Outback noir is the Australian prestige TV genre du jour right now, the fecund subgenre giving us the likes of Mystery Road: Origin, Savage River, True Colours and Troppo all in the past year. That latter tests the boundaries of the form, at least geographically, being set in Far North Queensland. How far back is the outback, and does direction matter? Now we have Black Snow, also set in FNQ. Perhaps we need a new subcategory for tropical crime stories. Is bananoir taken? Does Magnum P.I. count?
That’s a joke, but Black Snow is a series notably light on humour, dealing as it does not only with the murder of a teenage girl but Australia’s largely unacknowledged history of slave-taking in the South Sea Islands, known as Blackbirding.
The murder of 17-year-old Isabel Baker (Talijah Blackman-Corowa, an incredible new talent) takes place in 1994. In the present day, the opening of a time capsule in the fictional town of Ashford revives long-buried memories of the atrocity and attracts the attention of Brisbane cold case cop James Cormack (Travis Fimmel). It’s clear from the get-go that digging into Baker’s death puts the town on guard. Local cop shop boss Turner (veteran Kim Gyngell) tries to fob him off, but a bit of work brings Isabel’s now-adult sister, Hazel (Jemmason Power, with Molly Fatnowna as a younger iteration of the character) onside. It soon becomes clear that the murderer is someone from within the town and still, if not living there, connected to it.