So far, Curfew has seemed like a game of two halves, and that’s pretty much what this latest episode has felt like – a hybrid of the slower, stultifying pace we saw the first two weeks, and the deeper and more satisfying characterisation and narrative that’s been in place since then.
As predicted, this week gave the chance for Miranda Richardson’s Lou Collins to shine, but not in the way expected – over the previous fortnight’s instalments, the featured character has benefitted from a series of flashbacks to help with fleshing them out, but they’ve not gone down that route here, which is a bit of a shame, as it makes you feel as though Richardson is being a little shortchanged in that respect. Okay, we do get exposition about who her travelling companion is, and we also find out Lou is in a relationship with another woman, but we don’t get to see any of her backstory unfolding for us to see.
I’ve got to give due credit for giving us the perfect opportunity for this infodump to take place, by having Lou getting involved in an accident with Jenny Donahue (Andi Osho) and family – as well as passenger Ruby (Aimée Ffion-Edwards), following her having fallen out previously with her sister Kaye (Phoebe Fox) and boyfriend Michael (Malachi Kirby). After hitting a creature while roaring through deepest, darkest Warwickshire (they got beyond Watford – who’d a thunk it?), Lou’s truck gets written off, and Jenny’s Volvo ends up needing some attention, resulting in them forming an unlikely alliance, and we get to hear more about Lou in the process as they start to bond.
However, it seems that this marriage of convenience may be over before it’s even started, thanks to Ruby getting a bit too trigger happy, and even pulling a gun on Lou at one point in order to try and get the keys to the sports car that she’s been towing behind her truck. We get to see precisely what a hard nut Lou is, as she unflinchingly stares down Ruby, and she manages to take the gun off her without even breaking a sweat. Clearly, Lou isn’t someone to be trifled with, which is why it would have been nice to see more of just what made her how she is, as well as her absent partner, who she’s hoping to see at the end of the race.
Sadly, the episode splutters and stalls by focusing this week’s flashbacks firmly on the joint charisma vacuum which is made up of Kaye, Ruby and Michael. No matter how hard the makers try, they will never manage to make their storyline seem in any way compelling – this triumvirate of tedium is best pushed to the background, as they have been over the previous two episodes, but sadly we get to see more of their increasingly uncompelling life prior to the outbreak of the November 13th virus. You can tell that they’re trying to fill in the blanks as to how Ruby and Michael got it together, but sadly there’s absolutely no magnetism between the two of them, and it appears that both the performances and the writing are jointly to blame.
Ruby is particularly annoying, with her very middle class rebellion going on in the flashbacks – it seems having blue hair and being a surfer chick are the best they can do to try and show us what a bad girl she supposedly is, but she comes across as some spoiled little brat who’s never more than a phone call away from a trust fund with her name on it. If Ruby and Michael came across as a compelling couple, then we might find ourselves rooting for them; however, they’re so wooden together, it’s a massive surprise that they don’t end up giving each other splinters when they’re having sex. Ruby’s in no way come across as a sympathetic character so far, and is instead just a bit of a selfish, mardy cow.
Perhaps that was the plan all along, but it just seems a curious choice to have made her character so thoroughly unlikeable and charmless, without apparently any redeeming features. You’d think that the device of the flashbacks would be an ideal way of turning things around, and letting us see just why she’s so damaged, but no, there’s no such insight to be found here. Perhaps the most galling thing about this is that it seems like a doubly squandered opportunity – we get to learn nothing at all about Ruby, and it also feels like she’s taken Lou’s turn to have her past being explored. Whatever gambit the writers are playing here, it doesn’t really work.
However, circumstance draws Ruby and Lou together, as they end up taking Lou’s sports car back down the road to the farm which is just a short distance away, to see if they can get the spare parts they need. The farmer – John Brown (Martin Walsh) -is initially reluctant to help them, but he at least does so until he sees a flare set off by the others back at the crash site, which makes him turn tail and insist Ruby and Lou leave, as the flare will attract more of those creatures. All seems lost, until one of the farmer’s daughters comes to help them, by letting them into the locked barn where all of the spares they need can be found.
