Sherlock review – Episode 2, Series 4: ‘The Lying Detective’

 

2sherlockThe Lying Detective started and ended with a bang, literally, as two gunshots bookended an episode which contained many of the flaws that have crept into Sherlock but also some of what made it so good in its first two seasons.

Episode two of this fourth series revolved around businessman, philanthropist and serial killer Culverton Smith. Sherlock sought to prove Culverton’s crimes while repairing his relationship with John Watson and coming to terms with his own role in Mary Watson’s death. Also looming in the shadows was the third Holmes sibling, who at episode’s end was revealed to be a sister, Euros/Eurus.

The highlight of the episode was Culverton. Actor Toby Jones brought a disturbing, dirty creepiness to the role – appropriate because the character is unambiguously modelled on Jimmy Savile, the fundraising, much-loved celebrity who turned out to be a monster.

The UK hasn’t really came to terms with Savile. He is probably the most prolific child rapist in British history; a guy who walked through the BBC, hospitals, schools, palaces and political offices dressed like a paedophile and went unchallenged and uncaught.

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Five Reasons You Should Watch True Detective

true detective sky hbo[This article is spoiler free: specific scenes and dialogue is discussed but I’ve kept it as vague as possible. Links to external sites may contain spoilers]

We are, supposedly, in a golden age of television, but with Breaking Bad finished, and Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire taking their final bow over the next year, it’s been difficult to see what great televisual achievement people will be talking about a few years from now. Enter True Detective. Episode one airs on Sky Atlantic tonight, February 22. Thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve seen the first five episodes of the American show, and it is possibly the most enjoyable first five episodes of television I’ve ever seen.

True Detective follows Louisiana police officers Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), as they investigate the murder of a woman ritually posed in a burning field. That synopsis, and the generic title of the show, could well lead you to believe that True Detective is another gruesome police procedural. It isn’t, instead handling its unimaginative-seeming set-up using masterful storytelling coupled with depth, intellect, humour, originality and two outstanding central performances. Below are five reasons in particular to watch the show.

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The Escape Artist review – Episode Three – BBC One

The Escape Artist BBCThe final episode of The Escape Artist was its weakest, relying on implausible plot twists more suited to a continuing entertainment series than a supposedly intellectual three-part drama. The show never lived up to the early promise of the opening episode, with that episode’s strongest elements discarded and its plot holes proving not to be forgivable missteps but harbingers of things to come.

Episode three began with Liam continuing his streak as the luckiest person in history, getting away with the murder of Will’s wife thanks to some dodgy practice at a crime scene lab and incompetence on the defence’s behalf (incidentally, why is Will, the UK’s number one lawyer, working for such an inept law firm?)

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The Escape Artist review – Episode Two – BBC One

The Escape Artist BBCEpisode 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.

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The Escape Artist review – Episode One – BBC One

The Escape Artist BBCThe Escape Artist is essentially a horror. Like Arlington Road or Fatal Attraction, it’s the type of drama usually referred to as a psychological thriller. This first episode was a little pulp-like and contained a few plot holes but it was creepy and tense and ended with an unexpected punch that leaves me wondering where the show will go from here.

David Tennant plays Will Burton, a top lawyer who is tasked with defending brutal murderer and all round not very nice person Liam Foyle. In this first part of three, Will got Liam out of prison on a legal technicality, arguing that the jury had been prejudiced by faulty testimony from an expert. I’m not sure how believable that is but I’ll roll with it this early on, assuming that the dodgy writing won’t become a regular issue with the series.

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The Returned review – Episode Eight – Channel 4

The Returned Episode EightEpisode eight of The Returned was a gripping sixty minutes, but as a finale to the series it was frustrating and disappointing, leaving a thousand and one questions unanswered and resolving almost none of the show’s many loose threads.

Most of the episodes in the series have opened with flashbacks, and the finale’s revealed a little about the original flooding of the town 35 years ago, and how the town authorities may have been responsible for the resultant deaths. The dead, Mrs Costa said, will get their revenge one day, which is a pretty clunky line.

Back in the present, Julie, Laure and Victor woke up in their car, stranded on the dam, to discover hand prints on the window, from the horde of undead passing in the night. It was a scary idea, and I wish there had been more horror like this throughout the series. The tone in The Returned never fully lived up to the frightening opening episodes.

Julie and Co stumbled upon a suicidal Toni, and after being left alone in the car with Victor, Toni found himself with a gun in his hand, shooting himself in the stomach. A visage of Serge appeared, but considering Serge’s distress and shock later in the episode upon seeing Toni unconscious, you can assume Victor was responsible for Toni’s death. Which is strange, because while the show is portraying Victor as an enigma, there isn’t really any way to spin this scene other than Victor being malicious; a bad guy who kills people.

The four headed to the Helping Hand refuge, where Julie tried but failed to save a dying Toni. Meanwhile, Simon escaped from prison with Lucy and kidnapped Chloe from her mother. Thomas and his police force sped to the refuge to see if Simon was there, but was instead informed by a deputy that the horde of undead where converging on the building.

