BLOG Dewi Huw Owen

NWR Issue 113

Y Gwyll/Hinterland, Series 3, Episodes 7 and 8

Y Gwyll, Series 3, is available to watch in Welsh right now with subtitles. The English version, Hinterland, screens on BBC in the New Year

Throughout its three series, Y Gwyll has always looked and sounded the part. From the sweeping vistas of the foreboding Ceredigion hills to the intricate shifts of focus with the minutiae of each crime scene, the show has set new standards in cinematography in Welsh-language television. The sparse soundscapes that have accompanied Matthias’ investigations in his cinematic hinterland have perfectly accented this visual feast with their eerie and unsettling abstractions. Such has been the consistent quality of the show’s production that the mysteries themselves have at times seemed dwarfed in comparison. The limited two hour runtime afforded to them has meant that some of the stories have relied more on the immediate spectacle of crime, rather than the gradual revelation of criminality, and have thus occasionally struggled to match the heavy grandeur of their setting.

This, however, is emphatically not the case with the final two episodes of this third series. Far from feeling rushed, the story told here has had three series in which to establish itself, and the entirety of the third series to come to its crisis point. It knows its characters, their motivations, and their weaknesses. It also knows its own structure, and how best to reveal those characters, motivations, and weaknesses to its audience. It knows itself; thus, it is whole, and quite magnificent.

Last Sunday’s episode opened with the harrowingly lonely suicide of the recovering abuse victim, Catrin John, in a call-back to the very first case investigated in the first series, and to the persistent whispered allegations of abuse in the abandoned children’s home at Pontarfynach. This suicide, and its quickly established link to the recently deceased former detective Iwan Thomas, sends Matthias and Mared Rhys back to review the case once more. As they study the years’ old documents pertaining to the children’s home they find themselves confronted by a conspicuous lack of due inquiry into the evidence presented in the case. This, combined with the abrupt closing of the investigation into Iwan Thomas’ death by John Powell, and Prosser’s continued objection to any and all of their investigations, further fuel Matthias and Rhys’ suspicions that something is afoot. Therefore, they take it on themselves to investigate the matter further.

This is an episode of desks filled with papers, of faces staring helplessly out of the cold of old photographs, and of disparate strands of seemingly unrelated data being wound and unwound into increasingly stronger threads of truth. This story is one of detection, deduction, and dedication. And above all, it is a story of conversation – primarily between Matthias and Rhys as they sift through the years of silence surrounding the case, but also between the detectives and the evidence itself. As in every good mystery, the process of analysis is king, for it anoints the moments of revelation with earned and deserved nobility. The depiction of that process here is simply thrilling.

Surrounding the case are two figures who function as living manifestations of the power of silence to mask the truth of evidence. On the one hand, we meet with Paul Webb, the last survivor from the group of friends abused in the children’s home, who may hold the key to cracking the case, but whose reluctance to disclose anything about the events of his childhood arises from a lifetime of fearing to raise his voice. On the other, the all-encompassing shadow of the retired police chief Robert Owen, Prosser’s knowing confidant and Powell’s blackmailer, functions as Webb’s binary opposite. His calm, weaponized words can obscure all the facts and bring about the deepest of silences in those around him. Matthias and Rhys’ position as interrogators of evidence challenge both of them, for good or ill, and give each rare revelation they uncover a precious, precarious value.

Under this tale of detection and vocalizing of a mute world simmers the tortured guilt of Brian Prosser: suppressor, conspirator, and murderer. Of all the characters portrayed in Y Gwyll throughout the three series, he has been the most consistently compelling, the most terrifyingly arresting, with his brooding presence in the police station embodying the gloaming that has forever engulfed the series. His effect on the world around him is such that, whilst his time on screen in last Sunday’s episode was minimal, his influence was felt everywhere. However, like the hidden truths of the detectives’ evidence, and like the loaded silence of the show’s wounded world, even his time in the shadows is limited by the steady march of justice.

The story told in these two episodes makes full use of the time afforded to it to develop a deep and rewarding structure. Its focus on evidence, and evidence-based plot progression, is a wonderful example of how the best detective dramas can demand their audience’s attention. Its characters are compelling, layered and coherent, its mystery is fascinating, multifaceted and well delivered, and its conclusion is, in the most Aristotelian sense of the word, a genuine and heart-breaking tragedy.

Y Gwyll has finally come to interrogate the gloaming at the very heart of its own hinterland; it has come to know itself, and to fully inhabit the terrible beauty of its dark cinematic world.

Dewi Huw Owen is a PhD student at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, writing on translation theory and the history of translation in Wales during the nineteenth century. Huw won the Urdd Eisteddfod Crown in 2008 and has published fiction and nonfiction bilingually in publications including Tu Chwith, Taliesin and Y Pedair Tudalen.


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