In one of the early scenes in Love/Hate, which returned to RTE1 last night, a man is chased down the street by two members of a gang, beaten up and bundled into the back of a van.
We next see him miles away, lying on the ground and being savaged by two Dobermans who have been bred especially for dogfighting. He is saved from further pain and possible death by Robert Sheehan’s character, Darren Tracey who smashes one of the dogs to bits with a baseball bat.
As coincidence would have it, much of that had a strong resonance with the experience of Kieran Noonan, the 29-year-old Dublin man whose body was found in a field in Co Meath on Friday evening.
He too had been chased down a Dublin street, bundled into the back of a car, and beaten. Unfortunately, he didn’t survive the experience.
Not too long ago, a drama or movie carrying such strong parallels to a current tragedy would have been postponed for a week out of respect for the bereaved.
But we live in different times. Gangland shootings are a common occurrence; the list of the bereaved gets ever bigger. Programmes like Love/Hate were commissioned specifically to reflect those changes.
If last night’s episode is anything to go by, it’s starting to warm to its task.
The first series was a bit soft, and didn’t really reflect the savagery of gangland life.
It made it look attractive on occasions – a great way to make friends and meet hot girls – without an accompanying health warning: being in a gang seriously undermines your chances of celebrating your thirtieth birthday.
Everybody was ridiculously good-looking; it felt like it had been created by somebody who’d seen too many gangsta rap videos.
But it looked fantastic, was very well acted, and had some compelling characters. (Sadly, the best of these, Hughie, played by Brian Gleeson, was killed off in the last episode of season one).
Having been commissioned for this second series, Love/Hate seems more confident in its treatment of gangland life. It’s edgier, more violent, less likely to make an impressionable teenager apply to his local gang leader for an internship.
It’s also more willing to made fun of gangland life, ridicule its practitioners and highlight the stupidity of people who treat gang members as some sort of heroes. “Are you on Facebook?” asks one of the female characters, flirting with Nidge, the most likeable of the gang.
Later, we see her own Facebook page, and her name: Gangsta Vodka Bitch.
It’s perhaps not your normal Sunday night show (The Clinic feels a long way away), and will undoubtedly offend some people, but it’s also one of the better dramas RTE has done in its history. It deserves its second chance.
When we left season one, Darren had just been gunned down in the street by Stumpy, a member of the same gang, who was jealous of Darren’s relationship with his ex, Rosie, played by Ruth Negga. He’d also attacked the pregnant Rosie, causing her to lose her baby.
Happily, Darren is back on his feet, though suffering psychological trauma as a result of the attack, and is wandering around Dublin like a lost soul, half in and half out of the gang, which is led by John Boy Power (Aidan Gillen).
Darren was the main character in the first series, and Sheehan the main actor. In this new series, Gillen turns it into a double-header. His character John Boy is under intense scrutiny from the guards, his apartment raided, his car taken away.
Increasingly paranoid, he suspects his own solicitor of leaking information on him, and has his home petrol bombed. The solicitor’s daughter suffers first degree burns, leaving her father with a dilemma: does he maintain lawyer/client confidentiality, or bring down John Boy by giving the guards everything he has on him.
Meanwhile John Boy agrees to pay off a €30,000 debt incurred by Darren. From now on, “if I say jump, he jumps”. Darren is right back in the thick of things.
Expertly written and structured by Stuart Carolan, and confidently directed by David Caffrey, Love/Hate is close to being an unqualified success.
That’s always good to report.