Monday, February 15, 2016

Vera Series 6 - The Moth Catcher - Episode Review


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

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.

This is the second time this season Vera has employed the imagery of a girl running in the darkness - this time inter-cut with images of a glowing pyramid full of moths. Investigating the hit-and-run death of the girl, Alex Gartside, Vera and Aiden stumble onto a setting a bit out of their usual oeuvre of rugged plains and modern architecture: a stately home. As Vera's commented before, if it's a stately homes, there's always been a murder - and sure enough, Vera and Aiden stumble across another body - this one male.

At first, the moths seem to be part of the mystery - but Alex's professor, Alan Randle, denies they have any connection to her work. The moths were actually related to the dead man. His name was Martin Neilson, and he lived with his elderly, bed-ridden mother, Kitty. Cursory investigation into Alex and Martin's lives seems to rule out a romantic relationship - Alex, her mother, Vanessa Gartside, reveals, was a lesbian. On the other hand, Martin was fired from his volunteer position at a prison charity for lewd remarks, according to his employers: the Hewarths. His solitary life dominated by his mother and hobby (collecting moths) leads Aiden to suspect Martin is a sexual predator.

The estate's immediate neighbors - Brian and Lorraine Hallam - look shocked and innocent when they hear the news, which automatically moves them high on the suspect list. Their daughter, Lizzie, was a friend of Alex's, which annoyed Lizzie's boyfriend, Jason McNeive, a surly young man who was spotted speeding a white van close to where Alex was killed. He claims to have been chased off the estate by Harry Benton.

This is the first episode adapted from an Ann Cleeves novel since On Harbour Street, in the Joe Era, so I was curious to see how the show's new cast and style would handle the shift. As it turns out, they do pretty much the same thing they always do: Blethyn carries the show and the rest of the cast have a few nice moments but don't come into the foreground for long. Bethany's replacement, D.C. Hicham Cherradi, is set up to be as boring as she was - a hint of conflict when he meets Vera is quickly forgotten and his ethnicity doesn't add anything to the character but an unusual name. He's an adequate actor, but the character is underwritten.

In the meanwhile, Vera finally gets to meet Aiden's other half. To be honest, Charlie and Vera have more natural chemistry than Vera and Aiden. I'd rather listen to the two women chat about unimportant things than watch Aiden stand around being cute and occasionally delivering expository dialogue. His attitude towards his new family of constant frustration, bordering on embarrassment, is becoming a bit wearing. Hopefully, the birth of his child will change that, but I'm not holding out much hope.

Vera has abandoned the dark mood of last week's episode, and her only flaws on display here are a tendency to neglect sleep and food. But her neglect doesn't add up to anything - it means she's reckless enough to confront the killer on her own, but doesn't face any consequences for that - not even a rebuke from those who care about her.

At least, not a substantial one. Perhaps the only character to do something genuinely unexpected is Kenny: he expresses worry about Vera's health and then ducks and runs for cover. This may have been influenced by the fact that, in a burst of enthusiasm, Vera kissed Kenny on the head earlier in the episode. Jon Morrison's embarrassed laughter was so genuine that I suspect Blethyn improvised the moment.

The mystery itself is fairly efficiently translated to the screen, but shackled by a superfluity of suspects. When an old farmer's daughter becomes important halfway through the episode, I couldn't even recall her face or name. I did appreciate, however, that what seems at first like a massive coincidence of two unrelated deaths does resolve itself out into the actions of one killer (if, on the one hand, indirectly). It's a well-plotted episode, and the motive and solution all hang together, which is nice after last week's improbable killer. My favorite part of the episode was the lovely scenery - the silent creepiness of empty houses, the gusty freedom of farmland, and the windswept clarity of the sea and sky are all showcased here.

My review of next week's episode: The Sea Glass.



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

Longish

3 comments:

  1. This is the first episode adapted from an Ann Cleeves novel since On Harbour Street, in the Joe Era

    It showed. The flow was better and the killer more believable.Vera did look scared during her alone time with the killer and relieved, immediately after. She also checked her watch. The killer knew there was no point in fighting back--help was on it's way. Good thing he learned something from his stint with the Justice System. Vera wouldn't have been as lucky with that "lamper" dope. Although his little GF did take him out, so maybe I'm wrong.

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  2. Thanks again Hannah, for another well written review; I really enjoyed it.

    By now I imagine you’re cursing the day I stumbled on to your blog. Please forgive me for my rants, love, but here I go again…

    I’m pretty sure at some point writer Paul Matthew Thompson (or perhaps Ann Cleeves before him) broke rule No. 19 from Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling: coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

    Everything (and I mean everything) about the murder of Alex Gartside relied on coincidence: the way she was killed; the improbable manner her body was found; the relationship between the person who found the body and the hit-and-run driver; the colour of the vehicle and its lack of registration. I’m sorry to be so demanding pet, but can we have a realistic script please? Hm?

    I was delighted to see after my previous comment on your blog that the producers took my advice and finally gave DS Healy something to do. Vera told him to get the gardener’s contact details in case they needed to question him again. It’s a pity she didn’t do that in last week’s episode because they would have known exactly where the lad who stole the victim’s mobile telephone lived and then all the drama about finding and staking out the house would have been unnecessary. Oh well, live and learn; that's my motto.

    All kidding aside, I’ve really enjoyed the series so far (especially 'Tuesday's Child'). I agree with you that the scenery (and by extension, the beautiful camera work) is one of the highlights of the show. I’m looking forward to next week’s episode and the arrival of Aiden and Charlie’s baby, although I suspect he’ll get an earful from Vera for lying about going for a scan when they were actually going shopping. One of the givens of every Vera episode is that all suspects are lying, but I didn’t realise it extended to her Detective Sergeant as well.

    Right then, bring on 'The Sea Glass'.

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    Replies
    1. Not at all! I love long comments (and even if I did not, anything's better than the dark days when I'd receive maybe one or two comments a month, most of which were spam).

      It always annoys me when two murders which occur in the same story are committed by different people (and it's a common coincidence in detective fiction). At least in this case, both were *caused* by the killer. He drove her out into traffic. That she was then struck and killed by someone who decided not to report it? Yes, probably a coincidence too far.

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