As opening episodes go, last week’s first instalment of Thirteen was as good as anything I’ve seen. And it seems that I wasn’t alone in thinking that – Marnie Dickens’ five-parter seems to really have caught the imagination, even spawning a fake Twitter account that provides behind-the-scenes investigations, little snippets of extra footage, access to a blog and general food for thought (all under the guise of Bristol-based hacker Sarah Hayes, @iamsarahhays). All this social media interaction is great and innovative, but what I was interested in was how Ivy Moxam (Jodie Comer, on superb form) would adapt to her new surroundings in episode two, and where Dickens was going to take us this time around.
NB: Because this an on-demand drama (of sorts) many won’t have seen this episode yet. if you haven’t, don’t read any further – there are many spoilers.
Aside from being blown away by the emotional impact of Ivy Moxam’s ordeal and the fall-out from her abduction, captivity and re-introduction into society and all that brought for her family, the plot moved along at a fierce pace in episode one, revealing fissures in the relationships Ivy left behind. First and foremost, Christina and Angus – Ivy’s mum and dad – were an interesting pair. Angus had shacked up with Sophia while Ivy was away, while Christina was (naturally) willing to believe anything that her daughter told her (because, well, after 13 years of despair her daughter was back). Despite the fact she wanted to preserve and present the perfect family tableau to Ivy, she was also revealed to be having an affair – with the Ivy’s school headmaster, who had just been hauled into the police station because Mark White, the man who they believed had taken Ivy all those years ago, had been discovered to have worked at his school as a kitchen porter. And then there was Tim, an ex-boyfriend of sorts, now married, but back on the scene keen to help Ivy’s assimilation back into the wider world. Their motivations when it came to Ivy were different, which made that first episode so special – everyone seemingly had an agenda, or at least the situation made it feel like they had an agenda. Not least Ivy herself.
When you added in DI Carne and DS Merchant’s relationship – both with each other and with Ivy – and Ivy’s sister Emma, you had a bubbling soup of intrigue and ever-shifting inter-personal politics and dynamics. Ideas and definitions of family, motherhood, sisterhood, childhood were all mixed up and put to the test.
In this second episode, with White apparently having taken another young girl – 10-year-old Phoebe – the police were keen to make haste and not waste any time tracking White down. Ivy, meanwhile, was being interrogated by all manner of police and psychologists – the reason being that time was ticking along quickly and they saw Ivy as the missing link who could provide some key clues on White, his modus operandi and, ultimately, his whereabouts.
There was one line in this second episode that really struck home. Time asked Angus how Ivy was doing, and he replied: “Honestly? I don’t know.”
And that the way Thirteen continued to simmer – we don’t know how Ivy is doing because she’s still a blank canvas, one minute child-like with awe at her surroundings, while at others she throws tantrums. This only adds to her ambiguity. There’s an extraordinary moment when Christina is neurotically making a cake for Ivy, because that’s what she remembers her daughter liking. She burns it and is beside herself. This perfect idea of family is falling apart. Ivy walks into the house after her latest interview with the police and goes straight for the mixing bowl, scooping up raw cake mixture with her hands and smearing great, big gloops of it into her mouth. The scene illustrated how much of a child she still is, mentally. After all, isn’t eating raw cake mix something we all did and remember as a child?
For the majority of this episode we were on Team Ivy. Her scenes with Tim running through a field, hand in hand, were beautiful and freeing. She was remembering everything Tim talked about from school and conversed with him naturally and believably. Surely she is who she says she is – a person could not recall that amount of information without living it, breathing it. And then Merchant decided it was a good idea to take Ivy back to White’s house to see if she could recall anything, to help in the tracking down of White. I wasn’t sure that, procedurally, this would be allowed to happen, but Merchant and a reluctant Carne took her in. Ivy actively suggested going back down to the cellar, where she became distressed at how White had defaced it. “This was ours,” she sneered, fighting back the tears.
And suddenly we were back on the other team. Ivy also blurted out to her mum and dad that she had had sex before. And then there was the final scenes, where Merchant had found some CCTV footage, showing White and Ivy taking a stroll around a shopping centre, stopping off for a loo break (on her own) and then rejoining her alleged captor and HOLDING HIS HAND. When she found out Tim was married, this added another layer of catastrophe for Ivy – perhaps her perfectly constructed lie was beginning to crumble around her.
So where were we? Merchant and Carne we at logger heads as to whether Ivy was who she said she was, and even her mother was beginning to believe there was something up. And so were we. Despite allowing us to feel sympathy for Ivy, Dickens then took us on an about-turn and presented Ivy as a liar. Perhaps even a fraud. Was she, during her captivity, suffer from Stockholm Syndrome? Did she still pine for White and the world he created for her? Once again questions about identity – both directly for Ivy and what it means and who shapes it for us – were brought sharply back into focus.
For our episode one review, go here
For our interview with Marnie Dickens, go here