Born to Kill is Channel 4’s new psychological thriller. And boy, is it a disturbing one too. The climax to this debut episode was shocking, so much so that I had to look away. And even then, I felt sick afterwards. But this goes to prove the emotional power of this drama.
It is not an easy or comfortable watch. Even before the episode’s disturbing final scene, the sinister confidence of the drama’s protagonist, Sam, as we follow him through his daily life, is enough to leave you with an uncomfortable feeling at the pit of your stomach. Sure, there is something quite noble in spending your time after school reading to hospital patients, but to sit and comb the hair of a dead man with such expressionless ease is something altogether more unsettling. The fact that a serene and beautiful soundtrack is played over this latter scene just makes you feel even more concerned about Sam’s mental state.
Jack Rowan excels in the lead role. He brings such a confident demeanor to his character that he makes Sam seem much older than a teenager. Whereas this would make some characters appear unrealistic as a result, the incongruity between the school uniform and Rowan’s demeanor actually adds to the sinister nature of the character. We see glimpses of the vulnerable teenager, as he holds back the tears at his friend James’ house and practices the story of his dad’s death in front of his bedroom mirror. It appears that his dad is an emotional trigger; indeed, we know that he is in prison for what sounds like a terrible crime. What it is, however, remains shrouded in mystery. This vulnerability is only fleeting however, and any empathy created remains firmly on the fence, even as the possibility of Sam having inherited some kind of evil disposition from his father is implicitly suggested. It remains to be seen how the nature vs nurture debate plays out in the remaining episodes. In spite of this, there is no getting away from Rowan’s success in creating a deeply troubling and threatening character.
There is a strong supporting cast alongside Rowan, with Romola Garai as Sam’s mother and Daniel Mays playing the father of Chrissy. The feisty and strong-willed daughter is played by Lara Peake, appearing in her first major role, and she captures perfectly the teenage angst and rebellion of Sam’s love interest. Judging by the early signs, I think there will be plenty of tension and fireworks to come if the simmering anger evident underneath these two characters keeps bubbling up to the surface.
Overall, Born to Kill‘s first episode was a remarkable one. The sinister undertones through the first hour only made the final scene even more shocking. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here, but if it gets anymore visually disturbing, I might have to turn off the TV, and that, for me, would be a rarity. If so, the jury’s out on whether the writers and director will have gone too far. Nevertheless, Born to Kill looks a disturbingly promising drama.