Mystery Road concluded it’s second season this week, and it’s fair to say that it’s been a bit of a dog’s dinner. Weird and uneven performances, frustrating character choices and nonsensical plot lines have all piled up to a dizzying degree.
Is the road finally running out for this show?
Immediately, the tension that was painstakingly built up in last week’s episodes around Mary and Simon (or Declan) evaporated within minutes when she simply took his car keys and left the villa. Quite why so much heavy weather was made out of repetitive shots of a handgun secretly stashed in the kitchen is anybody’s guess, but more puzzling was the fact Simon let her go at all. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of many odd choices on his part in these closing episodes.
Mary drives immediately to Jay and tells him what he already knows – that Simon is the real boss of the drug running gang. She also delivers some seriously stark home truths about Jay’s habit of consistently dragging her into dangerous situations, which is absolutely warranted – although might not have been the ideal time and place when you’ve got a psychopath on your tail.
Despite the fact Simon is clearly very, very dodgy, Mary has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to his affections. She is still torn between wanting to believe he is genuinely in love with her rather than being used as bait to trap Jay. In a spectacularly stupid move, she calls him to present him the kind of option even teenage sweethearts would cringe at – meet me at work and I’ll know you’re for real, or don’t and it’s over.
This is to set up a stand-off at the hospital, of course. It goes about as well as you would imagine – Jay tries to arrest Simon but is frustrated by the ex-cop, who pulls the kind of weird stunt you would see in a hokum psychological thriller – holding his bloodied hands up to intimate he’d hurt Mary before escaping. Quite why he needed to cut his own hands to do this rather than just scarper (Jay’s not going to shoot him in a crowded hospital corridor), was another example of any kind of common sense quickly deserting the story.
Ultimately this scene was part of larger attempt to spin out the inevitable showdown between the two protagonists, which dragged on for a mind-numbing amount of time. Why didn’t Jay and his Internal Affairs pal immediately set out to arrest Simon? Or call for any back-up? Instead they just chilled out at the police station looking moody, a segment purely designed to have Jay located there so he could be immediately arrested for an assault on troubled Phillip (something cooked up by Simon, who apparently had the foresight to organise this within an hour of his escape). The speed with which this whole situation was wrapped up (literally five minutes) had me questioning why it was even there in the first place – it served absolutely no purpose, other than to pad out the episode.
Predictably, things boiled down to shoot-outs everywhere to ‘solve’ the case. Jay shoots a few hired goons at the hotel where Mary and Shevorne are holed up, and Simon escapes. Jay tracks him down later and shoots it out with him again, but Simon escapes again. I’m not sure of how the geographical locations in this show are spaced out, but Simon sure can cover some miles as he zips around the locality causing mayhem without arrest. Eventually, Jay is tipped to his final location and shoots him dead with a single shot as he tries to abscond by sea with one final drug haul. No paperwork! Success. The End.
Of course, that’s not the real end – and there’s plenty of story to wrap up here, in varying degrees of satisfactory closure. Mary hits the road again, leaving town and Jay behind. There is a lot of frustration as a viewer in how Mary seems doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Jay is effectively stalking his ex-wife from town to town, and his presence inevitably brings death and destruction with it.
Even though she can articulate this sentiment emotionally to Jay, Mary seems almost resigned to her fate now – and it’s arguably the same situation she was in at the end of the first season. So what’s really changed this season, other than to up the ante on her being unnecessarily harmed to further embolden Jay in his crusade against criminals? There doesn’t seem to be many lessons learned here, and despite Tasma Walton giving one of the best performances in the show, the character remains a means to an end for the plot rather than a three-dimensional person.
Sandra doesn’t fare much better. Her conversations with Leonie across the final episodes might have added a little depth to her character, but overall the role has been perfunctory at best. It also got me wondering if our experiences with Sofia Helin’s previous roles slightly skewed the audience’s attitude toward the character overall – against her being played by another, lesser-known actor.
