In the final episode of series two, the show picked up some much needed pace as all the various storylines started to pay-off. One of the B plots though, the one with Michael and Gem, slowed things down and distracted from the main plot, concluding with Lisa asking Dushane to pay a visit to the drug dealer who beat-up her son. Dushane agreed, presumably out of guilt, having involved Ra’Nell in the violent world of drug dealing last series.
This whole storyline has seemed a little boring and unnecessary to me. I think the writer didn’t know what to do with Michael, but felt he couldn’t drop the character because he was so central to series one.
The message in the storyline was also a little confused; while Dushane was threatening Vincent, Gem’s father appeared and stabbed Vincent in the leg, an echo of the drug dealer’s earlier comments about stabbing someone who attacks you. What is this saying though? The show throughout has contrasted the hardworking, legitimate businessman that is Gem’s father with the criminals in Summerhouse. But when Gem’s father uses violence to resolve a problem, and it works, what message is the show conveying? That violence is an appropriate way to deal with problems? Even if you believe that, it contradicts a lot of what has gone earlier in the show, and what comes later this episode.
Gem and his father ended the episode moving away from Summerhouse, with Gem sharing a cold and awkward goodbye with Ra’Nell. Lisa also vacated her shop. This ending highlighted just how wasteful and directionless the storyline with the property developers has been. It never amounted to anything, and should probably have been dropped. The script for the series could certainly have been tighter.
The bulk of the episode though was better, focusing on Dushane juggling lots of problems and trying to resolve them all at once. He kidnapped Kayla’s son, and used Rhianna to pass a threat to her. ‘I’m not your co-conspirator,’ the lawyer said. Rhianna finally realised what Dushane was capable of, and broke-off her relationship with him, both personal and professional.
Dushane next attacked the Albanians, with the help of Sully. This I think was supposed to be a big, exciting conclusion to the series, with the attack being promised from the start of episode two. I didn’t really care about it though. We don’t know who the Albanians are. They don’t even have names. They, and the drugs they stole, were basically MacGuffins; irrelevant devices used to generate the plot.
Once the drugs were recovered, Sully parted ways with Dushane, saying he couldn’t forgive him for letting Mike be killed. He disappeared, with the little kid Jason in tow. One of Top Boy’s major themes is how urban problems are passed down to the next generation. Sully had a similar upbringing to Jason, with a drug addicted mother and no role models. As a result, he empathises with Jason and decided to look out for him. Unfortunately, that probably means Jason growing up in the criminal world with Sully, and so the cycle begins again.
In this world, not every child gets to grow up though. Dushane realised Michael was the police witness, and had him taken to his flat. I’m not sure if he planned on killing Michael, but I doubt it, because if that was the case he wouldn’t be killing him in his own flat.
Unfortunately, the Albanians found were Dushane lived, and killed the other dealer who was in the flat with Michael. Realising that Dushane was about to get killed, Michael ran to the window and shouted a warning, before one of the killers threw him over the balcony. Michael had so much misplaced respect and affection for Dushane that he risked, and lost, his own life to save him. The series ended with Dushane without the child he treated as a little brother, or his best friend and partner, or the woman he had tried to start a relationship with. Dushane’s life of crime has left him entirely alone.
Top Boy’s second series was good, if a little jumbled at times. It did take on too many storylines at once, and a few of them – like the property developers plot – either weren’t resolved satisfactorily or felt a little unnecessary. The whole series felt like a stop-gap between series one and a third series, which is already in development, and which will, I presume, focus on a war between the Albanians and Dushane. And if that does happen, hopefully the Albanians will be actual antagonists, because this series they were nothing but a nationality.
There weren’t really any antagonists this series, besides a collection of forgettable police officers, and the aforementioned Eastern Europeans. The series lacked focus, or any stakes the audience could invest in, with the exception of Michael’s fate.
Still, there were enough enjoyable and interesting characters, and the show illustrated a slice of a culture not often seen on TV, at least, not without that culture being shown as overwhelmingly bad and stereotyped. People have criticised Top Boy for reinforcing these stereotypes of drug dealing, black youths, but the criminals here were sympathetic, with problems derived as much from social issues and deprivation as from poor decision making and character flaws. Other characters, such as Lisa and Gem’s father, were shown as good, law abiding citizens, trying to escape from difficult situations. Yes, we need TV to reflect the non-criminal aspects of black and youth culture, but that doesn’t mean the section of society represented in this show should be off-limits. It does exist; we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t.
It was decent, this second series, and Top Boy is a show that tries to offer more than just excitement, adding social criticism and intelligent themes. I’ll be happy to see the third series, and just hope that it is more focused, and adds a more engaging central conflict, and antagonists, for the main characters to go up against.
- I’m not sure how the Albanians knew were Dushane lived. Maybe they checked the electoral register at the local library. They are very crafty, these unnamed and non-specific Albanians.
- There needs to be some sort of conflict between Sully and Dushane next series, because the show can’t do this whole shaky truce thing again, and the characters can’t get back together as partners because that opportunity disappeared this episode.
- I don’t want to keep comparing this show to The Wire, but Top Boy covers the same ground, and it is noticeably not anywhere near the level of the American show it seeks to replicate. It has failed to examine anything The Wire hasn’t already covered, and there is lots in the US show absent from this one. Maybe series three could try and differentiate itself from its American cousin a little more.