Once more we return to the battle of the ballads in this international song contest consisting of European nations and a few non-EU nations they allow to compete – including the United Kingdom now we are no longer in the European Union. Although if there was ever any talk of kicking out one of the five biggest financial contributors to the contest at any point I never heard it. Of course it is arranged by the European Broadcast Union and has nothing to do with the political EU but I’m sure some people conflate the two for the sake of national pride and competitiveness.
The sixty-fifth competition’s finale was at last held after a year’s hiatus due to the global pandemic events. You know what it was so no need to dwell. There was a 3500 audience limit on site dur to restrictions and apparently everyone has been tested and precautions taken. There were 39 countries who took part in the previous round but 19 were eliminated. The finale took place in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. When the Russian entry came out during the initial ‘contestant parade’ introduction it sounded like she was booed slightly though the cheering covered most of it but it was noticeably lower in tone than the cheers for others.
After everyone had entered the hosts sang with Eurovision dancers behind them. Nikkie Tutorials, I forgot she existed but she was one of the presenters and I think was involved in last year’s replacement events so it sort of feels like she has become a permanent fixture of the event. Video postcards were shown before each act depicting interesting art installation, open walled, rooms around the country.
Beneath are my initial reactions to each act along with those of Graham Norton who is the commentator for the UK. He seemed to finally getting very comfortable in the role and making quips in the style everyone fondly remembers Terry Wogan coming out with back when he covered it. Of course the irreverent tone of commentary rubs up certain quarters of the contest the wrong way for not taking it as seriously as they do themselves. That’s the awkward thing about the contest – it has this façade of ‘a bit of fun’ but it’s a very serious business to some. Thus everyone can be enjoying themselves then someone comes along and po-faced says ‘right, stop that right now’ like a John Cleese or Graham Chapman character interrupting a Monty Python sketch. Except it’s not surreal or done for comic effect.
Cyprus / Elena Tsagrinou – El Diablo
Diamonds over a skin tone body suit to get the dad vote. The song is one of those summer time anthems that all end up sounding too similar if it’s not music you take and interest in. Part of me keeps hearing Lady Gaga’s Alejandro in the chorus parts.
Good energy and presentation so might do fairly well despite being the opening act. The dancers with the red line down the centre of their face look like they’re from a cult in a fantasy series – with the red catsuits it reminds me of the TV adaption of The Sword of Truth series. The hip isolation part of the dance is very impressive on a technically level but the costumes of the dancers mean they disappear due to the read and often low lighting given to them.
It’s a good pop song… because it sounds like a remix of the Lady Gaga song Alejandro with different lyrics. I would be surprised if there hasn’t been a claim of plagiarism.
Albania / Anxhela Peristeri – Karma
A ‘silver Vegas leotard look’ as Graham Norton puts it. The performance has a good opening. The song reminds me of the soundtrack from the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Good staging and lighting effects but is it really effective for the song? A costume of diamond strings and… that’s it besides some red smoke. Usually you’d expect an evening dress like look if doing this if stood alone on stage or to have backing dancers if wearing a costume like that. Another ‘trying to get the dad vote’ costume decision then.
She is playing to the people sat voting at home rather than to the audience due to the looks to the camera that were planned. Woof. Then comes the unannounced epilepsy seizure moment (which seems common this year unless you notice the small text on the screen during the postcards). Norton said she looked like Carol Voderman.
One thing I notice in hindsight is the official music video for the entries are usually far tamer costume wise than the stage costumes in the finale. It’s not critical to the songs but it probably does affect the presumed acceptability of some acts only for the finale to have the more provocative wardrobe choices.
Israel / Eden Alene – Set Me Free
She trained as a ballerina and is attempting the B6 note which is apparently the highest ever attempted at this competition. It’s hardly a Mariah Carey like vocal performance so, honestly, it’s not something anyone would realise unless you were informed before hand though she does randomly hit the note just before the end.
I suppose it will give her some achievement as the song itself doesn’t feel like it will stand out. Interesting crown/traditional Slavic headdress inspired hairstyle. The silver and white costumes look like sportswear. The ribbons on the dancers seem like a desperate last moment effort to avoid that comparison.
The song is an also ran sort. It’s not really got any good hook though it’s competently performed. Then a last moment on stage wardrobe change which doesn’t change much.
Belgium / Hooverphonic – The Wrong Place
Dark and moody. It reminds me of late 90s songs. They’ve a Portishead vibe but the song is more alternative pop. Much more toned down presentation with the singer and band wearing black on stage, although the singer having some sparkles on her dress, so the focus is on the song.
As spectacle is part of this contest so they probably won’t do amazing but this is more about getting their name out to potential future foreign fans it seems. It’s a nice subdued song – the sort of thing you imagine being the music of a intro to a TV drama.
I have come across it before but I don’t known if that was by chance or it was on an advert. I’m sure I’ve heard their name before.
Russia / Manizha – Russian Woman
Wearing what looks like a jumpsuit which is in stark contrast to the wardrobe of other entries. She has a message of tolerance and acceptance which apparently caused some issues in Russia.
Initially she seems a novelty act due to the massive puffed out layers and golden hair ribbon headdress. (Later San Marino does a similar idea of shedding an ornate dress which seems a coincidence). Chanting. It’ll either do well or fall flat… and since it’s the Russian entry and she seemed to get booed when entering earlier it might be like the UK entries from a few years ago where no matter how positive the message it’s still going to get a bad reception (fortunately it did end up doing quite well though not near the top contenders). More epilepsy flashing imagery.
It’s nice enough and evokes moments of Russian traditional music to represent the nation’s culture which many entries often don’t choose to do.
Malta / Destiny – Je Me Casse
She won Junior Eurovision at 13 years old and is now 18. Sparkly dress with tassels. The song is effective. Wow, if you’ve not had an epileptic seizure by now it’s some miracle or you’ve avoided looking at the screen.
It’s a good song but it will probably be mid tier. The bright neon pink of the dancers with the ballet bar kind of draws attention to how little the singer is doing physically in the performance. She will get a ‘body positivity’ vote but Eurovision seems very traditional in its values so that might not get her far (it didn’t).
‘Large and in charge’ she reminds me of American gospel singers from the late 80s or early 90s. The lyrics are very repetitive. It’ll get a nightclub remix and do well on the dance floor. Technically good but not that engaging.
Portugal / The Black Mamba – Love Is On My Side
Norton said it’s very Paul McCartney/Wings in tone. Retro suits and showing them in black and white on TV initially which seems a bit of a cheat visually. It’s a very nice performance.
A slow ballad. Portugal seem to do well with slow ballads. The dark horse entry but it could win as other dark horses in the contest have previously (including Portugal themselves in 2017).
The first song, so far, where I actually would like to hear it again a few times. Simple but bold graphics on the screens behind them. I would be shocked if this isn’t a contender for winning. One of my favourites of the night. (They came twelfth in the end).
Serbia / Hurricane – Loco Loco
Oh, I notice they do put a text warning for epilepsy on screen in the postcard section. I sort of wish Norton had said it earlier too and he might have.
Intricate costumes. They remind me of some costumes I’ve seen Little Mix wear for concerts. Sex sells. Woof. The song is bold but I can imagine we are going to hear a few which have this sort of presentation and tone during the contest so I can’t see it doing amazing though they performed very well and were far more dynamic than many other acts.
I’m biting my tongue not to say ‘generic modern Eurovision dance song’ but it feels like one. They all look like they’ve had plastic surgery or are wearing heavy layers of make up as seems the trend recently.
It was a good effort but this would have done better about ten years ago before things began becoming a bit more conservative culturally across global society.
. . .
Then a break with Nikki Tutorials. I’m sure she is very popular but she just feels tacked on appearing as a contest presenter. I think it’s her make up. It always looks severe to me in how much bronzer she uses. I was surprised to hear her age as she looks 15 to 20 years older.
United Kingdom / James Newman – Embers
First of the big five (the major financial contributors to the contest).
Wearing a leather coat or jacket with a gold stripe design which is a bit ‘try hard’ while very understated. It reminds me of clothing I see in some ‘you wouldn’t expect it to cost that much’ high street clothing stores. Also some rings and a golden chain which is a very ‘1980s comedy sketch show caricature of a Greek business man with a market stall selling items of questionable origin’ look.
The song is very ‘modern British’ tonally which is nice as a representation of our current music culture but also fits into Eurovision quite well. It’s a fun, inoffensive number and the dancers get to have some fun. It won’t do amazing but we should do okay. Maybe it’s just my TV but it did sound like the sound was peaking and tinny a few times midway through.
A fun entry. It’ll be interesting to see if his weight is held against him as society seems to accept women as ‘beautiful at any weight’ but not men. (spoiler: zero points from the professional juries and zero points from the public vote too. The audience in the venue were audibly shocked and cheered him when he put on a good face which is a positive to take away from it at least).
Greece / Stefania – Last Dance
According to Norton she just apparently just turned 18 and is ‘dancing with laundry’ according to Norton. She looks like Holly Valance.
Sparkly, form fitting, body suit with ‘flesh windows’ as if it’s a comic accurate superhero costume at a comic book convention. It’s a unique look for Eurovision. She looks like a dominatrix who spilled glitter on herself. The dancer being green screened is amusing but random and you can only imagine how confusing it would be for the live audience. It feels like it is trying make the entry memorable.
The entire performance is very… if you asked someone to do a parody of a Eurovision entry they might make something like this I suppose. It does feel like an early 80s music video but with modern production values. The song is energetic if, again, a bit ‘been there and seen it before’ safe.
Switzerland / Gjon’s Tears – Tout l’Univers
More down to earth than many others. The puffy shirt is an interesting choice but doesn’t suit him. In fact the overall look is of a 5 year old dressed by his mother at the heights of the 1980s.
The song is good and reminds me of serious contenders from previous years. Minimalist staging (but with the flashing lights once more sporadically). I like the song but people tend to either vote for unique entries, saccharine ones or those with the strongest visuals.
It might do exceptionally well or it might do okay. It’s hard to tell with how the votes go often. I would hope it does well. It’s very anthemic. Again an ‘intro music to a detective drama’ type song. (It was one of the leaders during the jury vote alongside France until the public vote gave it to Italy).
Iceland / Da∂i Freyr og Gagnamagni∂ – 10 Years
One of the band members proved positive for Covid so they’re isolating and doing it remotely. Their song last year got a lot of good feedback. This song is about his wife and being married for ten years. She is the one in the back with the keyboard/ curved key-tar.
This will surely blow everything else out of the water. The ‘pixel art’ sweaters of the band members faces, the differing sections of the song to appeal to everyone… this is surely a Eurovision classic already? People said they felt the group was robbed by last year’s contest being cancelled (and it’s a rule everyone returning to compete had to perform a new song) so it’s highly likely they’re going to steam roll to victory.
This is one of those songs you can tell people will be listening to decades down the road as we do some songs that were in the contest in the 70s and onwards. A modern classic of a Eurovision entry so it’ll be shocking if it doesn’t win really but there’s some strong competition. (I got it wrong. They came in fourth place after Italy, France and Switzerland).
Spain / Blas Cantó – Voy A Querdarme
Second of the big five who get automatic entry due to financial contribution.
The moon is apparently the biggest prop ever used for the contest. I guess the screens used in recent years don’t count. Black shirt open enough to show some chest and a 5 o clock shadow – that’ll get some votes no doubt.
It’s a classic sounding piece so will do well though I would challenge you to single it out if similar songs were put with it. It’s an end credits song to an anime. It just kind of stops suddenly. (It came twenty-fourth! I thought it was a solid entry personally but apparently it was a strong year for entries overall so it fell by the way side apparently.)
Moldova / Natalia Gordienko – SUGAR
One of the backing dancers looks like the British comedian Michael McIntyre according to Norton.
A blonde with big hair and a sparkly short dress to show off her legs so she could be from the current year or any time since the contest began arguably. In fact it’s like the costume used in Cyprus’ entry but with sleeves. Woof. The dancers are bare chested so look like ‘sexy’ cosplay versions of PSY, Matrix agents or Dr Octopus.
The song is enjoyable if generic. Another ‘it’ll fall somewhere in the middle’ song. It was okay. Nothing wrong with it but nothing stood out either. (It came thirteenth – right in the middle!)
Germany / Jendrik – I Don’t Feel Hate
Third of the big five financial contributors.
The ‘marmite one’ according to Norton so you’ll love it or hate it. He thinks it sounds educational like ‘don’t play with matches’.
The bold colours and designs definitely evoke children’s television programming. The ‘peace sign’ hand is another ‘trying to be memorable’ effort that feels too blatantly quirky. It’s a fun song so might get some votes but also makes you want to punch them in the face a little bit. Try hard quirkiness. From experience such people are miserable off stage.
It’s entire tone is clearly meant to be jokingly passive aggressive like ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’. That’s the tone coming across really. It’s Eurovision’s version of Mean Girls. A bit of German humour which fell flat as they came last but one with three points: two from Austria (block voting?) and one from Romania.
It was fun but it seems like Eurovision is actively drifting away from encouraging kitsch recently.
Finland / Blind Channel – Dark Side
Lordi’s homeland. Also the homeland of the Moomins. Also the homeland of Simo Häyhä ‘the white death’ sniper who terrified the Soviet Army during WW2. It’s a nice chilled country in more than one sense.
ROCK! YES! One of my favourites by default. The baggy parachute trousers don’t look good on anyone but whatever. PYROTECHNICS! YEAH! THE DARK SIDE! HOO HOO HOO!
But, to be serious, it’s a standout compared to other entries. I hope it does well but people are more prudish these days even though this is nothing challenging and you can tell they’ve cleaned it up a bit to fit into the contest. (They got sixth place which isn’t bad considering how different the song is to everything else though Norton seems to think all rock music is the same as he kept comparing it to Italy’s entry.)
. . .
then we have a look at some commentator booths. Denmark – It looks cramped. Apparently they had been wearing their silver suits for the past 2 days according to Norton. Then the Russian one – the ladies jacket seems to be missing the shoulder sections. They give the host woman a bouquet of flowers which was nice.
. . .
Bulgaria / Victoria – Growing Up is Getting Old
Her father has motor-neuron disease so the staging reflects the sands of time running out. Stuck on a derelict ship/island surrounded by rippling water. A simple little ballad. Sat on the floor wearing a blue linen body suit covering her tattoos in case some people don’t like them. Woof. It will hopefully do well as another stand out in the contest.
It’s another anthemic piece which is very reflective yet uplifting if a little twee. The end credit music entry in contrast to those that are the intro music. Hopefully it does well. One more ‘want to hear it again’ entry.
One of my favourites of the year – actually Bulgaria, if I recall correctly, always seem to put in entries I like.
Lithuania / The Roop – Discoteque
‘People from IT dressed up as Steps’ according to Norton. Hand gestures and a very 90s aesthetic achieved with modern techniques.
It’s a good song. Slightly darker in tone due to the electronica aspect. Again I’m getting ‘TV thriller intro music’ vibes. It won’t win but I enjoy it and it’s another ‘wouldn’t expect to want to hear it again but I will happily’ entry
The hand gestures are proof again that entries are trying to insert memorable aspects for when the vote comes around. (The United Kingdom gave our 12 points to them).
Ukraine / Go_A – Shum
They grew in popularity and gained traction days before the contest apparently. A dance track with a folk song backing. The singer’s style reminds me of the Polish quartet TULIA in the 2019 contest but with flamenco dancer boa sleeves. She has a striking look. Woof. It’s one of the few really reflecting the culture of the nation.
The light circles with the dancers are an interesting addition. The rising tempo suggests it should do well. It definitely stands out and should do well. It makes you want to get up and dance. The disco ball men in the screens are a bit nightmare fuel though.
It reminds me, in hindsight, of the band Percival whose folk song adaptions were used for the computer game Witcher 3. Rewatching clips during the voting period I’m going to say this edges it as my favourite of the year though there were some good entries. (They came in fifth place ultimately).
France / Barbara Pravi – Voilà
The fourth of the big five financial contributors to the competition.
They haven’t won since 1977 apparently but they’re a bookies favourite this year. A rousing French ballad. Very French in style. The bustier and being alone on stage is meant to represent her being raw and exposed – her emotional vulnerability exposed to the audience. Woof. It seems this year it’s a mix of standard fare, striking visuals or earnest pleas to the heart. The bustier reminds me of Besson’s The Fifth Element unintentionally. It is another dark horse potential contender. Even if it doesn’t win it’ll be remembered in years to come and again is one of the entries to reflect the nation it represents. Very striped back staging and everything but it works in it’s favour hopefully. Norton says it’ll win or be top five. (It came in second place after both counts concluded).
Azerbaijan / Efendi – Mata Hari
Sparkly. Chanting. The high pony tails. It’s clear what vote they’re going for – the girl group vote or the dad vote. It’s okay but too similar to other entries as a song.
The patterns in the background are nice and the instrumental both allude to the nation’s cultural heritage. Woof. The choreography is much more elaborate than many entries which is to their credit.
It picks up towards the end but I don’t see it being one of the big contenders though it was well performed.
Norway / TIX – Fallen Angel
This entry was talked about a lot. He has Tourette’s and facial tics hence the glasses and his name.
The angels and demons imagery with him chained by his demons is a bit on the nose symbolism wise but it stands out and will be featured in future ‘remember the 2021 contest’ clips no doubt.
It’s a nice ballad but doesn’t quite have the power of some other entries. If he swore or said something out of the blue I think it might have gone down better – either for the car crash potential or sympathy vote.
It really reminds me of a music video for a 90s boyband – East17 of Boy Zone in particular.
The Netherlands (Hosts) / Jeangu Macrooy – Birth of a New Age
An M.C. Hammer jacket or is it more like those of Milli Vanilli? The person in red is very emphatic and I like the body isolation dance/gestures they do about a minute in.
It’s a pleasant song. It really is invoking the 90s to me. The sort of thing you hear on the radio and enjoy then forget to look up later until you chance upon it years down the line. Good choreography.
It won’t go far but it was a feel good performance in a year of entries vying for the top spot (probably to recoup costs incurred by the delay of last year by everyone).
Italy / Måneskin – Zitti E Buoni
Fifth and final of the big five financial contibutors to the contest who get automatically entered into the finale.
Norton finally mentioned the strobing effects for the last three. Another heavy metal song! Norton hopes it might grown on him ‘like mould on a bathroom ceiling’.
The costumes remind me of Jo Jo’s Bizarre Adventure part 5, Vento Aureo, which is set in Italy and yet are also very 1970s rock inspired. Someone mentioned they are like the British band The Darkness in evoking that era but being modern.
The song is good if vocally a bit too fast paced and more a modern skater punk induced rock rap than classic rock. The guitarist woman woof. It’s not a patch on the Finnish entry though and Norton lumped them in together as heavy metal rock when this is more glam in tone.
Norton says they’re more ‘angry as if they asked for no ice in their drink’ compared to the energy of Finland’s entry. (Italy won the competition ultimately).
Sweden / Tusse – Voices
Apparently there was a mild controversy that Tusse was representing Sweden this year. Last year the Mamas were selected to represent the nation but the Swedish 2021 representative selection contest proceeded and the Mamas didn’t win it. Other nations automatically re-entered their 2020 entrants to be fair to them. Not in Sweden though sadly.
His costume is very… live action adaption or embellished cosplay of a fighting game. Specifically the live action film adaption of Street Fighter comes to mind. The choreography is very well done synchronisation wise.
The song is pretty good but will be lost in the selection this year though it would do well in other years. The flashing lights add nothing to it but I feel those effects don’t add to most acts anyway. Everyone kept saying this was a strong year of contenders according to Norton.
San Marino / Senhit – Adrenalina
Senhit represented the country ten years ago. This time she is accompanied by Flo Ride surprisingly. Impressive costume at the start. It’s very esoteric.
But then she removes it and it’s a more bland trouser suit with large shoulder pads. Well it’s bland for Eurovision. Fur collar and sleeves. It reminds me of Black Cat’s costume from the Spider-Man comics. The costumes on the dancers are… interesting. I’m not sure what aesthetic they’re going for here. Maybe ‘sexy steam punk yetis’?
Then Flo Rider turns up and it’s like a remix of the first half of the song. I wonder how they got him involved.
It’s a fun song and nice way to close out the running order. Hopefully it does quite well as it’s a strong performance. It took ten people to write the song apparently.
Norton jokes there are so few people in the country that everyone has a turn eventually if they want to.
Voting Time Events
The presenters dresses look like packaging bows on overpriced boxes of chocolates. It’s an interesting look. Garish enough for those who consider Eurovision cheesy but stylish enough they probably are couture.
Afrojack – Music Binds Us
A nice uplifting song with a cute video. Bit weird to have the string quartet on the tram with face masks on but no one else. Imagine if that’s your big moment for international recognition and your face is covered. Then a guy with a goatee beard appears. Who is he? The guy who can’t perform due to Covid I assume who won last year. Sad for him as this was a moment in the limelight to pass the torch to this year’s winner. No, it’s a DJ. Then the strings with the dancers don’t have face coverings. The video feeds into the live performance of ‘Bulletproof’ song with the DJ ‘shouting it out’. Nice transition!
Nikki Tutorials does a skit about ‘how to rock the vote’
I think it’s the faux-American mannerisms and such that make her hard to like. The American makeup tutorial YouTubers are all a controversial bunch but she may be nothing like them but the presentation is similar to theirs. As mentioned I don’t see why she is connected to the contest but it might be due to being the Netherlands point announcer, featuring last year and again this year and she doesn’t feel as if she is a part of it but is there nonetheless.
Some behind the scenes B-roll while the votes are collated.
Then there is some Carpool Karaoke with former winners. Some joking about hard rock hallelujah Lordi’s costumes with an older winner who liked them but not their monstrous look.
Then there is a tribute to the previous events where people wore evening dress and it gradually grew more and more like a party than a formal event. They also thank the audience for the support throughout the years.
They keep mentioning inviting everyone to the rooftop party.
2015’s Swedish winner is shown performing. He seems a bit more demure compared to the clip when he was competing. I get a sense he is sick of his song which is common for performers if they have one or two ‘big’ songs everyone knows.
Then Teach-In with Ding-A-Dong. Norton asks if it’s the original line up. It’s a office outing karaoke of people who should have retired long ago…
Sandra Kim – 1986’s winner. A ‘mum’s had too much wine’ look on the girls’ night out.
Lenny Kuhr -1969’s winner. So different tonally to the more recent ones. Folk music sounding but then it is from the late 60s and such music was popular then. I like it.
Helena Paparizou – Full figured. Woof. 2005 Greece winner.
Lordi – 2006 Finnish winner in full costume. Norton mocks the costumes must stink and it’s the reason the rooftop concerts were outside. Still got it. Just the right amount of rock to not scare off normies.
2019’s winner Duncan Lawrence is isolating due to testing positive for Corona. They’ve mentioned it a few times throughout the night to the point you wonder if there is some bad feeling’s from the organisers that he was obligated to not attend. They show him performing his new song ‘Stars’. It’s nice.
Before the announcement the blonde announcer Chantelle changed her golden bow dress for a silver one. For the count down dancer create numbers and Norton jokes it’s bitter sweet because once they hit zero they’re all out of a job. And there are inside fireworks.
Jury Votes Announcement
The head of the Eurovision executive board has been replaced by Martin Osterdahl who writes thrillers apparently. I wonder what happened as the previous guy was there for a long time.
Graham Norton’s comments on the vote announcers
The voter jury announcements appear in order of their representative’s performance. Israel has ‘a nice dress’. Poland is ‘wearing a zebra print dress with full length arm gloves’ as Norton notes and wonders ‘if it has a head’ to the costume. He jokes ‘there are so few people in San Marino the announcer will likely represent them eventually’. Malta: ‘someone’s made an effort’. Estonia – ‘the daughter of Estonia’s only ever winner’. Azerbaijan sings and he says ‘there’s always one…’ Norway: ‘wow, she really enjoyed it. She likes music’ (sarcastic). UK: Amada Holden ‘a familiar face’ – she says hello in French but admits she doesn’t know what she is saying. Admits she has on an over the top dress (it looks like ostrich feathers). Greece has a ten year old as their vote announcer. The youngest in Eurovision history. He is an actor. Graham says he did better than many giving the votes. Ireland: no points for the UK. Moldova played a saxophone. He entered multiple times and only did well when not performing live apparently. Serbia: WOOF! Bulgaria: ‘Joanna’s going out later – she’s in a bubble’ WOOF! Cyprus: ‘could Greece get the 12 points? – ‘of course they do’.
Those were the National Jury Votes so far. We have then had a break before continuing. The UK has 0 points so far. It’s between France and Switzerland with Malta, Iceland and Italy following but with growing distance between each step. France was the bookies favourite. France vs Switzerland so far. All the bookies’ favourites are at the top. Three of the big financial contributors are at the bottom.
Germany: ‘trying to get lipstick off her teeth’ – puffy sleeves dress and weird ribbon medals. Finland: ‘oh, hello, I wear this every time I go to the smelting plant- just casual (glittery pink dress/jacket). Portugal Woof. Taianna – woof. Iceland: Netflix Eurovision song – ya ya ding dong so jokey entry. Says 12 for ya ya ding dong. But really for Switzerland. Romania – former Olympic gymnast woof. Croatia ‘oh, little bit of product in the hair’. Czech Republic (not Czechia despite the government trying to get people to use that name) Woof. Georgia ‘someone dressed up’ (the man was wearing a t-shirt with a map of Georgia on it). Denmark ‘you’re out late’ Russia Polina Gagarina: WOOF! Graham apologises if you hear foul language despite the late hour from the green room. France: woof. Sweden ‘did she know that man’ – an audio engineer had to adjust her mic/coat/dress collar as she appeared. ‘more wine for Barbara – corolla’ when she stumbled over her words. ‘what, what who are you I can hear voices’ – ‘we got there in the end’.
At the end of the Jury Vote the UK had got 0 points.
Viewers’ Votes Announcement
Then the viewer votes. The UK got theirs first because of the placement so far. The votes are collated so we don’t know which countries gave us the most backing unlike with the professional jury votes. The UK also got zero points from the public! People in the audience were audibly shocked. But James put on a positive face and people cheered him (as he spilt a bottle of beer on the floor when waving his arms). Germany got zero points too. As did Spain. No one else received zero public votes, Everyone else got points. Graham believes people all voted for certain countries so there would be some high scoring for certain entries. Usually ‘the public spread their love around’ so it’s unusual. Norway got 60 points out of the lowest jury vote scorers. Graham believes it to be ‘a year like no other’ due to the way the votes are spread. Lithuania got 165 public votes. Finland got 218 points! They won’t win but it’s a lot of votes. Ukraine got 267 points! Russia got 100 points. Iceland got 180 points! Italy got 318 points! France got 251 points! It’s now either Italy or Switzerland… Switzerland got 161 points.
