Babylon, Season 1: Episode 4 – “Victoria Park”
Written by Sam Bain
Directed by Sally El Hosaini
Airs Thursday nights at 10 on SundanceTV
Following a surprising turn of events, both for the plot of Babylon and in the context of it being a young series, “Victoria Park” shows more depth and heart than could possibly be expected of a semi-satire comedy of this type. There’s almost too much to talk about here, so maybe it’s best to start small.
The final montage of “Victoria Park” perfectly encapsulates what this episode is up to and gives each character a rather striking final moment. Even Tom, essentially the buffoon of the group, shifts around during his Quaker meeting, certainly considering speaking about losing his boss so tragically. It has been hard to take Tom seriously hitherto if just because of that wonderful smile Jonny Sweet imbues him with, but that actually works towards the episode’s advantage by reframing it in a light that makes it look like the smile is a coping mechanism rather than just being something natural. Joining him in the minor characters who get big moments are Davina and Banjo, who immediately shut me up after complaining last week that that part of Babylon had been underdeveloped. Their embrace during the closing montage is a touching image in the aftermath of Banjo, like Warwick, having to deal with the downside of being a cop who has to occasionally use a firearm. It says a lot that the writing team thinks of these characters as people who can put aside something like a failing, unfaithful relationship to comfort one another, because they are best suited to do that comforting (that might be a difference between British and American television, where there’s less “drama” that feels necessary). Even Inglis, who has now taken over as commissioner, sits looking at a picture of himself and Richard. His pointing out to the other characters that he knew Richard better than any of them is key to making that final moment work, since it allows it to really feel like he’s had no time to do the grieving that ought to be done.
But it’s Brit Marling and Liz who run away with “Victoria Park,” from start to finish. Suicide is a tricky subject to tackle well, both in terms of being effective and appropriate. Two things help contribute to how Liz functions following Richard’s suicide: that she didn’t answer his final phone call and that she chose to not tell anyone about the affairs he was having. The former is just one of those devastating things where even though every single person around the characters would say “There’s nothing you could have done,” it still doesn’t matter–the brain will keep forcing the person to ask what might have been different. The latter is a superb decision in hindsight, because not only shows that Liz really did want to help Richard make everything go away in the press, but it also means that what Finn says about there maybe being a shot he could have decreased the smear campaign against Richard makes Liz go even deeper into herself. That’s not good in the sense of it helping Liz’s character, but it’s good because it magnifies her huge win at the end of the episode when she goes in for a television interview to set the record straight. A different, less strong character would have caved under the sheer weight of everything being thrown at her, but Liz proves to be near heroic in her efforts to do her job to her best ability while maintaining total integrity. And Brit Marling performs each shade of that perfectly, making Liz’s depression and anxiety feel absolutely real. Liz has to go through so many emotions all at once in “Victoria Park,” so even though she isn’t exactly the center of attention, Marling is being asked to do the most and meets the challenge with deceptive ease.
There are, of course, more comedic elements in “Victoria Park,” and they shockingly don’t feel out of place. Anything having anything to do with Robbie is ridiculous in the best of ways, whether that’s making him look homophobic because he’s so gullible or having him put into a position where he pulls an automatic gun on an innocent civilian just for annoying him. That said, his decision to remove the dead victim’s gun from its holster into the kid’s hand has multiple effects going forward, not least of which is further putting Warwick into a position of doubt. On the one hand, it’s kind of nice that Robbie is willing to stick by his crew by not letting it look like an innocent person was shot, but it’s also a terrible act when looking at it from any angle that doesn’t value camaraderie above all else. If he had left the gun as is, that might have allowed Warwick to experience a smoother recovery, because he actually does make the right decision in this episode, but now this just adds further complications to that side of things.
In all, “Victoria Park” is easily the best episode of Babylon thus far and sets up each plotline so that it doesn’t look there will be any signs of letting up. What began as an entertaining series worth checking in on is now a universally-watchable series worthy of the high class pedigree that SundanceTV set for itself with shows like Top of the Lake and Rectify. If you’re not watching Babylon yet, it’s time to catch up.
– Sean Colletti