The entire first season was provided prior to broadcast.
If you’re none too keen on witnessing a duckling hand-fed to a swarm of merciless pigs, this might not be the show for you. That said, if you can stomach the odd unpleasantness, The Living and the Dead provides ample reward for those willing to bypass the show’s unavoidable trivialities. Commissioned by the BBC and premiering on the network in the U.K on June 28th earlier this year before making its way to North American audiences on October 27th, The Living and the Dead is a supernatural drama series created by Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham that, I must say, caught me by surprise.
The show approaches its familiar content from a refreshing angle. On the whole, it’s a sequential series with plot tangents that span throughout the entire season, weaving their way in and out of each episode. All the while, each roughly hour-long chapter plays off as an individual vignette in an anthological manner, tackling new supernatural occurrences in each instalment. Genre shows akin to this like American Horror Story and Penny Dreadful are nothing revolutionary, and The Living and the Dead certainly doesn’t redefine its bearing. However, it does do its best to distance itself from similar televised horror series and for the most part, it does a frightfully good job at it.
The series’ main protagonist, Nate, played in a intoxicatingly understated turn by Colin Morgan, returns to his ill mother’s bedside with his second wife Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) in the 1890s. Nate has a psychiatric background and Charlotte, an affinity for photography. Upon returning to the family farm, the couple isn’t exactly fond of their newfound responsibilities, overseeing the harvest and wrangling the estate’s finicky caretakers, but muster the courage for the time being nonetheless. Unfortunately, not long after arriving Nate’s mother passes, bequeathing the farm in its entirety to him and his beloved. To further complicate things, a slew of supernatural occurrences begin to manifest amongst the more mentally vulnerable farmhands, leaving Nate to dissect the spiritually compromised and Charlotte in charge of the harvest.
As time goes on, Nate and Charlotte become better adjusted to the demand of running a farm whilst balancing, confronting, and exercising their own personal demons together. However, the occult happenings that Nate is convinced are nothing more than phantom materializations of his patients’ troubled pasts begin to exploit personal, unknowable details about Nate, his wife and the farm’s inhabitants. Admittedly disoriented, Nate continues to courageously face the apparitions head-on, as a completely separate series of unexplainable events, visitants and objects – onrushing lights, a deafening rumble coming from the sky and a book emitting light – utterly rattle his bones.
Ranging from self-bifurcation, superstitious sacrifices and most bone-chilling of all, a quintet of serenading ghost children, The Living and the Dead certainly has no shortage of genuinely spooky moments and heart-stopping scares. The show’s eerie tone is amplified by a befittingly unearthly soundtrack, which features some truly haunting vocal performances and a suffocating lyrical dreariness, occasionally spliced with soft, ominous piano riffs. The usual pageantry from that era is on full display as well. A retro bleakness stems from overly cluttered rooms with excessively detailed trinkets. From the wallpaper to the attire, visually speaking, The Living and the Dead is a sight to behold down to the most minute teacup.
Creators Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham’s ambitious vision for a Victorian horror/sci-fi fable may have been a death sentence from the onset when all’s said and done though. While The Living and the Dead certainly tests the limitations of its genre and might’ve arguably succeeded in charting new territory for horror television, the show can’t help but to screech to a halt when the restrictions of a horror driven plot are fully exercised, by no fault of its own.
Mixing what is past and what is modern, it’s a damn shame The Living and the Dead wasn’t renewed for a second season and given a chance to build on a strong, promising first outing. The fact that The Living and the Dead is occupying a piece of my brain when shows like Westworld and Atlanta are running amuck up there, speaks volumes to me. The first episode certainly does its job, as it set its hooks into my curiosity with entertainment, emotion and terror. Given the chance, The Living and the Dead proves to be an hour of television well worth tuning into each week.
The Living and the Dead is a series of clever, emotionally-charged ghost stories best ingested in the company of those like-minded looking for a fright by the television screen's flicker.