Strike: Career of Evil

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 it 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 posts regarding the other stories (links to which are at the bottom of this post) so I only half recall some of the bigger points from before such as Strike’s circumstances and Robin being an ‘author’s self insert wish fulfillment’ figure in the narrative who can do anything.

Career of Evil: Short synopsis

First let’s have a short 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 set of flats. A teenage girl 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. 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 married and a detective. Strike is okay with her being both but Matthew hates him. So same old, same old… eventually she gets attacked when walking alone at night but proves herself and foils a peadophile 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 despite being involved in 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 saver of the pair and comic relief as if he is some sort of latter day Sancho Panza.

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, willfully 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 rejoin 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, assumes he is incapable of the murder and so dismisses him from the inquiry.

Instead he keeps trying to find some way to place the blame on Whittingham due to his own personal bias against the guy 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.

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 pressed on and is assaulted. Fortunately she has her rape alarm but she 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 and she didn’t before because he threatened 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 one 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 affairs.

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 as they 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 resolution to his 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, and then 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 commentary written while watching it by [doing this with any such commentary text so it stands out] though it will probably be obvious.

Career of Evil: Detailed Synopsis and Commentary

Episode 1

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 he 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]. 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… but 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.]

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 to make us dislike Robin’s fiancé and friends immediately]

Strike walks the streets of London.

Strike 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 gloved Dario Argento 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]. 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.

Episode 2

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.

The End.

Review:

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…

Other C B Strike reviews/synopses/humour:

Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Strike: The Silkworm

Further commentary on the BBC’s adaption

A parody cross over with Line Of Duty

Another parody involving tease trailers at the end of episodes

Плачущий сад (The Weeping Garden) by Boris Pasternak

It’s terrible: dripping and listening

If it’s as much alone as ever –

Crumpling a lacy branch at the window –

Or if there’s an eavesdropper.

.

But audibly the porous earth

Is choking with so much growth

And in the distance, as in August,

Midnight ripens with the harvest.

.

No sound. And no one hiding.

Having made sure it’s on its own

It returns to its old game – sliding

From gable to gutter and down.

.

I’ll raise it to my lips and listen

If I’m as much alone as ever –

Ready to sob if I have to –

Or if there’s an eavesdropper.

.

But all is quiet. Not a leaf stirs.

Nothing anywhere to be seen,

Except the gulps and splashing galoshes

And sighs and tears in between.

.

.

by Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к

(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)

from Сестра мояжизнь (My Sister, Life)

(1917)

translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

A recital of the poem in Russian by Pavel Besedin

Beneath is the original version of the poem in Russian Cyrillic.

Плачущий сад

Ужасный! — Капнет и вслушается,

Все он ли один на свете

Мнет ветку в окне, как кружевце,

Или есть свидетель.

.

Но давится внятно от тягости

Отеков — земля ноздревая,

И слышно: далеко, как в августе,

Полуночь в полях назревает.

.

Ни звука. И нет соглядатаев.

В пустынности удостоверясь,

Берется за старое — скатывается

По кровле, за желоб и через.

.

К губам поднесу и прислушаюсь,

Все я ли один на свете, —

Готовый навзрыд при случае, —

Или есть свидетель.

.

Но тишь. И листок не шелохнется.

Ни признака зги, кроме жутких

Глотков и плескания в шлепанцах

И вздохов и слез в промежутке.

.

.

Additional information: As a teenager, Boris Pasternak fell in love with Ida Vysotskaya, the daughter of a wealthy Moscow tea merchant. Almost 5 years have passed since they met, before the aspiring poet ventured to propose to her and was refused. Memories of unsuccessful matchmaking long tormented Pasternak, who continued to have very tender feelings for Ide Vysotskaya. He tried not to mention this in his poems, but from time to time works appeared in which the pain, longing and disappointment of the poet were easily interpreted.

In 1917, resting in the country, Pasternak wrote an initial rough draft of the poem “The Weeping Garden”. The author himself, after many years, admitted that this work was written in one breath under the influence of a momentary impulse. Moreover, the poet at first did not think to draw a parallel between the usual summer rain and his own state of mind. This happened somewhat spontaneously, even unexpectedly, for the author himself. He felt anguish when looking out upon the night garden from his window. He felt that nature experiences exactly the same feeling of loneliness and longing as he did at times.

In his special manner, Pasternak conveys the sounds, rustles and even smells of a night garden, humanizing it and endowing it with the features of a lonely man. The hero of his work is constantly listening, “If it’s as much alone as ever“, and at the same time secretly dreams of attracting attention to himself. The garden weeps with warm summer rain, and the drops of moisture either freeze or slide “sliding / From gable to gutter and down“.

The poet himself is also “Ready to sob if I have to”, but looks around, looking for involuntary witnesses of his grief. Subconsciously, he wants to tell at least someone about what has become painful, to share his thoughts with feelings and feelings. However, the author is just as lonely as the night summer garden, and he has nowhere to wait for words of sympathy or comfort . “Nothing anywhere to be seen, / Except the gulps and splashing galoshes / And sighs and tears in between” the author notes, secretly regretting that at this moment there is no truly close person next to him. Pasternak still does not realize that life itself is preparing a cure for unrequited love for him, and very soon he will be able to find, albeit short-lived, but still happiness, next to another woman – artist Eugenia Vladimirovna Lurie.

On Bear Ridge

“One minute we had customers, the next minute there was no-one.”

In a lost village, blurred by redrawn borders, hidden under a crumb on the map, Bear Ridge Stores still stands. After a hundred years, the family butchers and grocers – a place for odds and ends, contraband goods, and the last petrol pump for 30 miles – is now silent. But owners John Daniel and Noni are going nowhere. They are defiantly drinking the remaining whiskey and remembering good times, when everyone was on the same side and the old language shone. Outside in the dark, a figure is making their way towards them…

One of Wales’ most celebrated writers, Ed Thomas (co-creator of Hinterland) makes a momentous return to the stage with this semi-autobiographical story about the places we leave behind, the indelible marks they make on us, and the unreliable memories we hold onto.

Ed Thomas speaks about writing the play

Writer Ed Thomas

Co-directors Vicky Featherstone & Ed Thomas

Designer Cai Dyfan

Composer John Hardy

Sound Designer Mike Beer

Cast

Noni: Rakie Ayola

The Captain: Jason Hughes

John Daniel: Rhys Ifans

Ifan William: Sion Daniel Young

World Premiere in Sherman Theatre‘s Main House

National Theatre Wales and Royal Court Theatre

Performed in English (though there are a few Welsh words present e.g. bara brith).

Contains strong language, scenes of an adult nature, loud noises & gun shots

Running time: Approx. 95 minutes (no interval)

I saw it on 25 September 2019 at 7.30pm.

The cast and staff speak of the play.

Synopsis

I usually give quite detailed, near exhaustive, accounts of a narrative but I feel due to how new this play is it would be a disservice to do so. I will just give a general outline for those who want it. A lot of the impact is in the dialogue and performance of this play, so much so it could easily be adapted for radio, so it may seem relatively uneventful. It’s an allegorical narrative regarding the playwright’s memories of his community and concerns about the challenges the Welsh language and culture face both from the past and going forward when there are so many foreign influences, most notably that of England. I probably have forgotten certain elements or omit them intentionally in the following paragraphs so there are some things for you to experience for yourself.

A man, John Daniel, awakens in the remnants of his burnt out butcher’s shop after an aerial carpet bombing raid. He laments he is all alone now in the dark as snow falls about him. He begins to recount the birth of his son with his wife Noni and how proud he was. (I’ve forgotten the son’s name ironically but he does have one).

We then see him and his wife waving their butcher’s cleavers as planes fly overhead. They condemn that they don’t know if they’re on their side or against them during an ongoing war. A war that apparently ended decades ago yet still seems to affect them currently. They then spend a while discussing how their community at Bear Ridge has dwindled as they relive the memories of their past both in terms of recalling their customers, food and events. Their young slaughterman Ifan William comes from out of the trapdoor and goes into the fridge and returns to the underground slaughterhouse after some brief chatter. The couple continue their discussion once he has left reciting their mantra of foodstuffs happily to each other relishing the memories.

John Daniel and Noni dancing to the radio

As the couple are dancing to a repeating song on the radio a captain, who was involved in the ongoing war, walks into their shop and holds them at gunpoint not sure if they are friend or foe. Once reassured he chats with them and says the song reminded him of his mother and youth. He recounts a number of things, including how his commanding officer gave him the order to clear the mountain before then shooting herself to his shock. Eventually he gains the couple’s confidence. They discuss memories and ‘the old language’ which only John Daniel now knows how to speak but laments he is forgetting. He only remembers it because he remembers speaking it to others but they’re all in the past so all he has are his memories with which to keep the language alive. His son spoke it fluently, Noni learned some but he is ultimately alone now in knowing it which throws him into despair.

Suddenly the captain is on edge when Ifan William comes from out of the trap door again. He demands to know why they didn’t tell him of this third person. ‘You never asked’ John Daniel replies drily. Ifan William recounts his childhood growing up and going to university with the now dead son of the couple. The son went to university and was very progressive, philosophical and wanted to keep the ‘old language’ alive. However the son and Ifan William (who the son taught Welsh) were beaten by others one day in the street accusing them of being Germans and other nationalities though they were not as these aggressors didn’t recognise the old language of their own country and assumed the worst (the identity of the characters in the play as native Welsh people is never explicitly stated but some words and phrases dotted throughout the dialogue suggest this along with the distinctly Welsh naming styles of the characters). The son died in the war and had so much potential the characters who knew him lament. Ifan William admits he truly loved their son and their son loved him (to the degree it’s implied to have been romantic in nature but this too is never made explicit). John Daniel silently embraces Ifan William for their mutual loss.

The captain holds his service revolver to his head as Ifan William watches

The captain, after offering Ifan William a swig from his canteen, again recounts his memories. How he was ordered to clear the mountain by a commanding officer who then killed herself immediately afterwards in front of him having fulfilled her duty. The couple refuse to leave, despite being the only people left, as this is where they belong as does Ifan William. The captain tells them he is on the same side as them. Noni, agitated by such a broad declaration, asks if he really is or not and compares it to a river where there are two sides – the side they are on and the other side. People who want to swim over can try but the current is strong and deep many drown in the effort (as if referring to the Severn river which acts as both the physical and metaphysical division between the Welsh and English identities). She asks the captain again if he really is on their side or not. He insists he is. Now they’re all assured Noni offers to make tea and the captain excuses himself asking to go to the bathroom. John Daniel says it’s around the corner, behind the rocks, outside the building (actually it may have been in the building but the actor exits the stage via the rear). The captain leaves silently.

Ifan William enters carrying a tray piled high with a china tea service. The couple and Ifan William sit down to drink. A single gun shot rings out (presumably the captain coming to the same conclusion his commander did and committing suicide). Nothing is said. No one reacts. They sit in silence drinking their tea and then, once everyone is content, a plane flies overhead and it suddenly cuts to black and it seems a bomb was finally dropped on Bear Ridge to clear it.

The End.

Arguably this loops back to the start of the play though you could also read the beginning as John Daniel lamenting his isolation as the only person who knows the old language… which he truly is if the play loops back to that opening scene as his wife (who was a learner), his son (who was fluent) and Ifan William (who was, I think, semi-fluent) are all now gone leaving him truly alone both in his memories, knowledge and physically.

Costumes

I won’t go into great detail. They’re all dressed in the manner one would expect of people left with little to sustain themselves during an ongoing conflict with few if any supplies available over a long time.

John Daniel is dressed in a worn jumper and the white, but now grubby and worn, coat of a butcher with an orange gilet over it. Around his ankles are scraps of cloth over his worn boots. A shaggy beard and overall dishevelled state indicate he has little time to pretend like he is at all at peace with life to attend to such things. Not just due to the situation they find themselves in but it seems like he’s always been a bit like this and the gilet is, as explained during a piece of dialogue, a birthday resent from his wife and the only clean thing on him. Life weighs heavy on his shoulders.

Noni wears an apron and cardigan with a tattered skirt and hobnail boots. Even in these bad times it’s evident she tries her best to maintain normality by taking care of herself appearance wise unlike her husband.

Ifan William is young and his clothes are relatively clean with little sign of wear. They are also of a much more modern, casual sportswear, design compared to those of John Daniel and Noni who, in comparison, could be from a hundred years ago or yesterday in their style of dress (except for the gilet which seems to act like a life vest keeping John Daniel afloat in modern times). The only dirt on the young man’s clothing is the dried, caked, blood from the job he does on his butcher’s apron. His beard and hair are relatively well trimmed in comparison to his wild, mountain man, looking employer John Daniel.

The captain has outerwear of a military design. I would say it reflects the clothing of a First World War office in the trenches but I believe it is meant to evoke a timeless militaristic style really. He wears heavy boots, a serviceman’s belt of pouches and a holster with his service revolver. A large, thick, scarf is wrapped around his neck obscuring any signs of a uniform and he wears a full length woollen, olive drab coloured, trench coat so little else is visible on his person beneath it.

Staging

A rough sketch of the stage layout. I forgot to include the debris at the sides of the stage.

Throughout the play the floor is covered in a light layer of fake snow as though the interior and exterior of the butcher’s shop is gutted.

There are three walls to represent the interior of the shop. On the left wall is a cupboard where Noni keeps the trinkets she has collected and which spill out at the start of the play. On the right is a fridge door which when opened lets the actor walk through as if entering a room sized fridge. Again this too is featured at the start of the play but neither plays any purpose besides establishing the characters of Noni and Ifan William.

The rear wall is in fact technically two pieces which sit either side of a green door frame and door. These are the shop front, gutted by a previous bomb explosion it can be assumed, and a broken window. The door itself is intact with a ‘sorry we are closed’ sign on it and a set of lace curtain netting across it. These are all removed about half way through the run time once everyone is, presumably, stood outside.

A pile of broken school desks and furniture sits left of centre representing all the furniture they’ve had to break up for firewood during the ongoing harsh weather conditions on the mountain without any outside aid arriving. Hidden within this pile are two milk crates used for seats at certain points of the play. Ifan William later uses a tin box as a stool too which I think he brings up from the trapdoor.

Beyond the ‘shop’ are black, dead, trees and high piles of rock to represent the mountain range. A path leads behind the rocks which is where the captain goes, off stage, at the end of the play.

The backdrop is a curved white sheet lit in a manner to give the illusion of a heavy misty skyline beyond which nothing can be seen. It becomes brightly lit when planes fly over to silhouette the characters against it.

Overall I feel it’s very effective though I question if you could actually reduce the staging to be even more minimalist to be honest as so much of the play is in fact grounded in it’s dialogue rather than actions. Throughout the only ‘actions’ that occur are the couple wave their tools at the planes flying overhead once or twice cursing at them, an overfilled cupboard spilling, the couple dance, the captain firing his gun in frustration, Ifan William going in and out of the trapdoor, in and out of the fridge and later kicking up some dust, John Daniel when lamenting the loss of the old language scrabbling about creating a dust storm in frustration and the tea service being brought on at the end of the play. In fact you could even embellish it if you wanted to be honest without detracting from the core dynamics of the play.

An interview, featuring clips, about the play in Welsh. Turn on the auto-translation of the Closed Captions if you want to follow the comments made.

Review

The allegorical play begins with an incredibly strong echo of Dylan Thomas’ lyrical dialogue style most notably heard in Under Milk Wood when John Daniel and Noni begin reciting a list of customers and the foodstuffs they sold and enjoyed in the past as if relishing and being nourished by the language and memories they share.

Throughout John Daniels has a phrase he often uses ‘no, you’re alright’ when he wants to assure others or dismiss something troubling. You could reflect he says this because he himself is not alright though I’ve often heard fellow Welshmen, admittedly of an older generation, use the phrase in the same tone Rhys Ifans uses where it is more akin to ‘I don’t approve but I accept the situation at hand’. There is a lot of the dour Welsh humour present in the play and I wonder if non-Welsh people will ‘get it’. Only when it’s performed in England will we know. I’m sure they will but sometimes it does seem people unfamiliar with that Welsh style of humour feel it can be harsh hence the stereotype some hang onto of us being isolationist when in reality we are very warm towards visitors.

Noni is a difficult character to categorise. She collects trinkets, she laments her sons death and she loves her husband who it seems is notably older than her. The only real information we get about her past, her memories, tends to be through John Daniels recounting the birth of his son and his first encounter with Noni where they both knew they were meant to be together. She fits the Welsh archetype of a valleys girl, that is to say bubbly, chatty, but not afraid of confronting people she doesn’t agree with, however it feels she has the least substance presented to the audience. She seems secondary to the male characters and even her dead son whose ghost echoes throughout the memories of the others. While it can be said that there’s an element of this enforcing traditional stereotypes of women place being in the shadow of the men in their lives it’s not as simple as that in Wales. We have been a soft matriarchy throughout history so a woman being quiet and ‘knowing her place’ is quite alien to us and only crept into our culture through the influences of the English. So there’s an underlying question regarding her character where arguably she is the most conformist of the ‘native’ characters but we don’t have a chance to explore that aspect of her characterisation during the plays run time and it has to be portrayed via the actress’ mannerisms more so than the dialogue.

Ifan William has two scenes, one at the start is somewhat light hearted and merely acts as a set up for the sudden shift in tone towards the end. The actor has some great material to work with as he confesses his feeling to John Daniel and Noni about their son. It could feel a bit laboured by a less skilled actor so to see the shift of the character from somewhat lackadaisical to heart-rendingly broken by his memories really delivers a contrast to John Daniel and Noni. The older characters recount happy times in the past and bemoan their current circumstances while here the younger man finds trauma in the past but, having survived an assault by bigots, seems to thrive in the current circumstances having found his place in the world. So through him we have elements of discussion regarding the ‘truth’ of cultural heritage and the effects of rose tinted memories on passing it to the next generation. While John Daniel speaks of a united community under one language Ifan William presents the harsh reality of conflicting cultures and of prejudice which isn’t acknowledged by the older generation.

The captain, in contrast to the other characters, is notably different sounding not just in accent but diction and phrasing. He is an outsider but I feel the role is being played far too safely so as not to feel jarring when contrasted with the other characters tonally. If anything I would actually like the play to be a bit more bold in this to truly challenge the audience in the later part when he is asked if he is ‘on our side’ or not so they question if he is sincere or playing along for survival. The actor performs the role well but I feel maybe there needs to be some work on the role. Whether it’s to make him more of an outsider conflicting with the other characters or truly get across his desire to be on their side by gradually emulating them.

As it is I assume the intention is for the audience to decide for themselves his motives and values by the end of the play’s events. Does he shoot himself just to repeat history as his commanding officer did; did he do it because, despite his words, he truly couldn’t be on their side despite his intentions as he lacked the language and other cultural aspects to do so; was it because he didn’t seek to become like them. Could it even be the case we should interpret his behaviour as PTSD where he keeps reliving the moment he saw his commanding officer shoot herself, after giving him his orders, thus leaving him to wander in a liminal state somewhere between constantly reliving that memory as a soldier and incapable of reacclimatising to civil society (as is the case for many servicemen who suffer trauma during their service).

I think my overall question about him is, PTSD possibility aside, whether he was a soldier carrying out his duty, but faltered when the opposition was given a face, or a refugee like figure trying to escape the war and ‘join’ the others in their world view of not being defined by the conflict. He feels vaguely defined and I’m not completely certain that was intentional to the degree it appears. Although, in fairness, we never learn his name and it is certain he was meant to be culturally ‘othered’ to the shared culture and history of the other three characters as an outsider.

The staging is good but perhaps needs some refining as I noted when discussing it earlier. At times when a sense of claustrophobia is required it feels there is a bit too much space inside the shop’s interior and yet when they’re meant to be stood outside it feels far too claustrophobic ironically. I’m not sure if that’s because the Sherman’s stage wasn’t quite right for their planned layout but maybe on smaller stages the rubble on the sides (which I omitted from the stage plan though it remains throughout the performance) could be removed to give them more space in the later parts of the play. I only say this as there is a moment later in the play when John Daniels is meant to walk away from the others to ‘speak the old language to the moon’ but unfortunately he is barely 3 metres away on the stage. In fact Rhys gave a cheeky look to the audience at this point as if acknowledging it. Perhaps for that moment he can go onto the ‘mountain path’ the captain later uses leading backstage instead as that would be more effective? It’s an minor issue to be honest.

The performances are excellent but certainly I feel there might be a need to work on the pacing of dialogue or where to emphasis certain lines as sometimes there were moments of speaking over each other with little narrative purpose for it. Also while the characters are distinct I feel there needs to be more confidence in the delivery by the captain as he doesn’t seem as affected nor distinct from the others as he needs to be. As much as none of us wants to see overacting I do feel for John Daniel and Noni to fit the Welsh archetypes they are referencing they may need to be slightly more embellished with John Daniel having a slightly more intense manner with some pregnant pauses possibly.

I understand why the performance choices were made however part of me feels, when the play moves onto the Royal Court Theatre, it’s been done early to ‘tone down’ the Welshness to be more accessible and that feels counter-intuitive considering what the message of this play seems to be. I’ve seen that done in translation of various works to localise things but it never feels like a good idea in the long run. In effect it seems to have caused a Welsh playwright, writing about Welsh cultural matters obliquely, to ‘other’ his message in his own work as if self censoring which speaks volumes about how entrenched the cultural persecution of the Welsh culture and language is in our mindset as a nation.

Part of me feels the refusal to actually name Wales or Welsh in any form is possibly part of the narrative in the sense it is self censorship as the ‘Welsh Not’ was in the classroom for a time in the early twentieth century. However it also in effect makes the play more universal while still retaining the irrefutable inclusion of Welsh things such as the characters’ naming (except the captain who is only known by his military rank title and never his personal name), a reference to bara brith and other elements which seem all too obvious in context to a Welsh audience but might not to a different culture if there was a foreign production of the play. (e.g. how Welsh seems part of the ‘Elder Speech language’ in the Polish fantasy literature series The Witcher and it’s adaptions going as far as the card card in it being called Gwent).

Wales has a number of Welsh playwrights who, when doing work for television, are lauded and award winning yet to set a play in Wales seems to ghettoise it unlike if you set it in England. Perhaps that’s just me recalling my issues with Niall Griffith’s novel ‘Sheepshagger’ which felt like it could have been set in England’s west country or elsewhere rurally without losing anything as it’s so devoid of inherent ‘Welshness’ unlike this play.

I fear, in later productions, this play might have the Welsh elements edited out of it to localise it and thus lose its inherent message. As I said with my review of Gary Owen’s adaption of The Cherry Orchard, which localised Chekov’s play to 1980s Wales, there is a risk of losing part of a message or altering it in adaption which I dearly hope doesn’t occur here as discussion of the trials Wales has faced in maintaining its culture seem to be muted whenever presented to a wider audience. Certainly in my experience few people from other countries know much about us without it being tinged by English imperialism to the point they assume we are part of England and not a separate entity.

There is great potential here but as I’ve seen it so early in it’s run I feel everyone is still finding their stride in their performances and no doubt, should you go see it, they’ll have worked out those nuances so what is already a thoroughly enjoyable, evocative, play about identity will become a modern classic. Already it is getting high praise and, despite the critical tone of this review at times, I thoroughly recommend seeing it!

Strike: The Silkworm

An irreverent look at this case which today is about the murder of a novelist and the intrigues of the book publishing world. In other words Rowling, by the second book, was out of ideas and wrote what she knew – just like Stephen King does by having all his protagonists be writers of one flavour or another. Written by J. K. Rwoling under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith i.e. the pseudonym everyone tends to forget to use when referring to the author of the C.B. Strike series of crime fiction novels.

