Avenue 5 1.08: This is Physically Hurting Me
We join Avenue 5 this week with Karen coordinating the passenger’s efforts to jettison their non-essential items, in order to speed up the return to Earth. The job is the perfect fit for her - officious and cruel. She asks the passengers to weigh up their non-essential possessions against the human lives on board, because “let’s face it, everything we own right now? Blood diamonds.” I don't doubt that Karen will take the lead in future episodes, but I've been enjoying her in small doses lately: Rebecca Front is just that good at making this character into a very believable monster.
Following on from last week’s revelation that only Ryan can dock the ship for the rescue, he’s learning to pilot the ship, frustrating Billie and the rest of the crew. He’s in the hot seat of a virtual simulation, but isn’t getting the hang of it. “Was that a good explosion?” he asks. “Well, we were in it.” Billie replies stoically. It would be bad enough if Ryan’s humiliation was a private one, but Spike and Matt stumble upon the room where it’s happening - looking for tabasco to make Bloody Marys. Their suspicions are raised. It’s another example of exactly the wrong people happening upon exactly the wrong situation in Avenue 5, but each episode only has a half-hour to build from relative normality to hysterical chaos - it’s a forgivable narrative shortcut.
Matt informs Judd, who’s preparing to exit the ship on Rav’s escape pod, that Ryan has a substance problem. Ryan gets fired, and defiantly rips off his hairpiece, a final middle finger to the caricature he’s been playing for months, to hysterical cries of “He’s peeling himself!” Judd, as it turns out, needs a new captain, and it's just a few seconds before Spike is installed in the hot seat (and wondering why the steering wheel doesn't work).
En route to the ship, Rav talks to the pilot of the supply of pod (John Finnemore of British comedy cult fame!), who is listening to a true crime podcast about “that Greta Gerwig thing”. It’s the episode's only 'weird-future' gag, but it’s a gold one that raises many questions. The pilot points out, quite correctly, that the pod only has two seats: and if he's returning to Earth, and so is Judd, it presents a small problem for Rav. Like the problem of the fox, the chicken and the sack of grain crossing the river, I can't wait to see the drama that's surely to come in next week's episode.
Ryan’s very happy to be experiencing passenger life on Avenue 5, and arrives at the buffet breakfast wigless and happy. But when he quickly realises that he gets no respect from his fellow and passengers - and that he has no Judd Bucks in his account to pay for food - it’s a very quick return to the captain's chair. Here’s where things get really dark. The passengers, already unhinged from months of isolation, are ready to walk out the airlock, believing themselves to be the unwilling stars of a reality show - or a simulation. “Matt, this is not the time”, says Ryan wearily, suggesting Matt has tried to convince his shipmates that the universe is a simulation many times before.
And… they believe him? I’m still not quite sure how to process Avenue 5’s sudden plunge into genuine black comedy, as six passengers - and Sarah! - willingly walk into the airlock and eject themselves into the void of space, their frozen bodies floating off slowly. We get to see this happen three times, and it’s no less shocking or disturbing each time. Hats off, Avenue 5, for going further than we thought you would. And farewell to Harrison, who barely had the opportunity to really get under Judd's kin. He at least gets the most iconic exit, flipping two fingers to his trillionaire nemesis shortly before he's flash-frozen and killed instantly.
In a final, bitter, twist, the ship receives a call from the son of two of the recently departed passengers: he’s just woken up from his coma, and wants to know where his parents are.
Matt's devastated, believing himself to be responsible for the carnage. He kind of is! His high-risk strategy - was it even a strategy? - to put the passenger’s problems into a cosmic perspective failed spectacularly, and giving them the passcode for the airlock was a gamble too far. (Can we just point out that having the airlock in a place where all the passengers can see it - never mind having only a four-digit passcode for it - was a bad idea?) It’ll be interesting to see how this affects his character going forward. Will he stop baiting the other characters to unleash their worst instincts? It’s fascinating to see this trickster/provocateur/agent of chaos finally finding his limit.
There's one more episode to go this season - who knows what horrors are in store!