General Spoiler Alert: This whole post is kind of spoiler-y, so if you want to go into the BBC TV show The Fades knowing as little as possible, I’ll just say that the show blends horror, teen angst, and humor and that I highly recommend it. Also, the first episode is slow and a bit murky, but stick with it!
“In the beginning was the Word . . .” If there’s any doubt that Paul, the lead character of The Fades is a Christ figure, the opening words of the first season finale clear it right up. Paul has visions, sprouts wings, can heal, is resurrected, and has the ability to allow souls to ascend to heaven. That the Gospel of John is quoted by Paul’s best friend Mac, a total pop-culture geek, nicely mashes up religious allegory with the show’s other obsession: pop culture, from Star Wars to The Matrix to The Watchmen. Mac explicitly identifies Paul as a Christ figure, humorously admitting that he used to think that he himself was Christ’s second coming, since he (Mac) has a “complicated relationship with my father” and an “interest in carpentry.” Mac’s humorous religious reference may suggest that he’s reducing Christianity to just another cultural meme, but the show actually treats its religious themes with respect and even awe, especially the idea of Paul’s willingness to sacrifice himself to save human souls.
Before Paul realizes that he can actually liberate souls that are trapped in a sort of earthly purgatory, he discovers he can destroy the Fades, zombie-like beings who are dead but whose souls haven’t yet transitioned out of our world. It’s a useful ability when the Fades are threatening to snack on his family and friends, but Paul insists he’s not a killer; he’s determined to find a way to liberate the Fades’ souls, rather than just destroy them. Paul’s focus on the Fades’ prior humanity, his recognition of their souls, make me think about Buffy (big surprise, I know) and how that show deals with the concept of a soul. Buffy frequently makes the distinction between being a killer (of humans) and a slayer. But she doesn’t let the fact that vampires used to be human stop her from killing vampires, with the exception of Angel and Spike. This highlights a murkiness in Buffy’s worldview – is a soul the only source of moral, ethical behavior (which Angel’s case would suggest), or is there some other innate, core characteristic that makes one capable of goodness, love, and self-sacrifice (like the soulless Spike)? If it’s the latter, how should we feel about Buffy rather indiscriminately killing beings who may have the potential for goodness and love? Paul, unlike Buffy, insists on valuing and saving the Fades’ incorruptible souls, despite all the cruel, depraved things they’ve done.
The Fades starts off with meandering, sometimes tedious pacing in the first two episodes, and it doesn’t set up its central characters and conflict as quickly as we might expect from a six-episode season (or series, as the Brits say). Once it does pick up, though, it offers exhilarating storytelling and the typically British, shocking willingness to kill off main characters. The complex, unsettling finale suggests that, as much as we may admire Paul’s commitment to saving souls, it may actually have terrible consequences. I hope season two will tell.