Bloodlands, episode 3, review: Is James Nesbitt moody, mysterious or constipated?

The theme music from Bloodlands (BBC One) has a hint of the spaghetti Western. I think James Nesbitt might fancy that he’s acting in one. Episode three consisted mostly of Nesbitt trying to look moody and mysterious. Either that, or he’s suffering from constipation.

DCI Tom Brannick may or may not be the assassin Goliath. This requires Nesbitt to play ambiguous, which is not within his skillset. The director has also done him no favours, requiring him to look silly by kicking a wall and focusing on his face in a final shot that only brought to mind the Larry David Stare in Curb Your Enthusiasm (if you haven’t seen Curb: it’s a comedy, which is not the tone that Bloodlands is going for).

This was the weakest episode yet of the Jed Mercurio-produced Northern Irish thriller, hamstrung by the frankly daft revelation that Dr Tori Matthews (Lisa Dwan) had somehow masterminded the kidnap of hefty former IRA man Pat Keenan as part of an elaborate campaign to prompt the reopening of the investigation into her father’s death. It only got dafter as Brannick recruited her to plant evidence on his nemesis, DCS Jackie Twomey (Lorcan Cranitch), by sneaking into Twomey’s caravan in a hoodie and rubber gloves. After last week’s great twist, the plotting here was a major disappointment.

It was much better when the action was confined to the police station, where the net was closing in on Goliath. Chris Walley had fun as Birdy, the junior detective squirming at the idea of investigating his own bosses. As DS Niamh McGovern, Brannick’s faithful sidekick, poor Charlene McKenna was mostly required to look either confused or in a state of shock. There was space for writer Chris Brandon to throw in a spot of light sectarian humour: “You can smell the doilies and abstinence from here,” Twomey muttered, as a Protestant pensioner marched into the station to berate him.

Twomey is a well-written character: we have no idea which side he’s on. He could slot quite easily into Line of Duty, Mercurio’s greatest hit. Will Bloodlands achieve greatness in its final episode? On the evidence of this one, I’m beginning to doubt it.

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