Review of Greater Love
The second story of season two of Survivors, Greater Love, is moving and chilling in equal measure, especially so coming straight after the multiple shocks of Birth of a Hope. The episode brings home forcefully the fragile vulnerability of the survivors, their isolation from outside help and the mortal dangers that scavenging amidst the remnants of the old world poses to them.
Relief at the safe delivery of Jenny's baby soon turns to dread as Ruth confirms that Jenny needs urgent live-saving surgery. Despite the danger, someone must risk a journey to a major urban hospital to retrieve essential medical supplies. Paul volunteers for the mission and soon returns triumphant with all that Ruth needs, but complains of ill-health contracted on the road. As Ruth attempts the operation that could save Jenny, Paul falls seriously ill.
As Jenny is nursed back to health, Paul's condition deteriorates. Ruth turns her attention to saving the man she had hoped might become the love of her life, but even the hospital drugs have no effect. In an emotionally charged scene, Ruth confronts the community with their helplessness and their obligation to free Paul from his misery. She shoulders the terrible responsibility to provide Paul a pain-free end.
The death scene is harrowing and tender all at the same time. The crude sterile suit that Ruth lashes together from plastic sacking, so that she can help Paul slip away, might elicit laughter in another setting. But here it succeeds as a visual symbol of the chasm that exists between what our survivors need, and the scant resources that are available to them. A less successful piece of symbolism occurs in the brief footage of Paul's journey into Birmingham, where an abandoned ice-cream van is made to stand in as a metaphor for the collapse of urban civilisation. It is not until The Lights of London that we get a glimpse inside a post-plague city.
The episode weaves together a rich tapestry of issues, examining the changed meaning of disease in the new world, the intensity of our survivors reliance on one another, and the suffering and loss that acts of mercy compel them to endure. This paves the way for the construction of the wooden quarantine house as a 'practical memorial' to Paul by Jack the carpenter, a dwelling that serves as a key plot device in several subsequent stories. Jenny and Greg agree to name their new son Paul, as a measure of their gratitude, and a reminder of their debt to him.
Chris Tranchell (Paul) had made clear his desire to leave the show as season two was in the planning stages, and Don Shaw's intelligent and affecting script gives him a memorable exit that still remains true to the essence of the character. In less skilled hands, Paul's sacrifice could have easily become the stuff of risible 'melodrama'. Here it convinces as a selfless act of human compassion made all the more poignant by its desperate setting. As it opens, season two crackles with electrifying drama.
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