Boxset Monday: Glitch (season two) (Australia: ABC; UK: Netflix)

Too much plot, too little character

Glitch

In Australia: Thursdays, 8.30pm, ABC
In the UK: Netflix. Available from November 28

The first season of ABC (Australia)’s Glitch was one of the high points of 2015.

The best of the “dead are coming back to life shows”, Glitch gave us a relatively unique slice of ‘Australian gothic’, where the returned came back to tell us something about Australian history, as well as people and possibly about the importance of death itself to the universe, with a bad guy who might have a point. With some genuinely spooky moments, its second season is going to be much anticipated.

The show got an almost instant renewal, but it’s only now that we’re getting a second season. Trouble was, the Australian acting industry is quite small and actors move around a lot, not just between networks but also between countries, looking to find fame and fortune in the US. Series lead Patrick Brammall not only had existing commitments with No Activity, Offspring and Upper Middle Bogan, he also went to the US for a while for an attempted remake of Upper Middle Bogan. Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Rodger Corser got his own show, Doctor Doctor, which is already on its second season and doing well internationally, while local doctor Genevieve O’Reilly has been off in Canada on Tin Star.

Still, there’s nothing like a bit of Netflix cash to make things happen, and with the show doing well globally, here we are at last with the second season. When we left our dead friends in 2015, we were on the verge of discovering what a mysterious pharmaceuticals company might have to do with their return; although the deceased’s memories were taking a long time in coming back, with Corser unable to even remember his own name, former town mayor Ned Dennehy was remembering that he had some aboriginal descendants, while Hannah Monson was remembering that she’d not had a good time of things. On top of that, Brammall was torn between his returned wife (Emma Booth) and his new wife (Emily Barclay).

On top of that, they’d had their own ‘grim reaper’ chasing after them – the recently deceased Andrew McFarlane, seemingly returned by death itself to restore the natural order of things by killing off the returned. They stopped McFarlane but would Barclay, who nearly died giving birth, take his place?

Season two does a surprisingly good job of answering almost all those questions and tying up all the hanging plot threads, as well as introducing some new characters. But there’s a fair old bit of retconning going on to take account of the cast’s new pecking order and schedules, and that Netflix money has somewhat changed the tone of the show. More on that, including a few spoilers, after the jump…

A change in focus

For the most part, season 1 of Glitch was a slight meandering but emotional wander through Australian history. All of its walking dead spoke to something problematic in Australian history, from the treatment of the Aboriginal peoples through the traumas of the first World War through to discrimination against women and LBGT people. The plot was largely only concerned with eliciting memories of the past from people, with each character frequently getting an episode of their own as they began to remember more of their own story.

The final episode, however, suddenly packed in a whole lot more plot. We learned that maybe the ‘glitch’ that brought everyone back wasn’t in Heaven or Hell, but was scientific, perhaps related to a company called Noreguard and McFarlane was shot before he had a chance to complete his mission.

Season two shifts that balance in favour of non-stop plot, with the storylines of the individual departed taking a relative back-seat to the action. We learn that O’Reilly was herself returned from the dead and was doing her best to bring back one person in particular. We also get a new grim reaper (Cleverman‘s Rob Collins), with the show maintaining its ambiguity over Barclay’s similar status, suggesting she might instead have post-natal depression. Collins is a far more dynamic reaper than McFarlane and he amps up the tension considerably.

By the end of the season, we’ve even had a plausible ‘scientific’ explanation assembled for why the dead have returned, rather than the entirely supernatural reason the show at first presented.

Character drama

However, the supporting cast also continue their investigations into their past. Dennehy tries to have his Aboriginal descendants recognised by the white side of his family, while Monson tries to obtain justice for whatever happened to her. Sean Keenan’s World War I soldier gets a slightly poor deal from proceedings, his narrative being rounded off in a few short scenes, so he spends most of his time helping the other characters instead.

Meanwhile, Rodger “he’s so big right now” Corser (he even gets an ‘and’ in the credits) necessarily can’t be the evil bad guy in their midsts any more, so is retconned from being the violent prisoner of season 1 to become someone falsely accused of murder. Perhaps because his schedule didn’t allow much more, he spends most of the season inside a lab, as Noreguard tries to analyse him.

We also get Luke Skywalker’s grandmum (Pernilla August) playing the Swedish head of Noreguard, in town to chase up in O’Reilly and her research, and it’s with her that Corser spends most of his time. There’s also a potential new romantic interest for Booth (Luke Arnold from Black Sails), who has his own secrets, but whose presence makes Brammell jealous and re-evaluate what he wants.

Brammell, Barclay and Booth’s love triangle becomes a square, of course, which makes everything a tad soapy. However, with Brammell spending most of the season driving around, reacting to the plot, there’s actually precious little time for them to talk everything through.

It all feels a bit perfunctory, given the shorter season length and the time dedicated to their characters, almost as if the show forgot what people liked about it in the first place. But it’s not so perfunctory that the viewer feels very cheated by the season. Brammell does get to have some great emotional moments, and Dennehy continues to amuse with his bigoted 19th century attitudes and knowledge (“A Greek all the way out here in Australia? You must be quite the novelty at parties”).

Philosophy

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the second season is Collins’ reaper. As well as terrorising everyone, he gets to explain something of the reapers’ philosophy and the necessity of death to the universe, which is apparently what’s sent him. But he’s a ‘something’ inside a human body, who’s got all that body’s memories yet doesn’t quite understand humanity. Why do mothers tend to babies? Babies don’t offer anything in return so that’s a poor deal, surely? he muses.

That difficulty might be fine, but he’s only got one job to do, and when he’s done it, he doesn’t die. So what life will someone who doesn’t understand life be able to lead?

The season also remembers that Glitch had some downright super-spooky moments and Collins is responsible for many of them, especially when he comes across McFarlane. But frequently the show replaces its chills with horror instead, which doesn’t make for as satisfying a season.

The ending

The final episode at first seems to explain everything or at least gives the impression that the show’s producers think they’ve explained everything. Most of the characters’ arcs end, we have an explanation for the return, and (spoiler) the surviving returned have their ‘boundary’ removed so they can go anywhere they want.

However, peppered throughout the season, there are pieces of dialogue and events that suggest that maybe all is not what it seems, the final scene suggesting that maybe all that ‘science’ is just baloney and something else is going on. Spoilers: How did O’Reilly know Corser from before? How did she bring herself back? How did Corser get that pipe? What does it do? Who made it? Were those really zombies/cannibals he encountered in the past? Did he come back twice? Is reincarnation as well as resurrection going on? The suggestion is that if there is a third season, all those questions will be the focus, Corser and Collins will be the series’ new leads and there’ll be a new set of the dead to play with, turning it into something almost completely different.

Even if that doesn’t happen, there’s enough ambiguity that it doesn’t feel like the dilemmas of the first season have been glossed over.

Conclusion

The second season of Glitch is a slightly rushed, slightly disappointing affair that frequently forgets what was so good about the first season. Nevertheless, it still has plenty going for it and is a good conclusion to the story, even while it leaves room for a third season.