Hello and welcome to The Dart for Janet King: A Sticky Wicket. Having now gotten the only cricket-related expression I know out of the way, let’s dive in.
I have some critical things to say about this episode, so I’m going to start by saying something nice. Here it is: out of all the shows I have written about over the years, I consider Janet King to be among the most important. In centering itself around a lesbian whose sexuality is neither fetishized nor ignored, who is heroic without being unrealistically angelic, who is brought to phenomenal life by one of the most compelling actors in the multitverse, Janet King offers the kind of queer representation I dream about. I wish I could show it to every showrunner in the business and say “HERE. THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT.” And besides being merely “important,” Janet King is also generally very good. Its large ensembles are stacked with talent, its storylines are ambitious (occasionally to a fault), and its writers come at this project with what I know to be the very best intentions. Unfortunately, this episode feels a bit weighed down by those good intentions, and struggles to find the kind of propulsive energy needed to get off the ground. My faith in and experience with this show makes me feel confident that it will recover quickly, and YES I FEEL TERRIBLE ABOUT CRITICIZING AN EPISODE THAT GAVE US THE BATHTUB SCENE. I’M JUST A CRICKET UMPIRE OUT HERE, CALLING ‘EM LIKE I SEE ‘EM.
So this season begins in much the same way as the prior two: with a tragic death. This time, the unfortunate victim, whose demise shall be the catalyst for a season’s worth of soul-searching about the Australian national character, is Oliver Pittman. We see Oliver emerge from a sports stadium after a match, ask a teammate if he wants to get dinner, and then get extremely sad about something.
THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU ACCEPT THAT BEA SMITH REALLY ISN’T COMING BACK.
The next thing we know, Pittman has taken his own life (although we don’t see it, so who knows how it really went down). His suicide comes as a great shock to the nation, given that he was a promising young man, living his dream career as a professional cricket player.
It was at this point in the episode, when Oliver’s sport of choice became clear, that I engaged in a long verbal rant for the benefit of myself and my dog, which I shall paraphrase here:
CRICKET, JANET KING? I knew this season would revolve around match-fixing in professional sports, and I was already pretty underwhelmed by that proposition, but CRICKET? I mean, if it had been football, that would have been one thing. As an American, it is my cultural duty not to understand football (along with gun control and bidets) but I am AWARE OF IT AS A CONCEPT. But cricket. The sport that says “we still carry the emotional scars of our abusive relationship with Great Britain.” The sport that is just similar enough to baseball that you kind of start to think you understand it, but the second something weird happens you give up, because you are saving that valuable brainspace for something that could, in some universe, be useful. Cricket.
The best thing that can be said about this decision is that Janet doesn’t know shit about cricket either, which makes me respect her even more.
Speaking of Janet, we catch up with her at a closed-door meeting of the National Crime Commission, where she has once more been called by the government to take on the tough issues facing the nation. First it was pedophilia, last time it was gun smuggling, and this time it’s illegal betting on sports, and the criminals who engage in it.
I WAS HOPING TO GO AFTER THE HEMSWORTH CLONE FARMS, BUT APPARENTLY THAT’S “NOT A PRIORITY.”
Janet is in the middle of interrogating Clay Nelson, a national cricket hero who was Oliver Pittman’s mentor and teammate. It turns out that young Oliver only took the job pitching(?) for the Firecrackers at Clay’s insistence. And not long into his tenure as ball-roller(?), Oliver became implicated in a match-fixing scandal, and accused of purposely losing matches for the benefit of the people betting against him.
ALL I SEE HERE IS A MISSED OPPORTUNITY TO SAY “PITTMAN’S CAREER IN THE PITS, MAN.”
The resulting disgrace is believed to be the reason for his suicide (because “professional cricket player” is apparently insufficient), and Janet is hoping to play on Clay’s guilt and grief to discover the masterminds behind the gambling ring.
Tony Gillies, my favorite irritable potato, is presiding over the hearing, and (SHOCK!) Richard Stirling is representing the defense!
