BBC has always been known for churning out interesting detective thriller dramas. There is no dearth of stories in this genre. The more one explores, the more we get to watch diverse stories from the lives of cops and detectives working in the UK and the criminal lifestyle. “Sherlock,” “The Fall,” “Broadchurch,” “Bodyguard,” “Criminal: UK,” and the list is endless. “Better,” directed by Jonathan Brough and Pier Wilkie, gives the audience a peek into the life of corrupt DI Lou Slack and her connections with the drug mafia lord Col McHugh. Their lives are intertwined until one day; a tragedy shakes Lou’s core. Will she continue to be corrupt or make a new beginning after an incident involving a loved one? The five episodic miniseries is a BBC Original show that was released on February 13, 2023.
DI Louisa Slack’s Double Life
Detective Inspector Louisa, aka Lou Slack, is a reputed police officer with the Leeds police department, known for cracking many hard-core cases. The show begins with Lou being assigned a job to retrieve an old, vintage gun from the scene of a crime. She also witnesses a man being severely injured at the same scene of the crime, and he passes away in front of her within seconds of noticing her. Just in time, she escapes after retrieving the said object, and she is stopped by her fellow cops. Knowing it is her in the car, the cops inform her of the crime that took place and that a dead body has been retrieved. Lou feels lucky to have escaped from the scene of the crime unharmed and without anyone witnessing her escape with the gun. At home, her son Owen has been battling a fever for the past few days, and she knows they have nothing to worry about. Her husband, Cer, is concerned about odd jobs other than the police job she has to do. He is supportive of her, but that does not mean he agrees with the dirty work she is doing for influential people. It is established the next day that Lou, though a well-known DI, is also a corrupt cop who is on the payroll of the drug mafia kingpin of Leeds, Col McHugh. Col and Lou are not just business partners but also best friends. They look out for each other in various circumstances, and she is paid a handsome amount to do so. That does not mean they don’t tell the truth to each other. Their twenty years of friendship is based on nothing but the truth. Col’s associates, his wife, and his son Donal trust Lou with their lives, and they are aware of the fact that she will tip them off in case of any oncoming threat from her department. Col had also helped Lou crack plenty of cases in the past, which helped her reach the position she is in now. Col providing intel in exchange for Lou tipping off Col’s associates is the deal they form, and they have an unbreakable friendship. Though Lou’s husband, Cer, has issues with the kind of dirty work she has to do for him, at the end of the day, he is a supportive husband.
On the night of Col’s birthday dinner, Lou heads there alone, her phone taken away by Col’s henchmen for security reasons. During the birthday dinner, it is implied the amount of work Lou has done to make Col and his drug ring grow and prosper, and in the bid to legitimize his business, Col has got himself involved in the real estate and construction business to secure his wife and son’s future. It is also implied that Col’s daughter Aoife is no more. Her cause of death is yet to be revealed, but her death has surely affected Col, and there is something in him that has changed too that not many can decipher. On returning from the dinner party, Lou sees she’s received countless missed calls from her husband. On reaching the hospital, she and Cer are told by the doctors that Owen is suffering from bacterial meningitis, and the next few hours are crucial for his survival. Scared of what might happen, the parents spend the night hoping to hear some good news. The doctors finally broke some good news, which is that Owen’s body is responding to their treatment, but he will have to stay in the hospital for the next few days. Even though Owen has recovered from meningitis, it will harm his body and brain. Owen will have difficulty hearing, might have reduced motor skills, and will have difficulty walking as well. This is something Lou and Cer had not expected when the doctors spoke about recovery. However, they are ready to provide whatever the doctors instruct them to.
Owen, from here on, will be in a wheelchair and will have to improve his motor skills slowly and steadily. He used to paint a lot till that point, and with compromised motor skills, his ability to draw will be affected, but he is not losing hope. Cer and Lou are deeply affected by what just happened to their son, but they will not let their emotions get the worst of them, and they will surely not let their pain be known to Owen. Lou and Cer want to help him regain his life in the best way possible from here on. Cer is more deeply affected by this incident, as he realizes she needs to be there for his son too. He also starts questioning Col’s frequent visits to her amidst all the hospital rounds. This is a tricky scenario in the show: how is Col, who is the most wanted criminal in the county, not caught meeting DI Lou out in public? Yes, Col’s concern for Lou’s family is real, but this felt like a combination of a loophole and suspension of disbelief to move the narrative forward.
