Babylon, Ep. 1.05: “Hackney Wick” continues an impressive back half

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Babylon, Season 1: Episode 5 – “Hackney Wick”
Written by Jon Brown
Directed by Sally El Hosaini
Airs Thursday nights at 10 on SundanceTV

Following last week’s superb turn in the wake of Richard Miller’s departure, Babylon returns firing on all cylinders while finding new areas to explore and develop. The most notable of those areas is Liz’s push to convince Sharon she’s a viable candidate for Commissioner. This is Nicola Walker’s breakout episode for the series, as she nails every scene in a varied performance. Attracted by Liz’s mention of one of Sharon’s previous ideas, the shifts in her facial expression from hard and stoic to curious and excited provide a breadth of back story without having to delve into it with a bunch of exposition. While we’ve heard Charles talk about his relationship with Miller and how his past has made him ready for this moment, Sharon’s story is implied by the little resistance she puts up as Liz nudges her along. It’s important that she doesn’t come off as bitter or that she feels underappreciated–instead, one gets the sense that Sharon willing to campaign for the position is her being confident that she really could do the job well. And that’s evidenced by her talk with Liz in the aftermath of finding the dead boy who had been missing. Sharon is strong, telling Liz that what they say about not crying isn’t true; you can cry, but you just can’t do it at the workplace. So, while Sharon clearly isn’t the most natural orator and motivational speaker when reciting Liz’s notes (especially compared to Liz, who has done a TED talk before), her heart is in the right place, and that just might be enough to carry her through the transition and win the favor of everyone.

By contrast, Matt’s heart appears to be nonexistent. There’s something to be said for a character who is downright villainous in a story. When that character becomes a focal point, then having that one-dimensionality of the person being evil doesn’t work as well as if there were more layers or entries for understanding. Babylon, though, doesn’t pretend to portray Matt as anything other than an antagonist, and because he’s not a central character in the drama, being despicable is something that works for him and gives the audience someone to root against. On the one hand, Robbie is a moron for being so naive to think that he could divulge the real story about the shooting to Matt, of all people. But Robbie has earned the sympathy of the audience at this point–an audience that can’t help but shake their heads at him while also laughing along. Matt takes full advantage of him, which certainly has repercussions for the plot, but it more clearly defines who these characters are, what motivates them and what flaws they can’t help but have.

It seems like just about everyone is feeling the sheer weight of the events here. Everyone is under tremendous pressure and ready to explode. Warwick, of course, carries that out literally after Banjo tells the truth about Warwick’s mental state during the internal investigation interviews. It’s hard to fault either character in this situation for acting how they do, and it’s ultimately the right decision to force Warwick into some time off, even if that means permanently. Babylon has shown that whatever the job is, police or media, certain people aren’t cut out for what they do, and it’s important to realize that at some point. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, especially when someone’s devoted a life’s work to an occupation, but it’s better for everyone else involved that Warwick regroups, at the very least. Robbie’s guilt similarly affects himself, but compared to Warwick, Robbie has his under some semblance of control. The moment things interfere with the job is the moment they have to be addressed, and that’s what we’re finally seeing as the first season of Babylon winds down.

So, the series continues to find the best version of itself just when it needs to. The quality of the storytelling and characterization goes hand-in-hand with the technical achievements, too. The opening sequence, for instance, featuring Banjo and the crew paintballing set to CCR’s “Fortunate Son” is perhaps the best piece of directing in any of these episodes so far. It’s not just how fun and funny the ending to it is, but it’s also the understanding of how to visualize tension (even if it’s ironic) as the crew closes is on their opponents. And the series continues to use shots of CCTV and internal cameras to show some of the action, constantly reminding viewers how nothing goes unseen and that the truth will always come out. These comparatively minor flourishes are usually around in a show from the beginning, but you tend to notice them more as the show improves. Right now, Babylon is on fire, so all its successes–major or minor–are totally noticeable and could not have come at a better time as the season wraps up next week.

– Sean Colletti

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