BBC Four has confirmed the transmission date of Mystery Road: Origin in January.
The original story became a fan favourite with crime drama fans, and now the origin series makes its way to UK screens.
The six-part series tells the story of Jay Swan (Mark Coles Smith), a young officer who arrives at his new station in the town where his estranged father lives, as does the woman who will change his life forever, Mary.
Mystery Road: Origin: Saturday 7th January, 9pm, BBC Four
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.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Mystery Road is currently available on BBC iPlayer
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.
So after a summer of slim pickings the BBC begins to bring in the big hitters for its autumn season, starting with airing the second series of Australian ‘outback noir’Mystery Road. Beginning as a standalone film in 2013, the title has developed into something of a lucrative franchise in recent years, expanding to a second movie and TV show, and in turn creating something of a star in actor Aaron Pedersen as the show’s central protagonist, the perennially taciturn Detective Jay Swan.
This time around directorial duties fall to the celebrated film-maker Warwick Thompson, who eschews the widescreen vistas of Rachel Perkins’ work on the first season, instead favouring a more intimate, drawn-in feel that focuses on the characters up close more. The whole package seems a little slicker (and more expensive) too – with a cinematic quality that has a certain modern sheen to it, and a pulsing soundtrack contributing to the feel of a more uptempo, action-orientated set-up.
And there’s plenty going on. We first meet Jay arriving at a crime scene in the middle of the night (and the middle of nowhere). There’s a decapitated body and very little in the way of evidence. Jay immediately sets the local law enforcement on edge in his usual inimitable way – barking orders and generally being almost comically gruff. In fact the sense of him being even more unsociable then usual seems to have been dialed up to the maximum here – potentially narrative shorthand for how he’s been through the mill emotionally over the years, but the result is this man does not suffer fools gladly.
The discovery of the body leads Jay to the local town of Gideon (“Pearl of the North” indeed), where local cops Owen (Mark Mitchinson) and Fran (Jada Alberts) give him a little context on the area and who’s who. Turns out the town had a big reputation for running meth a year back, but an anonymous tip lead to Owen breaking up the drug ring. This is the kind of information that gets Jay’s attention, being as his career up to now has largely been about tracking these gangs down.
Owen’s your atypical boat-owning, three-months-from-retirement style of copper (target warning right there) who can’t be really arsed with doing any actual, you know, policing – and may or may not be corrupt as a result – or at least complicit with certain local shenanigans. Fran’s a different story – a young, impressionable rookie trying her best to police two separate communities as an indigenous women, but belonging to neither – much in the same way Jay has struggled all his career. They immediately hit it off.
Elsewhere, Saga! Oh wait I mean Sandra. And that’s Professor Sandra to you, the Swedish archeologist who is causing tension among the indigenous population at the local dig. Much was made of Sofia Helin’s inclusion in this season prior to airing, and there’s a certain sense of cynicism to the casting, with a character that feels like it could have been inhabited by anybody really – not to say Helin is bad in the role (is she ever?), but she’s certainly not having to work overtime here dramatically. She’s definitely not working that trowel correctly, that’s for sure.
It’s a bit of a puzzle why Jay is even this far down the coast (and who his actual boss is, or where his jurisdiction begins and ends), but that becomes a little clearer when he happens across his ex-wife Mary (Tasma Walton, brilliant as ever), who has settled in the town with local farmhand Simon (Callan Mulvey). Naturally, Simon is the complete antithesis to Jay – outwardly pleasant and warm, but potentially for plot convenience a man that already strikes you as being somewhat disingenuous.
Quite what Jay hopes to achieve by effectively stalking Mary about town and looking like he’s chewing a wasp at the same time is unknown, but it proves to her that not much has changed in their dynamic – and she’s certainly not interested in a second (third, fourth, I’ve lost count) reconciliation. And who can blame her? Despite being emotionally unavailable 99% of the time when they were together, Jay’s presence normally anticipates a wave of death and destruction immediately after him – usually with his family at the center. No wonder she put some considerable miles between them.
Their daughter Crystal might have been moved off-screen for this series (partly due to actor Madeleine Madden striking it big in Hollywood), but her friend Shevorne (Tasia Zalar) has followed Mary from the first season to the second, along with baby Ava. Shevorne leads up the first in a few of those now-obligatory “second stories”, and whilst the considerable trauma she suffered in the initial season is still evidently not far from the surface, she has developed a certain steeliness – especially in how she deals with boyfriend Phillip’s actions in the second episode.
