Last week’s introduction to plague-stricken Pretty Lake proved to be an underwhelming affair. Does the Canadian/Netflix co-production fare better in week two?
Let’s bitch it out…
If we were just discussing the first half of the episode, I would probably say no. The disparate storylines refuse to come together, individual characters don’t stand out and there appears to be no clear focus. Then in the second half of the episode, things start to gel as the Lord of the Flies narrative takes shape and two separate camps emerge in Pretty Lake: the clean cut football team vs the outsiders/outcasts.
The divide that began in the first episode between Chuck (Justin Kelly) and Ronnie (Kyle Mac) continues this week with Gord (Ryan Allen) – and to a lesser extent Pat (Jim Watson) – caught in the middle. It’s a pretty cut and dry conflict between the haves and the have nots, made more complicated by the fact that tensions are rising and fuses are short as the death toll in town climbs and everyone over 21 years old expires.
Essentially what we’re seeing is a power vaccuum and the struggle to fill it. Almost immediately the streets around town become littered with garbage as traditional adult roles and responsibilities fall by the wayside. This is reflected in the set dressing (the barren shot of Shailyn Pierre-Dixon’s Frances tossing rocks at an abandoned car in the middle of the street late in the episode is beautiful in its dystopian wonder). There’s also, as you would expect, an increase in shots of small children playing without supervision, especially around the church where the impromptu orphanage has been set up. The most tragic example of the new status quo is also the episode’s most brazenly manipulative scene: after a food shortage leaves a pair of young children empty-handed, the brother is struck and killed by a car driven by another child who barely understands how to work the pedals.* It’s meant to be a heartbreaking affair (one explained not once, but twice by the now-solo sister), but it comes off feeling exploitative and mildly tacky. Thankfully the rest of the episode does a better job of elaborating on how the kids are not ready to assume adult roles, even if the brewing conflicts will shortly require them to take on more and more responsibility.
*We don’t see another car on the road for the rest of the episode, suggesting that the young boy’s death results in a moratorium on driving. It would have been nice if this had of been addressed or even mentioned. The fact that it isn’t clearly suggests the early death is simply there for shock value.
Unfortunately for now the adult roles and responsibilities being divvied up are adhering to a strict traditional gender division. The battle for power is being fought between white males while the women either stand idly by – Wiley (Jennette McCurdy), Ms. Symonds (Shailene Garnett) – or mind the children. In fact the two women with the most power are those who accidentally initiate major events unknowingly: Chuck’s sisters. The first, Amanda (Krystal Hope Nausbaum), his mentally handicapped sister, inadvertently starts a fire in the grocery store and allows Chuck to assume that it is a retaliatory move by Ronnie. As the latest in a series of escalating events, it seems clear that the conflict between Chuck’s privileged know-it-all rich boy and Ronnie and Pat’s out-for-themselves lifestyle will be the major source of conflict for this limited run of episodes.
The other powerful woman is actually dead. Lana (Niamh Wilson), Chuck’s other sister, seemingly ran away when she’s discussed early in the episode. Her body is eventually discovered by Gord in the woods and her death is quickly identified by Adam as a murder made to look like a suicide. Normally this is the kind of Agatha Christie-inspired twist that I would get behind, but in the case of Between, I’m really wary of the introduction of a murder plot line considering that the series seems barely capable of even identifying all of its characters by name (hey food stop guy…what’s your name? What’s Wiley’s sister’s name again?). Check this out of the blue, Sunshine (Boyle 2007) development under the “anxious / resignation” box and let’s all hope that the Between writers know what the heck they’re doing.
- Unsurprisingly Adam (Jesse Carere) did not die from last episode’s gunshot, though he is led to believe that the quarantine is a lie as a result. His hacking skills <groan> lead him to Art Carey, a government employee with level five clearance, whose body reveals the biggest clue about the outbreak yet: a vial. Factor in Carey’s meeting with Minister Miller (Rosemary Dunsmore) and we have a conspiracy on our hands!
- Mark (Jack Murray) and Ellen’s (Sarah Podemski) prison plot is the only one that stands independent this week and it suffers, as a result. We learn the reason for Mark’s incarceration, but his treatment of Ellen (and vice versa) doesn’t exactly make either individual endearing. I imagine now that he’s out of jail his tale will intersect with the hunt for Lana’s killer.
- So is McCurdy simply the best known actor on the show and that’s why she got all of the press? ‘Cause I’m definitely not getting the sense that Wiley is anything but a secondary character. Her actions in this episode are about on par with the premiere; she remains prickly, selfish and morose. Not my favourite.
- Turns out that Lotts Sr. (Stephen Bogaert) died on the couch. While it would have been fun to watch him become increasingly irate and bossy, I suppose it only makes sense to get rid of him so that his son has to inherit everything and carry on his legacy…of becomingly increasingly irate and bossy.
- The town hall meeting is an exercise in parent-less hysteria with small children running around screaming until an older teen shouts at them to shut up. Oh yeah…these kids are totally screwed. This is basically a fictitious nightmare version of that Kid Nation reality TV show.
- Finally, kudos to the production team for making the mass burial/bonfire look suitably large. It really did look like there were a few thousand bodies in that pit. Side Bar: burning all of them would smell terrible.
- Pat (to Chuck): “You wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong if it sat on your rich face.” Ohh burn!
Your turn: what do you think of the forthcoming battle between rich and poor? Are you disturbed by Between‘s seemingly gendered approach to power? Is Wiley a terrible character? Do you agree that we’re headed into conspiracy territory? And how do you feel about the introduction of a murderer into the narrative? Sound off below.
Between airs Thursdays at 8pm on City TV in Canada. New episodes are available on Netflix every Friday in the US. Next week: Adam floats the idea of a killer past Gord.