Hope and Wire: Part Three
When we left our hardy bunch of quake survivors at the two-third mark of NZ On Air’s Platinum funded Hope And Wire, it made for slow television, but it also felt perversely accurate. Not in terms of the specifics, which Cantabrians will be quick and apt to point out are often wrong, but in the tedium. The episode’s failings as part two of a three-part miniseries – the loose plotting, the repetitive nature of some of the storylines – were actually what made it pass a lot more like real life does.
And if Thursday’s denouement was pure TV artifice – a fundraiser concert with the show’s in-house band, 2001 WB-teen drama style; a change of heart where the bad guys have their icy hearts thawed – it’s also the surest footing the show’s been on as a piece of drama, and it affords the whole endeavour a redemptive reading if you want to be charitable (I do).
Hope And Wire’s ensemble cast and its attempt to treat racial and social tensions and distances sincerely make it our very own hamfisted Crash, with the main question hanging over the whole thing being how all these people might end up interacting. Somehow, they all do – Joycie’s work as the carer for Jonty and his glum wife’s ailing great aunt brings her spiraling into their lives after she has a fall at home; Christchurch business being a small cabal, Jonty has a word to the oily Greggo that lets him have a spontaneous change of heart and save his tenants; Ginny gets a freelance job assessing EQC appeals, and in a touching moment, reads a letter of misspelt, heartfelt desperation from Jarod Rawiri’s Ryan. A short window into the life of a person she’s never met, it’s one of the more natural and elegant turns the finale pulls. Less successful is the revelation that Chelsie Preston Crayford’s Monee is actually a wayward teen who’s the lost daughter of one of Luanne’s Gordon’s bepearled suburban church mates. Crayford pulls a blinder in earning our sympathies from an unlikeable character, but there’s a touch of soap opera “and then THIS” to it, pulling heartstrings like a toddler getting into a grand piano.
A lot of nice or redemptive things happen to people. Jonty patches things up and holds his family together, so if he’s still having sex with his clerks he’s apparently stopped leaving his phone and love letters on the kitchen table. Len and the wonderful Joycie keep their home, and she’s reunited with her daughter. There’s a pair of legitimately wonderful scenes between Bernard Hill and Crayford where the latter sheds some of her bad skinhead habits, which actually verge on interesting, novel territory about the nature of racism, class, aspiration and fear.
Essentially, there's a lot of fairy tale sleight of hand. Two interesting things come out this for me: the first is that as a privileged Aucklander, I’m absolutely at a loss to decide whether a whimsical love letter to Christchurch is something that should offer solace to actual victims of the real event, or simply appall them. The other thing I observed was how that whimsy is intentionally transposed onto a hard, unsettling edge. It’s a velvet glove on a hand that’s been bloodied to the bone from punching a wall.
There’s lots of changes-of-heart and saving-the-day, but what’s interesting to note is that the ensemble cast aren’t helped or saved by the powers that be, and after the warm glow of a bunch of beardos playing a free gig in a backyard, they still won’t be. Jonty and Ginny are rescued from penury by a generous inheritance, not their insurers, while Rachel House’s Joycie is simply put through the wringer. Her penance for going on 3 News last episode is a WINZ investigation that puts her in debt for her decadent backyard refugee lifestyle with Len; the $100 her elderly client all but forced into her hands sees her summarily dismissed from her carer job, and probably out of work for good. In the absence of a proper cackling villain, the inference is clear – these institutions, all polite clicking of pens and awkward smiles, are the baddie.
Also – if you got sick of Len’s rabble-rousing and half-applied Marxism halfway through Episode One, it’s perfectly and appropriately challenged here. He’s spouting rhetoric about the Australian banks and global warming causing quakes as tangible, terrible things actually happen to people he loves. It’s asinine, and he’s stopped in his tracks.
Taking the default lovable rogue down several pegs is Gaylene Preston and Dave Armstrong’s second-smartest move. The smartest is what happens to Ryan and his family. The slow, draining ebb of Part Two is transformed into a punishing downward spiral of bad decisions, impulsiveness and boredom. Television’s pace and expectations mean that it rarely, if ever captures the dangers of a grown man being left by himself for too long. But this has a decent shot at it - slow, dialogue-light work that demands a lot from its performer. Towards the end, Rawiri’s character tries to retile the bathroom of his condemned house in a drunken stupor, a scene violently at odds with the plucky charm the rest of the ensemble eases into. It could have dragged or felt out of place. Improbably, it’s one of the sadder things I’ve seen on TV this year.
Under the show’s superficial logic, it should set him up for a tearful, joyous reunion. Instead, the show’s final shot bar a pointless epilogue (again! Undoing its best work) is terrifyingly irresolute, with a very strong implication that love can’t settle everything. I don’t know if anybody else kept watching this to the end, but the open-ended storyline for Ryan and Donna saw it break its own rules, and do it bravely. If anything gets remembered from Hope And Wire, it deserves to be Rawiri’s aching final scenes.
Some random thoughts:
- Watching Hope And Wire on terrestrial television meant a whole lot of ad breaks that coincided with moments of terror and tension – falling buildings, disintegrating homelife, even a sexual assault. Without fail, these cut to a “3 – NO PLACE I’D RATHER BE”. Really?
- People say “fuck” a lot more in the third part, and it adds a lot more naturalism then the nth use of “munted” did in the first two.
- The point-to-camera monologues are about as natural as they get here, but once again there’s some first-drafty dialogue that takes you straight out. “Has he not uttered a word?” Gordon asks regarding her mute eldest son. Ohhh utterances la-de-da the lady doth bequest etc.
- The mute eldest son gets more attention in Part Three. The bad news is that his brain injuries were so horrific that he has taken a liking to the ukulele, easily the most upsetting thing to see a relative or loved one ever doing.
- Hope And Wire will be the last screen treatment of the quakes for a while, but in being the straightest and in not being a disaster, it’s a sturdy sort of plinth for other work. Roads not taken that could be in future: some sort of treatment (either as documentary, or as more abstract drama) of Bare Hunt Collective’s verbatim play Munted, or better yet, a show based on Eli Kent’s Black Confetti, recast as a lurid Gen Y trip in a ruined city that may or may not be Christchurch and preferably in a six-part format that rewards the episodic nature of the original play. Please, please, please someone do this one.