• Dead Lucky airs Wednesday nights on SBS (SBS)Source: SBS
TV and Film critic Anthony Morris continues his weekly look at the new Australian crime drama 'Dead Lucky'.
9 Aug 2018 - 8:54 AM  UPDATED 9 Aug 2018 - 8:54 AM

If the first episode of Dead Lucky was about catching a criminal, and the second was about finding a missing woman, then the third is about family. Not in a Fast & Furious, “family is important” catchphrase way; Bo-Lin (Xana Tang) is still missing, murderous armed robber Corey Baxter (Ian Meadows) is still out there and both their stories are about to take big surprising turns. But this is the episode where family becomes an essential part of understanding what drives our cast – and how one person’s safe haven can be another’s trap.

So forget the images of people having fun that kicked off the first two episodes of Dead Lucky. This one begins with one of the more intimate acts there is between two people: getting a haircut. Thing is, it’s Bo-Lin getting a haircut in an abandoned warehouse on the (literal) wrong side of the tracks. Wait, didn’t last episode end with her (possibly) being held captive by Baxter?

Previous episodes would have barreled forward with the story; this takes the time to dig into Bo-Lin’s backstory and her friendship with fellow flatmate Mary (Sarah Thamin). But there’s answers here too. Turns out the incriminating video from episode one that showed Bo-Lin and boyfriend Mani (Mojean Aria) kissing was sent to Bo-Lin’s parents as revenge by an essay broker – Bo-Lin and Mary were buying essays to keep their grades up, but ran out of money. And suddenly a big piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Bo-Lin and her friends are living on the margins of society in a way we don’t often think about. With study and their student visas, regular full-time work simply isn’t an option. Add in parental pressures to succeed and suddenly extreme measures are the only option. For Bo-Lin, busking and gambling were dead ends; that ten grand the police found in her drawer last episode suggest her next step wasn’t exactly legal.

Her trail leads detective Grace Gibbs (Rachel Griffiths) and her partner Charlie Fung (Yoson An) directly to the local pokies den and a suspicious friend she made there, but while they’re questioning the manager Gibbs can’t help herself:

“Any of your patrons had any big wins lately?”

“Define big”

“Like ten thousand?”

“Nah, that doesn’t happen.”

“Why – because your machines are rigged so no-one ever wins, right?”

That escalated fast. Guess Gibbs didn’t see the “Respect Our Staff” sign behind him.

This scene is brilliant because one, Gibbs has no love for those who prey on the desperate, and two, Rachel Griffiths has been opposed to the pokies for a long, long time now.

Still, while you might think an accusation like that would be the kind of thing that’d lead directly to a months-long investigation into gaming across the state, Gibbs settles for getting the CCTV recordings so Fung can ID Bo-Lin’s suspiciously helpful friend. While he’s doing just that along comes Anna (Anna Samson) to kick their flirting into high gear.

Turns out questions about Baxter’s bootprint at the scene of the convenience store murder are the kind of sexy chat Fung likes, and by the end of the conversation he’s offered to babysit so she can get a decent night’s sleep. He’s an excellent multi-tasker too, as when Gibbs returns from being asked about her anger management sessions by her boss (Rhys Muldoon) he’s got an image of the woman they want to speak to. “Send me a screenshot”.

It’s always a little surprising when we’re reminded that Gibbs has a family – at work she’s the textbook definition of “hard-boiled loner” – but when she meets her drug squad boss ex Matt (Matthew Nable) it’s initially all business. It only takes a sausage roll to get him talking about the screenshot: the mystery woman is a low-level operator with “the company” handling money laundering. But with millions of dollars’ worth of GBH coming into the country inside chicken fillets (not the kind you eat, the kind you slip in your bra), Gibbs can’t use this information until after the upcoming drug bust. In fact, she doesn’t even make a joke about a “drug bust”, it’s so serious.

Speaking of serious, Mani is cracking under the pressure. He’s blowing off school, telling Mary to move out, and pestering Gibbs for information. Gibbs, having been told not to tell anyone about the money laundering one whole scene earlier, tells Mani that there’s a chance Bo-Lin is missing because of money laundering: for the toughest cop on the force she can definitely be a soft touch.

Now with a plan, Mani springs into action!

Okay, he waits out the front of a restaurant.

Remember how Gibbs was told about the money laundering on the strict condition she did nothing with that information until after the drug bust? Gibbs doesn’t: she sends Fung “undercover” (which consists of him putting on a different shirt) to chat up the suspect in the middle of the street. He doesn’t get much out of her – the “Johnny” the crime family killed turns out to be her cat – but he does use the term “the deceased”, which is roughly the same as wearing a shirt with UNDERCOVER COP written on the back.

Now for the dark side of this episode’s family theme: Corey Baxter. First we learn from his sister that she’s actually only his step-sister – this’ll be important later – then we discover that the terrified woman Baxter had locked in a van at the end of episode two is actually his ex (Brooke Satchwell). Baxter believes her child is his son, and he’s so desperate to have a family of his own he’s locked her up until she’s told him what he wants to hear.

What’s really creepy here is that Baxter is actually kind of charming with his son - even when the boy is sulking and saying he doesn’t want to go to Queensland. Baxter is way more creepy when he’s being nice; he’s the abusive dad who can turn on a dime, and seeing him acting like a caring father after what he’s done earlier is the creepiest moments of this series to date.

