Well, that was surprising. Not the fact that Rake is back on the streets— that was to be expected— but the fact that everything in his outside life has become so egregiously shithouse in such a short amount of jail-time. This is the episode where Cleaver Greene gets thrown into a landfill-sized hole, so that we the audience can then enjoy his chaotic scramble back up to solid ground.
This is certainly not your typical episode of Rake. It’s pretty light on those awkward-but-funny dilemmas that Cleaver dances his way out of. Some of the issues in this episode are sobering: terminal cancer, suicide… By the end of the show Cleaver is a weeping mess on the side of the road. Seriously! But there are threads of humour woven in and around the heavier issues, and a few interesting subplots, to stop us from feeling down-hearted all the time.
In some ways, this second episode feels like a first episode, in that it is almost entirely devoted to the set up of conflicts that will take at least a season to resolve.
It’s not giving anything away to say that at the beginning of the episode, Cleaver’s murder appeal is upheld and he is set free. There is momentary elation. Malcolm materialises to give Cleaver a big fat freedom kiss. But the joy is very, very short-lived.
The next forty or so minutes present us with a gruelling shopping list of all the things in Cleaver’s life that have gone pear-shaped since he was imprisoned less than a year ago. His professional life is at rock-bottom, his home life is shambolic at best, his family has moved on and left him behind and all his friends seem to have abandoned him in one way or another. By the end of the episode, there is not a facet of Cleaver’s life that we have not seen go completely down the toilet.
There are moments when the unrelenting misfortune that rains down on Rake does get a bit much, particularly those times when certain characters are being uncharacteristically hard on him. Luckily, the injection of a few good subplots helps to lighten the load. There is a cheekily topical storyline developing between newly-released Cal McGregor and an appalling business tycoon named Tikki Wendon (Genevieve Lemon), who commands Cal to let her flex his political muscles.
Meanwhile the pot is being stirred in David (Harry) Potter’s political kitchen, and things are getting hot and spicy with Scarlett, or so he probably needs the press to believe. And Malcolm looks smashing when he gets his chance to Jean Valjean his way to stardom on the talent show ‘Aussies Gotta Sing’.
So it’s not all doom and gloom. But it’s definitely overcast. The final moments of the episode leave no doubt that the powers that be are not afraid to tackle darker and more complex issues this season.
After such a bold change in direction in the first episode of the season, is this massive change in tone another case of the writers having a laugh? Could it be a case of, ‘You thought putting Cleaver in prison was the most warped thing we could do to him, but wait until you see the hell-hole he comes home to!’
Possibly, but if it is a laugh, it’s a mirthless one. Or an ironic one, at best. This is an uncharacteristically cheerless episode of Rake. So here’s to things starting to look up, or at least, look funnier, by next week. Or else we may all, like Cleaver Greene, be reaching for a bottle to wash away our sorrows!
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Rake screens Sunday nights at 8.30pm on ABC1 and is also available on iView.