This could be a fruitful exercise, if tackled with care, and a willingness to find nuance in a subject that’s deeply fraught. But Hare, whose work has always had a polemicist strain, paints only in black and white. The characters in Collateral who oppose immigration are cartoon villains, including a sneering establishment MI5 agent who freely describes himself as a “mid-level English racist.” The others, including Carey Mulligan’s Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie and John Simm’s Labor politician David Mars, either apologize or orate furiously about moral duty, soapbox-style. Given that television is such an extremely visual medium, Hare’s decision to tell so much and show so little quickly becomes wearing.
There are parts of Collateral that are intriguing—at first. The story points into all different parts of the British establishment, including the army, the church, and the government, as well as shining some light on the horrific reality of living conditions in London for illegal immigrants, and the grind of the gig economy. But as the plot irons itself out, its holes grow bigger and bigger. What could become a thoughtful exploration of right-wing radicalization leads to a baffling subplot about PTSD, and Glaspie’s investigation begins to feel increasingly ancillary. Mulligan is a tremendous actor and she elevates every scene she’s in, but it’s hard to get past the continually reiterated and incredibly pointless biographical detail that her character used to be an Olympic pole vaulter.
When the writing isn’t incredibly stilted, it has something of a Steve-Buscemi-on-30-Rock feel, with its occasional references to “boy crushes” and “K-holes.” That said, three separate characters under 40 engage in the charming but archaic act of letter writing during the show’s four hours. And when it comes to exposition, no fact is left unreiterated:
Bad Guy One: Did she know what she was being paid for?
Bad Guy Two: Not at first, but she was always going to put two and two together. She was always asking, ‘What am I being paid for?’
All of which, coupled with the fact that the killer is revealed fairly early on, leads to a less-than-propulsive viewing experience. In an interview with The Times, Hare talked about wanting to be “ahead of the curve” in working within television, particularly given the subject matter. But TV has been rich terrain for writers for the last two decades. The best shows tied to topical flashpoints have a willingness to learn as well as lecture—to be occasionally open to opposing points of view. Collateral, by contrast, is a haranguing in serial form, by a political playwright who’s long looked at the world and found it lacking. Hare’s arguments, made through the mouthpiece of his characters, are sound—they just don’t make for great entertainment.
Directed by S.J. Clarkson (Jessica Jones, Ugly Betty), the series finds a strange kind of beauty in London’s bleaker corners. And Mulligan’s skeptical listening face, employed frequently, deserves a show all to itself. Collateral swiftly pulls you in with a dynamite mystery, but it soon becomes clear that solving it was never the show’s goal, no matter what viewers might want.