What we are definitely seeing here is a series that throws itself headlong into its progressing storylines, meeting its arc story face on and recalibrating what we thought was going to be important as we turn towards the end of the run. With April sharing her heart with the lead villain Corakinus, our expectations would have been to see this dealt with in the final episode; rather, at little more than halfway through the season, April has faced her nemesis in (almost) single combat and proven victorious. Rather than this being the story for Series One, with Corakinus’ revenge scheduled for a follow-on next year, April’s success – coupled with the resolution to the alien blossom plot – has placed her in a kind of uneasy holding pattern that will no doubt find itself addressed in three instalments’ time. Sophie Hopkins as April proves her value in this episode; previously threatening to be the weak link in the cast of kids, Hopkins draws on a reserve of mettle that hitherto she had given no indication of possessing, and her and Ram’s expedition through the underworld – a metaphorical journey drawn into focus after the reappearance of her father – was mostly thrilling, if occasionally somewhat spasmodic with the author shoehorning in the obligatory relationship development moments.
In fact Brave-ish Heart proved a rather uneven beast in all sorts of ways, albeit largely positive if unusual, unexpected and sometimes bewildering ones. With two of the three human principals’ parents now involved in the science fiction, any time wasted on the kids protecting the adults from the dangers surrounding them is now a thing of the past. And all of these developments were treated with dignity and truth, even if they at times began to look a little comical. Ram’s dad (Aaron Neil), while a properly sympathetic character, looked all at sea travelling to the Shadow realm, whereas April’s father (a fantastic performance from Con O’Neill) easily overcame his fears by finding his protecting instinct, a moment that felt real and led to Class’ most emotionally honest beat so far, as his daughter repaid him by banishing him at the end of the episode. Perhaps not permanently this time, we can but hope.
Meanwhile back on Earth, the other characters were congregating around bonnie prince Charlie, the Ms. Ames and Quill showing one another down over Charlie’s ultimate prize. His soul destructor, that is, the magic box within which his entire extinct species survives as a weapon of mass destruction. The subsequent and rather conveniently revealed revelations about percentages (which allow for the Governors to save face in the face of looking presuming) notwithstanding, the confrontation was given space and import enough that the actors were able to really excel in a number of particularly emotive and often deception-laden scenes. Any doubts about the strength of the cast that might have been lingering were truly laid to rest.
The plot side of Brave-ish Heart was a little obvious in the end, the resolution to the two crises a little too easily found – although to its credit it was never sprung as a disappointing surprise. But Patrick Ness is only using the science fiction as a window into his teenagers’ lives, and by giving them huge victories to win he’s reflecting something about the thought processes of a generation for whom many of the things we who have forgotten being that age take for granted, are a constant battleground. The success rate this week was a little scattershot, but the ambition and the intelligence – and the performances – carried the day.