This is a mostly excellent British serial killer drama that manages a lot despite the reveal of the killer as one of the two main characters in the very first episode. The show plunges us into Northern Ireland with a great sense of place and little regard for our knowledge of how these things work over there.
Some particular strengths of the show include moments of tension only bettered in TV by a show like Breaking Bad. I’m serious about that. There incredibly tense moments in this show. Another major strength is the preponderance of strong women characters – there are at least three major female characters who are notably the best at their jobs. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen another show – certainly not another crime mystery / drama – with so many powerful women and so many flawed, partially competent men. It’s utterly refreshing and should serve as a model to future TV programs of this type. Hell it should serve as a model to all future television in this regard.
The rest of this review contains spoilers.
Also, the show wisely avoids the confrontation we have been taught to expect. It teases us to expect it over and over and then nicely subverts the genre.
Unfortunately there are a number of major problems that keep me from giving the show full marks, something which, at times – specifically in the tensest moments – I really wanted to do.
One problem is the scope of the show: it begins as a serial killer drama but soon expands its reach to being also about Belfast political corruption, or so we think. But by the second “series” that aspect has almost disappeared – presumably because members of the cast did not return – and there is no explanation to us as to why. Most of the competing storylines – save one – die after “series” one. And that’s to the shows detriment, I think.
Also, despite Gibson’s status as a “Top Cop” and despite the general competence of many of the police, it seems like this is kind of a terrible investigation. Triangulating the killer’s base of operations occurs in “series” two, whereas my (limited, completely media-derived) understanding of serial killer investigations is that this should have been done the day they established there’s a serial killer. I understand that some of these depictions of the police procedure are located where they are in the show for pacing purposes, but honestly it makes the cops look incompetent that it takes them so long to do some things that crime drama viewers would see as the ABCs.
The killer himself appears to have huge resources, beyond his salary. This is so typical of so many serial killer programs. Very rarely is the serial killer depicted as having regular, human amounts of money. This guy stumbles upon one hideout, sure, but he is also able to rent a cottage and take time of work, and he is further able to seemingly rent or own a garage. How does he do it all? The show doesn’t care to illuminate this and I think it’s just a typical assumption of the genre.
Finally, there is one brief, stupid indulgence of the “Every woman is secretly bisexual” nonsense that finds itself in so many TV shows and movies and this nearly completely undermines the strong female characters. Can’t these women just have drinks at a bar and talk about the case? Honestly. Fortunately, it’s dropped as quickly as it is brought up and we can forget about it.
Despite these issues, the show is almost entirely excellent in every other aspect and is as close to a must watch as any British show I’ve had the pleasure of seeing recently.