Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Survivors" 40th Anniversary: Episode 13 ("A Beginning")

This is the thirteenth in a series of blog posts dedicated to the 40th anniversary of BBC's "Survivors" television series. Survivors followed a core group of characters who managed to survived a devastating viral outbreak -- one which managed to kill off somewhere between 95-99% of humanity. Society has crumbled and now those who remain must relearn the old way if they have any hope of surviving much longer.

Our last episode featured an armed stand-off between our group of survivors (particularly Greg Preston and Jenny Richards) versus a trio of traveling bandits over a tanker full of petrol. The petrol was needed to trade for food and seed in a neighboring community. Fortunately, Greg came out on the winning end of that stick -- even though the three deaths gutted him.

Unfortunately, we learned at the beginning of this episode ("A Beginning"), that the seed was spoiled and essentially useless. Everyone is fighting. They blame Greg for trading their petrol for bad grain. Arthur is complaining about the sheep. Paul is complaining about others not clearing out the pig slop. Emma is complaining that she always has to light the fire in the stove and that the children don't do enough work. Vic is complaining that John left the front gate open, which led to a fox killing off most of the chickens. And Greg is complaining that he's doing all of the work.

And everyone is complaining to Abby, because she's the go-to leader of the bunch.

And she's having none of it. It's clear that Abby is burnt out. Jenny suggests that she take some time off. Go search for Peter again or track down her old boyfriend, Jimmy Garland. Abby just doesn't see how the others can do without her.

The group is then confronted with a group of travelers. The group's leader tells Greg that they'd had a small farm about 50 miles from there, but they had been chased off by an armed militia. They are now looking for a new home. The travelers don't want to settle at the Grange, but they do have one concern: a very sick woman.

Our survivors have a powwow (minus Abby, who's hiding away in her room) and decide that they cannot risk allowing the sick woman in their settlement. They are afraid of infecting their group -- particularly the children. The travelers are sent away with the sick woman.

Our survivors then discuss the threat of outside "foxes" (i.e., armed bandits and militia), who would sneak into their proverbial hen-house and destroy everything that they have built up so far. They aren't too hopeful of their ability to defend themselves from a prolonged attack:

Everybody immediately agrees, which prompts Arthur to suggest that they send out a representative to each of the neighboring settlements with a letter of invitation. The groups would gather at the Grange in a couple days to iron out a mutual agreement of joint defense. They are hopeful that this "federation" could also turn to each other to meet everyone's shared trade and food needs eventually.

They pull out a map and Arthur agrees to bike out to all of the settlements and back first thing tomorrow.

That's when we discover that the travelers left something behind when they left. Meet Ruth (played by Annie Irving):

Abby, Emma, Charmian, and Jenny all pull rank on Greg and bring the sick woman into the building. They aren't sure exactly what she has, but she feverish and pretty much out of it. She won't survive if left on her own -- which is exactly what Greg wants to do with her. The women agree to take shifts caring for the sick woman.

Except that Abby doesn't show up for her next shift. She had enough after her last fight with Greg and decided to run off to find Jimmy Garland!

Abby learns that Knox got himself killed a few months ago. Knox's people didn't know how to function, so they turned to Garland to lead them. Thus, "Garland's War" was effectively ended! He now retreats occasionally to a little cottage whenever he needs to get away from the others. He takes Abby to this cottage and immediately seduces her.

Abby confesses that it has finally sunk in that everything from before -- society, her husband, her old life -- it's all gone. She also realized that she has given up on her son, which has been almost too much for her to bear.

Garland asks Abby to stay with him. He tells her that his group and her group will live on without them. He offers to help her start a renewed search for Peter. He tells her that she needs to live -- not just survive. This turns out to be a very tempting offer for Abby.

Meanwhile, Greg learns from Jenny that Ruth (the sick woman) is awake and doing much better. They learn that she had been training to become a doctor when the Sickness happened. She has been traveling the countryside and trying to help out ever since -- at least until she got sick:

It turns out that Ruth has gathered her own troupe of survivors. There's the other nurse, a woman named Peggy. There are a couple men, including a deaf headmaster. And three boys. Including one named Peter Clark... Or is it Peter Grant?

A whole season of looking for Peter and happen to stumble upon the one woman who's been caring for him -- just when Abby takes off! Not only that, but she'd have been dead if Greg had had his way!

However, subplots can wait. The first of the neighboring representatives has shown up for their little summit. S/he is quickly followed by the arrival of Jimmy Garland and Abby Grant. She tells him that she cannot run away with him. He tells her that she can always visit -- and I'm pretty sure that the two plan to introduce conjugal privileges in their new federation agreement!

Sealed with a kiss, Garland runs off to the summit and Abby is greeted by her post-Death family -- bearing gifts of Peter's survival!

And that's how season one of "Survivors" finishes -- with a promise of community, neighborly connections, and a reunion with Abby's long-missing son.

Looking back, it's interesting to watch how things shift midway through the season. The first several episodes focused on the Death itself, as well as the tentative steps that our group took to connect with each other and figure out a plan for survival. It also gave us a glimpse into what other settlements initially looked like -- from Wormley's ham-fisted governance to Garland's dream of a renewed feudal state and finally to Charles Vaughan's free love utopia.

Personally, I think I'd prefer to settle for a little bit of Wormley's organizational skills mixed with Vaughan's free loving ideas. But that's just me!

Then, starting in episodes 7 and 8, the show shifted to the growing pains of a new settlement. New people came. Some people left. How does our group -- made up mostly of urban dwellers -- adjust to a collective farming lifestyle? How do they handle setbacks? How do they handle things like theft and hoarding and murder?

"Survivors" definitely changed over time. And I definitely don't agree with many of the choices that these survivors made over the course of this series. But I love the Grange and I like the promise of communal life that they have slowly built up by the end of this season.

My plan is to write up one more blog post -- not specifically about the show, but exploring how I might try to shape the world should I find myself amongst the survivors of this type of horrible plague. After that, I plan to take a break. My plan is to review Season Two sometime in late July or early August.

I really appreciate the feedback that I have received to this blog series. I don't receive many comments on this blog, but I've received a lot of favorable comments from various "Survivors" fans -- both directly and on Facebook. It is great to know that others enjoy this 40-year-old cult classic television program just as much -- if not more -- than me.

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