‘Cleverman’ Season Finale: Laying Claim to “Terra Nullius”

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On the finale of the shortened first season of “Cleverman,” things came to a head in the Zone, as Containment Authority moved in to take over the area, by any means necessary and the Hairies, along with a few human supporters, prepared for battle, in “Terra Nullius.”

The title refers to “nobody’s land,” a law used to legally oust natives from their land if said people were thought to be “uncivilized” and “lawless,” which was first applied to Australia and their indigenous peoples when the British attempted to claim the territory as their own and oust the natives from their own land.

You can see the obvious parallels between this and what was going on in the show, to say nothing of America’s own dubious practices when it comes to our own land and the Native Americans that lived here first. Note also that this episode aired not long after the 4th of July, which may or may not have been coincidental.

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Whatever the case, the episode marked the Hairypeoples’ own bid for independence and the right to live peacefully in their own territory without being hassled by outsiders. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next season to find out the outcome, as the show ended before the actual confrontation between the CA and the Hairies.

I was actually taken a bit by surprise at the shortness of the first season, which I realize is fairly standard in Britain, for instance, where such things are common, but not so much here in the States, where even the summer shows go at least around 13 episodes or so. Clocking in at a stealth six episodes, “Cleverman” certainly didn’t overstay its welcome, but unfortunately, it also ended just as things were truly getting interesting as well.

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Don’t get me wrong, it was still a worthwhile show overall, with much to recommend, from the solid cast, much of which was made up by oft-impressive local natives, with a few scattered names here and there to lure in those who might not have watched otherwise, such as “Game of Thrones” vet Iain Glen and “A.I.” star Frances O’Connor; to the intriguing premise that was quite different from typical summer fare and entrenched in fascinating Aboriginal lore.

That said, with the decidedly brief nature of the first season, the show was so densely packed with mythology and characters that it was often borderline overwhelming trying to keep up and make heads or tails of it all. Indeed, just as I was starting to get truly familiar with the various characters and understand the mythos to a certain extent, it was over.

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Still, there are worse things than to leave an audience wanting more, so at the very least, I’m sure some viewers will be watching next season for sure, if only to find out what happens next, what with everything left so open-ended. To put things into perspective for the relatively uninitiated, imagine if the last season of “Game of Thrones” had ended just before the actual battle in “Battle of the Bastards,” as each side was headed for one another, ready to tear each other to pieces.

Or, if you’re unfamiliar with that show, think of if “Braveheart” ended before that final battle, but after the rousing speech that led into it. Indeed, the comparative speech here was also oddly muted, thanks in no small part to the unexpected death of one of the cooler characters, though the one right before the end fared slightly better, at least until it was revealed that there would be no battle just yet.

There were a few minor skirmishes, including the one between Koen (Hunter Page-Lochard) and the basically super-powered Jarrod (Glen), who was revealed to have been taking some sort of serum that both extended one’s lifespan significantly and made one ultra-strong in the process, allowing the playing field to be somewhat more level between the two.

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In the end, though, Koen was able to escape, albeit not before Jarrod got a hold of a sample of his blood, which, to the best of my knowledge, he left behind when he took off, so look for that to figure into next season’s plotline. Koen then proceeded to go from out of the frying pan and into the fire, as he returned to the Zone, only to find the place under attack from the mythical beast that killed Jimmy in the premiere.

Though brother Waruu (Rob Collins), who gave the first speech I alluded to, with decidedly indifferent results, put up a good fight when the beast attacked Aunty Linda (Deborah Mailman), using the cudgel Jimmy gifted to Koen and he absconded with after the confrontation with Jarrod, ultimately, the beast was too much for him to handle.

Enter Koen, who picked up the stick and took over where Waruu left off, managing to defeat the creature by driving it into his belly like a stake, upon which the beast glowed as if electrified and died, disappearing afterwards into nothingness, leaving only the stick behind.

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The newly-appointed Cleverman’s mettle finally proven, it was time to turn his intentions to the next impending threat, the troops converging upon the Zone. Rallying his people and everyone else who stayed behind to fight, they all took up arms and waited, until a lookout rushed in saying that they were coming, much like The British in the Revolutionary War, and then…cut to black.

