Review: Hinterland/Y Gwyll (S2 E2/8), Sunday 20th September, S4C

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It’s genuinely great to have this series back again. After a promising first run, it really feels like the characters are hitting their strides and the stories – stories of people struggling to make ends meet in the ultra-rural Ceredigion region in Wales – are being told with increasing assuredness. Last week we immersed ourselves in an emotional tale of a school bus driver selling drugs to sixth formers and university students, with the help of an ex-con who had previous when it came to drugs. One of the imbibers slipped into a coma and now suffers from permanent brain damage. We left Mathias and Rhys about to take in the lad’s father, who, its was implied, was the person who meted out revenge on the bus driver. Except it didn’t quite turn out like that.

It would have been a plausible reason for taking the life of another man. A terrible situation – a father forced to care for his mentally handicapped son for the rest of his life – where you almost understood this grieving, broken man’s thirst for revenge. But he didn’t do it. He admitted to Mathias and Rhys that he had tracked him down, shunted him off the road and remonstrated with him. He didn’t kill him, he told them.

For Mathias and Rhys it was back to square one, but the episode switched tack to focus on the two main characters’ personal lives. We saw in episode one that Mathias was on the edge, probed by the IPCC for his role in the Mari Davies case until he was fit to explode. He also had his estranged wife Meg in town, which made him face up to the feelings of guilt and grief he felt connected to his late daughter. The same feelings he had been running away from. They finally met again at the restaurant, where she told him that she wanted to get a divorce. Mathias acquiesced.

He was now seriously teetering. He couldn’t sleep and went to see John Bell, the mechanic at the run-down bus depot murder victim Carl Probert worked out of. Earlier in the episode, Mathias and Rhys broke up a fight between Bell and his ex-con friend Pearce, who was also in on Probert’s dealing network. Bell was one step away from letting the anger that always seemed to simmer just below his surface explode. Instantly Mathias saw a kindred spirit, and went to see Bell late at night, where the ex-solider told Mathias about his time in Afghanistan and the nightmare of killing innocent people. “How do you live with it?” Mathias asked, and you got the sense that he was not so much asking him in connection with the case but because he needed some anger management advice himself. In an extraordinary scene, Bell fetched his gun, span the barrel, lifted the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The way he lived with his anger and grief was to play Russian roulette – if he took a bullet the worrying would stop he said, but if he escaped unharmed fate had given him another day of life.

Mathias, with tears in his eyes, picked up the gun and pulled the trigger. With the fronds of the open fire licking and crackling away in the background the two shattered men’s dance with death felt like it was performed in Hades itself. Mathias lucked out. Fate had given him some breathing room, too.

He drove to Prosser’s house. It was odd seeing Prosser in his house and not lurking about in the shadows at the station, but he sat on his chintzy sofa while Mathias tended his resignation, his mind shot and his temperament not fit for work. Prosser refused him. Mathias went back to the station to hold his head in his hands. There was a magnificent tracking shot, which followed Mathias as he walked from room to room, which seemed to signify his heightened anxiety and quickening heartbeat.

Elsewhere, Rhys went home after her day’s work and observed her teenage daughter chatting merrily to friends on her phone. You got the impression that this case in particular – so tied in with parenthood – had consumed them both. But instead of relaxing and unwinding with a bottle of wine, she decided to drive back into the station. She couldn’t stay away from the thing that was consuming her.

In the end we found out that Geraint Hopkins’ younger brother was responsible for killing Carl Probert, but the outcome to this mystery was almost immaterial – this was as sombre an episode of Hinterland/Y Gwyll as there has been (and that’s saying something), not just for the horrible case Mathias and Rhys were investigating. It was sombre, heavy because of the human drama, and the way these two police people were coming apart at the seams. This level of character development has only made me more emotionally connected to Mathias and Rhys and, as Meg drove off to start her new life in Canada and Mathias finally started cooperating with the IPCC, there was a hint Mathias could finally start to heal.

Paul Hirons
@Son_Of_Ray

For all our Hinterland/Y Gwyll news and reviews go here

For an interview with Hinterland/Y Gwyll showrunner Ed Thomas go here

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