Review: Paula (S1 E3/3), Thursday 8th June, BBC2

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With Paula now acting as barmy as her stalker – indulging in ill-advised sexual encounters in an attempt to recapture memories of a childhood nirvana –  how can this dark and dangerous fantasy thriller possibly conclude?

NB: Spoilers inside

When we last saw Paula, she was wearing a fetching space blanket, and sternly ignoring pathetic copper Mac, who had just saved her from an attack by the clearly unhinged James. 

What we don’t know is what drove James (and Mac to some extent) to such obsessive behaviour over Paula, who hardly seems a typical femme fatale, and what James is hiding in his dark past. Who are the two women in his flat, and what is behind his hallucinations of spooky children?

To this point, none of the characters except Mac have appeared very sympathetic, and even he shows appalling judgement – so how are we supposed to buy into the story?

With Paula’s feckless brother Calllum in a coma, she seems determined to make life even more complicated when she tackles some muggers and saves a dog. The next day her builders turn up to carry on work in her basement, and know all about her shooting incident. Would the police really release the name and picture of someone involved in such an incident while the investigation was so fresh?

Mac’s on sick leave and under a cloud, having let Paula grab his gun and fire eight shots. It’s accurate, but were we alone in being slightly surprised that ROI detectives routinely carry sidearms? Equally surprising is that Paula could have fired eight shots in a cloakroom without hitting anything except woodwork.

When Mac investigates James’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style childhood house, he discovers that a child, Mary, went missing from there years previously. Despite this, he can’t convince his boss, who is an underwritten ‘the assistant commissioner’s giving me shit’ type, that James needs to be further investigated.

Mac spurns his colleague Laurence’s overtures, and instead heads back to Paula’s, and implausibly sets up a Sunday outing to the funfair with his whiny kids. Could anything be more destined to end in disaster? Paula imagines she sees James, lets the kids wander off, and the day ends in tears. The kids don’t even win a goldfish.

James is on the verge of getting bail because Mac can’t stick him with anything but assault, but Mac does at least get an account of the disappearance of Mary – James reckons she was shut in a cellar to die by his drunken dad. Does this make James a better person? His girlfriend Morgan reckons that he’s a good man, whatever he’s done – but we beg to differ.

Paula meanwhile goes to suffocate her brother Callum – but why bother? The doctors would happily have switched his life support off on her say-so. She’s also been experimenting with animal tranquilisers – but who does she intend to zonk?

Implausibly, James gets bailed, heads straight to Paula’s and hides in her basement, where she discovers him and drugs him, with remarkable forethought. Mac then turns up, late as ever, failing to realise that the insensible James is going under the concrete.

Paula’s ghastly revenge on James, burying him alive in the knowledge that he will suffer endlessly, seems strangely out of proportion to his crimes. So he killed her lover – it wasn’t entirely deliberate. And he may have killed her brother – or he may not, we’re never quite sure. And he may have shagged his two cousins, or something, we’re not totally clear. And he may have killed Paula’s dog – or made Paula pregnant – or not, we don’t know. And anyway, would you shoot yourself up with animal tranquilisers if you were pregnant?

Conor McPherson is largely known for ghost stories, and there were always signs that Paula might have slipped into supernatural territory – but at the end of the day, the real mystery was how the audience was supposed to engage with this overblown, gloomy and ultimately unsatisfying concoction. With an unsympathetic central character, an inept investigator and a half-conceived villain, it failed to connect at every turn. 

So can we look forward to Paula 2, The Chemistry Teacher Strikes Again? Well, for us, Paula’s tale is over – but if they want to do Mac and Laurence, Bickering Irish Detectives, we’ll go for that for a laugh.

Chris Jenkins     

For our episode one review, go here

For our episode two review, go here

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6 thoughts on “Review: Paula (S1 E3/3), Thursday 8th June, BBC2

  1. Mike Sargent

    Indeed. Despite reservations about episode one, we watched the rest of it. It could reasonably have finished at the end of episode two, which would have been fine, but continued ever more implausibly onwards until by the end we were thinking “WTF?”….

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  2. Maria McKenzie

    Can anybody enlighten me regarding the 3rd episode incident of the mugging in the alley? Who was the boy that Paula rescued? Had he appeared before? Any ideas as to why he was carrying a dog in his backpack? Why did he disappear when Paula was getting the spaghetti hoops from the cupboard leaving the dog with her? Had he any connection at all with anything else that happened? I have happily re-watched many thrillers in order to understand the plot more fully, but somehow I feel 3 hours of my life was more than enough to devote to Paula, so if you have any plausible explanation I’d be very grateful.

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  3. genorm

    Preposterous, dreadful stuff. We had no idea what it was all about. File in the same bin as ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Marcella’.

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  4. Mike Sargent

    Mugging, boy and dog were unrelated to earlier events and merely served to add the dog into the series. Strange she didn’t name the dog. Who has a dog and doesn’t name it? But then she was clearly a few pence short of a full pound.
    What was her motive for entombing James? Was he upright in that cupboard or under the floor? We weren’t sure. She didn’t even know about his previous entombment by his drunken father, so it seemed odd.

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  5. I too was losing patience during the opening sequences of #1. Then, I began to realise that there were enough bizarre, out of synch, surreal things happening to indicate that this was indeed, somebody’s paranoid fantasy.
    My money is firmly on Mac.
    Whichever perspective, the disjointed, implausible occurrences and seemingly simple plot twists kept my attention firmly locked on “Psychotic” rather than “Daft”.
    Excellent stuff indeed.

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