When we last saw London detective Marcella Backland, she was thought to have died in a fire making her the perfect undercover officer. (See our review of of seasons one and two.) Frank (Hugo Speer), whose status as a police officer is never made clear, recruits and reprograms her to take on a new identity. The transformation is so complete that Marcella, reborn as a blond named Keira Devlin, begins to speak of her old self in the third person. While Frank manages to create Keira, he’s unable to cure Marcella’s mental problems, placing the undercover operation at risk.
Keira’s mission is to infiltrate the Maguires, a Belfast crime family involved in human trafficking, importing guns and drugs through the city’s port. Matriarch Katherine (a fabulous Amanda Burton), controls the business with a steel hand. While she walks with a cane, she’s fully capable of dishing out violence, either personally or by hiring thugs. Her son Finn (Aaron McCusker) is the Sonny Corleone of the family, able to keep people in line but not always making smart decisions. The other son, Rory (Michael Colgan), is a germaphobe who manages the books but rarely leaves his room.
Daughter Stacey (Kelly Gough) is married to Bobby Barrett (Martin McCann), responsible for managing the waterfront. He’s a hot head and reckless. Getting into a bar fight, Bobby kills the son of a British government official, which results in Detective Inspector Rav Sangha (Ray Panthaki), being dispatched from London to Belfast. That move brings complications, not only for the Maguires, but for Keira, since Rav was once Marcella’s colleague and even gave the eulogy at her memorial. She denies being Marcella, but he’s not convinced. And when he discovers that she’s living with the Maguires and sleeping with Finn, he becomes even more determined to find out what’s going on.
Keira’s backstory is that she’s a former police officer who was kicked off the force after she was found doing drugs. Katherine remains distrustful of Keira, but seeing no alternative asks her for help with Bobby’s situation. Despite Marcella’s issues, she is a skilled investigator and is able to thwart Rav’s case against Bobby. She earns points with the family, but only increases Rav’s scrutiny of her actions.
Jack Healy (Laurence Kinlan) spent time in prison for an assault, taking the fall for Finn. Jack’s loyalty was repaid with a promise to take care of his mother, Megan (Valerie Lilley), and daughter, Jessie (Emily Flain). Unfortunately, just as Jack is released from prison, Jessie dies from a drug overdose. Katherine, intending to use the drug dealer’s death to pressure Belfast’s mayor into leaving the docks alone, makes Jack promise he won’t seek revenge. Bobby, however, doesn’t get the memo and, acting on his own, kills the dealer.
Once again, Bobby finds himself on thin ice. Stacey, however, who has just given birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Katie, pleads with her mother to leave Bobby alone. Things quickly spiral out of control, leaving family members at odds with each other and Keira attempting to save those she cares about.
There are standouts among the supporting cast, particularly McCann as Bobby and Panthaki as Rav. Burton, who played the medical examiner, Dr. Sam Ryan, for eight seasons on the BBC’s Silent Witness, is chilling as the mercurial Katherine.
Friel’s performance is, at times, unnerving, particularly when she appears to be teetering on insanity. It’s only when she becomes Marcella the cop that she regains her balance. It’s a fierce and exhausting trip and, if season three’s ending is any indication, that journey is just beginning.
Marcella can be streamed on Netflix.
Photo courtesy of Netflix