WARNING: [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!! !!!!]
At a glance, ‘The Fades’ is about good and evil. It tells the story of Paul, a seventeen year old misfit who wets the bed, has regular sessions with a psychologist and caps it off with disturbing dreams of an apocalyptic future. By his side is Mac, his garrulous and witty best friend who stands as Paul’s anchor as he struggles to accept the charge for which he has been chosen. Also a part of Paul’s world are his mom (Meg), sister (Anna) and girlfriend Jay. Paul’s commitment to these four people who make up his family is the driving force behind his courage and resolve to face the unthinkable.
One of the more interesting concepts in the series is that, despite the Angelics initially introduced as the good guys and the fades bad, reality sets in and we find things aren’t as cut and dry as we’d like to believe. Once the ushers of the fades to Ascension, the Angelics have found themselves in a war with their past charges as the ghosts have found that, through the ingestion of blood and flesh, they can become whole. Were it not for this minor glitch, empathy would abound for the ghosts whose bodies rot as they can do nothing to move on. But their devouring of innocent lives, while putting them firmly in the bad category, does not absolve the Angelics for their part.
When Ascension (the portal to the other side) first broke down, the fades asked the Angelics for help. Instead, the Angelics became more prison wardens than anything, coming down on the hapless fades with extreme prejudice. But from their fading light comes John–a wraith formerly known as Polus who becomes the de facto leader of the fades. Make no mistake, despite the unenviable position the fades are in, once they form up under John’s banner, they become the enemy.
Like many antagonists though, they have a point of view we can understand. Most of them want nothing more than to ascend but not John; he passes the prospect of moving on. The pain and rage that slowly formed during his eighty plus years of teetering on the edge has made him bitter and hateful towards humanity. John’s selfish rage–brilliantly portrayed by Joe Demsey–is the overriding factor of pushing him into the role of villain.
It’s a similar development seen in Neil, the Angelic who for a time acts as Paul’s mentor. Though a hard man, Neil is a warrior bent on protecting humanity from a very real threat. He is the soldier tasked with doing what others around him don’t have the stomach to do. It’s a thankless job, though one that needs to be done. Even his torturing of the fade Natalie is understandable when one looks at the alternative. But there comes a point where the good guys have to draw the line to separate themselves from the enemy and it’s in this where Neil fails. Using Paul’s family as his leverage, he murders Jay to force Paul to his bidding. When Helen, an Angelic killed early on, tells Neil she doubts his strength, he takes her words in the most obvious sense of him not being able to doing what is necessary.
The problem becomes his fundamentalist viewpoint. Neil doesn’t realize that strength is not only knowing when you have to go farther, but also when you need to stop and say “This isn’t right…I’ll find another way.” Rarely has a show touched upon gray areas with the deft hand shown by Jack Thorne but ‘The Fades’ is a wonderful reminder of the thin line between good and evil. And while some actions are redeemable, I can’t see how Neil, outside of sacrificing himself for the greater good, can come back as a character we can cheer for.
One character who I will have no problem cheering for if we’re rewarded with a second season is Anna, Paul’s beautiful sister. When we first see Anna, she appears to be nothing more than a vapid teen, a cruel bully who wants nothing to do with her brother and his geeky friend. But like an onion, we start to see the various layers hidden beneath Anna’s disagreeable exterior. She houses a strength that rivals Paul, and an innate courage that may even surpass her brother. No, she’s not tasked with saving the world but, when faced with her undead boyfriend, Anna doesn’t slink away, instead facing him without batting an eye and with plenty of attitude. When she’s trapped in the storage container with Mac, the stress of it all finally hits her. Once she gets time to think about the reality of her situation instead of reacting on instinct, she shows understandable chinks in her armor. It’s what makes Anna such a fun character and it comes as no surprise when taking into account her three-dimensional development, why she’s my favorite character of the bunch, pulling ahead of Paul for that rite.
