Love/Hate: that’s a wrap, so what’s next?
The latest series of the acclaimed RTE drama ended up with a ‘conclusion’ that divided its audience. [Spoiler alert]
DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE LATEST SERIES, SERIOUSLY, UNLESS YOU ACTUALLY NEVER INTEND TO WATCH IT AND JUST WANT TO READ ABOUT IT INSTEAD OR WHATEVER.
Breaking rules is good. The final scene of this series of Love/Hate ended by breaking the rules. There was no cliff hanger. It wound down before strangely exploding with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Nidge going batshit crazy in a holding cell. I thought it was brave and interesting, and not entirely at odds with how the series generally flowed.
There’s a lot of Kool Aid drinking when it comes to Love/Hate. I’m a fan (of the show, not Kool Aid.) I love watching drama set in Dublin because it’s where I’m from. I like crime dramas and drug gang dramas, and other people must too, because that subject matter makes up three of the best TV dramas of the modern era; Breaking Bad, The Wire, and The Sopranos. But comparing Love/Hate to that threesome is at least disingenuous and at most delusional. And that’s ok. Not every drama can push the genre forward or make teenage boys plaster posters of the lead characters on their bedroom walls. But how Love/Hate is generally talked up is quite astonishing, and probably unfair. And I wonder why that is?
Perhaps the reason is the subject matter. People dig crime and sex and drugs because most of us are naturally prurient. [Side note: Conor Lally had a good piece on Love/Hate and the illusion of insight into violence.] Irish TV is also starved of decent drama, or at least that’s the perception. I actually feel bad for drama writers and showrunners because the pressure to come up with something good is huge, and the slagging that happens when something doesn’t work is overblown. The expectations on Love/Hate are especially unbelievable, and the most ridiculous articulation of this is the media coverage that has saturated the tabloids in particular and talk radio over the past six weeks. And considering the media has latched on to practically everything that has happened (and lots that hasn’t) it’s also hard to detach the truth in what is reported and the bullshit. Newspapers dropping spoilers is also stupid.
The last installment (which has generally been described as a let down, although personally I thought it was one of the better episodes this series) has generated a lot of reaction, but it’s important not to examine the finale in isolation. It was a strange ending, but Love/Hate is disjointed. When you just have six episodes, every single one should be jam-packed, but this series wasn’t, and it never has been. In fact, there are a couple of episodes every series where it feels as though nothing really happens at all. Maybe I’m demanding too much.
Perhaps one of the issues that impacts on the cohesion of Love/Hate is due to funding constraints. Like most TV shows, you’re always working from one series to the next. There are probably only two sure things in Irish television: The Late Late Show and Fair City. So how are you meant to construct a six or seven series arc from the get go when you’re not sure it will ever happen? I find it kind of ridiculous that David Caffrey, the director, has had to “defend” how the series ended. It’s a TV show, “fans”, cut him some slack! Although Caffrey did say something interesting: that the team went into production on this series knowing there were another six episodes in the pipeline thanks to RTE giving it the go ahead early on (I read that in the Indo, so I presume it’s accurate.) I don’t think that’s an excuse for a lack of story. And creating action shouldn’t really be hindered by length. You can make something action-packed in a three-minute short, or a 90-minute film. Of course they’re different disciplines, but nearly six hours of TV is a long time. However I get that if they knew six more episodes were coming, there was a bit of a cushion there, some security.
TV makers can do whatever the hell they want, but viewers want certain things, and being creative with TV doesn’t mean you can’t give the audience what they want. One of the reasons people are bitching about the season finale is that it didn’t fit the parameters of what we expect from a drama narrative, and the satisfactory cues and loose-end-tying that we like in storytelling in general.
Another thing that impacts on Love/Hate’s lack of cohesion has been switching the focus of major characters from series to series. Introducing new sets of characters, most specifically the gardai in this series, jolts a little, because all of a sudden you had one entire episode that was basically a cop show.
Shows can change, you never know what arc you’ll end up following. The West Wing was initially supposed to be about Rob Lowe. Hell, even Sorkin left The West Wing. The show must go on. Vince Gilligan didn’t know how many series of Breaking Bad there would be. And JJ Abrams certainly didn’t act like he knew how long Lost would last. Shows get cancelled all the time, so what’s the point in holding back on story if you never know you’re going to get to tell it? Moreover, what’s the point in holding back on story when you do know you’re going to get to tell it because that’s a luxury that could allow you to build something even more kickass? But comparisons to American drama are also unfair when you take into account that most have massive budgets, and are generally constructed within a story room format, whereas Stuart Carolan is on his own.
I think people really want to love Love/Hate, and therefore didn’t really critically examine how the series was working all along. But that said, is it the job of your standard viewer to critically examine something and not just enjoy it? Maybe people ignored the lack of action throughout (in comparison to something as head-spinning and twist-laden as The Killing, for example), or how insignificant the female characters were. Maybe people didn’t interrogate how repetitive some of the beats were, spray painting ‘Elmo is a rat’ on a wall twice, or Tommy ending up pretty much in the exact same situation as he was last series, or Siobhan staring off into space on multiple occasions, or prostitutes being thrown around the place in too many episodes. Maybe people didn’t notice the constant driving, or the overuse of musical montages, or the relentless use of slo-mo.
It’s also important to note that we’re having this conversation about a TV show in an era where TV drama has become such a huge and respected art form, and also where there’s a social pressure on people to watch everything and have an opinion on it. The amount of conversations that are hijacked by people reeling off names of potential box sets, or Israeli crime dramas, or the latest Danish hit, or some creepy French drama, or whatever’s on Netflix is kind of ridiculous. We’ve become massive consumers of television drama and everything gets compared to everything, loved, dismissed, dissected and shared. Thanks to Twitter, all this commentary is public too, with everyone who has watched Mad Men and knows who David Chase is thinking they’re Clive James.
But it’s easy to criticise stuff and point out faults. Love/Hate is a turning point for Irish drama. Everything that gets made now will be coming in its wake. It’s a good drama. The acting is generally brilliant. It’s well shot, the casting is excellent, the script feels real, the sound and lighting are pretty much perfect, the locations are bang on, the costume works, the overall vibe is compelling. There were some real moment of tension (I particularly enjoyed the build up to the sting operation) and sadness (Tommy’s demise.) The characterisation of some criminals as psychopaths is probably accurate, and Nidge and Fran fill out their roles with aplomb. I also thought Elmo and Aido developed strongly and the cop characters were well drawn and a diverse bunch. The introduction of a despicable character who happened to be middle class transformed greed and criminality to a new sector of society. The cops didn’t get what they ultimately wanted not because they were hapless, but because they were good. I loved that. The violence is brutal instead of cartoonish. The terrifying depiction of young men eager to climb the gangland ladder was well-handled and ultimately tragic – that could be a standalone TV drama in itself.
But someone said to me recently “Let’s make more drama, let’s get better, but let’s not kid ourselves that we went straight to The Wire without stopping by The Corner,” and I think that’s an decent point of view. Love/Hate should rightly win audiences and praise, and everyone who made it happen deserves applause. Bring on the next series.
Bernice Harrison’s review of the series finale is here.