“Shattered Dreams” is deeply uncomfortable and accidentally timely, and offers viewers no easy answers.
This recap of Dark Money Season 1, Episode 1, “Shattered Dreams”, contains spoilers.
Dark Money, BBC One’s new drama by Levi David Addai, is built on the kind of premise that accomplishes a lot of heavy lifting on its own. Inexpressible sadness and crippling guilt are built into the material itself; it’s immediately and effortlessly compelling thanks to its ripped-from-the-headlines timeliness and its sheer relatability. It asks, up front, what its viewers — many of whom will be parents — might do in a similar situation, and Dark Money Season 1, Episode 1, “Shattered Dreams”, doesn’t make for any easy answers.
Sam (Jill Halfpenny) and Manny Mensah (Babou Ceesay) have a son, Isaac (Max Fincham). He’s 13 years old, and in Dark Money Episode 1 he returns home from a Hollywood acting gig full of solemnity and distraction. The shattered dreams of the episode’s title are his. While he was working on the film, he was sexually assaulted by producer Jotham Starr (John Schwab), an act that was filmed and is revealed to his parents — and the audience — in a tortuously lengthy and heartbreaking scene. The scene and the show in general radiate a kind of anger and disbelief that is inextricably tied to the nature of its subject. Even after just one episode, which is hardly enough time to introduce us to the various characters, let alone teach us much about them, Dark Money is indescribably compelling.
In part, it’s so compelling because it asks us to think about what we might do in the same situation. The Mensahs are powerless to do much. The incident occurred in another country and must be challenged there, but doing so would expose the family to astronomical legal costs and the heavy burden of public scrutiny. They’re convinced by Starr’s legal representation that the video evidence would prove nothing, but they’re nonetheless offered a settlement of £3,000,000 if they agree to sign a nondisclosure agreement and delete the video. The question of Dark Money Episode 1 is whether you’d take the deal?
The simple answer is no, but “Shattered Dreams” does a good job of getting across the hopelessness of fighting the case, and how potentially life-changing that kind of settlement might be. A further question, and the one that I suppose is going to define the next three episodes, is whether you can live with the decision having made it. Through small moments of horror and agony, Dark Money Season 1, Episode 1 suggests that the burden might be too much to carry.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.