It’s clear from the trailer itself that the BBC-Netflix series Collateral sets out to be an ambitious police procedural laced with social commentary. For some part, the audience can be convinced that the ambition is backed by a fair share of substance too. Written by Academy Award nominated David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) and directed by SJ Clarkson, the mini-series comes with a great premise and an awe-inspiring cast consisting of Carey Mulligan, John Simms, Nicola Walker (the most promising face on British television) and Doctor Who alumnus Billie Piper.
The series begins with a pizza delivery man, Abdullah Asif, being shot down in suburban London while on the job. What follows is a four-hour police procedural that unwraps coincidences, connections and the many concentric circles that surround this seemingly isolated murder.
Detective Kip Glaspie (Mulligan) is also a former Olympic pole vaulter whose career ended with a terrible fall that was broadcast and replayed on British television long enough for her to go from bright-eyed sports figure to disillusioned cop. Glaspie connects what seems like a hate crime to all that is wrong in the post-Brexit era. But she isn’t alone in her analysis of the state of the nation. She gets some help from David Mars (Simms) a frustrated Labour Party Member of Parliament who seems to be airing Hare’s own political views when he says, “We really are turning into a nasty little country.” Unfortunately, he does so in a crucial television interview.
As MI5 gets involved in what could be written off as a one-off murder, Glaspie starts to pick at the spiral that is being woven around the two Iraqi women she finds living inside a garage, Asif’s sisters Mona and Fatima.
Rather than a whodunit, the series, as its title suggests, is a meditation on collateral damage and a comment on immigration policy and the xenophobia and racism washing over a country reeling from political readjustments.
While Collateral clearly arrives with good intentions and has all the best ingredients, the show does not deliver all that it promises. It has a little too much of everything – an MP dealing with a volatile ex-wife, a drug ring run from a pizza delivery place, a vicar at odds with her church and bishop for being in love with an illegal Vietnamese immigrant, a Turkish gang of human traffickers, and a PTSD-affected female soldier being harassed by a abusive superior officer.
Collateral initiates multiple compelling storylines, but not all of them get the resolution they deserve. While Mulligan shines as a calm and uncomplicated Glaspie, Walker’s storyline fails to create empathy and seems like an arc that either needed more development or a brutal editing job. Billie Piper, on the other hand, is explosive in what could be her best performance yet as Karen Mars, the erratic drug-addled ex-wife of David Mars. The series does do something no crime thrillers have done before. It features a raft of female characters. Glaspie, Reverend Jane Oliver, Captain Sandrine Shaw, Fatima and Mona and undercover MI5 agent Berna Yalaz are all crucial to the story.
Collateral could have been great contemporary television. Carey Mulligan is impeccable as Kip Glaspie, but she deserved more than a half-baked back story. David Hare has already announced that there won’t be a second season, but there should be one, if only to give us some closure on the relevance of Kip Glaspie’s pole-vaulting career.