My love letter to Ultraviolet

Righto. A late blog post because my life as usual does not follow a simple plan.

Back to Ultraviolet. We finished watching it on Monday night (has it not even been a week?) and I have been thinking about it ever since. Such a great six-ep series. I can barely describe the conflicting emotions it stirs up in me. I’ve been dreaming about it…

The final shot of the series is haunting me… Michael’s utter despair at where his life has gone and what it has cost, combined with the aftermath of the main story (which I won’t spoil because you should watch it. Today. Now. Come back in six hours and read the rest of this post, I forgive you.) and what he knows and fears will come tomorrow… maybe I’m reading too much into it. Rivka was amazed by how quickly and intensely I bonded with this show and this world. I almost didn’t want to watch the last episode because even though I knew before we started that it was only six episodes… I didn’t want it to end…

Argh! asddfivbdfhdjscnjdnfk!!!

There are just layers and layers. It’s like Spooks crossed with Strange (another great snippet of British supernatural TV with some great creepy scenes from Ian Richardson) with a little Underworld and The Historian thrown in. It’s high-tech (for the nineties) with modified bullets and guns and a lot of focus on genetics and SCIENCE! rather than a hand-to-hand Buffy or Mortal Instruments physical fighting approach. Any close combat is usually a last resort, brief, and frantic. Back in the day, when Joe Public’s knowledge of genetics was sort of limited to Dolly the Sheep and some uproar about GM wheat, it must have been even more intellectual.

Jack Davenport is stellar. His character, Michael, is the usual norm-gets-sucked-in-to-terrifying-underworld-within-our-own-that-no one-knows-about, and he has issues, man. Within five or ten minutes of the series, we know he’s in love with his best friend’s girl, for example. Needless to say, things do not go well in that little triangle. He can do more with a nostril flare and a tortured downwards glance than Joss Whedon can do with the whole Avengers team. I was… eleven? twelve?… when this was on TV and we weren’t really a Channel  4 sort of household, so I missed it at the time not that I would have appreciated it in all its magnificence. My first sight of Davenport was in Coupling, some two or three years later, then as Norrington in PoTC. He does sardonic very well. In Ultraviolet, he also does smug, lovelorn, furious, righteous, morally torn, despairing, indignant and stoic. Even more amazing: I discovered from the IMDB forum that he was twenty-four/twenty-five when this was made. If it was re-made today, what twenty-five year old actor could do that role? Jonathan Bailey? Rupert Grint? Robert Sheehan?

Idris Elba growls his way through most of his scenes as Vaughan Rice, the hard-boiled ex-Forces meathead who has Seen Things Which Cannot Be Unseen. He’s not stupid, and he’s very good at his job, but he does tend to be the bad cop, and the “shoot-first-why-bother-with-questions-at-all” guy in the team. He’s the one who has seen the most action and seems to be quite cold. He does have hidden depths, however, and he does have some great moments of tenderness, fear and self-doubt, and camaraderie especially later in the series that just show off the nuances of the show.

Susannah Harker is the frigid Dr. Angela March

haha, Rivka’s just come through and I told her I was blogging about Ultraviolet and she said “Again?!” and looked a bit worried about my mental health.

Sorry. Susannah Harker is the frigid Dr. Angela March, a lady scientist who spends a lot of time staring bleakly into microscopes, though she does get a fair chunk of field work too. She has a family and a past, and more information comes out about this through the series. Harker perhaps has the most difficult job as most of her character development happened off screen before the start of the series timeline so she just seems like a cold, clinical woman with little empathy. Rice’s development happened pre-series, too, but his character is so much more expressive so it shines through a bit easier. March is brittle; she tries to be strong for the team and gets the job done, but she seems a step away from a breakdown 95% of the time and the reasons for this vulnerability come through in the final episodes.

Finally for the four main characters, there’s Father Pearse Harman. He’s a priest. That’s pretty much his thing. He’s the boss and he makes a lot of tough choices. He and Michael clash the most, presumably just because it’s all new to Michael while the others are more on board with the idea. Harman and March have an interesting dynamic that simmers somewhere between mentor/mentee and unresolved sexual tension/romantic attachment. They have worked together for a long time and Harman visits March at home in one episode and it doesn’t seem to be an unusual thing. The relationship the squad has with the Church is muddied. People say different things about how much approval they have from the Vatican and whether Harman is in the good books or is a bit of a vigilante.