It’s fair to say the first season wasn’t the best in the way it portrayed women, or how they were placed around the plot purely as a catalyst for men’s actions or reactions – with little agency afforded to themselves. Here, that point is redressed somewhat. Mary is happy and settled (for now, one would assume). Shevorne is finding her own path. Crucially, they are not intrinsically linked to Jay anymore. Moreover, Jay’s new sidekick Fran is probably the best character in the show so far – and her own familial conflicts alongside her determination to resolve the mystery surrounding her young cousin’s disappearance (some echoes of second film Goldstone there) are arguably the most interesting narratives on offer here.
Which is more than we can say about the main plot. Mystery Road has never been a particularly troubling puzzle to put together in terms of story, and truth be told we aren’t a million miles away from the narrative of the first season. This time around the headless body points Jay to yet another villainous ranch owner, with the rather Bond-esque name of Alkemi (Tony to his mates) – who may or may not be running a meth empire outback. To a large degree, the show follows a certain narrative that is pulled directly from the roots of old westerns – a lone gunman in a one-horse town, seeking justice for those unable to do so themselves. In that regard, Mystery Road is equally comforting in it’s familiarity and yet provides a subtle enough twist on the formula to make it something new and unique. It’s a welcome return to the show and all things point to another enjoyable run.
There were a lot of boot shots in that opening episode. Does Warwick Thornton have a foot fetish? No kink-shaming here of course.
I saw Callan Mulvey and was immediately taken back to his portrayal of bad boy heartthrob Drazic in seminal teenage drama Heartbreak High, as I’m sure a lot of women of a certain generation watching were too. I can’t possibly confirm or deny that I tried to emulate his ‘look’ back then to impress said women…
Whilst Sofia Helin’s presence feels a little like stunt-casting for such a minor role, I’m never not happy to see her pop up in a show.
The awkward stand-off at the BBQ between Jay, his ex-wife Mary and new beau Simon was amusingly frosty. The steaks may have been sizzling, but the atmosphere was ice cold.
The Australian Tourist Board may be disappointed with a lack of big widescreen vistas this season. That said a town full of meth addicts and violent criminals isn’t probably the best advert for a trip outback anyway.
‘Family business never gets fixed’ Jay says at one point sagely, and never a truer word was spoken.
Amusing to see Jay have to ring Mary to get him out of the locked trucking container he was investigating. Turns up in town and five seconds later already causing her trouble with his shenanigans.
It wouldn’t be a modern crime drama without the obligatory teenage party bathed in red lights and much wanton drug-taking. At least nobody came to any harm at this one, unlike most shows.
Do people in the outback only listen to Heavy Metal? It was everywhere.
It was very convenient Simon was on hand to disrupt Jay’s beating at the hands of Alkemi’s goons. Don’t trust this lad one bit.
I’m sure he is meant to be a tough and scary chap, but Alkemi sounds like the name of a street magician (pick a card, any card).
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
Mystery Road is currently showing on BBC4 and is available on iPlayer
BBC Four has confirmed the transmission date for series two of Mystery Road.
The Aussie Noir – which guest stars The Bridge’s Sofia Helin in series two – is good to go from the middle of this month (September).
The six-episode series will be shown in double-bills every Saturday night from Saturday 19th September.
Series two sees Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) take on a grisly case in a new town in order to be closer to his family, but has he left it too late? Set in a small coastal community where the desert meets the ocean, secrets past and present run deep and dark.
Jay must reconcile the law and deep lore and confront a dangerous enemy in a world where deception is king.
Helin plays an archaeologist.
Mystery Road (Series 2): Saturday 19th September, BBC Four
Fans of AUstralian series, Mystery Road, got excited when Bridge star, Sofia Helin, was announced as a guest star for series two.
The series is set to start in its native Australia this weekend (19th April) and the publicity machine has been ramping up ahead of its premiere.
The show’s home broadcaster, ABC, has now released two trailers, featuring Helin.
Series two sees Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) take on a grisly case in a new town in order to be closer to his family, but has he left it too late? Set in a small coastal community where the desert meets the ocean, secrets past and present run deep and dark. Jay must reconcile the law and deep lore and confront a dangerous enemy in a world where deception is king.
We’re awaiting news on whether this will come over to our shores via BBC Four.
The series, which aired in the UK on BBC Four, is now set to make a return to Australian screens in April.
Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) takes on a grisly case in a new town in order to be closer to his family, but has he left it too late? Set in a small coastal community where the desert meets the ocean, secrets past and present run deep and dark. Jay must reconcile the law and deep lore and confront a dangerous enemy in a world where deception is king.
The six-part series stars Pedersen alongside new cast member Helin, as well as Jada Alberts, Callan Mulvey, Tasma Walton, Rob Collins, Ngaire Pigram, Mark Mitchinson, Ursula Yovich, Rhimi Johnson, Gary Sweet, Fletcher Humphrys, Joel Jackson, John Brumpton, Eve Morey, Stan Yarramunua and Tasia Zalar.
It’s due to air on ABC iview in Australia from 19th April, and we’re waiting for confirmation as to when it’ll air in the UK.
We always like to keep an eye on what Sofia Helin is up to after her stint on The Bridge.
She’s co-starring (and producing) Swedish law series Honor, and has wrapped up on period drama Atlantic Crossing, but news reaches us that she’ll soon return to the crime genre by co-starring in series two of Aussie series, Mystery Road.
If.com reports that Helin will appear alongside side lead Aaron Pederson in series two as archaeologist Professor Sondra Elmquist.
The professor is conducting a dig near a remote coastal town when she encounters Pedersen’s Detective Jay Swan, who has moved to the town to be closer to his family and is investigating a grisly case.
A series spokesperson said: “I loved The Bridge and it made sense to have a European archaeologist. Sofia really responded to the scripts. We have a great cast and a great crew.”
The series has already begun filming in Australia.
Series one of Mystery Road (pictured) was shown in the UK on BBC Four. Let’s hope series two comes back onto the same channel.
Our journey through Mystery Road concluded this week and while the final destination ended up being a little underwhelming, the overall experience has been of a superior serial with something interesting to say about the Australian mentality. The main theme in these concluding episodes was around legacies – those we inherit, those we live out and those we leave behind. Writ large within that theme was the dichotomy of this experience between the indigenous people of this country, and it’s colonialists – and the impact it has that still resonates throughout generations.
It felt like we lost some momentum leading into the final portion of the story this week, and there were some odd directorial choices to get us there – with a needless array of pop-music montages, flashbacks and side stories seemingly mixed in to fill time on what would have otherwise been a fairly straight path to a good old-fashioned showdown. The first thing to go was any spark of tension between Jay and Emma after he tried to terrify Marley into confessing in the previous episode – thanks to his efforts in recovering Reese of the Many Names from Black Springs it seemed his frankly unlawful transgressions were presumably forgiven off-screen. From the initial episodes I had been hoping for Emma to have been a sparkier antagonist to Jay’s quasi-legal methods, but it never really transpired in the dialogue longer than the occasional aside.
With Marley booked for murder and bailed out under home detention, Jay gets his groove back and looks to wrap up Tyson’s involvement with the case. It turns out he used to work as a boar runner just like Marley – and he overheard the boys on the day of their disappearance talking about their planned journey into the outback. A quick visit to state prison to see the drug boss/security guard doesn’t yield any answers, but on his way back to town Jay happens to stop off at a petrol station whose CCTV footage places Tyson and three other passengers driving through the night of the teenagers’ disappearance – along with a dirt-bike that looks similar to the one involved in the crash near the abduction site.
As time ticks away for Jay and Emma to get the truth from Marley on what really happened, they elect to drive him themselves to state prison. Unfortunately for Marley, before he can say anything, Jay’s truck is sidelined by the vehicle from the CCTV footage – and a shotgun drive-by ensues to try and silence the teenager forever. Quite why these assailants don’t double back to finish the job is unknown – but it’s enough to get Marley to talk, and we rewind to the beginning of the show to see the incident that started everything from his perspective. The boys did argue and fight – but not over drugs. Instead, Shevorne had told Reese the real identity of her rapist – and Reese was working on some scheme to get back at him. Marley was simply frustrated that Reese wouldn’t tell him who it was. As they were returning from their work task, Tyson and his gang confronted the pair in the outback and abducted both of them – only for Marley to escape and the dirt-bike rider who pursued him being hit and killed by a passing truck (those trucks really are lethal).
Without the final component to the story on what happened to Reese, Jay turns to the only person he can trust and calls Mary to pick up Marley and keep him safe for the time being. It seems an odd step down from the incendiary scenes both actors shared in the previous episode, and the conciliatory line “She’s family” seems to mean more to Mary than any grandiose speech would, but this is the last we see of her – a shame as she was one of the strongest characters that deserved further exploration.
