The last episode takes place over at most a week, but it feels like much longer. There’s this “show don’t tell” backfire where Ken Stott has hit bottom and he’s laying about in a destroyed apartment, on a bender, and then we find out it’s like three hours after the last scene. And we’ve missed the most important character development he could’ve had in the skipped time.
Everything gets a resolution this episode, which is again very impressive plotting from Donna Franceschild. Thanks to her and director David Blair, “Takin’ Over the Asylum” has a lot of impact in its six hours. Though… I guess it might play different if you’re watching it weekly and not binging over a few days.
While Stott’s got his home with grandma Elizabeth Spriggs moving back to Lithuania (to die, like short long-term plan, which is actually the grimmest “Asylum” gets and it’s real grim), his work with boss Roy Hanlon (who’s got some amazing monologues this episode), the radio show drama with David Tennant at Radio Scotland (they’re waiting to hear back on the response to their pilot), and then Katy Murphy being near catatonic after the events of the previous episode… the show still finds time to give Ruth McCabe a full arc, for episode and show.
Jon Morrison is back as McCabe’s husband, checking in on her at the residential apartments or whatever the euphemism (bed and breakfast, I think), when she finds out she’s got her placement in the nice place. Now, originally the show said that placement would take months, though… in some ways, McCabe’s arc this episode is so entirely disconnected from the rest of it maybe its got a different present action. Certainly feels like it.
It’s also great. McCabe and Morrison get this fantastic spotlight as they try to make sense of their lives after the various tragedies. It balances out Murphy not being too active in her own arc with Stott.
When the episode—and show—ends the Stott arc, the McCabe and Morrison one has done some heavy lifting through juxtaposition, if not directly saying things relevant to Stott and Murphy’s not dissimilar situation, then making a lot of implications about it. I just thought of another one, in fact.
It’s deft writing from Franceschild, well-directed by Blair, but a little too clean. “Asylum” could’ve ended stronger. Though… it’s hard to say what impact the original recording of Let It Be would’ve had. The show does adequate cover versions but they’re always clearly cover versions.
The narrative balance would’ve still been off.
“Asylum”’s actors could’ve used another episode—Tennant especially, he’s been a great, but glorified sidekick since episode two—and it certainly seems like Franceschild and Blair could’ve delivered it, but there might just be too much sadness to it at episode seven.
“Takin’ Over the Asylum”’s an exceptional show. It’s ambitious, it’s assured, great writing from Franceschild, great performances from Stott, McCabe, Tennant, Murphy—Hanlon. Wonderful, wonderful Hanlon. It also puts your heart into a meat grinder and turns and turns and turns.
It’s a guilty relief when it’s over.