Occam’s razor. It’s the oldest rule in the detective’s rulebook: the simplest explanation is usually the right one. It’s a rule that applies, somewhat, to Bloodlands, which concluded its four-episode run on BBC One this evening in typically bombastic style. In this case, however, the “simplest explanation” was unveiled so clumsily that its resolution felt anything but right.
Bloodlands’ previous episode ended with dodgy Ulster cop Tom Brannick (James Nesbitt) conspiring with Tori Matthews (Lisa Dwan) to frame his boss, Jackie Twomey (Lorcan Cranitch), for the string of “Goliath” murders carried out in 1998. The finale picks up the same thread, and the episode’s most engaging section sees Twomey face interrogation for his “crimes”, while Brannick and DS Niamh McGovern (Charlene McKenna) observe via a TV monitor. Although the frame job was a decent one, McGovern sees through it – and Brannick, too, soon throws the ploy out the window, as he brings forensic evidence to the fore suggesting that Twomey was stitched up.
Matthews, meanwhile, is understandably upset that the man who she thought killed her father wasn’t brought to justice; a contrived scene in a changing room sees her notice the pendant worn by Brannick’s daughter Izzy (Lola Pettigrew), and she rumbles Brannick’s deception. Taking Izzy, she lures him out for a confrontation, in which he breaks down and confesses all: how he was baited into his crimes for the good of his daughter, how he is, in fact, Goliath. Brannick has one trick left up his sleeve, and masterminds a situation that sees aggrieved ex-IRA kidnap victim Pat Keenan shoot Matthews dead, before Brannick kills him in an act of apparently lawful heroism.
It is never clear whether we are supposed to feel sympathy for Brannick. This could perhaps be a calculated ambiguity, but more likely comes down to Bloodlands’ shaky control of its tone. Brannick’s heartfelt confession – giving Nesbitt the chance to let loose, very loose – is played straight; his remorse and heartbreak are clearly meant to be read as sincere. But his words, his corny and patriarchal proclamations of daughter-love, come across as empty cliché.
Bloodlands’ penchant for plot holes also continued to plague the finale. Why, for instance, was Izzy present at the crime scene during the episode’s climax? How could Brannick possibly justify shooting an injured Keenan in the head, executioner-style, to an internal affairs team? It’s impossible to focus on Bloodlands’ good qualities (McKenna and Cranitch’s performances being two of them) when its shortcomings are just so glaring.
The problem with the grand “Goliath” reveal is that Bloodlands essentially spoiled it back in episode two. By having Brannick shoot Adam Cory but neglect to admit he was Goliath, it made him a much-too-obvious answer. Some viewers even shared their bemusement after episode three, unsure as to whether the mystery had already been solved or not. Why would the show tip its hand so brazenly if there wasn’t some more surprising enemy in play?
In opting for the simplest solution, Bloodlands also ended up with the dullest – finishing with a whimper rather than a bang. It was a conclusion so underwhelming that you’ll long for the days when you were merely confused.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies