Sharp Eyes Save Lives

It was a bit of a subdued start to the latest episode of ‘Blue Lights’.

(SPOILERS ALERT!!)

Nathan Braniff’s PC Tommy Foster was on a date with Dearbhaile McKinney’s fellow police officer Aisling after persuading her in last week’s opening episode of Series Two to go out with him.
With her based in Derry/Londonderry and him in Belfast, they chose the rather unglamorous venue of a bus serving breakfast in a car park at the Glenshane Pass to meet up.
Being a posh boy, Tommy asked for avocado on toast, only to be told by the waitress: “I can give you mushy peas and you can pretend it’s an avocado.”
After ordering scrambled eggs with no toast while Aisling tucked into a large fry and his round of toast, we learned Tommy had taken up kickboxing.
This may have felt far from riveting but this being ‘Blue Lights,’ it wasn’t long before we were plunged into some high octane action.
In Belfast, Katherine Devlin’s PC Annie Conlon and Frank Blake’s PC Shane Bradley were flying through the streets of the loyalist Mount Eden estate in their squad car amid reports of a house on fire.
With the fire service not on the ground, both officers decided to rescue those inside instead and they quickly found a mother and son huddled together in an upstairs bedroom as the flames engulfed their petrol bombed home.
Managing to get the occupants to safety, the two officers collapsed outside, holding hands and gasping for air as they lay on their backs.
It emerged the house belonged to loyalist drug gang leader, Chris Corrigan’s Jim Dixon – sparking rumours of a feud between him and his rival, Tony Flynn’s Davy Hamill.
Meanwhile in Blackthorn Police Station, Aoibheann McCann’s Police Ombudsman investigator Geraldine Gilroy, who we first met in Series One, was back interviewing Sian Brooke’s PC Grace Ellis about drawing her gun in last week’s episode during an incident involving a drug addict in a pharmacy.
Afterwards, there was a brief exchange between Gilroy and Joanne Crawford’s Inspector Helen McNally during which she confronted the senior officer, noting: “You don’t like me much, do you?”
Flinching at Inspector McNally’s description of her and her Ombudsman investigators as “hindsight police,” Gilroy tried to convince the station chief that they were on the same side by revealing her report on Grace’s incident would show Blackthorn was under-resourced with frontline officers operating “at an almost impossible situation”.
While Tommy was wooing Aisling with a fry on the Glenshane Pass, Martin McCann’s PC Stevie Neil was tempting Grace with pork belly sausage rolls with capsicum and chilli jam.
However despite this light hearted exchange, there were signs of growing tension between the show’s golden couple.
Meanwhile Des Eastwood’s incredibly smug Paramilitary Taskforce leader, DS Murray Canning was ruffling Inspector McNally’s feathers by hijacking a briefing of Blackthorn’s officers.
As rumours circulated about a loyalist feud, he declared to her officers that the PSNI would be “flying the flag on Mount Eden estate,” flooding it with police.
Inspector McNally took DS Canning to task afterwards for giving “operational orders to a response section,” telling him it was inappropriate.
Canning just smirked.
Both of them, however, were rapped on the knuckles by Andrea Irvine’s Chief Superintendent Nicola Robinson who wanted to know why no-one at Blackthorn had anticipated a loyalist feud between the Hamill and Dixon factions?
The Chief Superintendent was informed that the neighbourhood policing team that once operated in Mount Eden no longer existed following the merger of Blackthorn with another station called Mayfield.
There was one potential solution, though, to their lack of knowledge on the ground.
Jonathan Harden’s Inspector David ‘Jonty’ Johnson had previously worked the patch, running the neighbourhood team in Mount Eden for five years.
This, however, was a big ask as Jonty had left Blackthorn in disgrace at the end of Series One for putting the needs of military intelligence over his officers.
It also emerged he had had a fling with ACC Robinson’s daughter, Hannah McClean’s Jen.
With Inspector McNally nevertheless tasked by ACC Robinson with bringing Jonty back into the fold to provide insight into Mount Eden, he was initially reluctant.
However he relented after being told he owed it to his former colleagues to provide them with the information.
While Jonty took on the role through gritted teeth, trouble was continuing to brew on the loyalist Mount Eden estate.
Seamus O’Hara’s ex soldier turned taxi driver and emerging drug kingpin, Lee Thompson and Abigail Gibbon’s Tina McIntyre met up at Titanic Belfast where he attempted to persuade her that Dixon and Hamill were liabilities for her and her Dublin gangland associates.
Later, Lee brought the ashes of Soupy, a former Army comrade from his days in Afghanistan, into the family bar, The Loyal Pub.
When he also brought a loyalist flute band to plan an unauthorised parade in memory of Soupy, there were suspicions that Lee might be making his move to become Mount Eden’s biggest criminal player.
Would he succeed, though?
As was the case in Series One, a lot of spade work appeared to be taking place in Episode Two of Series Two as the show’s creators Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson prepared the ground for the rest of the series.
Patterson and Lawn were on directorial duties too, delivering another solidly constructed episode in which several storylines took root.
With Lee pitting Dixon and Hamill against each other on the estate, in Blackthorn station two characters were also butting heads – Inspector Helen McNally and the supremely cocky Murray Canning.
While strains started to emerge in the relationship between Steve and Grace, Annie found herself drawn to Blackthorn’s latest recruit Shane.
However as the new Constable turned on the charm, you couldn’t help feeling something wasn’t quite right – something that may well become more apparent as subsequent episodes unfold.
Now a solicitor, Jen Robinson continued to show considerable interest in the 1978 Stuart’s Fish and Chips Shop bombing on behalf of an old friend from Series One, Paddy Jenkin’s deeply traumatised Alan ‘Happy’ Kelly.
This saw her knock the door of Derek Thompson’s former RUC Special Branch officer Robin Graham in a legacy storyline that could reveal some uncomfortable truths.
As for the cast, the chemistry between McCann and Brooke continued to be a joy to watch, while Kenneth Branagh lookalike Frank Blake showed some promise as the enigmatic Shane Bradley.
Eastwood did a good line in smug as DS Murray Canning.
However it was Crawford, O’Hara and Harden who took the episode’s acting honours.
Crawford continued to impress as a decent senior officer trying to do the right thing for her officers in the most trying of situations.
O’Hara was effective as a wily ex soldier intent on building his own criminal empire on the Mount Eden estate.
Harden made a welcome return to the show as Jonty. Handed a possible redemption arc for his character, it will be fascinating to see how he handles that.
If there is one quibble, though, it is that the always excellent Seana Kerslake – so good opposite Paddy Kielty in the recent Northern Irish movie ‘Ballywalter’ – feels a little underused as Lee’s sister, Mags.
Maybe her moment will come but so far, no sparks have flown.
Two episodes in and Series Two of ‘Blue Lights’ feels like it is waiting to erupt.
The shooting at the end of this episode may be the spark that does just that.
But don’t be surprised if Patterson, Lawn and their fellow writers do a bit more spade work before the action really starts pumping.
(The second episode of Series Two of ‘Blue Lights’ was broadcast on BBC1 ON April 22, 2024)

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