That was all she wrote, sadly, but I guess that’s one way to get people to tune in next season, if only to see what happens next. I will be among them, definitely. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the show had its flaws, to be sure. Some of the acting was a bit shaky here and there, no doubt due to the inexperience of some of the newcomers, and while the Hairy make-up was suitably impressive, most of the CGI-driven effects were a bit laughable, especially that beast Waruu and Koen fought in the finale.

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As such, the practical effects were much more effective, from the revelation that Kora (Alexis Lane) was actually possessed by an elder from another dimension trapped in a much younger woman’s body by a simple reflection in a mirror, to the grisly aftermath of the creature’s attack on Jimmy in the premiere.

I get that the show is relatively low budget, but maybe stay away from creature effects until the show can afford to do it justice. As it stood, the beast looked amusingly cartoonish, rather than threatening, which I’m guessing wasn’t intentional.

Besides, the show doesn’t need stuff like that, when the other low-tech effects are so much better, without all the flash, i.e. the way the Cleverman knocked back Jarrod in the lab when he went after him. That was cool without being nearly as elaborate as the creature face-off.

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That said, I am looking forward to finding out more about the mythology of the Cleverman and the like. For me, that was easily the most fascinating thing on the show. Especially when you consider how inherently unlikable a lot of the characters were for pretty much the entire season.

I get that the first season was all about Koen coming to terms with his newfound powers and becoming a better person slowly but surely, which was fine, but when you consider the fact that most of the others weren’t much better than he was, that was kind of a problem. Interestingly, though, the bulk of the most sympathetic characters were women, which was cool, at least.

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Still, maybe spread the wealth a bit next season, with a few more relatable, down-to-earth characters that one can side with, what with almost all of the guys corrupt and/or murderous and all of the women tormented and terrorized at some point. I get that it’s a dark, Dystopian world, but a little lightness here and there wouldn’t have hurt matters that much.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the show, despite the slow start and the general confusion I had about what exactly was going on with…well, pretty much everything. Beyond the obvious- the fact that a certain contingent of humans hate the Hairies and want them eradicated- I was at a loss as to what was up a good half of the time, especially early on.

After a certain point, I started to get the idea, and then…the show ended. So, yeah, while the short first season makes for a relatively stealth viewing experience- I almost wish I’d binge-watched the entire thing- it also could have been a, um, hair(y) longer and that much more effective as a direct result.

The good news is, despite being a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, it was just interesting enough for me to want more, so there’s that. I just hate that we have to wait a good year before finding out the outcome of the big battle at hand. That’s just not right, “Cleverman”!

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What did you think of the season finale? Were you disappointed the show left you hanging as well? Were you glad that Araluen got her revenge on Matthews and escaped? Were you sad Maliyan got killed? Will the group turn against Waruu because of it? Were you glad to see Koen finally embrace his role as Cleverman? Has he, in fact, learned from his mistakes? Does he deserve to be leader in spite of what he did? Sign off on this and more down below and see you next season!

  • Mariane Agena

    I agree with everything here. I love the mystery of it all but keeping too much mystery does leave you more confused than you are satisfied. Just as things were being slowly pieced together, other issues arose that left the viewers with more cliffhangers. We get the strategy, that there is an understanding that it will be a slow-burn, and that it will all make sense as it goes forward, but there are certain things rushed or left unanswered in the season finale that I don’t know how to feel by the end of it.

    Granted I am still interested in what’s to come, but I don’t know if I’ll truly understand what is going on if I have more questions than answers on every episode. Or maybe I’ll eat my words when season 2 comes which I hope will happen.

    Heartily agree with this: “That said, I am looking forward to finding out more about the mythology of the Cleverman and the like. For me, that was easily the most fascinating thing on the show. Especially when you consider how inherently unlikable a lot of the characters were for pretty much the entire season.

    I get that the first season was all about Koen coming to terms with his newfound powers and becoming a better person slowly but surely, which was fine, but when you consider the fact that most of the others weren’t much better than he was, that was kind of a problem. Interestingly, though, the bulk of the most sympathetic characters were women, which was cool, at least.”

    For now I am most curious about Charlotte’s baby, and the Zone’s future.

