Political thriller Roadkill wraps up with a rushed, messy finale that sees Peter Laurence triumph, despite the best efforts of lawyers, journalists, and even some members of his own family and staff, because lol nothing matters.
It probably comes as no surprise that the show concludes with Peter becoming Prime Minister, because how could it have ever ended otherwise? And the fact that his rise is facilitated by the very public and embarrassing fall of a female politician who must then watch a man who has committed far worse crimes than she has sail into her place unscathed? Did we ever really think it would turn out differently?
In light of all this, it’s hard to completely get what the point of Roadkill’s story is. That bad people succeed more often than any of us are completely comfortable admitting? That our institutions are corrupt in ways we don’t even entirely understand? That when push comes to shove literally zero people are interested in doing the right thing?
All I do know is that it’s exhausting, and hardly the series I thought we’d be watching when I first heard it was coming to Masterpiece. And its problems go well beyond the poor timing that has the series airing when most of us least want to watch a show about corrupt public servants being massively corrupt and getting rewarded for it.
The problem with Roadkill – as much as it pains me in my Anglophile's heart to say this – is that it’s just bad. There’s no real driving action to any part of the narrative beyond Peter’s general dirtbaggery, and secondary characters I thought would prove interesting have either fallen flat or essentially disappeared. (Seriously, show, you get Helen McCrory and this is what you do with her?) We don’t even know what happens to several key players – Peter’s chauffeur and his right-hand man Duncan to name just two – by the end of the hour.
And since as far as I’m aware, this show is a one and done, we’ll also never find out. Which, I don’t actually care that much to be honest, all these people can rot – but I know that David Hare of all people is capable of writing a better story than this.
As an episode, the Roadkill finale is a scattershot mess – equally reliant on plot twists both ridiculous (Peter’s ascension to No. 10) and ridiculously convenient (Julia’s sudden decision to betray Dawn). Some arcs – anything to do with Charmian, the general concept of investigative journalism – seem to simply vanish as though they never existed, and shot throughout is the undercurrent that of course Peter’s going to get away with it all and why would any of us think otherwise.
Yet, the show clearly knows that audience expects something of note to happen – a newspaper to publish a negative story, the daughter Peter never knew about to require more than a smile and a pat on her head to suddenly love him, the former Prime Minister’s loyal aid not to switch sides quite so quickly – because the sly, tinkly soundtrack underscores whenever these things don’t happen, as though this is some kind of commentary on what losers we all are that they ever thought they might. Is it supposed to be subversive somehow? Spoiler alert: It’s not.
The episode opens with Peter’s visit to illegitimate daughter Rose in prison, where they bond over their shared conviction that they’re cleverer than anyone else and how crappy the prison system is. How this is somehow meant to humanize Peter – or Rose, for that matter – I have no idea. I guess he deserves some credit for finally remembering the woman he slept with that gave him said daughter was, but it did take four episodes, so maybe not that much.
As for Rose, I can’t tell whether we’re meant to feel sorry for her (you know, prison and all) or shocked that she’s so unremorseful about trying to steal almost a million pounds because…reasons? She was bored? Disadvantaged? Her speech about how corporate elites steal workers’ wages and therefore that justifies robbing them simply because she could is deeply offputting. But, like father like daughter, I guess. Particularly when the said father has absolutely no qualms about using her very existence as a public relations tool, and rubbing his family’s face in it in the process.
And sorry for those of you who thought that any of the women in Peter’s life might stand up to him or reject his horrible behavior in any way because they don’t. Helen Laurence even doubles down on her complicity in what a dirtbag he is, allowing it to just keep going on because I suppose she’s fine with being a PM’s wife? Even the hint that she’s planning to keep her leverage over her husband feels flat – Helen’s never bothered to make him face consequences for anything. Why would she suddenly start now?
These people are so disappointing, is what I’m saying.
And ultimately, that’s what this show is too. Peter’s rise to ultimate power takes place almost solely in the series’ final ten minutes and offers all the satisfaction of watching a car wreck. It’s not even fun to watch triumph over his many enemies because he’s such a jerk about it, smugly reveling in the fact that he’s gotten away with a bunch of crimes in plain sight and casually jettisoning those he views as insufficiently loyal.
Instead, the show just ends, and I want the four hours of my life back that I spent watching it.
What did you think of the Roadkill finale? Sound off in the comments.