When personal grief and professional loyalties collide, things rarely get better – as Detective Inspector Lou Slack (Leila Farzad) discovers – in a new BBC drama now streaming on iPlayer.
Written by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent (People), this Leeds-based melodrama deals with police corruption, drug dealing turf wars, and a very special bond between two people.
In the opening minutes Lou and her husband Ceri (Samuel Edward-Cook) are introduced to the audience as they celebrate with friends. Moments later she gets a phone call and is forced to leave her other half stranded, as something around town needs attention.
Read more: BBC hits the jackpot with The Gold
Far away from the rich isolation of that private moment Lou changes clothes, parks at a safe distance, and proceeds on foot dressed in black. Under sodium streetlights and free of onlookers, she enters the abandoned building after wrapping her feet in plastic bags so as not to leave footprints.
Using a low-profile flashlight she locates her intended target, retrieves the incriminating item, then tracks back in silence stopping briefly to pass an unconscious body. Surrounded by their own blood and crying silently, she makes a split decision and leaves without looking back. With the dirty firearm hidden, a clear conscience, and her dirty work done, Detective Inspector Lou Slack returns home without worry.
The next day her son Owen (Zak Ford-Williams) falls ill with meningitis, forcing Lou to reassess her professional partnership with Colum McHugh (Andrew Buchan): an old friend, old flame, and drug dealer. high profile. As her son’s life hangs by a thread, she begins to question every choice that has led to this point.
Meanwhile, Col and his wife Alma (Carolin Stoltz) are grieving the loss of their daughter to an overdose. Col is trying to fill that emotional void with professional success, through the continued aggressive expansion of his clandestine enterprise. An approach that systematically isolates his wife and son Donal (Cel Spellman), and the death of his little girl haunts his every waking moment.
What writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent do here is explore the complexities behind everyday relationships. It begins with the gentle tip of a single domino, which creates a moral and ethical epiphany, because a tragedy that brings everything into sharp focus is hardly an end. At the heart of this moving drama is the best in ambivalent relationships, as Colum and Lou engage in two sensitive phases on screen, questioning their motives and emotional honesty throughout.
Read more: David Tennant stars in highly watched dramas
Leila Farzad (I Hate Suzie) and Andrew Buchan (Broadchurch) love to breathe life into these two conflicted characters, who have far too much skin in the game to back down. As their attraction falls short of their professional responsibilities, the audience will begin to see how close they are as people.
As each layer of their relationship is revealed, it becomes clear how much each depends on things being the same. Even after her son Owen is home and balance is restored, a cavalcade of heinous discoveries leaves Lou unable to buy into these lies. Pushed to the limit by pressure from all sides, she seeks solace in the past through family photographs and trusts in her salvation.
Better also questions how much control people have over the choices they make, whether personal or professional. He suggests that compulsions define most of society, who make their choices according to the expectations of others. However, Lou and Colum have engineered themselves to live within those parameters, but they make their choices free from such constraints.
For Lou, this whole series serves as her awakening from a moral vacuum, where that ambiguity is no longer necessary. One in which she recognizes the depth of her comfort and seeks repentance through an act of repentance. Wrapping up this journey in a slick piece of drama should be applauded as Better seeks to ask the same questions of its audience, making them just as guilty.
However, regardless of the complexity of any script, dramatic power comes down to performances and prose. They are in abundance in Better, thanks to a very strong support from Anton Lesser (Vernon Marley) among others. Aside from those other less significant contributions, it’s the screen time he shares with Leila Farzad that makes this series stand out.
As a link between criminal classes and a moral counselor, Vernon offers some sage advice. Not only can she correct the way, but also by being the defining piece of this puzzle that will give the audience a dramatic closure.
This BBC melodramas is one of the most intense pieces of entertainment to hit terrestrial television in a while.
Better is now available on BBC iPlayer.