‘Taken Down’ and the underbelly of the Irish economic miracle
Taken Down / Amazon

First it was called the Celtic Tiger and then the Celtic Phoenix. The rise of Ireland to a European economic powerhouse was fueled initially by a housing boom which then crashed in the wake of the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble. The Phoenix then rose from the ashes fueled this time by foreign direct investment as Ireland became a corporate and particularly a tech and Silicon Valley tax shelter. This phenomenon even gave rise to what in tax swindling parlance is referred to as a “Double Irish with a Dutch sandwich,” a way for a company to funnel both U.S. and European profits through the low tax rates of Ireland and the Netherlands and then on into Caribbean countries with zero tax rates so that if the accounting is done to perfection the original company pays no taxes at all.

This “Leprechaun Economics” profited a few while leaving the many untouched, and led in the most recent election to the rejection of the two ruling business parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and the popular embrace of Sinn Fein, which promised, like Bernie Sanders in the U.S., to redress the blatant inequality that now defines the country, focusing on health care, education, and housing.

This is the background from which springs the Irish series Taken Down (available on Amazon), an often bitter grappling with the underside of the economic miracle as seen from the perspective of a family of Nigerian refugees. The series begins with an African mother, Abeni Bankole, and her two kids explaining that her husband has been killed, swept into the sea on the trip over and that she is seeking a new life in Ireland. We then flash forward four years later where the family of three is still trapped in a one-room flat that is part of a decaying high-rise on the edge of Dublin. This hovel is contrasted to frequent long shots of a modern downtown with its gleaming freeways and polished corporate skyscrapers. The bright lights of the economic miracle stand in stark contrast to the drab nether region of those on the outside of that miracle.

The mother is forced to do clandestine cleaning work in a brothel which, it turns out, preys upon young refugee girls for its ill-gotten gains. Brian Gleeson is particularly effective and loathsome in the series as the supposedly caring government supervisor of the housing estate, which he uses as a site from which to traffic underage girls into the brothel while also exploiting them himself. The death of one of these girls brings in the Irish police, which includes a sympathetic female inspector and an at first casually racist hotshot young male detective.

The show is at its best in documenting the casual prejudice and air of superiority projected by the supervisor, the male cop, and most blatantly and offhandedly by the gangster overlord of the brothel who displays an air of detached insouciance as he manipulates the girls and the other Nigerians who work for him. The mother, who tries to protect both her sons and the girls in the brothel as much as she can while under the careful scrutiny of the gangster boss, is the emotional center of the series. She has been compared to Brecht’s Mother Courage, a scavenger in the Thirty Years War. Abeni, though, is far more caring and less stoic, though like Brecht’s character she is also trapped in her own kind of war, this time a class war, and forced to accommodate herself to it.

The irony is the Irish have always been thought of as the downtrodden of Europe. But in the wake of the wealth that is permeating the country, here instead they project their superiority on the even more downtrodden. The values of the corporate scam at the top of the Irish pyramid fostering tax evasion seep down onto the street. Here we watch the Irish lowlifes pursuing the same kind of profit at all costs fueled by greed and with more visible exploitative consequences experienced most profusely by the young Nigerian women in the brothel.

The Nigerian mother’s plight is a far harsher but more realistic view of the problems of integration into the West than the proud Nigerian nurse who is the heroine of CBS and Chuck Lorre’s Bob Hearts Abishola. That series is a very touching romance, but in comparison to Taken Down, it also highlights a more bleached view of the ruggedness of the African immigrant experience.

Hunters and the commodity of evil

There is nothing impoverished about the high production values of Amazon’s Hunters, a flashy BIFF-BAM-POW, highly-stylized, comic-book version of the Holocaust and its wake. It has drawn criticism because of its overinflated scenes from the camps, including one of a human chessboard where the pieces taken off the table are then slaughtered. Hannah Arendt talked about the banality of evil in her coverage of the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis after the war. Here, what we have is the “commodity of evil.” Unlike, say, Jojo Rabbit, which has something serious and heartfelt to say about the limiting stupidity of xenophobia and hate speech, this show is only about the hyperactive narratives now fueling the race between Netflix and Amazon and the other streaming services for viewers.

Hunters / Amazon

The series is open about its comic-book intentions. There is one point where the boy who is being brought into the gang of Nazi hunters, each with their own “powers,” asks the leader how he put the team together, referring to him as “Professor X.” This references a concentration camp plot at the origin of the X-Men and acknowledges the comic-book aspect of the series.

Hunters does deal with aspects of the post-Holocaust experience, including Operation Paperclip, where the U.S. secretly brought Nazi scientists to work on its projects, most notably the space race and the hydrogen bomb. This is well-traveled material, though, and was done much better even on series TV in The X-Files. Here the intersection with reality only adds to the superhero and supervillain bluster to the point where the end of season one is the introduction of the ultimate Holocaust villain, here reduced to the status of a Magneto, the X-Men’s arch foe.

‘Hunters’ review: Amazon’s violent anti-Nazi drama has potential but needs sharper direction

The show is set in 1977 and draws upon other comic-like pop illusions, including Blaxploitation costumes and imagery and campy Batman graphics from that 1970s show, all of which aid in dislocating the show from any factual historical grounding.

This is Al Pacino’s first series. He is at the center of it as the leader of the band and is perhaps the most troubling character in the series. He preaches a violent form not of justice but revenge, justified by the still active and lethal presence of the Nazis. There is a recognition that the violence he perpetuates is the result of what happened to him in the camps, but this realization is lost within the show’s overwhelming attitude—and the Pacino character’s persistent argument—that the only real imperative is a forward thrust toward more unquestioned violence. Yes, there is a rebirth today of a never-dead anti-Semitism and the Nazi sentiments never die—witness the far-right AfD in Germany. However, there are no global plots for a Nazi takeover, and thus the violence the show promotes may be necessary self-defense. But it could also eerily rationalize other forms of violence prevalent today, including that of Israeli settlers and their protectors against the Palestinians.


CONTRIBUTOR

Dennis Broe
Dennis Broe

Dennis Broe is a television, film, and culture critic. His criticism appears in Morning Star, People’s World; Culture Matters, Crime Fiction Lover, and is on the Pacifica Network in the U.S., and on Breaking Glass on Art District Radio in Paris. His books include Birth of the Binge: Serial TV and The End of Leisure and his novel Left of Eden about the Hollywood Blacklist. Broe taught in the Master’s Program in Film and Television Studies at the Sorbonne, Paris.

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