A rare beacon of light for Lol and Woody. Photograph: Dean Rogers
SPOILER ALERT: This blog is for people watching This Is England 90. Don’t read on if you haven’t seen episode three.
It’s autumn and, for the time being, the party’s over. No repetitive beats or pill-fuelled revelations in fields this week – but did anyone think this was going to be easy? The first thing we see tonight is Lol’s rapist father Mick materialising in the traumatised subconsciousness of his dreaming daughter. It’s a sign of things to come – this is one of the least relaxing hours of Sunday-night television you’ll ever see.
‘I’ve learned to forgive the people who hurt me’
As Lol awakes from her nightmare, Combo is reaching the end of his. His parole hearing finds him meek, earnest and sheepish. He’s done all the right things and he’s getting out. Four years doesn’t seem long for manslaughter – particularly as it wasn’t a first offence. But we assume someone’s done their research and knows what they’re doing.
‘I bet Woody’s proposed!’
No, Kelly, that’s not quite it. The gang have been summoned to Woody and Lol’s for a sit-down lunch. With Combo’s imminent return leaving her no option, it’s time for Lol to clear the air. Cue a gruelling 15-minute scene of brilliantly-modulated escalating tension as Lol finally unburdens herself to her family and friends about those awful few days in 1986 and braces herself in the face of Kelly’s utter, boggle-eyed fury. This scene must surely have been largely improvised – there’s something almost unwatchably realistic about the repetitions, interruptions and horrible conversational black holes of silence which seem to suck all the air out of the room.
Related: This Is England '90 recap – episode two, Summer
But even after Kelly has stormed off, we’re not quite done. Milky has a significant bone to pick, too. Is he really expected to leave his mixed-race daughter under the same roof as the man who beat him half to death because of the colour of his skin? Milky’s race has been largely unacknowledged since the film that launched this series. But tonight – from the moment he’s blanked by Woody’s mum and mutters something about returning to his “slave quarters” – it’s back on the agenda. The challenge for the writers is to nudge it back towards centre-stage while avoiding heavy-handedness. It’s a long-term undercurrent that’s finally come bubbling back to the surface and its reappearance makes this scene all the more punishing.
‘So I was born in Scotland?!’
While the past is eviscerating his friends, it’s gradually being accepted by Shaun. He’s accompanying his mum to a reunion of soldiers from his dad’s regiment. The revelation about his Caledonian roots (‘it’s not exotic, it’s horrible!’) is as close as we get to trauma here – and thank goodness for that. The pair return home to find that Shaun has been accepted on to his college course after all. As an illustration of someone sticking with it and turning a corner in the end, it all feels a little neat although, after the earlier intensity, it’s easy to give Shaun the benefit of the doubt – after all, it’s nice to have a few scenes that you don’t have to watch through your fingers. Shaun’s centrality to This Is England’s plotting has drifted as Shane Meadows has explored the other characters, but we’re happy things are (for now) working out for him.Shaun (with Mr Sandhu) … coming to terms with his Caledonian roots. Photograph: Dean Rogers
‘I can’t make her go back there, Harv’
Kelly has taken what’s apparently the one and only option available to her and moved into Harvey and Gadget’s rancid-looking flat. Even this isn’t straightforward – Harvey is clearly not happy, so the egg-and-chips-scoffing tranquility may be temporary. In fact, the bleak penultimate scene – in which Kelly chases the dragon in determined pursuit of oblivion – may be more of a hint of where we’re going.
‘Give me your finger’
Woody has proposed to Lol. Of course he has. As Combo settles in upstairs, Woody does the one thing he can think of doing to soothe his soul mate. All he has to wrap around Lol’s finger is a bit of yellow plastic bag. But even so, it’s a lovely moment in one of the more resonant small-screen romances in recent memory. Hopefully they’ll get to go through with it this time. Although it’s easy to think of a few things that could still go wrong. For a start, Milky’s apparently plotting some sort of violent intervention, presumably directed towards Combo. Thankfully, the final episode next week is a feature-length one – there’s plenty to sort out.
Notes & queries
Stephen Graham’s portrayal of Combo remains a truly remarkable thing. He still simmers with scarily untrammelled intensity, but his physical and psychological dimensions seem to expand and diminish at Graham’s will. As he reappears in the show, he seems small, fragile, almost timid. But we all know his vulnerability can manifest itself in other ways too and these polarities are the source of his edgy fascination.
Did we all know that Combo’s surname was Gascoigne? The 1990 World Cup has been conspicuous by its absence in this series. But maybe that’s a sly nod in its direction?
Anyone who has seen any of his films will know that Shane Meadows loves a montage. They can seem a touch lazy – a shortcut to narrative destinations that should be reached via dialogue and character development. But in Meadows’ hands, they’re usually justified – the trick is to elicit sufficiently convincing performances from your actors that their faces can tell the story.
He’s not been back for long but already Combo has bumped heavily into the elephant in the room; namely, Woody’s beard. The David Bellamy quip was about as good as it got this week in terms of light relief.