Containment

Here we go.

Series Two of ‘Blue Lights’ has landed and after an electrifying debut last year, the boulder has rolled back down the hill.
Twelve months ago, Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn delivered not just the best Belfast TV drama to hit our screens but a cop show that could compete with the very best.
Expectations for this series have subsequently rocketed and understandably so – especially now that the BBC has guaranteed a third and fourth series.
Let’s take a beat, though and focus on this one.
After the success of Series One, Lawn and Patterson have a big task ahead of them.
Delivering a follow up means having to introduce new characters, develop much loved ones and convincingly expand the criminal world the show depicts.
Saying that is easy.
Delivering it is a whole other enchilada.
But before we consider the new series, let’s have a quick reminder of the rules of engagement around these reviews on Slugger.
Reviews of each episode will drop on Slugger every week once they have aired on terrestrial TV – just like they did last year and also like the reviews of ‘Derry Girls’ episodes before those.
So while the whole of Series Two has dropped on the iPlayer, please avoid any spoilers about subsequent episodes in the comments below.
If you’re outraged by Slugger devoting space and time to reviews of a TV show, of course that’s your prerogative.
But maybe watch an episode of ‘The View’ or ‘The View From Stormont’ instead, if that floats your boat?
As is customary, each review will have a partial synopsis of the plot of each episode and may refer to some events in the previous series.
So if you haven’t seen this episode and don’t want to know some of the detail, then it’s probably best to sit this review out until you have.
Ok, now that’s out of the way, are we sitting comfortably?
Then let us begin…
The new series of ‘Blue Lights’ got off to an explosive start with Martin McCann’s Constable Stevie Neil, Sian Brooke’s Constable Grace Ellis, Katherine Devlin’s Constable Annie Conlon and Nathan Braniff’s Constable Tommy Foster in riot gear in a Land Rover facing a barricade consisting of a car and a burning wheelie bin.
It didn’t take long for them to be ambushed by masked men pounding their vehicle and pelting it with bricks and petrol bombs.
As they radioed base, the bonnet was set alight with Stevie realising the engine had packed in.
A man in a balaclava hovered menacingly on Grace’s side of the vehicle and reached into his pocket only to produce.. a horn.
(SPOILER ALERT!!)
It wasn’t, of course, a real riot.
In a sleight of hand Lawn and Patterson, who directed the opening episode as well as writing it, simulated a training exercise which the quartet failed miserably.
“That is one of the worst public order training exercises I have ever seen,” Neil Kerry’s sour faced McCloskey told them.
Where did they go wrong?
The team became separated from other units after responding to reports on the radio of injured people.
Rubbing salt into their wounds, McCloskey made the team wave at a drone that had followed their every misstep.
Back on the beat, Grace and Stevie were called to the discovery of a body in Belfast city centre.
The dead man was Ian ‘Soupy’ Campbell, an ex-soldier and a heroin addict.
As they established his identity, Grace got some grief about policing in the city from the man who discovered the body.
Meanwhile Annie and Tommy were bickering over the latter’s obsession with Johnny Cash before being dispatched to a pharmacy where they encountered Ciaran Flynn’s agitated addict Eamonn McSweeney who was threatening Mary Lindsay’s assistant Emma.
After learning from Emma he had become aggressive while trying to get his methadone prescription, Annie ordered him to leave and never return.
Back at Blackthorn Police Station, Desmond Eastwood’s former CID detective, DS Murray Canning resurfaced in his new guise as a member of the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce for a meeting with Andrea Irvine’s Chief Superintendent Nicola Robinson and Joanne Crawford’s Inspector Helen McNally.
DS Canning was particularly interested in the latest crime stats for the district which the Chief Superintendent noted were “not pretty”.
Explaining a lack of police resources was the problem, Helen was informed that a new response officer Frank Blake’s Constable Shane Bradley would be joining the team on the recommendation of Canning.
It soon became clear, though, why Canning was interested in Blackthorn’s crime figures, with him trying to woo Tommy onto his team.
He took Tommy in his civvies on a quick tour of the city, taking a particular look at the drug dealing activities of Chris Corrigan’s veteran loyalist paramilitary Jim ‘Dixie’ Dixon.
As Annie was joined on the beat by Constable Bradley, the death of Soupy Campbell took Grace and Stevie into Dixon’s heartland to a pub run by Seamus O’Hara’s Lee Thompson and his sister, Seana Kerslake’s Mags.