So is this a veiled jab at people Rowling herself, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith though everyone knows it’s her, encountered in her career? We can only wonder.

Long story short this case is ‘wanker writer got killed for being a complete wanker and everyone around him in the publishing world was somewhere on the sliding scale of wankerdom themselves’. There are no likeable characters – pitiable ones yes – but no likeable ones. Except Strike and even then that’s more because he’s the leading man and isn’t an arsehole to anyone intentionally unless they ‘deserve it’ in Rowling’s mind.

[Editorial note: Did you see this broadcast on the BBC on the 10th and 17th August 2017? Did you see this elsewhere when it was first aired? Guess what – I typed notes the hour after the broadcast and only now got around to tidying them up so if this is in any way mildly inaccurate… roll with it please for humour’s sake.]


Part 1 (Episode 3 of the short series).

Today Robin happily risks her future marriage as she still has dreams of being a private dick… although as we will see the dickishness of last time wasn’t an isolated event and she only escalates further down the rabbit hole of being a Mary Sue.

We open with a mystery woman reading an article in a magazine, cutting it out and pinning it to her chest then putting her head in the oven to commit suicide. What’s that? ‘It sounds exactly like how Sylvia Plath killed herself’ I hear you mention? Yes, yes it does doesn’t it? Rowling is going meta-intertextual on us. Be in awe of her post-modernist genius! And I’ll ruin the little mystery of this stinger by telling you now that the mystery woman wrote a book which was parodied by a more successful author, Owen Quine, and this drove her to suicide. Or did it? Yes, yes it did – there was a corpse found in the kitchen. But did Quine author the parody? That’s the subplot of this murder investigation and the key to solving it. Thus Quine becomes the ‘main case’ murder victim and the woman’s husband a, if not the main, murder suspect. The adaption clearly wanted to get your attention but you don’t get context for this scene until far, far, later.

At the core of this investigation is the anonymous distribution of Quine’s Bombyx Mori a controversial manuscript in which its protagonist, ‘Bombyx’, is a writer who is repeatedly abused, tormented and ultimately eaten alive by the people in his life whilst going to extraordinary lengths to capture and preserve his talent for their own selfish gains. Bombyx is Owen Quine and all the caricatures in the book are the people around him in the literary world he hated and felt were feeding off his success. Yeah, no, this couldn’t possibly be Rowling venting a little whatsoever…

Did you think there would be different introduction music for each case? Well apparently not. I mean they paid for one song. What do you think they’re made of money? That in adapting a sure-fire ratings winner being shown on the BBC they could afford to take that extra step so it’s the start of a separate case and not ‘episode 3’ of an ongoing series? (Who do you think they are? Netflix?) But surely you realise that’s how TV adaptions of ongoing crime novel series are! Can you name the different cases of Morse? No. Anything by Agatha Christie doesn’t count as you tend to learn those by social osmosis so ‘case theme tunes’ are pointless.

[instrumental] Me and you… you and me… we’re in this together… we definitely don’t have sexual tension and will end up together, by the end, though it all, you clearly don’t love your fiancé, and I’m clearly single… you and me… me and you… solving cases, knowing one day you’ll steal my clients, if our relationship breaks down, once you’re qualified as a private detective… [fade out]

Next Strike is with his ex and she asks how he can still love her. But it was a dream. It’s always a dream. He’s a disgruntled protagonist. His lot in life is not to be happy. Ever. Just like real people but only more so.

He’s in a cramped loft/attic conversion bedroom. Robin pops in to wake him up… so he’s living in her attic? I mean the rooms never given context so… um,yes? And yet her fiancé has never met him… Or it’s a side room of the office… but that’s not as amusing to imagine and if it was he didn’t use it during the Cuckoo case.

This is followed by a mystery man walking through an office to meet another mystery man. Who are they? You won’t have a clue when we get to the next scene so it’s all smoke and mirrors which is meaningless as you’ll have forgotten what they said in a few minutes. It was Daniel Chard, the president of Roper Chard (played by Tim McInnerny a.k.a. Percy off Blackadder who everyone forgets because Hugh Laurie replaced his ‘role’ on the series as being the nice but dim upper class figures) and the publisher but good luck remembering their names. Daniel Chard says he, the other man in the office, Quine’s alcoholic editor, Jerry Waldegrave wrote the letter. Ooh intrigue. And yes I’ve had to go look up the names as all at once the ‘literary world’ characters are interchangeable looking and yet each has a very different position within it though really they could all have their dialogue said by the wrong person and you wouldn’t notice except Elizabeth whose clearly bitterness and miasma of cigarette smoke makes her distinct.

Back with Strike he has a pushy client called Mr Baker complaining. Once he’s gone Strike calls him a tosser and tells him to settle the bill of services he’s accrued. Yes that character’s name I remembered and yet any names from now on have had the help of Wikipedia to confirm. Next the dead author’s wife, Leonora Quine, comes and needs his services.

Unlike a film noir detective she ain’t a leggy dame whose legs go on and on for miles and won’t quit running through the gritty detective’s mind ‘cuz them’s ain’t just legs them’s gams!’ Nope she’s a housewife, maybe even a just barely allowable ‘TV ugly’ looking woman as they’ve made the actress look as plain as possible in bagging clothing, unflattering glasses and such to the point you wonder if Rowling spent a page or two languishing over a detailed description of how normal she looked in contrast to all the glamorous people from the Cuckoo case. ‘Look I can write normal, working class, people too!’ she declares to the one person on an obscure internet forum (or Twitter) she chanced upon in the early hours of the morning. Even if she does write them as if they have severe emotional problems or one track minds she can write them… sort of… but they need some single characteristic to make them vile to the reader’s refined middle-class sensibilities. COUGHtheblowjobwomanwhohelpedStrikeoutlasttimeCOUGH.

Leonora, which is a fancy name for such a ‘look how boringly normal she is’ character to be honest, said her husband went to a retreat called Bigly Hall and has been away ten days.

Strike phones the retreat pretending he is doing so on grounds he is giving Owen a medical report. Owen isn’t there. Strike, who seems fed up of having work, says he won’t charge and see her out though she protests. Who needs an income? Robin tells him who she was, who Owen Quine is… blah blah blah you know the usual ‘Rowling thinks female heroines are walking databases’ stereotype though in Robyn’s case she is using an online search engine (not at all Google of course otherwise they might have to pay some form of royalties) and looking at an encyclopedia entry (not at all Wikipedia for the same reason… in fact she might be reading the wiki page for the Strike TV series… and reading spoilers on some pages so she’s one step ahead of the game).

Then they go for drinks. Because that’s what people do after work as far as TV land is concerned. No one is ever tired, hungry or has responsibilities in day-to-day life… I’ve seen it done on Casualty and Holby City too to name one other ‘drama series’ that has this sort of mentality. Work is life. Work will set you free. Welcome the freedom of death. In the meantime get drunk in the evening to numb the existential angst of the middle class malaise.

But they take the case as Leonora insists upon it. Robin is pushed back twice to no avail. The police won’t help so Strike HAS to help. Because he has the protagonist disease which affects him like a very specific form of OCD where he is compelled to help people in need…

Thus literary agent Elizabeth Tassel appears on the scene at the pub, but not the same pub as during the Cuckoo case, and we get her life story all in one go though no one asked for it. We get her life story every time she is on-screen. Why do we learn so much about her and her hatred of the industry she works in? Have you guessed yet? No… well okay we can wait a little longer as this is only the first strike over the head we’ve got so far.

She is a failed writer who became a literary agent. She lives and works on the fringe of the London literary community, which she deeply resents, and expresses by bullying her staff. She smokes a lot and has a dog that’s very ill. She’s a bit of a bitch so is immediately unlikable anyway. Also she is smoking in a public space which you would think would have a member of staff telling her to stop, her giving a ‘witty’ putdown and then the staff member saying ‘No… really… you need to put that out according to the British law because you can go do one if you think we’re going to get fined because of you’.

She can help. But she won’t help. Does she have a reason? Hmm do you think there’s a reason she won’t help? Is she perhaps contrasting someone from the first case who was too helpful?

DO YOU KNOW WHAT ROLE SHE PLAYS IN THE STORY YET?

She claims she fired Owen as he wrote a thinly disguised attack on the people around him which made the manuscript unpublishable. Strike notices an old black and white photo of her and other authors. Why it’s not in colour as most if not all cameras by that point were colour ones would have been I don’t know… just that convention dictates ‘old photos must be sepia or monochrome’ in TV land. Which means anyone who possesses a monochrome photo is doomed to suffering by default as if it instantly becomes a cursed object.

Owen taught a creative writing course. He considered Liz a hinderance. Then she mentions her dog’s poo is like rocks. DOGGIE DUN A POO POO! DATZ FUNNY!

She asks a waiter for green tea. He asks if it’s for the dog. No, she replies sharply, it’s for her – for her throat. Well yeah if you’re going to wave your dog about in a restaurant and ask for a drink while doing so the staff are going to leap to conclusions inevitably. You see a lot of odd people in the service industry just by sheer force of numbers you come into contact with so this kind of request is expected. Also green tea isn’t going to solve that throat cancer you’ll be getting one day since you smoke like an industrial era chimney Liz…

Back in the office Robin is ‘working’ by watching an interview of Owen’s on ‘Not-YouTube’ and remarks to Strike that Quine wasn’t a fan of short sentences. [Unlike Rowling who is criticising some unknown writer it can be assumed… part of me secretly wishes it was David Foster Wallace – someone who is dead and whose legacy is secured as one of the truly great writers while for all her money she will never be held in anywhere near the same esteem as him… and at least it would explain the treatment of the dog by the end if you know how fond Wallace was of dogs…].

Strike takes this moment to do a job evaluation and have a slight heart to heart with her. He tells Robin she is worth more than he is paying her and that they’re in debt again. How?

Okay… more importantly:

  1. How many employers have ever said such a thing to an employee? Only one’s who want something. And by something I mean unpaid work or beginning a tryst via flattery.

  2. How the hell is he in debt again when he has to turn away business he is so overwhelmed with people seeking his help?! It’s never explained.

So the editor (or someone else) is at Quine’s house unseen by the audience. He leaves and Leonora says he smelt of wine. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing. It’s a red herring. The guy likes a drink and spilt some on himself… not that the story ever clears that up.

Meanwhile Robin is in a bookshop. Why? Because the theme of this investigation is literature… um… that’s it. Rowling’s the only author who could write about a book shop and make it seem as interesting as IKEA’s ‘zone of boxed flatpacks’ next to the checkouts. Robin doesn’t discover anything.

Liz visits Robert…

Um… okay… at this point I should note a lot of the book characters got cut out and I think some must have been amalgamated. The adaption has a guy called Robert but that’s not on the Wikipedia page. Anyway the woman in the stinger who committed suicide was his wife.

So word is he has read Quine’s manuscript of Bombyx Mori. Then its noted her dog is shitting on the lavender in his garden. IT’S FUNNY CUZ DA DOGGIE DUNNA ANOTHER POO POO AND SHE DON’T CARE LOLZ! ROFLCOPTER! … and in other words the mentality of the following level of humour regarding repition of a simple joke:

but in fact it’s not just humour but a clue as to… if you haven’t figured out yet I won’t tell you. Someone’s a bad egg and we all know animal cruelty is ‘Bad Person behaviour 101’.

Strike is with Leonora and Liz visits him. Leonora thinks Owen was, as usual, sleeping around, shagging around (wombling free, the Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we)… whatever you want to call it he wasn’t faithful because apparently writers get fangirls willing to sleep with them all the time. (So… meta-narrative time: Did Rowling get a lot of offers from her fans?) Which is a good time to mention Stephen King’s novel Misery…

for no reason except, you know, I just want you to remember there’s a dark side to fandom… it’s not all fans wanting to crawl up inside you like eels.

some want to cause harm due to obsession. Moving on.

So walking down the road Strike sees a newspaper kiosk. Shocking! Who knew those still existed in this day and age?

But that wasn’t the focus. He sees his ex, Charlotte, has done a photo shoot with her new husband for the May cover of a gossip magazine. ‘Hello’, ‘Now’… you know the sort. The ones you see ancient editions of in the waiting rooms of doctor and dentist surgeries… So old that you have ‘these two celebs got together, then under a mouldy children’s book the ‘they’ve had kids’ edition and in someone else’s hands across the room the ‘they’ve had a divorce’ edition sometimes all three published during the same year. Well it seems his ex met and got engaged in what seemed a matter of days or a fortnight during the last case so to be honest he should be happy he got rid of her.

On a side note: if she isn’t the victim of one of the later novels I will be surprised. Either that or she turns out to be the murderer – thus further enforcing the ‘it’s Strike and Robin’s destinies to be together forever [in accordance with authorial mandate]’ storyline Rowling keeps dropping hints about. Saying that Robin’s fiance is also high on the list of likely ‘series long’ characters up for a ‘dull shock’ murder of a long time cast member. Put money on it. It’s certain to be one of them if not both.

Next we see a woman burning pages in an outdoor fire. This is Katherine or Pippa… or an amalgamation of the two. She isn’t that important really.

At the pub Strike finally meets Robin’s fiancé Matthew Cunliffe. Get it? Cunliffe because, as heavy-handed as her caricaturisation is of him Rowling couldn’t get away with calling him the four letter word outright.

So Matt asks if Strike plays rugby and then talks about rugby a lot. Because he is a man and men play rugby. Rugger bugger. Strike jokes he used to be his highschool champ. (Wait… did England have high schools before recently? It’s a very American term for secondary school a.k.a. Comprehensive for the approximate age of the character). I guess Robin never mentioned the leg issue as the joke falls flat. Unless Strike was being serious in which case add it to the pile of ‘I can’t write characters who are not the very best in every single thing they do’ which, for Strike alone includes him being in the military police, the son of a rock star, Robin being… Robin and so on.

Robin and Matt have been together 9 years. I take it that’s meant to suggest that they never married because they didn’t feel like making that step rather than because they couldn’t afford to. They’re to wed in eight weeks. BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT DESTINIED TO BE! BECAUSE OMG, WTF, STRIKExROBIN IS THE OP! LIKE STRIN / ROKE SHIPPING! SO ROKE! CORMORANxROBIN = CORBIN… (um, wait… like the current Labour political party leader’s surname but ‘I’ instead of ‘y’… that’s a little cunning a political leanings suggestion hidden in there). STRIKE IS SO HER TYPE! STRIKE NEEDS A WOMAN LIKE HER TO FIX HIM! Etc, etc…

Matt jokes she was the only half fit girl with brains at school/university. Because yeah that’s how you write guys in relationships… I mean I hear that sort of joke made but under no context is it funny. Rowling has serious issues and is venting about someone she knew. Rowling just wants to make sure that at no point will we consider him even a flawed human being – he’s an obstacle to be overcome for Strike and Robin to be together. It’s not even subtle. I can only imagine he might get the old ‘redemption in death’ treatment somewhere down the line if he’s lucky. Matt also speaks derisively about detective work… because [rinse and repeat earlier ‘non-case related antagonism’ comments].

Strike goes to the bar to get a drink and offers to buy them a round. While he’s away, in what seems to be a distance of about 6 metres, Matt criticises him. Robin is sad as she could move up the ladder… really? How about ‘Matt shut up he’s stood right there’ or ‘shut up he’s a decent bloke’ or… not being a single-minded, career focused, selfish cow? She and Matt deserve each other. Matt doesn’t want Strike at the wedding. So either the adaption really failed to get across the animosity here or it’s poor heavy handed writing. Any way you look at it Matt is a pantomime villain in the level of complexity given to his character. A few months earlier in the Tom Hardy series Taboo they had a character who every time he came on-screen used racial slurs on the main character for being mixed race and it’s about the same level of writing albeit against a disabled man rather than a mixed race man.

Strike looks at the wedding invite he’s been given. He recalls Charlotte and her claim she was pregnant once when he broke up with her. Was she? Wasn’t she? We never know as she is an almost never seen satellite character.

The next day Strike mockingly calls Robin by her middle name. She tells him it was because she was conceived in Venice. Why do people get told such things? ‘Oh such fond memories of your dad and I rutting like wild rabbits while in Tuscany’. No, no one wants to know that sort of thing – especially not Tim Upagainstthebikeshedbehindthechippy’ Bristols, Gordon ‘slagheap’ Wells or Julie ‘Cockett’ Mouth…

Someone keeps a blog. Strike, when asked by Robin, is polite and says Matt seemed like a nice bloke.

Robin finds Katherine, a.k.a miss page burner.

They go visit her and she says she though she and Owen were friends until she read the book. Yeah she’s just a narrative device so not even worth flippant commentary…

Back at the office they find out Owen co-owned a house with Joe North, an American writer (with an All-American name) friend of Quine and Fancourt. He died of AIDS while writing about his experiences living with the disease. After lying abandoned for twenty years, the house where North died became the scene of Quine’s murder. I had to look that up as the information is thrown at you so fast and matter of factly you’ll miss it. It doesn’t have any great bearing on events but it is odd finding what bits they feel the need to tell you about and which bits they omit or skim over quickly.

Leonora gives them keys to the house. It’s never brought up who else has keys to the house and it’s one of the things they never bring up again despite that being something you would want to know about considering the circumstances while eliminating lines of enquiry. Leonora mentions she also has a copy of Bombyx Mori as it was left anonymously on the doorstep. It’s noted that this is odd considering a copy would be in the house already, as this is Owen’s home, and Owen kept numerous filing boxes filled with ideas for various books so Leonora would definitely have a copy of the manuscript somewhere in the house already. Owen and Leonora have a daughter named Orlando. To me Orlando is a male name, e.g. Orlando Bloom, but maybe it’s genderless and so fine – albeit it’s no doubt another ‘commemorating where we had sex’ name by the parents… She has down’s syndrome. She is the only person who doesn’t have a character based on them in Bombyx Mori implying she was the only person he truly cared for. So.. you know… even a nasty bastard can have redeeming qualities. That or he didn’t even consider her to have agency and thus was more a pet than child. But they dodgy that implication. [Although, arguably the ‘real’ writer of those controversial bits of Bombyx just didn’t know of the girl or chose not to write of her.]

Orlando likes to draw and steal things. She misses her dad and it’s not clear if she understands he is dead.

Strike introduces himself and notes he is named after an Irish giant. I can’t help but remember the whole Viktor Crumb thing in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where Rowling felt the need to correct people’s’ pronunciation of the name Hermione. It was fine then since it was a book series aimed primarily at children, with a far more limited range of dictional variants to call upon, but here she is definitely speaking down to the audience ‘look at the references I’m making – I’m so smart and have such a wide breadth of knowledge you can’t keep up so I need to put it in simple terms for you’. No… it’s just Cormoran is a rare name outside of Irish circles. I mean just because you choose rare names for characters that doesn’t make your writing better. If I called a character Islwyn ap Morgannwg that doesn’t mean my audience are stupid because they don’t know ap Morgannwg means ‘of Glamorgan’ but just because they’re unfamiliar with the cultural reference. The fact she has explained Robin’s middle name and Strike’s first name screams that she is trying too hard and just feels the overwhelming need to speak down to her audience.

Also Matt doesn’t care for Cormoran’s name. Because Matt is a bad man. Have you realised that yet or does he need to go into the town square and kill some puppies Caligula style before you’ll accept it? Rowling doesn’t think you do yet.

Strike reads the manuscript. On the screen grim imagery flashes depicting the Marquis de Sade style scenes of the book. Well it’s more de Sade crossed with Clive Barker and a side of Bret Easton Ellis I guess. So instead he watches the football. Because he’s a bloke and football is the default for relaxing television what with the inevitable screaming at the TV when your team isn’t doing well. Football for the common man, rugby for the elite – unless your Welsh in which cae rugby is treated like a religion. Hence it’s another Strike/Matt contrast. The next day he asks Robin to read the book.

Meanwhile he goes to the co-owned house which he finds is in ruins internally.

Here he finds the mutilated corpse of Owen Quine disembowelled and arranged like the cocoon a butterfly or moth has emerged from.

He photos it… because that’s another habit of his besides going to the pub for a pint and watching football. Because that’s what men do – just like women drink wine, are eternally fascinated by shoes, enjoy afternoon teas and watch soap operas in Rowlingland. This is Rowling’s standard of writing nuanced caricaturisation. Broad enough people can identify with it as it’s so blandly unimaginative you would forget the characters five minutes later if her name wasn’t plastered all over it.

He then phones Robin to tell her Owen is dead. It’s grim. Imagine one of the crime scenes from the film Se7en. Robin comes over and looks too. She, unused to crime scene viscera, has no reaction to it which is a bit psychotic really. In fact it’s incredibly suspicious. I secretly hope she turns out to be a villain later in the series. She shows Strike the book and he reads the ending of it. It’s exactly like the crime scene before them as it involves people tearing out Owen’s innards.

Matt calls Robin. His mother is dead. She had a stroke. Robin leaves to be at his side. Strike asks her to relay that he’s sorry for Matt’s loss.

Later Strike is chatting to Detective Steve at Richard’s house and the forensics is too difficult to process due to the use of acid which has all but stopped them using that for evidence. All they know is that there was a woman with a duffel bag seen coming to the property and leaving there.

POP QUIZ: How many female characters, assuming it wasn’t a transsexuals or transvestite, have we seen so far? Who can we eliminate from the inquiry? So is the murderer:

  • The bitter and twisted Elizabeth (with her dog whose got bowel issues mentioned whenever she appears CUZ DAT FUNNY… though it isn’t really).

  • The worried wife (who, if she did it, will have done exactly the same as the previous case’s murderer having needlessly brought Strike’s attention to the case and would have got away with it otherwise… just like a Scooby Doo villain).

  • The downs syndrome daughter (who loves her dad thus would be setting depictions of disabled people back about 50 years as ‘dangers to society’ who can’t be trusted to not act violently if left unsupervised and should be locked away in asylums so society may forget about them as was the case back then alongside single mothers, politically disagreeable elements, artistic sorts and anyone else who just ‘wasn’t our sort’ to ‘normal’ middle class people).

  • The disenfranchised student/friend/lover (who got the book after the fact to give her motive for the murder).

  • The rejected male to female transsexual lover (who is actually missing from the TV adaption hence why you thought I was being pedantic when mentioning transsexuals earlier).

  • Or it could be a man mistaken for a woman. It could be. It isn’t… But it could be.

It’s brought up that Leonora was a fan of Owen’s writing and was a butcher’s daughter in Hay-on-Wye before their marriage. So:

  1. Hay-on-Wye is a town of bookshops in Wales. She couldn’t come from somewhere more likely – No, it had to be from the town of books because this story’s theme is literature. Funny that really as she isn’t Welsh sounding but then there are so many wannabe Bohemian English people in that town it is technically an English town in Wales.

  2. There’s a hint of elitism here as this is revealed as if it’s something that should cause shock in the reader not seen since the Victorian sensationalist novels. How could a common butcher’s daughter be married to a successful author? It’s presented like there is some other aspect to it we are not told of. I assume in the book there’s some mention Owen knocked her up while at the annual literature festival in town and felt pressured into making an honest woman of her and the result of their union was their daughter. But the TV adaption skips that completely unless it was said so quickly in passing I missed it.

Strike says he knows the killer read the book. So we can remove a few of the remaining suspects can’t we? Apparently Owen and Leonora had an argument out on the street but Strike thinks Leonora wouldn’t have the ingenuity to commit the killing. Why is not explained. Working class people are cattle who can’t do something as elaborate as this sort of revenge murder. That’s the underlying message again from Rowling. Leonora throughout the case is presented as someone who is barely capable of coherent thought let alone being proactive in matters. She is presented almost as in need of care as much as her daughter if I’m honest as the show does everything in its power to demean her.

If you ever saw Harry Enfield’s depiction of the working class throughout his various sketch shows I feel this is very much in that ilk except it’s at the expense of the subject and not at the prejudice elitist arrogance of the ones observing.

Meanwhile Matt and Robin are in tears in their bedroom. He’s crying for his loss. Robin is crying she isn’t out and about playing detective as Strike’s sidekick.

Strike interviews Leonora but he can’t help her with the case. Police found photos. They take Lenora away into custody as the prime suspect. She screams out, Orlando becomes distressed, and Leonora is dragged away in tears. Leonora fears for her daughter as it’s only ever been her and Owen caring for their daughter. Except there is someone. Who they are isn’t known as they’re played by an extra whose presumably from social services. In fact that raises far more questions than it should but we never spend even a second on it.

In the next scene its morning and Robin makes Matt breakfast. He asks her to get the day off work. She tells him she will ask. Strike emails her at 5AM about the case. He then calls her and asks how Matt is doing. Because Strike’s a decent human being who wants to get on with both of them. He even tells Robin, unprompted, to take as much time as she likes. However, offended, she counters that they’ve already had clients complain because they’re behind schedule with their ongoing investigations. Um… no. Stay with your man in his hour of need Robin. Honestly Strike can’t win. He is considerate of a guy whose constantly belligerent to him, Robin is openly aiming to become a detective and likely take his client base from him after he’s paid for her training (which is what she wants to happen). He would be better off going back to doing it all by himself really. (and he kind of does later on in a later case but that’s a story for another time…).

So this is part one of this case’s ‘moments we are not meant to dislike Robin though we clearly will’. I mean seriously. I know there are people who justify themselves saying ‘oh I needed to get out of there! They were being so miserable.’ Well yes that’s what grieving is unsurprisingly. If he was like that six months down the line fine but Matt just lost his mother so I think he’s allowed a free pass for the moment to grieve. Rowling really just has some odd perspectives on things like this. Yes Matt is a thoroughly unlikable guy but to have Robin make excuses to leave him grieve alone is cruel. We get it. She really wants to be a detective and is single-minded in that pursuit but you can’t brush off this sort of behaviour time after time throughout the stories.

Strike has a meeting arranged with a man in Devon and Robin insists she will drive them there (in a hire car). And she does. As if you can just walk up and get a hire car instantly. Strike says why Devon. Robin remarks at least it’s not Cornwall. What, did Rowling have a bad experience in Cornwall too? That’s a bit out of left field save that it’s a further drive. She really is venting through this book it feels and the adaptions not being able to cover everything though no doubt some stuffs been left out.

They arrive at Daniel Chard’s country house with modern internal décor and are asked to take their shoes off before entering. Then Daniel, who has injuries to his hands from broken glass, says actually Strike doesn’t need to due to his leg. Daniel gets his… Thai?… servant to make coffee.

Daniel only wishes to speak to Strike so Robin goes to the kitchen. Sidekicks in the kitchen then. Send the woman to the kitchen… Rowling the feminist adhering to traditional gender role room allocation in a house.

Daniel reveals that Owen had an accomplice. He knows because there are things in the book which Owen couldn’t have known about. There is a reward of £10,000. This reward is never brought up again nor if Strike gets it when he dicovers the other author at the end. Daniel asks Strike if he’s read the book and confides it has things about him and Andrew in it.

Andrew’s wife was the suicide at the beginning. Liz says they were close. She considered Owen a genius and she had a crush on Andrew. Info dump…

Robin goes to the toilet. Manny, the Thai servant/boyfriend, blurts out he didn’t push Daniel down the stairs but in fact he fell down them by himself. This is never expanded on. In the book it was implied Daniel was gay. Well the TV series turned that up to eleven then… it’s implied there was a lover’s quarrel prior to Strike and Robin arriving. Not much to add… they just kind of leave it there as something they added but never developed. It therefore reminded me of a scene from Sasha Baron Cohen’s film Bruno unintentionally due to how petite the guy was. The one with the fire extinguisher. Go look it up. No in fact here’s a clip. It might even be the same actor for all I know…

Daniel adds Strike, and after a moment at Strike’s insistence, Robin on the guest party list so they can meet people involved in the events. That’s convenient of course but at least somewhat believable in contrast to the last case where they just seemed to walk in everywhere with little resistance.

Later Robin and Strike meet in a cafe and recount, in public, the key points of the case. Just to make sure the audience have kept up. I expect in a later book, if they do these in public cafes, for a suspect to sit in there and overhear what they’ve found out and used it to their advantage since this is so foolish. Ignoring too their poor manners in public but speaking so loud in a small cafe too.

Robin suddenly comes out and wants to know what Strike wants – as if he owes her something apparently. He says he wanted to train her he can’t consciously do so if she’s marrying someone who hates the work. He needs a person who can do the hours and tells Robin it’s the reason he and Charlotte broke up. He would pay for a partner to go on a training course but not an assistant. Then jokes, to try to lighten the mood now he’s said this, by asking for a bite of Robin’s sandwich. Robin says it’s not a good sandwich. GET IT? SHE’S SAYING SHE’S DAMAGED GOODS SUBTEXTUALLY… also no employer has offered training without some sort of price to be paid and Robin has done nothing but badger him about becoming a detective as if he owes it to her from the moment she first entered his office as an agency paid office temp helping put his paperwork in order.

Later they’re on a country lane, in the hire car, where there is a build up of traffic as a vehicle has broken down and it’s created a bottleneck. That it didn’t completely stop the traffic was a miracle from my experience where many country lanes are barely wide enough for one vehicle let alone have enough you can create a bottle neck where there is still movement. But then I know what I’m talking about here in Wales unlike a writer who is secluded in her mansion who had a somewhat comfortable, urban focused, life beforehand.

So what does Robin do? Wait and go past the traffic issue in a few minutes like a normal person being safe on the road? No. Of course not. She reverses, drives into a field and pulls off some off-road motor rally driving stunts drifting around gates and such. Strike is of course nervous as she is doing this with the mad, glassy-eyed, smile of a sociopath mowing down pedestrians.

They get past the block in the road… all 20 metres of it down the road though Robin seemed to drive about four times that distance through the fields and probably could have made their trip that much shorter by not doubling back.

So.. yeah. Those fields are private property of the farms and she just caused what could legally be deemed property damage. They were not on a tight schedule or anything either to thinly justify this little action sequence. She just felt like it and thus did it because she got frustrated for a few minutes having to deal with the reality of traversing rural roads. Prime detective material there… no wonder Strike wanted to train her.

Strike asks what she was doing. She tells him she did an advanced driving course. She says this smugly implying ‘see I can do anything’ as if driving in a field is the same as deducing the facts of a criminal case , potentially, having an innocent person prosecuted if you’ve got your facts wrong. But let’s face it Robin is becoming a textbook case study example of sociopathic tendencies. She didn’t get what she wanted so she intimidated Strike through reckless behaviour. You can argue it was ‘girl power’ showing him she was capable but he had good reason not to arbitrarily turn to his office administrator and ask ‘why don’t you become a detective?’

Strike has a voice message on his phone. He should also have his last will and testament after Robin’s actions today if he’s sensible. Andrew says he won’t read the book and he didn’t like Owen.

Leonora is taken into prison from the house and for no real reason they have her daughter on the doorstep there to further distress the girl. Classy. I half wonder if this was some criticism of the social services depicting them negatively in the book because Rowling once, and just once, had some trouble with them before Harry Potter took off.

Robin drives to the train station, jumps out and runs to the train to go back to Matt.

Oh great. Yes, let’s pretend like you care now. She even sits in the first class carriage to make sure she doesn’t associate with the common people. In fact she comes across like the subject of Pulp’s song now I think of it. She wants the detective life but doesn’t seem to appreciate what it entails.

And in the meantime she leaves Strike stranded in the ‘loading/unloading bay’ in the car… that’s not even a joke. I’m not sure he even knows what is going on for a moment as she ditches him so suddenly.

He offers a passing Irish girl £20 if she will drive him home. That doesn’t look dodgy at all… but what else can he do? There’s a whole mini-adventure here we never see occur on-screen.

Then he gets a call about Leonora telling him she’s been taken to prison.

DUN DUN DURR.

But no really how did he get home? What was the Irish girl’s reaction? What happened after? Questions that will never be answered.


Part 2 (Episode 4 of the series).

Fun fact: I lost most of my original notes on this episode – hence the long delay after it’s broadcast to the point the next case ‘Career of Evil’ has already aired the first half – so this is mostly working off an edited compilation of scenes uploaded by Katerina Varela. Give her page and videos some support on YouTube please as they’re a great help thouh they omit anything not featuring Strike and Robin.

Robin watches an interview of Owen again. His first wife committed suicide. Nothing comes of this oddly. Maybe it was discussed more in the book.

Strike is in a mystery location. Robin calls him and asks ‘are you awake?’ when he answers. Well I don’t know if ‘sleep phone-answering’ is the 21st century version of sleepwalking but I would hesitate it’s a yes – unless his phone was stolen… They discuss the wife and she offhandedly thanks him for letting her stay a little longer with her grieving fiance… but quickly goes back to discussing the case so clearing it was just an empty courtesy and she wasn’t grateful really…

Next thing you know Strike is walking down the stairs to his office and Robin is there. He says it’s Sunday. She knows. She says ‘I think we should start taking a closer look at Andrew Fancourt, don’t you?’ which of course is a loaded question. She is dictating that they should. Honestly could she be any more thirsty to become a detective… she says she’s got his address and ‘let’s go’.

ORPHANED SCENES FROM MY ORIGINAL NOTES WHICH OCCUR AT SOME POINT DURING EPISODE TWO

  • Robin reads a section. Strike says Leonora is innocent. He even goes as far as to bet his good leg on it. If he lost the bet this would become a British remake of Ironside…

  • At the prison Strike has his female lawyer friend (who we’ve never heard of before) represent Leonora. The dilapidated house couldn’t be sold and the items used in the murder had been bought with the Quine family credit card. Her husband spoke to her of the novel. Strike warns her that could be used against her. Yes apparently it’s Strike who needs to say that and not the legally trained person he brought along. Is she just arm candy for him or as a blunt diagesis narrative excuse to explain how he got access to Leonora in the prison?
  • Leonora is angry Strike didn’t keep her out of prison. She just wants to see her daughter again.
  • He later has lunch with his half-brother in a bar. The actor, if he isn’t Tom Burke’s real life brother, looks a lot like him. They have the ‘we are related but not close though we like each other’ sort of dialogue you can expect of characters who will become more relevant later in the series once Rowling has a use for them (as murder suspects/victims most likely). The brother flirts with the waitress at this exclusive place and gets the information Strike needs as they catch up with each other.
  • We cut to Robin running in the countryside as if there’s nothing else happening in life at the moment. No doubt it’s excused as a bit of trendy mindfulness – which right now is a bit selfish really for her to be doing. Matt, still holed up at home, answers her phone when it rings. So Robin, who so desperately wants to get back on the case left her phone behind? I’ve seen plenty of runners have their phones on an armband so this seems coincidental. This convenience allows him to discover she hired a car for ‘being Strike’s taxi’. She could afford to do that but not stay and help him arrange his mother’s funeral he decides. In fairness he has a very good point as she put career (or more exactly her desire for a career she is unqualified for as of yet despite throwing it in her employers face constantly) ahead of emotional support for someone she is engaged to and you would assume loves though we are shown no signs of it. Are there any negative consequences for Robin’s decisions ever? No. No, there are not. Because Robin is perfect and untarnished in the mind of the writer.
  • Back at the prison Strike and his friend are leaving and she warns him to have no relapses regarding Charlotte. He laughs it off but indeed both wordlessly know it isn’t that easy for him. Even tertiary characters are more emotionally developed than some of the main cast… Now her use to get Strike access to Leonora is over she disappears from the story never to be seen again.
  • Strike goes to see Richard. a.k.a. Mr police detective. Strike can’t believe Leonora is stupid enough to buy a disguise. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or further needless debasement of the Leonora character. Which writer’s partner wound Rowling up the wrong way at a few dinner parties for this level of venomous writing exactly?
  • Back with Robin she and Matt are lying in bed and there is clear tension between the two. He was there for her when she needed it but clearly she can’t be there for him. (spoilers: eventually in the series it’s revealed she was raped. Hence her over compensating and need to be proactive). He tells her he doesn’t want Strike at the wedding because he wouldn’t give her a day off for personal reasons like bereavement. You can understand his view with the limited information he has but of course we’ve seen Strike be nothing but kind and actually offer all the time off she needed. Robin is manipulating both of them and there are no real consequences to her. However she admits it was her choice as she wanted to be an investigator. She justifies it saying she was doing a Psychology degree and… blah blah justifying her selfish actions. She says she ‘doesn’t want to do this’ and they make up instantly. No consequences and she gets to dictate terms and the conditions of their relationship. No wonder he’s such a passive-aggressive ass everytime we see him as it’s the probably only way he can do anything albeit out of frustration.
  • Strike goes and has dinner with friends. Who are they? We don’t know but apparently it needed to be made clear he wasn’t a loner because ‘eww loners are icky and up to no good’ societal clichés. Disposable characterless friends are better than being alone. Even if they are cardboardcutouts from a stock photograph. (Look at how things ended for one of the characters from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series to get an expansion on the concept). The lawyer friend says she hasn’t met Orlando, Owen’s down’s syndrome suffering daughter, yet.
  • At some point Robin goes to the Quine house to meet Orlando and… well long story short Orlando likes to ‘steal’ things and hide them in her bag. Robin offers an exchange but ultimately steals the contents of the bag. In the bag was Owen’s copy of Bombyx Mori. Robin leaves quickly as she has made Orlando incredibly distressed in a flood of tears. Nothing ever comes of this and in fact in the conclusion Orlando even gives Robin a friendly wave. Because Robin can never do wrong…

Strike finds Robin in the office on a Sunday. He says she doesn’t have to be there but she insists. So she shut her grieving fiancé down when he calls her out on her behaviour and she gets to go play detective too? Protagonist centred morality…

Robin says they should go see the house. Thus they go to snoop around someone’s house. And, lo, did Robin say until Cormoran ‘let us venture forth unto the garden’s of burial’ and lo it was so… for her’s was the way and the just as according to the creator…

They approach a garden gate and Robin asks Strike to give her a leg up. Strike doesn’t make a pun about his leg but instead looks over the garden gate himself by doing a pull up. Hench blud, mah boy is hench yeah? Look at him raising himself up like it ain’t no ting. Well no he huffs and puffs a bit but the TV version is in far better condition than his book counterpart. He sees it’s a cemented over patio so burial would have been impossible. When he drops down, instead of slowly lowing himself, he hurts his stump inevitably. [Also there was a sickening crunch which definitely didn’t sound healthy so… maybe got to the hospital’s A&E while your out and about?] He mutters shit and doubles over in agony. Robin calmly asks ‘are you alright?’ Why yes because that’s what people do when they’re in good health doubling over mutting shit and rubbing parts of their body… But then she tells him to lean on her which after initially refusing he accepts and he apologises about it. Commandery… and by that I mean it plays into Robin’s YOU NEED ME! View that she is more than capable of doing his job for him…

Thus they go to the pub. For the pub’s alcohol shall numb all pains of both the flesh and spirit… plus they’ve nothing better to be doing...

Robin notes it’s Strike’s birthday. For lo Robin is not only perfect in action but also knowledge. She even knows Strike’s passport number. Thus she gives him a gift which consists of a number of Cornish food and drink items. She asks how it is and he replies it tastes of Cornwall. (it’s his hometown or something to that effect so… nostalgia). They discuss the case – again in a public space. Strike keeps talking of the guts, how the police investigators were not brought in on it and that Fancourt writes the sort of stuff suggesting this so they should find him tomorrow. Robin asks if his leg will be fine for that and he says ‘yeah, it’ll be fine’… which she doesn’t believe it seems.

The next day he hobbles into the office using a crutch and Robin offers to tail Farcourt but Strike tells her she hasn’t been trained but she insists she wants to do it. Also she informs him Liz has agreed to talk to him about Fancourt too over lunch ‘which will be okay, you’ll be sitting down’. Yeah go on Robin kick him while he’s down. That’ll motivate him to get you trained!

Then she shows Strike the parody of the ‘Sylvia Plath style suicide’ woman’s novel written by Quine. The woman being Fancourt’s wife. The parody was taped to her grave… with what? Duct tape? Seriously in British weather that thing would have blown half way across town in reality. They think either he’s being taunted or blackmailed. Strike compliments her work. She downplays it regarding how she messed up and he walked right past her. Then Strike says maybe some training will help.

Next think they’re at a swanky penthouse suite, him in classic black shirt and tie while she has a figure hugging black dress on. Daniel Chard invited them Strike tells the doormen… who are stood in the middle of the apartment making you wonder how secure it really is. Robin scoffs ‘plus one, he’s not keen on me is he?’ Well you’re there so… it’s not like he refused your presence…

They go out on the balcony. Strike mocks that ‘nevermind declining booksales everyone I’ve met so far in publishing either has a drink in their hand or arranging to meet for lunch’. Rowling can’t help be salty towards the industry that fed her and put her kids through school apparently. Then Robin quips ‘It’s not a bad life is it?’ so Rowling can have her cake and eat it…

They wander around for a while then Strike lights a cigarette and asks when Matthew is back to which Robin replies he’s back already. Strike gives Robin his coat as it’s cold.

Chard taps a wine glass to call everyone’s attention as he is about to give a speech. Do people still do that? It feels pretentious but it works. He speech is basically ‘publishing has rapidly changed but on things remained true: work with great writers and your readers will come. After 20 years elsewhere Fancourt is returning to this publishing house’. So yes Rowling blowing smoke up her own trumpet there ever so subtly saying ‘I’m one of the greats after one book series and a few spin offs’. Yes you can no doubt quote Baum, C.S. Lewis and other ‘one series’ children’s writers but it still stands they did other stuff too. In Rowling’s case this is it… and it was under a pseudonym until the publishers wanted a boost in sales.

Fancourt thanks them all and that it feels like a homecoming (which if you know the Greek mythos origins of that phrase is actually always a bad thing). He waxes lyrical about writing for Chard then Roper and how they were good days alongside saying how he was an angry young man now he’s an angry old man. Everyone does that ‘middle-class polite’ chortles laugh. Then he finishes saying he looks ‘forward to raging for you’. And they applaud as he leaves. Strike leaves thus leaving an opening for Fancourt to approach Robin… because hey he’s a villain and not a single man of mild success who thinks maybe he can use the boost to his confidence to chat up a woman… nope this is villanous despicable behaviour… He noticed she is taking a while to pick a drink and offers suggestions. Sex on the beach? A long, slow, screw up against the wall? No not really… He says the champagne won’t kill her as he picked it out. She flirtingly smiles and says that’s what she’ll have then and he orders two. Then he asks if she’s read anything good lately in what is, in the context, a very cheesy chat up line. She says Bombyx Mori. He calls it a poison pen letter and asks what she thinks of his depiction. She asks if he has read it but he says people have told him of it. He considered Owen a very minor writer with a very large ego and that their conversation would have pleased him enormously. She asks if she can introduce him to someone and brings him over to Strike. Fancourt immediately addresses him as the one-legged detective… which let’s face it is exactly what people called Strike before these BBC adaptions as it’s his U.S.P. compared to Hercule ‘the moustache’ Poirot, Sherlock ‘you know my name’ Holmes, C. Auguste ‘murder at the Rue Morgue’ Dupin, Robert T. ‘in a wheelchair’ Ironside, Endevour ‘shot of whiskey til I die’ Morse, Theofilides ‘I got a lollipop with your name on it’ Kojak, ‘Frank’ [no official first name]‘ah one more thing’ Columbo , the various Swedish detective of recent, Miss Jane ‘little old nosey women busy body’ Marple, John ‘I’ma LUNDUNAAAA’ Luther, Erast ‘different style every case’ Fandorin and so on.

He tells Strike he’s read about him. Strike wants to talk about Owen Quine’s death. Fancourt compliments him on his choice of bait. They talk of how he was co-owner of the house the corpse was found in. He says he’s not been there in ten years at which point Robin chips in saying he inherited it from a friend who died the same year as his wife. She says she’s sorry for his loss at which he spits he didn’t lose her as he tripped over her corpse in the kitchen. Strike asks if he ever confronted Quine about the parody which he says he didn’t but was certain he wrote it. (Yes because a writing style is like a finger print you couldn’t possibly copy someone’s style could you? Seriously… the logic here even if it’s for egotistical writers is incredibly flawed to the point the resolution wouldn’t hold in court save the culprit began running away like an idiot giving away their guilt). Fancourt changes the subject to Strike being a footnote who pops up whenever the topic of his ex’s marriage comes up in magazines. Strike considers it high praise. Fancourt asks him if he’s attracted to trouble women or they become troubled because of him… but then thinks maybe he should ask Robin instead. Robin says they just work together. GET IT? GET IT? ROWLING WANTS YOU TO WANT THE MAIN DUO TOGETHER! GO WRITE A FANFIC OR DRAW SOME FAN ART! NO IMAGINATION? IT’S OKAY AS YOU CAN JUST DRAW THE ACTORS INSTEAD! Strike wonders why Quine would use Bombyx Mori to deny writing the parody if he did. Fancourt says his wife thought if she married a writer it would change how people saw her but when it failed she tried being a writer herself. He thinks Quine saw himself reflected in her. ‘Most writers are not very imaginative Mr Strike, they end up writing about themselves.’ At this point I laughed for a while thinking of the irony of the line…

He felt Quine was a failed writer struggling to gain some status through writing but was in his shadow. He tells Strike to take care, shakes his hand says ‘respect’ and leaves. Middle aged man talking like he’s from the streets yeah? Strike and Robin look at each other. The patented ‘what a wanker’ look.

The next day the pair are walking down a road to a house with a tree growing up it’s front. A man, the editor Waldegrave, answers the door and shakes their hands as he invites them in, offers them coffee. The whole nine yards. Strike thanks him for seeing them. The man says ‘anything for Owen, ha, bastard’. The guy had been at the party the previous night but disappeared after Fancourt’s speech… well yeah not much point hanging around really. Though part of me thinks Strike probably was too busy staring into the distance in his little ‘BOOM GOTCHA’ trap corner of the penthouse roof area rather than watching where the guy went.

Strike asks what he thinks of Fancourt. ‘Terrific writer, absolute shit of a human being’. He asks if they’ve read Bombyx. Strike confirms they both have though the guy wonders if they know what it’s all about. Robin interjects she didn’t recognise him in it. The guy says he was the cutter because… put your junior detective hats on for this revelation… he was the editor! Quine had used a rumour that Fancourt had fathered his daughter as part of the storyline of the cutter in Bombyx.

Strike says it must have hurt to which the editor replies ‘if you want life long camaraderie join the army; if you want peers to glory in your failure, work with novelists. No loyalty. Of course it hurt me.’ At which point he decides to have a drink as he’s got little to be sober for this afternoon and invites them to join him. Strike accepts a perolo and Robin wonders why. ‘It’ll help him feel we are on his side… and I like perolo’ he mutters to her metres away from the editor. People in the Strike universe are deaf to any noise more than three metres away from then it seems. Chatting of Liz the editor says even on a good day she can be an utter bitch and toasts to new-found cadre. After this he recounts some interesting information.

