Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Fixer: Peter Mullan Pulls the Strings

John Mercer has more buttons to push than an accordion. That makes him the perfect assassin for a shadowy, master manipulator on indefinite “leave” from the police force. Of course, he is also good at killing people. You could ask his aunt and uncle, but Mercer whacked them. Rest assured, he had good reason, or he couldn’t be the [anti-]hero of Ben Richards’ The Fixer, which premieres this Monday on KCET in Los Angeles.

Mercer was trained by the British Special Forces. Unlike the French, you would go feel comfortable going to war knowing they had your back. Unfortunately, while Mercer was away, his little sister was sexually abused by the orphans’ guardians, their now very late aunt and uncle. Clearly, Mercer was disappointed by their behavior. However, his hotheaded nature makes him an attractive recruit for Lenny Douglas. Apparently acting with the secret sanction of high ranking police authorities, Douglas runs a de facto hit squad for organized crime figures too powerful for traditional law enforcement to handle.

At least, that is how Douglas presents the gig to Mercer. The longer the suddenly rehabilitated ex-con works with his new puppet master, the more he comes to distrust him. Nevertheless, he sticks with it, so he can look after his troubled single-mother sister. He also is attracted to Rose Chamberlain, a former copper who now serves as Douglas’s designated seductress. Once again, Mercer finds himself rooming with his former cellmate, Calum McKenzie, who will provide “logistical” support, like breaking-and-entering and general scrounging. Their first targets will fall pretty easily in the first episode. The question will be whether Mercer can accept such a Faustian bargain.

The stakes will rise considerably in the second episode when Douglas tries to play kingmaker during a succession battle for control of London’s leading crime family. Things will get complicated when McKenzie accidentally kills Douglas’s preferred choice, a vile entitled little racist gangster brat. Matters are ostensibly more clear cut in the third episode (perhaps the best of series one) when Douglas turns the team loose on an Albanian gangster looking to expand into British territory, but his methods continue to trouble Mercer.

Mercer really starts to doubt Douglas in episodes four and five, when his targets reveal sensitive information that rock him back on his heels. It is particularly awkward learning Patrick Finch was his predecessor, because he is Mercer’s target and he has become a raging psychotic. Thus, it is rather inevitable things will come to a head between Mercer and Douglas in the conclusion of series one.

As Mercer, Andrew Buchan is refreshingly manly and pretty darned hardnosed. Mercer is worlds away from his best-known role, playing the father of the young murder victim in the original Broadchurch, but he carries it off well. Nevertheless, the real reason to watch The Fixer is to enjoy the great Peter Mullan sneering and scheming his way through each episode as Douglas. He is just a complete bastard, in the most entertaining way possible. Jody Latham arguably makes McKenzie, the goofball stoner, seem less annoying over time, which is certainly something, while Tamzin Outhwaite’s Chamberlain holds her own against Buchan and Mullan during some surprisingly harsh verbal sparring sessions.

The off-the-books morally-conflicted hitman is not a staggeringly new concept, but it is a durable one. In this case, the cast really kicks it up a notch, especially Mullan, who truly is one of the best in the business. His arrogant sarcasm is television gold. Recommended for fans of darker, attitude-heavy British crime dramas, The Fixer starts its broadcast run this coming Monday (3/28) on KCET.