A former Army comrade of Lee’s in Afghanistan, Mags confirmed The Loyal Pub had been given as Soupy’s address because up until recently he had been living in a flat upstairs.
Lee revealed, however, he had thrown Soupy out onto the streets after discovering him shooting up in the pub toilets.
After Stevie and Grace left, Mags breathed a sigh of relief that they hadn’t come to arrest Lee who had a bit of a sideline as a dealer.
Lee’s dodgy activities, however, also brought him to the attention of Dixon who visited The Loyal Pub, insisting not only was the former soldier turned taxi driver to continue paying protection money for the bar but also had to give him a cut of his drug earnings.
With Lee clearly harbouring animosity towards Dixon, viewers were left wondering how long would it be before tensions boiled over?
And were that to happen, how would the under-resourced officers of Blackthorn Police Station cope with any feud on top of all the other drug related crime?
Once again Patterson and Lawn laid really solid foundations for their show in the opening episode, building plotlines that could well erupt.
Slickly directed by the duo, they captured impressive drone shots of Belfast but also rooted their story in reality and what has sadly become a regular sight in the city these days – drug addicts found overdosing on the streets.
Shifting attention from middle class drug users in Series One to those struggling on the streets seems a very sensible move and it will be fascinating to see how Patterson and Lawn continue to focus on the human cost of the drug trade, while criminal gangs vie for supremacy.
‘Blue Lights’ fans will be relieved the episode addressed a big elephant in the room – the departure of Richard Dormer’s Constable Gerry Cliff in the first series in what was a brave narrative gamble.
Gerry was a larger than life character and wisely Lawn and Patterson have avoided trying to replicate that.
His wife, Andi Osho’s Sandra Cliff told Helen she intended to leave her role as a desk sergeant in Blackthorn, as there was nothing for her in Belfast now.
Later as he tried to tempt Tommy to work for the Paramilitary Crime Taskforce, DS Canning also invoked Gerry, asking the young officer if his much missed colleague would really have wanted him to remain on the beat?
Viewers got to discover what happened to Hannah McClean’s Jen Robinson who quit the police at the end of Series One.
We saw her land a solicitor’s job at a firm called McAleer and Hamilton but instead of celebrating over lunch with the partners, she rather surprisingly chose to visit a soup kitchen instead where Paddy Jenkins’ traumatised Troubles victim Happy Jenkins was volunteering.
In a reminder of how Lawn and Patterson’s journalistic background is a real asset to show, Happy informed her the soup kitchen was about to be wound down due to a lack of funding.
As they reflected on what happened to Gerry, Happy, who in his youth lost family members in a bombing while going to get fish and chips, worryingly mused that he was trouble and had a history of getting others hurt.
This opened another potential storyline about victims of the Troubles and whether Northern Ireland is really prepared to confront its past.
The episode saw the brief return of Abigail McGibbon’s Tina McIntyre who was last seen cutting a deal at the end of Series One with the MI5 handler of her ex husband, John Lynch’s dissident republican crime boss James.
Engaging with Dixon in a factory yard, the scene suggested Tina may emerge as a significant underworld figure this series.
But amid all the big themes, Lawn and Patterson laced their script with humour including a debate on what makes a great fifteen.
While cinematographer Paul Morris earned plaudits for his stunning images of Belfast landmarks, who took the acting honours in this episode?
McCann and Brooke matched expectations and remained a dynamic pair onscreen – their onscreen chemistry bubbling.
Crawford did a decent job too as Sergeant Inspector McNally wore the weight of responsibility on her shoulders.
Corrigan, O’Hara, Kerslake and McGibbon fizzed with real potential.
However the best acting could be found in a reflective moment, as Jen and Happy shared their joy at her landing a new job and then mused on the pain of losing Gerry.
The rapport between McClean and Jenkins’ was striking and the exchange felt like the calm before a very big storm.
Don’t be surprised, though, if several storms erupt in the episodes ahead.
DS Canning may have cockily declared in this episode that a policy of containment was in place with loyalist gangs but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Just like the first series, mayhem appears to be lurking around every corner.
(The first episode of Series Two of ‘Blue Lights’ was broadcast on BBC1 on April 15, 2024)

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