Liz made a pass at Andrew Fancourt after Ellie, the oven wife, died and Andrew saw it as a badge of honour that he couldn’t get it up for her. He mutters ‘prick’ under his breath and Strike admits he hadn’t been told that story by her. He continues that injured pride is exactly why she went with Quine over Andrew. Strike asks if Fancourt had a motive to kill Quine. The editor cites the claim in Bomyx that Fancourt wrote the parody of his wife’s work himself thus leading to her death. Strike asks if it could be true. The editor wonders as he’s very good at writing it. ‘It’s the kind of viciousness from somewhere even if it’s disguised. A writer can give himself away like that. In variably puts himself in the text more than he knows.’ Strike remarks Chard had a theory about that in regards of Bombyx. The editor confides that Chard didn’t like what Quine said about him. Strike says Chard though the manuscript could have had more than one contributor. The editor finds that an interesting thought and gives Strike a draft of the novel. He says there are many parts which feel like classic Quine with shock horror stuff but there are other parts where… DUN DUN DURR is some use of semicolons which in 20 years the editor never saw him use them once. WELL THAT’S CONCRETE EVIDENCE! (Oh, wait… no it is apprently. Really? Yes…). In the Bombyx manuscript there are several. ‘That is not something a writer embraces late in his career’. Strike thanks him assuring him he’s been very helpful. Robin sits with her mouth open aghast like a blow up doll. That was a weird moment… also it implies she hasn’t a clue as to how it proves the manuscript wasn’t Quine’s effort alone. Good detective skills…

Thus Strike announces he is off to Fulham.

But it’s time for the ‘detective explains their deduction’ scene at the denouement. Strike is in his office’s reception moving a chair to the desk to sit by Robin. Many pieces don’t fit together but this might be the thing that explains it.

  • Silkworms are boiled but in Bombyx it’s cut open. The book features the hero burned by a liquid and the murder site had acid. Katherine kent was expecting a very different book.
  • Waldergrave (aka the editor) and Chard detected foreign influence in the text (RUSSIAN HACKERS!) thus Strike deduces they repeatedly hear the same thing: Something is not quite right with Bombyx Mori.

THEY NEED A LITERARY ANALYST… wherever you go to hire one of those on the fly to compare the writing styles. Robin says she’ll get on that like it’s nothing.

  • The only person they know who spoke to Quine about the book was Liz so Strike is going to go to lunch with her again. ‘Needs must’… which I’m sure is a ‘you fat bastard’ type joke in the book no doubt as he is said to be so unfit but in the TV adaption they’ve only got Tom Burke who, at worst, you would say has a rounded face…

Next thing Strike is at the window reading a sliver of paper noting it has no baroque archetypes before he and Robin dramatically walk out the office into reception. It’s quite silly when you notice the Dutch angle and rising musical chord used as if something incredibly dramatic is about to occur only for it to be the literary analyst. Young and handsome of course as we can’t have any normal people on-screen unless they’re baddies or figures of ridicule. He congratulates them on getting it and Robin says Oxford often ask for it as it has Fancourt’s earliest published story in it. Long story short favouring certain irregular punctuation and such marks out who wrote it due to Quine never using the Oxford comma. Strike asks if it’s proof?

One word: No…

But it does suggest whoever wrote the parody piece also wrote Bombyx Mori. Which… let’s be honest is exactly where the pair were before hiring this expert. Though he does add it probably was the same person who wrote the short story as well.

Strike remarks it’s a sophisticated revenge ‘the story of your grudge in the form of a secret parody of Quine himself’. Robin adds that it leaves all the people around Quine hating him. But Strike feels it’s too complicated. Well they’re all conceited and ‘better than thou’ faux intellectuals so it probably isn’t to be honest. I mean… Finnegan’s Wake if nothing else proves how conceited writer’s can be about their genius and how easily people go along with it…

Strike makes a call to his detective buddy asking he trust him he needs to get a search warrant.

Strike and Robin walk down a road dramatically. She asks if he’s sure about this and he says absolutely. At the private dining club Robin comments it’s like a Bobyx reunion. The music is tense so you know this will be the ‘ah, it was old groundskeeper Willy all along… I would have got away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids’ scene.

Strike asks Chard and Fancourt if they have a moment to discuss something concerning Bombyx Mori. The three men head away from the table. Strike tells Fancourt he read the parody of his wife’s novel. He notes how spiteful it was. At this moment Liz begins to wander over. Strike says both Bombyx and the parody were written by the same person BUT Owen Quine was not the author. DUN DUN DURR (for those who didn’t figure it out much earlier when we had only been hit over the head 3 times instead of 12 with that possibility). Liz excuses herself saying she couldn’t help herself when hearing the name of that ‘wretched book’ raised and not ‘apologise’ to them both. Strike says good evening to her. Quine had written ‘a’ Bombyx Mori and intended to publish it but not ‘the’ version everyone else had read. The original ‘buries a few old sparring partners’ but his anecdote about Mr Fancourt’s limp dick isn’t in the original text they were given.

But then who would have known of it? Was it the editor or….

Everyone turns silently to Liz… who immediately tries to do a runner because that’s what everyone stupidly does when found out in these things so there’s a bit of action and tension to end on an adrenaline high.

Strike can’t chase her due to his leg so he calls to Robin. Liz smashes a vase into Robin’s face like this is an action movie but she continues to give chase a second after Strike checks on her. Outside Liz does a spot on impression of the T-1000 from Terminator 2 as she runs down the road. She nearly gets knocked over as she crosses the street. Apparently for a heavy smoker in her late 50s or so Liz is easily out running healthy, keen exerciser, Robin easily. Let’s say it’s because Robin has heels on otherwise it feels a little ridiculous…

Strike slowly follows and Robin tackles Liz to the ground but not without a tussle and some cat fighting. At this exact moment the police sirens wail and they arrive to take Liz away. Because they can’t announce their arrival until someone else has pinned the culprit down. Have to consider those health and safety and the possibilities of insurance payouts…

The next day and life moves on at the office. Strike calls Robin into his office. He says it might be good news so she should call them a cab… why he doesn’t just do it himself after finishing the call he’s on I don’t know but she has to earn her pay somehow.

Then outside in the sunlight the camera pans and we see Mrs Quine released from prison who trundles up to them like a child gleeful at seeing them… for you see the working class are not like Robin and Strike They are a lower order of intelligence equitable to a grapefruit and thus are like primary school children even after long having children and such. It is for the higher order to have dominion over these Luddites and ensure they are put to good use. That’s the tone of the Leonora character and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that in the book she actually is developmentally challenged considering how she is depicted here…

Liz is in prison on suicide watch. Strike tells Leonora they found the real copy of the book in her house. Chard wants to read it with a view to publishing it and ‘it might even sell a few copies’ he adds. Robin gives him a look and he mouths ‘what?’ as he doesn’t realise how rude it sounded. Ho. ho, ho silly emotionally dense man – don’t you know it’s a woman’s world…

Leonora runs up the steps and joyously reunites with her Down’s Syndrome daughter. A carer… social worker… old woman who is never introduced… looks on happily. The daughter, Orlando, waves at Robin (as if she’s forgotten how she was tricked into giving away her treasure from her bag, and all ends happily. Strike and Robin get back in the black cab and next thing they’re discussing the detective just being glad the right person got locked up. Here we are told they checked Liz’s freezer and that she had been feeding Quine’s guts to her dog… hence all it’s digestion and defecation issues it had. DID YOU GET THE CLUE OR THINK ANIMAL SUFFERING WASN’T A MASSIVE GLOWING RED NEON SIGN OF EVIL? Robin remarks it’s disgusting. Not hoping the dog is okay or if it’s alive but just ‘disgusting’. Strike asks about Matthew and she scoffs about seeing him worse after a rugby match and says she is going to get the tube. She remembers to mention his ex sent in some photos and he laughs she isn’t his problem anymore. He tells Robin he has something for her and pulls and envelope out of his coat. He is paying for her to go on a surveillance training course. Or more exactly ‘you find it, I’ll pay for it’… which on the grand scheme of gift giving is a bit crap. She might find the most expensive course going. ‘So partners yeah?’ he smiles. She shakes his hand and he kisses it. I half expected a ‘M’lady’ and a fedora to fall out his pocket… and he goes upstairs while she walks smiling down the road. Again Robin gets everything she wants.

The End.

Review:

So this time around it’s the second person Strike meets regarding the case that turns out to be the killer. Taking Cuckoo into account that leads me to deduce that in the third case it will be the third person Strike meets who will be the killer in that story.

This book, in a meta-narrative sense, will no doubt be revealed one say as Rowling’s thinly veiled attack on people she doesn’t like in her own literary career and feels are leaching off her. Whether done knowingly or unconsciously will have to be seen.

Robin again is a thoroughly unlikable individual. It’s one thing to bluntly tell your boss you expected to ‘climb the ladder’ though being an administrative assistant and being an investigator are incredibly different skill sets even if you seem to think being an Oxford psychology degree drop out somehow qualifies you by default. Yet throughout the story she keeps on trying to persuade Strike to allow it.

Then she repeatedly leaves her grieving fiancé to go off on what comes across like adventure to her and not work. He might be an arse but that’s vile behaviour.

Hires a car and goes off-road with it. Not to mention she just so happened to take an advanced driving course as if that’s just something you do off the cuff.

The ‘ha ha I’ve got what I want’ trade with Orlando seems… cruel isn’t even the word. Did she take the necklace back as well?

There is just nothing redeeming about her as a character so far in these stories. What challenges does she actually face during these events? That Strike won’t make her a detective when she isn’t qualified? That her fiancé, who admittedly is unremittedly unpleasant to the point not once have we seen why she likes him save it was convenient, is going through the natural process of grieving and needs her to be there for him like… oh you know… a life partner he’s going to marry?! But she wants to go play detective. That a person with severe learning difficulties has incriminating evidence that can solve the case? No matter what scenario she is in she is in control and it’s incredibly difficult to identify with her. Yes I know that it’s eventually revealed she was the victim of rape so her need to be ‘always prepared’ so she never feels vulnerable again could be justified but not to this extent. It’s gone past self empowerment and falling into the abyss of Mary Sue. She has no flaws and thus suffers the Superman syndrome where there is nothing for her to overcome with any difficulty. Solving the problems in this case is as difficult as… well as you reading this right now.

As an example of how her character’s development so far in the series has come across: You needed to learn to read English but once that hurdle has been crossed here you are relaxing reading this like it’s nothing. Meanwhile there’s someone who can’t read English but can translate it and get the gist to find out what is being said and then there are people with dyslexia. This is how I feel any challenges are represented in the Strike novel series. Robin does things like it’s nothing, Strike has to interpret the clues he finds to work things out and the rest of the characters seem to be completely incapable of even comprehending the events of the murder (which is more an issue with the negative portrayal of the police, who’ve blamed the wrong person in both cases so far based on little to no conclusive evidence, than other figures in the story).

So let’s look at another aspect. Robin manipulates a mentally disabled young woman intentionally causing her distress. It’s hard not to read into that since Robin seems like such a glorified self insert. Does Rowling have issues with disabled or ‘deviating from the norm’ people? I mean let’s look at the end of harry potter.

  • Peter Pettigrew – (hand missing) – dead
  • Lupin – (werewolf i.e. infectious disease) – dead
  • Mad Eye Moody – (missing an eye and limbs) – dead
  • Voldermort – (orphan of a broken home and mental illness re: psychopath/sociopath) – dead
  • Severus Snape – ( bad upbringing and a Mudblood i.e. mixed race) – dead
  • Dumbledore – (undisclosed at the time homosexual) – dead

You could extend it to a number of the dead characters really…

Okay the last few are not disabilities but those communities do face persecution to varying degrees even nowadays. ‘Oh but lot’s of people are dead by the end’ you cry… yes but a few of these are ‘list of the dead’ deaths and not given details or any dignity considering how invested people became with the characters over the course of the series while the ‘villainous’ ones above are made to suffer for the most part or a great amount of time is spent noting how deviant they are compared to the social norm. Rowling has an issue with working class people and generally anyone who doesn’t agree with her sensibilities it seems and thus they get reduced to caricatures who are somewhat lesser than the figures she wants you to identify with.

It was an amusing case but the whole ‘you could never replicate another person’s writing style’ seemed a weak keystone piece of evidence to hinge the case on. It suggests the culprit was negligent and that’s disappointing. Most of all it’s hard to ignore the sense that this is Rowling’s own ‘Bombyx Mori’ criticising people she knows in the industry.


Please give Katerina Varela’s YouTube channel a look as it is thanks to her the videos of all the key scenes of the case are all here for your viewing pleasure.

Other C B Strike reviews/synopses:

Strike: The Cuckoo’s Call

Further commentary on the BBC’s adaption

A parody cross over with Line Of Duty

Another parody involving tease trailers at the end of episodes

Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard: Adapted by Gary Owen

Pembrokeshire, 1982. Things are going to change.

Written shortly before the Russian Revolution, The Cherry Orchard is one of the greatest of all plays. Chekhov’s comedy captures a world on the brink of social upheaval. It is a witty, compassionate study of humanity’s flaws and our refusal to face what is right in front of us. Experience this masterpiece radically reimagined by one of the most powerful partnerships working in theatre today – Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan. This new version places the action in another time on the cusp of huge social change – early 80s Britain at the outset of Margaret Thatcher’s regime.

‘Chekhov is one of the great playwrights. His ability to articulate human interaction, with all its flaws and misunderstandings, makes him a natural writer for Gary Owen to adapt.’ Rachel O’Riordan

 

DSC_0028 leaflet

I saw a performance of this adaption, at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, on 25 November 2017 and will discuss a number of the changes made from the original and my rough analysis of how these changes affect the narrative.

Staging:

There is a white floor, a floral patterned sofa at the front, to the right a short ornate bookcase, to the rear a Welsh dresser, a pine table and chairs in the centre and to the left a doormat indicating the entrance to the house. There is also a rear exit which due to the otherwise minimalist staging is a ceiling high white catwalk like exit with the background otherwise being black so you focus on the staged events.

the cherry orchard stage layout.png

 

Here is a basic idea of the staging:

Grey: Outside parts of the stage

Brown: Welsh Dresser, bookcase, pine table and chairs.

Sofa and the toy train which hides under it

Access to the stage off stage left and to the rear.

Staff:

By Anton Chekhov

A re-imagining by Gary Owen

Director: Rachel O’Riordan

Designer: Kenny Miller

Lighting Designer: Kevin Treacy

Composer and Sound Designer: Simon Slater

Assistant Director: Paul Jenkins (a JMK Trust position supported by The Carne Trust)

Casting Director: Kay Magson CDG

DSC_0258 leaflet clockwise rainey, anya, ceri, dottie, lewis, valerie and george aaaa
Clockwise: Rainey, Anya, Ceri, Dottie, Lewis, Valerie and George

Cast:

George: Simon Armstrong

Rainey: Denise Black

Lewis: Matthew Bulgo

Anya: Morfydd Clark

Valerie: Hedydd Dylan

Ceri: Richard Mylan

Dottie: Alexandria Riley

The following breakdown of events and character might be a little rough but hopefully makes sense as otherwise I would have to write an essay on it all. The adaption combines certain characters to reduce the number of characters involved in proceedings and makes sense when you consider this is a family which has lost a lot of money and likely would have let most if not all essential staff go except Dottie who has grown up with them and therefore is somewhat like family in a sense.

Dramatis Personae:

Rainey: Matriarch of the family. She has been living in London until her return at the start of the play. Has a husband who died in a car crash due to being drunk and a dead son who she didn’t save as she fell asleep drunk on the beach.

[In the original: Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya]

Gabriel: Brother to Rainey, uncle to Valerie and Anya. A well off ‘gentleman of leisure’ who seems to just exist on the estate doing nothing much with his time.

[In the original: Leonid Andreieveitch Gayev]

Lewis: Former worker from a line of family who’ve served Rainey’s family on the farm for generations but is now a man of means in a financially better position than them.

[In the original: He is an amalgamation of characters. Yermolai Alexeievitch Lopakhin primarily but he also incorporates the business venture ideas of Boris Borisovich Simeonov-Pishchik in a more proactive manner. He is the one with money and offering business suggestions regarding the property and in the end buys it to make the land into a hotel resort. Rainey believes he is doing all this as vengeance for when they knocked down his grandfather’s cottage to plant the orchard but he denies it when confronted.]

Valerie: Elder (adopted) daughter of Rainey, running the farm and engaged to Lewis.

[In the original: Varya]

Anya: Young student and the younger daughter of Rainey who has just returned to the estate.

[In the original: Anya unsurprisingly. She implies that while at university she has had a female lover, to Ceri’s surprise and views him only as a summer fling at the end of the play though they go off together so it could be implied either she is being bluntly honest or that she is yet again teasing him though it leans more to the former. Ceri was her tutor not the dead son’s.]

Dottie: Housekeeper and maid. Her mother worked for the family before her and died of cancer.

[In the original: Dunyasha but no doubt with lines from the other servants included to the point it needs to be lampshaded she speaks with an inappropriate familiarity which in the original the older servants and their positions in the household might have allowed them. Lewis and Ceri mention she makes more than good money at the estate and faults it on nights out so that aspect of Dunyasha is retained but never shown on stage.]

Ceri: A politically minded, punk music loving, local 30 something who is a former tutor to Anya. His left-wing views are presented as empty counter-culture gesturing when challenged by Anya [in the original: Peter Trofimov with elements of Yasha.]

Rainey’s deceased son: He is spoken about at certain points in the play but only represented by a small wooden train moving unaided from beneath the sofa. He does appear on stage at the very end calling out ‘mummy’ a few times and it seemed pointless to be honest. He drowned when Rainey fell asleep drunk at the beach one day years ago and she often recalls how he was ‘drowning not waving’. In the original he is Grisha.

Charlotta Ivanovna, Yepikhodov, Firs, ‘A Stranger/Vagrant’, The Stationmaster, The Postmaster along with any other servants, guests and such are all absent or their lines integrated into the dialogue of the surviving reduced cast of characters.

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Differences I recall off the top of my head ( I studied the original years ago so might have a few inaccuracies when comparing them):

  • All acts and scenes take place inside the livingroom/dining area barring events at the doorway and when Ceri and Anya dance to some music sat in the orchard which Rainey interrupts drunkenly later on.

  • Instead of a cherry orchard it’s an apple orchard.

  • It is set in Pembrokeshire, South Wales beginning in later March 1982, as the 1st of April (All Fool’s Day) is mentioned in one of the later acts leading everyone to believe George is joking about getting a job though he’s always been ‘a gentleman of leisure’.

  • The play opens on Lewis lying asleep across the sofa with his muddy boots dirtying the floor, Dottie as a joke puts lipstick on his lips and part of the opening, after Valerie helps him take his boots off, is spent with people commenting on it as he worries Dottie kissed him and secretly has affection towards him.

  • Dottie seems far more cynical and bitter than the servants of the original. ‘Welsh humour’ they’ll claim but I could see another production using this script making her far less likeable as it’s such a fine line to tread.

  • Rainey doesn’t have a young lover but has remained living in a hotel in London since her son’s drowning (though I don’t think it’s stated explicitly).

  • Valerie is still adopted and in this version it is never really discussed fully save that Valerie was happy with the family she had been initially put with and resented being taken away by Rainey initially.

  • Rainey and Anya, who has been studying in London, return at the same time independent of each other.

  • Valerie and Lewis are engaged to be married and worry about telling Rainey about it (thus the assumptions of the original are made explicit). Therefore at no point does she say that if she had money she would move as far away from him as possible in the original as far as I recall but it’s said here for drama.

  • Instead of holiday cottages it is their household which will become a hotel with Valerie as the hotel manager, Lewis the owner and Dottie retained (though she refuses as she wants to do something else with her life).

  • Ceri was Anya’s tutor not the unnamed (Grisha) son’s tutor. He doesn’t insist on seeing Rainey and in fact it’s by coincidence of timing they meet when he was visiting. In fact their reunion is a someone pleasant one with her flirting with him and no mention of her son’s death.

  • Anya and Valerie don’t have a conversation about their mother’s debts as it is already apparent even before her arrival. What does perhaps change is Rainey says she had money but only realised after staying in a hotel how much the cost was over time.

  • Much of Act II’s beginning is excised as the servant character’s have been reduced to Dottie who seems quite satisfied with her working class manner.

  • Ceri’s decloration of his political beliefs is usually only to Anya and even then trivialized by her.

  • At no point does George allude to billiards.

  • There is no passing vagrant for Rainey to give all her money to so Valerie’s frustrations are regarding her excessive drinking and the bills she ran up in London with no concept of how hard it has been to keep the estate running in her absence. Rainey giving Dottie her wedding ring may replace this but is placed far later in the play.

  • Generally Lewis, though initially a figure of mockery, is presented as the only antagonistic figure in the play as he combines the aspects of contrasting characters.

  • Anya doesn’t vow to leave her old life behind and in fact seems determined to retain it. But she does inform Ceri she had a girlfriend at university and it’s left vague if they remain a couple at the end.

  • The most distinct difference is there is no party but rather Rainey getting more and more drunk before the contract signing deadline prior to the auction instead. Everyone takes this as her either having her fun while she still can torment them or that she is doing it so, should she sign, it won’t be legally binding.

  • As Rainey has no lover in Paris/London that aspect never comes up so she has no need to leave though she wishes to as there is nothing left for her here. Instead she tells of how her husband died in a car crash while drunk and she was drunk on the beach and didn’t save her son who drowned.

  • Ceri doesn’t fall down any stairs but he does discuss music with Anya as they dance around a record player outside in the orchard and she informs him she isn’t in love with him and what they have at the moment is just a summer fling which hurts him before she puts on a song to mock his feelings and try to break him out of his sorrow from being rejected.

  • Lewis and Valerie (or is it Ceri and Anya?) go out to chop down a tree.

  • Most of the second part involves trying to get Rainey (barefoot, scantily clad in a silk nighty and robe usually carrying a wine glass looking to replenish it, to sign the contract before, in frustration Lewis rips it up as it’s worthless if she is drunk and able to deny responsibility. However a second copy is acquired and she signs it so the auction occurs and Lewis comes and lauds it over everyone declaring his intentions to make the estate a hotel and everyone work there if they wish to with Valerie as the hotel manager. She doesn’t like the idea and instead intends to set up a flavoured yoghurt company for herself which surprises him.

  • Apart from George who had already declared happily he had got himself a job in stocks trading thus isn’t reticent like Gayev in the original. Everyone thought it was an April Fool’s joke but in fact he was telling the truth. He offers Dottie a job as his housekeeper it seems but in fact it’s more. He wants her to be his lover but she is repulsed and refuses having decided to do something other than housework.

  • Rainey, sad that Dottie is like a daughter to her having been with the family so long, gives her the wedding ring she had worn on a chain around her neck since her husband’s death. Dottie recounts how her mother, dying of cancer, went to work and took her along hence how Dottie began working for the family herself. Dottie refuses the ring but Rainey insists. Later George returns it to Rainey having been given it by Dottie who has now left the family’s service.

  • Thus Rainey and Anya are returning to London. Ceri is back where he was. Lewis has a hotel to build while his future wife, Valerie, establishes a yoghurt company. Dottie has gone off to another job. George is now on a stocks trader. Ceri… presumably is exactly where he was to begin with as his political views mean nothing and Anya considered him no more than a play thing.

  • In the adaption the play ends with the ghost of Rainey’s son [Grisha] having been left behind with the end of the family home to enter the consumerist lifestyles of the 1980s. This occurs instead of the old servant Firs being left behind and apparently dying on stage as a symbol of the end of the Imperial age.

