A CRIME TO MISS IT
The edgy SBS drama East West 101 makes a blazing return with its second season. Guy Davis explains why.
RATED M CAST Don Hany, William McInnes, Susie Porter SUMMARY East West 101’ s gritty second season positions itself to flesh out its now familiar characters as Detective Zane Malik tackles racially motivated clashes from the perspective of a young Muslim, who is also that of an officer of the law.
It’s a big call, comparing a locally produced crime drama to the acclaimed American series The Wire, which is justifiably regarded one of the finest of all time. But the SBS show East West 101, which has recently returned for a second season, is getting such comparisons … and what’s more, it’s earning them.
The first season of the show, created by Steve Knapman and Kris Wyld of Wildside fame, explored multiculturalism in an Australia left fearful and suspicious in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
By partnering Zane Malik ( Don Hany), a young Muslim detective in the Sydney police force’s Major Crime Unit with conservative old-school cop Ray Crowley ( William McInnes), the series was able to deftly and organically fold hot-button topics such as racial conflict into a compelling police procedural.
Its sensitive but no-nonsense handling of the issues it tackled won East West 101 a devoted fan base and no small degree of critical acclaim ( it picked up several Silver Logie nominations and won an AFI Award).
But Knapman and Wyld reportedly struggled for months to come up with a suitable concept for a second season of the show and were on the verge of shutting it down completely, when the decision to further explore Malik’s Muslim cultural and religious background, as well as strengthen the focus on squad leader Patricia Wright ( Susie Porter), provided them with a wealth of new material.
The seven-episode run of East West 101’ s second season juggles many storylines and topics – with confronting issues like human trafficking and drug addiction among them – but these are woven into an overriding plot that spans the season’s entire run.
After a man is killed by a car bomb in a Sydney suburb, the resulting racially fuelled backlash leads to the kidnapping of an Islamic child.
Teaming with the National Security Organisation, Malik and the Major Crime Unit are on the case. But doubts are gradually raised over the motivation behind the bombing – was it really the work of Muslim extremists or is there something far more sophisticated and sinister in the works?
As he delves deeper into the mystery while attempting to help quell the urban tension and paranoia that resulted from the incident, Malik finds himself up against a conspiracy that reaches further than he imagined.
The series’ multi-layered subterfuge and intrigue is demanding – this isn’t a show you can simply have playing in the background – but it’s also captivating and thoughtprovoking ( Knapman has cited master of intrigue John le Carré, writer of A Perfect Spy and The Russia House, as an influence on the second season).
And while racial and social politics play a major part in East West 101, the show is never heavy-handed in its exploration of them. The character of Malik is continually striving to be a good cop, a good Muslim and a good man, and the series as a whole and Hany’s tough-minded, full-blooded performance constantly displays how these things are bound together.
SBS clearly has faith in East West 101 – while it delayed the season two launch so it wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the sure-fire success of the Hey Hey, It’s Saturday reunion specials, it has put it up against Seven’s Packed to the Rafters on Tuesday nights.
That faith is warranted, because East West 101 drama provides a bracing alternative to other crime series currently on offer.
Culture shock: Don Hany deals with racially fuelled violence on the streets of Sydney in East West 101.