As the the third and final season of Total Control approaches, star Deborah Mailman is content that her character, Alex Irving, never became the first Indigenous Prime Minister.
After Alex started as a renegade Independent and rose quickly through the corridors of power, it seemed like the top job was in her sights.
In a reality where a Referendum was defeated, achieving such seems more likely in a world of fiction. But according to Mailman, the show arguably had less lofty ambitions.
“We’re not going to see (a black PM) maybe in our lifetime, so in the meantime, let’s create a show that has high stakes, that is entertaining, that can be aspirational….” she tells TV Tonight.
“But we can still lean on all that subject matter that is important to us as Blackfellas.”
Indeed as Season Two ended, the PM title was snatched out of the hands of Rachel Anderson (co-creator and co-Executive Producer Rachel Griffiths) and given to Paul Murphy (Wayne Blair). Mailman is pragmatic about how well Alex might have performed in the role, had the writers charted a different path.
“I think she’d be shithouse at it! She’d be a terrible Prime Minister!” she laughs.
“Also, I don’t think that’s where she wants to be. She’s already seen first-hand that your hands are tied. There’s not a lot of moving and shaking you can do even though it seems like that’s where the power lies. But it’s actually all behind the scenes stuff. The kingmakers are where the power lies.”
By Season Three, which picks up two years after the last episode, Murphy is struggling in the PM role, but is assisted by his new Head of Policy Charlie (Rob Collins) -after having been fired by his sister, Alex.
Alex, meanwhile, begins the series dealing with floods in Winton as well as juggling matters closer to home. Clearly she is more experienced to deal with the turmoil.
“In Season One she was a novice. All she wanted to do was open a medical centre in Winton. It was a really simple, but big world, problem in Winton. Suddenly, she’s confronted with a death in custody that leads into a completely different direction and becomes her focus,” she explains.
“Coming into Season Three that is still there for her. She hasn’t let up in any way in regards to a Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody and making both governments -previous and current- accountable for that incident.
“What we find, though, in Season Three is that her health takes a turn. So she’s faced with a little bit of her own mortality, which underpins every decision that she makes. There’s an urgency to what she’s trying to achieve because of the health issues. I guess she’s trying to set up something better for her son, Eddie (Wesley Patten) as well.”
Also featuring are Anthony Hayes, Steph Tisdell, Daniela Farinacci, Lisa Flanagan, Benedict Hardie, Anita Hegh, Huw Higginson, Catherine McClements, Fayssal Bazzi, Ursula Yovich, Lisa Hensley and Trisha Morton-Thomas.
This season teenage son Eddie creates headaches for Alex as he flouts the law, at the same time as she is pursuing Youth Justice legislation. There are ramifications both politically and personally for Alex.
“He’s got a lot of fire in him, young Eddie Irving,” Mailman agrees. “He’s like his mum. When he sees something wrong, he wants to right it. He’s not afraid to actually confront what is wrong and hold people to account, which gets both of them into trouble, all the time.”
But there will also be allegations of corruption that threaten to bring down both Alex and former PM Anderson as they battle to control their political destinies.
With Total Control as her first series lead, Mailman maintains that she declined overtures to participate in the Writer’s Room.
“The door was always open and they did ask me, particularly in Season Two, ‘What are your thoughts?’ But I’m not a writer. I’m just like, ‘ I really love where this is going.’ I’ve just trusted the process. I like being surprised by where they think Alex should end up. I don’t really want to be too hands on with any of that.”
So as the Blackefella Films series draws to a close, is she equally content it has fulfilled all it set out to achieve? The answer is Yes, but it’s not one around changing politics or even the equity for First Nations people.
“It’s less about that and more about being a really f***ing good show. It’s about people going, ‘What an excellent Australian drama.’ So yes it is about all that cultural change, but also I think, equally, if not more important, was for us to just go, ‘It’s good drama. It’s a good show.’
“(Rachel Griffiths) would probably give you the opposite of what I’m saying and say, ‘Yes, let’s argue what our democracy looks like. Why have we got a two party preferred system? Why are we just accepting what is here as a system?’ Absolutely, we should be looking at what we’re doing for politicians, and looking at the double standard that happens, particularly for female politicians.
“One of the things Rachel really wanted to explore is the cost of personal sacrifice, that particularly politicians deal with. So we’re exploring ‘At what cost?’ There’s the focus for Alex to really make a difference and make change and reform in that way. But it’s at the cost of her relationship with her family.
“Going from Winton to Canberra to Winton… not being able to make it to her mother dying, because she couldn’t get on the plane,” she recalls.
“There’s a lot personally at stake when you’re trying to change the world.”
Total Control returns 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.