And just in case you weren’t convinced this episode is all about family, Gibbs and Matt get back together – or at least, they pash on the couch after a brief chat about rising rents in Sydney. This smooch is perhaps the least surprising twist in this series, as Griffiths and Nable have really strong chemistry together: can Australian television find room for a spin-off where they drive around in a van solving mysteries? And if not, why not?

Meanwhile, Mani is about to get a very different kind of human contact. Walking into a kitchen to see a guy standing there chopping chunks of meat with a cleaver is bad news at the best of times; when you’re following a mysterious crime syndicate boss into a restaurant to find a woman you think she’s kidnapped, it’s a warning sign that reads START RUNNING.

But not when you’re Mani: instead, he tries to buy Bo-Lin back with a lot less than the ten grand she owes them, and they bash him for his troubles.

In easily the best cut between scenes in this series, we go from Mani getting slapped around to Gibbs rolling off Matt – it seems their kissing session developed into something a little more… explicit.

But before she can tell Matt about Fung tipping off the crime syndicate with that “deceased” line, he gets a call from his current girlfriend. Awkward!

Also awkward is Fung walking around his parents’ house holding someone else’s baby. They’re glad he’s helping out Anna, but as far as they’re concerned it would never work. “What is wrong with a nice Chinese girl?” they say.

We’ve seen a lot of different takes on family this episode. For Bo-Lin, her family is a collection of expectations and burdens: for Gibbs it’s comfort and security. For Baxter it’s little more than possessions, and for Fung’s parents family is tied up in heritage. “We ran from the government,” they tell him, “not from being Chinese”.

But Fung’s idea of family is very different again. “I’m not confused mum, I know exactly who I am. I’m just waiting for you to catch up.” And to prove it, when Anna turns up he tells her he’ll look after the baby for the night then asks her out to dinner.

(She says yes, which is lucky because otherwise she’d have just agreed to leave her infant with a guy she rejected.)

The only main character in Dead Lucky who doesn’t have family ties is Mani, which is why he’s so desperate to find Bo-Lin. But he does have a family of sorts: the share house crew, who find him staggering down the street fresh from his restaurant adventure. He’s bloody but unbeaten, and now that he knows the syndicate don’t have Bo-Lin, she’s got to be out there somewhere.

And speaking of Bo-Lin, who’s that coming up the stairs to meet her at her creepy warehouse hide-out? Could it be… Anna?

Okay, this is a lot to take in so you’d better sit down. It turns out that while Bo-Lin was on the scene at the convenience store robbery-turned-murder so was Anna, and when Anna tried to tackle Bo-Lin her gun went off. Now Anna’s stashed Bo-Lin in the warehouse and cut her hair so she looks like Mary – cue Bo-Lin making an “all Asians look alike” joke that does not go down well – and can use Mary’s stolen passport to flee the country. Bo-Lin is wary to say the least, but Anna’s adamant: this is the only way out for both of them, and she can’t tell anyone until she’s safely back in China.

This is worth a screenshot all on its own: Gibbs in a good mood:

Look, she’s even sharing her lollipops! Of course, the good vibes from getting her ex back don’t last; the share house crew have discovered that Mary’s passport is missing, and while there’s an upside – Mary has somehow booked a one-way ticket to Shanghai for 8pm that night and that’s got to be Bo-Lin – Mani’s investigation has almost certainly tipped off the crime syndicate that the police are onto them.

There’s a lot of ways a family can fall apart. For Gibbs’, it’s betraying the trust of her ex. For Anna, it’s having her husband murdered. And for Baxter, it’s having the pirate-ship obsessed child you thought was your son saying “I like my other dad better” while you’re packing your bags for Queensland. Turns out if you lock a woman in a van for days at a time she’ll end up telling you her kid is yours whether it’s true or not. It’s safe to say Baxter is not pleased by this development.

This is pretty much the worst day of Gibbs’ life, both personally and professionally. First, Matt’s big drug bust goes off without a hitch… apart from there not being any drugs in the chicken fillets. Gibbs tries to explain but the damage is done: “Trusting you, falling for you again – that’s never going to happen again,” he says. With her family shattered once again, it’s no surprise Gibbs opens her next anger management session by throwing her badge at the wall.

What is a surprise is that her boss is there “for safety reasons”, and it’s all downhill from there. Telling her shrink she thinks there’s “a big fat conspiracy to get rid of me” in front of the person heading up the conspiracy probably wasn’t her best move; then again, neither was running out mid-session because Baxter just sent a mystery package to his sister.

The package just contains a seashell, but it’s enough for Gibbs to figure it all out: Baxter does have a child – with his step-sister.

For a show with such a wide range of families, it turns out the Baxter’s was the worst of all: their father was a pig, but when Baxter’s mother moved in at least now there were two kids to share the abuse. Cory Baxter always wanted to have a child so he could be the man of the house, just like he was when it was just him and his mother. But when he turned up on his sister’s doorstep again she couldn’t let him take her baby and ruin her chance to start a new family of her own. So she sent him off to an old girlfriend – where the cops find nothing but a smashed pirate ship.

Someone else looking to vanish is Bo-Lin: she’s packed her suitcase, she’s written a letter to Mani and she’s all set to head for the airport when Anna turns up and says it’s all off: the police are onto them. Anna’s new plan is for Bo-Lin to confess while she gets away scott free, which Bo-Lin understandably feels has very little upside for her. But it is better than the alternative, which turns out to be falling out the window after fighting with Anna.

This is now the second person Anna has “accidentally” killed. Maybe she and Baxter should team up?

Episode 3 of Dead Lucky is streaming now at SBS On Demand. The series airs Wednesday nights at 9:30pm on SBS.

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