Previously on Cleverman, “A Man of Vision”
Cleverman – S1E6 – Terra Nullius | Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins, Iain Glen, Frances O’Connor, Tasma Walton, Alexis Lane, Tysan Towney, Rarriwuy Hick, Ryan Corr, Stef Dawson, Jada Alberts | Writer: Michael Miller & Jane Allen | Director: Wayne Blair
Cleverman cinched up its first season with a lively finale that escalated Waruu’s descent into madness, affirmed Koen’s belief in himself as cleverman, raised the stakes between the Containment Authority and the Hairypeople and, at long last, finally introduced the terror that is the namorrodor. In short, “Terra Nullius” shrewdly and effectively tied up most of its loose ends to prepare viewers for the inevitable battle between the species in its sophomore season.
The most shining quality about the series has been its smart, pull-no-punches narrative that’s swimming in social commentary. American audiences more than likely aren’t well-versed in the history and cultural details of aboriginal tribes. Sadly, the systemic racism, discrimination and violence Indigenous Australians have endured is a landscape directors Blair and Purcell, with writers Michael Miller and Jon Bell, could conceive their story for universal viewership. Try as we might, it appears the pitfalls and perils ethnic minorities face won’t be ending anytime soon. Not if the experiences and opinions of the disenfranchised are constantly disputed.
Thankfully, the world appears to be more open to accepting the faults of social institutions built by their founders chiefly for their benefit. Expectedly, any challenge to this way of life is countered with swift, blunt retaliation. This pervasive issue was the vanguard of the government’s political agenda in Cleverman. Conjointly, it was an indirect source of internal strife for our titular lead.
Watching Koen West become a reluctant hero for the people of the zone was an intriguing journey. We all knew the Cleverman would eventually find the heroic path that is now his life, yet none of us knew how much it would cost Koen. What was presumed was an open relationship of sorts turned out to be West and Ash (Stef Dawson) cheating on her boyfriend/best friend, Blair (Ryan Corr). Eventually that would all come out in the open – after the sudden and traumatic death of Ash – still it wasn’t as profound an experience as Koen’s staggering indifference to the Hairypeople and exposing them to the terrors of the Containment Authority.
Pressured by practically everyone to stand up and assume the title of cleverman, Koen defied everyone until he finally caved from his own emotions, resulting in a satisfying emotional scene in last week’s “A Man of Vision”. Hunter Page-Lochard displayed his considerable talent in creating a lead that isn’t your cookie cutter version of a man of destiny. He never wanted the job to begin with, let alone believed in The Dreaming. Instead of leading Koen on a trek of self discovery and eventual acceptance, Miller and Bell made Koen a fairly unlikeable character – if only due to his hardheaded nature and mild egotism.
At the same time, his attitude is accepted once we learned of the hardships he endured from Waruu and others because of his mixed heritage. After years of repeated abuse, any one of us would want to distance ourselves from the persons and environment tied to those triggers. Once the Hairies became known to the world – living proof of the culture he abandoned – and forced to live in Koen’s backyard… well, he’s definitely not going to give much of a damn.
It’s not the easiest role, playing the chief antagonist in a drama that intelligently ties a mosaic of themes and social issues in its narrative. Rob Collins more than excelled as Waruu West, crafting a genuine villain of the highest order. From the minute viewers were introduced to his preening, self-important spokesman for the zone, it was apparent something dark lurked inside Waruu for some time.
The elder West’s agenda involving the Hairypeople during Cleverman’s run became increasingly dubious; what felt like honest, heartfelt campaign to educate a scared world about their co-habitants swiftly devolved into an ominous conspiracy rife with corruption, betrayal, and a little murder. Despite the fact that Waruu turned out to be nothing more than a paper champion, Collins still managed to portray the wayward soul with a tinge of sympathy. After treating his mother Linda (Deborah Mailman) like absolute trash, being so easily swayed by Jarrod Slade’s multiple offers and taking yet another life in front of his strongest supporters, Waruu was still able to eke out the slightest bit of pity during his mental breakdown.
After all the years in believing himself to be the chosen one – with absolutely no encouragement from Uncle Jimmy or his mother – his heightened sense of self was apparently built upon a tower made of matchsticks. In little time West’s entire world went up in a blaze of glory, not unlike Linda’s cathartic release from her loathsome son via bonfire. The final nail in the coffin that was Waruu’s reputation was his utter incompetence in defending the Hairies from the namorrodor. Even after telling Koen last episode that conventional weapons wouldn’t harm, Waruu quickly resorted to using a revolver. A telling sign that the man who believed he knew best for everyone couldn’t even even live by his own example.
Where Waruu lacked heart, it isn’t without a tinge of irony that the Hairy family led by Boondee (Tony Briggs) were the most humane players in the series. After the death of the youngest sibling, each family member suffered in a myriad of ways. It didn’t take long for the true monsters to be revealed, who gleefully inflicted pain on Djukara, Latani, and Araluen. It’ll be intriguing to see how those three will develop given their harrowing encounters with the absolute worst models for humankind.
Season two was quickly optioned the day after Cleverman’s premiere, so it’s a relief to know the precipitous edge Miller, Bell, and Jane Allen hung the audience over will find solid ground in less than a year. If you haven’t given this series a chance, be sure you do. It may not have the flair and high-flying action one typically expects from a supernatural drama, but its sharp writing, biting social commentary, and celebration of Indigenous cultures shouldn’t go unappreciated.
Cleverman S1E6 = 9.3/10