Queer TV

Janet King Recap: Unfinished Business

All right, dear friends. I’ve been banging my head against how to recap these last three episodes of Janet King for a while now, which is part of why they’re so late, along with travel and the incredibly time-consuming process of beating down daily panic attacks over the incipient collapse of American democracy. (Case in point: when I started writing this recap I was referring to Anthony Scaramucci, and now that I’m finishing it, I’m referring to the possibility of nuclear war.)

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to give you the last three episodes in a SUPER-RECAP, because I can’t address the really interesting thematic underpinnings of this season (which I know is what makes these things worth reading in the first place) by taking them piecemeal. I can’t, for example, talk about the cliffhanger at the end of episode seven, pretending not to know how it is resolved in episode eight. Above all, I can’t wait any longer to share the conclusions have I have reached about Janet and Bianca and their future as a couple. So if you haven’t watched to the end of the season, please take a break and return when you have.

For the rest of us, let’s pick up where we left off, with Janet’s father slithering his way back into the lives of his family.

I’M HERE FOR DINNER! I DIDN’T BRING WINE OR ANYTHING, BUT WILL HAPPILY GUZZLE YOURS WHILE INTERROGATING YOU ABOUT YOUR DRINKING HABITS AND REFERRING TO YOUR GIRLFRIEND AS YOUR “WORK COLLEAGUE!!”

Fuck Graham, frankly. Fuck the way he takes credit for all Janet’s best qualities while refusing to accept blame for any of her problems. Fuck him for awakening Janet’s most helplessly vulnerable side at a time when she needs to be at her toughest. Fuck him, above all, for contributing to the rift between Janet and Bianca.

Janet makes time for Graham, over and over, despite its illegality and despite their history and despite his smug and dismissive attitude toward her and her partner, for two reasons. The first, obviously, is that Janet is a human being with a need for love and approval all the more powerful for being deeply buried in her psyche. The second—and to my mind, far more interesting—reason is that Janet has a pernicious habit of considering herself to be slightly above the rules. That tendency ties in to the most overarching moral of season three, which is that when everyone bends the rules just a little, the result is a world full of misery. Janet has to face that side of herself, and the most obvious way to do it would have been for Graham to turn out to be this season’s Big Bad, thus forcing a confrontation between Janet and the embodiment of all her worst qualities. That, however, is not how things play out, because Janet and her father are both attacked by a gang of ruffians while foolishly walking through a back alley.

Notwithstanding how that violence may have activated Janet’s PTSD from last season (remember that?), it effectively removes Graham from the suspect list, at least for this particular crime. He ends up being prosecuted for the lesser offense of defrauding his shareholders, but exits the season without ever feeling a single pang of conscience over the investors or daughter he betrayed.

When Graham falls through, the team follows Maxine Reynolds, their next best lead, who Bianca tackles at an airport as she tries to flee the country. (Seems a shame we didn’t get to see more of Bianca in action this season.) Once Maxine is in custody, she finally reveals the true mastermind behind the threats, suicides, and match-fixing. And guess what? It’s Darren Fawkes, the organized crimelord who seemed like such an obvious suspect that we all dismissed him as a red herring

BLONDE WOMEN WILTING UNDER DURESS PART 1.

In naming Darren as the chief villain in episode six, the show is forgoing the mystery of prior seasons, though that might be for the best, since they were never particularly good at SHOCKING TWISTS anyway. The team then focuses all its resources on nailing Darren (and discovering that he also apparently deals MDMA, in a truly pointless sub-sub-plot). But Darren has an unexpected ally in Owen, who goes so far as to get his lackey, A KNOWN HIT MAN, released on bail. Given the disastrous impact of that decision, and Owen’s murky motivations for protecting Darren (is he fighting terrorism or just fighting Janet?) this is one plot I actually wish we got to spend more time on, instead of “Bonnie’s self-esteem issues” or “death of a cyclist.”

BLONDE WOMEN WILTING UNDER DURESS PART 2: THE COUGHENING

Let’s move on to Pearl, the season’s true MVP. Janet persuades Pearl to press charges against Flynn, and convinces Lina to represent her. Unfortunately, the case is quickly thrown out, since Pearl lied about her age when registering for Australian Tinder.

IF LYING ON THE INTERNET IS A CRIME, THEN THE WHOLE WORLD IS GUILTY!

The loss hits Pearl hard, and her first reaction is to be angry at Janet for using her as a pawn in her quest against Flynn and his associates. Of course, Janet always uses everyone like pawns; she’s just not used to them complaining about it because her pawns usually win. I’m not sure if we’re meant to blame Janet or the Australian legal system for this miscarriage of justice, but I personally blame Lina, whom I adore but who is and always has been terrible at her job.

Of course, Lina has a lot on her plate what with raising her child and studying for the bar and reminding Andy to tie his shoes before he leaves the house, so it’s not a huge surprise when Lina’s arc concludes with her deciding to postpone taking the bar and focus on her family for a few more years. Now, there is nothing wrong with that decision at all; the pressure for women to be fully-realized versions of themselves in every facet of their lives is noxious and exhausting. But, it’s also hard not to see Lina’s decision as being framed in contrast to Janet’s, and we just don’t spend enough time with Lina this season for that to be a useful comparison.

Let’s move on to Richard, who seriously messed me up here in the final stretch. Richard’s moral failings were many this season, from ignoring Pearl’s assault to sleeping with a client’s wife, but none of that justifies the stunningly awful way Janet uses him. First, Bonnie stumbles across the audio files of Richard’s dangerous liaison with Nate Baldwin’s wife.

TALK ABOUT “HARD EVIDENCE.”

Okay first of all: STOP RECORDING EVERYONE WHO IS EVEN TANGENTIALLY RELATED TO AN INVESTIGATION, AUSTRALIA. I know you just imported these abhorrent surveillance tactics from the US, but this might be a good historical moment to rethink that strategy.

PLEASE JUST CLEARLY STATE YOUR VOTE FOR THE GAY MARRIAGE PLEBISCITE INTO THE NEAREST LISTENING DEVICE. THE GOVERNMENT WILL HEAR YOU.

Janet has the opportunity to delete Richard’s sex tape, but instead she keeps it and uses it to blackmail Richard into getting closer to Darren. That is fucked up on a number of levels, including the fact that Richard is Janet’s friend and would probably help without needing to be coerced, not to mention the fact that she is sending a goddamn lamb into a lion’s den.

Anyway, Richard dutifully initiates contact with Darren, under the auspices of wanting to represent some criminals and bet on some fixed matches. (Owen is doing the same thing, though with considerably more finesse, so I guess approaching each other about illegal gambling is just a normal behavior for men of a certain social stratum.)

Luckily for Richard, his innate social awkwardness is the perfect cover for his very real anxiety over lying to a crime lord.

I LITERALLY GET FLOP SWEATS WHEN SOMEONE LEAVES ME A VOICEMAIL, SO THIS IS JUST MY NORMAL.

At first, Richard does a passable job of ingratiating himself with Darren (he earns some douchebag points by admitting he slept with Lucy Baldwin), but before long Richard begins to worry that Darren got wise and has put a hit out on him. And I mean, it certainly looks like that. We see Darren ordering the murder of a nice young man mere seconds after Richard walks away.

What happens next is the emotional climax of the season. Tony asks Janet if they shouldn’t just abort the entire operation, given the threat to Richard’s life, to which Janet responds “we have to be as hard as they are.” She puts one officer on guard outside Richard’s chambers, but past that, she is willing to risk the life of a man who trusts her, which is both callous and careless.

That night, Richard barricades himself in his chambers, until his bladder is painfully full and he has no choice but to go to the bathroom (or he does have a choice—he could piss in a potted plant—but I wouldn’t expect that to occur to Richard any more than I would expect sleeping with a man to occur to Janet). Waiting in the bathroom is the hitman, who approaches the urinal and injects his victim with a lethal dose of heroin.

So that’s the end of episode seven, and I nearly stopped right there and wrote a tearful recap just to eulogize Richard. But in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t, because it turns out the hitman was in a different bathroom that night, with a different victim.

WELL IF IT HAD TO HAPPEN TO SOMEONE, I’M GLAD IT WAS YOU.

So on the one hand this was a pretty cheap fakeout, but on the other it did remind me both how much I love Richard and how angry I am at Janet for using him. Despite the atrociousness of her conduct, I still find this arc both believable and necessary. In seasons past, I’ve referred to Janet as a “superhero,” which I think is a particularly useful framework here. Superheroes are nearly always exceptionally intelligent, exceptionally good, and exceptionally powerful. With these qualities, superheroes give themselves permission to operate outside the law to dole out justice. And they become supervillains when their definition of “justice” no longer meets with popular approval. A hero’s hubristic overreach demands a harsh punishment, but since Richard doesn’t actually die, Janet still gets to go around believing she took an acceptable risk.

So without getting too bogged down in the details, which aren’t all that interesting (sample quote: “Proof of international money laundering gives us leverage with the UN office of Transnational Crime to pressure the Swiss to open the Zurich account.”), the team finally figures out that Darren’s next gambling venture is to be a young tennis player whom he intends to persuade to throw a match.

When Darren fails, Janet actually get Richard to con the young athlete, in another queasy (and by that I mean well-written) scene that forces you to ask how many innocent lives have to be ruined to stop the bad guys from ruining innocent lives.

