Acorn Media has just released the six part Australian mini-series Mystery Road: Series 1 as a two disc Blu-ray set. Located in the austere but beautiful outback region, the show is both an exquisite police procedural/thriller and an insightful look at how you only have to scratch the surface of society to uncover the dark secrets of the past.
Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is sent to investigate the disappearance of two young men from a remote cattle station. (Station refers to land controlled by European settlers in Aboriginal territories). Along with local police sergeant Emma James (Judy Davis), he works to uncover what happened to the boys.
However their investigation is complicated by a few things. The first being the station the boys disappeared from is owned by James’ family, and run by her brother. The second, is Swan’s troubled daughter follows him to town brings her past with her. On top of that are the secrets buried in the communities, European and Aboriginal, that nobody with power wants revealed.
The fact that Swan is Aboriginal and has something of a reputation for being a maverick doesn’t make his life any easier either. Not only does his manner of conducting an investigation cause friction between him and James, he doesn’t care who’s feathers he ruffles in the process of uncovering the truth.
This isn’t the first time Pedersen has played Swan. He originally played him in the movies Mystery Roadand Goldstone. According to an interview with Pedersen included in the special features, the events depicted in the TV series take place sometime after the events in the first movie, but before the second movie takes place. So, on the off chance you’ve seen both movies (they’re both brilliant with Goldstone currently airing on Netflix) that will explain any continuity issues you might encounter.
For those who haven’t seen Pedersen in anything other than a supporting role before he’s a revelation. He does the stoic cowboy/lone wolf thing as well as anybody out there. However, you quickly find out that’s not who the character really is. It’s just a shell he wears for protection. When the facade cracks we see all the pain and anxiety he’s trying to hide and control.
Davis is equally as good in her performance. Like Swan she presents a flinty exterior, but she genuinely cares about her community, both the European and Aboriginal, and is more concerned with justice than anything else. In fact, her concern for justice is so deep, the current case she’s working on leads her to try and rectify a crime committed over a hundred years ago.
Mystery Road is not just an immaculate police procedural and noir type detective story, the show’s writers have done an exemplary job of detailing the damage European settlement did to the indigenous population of Australian. Without belabouring points or making it obvious we not only witness the inequality in society but how the crimes of the past are still impacting the present.
Mystery Road is a brilliant piece of television combining a great noir police procedural with intelligent and subtle social commentary. A rare and great mix that makes it one of the best series of its type.
(Originally posted at Blogcritics.org as Blu-ray Review: Mystery Road: Series 1)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.