The Way: Season 1 REVIEW – It Can Happen Here

The only way is Port Talbot.

The Way,1,Glynn (MARK LEWIS JONES), Dee (MALI HARRIES),Red Seam,Jon Pountney
The Way

The Way is a story about Britain as a whole going to hell, told through the lens of a single dysfunctional family – sort of like The Crown, or, less facetiously, Years And Years. It’s one of those ‘it can’t happen here’ narratives, about how the disastrous events we tend to associate with farflung countries could all too easily happen here.

The actual going-to-hell process isn’t quite glossed over, but is somewhat taken for granted. The big inciting incident is down to the Port Talbot steelworks, but this quickly snowballs into including pretty well every modern societal grievance you could name. This is forgivable, this is very much by way of being the backdrop rather than the main plotline, though with Alan Curtis’s name on the credits you do wish he’d had a go at some prophesying.

More effectively portrayed is the government response, which is drawn with the same broad brush, but getting into specifics with that sort of thing is just a recipe for bleakness. A little, here, does a lot, and The Way wisely tends to only suggest rather than get hung up on loving, brutal detail.

The Way has a strain of mysticism to it, which despite the frequent references to Welsh history and Welsh myth is probably expressed best in the way that the forces pursuing the main family are, mainly, computerised. This allows the narrative to both keep its focus on this one family, and also have a reason for its use of CCTV beyond being gritty and modern – in large part we are getting the view of the pursuing forces.

Elsewhere these fanciful touches can prove a mixed bag. Nobody could get away with wandering the main streets of a large British town waving a bloody great sword around even if they weren’t under martial law. Though, while some people might scoff at a stetson-wearing villain who goes round calling himself ‘the Welsh-catcher’, for my money this was the kind of melodrama the whole production should have had more of.

What The Way clearly also has a strain of is, in its veins and under its skin, nationalism – small n, big n, whatever, it’s been a dirty word since 1945 but that’s absolutely what’s going on here. Co-creator Michael Sheen has been actively presenting himself as a pro-Welsh rabble-rouser in recent years (here, Sheen has failed to resist the lure of casting himself as a bona fide working-class hero), so it would be odd if this tendency didn’t make itself known.

But since it’s such a dirty word, the narrative is naturally reluctant to show any real blood-and-soil sentiment, mainly keeping to the safer territory of the Welsh being put-upon by their neighbours to the East. This is where that ‘it can’t happen here’ vibe is at its best, when we are presented with absurd-seeming phrases like ‘Welsh refugees’, although I would quibble the idea that any given English shopkeep knows enough Welsh for a migrant child to give themselves away by speaking it.

This is a point of tension The Way sadly doesn’t make much of: it tries to both use its central cast as everymen caught on the teeth of society being shaken, and also as having been at the centre of that shaking. Despite a lot of reflection (hand-wringing and navel-gazing, if you wanted to be unkind), there’s never much self-awareness as that goes, little beyond an “Uh-oh, did I do that?”

The more kitchen-sink aspects of the main family’s life and times initially works all too well, creating a simple but effective picture of the everyday frustrations that lead to people getting seriously angry (father Steffan Rhodri, in particular, is treated to the kind of conga-line of masculine failure that we have come to associate with mass shootings). But when it keeps dipping back into their history, after it’s already provided that spark, and then doesn’t even explore their pasts all that much more – well, maybe some viewers have more tolerance for that than me.

But much like 2022’s Sherwood, The Way is covered with the scars of the past, and by and large the same scars too: Thatcherism, the watershed moment of the 1980s miner’s strike, the decline of heavy industry, the embers of resentment still smouldering away in the postindustrial areas that got the worst of it. Again, it gives plenty of reasons someone would take to the streets.

The narrative is fairly clear that it doesn’t approve of dwelling on the past like this, but for that reason it only hobbles itself when it insists on doing it. More than that, it strays into that old media standard of ‘do not do this cool thing’, at once indulging in it and scolding you for the idea of wanting to indulge, like the policeman from King Lear lashing the whore.

Some of The Way’s greatest verisimilitude does come in these family moments, though – in particular when they are struggling to grapple with all the issues that have led them to where they are. You can sort of see the seams of the script, but if anything, these moments aren’t awkwardly worded enough, it’s straightforward examples of that reserve and emotional inarticulacy that the British do still best.

(Similarly, whenever they get too despairing, the son’s Eastern-European girlfriend has a wonderful line in cheerfully puncturing these maudlin moments.)

This is exactly why they’re better as everymen, as vessels through which you the viewer could easily see yourself in this horrible situation. And while obviously you can’t make them completely faceless, each additional detail of all that family history throws a little more sand in those works.

The Way finds itself caught between two distinct ends of the spectrum. Like I said where we came in, it’s wanting to engage with big, broad, bold societal issues, but trying to do so via a specific named family, and it never quite finds the time to fully reconcile these things. It’s always a lot more effective when it’s slightly breathless, not having the family grapple with the big issues, but rather having those issues grapple with them.

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The Way,1,Glynn (MARK LEWIS JONES), Dee (MALI HARRIES),Red Seam,Jon Pountney
The Way tries manfully to be something more than a fearful portrait of British society breaking down – which is sort of a shame, because that’s where its real strength lies.