Italy won with 524 points. France had 499 points despite being the bookies favorite. They did well with the jury vote and public vote in fairness. Not one I ranked as a potential winner but good for them. Also nice he said ‘rock never dies’. It’s very 70s style which was the ‘golden era’ for Eurovision so calls back to that costumes wise and so… it shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s soft rock so doesn’t scare off those who don’t enjoy rock music.
Here are how all the scores were spread if you wish to check. The UK gave Lithuania our televote’s 12 points and the jury vote gave 12 points to the French entry. Looking at the numbers it definitely seems like there was a division between the jury votes and public vote on which performances should get points. That seems a common universal theme – what is valued by experts and what is valued by the common folk can vastly differ.
Graham notes there are a lot of disappointed people in the arena on the night but everyone is glad to be back in the contest.
First it was the Iraq War and now Brexit I guess. That or our entries really are that bad and we can’t rely on block voting to even give us a few ‘friendly’ points. Then again if you’re reading this you probably already consider the UK to be outside the EU anyway due to Brexit. Perhaps you feel that should extend to participation in the contest although there are non-EU countries who participate and we are one of the bigger financial contributors to the competition so it would only serve to damage the event for the sake of tolerating our annual entry.
As a little extra for those who got this far here is a behind the scenes documentary BBC Radio 1 did with James Newman and a few others are also mentioned.
Once more we travel into the London world of murder mystery as written by J K Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith. We all know it’s her but we play along. Let’s see if the character’s can overcome their personal issues to help justice prevail once more.
This is meant to be an irreverent synopsis and commentary of the BBC’s adaption of Career of Evil. Honestly I meant to do this back when it first aired on the BBC but lost my original notes and then never got back around to it as I didn’t enjoy the experience at the time to be honest. Let’s see if time has made me feel more inclined to enjoy it.
I’ve typed this without going back to my previous entries regarding the other stories (links to which are at the bottom of this post) so I only half recall some of the more blatant points such as Strike’s circumstances and Robin being an ‘author’s self insert wish fulfilment’ figure in the narrative who can do anything.
Career of Evil: Short synopsis
First let’s have a shorter synopsis for those who just want the highlights of the storyline to refresh their memories:
Strike gets a call from a potential client so goes to a building of flats. A teenage girl also goes there too. She turns up dead later – dismembered to be more accurate. He, early on, gets framed for her murder but it soon gets dismissed as all the evidence is circumstantial; mainly focusing on a newspaper published photo of him meeting the dead girl which he proves could easily just be a set up. He argues that she could have coincidentally been asking if a seat was spare, when the photo was taken, rather than them actually knowing each other. The photo, frozen in a single fleeting moment, shows them interacting and assumptions were made. However it turns out she was a fan of his due to the news coverage he got from the previous high profile cases but he only learns of this long after the fact.
Robin is getting ready to be married at the start of the story. A severed leg turns up in the mail addressed to her. Her fiancé Matthew insists she can’t be a detective any more. Robin wants to be both married and a detective. Strike is okay with her being both but Matthew hates the idea and him especially (though it isn’t clarified why except he is a jealous, controlling, lover we must assume). So same old, same old… eventually she gets attacked when walking alone at night but proves herself more than capable and foils a paedophile later too.
Shanker throughout the story seems to play sidekick to both Strike and Robin at different points. It’s like he has nothing better to do with his time despite being involved in criminal activities like torturing a bloke in a back room of a bar when Strike goes to him for information at one point. He verges on being both the dogged deus ex machina saviour of the pair, when one or the other can’t be present for narrative reasons, and also the comic relief as if he is some sort of dogged, underclass, latter-day Sancho Panza serving naïve middle class people .
The prime suspects of the case are:
Malley: Some bloke who used to cut off legs and send them places – we never hear of him after the initial mention.
Whittingham: Dodgy musician obsessed with death and dark things who is/was Strike’s step father. He was involved in the death of Strike’s mother but got off scot free. Strike keeps trying to find a way to pin this case on him but he didn’t do it. Even if he is a dodgy, wilfully antagonistic, bastard who abuses his current girl friend, as he has others previously, he isn’t the murderer in this case.
Brockbank: Ex-army. Paedophile. Abused his own daughter years ago back when Strike was in the SIB. Strike punched him which causes him to get epileptic fits due to a pre-existing concussion from playing rugby the weekend before. Thus everyone Robin or Strike meet involved with him thinks Strike single-handedly caused the ailment. Nowadays he moves about doing bouncer work for various strip clubs. It turns out this is our B-plot where Robin and Shanker stop him abusing his new girlfriend’s daughter. He gets caught by the police off screen towards the end.
Laing: Also ex-army. Con man with a violent past. Back in the day he abused his wife and child so Strike got him imprisoned for over a decade. He has been free for a few years before the current events so counts as one of the people Strike feels has a grudge against him. Laing turns out to be the guy who sent the severed leg and stuck a cut off thumb in Robin’s kettle when Matthew was home alone. He uses theatrical make up to apply a beard and contact lens to change his appearance between his own identity as a disabled, stroller using, man living in a council flat (where he stores the body parts in numerous fridges) and ‘Ray’ the ex-fireman husband of the dead girl’s older sister. He stole the ex-fireman identity from the son of an elderly neighbour whose lawn he used to mow when living with a former girlfriend.
Back and forth we go between scenes of Robin’s emotional crises on whether to marry Matthew or not. This occurs after it’s revealed he cheated on her shortly after her rape in university (by someone wearing a gorilla mask) which leads to her reliving some of her trauma from the experience and needing to go home, near Yorkshire, instead of taking an active part in the current investigation for a while though she does re-join it later on.
Early on they go to the countryside and Robin interviews Brockbank’s sister pretending to be a solicitor in order to get some current address information about him.
Strike tracks down Laing to council flats, in London’s Elephant and Castle area, but sees him using a mobility walker thus assumes he is incapable of the murder and dismisses him from the inquiry.
Instead he wastes time trying to find some way to place the blame on Whittingham due to his own personal bias against him regarding his mother’s death. Robin meets his newest girlfriend and speaks with her but that all falls through and eventually they find out his band had a gig on the night the girl was murdered so he has an alibi.
Strike also visits the murder victim’s older sister’s home where she lived. There he meets ‘Ray’ her husband. He pretends to go to the toilet and takes photos of certificates on the wall and sees a photo of Ray and his friend on an apparently cold weather holiday next to some wild seasonal plants.
Strike goes to some strip clubs to find information about Brockbank who worked as a bouncer and finds out he is in a relationship with someone who has children.
Robin keeps going out on night time walks despite Strike telling her repeatedly not too. Eventually on one of them she goes down a street she doesn’t know and instead of turning back or getting to a populated area she presses on and is assaulted. Fortunately she has her rape alarm but still gets cut across the arm.
At the hospital Matthew and Strike turn up and as usual Matthew has a bad attitude towards Robin continuing to be a detective and especially towards Strike personally for enabling her.
Against Strike’s wishes she goes after Brockbank telling Shanker Strike had asked him to help her. She meets Brockbank’s new girlfriend with her daughters and tries to warn them about him. The girlfriend defends his honour ‘knowing’ of what happened with Strike causing his epilepsy. He comes home and becomes violent. Shanker backs Robin up but Brockbank runs off before they can detain him. On the bright side the daughter finds the courage to tell her mother what was happening which she didn’t before due to Brockbank threatening to hurt her little sister if she didn’t comply with him abusing her. Eventually he is caught off screen by the police.
The turning point in the investigation is when Strike sees a potted plant his uncle left at his mother’s grave which is similar to the wild growing plants in Ray’s photo. He makes a call and realises the plant wouldn’t be in full bloom, as in the photo, during the colder seasons of the year so the photo was staged. He also looked up the award certificate Ray had on the wall and things don’t match up. On an earlier visit to one of Laing’s former residences shared with an ex-girlfriend he had mowed the lawn of an old woman and stole the document’s of her ex-fireman son and assumed his identity as ‘Ray’.
Thus Strike goes to Laing’s council flat alone posing as a repairman and breaks in. He finds a number of fridges filled with body parts. Laing appears and they fight. Shanker also arrives to help but due to the steel door he can’t kick it down to save Strike when the fight is underway. Strike takes Laing down with a hammer eventually and calls the police to deal with him.
Afterwards Robin and Matthew have headed off into the country to get married. Strike throughout the case has recalled his mother telling him how she loves Whittingham and one day he will find someone he loves just as much (hinting, or at lease teasing, he has feelings for Robin) but he doesn’t interfere in the wedding matters Robin keeps being distracted by throughout this case.
Instead he has Shanker drive him to an off the grid commune where Brockbank’s daughter, from all those years ago when he punched him while social services took her into custody, is living. He tells her what happened and apologises as he has felt guilt ever since. She forgives him.
With that instant resolution to his long term guilt Strike has one more stop before heading back to London with Shanker – Robin and Matthew’s wedding since he was invited as a guest. Shanker jokes he is going to pull a ‘Graduate’ and stop the wedding. They get there just in time for Strike to see her say ‘I do’, but not before knocking over a flower arrangement calling attention to himself, before it all ends on a happy note.
[Spoilers: Obviously, this all gets undone in the prologue to the next book ‘Lethal White‘.]
Now for the longer, in depth, version of the synopsis. Throughout this I will insert my observations, mockery and notes written while watching it by [doing this with any such commentary text so it stands out].
Career of Evil: Detailed Synopsis and Commentary
We open on a semi detached house where a teenage girl is getting ready to head out somewhere.
Robin meets some friends at a restaurant and they joke about how her boss keeps her long every night. [How dare work impacting the lives of those with aspirations – as if it’s not Robin who insisted on being more involved. Also do all middle class dramas need to include a dining scene with friends? Just I’ve listened to a few BBC Radio Four adaptions and they all have dinner party scenes even when one wasn’t in the original work – maybe it just makes for an easy exposition dump?]. Then they have some banal dinner party chat about her work and her stating ‘money isn’t everything’ – which is something only comfortably well off people can say.
[Robin, according to the book version, has now worked a whole year for Strike. it’s been very eventful then! However it also means the detective agency has been on the brink of closure once every six months, i.e. once per story line, at least and it will be again this time too unsurprisingly though each case ended with a ‘the detective agency is saved’ happy ending.]
Robin’s friends joke about how scruffy Strike is and her fiancé jokes he could do with a second leg – because ha ha he lost one to an IED when part of the military police. [Which, you know, is a bit too on the nose. A rather heavy-handed effort to make us dislike Robin’s fiancé and friends immediately. It’s meant to imply she is morally better than them but she is humouring their questionable banter so it just adds to my view Strike is a means to an end she would, if not bound by the ‘will they, won’t they’ series long narrative, abandon once able to get a detective license and likely intentionally take business away from him.]
Strike walks the streets of London then enters a building using a code we see on his phone.
We see the teenage girl from the opening enter the same building and go to the stairwell. Tense music plays. She freshens her breath as if going to meet a date. She exits the elevator and enters a sparsely decorated flat and looks out the window. Suddenly, Dario Argento giallo style, black gloved hands use cling film to asphyxiate her…
The theme song plays. [I forgot it after all this time…]
The next day Robin runs to work with two coffees and looks through the mail in the letter box. There’s a delivery by a mute motorcycle delivery person whose helmet visor is black – almost as if they want to keep their identity secret [or to not pay for, or give credit to, an extra… no it’s obviously the killer but, in fairness, we would all just take the package without asking questions probably while thinking]. She signs for the boxed package.
In the office she discusses a new case which came in where someone wants to check if their partner is cheating. Then Robyn gets a phone call to the office about the food for her wedding reception. As she does this she opens the package and dramatically draws away from it. Strike goes to check and there’s a severed leg in the box. He slowly drags her away as she cries. Apparently as career hungry as she is she wasn’t prepared for this.
He then contacts Detective Inspector Eric Wardle with four possible suspects, three of whom he knew from his time in the SIB:
Terrence “Digger” Malley, a member of the Haringey Crime Syndicate who has a history of mailing severed body parts and was sent to prison after Strike anonymously testified against him.
Noel Brockbank, a Gulf War veteran and serial paedophile whom Strike had investigated and who blames Strike for taking his family away from him [In the TV adaption he is called Niall apparently.]
Donald Laing, a former member of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment who Strike arrested for physically abusing his wife and child, which resulted in a dishonourable discharge and a 10-year prison sentence;
Jeff Whittaker, Strike’s stepfather and the prime suspect in Leda’s death by overdose, who Strike believes to be responsible despite the fact that Whittaker was acquitted.
[Heads up: Good luck recalling which suspect’s background is which after a while if you don’t pay attention. I spent some time confusing the backgrounds of Brockbank and Laing myself. It got to the point there was the ‘guy who abused and raped his own daughter’ as a single suspect because we only know of them from passing comments made by the characters until they appear in person for one or two scenes. Obviously Whittaker is almost immediately dismissible as Strike’s personal hopes of getting justice finally. What I found odd was the mention of Malley but he seems to never be mentioned besides this initial line up of suspects.]
Strike jokes the leg is not even in his size. Wardle says he is on his way and Strike offers Robin a tea… or a beer which he describes as ‘something stronger’ [you would think spirits would be more appropriate to rat piss but whatever – beer is ‘stout, hearty, English fare’].
Robin gets up to look at the leg again and Strike tells her not to touch it. She chides she wasn’t going to. He then looks at the leg more carefully himself seeing cuts near the ankle as if he recognises them and robin remarks he has gone white.
A little later Robin is asking him about the leg with a smile on her face [apparently having power over her employer soothes all ‘dismembered body part’ woes]. Strike says he could identify it was the leg of a teen or someone in their twenties and he had seen scarring like that before. He even goes as far as saying it might be a girl called Brittany Brockbank who was the daughter of Major Niall BrockBank who had a reputation for cruelty. She had told a school friend her father was having sex with her and she feared she might get pregnant. The friend’s dad told SIB and Strike was the investigating officer. When he interviewed her she denied everything out of fear as her father had threatened to cut her legs off if anyone found out. The scars were his idea of a warning hence why these legs remind him of it.
[In hindsight we see at the end of the story that Brittany seems to be in her early to mid twenties – but then could any of us identify a leg’s age on sight if it wasn’t attached to a body? Arguably it’s because she lives off the grid so is ‘missing’ but that is never made clear to the audience so it’s one of those cases of cutting information assuming the audience will just ‘get it’ somehow as we are never told the time frames for past events]
No charges were brought. However Strike feels Brockbank still ha good reason to hate him as he injured his reputation [and the whole epilepsy matter which they omit here though it’s clearly something he does hold a grudge over throughout the story considering how many know the story from Brockbank’s whitewashed account of it]. Aside from him the only other person who would do this is a Scot called Donald Laing who used to write him letters and should be on file somewhere. Robin chips in saying she will get cracking. [It’s not as if she wants to help but just to get some juicy gossip about him it feels.]
Wardle and his partner arrive while arranging for forensics to turn up. [You would expect they would be required to be the first on the scene before the detectives if there’s the chance in case of contamination but what do I know…]
Strike goes down the stairs and opens it to Wardle saying ‘a fucking leg?’
Thus the office is being covered by the forensics people taking photos and such as Robin gives a statement about the delivery person. ‘A black Honda, big, 600cc at least’ she states.
[She, unsurprisingly for her, randomly knows a lot about motorcycles if she can identify them on sight. To be honest it isn’t something you expect unless they’re into motor sports or such. We’ve been given no hint of that about Robin – maybe an ex-boyfriend was a petrol head or some other lame excuse like the running joke that whenever Strike needs a new skill set to overcome some obstacle she coincidentally did a weekend course on the topic.]
She notes how there was nothing identifiable about the courier. He looked big but the jacket could have been padding him out. Strike comments ‘not a fat bastard like the boss’/ Robin notes the package was addressed to her and Strike suggests it could just demonstrate they’ve done their homework. Suddenly Wardle’s partner calls over to them that there was a note underneath the leg:
“A harvest of limbs, of arms and of legs, the toes that crawl…”
Strike chips in to finish it “- the knees that jerk, the necks like swans that seem to turn, as if inclined to gasp or pray. Last verse of Mistress Of The Salmon Salt by Blue Oyster Cult”
It was Strike’s mother’s favourite band. She had that specific song title tattooed. However she is interred in Whitechapel Cemetery. Her second husband Jeff Whittaker, as far as Strike is concerned, killed her but was never charged with it. In a flashback we see an ominous silhouetted hand approach a sleeping figure with syringe in hand. She was already dead and spread out across the bed like a painting. We cut to her grave which is in the shape of an electric guitar. Eccentric. Leda Strike 1952 – 1994 it reads. [Leda like the swan… swan song… it sort of makes sense I guess…]
At night Strike and Shanker [his salt-of-the-earth, bit-of-a cheeky-chappy, non-standard English speaking, criminal-friend-whose-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-law but ‘not in a bad way as he works with Strike’ associate i.e. plot convenience when a deus ex machina is required, for revealing relevant investigation information such as the location of persons of interest, when Rowling isn’t sure how to have the characters obtain it via other methods] go to the graveyard to visit Leda’s grave. Shanker asks who left the pot plant and Strike says it was probably Uncle Ted. It’s an Erica carnea – or at least it was before winter in Whitechapel as he grows them. [Heads up this is the critical clue of the entire investigation apparently]. Shanker lays some flowers down joking ‘Dunno what those are. Garage had ’em on sale’. He asks about the stump i.e. Strike’s leg and Strike says it’s not like an old relative, you don’t have to ask after it. Then they have a drink while sat on someone else’s grave. Shanker chirps ‘top girl your mum’.
At home Robin is reading up about Jeff Whittaker and Strike’s mother. Her fiancé brings her food and she thanks him but doesn’t take her eyes off the screen as she reads about Leda Strike. He pushes down the laptop and she apologises. They discuss the leg being sent to her and he chimes in ‘and for what? Slightly less than the minimum wage?’ She remarks back ‘would it be alright if I was on £100 grand? How many share options make a girl’s severed limb worth me dealing with?’ in a tone of self righteous indignation. She declares she has work to do.
Shanker asks if Strike is up for killing Whittaker yet? Strike says no – but he needs him to find him. He tells him about the severed leg and lyrics ‘he holds grudges. This feels like him. The police are looking but they won’t find him’ Shanker suggests he is probably squatting somewhere in a shitty band.’ Strike notes it was addressed to his partner (Robin). Shanker says she is a pretty girl. Strike agrees hence why he wants him to work fast.
Robin sleeps next to her fiancé. She begins to whimper in her sleep so he wakes her. He tells her it’s a sound she used to do (after the rape presumably). He says being in that state isn’t good for her as they’re getting married. She says she is fine. He remarks he is sure strike is delighted. He then insinuates she is infatuated with Strike and wouldn’t mind if he grabbed her. They have a tiff. He says she is naïve. She says Strike is her colleague and friend as ‘Sarah’ is to him… except she realises he and Sarah had a fling in the past. It comes out it was when they were having a split (or she went home to recover from the rape/trial convicting her rapist) so it wasn’t an affair, as she first speculated, but something occurred during the overall course of their relationship. She runs off sobbing and locks herself in another room.
The next morning she is sat on a park bench surrounded by pigeons. She listens to a voice mail left by her fiancé of him admitting he has messed up. She stoically deletes it as she stares into the middle distance. Then there is a message from Strike saying he is trying to get in touch with her. She deletes that too [which, let’s be honest, would cause Strike to contact the police to find her for fear something has happened to her – but this entire series is wish fulfilment and Robin is untouchable as it’s real protagonist]. There are more messages from both men which she deletes without listening to them. We see the blurred silhouette of someone observing her and then following her.
She is following a young blonde woman wearing a furry blue coat – those ones that look like they’re actually part of a novelty fancy dress shop’s gorilla costume. They are walking past the entrance to Spearmint Rhino when Robin photos the girl entering the establishment after greeting the security guard [Maybe it’s Brockbank? At this point you really would need to be paying close attention to realise that]. Her phone rings and it’s Strike. He is furious she just disappeared off the grid the day after a severed leg was sent to her in the mail. He tells her to keep her phone on and to answer it when he calls. She says she will try. Then he tells her to meet him in the office at five.
In the office he is reading up about Laing’s reputation as a champion and his discharge from the forces.
Robin is in the pub drinking alone at the bar.
Strike reads up about Whittaker.
Robin goes to the toilet […apparently we needed to be aware of that].
Strike finds a modern photo of Whittaker [… it’s Super Hans from Peepshow!]
Robin, still sat in the pub but in a cubicle now gets a call. It’s Strike telling her it’s ten past six. He asks if she is okay and she, addressing him as Cormoran, says she’s not sure if she is up to this today.
Still in the pub alone a guy approaches Robin asking if she is alone. She says she is waiting for someone. He asks if he can wait with her just as Strike walks up behind him and says ‘no you can’t’. The man walks away. [cock block or ‘Strike saved her’? It depends on your perspective but it was a meaningless moment].
Strike wants to know what’s going on. She asked how he found her. He drily jokes that he is a detective. Also that pub is always playing the Pogues which he heard in the background when he called her.
[That’s a bit… coincidental. I mean it’s not unthinkable a pub has a limited play list but I don’t they would play a single band that much to the point he would be certain of it. I like to think he actually went to a few pubs walking in dramatically as he did and found no one there before slowly exiting. Then again I think this is the same pub as featured in the other stories thus it’s ‘their local’ as it were so he probably would have gone there Pogues or no Pogues.].
She asks what he needs. He wants to know what’s going on. She denies anything is. He says not to give him that – there clearly is. She is welling up with tears. He mocks he has never seen her look so bad with a smile on his face and she laughs saying ‘morale duly boosted’ as she sips her white wine. He asks where her engagement ring is and she tells him to put two and two together since he is the detective.
[Also I will note it’s been years since I last watched any of the Strike series and it’s notable they assume you’re familiar with the secondary or tertiary characters immediately here so no names really come up to aid people who are jumping in late if there are passing references].
She says Matthew, her fiancé, cheated on her. Strike calls him a moron. She says it was a long time ago but it was with one of the most annoying women [wow… so she knows it’s in the past and doesn’t affect her engagement now but is acting like it happened only a brief time ago… she is overreacting immaturely depending on your own views – not that we should be surprised as she seems to have led a life wrapped in cotton wool and little is going to happen to change that opinion]. In fact she was one of the people at the dinner party last night.
She cries some more before saying Matthew and Sarah started up shortly after Robin left university. Strike is surprised he admitted to it but she corrects him that Matthew didn’t – she just knew [very deductive reasoning befitting a detective then… relying on hunches rather than facts but it’s that kind of story considering Strike spends far too much time trying to tie it to Whittaker since he dislikes him]. She says he looked ashamed of himself.
She relays that she dropped out of university because something happened to her [she was raped… the series kept teasing this in previous stories but that’s what happened and it all but hammers with it in all but name after the first two ‘cases’ but here we finally get an explanation for all the skill sets she had accumulated previously as if to be prepared for any circumstance that might occur hence her off road driving skills etc previously].
She was coming back from a friends halls, not even late in the night, when it happened. There had been a warning and the guy had tried to attack someone earlier. She played dead and he ran. That’s how she survived. He was wearing a rubber gorilla mask but had a patch of white skin behind the ear. [That’s such an oddly specific thing to mention. I secretly want there to be some ridiculously sensationalist old school twist in a later novel revealing they looked for and convicted a white guy but it was actually a black man with vitiligo or even albinism like the model Shaun Ross. Then we can all discuss how it’s a stereotype depicting black people as excessively violent criminals especially one with some form of skin condition to ‘other’ them further. Rowling will say she thought it would honestly be a great twist in the most ignorant way possible. However these days it wouldn’t be as shocking to people as back when this storyline originally aired now she has made clear her stance on transgender people despite all her lip service towards progressive views prior].
Her evidence got him put away for rape and attempted murder. She claims it was 20 bad minutes out of an entire life and she is still the same person. Strike assured her of that but it’s still a horrible thing to have happened to her. After it happened she couldn’t leave her room so she had to go home to her mum and dad. That is apparently when Matthew cheated on her.
[Sorry, but in all seriousness, she is still considering marrying this guy? You can sort of insinuate due to the ‘affair’ that he probably wasn’t there to be supportive of her in other ways too during that period and yet she continued dating him and is now going to marry him. That’s a lot of convenience with this character. Then again it does seem people marry because ‘it’s the right time’ in life to tick the box before it’s too late. Everything is done for convenience. A marriage of apparent convenience. An employer who conveniently allows her to become his partner in a detective agency though he has many years of being a military police investigator to have honed his skills… It’s just Robin is a character around which the narrative is formed not one formed by the narrative writing wise. If there is something needed it’s likely she has access to it. It’s a very middle class fantasy.]
They leave the pub and Strike asks where she is staying. She says everyone she knows in London is Matthew’s friend. She’ll get a youth hostel or YMCA [not to digress but are there hostels non ‘youths’ can use too? Presumably so. I just don’t know the details to be honest but Robin doesn’t strike me as someone who would even consider sleeping in one to begin with considering everything we know about her].
Strike says he’ll find her somewhere proper. She says she is skint and he quips that is probably his fault. He will pay and they can call it a wedding cancellation present. We see the same person from earlier following them [I’ll be honest we all suspect it’s the ex-army buddy following her since Strike more or less asked him to but – uh oh – maybe it’s the leg man? In fact it turned out to be no one apparently unless I missed something but at least it foreshadows the later complacency she has when the assault occurs in fairness].
She arrive at a hotel Hazlitts which has a blue plaque on it’s wall [so it’s somewhere of historical note… but those are ten a penny in London from my experiences if you’re in the centre]. Strike notices the person following them. [We never know who it is. Journalists? The murderer? It could be Matthew for all we know.]
The room is very luxurious. Bijou hotel level. 5 stars. Robin knows he can’t afford this as she does his books. He smiles telling her check out is at 11 and to keep the door locked. Also to stay away from the mini-bar.
