Review: Thirteen (S1 E3/5), Sunday 13th March, BBC3

Programme Name: Thirteen - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows: Ivy Moxam (JODIE COMER) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Simon Ridgway

(C) BBC – Photographer: Simon Ridgway

One minute we’re with Ivy Moxam, willing her to be the person she says she is; the next we’re wondering if she’s an imposter. She’s been through so much – 13 years of captivity – but try as we might, we’re always pulled the other way and begin to doubt her and her identity. In episode two we saw Ivy almost approaching some sort of normality, as she strove to consolidate and build upon old relationships and feel the warmth of rekindled love. Of course, we now know that nothing like that can last too long in Thirteen, and in episode three things started to really fall apart.

NB: Please do not read if you haven’t seen this episode yet online – there are lots of spoilers. Episode two of Thirteen is on BBC2 tonight at 10pm.

At the end of episode two we saw Ivy, who had professed her love to childhood sweetheart Tim, get rebuffed in spectacularly humiliating fashion. On her way home a hand lurched out of the darkness and grabbed her, and we feared that Mark White, who it was established by Merchant and Carne still had designs on Ivy, was back to take what he thought was his.

This little drama was quickly played out – it turned out to be the desperate father of the new missing girl, Phoebe, who had made a grab for Ivy – but from then on it was an astonishing episode, full of moments of shifting relationships. We’ve seen over the past two weeks that the Moxam family – despite being broken by Ivy’s disappearance – present a construct of the perfect family. Christine and Angus, in particular, have been trying to live together after he moved out because of his affair. And in this third episode, their relationship took a further twist – they were not only learning to live together, but they were getting on, suggesting that they were starting to heal old wounds.

There was also Ivy’s developing relationship with her sister Emma, and Emma’s own relationship with her fiancé Craig. Ivy was more or less in a catatonic state after being attacked, and because of this it was left to Emma to break down some barriers and become the one person in the family who able to communicate with her. They constructed a den, they played games and they talked about love and relationships, Ivy being particularly interested in the dynamic between Emma and Craig. Conversely, cracks were beginning to show in the soon-to-be-married couple’s relationship – Craig starting to become aggressive, possessive and angry at the amount of time Emma was spending with Ivy. It came to a head when Emma told him that it might be a good idea if they postpone the wedding.

In fact, everything came apart from the seams for the Moxam family, their carefully constructed perfect family schtick exploding spectacularly when Emma spotted Angus with his girlfriend one lunchtime. This precipitated Emma telling Ivy all that had happened to her mother and father, which caused a full-blown meltdown and the shunning of her father. When Ivy found out that her sister had initially doubted her story, well… Suddenly everything had changed; nothing was real; everything was a lie. An illusion. At that moment I wondered if the only person she could trust was her captor, Mark White. That was the only real stable, reality she had ever known, however perverted or non-consensual that reality was.

If anything, it showed that this drama is as much about what we perceive as reality and the ways it can warp and buckle in time. It makes you ask: what is real? How do I know what’s real is real? Who decides what’s real or not real? Thirteen is one big-old existential fable, wrapped up in the concept of family and what it means to be one, and be part of one.

As much sympathy as I had with Ivy in this episode, Marnie Dickens once again left us doubting her. Ivy had indeed begun to change from her passive, say-nothing, almost blank-canvas personality throughout this instalment. In one super scene she flipped the roles in an interview with Carne, asking him difficult questions about his own past, which he had no answer to. Was this a manipulative, shrewd and ruthless ‘Ivy’ coming to the fore? Perhaps the real person Ivy claimed to be?

We were definitely plunged into the mire once again when, late one evening, Merchant decided to go on a solo recce of the house Ivy had been kept in. Once again I wasn’t sure whether this was procedurally correct (for one she called for a renovation team, who arrived in minutes to knock down a false wall she had found in the basement (which surely wouldn’t happen that quickly); and, hold on, you’d think an forensics team would have located this false wall in the first place), but her find did uncover a chilling bounty – a body wrapped in a black sack.

So this begs some questions: a) who was in the sack? and b) if it’s the actual Ivy Moxam, who is this imposter?

Honestly, you can’t take your eyes off this drama for a second.

Paul Hirons

For our episode one review of Thirteen, go here

For episode two review of Thirteen, go here

For our interview with writer Marnie Dickens, go here


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