Top Boy final season review – a potent ending that rivals the very best television

In the words of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, “comparisons are odorous”. Yet Netflix’s Top Boy has always been compared to HBO’s modern classic The Wire. David Simon’s drama saw Baltimore’s ecosystem of drug crime and justice depicted as a many-tentacled beast that corrupted everyone from children to police commissioners and is arguably the greatest television show of the 20th century (The Sopranos is technically a product of the 90s). Top Boy’s continual billing as the British version of The Wire has been a heavy burden to bear. Still, in its final season, it doesn’t crumble under the weight of its US counterpart. Instead, it delivers six tense, kinetic and moving episodes where our complex anti-heroes find themselves pushed to the brink.

In many senses, the outcome has always been clear from the show’s title: there has to be a single “Top Boy” and our leads, drug kingpins and childhood best friends Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane Robinson), can no longer coexist in an uneasy detente. One has to ascend and reign over Hackney’s Summerhouse estate, even if there may only be ashes to rule over. Top Boy might evoke the far-reaching societal rot that The Wire captured, but it has its own distinct path. Despite what Dushane and Sully may want, they are trapped in a world where only one can rule over this harsh landscape.

The final series picks up where the last one finished. Summerhouse estate is still suffering from the devastation of drugs, corrupt police, a cruel Home Office and the murder of the young dealer Ats (Keiyon Cook). For Ats’ best friend Stefan (Araloyin Oshunremi), this is just the latest in a series of cruel losses that chip away at him, as he is also reeling from the murder of his brother Jamie, played by the radiant Micheal Ward.

The twists and tragedies come thick and fast for our central characters. Dushane, who has always had one foot out the door, is dragged out of his hoped-for retirement when his money launderers leave him high and dry. Sully is increasingly paranoid and is now dealing with the ultra-violent Irish McGee gang. Dushane and Sully continue to be the focus of the series, but plentiful space is given to the supporting cast, including fan favourite Jaq (Jasmine Jobson), as competent a drug pusher as she is a community organiser. When Kieron (Joshua Blissett) risks deportation to Rwanda, she galvanises Summerhouse to help him in an affecting scene that evokes the 2021 raids in Glasgow. She also faces trouble closer to home, with her sister struggling with an addiction to the same drugs Jaq sells. But most moving of all is the arc of Stefan, who buckles and shrinks under his immense grief, but finds sparks of hope in a tender teenage romance.

The casting of Hollywood hot property Barry Keoghan only enhances things further, with his crime lord Jonny having all the menace of his terrifying turn in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and a penchant for severed heads. The show wisely doesn’t overdo his screen time, but he creates an atmosphere of dread that pushes Dushane and Sully into an even more deadly spiral. Top Boy’s final season ups the stakes in terms of brutality but also doesn’t flatten how complex these people and their community are. Crime and ambition prove an inescapable vortex for our dual protagonists, with egos that don’t allow them to step aside and little access to the millions they have accrued at so many people’s expense. Those who profit from the drug trade are just as poisoned as those who imbibe them, and ending up on the throne means sitting under the sword of Damocles.

Throughout its run, Walters and Robinson have given nuanced and compelling performances that rival the very best on television. Walters brings to Dushane a chilling charisma, which makes him as believable when flirting with his budding salon entrepreneur girlfriend Shelley (Simbi Ajikawo) as he is delivering terrible threats. Sully proves just as destructive, all jittery wiriness tucked up in a hoodie, filled with such self-loathing that no violent betrayal could make him hate himself more than he already does.

In the final episode, Top Boy serves its audience all the chaos, violence and scope its long-gestating tensions have promised. The camera rarely pauses and the dialogue is sparse as the estate descends into chaos. Monologues and farewells are expertly delivered, and violence is depicted with the full weight of human loss. As Sully tells his best friend, “We’re not monsters, we’re food” – just something the world around them is ready to devour. But the show sees them as three-dimensional men in the throes of a Shakespearean tragedy. There can only be one Top Boy, but there is no shortage of reasons to recommend this powerful and potent conclusion.

  • Top Boy is on Netflix now.