By Any Means: Episode 1.

Love Spooks? Love law enforcement officers in a grey area doing things they probably shouldn’t, working beyond the police, but with blessing of the ‘royal we’? Love Hustle? Love a good con pulled by smart grifters operating outside the rules? Tony Jordan, who co-created not only Hustle, but also Life on Mars, has presented the audience with an — at least for the moment — light-hearted mixture of the two genres.

Then you’re gonna love By Any Means. Last night’s first outing gained a topping 4.1m viewers, even though someone at the BBC decided it would be a good idea to put it in the same slot as the returning ITV drama Downton Abbey.

You can find out (a teensy bit) more about the characters on the BBC programme website.

Overall, we learn just enough about the team to start identifying with them, but there’s still a whole bunch of questions unanswered. Why did Jack quit working as a copper, why did he help Helen set up this… division, if you can call it that. Helen surely works for some intelligence organisation… but which one?

I really, really liked this pilot episode: I like the genre mixture, and I like the potential for future complications — I mean, it’s the BBC, they’re lurking ’round the corner with a bucket of feelings we never signed up for, waiting to get us. So let’s enjoy it as long as it’s still fun and games, as long as Jack’s past is still murky and only tinged with darkness where it concerns his brother. I’m curious whether this will turn out to be something that defines him — whether they’re going to go with the whole angst/man pain motivation for him, or whether he’s just a bloke who’s had bad experiences but continues to be who he is (cue Raleigh Becket in Pacific Rim, if you will).

What the show is definitely doing right so far is Jess: serving Jack his own bollocks on the plate over the stupid time of the month remark. Did you catch TomTom’s ‘oh god, you were not stupid enough to ask that, mate’ face? Yeah, he knows what’s up. Women aren’t ruled by their menstrual cycle, having a higher concentration of hormones just means they’re less inclined to deal with bullshit — and Jess’s bullshit tolerance is pretty much constantly near zero, so I don’t know what Jack is acting surprised for. In other news, she’s the fixer, a lock specialist, and doesn’t need anyone’s protection. (Jack placing himself in between her and an aggressively advancing Nicholas Mason was probably more designed to keep the mark from having his nose broken by her. They needed that face intact for the arrest.)

Meanwhile, TomTom’s a hacker who made a deal to avoid prison, an all around good egg, and the sun pretty much seems to shine out of his arse most of the time. He’s also the instigator of one of my favourite exchanges:

TomTom: Are we allowed to kill people?
Jack: No.
TomTom: Oh.
Jack: I know. PC gone mad.

The structure of the plot is closer to a long con than any type of criminal investigation. There’s no ‘if’ in taking the bad guys down, only the question of when and how, exactly. (I wonder if it’s going to stay that simple.) The explanation sequences after the climax of the narrative arc is a staple trope of the genre; though I find it could’ve been a little shorter in this case.

There are a few tiny niggles I have with this episode: the dialogue is sometimes a little wooden, a little stiff in the hip in some places. There was no unnecessary info dump going on, but the spark didn’t quite catch. I loved all characters’ performances, regular cast and guest stars alike. The team plays together well, I hope that there’s going to be more of a familial chemistry coming out over the course of the series. What surprised me was that Warren Brown was especially strong in the scenes where he interacted with the team, but that there were passages, especially where he had longer pieces of dialogue, that felt… long. You know how sometimes it feels like all the words are there, but the acting is missing? Not enough pauses, not enough modulation. As I said, the spark hasn’t caught yet. This is already really, really good, but it has the chance to go brilliant; and I firmly believe it will. (I have once made similar observations comparing the first series of Sherlock with its unaired pilot, so I have every confidence that these kinks will iron themselves out.) I think that perhaps that’s also deliberate: I can’t quite put my finger on Jack Quinn, and I’m probably not supposed to, really. So maybe Brown is doing this deliberately, who knows?

To go the intertextual route for a moment: it’s definitely good to see Sergeant Ripley all grown up and having little Ripleys of his own. In a sense, Jack Quinn is a curious amalgamation of his Ripley and Luther’s willingness to break the rules, coupled with a moral code that may look dodgy to outsiders — like Charlie, at first, surely. Since he’s joining the team and he’s expressed some initial concerns, we’re most likely going to be introduced to more of the team’s work through his eyes a bit, identifying with him in our reactions. Charlie’s might get to be our guide for a while. I’m looking forward to that.

Next: Episode 2.

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4 thoughts on “By Any Means: Episode 1.

  1. well not bad and not really drama but that’s ok.

    worst thing about the episode was the trial at the beginning, a child could have gotten that one thrown out of court. that was a very stupid scene… so a bad start for the first episode. a simple dialog: “We have nothing against him (but he was it)! make him pay anyways!” “ok!” – would have been fine by me. i really dont need the “we have done everything by the book and it didn’t worked so we can go “grey” now…”

    and grey really means breaking (the law) and entering btw.

    but from then on it was good. especially the primeval guy 🙂 with the stupid name TomTom. maybe to make up for Jack and Jess, very resourceful (hopefully aliases for the names of their former lives).

    “the dialogue is sometimes a little wooden, a little stiff in the hip in some places” jop i agree but as you already pointed out it’s just the first episode and i think we should let them grow^^.

    for the next one i want stronger bad guys, this one with his 2 puppys was more a lightweight in my eyes. the Apéritif so to say (cant wait for hannibal s2 btw^^).

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    1. Yeah, pilot episodes either come on very strong or they leave room for development, it’s a bit of a dichotomy. But I do think this one will get stronger with time. If they shot it in sequence, they were probably just finding their footing.

      I definitely think that the Villains of the Week will grow heavier and, perhaps, the plots darker. But we’ll see, this one was definitely more on the comedic side.

      The court scene was… well, I don’t know. In other courtroom dramas, this is where it works and the plot turns, if the witness holds up. But, yeah, with just the witness’s word and no tangible evidence — mobile phone records, etc — the case is bound to be thrown out. I don’t know where the ‘grey area only as the last resort’ thing comes from, either, but perhaps they’re trying to preserve the illusion that governments wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing willy-nilly. Ever. Cough. Perhaps they’ll drop that pretence next week.

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      1. Andrea, I love your comments about Jess, “Jess’s bullshit tolerance is pretty much constantly near zero.” I was impressed with her feisty and woman affirming come back to Jack’s stupid comment about periods. This dialog gives women words to defend themselves from cheap sexist comments. Too often men dismiss and ignore what women say when we speak our mind. Many men try to silence us by implying that being a woman is unreliable, irrational or moody because of our periods. I praise By Any Means for tackling this sensitive issue in a bold and empowering way.
        I write more about this on my blog:
        http://www.artofwoman.com.au/files/6b56acfbfc9f005d9e79d86a97e93030-106.html

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      2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Margaret!
        Jess’s dialogue in this episode is definitely a line to keep in mind for when women run into a situation like this.
        I must say that I was a little less impressed with the show’s handling of Jess’s character as time went on — you mentioned it in your blog post, Jess’s suggestion to just shoot the Criminal of the Week is met with bewilderment, and it only gets worse. At some point Charlie and TomTom suggest she’s not quite right in the head. Any bloke saying that would have gotten a laugh in response (such as TomTom when he asks, ‘can we kill people?’ and then seems disappointed when Jack says no), but with a woman, it obviously means her psych evaluations show she’s a psychopath. So while By Any Means starts out really great on this, they end up putting their foot in it. Probably inevitable.

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