A few days after her son’s near-death scare, something changes in Lou. She starts looking at things from a different perspective. She realizes even though she has no standing rivalry with Col at this point, the thought of losing her son makes her realize the number of wrong things she has carried out without questioning and realizing how much it has affected people of Owen’s age. Col’s business is in narcotics, and he has made sure his contraband reaches all its frequent users. Lou helps him get away. But since Owen’s incident, Lou starts changing her tactics slowly and steadily without even letting Col know maybe her allegiance has shifted. She is now more focused on supporting her team, but she finds ways to not let any breakthrough in Col’s case come to her. Col’s henchman Noel is caught in a robbery case with the vintage gun that she had given back to Col from the scene of the crime. Lou is asked by Col to let the case go, but contemplating the changes that are happening in her mind and body, she arrests Noel by stating that the tip of Noel’s hideout was anonymous, and she has no option but to go ahead and arrest Noel. Col and his associates don’t suspect her yet at this point, and they generally feel that this is something that was out of her control and that it is okay to let Col McHugh feel that he isn’t invulnerable to the cops. Her purposely deciding not to inform Col about the raids, will it catch on with Col and his close circuit?
‘Better’ Season 1: Ending Explained – Will Lou Be Able To Leave Col’s Drug Syndicate? Why Did Lou And Col Decide To Surrender?
Lou purposely starts dodging Col and his associates and conveniently avoids informing them of the cops’ actions against them. This leads to her team raiding a facility run by Col, where they were growing plants that would help them garner more narcotics for supply. This casts a shadow of doubt on Lou as Col’s associates start questioning why Lou is not informing them of cops getting to their facilities. At the facilities, they also find two Asian kids who were locked in, which also brings the human trafficking angle into Col and his drug ring. Out of desperation, Lou contacts an ex-colleague of her father, Vernon Marley, who was notorious for accepting bribes in his heyday, having one fine day confessed to taking bribes. Because of his confession, he was asked to leave the force, which led to his wife and kid leaving him too. Lou contacts Vernon with the hope of finding out why he took the extreme step of confessing, knowing it would have a profound and long-term effect on his life. Vernon states the obvious and says he was very close to getting exposed, but his confession led to a reduced sentence, and because he was a cop too, the law enforcement community let him go without any criminal record under his name. Lou was expecting some light at the end of the tunnel kind of answer from Vernon, but all she comes to know is the practical reason stated by Vernon.
Lou had approached him with the hope that he would give her the courage to leave the world of the drug crime syndicate without letting Col know about it. All she can hope for is to let the law catch up with Col, so she will stay out of it. Col would not suspect her involvement. As they began to turn the wheel on getting Col caught, their first plan was to create a gang war between Col’s gang and Mallik’s gang from Bradford. Things go awry, which leads to Lou having to bring about peace between the gangs. Lou is covering her tracks by making sure Col does not suspect her shifting allegiance, and that her team does not suspect too much of her life, sort of as a double agent. Her colleague and friend Esther witnesses Lou planting a packet of drugs in Mallik’s car, and she confronts Lou about the same. Lou initially denies it but soon must reveal her long term involvement with Col and his gang. Esther, who considers Lou to be her mentor, is shocked to have come across this piece of news. Lou tries to pacify Esther, but she is adamant about approaching her seniors and informing them of Lou’s corruption. Lou does not stop her, but she is terrified of losing face, and she is willing to do anything to make sure she isn’t caught.
As a last chance to save herself, Lou informs Col of the task force heading to his mansion for a raid, telling him he should dispose of any items that would lead to his arrest. Lou, on the other hand, informs Esther to follow Col, for he is carrying critical information with him that would help the police form a strong case against him. Lou did not think twice before throwing Col under the bus because she knew this was the only way to gain Esther’s trust. Esther was unwilling to believe that Lou was secretly working on getting out of the syndicate. This is the only chance Lou has to gain Esther’s confidence, and if her tip works, Col will be behind bars in no time. Lou will be saved without Col ever knowing her involvement.
