Graceless II

Posted in Audio by - March 13, 2018
Graceless II

Released December 2011

Ciara Janson and Laura Doddington as Abby and Zara, the one-time Tracers created by the pan-dimensional Grace to help save space and time who have now been left to their own devices to discover themselves and their place in the universe, confidently anchored the somewhat flawed but eminently engaging first series of Graceless. Now with Marek and Zara’s infant, Joy, in hand, the two continue their journey onward while never forgetting about their past misdeeds.

The second series opens with ‘The Line’ in which Marek has seemingly inadvertently guided the group’s travels to the city of his childhood. Trying to keep a low profile to avoid any undue attention and potentially cataclysmic actions, Abby and Zara are understandably alarmed at this turn of events given their newfound caution and sense of responsibility, but Marek assures them that the city is soon to be utterly destroyed along with everyone in it. This has simply been an event that has always weighed on his mind, but he and Zara fear that Abby remains the weak link in their chain and will soon blow their cover due to her remaining naivety and inherent trust. With the Rune Festival approaching and a festive atmosphere swelling, the saying that there’s something in the air has rarely been quite so literal, and the ominous shadow of one Manchu Golding looms large over everyone here.

Perhaps the most egregious shortcoming of the first series was the utterly reprehensible behaviour and sheer lack of remorse that defined Marek as a character aside from some extremely minor and subtle phrases to intimate otherwise. Traveling into his past prior to an event that would become so formative for him is a new attempt to humanise him, and it’s intriguing to note that he is very much like his father in that they both have a certain style of self-centredly offering help to others. Strangely but mercifully, the Marek on display here is vastly different than his earlier self, a doting father who genuinely seems to care about the sisters in a manner never successfully hinted at before, and that aspect is mirrored in his father who puts aside his bravado to poignantly ask how his son has done without him around. While there hasn’t been quite enough work put in to show this turnabout by Marek which is nonetheless effectively portrayed by Fraser James, he is much more nuanced and likable while still remaining imperfect and not completely selfless. As events progress and Golding uncovers the truth of his impending fate, he is able to subtly bring about a paradigm shift for Marek and the sisters that recalls the events on the Sphere, finally giving the sisters’ powers a clear definition of what is and is not possible with the two together and once more revisiting the pervading theme of the first series, that actions no matter how well-intentioned have consequences and repercussions.

The rain hasn’t stopped for three days in ‘The Flood,’ and a small group of townspeople are determined to keep their town from being dragged into the sea. After all that they’ve been through, Abby are Zara are all too keen to help, hoping for a distraction from recent losses and instead finding a tight-knit community in which they can envision themselves taking up roots like Marek wanted. As they struggle to reinforce a museum after literally signing up to become citizens of the town to avoid military-led evacuation, their efforts are hardly enough as strange sea creatures emerge and people begin vanishing. The direction of this story maintains the claustrophobic tension throughout to great effect as the danger continues to escalate and even Zara falls victim, and Michael Cochrane gives an exceptional performance as the museum curator, Brondle, who in his own way is just as naïve as the sisters themselves alongside Janna van Gyseghem’s engaging Wing.

Whether intentional or not, ‘The Flood’ treads a precariously similar path to the series one middle instalment ‘The Fog.’ This is no bad thing since each is arguably the strongest story of its respective set, but it is all too noticeable that the core of the narratives is a small group of people whose members continue to disappear with an external force trapping them and ensuring that nobody new arrives. And much as the fog itself was hardly a straightforward natural phenomenon, so, too, is that the case with the creatures within the sea. Indeed, the two revelations are variations on a theme, but the much more intimate nature of this one and the lengths the sisters go to make it all the more effective and reveal a much more noble side to the two who continue to develop a greater sense of morality and empathy to those around them. The reminder that Abby and Zara are essentially immortal unless they choose to let go of life is most welcome and adds an extra layer to the incredible loss and turmoil they have experienced in such a short time, and Abby losing contact with Zara and the resulting determination and sense of unknown that result are played magnificently by Ciara Janson.

On a cold and dark planet at the end of the universe where their powers do not work and sandstorms threaten to cut them to pieces, Abby and Zara come upon the last person they ever expected to see in ‘The Dark.’ There have been two important female characters with ambiguous fates introduced so far in this range, and so it’s not wholly surprising that the finale introduces an older version of Joy to put the lives of Abby and Zara into new context. This is the daughter they never knew, one who grew up distrusting and even fearing them because of the callous manner in which she believes they left Marek and her to wallow in the vortex. Ironically, Joy’s story seems set to further rehabilitate Marek by showing what a caring and devoted father he was as he tried to keep her safe, but the fact that even she admits that he was a philanderer continues to underscore the less than appealing characterisation and again brings into question just why both Abby and Zara would independently fall for him. Fortunately, Susan Brown brings a great deal of emotion and depth to the role of Joy who slowly comes to accept her mother and aunt as good-natured people, and the lengths to which she has gone to protect her own son, Maldon, on this treacherous planet make her an eminently relatable force and a positive reflection on the self-betterment of Abby and Zara.

Of course, Graceless is based around consequences of actions, and Joy and Maldon represent repercussions of an entirely different action than Abby and Zara initially think. The truth serves as a bit of a double-edged sword here, effectively giving a greater sense of cohesion to the range as a whole but also nullifying a tremendous amount of ‘The Dark’ that comes before the ultimate reveal. It’s not that the emotional work put into building up these new characters and their relationships with the heroines becomes pointless, but the lack of powers and ability to get into others’ minds to understand them proves just how naïve these two truly are. Truly, the extent to which this planet has been modified to provide the perfect environment in which to level with the sisters is incredibly impressive and speaks to a single-minded determination rarely rivaled in the ever-expanding universe of Doctor Who, at the same time allowing Abby to highlight her burgeoning understanding of the way people and the universe works as she once more finds herself separated from Zara. The resolution is a bit fast given the delibarate pacing that goes into setting up the climax, but the buildup is tense and suitably atmospheric, and it provides a somewhat predictable but ultiamtely strong ending for a second series that so closely mirrors a distorted version of the first.

Once again, Ciara Janson and Laura Doddington give spectacular performances as these like-minded and strong-willed but also very different sisters trying to find their own identities and place in the universe amidst the consequences of past actions. Unfortunately, despite some significant rehabilitation of the character of Marek, there is still not ample reason to believe that Abby and Zara would choose him to be their foundation, regardless of the presence of Joy. While just as many questions are raised as answers are given and the strange obsession with three-ways once more manifests, the narrative thread does perhaps follow the first series a bit too tightly even with obvious divergences to feel entirely unique, but the charisma of the leads and quality of the guest performances, imaginative ideas, and direction help to maintain a sense of absorbing allure from beginning to end even if the full potential of the series has not yet been fully reached.

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