Babylon, Season 1: Episode 6 – “London”
Written by Jesse Armstrong
Directed by Sally El Hosaini
Series awaiting renewal announcement
As a season finale, “London,” which re-creates the London riots, is everything someone who has been following Babylon could want in a final episode. The plotting reaches its heights in true climactic form while some of the best character work is reserved here for big effect. From the episode’s very first moments, which feature more fantastic editing as the armed forces stomp and slam fists at Banjo’s unit’s return in tune with the music, to the final second, “London” showcases how five episodes have done the groundwork for talking about real, meaningful ideas and allowing fully-formed characters to be the conduits of those ideas.
Charles Inglis, now the new police commissioner, gets the script’s most impressive scene in the form of a war-like rallying speech. After the armed forces have exercised their right to not take out their weapons as things in London begin to spiral downward, Inglis pays them a visit, sits down among them and–without any help from Liz in terms of prepping or suggestions–delivers one of the finer monologues in television all year. Paterson Joseph has been consistently good in this role thus far, but Inglis has only been featured heavily in front of the camera recently. Just this sequence alone shows leading man capability, and every piece of it is convincing, emotionally engaging and inspiring–Inglis’ ability to use humor to control the mood of the room, his choice of strong words to incite without repulsing, his demeanor that’s half-vulnerable and half-immovable. Just on its own, the whole thing is kind of a marvel to watch, but what pushes it over the edge into something that demands viewing is its treatment of its subject. If there could be an award designed for Babylon, it would be one that recognizes objectivity in its portrayal of controversial subjects. Inglis’ speech makes powerful but entirely reasonable claims regarding attitudes toward the police: people get to sit back analyzing and criticizing split-second decisions that officers have to make years after the events from the safety of at least semi-ignorance. It’s one side of the discussion, of course, but it’s a side that isn’t willfully ignoring anything as it makes its point. Few things resonate with viewers stronger than something that forces them to look at themselves. As someone writing about TV, this speech and its points hits pretty powerfully when adapting “police” and “police decisions” to “TV series” and “writing decisions” in that I can sit back and make critiques about something, but I’ve not been in the writing room. Every thing I have to say as an alternative to something else was probably bounced around along with countless other ideas. That Babylon tackles this idea in relation to its content–where viewers will either have to swallow a certain amount of complicity or else get angry as a defense mechanism–is a bold and ultimately rewarding move for the series.
Just as a piece of entertainment, however, “London” is a whole lot of fun. The riots themselves are the right amount of terrifying and the responses to them are equally believable. And then there’s a moment like Banjo, pretty much at his lowest, picks a fight with Clarkey, which ends up being both funny and sad. For much of the episode, Clarkey comes off as a brat, miffed that he hasn’t had his way. But when Davina initiates the reconciliation, it’s easier to see his charm; we have, after all, seen some of Banjo’s worst qualities, which allows neither character to seem infallible or more worthy of Davina. And on the other side of things, Tom gets to finally put his foot down after receiving too many disapproving glances and requests below his position. The rapport between Tom and Finn is fantastic, and both Tom’s request for transfer and Finn’s uninterested reaction show so much more potential for putting those two characters on opposing sides.
The season finale’s ultimate success, though, rests on how it handles Robbie’s admission of tampering with the scene of the crime. Although Liz’s Metwork idea hasn’t come to fruition, all her pushing towards transparency finally gets paid off once Inglis reveals how much character he really has, especially compared to Sharon’s true colors. Again, this show’s Babylon‘s commitment to not letting anyone off the hook, including sympathetic characters. Like Inglis’ speech to the armed forces, Liz’s address to Finn as she tries to cut through all the bullshit and get him to listen to her shows how a genuine approach to communication is something people are willing to listen to.
As of now, Babylon has no renewal announcement. This finale is clearly designed to allow for a second season, and having the series air on SundanceTV means there’s probably a better chance of it continuing in some form than if it came down to merely Channel 4 ratings. As an individual, one-off unit, this season works perfectly fine and remains totally watchable, but the steady improvement of these six episodes would make it premature to pass another order. These are fun and interesting characters set in a world that allows the content to be topical, like the recently-concluded The Newsroom. The team behind Babylon has every kind of visual and aural sensibility to make this thing run beautifully, too. More series ought to take these kinds of risks rather than going high-concept and loud. It’s still early in the year, but regardless of whatever happens to Babylon, it is easily one of the more pleasant surprises in the TV landscape and is worth a recommendation to just about everyone.
– Sean Colletti