Collateral Episode 1 Review

David Hare and SJ Clarkson’s four-part Netflix political drama starring Carey Mulligan and John Simm gets off to a strong start…

This Collateral review contains spoilers. 

David Hare’s latest series may start with a murder, but the writer assures us that it isn’t just another crime drama. “There are no shots of computers or white boards,” says Hare in this foreword, announcing that he’s done away with “the usual apparatus of the police procedural” to show the impact one death has on a group of interconnected characters.   

Collateral is about people caught in institutions and systems that at best, frustrate, and at worst, exploit them – in other words, precisely what TV’s best crime dramas (The Wire, Line Of Duty, The Shield) are about. What Hare means, one supposes, by pointing out its lack of police tape and evidence walls, is that Collateral operates on a higher level than a detective show. It has loftier ambition than marshalling viewers through the tortuous path of a whodunit mystery. It has things to say.

Specifically, Collateral has things to say about the reception met by those fleeing conflict to seek safety in England. It’s ashamed by the lack of humanity expressed towards victims of war. It’s ashamed by a (parallel present) Labour Party capitulating to racists and the right on the subject of border control. It’s frustrated with the privatisation of our detention services and the hypocrisy of the Church on matters of sexuality. And it’s angry about London’s underground economy profiting from untrackable, vulnerable lives.

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Episode one expresses those misgivings through the mouths and stories of DI Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan), David Mars, MP (John Simm) and Rev. Jane Oliver (Nicola Walker). All three are introduced to us as good people trying to make a difference despite the shortcomings of their respective arenas: the police, politics and the Church. The army is also represented in the form of Captain Sandrine Shaw (Jeany Spark), though seeing as we meet her committing Collateral’s instigating murder, her goodness is, let’s say, under question.

That quartet is joined by Billie Piper as chaotic Karen Mars, David’s ex-wife and so far, the only main character who doesn’t embody an institution, unless you count privilege. It’s a strong cast matched to a strong director in S.J. Clarkson, who’s left Marvel’s superheroes behind to deliver this efficient, up-to-the-minute four-part series.

In the first hour, Clarkson slickly establishes her cast of characters and their various intersecting lives. It’s a smooth job. No time is wasted on opening credits, which are folded in to the fatal shooting of a pizza delivery driver, young Syrian Abdullah Ali. Was Ali the intended victim, or was the shooter expecting somebody else? (Add ‘damage’ to this show’s one-word title, and we’d be looking at the latter.) If he was the target, was it, as a buzzing fly of an Evening Standard reporter can’t wait to print, an anti-Muslim hate crime?  

The discovery of two Syrian refugees living in a garage lock-up and calling themselves Abdullah’s sisters broadens the story from a murder investigation to a state-of-the-nation drama. What, if any, is the link between the refugees, the South London pizza parlour (“not a paperwork kind of place”) where Abdullah worked alongside Mikey (Brian Vernel), a young man in deep with the shady owners of local club The Turbine, and harassed Laurie (I Am Daniel Blake’s Hayley Squires), the manager who substituted Mikey for Abdullah at the last minute, thereby signing his death warrant. And what’s the involvement of Karen Mars, who received the pizza and was the last person to speak to Abdullah alive?

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Alongside the story of Rev. Jane’s girlfriend Linh (Kae Alexander), a ketamine-taking, soup kitchen-volunteering immigrant whose student visa has expired, it’s a lot of information to process in an hour, but Hare and Clarkson get the job done with style.

It helps that their cast is quite talented enough to sell the eccentricities and implausibilities. Kip Glaspie, for instance, is not only the latest addition to the growing list of improbably named TV detectives, but also a former teacher and, more peculiarly, pole vaulter. Not that she’ll be doing that again any time soon, what with a well-publicised problematic landing in her past and being seven months pregnant (written in to account for Carey Mulligan’s real-life pregnancy). John Simm’s character’s ability to switch on the television and see either himself, his party leader or his girlfriend talking is a good magic trick, but forgivable, especially with such a strict time frame.

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Collateral takes place over the course of just four days (but, unlike tonight’s second John Simm-starring drama Trauma over on ITV, airs one episode a week). It has ambitious scope for such a compact timeline, but that should be nothing to worry an experienced playwright like Hare.

Anyway, ambition is good, and so are well-made dramas with things to say like this one, whatever genre label its creators want – or don’t want – to give it.

Collateral is now available on Netflix.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.