The appetites and restraints of The Fades

The first season (series) of the BBC program The Fades has come to a close after only 6 episodes, making it feel more like a mini-series than a television season.

The depth of the mythology, and the dynamics of the character interaction in these mere six episodes are outstanding. Perhaps the best television to come out of the UK this year, and I’m including the recent season of Doctor Who in that lot.

The show kicks off with the story of Paul, a boy who learns that he has strange powers over life and death in a world where the spirits of the dead, the fades, are learning to interact with the physical plane.

Initially, it seemed like the plot line may have hit a a familiar formula, however, it’s anything but formulaic.

Each episode Paul learns something new about what he can do with his strange powers, but as a sci-fi loving geek, his super hero reality is nothing like the stories he’s read and the heroes he’s pretended to be.

The series is unforgivingly unafraid to twist the story, along with the audience’s emotions into serious knots. Death comes cheap to the plot, while remaining torturous to the characters, some of whom become as the monsters they fight, pained so much by the loss of friends and loved ones at the hands of the villain.

Through it all Paul keeps his morality, which is simultaneously refreshing and scary. Often we meet heroes on television and in films who show themselves to have a strong code against killing, but it oddly only comes into play in the fight versus the big bad, killing a hundred henchmen, just to arrest the mad scientist. Here our protagonist staunchly refuses to kill, even the monsters, even the least of them – though some do perish accidentally. Instead, Paul tries to save everyone, humans and fades alike, forcing him to pay great costs along the way.

The story feels more serialized than episodic. At first it seems like it’s going to be a monster-a-week story, with Paul solving some mystery about a particular fade or new power each week, but this never emerges, instead the six episodes cover the story more like a six-hour film, with an epic arc that covers themes of family, personal discovery, love, destiny, and the meaning of humanity. It’s a horror series certainly, but it doesn’t rely on the cheap scares or startles. It’s frightening because we’re scared for Paul and his loved ones.

The young people they chose for the central roles in the series are nearly all fantastic, but the shining gem here is Lily Lovelace, playing the part of Paul’s twin sister, Anna. Lovelace got her popularity in the UK on the popular teen drama Skins, but US audiences would know her as Elle from a couple episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Here she plays well the sullen, bratty teenage sister.

She’s down on Paul for the first few episodes, then in frightened awe of him for the remaining, while never quite losing the attitude. She would hardly be noticed except for a few touching and simple moments, when we see Anna’s shell drop away and the truly caring and understanding person shine reluctantly through for just a moment. The moments don’t last, but they make her character the most compelling next to the protagonist.

The season ends on a continuance of sorts, but it’s a mysterious one, and we are left wondering if the story is over or if Paul has, by resolving one conflict, begun another more sinister one. There is no announcement yet if a second season is on the way, but judging from the critical responce, and general popularity of the series, I imagine that there will be. 

Fans of supernatural tales should make sure to get themselves caught up on The Fades now, as BBC Three is only keeping the episodes on the website for a couple more days.