WE WILL ROOT OUT THIS DISGUSTING CHEATING IF WE HAVE TO BREAK EVERY RULE IN THE BOOK TO DO IT.

At long last, the team has enough evidence to put Darren away for good and go back to guiltlessly enjoying rugby (or guiltless hating cricket, as the case may be). But just as the well-toned arm of justice reaches out, it is slapped away by Owen Mitchell and the Australian CIA.

THIS BADGE LETS ME STOP TRIALS, SUSPEND HABEAS CORPUS, AND CUT ANY LINE AT DISNEY.

It turns out that Darren may be a criminal mastermind, but he’s a criminal mastermind that gives vital counterterrorism intel to the government. As such, Janet is ordered to clear Darren of all charges and let him go back to business as usual.

As an American, I am exhausted with the word “terrorism” being trotted out to justify every sacrifice of rights and justice inflicted upon the people, and I’m sure Australians must feel the same, since you have made the terrible error of following my country’s lead into endless war and endless vigilance. As such, this resolution seems like an appropriate, though disheartening, comeuppance to Janet’s cavalier manipulation of everyone around her. It was all for naught in the end anyway. What a blow.

Yet Janet doesn’t really seem to have absorbed the lesson. In her final confrontation with Owen, she promises that this isn’t over and she plans to play the long game. Which: oh. Is that what this was, Janet? A game? A chance to take Owen’s job at the DPP? And here I thought it was justice.

The only person for whom Janet is able to secure anything like a happy ending is Pearl Perati. Though Janet still won’t let Pearl come live with her (which, fine, I guess it’s not the greatest plan) she does help her get into a soccer college. (Australians, are soccer colleges a real thing over there? Because in the US we make athletes go to regular college. They don’t have to go to class or study or anything, but still.) And I mean, I’m glad Pearl is able to salvage something from the wreckage of her young life, but it doesn’t feel like much of a conclusion. Nothing about this episode does.

I have to believe Janet King’s writers penned this finale with a high degree of confidence that the show would be renewed (though I have seen no such announcement), because I can’t imagine them risking the whole series coming to such an unsatisfying close.

Which brings us to Janet and Bianca.

In my last full recap, of episode five (I’M SORRY, OKAY?) Bianca mentions she might like to live with Janet, to which Janet replies “oh yeah, sure. Bring your stuff over tomorrow. Glad that’s settled.” At the time I wrote that, I thought Bianca would be happy enough to be moving forward in her relationship with Janet that she could overlook the way Janet unilaterally made a huge decision for both of them. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Janet just isn’t used to consulting with anyone else about her decisions, whether it’s giving a 15 year-old girl her own apartment or running investigations as she sees fit, and it’s had the unfortunate effect of making Bianca feel like a sidekick, when she wants to be a fully-fledged partner.

IF YOU REALLY THOUGHT I WAS YOUR EQUAL, WHY DID YOU MAKE ME BE GABRIELLE FOR HALLOWEEN?

WELL WE COULDN’T BOTH BE XENA!

Again and again, Janet chooses to spend time with Graham, despite his belittling comments toward Bianca. And above all, Janet almost never permits herself to be truly vulnerable with Bianca. She falls into her old habit (which we saw with Ash as well) of giving her partner only her public façade, which is as exquisite, unblemished, and cool as marble. At last, Bianca gets tired of trying to break through, and embarrassed of begging for scraps, and terrified of forgetting the strong and independent woman she used to be before falling in love with this demigod. So she calls it quits.

BLONDES WILTING UNDER DURESS PART 3: SOME OF US HANDLE IT BETTER THAN OTHERS.

Now, I totally buy that being with Janet would be frustrating for all the reasons Bianca names. And I believe too that Bianca is the type of partner who never brings up a problem until it’s reached the boiling point.

But Janet really tries to hear Bianca, and promises to be better, and Bianca still gives her keys back! That I find difficult to believe, since I think both these women are mature enough to know that a relationship shouldn’t be discarded over one fight, or even one unmet need.

My feelings about this breakup have been incredibly difficult for me to parse out, and a large part of the reason this recap is so terribly late. I’m struggling to separate the message from the technique.

For example, I think that while the reasons for Janet and Bianca’s breakup are a realistic depiction of couplehood, the process feels rushed. Which I guess shouldn’t be surprising, because Janet’s personal life has always received relatively little attention in this always-crowded show.

As irritated as I am by how things turned out, I am not, however, offended. I don’t think the fact that Lina and Andy get to stay married while Janet and Bianca fall apart is the result of the writers punishing the gay couple while rewarding the straight one. I mean, living in a world of rich and fully-realized stories for gay characters does not mean a guarantee of their constant happiness and emotional safety. I want gay characters to break up for the same human reasons that straight people do. I want them to be good and bad and fuck up and learn from it, because that—and not an injection of pure wish-fulfillment—is what stories are about. (I want gay characters to do everything except get shot by stray bullets, and I have personally informed Janet King’s writing staff that they have used up their one forgiveness token for that already).