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Analysis/Review:

The changes can at times seem subtle and appropriate updates but some seem needless. ‘Oh Anya had a lesbian relationship – how thoroughly modern!’ In fact that is the most notable one, in terms of its intrinsic message, really and seems a subtle dig at the perception of Russia’s official view of teaching homosexuality to children which ha been blown out of proportion. We actually had a similar law in the 80s so her relationship at that time would have been highly controversial (but not illegal as it was in preceding decades) especially due to the Aids epidemic at the time which makes her mention of it so casually highly unrealistic for the setting even for a libertine. Aids was called ‘the gay plague’ and homosexuality really was demonised in the conservative media at the time so the scriptwriter’s inclusion of it is either in order to be politically correct for a modern audience’s sensibilities or he has somehow forgotten that era of history he himself lived through here.

There are 1980s songs played at the end of scenes and when they cut in it’s incredibly loud! Imagine if a speaker is suddenly switched on right next to your head half way into a chorus. It was hard for anyone to not suddenly jump each time.

The costumes are of course variants of the 1980s style but have allusions to period collars or patterns people would associate with the Russia of Chekov’s era. It’s most obvious towards the end of the play when the floral embroidered patterns appear prominently on people’s clothing but felt a nice inclusion in order to distance the production yet still pay it’s dues to the original’s setting.

They changed the ending so instead of the old servant Firs lying down lamenting everyone has left him behind we get the ghost of Rainey’s dead son running on stage calling out to her at the end. The presence of everyone’s memory of him in the household is alluded to by a toy train rolling out from beneath the sofa and so they might as well have repeated that image rather than have a boy, unseen and unheard throughout the rest of the play, run out on stage. It seemed arbitrary and no doubt cost the production unnecessarily. If this production was revised I think the toy train moving again is more than enough. Who was the boy actor? He is mentioned nowhere and almost feels like a little cameo for someone to cast their own child in a nepotistic move. Then again you have that tradition of not naming the actors of ghost characters in other productions like The Lady In Black so it’s not a massive issue really but just feels extraneous.

Lewis and Valerie are explicitly connected almost immediately from the start rather than, in the original Chekov play, everyone assuming they will get together but it’s never confirmed. If they’re not then it may suggest that they too have moved on from each other into a new future as everyone else has. The adaption subverts Chekov’s version in that sense as their equivalent in the original were perhaps the most representative of the new age so now instead they’re the most traditional figures in the play. Albeit with Valerie’s desire to start her own business aside from the hotel it’s not a happy union even before their marriage. Intentional or not that seems the case as everyone else, barring maybe Ceri, subverts the traditional expectations or even those of people familiar with the original where Anya and Trofimov are still in a relationship by the end (if I recall correctly).

Instead of a cherry orchard it’s an apple orchard. Cherry trees are often seen as symbols of sadness or regret at the passing away of a certain situation or of the times in general especially in Japan where they’re often associated with the passing from youth to a more mature world or the loss of innocence. In a general sense you could say the apple carries the same imagery as it’s often depicted as the fruit of wisdom in the garden of Eden which Eve ate thus leading to a loss of innocence and fall from grace. However apples throughout Welsh mythology carry a different association. For example ‘the isle of apples’ better known as Avalon where King Arthur slumbers until Britain needs him again in its darkest hour. Therefore suddenly it’s not a loss but an anticipation for a return that is implied by the setting – except it is the end of an era so taking that symbolism it’s an extra layer of bitterness added on top of all the other alterations already made to create darker tones within the play.

Arguably the retention of the original title and yet change of the orchard’s produce makes no difference symbolically, if you somehow accept it’s set in Wales but ignore Welsh symbolism, but it is something that can be seen under analysis which adds to the further ‘grim dark’ alterations already made. Thus a predominantly comedic play turns into a more austere drama with moments of levity provided by dry humourous comments. The play comes across more emotionally detached than the original despite it being a modernised adaption.

It’s not the first adaption of a Chekov play to relocate events to Wales. Anthony Hopkins adapted ‘Autumn’ from ‘Uncle Vanya’. I did see Hopkins’ adaption at the New Theatre when it was performed but of course that was decades ago so and I don’t remember the film adaption that was also made. The Cherry Orchard I feel takes more risks with the themes but I can’t say it does much positive with them. For example with the exchange regarding Thatcher Ceri has far fewer lines than Lewis who seems to spend at least two acts recounting how his views are the correct perception with little challenge. The worst challenge he receives is Valerie wanting to establish her yoghurt company instead of working in the hotel and that only further drives the ‘capitalism is great’ narrative.

If anything Ceri’s challenges are portrayed as nonsense though of course in the original they were eventually deemed as a forerunner to Bolshevik/revolutionary views and censored during the later Tsarist years. Now in this version it’s almost as if the playwright is confirming the bias of the middle class, well off, student audience who have drifted towards conservative views in recent years while the left-wing is made more and more a caricature of screeching reactionaries in the mass media as often typified as SJWs or latterday Communists waving the communist flags without understanding real world poticial history associated with it. Of course that isn’t portrayed in the play. Instead we get Anya toying with his affections, him being the butt of many jokes as he follows her like a love sick puppy out of scenes and spouting off political rhetoric of little substance beyond his surface level, leather jacket wearing, aesthetic.

The play endorses the 1980s perception of the film Wall Street’s ‘greed is good’ mantra espoused by its villain protagonist Gordon Gecko, which people misinterpreted as a literal validation of capitalism and not a satirical condemnation of such views. Everyone wants something. Objects are the focus of many scenes, especially the ornate bookcase made by a craftsman and the lament it’s going to be replaced by flat pack furniture from now on, on top of conversations about finances and societal positions but where the working class characters seem far more cruel and judgemental than the elites. It almost makes them the victims if not for how things seem to turn out by the end.

The play is more concerned with aesthetics than earnest beliefs. The facade of love, the facade of respectability, the facade of intelligence and integrity. No one in this adaptation truly believes in anything which seems a warped interpretation of the original’s message swapping accepting societal change in the original for the adaption’s ineffectual use of facades where things have appeared to change but they don’t really. The character’s circumstances have changed but they themselves are still the same as they were at the start of the play.

If this was made in the 1980s that would be fine as that was the mass consumerist mindset of the era but having been made now, over quarter of a century later, we see no real reflection on the era and how it has now lead to any number of social issues as a result of what happened then. Anya’s flippant joking of her sexuality certainly would have been a much more serious matter at the time and not something you could just express in a passing line of dialogue to portray her as a free spirit. However it could also serve to show how disconnected from the reality of the rest of society that she treats the matter so lightly when it was a source of much social debate at the time in the media.

Where in the original it was a comedy with dramatic elements about societal change this production in the end is more a screed to how little things change. The well off, like George, will remain well off even if they don’t get everything they want, while those who are servants will always remain so. Lewis may be a hotel owner in future but he will still be serving the guests of the hotel and never truly a master in his own right as even Valerie will be doing her own thing starting a business of her own which will no doubt lead her to spend little time with him. The family home is gone but the family no longer exists anyway and everyone is better off going their own way. If that is the intended message it’s an incredibly cruel and bitter one…

No matter how much money and status Lewis had he will always be socially lower tier than the now poorer, yet still of the socially elite, family. Even if they don’t have the estate they still have their class which will ensure doors are open to them and hypergamy is always an option.

There are various modernisations but the core narrative and themes lose nothing in the translation at a surface level but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I can see purists and those who reflect on the adaption taking issue though it’s an adaption experimenting with the original and is not just in name only thankfully.

If I’m honest the ‘better spoken’ members of the cast, especially Anya, sounded like they had stepped off the set of the first three Harry Potter films as the received pronunciation English used was so sharp and therefore artificial sounding. To me that exact accent is as profoundly unrealistic as the artificially acquired trans/mid-Atlantic accent American actors had in 1930-50s Hollywood films. Meanwhile of course the Welsh accents too are played up leaving only Rainey and George sounding natural. I don’t know if that was intentional or not really. Of course as a comedy, or more so drama due to the alterations here, the caricaturisation is somewhat embellished anyway.

The sudden turns to drama, usually revolving around Rainey’s recalling the deaths of her husband and son but also Valerie’s resentment at being torn from an adopted family she loved to be Rainey’s daughter and Dottie talking about how she hates being in service and being introduced to it when her mother was dying as if being trained as her replacement all feel a little too forced if melodramatically dissonant. In a play that seems so focused on themes of societal change, moving on and accepting this adaption dwells on past suffering to a maudlin extent.

As it’s set in 1980s Wales of course Margaret Thatcher is mentioned. For Ceri she is an evil figure but for Lewis she is a saint as he repeatedly mentions the ‘Right to Buy’ law she passed allowing people to buy their council house homes at a discount of its actual value. Right to Buy is coming to an end as it’s led to people doing exactly what Lewis suggested by buying house after house and letting them out for insane profit.

He is challenged on this and how it will tarnish the family estate’s reputation though he tells them it won’t be their’s anymore. They compare it to making it like a council estate which of course Dottie takes an exception to suggesting she, from a council estate herself, is lesser than them though they’re the ones in debt selling their land off.

So our perspective as an audience is at once challenged without there being a clear right and wrong. It will return the orchard land to residential property land as it was in the time of Lewis’ grandfather but it is the end of an era and lifestyle for Rainey’s family. To Rainey it’s the loss of her father’s work to establish the orchard. To Anya the orchard, for her lifetime at least, has always been an orchard. For Valerie it’s the end of the estate she kept running and will ultimately give up on once Lewis turns it into a hotel.

Therefore the themes of change seem to be changed in fact to one of loss only the more reinforced by our final moments with it being the dead son’s return to try to find a mother who has left him behind. The tone therefore is in fact far darker ultimately than the original play. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as it’s a re-imagining by Gary Owen and anyone familiar with his previous work will be aware of his previous works’ tones.

I liked it when I saw it and it was an excellent production. However the script does seem needlessly dour the more you reflect on the changes. I know initially Chekov apparently wanted to write serious plays but people were finding humour in them and then sometimes people would view comedies as tragedies or vice versa… I think this adaption definitely wants to be on the more dark side of things but the natural humour of the original still found a way to seep into it. It’s good. I would see it again. I just find the scriptwriter Gary Owen tries a bit too hard at times to discuss the darker side of humanity in his works to the point it could easily become a farce in some people’s hands.

Should Gary Owen’s adaption of the play ever get another run in future it is essential viewing for both those familiar and unfamiliar with the original. Highly recommended!

Хованщина (Khovanshchina) by Mussorgsky

a.k.a. The Khovansky Affair

Performance seen at Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) on 30/09/2017.

Performed by the Welsh National Opera (WNO) company.

An opera, subtitled a ‘national music drama’, in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky. The work was written between 1872 and 1880 in St.Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto based on historical sources however the opera was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881.

Khovanshchina deals with an episode in Russian history concerning the rebellion of Prince Ivan Khovansky, the Old Believers, and the Muscovite Streltsy (Russian guardsmen from the 16th to the early 18th centuries, armed with firearms) against the regent Sofia Alekseyevna and the two young Czars Peter the Great (Peter I) and Ivan V, who were attempting to institute Westernising reforms in Russia. Khovansky had helped to foment the Moscow Uprising of 1682, which resulted in Sofia becoming regent on behalf of her younger brother Ivan and half-brother Peter, who were crowned joint Czars. In the fall of 1682 Prince Ivan Khovansky turned against Sofia. Supported by the Old Believers and the Streltsy, Khovansky, who supposedly wanted to install himself as the new regent, demanded the reversal of Patriarch Nikon’s reforms. Sofia and her court were forced to flee Moscow. Eventually, Sofia managed to suppress the so-called Khovanshchina (Khovansky affair) with the help of the diplomat Fyodor Shaklovity, who succeeded Khovansky as leader of the Muscovite Streltsy. Finally with the rebellion crushed, the Old Believers committed mass suicide (in the opera, at least).

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882. Because of his extensive cuts and recomposition, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky’s vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed.

Although the background of the opera comprises the Moscow Uprising of 1682 and the Khovansky affair a few months later, its main themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the minority of Czar Peter the Great and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter’s westernising reforms. It received its first performance in the Rimsky-Korsakov edition in 1886.

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Shostakovich Orchestration:

Strings: violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, double basses

Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon)

Brass: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba

Percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel

Other: piano, harp, celesta

On/Offstage: unspecified numbers of horns, trumpets, trombones

Principal arias and numbers

Scene 1 — Red Square

Introduction: “Dawn on the Moscow River”, Вступление: «Рассвет на Москве-реке» (Orchestra)
Chorus: “Make a wide path for the White Swan”, «Белому лебедю путь просторен» (Streltsï, People)
Chorus: “Glory to the White Swan”, «Слава лебедю» (People)

Scene 2 — Golitsïn’s Study

Aria: Marfa’s Divination “Mysterious powers”, Гадания Марфы «Силы потайные» (Marfa, Golitsïn)

Scene 3 — Streltsï Quarter

Song: “A maiden wandered”, «Исходила младёшенька» (Marfa)
Aria: “The Streltsy nest sleeps”, «Спит стрелецкое гнездо» (Shaklovitïy)

Scene 4 — Khovansky’s Palace

Ballet: “Dance of the Persian Slaves”, «Пляски персидок» (Orchestra)
Chorus: “A young swan swims”, «Плывет, плывет лебедушка» (Maidens, Shaklovitïy, Ivan Khovansky)

Scene 5 — Red Square

Introduction “The Departure of Golitsïn”, Вступление «Поезд Голицына» (Orchestra, Chorus)
Chorus: “Show them no mercy”, «Не дай пощады» (Streltsï Wives, Streltsï, Andrey Khovansky, Marfa)
March: “March of the Preobrazhensky Regiment”, «Марш преображенцев» (Orchestra)

Scene 6 — Hermitage

Aria: “Here, in this holy place”, «Здесь, на этом месте» (Dosifey)
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Historical basis of the plot

The death of the young Czar Fyodor III has left Russia with a crisis of succession. Supported by Prince Ivan Khovansky, Fyodor’s sickly brother Ivan, who is 16, and his half-brother Peter, who is only 10, have been installed as joint rulers, with their older sister Sofia acting as regent. Sofia has allied herself with Prince Vasily Golitsin, a powerful courtier and liberal politician, who is also her alleged lover. Peter, if you haven’t guessed, is the future Peter I a.k.a. Peter the Great who established the westernised city of St Petersburg as the new capital of Russia, instead of Moscow, and led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, westernised, and based on The Enlightenment. Peter’s reforms made a lasting impact on Russia and many institutions of Russian government trace their origins to his reign. So what is being explored in this opera are the last days of ‘old’ Russia and what might arguably be called the prelude to it’s golden era.

Due to regulations applicable at the time of the composition of the opera in Imperial Russia, it was forbidden to portray members of the Romanov dynasty on stage, so Mussorgsky had recourse to a series of symbols and indirect mention of main characters in the plot. Sofia, Ivan and Peter never actually appear on stage.

The principal theme of Khovanshchina is stated outright in the choral number “Akh, ty Rodnaya, Matushka Rus'” in Act I (“Woe to thee native, Mother Russia”), which laments that Russia is bleeding and dying not because of a foreign enemy, but because of fragmentation within.

Something like a three-way civil war is in progress, which basically compresses twelve years of Russian history into one telling. The Czarist court is modernizing, and two powerful forces are resisting these changes: the Streltsy and the Old Believers.

The Streltsy are decommissioned elite soldiers/guards (“Streltsy” literally means “shooters”, just like “musketeers”), past their prime and on indefinite furlough. They are fanatically loyal to Prince Ivan Khovansky.

The Old Believers are Russian Orthodox Christians who have left the state-sponsored church because they disagree with the Patriarch Nikon’s reforms; they also challenge the line of succession to the throne and have refused to recognize the Russian Patriarch. Their leader is Dosifey.

Fortunately for Czar Peter, these two factions despise each other, as the Streltsy are rowdy degenerates and the Old Believers are pious ascetics.

Each of the three principal basses in the opera believes himself to represent the “true” Russia against her internal enemies: Prince Ivan Khovansky claims legitimacy by noble birth and military prowess, Dosifey by religion, and Shaklovity by supporting Czar Peter.

Costume

As seems a trend with WNO productions, such as The Magic Flute, they colour code the different factions.

Red: Khovanshsky and his private army the Streltsy. Khovansky himself, to stand out, wears a great coat with a large red fur collar to distinguish him from others and denote his status.

White: Old Believers members

Grey: Citizens of Moscow, Emma, the Persian dancer (i.e. the victim’s of the other factions actions)

Gold: Liberal aristocracy i.e. Golitsin

Green military uniform with brown great coat: Shaklovity and the Czar’s soldiers

Black: denotes a servant role it seems thus are worn by people with influence existing somewhere between the common person and moral factions if not with divided loyalties.

What I find awkward about this colour coding choice in the production is that even a passing knowledge of Russian history tells you these colours carry significant relevance.

The red of the revolutionary force seems at first glance an obvious choice: Khovansky opposes the monarchy and the Bolshevik’s too did in the twentieth century. So far so good. Shaklovity in military colours again makes him distinct from others as someone morally ambiguous. Golitsin in gold as a liberal aristocrat is fitting.

Grey is used for the chorus in the first few acts, Emma (a maiden from the German quarter) and the Persian slaves of Prince Ivan Khovanky who are victims of the events around them and suffer for it. A neutral body neither white nor black morally they’re swept along in events with no ability to choose their destiny nor protect themselves from the consequence of the actions of the others. Of course the chorus changes throughout the performance to which ever scene requires them to represent Streltsy, Schismatics (Old Believers), Persian slaves or otherwise.

Black is used for functionaries and those who fall somewhere between the morality of the factions. Varsonofyev, Golitsin’s retainer, wears this colour but with gold piping to show his servitude, Marfa who torn between her love for Andrei Khovansky and as a schismatic (acting at times as a diviner to Golitsin) and the scrivener who seems swept up in events around him.

The issue then is the white used for Dosifey and the Old Believers. White is the colour of those who support the monarchy or at least are of nobility, for example the term white emigrefor those who left or were exiled during the revolution and the white army, and yet in this production it is used for the old believers who oppose the actions of their monarchs.

But what other choice is there? Well the robes of Russian Orthodox priests are black so they could have easily just used that colour (despite the Old Believers breaking away from the state endorsed church) and had the ‘servant’ roles be another colour. Certainly if anything Shaklovity, as a loyal follower of the monarchy, should have. out of everyone, be dressed in white if the production is determined to have the setting updated to the early twentieth century quasi-civil war setting. Perhaps it seems I am nitpicking. Certainly Marfa being one of the schismatics (old believers) isn’t clear until much later in the performance as the colour coding leads uninformed audience members astray.

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Cast:

Prince Ivan Khovansky: Robert Hayward

Prince Andrey Khovansky: Adrian Dwyer

Prince Vasily Golitsyn: Mark Le Brocq

Shaklovity: Simon Bailey

Dosifei: Miklos Sebestyen

Marfa: Sara Fulgoni

Susanna: Monika Sawa

Scribe: Adrian Thompson

Emma: Claire Wild

Varsonofev: Alastair Moore

Kuz’ka: Simon Crosby Buttle

Streshnev: Gareth Dafydd Morris

1st Strelets: Julian Boyce

2nd Strelets: Laurence Cole

Servant: Dimo Georgiev

Persian Slave: Elena Thomas

Production staff:

Conductor: Tomas Hanus

Director: David Pountney

Designer: Johan Engels

Costume Designer: Marie-Jeanne Lecca

Lighting Designer: Fabrice Kebour

Choreographer: Beate Vollack

Assistant Conductor: James Southall

Assistant Director: Benjamin Davis

Production manager: Robert Pagett

Musical Preparation: Segey Rybin

Staff Directors: Deborah Cohen, Polly Graham

Lighting Realised on Tour: Ian Jones

Language Coach: John Asquith

Stage Manager: Katie Heath-Jones

Deputy Stage Manager: Suzie Erith

Stage Design

Overall the permanent stage decoration is of a decimated city reflective of Stalingrad or the general western depiction of Soviet Russia where everything somehow looks like a post industrial wasteland from 1935 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Apparently the country lay in ruin for over half a century. I found that a disappointing stereotype to adhere to.

Ironically, during the 1990s, a number of areas did end up in a very run down state when the economy took a massive downturn until the millennium when it was revitalised again. Indeed a few areas are still in that state but they are the exception not the rule usually being sites that exist somewhere in the countryside left derelict. The only time a city such as the setting of the opera Moscow would be in this state was during war time. ‘But they’ve taken artistic license’ people will say to justify it. Yes and in the musical Billy Elliot they trivialise a very emotionally turbulent period of within living memory history for working class people in Britain for the amusement of the middle classes which trivialises the brutal conflicts between striking picket lines and police with irreverent song and dance number. Sometimes art offends intentionally to begin a dialogue and other times it does it through ignorance. The setting is not the Soviet union, as most audience members will assume, nor is it ‘mystic Russia’ as the launch event described it. It’s a caricature underplaying the brutal historical reality like pirates, cowboys and soldiers in children’s productions.

The designers obviously wanted an iconic image of early revolutionary Bolshevik led Soviet Russia and watched a lot of western produced films set in Russia during the Soviet era but mostly filmed elsewhere (Gorky Park, Child 44, Gulag, Silk Stockings, Ninotchka, etc) which all share the same grim grey and brown colour pallet to depict it as a post industrial hell – which in areas around factories and closed cities would be true as it is anywhere, but the impression in all these films is the entire country was like that – which means even over a quarter of a century after it’s end we still live with the propagandist image of the Soviet Union which is perpetuated by visual designers who type in Soviet Russia to a search engine, see Stalin era depictions in Western propaganda films and say ‘good enough’ and copy it. Unlike North Korea Russia doesn’t have an eternal leader and if they did it would definitely not be Stalin and, it should come as no surprise, the country did actually develop after Stalin’s death and not stagnant in the aesthetic of the Stalin era (although of course the Soviet Union had plenty of periods of stagnation in later decades but that’s a story for another time).

I just find it very awkward they depicted the setting like this when they seem to have chosen a quasi-civil war setting which inevitably reminds the audience of the real life conflict which occurred between the revolutionary Red Army against the monarchist White Army yet assigns the colours inappropriately. During the civil war the white army supported the Czar while in this production white represents those who oppose the Czar. The production covers a time period of about 12 years and apparently Moscow lay in ruins throughout that time. ‘Artistic license’ no doubt applies.

Below is a rough layout of the stage design.

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  • In the layout graphic you see the grey steps upon which performers sit or lay.
  • The green pieces are the scribe desks which each have a small desk lamp to illuminate them.
  • The green diamond is the pillar with a light on top of it which the scribe is forced to climb, by Streltsy soldiers, to read what is written on it. A pile of books/papers spill out of it when the illiterate Streltsy are informed of what is written there.
  • The purple barrier is on an overpass above one of the access points to the stage.
  • The yellow chair and painting are used when Khovansky confronts the Golitsin about Sofia.
  • The red hexagon is the bath where Khovansky is killed.
  • The red circle represents the ball on which the Persian dancer performs nude (actually she has body paint/skin toned clothing I think but I was sat in the gods so it was hard to tell when she discarded her silk dress).
  • The white ramp is lowered in later scenes when Dosifey comes to speak to the other Old Believers and when Khovansky, now an old man, tells the Streltsy to go home and await their fate instead of fight when the Czar’s forced descend upon Moscow to eliminate them.
  • On the left side is a wall with empty windows in a waffle like shape. At the start of the play light is shone through the gaps to show the dawning of the opera’s events and at the end, to bookend the opera, as the building in which the Old Believer’s commit mass suicide. At this point a smoke machine is lowered from above and the followers bring heavy stage lamps onto the steps which illuminate in the final moment depicting them tableau like in death.

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Things of particular note, both good and bad, during the Welsh National Opera (WNO) performance I saw.

The tower of leaflets in the first act which is opened and spills paper out across the floor is very effective in portraying the proliferation of knowledge the scribe causes by reading out the proclamation in Act I, scene iv.

The scribe, in act I, scene IV, and Emma in Act I, scene VI, are both bound with red chords to represent the social binding they both undergo through force by others. Sadly I don’t recall this being used again later so these come out as somewhat of an anomaly and I have to question why the idea wasn’t followed up with for later scenes.

When Golitsin is sent into exile he is carried lying on top of the painting used as the background of act ii. In his hand is a book he is reading while the actor, for dear life, hangs onto the side of the painting as he is angled towards the audience while pretending like he is relaxing. If you imagine some of the more naïve medieval depictions of saints which ignored realism you can image what this looked like. It was at one turn effective and yet oddly hilarious and I don’t think in this opera that was intentional.

In the mass suicide scene one person wouldn’t stop moving towards the back of the group. The smoke machine let out a little puff and that was it. It was on stage, hanging from the fly tower, for about 20 minutes only to do that. Or it may have meant to represent the thurible/censur used by Orthodox Christians but if so it still stands it produced only a slight puff of smoke and the staging of the scene makes you think they all just laid down rather than committed suicide via immolation.

I’m pretty sure the Russian pronunciation by some of the performers was off. The only one most would note is when someone, Shaklovity I believe, pronounces emphatically at the end of one line ‘Спасибо as ‘spa-see-boh’ when the naturalised way so say it is ‘spa-see-bah’. I don’t know if it was the performer or the director who went with that. Either way it really took me out of it a few times. At the launch event it was noted ‘for time’ that The House of the Dead would be performed in English while Eugene Onegin and Khovanshchina would be performed in Russia. Part of me wishes they had done this in English as I suspect they performers are not all experienced in performing in Russian if they’ve mostly been called to do works in French, German or Italian as there are inevitably differences in the languages. It’s a little sad but not completely unexpected. The actual performances themselves were of a high standard desptie all my criticisms.

In the WNO production, during the Dance of the Persian Slaves they have a single dancer in a silk dress perform over Khovansky while he lays in his bathtub. She performs a number of gymnastic postures and such then removes her dress. She has body paint across her chest and, I assume, flesh tone knickers on (I was sat in the upper circle so for intent and purposes she seemed naked but there’s no indication she would be otherwise WMC put warnings about it anywhere on the production’s literature) then climbs on top of a ball and rolls around the stage accompanied by bare chested men stabilising it. She takes Khovansky’s coat and drapes it over herself… then, after performing her piece, sits there on the ball for about ten minutes in shadow watching Khovansky be assassinated in his bath and all the other Persian slaves walk past and spit on his corpse. The dance was composed by Rimsky-Korsakov by agreement with Mussorgsky and I would be lying if I said it is noticeable that it stands out compared to many of the other pieces instrumentally. Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov have very distinctly difference composition styles needless to say.

The assassination is well done as there is a shower head on the bath and thus when his throat is slit the tap is turned on and a shower of red blood rains down upon him before it’s turned off by the last passing slave and a sheet is drawn over the bath tub until Andrey is made to confront his father’s corpse.

There is a backlit walkway with folds down from right stage when Dosifey and later Khovansky address their followers. It really helps to emphasise the status they are held in by their followers when they appear from stage right on it. Dosifey strides out and is in as much, if more, strength as he was at the start of the play. His determination and disposition have only grown with time. This is contrasted when Khovanshy initially seems to emulate this when the Strelsty call for him. However instead of the barrel chested, physically imposing, leader of earlier acts we see a frail old man hobble out and beg his followers to lay down their arms and prepare for the Czar’s judgement to be passed on them.

It can’t go without mention that you have quite archaic depictions of women. Marfa is lovesick for Andrey and every action she takes is to be reunited with him despite his rejection of her, Emma despite being named is only someone for Andrey to lust after with no further contribution after her first scene, the Persian Slave(s) are there to be Ivan’s playthings, Sofia is never seen on stage but is represented by Shaklovity… the only woman of any note is Susanna (one of the older members of the Old Believers) who ultimately only serves to shrewishly condemn Marfa for her love of the younger Khovansky instead of dedicating herself to the cause absolute.

Khovanshchina WNO

Review conclusion

Clumsy. I think that’s the word I would want to use regretfully, if not lazy for cetain aspects, regarding this production. It’s a revival of the 2007 production and it seems like they haven’t built on what they learned back then. ‘A decade has passed, no one will remember what we did last time. We hardly do ourselves!’

At the launch event it was joked they dusted off one of the older works and apparently that’s all they did thinking. The photo used for the promotional material, even at a glance, is clearly the old costumes as you see a man dressed in traditional black robes and not this productions choice to have the Old Believers wear white. This isn’t a revival by a retread with a new coat of paint sadly. In Hollywood films we see remakes of older films that don’t add anything to the original, don’t find a successful new interpretation nor make their own version but just seem to retread the exact same steps as their predecessor and often makes the same, if not more, mistakes. Apparently that can happen in opera too from what I saw here. If anything it’s gotten sloppy trying to experiment on some aspects that they didn’t fully consider.

The performers do their best, proving their status in the world of opera and I find little fault with them beyond some pronunciation which can be expected if they’re not often called on to perform in Russian often (let alone the suggestion of there being little time to prepare which was suggested at the season lauch event) but I think it was a lot of the staging and other choices which really took away from, rather than supported, the production.

The Persian dancer certainly was out of tone with the rest of the production. You have to ask if it was mandated by someone with influence making what is meant to be evidence that Khovansky has abandoned any noble ambition and given into decadent hedonism watching ballet instead was turned into a burlesque show for the audience. It takes you out of it completely it’s such a contrast to every thing else even compared to other productions of the opera by other companies. A brave choice but one that should have been reflected earlier with the actions of Ivan’s son Andrey towards Emma to show that despite all Khovansky’s noble words we see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the end.

It seems like I am nitpicking at artistic choices or minor points but it all accumulates. WNO always put a lot of effort into their set designs and staging. You would be hard pressed to say they do anything less than excel in it otherwise but for this production the choices just don’t work. There are some great ideas but the way they get implemented seems half hearted or misinformed at times. Khovanshchina is one of the rarer operas to be performed so they really had a chance to establish themselves further as one of the great opera companies but instead seem to have ‘given it a go’ with a mindset that failure is highly likely. This season they were also simultaneously doing Eugene Onegin and The House of the Dead alongside this piece and I am not sure how those will have come across as they are in many ways much safer options compared to Khovanshchina which perhaps asks a lot of an audience in comparison.

On the whole you might think three and a half hours would be dreadfully long but I found it moved along quite quickly. The only times I noticed the time were are the start, which seemed to take an eternity to establish events, and at the end where it just seemed like, after the pardoning of the Streltsy, everyone left remaining now needed to each perform a piece individually before the finale. People joke about the ending of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy taking forever but really this opera was not well served by reinstating the parts edited out previously.

It is often asked if you need to read up about an opera before seeing it and it’s up to you. WNO on their own webpage introducing people to opera even say this. You might get more enjoyment knowing the story before hand so you can enjoy the performance or you might enjoy seeing the twists in the narratives played out before you without warning. Khovanshchina is definitely one opera you must read up about before or else you will get lost. The colour coding is a good effort to counter this but you will still get lost if you don’t follow it carefully or have prior knowledge of the proceedings.

Khovanshchina: The operatic example of what ‘too many chefs spoils the broth’ looks like.

Originally an opera (subtitled a ‘national music drama’) in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky.

After Mussorgsky died leaving it unfinished Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882.

Because of his extensive cuts and “recomposition”, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky’s vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed.

Of course then each staging might choose to make alterations themselves. In 1913 Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel made their own arrangement at Sergei Diaghilev’s request. When Feodor Chaliapin refused to sing the part of Dosifei in any other orchestration than Rimsky-Korsakov’s, Diaghilev’s company employed a mixture of orchestrations which did not prove successful. The Stravinsky-Ravel orchestration was forgotten, except for Stravinsky’s finale, which is still sometimes used.

Even with only a passing knowledge of Russian classical music you can see that some of the biggest names of the twentieth century tackled the piece and with each alteration came tension on what was the best option. Rimsky-Korsakov streamlined the opera and made it accessible. Shostakovich, true to his own style, included the more experimental sections which perhaps to me make the piece feel excessive in length or, as can be expected of things added back in after a ‘finalised’ version has been created, the pacing is negatively affected so some parts move along at a pace and others seem to come to a screaming stop and drag. Rimsky-Korsakov, if you look up the alteration history, made a lot of shortened sections. It’s a topic far too long for a review as it deserves it’s own focused consideration.

I assume it’s the Shostakovich version performed as it’s not immediately obvious in the brochure which version they went with but no doubt made some adjustments to suit themselves.

It’s a good opera to go see once but I can’t say after this experience I will want to see it again and certainly having seen a few Welsh National Opera productions (Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, etc) this is by far one of, if not their, weakest productions by far. The staging which is one of the company’s strong points falls flat here and at a few points borders being comical or sensationalist for the sake of it.

This review is only about this one production and not the company as a whole. WNO are serious contenders in the world of opera but in this case they underserved Mussorgsky’s opera and, in hindsight, hid it between Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Leos Janacek’s From The House Of The Dead. They sold this seasons operas’ brochures all together in a single volume at the cost of £6 on the assumption if you are seeing one then you’ll obviously be seeing the others too all as part of the R17 event. I’m sure those are both far superior but sadly my experience with Khovanshchina has made me lose faith in them this season. For all I know it was one bad night but it just so happened to be the one bad night I went to see their production of the opera.

During the season Khovanshchina and Eugene Onegin are performed in Russian but The House of the Dead, for timing, is performed in English. Part of me wishes they did Khovanshchina in English too if only to have a bit more control over some of the finer details. The opera has some good arias, the chorus work at every point is astounding but there are certainly some parts which I think will test even moderately patient audiences. It’s definitely not a piece to introduce someone to the world of opera with.

The brochure is nice though and very informative about the different operas so that at least is a nice note I can end on. Buy that as an introduction to the different operas, discussion of their background and have some high quality matt prints of Russian paintings.

Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling: Criticism of the BBC Adaption

Overall the tone is awkward. It’s not dark enough to take seriously and so you start seeing all the narrative conveniences. The original book was apparently filled with dark humour and swearing but it seems both have been toned down for a general audience for fear children might see this due to Harry Potter. People, as a contrivance to push the narrative forward with little challenge, just seem to give Strike information with little if any justification – many breaching the confidentiality of information act time and time again. The characters in this challenge of deductive reasoning be they red herrings, antagonistic persons or actual criminals are all but given pantomime level depictions in terms of their overt antagonism.

Our leading man is an Oxford drop out ex-military police investigation branch member which is as Marty Stu a characterisation as you can do short of saying he’s a blood relative of Sherlock Holmes for a detective story. But he has a prosthesis. That’s his one permanent flaw. Everything else can be changed. He is the wish fulfilment figure for women who wish to ‘fix’ the men they’re involved with. Robin finds him down and out but through her presence he gradually becomes a better man if not detective.

Robin is… bland? I want to say bland but it’s more true to say she is a character who has no real issues (although I know how her major traumatic ‘character development’ revealled later in the series which… suffice to say it was hinted at but it’s still the most blatant ‘if you don’t sympathise with this character and fogive all her sins instantly after knowing this you’re a monster’ tactic possible). She is there as an audience surrogate but doesn’t seem to have much development beyond some quite generic ‘recognises the value in this gruff but talented man’ aspects and an innate ability to gossip and lie using a bad Liverpool accents on the phone. Her fiancé is portrayed as a bit of an arse in order to make Strike seem better by comparison and attept to force us to sympathise with her if nothing else. She has a job offered by Strike yet applies for another job and is offered it (arguably Strike’s job was temporary and she needed something more secure but the series never gives this point it’s due), gets given a dressas a ‘bonus’ for her help (which is a bit sexist ironically considering how far Rowling goes out of her way to declare herself a feminist) but overall she just seems to be another narrative device with little charm.

Their names are a little on the nose too.

Comoran, while being the name of an Irish folklore giant, is also one letter off cormorant (hilariously closely connected to a bird known as a shag in what has to be some of the most juvenile ‘pretending to be mature’ naming possible by an author I’ve ever seen) are described by the RSPB as

“A large and conspicuous waterbird, the cormorant has an almost primitive appearance with its long neck making it appear almost reptilian. It is often seen standing with its wings held out to dry. Regarded by some as black, sinister and greedy, cormorants are supreme fishers which can bring them into conflict with anglers and they have been persecuted in the past.”

… so basically the film noir detective of the bird world.

While cute little robins are described as:

“sing[ing] nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights.

… Robin. Batman. Sidekick. Also small but ready for a fight. Even Rowling had Strike acknowledge it in the book.

So our leading man is old school, a little pompous seeming and previously persecuted (and also he strikes!) while his sidekick is small but pluckyour grizzled male lead and his plucky, red head, young side kick and probable future love interest.

Show Premise

Cormoran Strike, a war veteran turned private detective operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street, is wounded both physically and psychologically. His unique insight and his background as a Special Investigation Branch Investigator prove crucial in solving three complex cases, which have eluded the police.

… Or, as with a lot of pulp fiction writing, ‘the police solved the case with the evidence at hand BUT THEY WERE WRONG watch as our intrepid, Ayn Randian wet dream of a protagonist,hero through brute force, social connections, illegal methods and sheer ‘right place at the right time’ luck achieves the impossible and reveals the truth! Women want him, men want to be him.

As mentioned everyone seems to have, even if only for a moment before dropping out, attended Oxford or Cambridge. The dual purpose being that Rowling is writing to reflect her audience because, it seems to her, only the most educated people apparently read books (apart from, of course, everyone who bought her books who didn’t attend one or the other of those institutions thus making her a worldwide best selling author rather than a literary curio) or these sort of things only occur to ‘the beautiful people’ and social elite whose lives are just so much more interesting than we common folk.

Often you would see that happen with Agatha Christie too but in fairness she was churning so many books out she needed to have as many instantly recognised short hands, e.g. people who go to Oxford or Cambridge are highly intelligent, wordly, knowledgeable and therefore would deduce with some evidence the facts of a crime, as many different locations as possible for variety to appeal (don’t like country estates? How about a village? The seaside? How about aboard moving trains?) and thus it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ since such culturally elite people were financially capable and prone to exotic foreign travel which still wasn’t anywhere near as commonplace as it is nowadays so addeed to the writing’s appeal. It aso reflected the end of the Imperial era’s mindset of venturing into the world and conquering the local troubles – which in this genre’s case is usually a murder or theft. However Rowling is writing that era’s detective story in the modern age and it is an awkward fit resulting in, ironically, a far narrower world in direct contrast to the same figures about a century ago.

In case you’re wondering the second book involves the murder of an author so she fell into that classic ‘write what you know’ author specific trap that early in the series! Stephen King would be proud.

Not one risky step whatsoever is taken in telling the story. If asked ‘please give me the most stereotypical detective story possible’ no longer will we turn to Agatha Christie, who more or less defined the genre single-handedly so originated what others would copy until it became a cliche, but we will turn to Rowling… oh I mean ‘Galbraith’ though we all know it’s her. If you are from Britain and remember when the news covered that it had been revealed she had been writing under a pseudonym then it was this particular book that was being referred to. I guess, as far as the publishers were concerned, it wasn’t selling well enough for such a high value author so they needed to ‘leak’ her name to boost sales.

You can have cliché characters, I mean 90% of literary detectives from the past few decades could fit into the depiction of Strike, apart from his leg, and you wouldn’t notice. Grizzled, likes a drink, ‘seen things’ in combat/police work and generally dislikes humanity except when women throw themselves at them for a quickie. One day someone will write a cross over where one detective replaces the other and no one notices until they actually see their face.

I think my main issue with this adaption, on the assumption the book covers these things, is we get small, but sequence destroying, skips in events. For example does Strike ever lock his office’s entrance? It must be on a latch as every walks in and out of it freely and occasionally people are sat in there waiting though both Strike and Robin hadn’t been in since yesterday. It’s a narrative device we often unconsciously witness. As an example: if you see a character pick up a key the audience acknowledge this and therfore you can skip to them opening the door and without  literally depicting them put the key in the lock – but here we don’t even have the ‘key’ mentioned in passing let alone seen sometimes before seeing the results. In the context of this series it seems everyone immediately gives Strike their life story and not barrier stops him except for tension (e.g. the safe opening). Nor, if I’m honest, do there seem to be any repercussions to certain actions. Does no one wonder where Lula’s will came from when Strike hands it over? Do we really think it would be as easy as Strike pretending to be taking a phone call to walk right into the studio of Guy Some? The police detective seems to just give Strike case information freely without quit pro quo. Strike pays off a criminal to steal the Satnav from the car and it’s never mentioned otherwise.

Everything slots too easily into to place to the point there is no risk nor resistance to Strike uncovering the truth – he even gives chase through a crowded market with little issue though he has an apparently ill fitting prosthesis! It all just comes too easily. If solving the mystery, as with Agatha Christie, isn’t the focus then give us more nuanced character development not just characters who are deemed highly intelligent because you name drop Oxford and Cambridge, are not morally good or physically capable just because they served in the army (was the criminal suggested to be ex-military? If so the depiction of ex-service men as either hero or villain is damning and isn’t a positive considering how many in real life find themselves incapable of re-adapting to civilian life thus falling between the cracks if they’ve no support) and not strangely flawless just because they’re female.

Apart from Rochelle, who seems more a figure of pity, all the women seem successful intelligent and only have faults because of the men they’re involved with. It’s a strangely anti-feminist (e.g. ‘here’s a dress as a bonus’, engagement issues being the main issue for Robin and Strike’s ex seems to instantly not just get re-engaged but marrying someone else in what seems to be a very brief time period), yet simultaneously misandranistic, tone posing as feminist as Rowling has with women where they’re both depicted as perfect, highly intelligent, beings surpassing their male counterparts with ease in every way but at the same time completely reliant upon them though every man has so critical flaw making them anything but sympathetic save for Strike as the leading man whose only permanent ‘flaw’ is a physical one. Most of the male characters are depicted as unrepentant in their antisocial behaviour and yet our leading man Strike, to a limited degree since this is the first book in an assured series (which other authors cannot reply on happening so their characters will evolve over a book), has some small progression from a misanthrope drunkard to a man slowly overcoming his limitations and finding worth in his life. Which is implied to be thanks to our heroine and her plucky attitude entering his life and not his own personal development having closure on what seemed a mutually destructive relationship with his ex. He just hadn’t met the right woman yet to make him a better man. The closest we got to a negative depiction of a woman was Strike’s ex who, after apparently having a very troubled relationship with him which they repeatedly tried to repair, quickly moved on though it’s presented as hypergamy. Oh and the ‘blow job for a fiver’ woman who just seemed, in the context of the series, to be a repugnant caricature of working class people or those on benefits – which Rowling famously once was before the first Harry Potter book got published and found it’s audience. It’s the sort of depiction of the less well off you only see in works of the pre-Victorian literature unless it’s by someone like Charles Dickens, Irvine Welsh, Niall Griffiths or Dorota Masłowska and others where it’s used for social commentary to discuss why these people ended up like this and with their often jaded worldviews.

You don’t get that with Rowling. Bad guys are bad guys. Men are flawed and most can’t be redeemed. Women are perfect except when they rely on men. Men need a woman’s intervention to change. Working class people are very likely criminal scum unless they’re too stupid to be. Basically J K Rowling would like to be the 21st century Agatha Christie but hasn’t accounted, realistically, for shifts in both literature and society.

Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

An irreverent look at the first three episodes of the series which cover the first book in the series.

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A quick introduction to our protagonists

Cormoran Strike

His name alludes to the bird cormorant however it’s actually the name of a giant in Cornish folklore, especially Jack the Giant-Killer. Strike is a very blunt indication to the audience of his manner. Considering the sort of names detectives have there’s no pont mocking how on the nose it is…

Has social connections currency (rock star father, supportive sister)

but is still down on his luck (has debts due to loans)

but even then can afford to bribe working class people.

Has fighting and investigation experience (Afghanistan veteran. Former military police.)

Limitations: A fake leg hence he isn’t fit for the army nor the police but has the skills hence he became a private detectives and moral convictions so he’s not a drug smuggler capable of knowing how to avoid detection.

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Robin Venetia Ellacott

Young.

Office temp.

The first time she met Strike he nearly bumped into her sending her falling down the stairs but then he saved her by grabbing her by the breast. This is never made an issue of and you half wonder if they’ll mention it at some point down the road.

Offered a job by Strike but the teaser for episode two suggests she already has a job interview elsewhere. Commitment issues then…

Inquisitive/breaches confidentiality (looks up data on Strike in depth though somehow has never heard of him despite his father being well known).

Engaged to be married so not a romance option… yet.

Given an expensive dress as a gift at the end. Because that’s what employers do of course.

Limitations: Commitment issues. Ginger. Her middle name is Venetia. She is a sidekick named Robin helping a detective who wears a lot of dark clothing. Even Strike remarks on it in the novel. Wink, wink audience I’m not a lazy writer it’s all meta-narrative intertextuality. I didn’t even bother to change the spelling to something like Robyn.

Verdict: Robin is a self insert fantasy version of Rowling and the sort of man she would like to do the dirty with. Taming him like Kathy tried to tame Heathcliff except Robin is going to be successful.

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The Case of the Clandestine Cuckoo’s Call

Episode 1

An introduction to the by the book cliches so we need never cover character development ever again. Ever. Even after the next ten or so books that Rowling has announced she has planned for Cormoran and Robyn to trundle through with their gradually building, unresolved, sexual tension.

A model leaves a party and returns home and changes into more comfortable clothes. Next thing we know she falls to her death from her balcony and lies dead in the street as the snow continues to slowly fall.

Three months later and it’s been ruled a tragic suicide… but is it? BUT IS IT?!

No, obviously, otherwise the rest of this show would have a very original ending for a detective series where Strike admits actually the police got it right. And Robin would be jobless but that’s besides the point. You tuned in to see a murder be solved not see the trials and tribulations of an office temp.

We begin when Robin, a plucky young point of view character, enters the scene.

She arrives at the office where someone angrily walks out.

We meet the dishevelled detective. Cormoran Strike. He has problems. He has a past.

The office is in disarray.

He is bleeding after a fight with his disgruntled ex-fiancée, Charlotte Campbell, who is exiting the scene. Also she plays no other role in the show except to cause Strike to go out and get drunk at one point so he and Robin can bond. So forget her name. In fact forget the name of everyone but Strike and Robin as they’re all cardboard cut outs you’ve seen time and time again in other crime dramas. Even in adaptions of Sherlocke Holmes no one notices if you omit Lestrade and Mycroft. Same thing for these books so I won’t bother with names for the most part.

As he chases Charlotte he accidentally bumps Robin who nearly falls down the stairs to her death. Except he grabs her breast. Heroic. How many women’s lives have been lost because a man feared to grab a woman by her chest when no other part of the body was in reach? We will never know…

He offers her the temp job. Maybe because he needs the help. Maybe to avoid an accusation of sexual harrassment. We will never know…

He heads out to go drink alcohol. Also to do research in places of group meeting. i.e. the pub.

Robin looks through his papers and looks him up online. Because you look up your employer after accepting a job obviously – and at work so you don’t waste personal time.

A squirely man, generically named John, comes to meet Strike and says his older brother, Charlie (who didn’t bite his brother’s finger), played football with Strike when little. Strike doesn’t remember him though he remembers Charlie. Ooh isn’t he blunt? Isn’t he honest? Already someones knees are trembling!

An investigative police detective offers him the police’s findings when meeting in a cafe. No pretext why… which is no doubt illegal. But that’s how it goes down in the dark underbelly of… wherever the hell this is set in London. Near a posh bit though meaning his office isn’t just run down but actively depreciating the value of properties around him due to how it looks. Really into that shabby chic look. Even has a completely random pipework piece of art on the wall to give it a more grungy look.

He goes to the apartment of the victim and the doorman lets him in to look around and there’s even a well timed coincidental meeting with the neighbours and their driver. Don’t worry the driver is irrelevant after a single conversation.

Strike goes to meet someone but UH OH it’s the uncle, Tony, warning him off the case! The uncle refers to his nephew John. Stop the investigation he warns Strike. John’s so jittery they’ve had to get a shake plate to counteract it as he’s doing structural damage to the law firms offices. He’s doing it at such a frequency he’s phasing through the walls now.

Then Strike walks down a street where out of the blue a working class woman offers him a blow job for money. Because that’s exactly what all working class women do with their day when you are a multi-millionaire author living in a mansion even though you yourself were on benefits once and should know better than describe them like that. He refuses but when he can’t instantly be given the information he wants from a drop in drugs rehabilitation medical clinic he pays the woman to create a distraction so he can trespass into the office, photo documents and contact the suspect.

He meets the suspect, Rochelle Lulla’s homeless friend she met at the drug rehabilitation centre, in a cafe but she runs away. However she only runs around one or two corners so even with the fake leg he keeps up with some effort.

During all this his leg gives him trouble going up stairs, and generally, seems to be an ill fit for him which he should get replaced. But after this episode it never bothers him again… in fact for a guy with a prosthetic he is rather sprightly… almost as if they never told the actor to be conscious that the rle required it whenever they did a full body shot…

The episode ends with him finding the homeless friend in a council flat lying dead in an overflowing, and steaming, bathtub. He tries to do CPR having first wasted time shouting her name in an over dramatic manner. Will she survive? This is the end of an episode and she isn’t Robin so obviously it’s no.

Also this show has really outdone itself. ‘Black guy dies first’ was in effect but also that women get it worse so the first two people to die are both black women… At this rate the door man needs to watch his back.

Episode 2

The homeless friend is dead. Life goes on. Apparently Strike is an Oxford dropout because we can’t trust anyone but a Oxbridge candidate to be capable of solving mysteries. Of course he is because ‘just’ being a former member of the military police wasn’t enough. He has a normal, if somewhat neurotically normal, sister who offers him a bed, which he refuses, and becomes instantly chummy with Robin as if they just instantly click. Meanwhile Strike goes to interview the dead girl’s mother and Lula’s boyfriend who wears a wolf mask because… that’s how Rowling sees the fashion industry? The model there strikes up a conversation with Strike. She was a Cambridge candidate… because we can’t have anyone who isn’t in the top 5% of society with money be a character it seems even for minor figures. She knew his friend and his father – but she assures him she hasn’t slept with them. Oh, okay, thanks… I mean did he need to know about that. Can you guess what happens? A detective meets a beautiful woman… come on… you don’t even need three guesses… that’s right they have sex because he is just that irresistible. She even likes the artificial leg. Then leaves him sleep in at her apartment as she goes off for a morning shoot. Because every detective is a lion sleeping on the rock in the midday sun.

After returning to the officer Robin tells him she didn’t gossip with his sister as if she did him a favour. She also tells him, after his given her a job that she’s got an interview for a HR job elsewhere and has written it in the work diary. I mean she is a temp so okay of course she has to apply elsewhere but to write it in the work’s diary is psychotic as if she thinks that’s normal and not throwing her current employment in his face. Strike visits the downstairs neighbours of Lula. Of course the wife is using the in door swimming pool because hey what well off past middle age woman doesn’t get introduced doing this activity? Oh also she wants grime like Strike. Because he’s a walking sex machine no woman can resist. He’s John Shaft – can you dig it? The doorman also uses that pool apparently we learn later. Robin goes to her interview, gives an incredibly vague answer and on the same day is offered the job… because that’s how life happens for some people apparently? I mean yes if you’re an internal applicant since you’re in the building but she is a temp from an agency presumably unknown to the company she just applied to.

Lula’s boyfriend is already in Strike’s office though the door was, presumably, locked. It’s never mentioned why he came in here and waited save we are meant to always detest him and suspect he did it. His characterisation is done so heavy handedly he risks going into a pantomime routine at any moment. Every scene he is in he is needlessly antagonistic to the point the only way he could realistically be like that is if he was permanently in withdrawal and mentally ill. But it’s never explained so ‘he’s just a nasty piece of work’ is all we can surmise. Also that he’s such a red herring that him actually being involved in Lula’s murder would have been a double fake out reveal.

So Strike figures out the neighbour wife was stuck out on the balcony because her husband is an abuser. We never have any interaction with the husband so we just have to accept this version of events. Women are always victims and men always broken in some way. So then we cut to Strike and the police detective discussing Rochelle’s (the dead friend) death. In a cafe. In the middle of the day. Apparently that doesn’t break any sort of courtesy rule let alone law leading to his immediate firing and likely sentencing for what might amount to an effort to pervert the course of justice if he’s unlucky. Nope – the metropolitan police are the reference library service of crime and you don’t even have to file a freedom of information act request to get extensive details from them.

Sometimes it seems like Strike assumes things and it happens to be true. A better writer might go with that and prove sometimes, even with his extensive training, he can be wrong by doing things by instinct.

So Strike talks again to the overly helpful doorman. Apparently the doorman uses the indoor pool. They seem to make a bit of a big deal about the fact he was away from his station for 15 to 20 minutes while going to swim. Personally I think he would be there longer if he did more than 2 or 3 lengths. Also, and more realistically, there are times when he would be away from the desk when he goes to the toilet. There seems to be some confusion between what a doorman does and what a guard dog does. He isn’t chained to the entrance. So the doorman gives Strike the CCTV recording of the night when Lula was killed. I guess as a pay off for not revealing he abandoned his post but still this is all a bit too easy…

Vashti comes up as a place where Lula tried on clothes on the day of her death.

Leather gloves come into the equation as they were a gift from Guy Some to Lula but the boyfriend also had a pair (why he has a pair of these unreleased fashion items is only, at most, brushed over next episode as Guy gives people stuff).

Strike finds clues like it’s going out of style. Oh wait no. They’re just being handed to him on a silver platter.

At the office Robin answers the phone and Strike’s ex is on the other end. He speaks to his ex and she has already, in what must be the space of a week at most, found a new man and is going to marry him. Hypergamy? Fear of becoming an old maid? We never know. She was a plot device to make us sympathise with Strike.

He says he’s going out for a while so Robin can shut up shop by herself.

She, for no real reason, goes looking for him and finds him in the pub from before. He is of course steaming drunk. However, unrealistically, he’s also terribly PC telling Robin she’s a good person and other such platitudes. The closest he gets to trouble is calling another man ‘beardy’ though of course he has something more than a 5 o’clock shadow himself.

So she takes him back ‘home’ to the office with a carton of chips.

He watches the CCTV on his laptop and announces ‘Got you’… because ‘oi beardy’ and wondering if he was about to get his clock cleaned would have been too funny a cliffhanger.

Oh and at some point he had taken his leg off and instead of putting it back on urinated in an empty cup and, when Robin offers the next morning to clear it away unaware what it contains, he quickly refuses and throws it out the window. If someone doesn’t find a clip of someone getting water thrown on their head out of the blue and made an edited together YouTube video of it then this is wasted potential. Also the uncle is having a fling with the abused downstairs neighbour wife (so maybe they get a happy end after the series though nothing is mentioned in the third episode).

Episode 3

We start immediately in a flashback of Sergeant Strike’s army days as part of a convoy of vehicles. A truck is blocking the path and he notices a guy use a mobile to phone someone. As the convoy is about to pass Strike calls out ‘wait!’ There’s an explosion. Next thing a boy, who was stood with the phone man at the side of the road, points an automatic handgun at Strike, looks at his missing leg and smiles before winking and walking away. The camera pans out and we see Strike lying on the ground with his leg missing surrounded by the corpses of his comrades.

He vomits upon waking. We cut to Robin, pristine walking down the road and arriving at Vashti’s to try on clothes and lure the shop assistant into gossiping about Lula’s last day alive when she visited there. Robin says Strike is her brother and when he turns up and gives his usual gruff offhanded assessment, after giving a a look up and down before revealing himself, that her dress is ‘nice’ and nothing more the shop assistant comments that her brother is like that too. With a little better execution this would have been an amusing scene but it loss a bit of potential in adaption.

Strike is still a bit hung over. Robin tells him what she learned about an abscent shop assistant having tapes a conversation with Lula where she divulges about being excited about meeting someone.

So it’s time to tick off another lead and they visit Guy Some at his studios which are filled with models and such. At reception Strike, unbelievably, pretends to be on the phone and walks by trying to blag his way in. Maybe it was meant as comedy or seriously – it’s hard to tell with this series. To be honest it should have been written a bit more as a comedy as it is so cliché. If it had been this series would be much better.

Guy stops them and calls them out on what they’re doing but allows them in. They go sit in his office and apparently his real name is Kevin. Again I’m not sure if this is meant to be funny or not. In fact he’s a little racist towards white people but nothing much seems to get made of it nor is it really commented on. Apparently that’s preferable to his story about how his father beat him when he wore a dress when little. They see the unreleased gloves and other bits which were given to Lula as a present. I think at this point Guy says he gave them to the boyfriend to so he’s off the hook finally.

So onto the next scene. They return to Lula’s apartment as if it’s got a revolving door. Strike bought flowers for no real reason besides a pointless face hiding moment. Why even return there really except to notice changes with are inevitable since it’s being cleared for the next tenant. They find a library card so Robin will go to the library tomorrow and do some research. Sure… I mean that was in your job description wasn’t it? He gives the flowers to Robin and this leads to her in the next scene having a minor conflict with her fiancé. He is talking of the future but she doesn’t know what she wants.

Meanwhile Strike is down the pub drinking and smoking.

The next day he goes to visit Lula’s adoptive mother. She insists on watching old movies which have a password on them for no good reason. The password is Leopard_1942. She says that’s the year she was born. Because you need to know she is old… no not just ‘of a more advanced age than myself’ no I mean the message is she is OLD O L D – the sort of old that children refer to when they speak about anyone who isn’t a child. Lula’s adoptive white mother is super old. So old. Practically dust already. Except… you know… there are still people that age alive and well so making such a grandstand of it is a bit convoluted but they treat her like she is over a hundred years old the way she behaves. The excuse of course being she is being heavily drugged medicinally so she is a bit out of it though it’s never specified in the adaption what the issue is save being terminally ‘old’. Strike bought some macaroons along to sweeten her up. She’s on a sort of drip feed medicine or dialysis machine so I don’t that’s wise.

So the nervous brother, John, appears. He tells Strike that Lula had been trying to find her birth father. I think it’s mentioned her birth mother was already dead.

Meanwhile Robin goes to the library and uses Lula’s card to see what books she checked out. Maybe things have changed since I last used mine but I’m pretty sure what she does using a computer there to see what ‘she’ last looked at doesn’t exist in real life. At the very least having access to digital copies of research papers… and if they were digital why would they need to be checked out when multiple electronic copies can be looked at simultaneously?

Strike returns to Vashti the next day and finds the other shop assitant there. He tells her recording conversations is illegal and demands a copy of it. So that’s some blackmailing going on there then…

Next Strike and Robin are sat where else but the pub.

Lula’s birth father was a Ghanaian academic but has died since. She shows Strike a photo of Lula’s birth father and birth brother. Strike recognises the belt of the brother’s military uniform instantly. He deduces she must have been going to meet her birth brother not their father. Well yes with the father being dead that would be the obvious answer unless this takes a turn for the occult.

Coincidentally the birth brother, Jonah, is still in the country and meets Strike at the embassy or military base. Her birth brother blames himself for her death as he couldn’t bring himself to meet her. Their father didn’t even know he had a daughter. He resented she was so well off while their birth mother suffered as Lula refused to aid her find her two missing sons before she died as she always sold her story to the press as she was so poor. Apparently Lula had informed him she was leaving everything she had to him and had wanted to piss off her adoptive uncle.

Later Strike encounters the uncle who immediately says he will have to add stalking to his charges against Strike for harassment. Strike says he paid the concierge to have an alibi though the uncle insists, from the very start, he had Lula’s best interests at heart.

Strike goes to a pool hall and enlists the aid of a down on his luck ex-soldier turned full time crook. He asks him to get someone to steal a particular sat-nav but not the car it’s in.

Robin turns the HR job offer down as she wants to be part of Strike’s line of work instead. She then goes home and has an argument with her fiancé. Out of the blue he makes a comment to the effect she will go sleep with Strike. He claims it’s a joke but there seems to be some previous event we, as the audience, are never told about which might tarnish our opinion of Robin. It’s a heavy handed scene to make us dislike him though we know so little about him. See ths guy? ‘I think he’s a wanker and you need to agree’ style writing.

Strike talks to the detective on the case and surmises that the killer will kill again if he needs to. Playa gonna play, killa gonna kill. At this point I do wonder if any women were ever under consideration apart from Rochelle. It’s a bit awkward the one working class character in the series to have relevance to the case was a former drug addict portrayed negatively (alongside miss ‘wanna blowjob’) while figures like Evan Duffield, Lula’s on and off boyfriend and depicted as nasty despite the drug use. The lower orders are animals who cannot control themselves apparently.

Back at the Creswel house the mother is drugged up and can”t remember anything about whether her son was there or not on the night. She then out of the blue comments on how her husbands friends were ‘queer’ and had good taste choosing John…

… um wait. Are we being told John a.k.a. Nervous brother was sexually abused by friends of the family? Or is she just severely homophobic (so we are back to the ‘so old…. she’s like a dinosaur’ image the show is portraying)? It’s a very out of place sudden moment.

Strike says he needs to use the toilet but really he’s going to go snooping around the house. There is usually a nurse present in the house so you would assume she was around but… I guess she was ‘using the indoor pool’ so she is out of the way without explanation.

The uncle arrives knowing Strike is there. How? Who knows but the pressure is on. Strike is in Lula’s old room, which he recognised by the red mittens her adoptive mother mentioned a few times, except actually it’s John’s room. He cracks the safe just in time to pretend to come out of the toilet and announce to the stunned uncle that he should give it a few minutes. Apparently the house had a few toilets which while possible would have been checked in minutes by someone determined to do so like the uncle just now.

Nonetheless Strike escapes with the documents. Next stop is the pool hall to pay off his criminal contact who laments that his ‘boy’ was very sad to have to leave the car where it was. Also he’s given a broken bike bell the robber also took for no real reason except I guess it was shiny and adds to a plot that never really gets developed during this adaption.

Back at the office Robin tells Strike she didn’t accept the HR job. He informs her that he probably won’t be able to keep her on once this job is done. She finishes for the day and… goes down the pub to cry and drown her sorrows. That must be one hell of a pub seat as it’s always the exact same pub and table they sit at.

Strike reviews the evidence. He has what is best described as a ‘recently on _____’ like episode recap of all the moments of the show so far in hopes the audience will instantly piece it all together. It’s trying to do the BBC Sherlock thing but on the cheap. It’s a bit embarrassing. Apparently when he said he ‘had you’ at the end of last episode he meant ‘I’ve a clue to follow’ rather than he identified the culprit.

John, with a bottle of wine, arrives to congratulate him on finding Jonah, the blood brother, to be punished for Lula’s death. Remember John, the adoptive brother, hired Strike to prove her death wasn’t a suicide, as the police concluded, but a murder.

But here is the denouement! He reveals the killer! He worked it out using the evidence suddenly… and because it’s coming to the end and someone has to be the culprit!

It was…

It was…

John! The guy who hired him!

Dun dun durr…

Strike had lured him out of the house via Robin setting up a false meeting and went and got the will. (Which I’m sure is illegal).

Strike tells him the following:

Tony, the uncle not the tiger, knew he killed her but couldn’t admit it to himself. How does Strike know this? It’s never really explained…

He lays out how Jon had the opportunity what with his mother being too drugged to know if he was home or not (oh also he lives at home with his mother – what a loser! I mean even if she is terminally ill let’s judge all people in a similar situation as weirdos right? Right? Because that’s what comfortably well off writer’s seem to be doing right now and ignoring the current housing economy and outdated things like family love), got the gloves at the flat to cover his finger prints (which is sheer coincidence) and framed Jonah for the murder (again how did he know Jonah was going to turn up? Another coincidence!) allowing him to remain appearing innocent. EXCEPT IT WAS PRESSUMED A SUICIDE SO HE WAS IN THE CLEAR IF HE HADN’T RANDOMLY DECIDED TO GET STRIKE INVOLVED. I have to assume he couldn’t find the will… but he had it already! There must be some other convoluted reason which the adaption glosses over.

He also knows he killed Charlie, john’s brother and Strike’s best friend when they were little, because he has the broken bell John kept in his car and the day Charlie died was the code to the safe in his room. The latter would be a memorable date and as for the bell it could have been recovered from the quarry Charlie fell into and John kept it in memory of his brother but… no it’s easier to suggest her took it from the crime scene when little as if to say he’s been a killer all his life. Some people are just born evil apparently and not because of circumstances moulding them COUGH-Voldemort and Snape-COUGH

The stolen will proves John is guilty. Maybe it wasn’t Lula’s old room but John’s so why did he have the mittens? A trophy? Maybe he wanted to be Lula. Maybe he’s gay. Maybe he’s a repressed transexual. Maybe he’s bisexual. Maybe it’s Maybelline. The show throws out the hints but never confirms it just like Rowling’s other works. Dumbledore was gay – the evidence was there in the series you just never put two and two together but Rowling can’t connect the dots for you otherwise she misses out on that lucrative super-conservative market of readers. And if you don’t notice it you’re a homophobe!

It’s obvious that John loved his adopted brother but when Strike took his attention away John couldn’t deal with it and committed an act of passion! And then Lula was with her drugged up boyfriend he knew he could be better for her but she rejected him and it was another crime of passion!

… and that’s what happens when you over read into things boys and girls.

Anyway so the will proves he killed everyone. Lula, Charlie – even Rochelle who ‘knew too much’ and phoned him to tell him about Strike and ended up paying with her life for it as she was deemed unreliable too (if John had a major issue with drug use, whether due to daily seeing what it did to his mother or otherwise, in the books it clumsily included here).

Strike declares that money was a secondary motive to John. The primary one was envy. Why? Because John kept Charlie’s bicycle bell. John’s mother liked to categorise her children: the smart one, the pretty one, the funny one – but John was always second in his mother’s eyes. (So add implied Oedipus complex too while we are giving him every issue under the sun to demonise him as bluntly as possible).

The leather gloves were the fatal mistake. They are porous. Criminals sweat and so John sweated over everything despite thinking he avoided leaving evidence. How Strike knows this and that John didn’t wipe every surface as well as wear the gloves is beyond me though it makes logical sense. It comes across more as a bluff than astute knowledge unfortunately. I mean skin flakes and hairs would also be left behind inevitably to be picked up by a thorough investigation. At least this has up to date, if glossed over, modern forensics being mentioned.

Strike says criminals sweat – and John is sweating.

So do people who exercise… Getting thin to manipulate people. Building muscle to strong arm people. It’s all there. People who sweat are all criminals. And if you don’t exercise but are sat in a very warm room the police are already onto you too. In Summer everyones a crook.

So that is the ‘playground taunt’ necessary to start the inevitable attempted murder fight. John breaks the bottle over Strike’s head. Then they tussle. Then the bottle is broken and being lowered onto Strike’s neck as he resists. They throw each other about a bit and break the frosted glass of the the door.

Then Robin appears and hits John with a fire extinguisher through the broken window. However, now having the advantage, Strike begins to repeatedly punch the unconscious John repeatedly in the face until Robin tells him to stop. There are no consequences to Strike’s assault. Act of passion and all that.

Time passes.

Time passes.

So John’s mother is also dead now. Thus all the Cresswell family members are dead save the uncle. He maybe be an adulterer but it’s with a woman in an abusive marriage which makes it okay (apparently). He says he will honour Lula’s will. He says he didn’t know what happened with Charlie and wanted to protect the family. (I have no idea why Lula didn’t like him actually though that seemed to play a part throughout it all with everyone assuming there was animosity between them). Also he will pay Strike what John owed him. Which wouldn’t happen in a noir story – the detective would just be thankful he got out alive.

At Strike’s office Robin answers the phone which won’t stop ringing constantly. Hey guess what Strike bought her ‘a bonus’. It’s the green dress she tried on at Vashti’s. She reminds him she knows how much it costs. He assures her it’s fine as they’ve plenty of work so he can afford to give her a permanent job as he was able to pay off all his debts.

For the final shot he walks out side, lights a cigarette and walks down the road in slow motion.

The End.

Fun fact: I looked up things and the downstairs neighbour’s wife is the sister of the partner in the uncle’s law firm. So everyone is connected however if it was mentioned in the show it is a very blink and you miss it moment. Hence why they were having an affair. Also Guy Some called Lula cuckoo so that’s where the title comes from. She didn’t call anyone though at the time of her death so… yeah. ‘It’s just a cool sounding title’… There are a lot of small elements you would have to be intensely focused on listening and absorbing in a short period of time but the overall tone and pacing of the show suggests it’s more easy going that it is. In fact there is a lot the adaption glossed over to the point a few minor characters got cut.


The collections of scenes from the episodes were compiled by Katerina Varela so please go visit her YouTube page and show her some support.

I quite enjoyed the story, cliche filled as it was, but it did have a lot of conveniences and I’m guessing a lot has been lost in the adaption from book to screen including seemingly minor, but essential, pieces which connected the various dots of the narrative.

Well I hope that was enjoyable. I will try to do it for the rest of the series too. Next is The Silkworm so that will be up in a fortnight unless they mess around with the scheduling again as they did by having episodes one and two on consecutive nights then left about a week until showing episode three which concluded this case.

Other C B Strike reviews/synopses:

Strike: The Silkworm

Further commentary on the BBC’s adaption

A parody cross over with Line Of Duty

Another parody involving tease trailers at the end of episodes

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in a new production of the play, directed by James MacDonald, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London currently (early 2017). This is the production I shall be discussing in this post from this point on though I do discuss the play in a broader aspect too while doing this.

Stage Layout

whose afraid of virginia woolf staging

 

Beige: stage floor

Light grey: Raised areas

Dark Grey: The entrance and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.

Green: Access off stage. The lefthand door goes to the kitchen, the middle is the entrance to the house and living room and the one on the right leads to the toilet.

Purple: Offstage. I guess those sat on the right would have had some limited view but most events occur towards the front of stage.

Orange: The drinks trolley and the record player.

Red: the seating.

Brown: On the left the fireplace, centrally the table and the cabinet on which the piece of art sits.

Yellow: The triangle is the art piece they comment onn in the first act, the circles the bells that get hit at one point and the diamond a free standing light.

Thick black: Walls.

This image is an estimation of how everything was placed on stage. Kirsty Walk, during the brief break between acts 2 and 3 told us about the staging. The couch and lower level is set out like a boxing ring into which the characters enter to confront each other with the fireplace, doorway and reading areas act as the ringside where they take respite from the frisson of events as observers.

Plot summary

Act One: “Fun and Games”

George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse of each other in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.

Martha taunts George aggressively, and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires at Martha, but an umbrella pops out. After this scare, Martha’s taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled and, at the end of the act, Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit, because she had too much to drink.

Act Two: “Walpurgisnacht”

Traditionally, “Walpurgisnacht” is the name of an annual witches’ meeting (satiric in the context of the play). Nick and George are sitting outside. As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a “hysterical pregnancy”. George tells Nick about a time that he went to a gin-mill with some boarding school classmates, one of whom had accidentally killed his mother by shooting her. This friend was laughed at for ordering “bergin”. The following summer, the friend accidentally killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, Martha and Nick dance suggestively. Martha also reveals the truth about George’s creative writing escapades: he had tried to publish a novel about a boy who accidentally killed both of his parents (with the implication that the deaths were actually murder), but Martha’s father would not let it be published. George responds by attacking Martha, but Nick separates them.

George suggests a new game called “Get the Guests”. George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of “the Mousie” who “tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the up-chuck”. Honey realizes that the story is about her and her “hysterical pregnancy”. The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.

At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George’s presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell (Martha and Nick had knocked into some bells). George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died, and the act ends with George eagerly preparing to tell her. In what is labelled the “Definitive Edition” of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.

Act Three: “The Exorcism”

Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her. The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, “Flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie A Streetcar Named Desire, also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs.

George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game – “Bringing Up Baby”. George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha’s overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her “recitation”, in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son’s upbringing. Martha describes their son’s beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).

At the end of the play, George informs Martha that a messenger from Western Union arrived at the door earlier with a telegram saying their son was “killed late in the afternoon…on a country road, with his learner’s permit in his pocket” and that he “swerved, to avoid a porcupine”. The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, “You can’t do that!” and collapses.

It becomes clear to the guests that George and Martha’s son is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. The fictional son is a final “game” the two have been playing since discovering early in their marriage that they are infertile. George has decided to “kill” him because Martha broke the game’s single rule: never mention their son to others. Overcome with horror and pity, Nick and Honey leave. Martha suggests they could invent a new imaginary child, but George forbids the idea, saying it was time for the game to end. The play ends with George singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to Martha, whereupon she replies, “I am, George…I am.”

Review

When people debate the greatest plays ever written this one is regularly in top 10s and rightly so, when acted well it is one of the most devastating evenings of theatre you can encounter.

However the live broadcast of the current production I saw of it was not…

In a sentence I found that subtlety was thrown out for overt caricature which led the dark dry humour of the play to be performed as if it was an American sitcom.

There are only four roles in the play.

Martha – (Imelda Staunton) A screeching loud New Englander

the daughter of the president of the college

George – (Conleth Hill) an associate professor of history

A put upon ‘family man’ with a whiny nasal tonality

Nick – (Luke Treadaway) A stereotypical all American corn fed jock

a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths)

Honey – (Imogen Poots) A squeaky voiced, ditzy, North West all American girl

Nick’s childhood sweetheart and wife

I think what set it off on the wrong foot was the preceding short documentary we were presented with about the play’s history with talking head after talking head telling us of how Albee has humorous dialogue. This led to certain members of the audience laughing at every few lines as if a laugh track was playing in their head telling them when, where and to what degree to laugh.

Do you ever feel like you’re the young child in the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? That is how I feel about this particular production. It has received glowing reviews but the bitterness of the characters and their predicament is lost in people doing the broadest impressions of Americans they can manage. For the time period and location the play is set it’s not inaccurate but I kept getting the feeling more effort was put into that side of the production than working on the nuances of each exchange between the characters. Maybe I just feel Imelda Staunton is too old to play the role. Yes controversial. How dare I say such a thing of a living legend. But it reminds me of when, in opera, you have people with visible grey hair performing the role of teenagers because they’re the ones with the ability to do so. The performance is good but when you have a very short woman in her 60s. Playing a woman in her 50s, pawing at a tall 32 year old (playing a 28 year old) it comes across as false he would have, at least in this production, an all but implied sexual liaison while his wife lies drunk in the toilet.

The whole production is oddly paced and plays out in the style of a 1960s sitcom in tone. I think what suits it better is to play it far more straight, to allow the black humour of the passive aggression play out without flourishes. Perhaps what I instinctively felt was there was no energy between the performers. Of course it’s about dysfunctional relationships but even that has an energy to it which I found lacking here and instead replaced with energy you expect of a comedy which doesn’t fit the tone I was expecting.

Imelda Staunton all but yells her lines. Each. And. Every. Time. This is a great acting by a living theatre legend? Her performance is praised but there is no nuance. Either she’s shouting, thrusting herself at Nick or rattling off stories intending to shame her husband… until the final scene which is performed well but is too little too late. Nuance be damned. It’s far too over the top. I saw her, in person, performing the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother Rose in the 2015 production of Gypsy and can’t help but feel she has brought over some of that behaviour when reprising the American accent which was a mistake. She is a good actor but something in the direction has led her and the others astray. Less shouting and I probably would have enjoyed it more. There’s a way to be loud without coming across as if every line should be shouted and she is more than skilled enough to do so.

Conleth Hill… I don’t know what to say. He plays the role of a put upon family man from a 1950s American sitcom. Burton played the role as a mild mannered yet passively aggressive man of letters while Hill plays the role as… Varys from Game of Thrones (who he plays) so I am a bit concerned he lacks range as I’ve not had the chance to see him in other productions. If you know Nathan Lane and how he performs comedy roles just imagine him in the role and you’re more or less where I was watching this. What are meant to be bitter barbs of a frustrated man come across like catty comments more fitting of a stereotyped gay character. Maybe that’s something they were implying in this production though I feel I’m giving them more credit that they deserve.

Luke Treadaway plays his role overly safe if not quite bland. Imagine a jock from a comedy film or all American young hero from a war film. There you go you know how he came across both aurally and physically. Admittedly the character lends himself to being played that way but it’s too blunt. The liaison between Nick and Martha comes across as so sudden and forced due to how things have been staged that it’s as if you put two cats on heat in a box and watched them writhing into each other. Partially intentional of course but a bit too forced here when the others are in the room still.

Imogen Poots also plays her role somewhat safe if not overly straight with little if any nuance. Someone apparently watched Grease and decided to replicate a Pink Ladies. The role is a foil for the others and is meant to offer some levity to the deeply embittered proceedings but here, where everything is on the verge of spilling into slapstick, it’s hard to make the role have any weight sadly. She is a good actress and makes the most of what she can thus stealing a few scenes but usually gets left in the sidelines. Often quite literally by being offstage for most of acts two and three.

There is, as the preceding documentary insisted, humour in the dialogue but by drawing attention to it with slapstick like delivery undermines the underlying tragedy of the narrative involving a marital breakdown and how the characters feel trapped by social conventions.

Each person is ignoring reality and perpetuating a socially acceptable facade. They do so to appear as successful members of society when in reality each of them is, in their own way, severely damaged. In their overwrought efforts to fit social norms they only exacerbates their problems until confronted with their reality which ultimately breaks them. Be it Martha marrying George because she wanted to remain a part of her feckless father’s world in which she herself could never impress him. George never becoming head of the History department. Nick who married his childhood sweetheart because that’s what everyone expected of him (especially after the phantom pregnancy) or Honey who you could argue remains a cypher to us beyond her existence as Nick’s wife.

The costumes were what you would expect so there is no fault there and the stage design gives an over burdened, claustrophobic, atmosphere helping emphasis the intensity of the character’s interactions with it’s excessive furniture tightly packed into a small area. Some liberties were taken in order to make it more of a chamber drama than other productions might but on the whole you don’t miss anything substantial.

The play is good. This production is not.

If you have never seen a production of this play before then go watch the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I never suggest watching the film as, of course, it’s a completely different experience – however in this case I think the real life relationship of Burton and Taylor lent the dialogue exchanges a depth that is hard to replicate though, by their own admission, it took a toll on their relationship and Taylor felt she was playing Martha too much in real life afterwards. I feel the play is better played understated and straight while this version has overplayed the humorous aspects.

Personally I feel the delicate balance required for this play is lost and makes me wonder if, in trying to play up to the humour inherent in Albee’s dialogue, James MacDonald unintentionally played up the humour to differentiate this production from others and in doing so completely undermined the drama of the piece. It discredits the themes of reality versus illusion, as all comedy requires some level by trivialising or satirising of reality in order for us to cope with it’s harshness, and the social expectations both we and society expect of each other which few, if any can live up to.

Playing it for laughs too much means the impact of the reality is muted and because Martha is played over the top we see her more as a caricature not as a tragic figure who feels the need to exaggerate her actions in order to garner a reaction – first from a father who all but ignores her when she doesn’t serve his purpose and then a husband she feels is inattentive to her needs.

Nick is the overachiever being both an athlete and a prodigy who got his masters at 19 years old. He has to get things right at all times because that is what is expected of him. Even in the bed room he is expected to be a stud but ultimately, like all the men in Martha’s life, failing her as a ‘flop’. Honey gets pregnant (albeit it’s proven to be a phantom pregnancy soon after) so of course he will marry her as any good guy would. Failure is not an option.

Contrasting to him is George to whom failure is the only option and like any underachiever he plays the role of satirist playing out fictional narratives over and over to trivialise the dramas of reality. He fails Martha by not having children and by not being able to stand up to nor replace her father as a potent, in both senses, male figure in her life.

Honey… is a cypher. Is Honey even her real name or just a moniker everyone calls her by just like Lady Bird Johnson in real life because that’s the only name anyone around her uses? Do we hear of anything she does exclusive of Nick? Thus she is in the role of the trophy wife, as George was the trophy husband expected to have achieved but ultimately failing too for Martha.

Honey and George mirror each other as ‘failures’ – he as an academic and husband and she as a traditional housewife meant to serve her husband and cause him no trouble. Both fail to bear children in comparison to their alpha partners who, over the nights proceedings, are drawn to each other and have a tryst which ultimately leads them to realise that it’s not an equal they need but a partner who compliments and supports them. Honey, despite drinking, plays the doting wife to her husband obeying him when leaving while George, as Martha mocks at one point, makes her laugh and as the play ends he tries, but fails, to comfort her as she admits she is deeply scared now her bravado has been stripped away and she accepts reality now George has stopped humouring her about their son and no doubt any number of unspoken illusions they have maintained with one another until this point.


This review might be a bit patchy but I keep writing things and not posting them so expect, in the following few weeks, reviews of things that are a bit out of date…

Twelve Angry Men

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelve_Angry_Men

Following its record breaking West End run, this powerful new production of Reginald Rose’s gripping courtroom thriller Twelve Angry Men has been hailed as the “classiest, most intelligent drama in the West End”. It brings to the stage the taut brilliance of the 1957 three-time Academy Award nominated film which starred Henry Fonda and is considered to be one of the great ‘must-see’ movies of all time.

A jury has murder on their minds and a life in their hands as they decide the fate of a young delinquent accused of killing his father. But what appears to be an open and shut case soon becomes a huge dilemma as prejudices and preconceived ideas about the accused, the trial and each other turn the tables every which way, until the nail-biting climax…

Tom Conti is one of the most respected and celebrated actors of his generation. Unforgettable as the leading man in hit films such as Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Shirley Valentine, he has also appeared as a myriad of different characters on both the big and small screens as well as on stage. Recent movies include The Dark Knight Rises and Street Dance. Awards include the Olivier Award and Tony Award for his stage performance in Whose Life is it Anyway? and a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in Reuben Reuben. He and Dame Judi Dench were recently jointly voted the Most Popular Actors in the West End in the last 25 years.

Now it’s your turn to witness a ‘BRILLIANT’, ‘RIVETING’, ‘TRIUMPH’of a show.

The play concerns the deliberations of the jury of a homicide trial. At the beginning, they have a nearly unanimous decision of guilty, with a single dissenter in Juror 8 questioning the validity of the evidence they were presented with in the court room, who throughout the play sows a seed of reasonable doubt. It was first made as a 1954 teleplay by Reginald Rose for the Studio One anthology television series, and was aired as a CBS live production on 20 September 1954. The drama was later rewritten for the stage in 1955 under the same title.

Here is a simple diagram of the stage layout as best I could remember it.

12 angry men stage layout

The blue bars at the top are windows with in the second half have water drizzling down them to represent the ongoing storm outside. The red bars are the tables. The central one revolved during the performance (and the direction is gradually turned in doing a full revolution by the end).The yellow circles with the lines are chairs. The yellow bars are the benches. The green bar is the coat rail. The brown bars are the doors (the left most was a toilet cubicle leading off stage). The triangles are where the lighting pillars were. The hexagon, with a blue circle, was the water cooler. The rounded corner squares with blue inner squares were the wash hand basins where a few conversations occurred as asides between some jurors.

The set design is effective and there is no scenery which blocks you view of events on stage. Similar to a recent production of ‘Dial M for Murder’ I saw there seems to be a trend to rotate scenes on stage to, at best, provide a visually different perspective on events, or worst, keep modern attention deficit audiences visually stimulated. During the intermission there was more than one conversation I heard from other groups discussing how they noticed the central table being rotated and debating whether it was the cast doing this of the turning circle of the stage floor (it was the stage floor which has a rotating circle where the table and chairs surrounding it were placed).

The Cast are: – Juror 1: Andrew Frame, Juror 2: David Calvitto, Juror 3: Andrew Lancel, Juror 4: Robert Duncan, Juror 5: Alexander Forsyth, Juror 6: Mark Carter, Juror 7: Sean Power, Juror 8: Tom Conti, Juror 9: Paul Beech, Juror 10: Denis Lill, Juror 11: Edward Halsted, Juror 12: Gareth David-Lloyd and Guard: Jon Carver.

The performance lasts approximately 2 hours 10 minutes including a 20 minute interval.
This production of Twelve Angry Men was first performed on 4 October 2013 in The HOUSE at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. First performance at the Garrick Theatre: 7 November 2013

Each member of the jury represents a different aspect of society:

Juror 1: The Foreman: (Andrew Frame) The jury foreman, somewhat preoccupied with his duties; proves to be accommodating to others. An assistant high school football coach. Tends to attempt to prevent heated arguments. Ninth to enter a vote of not guilty. He represents the balance of debate within the American legal system where the Socratic Method is employed. Each side gets to voice its side but, unlike the impassioned speeches we are used to seeing in American court room dramas, to be done so in a measured manner of comment and rebuttal. His voting later indicates that not only possible, but reasonable, doubt has been cast on the reliability of the case. Though he represents a balanced view by being told he is an assistant highschool football coach we are also being informed of his character as an individual i.e. he is a team player, an authoritarian who respects the authority of his superiors. This is why he holds out as long as he does until voting not guilty – not because he cannot see Juror 8’s logic but that in a sense he believes as there has been a murderer so there must be a culprit and the song is the only one ever presented during the play. Only when all the evidence is easily challenged and the verdict of guilty will lead a highly likely, if not innocent then at least justified murder done in self-defence, boy to being executed.

Juror 2: (David Calvitto) A meek and unpretentious bank clerk who is at first domineered by others but finds his voice as the discussion goes on. Fifth to enter a vote of not guilty. He represents those in society who fear to make their voices heard and more often than not go with the general consensus which can lead to bad consequences as seen with the people of Germany who did not challenge the Nazi party though many knew what was happening in their name was wrong. To be honest I don’t really remember much of this character ironically.

Juror 3: (Andrew Lancell) A businessman and distraught father, opinionated and stubborn with a temper; the antagonist. Twelfth to enter a vote of not guilty. A person ruled by his emotions and unable to be logically objective as a jury member. He sees the defendant as a potential version of his son and in seeing this wishes to excise the thought of it by punishing him. He therefore is the worst sort of person for jury duty as he cannot view the case by its own merits but rather brings to it all his inherent prejudices which influence his actions. As a businessman he is a respectable member of society so he is worse than some of the more negatively portrayed jurors as there is a façade of respectability when we are often presented with his being the least rational. The end of the first act concludes with him becoming violently angry with juror 8, who has constantly tested him, leading him to shouting ‘I’ll kill him’ while being restrained by other jurors. This declaration proves Juror 8’s point that someone will passionately declare this though it is rhetoric and does not mean the person has any intent in actually doing this.

Juror 4: (Robert Duncan) A rational stockbroker, unflappable, self-assured, and analytical. Eleventh to enter a vote of not guilty. Perhaps the most logical of the jurors but one who needs to have all the evidence be refutable before he will change his vote. In doing this we are shown that although rational he still favours the status quo of believing that as no evidence has been provided in the defendants defence then what does exist must be the only matters considered. This shows the fallacy then of being a completely rational person as, unlike Juror 8 who challenges based on the weakness of the evidence, we find with this character that omission is not taken into consideration. To him only what is presented to him exists and in doing this he is easily misguided for example when the female defendant shows signs of being a glasses wearer but doesn’t do so in court and the matter that she may not have seen what she believes she saw is brought into contention.

Juror 5: (Alexander Forsyth) A soft-spoken young man from a violent slum, in the book a Milwaukee Brewers fan, in the movies and on Broadway, a Baltimore Orioles fan. Third to enter a vote of not guilty. This juror represents empathy towards others in decision making as he can identify with the defendants situation having come from a similar background. He is the one who is first accused of changing his vote due to this and although he is not it is one of the earliest reassessments that occur in the play. Why then did he vote guilty initially? Because of social pressure perhaps? There was a crime there must be a culprit though of course at the end of the play we are only told of and concerned by the decision to acquit the defendant not with who did or did not commit the murder.

Juror 6: (Mark Carter) A house painter, tough but principled and respectful. Sixth to enter a vote of not guilty. He often stands up to others when they become outspoken and aggressive. He is the common man of the play representing that people understand the difference between right and wrong but are ruled over by the majority. He therefore is the middle ground of all the jurors and so it is no coincidence he therefore is the ‘middle’ most vote during the entire process.

Juror 7: (Sean Power) A salesman, sports fan, superficial and indifferent to the deliberations. Seventh to enter a vote of not guilty. A person who does not care for the verdict as long as he gets to do what he wants. He is the most distraught at the start of the play as having to discuss the verdict means he won’t be able to go see the sports game he has tickets for. When during the second part a storm means the game is a wash out he becomes more amicable and quiet. However it should be noted his reason for voting not guilty is not so much out of a belief that the defendant is innocent as much as to ‘tip the scales’ so that he is with the majority and thus ‘hedging his bets’. He therefore represents the sort of person who nowadays can often be heard saying ‘what is the point of voting? It doesn’t affect my life’. A short sighted individual only concerned with their own matters and apathetic to others.

Juror 8: (Tom Conti) An architect, the first dissenter and protagonist. Identified as “Davis” at the end. The first to enter a vote of not guilty thus setting off the events of the play. He sees the flaw in the logic of the evidence provided and does not go with the majority and vote with them for an easy life as others may have. We are told he is an architect, a professional, and in doing so we are presented with the bias of the play unfortunately in that many of the professional people are logical while the working classes are ruled by their prejudices and emotions (with two key exceptions in Jurors 3 (too emotionally guided), 4 (too rational and unable to imagine the alternatives not presented). Of course this is not an ironclad rule and we see during the course of events various facets to each character but it does seem to be an overarching aspect to the play where the working class characters will shout while the professionals will speak far more calmly. It is possible it was just the production I saw which gave this impression however. Juror 8 is the idealised protagonist, a person who will stand for what is right no matter how much opposition there is, who never is really challenged successfully in his views though on at least one occasion he actively antagonises a juror into anger to get the reaction of being told ‘I’ll kill him!’ so he is not without a dark side.

Juror 9: (Paul Beech) A wise and observant elderly man. Identified as “McCardle” at the end. Second to enter a vote of not guilty. Someone who has much life experience and perhaps is suggested to have become more liberal with age. He sides with Juror 8 not completely out of agreement but because there is the possibility of there being something to what he has said in challenging the status quo. He however waits until the secret ballot before agreeing showing us that although the older generation may still have a standpoint to provide the are easily put to one side and require others to be the ‘hot blooded’ individual to cast the first stone. He is a figure of respect throughout the play though it is only in offering support and perspective via his life experience in contrast to the younger members of the jury.

Juror 10: (Denis Lill) A garage owner; a pushy and loud mouthed bigot. Tenth to enter a vote of not guilty. The stereotypical working class figure as written by the middle classes. His saving grace in the play is that unlike the businessman Juror 3 he is not expected to know better and thus although he also allows his prejudice to rule his logic he is more excused for it that the ‘antagonist’ Juror 3.

Juror 11: (Edward Halstead) A thoughtful German watchmaker and naturalized American citizen. Fourth to enter a vote of not guilty. He provides a perspective from outside American society. In practise this shows that when he is presented with a fair challenge to the majority view. The play was originally written in 1957 so it is hard to not assume the character was not in Germany during the Nazi regime. Is this then the playwright’s commentary on how the people of Germany, by now fully aware of the atrocities performed in their name, are not ambivalent to other’s suffering and should not be held personally responsible for what the regime did? He provides wordy contributions as if to enact the freedom of speech he has gained in America which was denied to him in Germany. Though it is not addressed as aggressively as it may have been in a real life version of this situation you can imagine he has faced persecution and prejudice and in doing so can identify with being unfairly judged. He therefore represents sympathy where Juror 5 represented empathy.

Juror 12: (Gareth David-Lloyd) A wisecracking, indecisive advertising executive. Eighth to enter a vote of not guilty. He talks big but his vote is easily changed from one to the next. As an advertising executive we see how easily swayed he is in his opinion in order to appease the majority. He switches it back and forth in a matter of minutes based on only small changes in opinion in the others. The playwright no doubt is commenting on the façade of respectable society which so easily can be swayed by external forces.

The Guard: (Jon Carver). I am not sure if he is the voice at the start of the play, when the ensemble are sat on the benches at the front of the stage ‘in court’ being informed, along with the audience, what their deliberation requires. That it must be a unanimous vote in this case, due to it being a homicide, so they must have unanimous agreement amongst themselves whether the 16 year old defendant is guilty of murdering his father or not. His only real role in the play is to bring on required items like the knife and the floor plan of the apartments.

Review: As it is an ensemble play it feels unfair to cite one person over another as standing out in the play. Indeed, if anything, standing out would be detrimental to the piece. Tom Conti’s voice doesn’t tonally lend itself to doing a satisfying American accent unfortunately although a few of the others also adopt broad American accents that we would associate with the 1950s so it is in keeping with the others. Gareth David-Lloyd, of the more prominent characters, has one of the better accents and I have to admit I would not have realised he was the same person who played Torchwood’s Ianto unless I had seen his name in the brochure.

If I had one criticism it would be the revolving central table. Similar to a recent production of ‘Dial M for Murder’ I saw there seems to be a trend to rotate scenes on stage to, at best, provide a visually different perspective on events, or worst, keep modern attention deficit audiences visually stimulated. During the intermission there was more than one conversation I heard from other groups discussing how they noticed the central table being rotated and debating whether it was the cast doing this of the turning circle of the stage floor (it was the stage floor). It seemed very distracting and, to me, a poor choice as there are multiple other pieces of scenery which remain static throughout the play thus giving the impression the table turning is happening in the reality of the play and not being commented on by anyone as ridiculous as that is to read. Very much in the style of chamber dramas, plays occurring in a single room, there felt no need to include the revolving table.

Regarding the marketing its clear they have superimposed replacement actors heads onto the cast of the original run. some of it is okay but on the whole it all seems slapdash and really makes the posters look ugly thoguh i appreciate it is not as if people will look as closely as I did or actually be bothered about it. I am just one of those people who notices these things and lament the loss of the time when marketing involved more than just using basic photshop skills to edit a photograph while abusing filters and basic typography settings. Film posters are far more guilty of this than stage productions however i will admit.

I enjoyed it as a morality play and felt the cast is quite strong. If you get a chance to see it by all means do though I think it is heavily reliant not only in casting good actors but in them working well as an ensemble so there can be no guarantee that big names will result in satisfying performances. I thought this production did well and certainly has received a wide number of accolades. If you can catch it during its tour it is definitely worth going to see.


Next time on the misadventures of blogging… a food or drink review.