Review: One Child (S1 E3/3), Wednesday 2nd March, BBC2

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 23/02/2016 - Programme Name: One Child - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows: EMBARGOED FROM PUBLICATION UNTIL 23/02/2016 Liu Ying (MARDY MA), Mei (KATIE LEUNG) - (C) BBC - Photographer: -

Over two episodes, this Anglo-Chinese drama presented us with an interesting and emotional tale – a contemporary noir – that featured a young woman who had travelled to China to reunite with the birth mother she had never met and to help save the brother she never knew she had from a wrongful conviction of murder. During the course of her rites of passage, she had the skin of middle class student to become a fearless young woman. Now it was just a case of seeing if her transformation had been worth the effort.

NB: 提前剧透 (Spoilers ahead)

The last we saw of Mei and her team, they were in confident mood. Not only had she fearlessly navigated the back streets and political machinations of Chinese society to help prove her brother’s innocence, but she had also come a long way herself. From safe, middle class Studentville to rediscovering her roots and putting her life in danger, Mei had changed for good, and transformed from a bookish teen to a fearless young woman. It was a thrilling rites of passage, and the confidence that now flowed through her knew no bounds.

But there was heartbreak ahead. With the help of a private detective, she had successfully managed to change 11 of the witnesses’ statements, which she and her mother Liu Ying thought would be enough for the court to overturn Anjun’s sentence. But they were wrong: the judge upheld Anjun’s conviction and he was scheduled to die the very next day.

There wasn’t much time, so Mei was in dire straights. As was her mother, Liu Ying. Through this adversity, their own relationship flourished. One touching scene saw Mei crawl into bed next to her sobbing mother, cradling and comforting her. If Mei’s identity hadn’t already been rediscovered cemented thanks to this case, it was now.

As a last throw of the dice, Mei went to see Guan Xiaopeng – the real murderer and whose crime Anjun was about to pay with his life – to beg for his help and mercy. It was a curious scene. Mei was obviously distressed and desperate for his help, and Xiaopeng knew it. Licking his lips at the fact that he a beautiful young woman from England had come to see him, he arrogantly toyed with her; making her watch him swim, flirting with her and nonchalantly offering her breakfast from his well-stocked buffet bar. Mei knew she had to play this just right and she conversed coolly, with just enough friendliness to make Xiaopeng think he was onto a winner and that his charms were working. She changed into a swimming costume he provided and swam in his pool, and they chatted about family relaxing on sun loungers out in his contemporarily landscaped garden. He revealed that he had a sister, which contravened the state’s ‘one child’ rule that the hoi polloi once had to adhere to. The same rule that robbed Mei of her own birth parents and her original identity.

It showed that there was one rule for one class, and another for the rest.

Xiaopeng told Mei that he’d help her, and he was true to his word. She was called to a meeting with Wei Dongping, Xiaopeng’s corrupt police chief father who had gotten his son off the murder charge. He offered Mei a choice – yes, he would let Anjun walk free, but not at the expense of his own son. She could say the word and he would telephone one of his minions and pin the blame on one of Anjun’s friends, who also happened to be unfortunate enough to witness the murder. He gave her 30 minutes to decide – save her brother or condemn another man to death.

What a moral dilemma. At the end of her agonising 30-minute rumination period she stood at the foot of some escalators – one side going back up to Wei Dongping’s office, the other going down. It was an impossibly tense scene, and a very clever conceit by the writers with which to test Mei and her new identity. She chose not to go up the escalators.

With time running out, Mei and Liu Ying jumped onto a train bound for Beijing to speak to an appeals lawyer but back in Guangzhou, Anjun was being led from his cell to be executed. These final scenes then intercut between Mei and Liu Ying pleading for help in Beijing and Anjun in his Guangzhou, scared and alone. He was led to a basement garage and onto a van, where he was strapped down to a gurney. In the front of the van men with clipboards ticked things off, while a doctor eased a needle into Anjun’s veins. Then there was a shot of three syringes encased in a metal box on the wall. The doctor pressed a button and, like slow-moving pistons, each one relinquished their deadly fluid.

I was convinced Mei and Liu Ying would save the day and there would be a last-minute telephone call to save Anjun, because that’s how TV drama works, right? There are happy endings. We’re put through the mill, to endure and to follow the yellow brick road so we can find a rainbow at the end of it. So, as Anjun’s life slipped away, in incredibly harrowing fashion – he face framed tightly, his last breaths escaping his body – I couldn’t quite believe he was going to die. When his body was zipped up into a bag, it really hit me hard and I was aware that I had just watched a man die, in fairly graphic fashion. The fact that I never thought he would was, again, skilful writing, and writing that wanted to make a point. A very big and important point.

Soon after Mei was back in England, preparing to take Anjun’s story to the New York Times, and now a fuller, rounder person. Through this arduous journey she had discovered who she really was. Her mother, too, had changed for good: even though her son had died she had regained a daughter and had now opened the kiosk she had always dreamed of opening. She wore a t-shirt with her son’s image on it every day as she served her customer. She smile the kind of smile that’s tinged with sorrow, but she smiled again.

The fact that Anjun died meant that this wasn’t just a satisfying noir contemporary noir story that was well written and acted. No, this was a searing indictment of the Chinese authorities and the corruption that festers in the country’s legal system. That’s why, in drama terms, we had to see Ajun die.

Paul Hirons

For our episode one review, go here

For our episode two review, go here


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