PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD ON NOVEMBER 9
So could you work out what had happened by the end of Dublin Murders? Nah, me neither. It didn’t matter, though – I loved the show, found it gripping and stylish, and would happily binge on a second series.
I may well be in the minority with my love for Dublin Murders, as the crime drama was panned by critics – alongside a fair bit of enthusiastic praise – mostly for the same reasons. While laurel wreaths have been tossed for the acting, especially Sarah Greene and Killian Scott, and the overall quality of production, Dublin Murders was lambasted for plot inconsistencies and implausibility, and a failure to tie up loose ends.
As usual, the consensus view is wrong – well, partly – and I am here, good people, to detail exactly how. For starters, crime stories being far-fetched, and not always making perfect logical sense, is par for the course. In fact, it’s a good thing, a necessary framework for the genre.
It’s similar to how, say, Gothic horror always has a supernatural element. Sure we all know that ghosts and vampires are ludicrous and not reality, but the genre wouldn’t work without them.
Same thing in crime: it’s incredibly hard to write a compelling mystery without utilising a large dose of coincidence, lucky breaks and unlikely events (I know, because I’ve tried, and failed). They enrich the tale, make it more exciting, help build tension and momentum.
So I had no issue with Dublin Murders being implausible. Besides, they call it “suspension of disbelief” for a reason.
Rob surviving a childhood trauma, moving to England and coming home to work as a detective, eventually being assigned a case involving the same woods where he vanished? It’s unlikely, but not nearly impossible.
Similarly, Cassie having an eerily striking lookalike? It happens. Life is strange, sometimes even stranger than fiction.
Had Rob and Cassie been abducted by Flash Gordon, or one of them discovered a magic wand in the glove compartment, that would have strained credibility to breaking point. As it was, a little mental lean-in made the events of Dublin Murders perfectly palatable for viewers.
As for the lack of resolution, I guess that’s a matter of subjective taste. Personally I’m fine when a story is wrapped up in a neat bow at the end, but I’m also fine with things being left unsaid, unfinished, even baffling.
The job of art, as Francis Bacon said, is to “deepen the mystery”. It’s nice sometimes when a drama doesn’t explain every last thing to the audience. That leaves room for your own imagination to fill it.
Also, this ambiguity fitted well with Dublin Murders’ air of ominous gloom and strangeness; the vague sense that maybe, just maybe, there were otherworldly forces at work here. And as it happened, the two main “whodunit” storylines were fully resolved; we were only left hanging on peripheral matters e.g. the 1980s disappearances and who was the Jane Doe inhabiting Cassie’s undercover persona.
That’s the nuts and bolts. On a more fundamental level, I loved Dublin Murders for this simple reason: it was really, really well-made. The naturalistic acting, smart dialogue, beautiful camerawork, expert pacing.
I loved the dreamlike Fargo/Twin Peaks-esque intimations of the supernatural. I loved how reality and fantasy seemed to blur together at times. I loved how it was funny, horrifying, moving, sometimes in the same scene. I loved the artfulness of it all.
I especially enjoyed the little details – the sort of thing you imagine the actors might have come up with during the filming process – such as Cassie showing off chewed-up food in her mouth when Rob slags off her sandwich, or him catching her belt loop as she leaned into a freezer.
It was all a reminder of the huge resources of artistic talent and ambition we have in this country: very timely, given the Genghis Khan-esque reign of terror about to sweep through RTÉ, who co-produced this show with BBC. Horrendous cuts are planned for the national broadcaster, which could be a disaster for indigenous actors, directors and crew. It’s a small country and there are very few outlets apart from RTÉ.
Yes, the plot was far-fetched and not 100% plausible. But none of that particularly matters to me, because in the end, the plot doesn’t matter.
This might seem counterintuitive, given that mysteries are more-or-less all about plot. But in truth, there are only so many stories to tell – someone once wrote that there are only seven basic narratives in the whole of human art/creativity – and fundamentally, all crime stories are the same.
I’ve written a few novels myself: crime and Young Adult mystery. Each had a pretty decent plot but ultimately they were bought by publishers because those plots were told with a bit of style, imagination, wit and art.
It ain’t what you say so much as how you say it. What matters is how well you tell it, and Dublin Murders told its story exceedingly well.
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