Network Ten’s Wake in Fright
Directed by Kriv Stenders
Written by Stephen M. Irwin (based on the novel by Kenneth Cook)
* For a recap & review of Part 1, click here.
John Grant (Sean Keenan) is driven into the darkness of the Outback with Mick and Joe Jaffries (Anna Samson & Lee Jones), Doc Tydon (Alex Dimitriades), too. They get so far then the school teacher’s taken outside, given a rifle. Have a go. Everyone’s drinking, of course. Few snorts of the powder. Then it’s shooting pigs in the bush, gutting, cleaning them.
After a bit they head out with some night vision goggles, trying to hunt down a big pig that gets away from them. Mick, Joe, and John go on together while Doc stays back at the truck. Things are tense, to say the least. Are they luring him out there for a purpose? Or is it really just for a bit of mad fun?
John eventually trips over a dead pig, hitting his head. He doesn’t wake until morning. Out there in the wilderness. Not entirely alone: Doc is there with him, he’s just dead.
“They‘re just worried. Their secrets aren‘t safe with me.”
Thus begins that run down the road we saw John in the middle of at the beginning of Part 1. Behind him, Mick and Joe chase. Lucky enough the teacher runs into none other than copper Jock Crawford (David Wenham). John tells him about Doc, what happened with Mick and Joe. But it all looks a bit too suspect, sadly. Jock doubts the story. So, they go have a look for the body. And it’s not there. Only a pig’s corpse. Was he hallucinating? More likely the two deviants went back to collect it, to further make the teacher look crazy. Jock makes him blow a breathalyser, and afterwards they’re going to go to the Jaffries scrapyard.
Crawford takes none of it seriously, questioning Mick and Joe while John watches on. The debt is brought up, all that. More and more John’s looking worse, getting in deeper trouble. The alcohol, the drug use, claiming there’s a drug lab out in the scrapyard, it’s bad optics for our unlucky school teacher. Not only is this an existential descent into Hell, it’s all but a literal one, right on Earth; in the fucking Yabba. We do find out about the Jaffries parents, this is why the car is kept with the pictures, the flowers in it as a sort of memorial, like I assumed. Bit of backstory to these two.
Crawford takes John back to the pub, they get a room upstairs. Senior Constable Sandy Fanshawe (Jade Alberts) does a strip search. It’s all becoming far too real for the lad at this point, even worse than it was already. The story about what went on at Doc’s caravan, between him and John, is coming out. Janette Hynes (Caren Pistorius) gives a statement saying she saw the two of them up there, naked in the morning; she’s also there to take a blood sample. While she does he begs for help, though surely none is coming, is it?
After they’re clued up at the room, John’s alone again, and the brother-sister drug dealing duo are back to find him. He manages to slip out the window, but without most of his things. He runs to the cop shop. There, he sees a wall full of photos, aiding him in understanding that the police and the Jaffries siblings are quite close. Yes, everyone in the Yabba are connected. He takes off. Trying to get away, he stumbles onto Ursula Hynes (Robyn Malcolm). She confirms the cops, the others, “the lot of them” are murderers: “They cover it up.” Looks like he might’ve found help after all.
She takes him to her place into one of the rooms, then locks the door behind him. Maybe not the help he was hoping for, I suppose. He finds a phone in there, Janette’s number on speed dial. But before he can call, Ursula returns. She’ll give him the car, so long as he gives her something in exchange, a bit of intimacy. He won’t do it, which is surprising after all he’s been up to these past few days.
Doesn’t matter. Because Tim’s come home. He knows about the teacher, what he’s been doing with the Jaffries’ and Doc. Mostly he laments the young man not being “a buyer,” and feeling he’s lost his touch. Gives John the time to get out unseen.
He comes across a payphone and calls a man named Wayne (Alan Dukes), the man we’ve seen in a few of John’s little flashbacks, telling him he’s in Bundanyabba. However, the call drops off before he can say more. Naturally there’s fuck all signal on his cell, as well; useless technology, still today in 2017. But what about this man with the metal detector he keeps seeing in the distance? Who is he? Is he real?
Well, more running is required when he spots the cops. He stumbles into a neighbourhood where he finally reaches Janette’s house. He pleads for her to help, to drive him out of that town. There’s more to the whole story: John discovers that Doc and Janette were once together, they had a little girl. He then reveals what happened in the bush when they went shooting. She comes to believe he played a part in killing Doc.
Now John’s relegated to sleeping in a rundown train on the outskirts of town, where the remnants of the mining company sit rusted and forgotten, nowhere left to go. He walks the road and gets picked up by a friendly gentleman, the one he saw back before his stranding in the Yabba. A bit of fate, no? He gets up the road a ways, but where to next? Long haul to Sydney, especially without a stitch of cash.
John convinces a trucker to take him on the road. Just has to ride in the back; even the fucking dog gets to ride up front, mate! Rough. Yet beggars can’t be choosers, not in his situation. The teacher almost makes it away, before Crawford shows up. The trucker doesn’t give him up, though. Surprising.
Only problem is he’s been brought back to the Yabba, not to Sydney. Like Albert Camus once wrote: “One always finds one‘s burden again.”
He’s found by the cops all over again. And then he’s got to share a cell with the Jaffries siblings. The wanted to let everything “blow over,” but John brought the law into it. Turns out Mick and Joe are a lot sadder than they appear on the outside, for all their roughness. “What a mess you made,” Mick chastises him. Are there bigger villains at work? I’d bet on it.
Crawford takes John in for an interrogation. He’s got footage from the dash cam on the Jaffries truck, too. After a while we see Doc head into the dark, as John stumbles, and fires blindly. Then the school teacher realises: “I shot him.” Obviously not intentional, but nevertheless, this is a dark descent he’s fallen into headlong. A nightmarish odyssey in the Outback. An entire existence ruined in the matter of a few days.
In a daze, John stumbles out of the station. He happens upon a cab, the one driven by the woman who took him to the Yabba in the first place. He likewise finds the gun she keeps in the trunk. He takes it with him on a walk out to the old mine.
We see those memories John keeps having, his flashbacks. He already proposed to Robyn (Hannah Fredericksen). However, it was just a four month relationship, too quick. She rejected his offer. So he drank lots while she swam. He fell asleep, waking up to see a man with a metal detector. Across the beach are lifeguards, trying to resuscitate Robyn without any such luck.
Then John pulls the trigger, holding the gun to his head.
He’s a “shitty shot,” serving him well. Rather than dying, he only does a number on himself. He lives to see another day. When he comes to, Crawford is there for a chat. He laments the various troubles of the Yabba. In the end, the copper opts not to hold much against the teacher, proving himself not the small town villain we once assumed; he doesn’t charge John for Doc’s death, either.
John sees Janette later. She tells him about her daughter who drowned, clearly why Doc spiralled into the existence he’d been leading. We see that Doc purposefully walked out into the darkness, hoping one of the others would shoot him that night. Suicide by misadventure.
After so much has gone on, John Grant leaves the Yabba behind. He goes back to being a teacher. Perhaps he’s able to become a better man, a better person, after so much trouble. Whatever’s in store for the school teacher, he’s discovered parts of himself that he never knew existed, for better, or for worse.
Fantastic mini-series! I know some of the reviews didn’t think so, but I enjoyed it, thoroughly. So tense in all the right places, and how it all unfolded was exciting. I do love the 1971 film, it was merely a treat to see a different adaptation of Cook’s novel. Plenty of fine acting to boot.