Episode two strained credibility and was cartoonish in places, even more so than the first episode. The show is well made and enjoyable, but only if you don’t think about it too much while watching. Writer David Wolstencroft also created Spooks, and he has brought that show’s fast-paced, implausible fun along to The Escape Artist. It doesn’t work as well in a serious drama though, were credibility and tight plotting matter.
As episode two began, Liam was on trial for the murder of Will’s wife. Defending was Will’s rival lawyer Maggie, and though Will is legally barred from helping the prosecution – lead by his own chambers which seems improbable – he gave some surreptitious advice from the sidelines.
Liam quickly got bail which is surely incredibly unlikely. I’m not a lawyer but I’m guessing a man on his second brutal murder trial – the first of which he got off on a technicality – probably wouldn’t get bail. And if he did, the law says he’d need to be okayed by a mental health professional first, and I doubt the villainous, Hannibal Lecter-ish Liam would pass his Rorschach test.
The episode was filled with such implausible scenes, like Liam following Will’s son home on the bus after being released, and risking immediately being locked up if anybody saw him. I mean, presumably his face is all over the TV at this point. And is it believable that he managed to leave behind almost no evidence at the scene of the murder?
You can ignore these things and still enjoy the show but it does drop it down a level in quality, and it becomes something completely ephemeral. It’s temporary entertainment and not much more.
What is good is the acting. Tennant carried on from last week, pulling off whatever was asked off him, including an inappropriate range of emotions, from jovial to emotionally destroyed to angry to scared. Toby Kebbell meanwhile was great in his scenery-chewing role, especially good at portraying a menace and intensity behind still but forceful movements. The best scene in the episode had Liam intimidate his neighbour – and alibi for the night of the murder – with words and attitude and very little physicality.
In that scene, Liam is terrorising a woman, and it’s worth touching on the fact that this is another in a long line of TV shows that builds its tension and plot around attacks on woman. Liam’s original victim was female, as was his second, the neighbour he intimidates, and the new lawyer he is starting to terrorise. It’s disappointing. Think how strange it would be if the genders in this show were reversed; a female lawyer has her husband brutally murdered by a killer who later terrorises a different male lawyer. Such a gender set-up is so rare it feels weird to even think about. We live in a society that can be very misogynistic and it would be a good thing if screenwriters could make an effort to challenge such things in their work or, at the very least, not unintentionally support them.
The episode pretty much dropped its examination of the morality of the legal profession or other such thematic elements and is now just a straight up thriller. It’s a shame because there seemed to be some depth to the first episode – in the writing and the directing – and that’s pretty much all gone, replaced with broad drama like the frankly ridiculous scene with Liam striding across his law firm’s conference table shouting for a ‘Mr Simpkins!’
The acting and the interesting premise is just about holding the show together though. Next week’s final part will probably ramp things up even more, with Will and Liam going head-to-head and Maggie being put in greater danger, and while that promises an entertaining conclusion to the show, it’s disappointing that, at this point, I’m not expecting it to be anything more than that.
- The bit with the apple, Will’s son comforting his dad by mimicking his mother’s actions from episode one, was sweet, and nicely understated.
- ‘Ah but you’re not him,’ a colleague says to Maggie, referencing Will. It’s some decent dialogue that can be taken two ways: Maggie is not yet a number one lawyer or Maggie is not yet a victim of Liam.
- It’s always good to see Tony Gardner, playing here the lawyer at Will’s firm who nobody respects. He’s a good actor, and in his short time on screen conveyed someone a bit stupid and a bit self-important, but someone aware of his flaws and what people really think about him.
- The bit were Will kept listening to his deceased wife’s voicemail has been done before, with Breaking Bad coming most to mind. It’s hard to believe that the writer didn’t take this direct from that American show, as influential as it’s been, even if it was unconscious.
- I think in the scene were Liam followed Jamie – Will’s son – he was trying to find out if Jamie saw him commit the murder and would recognise him. It’s still a stupid and unbelievable thing for his character to do though.