I didn't know this miniseries existed until I pulled it out of the library, and I had nothing to go on except the summary. My fleeting first impression was nothing more than that he was going to play a sleazy defense lawyer known for getting murderers and other bad guys to walk free.
Me: Ah! This looks like a good, straightforward bit of entertainment that won’t block me up every fifteen minutes with Emotions to process.
Me, 12 minutes in: damn it.
(Spoiler alert: this review is going to be entirely a recap of my emotions, MY! EMOTIONS!, and we'll talk about Will's actual job/the plot and courtroom scenes at the end. I started to take snapshots and then gave up halfway through because pics are hard, yo, and it was due back at the library and I'm already fighting for control of the Doctor Who/Broadchurch DVDs, so I let this one go. But just imagine, there could be more.)
Truth be told, I did see the part in the summary about him having a family, but I didn't dare believe he would actually be the devoted family man he was. Figured he'd be some kind of workaholic who had a strained relationship with them at best. So I'm already sort of gobsmacked about the cute bit at the soccer game, I'm totally happy with the flirty bathtub conversation, AND THEN THE SHOW JUST HITS ME OVER THE HEAD WITH POST-COITAL SNUGGLING IN BED.
And then it transitions to the brainy specs and OH, that's an even better look. Also, the expression on his face looking at the file? And the fact that you can see a reflection of the photos in the glasses* to confirm exactly what level of gore he was looking at to make that face?
(*you can't in this one because it's too small, but trust me)
MORE RANDOM THINGS TO LOVE
-That grim middle-distance stare in his office and "she was alive for most of it." So little is said, but it's so chillingly effective.
-Him just sitting on his son's bed, arm around the (super cute and fluffy!!) dog stretched out there, watching him sleep.
-That bleak, doleful expression when his wife comes in. "A colleague of mine just defended a 12-year-old boy who poured drain cleaner down the throat of his best mate because he wouldn't let him play a game on his phone. The world is broken."
-And dropping a kiss on his forehead before leaving the room. THIS IS MY CRACK. EXACTLY THIS.
P.S. LOOK AT THAT EXCELLENT DOG.
-Her happiness about the pregnancy test
-The panicky phone call about the man in the window (I definitely jumped) and his rush home
Here is the best part of not knowing what I was getting into: for some reason, my brain just wouldn't process logic, so even when he showed up at the cottage after dark and all her car doors were still open, I didn't expect what happened next. Because it was coming so close on the heels of the other scary scene, as he made his way through the dark house calling for them, I honestly expected that it was going to turn out he was jumpy for no reason. The power had gone out, maybe, and they were reading stories by candlelight in another room. I expected a jump-"scare" when he shone the light toward the camera into a new room that would reveal them sitting there, fine as you please and wondering what he's yammering on about.
So when the camera instead jumps from flashlight beam to full illumination on her body in a pool of blood, staring sightless at the camera, I basically react like Will and fall all over myself.
It literally NEVER occurred to me Kate would be killed off. I actually thought the pregnancy test was a good sign about how central her character was. I thought the son would probably be abducted at some point and threatened, but that was all.
Also, damn, that is some fine hysterical-grief acting over her body. I tried and gave up on novelizing because I couldn't accurately describe his reaction in words. The noise he makes. How do you do that even.gif.
EVEN MORE THINGS TO LOVE
So yeah, killing Kate is objectively terrible. Buuuut then this leads to Amazing Single Parenting, so I cannot complain.
I mean, in a scenario like this, I expect the child to lay blame. I would not have been surprised to see some standard "it's your/your job's fault she's dead," because it IS, honestly...but it never came, even in later parts. Instead, Jamie turns into a comfort-seeking cuddlebug and the only thing better is that Will more than rises to the challenge.
I was happy just with the shot of him standing and hugging Jamie to him outside, enormous blanket enshrouding both of them, protectively making sure he doesn't see the body bag being wheeled out. There is also a kiss to the top of his head. Twice, in fact. That's more than enough emotion to feed me.
But then. Post funeral -- and here's a bit there too, Will's arm around his son at the graveside service -- it just SWITCHES? To THIS SCENE?? I hit the ROOF.
Because that's the dream. That's the one singular dream in tragic fiction, where if you have to lose someone you love, you have someone else to hold/hold you. I always want it and I never see it because honestly, there are not a lot of circumstances under which it can reasonably happen when the person you lose is your significant other. But a child old enough to grasp what happened yet young enough to still be cuddled to sleep, that works.
Poor traumatized family, I said in my Tumblr tags, and meant it, but what a world of good for my heart. I love that it's comforting and protective at once. The combination of the glasses/day clothes still being on and the imagery of Will being tucked into the tiny bed is really doing me in, that he made an active choice to lie down with him at some point and then fell asleep without meaning to, didn't just accept Jamie crawling into bed with him.
The above scene happens three minutes from the end of ep 1. And two minutes into episode 2, I somehowget MORE. Kid screaming in his sleep for dad, dad rushing in to cradle him in his arms and soothe him back to sleep after he wakes up coughing and choking. I didn't even think I could ask for active night terrors after they were implied in the scene above! A+ acting from everyone involved, but special shout-out to the kid's onscreen crying talents.
So much love for the next home scene, let me count the ways:
-Frustrated widower ranting on the phone to pesky companies, complete with a satisfying "you can't talk to her, because she's DEAD" followed by slamming down and then throwing the phone.
edit: ohhh, I missed this line the first time -- "I already identified her; I walked into the mortuary and kissed her face." NEW HEART-HURTY IMAGERY.
-Guilt-stricken expression upon realizing his son saw/heard him yelling. "Did I scare you?" (nod) "I'm sorry. I wish things could be different, but they're not."
(and seriously, who is this child actor, because he does an AMAZING bit of wordless acting here. Gus Barry? Cool, let me just -- WHAT DO U MEAN THIS WAS HIS FIRST SCREEN ROLE. How is that even possible. Fifty awards to whoever cast him for seeing that potential.)
-Softest possible voice letting said son know he can talk to him, if he wants. Never any pressure to talk about what he may or may not have seen.
HOME SCENE 3
The frantic-with-relief hugging when the briefly-missing Jamie gets home, complete with scooping him up into the air because a ground-level hug wasn't strong enough.
"Oh, just give me a minute."
HOME SCENE 4
(Will coming upstairs to find Jamie resolutely watching his parents' wedding video, spotlight on Mum)
I was happy just with the shippy video content...(bonus kiss!)
Most movies/TV shows would use this setup for some dumb "come on, don't torture yourself / get up / let's have dinner" or other transitional scene. I didn't expect Will to lie down next to him and join in the sadness festival, mood broken only for a moment by one hesitant question about whether Jamie saw anything, and an apology for asking when met with an emotional wall.
I just love their mirrored grief as they go back to watching the video, so quiet and internal this time -- and the one little concession the otherwise stony Jamie makes toward his father's outreach, tipping his head against him in kind.
(it is extremely jarring, however, when the scene switches from a somewhat blurry closeup on Kate's laughing face to a VERY SHARP photo of her blood-spattered and lifeless one.)
HOME SCENE 5
In any other production ever, honestly, I feel like the 30-second scene of Will dialing Kate's number over and over just to hear her voicemail greeting would have been cut for time and pacing. And I think it's so important it's here.
[gdi I could have sworn I took a snapshot here...]
SOME MORE RANDOM GOOD SCENES
a) Jamie's mischevious smile at keeping alive Mom's tradition of sticking an apple in Will's coat pocket to make sure he eats some fruit.
b) "David Tennant is acting opposite a tombstone and he still manages to fill the screen with charisma." (or: what a good, wonderful, emotional update on how the case is going. The way is voice warps and almost breaks on "lot of people really love you.")
c) When Jamie seems to be doing all right as they pack up things in the cottage, and really mostly is, but just randomly comes over and hugs his dad for support at one point. and gets instantly wrapped in a supportive hug in kind. Complete with the soothing noises that turn me into liquid.
