Last night's TV: Love/Hate, RTE One
Verdict on episode one of new series
Crime fiction devotees often claim that their art-form offers a truer picture of society than others – a sort of state-of-the-nation snapshot at any given time.
It makes sense, then, that Season 3 of Love/Hate opens on St Patrick’s Day: the day when Ireland is expressed in all its glory and dysfunction.
The six-part series, created and written by Stuart Carolan, kicked off last night with a very cool shot, the camera looking upwards as if from the ground at Nidge (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Darren (Robert Sheehan) and Tommy (Killian Scott). They’re staring down in horrified disbelief, arguing what to do, to the strangest background noise – what sounds like gurgling. This, it’s fairly clear, can’t be good.
It’s a hell of an opening, arresting and unsettling, but before the viewer has time to wonder what’s going on, we’re whisked back in time a few days, after credits peppered with representative shots of Dublin: shabby housing estates, drug dealers doing their thing, grey skies hanging over the capital like an omen of ill fortune.
The story stands thus: Nidge now rules the gang and runs his empire of drugs, prostitution and smuggling with a smooth tongue and iron fist. When one of his men is accidentally targeted by the local IRA mob, Nidge gets little sympathy from hardman Git (Jimmy Smallhorne).
Darren seeks revenge with a pipe-bomb, forcing Nidge to head off on the Paddy’s Night binge from hell with Git and son Dano (Jason Barry). The two ‘RA men get more intoxicated and belligerent as the hours go by.
Throw in some cocaine use, a simmering machismo and the fact that Tommy’s squeeze Siobhan (Charlie Murphy) shows up drunk and miserable, and a course is set for disaster. Wannabe gangster Fran (Peter Coonan) gets embroiled as the situation threatens to spiral into deadly chaos.
This was great stuff, gripping the viewer and ripping you out of the comfort zone from the first scene. The episode never let up with the tension, incident and a pervasive sense of absolute dread. But somehow, you found yourself caring about these ruthless criminals and what happened to them.
The pacing was propulsive, the twists and shocks rang true, and the acting, as usual, was excellent across the board. Special mention goes to show newcomer Smallhorne, who was brilliantly frightening as the terrorist, his horrendous deeds beautifully contrasted with a humdrum suburban homelife.
And unlike many RTE dramas, which have faultless production values and acting but rather dreary scripts, a lot actually happens in Love/Hate. This is the cutting edge, it’s literally life and death; watching it brought so vividly to life in equal parts fascinating, appalling and irresistible.
If you’ll pardon the pun, this was bloody good television.