I MAY HAVE LOST MY MORAL COMPASS, BUT MY POCKET SQUARE COLLECTION REMAINS INTACT.
As you’ll recall, last season ended with Richard emerging from Janet’s shadow, like a tiny acorn rolling away from a mighty oak. And while that was probably the best move for Richard’s personal development, it’s still very jarring to see him facing off against Janet and Tony, although they do still boss him around a lot in a way that is comfortingly familiar. And speaking of old faces, Bianca herself is at Janet’s side, and looking extremely polished.
YES WE ARE BOTH THINKING PROFESSIONAL THOUGHTS, AND DEFINITELY NOT THINKING ABOUT SEX OR DINNER.
Janet grills Clay on the match where Oliver’s cheating came to light, after which he lost his contract, and another player’s house was set ablaze. Clay reluctantly points to that player, Ravi Hasan, as the possible liasion to the gamblers.
I MEAN, YOU COULD’VE GONE WITH “FIRECRACKERS BEGIN TO CRACK AFTER FIRE,” BUT I SEE WHY YOU KEPT IT SIMPLE.
After the hearing, Janet goes back to her old stomping grounds at the DPP, where Owen is now in charge. Owen asks Janet if she is hoping to use the sports inquiry to take his job, and even though she doesn’t exactly deny this charge, they agree to stay out of each other’s way with that charming bloodthirstiness so peculiar to lawyers.
At the DPP, Janet also runs into Lina, who she apparently hasn’t seen in quite some time, since she can’t remember the name or sex of her child. Hopefully that estrangement is about to come to an end, since Lina and Andy are two of my favorite characters, despite both being truly awful at their jobs.
Lina, Andy, and Richard all end up at the same charity auction later that day, where Richard begins to confront the moral swamp he must wade through in his new position as Lawyer To Jerk Athletes. First, he is conned by a sports agent (who is clearly blood-related to Rita Skeeter) into procuring a cricket bat for a mafioso. Already feeling squishy about that, Richard then goes along with a team of footballers to a private party where they all drink, vomit, and then re-drink beers like dogs at a frat party.
LOOKS LIKE Y’ALL COULD DO WITH A LITTLE CRICKET AROUND HERE. *JIMINY CRICKET,* THAT IS.
Richard’s disgust increases when he witnesses one player assault a woman trying to leave the party, an assault which Richard does not lift a single finger to stop.
TOXIC MASCULINITY IN A SINGLE IMAGE.
I WOULD DO SOMETHING, BUT I ALREADY BOUGHT WONDER WOMAN TICKETS AND THAT WAS KIND OF MY FEMINIST ACT FOR THE WEEK.
The party scene, while disgusting, is the second best part of the episode, becasue of the way it implicates Richard, the players, and a culture that teaches athletes that they may behave with the impunity of Greek gods. (The first best scene, I don’t have to tell you, takes place in a bathtub, and implicates nothing but a world in which all bathtubs are not large enough to accommodate two lesbians.)
So back to Janet. I’m not going to take you through every twist of her investigation, because it is mostly very boring and leads us right back to where we started, with Clay Nelson. Janet’s personal life is a lot more interesting. For starters, things with Bianca are still great, even though she hasn’t moved in, and occasionally worries that Janet’s kids resent her for not being Ash. For their part, the twins are remarkably well-adjusted, given that one of their moms was murdered by a crazed killer who later tried to crush them with an elevator. All things considered, one cannot fault Janet for enlisting them in sports, so they can be maximally fit the next time trouble comes calling.
RUN! RUN LIKE YOU’RE A LESBIAN ON TELEVISION WHO THE WRITERS CONSIDER DISPOSABLE!
