Pulling a curve ball on us by dropping us into an episode that avoids dealing with the immediate aftermath of Asbo’s revelations from last week was a risky move on the part of The Smoke’s writers.
Those who’d watched the previous six weeks were desperate to know how it would go, so to avoid frustrating them, this episode would really have to provide something special. Luckily, what we got was the strongest episode of the series yet, even topping last week’s emotional meltdown, with its balanced mix of stunts, character progression and heartfelt performances.
Little things mean a lot here. No ‘Previously’ recap at the start of the episode shows an assuredness of audience and a confidence in the storytelling. The comical ‘coffin dodger’ subplot provides a nice tonal juxtaposition to the immediately intensifying Blackwall Tunnel scenario. Even pensioner Gerald silently passing away displays how fleeting life is and how its better when it’s shared with someone. All lovely themes.
The episode provides necessary development for characters who have been somewhat sidelined recently. Ziggy (Pippa Bennett-Warner) has a heartfelt and, in the end, heartbreaking connection with crash victim Dom, and Dorian Lough’s Billy is given some continued romantic developments with Nina the cleaner, as well as finally showing his frustrations towards the limits of his role at White Watch. This kind of subtly played character moment is something The Smoke has consistently excelled at.
Pulling focus onto Jodie Whittaker’s Trish provides an emotional connection to the tunnel sequences, ramping up the tension massively. It also forces Kev to admit how he feels about their situation, which I hope reaches a hopeful conclusion next week. The Trish and Grace scenes are lovely too: emotionally resonant, subtly played and giving her further development outside her central relationship with Kev.
The scenes with Trish and Rachel (guest star Lolita Chakrabarti) are welcome and have an honest tension in them that draws you in. Whittaker is so good in displaying uncomplicated human emotion, having already displayed this admirably in dramas like Marchlands and Broadchurch.
The Smoke also provides us with its most technically ambitious (and satisfying) episode yet. The pyrotechnics, stunt work and set design departments all having worked to create something that would be on par with a Hollywood action movie. It’s also a great change of pace, after last week’s emotionally centric, single location ‘bottle’ episode.
Merlin writer Ben Vanstone provides a tight script, with not a word wasted, while director Mike Barker makes a statement through his use of the London vistas and some impressive and artistic camerawork.
It’s interesting that, after last week’s revelations with Asbo and Kev, and the still-looming threat of Gog, that we effectively sideline these issues to focus on a blockbuster style ‘event’ episode, but it’s hard to find fault with an episode that balances out such effective stunt work whilst exposing more of the emotional core of the characters.
The possibility that Trish may be dead is a dark cliff-hanger to leave us on, considering what Kev has already gone through, and it’ll be interesting to see how next week’s finale ties up all these ‘up in the air’ plot threads successfully, given the amount of issues to be resolved.
One thing’s for sure; it’s going to be explosive.
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 3 March 2014 on Sky1.
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