Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Inspector Lewis - What Lies Tangled - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode.

The final episode of Inspector Lewis begins with long, loving shots of Oxford landmarks (perhaps a bit longer and more loving than usual?), as a woman reads a philosophical passage of The Brothers Karamazov. Drops of quicksilver plink one by one into a petri dish. Businessman Adam Capstone looks out a window and sips his coffee just It's a shocking and elegant moment as the shrapnel floats away in slow-motion. The slow-mo does two things: it draws our attention to the passage of time, and grants the murder just a bit more weight than usual.

Given the fact that this is the last episode, what could be more appropriate? It's been ten years of Lewis the show and twenty-nine of Lewis the character, which makes Kevin Whately the longest-working cop on British TV (I believe? Next-closest is David Suchet, and he only detected for a quarter-century.) It's hard not to feel the pathos - this the end of a very long road.

As a side note, this is the second detective series finale this year that features a bomb blast, and also the second that ended once and came back for several more seasons before getting to the we really mean it this time ending. Lewis's bomb, it turns out, is made with "fulminated mercury packed into a small pipe," and mercury's hard to get these days. Except in Oxford.

For example, Adam's brother, David (Oliver Lansley, an Endeavour veteran), gambles with Andrew Dimmock (Peter De Jersey, a Broadchurch veteran) who has access to mercury. David worked with his brother on knot theory: the idea that if you can figure out how DNA is packed, you can replicate it, which could open the door to curing genetic diseases. Obviously, this is pretty important stuff, but while Adam wanted to share their findings with Humanity, David wished to sell to the highest bidder. This was a bone of contention between the two brothers.

There's another problem. Supposedly, in order to achieve their big breakthrough, Adam and David stole the research of a colleague, Kate McMurdoch. She's dating a young student, Djimon Adomakoh, who works with mercury.

Adam was not a stellar husband. He cheated on his wife, Elizabeth (Zoë Tapper) frequently (as she well knew, and is just a little bit too zen about). One of these dalliances produced an accusation of rape, and while the charges were dropped, the girl, Paula Guitteau, committed suicide. Her parents, Frank and Joyce, are still grieving. Joyce buries herself in charity work, Frank in gardening (and working with fluorescent light bulbs, which contain mercury).

Another of Adam's affairs produced a child. The mother is the caretaker of Elizabeth's father, a mild-tempered, wheelchair-bound philanthropist (named Donald) who was funding the Capstone's research. He's kindly, even-keeled, and far, far too unsuspicious for the illustrious David Warner to be playing him.

The plot itself is a solid one. The red herrings reveal themselves at their usual steady rate, and there are no great surprises. The story is unusually magnanimous towards its suspects. One subplot ends on a sad note, and naturally, the murderer isn't exactly rejoicing with great joy, but the characters left in the aftermath of Adam's personal life are hopeful. It's all very efficiently done, and leaves adequate room for the main cast to focus on their problems.

Colin Dexter alert!
James seems to find some sort of closure with his family, again through the medium of poetry. It's bit unsatisfying since we never really got to know the Hathaway family well (perhaps Endeavour will help), but James's problems have happily been pushed to the periphery to focus on Robbie.

Lewis is suffering from an identity crisis. Being a detective is his whole existence. It has subsumed everything else: "Like Morse." Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire (from which Hathaway reads), puts it like this:
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. 

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is
And yes, yes, you say, the metaphors are all very well, but what about Laura? A dramatic event halfway through the episode provides the impetus for Clare Holman to really make herself felt. In five minutes, Laura's confrontation with Lewis has more dramatic punch than any of the abstract, vague conflicts in Hathaway's family, and now that the season has finally gotten around to giving her her due, she more than delivers. In fact, Laura is the beating heart of the episode: sympathetic to Lewis's crisis, but obviously still wishing he would find some purpose beyond his job.

