nearly manages to beat Gord down…because Gord “isn’t much of a fighter” and Chuck has practice solving every problem with violence. The encounter prompts Gord to hunker down, declaring that the town’s residents will now have to come to the farm for milk. Did we even know he was taking the milk to town?
- Amish Hanna (Rebecca Liddiard) offers a medical solution for Gord’s sick cows, but when Frances (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon) accompanies her back to her community, it’s clear that Hanna is hiding something. Initially I thought perhaps that some Amish adults had survived – earlier Hanna mentions that they had a cure for all animal-related ailments, so I wondered if perhaps they have a cure. Alas no, it’s just that Hanna has a husband she’s trying to escape. Sooo….why has this been introduced in episode five of six?
- In Bozoville, Adam (Jesse Carere) runs into trouble when he visits the prison and ends up locked in by Ellen (Sarah Podemski). I literally have no idea why she decides to begin shooting at him, though I assume it has something to do with the fact that his father shows up, looking all healthy and alive, to rescue him.
- So Mark (Jack Murray) is the new Ronnie? He nearly attacks Melissa (Brooke Palsson) after she attempts to leave the bar early. I continue to question why this character exists when he adds nothing to the narrative.
- Melissa is literally a narrative convenience in this episode: her arrival heralds a violent encounter, on the way home she stumbles onto Pat and Wiley stealing medicine and then she discovers Amanda’s dead body in the street. Good thing Melissa is out wandering around while all of those small children sleep soundly without any adults around!
- False conflict alert: Ronnie (Kyle Mac) randomly decides that he’s a piece of shit and goes cold turkey. His recovery hits rock bottom pretty quickly, culminating in the near murder of his sister and Wiley’s baby. Luckily Tracey talks him off the ledge, presumably so that he can be blamed for the medicine theft and/or Amanda’s murder next week. <le sigh part 2>
- Gord (when Melissa frets about driving Wiley away): “Hey now, easy, you’re one of the good ones.” Nice pick-up line, Gord.
Your turn: were you surprised when the plane was brought down? Are you hoping that the leadership debate between Gord and Chuck is over? Do you care that Hanna has a husband? Was Amanda introduced solely to die? Why did Ellen fire on Adam? Sound off below.
Between airs its season finale (possibly series finale) next Thursday at 8pm EST on City TV / Friday on Netflix.