Of all the shows returning to our screens in 2022, the team behind Gangs of London arguably had one of the biggest mountains to climb following the staggering success of its debut season. It was Sky Atlantic's second-biggest original drama launch of all time, with both critics and viewers heaping praise on the bone-crunching, blood-spattered action-crime extravaganza, which poses the question: how on earth do you match that, or even go one better?

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Stick to the formula and you risk stagnation. Introduce too many new elements, à la Nottingham Forest, and the end product could lack cohesion.

No pressure, then.

But Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, who stars as undercover police detective-turned-reluctant hit man Elliot Finch, is cool as a cucumber when talking about its sophomore season.

"I actually don't remember us putting that stress on ourselves," he said of making the follow-up, which picks up one year after the death of crime boss Finn Wallace, whose murder triggered a bloody gang war in the city of London and beyond.

"When Gareth [Evans] made the first series, it was good in his eyes and we were really happy with the story that we'd told. And then all of the success that came from it afterwards, it wasn't not our business, but it was just like, 'Oh, that's nice! I'm glad you responded nicely to this thing.' But I don't think anyone's been like, 'Oh my God, how are we going to top this?' We just come to work and enjoy each other's company and try to do the best we can. And hopefully lightning strikes twice."

elliot stood in a neon-lit room
Sky UK Limited / AMC LLC

The challenge of recapturing that magic fell to director Corin Hardy, who has taken over from Evans as showrunner, and his hand is felt throughout.

"There's a different atmosphere," said Dìrísù. "He's really put his own stamp on this season. Whether that's darker or bigger or more violent, I'm not quite sure, but it definitely felt different to shoot, so I expect the product to be different."

Revisiting Elliot was a first for Dìrísù who, prior to this, had never played the same character twice.

"I'm not the reason that all these things get cancelled," he laughed. "The monkey's off the shoulder."

But that familiarity made slipping back into Elliot's leather jacket more taxing, not less: "I actually found it a little bit limiting. Every time you come to a new character, the possibilities are endless. You do the work and you discover who they are. But already knowing who they are, you have to be consistent. I had to go back and listen to what my voice sounded like, look at how I walked. It didn't feel like a new and organic experience."

Like Elliot's hair in season 2, the stakes are bigger. The remaining Wallaces are scattered and the Dumanis are estranged, with London poised to tip into all-out war once again as the rival players, old and new, endeavour to assert themselves.

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"It's a bit like wrangling cats because everyone has been split off in these different directions," explained Dìrísù. "And initially you're like, 'Oh, hang on,' because it's such an expansive cast and there are lots of threads. People might need a minute to be like, 'Okay, so that's what's happening there.’ And then by episode three, we're back in the driver's seat and ploughing through it."

Elliot holding a gun with his arms wrapped around someone
Nick Briggs / Sky / AMC

When we last saw Elliot, he was firmly under the thumb of the investors and that remains the case in season 2. He spends his days in foreign lands begrudgingly hunting for skulls to crack. If he fails to comply, his elderly dad (Jude Akuwudike), plus anyone else he cares about, are toast, to put it mildly, so he does as he's told, barrelling machine-like through his hit list, his emotions stifled by pills and liquor.

"He's unrecognisable to himself at the beginning of season 2," said Dìrísù.

He explains that the man we were first introduced to had a degree of autonomy, adding: "Everything he did, he chose to do because he was playing the game. He knew he was a piece on a chessboard, but he was like a player-manager. There was a plan and he thought that he was going to be able to extract something from the situation, that he was going to be able to save the day. When we return for season 2, you're just like, 'Bro, you're nowhere. You're at sea without a paddle. You're now just at the mercy of others, and that's quite a terrifying place to be. And you see that on his face."

That raises a concerning question: if he does escape this inferno, can he recover emotionally given what he's done? Will his hands ever be clean?

"What he's been going through during the past year, the vice grip that he's locked in by the investors, it's really compromising his soul and everything he knows about himself," he added. "As an audience, you're unsure if this is still the guy we were rooting for in the first season. How many bad things can you do before you are a bad person?

"You don't want to feel that the character you're playing is entirely without hope, without the possibility of redemption. If he was, then he wouldn't be interesting to watch because we'd all know that he's f**ked, and you can't empathise with that. But ultimately, there's a question towards the end of the series which asks: Is he still on a path of righteousness? Does he want to atone? He's entirely compromised and it's about us trying to find out who he is and what he's capable of, and I think you'll be surprised."

close-up of Elliot's face
Nick Briggs/AMC/Sky UK

Central to Elliot's arc this season is Koba (Waleed Zuaiter), a silver-haired psychopath with a penchant for velour tracksuits and trilbies. He's employed by heroin baron Asif Afridi (Asif Raza Mir), with the investors' backing, to impose a dictatorship on the criminal enterprises operating within London.

"There's a Thanos quote where he says, 'I am inevitable,'" laughs Dìrísù. "There's a big clash between Elliot and Koba, a personality clash. It's like bro [Koba], you're doing a lot, you're doing the most right now. They're definitely two different people and they're on two different sides, so it's inevitable that that clash is going to happen. There will be fireworks."

But even if Koba and co meet a grisly end, there will always be someone waiting in the wings to take their place: "Justice in Gangs of London is like construction in London. Just when you think they've finished building, there's another building. There's another crane. There's always something else."

We don't know if Elliot, or anyone, for that matter will claw their way out of season 2 alive, with the upcoming war threatening total destruction across the board. But is there space for Gangs of London to return, either with the current crop of characters or an entirely new cohort?

"There's always a balance that needs to be struck between continuity and refreshing, and also stimulating, because if everything just stays the same, then what makes this dramatic? But if everything changes, then why do I care? Because I don't have any relationship with these people.

"I'm always like, 'What's next?' Even when I read the end of season 2, I was like, 'Okay cool. And then what happens?' I hadn't even shot this one yet, people haven't even seen it, but someone's got to know what happens.

"If we can generate the same sort of appetite for a third season of this, then we've done our jobs."

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Gangs of London is available to stream now on Sky Atlantic – 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.

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