Worst to Best
The Sweeney
Season Four

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8 The Bigger They Are

Regan and Carter are on the tail of another blackmailer, in a twisty, turny plot that does feel a bit "out there" for a Sweeney episode, but nevertheless keeps you involved. The soundtrack sounds like a cross between Boney M and Zombie Flesh Eaters, while Carter indulges in mock Jamaican accents and Regan calls a man a "spade". It's questionable stuff, made even less palatable by Trevor Thomas's broad, stereotypical turn as the photographer "Leroy". The actor seems fine, though when called upon to do some bizarre Huggy Bear style turn, it doesn't really retain the down-to-Earth nature of the best Sweeney episodes.
     Also involved is a new stand-in boss, played by Richard Wilson... then known as the guy off Crown Court, shortly thereafter to be known as the doctor from Only When I Laugh and now forever to be known as Victor Meldrew. In this aspect, they do at least explain his involvement, with Carter getting the line "Come back Haskins, all is forgiven."

7 Drag Act

There's some odd moments in this episode, such as Carter virtually sexually harassing a WPC and getting the brush off until she realises he's a Sergeant. This then forms the basis of the plot, as she basically solves a case for The Sweeney, but isn't allowed to take credit, thus ending their relationship.
     A nice touch of realism is the use of an empty milk bottle on a stake out, one of those stabs of reality that the series would often indulge in. Drag Act is also the first episode to introduce the character of Braithwaite, which does at least cover over Haskins' absence, as Braithwaite would be two ranks above him, and thus presumably in charge when Haskins wasn't available. However, I had to look that information up on the web, and the ranking isn't made clear to casual viewers. Until Hearts and Minds, where they appear together, it does just appear as if Haskins has been replaced, to say nothing of the set-up in the two movies...

6 Bait

Rated as the greatest episode of The Sweeney on the Internet Movie Database with a to-date rating of 8.5/10, there's a lot to like here. A trio of villains include the physically imposing Edward Peel, the always-worthwhile George Sewell, and Di Trevis, one of the most developed and rewarding female characters in the series. Which, without undue detriment to the programme, isn't really saying much. Waterman appears to be clearly bored throughout much of it, though it's an easy watch. There's another stand-in for the absent Garfield Morgan, though Regan does claim to have had an off-screen conversation with Haskins, telling Carter he regards him as a "pencil neck".

5 One Of Your Own

Carter is placed undercover into prison to try and find out information about stolen jewels from a crook in his cell. Said crook, Jimmy Fleet, is memorably brought to life by Michael Elphick, and his relationship with Carter is given added closeness when Carter's colleagues take turns to sleep with his girlfriend behind his back... a sexually-driven barmaid that is one of the series' more demeaning female roles.
     While this episode lacks the real verve of the earlier series, there is a nice sense of threat with a psychotic villain who has a habit of slicing up peoples' stomachs with a knife to get them to talk. As the villain is played by Mr. Sullivan from Press Gang, it's a testament to what a strong and versatile actor Nick Stringer was.

4 Nightmare

An episode involving heroin trafficking and the IRA should have been top rate, though Nightmare chooses to dilute such edgy elements with a bizarre subplot about Regan's spiritual girlfriend having a psychic dream that tells of his demise. Frequently so silly I feel sure I've ranked it too highly, it nevertheless works, despite Regan's constant reservations over the coincidences of the case and the foretold nature of the dream itself. The Sweeney wasn't really a series that worked on a supernatural level, and this one-off foray sees it get by on style alone.

3 Jack Or Knave

The final episode of any series will always be special, but this bow out for The Sweeney does feel oddly structured. The plot sees Regan charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice many years earlier, but this isn't introduced until over half an hour in, and in the final segment of the show, two ad breaks gone past. Add to this the fact that many of the action sequences in the story feature poor staging and camp performances, rending them unintentionally comic, plus multiple location shots that see members of the public staring into the camera, cinéma vérité style. The final minutes of this episode are very affecting, but you can't help but feel that Jack's situation should have been the focus right from the start... and that the events of the previous episode, Victims, shouldn't have been glossed over like they never happened.

2 Hard Men

Season four sees The Sweeney on its last legs, the ideas and enthusiasm all but expired in many of the episodes. Hard Men is a deeply unusual instalment in that it makes the two leads effectively guest stars in their own series, outwitted and disregarded by James Cosmos's superb Detective Sergeant Davy Freeth. A Scottish detective travelling down to London on a case, he's submitted to all manner of bullying by Regan and Carter, who are at their obnoxious worst. The upshot is that it makes you care for the guest character more than it does the two men who are supposed to be the audience identification figures.
     Although there's humour in the episode (including a turn from the future J.R. Hartley), it's a gritty instalment, with Freeth going even further than Regan ever would to resolve a case, and hinting at depths unknown. His final scene with the Sweeney sees George buying a pornographic magazine and Jack post-coital after having had sex with a Nazi-helmet wearing Janet Ellis. Freeth, for his part, has just decided not to kill a man in cold blood after a Bible-quoting hitman murdered someone on the street with a flare gun. There was a parallel universe somewhere where we left Regan and Carter behind, and this acted as the pilot episode of a new series based around Freeth. Sadly, it never happened, leading us only to wonder what could have been...

1 Victims

An episode that – Hard Men aside – is so far superior to the other episodes of the season it's not even funny. Four of the episodes in this season were crafted by men who only helmed a single episode of the entire series... as that number include the top two episodes here, then it does make you wonder what the final run would have been like had they been able to direct more.
     Featuring an unusually sensitive portrayal of a nervous breakdown for the time, the main plot to this is Haskins' wife losing her mind, juxtaposed with a raid on a holed-up villain. As Haskins gives up all hope and talks about quitting the force, it's left to Regan to deal with things on his own, morally questionable terms. It's a terrific penultimate episode, only marred by Haskins' collapse and intended resignation being never referred to again in the following instalment.
     Yet this one episode more than makes up for Garfield Morgan's extended absence in this run, giving him full chance to show what a broken man Frank Haskins has become, and how the force has ruined his life. Director Ben Bolt chooses some terrific shots to both add to the pace and let the mood breathe in what is surely one of the five greatest episodes the programme ever did.

 

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