The episode really kicked into gear at this point, and started feeling like a proper conclusion. In some stunningly shot scenes, everyone gathered inside the refuge while the police took up position outside, shining spotlights into the darkness, as the hundreds of mysterious undead slowly marched on the compound.

The Returned Episode Eight LucyThe horde was lead by Lucy, although it was never in any way explained why. Maybe she’s just really charismatic. She informed Thomas that Chloe would be handed over in exchange for the returned inside the refuge. Thomas has been an interesting character throughout the show. He keeps switching between villain and hero, in this episode protecting the building from an unknown threat, and yet at the same time ripping Camille and Victor from their loved ones and surrendering them to the undead.

Pierre at this point stood by unmoving, caught off guard by the horde’s dismissal of his olive branch. In contrast, Camille’s father physically fought to defend his daughter, but the police forced Camille out into the darkness with her mother, along with Mrs Costa and Victor, accompanied by Julie. Chloe was handed over to Thomas, but the undead wanted Adele too, for the baby she was carrying, fathered with Simon.

The final scenes of the episode were great, as Thomas refused the horde’s request, and, as the shutters fell inside the compound, an unseen struggle took place outside. And then: morning, and the undead gone, along with the police, and nothing but the now flooded town outside.

Cinematically, it was a strong conclusion, but narratively it left far too many questions unanswered and was very unsatisfying. Upon its original broadcast in France, the ‘reactions of the fans [were] mostly negative,’ (from Premiere.fr, via The Guardian), and I can see that being mirrored in the UK.

My biggest concern with this show is that it is heading for the ludicrous mess that Lost descended into, with stacks of mysteries with either no answers or unsatisfying ones. Think of all the questions completely unaddressed, some from the very first episode:

Why did Camille and friends return? What was going on with the water level in the reservoir? What was Pierre’s involvement in Victor’s death? Why did Lena’s dad hit her in the pub? Where the fuck where all the woodland undead for the show’s duration? Wandering the woods? Also, who the fuck are they? Why is there no contact between the town and the outside world? Why can’t anyone leave the town? Why wasn’t Serge taken by the Horde? Where did he disappear to last week?

It’s difficult to do a satisfying ending that leaves the viewer wanting more but plenty of shows manage it. Immediately jumping to mind – because it returns for a final season in a few weeks – is Breaking Bad, a show which consistently leaves the audience satisfied but still uses cliffhangers to set-up the next season. Lots of shows do the same; the recent Utopia for instance was filled with questions and mysteries and still managed a complete conclusion that simultaneously promised more.

The Returned Episode Eight The other main criticism I have is that a lot of the characters aren’t that engaging. Adele is a very weak character, serving mainly as a plot device, Camille’s story got lost in melodrama and while Pierre could have been interesting, hints at a darkness to his character were never explored. Many of the rest are 2D enigmas: Lucy, Mrs Costa, and Victor.

I wouldn’t want those criticisms to completely characterise my view of the show though. I did like it, especially the early episodes. The directing throughout was very pretty, with great use of darkness, and Mogwai’s soundtrack was creepy and did a lot for the atmosphere.

The acting was okay. I think some of the characters got stuck early on, with actors not changing things up enough. Camille’s mother has been permanently shocked, her father a constant ball of repressed emotion. I wouldn’t be too critical though, because both those actors seem capable and I think the bulk of the problem was with the writing, failing to shade a lot of the characters enough.

And that’s really where most of my issues are: with the writing. It’s been a very enjoyable show, with a tense and engaging narrative, but I look forward to the next series – airing late next year – with a cautious optimism, because I’m worried about all those unanswered questions.

Random notes:

  • Toni and Serge appeared in the flashback as children, which means that Serge must be at least 40. Looks good for his age.
  • Thinking back, it’s crazy that Toni killed his brother. Why not just call the police?
  • I don’t understand why Frederick is so in love with Camille – it was Lena he had sex with while Camille was on the school trip.
  • Someone in the comments of The Guardian review suggested the final scenes as a metaphor for the Vichy French government handing the Jews over to the Nazis. I spoke in my review of In the Flesh about how zombie fiction has a long history of being used as a metaphor for discrimination, so it seems possible. Certainly an interesting suggestion and raises questions about whether us non-French viewers can pick up on all the show’s nuances.
  • One final criticism which I think illustrates the problems with The Returned. There’s some speculation that Lucy has always been a returned – since before she was attacked, and that would explain why she is head of the undead horde. But when she was attacked by Serge, she was in intense pain from being stabbed, while Simon barely flinched when stabbed this episode. So Lucy can’t have been a returned when she showed up in the pub, pre-attack. But wait, I don’t have the confidence in this show to be sure it will follow such logic. They could easily make Lucy a returned since before the attack and just ignore the stab question like they’ve done with so many others. My point is that because of poor writing, you can’t trust the internal logic in this show, and that makes it hard to engage with. And if the show does follow the above logic, and Lucy was a normal person before being attacked, why is she suddenly in charge of the horde upon waking from a coma? Why is she a mysterious super-being who seemingly knows so much? Questions without answers and poor logic. I really worry for series two.

