The secret’s out about the excellent drama/thriller series, Mystery Road. It’s actually a gripping, Australian detective story that sees the character, Jay Swan reprised from Ivan Sen’s films, Mystery Road and Goldstone. This time around the crime takes place in the small outback town of Patterson where the locals are elusive and tight-lipped about what is really going on. This makes for one satisfying and intriguing murder mystery.
This series is directed by Rachel Perkins (Redfern Now). Aaron Pedersen reprises his role as Swan, an indigenous detective with a gruff attitude and a strong moral compass. He is caught between two worlds because he isn’t accepted by the indigenous or the white Australians. All parties treat him with distrust because he’s a “copper” (which reminds me of a Betoota Advocate joke where the subtext is that all Aussies are united by their hatred for coppers!)
The town’s local police sergeant is Emma James (the inimitable, Judy Davis). Her family have a history of living in the region, having been among the first pioneers. She jointly owns the Ballantyne cattle station with her brother (Colin Friels), the place where two boys go missing. There is only an abandoned ute left behind and evidence of foul play. The youths that disappeared are rising, indigenous football star, Marley (Aaron L. McGrath) and local backpacker, Reese (Connor Van Vuuren) who worked as farmhands on the dry, sprawling property.
The boys are missing and presumed dead. Swan swaggers into town to solve the case, something he believes will be an open and shut one. Things prove more complicated than that though. Many of the locals are withholding information and harbouring secrets about the past. These are slowly revealed like peeling the layers of an onion over the course of the series.
The locals include Marley’s mother, Kerry Thompson (Deborah Mailman) whose brother (Wayne Blair) is a convicted rapist and on the verge of being released from gaol. Ernie Dingo plays a local powerbroker and the head of the Land Rights Council. And single mother Shevorne (Tasia Zalar) is battling to get full custody of her young daughter.
Swan’s family also turn up to Patterson with his feisty daughter, Crystal (Madeleine Madden) ingratiating herself to the local drug dealers. These include a backpacker played by the late Jessica Falkholt. Swan’s wife Mary (Tasma Walton) meanwhile, seems desperate to save her marriage to the lonesome detective/cowboy.
This series is a little slow-burning a times but if you can get past this it is certainly a rich, character-driven story not unlike Broadchurch. There are lots of red herrings and twists thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. This is a whodunit that will keep you on your toes and guessing because not everything is as it seems.
Mystery Road is a beautifully-shot, six-part drama series with an amazing cast that grapples with Australia’s history and identity. This is a clever and multi-faceted noir that ultimately feels like a rich tapestry of race relations, community and life in a small town. An intense, diverse and gripping thriller, there is a little something for everyone here and Australian television certainly needs more shows just like it.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Mystery Road is available on DVD and Blu-Ray now.