Love/Hate review: A taut, emotionally draining hour that lived up to the hype
The return of RTÉ’s gangland drama belonged to the brilliant Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Nidge
They’re back: Killian Scott as Tommy, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Nidge, Peter Coonan as Fran and Brían F. O’Byrne as Detective Inspector Mick Moynihan
So it’s business as usual for Nidge (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) in Love/Hate, RTÉ’s gangland drama that returned for a fourth series last night with a tense, emotionally exhausting hour of TV that lived up to the hype - not an easy ask as there’s been a level hype for this series that hasn’t been seen for any other Irish drama.
Vaughan-Lawlor is terrifyingly brilliant as the gangland boss who rose through the ranks but who knows - because he’s seen how Dublin gangland plays out - that it’s all going to end. The cycle of violence and revenge is destined to continue - the opening scene saw a very young teenager outside a block of inner-city flats take a gun out of his holdall and with a chilling bravado tell his friend he’s has to kill some one - and he has to kill Nidge - and then just as calmly he sets off a round of bullets and kills a cat. And no one seems to care, there’s no sirens or shock. That’s the norm. That scene was beautifully filmed with a spare, cinematic feel and directed with a slow stark pace and, for the emotional knockout punch, there was a snatch of Blind Willie Johnson’s plaintive Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground playing underneath – it was typical of the sheer style that marks Love/Hate out as quality TV drama.
It’s was Nidge episode. He was once one nervy, shouting instructions, racing from place to place, and deathly calm, emotionally cut off from everything - even the porn we see him watching in his first scene and later when he’s with a prostitute in his scummy brothel. He’s paranoid that the gardaí are on to him - they are, in one of the many short scenes, we see a plain-clothes garda typing his every move into the Pulse computer system. (Nidge’s surname is Delaney incidentally - a Love/Hate piece of trivia thrown in for the legions of fans). He plans a tiger kidnapping - bringing gangland violence into the sleepy suburbs of Dublin. His henchmen take the family of a cash-in-transit driver hostage and keep them captive in a ghost estate. It looked very real and terrifying and local - which is why Love/Hate has struck such a chord. Not because of the location recognition that comes with any homegrown drama but because we know from news headlines that these crimes do happen.
Middle-class Dublin comes to him in the messy, puking shape of a dentist punter in the brothel. He can’t pay his bill - that’s recession for you, when a dentist can’t pay his bill in a brothel. “I’m separated,” he pleads as if Nidge might understand his cashless predicament. Instead - in a hint of a tantalising plot that will surely develop, Nidge sees the dentist as leverage for future plans.
And gang member Darren’s not coming back - except to haunt a guilt-ridden Nidge. We see him, for once without his blue hoody, on a slab in the morgue, blood congealing around his head - there’s nothing glamorous about gangland in Love/Hate any more.
Towards the end we meet his nemesis, DI Mick Moynihan (Brian F O Byrne). Tommy (Killian Scott) - if you’re ever likely to feel sorry for any of these crims it’s brain-damaged, pathetic Tommy - has been arrested and it’s the toe in the door that Moynihan who knows all about Nidge’s operation has been looking for. Just as Nidge is a complex character, Moynihan appears equally so - manipulative, dogged, super-confident with that same chilling calm. Another superb, deceptively nuanced character.
First episodes of a returning series are tough. There’s the need to bring viewers back up to speed with the relevant characters and the scenes that have gone before, and set up the plots for the new series so that the viewer wants to come back for more. And crucially the opener can’t betray the fans that love it. Love/Hate creator and writer Stuart Carolan did it all in this tantalising, dramatically taut opener.