What Have You Been Up To Jonty?

So here we are – the final episode of this series of ‘Blue Lights’.
And again, it only seems fair to fire another warning shot to those reading this review to expect a lot of spoilers from previous episodes.
So if you’ve not yet seen all five episodes preceding this one, you should probably watch them first before reading this.
With viewers still reeling from the events of last week’s episode, ‘Blue Lights’ immediately thrust its audience into the mania of the police response to the shooting of Richard Dormer’s PC Gerry Cliff and the gunning down of Peter Campion’s Dublin criminal Eoin O’Sullivan by Hannah McClean’s PC Jen Robinson.
Last week’s turn of events represented a big narrative gamble by the show’s creators Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson.
To some viewers, it must have felt like the writers throwing a chessboard into the air mid game just to see how the pieces land.
However director Gilles Bannier soon restored order and was once more up to the task of thrillingly capturing the turmoil after the gun battle.
One of the first things we saw was Martin McCann’s PC Stevie Nichol and Sian Brooke’s probationer PC Grace Ellis in pursuit of a car fleeing the scene.
With no time to erect a stinger device, Joanne Crawford’s PS Helen McNally and Katherine Devlin’s rookie, PC Annie Conlon rammed the black Volkswagen Passat outside the former Belfast Telegraph building.
The occupants were Stefan Boehm and Clare Gray’s MI5 agents who had failed to intervene when Gerry was shot.
The anger of Blackthorn’s PSNI officers was palpable.
However when the duo were due to be booked in for questioning at the station, Jonathan Harden’s Inspector ‘Jonty’ Johnson did his MI5 master’s bidding and released them under a public immunity certificate.
Deeply frustrated, the normally level headed Stevie lost his cool.
Jonty, meanwhile, faced awkward questions from Andrea Irvine’s mystified Superintendent Nicola Robinson who wanted to know why he had let two witnesses to the shooting of Gerry Cliff walk out of Blackthorn Police Station?
The superintendent’s daughter Jen Robinson was also shellshocked by events.
As she tried to comprehend what had happened and her part in it, she managed to get a hug from her arch critic, Annie Conlon.
While Gerry fought for his life in hospital, his probationer Nathan Braniff’s PC Tommy Foster kept a vigil in the waiting room with his colleague’s wife, Andi Osho’s desk sergeant Sandra Cliff.
Sandra asked Tommy how he had got on in his marksmanship test, observing: “I have never seen Gerry more worried about anything in years.”
Tensions were high too in Titanic Quarter where the McIntyre gang was hiding out in an apartment.
John Lynch’s boss James McIntyre exploded with rage and rained blows down on his son, Michael Shea’s Mo for blindsiding him to the deal with the Dublin-based Ginley crime gang.
With the shooting of Gerry Cliff spelling bad news for his gang’s future, he ordered Gerard Jordan’s Anto Donovan and Dane Whyte O’Hara’s Gordy Mackle to go home, be prepared to be arrested and say nothing to the police.
After they left, at the behest of his ex-wife Abigail McGibbon’s Tina McIntyre, James told his son the truth about his role as an informer for Nabil Elouahabi’s MI5 officer Joseph.
He explained: “After the war, I saw men like me dying in stinking wee flats, rolling tobacco out of butts they found in the street.
“And I said to myself: Nah, I’m not going that way. No-one’s going to throw me out without a f**kin’ scrap!”
After years of serving the spooks, James was certain his handlers would reward him by spiriting him and Mo out of town.
But not if the officers of Blackthorn Station could help it.
After the fireworks of last week’s episode, it was always going to be a big ask for Patterson and Lawn to raise the bar even higher but they came close.
The flurry of activity at the start of the episode meant they were initially able to set off at breakneck speed.
But as the dust settled and the ramifications of the shooting became clearer, it was evident just how much of a narrative gamble they had taken.
Episode Six nevertheless brought an impressive first series of ‘Blue Lights’ to a thrilling close – although the last five minutes found Bannier and his writers trying to parcel everything up just a little too neatly by ending on a less sombre note.
Those who like their dramas dark may have found this a little too clinical but you could argue ‘Blue Lights’ earned the right to inject a little light into the show after a lot of shade these past six weeks.
Over the course of the run, its writers Patterson, Lawn and Fran Harris and director have delivered a cop show that has the potential to compete with the very best.
Belfast has proven to be a thrilling location for a drama about officers on the beat – holding its own against shows set in London, Manchester, LA or Baltimore.
The writers have wisely avoided the tendency of a lot of British TV dramas these days to ape ‘Line of Duty‘ by feeding credibility shredding cliffhanger after cliffhanger to audiences every fifteen minutes as if they are suffering from ADHD.
There’s a lot to be said for meticulously building a story and gradually bringing events to the boil.
That’s exactly what the ‘Blue Lights’ team did and they did it magnificently.
Bannier deserves credit for coaxing strong performances out of his cast and delivering six pacy episodes on a relatively modest budget.
Among the cast regulars, Brooke, Dormer, McCann, Lynch, McClean, Crawford, Devlin, Harden, Osho, Shea, McGibbon, Campion, Elouhabi and Braniff all shone at various stages.
Valene Kane, Packy Lee, Mary Moulds and Paddy Jenkins also impressed in some of the more fringe roles as the show tackled some of the more unique challenges of Northern Ireland policing.
Some viewers in Northern Ireland and on this blog have complained that the first series of ‘Blue Lights’ ignored the existence of loyalist paramilitary gangs.
That is certainly true but now a second series has been given the green light, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore that world if that’s where Patterson and Lawn wish to take us.
However what cannot be denied is they have built a solid foundation for their contemporary police drama which benefitted from two years of thorough research and their earthy Belfast sense of humour.
How they build on that solid work will ultimately determine whether ‘Blue Lights’ will secure a place on the pantheon of great TV cop shows.
But as starts go, this was as good as you could have hoped.
It’s time to take a beat.
See you when Series Two airs. I’m looking forward to it already.

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