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Top Boy season 5 review: The crime drama's grittiest season yet is almost perfect

ashley walters as dushane, kano as sully, top boy season 3
Top Boy season 5 reviewChris Harris - Netflix

Who's going to come out on top? It's a question that has permeated the lives of the characters since the show's Channel 4 beginnings.

From the moment Dushane first bit into that fried plantain, way back in episode one and fans got their taste of east London through Top Boy's eyes.

Drug kingpins Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully's pursuit of dominating the streets through money and fear has tapped into preexisting social issues and cultivated an environment of deceit, brutality and toxic alliance mistaken for found families.

Theirs is a rough world that has only gotten progressively rougher and more complex as the season has gone on, culminating in the irrevocable, dramatic events of the season-four finale.

Jamie's death at the hands of Sully (Kane Robinson) set the wheels in motion in more ways than one, as did the events surrounding Lauryn's murder of ex-boyfriend Curtis (Howard Charles).

ashley walters as dushane, michael ward as jamie, top boy
Netflix

The Jenga tower of consequences from the penultimate season are what have fueled the discord in Top Boy's final outing, which meant the tension was immediate and intense.

Pounding its way through with a pulse-like rhythm starting with a recap of Jamie's death and continuing on to the aftermath of Dushane discovering that his 'off-the-streets retirement plans' had been scuppered by Sully's insistence on revenge.

Those plans included a different kind of life with Shelley (Little Simz).

This is the action that sets the two at loggerheads for one last time throughout the six-episode run.

Though a noticeably shorter series than its previous ones, the show's more streamlined approach doesn't cheat fans of a brilliant conclusion. The condensed season concentrates events and makes the decisions, impulses and action feel more urgent.

simbiatu ajikawo, ashley walters, top boy, season 3
Netflix

Consequently there's a sense of dread that lingers throughout and teases something more poignant to come. Sully and Dushane attempt yet again to navigate the complexities of their unstable friendship and mould Stef into this colder, harder individual – uncertain of what might trigger his next move – this has all helped to keep things pacey.

The undercurrent of fear was then punctuated by arrival of newcomer Jonny (Barry Keoghan), whose extroverted, performative brand of violence made him an unpredictable yet intriguing protagonist.

There are a lot of explosive moments painted with blood and body matter but none of it was self-indulgent despite reaching cinematic heights. All the action was purposeful and all antagonists serve a point beyond dramatised shock.

These moments were tactfully balanced out by the more emotionally driven plot points that sensitively approached topics like postnatal depression, child neglect and young love in a way that honours the world they inhabit.

saffron hocking, top boy season 3
Getty Images

The shortened season did come with one drawback. While we loved the punchier feel for the way it added a sense of immediacy to the characters' decisions, it didn't allow for the more delicate and nuanced storylines involving Lauryn (Saffron Hocking) and Jaq (Jasmine Jobson) to mature.

Equally, while time was spent exploring Stef's grief across multiple areas of his life (home, romance, street and in those quiet solitary moments) we would have like the Top Boy to have burrowed deeper (not necessarily wider) into those feelings so that his ultimate choice felt fleshed out and well arrived at.

In this respect the show is saved by both Jobson and Oshunremi's impressive performances.

Jobson has a knack for drawing you with the intensity of her eyes that seem to translate the emotion behind Jaq's clipped sentences until the character is ready for that vulnerability to slide out. In short, she's phenomenal.

jasmine jobson, adwoah aboah, top boy, season 3
Netflix

Oshunremi has grown into the role of Stef, delving into the more emotionally tougher aspects of his story arc with a quiet kind of authority.

Hocking's skill for balancing lighter moments with the dark cluster of emotions brewing was also not undermined by her limited arc.

Outside of the gang violence that churned on, Top Boy didn't neglect the more political aspects of the show's DNA. The creators continued to explore social injustices and tension between minorities and the police through the lens of deportation.

Ultimately, however, it's the tussle between Sully and Dushane that is the beating heart of the show.

top boy season 5, sully and dushane face off
Netflix

Not the heated tension of their relationship that often results in reactionary blow ups – though those keep the nail-biting energy ticking over – rather, it's the love between the two that remains once all the ego and distrust has been stripped away, and how that love entangles their fates in the most tragic of ways.

This may be the end but Top Boy still left room for at least one last surprise that will have fans crying out for another revival.

4 stars
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Top Boy, the complete collection, is available to stream now on Netflix.

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