Survivors – Corn Dolly

corn dolly by jack ronder

When I saw this episode’s title appear onscreen, it seemed vaguely familiar but I couldn’t remember what a corn dolly was. I was hoping it wasn’t going to end up as a metaphor for something horrific here because I didn’t fancy an evening that climaxed with The Wicker Man-type terrors. After all the opening grimness, I just wanted Survivors to show me more glimpses of the decent side of humanity.

Survivors has set my expectations now though. The episode opens with our trio of Abby, Jenny and Greg driving along a narrow country lane, only to break down because the fuel gauge turns out to be faulty. They pull into a field and Abby offers to walk to the nearest petrol station. I’m anticipating the worst for them around every corner. There will be some hostile group already camping in the field, someone will be guarding the petrol station…

I feel I share some of Abby’s hope when she sees the poster advertising the settlement. It seems like the first new friendly sign of life they have encountered for a while. Watching Charles and Lorraine work their way around a house, analysing what it could offer, was impressive as it’s clear they are organised and have some sort of plan. I start feeling more hopeful for our trio during Corn Dolly.

 

The loneliness of fish and elderflower wine

Despite the relative niceness of things this episode, we couldn’t escape some grimness. The discovery that the majority of Charles’s group are terminally ill is a real kicker. Every episode is showing us the fragility of life in this post-plague world. “My whole village died because they ate some bad fish,” feels such a naff thing. I want to say it sounds medieval, but it’s even more primitive than that. Charles’ estimate of the UK’s total number of survivors is much bleaker than I had been thinking. As he outlines, their communities are going to be small, and any incident like this could be a major disaster. I think it hit home when he told Abby that so far no one had survived from the same family and no one who had survived had known any of the other survivors. I find the idea of never again speaking to anyone you used to know to be utterly depressing.

Greg’s guitar performance made me reflect that the survivors have probably not heard music for some time now. Are all The Beatles dead in this reality? What happens to all the music that had ever existed before now? Is anyone going to ensure that cultural history is passed down? Will they ever be able to generate enough electricity to get a record player going? Will Mick’s generation, or the one after that? How long?

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The production of elderflower wine gave me distinct vibes of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, in which Reggie’s son-in-law is constantly producing home-brewed wine with flavours like elderflower or rhubarb. Echoes of The Good Life have started to appear as well, with Tom and Barbara also producing their own wine and similarly have a goat to milk. Mick gets to enjoy some of the booze alongside the adults. Based upon what we’ve seen so far, it’s beginning to look like it will be far safer than the water.

charles comes down the stairs while the others sit at the table drinking wine. greg is in the background playing guitar

Unborn children

Abby and Jenny’s conversation about having children was thought-provoking. Jenny really is rather young and with no boyfriend it was clearly not even on the horizon as something to contemplate yet. I think Abby has already realised that there is going to be some repopulation work to do. It isn’t discussed but after watching the medieval way they are going to have to work the land, the reality of childbirth with all its inherent risks and no modern medical care is scary.

I ended up so disappointed in Charles. I thought he was going to be a dystopian Tom Good. His conversation with Abby about the new world’s need for children starts well, but it’s increasingly uncomfortable and he’s truly blown it when he blurts out, “I love you.” I sighed sadly, “Oh no…” A small part of me was worried he was going to try to rape her. The more I think about it, the more unhappy I am with the discovery that he’s pressured several women into sleeping with him. He’s lied to all of them and I think he would (will?) keep doing it. Lorraine follows him around like a lovesick puppy, while Isla seems content when it emerges that at least three of the group have been carrying Charles’s children, which makes me think that she had him sussed or if she didn’t then she doesn’t care – she’s simply happy to be having a child.

 

It’s a pleasant surprise to see a blossoming romance between Jenny and Greg. I like that she asks him for a hug in the tent. Greg seems so stoic and, lest we forget, like many others he’s been a widower in mourning. With the new world full of loners, how long has it been since many of them had something so simple and comforting as a hug? It does just seem like Jenny has had enough and that hug could be purely platonic, but there is clearly something more when they exchange a brief kiss while working at the farm. And in front of Mick! Who is slightly boggle-eyed. It’s therefore unsurprising later on when Greg decides to leave with Jenny.

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Children of the future

After the brief appearance from Tom’s typhoid-carrying chicken-thief, Mick is the first child we’ve seen properly. While the adults have managed to stay clean, Mick looks particularly rough and grubby. I am doubtful that he was a scout. His initial fear of Charles and Lorraine is interesting, as he hides in the freezer for ages (I am delighted to see that it is covered in wood-effect sticky-backed plastic), then hesitates over going with them. I wonder whether it is simply because he’s let himself in and is worried about getting into trouble or because he’s already encountered a nastier lot.

I think about Mick a lot. Like the rest of the survivors, he’s experienced an enormous trauma, but his youth means he’s not so well equipped to deal with it. His childhood is now effectively over. There are few others his age and all his conversations are going to be with grown-ups about grown-up things. What use would any more traditional schooling be when he’s destined for a life of farming and simple survival. What did you want to be when you grew up Mick? Well, it doesn’t matter and it will never matter now. At least all the adults got to experience the old world, to gain a bit of knowledge that could be useful in this one. On the other hand, they understand far more of what they’ve lost and you can only miss what you had.

 

It’s frustrating that having found a somewhat established group it becomes clear that our trio will leave. It’s the right decision. Part of me wants to feel sorry for Charles that the community he’s been building has been wiped out so quickly, just when it looked like its numbers were swelling. But it’s simply his cause that he’s lost – he admits that he had only known those dead people a few weeks, and there have of course been far closer relationships to mourn recently.

As with Arthur Wormley’s lot, I think there are certain morals and choices that need to be agreed on when laying the foundation for a new community. I thought these kinds of things would be issues that came up further down the line, but instead it’s proving harder to make a proper new start than I expected.

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