Cleverman – S1E1 – First Contact | Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins, Iain Glen, Frances O’Connor, Ryan Corr, Stef Dawson, Tony Briggs, Tasma Walton, Tyson Towney, Rarriwuy Hick | Writers: Michael Miller & Jon Bell | Director: Wayne Blair
In SundanceTV’s newest series, humankind is at a crossroads as it grapples with the knowledge that there is more beyond what can be detected by our base senses. It has been recently discovered that a distinct genus of intelligent life has been occupying the earth for millennia. Scared and unsure of the future, humans react horribly (of course) as the advent of a new age may be upon the horizon.
By the end of Cleverman’s ambitious premiere, viewers will have a thorough understanding of the characters that occupy this not so distant future. While humanity continues to struggle with the concept of mythical beings openly residing on the planet, these “Hairypeople” were immediately resented and regarded as a lower species. Now displaced and impoverished, this powerful tribe may find their salvation from an unlikely hero that must contend with a number of enemies, including his self-doubt.
Cleverman is essentially the journey of the latest bearer of the title, Koen West (Hunter Page-Lochard). In fact, he’s nearly unlikeable. A former resident of the zone, Koen smuggles Hairy folk beyond the walls for a slim chance at a better life… for a substantial price. Despite families giving up all they have to feel safe from the vengeful eye of the government, Koen sells them out for an even bigger profit. Ever the opportunist, Koen’s last grift unintentionally placed a desperate family in a deadly situation. The tragedy causes further discord between him and his best mates Blair and Ash, and especially his older brother Waruu (Rob Collins). Having been raised by Uncle Jimmy (Jack Charles), Waruu believed he was to become the next Cleverman when the time came. Neither brother is exactly a shining example of humility or purity; both exhibit a dark streak that propagates the more they come into contact with one another.
While Koen knowingly places the Hairypeople in danger for profit, Waruu’s hubris and liaisons with the enemy may spell their crushing downfall.
The only thing worse than the disdain and poverty the Hairypeople endure in the Zone is the baneful reactions of the general populace. As evidenced by the cold open, the mere presence of a Hairy girl is enough to make a gang of males froth at the mouth in a racist furor. There is no love lost between the species, to the point that the death of a Hairy child on television generates little sympathy from the masses.
The enmity felt by most humans in Cleverman is motivated not only by their desperate feelings of inferiority but the encompassing influence of authoritative media magnate Jerrod Slade (Game of Throne’s Iain Glen). For all intents and purposes, Slade is the Lex Luthor of the program, a man of singular perception that can look twelve steps ahead of his peers and calculate accordingly. While the government is hoping their controversial practices remain unquestioned by the public, Slade – in partnership with the reluctant Minister Geoff Matthews (Andrew McFarlane) – grants the government positive coverage through his news network while simultaneously demonizing the Hairypeople. Concurrently, the Containment Authority, under Minister Matthews’ supervision, hunts for and indefinitely detains any Hairies that venture beyond the zone.
It’s through Djukara (Tysan Towney), the eldest sibling of the arrested family that viewers gain their first look of the psychological terrors of the CA detainment center. Like Auschwitz or Japanese internment camps, these prisoners are subjected to all forms of harassment and subjugation. The derogatory slang used by the head guard cut to the quick of one’s sensitivities. There’s no mistaking the blind rage in his voice as he barked out commands ending in colorful epithets. “Subbies”… “Rugs”… “Monkeys”… Unfortunately it’s an all too relatable instance for some of us, especially in this current American political cycle when hate and ignorance are rampant among particular candidates and their supporters alike.
Throughout “First Contact” we learn Slade’s vexing media coverage screens his true intentions of learning more about The Dreaming. He has an ear within the zone thanks to his wife Charlotte Cleary (Frances O’Connor) and personal acquaintance with Jimmy. It’s strongly implied that Uncle Jimmy may have said more than he wanted about The Dreaming, its Hairypeople, and the role of the Cleverman to Jerrod. Knowing he erred, Jimmy attempts to make things right in reacquainting with his nephews, leaving cryptic messages they won’t understand before it’s too late. By the time the brothers realize what’s happened, Slade received his final “gift” from Jimmy, which may place all connected to The Dreaming in grave danger.
For all that was seeded in this fertile landscape of conspiracy and subversion, Cleverman never pulled any punches in the delivery of its labyrinthine plot and succeeded in weaving these smaller personal arcs into a tangled web of intrigue. It’s clear this world’s survival depends on maintaining the connectivity of all living things on every level. The problem, as in most cases of fictional worlds and real life, is whether humans can accept the responsibility of their actions and look beyond their respective interests. What opened The Dreaming and made our species suddenly aware of the existence of the Hairypeople remains a mystery; given the opening of this new series, many quandaries will be answered with very promising outcomes.
New episodes of Cleverman air Wednesdays at 10/9c on SundanceTV
Cleverman S1E1 = 9/10