Janet’s daughter shows a lot of athletic promise, so Janet signs her up for extra coaching, with an eye to breaking the national record, which is a pretty classic overachieving parent move. It’s also a rather clumsy way of making the whole “sports” thing more personally relevant for Janet, which I could live without. Because the real narrative potential offered by the match-fixing scandal isn’t “everybody sports” but “everybody cheats.” That deeper and more interesting message is already all over this episode: Richard skirts his ethical boundaries several times, Owen admits he got his job because he doesn’t play fair, and even Janet bends the rules to allow Bianca to go with her to Melbourne and watch a cricket game. “For research.”
SO HOW DO YOU SCORE AGAIN?
WELL TONIGHT, I’M GONNA SCORE WITH TWO FINGERS AND MY–OH YOU MEANT THE GAME. I HAVE NO IDEA.
Not that I’m complaining, of course, because the trip affords Bianca and Janet the opportunity for some alone time, away from the kids. And boy do they ever tak advantage of it, in a scene that has already attained legendary status.
I JUST WORRY THAT IF WE’RE THIS HAPPY NOW, THERE’S NO PLACE FOR US TO GO FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON.
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT THAT. THERE HASN’T BEEN A DECENT LESBIAN TV WEDDING SINCE FRIENDS.
Honestly, I found it kind of hard to watch this scene, because it was so intimate and so well-acted that my gaze felt almost intrusive. In one sense, I mean that as a compliment, since it’s certainly an achievement when you can make a hardened recapper blush. But I think part of that feeling came from the fact that, as opposed to most intimate scenes, this one wasn’t “earned” after surviving danger, or making up after a fight, so it didn’t have the urgency of dramatic payoff. It was just two people in a loving and secure relationship, enjoying a nice hotel and a couple bottles of wine. From a queer advocacy perspective, it’s wonderful and important. But I could appreciate it a lot more if the stability of this relationship functioned as a port in a storm. Instead, this whole premiere suffers from feeling a bit…becalmed. You know how you sometimes wonder what characters are up to in between seasons, when they’re just living their lives without a huge central crisis? This episode feels a little bit like the answer to that question, like we are waiting for a spark.
Of course, one does come at the end of the episode, after an INTERMINABLE build-up. It starts with the reappearance of Clay Nelson, who we see again at home.
OH, A GRATUITOUS BIT ABOUT HOW YOU’RE A GOOD FATHER; YOU MUST BE ABOUT TO DIE.
ON THE VERGE OF SPILLING A SECRET WHEN THERE’S A MYSTERIOUS KNOCK AT THE DOOR? GET READY TO DIE!
SO SOMEONE WANTS YOU TO KILL YOURSELF AND MAKE IT LOOK LIKE AN OVERDOSE. WELL, BEST GET TO IT!
OH MY GOD, WE GET IT. YOU’RE A GOOD FATHER. WE PROMISE TO ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU AS SOMEONE WITH LAYERS.
The next day, Clay schedules an appointment with Janet to blow the sholw gambling case wide open. But of course he never makes it.
I’M TELLING YOU WITH MY EYES THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO SOLVE THIS CASE, AND ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS PUT IT TOGETHER.
NO! I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE DO THAT! JUST CROSS THE DAMN STREET AND TELL ME.
WELL NOW YOU RUINED JANET’S DAY AND A BUS DRIVER’S CAREER, SO I’M TAKING AWAY YOUR “GOOD FATHER” POINTS.
So, at first glance this season hasn’t given itself a lot to work with, dramatically speaking. I mean, in season one Janet took on the whole legal system, in season two she avenged a personal wrong, so after that, “cricket gambling” feels like a step down. However, I recognize that Janet King loves to work lots of issues into its stories in surprising, and often very effective ways (child abuse in season one, internalized homophobia in season two). So there may be more here than meets the eye, including Janet having to interrogate the ways in which she herself has a tendency to play fast and loose with the rules if she thinks it’s for the greater good. (“The greater good” having recently expanded to include taxpayer-funded cricket matches with her girlfriend.) With that in mind, I’m really glad to be back, and I hope that you stick with these recaps, even though I do not plan, at any point, to ease up on cricket.
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