After twenty-nine years, Lewis's self is his work. He "justices." He knows nothing else. Is that a criticism or a tribute? It's definitely a mixed blessing. Laura's presence reminds him there are acts of justice to be done outside his vocation. Perhaps the nobility he seeks should not be found in the definition of his job, but the actions he does within and (more relevantly) without it.

James helps a bit with that: he slices through the Gordian knot of Lewis's personal life in a refreshingly direct fashion. The relationship between the two is in the background, unspoken, but rock-solid. Don't expect any tearful morgue visit complete with kiss to the forehead - Hathaway (he announces imperiously) doesn't even hold hands - but their final scene together is moving, nostalgic, and gently bittersweet in all the right ways. Unlike the end of Morse, which felt dreadfully final, this ends with a smile, a loud T-shirt, and a question mark. Which is all quite perfect.

What of the future? The team, with the exception of bossy Moody, has slipped into a comfortable routine. It's a shame it has to end now, but while I do think this is the end of Lewis, it may not be the end of Lewis. I could see him cameoing as a consultant in, say, another TV show. There are loose threads still to be resolved. Lizzie's personal problems are left hanging. Joe Moody isn't all bad, and he has room to develop. All these things could lead somewhere, but most of all, I think of a certain lanky figure standing adrift in a crowd, and turning to the camera to walk into his own life. That's a glimpse of the future - only time can tell whether it will be our last. I hope it isn't.

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  1. David's handling of his package was very suspicious to me--it's not that prone to explode or otherwise it wouldn't have made it through the post. And the open window, with no screen, is always suspicious to me. Yes, they do have insects in the UK. And I'm quite aware that historic houses generally don't use screens.

    I noticed the lingering camera shots, too, and a little more elaborate Barrington Pheloung score. And so wonderful to put Honeysuckle Weeks' name in your tags. My girl would appreciate it.

    1. That's a good point. The whole scene was a bit weird - would it go off just when it was set down? Or when jolted? Lewis seemed very certain of what to tell David when he was no bomb expert himself. And the window was incredibly convenient. Hell of a risk, though - and if the bomb was a dud, wouldn't analysis reveal that it wasn't mean to kill?

      Ah, actually I just copied and pasted the tags from last week without checking too closely. I need to replace some of those.

      My favorite scoring moment was the piano synchronized with the falling drops of mercury.

    2. Fulminate of mercury IS dangerous, but I wouldn't hesitate to set the package down on the table. It requires something like this to detonate.

      Perhaps Laurence Fox will change his mind in a few years. Nobody will say it, but it's my guess that he's the real reason why the show won't go on.

      I agree with you that David Warner will turn out to have had the largest collection of thermometers in England. And quite a few have recently gone missing. His daughter is a chemist and I suspect she got the interest somewhere.

    3. It seems like the show is really setting up Fox as the new hero. Did you notice how in the first scene after they discover the body, he's giving orders, explaining the situation, and walking in the center of the screen flanked on either side by Lewis and Maddox? He's in charge - he is, for all intents and purposes, the protagonist.

      Despite everything else (Hornblower, Wallander) I still think of David Warner as Cratchett to George C. Scott's Scrooge. Incidentally, that relationship is one I've often compared to Lewis and Morse (I'll leave it to you to guess which is which.)

  2. Another wonderful review on show night, no less. How in the world do you ever do it?

    1. Well, I do try and put up an extra effort for a season finale. They're consistently my most-viewed pieces. Endeavour and George Gently's final episodes are still getting regular viewers.

      But I'm probably going to be feeling the staying-up-till-two-in-the-morning-writing thing sometime this afternoon.

  3. Unlike the end of Morse, which felt dreadfully final...

    Well, death has a way of doing that. You are getting to used to the X-Files world and its possibilities. They certainly left all options open, didn't they? Lewis can return basically as-is or we could go right into a Hathaway spin-off. Or just nothingness. Let's hope it's not the last. C'mon Laurence! I'm sure they can come up with an accommodation you can live with. . .

