Blackout – Episode 3
Eccleston's bruise black drama reaches its conclusion.
UK air date: Monday 16th July, BBC One, 9pm
So, mayor Daniel Demoyes (Christopher Ecleston) did the decent thing by signing a non-transferable contract that protected his city's public services, and did the noble thing by rejecting suicide and confessing to the murder of a businessman in front of the news media: "There are people who wanted to bury the truth… I was one of them. I killed Henry Pulis." As he was driven to prison in Blackout's by now slightly irritating film noir twilight, I couldn't help thinking that Bill Gallagher's ambitious drama would add up to more than it eventually did.
The problem was the three-episode format. After starting so vividly and strongly in week one, the second episode continued to deal almost exclusively with events from Demoyes' point of view. Fair enough, if the conclusion delivered a satisfying catharsis for Eccleston's character. As it was, in the third episode his moral redemption seemed like an afterthought after all his repetitive to-ing and fro-ing between the supporting characters.
Despite what I'd hoped, most of them remained – forgive the pun – shadowy, under-written figures, adjuncts to Demoyes' brooding quest for salvation. The promising sub-plot of Detective Bevan (Andrew Scott) obsessively searching for his wife's lover, Demoyes himself, went nowhere, when it could and should have delivered an emotional and dramatic pay off. Likewise, Bevan's killing of his corrupt superior, Griffin (Danny Sapani), part of the secret cabal that was protecting the mayor, meant nothing as the bent cop was so sketchily drawn and the conspiracy so ill defined.
Ah, the conspiracy: a multinational company taking over a city's public utilities through the blackmail of the mayor has enough potential for a ten part political thriller, but was confined here to a few, admittedly wonderful, exchanges of cynical dialogue between Demoyes and Jerry Durrans (Ewen Bremner). "People are so easily bought," Durrans sneered, revealing his true feelings. "It's revenge," Demoyes countered. "You believed in the people and the people let you down." Great stuff, but, again, there was no follow up; after later violently confronting Durrans in a restaurant, he simply vanished from the narrative, leaving Demoyes' eleventh hour flourishing of the watertight public service contract lacking any real dramatic weight.
Instead of the conspiracy plot taking centre stage, it was sidelined in favour of scenes with Daniel's children, who he feared his alcoholism was beginning to affect. All brilliantly acted and well written, of course, but in a final episode with such a major revelation it made things feel unbalanced. Again, the cramped three-part structure was the problem. Imagine the first series of The Killing crammed into five episodes and you get some idea of how crippled Blackout was by the running time restriction imposed on it. It's a great shame, as it began so well and had a commanding central performance by the always-watchable Eccleston.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that a series can't be built solely around the unquestionable talent and charisma of its leading man. Take a look at BBC2's Line of Duty to see how, even with five episodes, an ensemble conspiracy thriller can develop and beguile naturally.
Despite my disappointment, there was much to commend in Blackout and I'll definitely be tuning in when Gallagher and director Tom Green pass this way again.
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