Elsewhere, Emma tries to bring Reese/Johnathan’s mother and Shevorne together in their grief, but the suggestion of a memorial at Black Springs causes consternation among Shevorne’s relatives. It’s a bad place in their history – but they won’t say why. A large part of the final episodes is then taken up with Emma’s side-investigation into her own family’s history with the place – a once sacred space for the Aboriginal people that her own great-grandfather desecrated by poisoning the water and killing five indigenous children. It’s a heinous crime admitted by his own hand in old diaries she discovers – a crime wholly forgotten by her own people but still a living, breathing curse on those that remember.
This whole storyline, while valuable in its own dramatic context, felt oddly out of place in the narrative this late on. While it was foreshadowed that Black Springs was something unnatural in the earlier episodes, the nature of the crime did not have a bearing on the current case other than to explore Emma’s guilt at the discovery and her attempts to rectify the injustice by going into partnership with the Aboriginal Council so they would not be defrauded by her brother Tony (who it transpires I was wrong about – guilty of greed maybe, but not murder). This story also crucially sidelined Emma from much of the action of the remaining episodes, which felt like a misstep. Isolated, the Black Springs murders were a compelling tale of the twin histories of Australia – but it also felt in hindsight like a little comfortable bedding for the final set-up of the show in implicating an indigenous man as the main villain.
And so to Keith Groves. For me this is where it all slightly fell apart – not in the sense of him being a person of interest from the start, but more for how once his part in proceedings was revealed, it was very hard to imagine an entire town – with some very tough inhabitants – being deathly afraid of this key-swinging councilman. Think back to all the people throughout the show that had been too terrified to speak – including tough guy Tyson – and it made no sense. The show hadn’t spent enough time with him to build his role out correctly, instead relying on the ‘ta-da!’ element of a traditional whodunnit – when by process of elimination there weren’t that many suspects left in the running anyway.
Another path through the narrative might have been to eschew that last-reel reveal of his nature in lieu of an earlier building of his sinister character to better effect, but as it stood Keith was put on the ropes as Jay stalked down his co-conspirators one by one when Shevorne revealed it was actually him that raped her and not Larry. Reese’s plan had been to have Tyson and his crew rough up Keith, but the council leader had turned the tables on him. Reese was shot by a panicked Chris, Keith’s business partner, as he tried to escape. It all felt very weak in conclusion, not least in the murder of Reese but also Keith’s reasons for implicating Larry in the first place – but to avoid any lengthy legal issues for the plot’s sake, we were reduced to a shootout in a scrapyard with Emma delivering the fatal bullet to conclude the story.
The story wrapped in yet another trite montage and I was left with more questions than answers. Shevorne had been at the epicentre of everything, a true survivor considering the amount of pain and heartache she had endured. It felt asinine to reduce her to the trope of ‘damsel in distress’ in that final segment, and a bit of a backhanded betrayal to the good work the writers had done in building her up previously to be a believable, three-dimensional female character.
Likewise the conclusion of Crystal’s story felt flat considering the work that had gone into establishing her character – a cursory reconciliation with her father over snacks and CCTV footage still didn’t compel her to tell him that just the previous day she’d nearly been kidnapped by hoodlums who were still at large – instead her problems were kept silent as Jay continued to barge around town with his focus elsewhere. But at least she got some dialogue – her mother was treated even harsher.
There were also the smattering of off-screen plot points that went nowhere (“Homicide are coming!” “I’ve called Homicide off!!”), last-minute character switches (Muller is a mole! Oh wait, no he’s not – he’s just a prick), convenient plot wraps (Spud Jackson’s blood identification, Chris and Vince’s confessions etc) or plot holes (is Jaz still waiting for a bus in the middle of nowhere? Is Larry totally cool with being locked up for ten years then shot in the gut now he smiled at Emma? Is Kerry fine with Shevorne after she nearly got one of her sons killed, the other as a baby daddy as well as fitting up her brother?).
That all aside you can forgive the more absurd elements for what was a beautifully-shot drama with two stand-out performances in its leads – and one which mercifully didn’t outstay its welcome with a brisk six episodes (ITV take note). While the story that leads us into this community wasn’t as compelling as I’d hoped in the end, spending time there was – and it would be great to revisit if the second season allows.