Bloodlands, episode 2 recap: after that huge twist, do we actually know who Goliath is?

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Michael Hogan
·9 min read
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James Nesbitt stars in Bloodlands - BBC
James Nesbitt stars in Bloodlands - BBC

BBC One’s knotty Northern Irish noir continued with dramatic chases and Goliath-sized twists. But did it bring us any closer to identifying the serial killer and crane namesake? Here what happened in a head-spinning second episode.

Island grave gave up its secrets

We picked up where we left off: on the suitably desolate island in Strangford Lough where police had made a grim discovery. There were three skeletons, meaning one presumed victim of the long-dormant assassin code-named Goliath was still whereabouts unknown. They’d all been shot in the head at close quarters with a 9mm pistol, execution-style.

Protocol wouldn’t allow DCI Tom Brannick (James Nesbitt) near the investigation, quite rightly, since one of the bodies might be his long-missing wife Emma. Instead he settled for staring broodingly out of windows at bleak landscapes, like the tortured hero of a Scandi drama.

At this stage, they couldn’t tell if any of the bodies were women – although one was wearing an owl pendant that matched Emma Brannick’s. So was it her? No, closer examination eventually found out that all three were male. Well, it’s only midway through the series. Tom’s questions can’t all be answered yet. Soon there was to be another dramatic turn of events on that island, but more on that twist later.

Lorcan Cranitch as Jackie Twomey - Stefan Hill/BBC
Lorcan Cranitch as Jackie Twomey - Stefan Hill/BBC

Was Keenan kidnapping a red herring or honey trap?

On the orders of DCS Jackie Twomey (Lorcan Cranitch), Brannick concentrated on the “live” case: namely the kidnapping of IRA man turned haulage mogul Pat Keenan (Peter Ballance). He grilled Keenan about his Viagra-induced blurred vision (“Been overdoing the wee blueys?”), cracked a gag about “upstanding members” and threatened to tell Pat’s wife about “who he’d been riding”. It was, we soon realised, all a distraction tactic while tech whizz DC Billy “Birdy” Bird (Chris Walley, rapidly becoming a cult hero) covertly downloaded the data from Keenan’s phone.

They used geo-tracking to map pervy Pat’s movements on the day of the abduction, cross-referencing it with CCTV from places he’d been. Keenan had met a brunette woman in a café, then later left a haulage conference (can’t say we blame him) to get into her car and, seemingly voluntarily, drive to the hotel where he was held captive. A motorcyclist had since visited the venues in question, confiscating security footage. It could be Goliath cleaning up after himself.

As he chased shadows, Brannick grew increasingly suspicious that the kidnapping, which seemed to be pointless – Keenan was chained up, near a fake bomb, with no ransom demanded – had instead been orchestrated by someone whose main aim was for police to reopen the cold case and find Goliath. After all, there had been no Harland & Wolff calling cards back in 1998. This Goliath-hunter might be laying a false trail.

Peter Ballance and James Nesbitt - BBC
Peter Ballance and James Nesbitt - BBC

Bloodlands lingo decoded

A little less police jargon and fewer acronyms this week. What there was revolved around the ICLVR – the real-life Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, established to locate missing people presumed murdered during the Troubles. With typical gallows humour, they were wryly nicknamed “Time Team”, “History Boys” and “Time Bandits”.

Taking jurisdiction over the burial site, they set about identifying the victims, informing their families – we saw them visit David Corry’s brother Adam (Ian McElhinney) and Joe Harkin’s widow Siobhan (Cara Kelly) – and returning their personal effects. Clues might be contained therein but frustratingly for detectives, any findings weren’t admissible. Legally, at least.

We also heard how military intelligence officer Emma Brannick had been “a spook with 14 Intelligence Company” – the notorious SAS-trained reconnaissance unit known as "The Det”. Involved in plain clothes operations during the Troubles, the unit was accused of collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in connection to IRA deaths.

Could Brannick’s wife still be alive?

Sidekick DS Niamh McGovern (Charlene McKenna) befriended a new character in police pathologist Justin “Dinger” Bell (Luther’s Michael Smiley). A long-serving veteran who knew Brannick of old, Dinger called him “Tom, the great enigma” and told Niamh how, for the sake of the peace process, police had heavily suppressed the Goliath case – “and underneath it all, poor Tom, just trying to find his wife”.

He soon raised a tantalising theory. “Who’s to say Emma Brannick didn’t engineer her own disappearance?” mused Dinger. “If anyone could, she could.” Now that would be a plot twist.

Charlene McKenna and James Nesbitt - BBC
Charlene McKenna and James Nesbitt - BBC

High-octane armed chase uncovered old enmity

When there was a sighting of the mystery motorcyclist’s cloned licence plates, Brannick and McGovern set off in perilous pursuit of this possible connection to Goliath. They tailed the rider until he knocked on Siobhan Harkin’s door and suddenly pulled a gun. Startling him before he could fire, they gave chase, apprehended him and made him remove his helmet. It was Pat Keenan’s hirsute henchman.

Keenan and Harkin used to run guns over the border for the IRA. There was a dispute about who owed money to whom. Keenan falsely believed that Siobhan, who was rumoured to have taken over Joe’s operation when he disappeared, was behind his kidnapping. Now he’d ordered her killing in retaliation. Confused yet? Hold onto your all-weather anorak because things were about to get even more murky.

