Bucket Man

Episode two of ‘Blue Lights’ began with Issac Heslip’s drug dealer JP Jr dropping off pills at a house in an affluent neighbourhood.

The dealer whizzed around south Belfast in an e-scooter and turned out to be the same lad who rode a bike in the previous episode and taunted Nathan Braniff’s rookie PSNI officer Tommy Foster.
The drugs he dealt, however, were part of a bad batch sourced through Dublin by the McIntyre gang.
Soon overdoses were taking place all over the city.
Richard Dormer’s senior officer Gerry Cliff and Tommy were called to a house blaring rave music to find two people who had overdosed, prompting them to immediately administer CPR.
Tommy froze a little but soon sprung into action under Gerry’s firm guidance.
Around the same time, Sian Brooke’s fellow probationer Grace Ellis and her colleague Martin McCann’s Stevie Nichol were summoned to the house we had seen earlier, where the owner, a businessman, and his wife had collapsed.
On the republican Carrick View estate, John Lynch’s James McIntyre summoned his gang to a crisis meeting where his son, Michael Shea’s Mo and his sidekick Dane Whyte O’Hara’s Gordy Mackle were given orders to get the dodgy consignment off the streets, get the drugs destroyed and bring in a new supply from Dublin.
When the police weren’t fretting about the overdoses, the officers of Blackthorn Station were facing strict orders from Jonathan Harden’s Inspector ‘Jonty’ Johnson to keep out of huge swathes of Carrick View and away from the McIntyre gang.
Grace was taken to task by Jonty for driving Gordy’s mum, Valene Kane’s Angela Mackle home in the previous episode after her release from police custody.
Meanwhile another rookie, Katherine Devlin’s Angela Conlon was nervous about the dissident threat and the impact on her family in the Glens of Antrim, as she was quizzed by a camogie player from a rival team about which one of her teammates was a police officer.
Tommy was also consumed with worry about his marksmanship scores – fearing they could cost him his career.
Gerry, his supervising officer, took him under his wing and brought him to the shooting range to hone his skills.
That wasn’t the only demonstration of Gerry’s eagerness to take care of others.
He became involved in efforts to help an old friend, Paddy Jenkins’ Happy who was in the throes of a deep depression and was acting erratically.
With McIntyre’s gang desperate to restore their trade by moving fresh product in the city, how were they going to do this while the police were on high alert?
And how long would the officers of Blackthorn Station tolerate being told by the “sneaky beakies” in military intelligence which areas they could police and who they could monitor?
After last week’s opening episode did such a good job establishing the show’s characters, Episode Two saw writers Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson build on those solid foundations and move ‘Blue Lights’ up another gear.
The drugs storyline confronted an issue that has dogged post conflict Northern Ireland but hasn’t been discussed nearly as much as it should.
The duo also managed to skilfully weave in narrative threads about the dissident republican threat, the influence of military intelligence and the probationers’ concerns about making the grade.
No doubt those will re-emerge in later episodes.
Lawn and Patterson delivered an excellent scene in which one of the officers froze after being asked to stop members of the McIntyre gang who were acting suspiciously in a car.
But after two episodes, the overall impression is of a drama that is revving up and getting ready to really accelerate.
While the writers lightened the mood with earthy humour – Stevie’s parting quip to a businessman about a golf course was laugh out loud funny – its authenticity remains its strongest card.
Patterson and Lawn’s journalistic background and their commitment to thorough research again shone through.
Lawn revealed last week that during the gestation of ‘Blue Lights’ they had talked to up to 30 serving and retired PSNI officers.
And that hard work is there to see from the squad car banter to the understandable concerns of each character, their virtues and their flaws.
As for the cast, Brooke, Devlin and Braniff once again did solid work as the show’s trio of rookies.
Devlin, in particular, took her moment to shine, impressively conveying the nervousness of a PSNI recruit from a nationalist background about the potential of her being targeted by dissident republicans.
Hannah McClean’s PC Jen Robinson remained an intriguing character, as we discovered a little more about her love of prepping files for court.
Martin McCann brought his usual wit and guile to the part of PC Stevie Nichol, while Andi Osho amused as the custody sergeant Sandra.
Joanne Crawford was a sturdy, no nonsense presence as PS Helen McNally, while Jonathan Harden remained twitchy as the officers’ under pressure boss.
As for the McIntyre gang, John Lynch remained an enigmatic presence as James McIntyre – hinting that there was much more to him than just a republican crime boss.
Michael Shea and Dane Whyte O’Hara delivered plenty of swagger too as the younger generation of cocky criminals, while Gerard Jordan made his first substantial appearance in the show as the hardman Anto Donovan.
Last week’s star turn, Valene Kane was relegated to a brief appearance as Angela Mackle but she did enough to suggest she will remain a key presence in the show.
It was clear that Lawn and Patterson and their director Gilles Bannier know a great police drama isn’t just about the cops and the criminals.
‘Hill Street Blues,’ ‘The Wire,’ ‘The Cops’ and ‘The Responder’ all thrived by featuring other characters struggling on the streets – drug addicts, prostitutes, petty criminals, single mums trying to keep their teenagers out of trouble, elderly victims of crime.
Tonight’s episode saw ‘Give My Head Peace’ regular Paddy Jenkins shoulder this responsibility as Happy and prove he could handle a heavyweight role as a broken, severely depressed man.
His performance enabled one of Northern Ireland’s best actors of recent times, Richard Dormer to claim the acting honours.
Dormer’s portrayal of the country music loving Gerry is a fascinating mix of heart, earthy pragmatism and gallows humour.
In both episodes he has delivered such a charismatic performance, it’s easy to see how Gerry could quickly become a fan favourite.
Even with two episodes under its belt, ‘Blue Lights’ is already beginning to feel like it might be capable of great things.
The second episode was worth it alone for cinematographer Angus Mitchell’s beautiful payoff shot featuring a circle of blue lights which not only was technically sublime but narratively astute.
Let’s hope, the show resonates not just with Northern Irish audiences but with English, Scottish and Welsh viewers as well.
‘Blue Lights,’ after all, is a cop drama that just happens to have a Belfast accent.
If it can maintain this quality, it should be a shoo-in for a second series.
(While all episodes of ‘Blue Lights’ are available on the BBC iPlayer, Slugger will be posting on each episode after they are broadcast on BBC1. We would, therefore, be grateful if you could refrain from any spoilers for future episodes in the comments below.)

Discover more from Slugger O'Toole

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

We are reader supported. Donate to keep Slugger lit!

For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.

Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger. While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.

If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated.