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

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

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…

Wałęsa. Człowiek z nadziei [Walesa, Man of Hope] 2013 film

A 2013 Polish biopic film about the leader of the trade union Solidarity movement (and later president of Poland) Lech Walesa by Andrzej Wajda. The film was selected as the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but was not nominated. Recently, on 10/01/2017, this film was shown on BBC4.

Synopsis:

Lech Wałęsa, an electrician at the Gdańsk Shipyards, participated in local demonstrations during the 1970s which became violent and left their mark on him after he returned to his daily routine. Ten years later, a new uprising occurred and unexpectedly became a charismatic leader of the Polish dockworkers.

Wałęsa’s leadership role signifies the beginning of a new movement that successfully overcomes the country’s Communist regime, and Wałęsa is pushed into representing the majority of Poland’s population. The Soviet Union authorities, previously regarded as too powerful to be confronted, eventually tolerate existence of the movement a degree. However he is at one point taken from his home in the middle of the night by Soviet officials to an unknown location. On their journey there they pass a road and Lech declares that the people will support him but his escort laugh at this and tell him to open his window and ask the people themselves. On the roadside are some poor farmers who tell him they hate him and he has done nothing to help them. At the interrogation location he is fed and openly shows defiance to the authorities before being eventually released when it’s clear they will get nothing from him. Later we see his wife accepting the Nobel peace prize on his behalf in 1983 as he believed if he left the country he would not be allowed back in.

The film ends on a note of Soviet members saying they will get him and Wałęsa being left unchallenged by opponents. The Polish example of the group Solidarity causes a domino effect throughout Eastern Europe. People in Eastern Germany follow the Polish example, starting demonstrations for freedom which achieves a peaceful reunification of Germany. The Soviet Union then dissolved alongside Yugoslavia.

In the epilogue we are told that while Europe is reshaped, Poland remains stable and peaceful. Yet a huge variety of political parties unfold and Poland is on the brink of becoming as ungovernable as the late Weimar Republic. Wałęsa is subsequently elected as the first president of the new Polish democracy; but, this is followed by feelings of resentment among the Polish people who start to think that Wałęsa is becoming overly privileged. Consequently, the Polish people start to seek out ways to diminish Wałęsa’s significance, until they finally accomplish their goal through uncovering actions from a past period.

Cast:
Robert Więckiewicz as Lech Wałęsa
Agnieszka Grochowska as Danuta Wałęsa
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Nawiślak
Maria Rosaria Omaggio as Oriana Fallaci
Cezary Kosiński as Majchrzak
Mirosław Baka as Klemens Gniech
Iwona Bielska as Ilona, Wałęsa’s neighbour
Maciej Stuhr as Priest
Małgorzata Zajączkowska as Shop assistant
Marcin Hycnar as KOR member Rysiek
Dorota Wellman as Henryka Krzywonos
Adam Woronowicz as Tadeusz Fiszbach
Marcin Perchuć as Instruktor
Ewa Kuryło as Anna Walentynowicz
Arkadiusz Detmer as Malinowski
Mateusz Kościukiewicz as Krzysiek
Piotr Probosz as Mijak
Ewa Kolasińska as Shipyard worker
Michał Czernecki
Remigiusz Jankowski as Shipyard worker
Wojciech Kalarus as Chairman
Maciej Marczewski as KOR member
Maciej Konopiński as SB agent
Marcel Głogowski as Bogdan Wałęsa (aged 8–10)
Wiktor Malinowski as Jarosław Wałęsa (aged 3–5)
Kamil Jaworski as Przemysław Wałęsa (aged 5–7)
Jakub Świderski as Ludwik Prądzyński
Bogusław Kudłek as Bogdan Borusewicz
Michał Meyer as Jerzy Borowczak
Grzegorz Małecki as UB agent
Ewa Konstancja Bułhak as Customs official
Damian Jagusz as soldier

Review:
Be honest – if you read that synopsis and didn’t think ‘this is propaganda’ then your not being critical. This is a view you must take with any biographical works as inevitably there will be a bias present no matter the intent. Either the subject themselves, in the case of autobiographies, is editting the truth in order to better fit their personal self image or intentionally presenting an image they wish to be accepted as true or, in third party works, you are viewing the events through the perception of someone interpreting their subject for better or worse. It reminds me about someone who once told me they only read biographies because they deal in reality while fiction is just make believe. For such people this film will be accepted at face value.

Andrzej Wajda is a freind of Lech Wałęsa and so there is inevitably a bias. This film romanticises events in favour of depicting Lech Walesa as a man of the people who never did anything questionable. It is a love letter to him displaying his defiant, outspoken behaviour and being seen to be rarely challenged successfully in his opposition to the Soviet era establishment. It is highly romanticised not in it’s imagery, as Wadja’s style is distinctly realist and unsensational (barring a few concessions to cinematic flare), but in how we are presented Lech’s personality, showing him often making political statements and being in control of any enviroment he is in – even when he is taken by the secret police from his family to be interrogated.

Many scenes of the film include achive footage in which the faces of the actors are superimposed onto the footage of the person they are playing. Due to the low quality of the footage in compariosn to modern high definition imagery this is done quite effectively although I would wonder if it feels jarring for those familiar with the real life individuals and this footage in its original form. Apart from this we have dramatisations of Lech’s personal life which presumably has been sourced from multiple accounts to create as close to the actual events as possible – or maybe it’s just from Lech’s perspective and therefore favours his interpretation of events.

In the final third of the film, once he is held by the Soviet authorities, all we have is speculation based on his personal accounts of events. My issue with this? In most of this film we have the intergration of modern and contemporary footage (with the actor’s faces placed over those of the actual historical figures they play) which lends itself to making us unable to distinguish which parts are fact and which parts are further along the sliding scale of fact towards we accept as ‘historical fact’.

What I mean by this is we can only base our knowledge on the accounts given by people of the time and any evidence we are able to establish. History is only what we are told happened and which re-enforces the oft cited cliche ‘the victor writes history’ as we are discovering, time and time again, when historians go back to events long ago and uncover new evidence that the previously accepted ‘truth’ is not what actually happened but was a biased interpretations of events from the perspective of one side.

Why note this distinction between fact and historical fact? This film is doing its best to establish Wałęsa’s legacy as an unquestionably noble figure who did no wrong in his lifetime to achieve his goals and yet there is a challenge to such a perception of him nowadays. Recently Wałęsa has faced accussations of colluding with the Soviet government which he vehemently denies despite growing evidence to the contrary. In the closing minutes of the film we see his interrorgaters comment, to almost cartoonish effect, they will ‘get him later’. This moment works to make the audience also refute any later accusations of collusion they will hear including those currently being discussed in light of new evidence. After all who do we believe – the Soviet authorities who are well known to have used certain methods and obscured the reality of events often or this idealised man of the people?

Further to the cartoonishly villainous declaration of revenge we are given a brief summary, via text on the screen, relaying what occurred after the events depicted. One of these asserts that because of Wałęsa’s actions, and the rise of the Solidarity group, Poland led other Eastern Bloc nations towards rebelling against Soviet control and thus were key in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This film presented an oversimplification of historical events regarding the downfall of the Soviet Union in it’s closing moments by suggesting Wałęsa’s actions, singlehandedly, began the sequence of events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were a great many other world events and internal problems within the Soviet union which led to its downfall so this film, as I have already mentioned, acts as propaganda attempting to secure the legacy of Wałęsa as one of the great historical figures in the history not just of Poland, which has been so hard fought for throughout the centuries by its citizens, but of the world.

He comes across as a historical figure not a man in this film. An image not a living person similar to how canonised saints are depicted. We have seen this time and time again in biopics which cherrypick what is depicted, how it is depicted and perhaps this is why I tend to avoid watching them because ultimately what we are watching is personality propaganda and not a fair account of the individual’s life. Rarely are such films a fair representation of what actually occurred let alone the unblemished, and sometimes unpalatable, truth. Often they instead iconise their subject either as hero or villain.

A caricature who is defined as representing some noble cause and whose example (of their mythos, not their reality) we should follow, is presented to the audience and we are asked to accept it blindly. There are too many examples of biopics being more fiction than fact but that is something to discuss another day. What is safe to say is that the actions of characters in the film must fit the narrative even if it warps the character of the real life person. Examples I can give off the top of my head are First Officer William Murdoch’s depiction in the 1997 film Titanic and of Vivian Liberto Cash in 2005’s Walk The Line both of whom were depicted negatively to enhance the focus narrative without thought to real world events.

Secondary to depictions of Wałęsa are those of the Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci, who is interviewing him as part of the film’s framing device. She is also somewhat of a caricature of the real life person and the choice for her to be used is itself indicative of Wadja’s intentions. Here she is depicted as the classic image all journalists wish to be seen as. Partisan yet invested. Distant yet intimate with their subject. Taking a stand against perceived injustices in the world yet never personally being involved (or indeed effected by it save, as journalist’s often do to create repore in hopes of exposing weakness in their subject, to express a few half hearted suggestions of sympathy – but never empathy). To be objective though they edit what they write and thus can never truly ignore their own experiences in life thus fostering an image which often overshadows the subject they cover. A journalist’s journalist.

The real life Fallaci often came into conflict with Muslims regarding her outspoken criticism of communities both in the East and West while she maintained an aloof air of superiority over them both. During her 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, Kissinger stated that the Vietnam War was a “useless war” and compared himself to “the cowboy who leads the wagon train by riding ahead alone on his horse”. Kissinger later claimed that it was “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press”. In 1973, she interviewed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. She later stated, “He considers women simply as graceful ornaments, incapable of thinking like a man, and then strives to give them complete equality of rights and duties”.

It is hard to suggest that this image isn’t based on one Oriana herself made every effort to enforce during her life through her actions, often intended to incite reaction, and not just Wadja trying to lend further credence to his biopic by using a respected real life journalist in the framing device. She, like any others, was more a journalist seeking glory and building her reputation through conflict than making a difference in the world through her work and reporting things people do not want to accept as reality. Despite the heavily doctored image she seemed to wish to portray of herself fault always lay outside the individual as was the case when she blamed her lung cancer on her stay in Kuwait in 1991 after Saddam Hussein had ordered troops to burn hundreds of oil well alone and not that she had been, by choice, a lifelong heavy smoker. And in this film the fault lay exclusively with the Soviets never with how people did not rise up and challenge them before Wałęsa ascension to, what this film is mythologising as, a figurehead.

Summary:
On many aspects of the film I can find no fault. The acting is impactful, the cinematography up to the standard you would expect of a world class director such as Andrzej Wajda (who sadly passed away 9 October 2016) and it really has the sense, if not the most accurate depiction, of the 1980s in Poland. It is solidly built but the message it wishes to express seems, as with any biographical work, to have a desire to frame events in a certain light and omit anything unseemly in order to create a streamlined mythological narrative about its subject – to create an icon rather than relate a flawed, but inspirational, subject.

My greatest critcism is that Andrzej Wajda considered Lech a personal friend and I feel that this caused him to not cast a critical eye upon his subject. This has led, in this love letter of a film to his freind, to the embellishment of a historical figure and securing of his legacy. It deminishes the moments of true opposition faced in order to secure the heroic, incontestable, historical mythos of Wałęsa. The reason people watch a biopic or read an (auto)biography is to see the person behind the facade but sadly, as is often the case, all we get is a re-enforcement of what was already presented to us elsewhere. If you want an introduction to the life and times of Wałęsa then this is good enough as a biased crib notes like starting point but don’t expect any insight into him or how the Soviet era effected Poland beyond trade union strikes.

If you are interested in the works of Andrzej Wajda, or depictions of Poland under Communist rule, I strongly recommend you go watch Wadja’s Man of Marble (Polish: Człowiek z marmuru) or its sequel Man of Iron (Polish: Człowiek z żelaza) which depict fictionalised characters’ experiences covering the events of the Solidarity movement. In these Wajda is less sentimental about his subject and can better present the moral ‘truth’ of events without concern for offending a friend as has sadly occurred with this biopic made far later in his career.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter

The performance I attended was held on Saturday 3 September 2016 at The New Theatre, Cardiff.

No Man’s Land is an absurdist play by Harold Pinter written in 1974 and first produced and published in 1975. Its original production was at the Old Vic Theatre in London by the National Theatre on 23 April 1975, and it later transferred to Wyndhams Theatre, July 1975 – January 1976, the Lyttelton Theatre April– – May 1976, and New York October – –December, returning to the Lyttelton, January – –February 1977.

Setting

“A large room in a house in North West London” on a summer night and the following morning.”
Hirst is an alcoholic upper-class literature who lives in a grand house presumed to be in Hampstead, with Foster and Briggs, respectively his purported amanuensis and man servant (or apparent bodyguard), who may be lovers. Spooner, a “failed, down-at-heel poet” whom Hirst has “picked up in a Hampstead pub” and invited home for a drink, becomes Hirst’s house guest for the night; claiming to be a fellow poet, through a contest of at least-partly fantastic reminiscences, he appears to have known Hirst at university and to have shared mutual male and female acquaintances and relationships. The four characters are named after cricket players.

Cast

Patrick Stewart as Hirst, a man in his sixties
Ian McKellen as Spooner, a man in his sixties
Damien Molony as Foster, a man in his thirties
Owen Teale as Briggs, a man in his forties
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter.

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Plot
“One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.”

Act 1

A man in his sixties named Hirst begins a night of heavy drinking (mainly Scotch) in his drawing room with an anonymous peer who he only just met at a pub. Hirst’s overly talkative guest, calling himself a poet, long-windedly explains how he is penetratingly perceptive, until he finally introduces himself as “Spooner”. As the men are becoming more intoxicated, Hirst suddenly rises and throws his glass, while Spooner abruptly taunts Hirst about his masculinity and wife. Hirst merely comments “No man’s land…does Not move…or Change…or Grow old…remains…forever…icy…silent”, Before collapsing twice and finally crawling out of the room.

A young man enters and suspiciously questions Spooner, who now becomes relatively silent, about his identity. The younger man introduces himself as John “Jack” Foster before the entrance of a fourth man, Briggs, who is in his forties and who also unsuccessfully questions Spooner and then bickers with Foster.

At last, Hirst re-enters, having slept, and struggles to remember a recent dream. Foster and Briggs have also started drinking, and they refill the older men’s glasses. Hirst mentions an album of photographs he keeps, commenting on the appearances of the people in the album. He does not appear to fully remember Spooner’s identity, insisting that his true friends are kept safely in the album. He begins drinking straight from the bottle, mutters incoherent statements, and continues to ponder his dream—involving someone drowning—when Spooner abruptly says that he was the one drowning in Hirst’s dream. Hirst drunkenly collapses and Spooner now rushes in to Hirst’s aid, brushing away the two younger men and claiming to be Hirst’s true friend. The younger pair becomes defensive and accusatory, asserting their obligation to protect Hirst against “men of evil”. Foster openly criticises his own past, as well as Hirst’s impulsiveness and alcoholism. It gradually becomes apparent that Foster is Hirst’s apprentice and housekeeper, and Briggs is Hirst’s personal servant. All exit except for Spooner and Foster, the latter of who says, “Listen. You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this”. He flicks off the lights, causing a blackout.

Act 2

The next morning, Spooner, alone, stands from his chair and attempts to leave, but the door is locked. Briggs soon enters to deliver Spooner food and champagne, rambling on about how he met Foster and ignoring Spooner’s desire to know why the door was locked. Spooner thinks of a quick excuse to leave; however, when Briggs mentions that both Foster and Hirst are poets, Spooner show vague recognition of this fact.

Hirst himself bursts in and is delighted to see Spooner, whom he oddly mistakes for (or pretends) is an old friend. He speaks as though the two were Oxbridge classmates in the 1930s, which Spooner finally plays along with. Hirst and Spooner then bizarrely discuss scandalous romantic encounters they both had with the same women, leading to a series of increasingly questionable reminiscences, until finally Hirst is accused of having had an affair with Spooner’s own wife. All the while, Hirst refers to Briggs by a variety of inconsistent names and then launches into a rant about once-known faces in his photo album.

Spooner says that Foster, who now reappears, should have pursued his dream of being a poet, instead of working for Hirst. Spooner shows great interest in seeing Hirst’s photo album, but both Briggs and Foster discourage this. All four are now drinking champagne, and Foster, for his own pride and dignity’s sake, abruptly asserts that he desired to work in this house of his own choice, where he feels privileged to serve as famous a writer as Hirst. Suddenly, Spooner asks desperately that Hirst consider hiring him as well, verbosely praising his own work ethic and other virtues. After all this, Hirst merely replies “Let’s change the subject for the last time”. And after a pause worriedly asks “What have I said?” Foster explains definitively that Hirst’s statement means that he (Hirst) will never be able to change the subject ever again. Hirst thinks back to his youth, when he mistakenly thought he saw a drowned body in a lake. Spooner now comments, “No. You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.” Hirst responds “I’ll drink to that!” and the lights fade slowly to black.

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Production Design and Costume:

The safety curtain (well not the safety one but the scene setting one I’ve forgotten the name of) had imagery reminiscent of a dark, foreboding, forest and tattered edging so it didn’t meet the stage floor uniformally. Somehow due to the 2 or maybe three thin layers of gauze it had a 3D like effect.

no mans land stage layout.png

The single room setting of the performance has a semi-circular design, as if we were in the keep of a castle except the walls have a square glass brick effect (which seemed to be popular a few years ago or at least my local cinema and bingo hall use a similar effect) due tinged a dark turquoise. The floor has pale pine wooden slats following the semi circular design and a mat/rug with fleur de leis on it coloured deep turquoise and paler turquoise respectively. This carpeting is slightly off centre from the circular pattern of the floorboards as if to non-verbally indicate to the audience that things are not quite as simple and straight forward as they initially appear. To the rear, of centre to the left, is a window hidden behind heavy, dusty it seems, curtains obscuring any natural light entering the room despite the possibility of Hirst going out for his daily walk (which he refuses as it isn’t very light outside when he looks).

On the right is the single door on and off stage. A plain, varnished, wooden door. To the rear a well stocked bar with a cupboard in the bench hiding even more bottles. A few glasses are used during the performance as Hirst always needs another drink and often so do the others.

The room is sparsely furnitured. To either side are free standing lamps, the right of which has a small table with it. Three chairs populate the room. Two are simple wooden ones but the third, off centre to the left, is the most important. It is Hirst’s green Chesterfield chair which only he ever sits in as the master of the house. Next to it is a small side table which he places his whiskey glass upon. A trolley, with fold out wings and covered in a white sheet to make it a table, is used for Spooner’s breakfast at the start of the second half. It is wheeled in and abruptly out by Briggs.

Costume wise Hirst wears a navy three piece suit but for most of the first half this is replaced by a striped night gown. Spooner wears a dull great suit and in the second half for a brief time has on his Mac in readiness to leave. Foster and Briggs wear clothes in the style of the 1970s i.e. brown boots, leather jackets and bellbottom trousers. In the second half, with their roles as house staff revealed, Briggs wears a blue three piece suit, later discarding the jacket with his sleeves rolled up, and Foster reappears in the last few scenes in a pastel suit. In contrast to the Americanised version I have to immediately note Stewart didn’t have a wig during the performance I saw and I don’t think McKellen had a ponytail (and obviously the roles of Foster and Briggs were different actors).

Review:
The venue was sold out and it was the final night. As is often the case here when its sold out there was barely any room to move at the entrance as they put the programme selling stall at the bottom of the stairs which start right by the left side of the entrance doors. Across the small entrance way is the box office with one, maybe two, people able to serve through the small windows. Of course people queue here too and I haven’t accounted for the people standing around chatting idly having gotten themselves drinks from the bar. Saying that once you got up stairs there was more room, not much seating but that is to be expected due to the limited space.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the boxes were used for their original purpose of ‘being seen to be seen at the theatre’ thought they are renowned for their poor view of the stage. As it is they probably worked out cheaper than some of the stall seats for tonight’s performance.

The New Theatre used to be the premier location for stage plays in Cardiff but after the establishment of the Wales Millennium Centre it was quickly usurped and although still respectable it never regained this position. It’s heyday, during my life time, was probably around 1996 when Anthony Hopkins, fresh from his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter, directed his stage adaptation of Uncle Vanya transposing Chekov’s Uncle Vanya to a turn-of-the-century Welsh setting, emphasising the hardships of Welsh industrial life in the slate quarries and Welsh-English turmoil. Aside from the New Theatre and WMC Chapter Arts Centre, the Sherman Theatre and recently the Gates Art Centre have grown in prominence as venues for the arts in Cardiff.

The play itself I enjoyed but I think there is an important caveat to this: I knew what the meta-narrative of the play was regarding Pinter’s mindset when he wrote it and what it represented to him. What we see portrayed on the stage is not literal. Metaphor is heavily used in this play and the audience are hinted towards this reading when Spooner proclaims his joy at its use by Hirst in the first act.

Hirst is an old man at the end of his life consumed by memories which he cannot recollect with any accuracy. He often talks of a photo album he has and the faces in it yet he himself doesn’t recognise Spooner at the start and indeed we as an audience must ask if, when he does acknowledge him as a friend from his youth, if the conversation they are having is actually between old acquaintances or if Spooner is playing along and making up stuff which Hirst, being a braggard, pretends to remember but doesn’t. In fact we could ask if any of the characters, apart from Hirst, even do exist at all or perhaps speculate that they represent different aspects of himself – Foster as his young brash self who sees opportunities in the future and is very cocky; Briggs as his masculine side aggressive, objective and arrogant; Spooner as his poetic aspect and view of old age reflecting how, now at the end of his days, he thinks back to his youth but cannot recall it with accuracy and wants to ignore, if not outright dismiss, his old age from himself and instead ‘remembers’ someone drowning but can’t recall their face. Perhaps we take this as it is him seeing himself drowning metaphorically in life unable to escape from himself.

Of course there are many ways to read this play and that is, for the most part, intentional. It is however also its weakness as you must have some knowledge of Pinter, or at least writers of his generation, and how the use of language is multilayered with more than a single understanding. Waiting For Godot, by Samuel Beckett, (premiered on 5 January 1953 in the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris) is perhaps the greatest example of this use of dialogue. Symbolism and metaphor are replete throughout the work and for an audience not prepared for this they may declare it pretentious as they are unprepared. If you have not watched a work like this before I think it wise to watch the film version of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (first staged in 1966 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe) to see if this sort of play is to your liking. In fact it would be hard to deny the influence Beckett and Stoppard must have had on Pinter when you make comparisons.

It would be easy to see this play as a response to Waiting For Godot. There are parallels between Vladimir and Hirst contrasting that of Estragon and Spooner but in both pairs certain aspects are exchanged. Beckett, in a correspondence reflects that “Estragon is inert and Vladimir restless.” In a twist we see Hirst, who of the pair is the slightly better off as Vladimir is, is mostly sitting for much of the first act despite how spry he is in the second, and in contrast Spooner, a poet (just as Estragon should have been Vladimir comments) is very spry unlike Estragon who is mostly seen to be sitting or reclining. In Waitng For Godot it is Vladimir who is constantly reminding Estragon but here Spooner reminds Hirst. In the first stage production of Waiting For Godot, which Beckett oversaw, both are “more shabby-genteel than ragged…Vladimir At least is capable of being scandalised…on A matter of etiquette when Estragon begs for chicken bones or money.” In No Man’s Land Hirst is scandalised by Spooner’s accusations of youthful infidelity and, while eating his breakfast, Spooner uses the serviette as a bib instead of placing it on his lap (and indeed when putting his coat on forgets to remove it). There are many facets which could be explored in analysing the intertextuality of the pieces but that should be left for another time and place.

This is not a play of events but of moods. It is a dialogue about themes which often haunted Pinter throughout his career – most obviously those of memory and death. I highly recommend it but this is one of those occasions where you are better off knowing what happens so you can focus on the nuances of the actor’s performances. If I had a criticism of the one I attended it was the audience not knowing the tone. Some laughed at any point that might be potentially comedic, for example when Hirst collapses and then crawls out of the room, but these scenes could also be played very seriously (which I believe was the intent this night) so it seemed there was a dissonance between performance and audience on the night. Of course we must reflect that the line between a tragedy and comedy is a fine line. In tragedy we identify with them and their inability to prevent the course of events but in comedy we anticipate it and take joy in their suffering. I feel the play could easily be played to either extreme. Certainly McKellen was playing to the comedic angle while Stewart played a very serious figure and somehow, as hard as it might be to believe, they did not gel on stage although this may have been intentional due to the characters’ contrasting natures. As for Molony as Foster he played his role with much energy and easily interacted with McKellen who he has directed in other plays a number of times now. Teale as Briggs was suitably intimidating and stern. He did however remind me of Danny Dyer and, unsurprisingly, I discovered that Dyer had performed this role a few years ago in another production which lead me to question if Teale was imitating Dyer or if Dyer, by some fluke of nature, had discovered a role all but made for him he fit it so perfectly.

It was an excellent performance in every respect but the audience seemed to be at odds with the intended tone at times.

Outside the stage doors I didn’t see the autograph hunters who are always present at these things. There was an A4 printed sign in the stage door saying the cast would only be signing things to do with the production (i.e. Don’t you dare come here with things relating to Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, X-Men, Stella, etc). After the show the theatre manager, who for some reason was wearing a full white tie dinner suit, said no one could take selfies and you probably wouldn’t even get an autograph. Ian McKellen to his credit tried to sign as many autographs as possible as did Damien Molony and Owen Teale. Unfortunately Patrick Stewart had to rush off as he was about to miss his train though he did try to sign some brochures before leaving.

In summary: Go and see it as it is a classic of modern theatre but know what you are getting into regarding Pinter’s intent. Don’t just go because there are recognisable names otherwise you will be lost when you realise it isn’t going to be as straight forward as something you watch on television or in the cinema.



Москва слезам не верит / Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears (1980)

Москва слезам не верит a.k.a Moscow Doesn’t Believe In Tears
Russian Cinema Council Collection

Quoting the DVD case blurb [sic]: “An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film. This is a melodrama about life stories of three girls. Three friends Antonina, Liudmila and Yekaterina, come to Moscow in search of their dreams. Sharing a hostel room, the work and have fun together. Antonina soon marries a good man and settles down to raise a family. For Liudmila, Moscow is a sort of lottery, in which you have to pick a lucky ticket. She attempts to conquer this big city, but ends up a loser. The life of the third girl, Yekatrerina, is a contemporary Cinderella story. She had her share of disappointments, but did not despair. In twenty years she built up a career and became director of a big enterprise. A single parent of a daughter, she finally meets the right man and, after long and bitter years of loneliness, finds true happiness…”

So, in case you missed the awkward grammar, I am watching the official international release of the film from Russia and has subtitled done by a native Russian but English as second language speaker. There are one or two times during my copy where the subtitles are awkward. For example there’s one moment where a character remarks ‘We are like personages in a drama’ where the word ‘character’ would be more correct.I will use the translation provided by the DVD so some names like Lyudmila will be appear as Liudmila instead. Also although I refer to Katerina as Yekatrina this is apparently only present on the DVD case. All the signs suggest there seems to have been no proof reading or quality control during the DVD’s production sadly and I am sure it was rectified for later editions.

The film is set in two time periods: 1958, in the middle of the Khrushchev thaw,and 1979, in the middle of the era of stagnation. My DVD copy had two separate disks separating these time periods into two parts. I don’t know why but assume it is because it is a 1999 edition and dual layered discs were not yet commonly used at that point. It is a good breaking point but I don’t think the film had an intermission between these two parts originally.

The three main women represent the 3 stereotypes of women in Soviet Russia.

Antonina is the traditional girl – she marries early on into a secure home life to a husband who is deemed ‘nice by boring’ and has 3 sons.

Liudmila the ‘tart with a heart’ – she dates multiple men gambling on there being better prospects as long as you are willing to take a risk. Liudmila initially seems to have ‘won’ by marrying a sportsman but it is short lived as he is soon retired and borrowing money from her 7 years after their divorce – presumably with no children produced and her working in a dry cleaners looking for the next ‘win’.

Yekaterina is what society would like to believe in – A self sufficient, hard working and educated person who is a productive, successful, citizen overcoming her circumstances. A single mother who overcame difficulties through focusing on her studies in youth, worked hard for a very senior position in her company and was rewarded by the universe with a man who fulfils her. Arguably she is the most recognisable to western audiences as she represents the viewer’s wish fulfilment, common in films worldwide, though it should be noted the film, as part of this wish fulfilment, glosses over the day to day hardships she faced in those intervening 20 years during the time skip which were necessary for her to arrive at the position she is in during the second part.

Perhaps it is interesting to compare them with the men they end up with.

Antonina marries Nikolai early on and settles into a successful, if dull, marriage producing three sons. As Tolstoy said ‘All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. They play little influence in events save to be a safe haven for Lyudmila, who has no one else reliable in her life, and Katerina who has been so career focused she has forsaken all else it seems initially.

Liudmila, ever the hegemonist flirt, marries Sergei Gurin who is a rising sports star believing, at the end of the first part, herself to have hit the jackpot she so often speaks of. However in the second half we find her living alone and he comes begging her to loan him more money – even going as far as becoming physical with her out of desperation. When he is at bars he is recognised and never has to buy his own drink but is left unfulfilled with the hope of becoming a coach now his own career is over. Liudmila continues to flirt with any prospective men – even becoming jealous of a general’s wife who she believes has ‘won the lottery’. She otherwise seems to live vicariously through Antonina, who has succeeded in building a family, and Katerina who has a successful career. This leaves her in the role of acting as a sort of eccentric ‘larger than life’ aunt to the children or at worst a warning to Alexandra of what she will become if she doesn’t begin to learn from her mother’s example of taking responsibility and working hard but continues to rely on others and luck.

Katerina has a relationship with Rodion, a TV camera man (often to be found reiterating his view that TV will replace cinema, theatre, books and newspapers) who after a brief tryst abandons her to raise their daughter by herself. He even has his mother go visit Katerina to tell her to stop harassing him to take responsibility (although it was Liudmila calling to help her friend who had resigned herself to fate). Years later he is sent to interview a senior executive and doesn’t recognise Katerina initially. He then meets with her wanting to see Alexandra but Katerina refuses telling him she has done well enough without him in her life. Towards the end he arrives, unannounced, to Katerina’s apartment and, in anger, she tells Alexandra he is her father. I actually found this story thread didn’t get resolved by the end so, with how Alexandra interacts with Gosha, it is no doubt implied she rejects Rodion. At the start of the second half she is also involved with a married man who is cowardly and so she abandons him soon after we rejoin her. The most important of her partners though is Gosha who she meets by chance on a train going home after visiting Antonina’s dacha. He is a staunchly traditional man but, unaware of Katerina’s successful career, begins a relationship with her often expounding how it is a man’s place to be head of the household. Needless to say he finds out he will not be the highest earner in the house and immediately takes flight, more so over having been lied to than a bruised ego (although it is easy to argue either way considering cultural differences). There is certainly a middle aged Cinderella aspect to her storyline during the second half of the film and how she serendipitously encounters him on the train home after the arranged meetings club fails to find her a match suiting her expectations.

In fact Alexandra could be said to serve as a sort of epilogue to the accumulated experiences of the central female characters. Initially when introduced she seems all but a copy of Liudmila by being self indulgent spending her time listening to music and being no where near as active as the older women were at her age. Instead she seems to be relying on others for her pleasures as did Liudmila by dating various young men and using the dorm’s telephone as her number. However we see her develop once Gosha is introduced. She recognises the earnest morality of Gosha who, unlike her mother, engages with her involving her in cooking and other household tasks. When she admits she doesn’t know how to cook, which is very likely with her career orientated mother, he offers to teach her. Thus she is willing to better herself – not relying on improving her prospects by marriage or fortunate but through doing things herself. When he, without a second thought, goes to aid her boyfriend who has been ganged up on by her former paramour she wants her mother to know but he insists there is no need as this is just what a man should do. She begins acknowledging the value in others – he proves he is who he has presented himself as even though some doubt might have been thrown by how many superlative plaudits his friends bestow on him at his birthday (which he invites the unaware Katerina and Alexandra to thinking it no big thing). He is good for her mother and she recognises this in him even if it means she will now be expected to contribute to the home. When Rodion is revealed as her father, having forced his way into her life and upset her mother, we don’t see her reaction in any significance but considering the final scene it may be implied that she sees Gosha as more of a father figure in that he, without want of compensation, does what he can to fulfil the role acting altruistically towards anyone who needs his help. She has learned the value of hard work but, as evidence by her having a boyfriend, society has moved on but some things remain the same through the generations. So the future seems bright – she is still learning but has a strong community of support around her.

Conclusion
It was very good but definitely is a film of its period. The subtitles, done by a Russian had one or two awkward translations – e.g. someone saying ‘we are like personages in a drama’ where we would say ‘characters in a drama’. The way it was filmed was very 70s and films made in Britain had a very similar look from that period. US President Ronald Reagan watched the film several times prior to his meetings with the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in order to gain a better understanding of the “Russian soul”. I doubt he did as its such a hard concept to depict but certainly he would have seen its heart and that the world over people have similar hopes and dreams despite differences in language and culture.

I guess I have become used to older films being ‘remastered’ as my copy seemed a bit low quality despite being an official DVD from the Russian Cinema Council… But then it was a 1999 edition so maybe someone has improved the quality, in later released editions, since then as HD quality wasn’t a concern at the time.

What really stands out with the edition I have is the extras. Many of the main actors, the director, the scriptwriter and the composer are interviewed. There is a documentary about Moscow and photo galleries. The film comes with the original Russian dub but also a French and an English one. The subtitles come in Russian, English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Swedish, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese. Ironically though the back of the DVD states [sic] ‘Not for sale on the territory of the former USSR’ so it obviously is meant for the international not domestic market!

Aleksey Batalov (Алексей Владимирович Баталов) pretty much stole the show in the second half as Gosha. To put it in context his role is a Soviet version of the ‘manic pixie [boyfriend]’ trope as he seems all too perfect in his portrayal although he does have traditional views about being the man of the house. Such views were falling out of favour in their depiction in the west during the time of the film’s release but it has always been an element of wish fulfilment in romantic films that the female protagonist finds a man who can provide for her both emotionally and financially – so traditional values have never really gone out of fashion. The other characters I can easily imagine being in western films with little if any alteration so look out for that Hollywood remake (if one hasn’t already been made)!

This is one of the keystones of Russian cinema and an essential viewing experience for anyone interested in Russia, Soviet cinema or indeed world cinema. (Albeit I will add that this was filmed during more lenient times so those looking for a Stalinist era depiction, as is the common shorthand imagery used in western cinematic depictions *cough*Child44*cough* need to look elsewhere). The story is easy to follow and compelling. There are one or two moments of very brief nudity but it is very naive and a few moments of physical violence but nothing that wouldn’t be shown before the watershed (i.e. it is safe for all to watch). I highly recommend it.

Cast

Vera Alentova – Katerina Tikhomirova
Irina Muravyova – Lyudmila
Aleksey Batalov – Gosha
Raisa Ryazanova – Antonina
Aleksandr Fatyushin – Sergei Gurin
Boris Smorchkov – Nikolai
Viktor Uralsky – Nikolai’s Father
Valentina Ushakova – Nikolai’s Mother
Yuri Vasilyev – Rodion Rachkov
Yevgeniya Khanayeva – Rachkov’s Mother
Liya Akhedzhakova – Olga Pavlovna, Club’s Director
Zoya Fyodorova – Hostel’s Security
Natalya Vavilova – Alexandra
Oleg Tabakov – Vladimir, Katerina’s lover
Vladimir Basov – Anton Kruglov
Cameo appearances:
Andrei Voznesensky
Innokenty Smoktunovsky
Georgi Yumatov
Leonid Kharitonov
Tatyana Konyukhova
Pavel Rudakov and Veniamin Nechaev
Just as in Hollywood you might have someone like Bill Murray play a bit part in one scene as a cameo so you have the same here. I cannot say with authority in which scenes they appear but its safe to say many do so in the sequence where Katerina visits the ‘friendship agency’ in the second half where there is some humour about much older men wanting to be placed in the groups with women far too young for them.

Songs from the film

Bésame mucho


By Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina:
Александра (Alexandra)

Диалог у новогодней елки (A dialogue by the New Year’s tree)

By Klavdiya Shulzhenko:
Давай закурим (Davai zakurim / “Lets take a smoke”)


Usually when I review films I go into some depth but I am trying to self edit a bit more nowadays. Hopefully this post is compelling enough though I feel I have left so much out.

I found Star Media on YouTube and it has many interesting Russia films and series on there so I may be watching quite a few of them. Any recommendations of good older films, which they will be more likely to have, are more than welcome 🙂

The Living and the Dead Episode 6 and Overall Series Review

BBC Description for Episode 6: “After the events of recent weeks, Nathan and Charlotte’s marriage faces its greatest test yet.”



Credits:

Nathan Appleby: Colin Morgan
Charlotte Appleby: Charlotte Spencer
Matthew Denning: Nicholas Woodeson
Gwen Pearce: Kerrie Hayes
Gideon Langtree: Malcolm Storry
Lara: Chloe Pirrie
Sylvia: Diana Quick
William Payne: David Oakes
Gabriel: Arthur Bateman
Dr Kahn: Sudha Bhuchar
Ben: Royce Pierreson
Harriet Denning: Tallulah Haddon
Mary Denning: Marianne Oldham
Masked Man: Jacob Fortune-Lloyd
Writer: Simon Tyrrell
Producer: Eliza Mellor
Director: Sam Donovan
Psychiatric Nurse: Syrus Lowe


… I copy/paste these credits from the BBC’s website. Why is the actor Syrus Lowe credited after the major production staff roles? Either someone was lazy adding it to the end instead of in correct order next to Sudha Bhuchar who he shares scenes with …or maybe its time to play the [play the racism card] due to an unintended slip up.


Victim of the Week: Nathan by his nearest and dearest (dead and alive and, unintentionally, not even born yet). Charlotte I guess due to her husbands mental instability (I don’t side with such aggressive behaviour towards the mentally ill which is excused due to the person being ‘frustrated’). The town as a whole really as the landowner has gone downhill rapidly.



Synopsis:
Nathan is stood at the edge of the lake mirrored on its surface. He demands Gabriel show himself. He will do whatever it takes to see him.

We see a modern interior and someone asleep in bed. Rock-a-by-baby is being sung by a boy walking down the corridor towards the woman in her bed. ITs red coat. She always looks cross-eyed. She asks what Gabriel wants. ‘Help me’ he says. The boy’s a bad actor. This episode is going to be fun…

Red coat is being served breakfast in bed by a man. It seems she is a mental hospital patient. I wish I could say I’m surprised but this series really comes across as an ardent skeptic told to write fantasy and so goes about it in the most half-hearted derogatory way possible. She is given her pills to take. She has a visitor so she can go down to the day room and he will take care of the baby. It’s going to be an inanimate doll isn’t it? She spits the pills out.

Red Coat’s name is Lara. Ben told granny Lara had admitted herself for seeing things. It’s her granny who has visited her. Asks how the baby is. Lara saw the boy. So did Lara apparently. It was blamed on post-natal depression. postpartum psychosis in Lara’s case. Granny brings an attaché case out and has Lara open it. Nathan is her great-great grandfather. RIGHT WELL THERE WE GO END OF SERIES – LETS ALL LEAVE NOW. WE KNOW THE UNBORN BABY THUS SURVIVES AND DOOPDY DOOPDY DOO WE GET HERE AND THE FAMILY HAS VAGUE TELEPATHIC ABILITIES CASE CLOSED. Gran calls him a handsome devil. Lara also see the boy’s photo. Granny recounts that Gabriel drowned. And then they look at Nathan’s work book from 1894 the year her mother was conceived. Lara photo’s them with her tablet. The Appleby house, Shepzoy, was sold when Lara was a baby and all of this was hidden from Lara’s mother (who at this point is the missing link of this family) but Granny reflects she should have let her know.

Granny hopes seeing this doesn’t make it worse. Lara replies maybe that’s what she needs – to get worse. to get better. (Movie logic which in real life would never be beneficial). The staff members, and Asian doctor and a black attendant (from earlier) discuss Lara’s request to leave. She claims the hallucinations have stopped though only last week she was reporting suicidal ideation. ‘And the family history’ she adds at the end. Lara’s mother killed herself when Lara was three months old. The doctor decides they must keep her in – under section if necessary.

Lara’s baby (who is real) is cradled by its daddy. He is mixed race. Why am I mentioning people’s’ ethnicities? Well recently the BBC have really taken to their equal representation policy seriously by having casts for as many shows as possible to have multiple ethnicities. If you saw the recent War and Peace production it definitely has a more varied cast than the 1970s version. In shows of fantasy or family orientated programming, such as Merlin, they always ensure this. My point? They had an all white cast in this series until this episode and seem to feel the need to include as many non-white actors now they can during the modern parts and its a bit of an overkill. They’ve had black actors in Charles Dickens productions before so they could have had some of the itinerant field workers be non-white without breaking the quasi-realism of the series. It almost feels like they believe there were only Western European Caucasians in Britain in 1894. Admittedly other ethnicities were much rarer but for their mandate I think everyone would have excused it. Is that why this series was premiered online as a box set? Because someone thought it wasn’t representative enough? That is an awkward situation if so. I would rather they just get the best actors for the roles than give the impression that they are being forced to follow a mandate when needed.

They say its a shame that she has to say but they’re the professionals and know best. She sends her partner to get a toy left in the day room while she steals the car keys and escapes with her child. They head to the Appleby house. You would think it is being lived in but apparently not. Partner leaves her a voice message noting his missing keys and child, named Lottie, and is concerned but just wants to know they are alright.

They arrive at the house and we see her enter as she did at the end of one of the other episodes. In the window we see Gabriel looking down.

Back in 1894 Gwen tells Charlotte that Mr Payne is waiting for her. so that’s his role in the story is it? To swoop in and save Charlotte? Charlotte doesn’t want to see him and asks if Gwen has seen her husband. NO. Unfortunately Mr PAyne has turned up and they have an awkward exchange similar to Hugh Grant in a rom-com. He has a proposition for her. Nathan appears dishevelled. Mr Payne hopes they do not miss the workers who hae abandoned their farm ‘a lack of faith’ he offers as reason. Charlotte says ‘we do not lack faith’ to which Nathan laughs disjointedly.

Mr Payne wishes to purchase the two acres of marshy land that border his estate. ‘By the lane? It’s worthless’ Nathan replies. Mr Payne intends to drain the field on his side and pump it. Charlotte says it is ambitious and takes a shine to him. Nathan stalks towards him commenting on him ‘advancing with your speculator’s fortune, step by step, parading you innovation and determination (So Nathan is no longer the man he was at the start, a man of science and modernity, but obsessed by the supernatural). Qualities he notes his wife admires. So he is also paranoid now. He says he was joking when Charlotte gets this impression too. ‘The bog is yours if my wife is willing’ he says as he exits.

She excuses him saying ‘he has been working late. Writing.’ Mr Payne politely says he is a gifted man. She excuses herself. She goes to Nathan and says she has suffered through hell with him and his madness. She asks if they can at least appear competent. Author on board condemning of mental illness rather than demonstrating how societal norms have changed. If the intention was otherwise this dialogue was a bit clumsy.

He notes she is being cold with him after she asked him to be more animated and that he had lost the spring in his step. She says she is going with mr Payne to look ast the land because they need more money to pay wages. ‘to keep going’ he mocks as he has clearly given up on life since the revelations regarding his son’s spirit still being around. He comments ‘A good man, an ideal husband.’ as she walks away.

In the field Charlotte and Mr Payne discuss matters but her dress gets caught on a rusty piece of metal protruding from the land. Is Payne a killer who has hidden his wife’s corpse? It seems like they want to hint this, or some other hidden agenda, but don’t dedicate to it.

Back in the house Nathan appears at the door to the kitchen surprising Gwen. He mocks that she took him ‘for a ghost of my former self’. She offers him breakfast but he says his appetite seems to have waned. He asks about her hedge witch cures. She is a witch (albeit actually quite a fair depiction of the ‘wise/cunning man/woman’ who used to actually exsist providing folk remedies and such to thier local community. I wish they had made more of this not just toy with the idea to explain why she had poison – in an era where posions in all homes were even more commonplace than they are now). He wants to see those. She shows him them in her locked case. He looks through the bottles. He finds a bottle of psilocybin mushrooms – hallucinogenics which Gwen claims are ‘to help explore a difficulty, to see it, to feel it differently. To be used with caution’. He says he saw them being used on two melancholy patients. One, a woman, broke through her malaise emerging shaken but much better but the other, a man, saw more tha his doctor bargained for before taking his own life. ‘kill or cure’. He finds a bottle containing deadly nightshade. She says she has only used a trace as ‘more could be the death of you’. He sees why she locks it, thanks her and leaves. Quickly she locks it again looking concerned.

Charlotte returns with Mr Payne and speaks to Gideon the foreman. They are short-handed but he has a merge collection of turnips. She commiserates the effect it has had on him being one of the few left.’Thems that left got fainter hearts’ he assures her ‘maybe we don’t need them’… but he is an old man and the signs of the strain show on him. She says he saw her with mr Payne. She asks if Gideon can help dig up the abandoned machinery there. Gideon wonders if that’s what he is after. Charlotte laughs about it being buried treasure. She thanks him and invites him to the kitchen for some warm cider brandy when he is done. He continues his work having thanked her.

Charlotte returns to see Nathan trying to see Gabriel in a mirror but she distracts him by appearing in it instead.

The reverend Denning is walking down the road as more people leave declaring to him the place to be cursed. He hopes may the lord watch over them and is returned the courtesy. Charlotte is walking behind them. The Reverend invites her into the Wheatsheaf to sit by the fire. In the now empty pub he gives her warm sugar-water and a dash of brandy. He asks how her husband is. ‘Somewhat remote. More so every day’ she answers. Then she begins to tear up saying that their baby is growing inside her and she doesn’t know what to do. The reverend offers to talk to him. There is a lot of people thanking each other in this episode.

Denning finds Nathan in the forest wandering. ‘Lost you flock’ Nathan mocks. ‘Always hoping to find one gone astray’ the Reverend answers back. Nathan apologises for mishandling him and for what he did to Harriet, Denning’s Daughter, but he is best left alone now. Denning says Charlotte fears for Nathan’s happiness. ‘What is happiness? A man needs peace of mind. you have your faith. You should be in a monastery. If I had it I would be. I’d sit in a cell. I would watch the light move from wall to wall. I would contemplate eternity.‘ Denning challenges him that he would not miss the world, his wife or the child that is coming? Nathan speaks of Gabriel which Denning believes is causing Nathan to fear that he will lose this child as well. But maybe tis not fear but guilt but the pregnancy is a gift. ‘A gift of God‘, Nathan mocks, ‘so it was God who took my son away, sending down this angel with her book of light to lead him to his doom, she who appeared to you daughter and to me? I fear… I fear she hasn’t Denning. His soul is living. His soul, which you believe, is not at peace. He’s isolated, he’s tormented.

‘Its YOU you are describing!‘ shouts Denning. ‘You in purgatory unable to move on. And its you pulling others into your unhappiness. My daughter. The village. It’s you Nathan!

Me. The lost soul? I must find a way out.‘ he replies.

Denning tells him to be with his wife not the dead. Nathan mocks that its sensible advice.

Back in modern times Lara’s partner has left another voice mail asking if she is okay as she checks the house. She breathes heavily… just to make it more creepy. The house is unlit and she is using a torch. She goes up the creaking stairs leaving the baby alone. Gabriel appears near the baby and looks down on it making it cry. Lara appears with the torch under he face. She has Nathan’s snowglobe and has found the cot. She makes the fire and they sit in that room. She listens to her partner’s voice mail saying he needs her to pick up the phone. Apparently he had also texted her. She texts back ‘Sorry I left like that, I just need a few days we’re fine’. It is 22.00 and she looks at old photos on her tablet. Hell of a battery life on that thing then. She looks at photos of Charlie, Martha, Jack and Nathan’s book. She notes references to a book of light and sees the stick figure drawing and finally pieces together its her it’s referring to. Apparently its an iPad specifically. How she can tell the brand of the item I have no idea but then this is part funded by American money so who knows. She hears a door bang and goes to investigate.

In the corridor, only lit by her iPad, she tells Gabriel she knows who he is. She wants to help him but doesn’t know how. Gabriel says ‘he wants a new baby’ and before she can explain he has disappeared.

Bak in 1894 Nathan is writing. He criticises Charlotte for not knocking and disrupting his privacy while he tries to find privacy. She says he doesn’t want the new baby. She asks if he wants her to fall down the stair and give him his miscarriage. ‘No, of course not.’ She says it’s what he wants – she can ‘feel it like ice’. He asks why would he want her to miscarry? ‘Because you cannot bear to be a father again’ she answers disdainfully then leaves saying she is going away from his cold eyes. ‘What do you think I’ll do, freeze the baby in your womb? And you look at me as if I’m the mad one. But it’s you. You’re afraid of giving birth, of motherhood, and so you project this infanticidal urge onto me, making me the thing you fear, which is not only unfair… but stupid!‘ She answers back ‘And you’re so clever because you found a profession where you could feel less damaged because everyone else is damaged more… and now down here you have to face it. There’s something wrong with your mind… and your heart… and your soul!‘ He attacks saying he can’t recall what he liked about her. She leaves holding back tears. He apologises after she leaves.

She walks across the fields with a hat on looking lost inside.

He is in his study taking baby shoes and other items out fo a box. He says ‘just us now just you and me’ looking at a photo of Gabriel.

The next morning Gwen apologises for arriving late and asks if Charlotte is there. Nathan tells her to take a few days off. He says Charlotte is gone and the sooner Gwen follows the better. So Gwen leaves confused.

In modern-day Lara is filming a walk through the dilapidated house going towards the kitchen. She is filming it for her grandmother. How does she know where this place is if it was sold shortly after her birth and no one spoke of it? Presumably the granny told her but it was off-screen. There are modern fixtures in the house so it wasn’t empty too long ago. Theres graffiti tags on the wall and Lottie, the baby, begins to cry again. She sets up a baby monitor so she can go explore the house. Quite prepared for someone who fled a mental ward and headed straight to the house. Of course Gabriel is lurking in the background.

Lara reads Nathan’s note-book recounting how Gabriel’s guardian angel was otherwise. ‘Who is the woman with the book of light? Gabriel saw her too. he drew her, thinking she was a guardian angel when she was the opposite… come to take him away. Did you lure him to the lake that day and let him drown?

She speculates, to thin air, that Gabriel wants someone to blame. ‘Well that’s not me‘ she states defiantly. ‘I am not here to be punished‘.

Gabriel is looking at the baby.

She is sat outside smoking wondering to herself what she is doing.

Then back inside she has a voice message from granny saying Ben, her partner, is worried and maybe Granny should have told her as it was ‘playing with fire’. Really? You told your grand-daughter in a mental ward about where she might find answers to her ghost delusions and you thought it was okay? Granny can guess where she is and is sure Lara doesn’t want her to say where she is but if she doesn’t come back soon she’ll have to. She says not to stay there to long.

…um yeah just do it now. She has a baby with her. Seriously. If you were that concerned you would. Don’t do this just for narrative conventions as it’ll still take them long enough to get over to the house so there is plenty of time.

Lara hears Gabriel singing rock-a-by-baby to the baby. She rushes over and sees him stood across the room from the baby. She begins explaining that Gabriel’s daddy wished he never lost him as she’s seen his notebook and that her would ‘give anything, ANYTHING, to have [him] back’

‘He didn’t save me’ Gabriel replies.

That’s not his fault, it’s no ones fault‘ Lara replies. Yes it is. Gabriel fell in instead of being cautious and he wasn’t supervised by someone who could save him. Hell I kind of hope it’ll turn out to reference the witch drowning thing as a sudden twist so it’s the townsfolk who are at fault hence why they kept on about how cursed the place was. Lara says Nathan is so desperate to see Gabriel. Does she think Gabriel will pass on just because she said that or he can time travel then? She tells him to go to him and tell him he forgives him. Tell him your alright. Well obviously Gabriel doesn’t. He’s one of those sorts of ghosts’ The sort to hold an everlasting grudge that can’t be resolved. Face it this is a horror film setting. Gabriel part 5: Ring-Around-The-Corpses.

Back in 1894 Nathan breaks into Gwen’s stash of poultices. Well actually he just turns the key. That isn’t very secure then. Did he get the key off her at some point? I know you don’t have to show everything of screen, in fact some director’s make it part of their style, but when you mention how a character locks something away and the other accesses it so easily you have to indicate why. ‘Plot convenience’ isn’t enough. So he heats something deadly. Swallows it. The camera pans back slowly and we cut to Mr Payne stood by the fireplace of the vicarage as he heard Charlotte. He heard she was there and was just passing. He has a pineapple. She notes how odd it is to just be walking about with a pineapple.He says he heard it was good for expectant mothers although it maybe hogwash. WOAH SLOW DOWN 1) She’s still married you lotharo and 2) that’s quite needy 3) we get it, you’re the more balanced guy and the better option for her with you indulging in hearsay but also happy to dismiss it.

She thanks him saying she has kind neighbours as Mrs Denning lent her a dress, which he says becomes her, just as Harriet walks in the room. He excuses himself saying he must leave her rest. Harriet calls him Charlotte’s guardian angel. ‘ wouldn’t call him that’. Harriet suggests ‘A saviour, perhaps?’

We cut to Nathan swaying back and forth before the fire in the study. the ‘do not cross the hayfield’ song from a previous episode plays. He is delusional and calling himself ‘one of them, a lost soul’. He hears Gabriel’s voice beckon him saying he is going to sail his boat.

Nathan goes down to the lake and relives the day Gabriel drowned. Gabriel was poking the boat further on using a long stick and leaning out over the pond/lake. (It might be missing the point of his costume in this episode but as Nathan is in an undershirt and suspenders he looks like he is from a tribute band for Mumord and Sons.) Of course he doesn’t save him and we see Gabriel’s ghost looking up at him from the pond’s jetty.

He returns to the house distraught and does a ‘I’m in distress/deep remorse’ pose of agony. Then he hears Lara’s voice speaking to Lottie. He chases her up the stairs and she keeps turning corners so we narrowly miss her. He gets to the end room and sees Gabriel stood there. Nathan is glad to see him and beckons the boy to him. Gabriel doesn’t move. Nathan asks if ‘she’ is here but Gabriel says he is on his own. (Was the actor told to speak in a monotone or does that come naturally – it’s not good and its unbelievably distracting in this pivotal scene. Also his ‘ghost status’ seems to be informed by having some wet/recently dried hair). He tells the boy he has been looking for him. ‘I’ve been hiding’ the boy replies. Nathan asks if he didn’t want to see him to which his son replies ‘you didn’t want to see me’. Well that’s realistic kid dialogue so well done on that.

Again Nathan, now in front of his son, says he would give anything. Gabriel tells him ‘stay with me, Daddy. Look after me.’ ‘How’ asks Nathan. ‘You know how’ answers the boy…. oh my goodness this is far too realistic children’s dialogue. Nathan blinks and the ghost is gone.

In the modern-day Lara is stood at the lake. then the camera cuts back suddenly to the same shot and she leaves to go to the house. What was the point of that edit? It was like some attempt at a subtle jump scare.

Inside we see from her perspective filming bits of the interior lit by her torch. So I’m guessing we are going to get a jump scare. She calls out to Nathan by name asking if he wants to know who she is. She explains she is his great-great-grand daughter and isn’t trying to haunt him or his son. she just wants to get on with her life. She just wants to go home she sobs. she just needs prove she’s not mad.

Is the baby going to die ironically in a mirroring of his circumstances. If it does they’ve really telegraphed it.

She wants to see Nathan and he has seen her. She sees… Harriet?… in a bloody dress. SO yes there was a jumpscare… Oh also shaky cam. So the last 20 minutes of this series has shifted drastically from drama to horror I guess.

Back to third person and she slams a door behind her sniffling. She checks her recording but the girl wasn’t caught on it. She phones Ben and in tears explains she had to come here to stop it from haunting her and Lottie. He says the police are involved. She realises they know where she is and that Sylvia, a.k.a. granny, told him. She puts the phone off and packs everything up in order to run. She loads the car and drives away with Lottie.

We see Nathan stood in the road shielding his eyes. – Remember a few episodes ago? Yes it’s coming full circle seeing it from her perspective. It looks like we are going to be checking the list off of all their crossover moments. She sways off the road.

Next we see her lying down and Gabriel stood over her says ‘Daddy’s coming’ – Is she dead? Probably. She asks what Gabriel means. Well its obvious but he repeats himself. (You know I just realised who she reminds me of. She has the exact same face as the actor Kevin Sussman who plays Stuart Bloom, the eternally down on his luck comic book shop owner, from The Big Bang Theory).

Nathan dresses and sits writing. He has an Ernest Hemingway look today. He recalls things Charlotte said about being alive and there’s just her and him. He scrunches up the start of a letter to her. It seems days are passing by and he doesn’t know how to word this suicide letter to her.

Charlotte is speaking to Mr Payne about photography and how timing is essential and the amount of light you admit. GET IT ITS ABOUT NATHAN CLOSING HIMSELF OFF AND EVERYTHING. ‘Like the moment you capture between the taker and the taken’ GET IT HE’S MAKING A MOVE ON HER and she is smiling. She brushes a strand of loose hair aside and Mr Payne reaches for it. She excuses herself and says she must go home to her husband. BIT LATE NOW.

Nathan takes bottles from Gwen’s stock. Lara is walking down a corridor. She can see him through the interior door and its lace netting. He is using a pestle and mortar. She rushes in shouting ‘No Nathan, stop!’ REMEMBER THAT SCENE WHEN HE DROPPED THE PIG’S BLOOD – it’s that except she saw him making a deadly substance while from his side she appeared when he was going to wash the bucket out. Obviously the rooms empty when she gets inside but Gabriel appears.

‘He’s killing himself’ she declares, ‘what about his wife and baby?’ – Um… you’re in the future so you know how it turns out. Why are you speaking in the present tense as if you can change history? Anyway Gabriel, the littlest grim reaper, declares they can come too. No they can’t otherwise there’s a time paradox where Lara’s great-grandmother isn’t both. She shouts No, no at him and leaves as he stares blankly at her. I swear the boy’s related to someone on the crew since he seems to just be serving as a place holder.

Back in 1894 and Charlotte is heading down the road while Mr Payne calls after her. She’s on foot and he’s in his trap and pony. That seems more effort than it’s worth to be honest considering the time to get it all ready would cause.

He fears for them both, her condition and Nathan’s desperate state, he implores her to stop. He understands she loves Nathan but sometimes a man needs to be left alone to lick his own wounds. He asks she give him one more day alone and return tomorrow. Considering how confusing the editing has been regarding Nathan putting his clothes on multiple times I don’t know if one more day makes any real difference. Really it might be revealed this too is a bit non-chronological too and Nathan’s events occurred a week or two before Charlotte’s thus she will find a bloated rotting corpse either way.

Mr Payne asks to drive her back to the vicarage but she hears Lara call out to her from the nearby boundary. ‘He’s going to kill himself’ she shouts and Charlotte hears her.

…Wait so it’s not just Nathan’s bloodline, the local bloodline, which has ‘ghost/time travelling communication’ skills? Maybe because of the baby she has them temporarily? I’m joking obviously but it makes sense in context.

Mr Payne asks what the matter then grabs Charlotte’s arm saying ‘Must I force you, like a lunatic, for your own good?’ Oh So he’s an antagonist with false positive traits revealed in the final act then… which was kind of obvious. *cough*Hans*cough*Frozen* (okay he had the ‘almost shot a man running away’ thing too but that probably happened more in reality than anyone likes to admit). She tells him to unhand her and he does. Then he does puppy dog eyes which is hilarious. It is Gif bait if I ever saw any.

Rotting fruit and the empty swing then we see Nathan preparing his poultice. Charlotte walks in the y say its good to see each other. Nathan says he is sorry he has to do this. she asks how they got there when they were going to be so happy. ‘My fault’ he says ‘you were damaged when you met me. Deeper than I knew’. She replies saying ‘your secret ingredient. You insoluble grief… I believed that one day I;d find a solution, I might be the solution and just by being with you I would erode it’.
Which is a classic mistake of those who are around depressed people. Of course what does she do? Blame him some more. Which is realistic sadly. No wonder he is going to kill himself with support like that.

He says she made him so happy but he has seen ‘him’ out there and spoken to him etc. She says ‘if you believe it, I will believe it… I think I’ve known for some time. Maybe even from the beginning. you want to join him?’
[Okay on a side note, though it’s never properly mentioned, I am assuming that Gabriel is his son from an earlier union. If it was mentioned I completely missed it. Seriously at this moment you could see some underlying aspect of her being a woman wanting ‘good prospects’ and latching onto Nathan due to his weakness. It’s an extreme reading of her character but she seems a bit too obsessed with ‘making him happy’ when he wasn’t morbid but demeaned him and ran once he became difficult to deal with.]

‘You want to leave me?’ she asks.
‘No’, he replies, ‘but I have to’.
She says ‘No you don’t. Let’s go together. Let me drink first. Trust me’.
She cradles his face in her hand as she holds the drink.
‘Is it strong enough for both of us?’

He says she doesn’t have to do this but she insists she does because she can’t live without him. As she raises the glass to her lips he slaps it out of her hand shouting ‘no’! They embrace and cry and he sees Gabriel. He shouts ‘I’m sorry I wasnt there. I’m sorry I failed you.’ Is he saying it to Gabriel or Charlotte? You decide. Then he adds ‘…I let you die’ as Gabriel stands there staring at him. ‘I love you’ Nathan says smiling. Gabriel was apparently smiling but stops doing so and goes into a neutral face.

Charlotte says he’s gone. We see he is gone at the kitchen door. Nathan says he’s gone. Yes he is gone. Part of me wishes every other character, the dead and the living, came in saying ‘he’s gone’ too. Such a hammy over wrought moment… The music swells, Nathan smiles, Charlotte’s face… is non-committal but maybe concerned? They say they love each other.

Gideon, the foreman, is walking through the fields towards the house and the doors open. he is surprised to see her there and says it’s a tonic to see them both. They both thank him. Good dog, lie down, roll over, now play dead.

He tells them they’ve been digging the old machine out od the east marsh and thinks they should see it.

SEQUEL HOOK TWIST TIME!!!!!!!!
It’s Lara’s car being pulled up by tethered horses. The yellow modern one. So she went off the road. She is dead. More importantly these country bumpkin’s need to get off to the patent’s office and get this stuff registered. It would kick British industry ahead of the world by about a century! No loss of empire or any of that! Old Blighty would remain old Blighty evermore!

Denning and everyone left is present and don’t know what to make of it.

Gwen says ‘maybe this is what’s troubling the land?’ Denning says ‘if it was it’s all over now’. Everyone moves to get a closer look but Nathan. We get a quick camera zoom up on Lara at the lake as she is seeing these events unfold.

She begins to relive the car crash. The snowglobe flying through the air. Did you see the film ‘Dredd’ about 2000AD’s Judge Dredd? It’s like the slo-mo scenes from that with the same sort of music. We see her head hit the windscreen and she shouts ‘no’ and in the distance people are huddled together.

Gabriel takes her hand. She wonders what happened to Lottie. Gabriel says her father came and took her home. She wasn’t hurt and she’s safe. (He knows she is the mother so why not call Lottie her… oh maybe Lottie wasn’t her daughter just she was in a relationship with a single father?)

Gabriel says Lottie is his mummy now. (I got 9th Doctor Who vibes from him earlier on… you know the episode I mean. The one with the gas mask ghost virus). It makes her her own adoptive Great-Great Aunt too logically then. She looks down at him and smiles as the music swells.

Nathan turns around from the crowd and sees Gabriel and Lara hand in hand and walking away into the forest. He looks sad but smiles acceptingly. Or has gas. One or the other.

Summer 1895 we see standing stones and the house. They baby has been born and Nathan cradles it in his arms by the fire as Charlotte strokes its head. Then a short moment of the couple walking across the fields as the sun sets. The director must have realised they got the shot and didn’t want to waste it though it is a bit jarring. Maybe they could have used this at the standing stone bit a few seconds earlier?
As he lay away at night, Charlotte asleep next to him, Nathan hears a man’s voice calls out to him asking if he is there. A woman giggles. SEANCE SEANCE SEANCE He puts on his evening gown and goes to look. Lights are on downstairs. It’s a modern lamp. The woman is continually giggling for a good 15 seconds so the joke must have been hilarious. Nathan asks if anyone is there. The man asks if anyone is with us. They all look up from the table. They are dressed in 1920s cocktail dresses and tuxedos. The man says that the ‘notorious Nathan Appleby’ is with them when Nathan reaches the foot of the stairs. He welcomes him to the land of the living and wants to ask a question.

“Why did you kill your wife?”

DUN DUN DURR ZOOM IN ON HIS FACE
Blatant sequel baiting stinger/hook…

[edit: Which, as I write this in March 2018, clearly is never going to happen.]



Review:
Do I want to see more? Personally I felt it wasn’t focused enough and the final scene on its own would have been an excellent twist. The Lara stuff was pointless. If they omitted her sequences to maintain the mystery (although she is a modern-day person obviously) this would be a far better series as the question of ‘is it ghosts or just mental illness and bad luck’ would have been more than strong enough. The car appearing in 1894 is completely out-of-place and some effort to create an unexplainable mystery to make people want answers. There will be time travel or more likely a return to the ‘its purgatory’ twist used in the writer’s previous work. I feel like there must have been some outside interference here insisting it be more like Life On Mars and so the modern era stuff was forced into it. Also I think the cinematography is very similar to Poldark so that either has the same team or they were told to replicate it as trailer fodder.

It felt uneven and I think it’s because they didn’t make clear certain things:

Charlotte’s relation to Gabriel (his biological mother or just the second wife of his father?)

Why did he return? Did his parents die? Did he leave after Gabriel’s death? Was there a first wife? (Well the ending implies this and maybe I just wasn’t paying attention when a first wife was mentioned – thus Charlotte is safe and it’s not going to be a case of ‘why did he kill Charlotte’ if there is a second series.)

Gwen’s sex scenes, except to make clear she isn’t a prim and proper Victorian woman (and imply paganism as ‘sex = pagan’ in some writer’s minds), provide nothing extra to the narrative. She is a hedge witch but these scenes feel forced in for no good reason and otherwise she is nothing but a sycophantic servant saying ‘yes sir/ma’m’ in most of her scenes.

Charlotte’s whole character development is a very jaded character. Initially she is a progressive woman in the early episodes, aping Bathsheba Everdene from the novel ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, only to later give way to becoming a opportunisitic critic of her husband, abandoning him but then suddenly deciding in the end to love him once he seeks death. It paints a quite sexist image of women throughout the series as the only women not to be helpless or hysterical are those not focused on in any great detail (e.g. Mrs Denning, Charlie’s mother, field workers). Even more so than an intentionally sexist depiction it suggests Charlotte chose to break her vow, both marital and personal, to always support him which in those days was a very serious breach of decorum (and probably why novels like Moll Flanders and Anna Karenina were so popular of course).

Charlotte’s character seems to have taken a very sudden and severe shift. The progression from loving wife to hard-hearted mistress in this single episode has neither been developed over the series nor justified save that Nathan has given into his grief over his dead son. I have to wonder if there was a member of the production staff supervising the continuity of the series as we have a scene early on where Charlotte notes the dark side of Nathan’s personality and vows to be there for him to keep it from consuming him but when that time comes… she condemns him and moves into the Reverend’s house. Of course there was. This is no accident but an intentional development in her character and it is very bitter. Again the writers are showing a very pessimistic view of their character’s humanity towards each other under the guise of a Victorian ghost story series. When times are good she is loving. When they are bad she ascribes to the depiction of married women as harridens sniping at their suffering husband when given the opportunity. The recovery at the end is forced and far too quick. Would a woman who had fled the home because of her husbands mental instability really be so quick to return to him? She saw a ghost and that is all that is needed to recover the relationship? Convenient.

I cannot in the final scene feel any connection or sympathy with the main characters due to how throughout the series little effort, beyond heavyhanded moments, is made to endear them to the audience. They try but there is no energy in the interaction when you contrast it with something like Poldark. Maybe the actors didn’t have chemistry? But if that was the case edit around it, do things to create for the audience the atmosphere at least – not just a smile, giggle and kiss. This is a married couple not school children. Saying that maybe, in the event of there being a second season, we will be presented by people who knew Nathan before his son’s death and it be explained he has always been a bit detached. They tried at the start of the series with Charlotte saying how he had been stoic but… it all just rings so hollow in the end result.

Overall the series is well done on the technical side. The cinematography, lighting and sound are all to be commended. However all this is for naught in a multi episode drama if the script is weak and sadly I find fault in it time and time again. At the start of the series the near parodically unblemishable ‘goodness’ of the protagonists is almost a caricature. They come in and improve society taking up the reigns of the previous generation and try to improve it but, as whould be expected in a better drama, their challenges seem to have little effect on them. After the farming machinery fails it goes unmentioned until the last episode. People dying in the community seems to have little effect on their estate and day to day lives if they don’t get involved. They’re just drifting through the events of the series and only get truly affected once Gabriel becomes involved.

Perhaps the writers meant to show us how they are not so perfect with Charlotte’s efforts to be farm manager and to modernise the processes failing? But that conflict is a reasonable narrative drive for a storyline not a narrative device to be used so flippantly. Are we to accept that Charlotte, having purchased a very expensive piece of equipment, would leave it to rust after its initial breakdown? Even for that era the Applebys would have sought the aid of an engineer to repair the machine and ensure workers know how to maintain it correctly. But no its just gone after the first episode or so, and ignored until the last, to be a red herring for the reveal of the modern car. However it fails if that was the intention.

There is no consistent logic to the diegesis as we are meant to accept one thing at one point then expected to shift our opinion on the basis of a single scene. Charlotte the loving supportive wife becomes the damning wife over the course of one opening scene in episode 5 but after the attempted suicide at the denouemount of episode 6 we are to believe they made up so quickly? You can argue that between the suicide scene and the ‘twist’ in the series final scene that quite an extensive period of time has occurred. Enough that their daughter has been born and they have settled back into a routine but as the transition is so sudden the average audience will be caught unaware by the off-screen re-establishment of their relationship. Due to her quick assumption of the role as farm manager and her behaviour during Nathan’s mental breakdown she ultimately comes across more as a character concerned about control than a sympathetic figure who we are meant to vie for.

Nathan is a bland lead. We are told he is a practitioner of the new science of psychology thus a young, handsome, well off male protagonist who is also intelligent. However when do we see his skills used and not just suggested in passing? Admittedly they can only use the level of psychology that was available at the time which was pre-Freud/Jung. So what Nathan uses is an even more basic version than those now surpassed, yet well established in the public consciousness, landmark works. So how do they present it in the series? He hypnotises Harriet Denning twice during the series. You could argue he applies his skills when dealing with others during the series but really could we not argue that his words could have come from any other character in the positions he finds himself in? His major arc is seeing ghosts which he initially dismisses but eventually is driven to a state of high agitation by.

We see him in turn either be the authoritarian landowner ordering his workers about or in scenes where he sympathises with distraught characters – except he is at these points patronising them as he himself hasn’t seen Gabriel’s ghost yet which causes him to act in the exact same way as them. The change in his character is too sharp a turn. The fall from ‘man of science’ early on debating Denning to ‘occult dabbler’ hoping for reunion with his deceased son is done in the space of, the space of about 4 scenes bridging episodes 5 and 6.

The other characters are a mixed bag. Some have greater potential than they are allowed (Denning, Harriet and Charlie’s family), others serve their purpose well as supporting characters (Gideon, Maud Hare and her son) while others feel underdeveloped (Gwen, the old man of episode 2) and some poorly implemented (the deceased whose backstories serve as the crux of each episode specific story).

Each episode has a good concept for a standalone story but overall the narrative across the series doesn’t flow smoothly and feels more like we reach checkpoints where the next major development must occur. There is a way to do this but I feel that somewhere in the process, perhaps the episode editing, the developments occur so jarringly that we as an audience are given little time to accept developments and so with each episode the overarching storyline regarding Nathan and Gabriel, supported somewhat at odds with the modern-day narrative which itself ultimately serves little point other than to create plot teasing conveniences for the 1894 storyline, leaves the series feeling poorly paced and somewhat aimless unintentionally.

They seemed to have a theme to each episode but it was always handled clumsily. Episode one we had farming practises and possession. The end result was people were stuck in their old way and potentially lethal methods (baptism of an unconscious person which likely would result in drowning). Episode two was child labour. The end result was… inconclusive really. The story wrapped itself up but this episode does seem out of keeping with the tone or the rest of the series. Episode three we had anti-intellectualism with the character missing from the rest of the series. Episode four was elopement and homosexuality where, through a sequence of convoluted situations, the lovers are both dead and the lesbian is shot dead at point-blank range by the character depicted having heterosexual promiscuous encounters with itinerant-workers. Episode five Nathan has a mental breakdown due to seeing Gabriel’s ghost and Charlotte abandons him. Episode six Lara escapes a mental ward in a hospital with her baby runs away to the house and gets in a car crash having seen Nathan as a ghost.

Lovely life affirming messages and social commentary here. It doesn’t know if it wants to be. A drama discussing social issues, a supernatural horror or commentary of an isolated community. It wants to be something to everyone but ends up being a less than pleasing sequence of events featuring predominantly unlikable characters. The Dennings, Hares, Charlie’s and Gideon’s families are the backbone of the series and I wish it had focused on them with the Applebys being far less in focus as there was much more potential for the series as an ensemble piece than what we got.

I would however be happy to see a second series as there is great potential here and the technical side of the series is very strong if somewhat behind its contemporaries, in a period where many BBC dramas are almost nearing instant classics through both talent and the budget they receive allowing more freedom, but the writing and pacing here needs to be seriously focused on next time and anything like the modern-day teasers needs to be reviewed and potentially excised if it doesn’t serve the main storyline where it was little than a distraction and made the final episode a damp squib of a resolution.

Good idea, good technical side and good acting but something about the execution of the end result was off. Thus making this more in line with the Merlin, Musketeers, Atlantis level of BBC dramas and not anywhere near the level of Sherlock, War and Peace or the period dramas the BBC is famous for producing – nor indeed anywhere near the standard of writing we saw in Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes.


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