Monday, February 8, 2016

Vera Series 6 - Dark Road - Episode Review

My review of the first season of Vera.
My review of the second season of Vera.
My review of the third season of Vera.

My reviews of the fourth season of Vera. 
My reviews of the fifth season of Vera.

Bleak but gorgeous moors? Crows? A crowded pub? A girl running alone in the dark? No depressed Swedish detective in evidence? Must be Vera, and so it is. The girl in particular had just discovered the body of a woman, Anne Marie Richards, left in the wilderness for two weeks.

Marcus the Pathologist, who's looking rather older, hesitantly diagnoses a violent death. She'd been scheduled to have supper with her two daughters several weeks ago. A history of drugs and desertion meant they weren't particularly surprised when she was a no-show. But is that the only reason they refused to seek her out? Could they be responsible for her disappearance?


The daughters are quite different from one another. Christine is gawky and unfashionable - she seems a little more emotionally levelheaded than her sister, but nothing else about her life looks stable. Nicole is married with a young daughter. Her husband, Simon, was angry with Anne Marie - she meddled in other people's lives to an infuriating extent.

As it turns out, Anne Marie was fairly ubiquitous in other people's lives, as evidenced by the parade of suspects Vera interviews. Anne Marie's doctor directs Vera to investigate Anne Marie's latest lover - a restaurant-owner named Huang (a restaurant Aiden visited in the previous season finale, incidentally). Meanwhile, Anne Marie was buzzing around the wealthy older man, Mr. Kipland, in the next house (he's played by Ronald Pickup, here being the suspiciously famous cast member). This worried Mr. Kipland's nurse, Pam Rached, though not as much as Anne Marie's interest in her son, Dash. At the pub, the bartender revealed that Anne Marie had been picking up young men regularly.

Ciara - the girl who discovered and then moved the body - was not entirely moved by righteous motives. Her grandfather hated Anne Marie, because she had caused his animals to be put down. He had been negligent, he admits, but only because he was mourning the death of his daughter.

The superfluity of suspects is somewhat of a problem. There are so many subplots that by the time we get to the killer, there's little time (spoilery stuff here) to develop a motive beyond mere anger (hashtag toxic masculinity), which smacks of convenient, Deus ex machina psychopathy.

This means that the biggest shock of the episode loses some of its weight. For the first time in six seasons, Vera has finally killed off a secondary character.

In the absence of Joe Ashworth, Vera has turned from a show about a partnership to one about an ensemble. Aiden turns up on the advertising, because he's cute, but Vera is just as likely to go investigating with Kenny or Bethany. In this episode, most of her time is spent with Bethany, who has put in an application for promotion. Vera is blunt: she doesn't think she's good enough. Could she be? Yes, but it'll take a lot more work.

That the end of Bethany's first character arc is death, and quickly, is an unusual choice. Sure, it gives the show that darkness it's been missing, but there are a few reasons it's a puzzling decision. For one, we have very little emotion invested in Bethany. I care far more for Kenny, Aiden, and even Marcus, all of whom have had more character development (and I can't even begin to describe how agonizing Joe's death would have been, in similar circs). For another, it's not exactly a logical development of her character arc. It's just a bit random.

All that said, Brenda Blethyn sells it all. Vera's response gives the denouement tremendous pathos, and she mixes ferocity, anguish, and regret to devastating effect. Hopefully Bethany's death will echo throughout the rest of the story, and not merely be an isolated, cheap plot twist. Vera is a show which thrives on Blethyn's dark moods, and if Vera is beginning to regain the edge she abandoned in series 5 (her saucy response to Aiden's engagement gives me hope), that's all to the good.

My review of the next episode: Tuesday's Child.

Want something good to watch? Check out my full list of British detective shows.

Longish

9 comments:

  1. British detective shows demonstrate the absurdity of trying to police without carrying a firearm. Especially when help is so far away on the moors.

    I think the motive of the killer was quite clear--he was about to lose his live-in victim. His MIL was about to rescue her daughter and get her away from his controlling/abusive influence.

    Vera may not break any new ground for a mystery show, but it is still a reliable watch. It will be nice to be able to come here when Sunday's episode ends, too.

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    1. I can't even begin to count the number of times I've yelled at the TV: "Take a GUN, you IDIOT!"

      I don't mean that we don't know the motive, it's just that it sort of came out of nowhere. I hadn't gotten any sort of controlling, angry vibe from him before that. Maybe I just missed it - I'll keep an eye out on the rewatch with the family.

      Vera's first few seasons were, I thought, quite exceptional (I really loved the dynamic between Vera and Joe) - and though it might have slid into a rut, recently, Brenda Blethyn is always worth watching. This season has been quite good.

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    2. there is nothing absurd about preventing the police running round carrying guns, we are very happy about it

      means most criminals and every normal citizen are not carrying them either

      the absurdity is moronic town sheriffs and other badly trained thugs shooting innocent people dead on a routine basis for minor incidents

      I'd much rather our police force than yours that's for sure

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    3. I bet you wouldn't be saying that, Richard, if you were a police officer. Or couldn't, being dead and all.

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    4. I know plenty of serving policemen in the UK and not one wants to routinely carry a weapon

      they are regularly surveyed and this has been constant for decades

      I would never carry a gun myself for any purpose other than clay pigeon shooting or something, so you would lose your bet

      you may think guns are the solution but we don't, they are the problem - your ignorance of British society and attitudes and your assumptions are rather offensive

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  2. Actually, your assumptions that turn out to be quite wrong, are offensive. I spent time in the UK and have talked with police officers in your country and most would rather go home alive. Perhaps that's why more and more have access to firearms in the trunks of their cars or by having armed response officers present on a routine basis. Your assumptions about American police show a pretty thorough ignorance of the facts, as well. Yeah, we shoot people for dropping their H's and swallowing their vowels. Be careful! You must be Guardian reader. But in the "real" world--at least what this episode portrays of it--the fact of the matter is that DC Bethany Whelan would be alive if she were carrying a firearm. Maybe you could have talked your way out of it with your "purty" mouth, but let's hope you never have to find out.

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  3. I'm sorry that some ugly Americans stumbled upon this review and couldn't help but try to make it political. Let me apologize for my ignorant peers.

    That being said this was a really disappointing episode. It seemed, as this review noted, the whole thing felt rushed, and your "convenient, Deus ex machina psychopathy" is a superb summary. It was overly-contrived to produce the scenario of Bethany's death. Most obviously - are guns somehow permanently attached to houses? Wouldn't it be quite obvious that the psychopathic character might have it on his person? Shouldn't the supposedly street-smart Vera, who already knew about the gun, have just told Bethany, during her tediously prolonged cell call, to let him go? And not put up a fight which would have been pointless anyhow, since he was a very robust man, who was clearly willing to be violent even without a gun! I enjoy the the better UK crime dramas precisely because they avoid those type of moments of puerile drama and overly dramatized suspense. I don't want to feel like I'm watching the banal gloopiness of "Chicago Fire" or whatnot, where every episode has a secondary character skirting with death. So, for me the series kind of jumped the shark with this one. (remember we on US PBS are just seeing them now) I don't know if I can go on watching anymore.

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