This was definitely the best episode yet. Last week I felt oddly disconnected from the father/son drama, but it turns out that the only thing I needed to be roped back in was a bus-load of kidnapped school children. It certainly didn't hurt that this episode also had the most of Angel Coulby that we've seen thus far.
So TT's latest truth is to shine light on the exploitation of children in sweat-shops by kidnapping a group of kids and their bus-driver, demanding that the public riot against various stores that stock goods supplied by child labour. The public duly complies, but things take a turn for the truly dark when two children are left shackled in the barn: a white girl and a black boy. It was at this point I felt ill, for it was pretty clear where this was headed.
TT announces that he's going to set one child free and execute the other, but he leaves it up to the public to decide. No prizes for guessing which of the two the public votes in favour of.
(As a sidenote, I wonder if the vote would have come out any differently if it had been a black girl and a white boy. As it stands, the girl not only had her skin colour but also her gender working in her favour, though either way it's a harrowing scenario to imagine who is the most "disposable" of two innocent children).
Masterful acting from the black cop who was watching it all unfold on the computer screen; you could tell that he was reacting to the scenario on a much deeper level than the others around him. Elise's quiet stoicism was disturbing rather than endearing this time around (for as she says, children create a visceral reaction that we expect everyone to have) – though it's worth noting that when her boss mentions "the other three children", she's the only one that adds "and the driver". Just a tiny moment of characterization, but it speaks volumes about her: she may not have a strong reaction to the idea of children being threatened, but while everyone else is hand-wringing over the safety of the kiddies, she's the only one aware that there are six lives at stake.
And sure enough, her instincts were spot-on: he's the one that ends up dead. As Elise said, children are just little people, chosen because they play on people's emotions. At the end of the day, the grief of the bus-driver's mother is just as sharp and tragic as any that the children's parents would have felt.
Karl's appalled reaction to the fact that people were going ahead with the voting was also well-played, especially his irritation at the observation that people will assume TT was "kind" to let all the children go. Kindness would have been to not kidnap them in the first place, but as all the fan-bases that build up around anti-heroes/villains prove, we're always very eager to give people credit for simply not being as bad as they potentially could have been. How many people out there would have been saying to each other: "at least he didn't murder children, he's not that bad" whilst completely ignoring the fate of the driver?
But what I appreciate is that the show takes a particularly nuanced view of all its characters, even those that fall wholly on the side of good or bad. For instance, the bus-driver is established as a lovely man who engages the children in conversation on the bus and tries to keep them calm when they find themselves in the barn.
Then as the ordeal goes on he begins to unravel, snapping and yelling at the children to try the doors and bring him the lap-top. I was beginning to suspect that he would end up posing just as much a danger to them as TT (or at least ditch them at the first opportunity). But then he surprised me again, because of course no decent man is going to stand there and let a child be shot in front of him, and he tries to protect the last boy with his own body.
The same thing happened with Danny, though it was entirely inverted. He's just watched a woman get burnt to death in front of him, and so naturally he wants to wash his hands clean of everything and get the hell out of there. For the first time we see a little bit of humanity creeping into him, and he easily rejects his boss's offer of a lucrative book deal.
But then of course, despite how shaken he is by the riots and the kidnappings... he can't bring himself to make a clean break. He goes back for the contract, despite his insistence that it's just this one last thing. Just one more thing, just one more thing – you can almost hear that mantra being repeated in his head when he gets the call from TT asking for a meeting.
Greed wins out, and he ends up exactly where he started: in a car with a bomb. So long, Danny.
There was so much Angel in this episode! I had a feeling that she would become more important towards the tail-end of the show (come to think of it, that's how it always played out on Merlin as well) and there was a lot of great stuff for her here as Laura grapples with her husband's affair, the demands of her children and a meet-cute with a potential love interest.
That said, James Frain is definitely dodgy. Not just because he's James Frain and he always plays dodgy characters but because – come on, you really expect me to believe that someone parked their car that badly behind the wife of the lead investigator? No way. And because of the current estrangement between husband and wife, Karl has no way of warning her what might really be going on.
Like everything else in this series, it's really hard to dish out judgment in the whole cheating-on-your-wife scenario. At the end of the day, Karl has only himself to blame for getting kicked out of the house. He cheated on his wife. She has a right to be furious. But the situation he faces at work is so awful (and Laura witnessed it first-hand on her lap-top) that you can tell she's wavering on whether or not to forgive him. I'm pretty torn on the issue. On the one hand, Karl was a total ass. On the other, if there was ever a situation a person could possibly be excused for a lapse in judgment... well, having to deal with a crazed terrorist might probably be it.
Then again, I wasn't impressed with the fact that Karl was deliberately trying to play this card when he stopped by for some clothes. Argh, I don't know what to think.
Some neat interaction between Elise/Karl as well, with the two of them finally starting to appreciate each other on a personal level. Oddly, Elise is probably the only one who doesn't judge Karl for cheating on Laura, but also delivers him the truth of what was going on in his head: "you want to have your cake, eat it, and fuck the baker too." Hah! Brilliant.
Oh, and Adam was surprisingly sweet this time around. It really hit home that he's only eighteen years old (what with his reaction to Elise siding with his father) and I love that there's a fairly nice rapport between himself and Laura. He doesn't consider her a wicked stepmother, and I didn't notice it the first time around, but in Laura's opening scene she goes to the fridge and discovers that there's no milk – and Adam brings her a fresh carton when he gets home.
Meanwhile Elise's colleges (sorry, still haven't got their names!) follow up on a lead that eventually motivates the woman to join the gym, leading her straight to the biggest contrivance the show has had so far. Having ascertained that TT is probably an ex-cop, she notices the ID badge on one of the gym bags that matches up with one of their suspects. It's such a massive coincidence that I'm going out on a limb and saying that it's either a red herring (because you can cheat if it's inconsequential) or a deliberate set-up.
Three episodes to go yet TT's five truths seem to be complete. So what's next?