“Good Morals” introduces several important new subplots for the season, as Dushane’s operation finds itself in jeopardy in a variety of ways.
This review of Netflix’s Top Boy season 2, episode 1, “Good Morals”, contains spoilers.
Is it really a gangland drama unless it opens with a man shooting another man in the head and dropping him naked into the ocean because he owes him money? I’d argue not. Oh, and welcome to Top Boy Season 2 (though technically, despite Netflix’s annoying rebranding efforts, Top Boy Season 4).
Netflix’s Top Boy season 2, episode 1 recap
The shooter’s name in that opening scene is Emilio, and he’s going to become important soon. But of more immediate concern is picking up after the finale of the previous season. After the evidence Dushane provided, Jamie is exonerated and freed. When he’s partying on the estate with Kit and the rest of the crew, Dushane even has Jaq deliver him a gift. But Jamie knows that it comes with strings attached. The conditions of Dushane getting Jamie released were that Jamie goes to work for him and his crew. And none of Jamie’s former crew are going to be pleased about that arrangement, as is immediately clear from their reaction to even Jaq’s presence.
Then again, nobody seems pleased with Jamie at all, and that includes his own family. Aaron is distant, and Stef is more distant still. It’s interesting to see Jamie try to admonish his little brother for swearing as if he can come back into the family home and find everything unchanged. In his absence, Aaron and Stef have gotten by, but the dynamic has changed. Stef has become disillusioned, and both have realized that they don’t need Jamie’s stern authoritarianism to get things done. They didn’t relish his absence, but they got used to it. Jamie has become surplus to requirements in his own home.
In Jamie, Dushane obviously sees the future. He has bought a swanky new place for himself, Shelley, and Tish, and he’s looking to “step back from the roads” and go completely legit within a year. It’s clear that positioning Jamie as his successor is pretty integral to his retirement plans. But those plans also involve a pretty heavy deal that involves selling a literal boatload of drugs that are coming from Morocco via Spain. And Dushane’s contact in Spain is, you guessed it, Emilio.
Emilio has a problem of his own, though — his beloved wife only has three to six months left to live, and her dying wish is that he gets out of the business. Determined to honor his wife’s wishes, he tells Lizzie he’s done, which creates a major problem. Lizzie flies out to meet with him, and Emilio explains that his right-hand-man (and his wife’s brother) Antonio will be taking the reins. That’ll mean smoothing over some tensions with a local gang called the Los Duques, using the help of a bought-and-paid-for National Police middleman named Juan. Again, this will become important later.
In the meantime, back in Blighty, things are beginning to look shaky for Dushane’s operation, thanks in large part to Sarah and Lee, whose year undercover in and around Summerhouse has allowed them to build a case against Dushane and Sully. They’ve figured out, for instance, that Ruben, a seemingly “legitimate” businessman who handles all Dushane’s home security, also provides gang-affiliated youths with rental cars through his company. To make this point, Jaq, Kieron, and Romy are all pulled over and manhandled by the police in a scene that has a particular power post the death of George Floyd and many others. Of course, we know that Jaq and co. are actually criminals, but the point is that the police don’t actually have any evidence of that beyond the ownership of the car they’re driving, yet they proceed as if they do. Top Boy is full of moments like this, with morally compromised individuals in ethically complex scenarios. It’s what makes it such a compelling drama.
Either way, Dushane knows he’s being watched. Ruben is far too casual about the suggestion that the police are onto him, which hardly sets his mind at ease, and after visiting an underground accountant named Lithe, he’s worried about how much of his dirty money he’s actually going to be able to spend given the difficulties of feigning legitimacy and washing the currency. Jeffrey proposes that he invests in the planned redevelopment of the Summerhouse estate, which will involve displacing the residents, knocking the place down, and starting from scratch, which is one of the crucial season-long subplots in this outing.
And you can tell how much animosity there is surrounding this development. Ruben mentions it while redoing Dushane’s security. When Sully hovers around Dris’s old apartment, one of the neighbors, Ralph, complains to him about it. It’s a real issue. The reason is Sully is there, by the way, is to try and figure out what happened to Dris’s daughter, Erin, who Ralph tells him got taken into care because her mum, Mandy, is out of jail but living in a hostel. Sully is deeply scarred by having killed Dris, along with all the other crazy stuff he’s done, and you can tell because when Jaq drops off his cut, as she does each week, he directly equates it with Jamie now working for them. If he had to kill one of his closest friends over betrayal, why is he now supposed to accept their chief rival into their ranks? You have to admit he has a point.
Then again, Sully is living on a canal boat and feeding foxes dog food, so he’s hardly in the thick of things anymore. But he remains such a compelling character who perfectly embodies the idea of a man trying to outrun a past with endless stamina. You can tell by the way he nervously checks the porthole windows of his boat, and how he reflexively closes himself off from his neighbor, Delphine. He wants to be left alone because the only life he knows is one of violence and crime, and he’s sick of everyone close to him dying. He stands in stark contrast to Dushane, who flaunts his wealth and power at every opportunity. There’s no wonder they clash.
But the money has to keep rolling in. And that means drugs have to be sold (by literal children) out of crushed cans collected by Samsi and Bradders. The beauty — if you want to use that word — of the operation is that it’s painfully obvious yet so efficient it’s difficult to expose. But it requires a constant supply, which means it’s a major problem when Antonio, Emilio’s replacement, is betrayed by Juan and shot dead in Spain. Lizzie, who’s present at the time, has no choice but to call Dushane and tell him they have a problem, which is about as big of an understatement as you can imagine.
Amongst all this, though, what Top Boy retains is its heart and authenticity, and this is primarily expressed through the younger characters. While in the first two seasons it was largely Ra’Nell whose perspective we perceived events through, he has since been replaced by Jamie’s little brother, Stef. Last season, his relationship with Ats formed a strong backbone, but after Dushane manipulated Ats into betraying Stef and Jamie, Stef is adrift. Ats is also missing. When Stef goes to Jamie for advice about all this, Jamie once again proves himself the most interesting character in the show by offering him genuine, mature, heartfelt advice about forgiveness and accepting mistakes. And it’s advice that Stef takes onboard, deciding to finally call Ats… whose phone rings unanswered next to his dead body.
- Shelley is confronted at her nail salon by a particularly lairy woman named Beverly, who she obviously has a past with.
- Several characters we’ve seen throughout the episode, including Dris’s neighbor Ralph, Tara from Shelley’s nail salon, and several of the regulars, including Jaq, kick up a huge storm at a meeting about the Summerhouse development.