A number of small niggles are affecting the morale of the community. None of them are particularly important in themselves (Arthur is hoarding supplies and prefers to eat by himself, the pigs escape from their enclosure, destroying the cabbage patch) but added together they help to create a dangerous tension.
Abby realises that they need something to focus on and suggests a party. Everybody reacts enthusiastically and it’s a great success. But there’s a tragic aftermath which throws the community into crisis – the next morning, John and Lizzie discover that Wendy is dead (she’s clearly been the victim of a brutal attack).
Barney had spent some time with her at the party the previous evening, so he becomes the prime suspect, meaning that the others have to act as judge and jury. And when a verdict is decided upon, they have to be the executioner as well.
Barney, of course, was innocent – it was Tom who killed Wendy (his interest in her was established right from their initial meeting). For those who have an issue that Survivors tends be dominated by white middle-class characters, the reveal that the murderer was drawn from working class stock is an obvious problem.
Jenny, Emma and Tom declare that he’s not guilty and Charmain, Paul, Arthur, Vic, Abby and Greg vote that he’s guilty. The question then turns to what his punishment should be. Four votes for banishment and four votes for execution – leaving Abby with the deciding vote (after much deliberation she votes for execution). Out of everybody, Greg is by far the most vehement that Barney should pay the ultimate price – had he not been so insistent, it’s unlikely that the others would have ever taken this step.
The fact that we witness a monstrous miscarriage of justice seems to be very much the point of the episode – especially if we accept that Law and Order is essentially a debate about the value of capital punishment. None of the characters, especially Greg, emerge from the story with a great deal of merit – unlike some series, the regulars are fallible and can’t always be relied on to do the right thing.
Although series one of Survivors had a female lead in Abby, there’s still a whiff of male dominance as only the men draw lots to decide which of them has to kill Barney (it falls to Greg). The bitter irony is that shortly after Greg does the deed, a tearful Tom confesses to Abby that he killed Wendy. Abby shares this information with Greg, but it doesn’t go any further. Abby wants to let the rest of the community know but Greg violently disagrees – and he threatens to challenge her leadership if she tells them. So Abby reluctantly concedes. This power struggle is a key part of the episode. Up until now, Greg has been content to follow Abby’s lead, but the balance between the two of them has now certainly shifted.
Law and Order is an uncomfortable watch, because it’s clear very early on that an innocent man is going to suffer. In a way it harks back to Genesis, where we saw a horrified Abby witness Wormley’s men shooting an unarmed man. Wormley was convinced he was in the right – the man had broken the law (as defined by Wormley) so he had to pay the price. Now that Abby and the others have a community of their own, they have a similar dilemma to face.
The vast influx of new characters over the last few episodes has meant that it’s been difficult to get to know them in the same depth as Abby, Greg and Jenny. So Wendy’s death lacks a certain impact – had she featured for longer then the viewers may have invested in her more. As it is, she remained rather undeveloped and the story tends to concentrate more on Barney’s punishment than her death.
The fact that everybody is keen to believe Barney’s guilt (based on the slenderest of evidence) is disturbing. An unanswered question is why Tom Price is never considered a possible suspect, since the less savory aspects of his character are well known (and he pestered Jenny at the party, something which isn’t mentioned). It’s very strange that they don’t make any effort to question everybody – once a suspect has been found, that appears to be good enough.
Talfryn Thomas is once again excellent as the guilt-ridden Tom (who becomes increasingly haunted and haggard as the episode wears on) and the rest of cast rise to the occasion as well. It’s a self-contained, obviously talky story, but thanks to the stakes it never feels dull or drawn out. Although there were behind the scenes problems (Clive Exton requested that his name be taken off the script and a pseudonym used) they’re not visible on screen and Law and Order is a highlight of the first series.