Screenplay by Russell T. Davies.
I’ll get straight to it. This episode transcends the boundaries of what the show is. Now it’s not the best episode – those are still to come – but this definitely accomplishes its goal in such a way that others can’t. As a longtime admirer of Davies’ work, the way this episode was executed surprised even me. Yes, I’ve seen what kind of writer Davies can be, but nothing prepared me for the achievement that is this episode. To be quite honest, this alone should win a BAFTA on the grounds that it’s a fourty-minute episode of a TV show that manages to work like a condensed biopic. Coming out of it, I felt as if I’d just been in a cinema, watching the story of an entire person’s life. All of that was absolutely necessary for Davies to do what he set out to do: write a death that feels meaningful.
Not to lie, I never liked Lance Sullivan that much. Over the series, I’ve found him annoying, whiney and secondary to the main attractions. But what Davies does is to take characters and give them the right stories to elevate them into being loved. You find yourself loving this character, even if you’ve had no investment in him at that point. This episode, in three quarters of an hour, gave Sullivan an entire life in the spotlight – the only way you’d care about the light fading. How exactly he did it is still beyond me. I know he did it – I felt it – but I didn’t notice it. The illusion of storytelling, of writing, was invisible. For the first time, I was unable to remember that everything happening is based on a textual blueprint written by someone I’ve never met in the early hours of the night. What’s he on? Cause I need it. The only thing I can guess is that it’s some form of Writer’s Juice I haven’t discovered yet. If you know of it, do please let me know.
What’s really going on in the duration of this episode is a build to a certain moment. One moment in time, at a certain place, between two people and circumstance. As we see Sullivan’s entire life, literally from the moment of his life beginning, to it ending, we’ve been shown every significant detail. From the van that inspired their new surname, to his numerous partners, his relationship with his Father, to meeting Henry Best, to their relationship falling apart, and how that lead to meeting the person that would stop his life. Not end it, stop it. That was very much what Davies seems to have wanted to do; have Sullivan’s life suddenly stop. Because that’s how life really works. All of a sudden, for no particular reason, you stop being alive. And everything’s that happened before it starts to make sense.
The sequence of Sullivan seeing his life in his dying moments was one of the most effective uses of editing that I’ve, frankly, ever seen. It was surreal, meaningful, sad, beautiful, and with an exponential stutter that in next to no time showed us the dying awareness of Sullivan of what was happening. I’ve convinced myself that Sullivan knew what had happened, and that he was dying, but only a moment to think to process it. In fact, this whole episode could well be what he saw in that moment, as his mind attempts to understands its death by piecing together its past to work out what had happened, almost as if to fight back. You already know Sullivan’s going to die – you’re shown his birth and death year in the final shot of the pre-credits scene (which is typical of Davies to be honest – I can just picturing him watching it with the nation and laughing like a maniac at the terror he’s caused the show’s fanbase), but you only come to accept it as the episode reaches its final act: the Sullivan van driving past, like his own flashback-to-come overlapping to before it was caused, and Queer as Folk‘s Hazel coming to Sullivan in a ghostly image warning him to go home. This turns out to be a racist woman shouting abuse at him, but he sees it as Hazel coming to him. Is Queer as Folk set in the same universe as Cucumber? I like to think so.
All the signs were there. Your strings are being pulled, and you’re hurting, because it’s obvious that Daniel is dangerous. It’s been written all over his personality since the beginning. You’re begging for him not to go with Daniel, even though you’ve already worked out that’s going to be his fatal mistake. It’s painful, but you like Davies for doing it to you. If anyone could pull my heart right out of my body and eat it front of me, I’m glad it was Davies. He can have it all. I find it pleasurable. Does that make me a sadist? You know what, probably. But this is Cucumber, so sadism is hardly going to shock this far in. Especially when Sullivan’s brains are beaten out with a golf club blow. That was the Moment. It had come. But as he worked it out, he died. Shame. No really, it is. I actually came to love Sullivan, because I’d seen his whole life, and had come to understand that someone who’d lived all those years could suddenly not be living any more. Makes me appreciate how young I am, and that’s no lie.
Mr. Davies OBE, I applaud you. You took a person I found a bit bland, and blasted a montage of his life into my eyes and ears, and seared him onto my heart. It was like being Cpt. Picard in the episode Inner Light. I could only understand what it was like to be him by becoming him. By absorbing every part of him. That’s what made the death meaningful – I felt as if I were him. It’s a lesson to other writers in how to write deaths: make us into your characters, and then do it quickly and painlessly. In the end, he’s only to be as cruel as he needs to be. That’s what I love about him – he’ll stab a knife in your eye if the story requires it, but he’ll stop as soon as it doesn’t. Without that kind of mindset, that realistic attitude toward characters, he wouldn’t be able to tell such compelling stories or make us care about people. Every writer could learn from Davies, and this episode is one I shall regard highly in the ming mong mantra.
I didn’t fear death before. God knows I do now.
Cucumber: Episode 6 – lesson in characters and death 9/10.