When exiting and striking up a cigarette Strike sees the hooded figure sitting in the window of the bar across the road [would any establishment not be a bit concerned about someone obscuring their face to that degree? At least that is what I would have said back at the time of broadcast but we are in COVID-19 days as I write this…]. Strike gives chase with an inevitable lurching run due to his false leg through the crowded bar. The rush out the back door and down an alleyway. Strike tries to keep up but eventually loses steam and loses the suspect in Chinatown. After sitting down outside a supermarket he is next seen using a folded lawn chair as a crutch. [Where had he get it from? We don’t know and, honestly, I assume he stole it]. Outside his office are a number of journalists with voice recorders question him if he knows where the leg is from.
Inside we get the obligatory special effects and camera tricks visualisation to confirm that the character has a false leg. He makes a call to the detective asking about who leaked the information about the leg as it’s not good for business. The detective says ‘you know how it is’ which irritates Strike asking not to play their game before cutting the call short before rubbing slave onto the stump of his leg.
The next day Wardle and his partner arrive on the scene where the body of a young girl has had its hands and legs sawn off. Caucasian, maybe 16. Found by a cleaner. There was also a phone but no bag or wallet. Nothing to identify her with and the phone has gone to forensics. CCTV camera footage from the lobby. They’re checking the tapes so they might get lucky.
Strike opens the street door to his office and there are journalists with cameras and questions prepared piling on top of one another to ask him about the developments. As he closes the door one white guy with an afro breaks away. He looks like the guy from the bar. [maybe it’s a coincidence… maybe he has a part to play… who knows? Well you will if you read further on. Spoilers: No it seems to just be a coincidence but I swear it was the same guy. Maybe he is a character in the book omitted from the teleplay?]
Strike calls Robin to tell her about the scrum of parasites on his doorstep and that they need to find him before he puts them out of business. Robin vomits into the toilet of her hotel room. He notes she vomited and she assures him she can work. He says he never doubted her. [Honestly so far this story has been about glorifying her more than developing the events of the case. I get it that we want to be invested in our protagonists but this is slowly becoming more a low key comedy-drama about an office romance than a detective mystery]. He jokes that she should have them send her up a bacon sandwich.
He gives her Nick and Ilsa’s address on 80 Octavia Street. Then he remembers to tell her to be careful exiting the hotel as they were followed last night.
Strike is then at Nick and Ilsa’s. She is making a smoothie with a blender [wow, remember the fad for those back a few years ago? It seems a lifetime ago but it’s only been a few years…]
Strike complains he is down to two clients while the rest have run screaming to the hills. [I don’t think that’s how it would really work to be honest considering the financial investment by clients but this happens every book/series to the point you could argue it’s an annual thing for him to lose clients, solve a high profile case and get an influx of new clients and then lose them at the start of the next scandal due to a case he has taken on or has some connection to. Rowling loves her formulae… but then I recall what I said at the start of this synopsis and it’s not just annually but at least biannual which makes it all the worse! He can’t afford a partner under the best of circumstances let alone with these constant threats of closure/bankruptcy.]
They’re a healthy, clearly affluent if their fashionable stark décor is anything to go by, couple. Strike notes if the guy wanted to kill him he is a big enough target to which Nick quips ‘that reminds me we need to talk about your cholesterol. [ha ha – funny joke as Master Splinter would say at the end of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action films back in the 90s… the issue being Tom Burke who plays Strike is well built with a rounded face not at all overweight due to physical inactivity like the character is in the books is apparently].
Strike remarks on the effort to get into his head due to the leg and lyrics used so far. Ilsa says it’s Robin that he is concerned about. [Yes, for Robin is the centre of the universe…]. Strike mockingly quotes Robin who has ‘a certificate for a three day self defence course’. Ilsa says she likes Robin with a ‘hint hint you and her together’ gesture which Strike doesn’t register and says blankly ‘well so do I’ in a friendly manner. He admits he just doesn’t want to add her to the list of dead and/or maimed women he carries around with him in his head [like James Bond].
Elsewhere Wardle and his partner are watching the CCTV footage from the start of the episode making notes of time stamps. They note that Strike entered the murder scene building 18 minutes before the girl. [the post-it note has a 2019 date on it. Has it really only been about a year? It seems much longer than that…]. They’ll have to bring him in.
At the hotel, which Robin still hasn’t left though it must be past 11AM now, her phone rings. It’s Matthew. She doesn’t answer it.
Strike is on the phone at Nick and Ilsa’s home. Robin arrives and they offer her coffee. She thanks them and says she feels awful. Strike, finishing his call, says it’s because she drank every bottle of wine in London. She tells him another client cancelled their job with them and he calls over to his friends that they only have one client now. She gives him the reasons but he says it’s fine and he gets it as he takes a drag on a cigarette.
Later in his office he has another address for Brockbank’s sister Holly in Barrow-In-Furness. It’s the only solid lead they’ve got and business isn’t thriving he reflects so he will go there. Robin remarks she will go with him. He says she would be more help in the office. She retorts she can do the research work from anywhere [the unspoken caveat being she needs a decent internet connection but apparently no one in this series suffers that even in rural areas]. Also she has a land rover she borrowed from her father and Strike can’t drive so it’ll save them time and money – also so she has money before the company goes bust. She believes she will be safer outside of London. Strike asks what Matthew will think and Robin replies he can shove his thoughts up his own arse. [Why she says ‘his own arse’ instead of ‘his arse’ I don’t know. It sounds awkward.]
Next Robin is packing up to leave and Matthew pleads with her not to to which she tells him not to touch her. She loads the land rover and drives off as he watches.
Elsewhere Wardle takes Strike to the station for questioning in the back of his car.
Robin gets to the home of Strike’s friends only for Nick to tell her ‘Oggy’ (Strike) had to nip off to see the police. He then asks her if she fancies some lunch and she graciously asks for just a glass of water [wow, being fed by Strike’s friends too – what a blessed existence].
[I know what you’re asking: When does the murder mystery investigation part of the story really start? Well… congratulations it finally starts now after all this personal stories set up!]
The detectives, Wardle and his partner, asks if Strike has been in Whitechapel recently. Yes due to a message from a client called Valley who he never met [almost like, you know, it was a set up]. They found the building and murder scene with the cut up body and a phone which had her finger prints on it [almost as if, shockingly, a young girl might own a mobile phone] where apparently Strike had invited her.
[In reality that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny if it was done with mobile phones these days. It’s not like it was a hand written invitation with his handwriting, on his personalised stationary which no one else has access too, someone saw him write the letter and speak about the meeting and all those other ‘proof’ contrivances that would work in a story set 30 or more years prior to today. The CCTV would show him not enter anywhere or spend the minimal amount of time when first entering and never returning nor having something hidden, i.e. legs and hands, under his coat when leaving… but then that gets in the way of a classic ‘accused of a crime he did not commit’ trope based story. Watch now as the already overly worshiped Robin gets to prove his innocence so he owes her one… or not as he quickly proves his innocence by stating things the police would have asked themselves i.e. if the photo was staged by the photographer.]
Back at the friends’ home Robin is drinking an abomination of a ‘healthy’ drink Nick made in med school to ‘prove your the hardest bastard in the room’. [Yes, rigor mortis does make you that I suppose]. Strike walks in telling then he was interviewed under caution, drinks the concoction saying he needed that and drags Robin out onto adventure.
While getting in the land rover we are told Wardle at least believes Strike isn’t going around carving up teenage girls and Robin will have to actually do some work sending all they’ve got on the ‘Valley’ client to the detective. [which, really, would be the phone number and a brief description of why he wanted to meet… which is nothing barring ‘he sounded like [accent], [age] and [pure speculative guessing with no solid proof you’re not lying]’ speculation].
Why the leg? Asks Robin. ‘So I never work again because of scandal’ more or less Strike tells her after walking through the bloody obvious which she herself was aware of already.
[Got to make sure the stupid audience is treated like children as if getting a leg in the mail wouldn’t drive people off which already was indicated by the ‘I’ve lost all but one of my clients’ information earlier].
They drive to the country with some wide shots to sell the series to the foreign market.
So they’ve three suspects [apparently the TV series cut them down or the ‘sends limbs in the post’ guy is instantly dismissed for one reason or another though I don’t recall them doing so.]
Whittaker: got away with murder twice.
Laing: charmed everyone while he kept his wife terrified.
Brockbank: was a child rapist who managed to convince everyone he was the injured party.
Robin asks if Brockbank is capable of cutting off his own daughter’s leg. Strike doesn’t know what to think but knows he wants revenge on him for the past.
More countryside scenery porn for foreign market trailers.
We get a little flashback of Brockbank being approached by Strike in his SIB days. Brockbank tells his daughter to get back inside while getting an empty bottle to attack with. More countryside scenery porn.
Why are they out in the country? Brockbank’s army pension goes out to his sister living in Barrow every month and she is their only lead.
[It might just be me but surely the police would contact him or make a note of his whereabouts immediately and have already contacted his sister if they couldn’t trace him. But again it’s another contrivance for the sake of drama. Otherwise, without them, the entire ‘Strike is a murderer’ story thread would be ‘Strike entered the building, we found out it was a weak set up, we found the body and, very likely due to forensic evidence, it was someone else and due to their pre-existing record we know exactly who did it. We then caught/did not catch the killer/had to wait until they resurfaced before detaining them. Meanwhile Strike has gone off on other adventures after his name was cleared after a day or two.’]
Also Strike had Brockbank’s old photo in his military uniform on his phone. [Surely a closer photo of his face would be better for identifying him but whatever…]
Strike asks how Robin is doing and she says a bit shit [the middle class love a bit of casual swearing for emphasis but hypocritically look down on the working class assuming they do it all the time] and that Matthew keeps texting. To this Strike asks if she wants to hear about the migratory pattern of the black marlin… [because he could not give less of a shit and because they’ve two hours to go and no one wants to listen to the self pity of someone as self glorifying as Robin for two hours. Really he should have faked taking a nap. Much easier.]
They arrive as the sun sets and park in a residential street which has a massive nuclear power station looming over it.
Both are asleep in the land rover as a female bobby-on-the-beat approaches and knocks on the window. The land rover belongs to Robin’s father Michael. The police officer tells them they’re on a double yellow and there is no loitering near a nuclear facility. [um, they have housing that close to such a place?! That’s far more interesting…]. She checks Robin’s driving license and then is used to give some exposition regarding ‘shipyard’ the nuclear facility. [side note: the police officer actress barely moves her mouth to the point she looks like someone doing a really bad ventriloquist act]. Strike jokes does anyone come up to Barrow-In-Furness on holiday? The officer gives a slight smirk saying the abbey and nature reserves are popular… apparently Strike is that charming. Robin lies about hoping to catch up with a friend on the way to Scotland. Strike asks where they can get a half decent coffee. The officer, losing interest, tells them there’s a no photography rule in the area and leaves [so… does that include residents? The scene almost makes it sound like one of the locked off Russian industrial cities like Norilsk].
Bit of banter between our protagonists and Robin goes off to enquire about Brockbank not two seconds after the officer has gone and will see her going door to door inquiring. She goes to ask an old woman ‘who looks the sort to enjoy gossiping’. [again we get more of Rowling’s biased stereotypical image of the working classes and those who don’t live in the gentrified areas of a city…]
Later while clothes shopping Robin tells Strike she has to be the one to approach as the sister will recognise Strike and tell her brother he is being looked for. [The only time they may have encountered each other was at a trial if he was giving evidence and she was present which likely wouldn’t be the case in a military trial so… where would she recognise him from? Perhaps the papers I suppose if the old cases and murder accusation got into the national press]. He doesn’t like it but she insists it’s a good idea and there’s a moment suggesting she thinks he will watch her change as he lingers a moment to long but then he goes outside the shop. Afterwards, at another shop, she gets a call off her mother regarding the break up. She is at work etc etc.
So they drive to the pub Holly Brockbank is in every lunch time and Strike hopes she is nicer than her brother. Wearing a brand new navy trouser suit Robin goes into the pub. [That doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb at all. Rowling has spent too much time in London and such affluent areas where that look might pass without note but in the rest of the country outside cities you would get noted.]
Inside the Crow’s Nest pub Robin walks up to the bar lady asking for Holly and is directed to a side room where Holly is playing snooker by herself. Holly is of course overweight, tattooed, wearing rings and chunky gold jewellery, a hoodie and has somewhat disheveled hair.
[‘Oh J K Rowling you’ve done it again – how do you come up with these incredibly accurate depictions of the working class?’ ask the London based newspaper literary column reviewers who’ve never set foot outside the city except for the Cotswolds or to go abroad. Thus they believe the broad stroke stereotypes Rowling has of anyone not middle class. Archetypes which wouldn’t feel out of place in an Enid Blyton book. Meanwhile they also happily patronising which ever group polite society deemed worthy of pity this season in order to stay on the right side of history and their dinner party connections.]
As a bonus Holly has a bit of a lisp too apparently.
[Kick ’em while they’re down Joanne! Why not give her some ‘James Bond villain’ scars too and maybe a full blown disability – not a ‘noble’ one like Strike who lost his leg in military service but something humiliating to mock like… IBS… Yeah, she’d like to mock that no doubt. She already questionably did in the previous case The Silkworm regarding learning difficulties and mental illness.]
Robin introduces herself as ‘Venetia Hall’ and she is a lawyer/solicitor specialising in claims. [So she did go with a James Bond like naming aspect then. It’s Robin’s middle name but it sounds one of those wordplay code names femme fatales from Ian Fleming’s works have. Based on ‘Venetian Hall’ in Robin’s case. ‘Hello my names Roma Column, Georgia Facade, Russi Caravan, India Summer, etc…’ I would say it’s an odd middle name but a lot of people have middle names far more interesting than their first name it seems – just to be a little special but not stick out too much they get persecuted for it if they need to fit in]
[Robin wouldn’t be seen dead being anything below a professional career even as a cover story (oh except her over the top cartoonish accents we keep enduring in each story when she is digging for information). She must have been such an obnoxious child…]
She pretends Niall is owed money and presents it like one of those ‘were you in an accident and could seek compensation’ adverts that used to be on the TV constantly [again showing this story has already aged since you rarely hear from those ambulance chaser sorts these days]. Robin claims she represents servicemen who could get reparations for injuries outside of combat operations. She then can’t help herself but to simplify it to ‘I’d like to help you to make a lot of money off the government’ speaking down to Holly. [Just because someone acknowledges what you’re saying doesn’t mean you get to act like they’re stupid. Rowling bias is really shining through with the dialogue.]
Strike, sat outside in the land rover calls Wardle. He only now tells the detective about Laing who he got put down for 16 years but would be released around now. [um, why not mention him earlier? Maybe because he was under interview and this all needs to be done clandestinely I guess.]
Back with Robin and the sister we see Robin is drinking a white wine while the sister drinks a pint. [I’m not saying this is also a bit cliché of the differences between the classes but… come on… it’s being laid on with a trowel in this contrast of Robin and Holly. It’s the brother who was dodgy but they’re implying it’s a thing all people of the family have so you can never rise above the circumstances of your birth not be deserving of the common, courteous, respect automatically given to people of equal, or better, social rank…]
Robin says she knows Niall had some troubles in the army. To which the sister replies ‘Problems? Some fuckin’ police copper smashed his head in!’ [Now see it’s okay when the middle class character swears for emphasis but not you… even if you’ve every motivation to be indignant over the understatement regarding a life altering injury someone close to you suffered. Rowling wants us to judge her but I doubt many would feel differently even if they bit their tongue in the moment.] The sister recalls Comoran Strike’s name as the one who caused the injury. She goes as far as calling him a ‘fucking gadgee’ [whatever that means]. This caused her brother to have fits and be unable to work again.
He would go to her house and smash things up and attack her too. She points out her nose as one that’s been ‘hit hard’ [but the actress has a button nose – the worst you could say is there are some subdermal bumps on it from blocked pores but… they really didn’t consider how that line doesn’t work with her features despite the costume etc trying to give a ‘look how rough and working class she is compared to Robin in her pristine suit and perfect hair despite sleeping in a vehicle last night’ image.]
Then the sister recounts how she has had a shit life, as had her brother, but he got to be a major in the army which was ‘good money and good respect’ which all went after Strike bashed his head in. Apparently Niall works ‘shit jobs in rubbish strip joints’ as a bouncer but it doesn’t last long and he is in London now as there is more work there.
[‘Entering the army gives you prospects’. That’s the message in all their marketing material. It’s a bit odd to hear it casually implied here to be honest especially with Strike missing a leg, PTSD and other mental issues clearly being alluded to with other ex-forces characters and such… They apparently want their cake and to eat it too it seems regarding their stance on the armed forces.]
Robin gets back to the land rover where Strike is doing a crossword. She has a number for Niall now. She suggests they leave it a day or two to ‘let the story bed in’ before contacting him. She jokes if they lose the business she might try personal injury claims. Strike asks what she could get him for his missing leg? ‘Packet of crisps and a pint’. [A bit callous? Gallows humour I guess].
[Robin goes upsetting a relative of a suspect who isn’t involved. Gives her false hope about justice and tells her employer she has options if his business collapses – which is very likely under the circumstances and would leave him legally liable for all the costings… This is the central protagonist of the story ladies and gentlemen. ‘Feed the rich and fuck the poor’ as the lyrics go… the working classes are animals who do not deserve the respect of being depicted as equal human being but patronised and stereotyped as ever on the brink of destitution and criminality because they are lesser creatures… one more needless stereotypical depiction of the working classes for the Strike series to chalk up. It’s no surprise though to anyone who saw the ‘give you a blow job for a fiver’ girl from ‘The Cuckoo’s Call’ though.]
Strike gets a pint and wine at a country pub while inquiring about a place to stay. [Which immediately brings to mind Al Murray’s Pub Owner character’s catchphrase ‘a pint for the men and a wine for the ladies’.]
Robin asks about the attack Holly told her of.
He says the interview with Brittany he saw back then ‘may have’ framed his response when encountering her father. So we see him in the flashback give a brutal right hook to Niall when Niall raises a bottle at him. Niall goes down and begins to foam at the mouth while spasming in a fit as his daughter is led away by police.
Strike recounts he had a pre-existing concussion from playing rugby that week, got epileptic fits and was invalided out of the armed services. Between the fits he would tell anyone who listened he was going to destroy Strike. ‘Perks of the job’ Strike jokes as he takes a swig of his beer.
Niall’s wife believed Brittany was ‘telling tales, a naughty little liar’ as she though Niall was a good man and a good father. But Brittany knew no help was coming and that’s what Strike finds hard to live with.
Robin says they have to catch him. Strike interrupts ‘- if he is our killer’ and Robin indignant declares ‘he’s a child rapist’. Strike says the army did their job properly and there wasn’t enough evidence for a case. Then we get a little ‘its hard but what can we do, we can’t hunt them all down’ spiel with Robin saying she will tell British Gas that’s what they’ve decided to do when Strike comments they can’t catch them all and also pay off the utility bill too. [Optimism versus pessimism].
They get to the hotel in the pouring rain and Robin rings the front desk bell immediately [because how dare they have minimal reception staff at night so the lone person manning the reception is also likely doing other tasks at the same time in a side room].
Strike asks for two single rooms immediately. Then clarifies two single rooms not one room with two single beds. [wouldn’t that be more costly considering how tight their finances are?]
Walking down the corridor Robin asks if his leg is okay and offers to give Strike a piggyback due to all the gymkhanas she used to do. They have rooms next to each other and Strike tells her if she needs anything he is in the room next door. Then through the window we see both getting ready for bed. A moment later Strike knocks at Robin’s door to tell her Wardle has found an old address of Laing’s where he was living with someone in Corby so they’ll go check it out tomorrow. He assures her he was telling her now in case she was making other plans for tomorrow. [I mean… she is on the work clock as part of a ‘work’s trip’ so she shouldn’t be even considering that to be honest yet he assumed it was the case]. They return to their rooms and close their curtains. [It’s a nicely framed scene.]
The next day they’re driving down a country road when Robin asks Strike to give her one. A mint that is. Then they stop off at a roadside cafe so Strike can recount his backstory with Laing.
He was on a drugs case in Cyprus, undercover, buying grass off a guy who dealt with a lot of local soldiers. This guy told him about a squaddie who claimed to have chained his wife up after she threatened to leave him. Though it sounded like grandstanding he checked it out anyway. When he went to investigate no one answered. There was a terrible smell and then he went to check the bedroom.
Laing said she was kinky and liked to be tied up. She had broken her wrist and dislocated her shoulder trying to get free and there were internal injuries. [at which point we see her from behind and she too has tattoos – so either this show is being very modern or tattoos are given their historical association of only being worn by deviants/lower classes and since we never see non-crime involved characters with tattoos it seems the latter association]. Laing went down for 16 years but probably only did 8 so he would have been out a while now.
They drive to a housing estate and ask Lorraine McNaughton about Laing as she used to live with him at her address. She called Laing Donnie and asks what he’s done now. She lets them in to ask a few questions. Inside she has lots of ornaments and such littering the walls and every surface. Laing robbed her when he left taking jewellery including her mum’s ring. Robin half heartedly says ‘I’m sorry, that’s terrible’ in the manner of someone who doesn’t really care but obeys the social script for such circumstances.
Lorraine met Laing at the pub where he was very charming. She acknowledges it sound stupid. He had his own company in Scotland but got ill apparently with Psoriatic arthritis so some days he couldn’t even move. Robin carries the teas for Lorraine having hovered in the doorway until now. Lorraine and ‘Donnie’ were together for less than a year after her mother died. He did some work for Mrs Williams at number 37 across the road. Cutting grass. Also he raised money for charity. Despite it all she misses him and confirms, when Strike asks, he was never violent. She told the police that when Mrs Williams was attacked and robbed. She had passed away since then. [Hint: this was one of the clue scenes you needed to pick up on if you wanted to play along and try and solve the mystery before the answer was revealed].
After they left Strike believes Laing cases Mrs Williams home to prepare for the robbery when mowing her lawn. ‘[For] Men like Laing and Brockbank and Whittaker – women are things to be used.’ [I’m sure Rowling felt she was doing a great service to the Feminist cause writing that but considering what we have been shown already it seems obvious. But then you’ve got to spell it out to the audience so they get it I suppose it was done for the trailer.] He laments even after it all Lorraine still missing Laing not seeing him for what he really is.
While driving Strike looks up Laing’s charity fund raising and it’s £40 for psoriatic arthritis. [getting good reception in the countryside?! What kind of service do they have? His mobile data rates must drain his pockets so no wonder his detective agency is always on the brink of closure!] He reflects Laing only set it up to dissuade anyone recognising him as a leech.
Strike asks her where she is going to stay and she says the flat as Matthew will be away. [How does she know he will be? Even then you might think she might not want to go there now anyway.] Then more countryside views and cityscapes.
Strike walks the damp streets of London alone as Robin goes to bed. He wakes up at his beer bottle and pot noodle covered desk when the phone rings. It’s Shanker. Apparently Shanker is wearing a suit instead of jeans and his green waterproof coat we always see him in. He has found Whittaker.
Strike walks into the back room of a pool hall where Shanker and his colleagues have someone tied up and he is apparently torturing the guy. Strike wordlessly gives Shanker money in a brown envelope, which he counts, and Shanker gives him a slip of paper with the information on. Happy with the payment he says see you later and goes back to his business. [This scene serves to show Shanker is actually a member of the criminal world and not just some jobless guy who seems to be Strike’s informant when he needs one. It’s well done but a bit pointlessly extravagant too really when you figure out the costs and everything for a 1 minute long scene with the rental fees, extras’ ages, etc.]
The next day Strike is stood presumably near the address Shanker has given him for Whittaker while having ‘imagined flashbacks’ to someone approaching his prone mother with a syringe. In case you’ve forgotten Whittaker is the guy Leda Strike was involved with at the time of her death. So all of this is a side plot really.
Whittaker and his group are loading up a van. He greets Strike as ‘Sherlock fucking Holmes as I live and breathe’. He then tells a young groupie ‘I was banging his mummy back in the day, for a while. I gave her a kid [Strike’s half sister who was encountered in the first story line The Cuckoo’s Call]. Now, she… she was a juicy old tart’ Strike interrupts him saying ‘this man kills women’. To which Whittaker retorts ‘you think this one gives a shit? She barely knows where she is half the time, bless her.
He then recounts how Leda used to like to ‘suck him off’ after he sang to her. ‘Sing her a song and then down she’d go – Pavlovian response.’. Strike punches him and tells the girl he can find her somewhere to stay. Whittaker tells her to get in the van and calls Strike a mother fucker as he does a ‘slit the throat’ gesture while Strike walks away.
At night Robin is on her phone. Zahara answers the phone – she is Brockbank’s ‘daughter’ (actually the daughter of his current girlfriend Alyssa). She is playing the next part in her ‘Ventia Hall – personal claims solicitor’ gambit while drinking a glass of red wine. [how often do people drink these days? I thought that was more of an older generations thing? As much as I talk of stereotyping working class people the whole ‘dinner parties and glasses of wine’ is one for the middle classes too]. She wants to arrange a meeting and he suggests Shoreditch. She asks for a home address to send paperwork to which he asks ‘do I know you little girl? She says she is sure they’ve never met and he puts the phone down on her [so she scuppered a meeting for the sake of over reaching for a home address. Bad detective work…] She takes a swig of her wine.
Meanwhile Strike has a nightmare about his mother’s corpse and hearing her say how she loves ‘him’, by which she means Whittaker, and that one day Strike will feel like that about somebody. [cough-Robin-cough].
Elsewhere Robin lays in bed recalling her rape. [Due to the weird close up on the rubber gorilla mask it’s not as intense as it should feel.]
The door bell rings for Strike asleep in his chair without his leg on. He hops to the phone and opens it for Wardle. The press are outside. He, with his partner, shows Strike a school portrait photo of the dead girl. He insists he have a longer look and again Strike says he doesn’t know her. Then he is shown the autopsy photo and told it was the girl found in Whitechapel. The partner reveals it took the morning papers to help them piece it all together.
They show him the front page of a paper depicting the girl meeting Strike in the window of a cafe. The partner asks him to confirm he has never met Kelsey Platt, the dead girl. [Ah, ah, were you expecting the name of someone else’s daughter? Cough-Brittany or Zahara-cough… Yeah, there’s a lot of overlapping here if you are not ever vigilantly keeping tabs on everything.]
We see the footage or both Strike and Kelsey getting into the elevator separately on the CCTV footage and the episode ends.
A brief recounting of the important bits from the last episode. Most of which apparently concern Robin’s relationship status and a brief reminder of who the suspects are before the last moments of the episode where Strike is going to be interviewed under caution by the police.
Theme tune time! Let’s alter the lyrics a bit: ‘You and me. Me and you. We’re all in this together. Watching a show. Following all the tropes. Easy watching – no matter the weather. Strike’s mama’s dead. So’s his leg. Robin’s dilemma – Matthew or Comoran: safe life or adventure? I wonder where she’ll end up?’
Strike is taken in for interview by the partner detective [who never gets named in the show. Maybe she does but seriously do you recall her name – no, no running off to Wikipedia or IMDB now! They barely if ever mention it as far as I recall.]
[The character’s name is DS Ekwensi. I think it is mentioned once very briefly in passing so it’s very much a case of ‘blink and you miss it’.]
They speculate if the photo is doctored as it was sent in by ‘a concerned friend’. He demonstrates how asking ‘is this seat taken’ can easily lead to a photo taken at the exact right moment gives the illusion of association between people otherwise unconnected. He then notes the details of the photo such as someone in the background wearing a vest [a minor hint to the turning point of the mystery here] so it must have been warm weather and they were reading a magazine so if the papers were sent a high resolution image they’ll be able to track that. He concludes if they find who took the photo they’ll find Kelsey’s killer.
He also notes Kelsey is holding a bottle of water and asks who goes to a coffee shop to sit and drink a bottle of water [actually quite a few people from my own experience… it is a bit odd I suppose but no cafe is going to turn away customers and most sell bottled water. It’s like if you go to a steakhouse and don’t eat steak – they won’t refuse you service for snubbing their specialty.]
Thus he concludes she came expressly to see him not to drink there. [But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make her acquaintance there which led to the later events. I’m obviously overthinking how his argument only proves he didn’t know her before that meeting not that he didn’t know her afterwards as he claims.]
He asks if they’ve found the three men he informed Wardle about. She says she can’t discuss that with him to which he interrupts before she can say it ‘- because it’s part of a murder investigation’. He begins to strike up a cigarette and she says she has asthma blankly. [I assume that is meant to be humorous?]
[On a side note: is the actress bad or was she directly to deliver her lines staring blankly and speaking in a monotone? It doesn’t serve her well for future roles as this is the biggest scene she has had in this show so far. It’s meant to come across as cold and ‘by the book’ but it reads more like a 9 year old told to recite lines and not thinking they also have to act at the same time. Not that she is at fault but the direction of the scene feels like they wanted a contrast between Strike’s disheveled and instinctive style against her more regimented and systemic manner but didn’t give her space to have some subtle characterisation too. Or the character is under written and they were told to ‘play it safe’ in case it contrasts with later descriptions of the character in the book series. Who knows? It just came across really badly sad to say.]
Afterwards Strike goes and buys a copy of every paper he can get his hands on. [I know it’s London but I’m sure some would be sold out by the time he got around to collecting them.]
In a park he sits on a bench causing a large group of pigeons to fly off. [from bizarrely amateurish acting in one scene to sheer trailer fodder in the next… I half wonder if there was a B-roll director who outdid themselves there honestly because it was a great shot with the pigeons flying up]. He begins to read one paper focusing on a story saying the Strata building in London is one of Britain’s ugliest buildings. But that doesn’t matter as we quickly cut to him walking down the road on the phone to Robin asking if they’ve got a print out of Laing’s fundraising page. He jokes he just had a social down at the station. Robin asks if they have a lead and Strike says yes, him, so they better get a move on as he approaches the front door to his office.
They look at a blown up image of Laing’s fund raising page and see the Strata building in Elephant and Castle, an area of London, in the background. They can use it to guess which block of flats he lived in. Robin tells Strike she contacted Brockbank and the exchange they had and that he may be living with a little girl. Strike tells her to head to Elephant and Castle. If she sees Laing to keep her distance, no working after dark and to keep on busy routes. She chimes in she knows as she has done counter surveillance. Strike retorts if it was up to him she would stay in Yorkshire until he is caught and reminds her of the pattern of sending the leg to her that already exists. She assures him she will be careful. While she is checking out for Laing he will look for Brockbank.
Strike goes into a strip club where a performer is on the pole. He shows the barman the military uniform photo of Brockbank asking he he knows him and the man says no. [presumably he does this a few more times elsewhere but they didn’t want to spend too much time on that so the second place he goes proves fruitful.] Meanwhile Robin is at the base of the Strata building trying to guess the angle from which Laing’s photo was taken.
Strike enters another establishment which clearly is meant to be closed as the performers are in silk night gowns looking at the phones in some of the pub like booths near the stage. One with blood red hair approaches him and asks ‘have you been here before darling’ in a foreign accent.
Robins walking the streets around the Elephant and Castle area.
The dancer offers Strike a private dance. He says he is looking for a friend and she says she will be his friend and kisses him on the cheek. [… I mean… Rowling’s views of women from certain backgrounds or circumstances again comes to the forefront… is it even worth commenting on?] to which he retorts ‘not that kind of friend, sadly’.
Robin crosses someone on a road she turns back to take a second look at.
Strike asks about Brockbank and is told he was fired as he was no use as a bouncer if he was having a fit and pissing himself [Rowling’s view of how certain businesses conduct themselves as if inhumane towards their employees, also rearing it’s head. I half wonder if she has actually been anywhere near to these places herself or just uses stereotypes]. He asks if anyone might know where he is and shows his wallet which the dancer takes some notes from saying probably with Alyssa as she has the worst taste in men. She was a dancer who was fired as well. They have a flat over in Bow. Apparently Alyssa bitches about the flat but likes the nursery her child is in. They are served two… jack and cokes I assume… and he asks if she can introduce him to Des but she says ‘thanks for the drink, darling, but I reckon you’re trouble. Normally I like trouble.’ after which she returns to her booth. [in hindsight it looks like a normal, if oddly lit on one side, pub except for the unnamed dancer and her friend. Maybe they had issues finding a shooting location and had to make do? Also I’m not sure what was going on with the end of that conversation to be honest.]
Robin calls him to say it could be one of a hundred flats. He tells her to be back home before nightfall. She asks how the strip clubs were and he retorts ‘expensive’ which makes her snort. He tells her to get in a cab but she quickly tells him to stop treating her like part of the problem. She will be having dinner with her mother around the corner from work so she will be perfectly safe. Strike agrees in an unconvincing tone.
Later at her dinner date she says Matthew shouldn’t have called her mother. Her mother says she is happy he did. Robin immediately becomes defensive saying she isn’t going to stop doing her job. Her mother says she will always have her mother and father’s full support but the wedding day is ‘nearly here’. [Okay, no worries your daughter got a severed leg in the post or anything. So… yeah. Marriage is still a defining thing you must do by a certain age for some people in society I guess even if it’s not a good fit. Honestly the number of red flags waving in her face and the marriage to Matthew is still on the cards is ridiculous. The writing from day one has depicted him poorly and yet the narrative insists it’s still viable. I’m not sure what issues Rowling has been working through with these characters but it really does seem like she felt obliged to marry due to social pressure at some point in her life… it all comes across incredibly archaic that marriage is the be all and end all of things to some degree].
At night Strike goes wandering door to door in a council flats building asking if people have seen Laing. [I’m not making a point of it but… the first two people are non-Caucasian looking. We hardly see any non-white people in other scenes except as token characters like the detective partner or on other stories where it’s made out as a bit ‘forward thinking’ but adds nothing to the plot. Here with so many in a brief time in council flats it seems again a certain stereotyping is being used…]
Robin’s mother asks if she wants to come back to Masham for a bit to be looked after. Robin refuses concerned she would feel like she did before – as if she was shutting out the world when she wants to stay in it.
As Strike is continuing his rounds to each and every door of the council flats a man in a wheeled walking frame comes out of his door. It’s Laing who recognises Strike and who recognises him in return. Laing has a Scottish accent [I don’t know if it’s exaggerated or not but due to the character’s theatrical skills I do half wonder what the descriptions in the book were like considering the Manchester accent in other scenes also feeling a bit over the top too potentially]. Strike tells him he is a private investigator now and had spoke to a woman in Corby. Laing asks if it was Lorraine and says he never hit her as ‘lesson learned the first fucking time’. Strike asks if he stole her jewellery. Laing said it was years ago so the stuff is long gone. It’s the truth he says and he didn’t feel good about it. Strike says he will tell her and steps aside to let Laing pass using his walking frame. Laing asks if that’s it. Strike agrees. Laing mocks him for tracking down old bits of tat. Strike then goes down a stairwell.
Robin’s mother gives her an envelope containing £500. ‘It could be the deposit on renting a flat of your own. Or it can be a pair of really beautiful wedding shoes’. [I have to admit I apparently live in a parallel universe. Getting money like that. The idea a flat in London would have a deposit of only £500. That shoes can cost stupid money like that if not basically intended for collectors never to be worn but as a financial investment. None of it makes sense. Most of all how wishy-washy her parents are on the whole marriage thing. Either they want her to marry or they don’t. They like Matthew or they don’t. Yes giving her space to make her own decisions is fine but… the narrative all leads to one conclusion really. Robin does what Robin wants and the universe bends to her will.]
Afterwards Robin walks down the road checking over her shoulder if she is being followed and ends up in Strike’s office. She takes a file out of the filing cabinet and calls his name to see if he is there. [well he lives there so… it would be likely. Also on a side note again what is with the red neon lighting around his window? It’s not part of a sign but just there for aesthetics apparently]. She finds him asleep in his chair and drapes his coat over him which wakes him. He thanks her and she says she came back for some files. She then offers him the money, to pay bills so they can continue working there, which she was given. He chides that as someone is trying to destroy him he makes a bad prospect for investment so would be better off putting it on a horse. She says she is better off here. She wants to do it for them.
He looks at his watch and realises he missed a date. Who asks Robin. Swedish, pretty, doesn’t give a fuck. [the dancer from earlier? Who knows. It’s a throw away line or Strike is lying he has stuff going on in his life other than the detective work.] Robin says ‘sounds perfect’. He says he should go to bed and thanks her for Donald Laing but it was a dead end as the guy is ‘even more crippled than I am’. Then he again reiterates her doesn’t like her being out after dark and she should get a cab. [Is ‘cripple’ still an acceptable terms for disabled people? I thought it was deemed a bit of a slur these days.]
She heads home and finds candles and such set up at her little desk. Matthew is there with more candles around him and she asks ‘what’s all this?’ [Master detective in the making]. He made her ‘that Nigel Slater salmon thing you like’. She tells him she ate with her mum, he asks how she is, Robin says fine, he says good. Robin pours herself some white wine [and due to the editing of the shows scenes she actually has a glass in her hand in most scenes during this case.]
Matthew says he has something to say to her. She sits down. He kneels by her and collects his words. He says what he did to her was unforgivable. He was 21. In so much pain. He was incredibly lonely and he made a mistake. He tells her she is the love of his life and he wants to marry her. More than anything that’s what he wants. But he leaves it for her to decide.
He takes his engagement ring off (or was it hers? It had a gem on it and I’m not familiar with what men’s engagement rings look like or if it’s even a thing). He says he is asking her again to marry him and if she says no he’ll accept it and he’ll leave the flat in the morning. She sheds a lone tear.
[Okay so this all sounds like it’s heavy handed manipulation and emotional blackmailing doesn’t it? The series doesn’t seem like it’s sure it wants it to come across like that or as sincere. Also if she refused him wouldn’t he leave immediately – just me but that’s not a ‘well sleep on it’ ultimatum he gave her there.]
Meanwhile Strike sleeps in his small attic conversion bedroom staring out of the skylight. He is recalling being stood at the side of the stage with his mother as a band performs and she tells him she loves him and tells him one day he’ll feel like that about somebody as we saw before. In a nice bit of editing he gets out of bed as Matthew gets into bed with Robin who presumably said yes to the marriage proposal.
Strike gets a beer from the fridge hopping along without his artificial leg and sits down in a chair. Robin turns to Matthew, strokes his face and kisses him. Strike is (crying?) alone drinking his beer. Robin snuggles up to Matthew.
The next morning Strike enters the back garden of Matthew and Robin’s home. He looks at her through the back window as she prepares coffee. Hearing someone opening the door she grabs a knife ready to strike. Strike looks at her and compliments her on going for it. He tells her he was just checking the locks and notes they’re not adequate while noticing she has her engagement ring back on.
She tells him she has to go back to Masham for a few days for dress fittings and stuff.
[I know this probably doesn’t need to be said but for foreign readers ‘Masham’ is a small market town and civil parish in the Harrogate district of North Yorkshire, England not a country estate of landed gentry like something out of a Georgian era novel. It does sound like it due to the name but it isn’t. Also at no point does Robin have the slightest inflection of a Yorkshire area accent unless I’m missing something].
She asks if that’s okay and Strike agrees as it’ll keep her out of harm’s way. He changes the subject saying he’ll put a padlock on the back gate. She seems mildly pleased with how everything is turning out. [Because everything basically is. She’s getting married and has ensured the detective agency survives so she can carry on the job.]
So it is we get more countryside eye porn watching the land rover drive parallel to a large river and through country lanes to a converted farm steam like home where all her family are waiting for her arrival. [so she is basically the modern literary version of lower level gentry… it’s no surprise considering the resources she seems able to call on at a moments notice but still…].
It’s the return of the prodigal daughter in the truest sense.
Then we get a daytime montage of the dress fitting contrasting with Strike at night looking over the suspects in the case including Whittingham who he still is considering though he has no real connection. He reflects on what the partner detective said in the interview about whether he had ever met Kelsey Platt before.
The next day he walks up a residential street to a house we have seen before. A woman distraught and in tears answers recognising him. He says he needs to ask about her sister as a man’s voice calls asking who it is. She tells him it’s Comoran Strike. The man asks why he is here and tells her to close the door. She asks him to wait as they discuss seeing the pictures of him and her sister Kelsey. The wife argues the police believe he was set up [how she was informed of that is left to guessing…] and her husband, Ray, has a Manchester accent [ a very strong one – almost like someone doing a broad impression of one and we never get a clear look at his face nor Laing’s earlier hint hint].
Apparently Kelsey looked up to Strike [yeah, the whole ‘superstar detective’ thing is a bit of a contrivance as if he really is the Sherlock Homes of the twenty-first century – which is similar to how they depicted the character with Benedict Cumberbatch]. The husband concludes she can talk to him if she wants but he won’t. Thus she invites him in.
Inside is a dimly lit living room despite the curtains being open and a lamp on. The table is covered in newspapers and other documents. The décor is arguably a few decades out of fashion when contrasted with the minimalist design of the home of Strike’s friends.
He is sorry for their loss and is sure the police have asked a lot of questions. She says they asked if she ‘…was working, signed statements from colleagues and payslips. Ray, the husband, had to print off photos of himself fishing with Ritchie (a friend?), boat receipts, the lot’. [why the payslips? The others for an alibi I could understand… just for more confirmation of things I guess but it actually raises a lot of questions towards the end when we have to question the whole boat trip aspect which was falsified as there would be dates on there which would have given away the inaccuracy of the photo time wise without needing to resort to knowing the annual life cycle of plant life as Strike eventually does.] They were away in Wales and so they lost her. She sobs. Strike asks if it’s okay to photo the photos.
He asks if they’ve any idea who might have got close to Kelsey. No, as she had no friends and came to live with them once their mother died. She mentions there was the age gap between them as sisters but trails off into more sobbing. Strike asks to use their toilet and is told it’s upstairs.
He pretends to go into the toilet by slamming the door shut before skulking around to find Kelsey’s bedroom. He photos some pots of medical salves in the couple’s bedroom [I don’t think anything comes of that afterwards] before finding Kelsey’s room. Without any hesitation he sticks his hand in a draw partially blocked by the bed before noticing the cork board covered with newspaper articles featuring the model Lulu Landry from the Cuckoo case, some probably from the second case regardin the Solk Worm and other pieces about him too. [One article features the headline ‘why we’re obsessed with Comoran Strike’ – I mean I’ve seen that for ‘young professionals’ magazines but for a random, if socially connected, private detective it’s a bit weird anyone wrote that for a publication]. Apparently a fashion magazine announcing him their newest crush. Also some print offs of forums pages with how to say his name and photos of him. He photos the cork board and tears off the forum print off before going back to the toilet and flushing it to create his alibi. He also photos a certificate on the wall acknowledging Ray’s ‘bravery and meritorious conduct’. [A clue].
Downstairs Kelsey’s sister [who I don’t think is addressed by surname – perhaps to not tip their hat too soon regarding the stolen identity part of the story] writes information out for Strike and asks him ‘you didn’t do it, did you?’ ‘No, I didn’t’ he responds. Whether that puts her mind at rest or not is up to you. It’s something at least.
Meanwhile Robin gets a knock at the door to her room from her mother asking if she is alright. Robin tells her she should redecorate the room. Her mother says ‘it’ll always be your room, love’ before leaving her alone again.
[I suppose her mother is overly protective, understandably considering what happened, but at the same time I always get the impression Robin was a character always wrapped in cotton wool and given whatever she wanted even before the rape. She is hard to identify with I feel. We are watching a wish fulfilment character living an idealised existence with little consequences to anything. Yes, there was the rape in university but what other trials has she faced save those she created herself by wanting things that are not readily available to her like a career as a private detective. Having every skill set under the sun to provide and protect herself is understandable after what she endured but, and it’s key to why I disconnect I think, by making her near Batman levels of prepared for all eventualities, with no real flaws, she doesn’t come across as a character I can invest in. In the first book we needed someone to help us enter the life of Comoran Strike but now we are familiar with him her part in the narrative feels extraneous and prone to detracting from the potential risks in the story even with Strike repeatedly seeming to foreshadow her being accosted at night. The image of her in a preserved room, like a caged bird, really relies on the reader feeling she is in circumstances which deny her development but everyone has left those options open to her to choose herself be they to go home, to marry and otherwise. It’s like being told someone’s lucid dream where they decide nothing bad will happen. There are no stakes and thus it becomes tedious unintentionally no matter how fantastical the tale. You can wake up from a bad dream, Robin can go home to her privileged life.]
Strike goes past the guitar and drums pub wearing his enormous scarf and encounters the two detectives outside his front door. Wardle calls him a stupid bastard and they all enter together. Wardle relays that Ray felt like he was attacking Hazel, Kelsey’s sister, and asks Strike to imagine if he had gone to the papers instead of them. He scolds Strike and Strike asks him what he thinks he should do. ‘Stay out of it, work your own cases’. Strike informs him no one wants to hire a detective accused of being a paedophile and murderer. Due to that he can’t afford the rent on the office property and will have to make his partner redundant while she is on her honeymoon. He asks them what they suggest while someone is cutting up little girls on his account. The partner detective says in the projected monotone of a small child in a school play on bullying ‘we need you to trust us to do our job’. [I honestly feel sorry for her if she wasn’t being given good direction on how to deliver her lines].
Strike asks what they’ve done with the three names he gave them. They’re still making enquiries. Strike tells them ‘…Whittaker’s in Catford, Laing was in Corby but is now in Elephant and Castle, and Brockbank just got fired from a strip club in Shoreditch’ he is insulted their suggestion is he should just sit back and ‘…wait for London’s finest to plod along to the finish line?’ He declares by the time they’re finished he’ll be on the street and Robin will be dead. ‘We’re on your side you idiot’ Wardle tells him with a smile. Strike apologises and says he doesn’t know what else to say.
Meanwhile Robin is online doing research as usual. She is looking at a site titled ‘Sally’s Nursery Bowl’ which is the nursery mentioned by Alyssa, the stripper/dancer’s former work colleague to Strike last episode. She calls the nursery using an over the top East London accent with her brother sat next to her in the living room while she is on her laptop.
[I’m going to mention again that the work colleague had a foreign accent so in my mind wouldn’t it be possible Alyssa might also be a foreign accented person as they only really have her name (even if Zahara has a London accent as a small child who might have been born here or picked it up quickly). So this ploy could immediately raise alarm bells at the nursery? Then again all these ploys might be Rowling playing the long game and a few books from now on of them will get her in deep trouble when the people she is called track back to her considering she is using her own mobile phone when doing these ‘comical’ cold calls].
Her brother laughs at it and she gestures him to be quiet. She pretends she hasn’t been getting any letters regarding Zahara, Alyssa’s daughter, from them for a while so they will give her the home address [in reality they’d ask her to confirm her own home address in order to avoid that sort of information being released]. It turns out she called the wrong place.
Meanwhile Strike stares at a photograph of the cork board from Kelsey’s room.
Robin tries another nursery using the exact same ploy but adding they might be using the old address.
Strike looks over various newspaper articles online although they’re formatted like the printed editions so maybe it’s images of them and not newspaper websites.
Robin finally strikes it lucky with her telephone calls.
Accompanied by some tense, threatening, music a hooded figure goes around the back of a house with a bag of tool and a flash light. Matthew is alone at the house he shares with Robin, Meanwhile, up Yorkshire way, Robin and her mother are cooking a roast dinner. The hooded man breaks the security light with a random bit of plastic piping [it could be iron but… those lights are quite sturdy so wouldn’t break as easily as depicted]. Strike is in a bar somewhere looking through the photos on his phone when he decides to zoom in and read Ray’s award he noticed earlier. The hooded figure unscrews the last security light and…
… it’s the next morning. Nothing happened it seems.
Matthew is cheerily making himself some coffee.
Elsewhere Robin’s mother rushes into her bedroom announcing Matthew is on the phone for her… apparently a finger was left in their see through glass kettle.
Next forensics have been and done their work and Strike walks up to the property. He introduces himself as ‘…a friend of Matthew’s here to check he’s alright’ and is let straight through by the office standing guard as if it was all prearranged. [Police detectives can do that in other murder mystery dramas because they’re police – it wouldn’t be that easy to gain access otherwise so that felt like a bit of a contivance. ‘Only residents, family…. oh and people who claim to be friends without us confirming it can enter’.] Strike goes past a forensics person carrying wrapped containers and sees the kitchen being swabbed down.
Matthew is sat upstairs, in shirt and tie, on his laptop ready for work. [He didn’t see it until after his coffee? Or he changed after noticing it and intends to go to work still? Um, interesting…] Strike enters saying Robin asked him to check in on Matthew. ‘I’m fine thanks, the police have everything covered’ Matthew says spitefully. Strike tells him Robin is driving down – but he should know that already obviously.
Matthew angrily asks him what it would take Strike to let her go? She’s been followed, had body parts sent to her, she has had her flat broken into by someone who butchers women – Matthew wonders if Strike is just waiting to see what happens to her next. Strike tells him calmly he understands he is having a difficult morning but is cut off when Matthew tells him to piss off. Strike ignores it and continues saying ‘Robin’s good at what she does. She’s very good. She manages the risks. If she ever decides to hand in her notice, that’ll be her decision but I would try to persuade her to stay. The police will watch the flat at night I don’t think he’ll try anything again. Matthew says he doesn’t really know anything though. Strike says ‘it’s proving challenging’ then leaves.
Strike walks down the densely populated streets of London. Robin walks down more sparsely populated ones. She arrives in the office where Strike awaits. He asks how Matthew is and she says he went to work eventually. He asks how she is. She admits she spent an hour checking over the flat and leaching everything [also she probably lost the deposit too though that is not mentioned].
She tells him she got an exact address for Brockbank and of the phone calls she was making. He tells her she is very clever. She stoically says ‘let’s just find this guy.’ Strike says he can’t go back to Whittaker as he knows him but the person they’re looking for is careful and deliberate – doesn’t feel like Whittaker. She says she will watch Whittaker. She insists and then offers Strike some tea.
The next day Robin is buying something off a market stall while observing the entrance to Whittaker’s flat and sees the groupie girl exit. Coincidentally she drops the coins form her pocket and Robin rushes over to be a good Samaritan. Robin helps to pick up the coins and offers to buy her some lunch because she looks like she is ‘just having one of those days’. She says she can order what she wants and Robin will pay. [Incredibly suspicious. And the playful ‘just having one of those days’ would make it all the more questionable a gesture.]
They go to the Stage Door cafe. The girl eats a dish of chips, beans and eggs while Robin observes. Robin asks if she has a sore tooth to which the girl grunts agreement as she eats with her hands. [It’s like a middle class human zoo no doubt or the thrill of Bedlam was to people back in the Victorian era looking at the mentally ill and judging them]. She asks if the girl’s boyfriend did this but that is denied and she is told he is going away. She didn’t want him to but that’s why he did it. She thinks he has someone else though he says he is only going back with the band though she doesn’t believe him. Robin asks what sort of music he plays and is told ‘metal’ and that the band is called Death Cult in which he is the lead guitar. Robin gives the look of the middle classes when they are involved in a conversation they don’t want to be part of but continue to humour as it serves some purpose to them. She asks the girl if she goes to all their gigs and the girl says ‘yeah, they’re good’.
Whittaker appears asking ‘what’s this’ and asks Robin for her name. He jokes to the girl she has made a little friend which she denies. Robin says ‘actually I was just leaving’. He says it seems such a shame. Robin says it was nice to meet Stephanie but it told to fuck off in return which amuses Whittaker as he comments ‘obviously not such good friends after all. You’ve obviously tried very hard. He follows her outside enquiring ‘just being kind, were you?’ Robin retorts she was just concerned and looked a bit beaten up. He says he wouldn’t worry too much about her ‘she can be a clumsy little bitch at times’. Robin calls to Stephanie, stood in the cafe’s doorway to get help with her tooth before walking away as Whittaker goes and kisses Stephanie. [Again if you read the books you know who these minor characters are but for people following the TV adaption we rely on dialogue to actually tell us their names and we only learn Stephanie’s in her final moments in the episode. Admittedly it’s not important to know he name as she is a minor character but still.]
Some time later it is night and Robin is walking through the Catford area of London. She phones Strike who asks if she is okay and if she is out as it is late. She tells him she is heading back and she had spoken with Stephanie telling him all about Death Cult and the other things she learned. [Just in case the audience nipped out of the room for five minutes to make a cup of tea – that’s the one downside of the BBC not having advert breaks so sometimes shows do this sort of ‘repeating what we just learned’ moments if there is an opportunity]. She realises she has taken a wrong turn suddenly having just gone under the shopping precinct. [why didn’t she stop and reorient herself while by the brightly lit shops we will never know… okay it was yet another narrative convenience which we are about to witness. For all those courses she went on she is far too confident and for once it actually serves, rather than undermines, the narrative]. Strike asks if she has said something but she says now she is just being a bit jumpy.
