There’s no doubt about it in my eyes: Baghdad Central has been one of the crime dramas of the year so far.
It’s been a hugely watchable and intense combination of familiar police procedural and a quickly-developing war drama, where loyalties have been stretched and survival in tough, lawless conditions has been paramount.
In this last episode, al-Khafaji had a lot on his plate – he had to find his daughter Sawsan, spirit his other daughter Mrouj out of the Green Zone hospital, and reunite them to take them across the border. He also had to navigate Frank Temple’s nexus of corruption and escape the hitman who had been hired to take him out.
A lot to get through.
Throughout this final episode, there were no real surprises – whether al-Khafaji and his family survived this perilous path to some sort of freedom was the big, overriding question that lingered throughout. What there were though were some brilliantly tense and staged scenes.
Al-Nasir and al-Khafaji had their confrontation very early in the episode. I’ve seen so many pieces like this – most recently the movie Queen & Slim, where the doomed, on-the-run lovers fail to make their escape after being shot by police on the runway with the plane waiting for them, and indeed Road To Perdition etc – that I half expected al-Khafaji’s nemesis to pop up right at the end and do something unspeakable.
But they had their showdown early, both waving guns at each other until al-Khafaji rightly pointed out that they were both to blame, both had skeletons in their closet and that war makes people do things they normally wouldn’t.
There was a great big shoot-out at Rashid’s place, too, where the exchange of Temple’s money for Sawsan took place. As Evans relished the fight, Temple did not, scuttling back into his car like the coward he was. It was another tense, thrilling scene, and by the end of it, the al-Khafaji family was reunited, also thanks to Temple’s secretary Miss Ford, who sneaked out Mrouj from the hospital.
In many ways, the biggest threat to the family’s future was Sawsan herself. She had always been against leaving Iraq and abandoning her cause, and it was in the balance as to whether she would agree to leave or not.
In the end, she did. As did Mrouj.
But the biggest surprise was the al-Khafaji did not. Even though he was a marked man, and even though he had rescued his family and reunited them (with a little help from Parodi) he turned around and walked straight back into town, leaving Rashid to take his daughters across the border.
Why? Perhaps it was the guilt he carried at failing his son, perhaps he felt his country needed him.
One of the most affecting scenes took place earlier in the episode took place between al-Khafaji and his brother and wife (I think it was his brother), who he knew had given up his son to the old regime. As she began to break down while explaining that she had said too much about his son in the hairdressers and that someone who had overheard reported him, al-Khafaji granted forgiveness.
It highlighted the absurdity of war, the horridness of it all and how quickly humans can turn on each other at any given moment.
It’s been a really good series. On the surface, Baghdad Central has presented us with plenty of familiar elements that we could sink our teeth into with ease – a weather-worn male detective lead, a search narrative, and plenty of police procedural. But one of the things that set this series apart was not only the strong sense of place but also a culture and a life that we haven’t often seen – actually never seen – in crime drama: that of Iraq.
And, of course, we can talk about war, and the effect it has on people: the paranoia, the suspicion and torn loyalties, as well as the will to survive and the guilt people carry for doing things in just in order to survive. When you’re under that kind of day-to-day pressure – pressure of your culture and way of life being under daily threat, occupiers walking around with machine guns (as well as your neighbours) and driving tanks around the streets that once housed bustling markets and people drinking tea and playing board games, it must be incredibly tense and disorientating.
And yet people get used to it, in a way. They carry on, albeit in an adapted reality. I have friends who lived in Belfast during The Troubles, and they’ve always told me that when the worst of it was happening – soldiers with guns on every street corner, violence erupting on the streets at any given moment – people just got used to it. It’s a strange thing to say, but you got that impression with the people of Baghdad.
It reminded me of the late, great Phillip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books where a likeable, but flawed male lead did what he had to do in a lawless, post-war Berlin. Here, al-Khafaji had that same likeability, those same weaknesses and that same life experience that made him such a watchable character.
To make this really work, however, a strong ensemble cast was needed and in the likes of Waleed Zuaiter, Bertie Carvell, Corey Stoll, and Leem Lubany we got it. They were all on top form.
Add in a fantastic, mournful theme tune, some poignant, poetic imagery and I really hope Baghdad Central returns. From what I can gather not many people have been watching it, which is a great shame. It really feels like it should be primetime on the BBC or even ITV – it has that look and feel about it – and it deserves to come back.
It has much more to say and could run and run. And, in al-Khafaji, we have a fantastic new TV detective.
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE THREE REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE FOUR REVIEW
READ MORE: OUR EPISODE FIVE REVIEW