Friday, January 19, 2018

Inspector George Gently - Series 8 - Gently and the New Age

My review of the previous episode: Gently Liberated.

[Spoilers ahead]

As a mystery, Inspector George Gently is hard to assign a genre. It's more violent than cozies like Foyle's War, but hasn't abandoned its whodunnit roots for the high-octane pulp of Luther. Its violence is anchored by the moral code of its protagonist. Noir? Gritty mystery? In any case, both its morality and its darkness come together for one last showdown in Gently and the New Age.  

It's a nice thing to see a show go out on top. Many drag it out, watering down the substance till they've become a self-parody. Inspector George Gently doesn't do that, giving us a final episode true to the integrity of the series and the character, though probably not the story we expected. It might not be the best episode the show has ever produced, but it's a strong ending and that's quite an achievement for a show that's been running for over a decade.

Another thing I like about Gently and the New Age is that it forces the audience to do as George would do: follow the evidence. In the previous installment of series 8, Gently Liberated, it was obvious who we should trust: the sympathetic, abused women at the center of the plot, as opposed to the powerful, sleazy male characters.

This episode gives us similar hints, but the solutions are more complicated. Michael Clements, the simpatico politician at the center of the plot, gets to deliver an inspiring speech about the future of the North and the country, invoking his anti-Vietnam activism and support for a closer relationship with Europe. Even Bacchus says, "That's what I call leadership." Nevertheless, George steadfastly resists attempts to justify Clements' shadiness. He clings to his principles, "because what else is there?" And the episode ends with Clements' political career in tatters.

How do we get there? Rewind to the beginning, with a murder on a picket line. A scab is assassinated in a crowd outside the Bateson-Donnelly company. As it turns out, the victim was really an undercover journalist who burgled the company's files.

Bacchus and Rachel arrive on a scene dominated by two figures: Owen Thompson, a brash socialist determined not to cooperate with the police, and Clements, a polite socialist with a bright future in Labour.

Meanwhile, Gently's testimony in court takes down a a cadre of corrupt cops, prompting a Scotland Yard man, Ian Lister, to request aid on a cold case. Lister thinks there may be inconsistencies in the original investigation, based on an anonymous tip-off from a Whitehall phone box (American viewers: think Capitol Hill).

Scotland Yard has changed, Lister proclaims. They're determined to root out corruption now. If you believe that, you haven't been watching the show for the last 10 years.

Especially when it turns out the case could have a political angle. Before Leslie Pierce was murdered, she attended a reception for the opening of a new plant. Her boss, Eddie Paton, reveals that Michael Clements was the guest of honor at that reception. Could Clements have known Leslie? There were rumors about his relationships with younger women.

Clements says it's all a plot to discredit him. His assistant, Adele Watson, claims it doesn't matter because Clements is On the Right Side of History™. George isn't sure, but the case gets even more complicated when Clements offers Gently a deal: give him a week to clear his name, and in exchange, Gently will get the name of the man who killed his wife, Isabella, way back in episode one.

Isabella is Gently's weakness. He can't resist the chance to find out the truth, so for the first time, he takes a crooked deal. Yet when he finally confronts the killer - a hired thug named Alan Croxley - Croxley crushes him. It's a clarifying moment. The world's moving too fast for Gently. He's always hung on like a tired old bull dog, but he's getting too old for this.

And he doesn't have John to watch his back. They're still not talking. Poor Rachel is the liaison between the two, working for Gently on his secret case and acting as Bacchus's partner on the Bateson-Donnelly investigation (the pair are fun together - Bacchus has enough self-awareness to kid Rachel with a joke about Leon Trotsky).

Bacchus wants to reconcile with Gently, but he's too much of an arrogant jackass to make a move. When Gently gets deep into the case it's Rachel, not Bacchus, that he calls for emotional support. And let's be honest, that's probably the better choice.

Nevetheless, it makes me sad that Gently and Bacchus's relationship is left unresolved. John Bacchus has been around for the entire show. He took a bullet for Gently. Shrugging and agreeing to organize George's retirement party is hardly Robbie Lewis's tragic, loyal "Goodbye, sir." It should have been Bacchus, not Michael Clements, to whom George gives his last speech, defining all the things he stands for.

But it's fitting, I suppose, that George is alone. He's a bit of a cowboy anyway.

When Gently first came to the North, he thought he was leaving behind a world of conspiracy and corruption, but that wasn't really true. One of the show's finales left Gently and Bacchus, bleeding out on the floor of Durham Cathedral. George's rock-solid Greatest Generation principles were tested by a new world with new mores in Son of a Gun.

The consolations of working in the North for Gently were a mixture between retirement and fatherhood - a less hectic life and a protege in Bacchus.

In the end, he can't really keep either of those things. His past caught up and killed him. He has a falling-out with Bacchus and they never really reconcile.

That's not to say his time in the North was pointless. The final moments of the episode hint that Bacchus and Rachel will continue investigating into the sunset, walking in George's footsteps. And George's final act is to take down a conspiracy. There's an inevitability in his final downfall. He died as he lived. His duty killed him in the end. He wouldn't have died of anything else.

"Because what else is there, Michael? What else is there?"

What now? While Lee Ingleby has played with an Inspector Bacchus spinoff, I can't really see it. The character has feet of clay. He's not a leader. But it would be interesting - how will he fare when he has to literally fill Gently's shoes? He's a genuinely unpredictable character - you never quite know if you can rely on him.

And as for Martin Shaw, I'm going to miss him. He had that great moral gravity essential to these type of shows - the gift of both his age and his ponderous, booming voice. It's a shame that the show never had the same audience as Poirot or Morse. It should have.

If you enjoyed this article, check out my full list of detective reviews.

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