As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been trying to follow the second series of Hinterland/Y Gwyll over on S4C and have been enjoying it. It’s not easy sledding – the Welsh-language drama is full of dramatic scenery, tortured characters and rural communities that have been worn down by life, uneasy at the way modernity is edging out the old ways. So far, so good, then, but this week’s episode – where we saw the conclusion of a story that started last week – rose things to new levels, providing the best hour of crime drama I’ve seen in a while.
Mathias and Rhys were on the hunt for Oliver Benyon’s killer. A well-connected man (so Prosser intermittently warned Mathias) he was found shot dead in his lavish country home. The main suspect was a young man who had gone into hiding called Daniel Protheroe. Protheroe had been declared guilty by the local farming community who, due to the teen’s strange ways, his association with mob leader Glyn Powell’s daughter Branwen and the fact that his mother’s skeleton had been found in the Protheroe family home, was being set-up for some old-fashioned, vigilante justice.
At the end of the last episode, we saw Mathias (while looking for Daniel in the valley late at night) trip over a shallow grave. That’s where we started the action in this episode, with the confirmation that the contents of the grave was the skeleton of a young boy. DNA tests concluded that the body was that of Daniel Protheroe.
Mathias and Rhys looked at each other, incredulous. If that was the body of the real Daniel Protheroe in that grave, who was the young man currently on the run? Rhys had the answer. They looked for missing persons in the area around the time of the deaths, and Rhys had a eureka moment – a young boy went missing on a case she had worked on as a rookie. The boy was at the beach with his family, but went missing, presumed drowned. His name was Aled.
Suddenly, finding Daniel Protheroe was paramount, not necessarily to solve the Oliver Benyon case but for his own safety. Mathias wanted to meet and tell the parents of Aled that their son was likely alive, but Rhys was against it. Mathias, his own parental neglect weighing heavily on his shoulders, once again broke procedure and met with Aled’s mother. It didn’t go well.
Suddenly this episode was turning into something with huge emotional depth and clout. Everything was feeding back to Mathias’s own relationship with his daughters. It was about missing children, and the emotional fall-out of such horrendous, harrowing circumstances.
Rhys, angry at Mathias for going against her recommendation, confronted him. Mathias, once again the martyr and connecting everything back to his own real-life woes, told her that she should be a better mother. Again, this did not go down well.
And so the race was on. Rhys, pissed off at Mathias, poured herself into finding what happened to Oliver Benyon (it was Esyllt Jones’s boy Lewis what did it), while Mathias became obsessed with finding Aled/Daniel before the mob did. There was an uncomfortable showdown between Glyn, a gun and Daniel/Aled at the end, but despite me having a feeling of dread that Daniel/Aled (or even Branwen for that matter) was not going to survive (a parent-loses-child-finds-child-then-loses-child-again situation was definitely on the cards) everything worked out. The final scene, in which Mathias took Aled to reunite with his mother on the same beach he disappeared from all those years ago, was heart-rending. Mathias had tears in eyes. He wasn’t the only one.
That final scene was so beautifully shot – sand-dune reeds swaying in the breeze, the skies bruised and sombre strings playing on the soundtrack – it was like something out of a movie. Just brilliantly moving.
In fact, just like the rest of the episode. It was a beautifully balanced end to this story, its human, emotional elements layered with real skill. There were a few things you could question in terms of the investigation (why was Prosser so interested in the case? What actually happened to Daniel on that beach? Did the real Daniel Protheroe’s mother take him to replace the son she had lost?) but these things almost melted into the background as the human story came to the forefront. And that’s what I’m really liking about this series of Hinterland/Y Gwyll: Mathias and Rhys’s real-life problems – problems we all encounter and have to face – echo throughout the cases they’re trying to solve.
I’ve mentioned it before, but on the surface Hinterland/Y Gwyll is a fairly conventional procedural, but this episode proved how far that format could be pushed.
I mentioned in my review of From Darkness the other day that I was a bit disappointed in that first episode because its characters, direction and everything else had seemingly been taken from a list of ‘Things You Must Have If You Want To Be A Dark Moody Crime Drama’ list. Hinterland/Y Gwyll is the complete opposite – its has those tropes but it never feels clichéd or forced; its characters and stories are interwoven perfectly with the landscape and Ceredigion area.
People sometimes ask why crime drama? Why is it so popular? Why is there so much of it? The inference is that crime drama – like crime fiction – is a lesser, inferior genre to something more ‘literary’. Crime stories are about people first and foremost, and attempt to explain why we do the things we do with characters on both sides of the law. That’s what makes really good crime drama and fiction so compelling.
If you ever need to answer that question, show them this episode.
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