Patrick Ness has no embarrassment in putting his themes front and centre. In Nightvisiting, it is the second anniversary of the death of Tanya’s father Jasper, and after an over-scored pre-titles sequence in which her family marks his loss, Tanya returns home to find him sitting in her bedroom. Meanwhile, Miss Quill is being paid a visit from her sister – doubly suspicious in that not only is Miss Quill from somewhere else in space and time entirely, but she is also the last of her race. It seems the dead are returning to visit the ones they’ve left behind – hopefully not a metaphor for Charlie’s boyfriend Mattheusz, who also pops round this week is and gets more than he expected in every way possible – and Ness’ task for this episode is to make that both plausible and meaningful in some way. He succeeds on both counts.
Religion is, of course, the construct by which a species that hasn’t yet developed the intelligence to find the answers to the question of where it come from, builds itself a security blanket within which to hide from the void the lack of a valid reason creates. At the other end of that spectrum is the question of where do we go, and religion’s response has always been: back to our creator. Patrick Ness analogises the latter question through some very sci-fi – and to be fair, entirely unoriginal – means, his concentration (and the reason it’s worth watching) being on how his characters deal with that situation. This week’s Big Bad is a blooming great Collector of Souls, a creature that stretches out across the universe, through the Hellgate and into the lives of our principles, and preys upon the grief-stricken in a manner that will remind older viewers of The Curse of Fenric and younger ones of The God Complex.
It’s crucial, both to the unfolding of the plot and to our understanding of Ness’ analogy, that this Eater of Souls is a single being, a be-tentacled entity that needs to draw its victims to it by reaching out to their belief systems. Tanya and Miss Quill are beseeched upon to go willingly into that good Hellmouth, and the creature cannot feast unless permitted to do so. Suffice it to say, the more spiritual and devoted among viewers are going to have any number of reasons not to like the episode; for anybody else, Ness answers his own questions in the most satisfying ways, both within the fiction and the metaphor. Tanya’s reply to her “father’s” entreaties is both logical and in furtherance to our understanding of her character; by its third episode, Class is now relaxing into telling its stories without needing to shoehorn in tangents and introductions. Next week we’re back to April and her connection with the Shadow Kin, and after this it’s going to be exciting to see how Ness deals with something that the first episode unfortunately didn’t dig deeply enough into.
In The Coach With the Dragon Tattoo, it was Fady Elsayed as Ram who was given centre-stage and lived up to the task; in Nightvisiting, Vivian Oparah is our route into and back out of the plot, and she’s absolutely terrific. Sympathetic, strong and never less than entirely convincing, it’s hard to believe it’s her first television job. And around her the rest of the cast are starting to coalesce into the sort of team that might give this programme some longevity; this isn’t Scooby Doo, these characters are defined by their issues rather than their idiosyncrasies, and while that might be stifling for older audiences it’s a perfect fit for viewers on the cusp of adulthood, and troubled by the development.
In spite of the doubts that that first instalment gave rise to, Class is now showing its true worth. Nightvisiting was a core instalment, a vitally important stepping stone to defining the series’ identity; if it can just shake off one or two issues of its own, then it can easily step out of the shadow of its parent.