Sadly, the producers have fallen into the trap of seeing ‘farmer’ as ‘bumpkin’, as it seems geography doesn’t matter, and the only way anyone who works on the land can speak is in a Mummerset accent. It’s supposed to be Warwickshire they’re in, so they should be closer to Brummie, but no, I think we’ve left all consistency and logic at the door a long time ago. Want a farming family featured in your series? Okay, but they’ll have to sound like The Wurzels, regardless of wherever they’re supposed to be from. It shouldn’t rankle so much, but it just feels like laziness, and a sign that things may be slipping again after two good episodes in a row.
However, that’s not to say that there isn’t much to be lauded in this instalment, as there’s a genuinely startling moment here when the farmer’s daughter suddenly gets dragged screaming from the barn by one of the creatures, and Lou and Ruby have to try and escape. Thankfully, like back in the third chapter of Curfew, a lot is done purely by the power of suggestion, as we don’t see what happens to the farmer and his family – all that’s shown is the door to the farmhouse having been wide open, and blood smeared on the walls. Graphic enough, without needing to ever be too visceral or OTT with gore. A smart move from a show which is generally upping its game, and realising you can do more with what you’re not shown than what you are, letting the imagination of the audience do all the work when it’s appropriate and impactful.
The stakes are raised when the security forces turn up en masse at the crash site, accompanied by the rather Terminator-esque Kovacks (Richard Riddell), who was last seen being blasted by a defibrillator and tossed from Kaye’s ambulance. Well, you can’t keep a good moustache-twirling, boo-hiss villain down, and he’s there to get Michael, in the belief that he carries antibodies which can cure the November 13th virus. He’s a man of few words, and even fewer expressions, but Kovacks is such a gloriously ridiculous character that you can’t help but like him in some rather strange way. Think mid-tier Bond villain. Think maybe Renard in The World Is Not Enough.
It becomes clear at the end of the episode just why Kaye, Michael and Ruby were the focus of all the flashbacks, as it seems that the theme this week is reconciliation and redemption. Ruby puts herself in harm’s way by leaping out of the Volvo to fix a loose connection in the engine while the crash site is under attack from creatures. One of them gets taken down just a few inches away from her, but as she’s getting back into the car, the creature – which has been playing possum – grabs her foot and takes a bite, dooming her instantly. So near, and yet so far.
It’s actually very surprising how quickly the transformation starts to take place – we’ve only seen fully-fledged creatures by this point, so we’ve no previous frame of reference for how fast the November 13th virus takes effect. It’s quite harrowing to see Ruby’s suffering, particularly when she tries to shoot herself, but is incapable of actually holding the gun. It falls to Kaye to do the deed, and it’s a very emotional moment when Ruby puts the barrel of the gun Kaye’s holding to her forehead, using just her eyes to plead with her to pull the trigger.
However, it’s quite telling that the scene succeeds despite all the effort to build the backstory, not because of it. It’s a shocking moment, but that seems to come from the actual situation, rather than because of who it involves. It’s also perhaps worth mentioning that the first time Ruby has ever seemed sympathetic or likeable is around 30 seconds before her brains get used to decorate a Warwickshire country lane. It just seems like it should have felt more consequential, and mattered more than it actually comes across – it’s almost as if they’ve cleared the decks specifically so that Kaye and Michael can rekindle things without the third wheel of Ruby getting in the way.
Yes, Ruby redeemed herself to an extent with her (reasonably) selfless act, as well as reconciling with Kaye at the eleventh hour, but it lacks the full emotional punch which should have accompanied such a big event. Perhaps if the characters had been more endearing, things might have been different. Instead, it just all comes across as a bit hollow and unfulfilling as a result. At least it reinforces that no-one is safe in Curfew, and every competitor is potentially expendable.
With only three weeks to until the finishing line, we need that little bit of jeopardy and peril to keep things interesting.
Curfew airs on Sky One in the UK.