So it’s only the second week on air but Mystery Road is already past the halfway point in the ongoing adventures of gruff Detective Jay Swan. It’s fair to say the reception to this second season of the Australian crime drama has been decidedly mixed so far – and on the evidence of these continuing episodes, that isn’t going to change any time soon.
The show’s never been the most complex kind of crime drama, but this season’s plot has been bare bones at best. Combine that with Aaron Pedersen dialing up the tough guy act to almost comedic levels for some unexplained reason, and it’s been a bit of a mixed bag to say the least. But one thing you can’t accuse the show of is lethargy, and this week it blasted through most it’s core plot like a super-charged yute.
There were a few core threads to pick up this week, the main one being the most boring – which was Jay’s unwavering pursuit of tracking down the “big boss” of the meth gang, which for most of the running time we were baited to assume was Emilio, the erstwhile owner of Westside Trucking. And in fairness, he may well have been a little dodgy (is anybody in this town not into something illegal?) – and even further, may have been at loggerheads with Alkemi for the profitable territory that Gideon offers.
So Jay stomped from place to place shaking down various characters trying to get a lead, annoying pretty much everyone in his wake. But it fell to Mary’s new squeeze Simon to give him a real tip – that the disused boat yard might just be the place where the local hoodlums are cooking up meth – and if that seems too good to be true, it’s because it was. In his previous incarnations on screen, we’ve got used to Jay being the smartest guy in the room, utilising his savvy skill-set honed through years of policing. To some degree, we’ve been led to believe he even has a touch of second sight – being able to divine certain things in his surroundings that others can’t.
None of that here. Jay doesn’t bother to question how Simon got this information, instead opting to barge into the yard’s processing plant only to uncover a very convenient secret laboratory behind a stud wall. Emilio arrives to beat him up, only for Simon to save him (yet again) by shooting the trucking boss dead with Jay’s own service weapon. This puts Jay in a bit of an awkward position, one which his immediate superior Owen is ecstatic to have him in. Simon and Owen tell Jay that he needs to fabricate a story for Internal Affairs otherwise his career is toast.
Or is it? A quick exposition dump from said IA officer gives Jay (and by extension, us the audience) what we already suspected from the first episode – that Simon is not to be trusted. Furthermore, it’s not even his real name – he’s actually one Declan James, and whilst he was actually a police officer back in the day, he left under a cloud around a drug importation scandal. I can imagine literally nobody was shocked at this twist, nor that this information puts poor Mary into the firing line once again as she realises she’s stranded in the outback with a drug lord who doesn’t handle rejection very well at all.
Annoyingly, this reverts Mary back to square one as the catalyst for Jay’s actions, and that this was really always about Jay and Simon/Declan duking it out for her affections. Once again, she’s placed in peril through no fault of her own, purely to drive the plot along into the most tedious of paths. It seems like we’re simply regurgitating the same script as last season, or indeed, the films before that. Can’t this woman get a little peace and quiet for once? It feels like the law of diminishing returns is well in effect with her character’s story arc.
Elsewhere most of the real detective work in the show was being done by Saga, er, by which I mean, of course, Sandra – who after incurring the wrath of local indigenous elder Jimmy Two had realised the bones she found at the dig site were the just the tip of the proverbial iceberg – and that alongside Amos, the pair might be complicit in something far more sinister than previously thought. Sandra’s not short on sense, so she uses the suspicion to drive a wedge between the two and then joins forces with Fran’s sister Leonie for an new ethically-responsible archeological project instead.
Crucially, she fails to tell anybody else about the dig site, which leaves Fran still chasing her tail over her cousin Zoe’s cold case. The bones turn out to be male, so it’s another dead end for her investigation – and the discovery sets off Zoe’s brother Phillip, who spends most of the two episodes running around attempting suicide by cop. His erratic behaviour eventually entangles Shevorne, who after witnessing a torture is pressured into setting up Jay for a shoddy assasination attempt (which goes about as well as expected).
And Alkemi? Well he barely registers here, popping up only to direct Jay to Dylan’s rather chewed-up arm, washed up on a beach after a peckish crocodile got to his corpse before the detective could. Quite where the former soldier and apparent humanitarian backslash criminal kingpin fits in here is presumably resolved next week, and whether it will be that he is Simon/Declan’s boss or his spurned business partner, or some combination therein is probably the least interesting thing going on in the show.
Everything felt a little rushed this week, and at same time, wholly directionless. The initial mystery of who killed Clarrie seems to be largely irrelevant, and the second story of the missing girls seems to be shaping up to be a footnote rather than having any interconnection with the main plot. Things are heading rapidly toward a wrap-up here, and it’s unclear if the conclusion will be at all satisfactory based on the current running.
- Jimmy Two pulling rank on Jay and calling him “boy” was quite amusing.
- Body parts all over the place this week, with a mangled arm in one area and a decapitated head in another. It did make me wonder, how do you get any kind of successful forensic evidence in such sandy or dusty environments?
- “Jesus, you detectives are wankers” opines Owen, and based on Jay’s current behaviour, you kind of have to agree.
- I would really take Jay’s promises of protection with a pinch of salt – one minute he’s cooing over former nemesis Errol about witness protection, the next he’s looking over the poor lag’s corpse. So much for that.
- Nightlife in Gideon is…interesting. Drag cowboy karaoke BBQ with boa feathers!
- Is every man an angry ball of testosterone in this show? Is there something in the water?
- So I’m assuming Owen was Suzi-John’s unnamed partner in the bushes the night Clarrie got killed, hence all the subterfuge.
- “If you keep chasing death… One day you’ll get it” Mary warns Jay, but it might be you first at this rate young lady…
- It is 2020 and are we really still doing the classic USB download scene in shows? 95%! 99%!!! The tension!!!
- Welcome to my palatial drug villa! Simon/Declan not being too subtle in how he spends his ill-gotten gains (although it was very nice).
- Jay showed his sensitive side to Phillip by cuffing him to a car bumper and vaguely threatening him with a plank of wood. Therapy isn’t your strong suit, Jay.
- The IA scene was hilarious, this guy pops up out of the shadows, doesn’t seem at all fussed Jay was involved in the shooting, snitches on Simon/Declan – then wanders on off into the night. My work here is done!
- “I stuffed up” Shevorne confesses to Jay. Again, Shevorne. You stuffed up again.
Mystery Road is currently showing on BBC4
READ MORE: OUR REVIEWS OF EPISODES ONE AND TWO