Now what journey would be complete without a love interest? Early on we identify Jay, Anna’s friend, as the woman for Paul. She’s snarky and bright though unlike Paul and Anna, she lacks the courage to admit to her feelings for Paul. It brings more than a touch of realism to the show; everyone can’t be brave and though Jay lacks that particular trait, she does provide the impetus for Paul to want more, to be better. In an unfortunate turn of events, Jay is caught up in the power struggle between Paul and Neil, an unnecessary casualty in the war.
Also caught up in Neil’s psychotic fall is Mac, Paul’s anchor. He is a verbal dynamo, spitting geek knowledge with the speed of the Millennium Falcon in its Kessel run. No matter the circumstance, Mac talks; it’s both his weapon and armor, protecting him from those things he has no other way of handling. Not as pronounced as Paul’s deficiencies, we end up finding out just how much of the fragile boy is hidden behind Mac’s quippy exterior.
Contrary to how the cracks in Mac’s psyche come to light, Paul’s issues are pronounced from the beginning. Gifted with powers he doesn’t understand and dragged into a war he can’t imagine, Paul is forced to grow up and fast. His transformation into an unlikely hero is standard fare in this genre but where Jack Thorne provides his own unusual template. Within ten minutes, we see a boy who has nightmares, wets the bed, and has weekly visits to a psychologist. These are not characteristics one would associate with a hero but it only makes Paul’s journey all the more interesting. I’ve always been a fan of the man or woman who, through circumstance, finds out just how strong they are. Though Paul’s naivete is a tad annoying (how stupid could he be to trust John?!) it’s further signification of a kid that doesn’t want the responsibility forced upon him and, truth be told, who can blame him? It’s one thing watching the heroes in the movies, but having the onus of the world thrust on your shoulders is a bit different. Ask Sylvester Stallone about the fantasy of becoming a boxer versus the reality of it. This aspect of Paul, like Anna’s breakdown as death was literally knocking on her (and Mac’s) door, is one more notch in just how well these characters are written.
At first glance, six episodes couldn’t possibly be enough time to develop Paul into a believable hero but somehow Jack Thorne does it in spades. Paul’s journey isn’t forced but comes across as one of the more organic pieces of character development ever to grace television. Paul’s journey has more than a few bumps but those bumps peel away the layers hiding our protagonist’s strength, courage, and determination. Though this development does not have the glitz and humor of his relationship with Mac, it’s no less interesting as we watch Paul grow up right before our eyes. It’s a testament not only to Thorne’s superior writing talents but Iain De Caestecker’s prowess as an actor.
An unknown on this side of the pond, Caestecker provides us with an all too human guy who’s not overly courageous but takes responsibility and does what he must do. It’s the prototypical hero’s journey. Paul is dealt a hand in a game he has no idea how to play and while his initial reaction is to shun this new world, he reluctantly takes the mantle of Angelic. It’s accepting this responsibility that gives Paul the strength and insight to turn against Neil’s dogmatic beliefs and find another way to end the war between Angelics and Fades. The show also touches upon facing your fears. Paul’s ultimate resolve to re-open Ascension is fueled by the admission to himself that his dad was not this great hero who left to do better things, but a selfish coward. This rationalization is Paul’s dilithium, propelling him forward.
Vince Lombardi, the iconic coach of the Green Bay Packers once said “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” These fine words encompasses Paul’s long and arduous trek from a geeky nobody to the young man responsible for saving this world. It’s not always easy to do the right thing. Though it sounds pessimistic, there’s no denying that a big part of life is about suffering and Paul suffers. But he doesn’t let it destroy him; instead, he transforms that pain, along with the love of his family, into a device to strengthen himself. The final shot in the finale of ‘The Fades’ is a picturesque example of that weary journey. With Mac and Anna on either side of him, Paul recognizes both accomplishment and loss. It’s more than he can bear and he cries out his pain and exhaustion. He accepts it because, he realizes at that moment he is not alone.
Can you tell I enjoyed the series at all? If you haven’t watched this show yet you should!