The third season of Janet King tackles the topical issue of organised crime in sport
The ABC can take a deep breath with the arrival of the third season of highly successful legal drama Janet King last week, just as the million or so fans of the crusading prosecutor did. Aunty has been subject to a considered attack for its neglect of original Australian content in recent weeks, with its former director of TV, the highly respected Kim Dalton, claiming that it “has demonstrated it cannot be trusted or relied upon to prioritise its engagement with Australian content”.
Like its predecessors, the third season of Janet King is a judiciously realised mystery, shading over into courtroom drama and procedural cop show, and as always tapping assuredly into the mythology of crime fiction.
Once again those confident storytellers — producers and writers Greg Haddrick, Hilary Bonney and Felicity Packard, executive producer the redoubtable Karl Zwicky, along with director Peter Andrikidis and his long-time collaborator director of photography Joe Pickering — have delivered antipodean realism as good as anything from the omnipresent Scandinavians, and just as pleasurable. (The show actually screens in Denmark, as well as Finland, Iceland, Spain, Britain and some American territories.)
Marta Dusseldorp, an actress of sheer technical effrontery, so convincing as prosecutor Janet King, again leads her accomplished ensemble cast with that combination of authority and vulnerability that’s made her local TV’s leading performer. (She’s also an associate producer this time around.)
It is a fine working example of the way stories of detection and suspense are combined in this new age of storytelling. Not only are we concerned with what has happened in the narrative as it unfolds, the story moving backwards through time in search of an explanation, but we are also gripped by what is going to happen as the story moves forwards to catastrophe. And there’s been plenty of that for Janet King as this series has evolved, with her life, and around her, constantly under threat.
There is always that sense of discrepancy about King’s investigations, of something wrong that may lead to something worse and threaten her happiness and family. This kind of mystery story, as the great Californian crime writer Ross Macdonald suggested, reminds us that the world is still largely unknown, and “may suggest that our own minds have secret places where the dangerous past still lies hidden”. And the past is always there to trip King up, as this series will again demonstrate.
Returning to Australia after a secondment to the directorate of public prosecutions in Fiji, where she trained up a bunch of local prosecutors, King, a woman of grit and guts, humour and compassion, has been selected by the National Crime Commission to identify and dismantle the influence of organised crime in Australian sport. She’s holding in-camera hearings to establish the truth behind match-fixing links in various codes and the links between those gambling and organised crime. The issue is certainly timely.
The scourge of match fixing is seen as a bigger threat to the integrity of sport by global administrative bodies than doping; India’s betting market alone is akin to a “parallel economy”. The constant investigations might be explained by the reciprocal connection between betting companies and sports sponsorship or, particularly, the saturation of gambling media with sports broadcasting. (The Australian government is even proposing a ban on gambling advertising during telecasts of live sports, which many, particularly those with young children, will welcome.)
King’s focus is chasing the big cats, not the players, who are usually pawns in the larger game. The underlying premise for the season revolves around her investigation into the death of a young cricketer that uncovers a web of organised crime. We’re in for another run-andgun ride with King as she discovers how the marketable public face of professional sport meets the underworld of match fixing. (We’ve already met the oleaginous Darren Faulkes, played forcefully by Robert Mammone, owner of a million-dollar construction company, who is obsessed with his football club.)
She is again aided by attentive federal sergeant Bianca Grieve (Anita Hegh), still her lover, and reporting to mentor Tony Gillies (Peter Kowitz), the only person able to convince her to return from Fiji. Her former right hand, Richard Stirling (Hamish Michael), is now a top barrister for several of the athletes under suspicion, not altogether comfortably it must be said; he’s ill at ease in the strip clubs where they like to recuperate after games. And the opportunistic Owen Mitchell (Damian WalsheHowling) is now the head of the DPP.
Her independent investigation (“I do things my way,” she states adamantly) started with a number of suspicious betting accounts. Most recently, a betting plunge on a wide being called in a Twenty20 cricket match suggests a well-organised syndicate at work. But after the betting plunge is exposed, the young bowler responsible, Oliver Pittman (Jamie Meyer-Williams) from the Firecrackers team, is labelled a national disgrace by the press and takes his own life.
Even though King has never seen a cricket match, she is appalled by the young cricketer’s death. And with her own children starting to be recognised for their sporting prowess — daughter Emma has a noticeable turn of speed on the running track — her campaign for the innocent victims of the betting syndicates is only reinforced.
The first episode played out with King trying to uncover who told Oliver to cheat and who signalled from the crowd at the opportune time. Cricket legend Clay Nelson (Don Hany), captain of the Firecrackers, is a person of interest to her inquiries. Under interrogation, he’s evasive and panicked. After Nelson decides to come clean to the commission, he receives a mystery visitor in the night and the fallout is tragic.
This week’s episode sees the investigation ratchet up a gear with a Northern Devils player on a manslaughter charge after a home-ground brawl and the team’s major sponsor Pax Car Rentals suspected of links to betting syndicates. When the NCC requests evidence from company’s chairman, King discovers it is her estranged father, Graham King (John Bach).
The story is largely told from Janet King’s point of view. But Bonney and Haddrick, now highly experienced at this kind of hybrid crime story, emphasise the development of character and social background. One of the great strengths of Janet King is the way its creators are able to make a human drama of the legalistic process of inquiry without undercutting the power of the mystery at its heart. We’ve certainly come a long way since Blue Heelers was the top crime series on our screens. Thursday, 8.30pm, ABC.