Sunday 19 November 2017

TV Review: Violent, savage and brilliant

Love/Hate (RTE1, Sun) Homeland (Ch4, Sun) -- Love/Hate is the best RTE drama series ever. You could, if you wanted to be sarcastic about it, point out that the competition for that particular accolade is hardly as stiff as a treble-whiskey. Yet to do so would be to belittle what creator/writer Stuart Carolan, director David Caffrey and their outstanding young cast have achieved.

The third series, which came to an end last night, has been unflinching and uncompromising in its handling of violence, drug-taking, sex, prostitution, casual misogyny and all the other, everyday pursuits that engage the mind and body of your average Dublin gangster.

Quite a bit of it was deeply unpleasant to watch -- but it was presented with a raw truthfulness and brutal honesty.

Even the opening episode's disturbing rape scene, which caused a minor murmur of complaint, wasn't just thrown in there for the purposes of sensationalism or provocation; it was an essential component of the plot and the engine that powered this whole chapter of the saga forward.

The trick with any continuing drama, and one that many of them conspicuously fail to pull off, is keeping up the momentum. Unlike some other series I could mention -- and I'll be mentioning one shortly -- Love/Hate kept its shape, to use a football term, right to the season finale.

In the tradition of classic gangster sagas, Nidge (the brilliant Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) finds his back against the wall and his options running out fast. His savage beating of Tommy (Killian Scott) has left the latter in a coma, lingering between life and death -- and, if he recovers, potentially holding Nidge's fate in his hands.

Dano (Jason Barry), the permanently fuming son of dead RIRA boss Git, knows Nidge is somehow involved in his father's disappearance and wants his head on a plate. But wise old head Tony (a magnificently threatening Sean McGinley) counsels playing a longer game, because Nidge is of more use to "the cause" alive than dead -- for now, anyway.

The gardai, previously a near-faceless presence on the periphery of Nidge's seemingly hermetically sealed world, are coming down hard, too.

Rather than fleeing to Spain, the hideout of choice of the criminal class, Nidge decides to walk into the lion's den with €100,000 in one hand and the life of his best friend, Darren (Robert Sheehan), in the other.

The scene where Tony interrogates Nidge about Git's murder, and about whether he's really a stool pigeon for the Special Branch, was as palm-sweatingly tense as any I've seen. But the most powerful moment -- for me, anyway -- was the one where Nidge broke down and began sobbing in front of his wife. "What's wrong?" she asks. "I don't know," he says. We do, though: those sobs are the sound of whatever small sliver of soul or conscience a man had left disintegrating.

The murder of Darren was probably inevitable, if only because Sheehan's career is burgeoning internationally, yet Carolan's drum-tight script meant there was uncertainty right up to the second fatal bullet.

Few series could survive the loss of two major characters (Aiden Gillen's John Boy having being popped in series two), but Love/Hate has developed such confidence and left more than enough loose ends dangling to justify the fourth series.

If you'd asked me five or six weeks ago what the best drama series on television was, I'd have unhesitatingly said Homeland.

But it's gone so comprehensively off the rails that that's no longer the case.

This penultimate episode, which I didn't have space to review when it went out on RTE2 last Tuesday, wasn't quite as daft as the previous week's murder-by-pacemaker effort, but it's still turned into a parody of itself.

That said, I'll be tuning in for tomorrow night's finale to see if it can pull off a last-minute escape worthy of Love/Hate's Nidge.

I'm not holding my breath, though.

Love/Hate 5/5

Homeland 2/5

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