This review contains spoilers.
£232,648. There was something hypnotic about episode four’s repetition of the exact sum of money Roz Demichelis stole from her employer. Several times, she specified the precise amount. £232,648 – the weight of her sin, the price of her life.
Start to finish, this was an exceptional hour of drama. The opening scene in which gentle, kind Father Michael dream-raged at his mother and ex-girlfriends slapped you awake, then the tension of Roz’s story—would she go through with it? What might change her mind?—kept you alert with dread until the moment she let herself fall. Resolute in her decision to take her own life, Father Michael couldn’t have stopped her had he broken every vow he’d ever taken.
He did break one, just as Roz savvily predicted he would. With the guilt of Vernon Oyenusi’s death on his conscience, and wanting to save a life rather than watch it wasted, he broke the seal of the confessional. It would take one better versed in Catholicism than me to tell you how serious a transgression that is, but it certainly felt like the right and human thing to do.
The way Roz’s death was depicted sat less comfortably. From a drama unafraid to put misery and pain on screen, Broken rendered her final scene with a peaceful, even paradisiacal, sheen. It felt as though we were watching her angelically go to her salvation rather than transform herself from a living, breathing person with possibilities into a static pile of broken bones. If you believe in an afterlife, perhaps that scene read differently to you. I just hope nobody suffering her despair and vulnerable to the image of suicide as a path to peace instead of a cruel and pointless stop was watching.
Roz and Father Michael’s church discussion the day before she died may have been about guilt and shame, but pride was the theme running through episode four. Father Michael’s flashback to being pilloried for thievery at school gave us the line “better thought a thief than a pauper”, while Roz told her boss she was addicted to cocaine rather than gambling because she’d sooner be despised than pitied.
As Roz ran through her mundane litany of preparations for dying—teach the kids to load the dishwasher, get someone to look after the dog—did you find yourself despising or pitying her? It’s proof of the quality of Broken’s writing and Paula Malcolmson’s performance that, if you felt anything like me, it was both, neither and everything in between.
Malcolmson’s performance was so strong, and her dialogue so convincingly written that Roz’s story was devastating. The banality of her buying sacks of pasta, ironing the school shirts and lining up three Tupperware lunch boxes, one for each kid like the letters left on the mantelpiece, was equal parts heart-rending and infuriating. All the way through, you urged God to do as Father Michael asked and show Roz a reason to live and for her to choose hope instead of despair. This time though, for whatever reason, the hawk didn’t return.
Before she died, she gave a powerfully excoriating anti-gambling machine speech that perhaps saved others from her own fate. Does that count as atonement? Is it enough for her redemption?
Roz’s inability to communicate with her children or confide in anyone other than Father Michael also rang painfully true. That pattern of repression was mirrored by Michael’s scenes with his own mother. We went from that fearlessly emotional dream scene in which he confronted her for creating his self-loathing to him on an airbed on her bedroom floor, warmly entertaining her with anecdotes. Inside versus outside and the struggle between the two. That’s drama in its purest state. And in episode four, Broken is emotional, honest drama at its best.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.