Feel-good telly they’re not.
Yet amongst their murk and macabre, there burns within each a little light of hope.
German series Dark opens with a suicide and somehow manages to grow ever bleaker from then on in.
Black Mirror holds up human frailty in all its facets and finds us hopelessly wanting, time and again.
And then there’s True Detective. One of the most terrifying yet thrilling pieces of TV ever committed to camera.
All tell tales of the darkest of hearts, all show the madness and despair that humanity inflicts on itself.
And yet, still, hope.
A promise of peace in the ‘afterlife’ from True Detective’s scrupulously atheist Rust Cohle. The silver lining in the promise of family reconciliation and connection in Dark. And, in Black Mirror, the triumph of revenge.
My month has been an ill one. Family flu wiped us out and made boxset marathons mandatory. When not lurking under a duvet, my mornings walking to and evenings walking from work were done in darkness.
My moods, at times, were black.
But, as with the programmes I mainlined, light sometimes shone through the dusk and bleached out the shadows. In the early days of the month, I stepped through wind-stripped parks and sleet-blasted North London streets with my fists shoved firmly into my pockets, thinking about O. My unstoppable supernova. Variously nicknamed ‘Crazy O’, ‘Irrepressible O’ and ‘The Kraken’. It’s hard to feel entirely bleak when she’s around.
And then a much-loved member of the family died. On Monday 15 January. Blue Monday. She’d made it to 99 years old in – mostly – good health. In the last few years though, her sight and hearing faded to the point that she was trapped in almost-darkness.
Her sister talked of her death as a ‘blessing’ and, again, I’m drawn to the philosophy of the things that have kept me company on winter’s nights.
I think about Rust’s famous ‘McConaulogues’ – long, rambling philosophical musings on life and death – and how his nihilism speaks to mine. When he talks about the death of his daughter, at the same age that my O is now, my heart feels sick:
“I think about my daughter now, and what she was spared. Sometimes I feel grateful. The doctor said she didn’t feel a thing; went straight into a coma. Then, somewhere in that blackness, she slipped off into another deeper kind. Isn’t that a beautiful way to go out, painlessly as a happy child? Trouble with dying later is you’ve already grown up. The damage is done, it’s too late.”
The question of how to live after the death of a child is one we all pray we’ll never have to answer. And the fear that accompanies any illness is crippling.
Last night, when I checked on our feverish child, I was greeted by blood on her silent, sleeping face. My shaking hands revealed that it had seeped into her pillow and pooled onto her pyjamas.
The immediate panic was calmed considerably once we’d cleaned her up and called 111. A lovely, patient nurse quelled my fears enough for me to sleep next to her, if fitfully.
Today, she’s clearly still ill, but has the energy to dance and laugh and sing. As with all toddlers, her emotions are pure and intense. Screaming with frustration and delight in equal measures.
January is drawing to a close and – with it – the darkest of days.
February brings a funeral, O’s birthday, and some changes to my body that I’ve been too scared to make. Till now.
If I take one thing with me from the first foggy weeks of this year, it’s the weary wisdom that there’s often a tiny glow to be found amidst the gloom. And – in the words of Rust Cohle – ‘if you ask me, the light’s winning’.