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Saturday 21 September 2019

TV Review: What's seen cannot be unseen

Taken Down (RTE1)

Lynn Rafferty and Aïssa Maïga star in Taken Down
Lynn Rafferty and Aïssa Maïga star in Taken Down
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I remember the start of a TV drama series a few years ago, something about gangsters. I remember seeing the ads for it, and thinking that I have seen some great gangster movies and TV programmes in my time, but I just couldn't face another one - I was all gangstered out.

Crime in general held little attraction for me any more - it seemed that most Irish motion pictures were about criminals who were amusing or eccentric in some way, the "funny criminals" genre. I had grown tired of a culture which could see no way of approaching the complexities of the human race, except to drag us back one more time, to cops and robbers.

So I just refused to watch this new drama series which had trailers of men happily breaking the law as they are wont to do - and that's how I missed the first two episodes of The Sopranos.

I suppose the lesson here was that you should never not watch something just because it seems to belong to a genre which is weighed down with so many cliches, which has cliches stacked on top of the cliches.

And yet you need to be pretty sure that there will be something else thrown in on top of all that, to get you through the usual procedures. With The Sopranos it was the likes of James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in major roles, and it was writing of the most breathtaking brilliance. And the music was sublime too.

With Taken Down you knew there was going to be a lot of police stuff, and you felt you'd had enough of the doings of the various law enforcement agencies of the world - that you'd done your time, as it were.

And yet Stuart Carolan, who wrote Taken Down with Jo Spain, had seized the Irish "funny criminals" genre and made something sensational out of it, with Love/Hate. So on that basis alone, you couldn't not watch this. But there was one more reason to be there, for Taken Down - it was opening up the largely unseen world of Direct Provision, and making us look at it, making it impossible for us not to look at it.

I mean, we know about this thing, vaguely, but it tends to exist in that faraway place in our heads which used to contain institutions such as the "industrial schools". We know that something very strange is going on there, with this Direct Provision, and we've even read a few articles about it, or seen something on Prime Time. But now with this series it's like someone has called to your house and come in and sat down and put it in front of you, and done this all over the country, making it impossible for anyone to be vague about this any more.

Nor is it just an Irish story, because the treatment of the people in Direct Provision is part of the much wider pattern of the abuse of immigrants on a grand scale - when I interviewed Stuart Carolan about Love/Hate, he said that "fear and grief" were the fundamental elements. And they are here too in abundance.

So the achievement of Taken Down is not just the ventilation of an "issue", it takes the viewer into these places that most of us don't want to go - the places where these people are expected to live, and the places in the psyche of the audience which are closed to these realities.

Indeed these particular places have existed for a long time, and yet most of the people of Ireland have only had a look at them now, courtesy of a TV drama - it is a monument to how determined our civilised culture can be, when it really doesn't want to have anything do with the misfortune of others.

Brian Gleeson plays the manager of the place, building a character who was already emerging in the first episode as one of the great eejits of TV drama, albeit one in a position of terrible power.

Which shows us again that eejitry is not necessarily a victimless crime - sometimes it's exactly what is required.

So it's not as if he just found himself there by some weird accident - in a perverse way, in this mad place, what he is doing might be seen as best practice. 

Sunday Independent

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