‘Paula’ concluded on Thursday evening, in suitably bonkers, macabre fashion, perfectly in keeping with everything that had gone before in this gothic three-parter, which may threaten to do for one-night stands, in Belfast disguised in Dublin, anyway, what ‘Fatal Attraction’ once did for office affairs, or at least for bunny-owners.
During the last hour of this pot-boiler starring Denise Gough and Tom Hughes, so much went on, it was hard to keep track of what was a hallucination, and what was real, as so many of our leading characters appeared to have trouble working out the same... which only added to the confusion in this admittedly engrossing final 60 minutes.
Things that disturbed us, confused us, and finally creeped us out, included, but were not limited to:
1. The sudden and dramatic decline of Mac (Owen McDonnell), demonstrated by his shirty rant at that poor colleague of his. In the course of three episodes, he’d gone from a respectable copper in charge of a case to something far more ragged, volatile and obsessive. And he’d joined in with everyone else’s habit of hallucinating, although in his case it was limited to copping off with yet another witness.
2. That, even in his sorry state, Mac, faced with the prospect of an increasingly erratic and troubled Paula would make the right decision as to how to help her. Would he a) refer her to a psychiatrist, b) just leave her alone and go out with that nice colleague of his, or would he c) invite Paula for a day at the fair WITH HIS CHILDREN?! At least he didn’t sleep with her again, but it wasn’t for want of trying. His bosses may have had a point.
3. That James, locked away in jail pending waiting to be released, would suddenly decide to confide in Mac – tell the man he’d nearly beaten to death, nay almost stabbed in the eye, his entire life story including his innermost childhood demons about his lost sister and her tragic fate.
4. That Paula would have quite the week she did, harsh even by her standards… sacked from work, her brother’s chances of recovery all but extinguished, her stalker about to get probation AND even locking her dog in the car. The poor dog, like her initial lover Philip, ultimately proved a creature in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although he did serve a useful purpose of bringing a syringe into Paula’s proximity, which might as well have had a bell on it for seasoned crime drama fans.
5. That Paula’s decision to mercy-kill her brother could have been given a 90-minute drama all of its own, but here it was, treated as a 30-second entr’acte between all the other macabre happenings.
6. That, despite this terrible week, she still walked into the basement in the closing few minutes, spotted her poor dog but then was too busy kissing James – yes, that is correct – to hear Mac knocking at the door to tell her her assailant had been bailed and once again on the street.
7. That, despite it becoming all too believable that she might just have completely lost her marbles and succumbed to yet another sexual frisson, it seemed Paula had a plan – which was to park the aforementioned syringe in the neck she was simultaneously caressing. And that was just the beginning of Paula’s increasingly macabre revenge.
8. Perhaps most inexplicable of all... that, somehow, despite all the bonkers behaviour above, this over-the-top drama remained a guilty pleasure of nonsense, rescued from its nonsensical plot by the performances of Tom Hughes as whispering James, ruffled Owen McDonnell as Mac and, especially Denise Gough, whose calm hatred-fuelled machinations became gradually, strangely satisfying as they concluded with a perfectly smooth basement floor, Paula out on yet another date and all her demons seemingly buried along with the handyman. What an unlikely three hours we all just spent.
Catch up with all 3 episodes on BBCiPlayer.