After three episodes carefully cultivating characters and their story arcs, the ‘Blue Lights’ writing team decided to shake things up.
Tonight’s instalment was largely in flashback, with Fran Harris, Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn framing their latest tale around a chaotic night shift for the officers of Blackthorn Police Station.
The episode began with Aoibheann McCann’s Police Ombudsman investigator Grace Gilroy being dispatched to find out if Blackthorn’s officers could have done more to prevent a death during the previous night’s shift.
The bulk of her questions were directed at Joanne Crawford’s PS Helen McNally who informed the investigator that Belfast had been in the grip of “full moon fever”.
Going back to the previous night Richard Dormer’s PC Gerry Cliff elaborated on the concept to Nathan Braniff’s rookie PC Tommy Foster.
The night shift, he explained, was notorious for being really horrendous when the full moon was out.
And so it turned out.
Sian Brooke’s PC Grace Ellis and her supervising officer, Martin McCann’s PC Stevie Nichol were bogged down in the station breathalysing Gerard McCabe’s drunk man.
Gerry and Tommy became embroiled in a foot pursuit after the rookie spotted a drug deal taking place on the street.
Katherine Devlin’s probationer PC Annie Conlon and Hannah McClean’s PC Jen Robinson were summoned to a pub where a young woman had been sexually assaulted by a drunk man.
And with all of Blackthorn’s squad cars tied up, PS McNally struggled to get someone to a house where there were reports of domestic violence.
In the pub, things got out of hand with the complainant’s father trying to take matters into his own hands.
While Annie struggled to calm things down, James Doran’s inebriated, accused man Michael became really lippy.
In the ensuing melee, Jen froze and Annie had to grab Michael, so the three of them could run to safety and lock themselves in a storeroom.
Eventually they managed to extricate themselves but when Michael was arrested, he sustained a broken nose.
Gerry and Tommy investigated a noise complaint, while Stevie and Grace were sent to the scene of the domestic violence incident where they were greeted at the door by Helena Bereen’s sweet elderly lady Valerie.
Meanwhile Grace’s son, Matt Carver’s Cal had been enjoying a night out in the Cathedral Quarter when he was chosen by a police officer for a random stop and search and things got out of hand.
As she faced Grace Gilroy’s questions, PS McNally had to be wily as she dodged questions that could have led to some rather awkward revelations, particularly about Jen Robinson.
Meanwhile the McIntyre gang were striking an arms deal with a Dublin crime gang.
However John Lynch’s boss James McIntyre was blindsided to the deal his son Michael Shea’s Mo, his sidekick Dane Whyte O’Hara’s Gordy Mackle and the gang’s resident hardman, Gerard Jordan’s Anto Donovan were cooking with Peter Campion’s drug dealer, Eoin O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, a member of the powerful Dublin-based Ginley crime gang, dangled £100,000 at them in return for a cache of weapons from Libya, originally smuggled during the Troubles and hidden during decommissioning.
As the deal came together, Nabil Elouahabi’s Joseph resurfaced to warn Jonathan Harden’s Inspector Jonty Johnson that the republican Carrick Hill estate and the McIntyre gang were out of bounds to his officers.
This irritated some of the team, leaving viewers wondering how long the Inspector would be able to keep a lid on Gerry and Tommy’s curiosity about why out of bounds edicts kept coming from MI5.
With each episode of ‘Blue Lights’ impressing so far, Episode Four really felt like a significant raising of the bar.
Not only did Harris, Patterson and Lawn play with their narrative, they set up some potentially explosive storylines for the last two episodes.
A lot rested in this episode on Joanne Crawford’s shoulders as the previous night’s events were recounted from her character’s perspective.
And she was well up to the task.
Brooke, McCann, Braniff, Dormer, McClean, Devlin, Elouhabi, Harden and Andi Osho as PS Sandra Cliff continued to build on the good work in previous episodes.
Lynch, Shea, O’Hara and Jordan also turned in solid performances, with Campion relishing his Dublin gangland role.
McCann savoured her moment as the Police Ombudsman investigator, while Carver did a good job shining a light on the experience of what is like to be from a mixed race background in Belfast.
Dormer continued to enjoy some of the best lines in the show, while McClean turned in arguably her best performance so far – especially as Jen Robinson felt the wrath of PS McNally and turned to her mum, Andrea Irvine’s Superintendent Nicola Robinson for support.
Once more the writing team of Lawn, Patterson and Harris did a superb job, peppering their dialogue with police slang.
The mix of street humour and pathos in this episode was perfectly modulated, with director Gilles Bannier, his cinematographer Stephen Murphy and film editor Peggy Koretzky also delivering a pacy instalment.
As ‘Blue Lights’ enters its final stretch, there’s a real sense that events are about to come to a head in its final two episodes.
In fact, it is heartening to report two thirds of the way into its run that ‘Blue Lights’ has yet to put a foot wrong.
That’s why it deserves its 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.)
Dan McGinn is a journalist who was previously the Ireland Political Editor and Ireland Deputy Editor of the Press Association and has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and other publications and for TV and radio. He currently works in communications and public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog They’ll Love It In Pomona which covers the latest cinema and television releases.