Col is caught, but only with post-it notes in his airbag, which exposes Lou, who was the only person who knew Col was moving from point one to point two with his “luggage.” Lou is now aware Col will go after her family, and he will not stop until he gets his revenge. Owen is kidnapped by Donal, Col’s kid, and she is threatened with his life until she decides to meet Col. Donal and Owen become good friends; the only difference is that Owen does not know Donal is Col’s son, and in the spirit of their new friendship, Owen ends up revealing his parents fighting over one man who has too much power over them. Donal passes on this information to his father, which leads to Col suspecting Lou and her husband, Cer. Lou and Col have a faceoff, where he is brutally honest about Lou suddenly getting a conscience just because of her son and never having one while she was laying the path for Col. Col is right about Lou’s sudden change of mind; just because her family went through a life-threatening event, this does not erase her past. She will have to face her sins as much as Col will have to at some point. Lou also blames Col for not dealing properly with himself after his daughter Aoife’s death. It is an open secret that she overdosed on the substance that was being supplied by Col in Leeds. Col’s being in denial about it will not help him either. He will have to step up and take responsibility for the fact that he might have indirectly killed his daughter. The menace reached his home, and Lou and Col blazing life truths at each other led to Col deciding to let her go from the syndicate if she stayed away from any investigation done on him from here on. Lou promises to stay away. Col realizes he can never make an enemy out of Lou because of the long-standing friendship they have had for the past 20 years. Even though he is criticized for not killing her, Col stands his ground by letting Lou live. Somehow, he believes that Lou will never go after him because he is giving her what she wants. A life away from the drug syndicate and sparing the lives of her husband and son.
Lou actively backs away from Col McHugh-related cases, and she heads to meet Vernon to let him know about the progress. This is where Col’s henchman Peter Bulgey comes by Vernon’s home to kill Lou, but Vernon accidentally ends up killing Bulgey. To save him and Lou from all the trouble, he burns his home down so that he will be charged only with self-defense. Vernon is interrogated and sent behind bars, only for him to be attacked by Noel on the orders of Col. Vernon, unfortunately, dies on the way to the hospital. Lou is heartbroken to realize Vernon became a victim of her actions. Ridden by guilt, Lou donates all the money she receives from Col; she sells her car and all the expensive clothes she purchased using Col’s money. This is Lou’s way of giving back to the people she hurt. Her pain can only be reduced if she stops living a life of luxury, gives up on it, and lets her old normalcy set in. Cer is supportive of this initiative, and he is happy to see the old Lou back in form, taking steps to stay away from her corrupt practices. On learning about Vernon’s death, Lou decides to confront Col one last time. Col agrees to meet her, and they have a heart-to-heart about Aoife’s death. He knew Aoife hated him for what he had become, and he could not stop himself from becoming more ruthless day after day until her death became a stalling point in his life. When Aoife made it clear that she hated her father in her suicide; the note rattled him for good, and he will probably never recover from that tragedy. Lou also admits to starting to resent the life she was leading after Owen went through a life-threatening incident. They realize at the end of the day that it is their kids that ground them, which makes them realize how much pain they have caused people by supplying narcotics. That’s why Lou convinces Col to surrender along with her. Surrendering to the law will be the only way for them to repent for the havoc they have caused in people’s lives. Col again agrees to Lou’s plan of action and heads to the Leeds police station to do the deed and get done with it. Unaware of what future awaits them, they decide to put their fate in the hands of law and order from here on. As they keep waiting at the police station the whole night, finally at dawn someone arrives. Maybe it is the police officer who has come to take their confession or someone from Col’s syndicate to put some sense into him. Col and Lou were determined to confess but will there be any other factor that would stop them from doing so?
What To Expect From Season 2?
There is no official announcement concerning “Better” Season 2, but keeping in mind the cliffhanger of season 1, it gives us some hope that there will be a season two. Hopefully, we will see more of Lou and Col behind bars after their confession. Will someone else take over Col’s drug ring, and what will Col’s family do from here now that he is facing time for his crime? Lou will also have a hard time with her family since she decided to confess without consulting them, keeping in mind Owen’s deteriorating health condition. It will be interesting to watch what turn season two will take if it is ever announced.
There is nothing not to like about British crime dramas. They are real and gritty, and they take us through alleys that we didn’t know existed. The underbelly of various crime syndicates is something worth exploiting every time a crime drama is released. “Better” is no different. This crime drama ties together the emotions of the corrupt police officer who is trying to find redemption and the emotions of the drug mafia kingpin, who has also faced a personal tragedy. The shades of gray in Lou and Col are explored rather deeply and intensely. Also, writers Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent have beautifully written about the friendship shared by Col and Lou. It is refreshing to watch a male and female lead just being friends and not getting physically involved with each other, which is a usual subplot in a crime drama to catch the eyeballs of the audience. Their friendship stands the test of loyalty eventually, and they stand up for each other. In just five episodes, both writers and directors were able to convey love, friendship, a sense of doubt, and redemption convincingly. Leila Farzad, as DI Lou Slack, and Andrew Buchan as Col McHugh deliver one of the best performances, even though the screenplay had plenty of loopholes regarding the characters they were enacting on the screen. Their performances are grounded, mellow, and emotional. “Better” has issues but is not so problematic for you to lose interest in it. An engaging watch from the start till the end.