Black Earth Rising Episode 3 might have felt a little unfocused at times, but a powerful atmosphere and a stellar leading performance kept it on the right track.
At one point in Black Earth Rising Episode 3, writer-director Hugo Blick deploys a monochrome animation to tell the story of a Tutsi woman, Juliana (Sarah Amankwah), who had been left mute during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. She signs her story, and an interpreter speaks it aloud, but the visuals do most of the work. It’s a quiet, sensitive, powerful scene. I wish the show had more like it.
Not that it isn’t still rather excellent across the board – beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, so on and so forth. But you get the sense that stories like Juliana’s are the ones Black Earth Rising is most interested in telling, yet it frequently struggles to get out of its own way long enough to do so.
The bulk of Black Earth Rising Episode 3 saw Kate (Michaela Coel) working with Michael (John Goodman) to prove that Rwandan politician Alice Munozero (Noma Dumezweni) didn’t kill a French priest. It’s revealed early on that the priest isn’t even dead, and the plot feels a little deflated as a result. It’s further undermined by contrivance; Kate is assisted by a mysterious figure who always arrives in the nick of time, and crucial evidence tends to float into her possession seemingly at random.
It’s easy to complain about these things, and indeed I just did, but there’s plenty of stuff to like, too. Michaela Coel is stunning, for instance; a rock-solid leading lady and any scene she’s in is immediately enhanced by her presence. The show is strikingly shot and cleverly written, odd moments of contrivance notwithstanding, and it’s able to effortlessly build suspense not just in moments of peril but in conversation. Long scenes of dialogue are riveting and often moving. It’s a smart, detailed, and ambitious show.
Perhaps, it must be said, too ambitious. It might be difficult to tell at this stage (we’re not even halfway through yet), but the sense is of the show making minor concessions here and there that don’t allow the more interesting story to be told as it should be. I couldn’t say why. But that’s the impression I got in Black Earth Rising Episode 3, and I’d be remiss not to say so, even if I continue to admire the hell out of what the show stands for and has already accomplished.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.