He asks for her exact location with the street name. She admits she isn’t quite sure it has a name actually. Suddenly a masked man leaps out and puts a bag over her head and drags her to one side to stab her. However she luckily blindly kicks at him with enough force he drops the knife and she can run away. Strike calls for her over the phone but she dropped it during the initial attack. Also she didn’t/couldn’t remove the bag from her head so the assailant catches up to her knife in hand. The bag/large bobble hat [no really it looks like that once you’ve time to see it clearly] is half way up her face as she struggles. Some young guys are walking to the passage and see the dropped phone. She activates a rape alarm she has at her side and the buzzing calls the attention of the youths who have her phone. The assailant runs away and she deactivates the alarm. [Presumably the youths return her phone which… might happen I suppose. More importantly was the assailant a random chancer or was it Laing? If the latter how did he know what route she would take? It’s also possible it was Brockbank I suppose as he seems to know of her injured arm. Who knows. She was attacked after Strike repeatedly warning her but she did, barely, defend herself. That’s all we can take away from this.]
Next Strike is walking through white corridors and meets Robin in the A & E ward of a hospital. She is holding her arm up and putting pressure on it and says ‘he cut me’. She apologises for messing up. Strike says he isn’t there to tell her off. He asks her how she managed to… but she cuts him off and reminds him she did a self-defence course. He grabbed her from behind so she did what they taught her – kneed him in the groin she says amused and somewhat pleased with herself.
[okay, for once I am happy to admit we finally get some pay off with all these random courses she has been endlessly mentioning she does. It’s just someone who did such a course wouldn’t have been as foolish as she was not to double back to an area she knew with a lot of people passing by so she still is too foolhardy really but it at least feels natural here compared to many other occasions.]
Strike tells her Whittaker has disappeared and they’re looking for him. She says Whittaker is thin and the guy who attacked her had a different build. She also, at some point either before or after the attack looked up Whittaker’s band and they had a gig the night Kelsey was killed [which isn’t a guaranteed alibi if he dropped out and they had someone stand in for him to be honest…] but Robin doesn’t think it was him. Strike nods silently in agreement no doubt somewhat annoyed he has to eliminate Whittaker from the line of enquiry once and for all – at least this time.
Matthew bursts into the ward as she is telling Strike she still wants to work. Flatly Strike tells her she has her wedding to think about as Matthew draws up to the bedside. She, annoyed, tells Strike not to patronise her. Matthew, not even looking at Strike, tells him bluntly ‘you can leave us alone now. Robin needs her rest’. Strike agrees with him. She asks what they are doing about Brockbank. Strike says the police are watching him. She says it’s not where he goes but what he does in the flat that is the issue. Strike bluntly says ‘we can’t save everyone’. [Why is he repeating that phrase a lot during this story?] Matthew adds ‘you were nearly killed tonight. Let someone else take this one on’. She tells Strike they can’t leave him with children. Both men stare at her and she concedes she needs to rest. Strike tries to placate her by saying he knows why she wants to help but she cuts him off reiterating she needs to rest.
[I keep forgetting to note she gradually calls Strike by his first name, Cormoran, but it’s just easier to keep track using his surname. It shows they’ve grown closer I suppose but the tone she uses is like a teacher scolding a schoolboy more often than not].
Matthew and Strike walk out of the ward and Matthew tells him ‘Cormoran, this has to end. She’s barely trained and you sent her out, with no support. You’re a sociopath’. Strike leaves without a word.
Next we see him sat on the floor of his office with the photos, documents and the laptop. Some inspirational sounding music plays as he reads through the forums discussing him that Kelsey was posting on. The posts praise him and note his office is somewhere Tottenham Court Road. It seems to bemuse him a bit.
He phones Ray telling him his name and asking for Hazel and himself to look at some photos or suspects – not great pictures but they might jog their memory. Ray insists ‘Hazel needs some space. Don’t you understand that, fella?’ before hanging up.
Next we see Robin getting her cut and styled as she gets a phone call. It’s a call from Shanker. Apparently he is calling back because, according to her Strike asked her to give him a call. She tells him she needs some help.
A red mini pulls up to a terrace house where a man in a black mac and leather gloves meets Shanker who was driving the car. Shanker says ‘Taking the girl to get her stitches out innit.’ the man tells him to wait a minute and goes off.
Ray tells Hazel that if Cormoran Strike calls while he is away she should hang up as he doesn’t trust him. Hazel runs her fingers through his hair and beard and they hold hands sadly.
Robin announces she is just popping out. Matthew asks where she is going and she claims to a police interview. He asks if they can’t come to her but she claims they want her to look at some stuff they can’t take off site. He asks if she is sure she is okay and she assures him she is and won’t use the arm.
Ray begins to walk down the road with a limp (which isn’t alluded to earlier and is very ‘blink and you miss it’ though the beard removal makes it clear ‘Ray’ is an act by Laing) but begins to walk more assertively and swing the sports bag over his shoulder once presumably out of line of sight of Hazel at home.
Shanker runs down a road to Robin to tell her ‘she’ is coming. Robin asks if they’re sure it’s her. Shanker responds ‘fit black girl, two kids.’ He asks if Robin is positive she doesn’t want him in there and she asks him to keep an eye out for ‘him’. Then Robin follows the mother into some new build social housing. [again… non-Caucasians only live in council houses in Rowling’s London apparently – unless adopted by well off white families like Lulu was in ‘The Cuckoo’s Call].
There’s a knock at the door and Alyssa opens the door where Robin asks to have a word about Niall. She pretty much insists on coming inside for a chat so Alyssa sends her daughters upstairs.
[Niall is actually Brockbank – I’m not sure if I got the name wrong, they changed it for the adaption or we are meant to immediately realise it’s an alias of Brockbank’s].
[Please contrast the exaggerated voice Robin did as ‘Alyssa’ and the actual voice of the character… considering staff likely spoke to her at the school I’m not sure how they believed Robin’s voice over the phone to be honest except the adaption embellished it for comic effect. Maybe you can argue they would hear so many voices they wouldn’t be able to keep track of them.]
Robin hesitates and Alyssa tells her to spit it out. Robin trips over her words introducing herself and saying she is a detective before gesturing to sit. She begins to explain ‘we’ have come across information in the course of our investigation. Alyssa cuts her off asking who ‘we’ is. Robin mentions she works for an agency run by Cormoran Strike and they had been looking into Niall.
Alyssa, irritated, tells her she can get out now. She is angry as Strike ‘gave my boyfriend epilepsy, ruined his marriage etc. she claims she knows ‘all about you lot’ as Robin struggles to regain control of the situation as she is being kicked out. She tells Alyssa bluntly he abuses young girls as Alyssa screams at her to get out ‘before I give you a proper smack’. Robin, ever the wise one, decided to add ‘he’s been doing it for a long time – ask your daughters’.
Alyssa grabs Robin’s bad arm when telling her to get out and Robin crumples to the floor. One of the daughters upstairs says ‘mum’ and we cut to Niall coming home. Shanker sees him and intercepts. Inside Robin asks Alyssa ‘just ask her’ to which Alyssa goes to her daughter , Angel, telling her to go upstairs now having apparently accepted what Robin said. Niall enters and slams the door behind him.
[He is wearing a hoodie under a light leather jacket – so again the ‘uniform’ of working class people in this series. Alyssa also was wearing one I forgot to mention. Either they’re described as wearing them in the book or the costume designer for the series hasn’t got much of an imagination on these things or was told to ‘code’ people via their clothing. Looking at his jacket later I swear I’ve seen that exact design on the arms in other series so it must be from the wardrobe department and been used in multiple productions. So it likely is, unspoken, the ‘uniform’ for working class thuggish characters amongst the staff… meanwhile respectable characters all wear woollen coats or Shanker, to denote being lower class than the main characters, wears a generic wind breaker but never a hoodie. ‘The good guys don’t have to cover their heads in shame’ or some weird concept like that. Also how many people do you see wearing leather jackets daily? These sort of productions make it seem like it’s every other person when I barely see one or two when in a city let alone elsewhere.]
Niall asks what is going on and if Angel is alright. Alyssa tells him ‘…this bitch is telling lies about you’ and that she is with Cormoran Strike. Robin has run to a rear room and tries to escape through some French windows but they are locked. Shanker approaches the front door. Niall tells Alyssa to look after Angel as he approaches Robin. He slaps the phone out of her hand telling her she’s ‘…not phoning anyone.’
Upstairs Alyssa tells Angel to stay sat on her bed. Angel quietly says ‘He done it to me’ which causes Alyssa to sit by her daughter to listen to her. Niall asks ‘what’s the idea, barging into people’s houses, upsetting their kids, eh?’ before grabbing her bad arm [did he know it was injured or was he just fortunate? Maybe he saw her nursing it?]. While Angel tells her mother the truth Niall is downstairs taunting Robin about her injured arm.
Robin screams out for Shanker who begins to kick the front door down. As soon as he gets in he squares up to ‘Niall’ saying ‘you dirty nonce, I’ll skin ya!’ as he pulls out a flick knife. Robin tells him not to stab Niall but as she does Niall rams into her knocking the two down and runs out the front door. Shanker gives chase initially but he is running far too fast down the road to catch up to.
Meanwhile Alyssa and Angel are crying upstairs. She asks her daughter ‘why didn’t you say anything, darling?’ to which Angel replies ‘because he said he’d hurt Zahara.’ They sob together.
Later on Strike is ringing the bell and knocking the door urgently at Robin and Matthew’s flat. Matthew opens it and tells him ‘… we’re actually packing to go to…’ but Strike doesn’t let him finish telling him ‘I don’t care.’ Robin walks in from another room and he says ‘I told you we were leaving Brockbank to the police. She tells him she knew and he scolds her that she went in anyway. She justifies it by saying he was raping Alyssa’s daughter. Strike informs her that Wardle thinks he had sent her in there and thanks to her Brockbank’s vanished. Angry Robin tells him not to dare put that on her. He does. She tells him if he hadn’t messed up Brockbank would have been in prison years ago. [Actually he likely would be dead, unless kept in a secured section away from the general prison populace, as child molesters are deemed unforgivable, immoral, scum by inmates. No one would help him if he were attacked and some might actually join in because it’s so reprehensible even for them.].
Strike reminds her of their findings: ‘Laing is a cripple, [she] ruled out Whittaker, that means that Brockbank is our number-one suspect, and now he’s off the radar. We’re finished.’ She says he doesn’t mean that incredulously but he assures her he will send her her last salary. ‘Quick and clean, gross misconduct’ he tells her then leaves silently. Matthew enters the room and tells her ‘it’s probably for the best love’ but she leaves the room. He then takes the opportunity to block Strike’s contact on her phone while muttering ‘Goodbye forever, Cormoran Strike’.
Strike goes to his mother’s grave again with a bouquet of flowers to lay on it. He looks over the pot plant left by his uncle Ted and recalls Ray’s holiday photo with his friend Ritchie. He realises something. [Cash in your detective bets right now as this realisation is apparently what the whole case hinges on…] On his mobile phone he calls his uncle who is in his shed potting some plants. He asks if Ted was at Leda’s grave recently but is told he wasn’t but he had a friend pop something on the grave for the anniversary. Strike asks if it’s sea holly. His uncle says ‘it’s not much to look at now but come June it’ll be rather special’. Strike, smiling, tells him to call him next time he’s up that way and they say their goodbyes to each other. Then Strike mutters to himself ‘gotcha’.
We see flash backs about ‘Donnie’ doing the lawn mowing, Ray telling Hazel to close the door and Laing on his wheeled stroller encountering him in the corridor of the council flats. But if Donald Laing was disabled enough to need a stroller how did he do the lawn mowing for the neighbour? [As for the certificate… it’s not clear what the relevance was… yet].
Strike calls the directory for the number for the fire service – not the emergency number but for the one for the people who hire firemen.
We finally get the reveal of Laing taking out his contact lens and removing the glued on beard of his Ray disguise.
In a hardware shop Strike calls Shanker who immediately says ‘let me guess – you want a favour.’ Strike asks him to watch his back and meet him at Elephant at eight. Shanker agrees and Strike says he will text him the address.
Strike arrives back at the council flats where he encountered Laing on his stroller. He is dressed up like a handyman and opens the nozzle on his gas blowtorch before knocking the door. He uses a lock pick to open the door to the empty flat. A neighbour, a black man, comes from next door and smells the gas so asks if Donnie is okay as the door is open. Strike comes to the door saying it is gas and he is there as they got a call from upstairs so it was probably coming from that property. The man asks ‘we’re not going to get blown up are we?’ to which Strike drily jokes ‘well don’t light up any cigarettes’. The man mutters ‘shit’ then asks if Donnie is in there as he owes him ‘forty quid’. Strike says ‘afraid I can’t help you mate’ noting yet another person Laing swingled out of money. Then with the door closed again he inspects the flat.
[So again people of non-white ethnicities are in council housing. In reality many are in London in fairness, Grenfell Tower making people all too aware of that, but it’s how naïve they’re presented be they Alyssa or this neighbour which makes their depiction a bit questionable…]
Weirdly the flat has stairs. [It honestly makes no sense…]. Strike comes into a blue lit room with numerous knifes and other blades. He looks in a glass fronted fridge and sees dismembered body parts wrapped in plastic. Plastered on the walls are pornographic images of women but some have his face plastered on top of theirs. There are some cuttings of Lulu and voyeuristic photos of Robin walking down the street. The kitchen has abandoned cartons of food and Strike finds a small mirror with a selection of spectacle glasses, medication and a toupee/wig. He wanders up some more stairs [Are there multilevel flats in London? Because I’ve never heard of such a think unless these are all service rooms meant for maintenance staff that Laing has been using somehow…] Strike comes across another fridge filled with body parts.
Suddenly he gets attacked from behind by a bald man. It’s Laing! He stamps on Laing’s foot but gets pushed back. They slam each other into the walls and Laing bites into his collar. Strike gets thrown down a staircase.
Shanker is walking down the corridor of flats checking his phone wondering where Bunsen (his nickname for Strike) is.
Laing shouts as he descends the stairs but Strike kicks him in the groin.
At the door Shanker calls to ‘Bunsen’. Strike gets kicked into one of the blue lit rooms as Shanker calls to him through the letterbox. Laing is kicking Strike as Shanker begins trying to kick the door down. Laing grabs a knife but while he is distracted Strike, splayed on the floor, grabs a hammer and swings successfully at Laing knocking him off his feet. As Shanker continues to call for him he handcuffs Laing to the frame of the counter top.
Strike, still having not left the flat nor opened the door for Shanker yet, tries to call Robin but gets an automated message saying ‘messages to this number have been blocked’.
[first: he has bad priorities. Second: Does it actually do that to blocked numbers? I assumed it just leaves it ringing until it either automatically cuts off or you give up. Otherwise people know you’ve blocked them and that would lead to trouble for many people surely.]
He finally opens the door for Shanker and asks ‘what kept you?’ to which an out of breathe Shanker says ‘that’s a steel door’.
[… you know I realise this was made before Grenfell wasn’t it? That’s unfortunate timing to be showing such a dismissively low opinion of those who live in council flats…]
Matthew drives the land rover through the night to get to… where ever it is he and Robin are getting married.
Strike is in the office speaking to Wardle detailing how the forensics team believe there was more than one body there [i.e. the production team were a bit overzealous and put too many body parts in because there were clearly multiple torsos in those fridges thus it makes the team sound like they’re stating the bloody obvious]. Wardle asks Strike ‘what made you think Ray and Laing were the same person?’ Strike tells him ‘the photo of Ray gave the police has him on the beach next to sea holly in full bloom, supposedly in April. It was like the coffee shop photo. It was staged.’
Wardle asks if he is sure he is alright and Strike mutters ‘yeah’ before continuing ‘sea holly doesn’t flower in the wild until June. If you find the other bloke, Ritchie, I’m sure he’ll tell you they were taken last year. Height of summer, but they put coats on to try and look cold. Ritchie probably thought he was taking part in a benefits scam or something. I’m imagining Ritchie’s none too clever. [That’s a presumption as he might have aided Laing knowing who he really is. Strike just assumes he was a patsy.] There was a certificate for bravery hanging in Kelsey’s sister’s house. I called the fire service. The real Ray Williams, Mrs Williams’ son, retired to Spain six years ago. Laing stole his identity. He was good at accents and he spent a lot of money disguising his appearance. He even managed to find a girl who’d made the mistake of having a crush on me.’ [Presumably Laing was one of the people posting on the online forums which Kelsey was on.].
Wardle smiles and Strike, leading him out, says he will come down to the station tomorrow morning. Wardle’s mobile phone vibrates and he tells Strike that they’ve picked up Brockbank before telling him to get some sleep. [When this aired I swear there was a shot of them finding him in a homeless shelter. Was that in another case?]
Strike returns to his desk and leafs through various newspaper cutting and print offs. One speaks of communes featuring a photo of Brittany Brockbank. He recalls her words as she was led away when they came into the house back then: ‘Daddy wouldn’t do that. I didn’t mean any of it’ he recalls her saying. [Which doesn’t match what we were told about her informing on him earlier.]
He is driven to a commune in the country by Shanker and introduces himself to a member as a friend of Brittany. We hear a baby cry. The commune, composed of quasi-hipsters dressed in a manner not really suited to the lifestyle, is mostly VW beetle vans and some marquee tents with random pieces of furniture and such strewn about. Here he meets Brittany who is older now and a member of the commune.
She asks what will happen to her father now. ‘Nothing that involves you’ Strike tells her. ‘He’ll be put away for a very long time, and when he’s released he’ll be on the sex offenders register for life.’ She says that’s good before he continues ‘I wanted you to know before, you know… He should have been put in prison a long time ago. We failed you there, Brittany. I failed you.’ She reassured him by saying ‘you believed me, though. And you tried. That helped a lot.’ She hesitates a moment before asking ‘was it you who caught him?’ Strike tells her no, it was his partner. ‘For a case you were doing?’ ‘No’ he replies. ‘But she did it anyway?’ Brittany asks. He confirms it and she asks if she is alright. ‘She’s a bit bruised, but she’ll live.’ Brittany asks ‘will you thank her for us?’ Strike nods. ‘What’s her name? Your partner.’ He tells her it’s Robin. There stare at each other a moment then he heads back to Shanker. [So that was for his closure not hers really.]
Strike tells Shanker they’ve got a second stop in Yorkshire. Shanker asks ‘where’s that?’ Strike bemused responds ‘Yorkshire! The county. You know.’ then imitates the accent saying ‘Yorkshire!’ then tells Shanker to just keep going north until he tells him to stop.
Some whimsical music plays.
Strike buys a suit from somewhere. [With him and Robin in this story it’s as if people are constantly just going in and buying formal wear casually according to Rowling… what makes it amusing here is we see him exist a petrol station as if he bought it there.]
More countryside scenery porn for the foreign markets.
Robin with her hair in rollers.
Strike tells Shanker to put his foot down and Shanker tells him it is but Strike wants him to put it down further to which he responses ‘I am not having this for the next hundred miles. Humour.
A newspaper article has a headline reading ‘Killer Strikes Out: Strike no longer suspect in Kelsey Platt murder’. Shanker mocks ‘that’s you sorted out then. Back to being the hero of the hour. Strike laments there’s not fixing everything and Shanker says ‘…Nah, there’s not. That’s just life, innit, mate?’ which cheers Strike up a little.
[So they repeated that sentiment throughout and try to play it off as a positive note? That is a bit bizarre to he honest. Hard fought for survival I guess. ‘You don’t always win – you just survive and that’s good enough’.]
We see Robin exiting the car to her wedding ceremony.
Shanker, in voice over, asks ‘what’s the deal, then, Bunsen, you going to go full-on Graduate? Elaine! Elaine! What about me?’ he mocks pretending to bang on glass like the scene in the film of The Graduate laughing. Strike tells him ‘No, I was invited. I’m a friend, a guest.’ Shanker mocks him being a friend as he sacked her, ‘not exactly a friend where I come from’ he jokes.
We see Robin in her wedding dress with her father.
Shanker comments ‘reminds me of your mum.’ Who asks Strike. ‘Who?! Your Robin. She’s kind, isn’t she? Like the way she wanted to save that kid. Strike says he is going to try and get her back but next time if she calls Shanker – Shanker cuts him off agreeing that he’ll call Strike first to check as he just took her word it was at his behest she was asking for Shanker’s help.
The marriage ceremony is underway as Strike pulls up and runs, as best he can with his leg, inside. The grooms-men hand him an order of service and although he is offered a seat he decides to stand at the back instead. At which point he accidentally knocks over one of the flower arrangement on a stand. Robin and Matthew look back at the noise. He apologises in the echoing silence. Matthew scowls. Robin smiles to see him there and says ‘I do’ while still looking at Strike.
The happy couple walk down the aisle being wished well by people as they go. Both smile at Strike and all ends well.
I recall why I never came back to this until now – it just seems to dawdle along for so long feeding only fleeting suggestions of what the evidence will lead to while seeming to focus more on Robin’s back and forth feelings on her marriage. In theory you could skip most of episode one except for one or two scenes involving early pieces of evidence.
It’s not that there are no developments at all but it also doesn’t really feel like there is much steady progression to the murder side of the story when we keep having to address Robin’s emotional situation. Remove the parts about her upcoming marriage, finding out about Matthew’s cheating, running off home to her parents, making up with him and returning to London and about a third of the run time could easily be cut out at least.
It’s pleasant to watch but isn’t satisfying due to how the clues are dealt with leaving the twist both a bit obvious but at the same time coming out of the blue that it really came down to that.
Not that gradual character developments over the run of the whole series isn’t nice but we can all see where it will end up going so it might as well get there a bit quicker so we can get on with the more interesting murder case investigations. However I can easily imagine we will just keep getting teased along about whether Strike and Robin end up together until near the end, if not at the very end, of the entire run of novels. I’d like to think this ‘will they/won’t they’ aspect will get resolved within a book or two then they get together, then there’s a marriage one and then we get to deal with their married life and all the consequences that would bring eventually instead.
Robin wants to be a detective and married. Matthew says she can’t be a detective for her own sake. Strike is happy for her to be both. She wants to be both. Instead of trying to address Matthew’s disdain for the job they just kind of trundle along. Her constant Batman like ability to have prepared for every eventuality is addressed but also her fore-rightness in not practising caution also ends up with her comeuppance not once by twice. So as much as I felt this story line dragged I did like how it addressed issues with the characters while leaving room for future developments.
Strike spends too long wanting Whittaker to be involved and getting distracted by him. You can easily argue it shows a flaw in Strike’s character that, as good a detective as he could be, he lets sentimental bias cloud his judgement. However in his case with his focus on Whittingham it becomes a bit laboured.
Matthew just keeps coming up as little more than an obstacle and ineffectual antagonist towards Strike. Honestly he is in the list of ‘introduced characters who will eventually become a murder victim later in the series’. Probably it’ll involve Robin suddenly claiming Strike never liked him when the animosity all seems very one sided. From the first moment of this character’s scene time in the first story line he has had the sword of Damocles over his head it seems and we get little if any reason to like him – even the chirpy light hearted breakfast scene interrupted by the thumb in the kettle does nothing to make him more sympathetic.
Shanker is a fun character. I wan to know more about him but at the same time he seems to be limited to being a sidekick with a few quips to serve as Strike’s criminal class muscle and informant when he needs it. He serves as a bit too easy a plot device to be honest. I half wonder if further down the line he and Strike will be on opposite sides of events. It’s a potential storyline if there is a criminal murder and Shanker has to choose who he is loyal too. That or he will die too.
As for our suspects: They all feel one dimensional to be honest. One is only mentioned due to his MO then instantly forgotten about. One is more based on Strike’s grudge than evidence. The last two are both child abusers albeit one goes to the extent of murder. On an initial, casual, viewing it was easy to confuse the details of their backstories due to the similarities.
The bookendings regarding Brittany really feels forced as if to give Strike some catharsis over an incident in his past. The character with his stated ethos of ‘you can’t save everyone’ might have been better served by Brittany telling him to piss off – just as everyone had told Robin to do so just for being associated with him.
The second time watching the story I followed it better but that twist about Laing posing as Ray comes so suddenly, even with the clues being scattered throughout, it still feels a bit like a contrivance. I assume we get less hints in the TV adaption that someone reading the book. So it could be an issue with the adaption distilling the novel into two episodes when perhaps it needed more as a lot of subtlety was lost and then even some important parts were too as well.
It was enjoyable but you definitely shouldn’t actually sit and think about it as you suddenly see a lot of issues arise. Admittedly in my commentary I focused on how certain people were depicted as stereotypes but there also feels to be a lot of contrivance too.
This feels more of an adventure-mystery series than crime one. It’s more in the mould of something like Tintin or the works of Wilkie Collins than truly belonging to the modern crime genre or the grand British tradition of detective literature. If J K Rowling aspires to join such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others she really needs to focus more on the integrity of her mysteries than being distracted by the personal lives of her characters. As a mystery solving adventure, in the style of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven who solved mysteries as adventures, this is good fun but I can only imagine for people who enjoy murder mysteries this comes across as infuriatingly light on substance.
On the technical side every thing is great. There’s good cinematography, lighting, the sound is always crisp so you don’t miss any dialogue. In terms of locations the only time I got lost was the layout of Laing’s council flat. Something was off there and it needed to be explained about how there were multiple floors of rooms, up numerous staircases, for what was apparently a normal council flat.
The acting by the returning cast is great as always even if I’m somewhat questioning of the writing choices and how secondary characters are depicted. Praise should go to the actors of Niall Brockbank (Andrew Brooke) and Alyssa (Emanuella Cole) for the intense scenes they had to perform in. The actor for Donald Laing (Neil Maskell) goes above and beyond having to portray three distinct versions of his character. Admittedly there were some weak performances but personally I feel that might be due to not having much flexibility to explore then as they tend to be one note characters sadly. I have no doubt the actors in those roles have given excellent performances elsewhere.
Predictions regarding the future of the series
If she writes the number of books she wants for the series, having stated there are at least ten more she wants to do, then this will be her longest running project by far but amusingly it’ll not be under her own name.
