The Hour: Series 2, Episodes 5-6
The second series of the BBC's retro TV-celebration The Hour has now concluded, with a mighty double-bill of episodes over the last two nights. As I recounted in my review of the first four weeks, it's been a good return, building upon the sense of identity they finally established by the end of series one.
So, can they hit the right combination of misery and resolution with this finale? And what news of the future?
The Hour Vs The Newsroom - A Reporter ShowdownThe final two episodes are a decent conclusion - not one character goes un-resolved, even if their plots were half-baked to begin with (Isaac's radio play and Sissy's marriage both meandered to a stop), but, of course, the main spotlight is on our big three characters - Hector (Dominic West), Bel (Romola Garai) and Freddie (Ben Whishaw) - and their attempt to prove that strip clubs are bad. Which they do, of course, because although The Hour likes to play at being dark and miserable, it is ultimately an upbeat ode to the joy of news. It's a bit like Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom in that regard, only better executed.
It's also an extremely pretentious show, don't get me wrong. The very model of a wordy, ponderous BBC drama - everyone either speechifies or does tiny things thoughtfully. Many will find it incredibly dull, or outright ridiculous. I mean, the scene in the final episode in which Peter Capaldi's Randall Brown is so overcome with emotion that he makes a mess of his desk was tear-inducing for me, but probably silly if you weren't invested. See also: Freddie Lyon, in the middle of being beaten half to death, quoting Abraham Lincoln to the organised crime heavies punching him.
But let's rewind to give the penultimate episode its due. They'd established the El Paradis club so firmly as a location, seeing it ultimately trashed after one last visit from the regular cast carried resonance. The air of "Shit is going down pretty soon" hung over the whole episode, but nowhere more than that final sequence. I also enjoyed the strange journey of Police Commissioner Stern, from evil to sympathetic and back again, before his tragic fate in the last week. Like many characters in this show, he'd become so ambiguous that you struggle to have clear, easy opinions.
Before we move on to the big ending moments, a mention to the tangential lost daughter subplot with Anna Chancellor and Peter Capaldi. This was a strange arc, seemingly birthed out of the realisation that two great actors were hanging around without much to do. It's a testament to how good they are that they managed to completely sell it, despite only having one or two scenes a week. The final moments were among the most heartbreaking in a continuously emotional finale.
Could This Be Our Final Hour?And then we reach our climaxes, as the conspiracy is exposed on TV for all to see. It worked because we saw the entire series falling into place around us, although after only two years, the resolutions to The Hour's plotlines are already getting predictable. They find it, they broadcast it, big cheer. Liked the final interview with Hector Madden and Miss Delaine (Hannah Tointon), although her final meaningful speech about the nature of her work felt overly "written", rather than in-character.
And meanwhile, Freddie and Bel finally push through their love triangle, only for him to get nearly-killed. Ben Whishaw was the most likable presence on screen, so obviously we were dying to find out if he was dead. And the answer is... probably not? I'm good with the just-about happy ending, as having him die just after confessing his feelings would've been too damn miserable. Strange climax to Hector's story though - are we meant to suspect that the baby isn't really his, after his confession in the previous week? Or were they aiming for straight-up joyful?
In summation, then: The Hour series two has been everything I wanted after series one, a more involved exploration of the characters, with the lovely addition of Peter Capaldi. Still, perhaps it could've tried more to pick up new viewers at the start, or run a less involved story arc. I say this because the ratings, as sourced from Wikipedia are... perhaps not fantastic. Maybe this explains why the final two episodes were dumped off in the same week, instead of being allowed to encroach on the precious Christmas schedules.
We may never see firm confirmation of Freddie's survival - I prefer to think he was ultimately fine, and he and Bel went on to live happily ever after, because I'm a simple soul. I'd still love a series three, if anyone from the BBC is reading this.
The Hour has now finished on television. More information on the BBC official site. Episodes available on iPlayer here. Our time is running out.