“Can everyone please just stop dying, just for a minute?”
An episode about fallout is almost always going to be interesting: in what it shows and doesn’t show, in the reactions of tertiary characters, in the ways a disaster rattles trees far afield. With Richard out of the picture, this episode offers what might be a series best, simply by tracking what his death brings out in other characters, directly or by accident. We don’t see Sharon having to deliver the terrible news to Richard’s wife, not because it isn’t interesting, but because her admission is the end of that fallout. And in Babylon, characters are both immediately blindsided by and deliberately removed from disaster: everyone processes bad news over the phone or on a screen (whether news stories or watching a bomb search go bust). The key players even find out about Richard’s affairs via a breaking newspaper story on someone’s tablet, because Liz, who’s been in the room with them all day, hasn’t told them.
Failures of communication like that are everywhere this episode, false starts and well-meaning lies and emergency stops, all clouded by the absence of one major player. Not that he matters to everyone: HQ is frozen in the vacuum of Richard’s death, but the two teams of patrol cops toss theories about his death back and forth like it’s a mystery novel they’re all halfway through reading. The fallout alone could have supported the episode.
But since Babylon is the Murphy’s law of television, one disaster merely ushers in another, and Banjo and Warwick get called to a nightclub and end up shooting an unarmed kid. (Interestingly, neither of them know that yet, since Robbie moves the kid’s gun from his waistband to his hand, looking after his new partners, though Warwick looks like he’s about to lose his mind.) The rest of the episode is the PR earthquake this causes in the wake of Liz’s semi-forced removal from the field of play, and what Liz plans to do about it.
More than any other episode, though, “Victoria Park” focuses on the folks on the ground. And despite a dozen characters juggling intertwining plots, Babylon has shown you just enough to prime you to care about people who’ve had only a handful of lines every episode. The adultery between Davina and Clarkey isn’t a compelling subplot, but it’s effective thematic contrast. It’s a reminder what a list of Richard’s avoidable mistakes would have looked like this in its prime: the thrill of being together on the sly, the excitement of building a new life with someone, the jealousy that here feels like the spice to their meal, since they miss IDing the bomber mid-bicker. But Banjo, who’s been working alongside Tony as the grounded straight men to Warwick’s instability and Robbie’s punch lines, hits his own downward spiral in the wake of the shooting. It’s not totally unexpected—it pushes him closer to the wild cards and further away from Tony, but that cycle of guilt and frustration is shaping up to be an entirely expected orbit for armed cops in this world. Still, it’s worrisome, coming from a character we assumed had more or less a level head. (No such animal, Babylon’s fairly sure.)
And in Liz’s wake, we also get a much better sense of the department vacuum without her. Finn, who so far has represented a vicious incarnation of the old guard who tends to be correct in the worst possible way, gets a moment or two of that here—when he points out that he’s known Caroline Carey for so many years he could have talked her out of the story, Liz takes that truth like a stomach punch. But this episode lends him just enough rope to choke himself with. He immediately buys into the old-guard’s men-against-women feeling, settling into Charles’ regime like a serpent advising the king and giving him Sharon as an easy enemy. Plus, Finn’s idea of doing work consists largely of putting forth a Boys in Blue party line and letting Mia handle the thankless work of fielding angry phone calls and trying to prevent that day’s disaster from snowballing.
However, though Sharon helps lead the task force that captures the bomber (who is, in a touch of gallows humor, the least of anybody’s problems), it’s Liz who gets the win this week. It’s easy to forget, in the shitstorm that’s been Babylon’s trademark from moment one, that Richard had been hoping to present a more accountable and transparent face to the public. It was doomed to fail, of course—if the show’s certain of anything, it’s that the world is such an active agent of chaos that the truth is a far-away dream amid compromises so pressing they wring you out—but when she butters up Mia to help her “do the right thing,” you almost believe it’s not just for her own sake.
It is for her own sake: that reverse hostage situation, in which she manages to hold the entire police department hostage on the news and essentially re-hires herself as head of PR on national television or else, was a sharp and satisfying move. But her reframing of the day’s disasters, while as self-serving as the earlier stories (just for a different self), feel more earnest, and so they win: a success of communication in the middle of the fallout.
- I had my reservations about Brit Marling in the first episode, but the worse Liz’s situation gets, the more Marling gets comfortable in the mixture of scheming and embarrassment. Her series of unconscious, violently polite head-nods when talking with Sharon was great.
- “She must be a good physio.”
- “So I have to announce that I’m gay do that you don’t forget to pretend not to be a homophobe?” It’s too bad Tony doesn’t have a mic on that vest so he could drop it.
- “What’s is the long-term plan, a carboard cutout, an inflatable fucking Warwick in the backseat?”
- It’s always interesting to see the ways in which this show puts its finger on real-world issues about the law-enforcement PR machine (one of the points of a good satire, of course). Some of Finn’s pointers on handling the club shooting map neatly over recent discussion of how stories of police violence against people of color are presented in the media. “There are no dead boys in this story” and “Source another photo,a more grown-up one” are particularly close to home.
- “But I mean, mixed-race is black, isn’t it?”
- The editing of the news segments was great throughout, particularly the initial montage of reports about Miller that actually cuts to an anonymous couple walking hand in hand down a generic street that looks just like part of a rattled-peace segment itself for a full three seconds.
- The friction between Sharon and Charles promises to be interesting; whether they’re silently staring at the call from the Prime Minister and deciding whether to lunge, or battling one another on matters of police approach on the ground.
- Another play-out at the end! Slightly less melancholy than in “Thameside Center,” this one is more of a check-in than an elegy, but the shot of Tom sitting quietly adrift in his Quaker meeting hall was oddly affecting. He took the call at the beginning of the episode; he was the first to know and had to tell everyone else at the table. At first, he would seem like the worst person to have to field that call, but as the episode goes on to suggest, he’s also the only person at that table whose conscience (whether through goodness or obliviousness) is clear. For Babylon, that counts as a win.