Despite Leonie’s tired resignation toward Sandra’s attempts to correct the mistakes of her academic predecessors, it felt like we were expected to afford her some sympathy for her actions. But considering she hid Buddy’s remains for so long to ensure she could continue at the dig, her motivations seem largely selfish. If this moral ambivalence had been amplified somewhat throughout the season, it might have made the character a little more rounded. Instead, most of her dialogue felt awkward and stilted – and primarily to bring some more context to the situation of the local indigenous population.
The indigenous story here felt the best part of the show – indeed a better show in of itself. Fran’s pursuit of the truth within her own community became the strongest narrative arc as a result, with Jada Alberts’ performance being impeccable throughout. The complexities of Aboriginal law against that of the state provided some prescient echoes of similar themes from the recent ITV show Honour, and were arguably the most absorbing elements on offer this season.
Largely forgotten by the state, the fates of Buddy and Zoe still bore a deep wound within the indigenous community. There was something about their story that felt like the real heart of the show, away from all the cowboy antics of Jay and his adversaries. It provided us with some stand-out scenes, most notably in Fran’s reaction to the truth about the star-crossed lovers’ final moments, as well as an emasculated Jimmy Two facing the wrath of his local community – an almost cathartic process given that many of them knew the truth for so long too.
And what of Jay? With Simon dead and the cartel in disarray, you might be forgiven for thinking that his story has come to an end. To get there, he has lost everything – family, friends and the respect from his peers. Was it all worth it? We don’t get to find out – largely due to the rumours of a third series you might suspect – and instead we get to enjoy a little coda between Fran and him, passing on the mantle of being a “proper copper” to her by way of his trademark cowboy hat.
Aaron Pedersen’s performance throughout this run has been a curiously erratic affair in comparison with what has gone before it. The mysterious stoicism of the first season has been replaced with a intense gruffness that borders on the comical. Jay Swan as a character used to be a little deeper, a little more thoughtful. You weren’t always sure what he was thinking, and Pedersen captured that nuance perfectly. Here, it’s lost in translation and it’s a strangely discombobulated thing to experience.
The show has never offered too much depth, and that’s fine. It knows what it is, and in that regard, it does deliver. It’s almost become an action thriller in a way, as opposed to the meditative crime drama it once was. That transition may be on purpose, as the show feels like it doesn’t have many more places it can go from it’s current perspective. That might be for the best, because as much as I have enjoyed the journey, Mystery Road feels like it’s run it’s course.
- Simon/Declan reassuring Mary that he hasn’t killed Jay (yet) out of respect for her, isn’t as reassuring as he thinks it is.
- So Alkemi was a bit of a red herring in the end, it seemed – and met a particularly robust end with a spade to the head. And who’s cleaning up all the blood from the pool?
- Simon’s hired goons were ‘the best of the best’ – until they weren’t, when they all got shot dead in two minutes.
- Speaking of goons, did this dodgy dude posse all shop at the same place? Identical floral shirts and white vests doesn’t exactly help you blend in anywhere.
- Owen suddenly growing a conscience in the last act was very convenient, pity he got a bullet to the chest for his efforts.
- Poor Mary can’t even buy a bag of crisps in peace without being held at gunpoint. What’s a girl gotta do to get some carbs round here?
- Simon going full criminal mastermind in these final episodes and continually antagonising Jay was a weird choice. Criminals stay out of prison by avoiding the law, not facing it head on. Why not just do a runner with the cash you already have?
- Couldn’t Sofia Helin use a bowl to deposit her peanut shells into? I pity the poor bartender that’s got to clear that mess up.
- Alkemi’s right-hand man did a switch on him to join Simon, who then shot him. A goon’s life is an unhappy (and short) one.
- Would it kill you to call back-up at least once Jay?
- So we’re just going to go ahead and believe Jay can kill a man from considerable distance with a rifle, who is on a moving target in the middle of an ocean? With one shot? OK then.
- Speaking of which, was it just me or was there a continuity error here? Simon is shot in one side of his chest, and in the next scene he’s clutching the other side.
- Is there ANY due process in this show? I mean, Jay shot Simon without warning, or even being in danger as Simon was unarmed as he escaped. Jay has killed a lot of people dead and doesn’t stop for paperwork or any type of investigation.
Mystery Road is currently available on BBC iPlayer
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES ONE AND TWO
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES FOUR AND FIVE