Bloodlands finale review: Confusion, contrivances and coincidences abound

As a glowering antihero James Nesbitt saves a silly, overbaked series

So it was Tom Brannick all along. Much murkiness gusted through the finale of Northern Ireland thriller Bloodlands (BBC One, 9pm). But there was clarity, at least, regarding the nastiness of James Nesbitt's veteran PSNI detective Brannick.

Bloodlands has suffered from comparisons to Line Of Duty, also shot in Belfast and environs and likewise produced by Jed Mercurio. And once again it chugged along like a tuneless cover version of the BBC's crooked coppers juggernaut (returning, by coincidence, next week).

Yet in an hour brimming with confusing switchbacks, contrivances and coincidences – how fortunate two key characters speak fluent Irish – James Nesbitt at least has a chance to shine. Or, more accurately, glower. Which is what he does as he frames IRA mobster Pat Keenan (Peter Balance) as the notorious "Goliath", the serial killer seemingly back after taking a breather for 23 years.

Goliath is in fact none other than Brannick. In 1998, he had been blackmailed into killing Republican gunrunner Simon Quinlan by loyalist godfather David Corry who, a bit awkwardly, was having an affair with Brannick's security services wife Emma.


Learning the truth about their relationship, Tom shot Cory. And then let Emma escape. She is still out there somewhere, leaving the door open to a possible second season.

Quinlan, as we already know, was the father of Tori Matthews (Lisa Dwan), Tom's potential new girlfriend. In the end she is revealed to be a bit of a Tori Aimless, her quest for vengeance against her father's murder coming unstuck when Brannick turns the tables and has Keenan kill her.

Keenan of course was literally gunning for revenge after Tori had kidnapped him and implied Goliath was responsible in order to reignite the investigation into 1998 killings. And then Brannick shoots Keenan, and plants on him the pistol which which Goliath had carried out his original murders.

Bamboozled? Bored? Wondering when Line of Duty is back? Viewers may potentially be all of the above. Others will have long since given up attempting to follow a switchback script which, earlier in the closing instalment, saw Brannick try to frame his PSNI boss, Jackie Twomey (Lorcan Cranitch) using a suspicious postcard.

That subplot barely holds water and is really an excuse for a Line of Duty-style interrogation scene in which Twomey is grilled by senior cop Heather Pentland, down from Belfast and played by Susan Lynch. Acronyms fly like confetti and you half expect Ted Hastings from Line of Duty to wander in and say something cute about sucking diesel.

Nesbitt has taken some flak for his performance as Brannick, with some viewers of the opinion that charming Adam from Cold Feet can’t pull off the anti-hero thing. But he broods for all he is worth in the final episode. And amid Chris Brandon’s topsy-turvy storyline, the character’s damaged morality exerts an undeniable gravitational pull.

Bloodlands is silly and overbaked yet as the show staggers towards a delirious denouement Brannick’s villainy shines as cold and crisp as sunrise over the Mourne Mountains.