The Returned Reviews: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four, …………………………..Episode Five, Episode Six, Episode Seven

The Returned review – Episode Seven – Channel 4

The Returned Episode SevenThis second last episode opened with a flashback to Adele’s attempted suicide. Like BBC Three’s zombie show In the Flesh, The Returned is interested in exploring mental illness, whether that’s the depression of Julie, Simon and Adele, or Serge’s murderous compulsions. Simon and his daughter Chloe spent the episode separately trying to work out the motivations of the suicidal, while Adele tried to suppress any such thinking.

Like Adele, Julie has been dealing with her problems in not the healthiest of ways. After being attacked by Serge, she cut off contact with her friends and shut herself away from the world. Only now is she dealing openly with the problem, and seeking answers, telling Laure that she thinks she’s a returned, an explanation for why she feels so dead inside. Like Adele explaining away Simon as an angel, Laure’s belief that she is dead is an easy answer, a way of avoiding the truth. Laure though recognised Julie’s deep unhappiness, and decided to whisk her and Victor away from the town and all its problems.

And the town certainly has problems, with a broken dam and thus no power. Where though are the media, and the government, and the local authorities? An entire town without power is going to attract attention. I’m sure there is an explanation on the horizon for why there is no help incoming, but why aren’t the characters wondering about this? Why aren’t they phoning the local council or French equivalent? It’s perfectly okay for the show to be supernatural but it needs internal logic or things are going to fall apart. If there is no realism, the show becomes a cartoon and will stop having any impact.

Another example of this is Victor’s sudden switch from totally silent to perfectly talkative. Why couldn’t he talk for so much of the early episodes? It’s a mystery without explanation, and that is a huge problem for a show with so many mysteries. If it’s an example of things to come then there’s going to be a lot of frustrated people watching as question after question goes unanswered by the show.

The Returned Episode SevenAs problems mounted for the town, the returned started facing their own issues. Many of them are starting to rot. Victor seems unable to control his powers, unintentionally knocking-out Chloe with a vision of her mother’s suicide attempt, and Camille had to face up to what she’d accidentally done: provoking the suicide of two people. She reconciled with her sister Lena though, who showed up back home, without comment about her meeting with the strange wood folk. I guess they weren’t that interesting.

What was interesting was Camille’s conversation with Mrs Costa. She seems to understand what is happening more than most, and treats the whole thing with a weary resignation. Perhaps she’s been though all this before, and has returned many times? In one scene, Pierre had a dream were Victor showed him the valley completely flooded, and we know that there’s an old town at the bottom of the lake. Maybe the town is caught in some never-ending loop; although why Mrs Costa is keeping things to herself I don’t know.

There is something a little off about Mrs Costa, and it’s still difficult to tell if the returned are malicious or not. Certainly Pierre seems to think they will be treated that way, and is bedding down for war, stocking-up on guns. But then, maybe people are right to be afraid of the returned. Near the episode’s end, one of the parents from the grief counselling group collapsed, and has seemingly lost her baby. Afterwards, the camera lingered on Camille, who the woman has consistently been at odds with. Is Camille responsible?

One of the returned who definitely does have his darker side is Serge, who disappeared under the lake this episode, after he and his brother tried to escape the town. Looping around the woods in circles, going nowhere, they decided to swim across the lake, with Serge suddenly being dragged beneath the water, leaving Toni alone.

Julie and Laure also tried to escape, after Victor’s involvement with Chloe had Thomas requesting his arrest. Crossing the dam once, and then twice, and then, in an increasingly tense scene, for a third time, Julie and Laure realised they were trapped and unable to leave. Meanwhile, across town at the bar, Lucy the waitress welcomed the shadowy wood folk with a smile. The finale next week has a lot to do, a lot of mysteries to answer, and I’m not that sure it will be able to deliver. Fingers crossed.

Random notes:

  • The conversation between Camille’s mother and the other parent, after they discovered the suicide in the barn, was a little forced, unnecessarily underlining Camille’s complicity in their deaths. I also don’t think anyone would be as callous as the other parent in real life, forcing Camille to feel as bad as she did.
  • There doesn’t appear to be any procedure in French police stations. No lawyers, no civil rights, no anything really. Police can just pick up who they want, lock them up, interview them whenever, however. A right-wing, law and order paradise. Maybe that will be next week’s big reveal.
  • Mrs Costa mentioned dying in a burglary, which hints at Victor’s death. But if she was related to Victor, you’d think she’d be more engaged with him. They had a meal once, and that’s it. Maybe there’s no connection though.

The Returned Reviews: Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four, …………………………..Episode Five, Episode Six, Episode Eight