Everyone besides Strike and Robin are potential murderers or murder victims as we have now been introduced to so many extraneous character like Strike’s half sister, Nick and Ilsa who serve no real purpose except as potential case fodder. I suppose it’s to avoid the classic issue Christie often had of her characters wandering from place to place to meet ‘old friends’ who we had never met before (or perhaps you don’t recall as you’ve seen TV adaptions out of order or with the role played by distinctly different actors).
Honestly we should all go put down bets that one of the future books will be a case where Whittaker is already murdered before the start so Strike has to confront his mother and stepfather’s past with it revealed that, although a complete arsehole, it wasn’t Whittaker who fatally overdosed Leda (though due to the nature of the series it won’t be a case she herself overdosed which would be far more realistic). In that case I expect some sort of bittersweet story involving Shanker who has been like a brother to him. That and Strike’s half-sister might be murdered.
Strike’s university friends Nick and Ilsa getting murdered is a possibility.
Shanker being murdered by criminals or being on the opposite side of an investigation and having his loyalties tested seems very likely.
Strike’s ex who we encountered at the start of ‘Cuckoo’s Calling’ no doubt will come back somehow.
Due to the number of tertiary characters I can imagine probably all of them will get killed off eventually if there are over ten more books left to write.
Another I feel is a certainty is we will have some contrivance where it turns out the gorilla mask rapist wasn’t the guy who was charged with Robin’s rape. As much as that latter one would require some issue with forensics evidence to occur it feels like that is being set up to be dealt with as a cold case or somehow be brought up due to a similar MO by someone who wasn’t the convicted guy.
You can just tell how the frequently referenced past event story lines deeply connected to Robin and Strike are inevitable full novel investigations we will have in depth explorations of because Rowling likes following preconceived narrative structures so much and ten books pretty makes addressing them inevitable…
This year there was no competition so instead we got two shows instead!
The first programme was a retrospective clip show of previous winners throughout the years and a phone vote to decide what the best ever song is. That turned out to be ABBA’s Waterloo apparently. The version of this programme available online is different to the one shown on the BBC though most of the songs shown are the same but with different people interviewed.
The second, longer, programme was hosted from Rotterdam which was meant to be this year’s venue. It was hosted in a small studio by three hosts, probably thankful they got to wear the outfits they bought especially for the occasion, showing 30 second clips of the music videos for each performer who would have competed this year. The video clips were preceded with a brief message from them wishing everyone well during these trying times.
They did some additional interviews during breaks every nine songs or so. As we only got 30 seconds per artist many, no doubt, didn’t get fair representation as that brief a time is, at best, a preview of the songs and undermines any aspects such as escalation. It came across like the Eurovision committee wanted to do a show but also to keep costs down leading to a somewhat unsatisfying experience which will have frustrated many of the artists involved though many will return to compete next year. Later, we are told, all the singers will perform ‘love shine a light’ together.
The above video is also different to the version shown on the BBC. So below I will present the entries in the BBC’s broadcast running order rather than the supposed official running order as the video above describes itself. It seems to play the videos in full but I’ll put them individually below for ease of reference.
We got to see an interview with Johnny Logan of Ireland who was on talking about winning three times live from Dublin. He is still wearing a white suit all these years later… then he sings ‘what’s another year’ with a choir of people at home.
Johnny Logan – What’s Another Year (including choir of Eurovision fans) – Europe Shine A Light version
This year we will see the videos for the songs instead of a live performance.
I’ll put my initial opinion formed by the 30 second clips shown on the BBC but then, in a second paragraph, also my opinion of the full music video or performance versions (whichever the BBC showed). There is no doubt many songs were underrepresented by the abbreviated format presented by the BBC.
Israel – Eden Alene – Feker Libi
Good energy, 90s nylon tracksuits.
I can imagine a soulful acoustic version of this. It is definitely very 90s with the garish neon yellow costumes of the dancers. The song is enjoyable but it’s definitely not one that would score high.
Norway – Ulrikke – Attention
power ballad. Sparkly dress from a cheap high street shop.
The opening strings remind me of the theme music to role playing computer games or fantasy films. The song is really good with a slow build up. The flickering lights in the background provide a minimalist, yet effective, staging. The shift between soft and projected vocals is far more effective in the full version so the BBC clip really misrepresented it. It’s reminiscent of many from the past so, while a good song in it’s own right, it’s an ‘also ran’ in this contest.
Russia – Little Big – Uno
Going for the camp vote with a weird pastel 70s look. Knee shaking 1920s sort of dance moves. Comical figures. Eurovision classic in the making!
After the controversies of the past few years Russia has done what the UK did around a decade ago – just send fun entries and enjoy the experience because there will inevitably still be countries who will refuse to give them points out of sheer political spite. The song is really fun and the dancing well co-ordinated. The pseudo prison tattoos on the lead vocalist is an amusing contrast to the see through shirt. Also the guy with the liberally applied black lipstick. Fun novelty track which will get effectively remixed into some club anthem potentially. They used that pastel retro aesthetic popular in British pop music about a decade ago with acts like OK Go or Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction music video.
Georgia – Tornike Kipiani – Take Me As I Am
Wants to be an anthem. In the back of a car. In the studio – black and white filming. Bit overly self reverential.
Usually they have interesting acts. This one is a bit more toned down and gritty. It’s a good pop song but… Eurovision wouldn’t reward it. The video is pretentious but I suppose every musician has at least one ‘in the studio’ music video under their belt. The lyrics are a bit ‘victim syndrome’ but probably talking of the Georgian nation’s experiences (or the singer’s experience with lovers) where people expect them to behave like others. Very good but not a Eurovision song.
France – Tom Leeb – Mon Alliée (The Best In Me)
5 o’ clock shadow and a guitar. One for the ladies…
Slow acoustic ballad. Very generic sounding. The video is very generic. ‘Please award him for he is handsome and plays an acoustic guitar so is clearly very soulful’ entry. Doesn’t really strike any real impact. It’s the sort of song that plays second or third during the credits of a film. The filming locations are nice in the video in a shopping arcade and theatre. It reminds me of venues in Cardiff.
Azerbaijan – Efendi – Cleopatra
Katie Perry music video… turns dark for a split second then generic female singer music video. In the desert.
In hindsight it reminds me more of Cheryl Cole (Fernandaz-Versini). The song reminds me of Holly Valance. It’s a good pop song and the costuming for her is very good. Not sure about the cut to the audio pitched lower section near the start really as it should have been repeated or omitted. Aside from the costume most of the video is a few vehicles in a desert… oh and some mummy dancers. Well made and above average points scorer probably if quite repetitive towards the end.
Portugal – Elisa – Medo De Sentir
Big puffy sleeves top. Sparkly pants. Makes me think of a song played over the credits of an anime series.
Nice gentle song with a piano accompaniment. Portugal won with such a song so they’re playing it safe. The sleeves look awkward but I’m not sure if it might be alluding to a form of national dress. Motivating uplifting song but also reflectively sad. Would give it another listen in future. Also woof. It probably wouldn’t do that great but it’s a nice relaxing song to chill out to.
Lithuania – The Roop – On Fire
Quirky dance. With standard basic beat dance music. An ‘I will…’ self empowerment type of song.
A magnifying glass… it’s been a while since I’ve seen one. The music video is very artistic. Fun song. The dancing reminds me of the eccentric moves actors perform when films or television programmes want to mocking the dance styles of certain ‘butt of the joke’ characters. Very enjoyable and would probably get some decent points during a contest. It’s the sort of song you end up looking for years down the line because you’ve forgotten the name of it as so develop a small self-imposed quest to relocate it.
Sweden – The Mamas – Move
Large backing singer ladies given their moment in the spot light. They’ve a Beverly Knight, soul diva, sparkly dresses style with a Little Mix style song.
Very ‘Muses from Disney’s Hercules’ style staging. Really good upbeat song. Definitely can imagine this being used in a television series or advert. Only downside is these sort of contests still have a bit of a stigma. It’s okay to be a funny ‘cartoonish’ woman doing a ‘chicken song’, like Netta, but doing a serious performance and not fitting the standard physique no doubt counts against them even if no one is willing to admit it. Body positive and talented ladies but they’re being judged by the old school when competing and they’re not being ‘comically fat’ so despite pulling off a flawless performance of a really good song they’ll not get more than middle points in a contest.
Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes – Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light version
An acoustic version of his song performed in his London garden. Good! Actually I prefer it to his competition entry for a previous year. Like every performance of the evening he offers good wishes to the viewers.
Then last years winner of the junior Eurovision song contest, Viki Gabor who represented Poland, was interviewed.
Then there was a performance by a past contender with children who participated in the Junior version.
Gali Atari & Junior Eurovision kids – Hallelujah – Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light version
She was the female group member of the Israel entry which won 1979’s Eurovision contest singing a song titled Hallelujah. They say people still sing it but part of me feels they’re confusing it with Leonard Cohen’s version as much as I half recall hearing their song with the same title. They send Chinese lanterns off into the sky. Someone’s crops no doubt burnt to ash overnight when those eventually came down.
Then we get interviews with contestants by make-up tutorial vlogger(?) NikkeTutorials chatting to them over face time about what they’re doing over this period. Painting. Animals. Tik Tok videos. The Netherlands royal house hopes everyone well. It all seemed a bit ‘forced friendly interaction for the sake of good PR‘ in tone despite their best efforts but it might be that her make up makes her face look very artificial to the point of distraction – and not in a good way. The uncanny valley but with an actual person.
Then from Italy a guy named Antonio with dodgy facial hair and a guitar performs a famous song titled Buona Sera. I suppose it’s meant to make us all feel more united. It was nice. I couldn’t find a clip of it surprisingly.
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Latvia – Samanta Tina – Still Breathing
A very Lady Gaga style music video. Generic dance music song though…
This definitely had some inspiration from Benny Benassi’s ‘Satisfaction’ music video but also Kylie Minogue’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind’ music video too with some costuming like Sia. The song is a Euro-dance track. It’s okay but it would have been interesting to see what they would have done live at the finale with it. It’s a style of music that is very hit and miss with me. It’s okay. It’s advert music – especially with the ‘Dove soap’ moments of body positive lingerie inter-cut with the rest of the video with thin dancers which sends a mixed message. The video is just a compilation of ‘that would look cool’ ideas with no focus.
I mean you could pretend there is one and that when she was little she was bookish, then got into rigid exercise and lost her identity, then became comfortable with her body and then ultimately became herself at the end able to eat cake but still be confident in herself… but that’s me applying an ‘artist’s BS explanation via interpretation of vague imagery association’ filter to it. Ultimately they wanted sexy women but added ‘smart’ looking school girls (in the most blatant ‘bookish nerd’ stereotype possible) and body positive women in lingerie enjoying themselves so they avoided any criticism for the dancers in leotards from vocal Feminists. I wouldn’t have noticed except for the contrasts so at least that apparently made it mildly more memorable in a year of extravagantly kitsch music videos.
Belgium – Hooverphonic – Release Me
She is the 6th vocalist to join the group apparently. Subdued band video. Very Portishead in tone. The guys are much older than her… bit of a weird vibe unintentionally.
Yeah the Portishead overtones are really strong. Specifically the music video for ‘Glory Box’ during certain parts – you’ll know when you see both. It’s the sort of music I really enjoy, what most people probably associate with trip-hop of the 90s or those ‘lo-fi hip hop for studying’ type YouTube videos. You just know this isn’t the sort of song that does well in Eurovision unfortunately. The singer reminds me of someone… the actor who played Neelix of Star Trek: Voyager? One of my favourites of the contest this year nonetheless.
United Kingdom – James Newman – My Last Breath
Chunky guy could be 20s or could be in his late 40s. Video filmed in Poland. Trudging through snow like a bear. Upbeat modern song.
The music video is well made although it’s a strange juxtaposition to have a hardened, sinewy, rural living old man contrasted with a metro-sexual, well fed and groomed, young guy. The song is very ‘British boy band pop song’ tonally. I mean a lot of the song’s impact is from the backing singers rather than James. It’s… okay? It’s the entry from my country so I should be more supportive but… it’s decent but it wouldn’t stand out and is instantly forgettable. Put that in a compilation of boy band songs and you would be hard pressed to differentiate it as ‘the one we entered into the Eurovision song contest’. The most interesting parts of it were from the voice over monologue which frame the rest of the music video… and the music video itself is ‘guy goes for a dip in his freezing cold pool before his daily routine with his dog; meanwhile, elsewhere, a young guy goes wandering through the forest. I just imagine the old guy hunted James later and made a rug out of him.
Belarus – VAL – Da Vidna
very late 80s video. Enjoyable. Three women and a guy on a guitar. Reminds me of The Corrs… but Slavic instead of Irish.
Oh she is wearing a bejeweled headpiece like the one from The Cranberries’ music video for ‘Zombie’ or Metallica’s music video for ‘Until It Sleeps’ which had a similar aesthetic to it. Aside from that they wear black suits. Again a bit of a 90s vibe going on. As for the song – it’s enjoyable but I imagine forgettable. [editing note: I actually had to relisten to this while proofreading the post as I honestly couldn’t recall what it sounded like at all unlike other songs!]
I know what you’re saying – that ‘first impression’ and the ‘music video’ one don’t sound like I was watching the same thing. Indeed… I’m not sure myself either. Did I miss a song or something? At the time of uploading this there was no evidence of the version broadcast on the BBC unless I skipped it. [editing note: I went to double check and indeed I’ve no idea what it was I saw on the BBC broadcast…]
Finland – Aksel – Looking Back
Dressed like Kim Jong Il in a navy uniform/traditional east Asian styled suit. Nice staging. Good song. Overweight with a moustache so probably wouldn’t get the votes. Fat women are acceptable in society these days but not men unless you can grow a good beard and have a big cockerel’s comb of hair too.
That suit does him no favours and I don’t think anyone really pulls off those ‘grandfather’ collar’ styles really. The staging with the projected images is really nice. The song too is something that you can easily imagine scoring really well and probably being a contender for the top 3. Unlike other entries that feel like they begin to get a bit repetitive towards the end this one doesn’t outstay it’s welcome which is a bonus few tend to consider when you’ve heard the same lyric repeatedly for minutes on end.
North Macedonia – Vasil – YOU
The song is decent. The video is blatantly ‘we are dancing as a prelude to sex’ but done in a bar makes it feel a bit seedy.
An Enrique Iglesias style song and music video featuring what appears to be a man who likes to think he has the same level of raw sex appeal but is in fact just a deluded narcissist. He looks like a bloke down the pub on a Saturday night and the lady dancing with him looks like she is on a girls night out cosplaying as a Spice Girl. The video represents what drunks think they look when they dance – when in fact they’re just flailing their limbs about while groping at each other.The song is quite good but nothing really stands out. Another ‘song from the 90s’ or early 2000s’ sounding entry. It’s okay but an ‘also ran’.
Switzerland – Gjon’s Tears – Répondez-moi
Man with a puffy sleeved shirt… novel. Song is generic sounding.
The music video and singer remind me of Robert Smith and The Cure around the time when he was going through that ‘it’s not all about the make up’ phase except if that was happening now. The framing makes this guy seem so self involved it’s hard to assess the rest of it. Some nice visuals at times but very much in the mold of ‘French new wave cinema with a dash of surrealism’. The song is mostly him singing one line then holding an ear-piercing high note [editing note: relistening to it the note is even worse – it’s probably fine in person but through a speaker it’s like a stiletto dagger to the ear]. Okay… but it’s not that appealing. What let’s it down is the awkward high notes otherwise it’s a solid sounding piece. He reminds me of a singer here called ‘Passenger’ who has a high voice and both have good songs ruined by their voices which don’t really fit the style and tone they want.
Serbia – Hurricane – Hasta La Vista
Apparently their answer to the Pussy Cat Dolls. Indeed. Very like them but in shiny material. Enjoyable enough if your wanting to dance.
Yes… very ‘Pussy Cat Dolls’ era girl group with ‘sex sells’ attitude though the song is fun and well performed so could do well on it’s own. Costuming wise there are definitely Little Mix inspired choices there. Bare chested male dancers and all the things you would expect of pop music videos of this style. The ‘pastel boxes’ bits are nice though it reminds me of the British group the ‘Sugar Babes’ when they had Heidi in it. Another ‘also ran’ ultimately. They should have gone full blown into doing references to The Terminator having worn the leather jackets because that’s what a lot of people immediately thought of upon hearing the song title no doubt.
Serbia – Marija Šerifović – Molitva – Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light version
Graham Norton referred to her as ‘Marta 2.0’ (pronounced as ‘Marta two point oh’). A Serbian singer performing in the empty streets of Serbia. She was Serbia’s 2007 entry nwon it that year. It’s a very good song… if it was competing this would have likely been my favourite. I think it was my favourite that year too. Admittedly the fact we can hear more than 30 seconds, during the BBC broadcast, elevates it but you can just hear the quality difference. In the video we also see medical staff and others doing their work. People in future will know exactly when certain songs came out as they are featured in so many right now.
Then the Rotterdam Philharmonic (though Graham Norton, for some reason, introduced them as the London philharmonic) performed ‘love shine a light’ as venues around Europe (and elsewhere) lit up. All very ‘spiritually uplifting and that…
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Spain – Blas Cantó – Universo
Lot of modern filming techniques in modern aesthetic locations. Songs very good. Probably would have won overall. Has that energy.
It reminds me of the music videos for the group called ‘Hurts’ here in Britain about half a decade ago. People covered in glitter dancing in the sterile interior and then him climbing through a desert terrain to find people with chicken wire over their faces in white robes. Interesting imagery but what does it mean if anything?The song is enjoyable. Maybe it is the sort to grow on you but then he does that ear piercing high note which puts me off. It probably would have done okay. It’s a nice touch at the end of the video there are credits for the people involved as music video production tend to go uncredited.
Albania – Arilena Ara – Fall From The Sky
everything white in a white room. Most of the clip was her susptaining anote. Probably quite good.
The music video reminds me of that YouTube art piece/musician Poppy. ‘Hi, I’m Poppy.’ ‘Hi, I’m Poppy.’ ‘Hi, I’m Poppy.’ The ‘ultra modern/ultra art house art design makes it both interesting and yet essentially barren. The birdcage bit could honestly be from the 80s. The song is very nice. I would, in future, half recall it and that it was featured in the Eurovision contest probably. It’s just distinct enough. It would probably get a decent score. There is also a lyric video version but it’s essentially a static image with the lyrics along the bottom of the screen.
Ireland – Lesley Roy – Story of My Life
Very pop song of the moment. 90s baggy suit with mesh top style costuming. It reminds me of Billie Piper’s debut single’s music video. Retro-chic style music video. Song good video …. eh… okay.
Avril Lavigne. That’s whose music it reminds me of. Or someone like that. The video again has a lot of pastels with retro designs so fits the current British trend of design and style.It’s a really fun, infectious, song. I imagine it would do very well as it’s the sort that usually does well in Eurovision with a strong easy to sing chorus. Lesley has that sort of look where she could be in her twenties or well into her forties.
Slovenia – Ana Soklič – Voda
Filmed on a beach. Another power ballad sort with loud instrumentation then quiet vocals moment. Enjoyable.
Another case where the video shown and the one available on YouTube as the official video are different. Deep voiced lady singing a song from the 90s again. There are a lot which remind me of songs from the 1990s during this contest. Maybe the 90s are trendy now but I can’t imagine that being the case for people in former Soviet block countries considering the issues that caused unless everyone has rose tinted memories of the time now? Anyway… a plain white dress with attached cape makes her look like a character from a high fantasy film like Lord of the Rings. (Galadriel specifically). The song is slow and makes no impact to be honest. When it’s in direct comparison to others featured it’s a definite low scorer unfortunately. She has a good voice though.
Austria – Vincent Bueno – Alive
Crowd pleaser, Justin Timberlake like, song. Leather jacket in an abandoned building video… very good. Would have done well.
It’s a nice video and light song. Very enjoyable. An infectious club song making you want to get up and dance. It would do well. This is another video of people with masks… was that a trend this year or is it a political statement by a number of countries? Because it’s full face masks not ‘cover your mouth’ surgical style masks which obviously would be in reference to COVID-19.
Bulgaria – Victoria – Tears Getting Sober
Sort of gothy/Billy Eilish vibe to the video. Song a melody sort. Very good.
A nice gentle song. You can imagine this being on the radio, adverts, television series. It’s one of those songs that just feels universal. The video might not be the best fit but then it gives the vibe of ‘reflecting in the evening sat in the park’ so that’s the obvious allusion. Then you get the flashes of lightning and the fire flies. I would be surprised if it didn’t do well… but then other years I have really liked some songs and they’ve not done as well as expected. Woof! This is my favourite of the competition overall! Both modern and yet timeless!
San Marino – Senhit – Freaky!
Retro chic disco/dance pop number. Fun. Lots of different styles thrown at you in quick succession.
A dance music track from about 20 years ago. Epilepsy warnings were not given before it was shown or the BBC chose the 30 seconds when it didn’t need the warning. There are a lot of interesting visuals in the video but it’s so much you’ve no time to appreciate any one thing. To induce the sense of it being ‘freaky’ I guess but there is nothing bizarre… just distinctly variable. The song is fun and will get a lot of play on the radio and in clubs (you know… when the quarantines are lifted…) so while it wouldn’t get massive points in this contest it’s definitely one that will serve Senhit well career wise.
Iceland – Daði og Gagnamagnið – Think About Things
Video is very ‘Okay Go!’ from about a decade ago. Fun song. Would have done very well if not won. Lots of fun. The guy is 6 foot 9!!!
This honestly screams ‘this years winner’ when compared to everything else which is either stuff we’ve seen before or doesn’t have ‘the spirit of Eurovision’ which seems some mysterious level of ‘cheesy yet technically competent’ which marks certain performances out. The only reason it wouldn’t win is their staging would be less extravagant than some others on the night. An infectious beat. Easy lyrics to sing along to. Quirky presentation. Admittedly I’ve not posted Eurovision’s official video as that’s just a stage performance and the music video on the groups page is much more fun and is the one shown by the BBC. The only costume difference is they have boiler suits for the stage version with just the musicians though still retaining the pixel art portraits of their faces on their chests.
Michael Schulte & Ilse DeLange – Ein Bisschen Frieden – Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light version
He was Germany’s entry in 2018 and is doing this year’s commentary apparently. Ilse is from ‘The Common Linnets’ who were the Netherlands 2014 entry. They perform a song from 1983 (actually it was the winner from 1982… so Graham Norton was wrong again?) by the German Entry Nicole. The song is called Ein Bißchen Frieden (A Little Bit of Peace).
It’s very Country and Western and yet ‘British pop’ of the era too. Good. I like the venue especially.
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Greece – Stefania – SUPERG!RL
Girl imagines she can levitate. Very dance focused song but good energy would do well.
It reminds me of a song from last year due to the use of horns (albeit they’re electronic here). Her voice sounds like it is modulated electronically in the music video. The video is very good but… the song feels generic despite it’s good energy. I can’t help but feel this really wants to put itself forward to be the song used for YA novels adapted into Television series or films. It’s okay but I think the music video adds a lot to it while the song itself is good but it’s the sort soon forgotten. Like Holly Valance’s songs from years ago. It reminds me of that sort of energy.
Czech Republic – Benny Cristo – Kemama
90s style R&B music video – people in low lit areas… very 90s R&B video. The song is a light dance song. Okay, but nothing special.
The camera spins around. It reminds me of the Japanese action film ‘Azumi’ where they did that for the final showdown and I felt a bit ill… nothing to do with the camera work but I do recall it because of that. It’s a club song. Not my kind of song but it’s okay. It’s not a style I listen to much so can only say it’s a nice change to the usual stuff we have in the competition. The spinning was trying to do something with what was a relatively bland video when you could tell what was on screen.
Also wasn’t the Czech government trying to get people to call the country ‘Czechia’ nowadays instead of Czech Republic?
Poland – Alicja – Empires
Very fire filled video. Another power ballad sort. Seen it before. Poland used to have unique stuff but they’ve gone tame again…
The song would make a good theme song for a drama series or such. The video is okay. The is a lot of fire imagery. You would half think this is a political song and Poland was actively involved in a conflict. Either that or this is the theme song to a James Bond film. It’s quite good but this is the sort of song you expect to be in the Eurovision song contest. Another Galadriel dress. Alicja apparently has only one facial expression too.
Moldova – Natalia Gordienko – Prison
Lots of heavy bass. Music video in the desert again. Very good but wouldn’t win. Appearance in the video is model. In video to audience is girl next door… interesting
‘Look I’m a bad girl’ sort of imagery and ‘I’m an attractive woman who knows it and uses her sexuality to empower myself’ type music video with lots of close ups of herself and male models obsessed with her. It’s a good song (initially) but the video doesn’t serve it well. More walking through a desert like landscapes like other competitors. Then some blurry close ups. It would get some decent marks but end up somewhere in the middle. It gets repetitive quickly though thus becomes bland after a minute or so. The music video even more so. I half expect it to turn out to be an advert for a perfume.
Cyprus – Sandro – Running
Dance club anthem song. Basic video with some lights under a sheet suspended overhead.
Another music video where they have them dancing under a suspended sheet of fabric. Is that the visual theme this year? ‘If there’s a fabric ceiling then it’s a dance track’. Good rhythm and beat for dancing to but the lyrics are incredibly basic.A very meh song to be honest overall. You’ll enjoy dancing to the rhythm but it’s remix fodder at best. Costume wise its ‘t shirt and jeans’ so… yeah nothing to comment on there. Also that’s some weak moustache game you got going on there bro – have some self respect and shave that bum fluff off or grow it out properly because you won’t be able to grow a John Waters no matter how much you might want to.
Romania – Roxen – Alcohol You
Floating letters music video in neon blue night time. Very reflective soulful song.
Drifting letters in the air. An interesting music video. Good lyrics though the ‘alcohol/I’ll call’ pun is a bit of a stretch to be polite though it’s a nice try and better than the all too on the nose lyrics others have. On the whole yeah this is really good. Not sure about the face jewels. Kind of ends too suddenly. It would probably be in the top three or five at least.
Croatia – Damir Kedžo – Divlji Vjetre
Standard modern entry. Backing singers etc. Not much to add.
