Towards the end of Starz’s eight episode miniseries Dublin Murders, Superintendent O’Kelly (Conleth Hill) says, “Thirty-five years I’ve been doing it, and I never get tired of this moment. When you know you’re going to get justice … I never, ever get tired of that.” That is also largely what drives a devotion to TV crime stories: justice. Of following a case until we see a crime solved. There’s a sense of completion, of satisfaction, that even in this crazy, messed-up world there is a sense that the scales will be balanced somehow.
Dublin Murders should hand over this sense of justice to us in spades, as it follows a host of crimes in the present and the past, weaving together the troubled childhoods and haunted adulthoods of its lead detectives, Rob Reilly (Killian Scott) and Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene). Strangely though, despite all of these narrative threads and the promise of a good grey-skied potboiler, the Irish-set series ultimately takes on too much, leaving us with a messy, dour march towards an uncertain conclusion.
The series (which takes place in 2006) is a combination of two novels by Tana French: In the Woods and The Likeness. In the first, which is the main thrust of this series, Rob and Cassie investigate the murder of a young girl in the same woods where two children disappeared in 1984. The twist in that latter case was that three children went into the woods, but only one came out: a meek boy named Adam, who had no recollection of the heinous events that took away his friends and left him in shoes filled with blood and his shirt cut by strange claw marks. As is revealed very quickly, Adam and Rob are one and the same, having afterwards been schooled in England and ultimately returning to his hometown with a different name to try and secretly solve the mystery of what happened.
The Likeness, which is the weaker of the two stories within this miniseries, follows Cassie’s lingering interest in an undercover personality she had to burn, one that was not only the same name as an imaginary doppleganger she made up after her parents’ deaths, but also an alias taken on by a murdered girl who is Cassie’s real-life doppleganger. It’s all very topsy-turvy with hints of the supernatural, and the series doesn’t do a particularly good job of untangling it. The real interest remains with Rob/Adam and the truth of what happened all those years ago with the disappearance of his friends, the psychological scars of which still remain with him.
Despite only running eight episodes, the series feels like it should have been (like the books) split into two. Instead, its shared time is unable to serve either story particularly well. The reveals in the final two episodes are hollow because there was never enough time spent developing the key relationships on which the reveals hinge, thanks largely to that need to bounce to the other narrative. The connection between Cassie and Rob also starts strong but wavers, and not in the way it’s naturally supposed to given the personal difficulties of their cases. The screenplay comes from Sarah Phelps, who also adapted The Casual Vacancy and a trio of Agatha Christie miniseries (The Witness for the Prosecution, And Then There Were None, Ordeal by Innocence) that also featured similarly simmering narratives that become emotionally muddled and lose steam.
Though it has a particularly evocative title, Dublin Murders is not really a traditional crime series, and its conclusions are a letdown after strong, spooky start. The crimes don’t have to be the thing in stories like this, but we don’t get enough solid storytelling otherwise to make it not the thing here. Nevertheless, Reilly is a particular standout as the troubled detective attempting to keep any real emotions from his past or present at bay (his accent does wobble a bit, but you can choose to read it as part of his character’s own internal confusion). But despite the intriguing, emotional world that the series builds through a deeply atmospheric setting and compelling narrative ideas, Dublin Murders lurches through its final hours and comes out murky, confused, and unnecessarily rushed. That moment that Superintendent O’Kelly refers to, that cathartic justice, is one that we’re robbed of.
Dublin Murders premieres Sunday, November 10th on Starz.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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