This week’s episode is the most grounded yet, no spaceships or telekinesis in sight. But that doesn’t mean ‘The Commuter’ avoids the big science fiction ideas. Starring Timothy Spall and written by Jack Thorne, ‘The Commuter’ is kitchen sink drama crossed with sci-fi, and is nowhere as rubbish as that sounds. It’s might just be a small science fiction masterpiece.
Based on a short story from 1953, the episode takes a bit of a diversion from the source material. Macon Heights is straight from the story however, with a similar origin in both, a town that almost existed. In the book however it’s hinted to be bleeding into our world from an alternate reality. A reality in which the vote for Macon Heights was passed and it was built. In the show it’s a lot more abstract. Linda (Tuppence Middleton) brings people to her perfect universe and fixes their life for them, with or without their permission. My take was that she was a being from another world, beyond our comprehension. Hence the weird white rooms and portals – possibly her ship? Or maybe that’s reaching.
The performance by Timothy Spall is perfect here. But that man is a national treasure, and he could no doubt put in an enthralling performance as an ‘average joe’ in his sleep. But there is something so relatable about Ed. The down-to-earth job, the normal house, the far from perfect life – there is something we can all latch onto with his character, even if our lives are nowhere near as sad as his.
The story follows Ed Jacobson (Timothy Spall), a train station worker with a really depressing home life. His wife isn’t happy and his son has intense anger issues which will only get worse. When a woman comes around asking for Macon Heights, a stop which doesn’t exist, the idea soon grabs Ed. The problem is that when he comes back from the idyllic town, his son has vanished and him and his wife have no memory of him.
In the story it is Ed’s coworker Paine who goes to Macon Heights. The twist in the book is different too, when he gets back he now has an infant child and small details have changed. There’s a reference to this in the episode. When Ed returns from Macon Heights, Bob Paine is now a father. The original story dealt much more with memory and the past, the episode asks perhaps deeper questions about love and what a parent is prepared to do for their child. Should a parent give up their child if they know in the long run it will cause them pain? Or is it their duty to stand by them through thick or thin?
The final gut punch of the episode is beautifully done, as Linda tells Ed that she removed his son to make everyone’s life easier. But Ed says it doesn’t matter and that it’s his job as a parent to be there, no matter how bad it gets. Everyone can relate to this on some level. Perhaps your life would be simpler without a certain person in it. But by losing all of the pain this person gives you, you also lose all the potential for joy. You can’t run and escape your problems in a dreamland like Macon Heights, but facing them head-on will have it’s moments of the utmost happiness. If you love someone you should stick with them, no matter what. It’s this that makes ‘The Commuter’ the most satisfying of the three episodes so far. It might not answer all the questions but it leaves the viewer with a feeling of hopefulness and not outright despair. And in the world in 2017, that’s not such a bad thing.
Next week it’s ‘Crazy Diamond’ starring the one and only Steve Buscemi.
Reviewed by Jack