(this one I really, really meant to snap in VLC and also wish I could find in gif form)
THE TEST PAYS OFF
-Random shout-out to Gus Barry again for really nailing his "I'd eat my hat -- and I don't even have a hat" line, which on a lesser actor would sound so cheesy and rehearsed.
-WILL'S FACE upon finding the pregnancy test. I have an Absolute Weakness for guys finding out after the fact that their love was not only killed, but killed while expecting (even better if said woman knew she was expecting), and this miniseries does not disappoint, reaction-wise. Until this moment I'd actually forgotten that he must have also realized in this moment that this was what she was alluding to telling him on their last phone call. Now it hurts worse! (which makes it better)
THE FINAL CROWN JEWEL (of this installment)
Everything about the Drive Angry return trip, with Will awesomely tearing his colleagues a new one ("When were you going to tell me? When he was in jail? Never? Were you just going to send me an ultrasound in the post?!"), and the part where not only does the child not blame his dad, this poor tiny traumatized thing blames himself. "I should have fought him harder. It's my fault. I'm sorry."
+all assorted reactions from Will, being very, very calm, because the brain is a delicate thing, but firmly insisting, this time, that Jamie explain exactly what he saw / did that night. (p.s. Gus Barry remains amazing throughout this scene)
Listen. At this point, I quite literally cannot even imagine any scraps of indulgent missing-scene fanfiction I would daydream about, because every single one I would normally come up with has already played out before my eyes on film.
Bit of a change-up here: other than a "he walked free and I'm sorry" hug and the "Dad? You're shaking" hug goodbye FOR TOTALLY ORDINARY/JOB-INTERVIEW-RELATED REASONS AND DEFINITELY NOT BECAUSE I'M ABOUT TO AVENGE YOUR MOTHER IN A WAY THAT HAS A SMALL CHANCE OF BACKFIRING AND TAKING ME AWAY FROM YOU FOREVER, the squee train finally leaves the station and the miniseries becomes more of the fascinating psychological cat-and-mouse thriller I thought it was going to be from the start.
But while it's less FEELINGS-Y, it is no less absolutely fascinating. I wish the scene of Doyle choking and spluttering had not lasted as long as it did, but otherwise I would make absolutely no changes.
Also, I would back Will's play any day of the year. I mean, I still think it's a terrifying amount of risk even if you ARE That Good -- even setting aside the risk of being murdered before you have a chance to "turn yourself in" -- but what a play. The system twice failed to stop a murderer -- you helped it fail. It might as well fail for the right reasons.
Could he ever have really slept at night, knowing that man was still walking free? Who's to say he wouldn't have come back for Jamie down the line? Or someone else? Watching him give that final speech in court, I believed in his innocence, and I literally watched him plan the murder.
I did not love the smug rival coming for him at the end -- mainly as I never really got a sense that they were actually rivals, as opposed to good sports who enjoyed taking the mick out of each other with a side of her being jealous as hell, which was a bad look -- but fortunately, then we run out of episode so I don't have to dwell on the fact that it is my least favorite thing when someone's smug dedication to legality gets in the way of morally correct revenge (see also, Proven Innocent's Madelyn Scott).
The final scene -- and the chillng shot on the the final piece of the puzzle, the grandmother tucking the medical necklace away beneath her collar -- just made my heart feel good.
So, overall, this is a real high-quality piece of work. If I hadn't been stopping all the time to have squee fits, I would barely have noticed the time passing, as evidenced by the fact that I watched the entire 3-hour show straight through instead of spreading it out over 3-6 nights. Really enjoyed all the law firm characters, the snappy courtroom scenes, and even Maggie for most of it, as well as Will's genuine attempts to warn her (and later, his cold stare-downs). I'd go into more detail but it's been a long night + 2 days of cleanup to finish writing this up already and I want to start publicly embarrassing myself.
