• Dead Lucky is streaming now at SBS On Demand (SBS)Source: SBS
TV and Film critic Anthony Morris concludes his weekly look at the new Australian crime drama 'Dead Lucky'.
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15 Aug 2018 - 2:57 PM  UPDATED 15 Aug 2018 - 10:05 PM

If the previous episode was all about our characters trying to form connections, then this one is all about tearing those connections apart. And not just because Dead Lucky’s opening scenes just keep getting darker: the first episode began with overseas students and lovers Mani (Mojean Aria) and Bo-Lin (Xana Tang) having fun at the beach - now Bo-Lin is dead and her killer Anna (Anna Samson) is getting rid of the evidence. Being a cop, Anna knows exactly how to cover her tracks – and how to send the cops after the wrong man. But can she bring herself to torch Bo-Lin’s final letter to Mani?

It doesn’t look like it; maybe she’s not so good at covering her tracks after all.

Also busy trying to cover his tracks is Corey Baxter (Ian Meadows) murderer, armed robber, and now kidnapper on the run with his ex-girlfriend Clare (Brooke Satchwell) and her son Toby. As the most annoying child on Australian television last episode, Toby is one to watch – can he top his antics this time around?

The chemistry between new detective Charlie Fung (Yoson An) and best friend Anna has been a highlight of the series – as has pretty much every scene where An gets to play more than just the thoughtful sidekick; he’s a real talent in the making  – but now with two deaths weighing on her conscience (she was also responsible for the still-unsolved convenience store murder in episode one) love is no longer an option. So when Fung brings her flowers and a coffee, she’s knocks both them back with a “We can’t – it doesn’t feel right.” Unsurprisingly, Fung is crushed.

Meanwhile, a jogger has found Bo-Lin’s body, so it’s off to the crime scene for Detective Grace Gibbs (Rachel Griffiths) and Fung – with Anna following on and looking worried.

She needn’t be: the only evidence they find is the cigarette butt she planted to point the blame firmly at Baxter. And speaking of Baxter, his camping trips are no fun at all: while Clare is clearly terrified, Toby is hungry. And bored. And complaining. So much complaining.

Gibbs gives the job of telling Mani about Bo-Lin’s death to Fung: “Be compassionate but not too emotional – it’s their loss, not ours”. Mani, who’s currently occupied doing home repairs because last time something broke the landlord took six weeks to fix it (a nice touch in a series that’s always kept one eye on the struggles of international students) is shattered, but holds it together enough to ask to see the body.

While everyone else is gunning for Baxter over Bo-Lin’s death, Gibbs isn’t buying it. Why would Baxter have kept her alive for days then thrown her out a window? If he was keeping her alive for sex reasons, why wasn’t she molested? And what about her ticket to China? It doesn’t make sense.

Fung is too busy looking at his sadness flowers to argue. Maybe if it doesn’t work out with Gibbs as his partner he can team up with them?

While Gibbs is clearly the sharpest cop on the force, that counts for nothing in the eyes of her sleazy boss (Rhys Muldoon), who asks for her gun as she’s now off the case. It seems the Education Minister wants to know why the student she was looking for has turned up dead: “Do you know how bad this looks – international students are a multi-million dollar industry”.

This is the kind of thing Dead Lucky does well: clearly this is a horrible thing to say, but it’s also exactly the kind of thing people in this position really would say. Obviously we’re going to side with Gibbs - even without her gun she’s still lethal with the one-liners: “I’m sorry if Bo-Lin’s death is inconvenient from a budgetary perspective” – but her horrible bosses have always had a decent reason to be opposed to her.

Out bush, Baxter and his hostages are stealing fresh license plates – well, Baxter is, while Toby complains even more. “I should have known he wasn’t mine,” says Baxter, “he’s a wimp.”

Back at the cop shop, Anna is freaking out in the toilets, and then in walks Gibbs and now she has a real reason to be worried. Well, not right away: Gibbs just wants to know a bit more about what happened with the passports back at the share house. But c’mon, this is Gibbs, and Anna’s flustered act isn’t going to save her now.

By now Gibbs has pretty much solved the case even though most of the evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. It’s the kind of deductive leap we accept as viewers: we have access to more information than the police do – we know Anna is guilty, we know what Baxter is up to – so if Gibbs doesn’t put the pieces together fast she’ll be left behind. But strong writing makes all the difference here. When Gibbs walks through the puzzle, she’s not pulling the answers out of nowhere; she’s just better at paying attention than everyone else.

Someone who’s no good at anything is Toby, who’s just stuck a toy pirate sword in the ignition of Baxter’s car because… he’s really, really annoying? But while Baxter is freaking out, Clare grabs for his gun. And shoots him! As an experienced armed robber and murderer, he probably should have realised that the “you haven’t got the guts to pull the trigger” speech never works.

At the morgue, Mani is finally reunited with Bo-Lin.

Considering how little screen time the pair had together, this scene is surprisingly powerful. Much of that is down to Aria’s performance, as the usually stressed out and angry Mani crumbles inside; while the cast of Dead Lucky are all great at nailing their characters’ core attributes, it’s in the brief moments where they get to show their life outside the confines of this particular drama that they really shine,.

And this definitely is a brief moment, because the second Mani hears Baxter is on the run he’s sure that Baxter killed Bo-Lin. He wants to talk to Gibbs, but she’s busy watching Anna - and then a call comes in: the police have found Clare. She can’t give them much on Cory’s whereabouts, but it’s enough to track him to the park, where all they find is… a plastic pirate sword.

While everyone else is wrapped up in the Baxter hunt, Gibbs is still trying to figure out who bought Bo-Lin’s ticket to China. The ticket seller isn’t much good as far as facts are concerned but she’s great comic relief as she reveals the ticket buyer was some “old guy”.

