Here’s the good news: this is a fantastically strong series on every level and you should listen to it. Here’s the bad news: it also perfectly embodies the flaw in the DNA of Survivors that has scuppered every single version of it.
We’ll get to that, but first let’s take a look at the individual plays. ‘Cabin Fever’ by Jonathan Morris kicks season 3 off with the secret origin of Molly. It’s a smart move, rolling the clock back to the outbreak of the Death. Even smarter is the way that Morris limits the scope of his story by setting it aboard a cross channel ferry. As a result the story gets to have its dwindling plague rations and eat them too; giving us a slew of new characters and a new perspective on the end of the world while still focusing in on Molly.
This is one of the strongest episodes of the series so far. Not just because of its clever design but its willingness to engage with the time the show took place in. Sheehan’s compassionate, exhausted Molly is a perfect lynch point for a show like this and she does brilliant work, backed up by a brilliant supporting cast, Miranda Raison and Lisa Bowerman both doing excellent work as Molly’s Sloan-y best friend and the dog owner she ultimately allies with. There are hidden depths to both characters and Bowerman’s performance in particular becomes even smarter, and darker, after the closing seconds of the story.
Damian Lynch and Paul Thornley also do excellent work and it’s in them that the central idea of the play is embodied. Lynch’s Marcus is a fundamentally decent, grounded man doing the best he can to look after himself and the people around him. Thornley’s John Vincent is a self righteous, drunken thug convinced that he’s the moral authority even as he destroys the boat around them. Vincent doesn’t like Marcus because he’s black. Marcus doesn’t like Vincent because he’s a psychopathic coward. Their scenes bristle with tension and lead to the second of the 1-2 emotional punch that the play lands in its closing seconds.
‘Contact’, next up, folds in Chase Masterson’s Maddy Price. She’s spent the last few months since The Death holed up in the Post Office tower with a friendly techie called Jonathan. Maddie has become the Voice of London, transmitting hourly messages in a desperate attempt to see if anyone in other countries is still alive.
In ‘Contact’ she gets her answer, as well as meeting Abby and Daniel and running afoul of Vinny. Simon Clark excels at this sort of tightly paced and contained, nasty action and Vinny is in full flow here. At the head of a gang called The British Government, Vinny has decided to save the country from the foreigners and homosexuals he feels caused The Death. He’s a horrific human being, a roiling catastrophe of rage, plausibility and bigotry, and Clark and Thornley put him centre stage here. In doing so they both cement just how awful he is and give us context for it. It’s, at no point, justification: Vinny is an irredeemably evil man but we at least understand why as this episode comes to an end.
‘Rescue’ by Andrew Smith folds Jimmy Garland back into the mix. Garland’s an interesting character here, a man whose endless competence could step across into arrogance at any moment. It never does though and Richard Heffer plays him with just enough polite menace. The others are surviving but Jimmy is surprisingly at home in the post-Death world. As this series in particular shows, that’s both an asset and something he has to push against. As Abby points out, Jimmy’s a soldier and quite at home in war. But he’s a better man, a happier one, when he’s with people. There’s an interesting season of class with him too. A number of jokes are made about the landed gentry and noblesse oblige and I’d be interested to see if they become the spark for conflict further down the line. It’s not that Jimmy’s a bad guy at all, he’s not. But he embodies the old country in a few too many ways for some people I suspect.
‘Leaving’, the finale is where the stakes really go up. Matt Fitton’s play introduces the Mayflower 3, a renovated sailing vessel being prepared for the first trans-Atlantic crossing since The Death. Maddie wants to go home, another major character wants a fresh start and Vinnie wants to destroy the ship. In his Britain, no one gets in OR out.
This last episode is where things go epic scale. Every major plot strand from the previous instalments is folded back into itself in a brutal, tragic denouement on the docks. In the after show interviews, it’s mentioned that season 4 will switch back to the ‘other team’ of characters and it’s easy to see why. This group have a lot to get over.
Which brings me to the problem; Abby and how quickly she gets over what happens this year.
To be absolutely clear, the problem isn’t Carolyn Seymour. She’s great in the role, just like the rest of the cast. But Abbie’s obsessive search for her son reaches levels of fixation this season that move past emotionally charged concern into near lunacy.
Two characters, one significant, one major, do not make it out of the season alive. Both die badly, if heroically. Both are people Abby has known and liked. The first death is given maybe 15 seconds of air time, and, to be fair everyone is both upset and running for their lives at the time.
It’s never mentioned again.
The second death is the punctuation mark on the end of ‘Leaving’. It’s a series-changing event bringing one major plot in to land, moving one major character permanently off the stage and changing the dynamic of the cast for good.
It gets, maybe, two minutes of discussion. Then Abby’s back to obsessing over Peter.
The issue here is not what she’s doing but the fact that she’s coming across less like a driven parent and more like a full blown obsessive. She presents as openly callous about these deaths and that’s a bum note the series could do without, especially given the first person to die.
That’s a major problem and it’s one the show is going to need to solve, rapidly. The community focus of these characters is in stark contrast to Abby’s individual mission and having no one call her on how dreadfully she’s coming across is a disservice to both her and the characters lost along the way. Once the show does that, it also opens up whole new avenues of drama that these characters and actors are perfectly positioned to exploit. Here’s hoping that, the next time focus is on these characters they do just that.
Verdict: The rest of the show is phenomenal but Abby, just like previous incarnations of her (most notably the BBC TV reboot) is rapidly becoming a serious problem. 9/10