Scrublands, BBC 4, based on the Chris Hammer novel, screenwriters Chris Hammer and Felicity Packard, Director Greg McLean
Posted by celticman on Sun, 19 Nov 2023
Scrublands begins with a bang. Literally. Father Byron Swift (Jay Ryan) after mass at St Michael’s church in the fictitious dust-riven farming town of Riversend brings not words of peace and thanksgiving but a telescopic rifle out of the sacristy. He kills five male parishioners. This isn’t America where such atrocities seem to happen every day, with the gun lobby arguing more and better kinds of guns are needed, and the former moron’s moron President arguing kindergarten teachers should be armed, but New South Wales. The drought continues, but when the dust dies down a simple explanation offers a kind of closure. The much admired, even loved, Father Byron Swift couldn’t keep his cock in his pants and was screwing parishioners’ kids.
Award winning journalist Martin Scarsden (Luke Arnold) is sent to do a kind of fluff piece on how the townsfolk are coping one year after the shooting. But he’s shunned by the townsfolk. Some are more antagonistic than others. The local cop, Constable Robbie Haus-Jones (Adam Zwar) feted as a hero for bringing down and killing the paedophilic mass shooter, modestly says he was just doing his job. Local beauty and bookshop owner, Mandy Bond (Bella Heathcote), seems ready to speak out, but then bites her pretty bottom lip.
No great surprise that charismatic priest and local beauty equal Thorn Birds territory. Scarsden has to hang about because (a) his shitty car hire breaks down and a bumpy, out of town road where he doesn’t know where he’s going. (b) he finds two bodies that have been missing since Christmas and nobody else could find. In the latter, but not the former we are in Scooby Doo territory. (I’d have got away with it if it wasn’t for those damn kids or award-winning journalist suffering for PTSD) All writers enter Scooby Doo territory at some point. I like to get in early and set up basecamp.
Back in basecamp, we’re in explaining the backstory. Only the worst kind of Trumpet accepts the simple shooting theory. Holden Caulfield the protagonist in Catcher in the Rye, explains much better than me how backstory works.
‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap.’
Caulfield is the kinda cynical kid Father Byron Swift knew too well as does journalist, Scarsden. One of the many questions Scrublands asks is whether it is truly possible to begin live anew. Change, really change and become someone else. Worship God as you understand him. Scrublands even takes a tilt at QAnon (‘PizzaGate’) conspiracy thinking and the followers of the moron’s moron, which is always good, while holding out a more adult explanation of what happened, which isn’t convincing. But as any writer knows A and B doesn’t need to equal C. It just needs to feel like it does. Worth watching.