Clothing wise he just came from his waiter job in a nearby restaurant. The song is generic. Honestly sounds like if you averaged out all of this style of song this would be at the exact centre of the curve. There are a lot of backing singers, off to one side, to the point you wonder why they didn’t put them directly behind him for more symmetrical staging. It’s a nice effort but was never going to stand out. And it’s in his native language rather than English which, as with previous years, nets them extra points in my book. It’s just that it’s so pedestrian an entry unfortunately even in these tamer, culturally homogenised, times.
Germany – Ben Dolic – Violent Thing
Puffed up jacket. Slav gopnik ‘#1 with the hair clippers except for a fringe at the front’ hairstyle. High pitched singer trying to be cool. Ehhh…. it’s okay but bland really.
The video is a nicely cinematic effort. Clearly money was thrown at it. He facially reminds me of the little boy from ‘This Is England’ grown up. He’s got a high voice. It reminds me of the singer ‘Passenger’. I don’t like this modern castrato singing style he and others have used this year. It hurts my ears needlessly for to show off their range but not actually achieve anything with it in the song. The video is generic ‘in the club’ stuff. It’s the sort of song that would do well but not one I can appreciate. Aside from that the lyrics and instrumental are very good. If someone else had done this I would probably like it better.
From Israel we get an interview with Netta who has Bayonetta hair… Joking about what she has done in quarantine. Showing her opening last year’s ceremony. She wishes everyone well then presents a video of a song she has done.
Netta – Cuckoo – Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light version
Much more toned down compared to her winning one. An excellent song. The sort you enjoy hearing repeatedly by a singer but it never really gets the notoriety of their louder bombastic songs. Ironically she wouldn’t have won Eurovision with this but it’s a much better song in my opinion as it doesn’t rely on gimmicks and has a much more impassioned emotional resonance. Very fitting for these times where people are distanced and having to face who they are when their socialising options are much more limited even with social media. As per usual it’s the songs not mean to be competing which seem to have the more impactful performances.
Then online stuff featuring someone watching the show with her dog. Then a montage of people singing song fragments. Who would the singers give their 12 points to?Performers admit they would give it to their neighbouring countries and such though some give to performers from elsewhere too. That’s sad to hear that even after the measures taken to deter block voting there is still that sentiment. Favoritism over meritocracy. Such is the way of the world sadly.
Duncan Laurence – Someone Else – Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light version
Last year’s winner performing his song. Good stuff. Without question you can tell this is a well written and performed song. (cue someone looking at my comments from last year and noting what I said… no, actually no one will… no one will because no one reads these Eurovision posts but it’s nice to remind me of which I liked and which had no impact so Eurovision doesn’t, years later, say one song was good but actually wasn’t). Saying that he does look like he just came from his fast food restaurant job due to the shirt he is wearing. I guess that’s the fashion right now – to look like your wearing a retail/service industry uniform… then again military jackets and such are still a popular clothing choice so maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising but it says something about European culture that that’s where fashion has drifted. Maybe it’s meant to be like a male nurses shirt – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen ones that look like that.
Then finally a look in performers’ homes while they make reassuring comments about sticking together and such. Some seem more in context of the competition, some more regarding the virus… some just seem generic or self referential…
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Malta – Destiny – All Of My Love
Energetic anthem – kids dancing in the rain. Would have done very well! Corto Maltese would be proud.
Another music video with some random inspirational narration at the start of it. I can see that be next year’s trend then. Really good song which would get a good reception outside of the contest. More ‘people looking off into the distance as if aspirational’ stuff in the video but the free running along an abandoned building and the lake/river/seaside is a nice change to the ‘in the desert’ ones.
Estonia – Uku Suviste – What Love Is
Boy band member striking out on his own. Open shirt in an empty theatre filled with candles. It’s okay but… it would have got girl votes rather than song votes.
In an abandoned building – which in hindsight is a trend this year for some. Slow start. Then BOOM it’s Hogwarts with all the candles! His style is very 90s boy band. You half expect the other members to turn up. Yes I stand by my first impression ‘wow being by myself is great… but so is love’… very ‘boy band member releasing his debut single independently’.
Australia – Montaigne – Don’t Break Me
Modern Art house music video – song is good ‘dance music remix’ fodder. It would get lauded there but here… ehhhh….
Sings very fast initially. Her costume is very out of keeping with the song. I like the dance routine parts involving her with the dancers acting as puppeteers (like Kuroko from Japanese Noh theatre) but… it’s also a bit try hard. That’s weird to say for a Eurovision entry but it really seems overworked and thus a bit mechanical and soulless. I want to like it but… I’m not clear what her costuming is meant to express save that the person she is singing to considers her a clown… but she isn’t. She reminds me of Taika Waititi in a way… who, of course, is from New Zealand so, unintentionally, I’m insulting her a bit…
Ukraine – Go_A – Solovey
Yes! That’s Ukrainian energy! They always deliver! And fantastic costume and stage design for the performance. Reminds me of HARD KISS in a good way. Would have been my personal winner.
Okay well either this or Belgium were the best song of the evening as far as I’m concerned personally. Belgium for the mainstream this for the ‘representing our nation’ option. It reminds me of ONUKA to be honest but less experimental in their use of techno/synthesizers compared to them while retaining some of the more traditional instrumental aspects.
Ukraine likes to put up very modern entries recently but it’s possible, after the issues when they had a very politically charged entry which courted some controversy, they’ve chosen the more noble path of showing how cutting edge modern and European they are as a nation in contrast to Russia who still wish to retain a certain level of distance and traditionalism to remain distinct from Europe. So there is still the friction there but it’s not overwhelming each countries entries as it did in previous years with the boycotting issues and such.
The costumes are very interesting. Woof! The firework from the guitar seemed a bit pointless. Their singing reminds me of ‘Tulia’ who represented Poland last year in terms of their harmony. So this is your answer to the question you never asked: ‘what would an ONUKA and Tulia collaboration sound like?’ Maybe I just have weird tastes in music. I would prefer something experimental over something bland though. Better to make an impression, good or bad, than none at all when it comes to the arts.
Denmark – Ben & Tan – Yes
Guy with a guitar. Lady accompanies him…. feels a bit wielded together. No chemistry.
A ‘couple’ where the woman sings while the man plays a guitar and sings in support. It’s a romantic cliche but it’s worked in the past. Both dressed fashionable though I don’t get the ‘half jacket’ dress trend for women in the past year or so. High fashion I guess. It’s not for someone like me to understand. It’s a nice song with good ‘sing-a-long’ potential. It’s a Eurovision classicstyle wise but probably wouldn’t win unless there was some lucky scores. Probably it’ll be the one cited from this year in future when looking back if it’s for entries that had ‘the Eurovision spirit’ if they want to overlook the global events of this year.
Italy – Diodato – Fai Rumore
Empty amphitheatre venue. Leather jacket. Good song. Apparently gone platinum in Italy already.
So there are both the above ‘Arena di Verona’ video and the ‘Official Music Video’ versions. I like the arena one. It really draws into focus his performance. It’s an impactful soulful song and will be looked back as showing the spirit of this year where we are separated and yet looking forward to reunion. It will no doubt be used in future to represent this year more so that the Denmark entry despite it having ‘the Eurovision spirit’ of other years. Probably with some sentiment that ‘we’ve never been further apart yet closer together’.
Here’s the official music video with the English subtitles in the video itself. Italy always makes a really hard effort to win but rarely seems too. It is no doubt incredibly frustrating. It’s a subdued yet artistic video. I can see people enjoying this long after the contest is over. The lyrics really hit home due to current events so no wonder they wanted to perform it in the Arena di Verona’. Another contender for song of the year though not my personal choice because of my odd tastes.
Armenia – Athena Monoukian – Chains On You
Modern flashing artistic video. Very audio stabilised voice music video with Rihanna’s style from a few years ago. Good but wouldn’t win.
Yeah, this needed an epilepsy warning! A lot of ‘sexy yet stylish’ imagery. Woof. The song is good until it gets to the chorus part then it gets a bit flimsy. The ‘red’ parts of the music video and the backing dancers in the ‘white’ parts are the best aesthetics of the video. The song ultimately is an ‘also ran’ but might get some votes from people into Rihanna and her style of music as this really reminds me of Rihanna’s work from about a decade or so ago.
Netherlands – Jeangu Macrooy – Grow
Gospel R&B – people sat in a circle to make it confessional. Very good! Stands out amongst the others.
Excellent song. Really nice video. It would deserve high scores and could have potentially won depending on the running order and if other acts didn’t perform well on the night. A nice gentle song. It’s the sort of song you hear now and years down the line completely get taken by surprise realising this is where you first heard him because you’ve been into him for such a long time. It builds to such a great positive high by the end but hopefully had he performed it live he wouldn’t end it as suddenly as the video does.
FINALE OF THE EVENING
A message from Björn of ABBA. A retrospective because they were so successful. Talks of his grandson telling him people in school told him his grandfather was a pop star and him being incredulous about it. Then Björn praises the contest as being ‘so very European and letting people forget about Coronavirus for a moment‘. He ends by joking that he is glad they chose ‘shine a light’ and not ‘Waterloo’ for this years slogan.
Then Graham Norton. He joked earlier about the delay in the interviews and indeed it was something the host mentioned so they obviously heard him earlier but its only a split second. It actually came across as if the hosts were being a bit bitter about it – so even this year the hosts are a bit self-important… Maybe he rubbed Eurovision up the wrong way with the comment like Terry Wogan used to do (if so then that’s great as his acerbic commentary was always a massive part of the experience other nations sadly didn’t get to appreciate). Then some chat. Where was he when ‘love shine a light’ won Eurovision for Britain. ‘Face down on the floor drunk probably’ he jokes.
Then he returns to commenting and says it was awkward yet ‘strangely emotional’. Ha ha.
Love Shine A Light performed by the artists of Eurovision 2020 – Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light
Then we get all the competitors for this year singing parts of ‘Love Shine A Light’ as there will be no winner this year. Obviously all sang it at the same time they did their recorded song introduction parts regarding their songs as they’re in the exact same place as those clips. A nice way to round out the show with Katrina (and her poodle) doing the final part of the song.
The odd thing is they could have had the competition anyway but with the caveat it’s based on the music videos or done via broadcast… but I guess they insisted it must be only judged based on a live performance on the night to ensure no foulplay. Still that feels a bit needless as it means everyone either returns next year or loses their chance to have participated. Some had tried multiple times to participate only to get through this year and for the pandemic to occur. Graham Norton joked maybe it was the universe trying to tell them something… Nonetheless everyone will return next year to Rotterdam if they can.
Apologies to those who expected this to be published within 24 hours of the event but it took longer than expected. Hopefully you enjoyed it. If you feel like leaving a comment, a like or following the site you’re more than welcome to.
Red Joan is a 2018 British spy drama film, directed by Trevor Nunn, from a screenplay by Lindsay Shapero. The film stars Sophie Cookson, Stephen Campbell Moore, Tom Hughes, Ben Miles, Nina Sosanya, Tereza Srbova and Judi Dench.
Red Joan is based on a novel of the same name written by Jennie Rooney, inspired by the life of Melita Norwood. Norwood worked at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association as a secretary and supplied the Soviet Union with nuclear secrets. The materials that Norwood betrayed to the USSR hastened the pace at which the Soviets developed nuclear bomb technology.
Cookson performs the young version of Joan Stanley studying physics at Cambridge. She became involved with Communists and radical politics through her friend Sonya (Tereza Srbova) and Leo (Tom Hughes), a German Jew. Her story, which reaches as far back as 1938, is recalled in flashbacks as Joan in old age, performed by Dench, is questioned by the Special Branch. The questioning reveals that Joan was not actively supporting communism, but was more concerned about “levelling the playing field” to maintain peace in the postwar world.
Most of the film takes place during the Second World War in the offices and research facilities of the atomic researchers. There are scenes in cafes and private rooms alongside a few different interiors but ultimately it plays out like a chamber drama dealing with Joan‘s affair with Max, Leo‘s temptation, chatting with Sonya and only really picks up the pace once Joan is aware of what happened at Hiroshima which leads her to begin committing espionage. This occurs in the third act more or less meaning most of the film is bland melodrama and reiterating how sexist the era was time and time again to labour the point.
These sections are framed by current day events where Joan is taken by Special Branch on behalf of MI5 for questioning. She is put under house arrest with an ankle bracelet and eventually ends up making a press statement, in her front garden. She declares she isn’t a traitor but wanted everyone on equal footing. She wanted everyone to share the same knowledge as it was the only way to avert the horror of another world war. She concludes that she believes if they look back in history they’ll see she was right. A female journalist shouts she should be ashamed to which Nick declares she has no reason to be ashamed and that he would be acting as her legal representative.
The film was inspired by the story of Melita Norwood who, in her 80s, was unmasked as a KGB spy. She was accused of providing British atom bomb research to the Soviet Union in the mid 1940s. She admitted her guilt at a press conference held in her suburban garden. Sue to her age the British Government decided not to prosecute. Known as the ‘Granny Spy’ she died at the age of 93.
The film closes with this text on screen.
Character Based Review
Immediately you see, with even a little knowledge of the real life story it’s based on, how they’ve ‘upgraded’ the central character from a secretarial role into a more proactive scientific contributor when we are informed early on she was selected for her intellect (though her beauty is also noted). As a first class Cambridge science graduate she gets recruited (later insinuated to be via Leo‘s influence) into the secretive research towards atomic energy by the British Government even offhandedly mentioning something the male scientists overlooked thus earning the respect, and adoration, of Max the research lead. She has to keep this all relatively secret but due to connections from her student days, when she spent time with Communist sympathisers, she begins to be influenced into leaking information.
To be honest this in reality might, in the best case scenario, have barred her from even being considered for selection to work on such sensitive information from the very start so there are a lot of conveniences for this heightened fictionalised account to even take place already. More than likely she would be detained indefinitely (however in the film she blackmails a college friend, William, for some tickets to Australia to wait until the heat is off it seems to be implied before returning to Britain in her old age). In the worse case scenario she wouldn’t even be given a trial of any sort and be killed on sight once she commits her betrayal.
She says she doesn’t want the research used as a weapon and remains faithful to her country (yet induced unfaithfulness in the professor who has fallen in love with her and who she sleeps with until later he declares he is getting a divorce to be with her). This goes as far as working with Canadian/American scientists at one point until Hiroshima occurs. This is not so much a shock as an inevitability considering what the research, even on, is being discusses as capable of. She never had the option to stop this and yet then takes questionable actions by arming a foreign power – and it would be hard to argue her leaking of the self same research that enabled the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the latter not acknowledged bizarrely) by arming a foreign nation to induce a nuclear stand off.
There is a lot of talk of ‘you don’t understand how it was back then‘ in scenes with her son and yet we, an audience generations removed and knowing the consequences of such spy work, know of the Cold War paranoia induced by the arms race which is arguably still evident today with Trident and other deterrents. The film asks us not to judge her by that same argumentative logic with which she tries to silence her son – namely that, as much as he couldn’t understand war time mentalities, she couldn’t be assured that the research she leaked would lead to a stalemate, as she hoped, and not immediate utilisation of nuclear arms on non-Soviet territories.
In fact we don’t know how the war affected her personally besides what she tells her son. We only ever see or hear of her experiences in university and the research facilities. Even her time in Australia is at best paid lip service. Did she have relatives who went to fight in World War II? Relatives who were caught in the bombings? It’s as if she was an orphan with no connection to others besides her university friends. I only realised that afterwards and it strikes me as bizarre. Is the film, amongst it’s myriad of options to be interpreted, also suggesting everything we saw was a streamlined fabrication in the manner of Keyser Söze in ‘The Usual Suspects’? Honestly I’m over-reading into this film because it is so unfocused if you look at it on anything but the surface level.
Anti-war sentiments, though occurring before and after the second world war, felt like a very modern in their sensibility and portrayal here. The film tries, unsuccessfully, to stress in it’s ending that her actions were vindicated by history yet it ignores the Cold War era apparently. Often in the framing device, set in modern times, she reiterates her view that, regarding Stalin, they didn’t know about his actions at the time and stresses the relativism of other such values. The film wants her both to be seen as a victim of sexism in the era and yet striking out at that self same society in an act of morally questionable autonomy. She didn’t want atomic research to be used as a weapon so, having seen it’s utilisation as such, she opts to provide research to the Soviet Union which clearly must be understood by her as potentially arming them with weapons too.
Ultimately she was naïve and so for all the film reiterating her intelligence she proved to have little autonomy in her life. What little actions that were her own proved to enforce the archaic attitudes of the men that she was not to be trusted with ‘serious business’. It’s oddly sexist without irony how they portray her. It doesn’t truly comment on the era’s sexism so much as pay lip service to it then double down on it’s own belittling of her.
The bombing of Hiroshima single-handedly acts as the tipping point when she begins to leak information to Soviet spies. Initially via Leo, who often appears professing his love for her, and Sonya who has a child and acts as a friend of sorts.
The film tries to balance you sympathising with her struggling for respect in a man’s world, for example when a Canadian scientist keeps on about how she is going to be impressed by a tumble dryer they have, but also shows the slow progression of her sympathies towards aiding foreign powers. Therefore willingly choosing to be blind to the greater picture of world events playing out in the background (which are barely acknowledged in the film to the point you see no sign of home front efforts towards the cause even) thus endorsing those sexist values that she can’t be trusted.
There is a foreign scientist working with the Canadian scientists who is later revealed as a spy and she emulates this exact behaviour but the film seems to believe you will sympathise on no greater basis than that she is British and a woman, who we see old and frail in the framing device, when being coldly interviewed by MI5 representatives. Kierl, the scientist spy, and all foreigners are on some level to be dismissed, as they do him initially, or mildly suspicious. It’s a film very rooted in an archaic attitude and it doesn’t seem all that intentional as much as part and parcel or British dramas of a certain type for some reason when concerning middle class academics and such.
The film seems unable to settle on a single perspective of how to portray her. Is she sympathetic as a woman seeking validation for her scientific abilities in a patriarchal society? Is she a fool manipulated by others? Is she a traitor – both as a British citizen during war times but also in her personal life where she hid her actions from her family? Yet when we see her interact with other women she is often looking down on them in some way herself echoing the attitudes of the men she worked with.
Despicable for betraying her country? But, besides some dramatic shouting and frustration by her son, we don’t know how her leaks truly had consequences besides Leo‘s death and Sonya running away. Are we expected to sympathise with her when she finds Leo‘s corpse though she rejected him repeatedly and knew the consequences of what she was doing? To sympathise with her loss of her friend when she uses her discovery in Sonya‘s wardrobe to blackmail William? What of her being told the Russian research had somewhat of an unexpected boost? For which it is the professor, Max, not she who is imprisoned – and to which the film asks we sympathise with her anguish seeing him imprisoned apparently. There seems no true consequence to herself until her son refuses to represent her legally – something he later doubles back on for a somewhat forced positive ending. We even see her put the curare pin to her arm but then she is fine later. It’s as if she goes through the motions of regret but without the follow-through nor consequences of it.
Is she a martyr regarding her anti-war sentiments towards the use of nuclear weapons which would shared by later generations? Arguably yes and yet of course, because of such a ‘levelling the playing field‘ attitude to research, this all led directly into the ‘atomic age’ Cold War stand off between nations and all that involves which remains to this day with national defence budgets. The sort which often dwarfs all other spending in government budgets based on the paranoia that someone else might push the button. The sort for which retaliation would be initiated and thus mutually assured destruction the outcome wiping entire continents if not all mankind off the face of the Earth.
So instead of an open war there was, as a consequence of her actions, the suspicion of neighbours, the Red Scare of America and a long list of liberties people across the world lost. Perhaps, on some level, that was the film’s message that despite her best intentions nothing really changed. Everything is eventual and she merely sped up the Soviet Union’s nuclear research. But that would be a very favourable interpretation of her actions to the point of blindly deeming her moral on the basis of the simple logic that a protagonist is intrinsically moral. That’s the sort of naïve logic seen in propaganda.
You could, on some level, argue that due to the nuclear research race she was, by a long sting of sequential events, also partially responsible for Chenobyl. Okay that’s, of course, a stretch but it hopefully indicates how naïve her attitude was in assuming all people think like she does as if governments, let alone individuals, don’t have differing ideologies and priorities just as certain choices led to the meltdown of the reactor and there still being an exclusion zone around the site to this day. The film wants us to act like there were no negative consequences to her actions and MI5 and Special Branch are just angry she leaked information not that her actions led to empowering a foreign power which had ill intentions towards our allies if not also ourselves.
She holds true to the view expressed by Marcus Tullius Cicero that “an unjust peace is better than a just war.” The film enforces this by ignoring later events prior to the interview with Special Branch, save for her discussion with her son of having lived in Australia, as if the height of the Cold War never occurred and thus painting her as somewhat a tragic heroine undeservedly to those who may be unfamiliar with the terrors of the era where people suspected their neighbours of being spies, lists were written (most famously Orwell’s) blacklisting people so they would never be allowed positions of influence or access to sensitive information and so on. All we are presented with is her good intentions and not the consequences of them.
Often, despite the film’s best effort she is a somewhat wretched figure who shows no true autonomy unless it relies on the stereotypically portrayed wiles of women such as hiding secret in a box of women’s sanitary towels knowing a young male inspector will blush out of embarrassment and let her go with it? For the most part she shifts between Leo, the professor Max she is having an affair with (who is later her husband admittedly) and the later Sir William who she blackmails for being a homosexual with photographic evidence so she can escape to Australia from her predicament in Britain at the time.
Ultimately it can be safely said this script could have been written anytime after Hiroshima as a propaganda piece and, depending on what the governing bodies wanted the message to be, to either show her as a traitor, the western perspective, or as a noble spirited comrade thinking of the world as a whole which would be the the Soviet version. Albeit, of course in the Soviet/International Communist version, glossing over the true intentions and values of the Soviet governments of those nations at the time through the rhetoric of ‘worldwide comradeship’ as is seen in much of their propaganda and in the film repeatedly echoed by Leo calling her his ‘little comrade’). People suffered for what she did and she sees only her own sense of right in the matter. Any consequences between the end of the war and her being interviewed by MI5 are never mentioned so we, I presume, can apply real world events. Certainly the film never addresses that aspect even casually.
She is initially faithful to Britain but after Hiroshima’s tragedy she began to leak information to Russian spies. In a truly fictional drama (even let us say and alternative history one where it’s all but our world with a few key differences e.g. The Man In The High Castle), where we don’t know the later events in the world of the film, this can be framed as a noble action – a truly humanitarian action even – but we live in the world where these things played out in reality time and time again due to international espionage so there were consequences unlike in the film. Espionage was very much at the forefront of popular culture (e.g. the novels of John le Carré, Ian Fleming’s James Bond, The Ipcress File, The Avengers, The Saint, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. And many, many, more – some grounded, some fantastical but all concerning espionage). People died for less important information than the atomic research she gave and the film cannot, despite it’s best efforts and even having an actor of Judi Dench’s ability, make us ignore this fact.
At one turn the film presents her as intelligent but at another profoundly self involved, contrary and irrational in her decisions. She was ultimately what is termed a useful idiot for the purpose of Soviet scientific, and therefore military, knowledge.
The film tries to pose her as often striving against patriarchal norms but she folds to it repeatedly despite a few momentary gestures of refusing to abide by it. She has values but seems to only act out of spite by leaking the information with no idea of the real consequences of her action. She closes with the statement she was ‘levelling the playing field‘ but that isn’t even naivety but outright, wilful, blind stupidity with no forethought of what such information enables foreign powers to do. To put it bluntly this film ultimately endorses her encapsulating the misogynistic values of men of that era. It’s shocking but watching it it’s undeniable this film holds the values of the early twentieth century not of a contemporary production. The script isn’t sure if it wants you to sympathise, destain her or to have conflicted feelings towards her and so falls back on propaganda like simplification but without the through-line of following through with the sentiment it has woven that she is truly at fault and not someone to even have pity for despite it’s desperate efforts to attempt such a tone by the end.
Both Sophie Cookson, as the young Joan, and Judi Dench, as the older Joan, do their best but the role seems so convoluted scene from scene it’s hard to really gauge how it should have been performed.
Dench arguably has the easier part as her part plays out over a few days rather than years but it then places so much weight on her to carry the production to set the context of how we view the rest of it. Do we view the rest of the film as Joan‘s biased (and somewhat falsified) account of events? Was she truly naïve? Too many questions are left for Dench to imply answers to in her performance without the aid of a better script and editing.
To further my view this film is propaganda in structure we only need see how flat the other characters are written.
Leo, for the most part portrayed as a male femme fatale clearly linked to Communists going as far as to lovingly call Joan his ‘little comrade’ seductively. The only real development he gets with when giving her a locket with a curare poisoned pin once she begins to commit espionage. Later he is is found hung in his apartment. It’s suggested it was the Russians who killed him but it could have just as easily been British Intelligence. The latter is never even humoured in passing as a possibility though it would be more logical as only the one source of information has been compromised. We find out afterwards he truly did love Joan and had a son though it’s implied he also had a similar relationship with Sonya as Joan finds a similar locket at the abandoned home of Sonya later on. Tom Hughes does his best with the one note role but ultimately it feels like a retread of his performance as Prince Albert in ITV’s Victoria.
Max, the professor of the British effort into atomic research and later Joan‘s lover seems incredibly generic in his role in the piece. She has an affair with him, later marries him (after he decides to divorce his current wife who is never seen on screen – divorce itself being somewhat scandalous in the era) and bears him their son Nick who is a grown man in the later set parts of the film. He is apparently dead by the later part of the film though it’s never explained how though presumably it was of natural causes.
The film in it’s fractured efforts wants us to both enjoy their budding relationship yet also potentially judge it possibly. He with his clumsy confession that he chose her for her mind but she has a nice face too (later confessing to her, post-coitus, it’s at that moment when he fell in love with her), and her for not rejecting him knowing he was an already married man. In fact the adultery side of it, which was a legally permissible grounds for divorce (damaging to Max as the adulterer), is severely downplayed though it would have been the reputational ruin of both at the time. (which in part might have played a role in escaping to Australia too in hindsight).
Again her later declaration ‘you wouldn’t understand how things were back then‘ comes to bite this fictionalised narrative in the rear. Adultery would be highly immoral in the era (and not exactly something we think well of even now without extenuating circumstances).
