Monthly Archives: November 2019

Dublin Murders finale: it ain’t what you say, it’s how you say it

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.


ARCHIVE PIECE: Star Wars spin-offs

FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD, JANUARY 2018

Much like the actual universe, the Star Wars universe is expanding at an incomprehensible rate. This week sees the release of The Last Jedi, movie number eight in a trilogy of trilogies.

Next spring we’ll get the Han Solo spin-off, following last year’s Rogue One and ahead of the mooted Boba Fett film. They’ve also announced a whole stand-alone trilogy. And there’s a TV series in the works.

Then there was that Clones cartoon in 2009. Not to mention the plethora of other TV shows. And cartoons. Videogames. Books. Branded merchandise.

And you know what? It will never end. Star Wars is now a black hole of entertainment: infinitely powerful, with infinite gravitational pull, slowly but surely absorbing the entire cosmos into its infinitely greedy maw. Slurp.

But what are you gonna do? If you can’t beat ‘em (to death, with the blunt end of a lightsabre), join ‘em. So here are our suggestions for further Star Wars “product”. We’re in the book, Disney…

  • “R2D2 – An Origins Story”: eight-hour epic, directed by George Lucas himself in a triumphant return from semi-retirement, following the adventures of a tiny piece of metal which will one day become soldered to a larger piece of metal which then forms part of a computer processor which eventually is inserted into the artificial brain of the lovable trundling kitchen bin-shaped robot from the early movies. The part that makes him go “biddly-BEEP-beep-beep-biddly-bwooOOOooh.”
  • “Star Wars versus Avengers Assemble versus Justice League”: fanboy ecstasy unconfined as the three biggest, wildest and LOUDEST movie franchises collide in a literally head-splitting smash-up. All your favourite heroes and villains are rendered in state-of-the-art CGI, the camerawork and editing range from hyperactive to epileptic, the plot was written on the back of a Carroll’s packet, and the film will make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
  • “Rey of Sunshine”: Daisy Ridley records an album of cheery, insanely catchy songs for charity, including Good Vibrations, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Livin’ on a Prayer and Cannibal Corpse’s Devoured by Vermin. Ed Sheeran probably pops up at some point.
  • “Star Wars does Eight out of Ten Cats does Countdown”: Jimmy Carr hosts this smug-tastic panel show where the laughs are “out of this world”! Allegedly.
  • “Star Wars does the News”: the title says it all.
  • “Star Wars does the Weather”: self-evident.
  • “Star Wars Ear to the Ground special”: pretty much what you’d expect.
  • “Star Wars Scrapes the Barrel”: intriguingly meta-textual outing which satirises the process of squeezing all possible revenues out of a successful brand…while squeezing all possible revenues out of a successful brand.
  • “Chew Baccie”: chewing tobacco with a tenuous name-related connection to the much-loved Wookie/walking fireside-rug. Sale restricted to over-18s.
  • The “Luke, I Am Your Father” paternity test: semi-reliable DNA-measuring chemistry set type gizmo, which helps make the family court’s job of assigning responsibility to deadbeat dads a good bit more fun than it normally is. (Note: only relevant if the child in question is called Luke.)
  • “Dart Invader” dolls: illegal knock-offs that bear hardly any resemblance to the Star Wars character, in name or appearance, but might just about do the job if you’re badly stuck for a present for your nephew and the shops are almost closed. And you don’t like him very much.