Penultimate episodes are usually where things go to hell in a handcart – and Making History is no exception.
But, of all the shocks this episode, what’s most surprising is not the revelation of Eve’s identity or the fact that the future can only be averted through her death – so far, so predictable – it’s that sudden appearance of Alex’s dead body, gorged on by vampires and hooked up to a rudimentary drip.
Now, that was bold storytelling.
If we’re honest: we’ve had doubts about the story arc all series. It’s difficult to care about a Messiah-prophecy-weapon from the future when they act like a debutante from a Swiss finishing school, spending all their time lingering in what looks like a hospital corridor. As Ghosts of Christmas Future go, Eve is a bit too Laura Ashley. But, while this episode did not completely appease our anti-Eve bias, the holocaust imagery went some way towards upping the stakes.
Whether it was Hal staring down as Big Brother or the gruesome branding of Eve’s arm, the script and design work went a long way to evoking a horror that the budget couldn’t quite match.
So – the future Earth doesn’t look much different to a dock in Cardiff with the colour washed out? The over-grading of television shows is so commonplace now – affecting everything from CSI to Top Gear with all the subtlety of a sixth former testing out iMovie – that we’re learning to accept a hyper-stylised look on our screens, here making the picture look like it’s been put through a spin cycle on 40 degrees. At least the sound engineers were able to work their magic with some clever sound design.
But it’s wrong to criticise a BBC Three show for budgetary limitations when, in other respects, it exploits the advantages of being on a non-terrestrial channel to push the boundaries of storytelling with some heart-in-mouth moments.
We confess to having had a pit in our stomach feeling when the action intercut between Cutler goaded by Hal in the Fifties, and Hal tempted by Cutler in the present. The almost Biblical quality to Hal’s relationship with Cutler – each playing Devil and Judas to the other – was one of the highlights of the episode, although, if we were being picky, we’d say that Flashback Cutler never quite convinced as a man from the buttoned-up 1950s. In Cutler’s tendency to irony, his moral evasiveness and capacity for spin, there’s just something that feels very modern.
But while we correctly anticipated the grizzly fate of poor Mrs Cutler, it was Alex’s death that surprised us, and in this respect, it must be said, we were more taken aback than her. As vampiric murder victims go, Alex seemed to take news of her mortality with the general pissed-offness of one who meets all of life’s tragedies with weary sarcasm. If ever we become the victims of a vampire solicitor settling an old debt, we hope we’d have the good grace to be just a little more poleaxed.
However long Alex stays around for – and given all this talk of Annie fulfilling her destiny, we’re starting to wonder – we hope that the sarkiness will be blunted just a little.
And so events are set in motion for the finale, as a dead-faced Mark Gatiss leers for the cliffhanger.
For most of the series, Cutler has operated with the general deviousness of one who suffers from little man syndrome. But as he looks down on the horror in the nightclub, he does so not like an emperor or conqueror, but with the hollow-eyed apprehension of a man who has only a tenuous grasp on the events he sets in motion. Now Mr Snow is here, the Big Boys are in town, and what they will make of Cutler’s outing of supernaturals remains to be seen.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 18th March 2012 on BBC Three.
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