A Bit Shook Up

But to lose two this time around would have been disastrous.
(SPOILER ALERT)
Yet this was the scenario ‘Blue Lights’ viewers were facing at the end of last week’s penultimate episode when a passing car belonging to Sian Brooke’s Grace Ellis and Martin McCann’s Stevie Neil was hit with a bullet.
Fans of the BBC1 show had witnessed Alfie Lawless’ young boy Henry Thompson accidentally discharging a gun hidden by his uncle’s crime gang.
Henry blanched as the bullet hit the passing squad car which careered onto a patch of grass on the Mount Eden estate.
Surely after killing off one popular character in Series One, ‘Blue Lights’ creators Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson weren’t going to sacrifice more?
Even Henry seemed perturbed at the prospect, walking down the stairs like a zombie in ‘Shaun of the Dead’ with a high pitched ringing sound on the soundtrack.
Henry stumbled into the garden and onto the street but as the camera zoomed into the back window of the patrol car, up popped Stevie’s head.
“Grace, are you ok? Grace?” he asked, followed by her muffled reply that she was fine.
When Grace’s head also popped up without a scratch on it, you could hear sighs of relief across the land.
Henry was still in a daze, though, clutching the gun he fired as he froze in panic on the street.
Grace radioed base that shots had been fired in Suffolk Street, with Andi Osho’s Sandra Cliff, Nathan Braniff’s Tommy Foster and Jonathan Harden’s Jonty Johnson springing into action after her message triggered an alarm inside Blackthorn Police Station.
“Put the gun down! Armed police! Put the gun down!” Stevie roared, nervously drawing his weapon.
Recognising Henry was petrified, Grace took command of the situation and began to talk the boy into dropping the gun.
All of this was videoed on a smartphone by Kelsea Knox’s Mount Eden resident Stacey who last week had her debt to a loyalist loan shark wiped out by Henry’s uncle, Seamus O’Hara’s Lee Thompson.
As sirens wailed and police cars sped to the scene of the stand-off, Henry’s mother, Seana Kerslake’s Mags wondered what all the fuss was about.
It didn’t take long for her to find out.
Sprinting to the scene, she arrived just as the tense situation ended but soon she and Henry were whisked away in a patrol car to try and sort out the mess he was in.
Back at base, Joanne Crawford’s Inspector Helen McNally, Des Eastwood’s DS Murray Canning and Andrea Irvine’s Chief Superintendent Nicola Robinson were arguing over their next steps.
Full of his usual swagger, Canning suggested increasing surveillance on Lee Thompson and his sidekick, Craig MacGinlay’s Craig McQuarrie.
Helen wasn’t having any of this nonsense, demanding their arrest and a search of the house where Henry had fired the gun.
As Canning rolled his eyes, she asked him: “What’s your angle here, Murray?.. What are you up to?” before launching into a tirade about his tendency to go solo while pursuing his own policy of containment that was all about “backroom deals and compromises.. anything for a quiet life!”
When she threatened to resign, Chief Superintendent Robinson snapped, accusing her of grandstanding.
Nevertheless she acceded to Helen’s demands.
A bit of a staring contest developed between Helen and Murray after he insisted that he would bring Thompson and McQuarrie in.
Oblivious to the commotion on the Mount Eden estate, Lee was busy planning his criminal activities when he got a ping on his smartphone from Stacey who sent him the video of Stevie and Grace trying to defuse the situation with Henry.
The footage sent him reeling in shock.
Back in Blackthorn, a subdued Stevie and Grace were coming to terms in the locker room with the incident when suddenly what we always suspected finally happened – their hands touched and Grace moved in for a kiss.
They were interrupted, though, by Sandra Cliff who burst into the room to check on their wellbeing.
Jumping to attention, the duo had an awkward conversation with Sandra.
Sandra thought they were talking about the shooting incident but the audience could have been forgiven for thinking Stevie was actually talking about the kiss.