We never learn anything about Max‘s previous wife except she was a barrier to him getting together with Joan. Yet at that point in the film they want you to like Joan, going about it almost forcefully, as the next scene is her being spoken down to by a Canadian scientist saying she would be more interested in a tumble drier they have. It almost begs us to side with Joan, having shown her sympathetically, yet due to how it’s depicted it falls on deaf ears for being so on the nose.
Do they want you to look past the surface and already begin to disassociate with her or do they want to lull you into considering this act of adultery as okay (which was deemed so immoral, to the still quite archaic legal system at the time, you could cite it as good cause for an immediate divorce and the adulterers would be a social pariahs at the time let us not forget). Why? Because they end up together in the future? The repeated phrase of Joan‘s about not understanding the time period again comes into question. Divorce was something people were judged for too though that would be a case of deeming them of ‘poor moral character for not being able to maintain a stable relationship/ as a source of gossip for others/unable to control or satisfy their partner’ rather than the far more scandalous faux pas of adultery where they would have been deemed ‘wantonly immoral in their lifestyle and a risk to be associated with if you needed to be considered of good moral character’ for employment or other matters in polite society.
The film glances over those aspects as though they didn’t matter. Certainly Max‘s previous wife would have potentially been likely to spend her life unable to marry again in that era because of him. But they’re not core to the narrative so get omitted I guess though they would add to furthering an audience’s views of Joan’s morality and consideration of how her choices affect others. A missed opportunity.
As for how Max comes across… he is a generic portrayal of a stereotypical Cambridge (or Oxford) academic of the era. Have you watched other British dramas set during World War II about the intelligence services’ efforts? Then you’ve seen him many times before with a different name whether based on a real person or fictional. They are all interchangeable in how they are portrayed. There is nothing notable about him. Even the affair is played out in the staid, emotionally mute, passionless, way the English seem to enjoy such things being portrayed for that era. (Basically as shorthand consider Lady Chatterley’s Lover in how clueless the titular character seems to be of her own needs and emotions yet desperate for intimacy). I say that but they so love seeing illicit affairs portrayed in dramas which speaks something of the national character. He is just a placeholder in the narrative. Prior to the Special Branch/MI5 interview it’s implied he is dead and likely never knew the full extent of what Joan did. When her son presses her on how much he was aware of she replies bluntly yet confusingly ‘enough’.
Unfortunately it seems Stephen Campbell Moore is also doomed to repeating his performance of another role from a different production or indeed, possibly, he repeats this performance again when portraying a character in the film adaption of Downton Abbey which was made the following year. He seems typecast into a lot of these emotionally blank upper/middle class Englishman roles. He is good at it but it must be soul crushing to be so typecast even if it does pay the bills and ensure a steady flow of incoming work offers.
Sonya is a well off university friend, of foreign origins (Russian emigre in origin I think but I’ve honestly forgotten), who later has a child and meets with Joan outside of her work at the research offices. She clearly holds sympathies for the east but it’s never clear if that does as far as betraying British values. Later in the film, when Joan visits, Sonya has already hurriedly cleared her room of both her own and her child’s possessions to evade capture by the authorities. In a wardrobe Joan finds items of Leo‘s including a photo of a boy and handwritten notes with a photo of William kissing another man. At the end it’s revealed she returned to Moscow with her child by way of Switzerland where she had contact with Leo‘s son. Another woman caught in the world of espionage but apparently one who, implied off-screen, more fits with how we imagine women of the era being involved in espionage as depicting in other media i.e. somewhat of a socialite using connections and unguarded chatter to gain information.
For the most part she serves as the only other prominent female character in the narrative. The only two other women to appear are a Special Branch/MI5 interviewer in the modern sections, who is just a functionary thus has no characterisation beyond being a stoic interviewer and a secretary/tea lady in the war time parts who, unaware of her real intentions, gives Joan a box of sanitary towels where Joan hides the information she is leaking as an investigation begins in the offices where she is working.
Tereza Srbova, a Czech actress, does her best but this role is relatively one note on paper and doesn’t really give her much space to imbue it with anything short of coming across as clearly a questionable figure in her allegiances. Nonetheless she is one of the better performers and comes across as appropriately charming yet suspicious. I have no doubt she is someone worth checking out in other roles.
To briefly digress regarding the secretary/tea lady is the only person with a British regional accent in the film and how she is interacted with implies she is somewhat stupid and looked down upon by Joan. That’s an issue with these sort of British films – everyone is middle class and that carries a worrying level of class bias with it where if you are not an RP speaking English person you are somewhat looked down upon or ‘foreign’ in the sense of being incapable of understanding events from the unquestionably virtuous and intrinsically fascinating actions of the middle classes.
The most succinct way I could describe it is Don Quixote and Sancho Panza where the middle classes can’t conceive of the working classes being capable of intelligence equal to their own. Even when doing the same things (or consuming the same media) the middle classes somehow are deemed to be appreciating it on some profound level beyond the ability for working class people to contemplate let alone achieve. To the middle classes the working class are base illogical creatures there to serve a purpose not play a role and British dramas of this sort tend to endorse that by omitting them, marginalising them or playing them up as something to be looked down upon.
Refer to my reviews of J K Rowling’s Strike adaptions for a few demeaning portrayals of working class people in contrast to their betters. As for foreigners they’re all portrayed with a certain level of contempt to varying degrees in these period dramas with the Canadians being quasi-American in their depiction here, Kierl (the spy scientist) is mocked for his manner repeatedly until he is revealed to be a spy (at which point he is mockingly praised) and we have already noted Leo and Sonya who are presented as questionable figures even before they’ve said more than a few words (though in their case it’s justified within the narrative’s context). If you’re not English, middle class or better, then your a caricature in these sort of dramas very often. ‘Stiff upper lip’ and ‘no sex we’re British’ and all that…
Nick, Joan and Max’s son, who serves as her legal representation acts as the moral adjudicator speaking on behalf of the audience. In turns angry, frustrated and despairing. He denounces her and says he will not legally represent her but apparently relents by the end – albeit off screen so we never see how nor why he changes his decision except for it being his mother. Certainly it would be a very dark mark in a legal career to have a spy as a mother and nothing would soften that stain on his reputation though it is never addressed here in aid of giving a positive ending. Joan is an old woman and therefore we should forgive her apparently despite the clear implications of her actions. They even have him shout at a reporter who shouts ‘traitor’ at her before giving an impassioned speech.
I’ve seen Ben Miles in other things and he can really pull something out of nothing with roles and he proves it again here. With a few scenes you fully appreciate the position his character is in and he brings a nuance to it which just doesn’t exist in the script. If you ever have a chance to see a recording of The Lehman Trilogy he was in then it is unquestionably amazing even if you’ve no interest in the subject because it is a powerhouse performance by Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and himself.
William Mitchell is another college friend. I honestly barely recall him during the film even when referred to by his later title Sir William. In short he is there as a narrative device to explain how Joan went to Australia with Max after his imprisonment. It seems overly convenient. Also it shows that not only are the working class near non-existent in Joan’s experience of the war but the lone upper-class person she knows is beholden to his vices of homosexuality ( illegal at the time in Britain though as a member of the upper-classes it wouldn’t make him a social pariah and at risk of attack, or even at risk of murder, but just deemed ‘eccentric’). So he also is someone the middle classes, at least through Joan’s perception, are allowed to feel superior to due to giving into his vices though she herself gave into lust by committing adultery. Later William Mitchell reveals Leo had a son and Sonya went to the boy in Switzerland before heading onto Moscow. Joan wants to go to Australia and so blackmails him with the photos she found thus leading for him to arrange for Max to be released from prison so the couple can go to Australia.
He serves as little more than a forgettable narrative device and to portray middle class people in an even more profoundly self-aggrandising light as moral arbiters of societal norms despite all that has been committed by these characters without due criticism.
Freddie Gaminara has absolutely nothing to latch onto in the role and does what he can for the brief time he is present. Part of me feels perhaps the edit was unfair to him and he might have had more of a role in the initial cut of the film as he is all but absent past the college scenes barring one offhand mention when Nick and Joan are talking in the interview room and his later blackmail scene.
Everyone else I’m sad to say play such fleeting roles in the story they barely warrant mention. They do well with what they have. That’s the best I can say. Nina Sosanya as the MI5 agent does well and is a face many may recognise f you watch a lot of British dramas. There are a lot of recognisable faces in this film.
Brief overall review of the Film:
You’ve seen British dramas set during this era of history? Here’s one more to add to the pile. Read about the real life event it was based on or go look elsewhere.
It’s all blandly filmed with a muted colour palette. The pacing is sedate until the third act when there’s the slightest suggestion of urgency when Joan has to cover herself during an inspection and a few consequences of the espionage occur. Even then it’s glacial.
This is at best a ‘Sunday evening drama’ on TV (ITV here in Britain to be exact, e.g. Poirot, if you need context). If you’ve seen those then that’s what you are getting more or less. It’s slow moving, overly ‘chocolate box’ in presentation and doesn’t help you understand the consequences of what she did nor it’s consequences outside of her immediate (very isolated) social circle. If you want a film which will illicit the response ‘there’s a war going on you know‘ from you here it is.
It actually reminds me of dramas from decades ago involving Gregori Rasputin where the court intrigues of the Romanovs all but make the First World War a minor background note to the events occurring inside the palace.
This film comes across in much the same way with events outside Joan’s immediately social circle being little more than passing bits of dialogue by other characters. Even the turning point about Hiroshima is merely some one telling her about it casually rather than her reading a newspaper, hearing a news report on the radio or some other method.
It’s hard to make a film where a woman is both the victim and manipulator of patriarchal society without coming across as a bit of an immoral person who challenges our own moral values. However it’s even more of an achievement to do that and also make the character not illicit any sort of strong reaction whatsoever. But here it is. She had an affair, she committed espionage against her country and there are no consequences whatsoever to her personally. Oh yes she reacts to Max‘s imprisonment, to Leo‘s corpse and to Sonya‘s overnight escape – but it’s others who suffer not her. She does these things and it all passes as if it was always going to be this way it seems. Everything is eventual. Perhaps in an earlier draft it was more clear how older Joan’s views affected her perception of the past and she had come to terms with how things turned out and justified them to herself as inevitable but the film as it stands merely plays out as if the character’s themselves read the script and were merely playing their role in a drama in some poorly done meta-fictional way. But again I am trying to find something that isn’t there as it is so miserably generic.
It’s a dull, near aimless, British drama. If you’ve seen others you’ve seen this. Read about the real life events instead and you’ll find more of interest. If you like real life espionage this gives you nothing. If you like British drama this is bland so worth skipping. If you want a World War Two drama… go elsewhere… I can’t stress that strongly enough as there is absolutely nothing here.
As soon as it began with the ‘based on a true story‘ text I knew this was going to be biased but I didn’t think it would be such a generically British, middle-class centric, film. The actual events of espionage feel like they play second fiddle to the melodrama of the affair, Leo’s flirting and scenes of men being sexist toward Joan.
Apparently leaking sensitive information and blackmail is acceptable behaviour to be an anti-war quasi-feminist. The Cold War apparently is something you can forget happened when making a spy seem virtuous. It’s actually quite insulting to what people actually underwent for just being accused of it let alone found guilty. Perhaps that was the point – Melita Norwood never faced consequences for her actions as the British government decided she was too old to undergo it and thus this fictional version is never truly held to account for anything she did in her life. She was a puppet in others games even when she believed she was doing what she wanted and had no accountability.
It couldn’t be more demeaning to women if it tried despite how it probably hoped people would interpret it. The moments where Clement Attlee jokes she is in charge of making the tea at a meeting about atomic fusion, a Canadian scientist insists on how a tumble drier will impress her and other moments only serve as gilding the lily of what is already at it’s heart a deeply demeaning narrative. The views of men from a past generation we can view in context but it seems the narrative itself seeks to rob her of any sense of autonomy by making her a mere pawn in the agendas of others due to her emotional response to the bombing of Hiroshima to justify her espionage activities (which barely last 15 minute of the run time it seemed despite being the marketing focus of the marketing) or by accentuating her physical frailty and moral powerlessness in old age.
Earlier I mentioned how the main character seems to reflect Marcus Tullius Cicero’s quote that “an unjust peace is better than a just war.” I wish the film had actually discussed that more by addressing the Cold War era but it didn’t and thus deflates the entire core of this film. How can we evaluate the character of Joan when over half a century of her life and events in the world as a consequence of her espionage are ignored? It’s a bizarre decision even if it was only addressed in passing to make her acknowledge what her choices led to. It’s frustrating if not infuriating.
It’s a plodding British historical drama filled with worthy English actors fussing about their middle class affairs and underplaying the historical aspects of the narrative to the point it feels like it’s in contempt of them. British historical dramas of this sort: you’ve seen one – you’ve seen them all. Embarrassingly it is true here…
”What if they took a British propaganda script, written in the early Cold War era, and made a mildly propagandist melodrama film today with no alterations to the dialogue?” – you get this more or less.
Yes, even with the older Joan parts. The ‘script’ wouldn’t be aware of the events of the Cold War and it’s universal sense of paranoia at that stage. Those scenes would be presented as her ‘some time in the future’ having been a woefully naive ‘useful idiot‘ puppet of the Soviets (except here they tried to make her somewhat sympathetic and fail).
It’s embarrassingly bland in presentation and generic in it’s narrative. There is little actual espionage despite what the marketing suggests. Go elsewhere. Whatever makes you interested in this go elsewhere. No really. On your head be it unless you are suffering insomnia and want a cure!
An anthology of five tales of terror, each originally produced for video. The titles are “A Little Fishy” (a.k.a. ”Something’s Fishy”), “Coffee Break”, “Who’s There”, “Jonah’s Dream” and “Think Twice”. There is also a framing story called “Hall of Faces” featuring Vincent Price.
Framing story – part 1: ‘Hall of Faces’
A young man, named Matt Wilson, gets a VHS in the mail delivered to him . He didn’t order it but decides to watch once home for the evening. It has Vincent Price in a hallway of mannequins embedded in the wall who introduces the selection of stories. Imagine if the candelabras from Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast were placed in a 1980s music video based on German Expressionist cinema with neon lighting. After a slow pan through the curved corridor is Vincent Price waiting for his cue to begin his monologue. That’s the first part of the framing device called ‘Hall of Faces’. We go on to watch the various stories and return to the young man’s motel like home at the end to conclude the film.
Story 1 – ‘A Little Fishy’
A fisherman goes fishing on a riverbank but ironically gets fished himself via a red apple he finds and decides to bite into on the river bank. The line pulls on the hook in his mouth and he is dragged into the water. That’s it. It’s the first story and thus a ‘mood setter’ I suppose… or a one note bad joke made into a short film.
Story 2 – ‘Coffee Break’
An obnoxious young delivery driver asks and old man for directions and promises him he will drive slow, enjoy the scenery and stop for a coffee at a diner. However he drives past it deliberately and yet finds himself in a loop until he finally stops at the diner to ask for directions.
The server is the same old man who gave him directions previously and who goes on to offer him a cup of coffee. The old man tells him he didn’t keep his promise so now he has all the time in the world to enjoy his coffee along with the other occupants of the diner.
The young driver tries to escape in his vehicle but ends up back at the diner again where the patrons laugh at him as the man comes outside to offer him coffee again. The young man ends up stuck there forever drinking coffee.
Story 3 – ‘Who’s There?’
Experimental ‘apes’ escape a lab, watch some kids play football and stalk an overweight jogger through a forest. One of them runs around wearing the guy’s tracksuit jacket which he abandons at one point. A chase ensues through the forest as the jogger is pursued by the largest of the creatures. As soon as it catches up to him it says in clear English ‘tag, you’re it’ and they all run away from the man laughing like excited children. To them it wasn’t a terrifying pursuit but part of playing a fun game of tag.
Story 4 – ‘Jonah’s Dream’
An old female gold prospector finds a piece of gold and goes into town to sell it. In town people greet her as Mrs Tucker and comment on her continuing efforts to find gold up in the mountain long after her husband passed away (just because it was his dream it is later revealed). The shop owner tells her people were worried about her but he can’t give her much for what she has brought on that day as she hasn’t paid her last bill yet. He reiterates he can’t give her anything and advises her to sell the mountain and move into town. She says it was her husband Jonah’s dream and refuses to take his advise. The shop owner says they’re there if she needs them.
She is well liked by the community and even gives one of the kids outside an Indian arrow head she found when she was prospecting before heading back to the mountain. The men outside ask the shop owner how much in value she brought in and are told $92. (Bear in mind that’s $92 in the 1980s so he probably could have given her something and kept the excess value for himself as interest). They agree she has gold fever like Jonah did.
She goes and puts flowers on Jonah’s grave. Later, in front of the fire, she reflects on what people have been saying and looks at an old cameo/portrait of Jonah remembering him panning for gold and how happy he was to find gold. The kettle whistles.
There is an explosion outside and the roof of her barn has been caved in. With her shotgun ready she inspects inside. There’s a glowing spaceship emitting noises. Eventually she removes the debris from it at which point it does a ‘Simon says’ toy sequencing of light and opens. There is lots of smoke then another bang which presumably knocks her out.
Mrs Tucker wakes up in the morning lying on the ground. The barn is flattened and there is no sign on the space ship now. On the ground are a number of dull rocks which are apparently gold. She calls out to Jonah that they had been sitting on the gold all that time because they had built their barn and house on top of it.
Story 5 – ‘Think Twice’
A man runs through some city streets. The sort which only existed in 1980s cinema. He mugs someone and looks through the bag he took for anything of value. A tramp with a shopping cart rolls by. He unfurls a cloth to reveal a gem stone he is carrying. He holds it close to his face and it begins to glow red.
The criminal mugs the tramp who begs him not to take his gem as it will be of no use to him. The mugger runs away past another homeless guy but then gets run over by a man in a suit who is drink driving through another alleyway. The driver gets out and inspects the blood on his car’s hood then picks up the gem which begins to glow in his hand. He drops it and gets back in his car.
The gem now glows blue as the tramp picks it up and smiles before breathing on it to make it glow red again. It brings the mugger back to life and, as the tramp watches, a police car appears with armed officers telling the mugger to drop the knife and purse he is holding. The mugger is arrested and looks on as he is taken away by the police. The tramp returns to walking the streets with his shopping cart happy with his glowing gem.
Framing story – part 2: ‘Hall of Faces’
The young man who has been watching the VHS listens to Vincent Price’s host giving a wrap up about the six stories. Except there have only been five. In a twist the last one involves the young man and addresses him by his name thus breaking the fourth wall. He tries to stop the tape and attempts to remove it to the denouncement of the host. As he runs through his house the characters of the stories on the VHS appear and crowd around him as the host laughs maniacally. Then the young man wakes up. On the back of the VHS case he sees it says starring Vincent Price and introducing Matt Wilson i.e. himself… then, in one final twist, Vincent Price dressed as a mail man laughs maniacally at him once more implying it was he who brought the VHS here in the first place.
Overall Anthology Review
When you compare this anthology’s host with figures like Tales from the Crypts’ Crypt Keeper, Brazil’s Zé do Caixão (a.k.a. Coffin Joe), John Carpenter’s Undead Mortician in the 1993 anthology film Body Bags and many other such anthology hosting figures… well the host of this anthology can be sincerely summed up as ‘ooh look we hired Vincent Price which is worth the price of admission alone’. No it isn’t. He is in about 2 minutes of it at most and only to rattle off an opening monologue, a few seconds of dialogue and laugh at the conclusion. He is the only thing that would draw people’s attention to this anthology. Oh but, in fairness, maybe you were looking up anthology horror films like me – that’s the other reason. Heads up anything other horror anthology will seem better after you see this including “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion” the seventh vignette of 2012’s anthology film The ABCs of Death where a Nazi fox furry tortures a British bulldog furry. No really. At least that’s memorable… and mildly traumatic for the wrong reasons.
There is no set tone for the Escapes anthology. Some stories are meant to be funny, others are karmic retribution but there always seems a tone where you are meant to be taking them more seriously that the writing itself suggests. This is ‘fun’ horror and better aimed at children really but, at the time it was made, would have probably been classified as too scary for them by censors. I seriously doubt children nowadays would react to this with anything other than boredom.
‘A Little Fishy’ really seems like a student film or what some friends with a film camera would make as a fun project over the space of a day or two once summer. It’s like a Yakov Smirnoff joke: ‘In Russia you don’t fish fish – the fish fish you!’ There’s not much to say. It’s a one note short story to set the tone but it gives you the impression what you will be seeing are karmic stories where people get their comeuppance. Arguably they do albeit some end on a positive note.
‘Coffee Break’ really stands out as the best section in concept and execution. It is tonally quite close to ‘Creepshow’ or ‘Body Bags’. I might also say an episode of ‘Tales from the Darkside’ even might be the best comparison but with a heavy metal soundtrack. Lots of long shots of the van driving along roads are used to pad the run time though. Lots of heavy metal which reminded me of Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive. The coffee guy and the delivery driver both play off each other well but it’s a little too drawn out sadly. In fact most of these stories feel bloated by about 20% each in order to reach the run time when they would have a stronger impact being more concise.
‘Who’s There?’ definitely could have been the basis for a script on something like ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ or ‘Goosebumps’. It’s an amusing little piece and in a more light hearted, child marketed, anthology it would have fared far better and possibly become a fondly remembered piece. As it is it just feels like another mismatched piece in a collection of stories that are tonally uncoordinated. If the low budget creature costumes, with their weird little ear stalks, were not enough then the fact one wears the discarded jogging jacket correctly should have tipped you off this is a lighter story. Honestly the application of the make-up on the main creature is well done for the era. It’s a nice simple concept with an amusing little pay off. Like most of these it needed tightening up choosing whether to play up either the humour or the threat through a greater sense of tension. Initially it seems to want to play to the latter but the resolution completely deflates that aspect.
‘Jonah’s Dream’ is the most drawn out and weak overall. It doesn’t really go anywhere for at least ten minutes then pushes a spaceship/meteor scene in at the end before the main character wakes up after encountering the spaceship. Maybe the encounter itself was a dream but there is no way you could interpret it that way from what I recall. In better hands it would have been a good one person monologue piece but instead seemed to be where money was wasted instead of tightening up aspects of the other stories. It is easy to see it being revised as a short drama where she discovers the gold under the house without the alien ship aspect of the story which feels stuck on to force it as part of this anthology. There is a lot of build up in this story with a relatively dull conclusion. The community gets fully fleshed out and it seems sort of redundant unless it was to get friends of the production and their children cameos for whatever reason. Really the important parts could all have been done by the one actress as Mrs Tucker with a flashback sequence featuring her husband (and even then it could be her recounting her words to herself so even that would be unnecessary). The whole exchange in the shop merely served as meaningless exposition. As part of the anthology series Amazing Stories it would be deemed a weaker episode probably.
‘Think Twice’ is well made but the core aspect of what exactly the ability is of the crystal makes it hard to follow. It grants wishes? It is an extension of the homeless man? It’s never clear except it leads to the defeat of the mugger and the homeless man is very attached to it. As long as you can get past that this is relatively good but unsatisfying due to the ‘rules’ or context of it not being explainedor at least contextualised for the audience to reach a satisfying understanding. What the crystal is exactly isn’t explained so there is a distinct frustration regarding this story. What are the limits of the item? Really something else should have been used despite, presumably, a glowing, colour changing, crystal serving as a unique aesthetic for the film’s promotional material. What is the homeless man’s connection to the gem? If they revealed he was an alien (or something as convoluted) it would have made more sense to explain the crystal rather than leave it a mystery why the homeless man claims it will be of no use to the mugger and the things it apparently does. This seems like a concept meant for Creep Show.
The framing device ‘Hall of Faces’ is weak. Honestly it feels tacked on with little thought. Most framing stories are relatively weaker than the main stories inevitably but at least they contribute a fitting setting for, and reinforce the themes of, the other stories being told. V/H/S, despite also having it’s framing device criticised, at least has a little more impact than ‘old man laughing at you’. Tales from the Crypt (1972) reveals all the story protagonists who gathered had died in their individual recounted stories and were destined for hell together, Trick ’r Treat (2007) has Sam wander though each of the stories, Southbound (2015) has the separate stories occur along the same stretch of road and there are many other examples of how to construct a cohesive anthology.
His inclusion in the framing story is just an excuse to plaster Vincent Price’s face on the cover of the VHS in order to sell it. Okay, it’s a pretty standard way to wrap up an anthology and connect the stories (though if you paid attention some share actors between each other). It reminded me a bit of the final story in season 4 of Yamishibai where the storyteller is revealed to have brought all the stories to life (oddly enough that isn’t as big a spoiler as you might think as the introduction of each episode in the series features a masked storyteller). Framing stories tend to be hard to make effective though there are some from the 70s (and those noted above) which achieved it but they had a stronger thematic through-line between stories so it already felt connected even without the framing story to create a cohesion between them.
There’s nothing to draw you to this unless you feel like riffing on it with friends or having an example of how cheesy some 1980s and early 90s horror anthologies could be. It’s B movie horror stories in the bad sense. As is always said of anthologies they’re only as strong as their weakest link and the overly drawn out panning shots used throughout instead of establishing scenes just seem there to pad out the running the time. Having read the above you’ll imagine something better than what was depicted on screen. I looked up the IMDB entry and it sees this was a vanity piece for David Steensland who directed, wrote and produced it. Who was he? Where did he go after this project? Was it a pseudonym used by an established person in the industry? We might never know…
The entire film is on YouTube should you want to watch it. It’s not worth it to be honest. ‘Coffee Break’ is classic cheesy 80s horror. The ‘Who’s there?’ one is a funny story to tell a child to amuse them (no need to watch it – any embellishment you make will be an improvement). ‘Think Twice’ is flawed but could have been good if what the gem was was at least alluded to and honestly the rest are rubbish.
There is a version of Escapes which runs 16 minutes longer but I don’t know what that adds to it as this is already a bloated film. I don’t think there is an omitted story just more overly long panning shots I presume. If you’ve seen the longer version what extra is in that version?
For anyone interested I would rank the stories, best to worse, as: Coffee Break, Who’s There?, Think Twice, A Little Fishy, Jonah’s Dream, Hall of Faces.
Skip it or go check it out on double speed on YouTube if you must check it out. It’s forgettable and poorly made. More a fantasy than horror anthology. I bet you only came here because there’s so little information about it. Admit it – you did. If you liked it, besides due to rose tinted nostalgia from seeing it many years ago, tell me and explain why.