Twomey was in cahoots with IRA widow

He was already looking shifty, thanks to his habit of peering through blinds and saying “trust me” to people who clearly didn’t. DCS Twomey also has a habit of wearing waistcoats, rather like DS Steve Arnott in Line of Duty.

Now the grumpy gaffer went off-piste. After the Keenan-on-Harkin attack, he snuck off to a remote caravan where he had a secret burner phone stashed and made a furtive call to… Siobhan Harkin. The pair met up in a graveyard – talk about a location freighted with meaning – where Twomey told her: “We need to be careful.”

What was twitchy Twomey up to? No wonder he’d demurred when Birdy suggested putting Mrs Harkin under surveillance.

Rugby match scare made it personal

Trauma consultant Tori Matthews (Lisa Dwan) had been befriending Brannick’s daughter Izzy (Lola Petticrew), showing a tad too much interest in her parental tragedy. Dr Matthews mentioned that she’d lost her own father when she was young. When the ICLVR’s island dig was reported on TV, Izzy casually mentioned that “daddy thinks the third body is a priest”. Matthews did a double take.

Lisa Dwan, James Nesbitt and Lola Petticrew - BBC
Lisa Dwan, James Nesbitt and Lola Petticrew - BBC

The fragrant medic inserted herself further when she gatecrashed a family outing to watch Ulster Rugby. In flirtatious conversation with Tom, she explained how she’d been living in London but recently returned to Belfast to care for her sick mother.

On their way out of Ravenhill Stadium, Izzy suddenly vanished among the crowds. Cure a visceral moment of sheer panic Tom until Tom realised she’d been bundled into a van, given a scare, then driven down an alley and thrown out again. A badly shaken Izzy passed on an ominous threat from Pat Keenan: “Threaten my family and I’ll threaten yours”. As she told Tom later: “I know you’d do anything to protect me.” We’ve got a feeling that might be tested…

Dr Dreamy was connected to case after all

As we’d begun to suspect, Dr Matthews had a motive for sniffing around the Brannicks. Visiting a care home, she told her elderly mother: “They found dad. He was murdered.”

Her mother wept movingly over a photograph of Father Simon Quinlan – the third body in the island grave. It seemed the arms-dealing priest had an illegitimate family. Was his secret daughter on a revenge mission?

Brannick identified Corry as the Goliath-hunter

Tension had been steadily building between Brannick and Adam Corry. The grieving old man made noises about how his brother might have been killed over a consignment of Protestant paramilitary weapons and vowed: “I’m going to find the answers. It’s all going to come out.” He railed at the ICLVR shutting down Brannick’s investigation and scoffed at mentions of Twomey.

His brother’s personal effects included a UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) ring and that owl pendant – which had, we now saw, the initial “E” engraved on the back. E for Emma Brannick, maybe? During their seemingly polite chat, Brannick stared significantly at a teapot with two cups, at Corry’s bulging notebook and his framed tribute to local First World War hero Frank MacFeale.

When Brannick learned that MacFeale’s name had been used as a pseudonym when the Goliath-hunter quizzed the Strangford Lough harbourmaster, he realised it was Corry. But who'd been round for cosy cups of tea? Dr McBlondie? The mystery brunette kidnapper? Cue a 10-minute climactic sequence as Tom stormed round to Corry’s house and went fully rogue.

Ian McElhinney as Adam Corry - BBC
Ian McElhinney as Adam Corry - BBC

Shock shooting raised the prospect that our hero is Goliath

In his confrontation with Corry, Brannick learned that he knew about Goliath from drunk, loose-lipped coppers back in 1998. Had Corry somehow masterminded a kidnapping with the killer’s hallmarks, designed to make police reopen the case? Surely the house-bound pensioner wasn’t capable himself, so who had he told?

Snatching Corry’s notebook, he saw that it was filled with theories that Twomey was either Goliath himself or protecting the assassin’s identity. An old IRA contact, possibly. Twomey had been in all the right places over the years and now inserted himself into the investigation again. In Brannick, though, the justice-seekers had a possible ally. As Brannick scanned Corry’s scribblings, the wily old stager pocketed a dictaphone.

The pair eventually struck a deal: Brannick would take Corry (complete with oxygen tank) to see his brother’s final resting place on the island, in exchange for the identity of his fellow Goliath-hunter. In a graveside showdown, Corry intimated that his brother David had an affair with a married woman – and it was Emma Brannick, hence the owl pendant. He asked if Tom had found out, got Twomey to kill David and had been covering for his old mate ever since. Was Twomey actually Goliath? Was Tom?

Corry’s repeated use of Brannick’s full name gave the game away – he was trying to record an incriminating admission on the dictaphone. “No one will ever hear it,” promised Brannick. Corry protested: “I came here to see my brother.” “You will,” snarled Brannick, cold-bloodedly shooting him in the head.

Gasp. Roll credits. Even if Tom is Goliath, could he really have killed his own wife? Jimmy Nesbitt's a long way from Cold Feet romcom territory now.

Detective and doctor join forces next week

Next Sunday in the penultimate episode of this taut four-parter, a police manhunt is launched after Adam Corry disappears in, ahem, “mysterious circumstances”. Awkward. Meanwhile, Tori teams up with Tom in his quest to identify Goliath. See you back here to sift through its phone data and retrace its dodgy movements.