TL;DR – Mystery Road is a mystery ‘who done it’ where every reveal has weight and you have to watch every episode just to see what happened next.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Australian TV is kind of going through a period of uncertainty, how does it adapt to a changing global marketplace where streaming services are the new norm, or to governments that do not feel like supporting the arts is a good thing any more. Indeed, when you look at the list of currently running drama series in Australia it is almost anaemic compared to even ten years ago. Within this world, it is an unfortunate reality that you have to make each chance count, and with today’s Mystery Road we have a show that does just that. Now before we move onto the review proper just a couple of points. Firstly, this is based off a series of films created by Ivan Sen that I have unfortunately not seen, however, if you are like me in this regard, don’t worry because anything you do need to know about them is told in the show so you are not missing out. As well as this, we will be looking at the series as a whole so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead, but we will leave discussions about the final episode to a paragraph all to itself so you can skip that if you don’t want to find out the conclusion.
So to set the scene, in a small town of Patterson on the Kimberly coast of Western Australia an odd discovery shakes the town of as a truck is found in the middle of the barren felid, doors open, and the two occupants gone with no trace. After two days of searching local police Senior Sergeant Emma James (Judy Davis) called in a detective because she has a feeling that something bad has happened the boys Marley (Aaron McGrath) and Reece (Connor Van Vuuren). So the police send up Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) a detective with a past in solving difficult cases and who soon discovers that the boys were not missing, that most likely they were taken. This shines a light on the rest of the community, on the owner of Ballantyne Station Tony (Colin Friels) who seems to be disinterested with the plight of two of his workers, on Shevorne’s (Tasia Zalar) past, on Marley’s family, and the history of the region. All of this is before Jay’s own past catches up with him as Crystal (Madeleine Madden) comes into town. However, as the town starts getting on edge, the boys are still missing and time is running out if they have any hope of finding them alive.
There is a lot I want to praise about this series but the first thing I want to look at is the production side of things. This is an incredibly beautifully filmed piece of media, I mean there are moments in my notes where I have just written ‘wow’. You see this in the very first moments of the show as the credits roll and they use a form of time-lapse, which they did not need to because it then had to be different for each episode, yet it sucks you in immediately to the world. Add to this in some of the later episodes where they used a panned time lapse which must have been a logistical nightmare for the photography crew, but goodness was it beautiful. At all times they capture the stunning landscape of the Kimberly region where most of the show is shot. Ok, let’s have a shot of two people meeting on the road to say goodbye, ok now let’s do it as the sun sets behind that hill and watch it explode across the sky in ribbons of orange and red, why, because it is beautiful that’s why. This is accented by some amazing what I assume are really well-choreographed drone shots from overhead that both reinforce the beauty of the land but also the isolation and danger. To add this the show also has a stellar soundtrack that perfectly accompanies the action on the screen and one of the best location scout teams in the business and you get a show that visually and musically captures your attention. Also to the writers and editors, goodness do you know how to set up a cliffhanger or what.
As well as this, Mystery Road has a ridiculous cast list of both veterans of the industry and new upcoming actors. Aaron Pedersen commands nearly every scene he is in as Jay Swan with just a look, I mean you would not win a staring contest with him. He is the oncoming storm, and you would be in a bad place if you found yourself on the wrong side of him. Indeed, the only one who can really out stare him is Judy Davis as Emma James, who can exude so much sass her whole body does an eye-roll. Seriously, I don’t care what show or genre but I would watch anything with these two leads in it, seriously they are wonderful. Add to this you have the whole gamut of Australian acting elite here for small yet powerful rolls, like Deborah Mailman who plays Marley’s mother a mother giving for a loss but daring to hope, Tasma Walton who plays Jay’s wife and who might have the best entrance on TV this year, Wayne Blair who plays Larry Dime, and I don’t envy having to work out how to portray that character, Anthony Hayes who plays the bumbling constable Muller, and Colin Friels the dejected cattle ranch owner that is hiding more than he is letting on. Add to this Tasia Zalar, Madeleine Madden & Aaron McGrath who show that the next generation of Indigenous actors are here and they are phenomenal.
Now with a story based around a mystery, how well the show works or not is very much dependent on how that story plays out, and can you spot the clues before the reveals. Now because we are going to talk about the story including the ending there will be [SPOILERS] here and in the next paragraph. Overall I think the show does a very good job of having the big reveals drop at such appoint that you are always engaged but not overwhelmed. Now if you have seen any shows like this before then some of the things that happen in the first episode Gone will stick out for you like a red flag, like Chekhov’s car crash, but they do a good job of walking that line between foreshadowing and surprise that you never feel either annoyed that it is so clear why don’t the cops see it, or having something happen for surprise just for the sake of the surprise. Like any show, there are a lot of red herrings and side plots and some of them work and some don’t. So for example, the whole story around Reece’s girlfriend from the past arriving did feel forced and unnecessary, but Emma discovering the past about her family had much more weight because it had ramifications for the character.
When I watched the show I watched the first five episodes back to back and then the finale the next day just so I could see it fresh and not at 2 am in the morning and I think that was for the best because wow did that final episode pack a punch. Firstly, Ernie Dingo, I knew he was a great actor, but goodness was he amazing in a terrifying way here. Also, all the different plot threads coalesce in a clear ending that while is not great for everybody does feel fulfilling with regards to the story as a whole. There is forgiveness for those who need forgiveness, and for those who don’t, well they had it coming to them. Though like many things it felt like Jay and Emma were just coming together as a kickass team when they both go their separate ways.
In the end, do we recommend Mystery Road? Yes, yes we do. It has a compelling story, filled with fascinating characters being portrayed by expert actors, it is beautifully shot, and it has a strong message it wants to say. I would recommend watching it as a long movie than individual episodes because I don’t know about you, but I didn’t want to wait a week to find out what happened next.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Mystery Road
Directed by – Rachel Perkins
Written by – Michaeley O’Brien, Steven McGregor, Kodie Bedford, Jon Bell & Tim Lee
Based off – Characters created by Ivan Sen
Starring in Season One – Aaron Pedersen, Judy Davis, Deborah Mailman, Colin Friels, Wayne Blair, Anthony Hayes, Ernie Dingo, John Waters, Aaron McGrath, Tasma Walton, Madeleine Madden, Kris McQuade, Meyne Wyatt, Tasia Zalar, Ben Oxenbould, Connor Van Vuuren, Benjamin Hoetjes, Rohan Mirchandaney, Jessica Falkholt, Eddie Baroo & Ningali Lawford Wolf