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Great, but did we really have to see a graphic rape?

THERE was one issue that we really should have been discussing last weekend, but didn't. In reality, there was only one hot topic. In the long run, an average audience of 630,700 viewers tuned in for the return of 'Love/Hate' – 15,000 or so more people than voted to pass the Children referendum.

It's a long time since everyone got so excited about telly. Long gone are the nights when we all settled down in front of 'Murphy's Micro Quiz M', and watched in real time rather than on Real Player.

Last Sunday, however, saw the return of that national collective anticipation – followed by the biggest national collective gasp since Miley fumbled with Fidelma in the haybarn. 'Love/Hate', the event we were all waiting for, strutted up like a pockmarked pigeon in a pair of skinny jeans, gripped us by the throats and spat in our faces. Almost a week later and Ireland is still rattled.

I didn't watch on Sunday night but I don't live on Mars so when I finally caught up, I thought that I was prepared, that I had a fair inkling of what was to come. While not a loyal follower, I'm perfectly aware that it's not 'Wanderly Wagon' we're looking at here.

I was wrong.

I was not prepared in the slightest. Firstly, not for how slick the whole thing was – beautifully shot and soundtracked, grippingly written, grittily acted. I was impressed. But still not prepared. When the scene came – That Scene – I was as gobsmacked as anyone who hadn't known it was coming. Because I had no idea it was going to be that bad.

As TV viewers, most of us are comfortable to an extent with certain levels of sex and violence – we have to be in the age of shows like 'The Sopranos' and 'The Wire'. Yet, desensitised as we are, there was something about 'Love/Hate' that managed to not only take us out of our comfort zones but fling us wide.

Here be spoilers. The abrupt, merciless, animalistic rape scene was followed immediately by a frenzied attack culminating in an unforgettable moment of TV violence. Anyone who doubted the casting of baby-faced Robert Sheehan as a member of the gang; anyone who saw him as someone too afraid to light so much as a scented candle in case his camel-length lashes caught fire, ate their words. The scene when he, as his character put it, put Git "out of his misery" with a beerkeg makes Joe Pesci in 'Goodfellas' look like Orville the Duck.

There were elements of That Scene that gave coldness a new definition – Nidge's ranking of the pressing issue of dealing with the pulverised corpse of Siobhan's rapist as higher than the actual rape itself, prompting him to bark at the sobbing victim: "Go outside and have a good cry, but this is serious shit here." 'Love/Hate' never claimed to be 'The Riordans'. And it's fantastic to finally see something written by an Irish writer, produced in Ireland, with a great Irish cast for an Irish audience that is brave, realistic, grown up and thought-provoking.

But I'd still hate not to have had real warning of what was to come last Sunday night. To be the parent of a child, too old for a pre-watershed bedtime, who happened to be in the room at the time. To be an actual victim of violence or rape. Because That Scene is not to be forgotten. Not in a good way.

Gritty realism is to be lauded – within context – but there were elements of 'Love/Hate' that we could probably have lived without. There are undoubtedly plenty out there who watched but who wish that they had averted their eyes a moment sooner or, indeed, that they had gone to bed after the news altogether. Who might just do that next week.

'Love/Hate' has its merits but you need a strong stomach to appreciate them. It would be a real shame if the brilliance of the drama itself was lost to an audience because of the graphic and stomach-churning nature of That Scene.

Because not everyone has that strong a stomach or indeed an appetite for more.

Irish Independent