The Dark Side of Bondi
Bondi is a town on the sea in Australia that on one hand is an inviting beach culture but that on the other hand has quite a dark history that comes to the fore in the miniseries made for Australian television. In the 1980s, it was home to packs of gay-bashing teenagers who robbed, beat and frequently killed their victims and then threw their bodies from cliffs into the ocean. The police force was indifferent and generally looked the other way, writing off suspicious deaths as accidents or suicides and listing murder victims as “missing” if no body was found. At least thirty homicides have remained unsolved even though relatives and survivors have pressed for renewed investigation.
“Deep Water” is set in present day Australia as a serial killer targets gay men and this brings about conflict within the local police and those who want to know what really happened as others hope that it will all stay buried with the victims. The series uses a police procedural to draw viewers into a sinister world where lives are tossed away for sport and families of the dead are left to grieve without any explanation or recourse. It gives a detailed account of Bondi’s secret history as a haven for homophobic violence.
The central figure is Detective Constable Tori Lustigman (Yael Stone) who is a Bondi native and has returned home after a divorce. With her is her teenage son, Will (Otis Pavlovic). As Will settles into his new home, Tori attempts to find her footing in the local police station commanded by Chief Inspector Peel (William McInnes). Her new partner is a Bondi veteran, Detective Nick Manning (Noah Taylor). One of the challenges for Tori is that everyone on the force knows her by name, due to her association with a famous case of the past.
It did not take long before Tori and her partner are called to a gruesome crime scene. They found the bloody body of a young gay man in his apartment. For Tori, the case instantly becomes more than an investigation. Aspects of the murder remind her of the death of a gay man in the Eighties to which she had a deeply personal connection. She has always that case was wrongly classified as an accident. Tori insists on looking at the parallels between this latest crime and the unsolved incidents of gay-bashing from twenty-five years ago and this immediately caused friction and conflict within the department, especially with her commanding officer, Chief Inspector Peel, who doesn’t want to hear a word about reopening closed cases.
As there are more and more victims, Tori and Nick discover that he is luring his victims through a hookup app called THRUSTR. Yet, Tori remains convinced that the THRUSTR killer’ is linked to unsolved Eighties killings, and she begins tracking down and interviewing survivors, family members and other potential witnesses. The deeper Tori digs, the more she find herself questioning whether her chief’s resistance is more than just bureaucratic. In the Eighties, when Peel was himself a detective, he detained a pair of suspected gay bashers, whom he then released without charge. One of those suspects, Chris Toohey (Ben Oxenbould), went on to become a football hero and local legend; the other, Kyle “Hammers” Hampton (Craig McLachlan), owns a local biker bar that is suspected of being a haven for drug trafficking. The connection between these two former associates, whose paths diverged so radically since their teenage years, is a point of high interest for Tori and a point of extreme discomfort for her boss.
As Tori, Yael Stone gives a compelling portrait of a cop who is both investigator and victim, one who shares a special connection with the survivors she interviews because, like them, she has spent so many years searching for elusive answers. She wants closure (both for herself and for others).
Noah Taylor’s Nick as her partner is cynical and quietly follows his partner’s efforts while keeping his own counsel. Nick’s stoic demeanor suggests a policing career that has been full of compromises. As his new partner’s heedless enthusiasm Nick is forced out of his comfort zone, and we see just how far he wants to follow Tori into professionally treacherous territory. The partners have to learn how to navigate each other and watch their backs at the same time especially when an arrest goes horribly wrong).
Director Shawn Seet shows the contrasts between the serene and beautiful vistas of Bondi’s and the dark underside that the THRUSTR killer has exposed. Parts of the concluding episode play out against the background of the annual Sydney Mardi Gras, one of the world’s largest LGBT pride festivals, where the colorful celebrations of song, dance and surf make the scene an ideal hunting ground for a killer with a very different agenda.
The cases under investigation may be murky, but the surroundings are crystal clear. The series that has an important message about intolerance that could have been and should have been better explored.
This short series was gripping from start to finish. Some might find detective Tori Lustigman’s close connection to one of the possible victims a bit of a distraction but I found that it added to the drama. The way the killer used a gay dating App to find his latest victims seemed very current and the links to historic cases is believable.
The series is closely based on what is still a partly unsolved case, (with there being 88 “gay-hate” victims whose deaths remain unsolved). The series looks at the attitude cops have towards gays and cuts deep into the homophobia under the “clean” veneer of the police, and by the dialogue having a confrontation edge that perfectly fit the cops who want to be seen as tough guys. wanting to be seen as Noir “tough guys”.
Because political profiling, police shootings, hate crimes, racism, and bigotry are in the news every day making this a very timely story.