Gangs of London season 2 review: Same, but different
There's much that's familiar about the drama's second season, but we're unquestionably in new territory.
How do you build on excellence? That's the question the creatives behind Gangs of London would have been wrestling with following the success of its action-packed debut season, which was Sky Atlantic’s second-biggest launch of all time and was hailed by critics and viewers as one of 2020’s best.
Do you replicate that winning formula? Or deviate from the tried and tested approach in pursuit of going one better? In the first and only episode we were given access to, the answer appears to be both.
There's much that's familiar. London is once again on the verge of all-out war one year on from the deaths of crime boss Finn Wallace and his son Sean (although we wouldn't rule out a dramatic comeback for the latter, even though he definitely should be dead).
There are bone-crunching, eye-popping (literally) brawls, all of which are expertly crafted, complex family dynamics, backroom deals, guns, guns and more guns, and an abundance of big personalities that could so easily veer into caricature, but the troupe collectively ground the various personalities in something tangible. Gangs of London is as much about character as it is about plot.
But there are two notable changes that propel the narrative onwards.
The first is Elliot’s current predicament. In the first instalment, the former undercover detective manoeuvred his way into Sean’s inner circle in a bid to destroy the Wallace enterprise from within. The challenge was great, but Elliot’s hunger to succeed was greater, his never say die spirit spurring him on.
More like this
But it emerged that the Wallaces' lives were not their own, but subject to the whims of the investors, a covert group of individuals with exceptionally deep pockets and untold influence. They were the puppet masters pulling the strings, which Elliot, for all his efforts, was eventually snarled up in.
For the past 12 months he's been working his way through the investors' hit list, prowling foreign lands in pursuit of the catch of the day – and there's no room for error, or even a hint of disobedience. Fail to comply and his dear old dad will bear the full brunt of his failure. But he does have an ace up his sleeve: he's still in possession of the microchip given to him by Sean, which contains incriminating evidence against his keepers, although deploying that effectively is easier said than done.
It's an unfathomably heavy burden to bear, with Elliot using an abundance of pills and liquor to dull his senses. He might look the same, albeit with bigger hair and a more substantial beard, but this is not the Elliot as we once knew.
"It's really compromising his soul," Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, who plays Elliot, told RadioTimes.com, which begs the question: if he does claw his way out of this inferno, what will remain?
Then there's Koba, a brutal enforcer employed by heroin baron Asif – now backed by the investors – to rule the streets with an iron fist – a responsibility he relishes.
Waleed Zuaiter's antagonist, who's unlike anyone we met in the previous chapter, is this season's jet fuel. With his platinum hair, trilby and wardrobe comprised of leather and velour, there's something undeniably camp about him, and that showman-esque quality also extends to the multitude of unpleasant ways he inflicts pain on any and all who deviate from his command.
There's also an animalistic quality to Koba, who enjoys watching his prey squirm, cat-like, before administering retribution, and always with a glint in his eye.
But as he tightens his grip on the city and the various criminal factions within it, something has to give.
As ever, there's a perverse joy about Gangs of London. The violence, while eye-watering, draws you in, rather than sending you running in the opposite direction, such is its inventiveness. Season 1 showrunner Gareth Evans and his successor Corin Hardy, who previously directed several episodes, have drummed up an extraordinary number of ways to utilise blood spatter, channelling their inner Jackson Pollock.
It's undoubtedly a labour of love for those both off screen and on, with Gangs striking the delicate, unique balance between refusing to take itself seriously (suspending your disbelief remains crucial to enjoyment) while taking itself entirely seriously (the ambition is astounding).
For all of season 1's brilliance, the ante needed to be upped to maintain crucial momentum, which is what we get in the season 2 opener. While it remains to be seen if this chapter will match its debut, the early signs are extremely promising.
Read more: Gangs of London's Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù on season 2: "There's a different atmosphere"
Gangs of London season 2 will air on Sky and NOW from 20th October 2022 – catch up on the first season on Sky now. For more to watch, check out our TV guide or visit our Drama hub for all the latest news.
The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times View From My Sofa podcast.