Saturday 27 December 2014

Thoughtful, well-made, modern – unlike anything else on RTE

A frustrating ending was Emer O'Hanlon's only problem with RTE's much-hyped drama, 'Amber'

Emer O'Hanlon

Published 26/01/2014 | 02:30

Nearly a million viewers watched the final episode of Amber, but in case anyone was trapped in a cave last week and still doesn't know about it, it was a four-part mini-series which followed the story of Dublin teenager Amber Bailey.

Dropped off by her father at a friend's house, she never made it indoors, choosing (although he doesn't realise it) to head off mysteriously in the other direction instead. What happened next, no one was sure, except that Amber never returned. The series followed her family and friends over the two years, and concentrated on the different ways a wide group of characters was affected by her disappearance.

While admittedly a bit slow, the plot of Amber was very engrossing and gripping. As a teenager (albeit an older one), it's unnerving to think what can happen to you in broad daylight. I'm a certified coward and it definitely confirmed my view that the world is full of dangerous people you shouldn't trust. Like the weird guy on the Luas. I've seen men like him on the DART many times. Then there was the white van hanging about. I'm terrified of vans too. As for the man walking his dog near the school, I've never trusted men walking dogs. What are they really up to?

For parents, it must have been equally harrowing. While it was by no means his fault, what would have happened if Amber's father had just made sure Amber actually went in the door of her friend's house? In addition, the episodes portrayed very well the often exasperating nature of investigations into missing people. The police and family could spend an episode investigating a seemingly promising lead, only for it to turn out to be ultimately fruitless. Other times, they might get near to uncovering something that the viewers knew to be important, but at the last minute miss or overlook its significance. It was shocking too to see what Amber's father Ben was prepared to do to find his daughter. He even went on to illegal child pornography websites to look for her. I suppose we don't always appreciate how far parents would go for us.

Amber was thoughtful, well-made, and, unlike many of the other homegrown programmes I see on RTE, it felt modern. I liked the non-linear way that the story was told and the multiplicity of viewpoints. With crime-based dramas like this, though, it's difficult to say what you think of them until they're over and you know the solution.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but when I've been told all week to tune in again to find out "what happened to Amber", that's what I expect to see. We all did. On the morning before the last episode the Irish Independent even published a guide to the seven possible suspects.

If Amber's creators had wanted to give us a drama about how the family were affected after Amber disappeared, that would have been fine, and perhaps people wouldn't have felt so cheated out of an ending. But don't lead them to believe the programme is about revealing Amber's fate, if that's not actually going to be explained. That's like getting me to wonder "who shot JR?" and then, not only never revealing who pulled the trigger, but instead telling me I'm silly for caring or for not figuring it out myself.

As with the recent (also disappointing!) series of Sherlock, I went straight on to the internet afterwards to see what other people were thinking, and judging by the online responses I'm not the only one who was annoyed by the lacklustre ending. Some people did try to justify it, saying that in real life, answers are not always found and mysteries not always solved. This is of course true, but the fact remains that Amber is a TV show, and, as such, there's nothing viewers hate more than to be denied a proper sense of closure after they've invested themselves emotionally in it. I can't help feeling that any solution, even a weak one, would have been preferable to what we saw last Wednesday night.

Best of all would've been an ending that shed new light on what happened before, allowing us to rewatch the episodes and pick up on clues and other things we didn't see first time round.

There were so many unsolved mysteries that were introduced then quickly forgotten. Who was the red-haired boy that Amber was speaking to in a chat room? How did Jenny know him? What did Jenny know about Amber's disappearance?

One of the things they touched upon, but I wished they'd expanded upon more, was the technology aspect. There were hints that Amber had a whole other life online, one her parents knew nothing about; I would have loved to see that explored in a bit more depth, especially as it's a very relevant topic that would have struck a chord with many viewers.

Irish Independent

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