Every so often, an episode of a TV show comes along that is so important, and so well-crafted, that it sparks a necessary dialogue and just will not stop playing on your mind. Cucumber, which has mostly been a comedy-drama, and has often paled in comparison to anthology sister show Banana, had one such episode this week, with possibly the most remarkable writing of Russell T Davies’ career. It is essential to note that this review contains major spoilers, but also discussion of events and themes that some readers may find distressing.
The episode opens with a title card saying “Lance Sullivan: 1968 - 2015”. We flash through his entire life, from birth and childhood, to discovering his sexuality, to family dynamics, to meeting and falling in love with Henry. The events of Lance’s story in previous episodes are recapped, before we reach the present, where Lance turns down an apologetic Henry’s declarations of love to go out with his new obsession, the increasingly unhinged Daniel.
This is where everything changes. Previously, anything could have happened to Lance, from a freak car accident to an aneurysm. It is when he meets Danny on Canal Street that you realise he will be murdered, and it is the presence of an old face that indicates this will be different. Denise Black starred as matriarch Hazel Tyler in Davies’ ground-breaking Queer as Folk, and here she returns to warn Lance to go home. It transpires that Hazel is a ghost, roaming Canal Street and protecting her boys. This is jarring at first, given Cucumber is a show grounded in reality, but on reflection, her appearance is open to interpretation, which we will get to.
What makes this episode so affecting is the sheer honesty of it. We are shown every excruciating second of Lance and Danny’s encounter, which is sinister and horrifying rather than erotic. We see the club connect violently with Lance’s skull, and the relentless blood pour from the wound in close up. And we also recognise how universal the scene is. Lance could have been a woman, and the situation would still play out. Danny did not unleash a no-holds-barred homophobic beat-down, but rather aimed a solitary swing in drunken anger, presumably unaware of the consequences and that he would kill. This episode is so uncomfortable but necessary because it could literally happen to anyone. Russell T Davies said in the Radio Times that he wanted to write a death that felt like a death, and thanks to his incredible assembled talent, that is exactly what he achieved. No matter if you have been keeping up with Cucumber, Banana and Tofu, this episode is essential viewing.