When Grace awkwardly left to grab a cup of tea, Stevie said to Sandra by way of explanation: “She’s just a bit shook up”.
As the response team gathered for a briefing on the Mount Eden situation, Sandra informed them that Henry was Lee Thompson’s nephew and they would have to protect the house to enable forensics to determine if there was anything there linking the ex-soldier to criminal activity.
She revealed Neil Keery’s perennially grumpy Sergeant McCloskey had been drafted in from Garnerville Training College to help run tactical ops on the ground – prompting Tommy and his girlfriend, Dearbhaile McKinney’s Aisling to giggle as they recalled coming across him in Series One.
“Only two rules tonight – one, do everything I say and two, do everything I say,” McCloskey bellowed before challenging Aisling to explain like a naughty schoolkid what all the giggling was about.
Afterwards, Jonty tasked Tommy to comb through the doorbell footage from the home of Carol Moore’s pensioner Eileen to see if there was anything on it linking Lee Thompson to the murder of Chris Corrigan’s Jim Dixon.
Meanwhile Lee sat with his cronies in The Loyal Pub, expecting to have his collar felt any minute by the PSNI.
This didn’t stop him from hastily editing on his smartphone the footage he received from Stacey to make it look like Stevie had acted aggressively towards Henry.
“Get that out there (on social media) any way you can,” he instructed his gang.
“Say that the gun Henry had was just a toy. Then get the people out onto the street – the worse it gets, the better.”
Moments later he and his sidekick, McQuarrie were led out of The Loyal Bar by DS Canning in handcuffs “like two wee mice”.
But as he left, Dan Gordon’s Rab McKendry called him all the names under the sun for putting Henry’s life at risk.
In Blackthorn, Helen deployed Grace to get Henry to open up about what happened but he wasn’t all that keen.
Pulling his mum Mags aside, Jonty and Grace told her that Henry needed to “hear the truth about his Uncle Lee” and asked her to think about who could get through to him.
She opted for Rab.
As Canning and Helen McNally questioned Lee in the presence of Belfast’s busiest defence solicitor Matthew Forsythe’s Aodhan McAllister, the response team were deployed in riot gear to the street where Henry had fired the gun.
However they were facing an increasingly angry crowd whose fury was being ratcheted up by all the misinformation Lee’s gang was pumping out on social media.
While tensions increased on the estate, Jonty and Nicola Robinson watched some news coverage, courtesy of the former BBC Political Correspondent Stephen Walker (in an impressive cameo).
But with the residents of Mount Eden whipped up into a frenzy, would the officers of Blackthorn Police Station be able to hold the line?
Would forensics have enough time to find the evidence needed to link Thompson’s gang with the Dixon murder?
Would Henry provide Grace and Jonty with the information about where he got the gun?
As concluding episodes of cop series go, this installment of ‘Blue Lights’ was undeniably tense as the officers of Blackthorn Station faced an angry mob in Mount Eden.
Lawn and Patterson’s episode was for the most part satisfying and was, as you’d expect, often tightly written.
Aided and abetted by Jack Casey’s efficient direction, there were stirring moments of drama.
Not everything worked, though.
Unfortunately the legacy storyline involving Hannah McClean’s Jen Robinson, Paddy Jenkins’ Happy Kelly and Derek Thompson’s Robin Graham continued to wobble as it had done for much of the series.
The writers’ attempt to take a sad but important story and give it an upbeat gloss was noble.However it just didn’t convince.
It wasn’t the only misstep.
The show’s climactic scenes were in a Belfast city centre bar, where the Co Down rock band Dea Matrona just happened to be gigging.
But it all felt too much like the ending of a Shakespearean comedy – with the writers trying in a light hearted way to tie up loose ends that didn’t really need to be resolved.
Ultimately, though, the question you were left pondering at the end of episode six was: how did this series of ‘Blue Lights’ measure up to the first?
Before we launch into a detailed analysis, it’s important to acknowledge that ‘Blue Lights” remains an entertaining watch and is still leaps and bounds ahead of any other Northern Irish TV drama that has been produced here.
