Bad Sisters is about to give us the most satisfying TV finale of the year
Is there a more odious villain on television right now than Bad Sisters’ JP? I can’t think of a character I have hated more, and with such conviction, than Claes Bang’s irredeemable baddie, who measures out his days in how much he can terrorise not only his wife, Grace, but her close-knit sisters, too. He is petty, sadistic, selfish and controlling. He is a gaslighter extraordinaire, a man so unjustifiably full of himself that it’s a miracle he fits on to the screen. His nickname, “the Prick”, is the kindest thing anyone has to say about him.
Domestic abuse and ceaseless cruelty are not your typical comedy fodder, yet few shows this year have been as relentlessly entertaining as Bad Sisters. It helps that JP is dead at the very start, with most of the story told in flashback, so the audience has the small relief of knowing that somewhere along the line, he will get his comeuppance. As its final episode approaches, we still don’t know whodunnit, but there is no want of potential suspects: JP gives everyone a reason to want him dead, and almost all of the Garvey sisters are willing to step up to the plate.
It is a cracking ensemble cast. Sharon Horgan, who adapted this from a Belgian original called Clan, stars as the eldest sister and matriarch, Eva, whose successful career is painstakingly dismantled by JP. Anne-Marie Duff is Grace, ground down to a ghostly presence by years of abuse from her husband. Sarah Greene is the dour Bibi, with her eyepatch (a consequence of a run-in with JP) giving this a Kill Bill-style flair. Eva Birthistle is Ursula, whose affair is exposed by her brother-in-law, and that’s not all he exposes. Eve Hewson is the youngest sister, Becka, lost and untethered, and her dreams are shattered by JP, seemingly just for sport.
After he pushes each of them to their limits, four of the women conspire to save Grace and her daughter, Blánaid, from his clutches by bumping him off. It derives a lot of its humour from the fact that they are not very good at the murders they keep planning. Each episode starts out with the sense that this could be the one in which a sister succeeds, which keeps the tension ticking along – though after nine episodes, JP is, miraculously, still alive, having failed to die by fire, poison, water or frozen paintball.
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It is fun, and funny – the insurance subplot and the Claffin brothers add a touch of farce, albeit with similarly sombre undertones – but its mood is finely balanced. For much of the series, we are rooting for the Garvey sisters to succeed in killing off JP, which is driven by a simple desire to see justice served. It was uncomfortable to realise, though, that I wanted this to happen more than I wanted Grace to leave JP, or for him to be punished by law. JP’s crimes – domestic abuse, coercive behaviour, eliciting sexual images by deception and more – so often go unpunished. Knowing that his decline is inevitable, no matter how this will happen, offers a hint of catharsis, right or wrong.
Bad Sisters isn’t flawless. Eight episodes would have been tighter than the 10 it will take to get our answers. On occasion, the darkness and the light are uneasy bedfellows: Becka’s incident with the freezer and her elderly friend is horrifying and nightmarish, though maybe that’s a heavy-handed lesson in what dreaming of murder will get you. But it has turned out to be one of my favourite shows of the year. It has been so entertaining and so stylish, such a pleasure to watch, from its theme tune (PJ Harvey covering Leonard Cohen) to its gorgeous scenery (Dublin and its surroundings). I have loved hating JP, and look forward to finding out if, and how, the Garvey sisters end up conquering their demon.