[20 February 2012]
The first season of British supernatural drama The Fades is a blend of teen angst, family dynamics, and the paranormal. A mix that may not seem to make much sense on paper, but one that Skins veteran and The Fades creator and writer, Jack Thorne, understand well. Thorne’s experience with both teenagers and their relationships with their families is certainly his strong suit, and by introducing supernatural elements, the series achieves a nice balance that lends all aspects more depth—and higher stakes.
The premise of the series rests on the concept of Fades, dead souls that have for some reason stayed in a limbo state among the living without being able to interact with them. To play off of the Fades, Angelics are also a key element to the series, as they are those rare people who can actually see Fades. The main conflict revolves around the two sides struggling to understand each other and their efforts do what each side believes is the right thing for both humanity and the spirit world.
Paul (Iain de Caestecker) is 17 years old and an Angelic, and his dramatic introduction into the world of the Fades sets the entire season in motion. As Paul is drawn into this supernatural world, those closest to him are also affected: his best friend, Mac (Daniel Kaluuya), a motormouth movie obsessive; his twin sister and polar opposite, Anna (Lily Loveless), popular and embarrassed by Paul’s social ineptitude; his understanding mother, Meg (Claire Rushbrook); and Jay (Sophie Wu), Anna’s best friend and Paul’s crush.
As Paul becomes embroiled in the Angelics/Fades struggle, the world Paul is most familiar with is obviously turned upside down and his attempts to balance the two is an important arc in the series. He’s introduced to Neil (Johnny Harris), an Angelic who initiates him into the world of the Fades and their history with Angelics. He’s a sort of mentor to Paul, but with his own difficult past that often clouds the issue and at times puts him directly at odds with Paul’s approach. Neil works with fellow Angelics, Sarah (Natalie Dormer) and Helen (Daniela Nardini), and their established system of dealing with the Fades is immediately thrown into upheaval with the introduction of Paul.
While the concept of a paranormal fight between good and evil is nothing new, The Fades uses its younger cast as a way to add another dimension to the supernatural. Yes, Paul and his friends and family get caught up in and are put in very dangerous situations, but it’s in their interactions with each other, particularly Paul and Mac’s friendship, that sets the series apart. The close personal relationships add more weight and in turn offer a way to get the viewer invested in these characters and their attempts to navigate this new world much more quickly.
Kaluuya, in particular, is so charismatic and engaging as Mac that the viewer can’t help but root for him, and in turn for Paul. Paul and Anna’s relationship is one of classic sibling rivalry, but also one rarely depicted for twins. De Caestecker and Loveless play the complex and frequently argumentative relationship believably. Thorne understands the way teenagers interact and the younger cast does a nice job of bringing the characters to life.
The season also involves a series of murders involving the Fades that brings the police to the forefront of the story. The Fades connects various characters and plot points throughout, involving not only the police, as the detective in charge of investigating the murders is also Mac’s father, but also the school and Paul’s therapist are drawn into the larger story. Because Paul’s journey as the “important one” to the Angelic cause is the main arc for the season, those closest to him, both personally and in his everyday life as a student and teenager, are also related to the story.
The depths of Paul’s powers are initially unclear, but gradually it’s revealed that they are significant and integral to the escalating Angelics/Fades war. Throughout the season, The Fades makes frequent use of religious overtones in both terminology (Angelics, ascension, the concept of Heaven), as well as through the mention of Bible stories. In integrating these themes as significant aspects to the story, the series successfully uses familiar imagery and concepts to add more dimension to the season.
The season’s big villain, John (Joe Dempsie), is a compelling character all on his own. A Fade who has been looking for some sort of revenge because of his inability to ascend and escape the limbo of his current state, John is dangerous and desperate. Dempsie, yet another Skins alum in a cast filled with them, is a highlight as he plays John’s transformation into a new kind of Fade, one that is both gross and darkly comic.
The series also employs some stunning images that are not only a wonderful realization of the supernatural and apocalyptic, but also visually arresting. There are dreams and visions repeated throughout the series (a place covered in ash is the most compelling of them all), both decidedly vague and foreboding, that are striking in how well executed they are.
For a season of just six episodes, The Fades builds quite a lot of story, imbued with religious themes, and told through the lens of a teenage supernatural drama that is thoughtful, well paced, and well acted.
The DVD release includes quite a few extras, including deleted scenes, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes. The deleted scenes are especially well chosen and add to the overall story nicely.