Tuesday, 7 June 2011

PSYCHOVILLE, 2.6: cold Lazarus

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

In a baffling move, BBC2 aired the finale of Psychoville three days early, to make room for Mock The Week, which probably means it slipped the notice of many people. I know we live in the age of digital catch-up services, but it's still frustrating when broadcast dates are changed for seemingly arbitrary reasons, catching loyal audiences on the hop. Regardless of that, series 2's finale was the best installment of this steadily improving half-dozen episodes, and one that made some of my earlier frustrations with the show fade into relative insignificance. I'm still of the opinion that series 1 had better momentum, a clearer story, and more laughs, but series 2 was a pleasing follow-up when taken as a whole...

In the finale, Mr Jelly (Reece Shearsmith) and geriatric sidekick Mrs Ladybird-face (Vilma Hollingbery) arrived in London with the frozen head of Nurse Kenchington's Nazi father, delivering it to Grace Andrews (Imelda Staunton) so she can reanimate it using a scientific formula etched on the chain Kenchington's infamous locket hangs on—likewise delivered into her possession at "Andrews Nanotech" by prissy Nazi toy merchant Peter Bishop (Jason Watkins). Elsewhere, David (Steve Pemberton) grew closer to gawky Emily (Sarah Solemani) after the death of his battleaxe mother; Detective Finney (Mark Bonnar) was sent to kill David to tie up a loose-end, unaware that another loose-end, catatonic Jennifer (Stacy Liu), has alerted David to his presence; and Jeremy (Shearsmith) fell ino a deeper state of psychosis when The Silent Singer visitation returned in force.

The element of surprise was a key part of this finale's success. It was a fun twist to reveal Kenchington's locket as worthless, with the links of its chain the real treasure Grace has been chasing all along. It was likewise unexpected that two characters we'd forgotten about had such important roles to play—from Jennifer helping David catch Finney, to dwarf Kerry's (Lisa Hammond) late arrival to put an end to the monstrosity of the vivified, talking Nazi head. Psychoville's always been about cartoonish oddballs, but it was a great touch to have two of the finale's heroes played by two of its most obviously disabled characters. The fact they were fighting against the return of a Nazi, who had already started preaching intolerance of minority groups, was an added delight. It was the first moment of series 2 where the characters' abnormalities felt like something to be proud of and actually advantageous. Mr Jelly's plastic hand even stopped a lethal injection from Kelvin (Daniel Ings) in a tense storeroom struggle.

Visually, this was a really strong episode, too. Director Matt Lipsey did a tremendous job with the composition of several scenes, and the special effects for the Nazi head were absolutely superb. The glassy plastics of the chamber he was being held in, clamped inside what resembled a giant iPod-style wardrobe, were also impressive from a production design standpoint. The way the resurrection of a frozen head was intercut with a fiery cremation also had a nice duality to it—and although having a priest read from passages relating to Lazarus was a very obvious device, it still worked remarkably well. The fact Finney was actually inside the coffin instead of Maureen, being burned alive to the strains of Black Lace's "Superman" (Maureen's favourite song, reprised from series 1) was also a wonderfully black comic moment.

Indeed, the laughs felt more regular this episode, perhaps because the cast has been gradually trimmed to focus on its two best characters (David, Jelly) and the additions of Bishop and Mrs Ladybird-face in recent weeks have been very beneficial. The latter's random presence and obliviousness arguably stole the show on several occasions.

Imelda Staunton finally got a chance to shine as pepperpot Grace, too, having spent far too long stuck in her office playing variations of the same scene. It was also a nice moment when her obsession with technology, but ineptness using it, came back to bite her—as she exposed her own crimes by accidentally showing a room of investors a viewscreen of people she's had killed over the weeks. Her disdain for the fascist ramblings of the head she's just restored to life was also very amusing.

So where does Psychoville go from here? I was glad the show didn't repeat the mistake of series 1's finale and hurriedly introduce something to enable another run, as I'm not sure there's much more to say about Ravenhill Psychiatric Hospital and its former patients. Series 1 and 2 worked as companions (each dealing with the unexpected return of boogiemen from the past), but surely a potential third series would have to focus on a fresh story of some kind. The door's clearly open for more—as Jelly and David are still alive, and the latter's mother is being kept on ice in a bathtub (awaiting vivification?), and I wouldn't be against seeing those three characters again. If only because they'll undoubtedly be joined by a plethora of new faces because nearly everyone else has been killed of.

Overall, this was a great ending to what's ultimately been a good series, once the plot tightened and momentum was restored after a fortnight's post-premiere lull. Some of my complaints weren't so bad in retrospect and I was probably in the minority for finding a few subplots confusing, at times, although I still think series 2 was treading water for awhile and ultimately lacked the focus and surprise of series 1. Some of that was to be expected, of course, as every sequel faces an uphill struggle trying to justify itself, but I was relieved Psychoville came together surprisingly well in its latter-half


  • You can still watch this finale on Thursday, at the later time of 11.20pm, or catch-up on BBC iPlayer.
  • I'd just like to praise Being Human's Jason Watkins' performance as the homosexual Nazi Peter Bishop, who was absolutely brilliant. Sarah Solemani was also terrific as Emily because she utterly transformed herself into an introverted geek. When you remember this is the actress who played extroverted, sexy Becky in BBC3's Him & Her, it's a remarkable transformation in look and body language.
written by Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton / directed by Matt Lipsey / 6 June 2011 / BBC Two