Unfortunately that’s all she’s got, as she was distracted “bidding on this first edition Nirvana vinyl…Soz” “Yeah,” says Gibbs, “I’m soz too.” Is this the first time Rachel Griffiths has said “soz”? Someone check IMDB.

Remember Bo-Lin’s letter to Mani that Anna couldn’t burn? Forensics just found it, and when Gibbs drops a copy off at the share house to a grief-stricken Mani she finds out that Anna definitely knew where their passports were kept. One more piece of the puzzle falls into place.

Anna, unaware that the noose is tightening, is trying to find out from Fung if Baxter is dead – if he is, then all her problems go away. But Fung is way more interested in finding out what killed their romance, and the old “you did nothing wrong” line isn’t mending his broken heart. Neither is Gibbs, who drags him to a rooftop meeting where she lays out her cast-iron case that Anna is the one behind everything.

Fung doesn’t take it well: “It’s not enough you killed her husband, but now you want to blame Anna for murder?” Sure, when you put it that way it does seem a bit harsh.

This scene is the big emotional climax of the entire series, as Gibbs finally breaks down – well, breaks down by Gibbs’ standards; Griffiths does an excellent job of showing the depth of Gibbs’ pain while keeping her stoic cop front largely in place – over the death of Anna’s husband. But she’s still a cop at her core, and she’s still laying out the case to Fung through the tears. “You’re insane” he says; guess he’s not quite willing to give up on Anna yet.

Dead Lucky has had rock-solid plotting all the way through, and it’s an often-overlooked element of crime thrillers: while people tend to want all the puzzle pieces when watching a murder mystery, this kind of thriller where the cops are trying to solve the crimes in real time often runs with sloppy plotting so long as things stay exciting. So there’s a nice run of scenes here where Mani’s flatmate Eddie (Aldo Mignone) crosses paths with Anna and comes away with the news that Baxter’s cigarette was found at Bo-Lin’s death. No more mister nice guy for Mani – but how can he get revenge on Baxter if nobody knows where Baxter is?

Luckily Baxter is right this moment pulling out a knife in yet another convenience store.

The mark of a good cop is that you don’t let your personal feelings get in the way. So when Fung finds out that Anna’s dad was the one who booked Bo-Lin’s ticket to China, he tells Gibbs’ that her theory was correct even though his heart is now completely shattered. No times for breakdowns though as the news of Baxter’s latest robbery breaks. Gibbs thinks he’s trying to throw them off his real plans, and Fung sides with her while everyone else is racing to the crime scene. Also trusting her hunch are Mani and Eddie, who have figured out that the best way to find Baxter is to follow Gibbs.

Meanwhile, Baxter’s step-sister Leah (Sara West) is enjoying hanging out at home with her burly police protection:

“I don’t hate you as much as I do the other cops”

“You might just get a biscuit with your tea then” 

 

What a nice policeman, hopefully nothing bad will happen to him.

Thank you Cory Baxter, who’s turned up to pick up his not-quite-incest son – though it’s not clear how he’s actually planning to pick his son up, what with having a gun in each hand. Leah isn’t sticking around to find out – she’s hiding in the shed with her baby. Gibbs calls, but in a miracle the phone doesn’t tip Baxter off to her location – though her crying baby might. “You’ve got to keep him quiet,” Gibbs says, “try feeding him”. Her surprisingly detailed breastfeeding advice back in episode two is finally paying off; hopefully if there’s a second series Gibbs’ breastfeeding tips will be a regular part of the show.

While the rest of the cops discover that Baxter is not at the convenience store they thought he was robbing, Gibbs and Fung arrive at Leah’s house, with Mani and Eddie close behind. The rooftop scene was Gibbs’ big breakthrough with Fung; this scene is his big breakthrough with her, as she wants to wait for backup because last time she charged into an active crime scene Anna’s husband died.

After riding her about it all series, Fung finally understands everything she went through that night, all the factors she had to weigh up before making that choice, and he decides...she was right. It’s a nice twist, and the show doesn’t oversell it: They tool up and go in alone.

What follows is a tense sequence of events that involve an axe, a fake baby, and Mani arriving just in time to put a gun to Baxter’s head. But he’s no killer, and Baxter gets led away in shame. Is there anything more Australian than a bunch of random people on pushbikes watching someone get taken away in a cop car?

Then it’s time to sort out Anna, and it probably wasn’t the best idea to corner her on a rooftop. But the only violence here is emotional, as she explains she didn’t destroy Bo-Lin’s latter to Mani because “I wanted for him to know how much she loved him, and than she never meant for any of this to happen”. Which is fair enough – only she’s looking directly at Fung while she says it. That knife in heart gets yet another twist.

Wrapping up a series can be tricky. The story has to resolve itself in a satisfactory way, but there has to be enough left to build on if a second season gets the thumbs up – and with Griffith having said she’d like her own series to play with, that’s got to be an factor here.

So while Dead Lucky wraps up all its major plots nicely, it’s hardly a feel-good victory lap as both the leads are left with hefty emotional baggage. Gibbs has trashed any chance of getting her family back together and is clearly devastated; after putting away the woman he loved, Fung is openly crying at his parents’ place. At least the grieving share house crew get some closure, holding a memorial ceremony for Bo-Lin at the beach where we first saw her and Mani.

And Gibbs and Fung still have each other, sharing the final scene and a bunch of fish & chips on a park bench overlooking the ocean.

We even get a teaser of what their next big investigation will be: “Did you steal my chip?”

 

The entire season of Dead Lucky is now streaming at SBS On Demand.

 

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