The only scene that was too uncomfortable to make it through was Liam threatening/half-choking his insane/lovesick partner. And I am unclear why there were so many vaguely creepy scenes with the birds -- I kept waiting for him to throw one of the zebra finches to the owl or something -- aside from someone really wanting birds on set, but that's about it.
(That, and I will never be mature enough to not comment/laugh about the poodle skin wigs in court. They just look so grody. How have you not recognized this changed your weird laws about them yet. Side note: I just googled to see if I could find out why, and I found this statement: "Many of the judges and barristers who wear wigs in court say the headpiece — also known as a peruke — brings a sense of formality and solemnity to proceedings." And now I am rolling on the laughing floor in hysterics.)
...anyway then I spent fully 2 hours googling for novels about British fathers whose wives have been recently murdered so that I can chew on this dynamic in text, now that I've got a good set of facial expressions and tones of voice in my head. Not sure I found exactly what I was seeking, but I did come up with some decent-sounding thrillers, so let me jot them all down here and then we'll see if I can actually obtain any easily.
1) No Safe Place - Matt Hilton
Joe is hired to protect a young boy whose mother has just been killed during a home invasion. But the boy's father knows there is more to the death than that - hint: revenge, it's always revenge - and Joe suspects so as well.
Yeah, that feels like the right dynamic. I see that the main character appears to be Joe, not the father, but surely I can think of at least 1 other interesting British detective -- though depending on overall plot and personality, I'd consider switching to Broadchurch mode. I'd have to buy this or check out an e-book to get it, anyway.
2) Next of Kin - James Tucker
A New Year’s Eve celebration begins with the pop of a champagne cork—and ends with the bone-chilling screams of a killer’s victims. Ten-year-old Ben Brook is the lone survivor of the brutal murder of his wealthy family at their upstate New York compound. But from the moment he evades death, Ben’s life is in constant danger. Can NYPD detective Buddy Lock keep the boy safe from a killer intent on wiping out the entire Brook clan?
Honestly, Barry was so good that even though this is U.S. based, it sounds like a really good thriller on its own (also, lbr, I've already flashed off to Mac Taylor or Dt. Flack for this one). It's available in the county next door.
3) The Scholar - Dervla McTiernan [ooh, this one is available at local library!]
When Dr. Emma Sweeney stumbles across the victim of a hit and run outside Galway University late one evening, she calls her partner, Detective Cormac Reilly, bringing him first to the scene of a murder that would otherwise never have been assigned to him. [...] The enquiry into Carline's death promises to be high profile and high pressure. As Cormac investigates, evidence mounts that the death is linked to a Darcy laboratory and, increasingly, to Emma herself. Cormac is sure she couldn't be involved, but as his running of the case comes under scrutiny from the department and his colleagues, he is forced to question his own objectivity. Could his loyalty to Emma have led him to overlook evidence?
+ from a review: Emma previously suffered a horrific attack and moving from Dublin provided a new start that was important for her recovery. The incident details were not revealed in the first book, but Cormac is incredibly protective of her and worries what long term effect and mindset the trauma may have had.
This one's Irish but I really feel like I can choose to ignore that and make it Scottish instead. I know how they love being conflated! (I've been looking around for an Irish female protagonist, though, so maybe I'll keep that part) Also there is no kid in this one, so I guess this is more of a Broadchurch AU than an Escape Artist one, but that works for me.
4) The Whisper Man -- Alex North [ooh, you're at the library too...but you're popular-popular, brand new with 18 requests on 5 copies. how dare u present yourself to me this early] [edit: THIS IS THE ONE!! I promise u this one is perfect.]
After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.
But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed "The Whisper Man," for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.
Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter's crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.