TV Review – Total Control: Episode 1

TL;DR – This is one of the strongest opening hours of TV I have seen in years, with the first few minutes affecting me in ways I was not ready for.  

Score – 5 out of 5 stars

Total Control: Episode 1. Image Credit: ABC TV.


A pilot episode of television has a lot it has to do. It has to set the tone, explain the setting, introduce you to the main characters, and find the drive for the whole season. I have seen a lot of TV show pilots in my time and even shows that are fantastic can fumble parts of this very important introduction. Well, today I look at a show that nails every single element in its 50 minutes run time.

So to set the scene, we open in on a tragedy where Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman) is thrust into the national spotlight after a video goes viral. Alex shuns all media request for interviews but she has caught the eye of someone important. Soon there is a knock at the door and Jonathan (Harry Richardson) who works for the Federal Government arrives at Alex and her mother Jan’s (Trisha Morton-Thomas) house in Winton in country Queensland. He is there with an offer for Alex to take over the seat of a Senator that has just died. She declines, saying that if Prime Minister Rachel Anderson (Rachel Griffiths) wants her to be a senator then she can come and ask herself, which is exactly what she does. For here we will be looking at the episode as a whole, so there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.  

Total Control: Episode 1. Image Credit: ABC TV.
I really hope that Deborah Mailman gets the international credit she deserves in this powerful performance Image Credit: ABC TV.

With looking at the episode, let’s start right at the beginning because what a beginning it was. I think the last time a TV show caught me so profoundly like this was last year’s Bodyguard, which had one of the tensest 20 minutes that I have ever seen. However, Total Control was able to do all of that in 30 seconds. Having it be a news report, cutting between the different people’s mobile phone footage created that tension right away. Splicing in snippets from actual new coverage of over events also gave it that added weight. I had no idea it was coming, and it completely blindsided me emotionally. It is dealing with an issue that we need to talk about as a society and don’t do enough on. It is here where we get the first moments of Deborah Mailman’s powerful acting and it does not stop there.

This is a show very much about how the sausage gets made in politics, with some very frank advice getting thrown out there. Indeed, after teaching Australian Politics there are some practical outworking’s here that show they get the details right. Here is where we get that kind of fish out of water scenario because Alex has been parachuted into a not completely friendly setting and everyone knows it. This is where we get to see Alex find her footing in an alien world of pleasantries hiding venom. It is here where we get the juxtapositions of what it is like to live a life in full privilege and what it is like to live out in the country where you have to travel five hours just to pay a fine. Canberra is a world of compromise, towing the party line, herding cats, and trying to stay who you are when the pressure of all those other things comes baring down upon you.

Total Control: Episode 1. Image Credit: ABC TV.
It is a show that delves deep into the weeds that is Australian Politics. Image Credit: ABC TV.

While this episode is focused on Alex, it also lays out some of the coming conflicts in the show as it moves forward. We have Jonathan, Alex’s new aide, who might be more out for himself than anything else and who will likely have to make a choice in the near future. There is the death-in-custody issue and the video recording that is like a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. There is also a PM that does not have the complete control of her party and is being white anted by the far-right fringe. She is facing an election and things are not looking great. All of this is drip feed throughout the episode and thankfully not in one big exposition dump to get it out of the way.          

In the end, do we recommend the first episode of Total Control? Yes, yes we do. This is one of the best hours of Australian TV I have watched. It packs a real emotional punch in the first minutes that only gets compounded by the reveal at the end of the episode. It shows deeply complex characters, the juxtaposition of Australian life, and some of the most powerful acting I have seen in a show in a long time. Make sure you check it out.     

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.

Have you seen Total Control yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.    

Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Total Control
Directed by
– Rachel Perkins
Written by – Stuart Page
Created by – Rachel Griffiths, Darren Dale & Miranda Dear with Stuart Page
Production/Distribution Companies – Blackfella Films, Keshet International, Create NSW, Screen Queensland, Screen Australia & ABC TV
Starring – Deborah Mailman, Rachel Griffiths & Harry Richardson with Rob Collins, Celia Ireland, Anthony Hayes, William McInnes, David Roberts, Huw Higginson, Rhys Muldoon, Adele Perovic, James Sweeny, Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Trisha Morton-Thomas &  Wesley Patten
Note about Show Title Name – The original show title was called Black Bitch/Black B*tch, in Australia, this has been changed to Total Control and you can read a statement about why Here. Depending on where you watch the show it might be under one or both of these names.           


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