We come now to the point. The real point of this show—though sometimes I wonder if it might come as a surprise to its creators—is Janet herself. She is a hero every bit as complicated as the male antiheroes who have ruled television dramas for so long, and as clever as this show’s plots are, it is Janet’s struggle to be good and be happy that keeps us coming back. The two gauges of her happiness and goodness are her personal and professional lives, and this finale leaves her defeated on both fronts. That’s somewhat jarring, given that seasons one and two followed a familiar and comforting arc that ended with Janet both triumphant and in love. But Janet’s behavior this season frankly did not earn her a happy ending. And I’m fine with that. As long as there is a next season in which Janet comes back, chastened by her failures, and ready to wield the sword of justice with more ferocity than ever befoe. In payment for this ending, I will require season four Janet to rise like a goddamn phoenix from the ashes, destroying villains, donning lawyer wigs, and whisking Bianca into bed and also into a couples’ therapy session where she fully reveals her deepest insecurities, forever and ever, amen.

If we don’t get that, then I’ll be mad.

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for that! I feel better already…worth the wait. I didn’t like what happened between Janet and Bianca but I appreciated the real-ness of it. I also feel they already have the season 4 outline ready, lets just hope they get the go ahead from ABC

  2. I’ve been waiting and waiting for your take on the season. Now if we can just get a confirmation of Season 4! I agree that the producers are anticipating another season. I really don’t think they would have ended it that way otherwise. Bringing ASIO in and making the whole NCC investigation worthless was really a disservice to the viewers unless the producers were playing the long game and setting us up for the next season. That was my biggest gripe with the finale. Second biggest was spending way too much time on Pearl and Zoe, while wrapping up the father relationship with one throwaway line. The Janet/Bianca breakup was sad, but I understood Bianca’s feelings. If the writers hadn’t spent so much time on lesser story lines, we would have had more time for the two to talk things through. Bianca was too invested in Janet and her family to walk away that quickly. But maybe the producers are saving all that for Season 4. We can only hope!!!

  3. I had most of my usual complaints at the end of this season as with the others – rushed and kinda unsatisfying.
    I actually really liked them exploring Janet failing, just how it came together didn’t gel for me. Like halstead point out, I also found the ASIO bit at the end a real cop out, and follows their pattern of a last minute gotcha moments (at least this one wasn’t as horribly offensive as the intersex one last season).
    I also could not suspend my disbelief of Janet, and Tony allowing Janet, to send Richard undercover with that big a crime boss. I agree with all the thematic issue you raise about this showing how far Janet was willing to reach, but I just couldn’t buy the ridiculousness of it. So after being happy that Richard wasn’t dead, it just made me roll my eyes. Richard’s growth stopped for the last two episodes to be used largely as Janet’s pawn and at the end he’s just left cowering under a tree while we get a bunch of disjointed final scenes and, yes, that stupid final line between Janet and Owen.
    Janet and Bianca – I’m not that upset they didn’t stay together, but I am annoyed at again how unsatisfying it was. Bianca barely did anything this season besides make concerned faces beside Janet, so even the break up felt rushed and hollow (tho the wine scene that brought it to a head was good, but short in the scheme of things).
    The Janet Pearl storyline also missed an opportunity and instead felt too much like white saviour rubbish (after Janet got her investigation angle in too). It’s like they half went there with Pearl calling out Janet’s exploitation, but in the end they let Janet be a bit of a hero here with the magical sport scholarship.
    I did like the Janet/Graham confrontation in the second last episode… but then that was that and Graham was gone.
    Anyway… I applaud the attempt to explore Janet’s vulnerable/flawed side without everything ending up triumphant. I was just damn underwhelmed at the end of it.

      1. Oh don’t worry, I could have gone on and on.
        Reading back again, I think your comment about hoping Janet is chastened by her failures sums up my annoyance with the finale, and especially that last scene with Owen. We didn’t get any glimpse in the conclusion to this season that she had learning anything, except feeling a bit sad Bianca left her. Did she really understand why? I can makes some links myself in my mind between the Graham confrontation and her recognising those behaviours with those around her. However, given her actions in her relationships have been quite compartmentalised to date, seeing little self awareness borne out on screen I think is what makes it all feel hollow in the end. Same with her using of Richard – we didn’t see her really have to confront her own behaviour in putting Richard in that kind of danger. Then after all her shitty behaviour this season it ends with some cocky bullshit conversation with Owen. Hrumph.

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