I missed out on a lot of things when I was in college, but I'm pretty happy that I was never stabbed to death. The same can't be said for a kid named Archie Rahman, whose murder is the case of the week for Matt and Ronnie. Cue theme tune that I always seem to get stuck in my head every Friday night.
As is usual with college kids and the things they get into (unless you're me, member of the Sociology Honor Society and chess nerd extraordinaire), there's no shortage of possibilities as to how Archie met his end. Thankfully, things are narrowed down considerably when a library book is recovered at the scene of the crime, and traced to one Rebecca Anderson. She passes the book off on a friend named Sally Douglas, who's quickly arrested once her fingerprints incriminate her. Sally insists that she was drugged, assaulted and committed the crime in self-defense - a story that, unfortunately, happens so often that, as DI Chandler points out, "It wouldn't be the first time someone lied about being raped."
Is she lying or telling the truth? That's for Alesha and James to figure out, and it's a properly divisive issue, compounded by upset parents and invasive press, the latter of whom uncover the victim was previously suspended for sexual misconduct when he was thirteen. The issue couldn't get more muddled if it wanted to be. These episodes are some of the most fun for me as a viewer, because they provide the most material for us to think on. As the characters argue point and counterpoint, we're presented with their arguments and have to make up our own minds. The most intriguing and yet disturbing part is that even the characters we fundamentally disagree with, we can understand on at least a minor level. As everything comes unraveled, we can see a complete picture of the issue, without being led down a particular "right" path. "Masquerade" isn't on the level of previous episodes like "Hounded" but it continues to demonstrate why the Law & Order model works so well. When the credits roll, you know you're going to have something real to talk about.
There's also no shortage of character development here. It's true that the Law & Order franchise doesn't lend itself to character depth, but obviously the UK team didn't get that memo, because they've found plenty of ways to let our heroes breathe and grow. One has to laugh at the idea of our heroes on a tandem bicycle (Matt to Ronnie: "You'd be at the back stuffing your face"). I love the moments of humor that get interspersed in Law & Order: UK, because I can say from experience that when facing the worst life has to offer, a sense of humor is invaluable. It also helps that both Jamie Bamber and Bradley Walsh both have impeccable comic delivery; as a writer, that's something you can't help but write to. As I stated with the previous episode, "Survivor," it's also nice to see Alesha's character keep her continuity, without the show beating us upside the head with a blunt reminder of her previous ordeal. She's able to use that experience constructively, and it's a credit to the writers and to Freema Agyeman that it doesn't become a melodramatic albatross hanging around Alesha's neck. Other, lesser shows would have her in tears, but not this one, and thank heaven for that.
While I'd say that "Masquerade" is not as entertaining as previous Law & Order: UK episodes, it's still a solid outing, and even a solid outing from this series is still intellectually head and shoulders above most of television. I certainly can't think of a series more thought-provoking than this. Nothing like this ever happened to me in college, but having seen this episode, I'm definitely thinking about what I might have done. And that's something that sticks with you long after you turn the channel.
For more Law & Order: UK, check out the show category at my blog, DigitalAirwaves.net.