Last week's Law & Order: UK easily became one of my favorite episodes of the series, so "Survivor" has a tough act to follow. Even with those higher expectations, it doesn't disappoint.
Matt and Ronnie are dispatched to deal with a prison officer found shot to death; this means that they get to visit prison. Having been to one in the course of obtaining my criminal justice degree, I do not envy them (although Ronnie's "That's not a firearm" line while Matt's being frisked, and Matt's reaction to it, makes me laugh out loud). There's no shortage of suspects. First, it's a pedophile with a grudge (who is a particularly interesting interview for Matt given what he just went through the week before); then there's a conversation with a former prostitute who alleges the victim was a drug dealer. Investigating that leads them to Tameka Vincent, a drug mule whom the victim supervised (and possibly supplied). She's also someone Alesha once prosecuted, so my favorite second chair gets to provide some valuable information: that Tamika is connected to Jackson Marshall, a major drug player they've only been trying to put together forever. It's one of those cases where one thing leads to another which leads to another which leads to something much bigger, and all that comes out in the first eighteen minutes. This show never wastes any time in laying all the pieces out on the table; the point is not revealing them, it's getting us to put them all together.
After Alesha nearly gets choked, she and James set to trying to take down two perps with one case. I'll always enjoy how Freema Agyeman gets to do a lot more on this series than just sit behind a table and take notes; of course, when you have an actress of her caliber, it'd be criminal (pun not intended) not to give her something to do. They quickly find out that getting evidence against Marshall, the victim's supplier and the man they believe Tamika put up to the murder, is incredibly hard. Does this faze them? No, of course not. What does throw them is discovering that she's pregnant with the victim's child, and that she was being intimidated by the victim. It's not long before a self-defense claim emerges. All of a sudden, the victim becomes an antagonist.
James decides to put aside Tamika if she'll turn against Marshall, who is the bigger fish. He does this over his boss's objection; I love it when he says "screw George" and goes for it. Certainly, Ben Stone and Adam Schiff had their fights in the original series, but I could never imagine Ben saying that about his boss. It's a great moment that proves the UK edition's characters are not simply paint by numbers replacements for their US counterparts, and that the UK writers aren't just swapping out names on script pages. As much as I loved Stone, Steel's got a nerve and bite that is uniquely his. So does Alesha, who convinces Tamika to testify, but can't keep her from lying when she gets into court. Thankfully, she has James to finish the job; he deftly gets her to trip over her tongue and then pushes her over the edge. The jury is hung, but that reflects the audience's own split morality; yes, murder is still a crime, but can we honestly say that we don't understand why she asked someone to do it? And when Tamika realizes she's been set up by Jackson all along, don't we feel her pain and frustration?
"Survivor" is a solid follow-up on the heels of "Confession." Unlike many shows, there's not that letdown that comes from being in the shadow of a great episode. It utilizes the same device that this week's Fairly Legal did - making us reevaluate our opinions by turning our victims into villains - but it pulls the development off much more successfully, because it doesn't push the envelope too far in that opposing direction.
I particularly love how Jamie Bamber plays Matt in the early interview scene with the pedophile; the lines aren't charged, the scene is perfectly normal, but he gives us subtle reminders of what happened last week just with the tone of his voice and the expressions on his face. It's admirable that he keeps his character's personal continuity even when it's not on the page (at least, I don't think it was). Likewise, watch Freema Agyeman in the final minutes, as Tamika's story hits home with Alesha, who is herself a rape victim. These characters haven't forgotten what they've been through before just because Law & Order episodes tend to have standalone plots. The writers know their continuity, and the actors know their characters, episode after episode. I don't know if TV viewers really grasp how important that is, and how difficult it can be over time, as you try to keep more and more information straight. To see that into series three, we can understand how these characters we met in series one got to this point, it's really quite an accomplishment.
The honest truth is, I'm running out of superlatives for this series. I suppose the best way that I can put it is that Law & Order: UK hasn't made great headlines so far, but it's consistently good, week after week - and that, to me, is more difficult and more impressive than any single outstanding episode or award. When I tune in every Friday night, I know that I'm going to get my time's worth, and isn't that what all television should set out to do?
For more Law & Order: UK, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.