The whole series is sort of like that. The leeches (those infected with Code V – numeral 5 – and never called vampires) are clever, and also use technology and science. They are ruthless and animalistic, yes, but they have adapted to modern society. They aren’t like Buffyverse vampires whose schemes are grandiose and sort of pantomimic. They don’t cling desperately to the old ways. They aren’t pretending it’s still 1853. They have their reasons. They have their plans. They make reasonable arguments. They never turn anyone who doesn’t want to change (though their methods of persuasion are… um… not exactly friendly).

Ultraviolet is filled with throwaway comments that hint at the depth of character there. I started to warm to March when her daughter makes a jibe about how no one comes to the house because the security is so tight – March has a videophone to see who is at the gate before they come in as leeches don’t show up on camera – and the mother-daughter relationship is clearly strained.

Motives are unclear and both sides are manipulating their hearts out. Each accuses the other of indoctrination, menacing and violent behaviour, criminal activity. Some offences are never explained away. The real (in show) truth must be navigated by the viewer. We have to pick who we trust just as Michael does. There’s no massive expositional scenes where everything makes sense in two minutes. There are some awkward conversations and some veiled threats, studious denial and outright lying. I like that realism.

Of course the humans think the leeches need to be destroyed because they’re soulless and feeding off humanity. Of course the leeches are snakelike and insidious, but they also make quite reasonable arguments about co-existence and that they’re using science to try and find a synthetic blood to live off (an interesting pre-cursor to True Blood) that it seems a bit harsh to just dismiss out of hand just because the show is from the human point of view. Maybe it is indoctrination. What if we were allowing prejudice to colour our reactions? If you’d been told from birth that something was true by people you trusted, how much opposition would it take for you to change your mind? If you’d been told that people who tell you different are wrong, or trying to trick you, or were plain old evil, would you listen to their point of view even if was calmly and rationally explained? This show really does mess with your head a little. What is Harman’s real agenda? He has some soul-searching to do by the end of the series and in the final two episodes in particular his motivation is unclear.

There’s a lot of ambiguity, a lot of unknowns where characters have to make decisions based on what they think they know or their instincts. Sometimes they’re wrong, and it’s a bad decision, things go hideously wrong. Michael was a policeman so he can’t always separate his almost instinctual following of police procedure from his real instincts and desires. It is repeatedly pointed out that humans are also helping the leeches, without being turned. Whether for money, for power, or just because they believe in what the leeches are doing (or are being told they are doing). Nothing is black and white.

Michael’s relationship with Kirsty, his best friend’s fiancée, and his interactions with Frances (who it was clear to me from the beginning was an ex of his but isn’t explicit until late in the series) are painful, awkward and scarily true to life. Frances in particular (played by the amazing Fiona Dolman) does a great job. She and Michael have a weird, flirty but spiteful vibe, but it’s clear she does care about him and they are sort of friends. She works in Intelligence somewhere unspecified and Michael takes advantage of her position to get information. She begrudgingly helps him, counsels him, even tries to help him win Kirsty over, but she can be really bitchy. It’s a great performance. She really doesn’t want to get sucked back in to his life, and she tries so hard to keep her distance, but when he shows up at her door needing help, she caves, knowing she shouldn’t and hating herself because of it.

The leeches in Ultraviolet have some of the classic flaws: they can’t go out in the sunlight, they don’t have reflections, they don’t show up on film (photo or video) or on recorded audio/phone, and when their hearts are pierced by stakes or the modded wooden bullets, they explode. So there are loads of great shots of people staring worriedly at sunsets from bridges, and creepy night shots in abandoned car parks and playgrounds. It’s beautifully done.

I just can’t even… people still post about it in the depths of Yahoo groups. There’s fanfiction (though it is sparing and mostly pairings that I just don’t get based on the dynamics I saw) and petitions to make another series or a film. I’m in two minds. I do want to see what would have happened in a second series, but as the director himself said, maybe it’s better to stay as six great episodes than descend into mediocrity and ruin the greatness of it.

I really want to watch it again. Six hours of awesomeness…

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