Broken episode 5 review

Broken’s storytelling, writing and performances are first rate. Here’s our review of its penultimate series 1 episode…

This review contains spoilers.

Despite being led by a bona fide movie star, Broken isn’t a showy drama. It doesn’t inspire hashtags or memes, or attract the sort of headlines and fanfare of other TV programmes. Instead, every Tuesday at 9pm, quietly and deliberately, it breaks our hearts.

With good reason. Broken has a job to do and each week sets about doing it with dreadful efficiency. Through an anthology of stories showcasing the pressures in play on everyday people from within and without, it aims to create empathy and understanding. It keeps breaking our hearts so they heal stronger. 

This week, it did so by setting in motion a course of events that seemed destined to lead to yet more tragedy for the Oyenusi family, then showing that course averted by compassion. Carl McKenna repaid Helen Oyenusi’s kindness and demonstrated his own by dropping the charges against Daniel Martin, a man puffed up with faith-backed intolerance. 

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The conflict between Carl and Daniel unfolded with horrid inevitability. Hurt feelings fed by a lifetime of bullying clashed with bigotry fed by scripture, and the result promised to be devastating. Pride—a constant theme of this series—threatened to cause yet more pain.

Instead, urged by Helen and Father Michael, Carl’s magnanimity gave us a happy ending. Well, as happy an ending as Broken allows. Everyone was still swimming in grief, but nobody jumped from any tall buildings at least.

With Carl’s story taking centre-stage, the aftermath of Roz’s suicide was barely touched upon. The episode began with her funeral and wake, and later dipped into the domestic chaos left by her death but went no deeper. As a morality tale about the evil of gambling machines, perhaps Roz’s story had outlived its purpose, even if it feels as though there’s more story to be told there. The same goes for Christina’s episode one tale, which could also have continued beyond her sentencing. Better to be left wanting more from characters, I suppose, than dulling them through overuse. Paula Malcolmson’s tremendous performance might be too missed in any return to that thread, after all.  

Broken’s guest cast continues to be excellent. Anna Friel, Mark Stanley, Paula Malcolmson and now Ned Dennehy have all been worthy co-stars of Sean Bean, who’s doing the best work of his career here. Dennehy was captivating as Carl, both funny (“it’s not every day you’re skinning up in a phone box with a Catholic priest”) and tragic in his scenes with Bean, then powerfully articulate as he stated his case around that table. 

Taken out of the episode, that scene, which faded between to-camera monologues by Helen, Daniel, Carl and Michael, had the gravitas and arguments of a standalone play on Catholicism and homosexuality. Within the context of the hour, it had even more power.

Much of that was thanks to Muna Otaru as Helen, who, after weeks of patient gratitude and humility in the wake of her son’s murder, finally displayed some anger, to excellent effect. She gave Daniel and Carl (“Two stupid, stubborn men refusing to back down”) what for and called for conciliation. Father Michael was right a couple of episodes ago – that woman would make a wonderful priest.

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But would she want to belong to a church that creates bigotry like her brother’s and perpetrates the cycle of hate Carl so eloquently described? For that matter, why does Father Michael? He’s modern, tolerant, amusedly baffled by the way things used to be done in the old days. How does he square his beliefs with the stance of the Church on matters like homosexuality?

He doesn’t, is the answer. It’s an ongoing problem for him, as are his many critiques of his faith, mostly expressed in private to his counsellor Peter (Adrian Dunbar, another casting triumph). All that conflict is like a fire lit inside Sean Bean’s character, one that spills out light and heat and drama in every scene. Father Michael knows that Carl is right to call him a hypocrite. He is one, and a liar too.

Most of all though, Father Michael is, like Broken itself, earnest, human, trying to do good, and succeeding.