    1. If you had an edit function, I'd say "too" in the second sentence, right after "getting."

    2. I guess I just mean that the end of Morse gave no hint of a Lewis spin-off. This whole final season of Lewis seems dedicated to letting Hathaway run the show and then ride off into a sunset that could just as easily be a sunrise.

    3. That said, I'd be more than happy to see an X-files/Lewis crossover. Lewis would find that evidence in no time flat. Mulder's Oxford education obviously didn't take.

  4. To Darrell: no bug screens in the UK, and we do actually tend to open windows (air conditioning in homes is rare). So nothing at all surprising about the window, per se.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. I prefer that the biting bugs stay outside, but that's just me. And my cats. I thought I had seen bug screens on newly constructed houses in the UK in 1980's--so what happened? In any event, my totally unwarranted suspicions about the open window and his refusal to set down the package DID put him in the "centre" of the frame in my investigation. And that turned out to be a good thing, as he was the murderer. Even Inspector Jacques Clouseau solves cases.

  5. Yes it does seem it is up to Hathaway to make a 'come back' or continuation. I liked the airport farewell - but wished they had shared one more pint at the pub - and love those clever lines - borrowed from some obscure English Lit tome. Oxford is fitting place to say these, without looking like a nutter.

  6. Hi ... love your blog been reading it a while. We just saw the finale in the United States and it was quite excellent.

    All that said, throughout all seasons of Lewis, Hathaway was always portrayed as kind of "Diet Morse” or “Morse 2.0": All the smarts 'n angst 'n sadness, but in a sleeker, more stylish package and a way hipper soundtrack (for instance, whereas Endeavour Morse had his choir, James Hathaway had his guitar and his jam buds with their jazz and rock infused with madrigals or whatever.)

    But this whole “Hathaway as Morse 2.0” thing is just wicked turned up to 11 in “What Lies Tangled” (oh hell, all episodes of the final season) — right down to Hathaway’s sweet new Jaguar (at least it’s black and not red) and the familial sadness with his father and sister (which *automatically* made me think of the Endeavour episode “Home” and to a lesser extent the Morse episode “Cherubim and Seraphim”).

    This is as if they're setting up for — if not a series — at least a one-off sometime in future that follows Hathaway's continued career in law enforcement (give it a few years — and mind you this is all if Laurence Fox even would do such a thing — he’s busy with the music now, and that’s good and he’s shockingly good at it).

    Now while we're ALL for tributes and stuff to dear old Morse, the trick is to make sure such a one-off story is completely fresh — with some new characters alongside DS Maddox (she’s awesome!) and CS Moody (Heh! Notice a pattern throughout the Morse history with these names? Bright! Strange! Innocent! And now, Moody!)

    Sacrilege Alert: if there is to be a one-off with Hathaway, DON’T bring back Robbie! Hear me out! As much as we love good ol’ Robbie Lewis, and as much as we love Kevin Whately for bringing him admirably to life for some 30 years, Whately’s earned some time off, and it’s best for the story that we leave Robbie where we last saw him — in a tacky shirt, getting on a plane for New Zealand with his dear Dr. Laura. That closure is as it should be.

    1. You're right - Hathaway is a sort of modern-day Morse, filling the same position of keeping Lewis interesting. And I agree - if they did go further with a Hathaway series, I would recommend they change the tone and style. Instead of an optimistic classical soundtrack, something more edgy. Delve deeper into James's religious convictions, instead of just vague references - his faith is one thing that makes him unique. I know Morse already did the operatic love life thing, but I'd like for some of that to return - Lewis's relationships were always a bit too tame. Add some excitement to the mix a la Endeavour's penchant for Western shoot-outs and you have a new thing. Perhaps not quite James Bond but not so cozy as Lewis or Morse. Removing Kevin Whately from the equation would help with that. I don't know though - I'm just throwing around ideas.


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