There’s no doubt about it, Time is an outstanding drama in any genre. The way it plays with prison drama tropes to present a fully-rounded, 360º degree study of life in prison and what it does to people, as well as look closely at the consequences of crime, has been nothing short of a revelation.
Although, this is a Jimmy McGovern drama, so what did we really expect?
In this second episode, Mark Cobden’s time in prison takes more twists and turns, but prison guard Eric McNally’s story really develops in this episode.
As we saw in episode one, his son Daniel – in a neighbouring jail – has been threatened with violence if Eric doesn’t do one or two inmate kingpins’ bidding. And now things escalate.
Despite being moved to a new prison, Eric’s son is severely beaten and he realises he has no choice. This desperate situation manifests itself in Eric going to see Jackson Jones (Brian McCardie in yet another role that he oozes malevolence and seething rage). Jones instructs him to meet a dealer on the outside, and wear a vest, into which is sewn a cache of drugs.
The scenes where Eric picks up the drugs were heartbreaking – it was all about pure power dynamics, Eric rendered impotent by his situation, as the dealer (who recognised him from his own stint in prison) takes great pleasure in having him in the palm of his hand for a change.
And wouldn’t you know, as soon as Eric brings in the drugs into the prison, the inmates have a high old time. They’re all off their bonces, Jones is raking in the cash, and Eric knows what this means – in a state of high anxiety he tries to control a situation he can’t control. He’s been doing the job long enough to know that whenever a new stash of drugs comes inside, the prisoners lose it, and one ODs.
It’s desperate for Eric, a morally solid man.
Elsewhere, it looks as though Cobden is also under Jones’ thumb. After being hideously threatened by Johnno, he realises enough is enough and he must create a line that cannot be crossed. So he goes to Jones and asks for help. The kingpin essentially teaches him to fight but he wants something in return for his help.
But there’s more… Cobden’s reputation as teacher is getting around and some inmates come to him for help – one for reading help, the other to help with meeting the parents of the man he murdered.
But here’s the thing, and this is what raises Time above pretty much everything in the prison drama genre I’ve seen: each character is extremely flawed. We see Cobden, who we’re rooting for by this stage, be a bit of a shit to his wife in flashbacks. We also see that Cobden’s (new) cellmate want to meet his victim’s parents and ask for forgiveness. This is courageous and laudable, and we’re rooting for him too. But when he explains he murdered the lad because of nothing more than a fear of losing face in a social situation, your head’s in bits.
If anything, Time proves there’s good and bad in each one of us and, if we’re unlucky enough to not end up in prison, it’s hardly restorative or contemplative. It’s a territorial, dog-eat-dog, lawless world that is understaffed and underfunded, and somewhere that you really wouldn’t want to end up in.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
Time is on BBC One in the UK and iPlayer