There are things that go bump in the night. While not the tagline, it’s as good of a statement as any to best describe ‘The Fades’, television’s newest supernatural offering. The general premise of an unsuspecting young man who’s burdened with something he doesn’t understand or is beyond his control, is nothing new. The more important aspect of this type of show is how the character resolves his doubts and inadequacies to become what the world needs him to become and while we are a long way from that, the promise is there.
From the start, it becomes known that no one is safe. Sarah, a mystery woman, is attacked by a wraith-like creature not long after expressing her fear to someone on the phone how “they” were now here. Transitioning from the eerie start, we are introduced to Paul and Mac. Said introduction lays the foundation of their friendship, further examined throughout the episode. Where Mac is a garrulous young man whose quick wit and sharp tongue is a part of his boisterous personality, Paul is reticent and morose, with no confidence and always seeming as if all of him isn’t quite there in the moment. During a trip to an abandoned mall with Mac, Paul comes across a frantic Neil as he searches for Sarah. When she falls through the skylight, Neil scoops her up and carries her out. Whether out of curiosity or an unconscious knowledge of what’s going on before him, Paul follows long enough to watch Neil be attacked by the same wraith Sarah was so unlucky to be accosted by. The horrifying scene would be enough to terrify anyone, but Paul more so as he is cursed with apocalyptic visions of a not so bright future. These visions are the same as the ones Sarah has before lamenting to Neil that “our world is dying” before dying quietly in his arms.
Paul’s own humanity is put on display when his bed wetting issues are brought out. Based on both he and his mother’s reaction, it’s not a random occurrence. It’s one his psychologist brings up later in the episode. The visions and bed wetting didn’t start until after his parents divorced, thus it is naturally the factor in these things…while it makes sense to the doctor, there’s a bit more going on than that and Paul has no real way to deal with it. It’s not until he meets Neil that Paul gets a better understanding of where these visions are taking him. A testament to the unique nature of ‘The Fades’, the vulnerability of Paul, whether it be his bed wetting affliction or his visits to a psychologist is quite unique to this type of genre. There’s no doubt that recently the psyche of our heroes and heroines have been brought to light but not often has it happened in such a way; for all intents and purposes, Paul is stripped bare before us, naked under our gazes and those around him. He’s a character that screams for the need of support.
Neil, for his part, looks as if he’s going to be that support, a mentor of the Obi-Wan vein. He’s the grizzled veteran in this
fight, ready to take Paul under his wing as the teenager is integral to fighting this incursion of fades into our world. Though they only have a few interactions in the pilot, a tangible bond is slowly forming between the two. To Paul, Neil will double as not only the mentor, offering answers to questions Paul doesn’t even know to ask but as a stand-in for his absent father.
But Neil will not be the only one there from the outside for Paul. Helen, an angelic who fights alongside Sarah and Neil showcases the first aspects of power in the show. Her unsuccessful attempt to heal Neil’s damaged eye shows there are limitations to her power. Though not expressly mentioned, there is an air about her that screams authority (aside from her collar). When she and Neil talk about Sarah’s visions and the ramifications of such on our world, she remains calm though the gravity of the situation is not lost on her. In fact, the disturbing reference to “him”, an unknown entity whom, if he does become real, will allow others to follow in his stead, only further solidifies the nature of the danger.
Going back to Paul for a minute, aside from the supernatural portents and his ability to see fades, there is the normal high school part of his life. Paul comes across as the less than popular dweeb, uncertain of where he fits in. Along with Mac, the duo is a two-man wolf pack, walking along the fringes of popular society, of which Paul’s sister and her friend Jay, reside. As it stands, Paul’s attraction to Jay is obvious though for him, her reciprocating attraction is lost to him. Dancing visions, fear and uncertainty all may have a hand in his blindness. After all, it looks as if he will be dealing with quite a bit more than his peers. A perfect example is late in the episode where Paul and Mac watch Anna, Jay and friends party around a bonfire. Though Paul is there in body, part of him remains apart from what’s going on. It’s exacerbated when a fade appears and he follows her into the woods. It’s here where Neil—who was following Paul—gives a clearer explanation of how fades are spirits whose light dies and are cut off from the afterlife. Their bitterness towards humanity makes them vengeful entities intent on taking their rage out on the human race. Sarah, whose light dies before she’s able to ascend, becomes a fade herself and it begs the question of whether all fades become vengeful or if her life battling the supernatural creatures will keep her fighting the good fight.
The culminating scene of Sarah’s disappointment has Paul fainting only to be presented with a vision of himself being
stabbed. Bleeding and no doubt dying he crawls across the ashes left by the apocalyptic fallout. When Neil asks what he sees, Paul cannot answer. The last image is of the wraith, howling triumphantly before we cut to the bloodied body of Helen, so still.
It’s always difficult to gauge a show based on the first episode. If done right, even if the execution is not great, a tone can be set that can carry a lackluster premiere through until the writers are able to catch their balance. ‘The Fades’ is by no means perfect. Some of that may be due to the show’s birth as a BBC original—my own experience with British television is limited to, well, ‘The Fades’. The cryptic nature of the show, while a good foreshadowing for future episodes, I felt as the writers relied a bit too much on the ‘wait-and-see’ promise. Also, so many characters were introduced that we were not able to get a feel for where they fit. Mark, Sarah’s estranged husband and Paul’s teacher will play a definitive role, but as it stands, his presence in the premiere was a primary factor in the character crunch conundrum. But these are minor quibbles and, after the next statement, may seem a bit hypocritical because the best aspect of ‘The Fades’ was in fact the character development. While we’ve only started uncovering the layers of the players, enough has been provided for me to genuinely care about what happens to these people. They are grounded in a reality much more plausible than their circumstances, with the primary protagonist more vulnerable than one would usually see the hero. As it stands, Paul is not strong. Nor is he particularly brave or intelligent and his confidence in himself leaves quite a bit to be desired. In essence, he’s the last person one would expect to be savior of the world. In effect, he’s going to be an easy guy to root for.
- “Death becomes life, so life becomes death and everything ends.” (Neil and Helen talking about the plight and danger the fades bring)
- “Never be afraid of being scared. Just don’t allow being scared dictate the choices you make.” (Paul’s psychologist to Paul)
- “Correction: This is a good idea with bad possibilities.” (Mac to Paul)