Halloween — the biggest night in Derry’s social calendar, transcending politics and religion with its cross-community appeal.
Or, in the other-worldly words of Orla McCool, the night Catholics and Protestants come together “to fight ghosts”.
But while fisticuffs with phantoms are avoided, the latest episode of Derry Girls does see poor James thrown to the wolves to secure five tickets to the greatest gig St Columb’s Hall will ever stage. At £20 a pop, Ma Mary wonders if God himself is playing.
“Oh, he’s bigger than God,” declares a starstruck Erin.
It’s Fatboy Slim. We have to praise him like we should.
Over three series of Derry Girls, the greatest trials facing the gang — Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Orla (Louisa Harland) and ‘the wee English fella’ James (Dylan Llewellyn) — have been teenage crush or school-related.
While the show is set against the backdrop of the Troubles, the five friends have rarely had to deal with anything more serious than incurring Sister Michael’s wrath or accidentally serving hash scones at a wake. Until now, that is.
The sixth instalment, with a shock demise amidst the Halloween festivities, was due to be the last hurrah until Lisa McGee announced a bonus episode to air on Wednesday night.
But it’s time for the ball and the teens are frantic to see Fatboy Slim. He’s ‘a modern-day Beethoven’, says Erin.
‘Except good’, Orla points out.
Fatboy Slim is yet another clever cameo. “Listen, I’ve played everywhere. New York, London, Paris, Munich,” he tells BBC NI.
“It’s all been leading up to this. Derry is the dream.”
But tickets are like hen’s teeth and when the gang manages to bag the final five, this provokes a maniac called Mad Stab to throw the gauntlet down to James. Whoever wins a fight, wins the tickets. Mad Stab is played by Emmett Scanlon in a genius piece of casting. He’s truly terrifying. Poor James is petrified and ‘high on adrenalin’, grabs the tickets and tears them up. Mad Stab wants to kill him. The girls aren’t far behind.
When James tries to explain that he was no match for Mad Stab’s size, Erin says: “But you’re English James. About five of you managed to colonise the planet, so we thought you might just have something up your sleeve.” Ouch!
In a stroke of sheer manipulation, Michelle manages to blag five VIP freebies when she takes their sob story to the TV, explaining how poor James received a black eye and a broken leg in an unprovoked assault. She swears her way through the interview (and yes, we heard it all, despite the bleeps), but there’s a brilliant exchange between the two when Michelle lists her cousin’s failings. “God, it’s so hard to say this. He’s also.... English,” she says, apologetically.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” replies the presenter, reaching out to take her hand.
In their lit-up angel wings and fluffy halos, the five head off for the best night of their lives; James sporting a fake black eye and walking with a crutch.
Clare is particularly excited. She’s met a lesbian called Laurie who is also heading to the ball. There’s a spark between the pair and Clare thinks that she’s in love. This could be the night she finally gets a snog.
En route to St Columb’s in a trailer attached to Mr Devlin’s tiny car, Clare exchanges a look of pure, unadulterated joy with her dad, making what’s to come all the more tragic. The night is young, and she can’t wait to find Laurie among the throngs. The only problem is that Laurie has come dressed as a clown and there are quite a few of them.
Refusing to meet Fatboy Slim without her would-be lover, she sets off in search of Laurie. Mayhem ensues as Mad Stab reappears seeking revenge and the gang is tossed out into the street, but not before Clare finds her gal and gets the long-awaited kiss.
Her happiness is shortlived though. As the gang celebrates Clare’s moment of bliss, Gerry (Tommy Tiernan) arrives with news that Clare’s dad has suffered an aneurysm. We knew that something was amiss earlier when we saw him break off from breaking off Aunt Sarah’s fake engagement to Ciaran, to take a phone call and solemnly ask ‘when?’
And so, death comes to Derry Girls. In one fell swoop, the laughter turns to tears and the children into adults.
It’s a powerful, poignant scene as the friends, still in their angel costumes, wrap their home-made, feathered wings around the crying Clare.
And what a moving moment when Jenny Joyce reaches out to place a hand upon Clare’s arm as she walks behind her father’s coffin. These little touches are subtle yet add so much.
As sitcom endings go, it’s unexpected.
But sometimes life is cruel, hearts get broken and the laughter fades away until another day — or another episode, at least.