Hustle is often like a fine wine that needs to air a little to achieve its full potential. And with only six episodes per season, the final story of this arc delivered exactly the right amount of nose, from this particular vintage.
Often after a story I’ve mused at what those stung by the Hustle crew do, once they realise what complete chumps they’ve been. This is exactly the question the writers asked, and their answer is to plot revenge.
The overall story arc of The Road Less Travelled, therefore, isn’t seen from the perspective of the crew but from those intent on conning the conmen, in a complete reversal of the normal structure. The excellent John MacMillan and Adam James return from their second episode appearance this season as the heavy-metal-dense Harry Fielding and sneeringly malevolent Carlton Wood, out for revenge on Mickey and pals.
They’ve managed to find three other previous marks to partly fund the exercise, and nice-but-dim aristocrat Alfie Baron (Tom Goodman Hill) who’ll act as the lure.
Carlton’s plan is to use exactly the same methods the crew would use, offering an unbeatable investment and then reeling in the crew for a cool million pounds, twice what they took him for.
Part of the joy in the table-turning exercise is that we see our heroes falling into exactly the same traps that they normally set, where the chance of greater reward overtakes cold logic. Along the way they’ve also throw a few distractions in our path, like the blossoming romance between Mickey and Emma, and the elevation of Sean to playing the ‘inside’ man, a promotion of sorts. This was by far the best episode for Matt Di Angelo, as he wasn’t saddled with some of the stupid paranoia regarding his sister that became such a bore in other stories. In this he’s smart and growing in confidence, which fits his persona much better.
The counter-scam reaches its crescendo when Mickey and Sean ‘convince’ dim Alfie that they can turn a million pounds into double that with a money laundering scheme, which they duly do. This is the lure for a much bigger investment of four million that, it’s Carlton’s plan, they’ll never see, or their million pounds that they’ve given Tim. The question, and it’s asked, is why they don’t just take Tim’s million and run, but that’s not their style, is it?
A full fifty minutes of the hour is invested in the process of getting to the crunch, but the payoff is pure Hustle. Carlton and Harry turn up to showboat that they took the crew for all their money, and revel in their moment of triumph, which is predictably short. Carlton’s problem is that he relies on the likes of Alfie and Harry, neither of whom could snag £100 on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As such, his plan was rumbled at the very outset, and ultimately it’s him who’s short of a million pounds and not the crew.
As usual, the joy is in the explanation of how the like-minded marks he found were, in fact, other conmen, and the ‘hot red-head’ that Alfie kept meeting was Emma, and that there was only one likely outcome to all this. Carlton goes even more bonkers than he did in the Spiders Web scam, which is saying something. Adam James needs to be careful performing such rants, because he’s going to burst major blood vessels.
In the end, it wasn’t especially high-brow entertainment, but it was enjoyable for all the right reasons.
That brings me to consider Hustle season 5 as a whole, what it did and didn’t achieve. The return of Adrian Lester as Mickey ‘Bricks’ Stone was a vital component, because without him the show lacks an anchor point about which the other cast members can effectively pivot. The same is true for the masterful Robert Vaughn, may he continue to grace us with his talents in this country long into the future. And it goes without saying, although I’ll mention it, that Robert Glenister’s Three Socks is brilliant, especially the wicked smiles he unexpectedly unleashes from a usually dead-pan expression. Without these stalwarts, it wouldn’t really be Hustle.
The problem this year was the loss of both Marc Warren and Jaime Murray, and to be frank, neither of the new recruits managed to fill those shoes.
Compared with Marc Warren’s definitive Danny Blue, the Sean character of Matt Di Angelo’s wasn’t given an interesting character and struggled to even feel like one of the crew. It was only in the last episode that he found his feet, and the writers need to work more on making him more three-dimensional. Kelly Adams got a better written character to play, although it was always going to seem somewhat pale compared with the teeth-n-tits Stacie Monroe persona that Jaime Murray portrayed so memorably. Too often Emma started looking and sounding to me like Kylie, which was both distracting and confusing. As an actress, I think Kelly Adams is good, she just needs to find something solid to make Emma different and not just the Stacie-lite that she’s been written.
The good news is that BBC have already committed to season 6, which will be shot this year, I’m told. To satiate my geek thirst I’d love to see some more cameos, like the ones they did this year with the likes of Bill Bailey, and previous years with Mel Smith and Robert Wagner. I’d like to see Marc Warren and Jaime Murray back, even if it’s just fleetingly, and the production team needs to make a huge effort to get David McCallum to come and work with Robert Vaughn on an episode, preferably as a Russian conman. If they did that, my geek-o-metre would spontaneously explode.
This season of Hustle wasn’t perfect, but it had enough high points for me to erase some of the less successful aspects. For me, it’s one of those things that BBC drama gets almost completely right, and as such they need to keep Hustle the seasonal treat it’s become.