The second season of Aussie detective drama Mystery Road premiered in the US this past Monday, and it’s been worth the two-plus-year wait.
The first season of Mystery Road was fabulous, and it ranked as one of my favorite new Down Under TV shows of 2018. Industry-wise, it was nominated for nearly 20 awards, of which it won more than a dozen, including Best Television Drama Series at the 2018 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. It was also voted Most Popular Drama at the 2019 TV Week Logie Awards.
So the second season has a lot to live up to, and it does not disappoint.
Series 2 marks the fourth time that Aaron Pederson (A Place to Call Home, Jack Irish) has taken on the role of Detective Jay Swan, following Series 1 and the two feature films — Mystery Road and Goldstone — of which the neo-western TV series is a spin-off. Jay is an Indigenous cop with a cowboy’s swagger and a brooding manner, a divorced loner who’s married to his job, and a complicated, damaged, standoffish man of few words with a hardened stare and very likely a broken heart. More so in this season than the last, it feels like Jay, instead of using his emotional energy to be more personable, uses it to suppress all the hurts he has ever experienced and all the guilt he has accumulated, lest he explode. But his tightly-wound self could be starting to crack.
After a crabber finds the decapitated body of a man stuck in the mangroves, Jay heads to the (fictional) small coastal town of Gideon in Northern Western Australia to investigate the case with Constable Fran Davis (Jada Alberts, Wentworth), a local Indigenous cop, along with her White sergeant, Owen (Mark Mitchinson, The Gulf). Jay doesn’t think much of Owen’s policing methods, and Owen thinks Jay is a (six-letter expletive that starts with a w). While Jay gets along well enough with Fran, the same cannot be said for her relationship with her sister or his relationship with his ex-wife, Mary (Tasma Walton, Rake), who has relocated to Gideon to rebuild her life and has a new man in her life.
Jay suspects the murder is related to drugs, despite Owen’s assurances that narcotics aren’t a problem in this town. According to Fran, ice, or crystal meth, had been a problem but, curiously, it suddenly stopped. Jay isn’t convinced that it has, so they follow this line of inquiry. But with Jay being a distrusted outsider — a non-local working amidst Gideon’s Indigenous and White residents who are suspicious of him because he is (1) a White-law cop and (2) an Aboriginal man — getting straight answers proves difficult. Interestingly enough, help comes from another outsider, albeit one who has come to fit in in Gideon.
Elsewhere in the township, along the Kimberley Coast, Swedish archaeologist Sandra Elmquist (Sofia Helin, The Bridge) is conducting a dig, searching for artifacts that could be 70,000 years old. She’s running out of time, though; the spring tides will be coming soon, and they will wash away any undiscovered treasures forever. Running low on their patience with Sandra are the Indigenous locals, as they see her dig as an infringement on their native land and her rationale of using any artifacts found to “rewrite” their history as an insult. Little does Sandra know that she will find more than what she was looking for, and that her gruesome discovery could help the police. But she is racing against the clock and isn’t about to have her dig shut down because of what she inadvertently unearths.
As Jay and Fran continue the headless-man homicide investigation, which does turn out to be drug-related (and on a grander scale than the bit of ganja Owen had mentioned), another human body part washes up on the rocky shore and the dead body count steadily notches up. At the same time Fran sets off on her own unofficial investigation into a cold case that has plagued her for years.
Clearly, the work that Jay and Sandra are doing is upsetting people. She is verbally and physically threatened about the dig, while he is brutally beat up and shot at for sticking his nose where some folks think it doesn’t belong. Yet they both persevere in their respective pursuits. But Jay realizes too late that not only is he risking his life to get to the truth, he has put Mary’s life in grave danger, too.
If Jay is going to solve the case (and more besides), he must first prevent himself and Mary from becoming the next victims.
The slow-burn approach of this season is warranted, as there is a lot packed into its six episodes that need to be handled with care. The thoughtful pacing allows us to take in what is happening on screen and become absorbed in the goings-on at a deeper level. The narrative itself is layered and nuanced, and tells a story that is much larger and more affecting than the intricate crime plot — namely in the impact of colonialism on, and cultural exploitation of, the Indigenous people, and the fierce pride of the Aboriginal people and their deep connection to their identity, culture, heritage, history, and land.
Taking a less-hurried approach also gives us more time to ooh and aah at the spectacular scenery. Filmed in Broome and the picturesque Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia, directors Warwick Thornton (Sweet Country, Samson & Delilah) and Wayne Blair (Top End Wedding, The Sapphires), with Thornton also serving as the Director of Photography, take advantage of the area’s natural beauty by lingering on shots along and above the red rock formations, blue sea, and green wilderness of the Kimberley Coast. And then there’s the sky at night. So. Many. Stars. Day or night, this place looks like a tropical paradise. (One I’d love to visit post-pandemic.)
So, from the intriguing story and the complex lead character, to the stunning setting and fine performances of the entire cast, Series 2 of Mystery Road is brilliant and beautiful and well worth a watch.
The cast includes Tasia Zalar (The Straits), Callan Mulvey (Rush), Rob Collins (Glitch), Gary Sweet (Janet King), Ngaire Pigram (The Circuit), Ursula Yovich (The Code), newcomer Rhimi Johnson, Fletcher Humphrys (Romper Stomper), Joel Jackson (Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries), John Brumpton (Deep Water), and Eve Morey (Neighbours).
Mystery Road: Series 2, an Acorn TV Original series, continues with Episode 3 on Monday, October 19, exclusively on Acorn TV and its digital channels, including Acorn TV on Amazon Channels. New episodes will debut weekly on Mondays through November 9.
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