However there have been some signs in this series of wear and tear.
For starters, the storylines around the older characters – Grace, Stevie, Jonty, Helen, Sandra and Nicola Robinson – in this series were much more interesting than those involving the younger ones – Tommy, Katherine Devlin’s Annie and Aisling.
As a result, Sian Brooke, Martin McCann, Jonathan Harden, Joanne Crawford, Andi Osho and Andrea Irvine were able to consistently shine.
Nathan Braniff, Katherine Devlin and Dearbhaile McKinney were unfortunately saddled with frothy storylines that did them little favours.
Hannah McClean also stumbled as her character Jen Robinson got pulled into a subplot about revealing the truth about a chip shop bombing during the Troubles.
This legacy storyline was well intentioned but ultimately it underwhelmed.
With Jen carving a new life outside the PSNI as a solicitor in this series, it became increasingly clear the writers were struggling to keep her relevant.
Frank Blake’s new recruit Shane Bradley was a good addition to the show, offering real potential if the writers are prepared to tap into the dark side we got occasional glimpses of in this series.
Des Eastwood did a pretty good job too as the incredibly smug DS Murray Canning, fitting into the role of the resident police villain quite comfortably.
Outside Blackthorn, Seamus O’Hara impressed as Lee Thompson with a character who had more layers to him than many viewers may have anticipated.
It was also good to see Abigail McGibbon and Paddy Jenkin return as Tina McIntyre and Happy Kelly, while Chris Corrigan and Tony Flynn did solid work as the rival loyalist hard men on the Mount Eden estate, Jim Dixon and Davy Hamill.
The normally reliable Seana Kerslake felt a bit underused as Mags throughout the run.
After a subdued presence for much of the series, it was good to see Dan Gordon finally getting a chance to demonstrate his acting chops in the final episode as Rab.
There was no doubt, however, that the show continued to miss Richard Dormer after his IFTA award winning turn last year as Gerry Cliff.
Patterson and Lawn were wise not to try to replicate his character.
However the absence of Dormer’s larger than life character haunted the show which could do with someone with charisma to fill the hole he left behind.
Along with fellow director Jack Casey, Lawn and Patterson conjured up some handsome looking episodes that made Belfast look like the vibrant city it can be.
They were also largely successful in conveying the complex nature of policing in this part of the world for audiences outside of Northern Ireland.
Often the best moments of the show came in the more fringe storylines – a death in a middle class gay couple’s home, the breakdown of a schoolteacher who had succumbed to alcoholism, the lonely pensioner on the Mount Eden estate longing to entertain visitors.
Despite these strengths, you still couldn’t help but feel that ‘Blue Lights’ will need a bit more grit in future if it is to take its place among the very best cop shows.
Patterson and Lawn haven’t been behind the door in expressing their huge admiration for David Simon’s HBO series ‘The Wire’ which ‘Blue Lights’ is clearly influenced by.
However it and other great cop shows like Simon’s ‘Homicide: Life On The Street,’Hill Street Blues,’ ‘The Shield‘ and BBC2’s ‘The Cops‘ weren’t afraid to regularly embrace uncomfortable, dark storylines.
‘Blue Lights’ does that to a certain extent but it also has a tendency to people please  when it might be better to jolt the viewers.
This flaw is all the more apparent when measuring the show against Tony Schumacher’s excellent Liverpudlian cop drama ‘The Responder’ which just returned to our screens.
Despite this, there’s plenty to suggest that ‘Blue Lights’ could iron out the lumps and bumps in the two series to come and take its place among the very best police procedurals.
If it doesn’t, it risks being lapped by great shows like RTE’s superb gangland drama ‘KIN,’ its comedy drama with ITVx ‘The Dry‘ and Sharon Horgan’s Apple TV series ‘Bad Sisters‘ during what is unquestionably a golden age for TV drama on this island.
Long may ‘Blue Lights’ continue but if it is to really grow, could it bear its fangs a bit more?

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