Set aside an hour for the next six Thursdays, because you won’t want to miss any of Total Control, a gripping Aussie political drama that premieres in the US tomorrow.
Total Control won three of the top prizes at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA) in 2019, including Best Drama Series, Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama for Australian Film Institute and Logie Awards winner Deborah Mailman (Jack Irish, Mystery Road, Offspring), and Best Guest or Supporting Actress in a Television Drama for Oscar® and Emmy® nominee Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under, Brothers and Sisters, Dead Lucky).
The six-part political drama starts off with a bang — literally. A TV news report shows mobile phone video footage of a gunman shooting people in front of the courthouse in Mt Isa, and of the lone Indigenous woman, identified as Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman), who faced him and acted as a human shield to protect a victim from further harm. Watching this story is Rachel Anderson (Rachel Griffiths), the embattled but cunning Prime Minister (PM) of Australia, who in that moment starts crafting an idea to boost her popularity and to further her agenda.
Fast forward three months. An aide in the PM’s office arrives at Alex’s home in Winton in Outback Australia to inform Alex that the PM would like to offer her a seat in the Senate, as one has opened up following the untimely death of a senator (who supported Rachel). Alex calls it like she sees it — as BS. Until Rachel herself shows up and makes the offer to Alex, despite opposition from members of her own party.
Meanwhile, at the Macauley Dentention Centre in Central Australia, two Indigenous girls are having a bit of fun making a bit of mischief in their locked-from-the-outside room. Except the guard doesn’t think it’s funny, and his action — and inaction — ends in the death of one of the girls.
Although Alex had served on the local council in Winton, doing what she could to help make a difference for the people in her community, she is in big-league, national politics in Canberra now, and is quite naive as to how things work both officially and off the record while behind closed doors. The newbie learns the hard way, but she learns quickly, after Rachel uses and then betrays Alex as well as the Native title holders in Winton and the surrounding areas in a deal with the US government.
Truly, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned — and Karen, I mean Rachel “the last thing we need is a Black Lives Matter moment” Anderson, will get her comeuppance, courtesy of Alex.
Given the election process that we in the US have just gone through, I don’t know how I feel about Alex turning the tables on Rachel. On one hand, I’m like, “Hah!” On the other…
Alex’s transformation — from a naive new senator, with her naturally curly hair, casual dresses and practical shoes, to a more seasoned and sophisticated lawmaker with slicked back hair and snazzy suits and pumps — is both a reason to cheer and a reason to despair. It shows she’s made it. She’s arrived. Alex has grown personally and professionally from her experiences and she is to be congratulated for her achievements. But it also means she is a cog in the political machinery now, a lawmaker who is willing (and now able!) to throw another politico under the bus in order to, like the PM, further her own agenda — even if it is one that is intended to help many others.
Without question, Deborah Mailman is outstanding as Alex, embodying the character with every ounce of her being, from her doleful eyes and tear-stained cheeks after sobbing about two tragedies, to the force of her lips, tongue, and teeth when spewing f-bombs (and the oft-dreaded 4-letter c-word). The character of Alex is a force of nature. The actress that is Deborah Mailman is a powerhouse of talent.
Rachel Griffiths, an executive producer who co-created the six-part first season with Darren Dale (Deep Water) and Miranda Dear (Rake), is no slouch either, and looks here like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton. And Shantae Barnes-Cowan, whose first television role is in this series, delivers a quiet but forceful performance as Jess, one of the two girls in the detention centre.
Costars in the first season include Harry Richardson (Poldark), Rob Collins (Cleverman), Celia Ireland (Wentworth), Wesley Patten (H Is for Happiness), Huw Higginson (Janet King), David Roberts (Bad Mothers), Adele Perovic (The Code), Anthony Hayes (Secrets & Lies), William McInnes (SeaChange), and Aaron Pedersen (Mystery Road).
A production of Blackfella Films (Deep Water, Redfern Now), Total Control has been renewed for a second season, which is slated to debut in Australia in 2021.
Total Control premieres in the US with its first episode tomorrow, Thursday, December 17, exclusively on Sundance Now and its digital channels, including Sundance Now on Amazon Channels. New episodes will debut on Thursdays through January 21. (The series will launch on Sundance Now in Canada on the same date.)
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