Never mind gorgeously bleak cinematography, a heavy air of suspense and some of Britain’s best acting talent filling out the cast; TV thrillers live and die on their stories – in particular, the ending.
Without a plausible explanation for the mysteries built up in preceding weeks and a satisfying emotional finale, viewers are entitled to feel disappointed.
This is where Safe House falls down. The materials used in construction were good, but they’ve been put together poorly. It’s difficult to know whether to blame the builders, the architect or the developers, but something has gone sadly awry. The explanations are inadequate and the climax is a confused mess, washing away any investment in the characters like last night’s bathwater. This is disappointment on an industrial scale.
After much speculation, the actions of psychotic and wannabe roadie for The Band Michael Collersdale (Peter Fernandino) turn out to have no connection with the earlier murder of Susan Reynolds. The sole motive for his campaign of destruction is to gain custody of Joe Blackwell, who is secretly his son. Having tracked the Blackwells down to the Lake District, the hirsute hitman smacks seven bells of shit out of Sam and kidnaps Joe (Max True), raving about the wonderful new life in Spain they’re going to have.
His driving, however, is as out-of-control as his attitude towards parenting. They haven’t even made it out of the postcode before the car smashes into a dry stone wall. There’s a long, wannabe-Nordic-noir moment of tranquillity, all tinkly piano notes and shots of berries growing on trees, then Collersdale is dragging Joe off down the scree towards the lakeside.
Happily, heroic Robert (Christopher Eccleston) has arrived – as has friend and former colleague DCI Mark Maxwell (Paterson Joseph) along with some police snipers. While the marksmen take aim, Robert stumbles after Collersdale, encouraging the whiskered loon to give up.
‘I just want to take care of you,’ Collersdale blubbers to his son, but Robert’s persuasive pleas have hit home. He allows Robert to take Joe, but Maxwell has already decided on his course of action. Collersdale’s brain is blown out by a sniper’s bullet. Joe is horrified but unharmed, and the Blackwells – freed from their torment but in sore need of some family counselling to wash away the ocean of bullshit they’ve fed each other – return home.
Maxwell’s executioner-like behaviour is just another example of what’s been abundantly clear for weeks: he’s even more demented than Collersdale. It was him who ordered the death of Susan Reynolds, not her hoodlum husband Eddie. Robert works out the truth after the gangster advises him: ‘It’s the ones you love … you stop looking.’
The exact reasons for Maxwell’s betrayal are unclear (it is attributed variously to protecting himself, protecting Robert and even protecting Susan herself – the classic sociopath’s argument that killing someone is beneficial to them) but this muddy lack of clarity is entirely in keeping with a part written with an astonishing lack of logic. It’s no wonder Paterson Joseph has played him with cartoonish foreboding: there’s no point trying for realism when your character is as convincing as a rubber dinosaur in 1970s Doctor Who.
The deranged detective goes full tonto at the end, pulling a gun on Robert and goading him about Susan. ‘You took her from me, just like you took Katy,’ he says – although the latter part of this remark is never fully explained. ‘You sucked them in with your righteousness.’ Perplexing and implausible to the last, Maxwell then proceeds to shoot out only Robert’s car tyres, leaving his onetime subordinate alive with a final valediction: ‘Walk home to that nice clean life I gave you, and ask Katy what’s right or what’s wrong.’
What’s wrong is that Safe House has dribbled to an end without providing suitable answers or a decent conclusion.
Aired at 9pm on Monday 11 May 2015 on ITV.
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