    • Mark Trammell

      Yeah, it kind of feels like they had some good ideas and a clever premise (no pun intended), but no concrete idea where some of this was all headed- and probably an uncertainty as to whether there would even be a second season and they’d get to explain it in the first place.

      So, as a direct result, like you said, a lot of stuff was left unresolved, certain plot strands were steamrolled over and left unexplained and we ended up with more questions than answers.

      On the plus side, it was just interesting enough to keep me watching, but on the negative side, if they don’t address these issues sooner than later, I don’t know how much longer I would be willing to put up with it.

      At the very least, if they plan to do another short season, they really need to map it out better this time. Another plus is that we already know most of the characters now, so we won’t have to deal with that again in season 2, so they can cut right to the chase.

      But that doesn’t mean they don’t still need to fill in some blanks moving forward- there’s a lot we don’t know, and we really need to know it if they expect people to keep watching. I’m not against a little mystery, but you need a few answers along the way, too.

      • Mariane Agena

        I believe we’re on the exact same boat on this one. Kept nodding my head as I read through your reply.

        Minor note on your article regarding the the actors though as I thought the acting of the newcomers was solid, along with the veterans, but found that the unaddressed issues are affecting how I feel about them.

        Still hoping for the best for Cleverman – to see creator Ryan Griffen’s vision of the show realized. We shall see next year :)

        • Mark Trammell

          You have a point about the actors- that may well be a factor in what I felt was maybe lacking on the newcomers’ end. You can only do so much with an underdeveloped character, after all.

  • galleymac

    People who are oppressed don’t automatically become “likeable.” Oppression isn’t inherently ennobling, and the idea that it is, is toxic. Oppression is brutalizing to all participating sides, powerful and powerless. It’s habitually shown that it is more likely to make a community simply more determined not to be oppressed anymore. Often throwing other communities under the bus by being even more racist, making stronger efforts to distance themselves from the ones at the very “bottom of the pile.” Harder efforts the more externally similar they appear. That’s why divide and conquer is so easy, and why it takes exceptional people to not fall into this trap.

    So I found the “unlikeability” of the characters very gripping and interesting, and their ability to do good things despite being misguided, or not so “nice” to be a bracing dose of realism. The fact that a terrible person can speak all the right jargon? Totally needs to be brought into the light more often. The devil can indeed quote scripture. The fact that a grey character can harbor enough resentment and jealousy to leave themselves open to deception by evil, also fascinating to watch. And for me, the main character’s arc from despicable to leader was fantastic. (Also, since he started out despicable I won’t mind so much if he has to be a noble sacrifice later on. 😀 :D)

    I don’t particularly like how nearly all the female characters are victimized, or fridged in order to motivate other people, but they seem to be getting back to themselves by the end. I hope to see more of that next season.

    Not a perfect show by any stretch, but one of the most satisfactory I’ve seen in years.

    • Mark Trammell

      Don’t disagree with anything you said, really. You’re absolutely right- characters don’t have to be “likeable” and sometime the journey from horrible to redeemable can be even more fascinating than a typical “Hollywood” hero who is always one from begin to end- if not more so. An “antihero’s journey,” as it were.

      Still, I do think that most stories need at least one relatable character in them, if only as a way in for those who aren’t terrible people themselves. Here, we had several of them in the female characters in particular, but unfortunately, as you pointed out, they were victimized and oppressed throughout, which made the show itself oppressive.

      That said, it may have actually been the intention of the writers and filmmakers to do precisely that- to show us how it feels as a viewer to be oppressed, for those of us who aren’t as familiar with such things. A noble intention, to be sure, but also a tough sell. By adding a strong character to the mix that was both sympathetic and heroic and not victimized to the extent a lot of the characters were, it could have balanced things out better, I think.

      Of course, even that can be a tricky proposition, if you run afoul of the whole “savior” thing, where it seems like one person and one alone is the person to “save” everyone and solve all their problems, which is less realistic.

      A difficult thing to get right, but I think the best films/TV manage to find a good balance between the “good” and the “bad” while allowing for those who are a little of both, if you know what I mean, which is inherently more realistic, since, after all, nobody’s perfect.