This is spoilery as I’m delving into some of Songbird’s characters (and John Wick: Chapter 2, for reasons which will become clear). My three-star review, which is here, is no more spoilery than the trailer.
Rich people heading out of town, taking the virus with them; sweetly personal stories about the lengths people will go to shield their loved ones; scapegoating. No not Songbird, or Britain in 2020, but life in Europe during the Black Death, my lockdown reading as mentioned in my review.
People’s behaviour is often predictable, even during events unprecedented in recent history, and Songbird is rather sharp on that. Their pandemic may be far worse than ours, the characters often one-dimensional, and some of its dialogue portentous, but there’s a lot that resonates (and actually one-dimensional characters and portentous dialogue could describe some of the government statements we’ve been faced with this year).
The sweet love story at Songbird‘s heart is a pandemic Romeo & Juliet as they fight the huge forces designed to keep them apart. Despite Songbird‘s craziness and determination to sail close to the wind, plenty of people, unable to meet up with partners they didn’t or couldn’t bubble with, will identify with its romantic themes.
In fact throughout the terrifying and exhausting pandemic facing LA’s citizens they mostly react like us.
Despite the idea that the pandemic is a great leveller, that’s not really true. Ordinary people are banding together to help each other out (witness May and Michael Dozer’s growing friendship via video call, where his fears of rejection turn out to be groundless, and later he saves her life with his drone). Meanwhile the rich Griffins sell black market immunity wristbands to their wealthy friends for tens of thousands of dollars a piece.
William and Piper Griffin are an interesting pairing. He is awful, using his protégé May for sex and forcing her to give up her PPE. And by going outside at all with his fake immunity bracelet he’s putting his daughter Emma, who has health problems, at huge risk.
Gratifyingly he meets a sticky end (and I mean sticky, as Dozer’s drone blows his head into gunky smithereens when he attacks May) but I felt his hubris would have been his undoing anyway. It’s Piper who points out to him that the wristband doesn’t actually make him immune; he can’t be stopped from going outside when he’s wearing it, but he’s still at risk from the virus.
Piper though is driven by love for Emma; it’s what leads her to help Nico when he’s desperate for a yellow wristband for Sara, so they can escape the city after her grandmother dies from the virus. (The irony is that Sara is already immune; Harland realises this, but still has her carted off to a Q-zone. While William, not immune, acts as though a piece of yellow plastic makes him so.)
By the way if you were wondering about the John Wick 2 connection, Peter Stormare, evil sanitation department head Emmet Harland in Songbird, starred in JW 2 as Abram, the Russian gangster brother of Russian gangster Viggo Tarasov from the first film. It’s in John Wick: Chapter 2 that we actually see Wick kill someone with a pencil, and in Songbird that’s how Nico kills Harland, before rushing off to the Q-zone before the captured Sara arrives there and is dragged inside.
So do the star-crossed lovers make it out? Well clearly the writers though we needed a little spark of light after our horrible year, because yes they do, thanks to some very nifty wristband-attaching by Nico as they enjoy a hug at the gates of the Q-zone facility (apologies if you’re a grumpy realist – you’ll just have to sit this one out). Their destination is Big Sur, now determined a paradise not just for its rugged beauty but by its lack of infections for the previous six months.