What did we learn from this week's Law & Order: UK? Don't walk around alone at night. Nothing good happens when you do. Namely, you might find your brother's dead body next to his car. It looks like Robert Nichols was the victim of a robbery that went even more wrong...but since when is anything on this show what it looks like?
It doesn't take Matt and Ronnie long to track down a suspect: Mike Jones, who's predictably described by his priest as "a really good guy" and who stopped to help Robert change his flat tire. Needless to say, he's incredibly uncomfortable when being questioned about how he's the last guy to see Robert alive. Things get worse for Mike when his boss debunks his alibi. On the day of his wedding, Mike gets arrested for murder. In the interrogation room (I love how British interrogation rooms are so much bigger and brighter than ours), he freaks out and lets slip that a third person was there: Don Marsh, a well-known mobster who likes to have people shot in the back of the head. No wonder why Mike's about to cry.
Working upstairs in a secure office the size of a closet, Matt and Ronnie discover that Robert was a gambler with a huge debt to Marsh, which sounds like a big fat motive for murder. Executing the search warrant gets Ronnie a gun in the face, and I love how he is completely unruffled by it. Matt is more rattled than he is. It's a great scene for Bradley Walsh, who continues to be the rock of this series (hard to believe he's also a comedian and TV presenter, isn't it?). The punk who pulled the weapon happens to have Robert's watch in his possession, and says that Marsh gave it to him for telling him how to find Robert. It's a good, old-fashioned mob show, people! James is amused.
He also has to go head-to-head with Jason Peters (Eddie Marsan) for the second time (the first being "Love and Loss" in series two). I love how LOUK is routinely bringing back defense barristers, instead of just a revolving door of forgettable characters; it reminds me of the early years of the original series, where we had recurring defense attorneys like Shambala Green, who were fully developed people we actually didn't mind seeing on the other side of the aisle. This being a mob slow, however, James also gets to deal with a recalcitrant witness and a judge who clearly hates him. It's the legal equivalent of a circus, and it makes him tetchy. I want to give him a paper bag and tell him to breathe into it.
Alesha convinces Mike Jones to come back into the fold in order to formally identify Don Marsh as the man he saw on the night of the murder. Literally within moments of doing so, he gets a call that his fiancee has been attacked. It's not hard to figure out who was responsible. Alesha is sympathetic to Mike's fear for his life and that of his fiancee, but James is still cranky and threatens to have him re-incarcerated if he doesn't testify. He decides to have a meeting with defendant and counsel (which involves the interesting sentence "I know you know I know you don't have anything"), which is the legal equivalent of poking the bear. Seriously, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
Despite generally hitting rock bottom (his fiancee leaves him, he's arrested for an unrelated offense, and humiliated in court), Mike comes through, wanting to do the right thing even though he has nothing left. In fact, the poor guy feels guilty for not doing more. Hopefully, his conscience will be eased by the fact that Marsh is convicted of murder. But that's really the crux of this episode: whatever he had decided to do, could we have blamed him? We'd like to think that we'd all do the right thing when we're called upon, but would we really? Would we have the courage to do so when it's at great harm to ourselves or the people we love? That's something we'll never know unless it happens, but it's chilling just to think about. And it's admirable that he does do the right thing, while at the same time there's a note of sadness because we have no idea what's left for him even though he's technically the hero of the piece. All that just because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - it could happen to any one of us, and Terry Cafolla's script makes sure that we know that.
Speaking of sadness, it's hard not to get a little choked up near episode's end when James and Jason Peters are talking about James' eventual downfall, since we know by now that next week's "Skeletons" is, in fact, the end of the road for our favorite prosecutor. I have to applaud the LOUK writing team for giving us subtle hints along the way, setting up what I hope is a well-deserved graceful exit. I don't want to see him go, but if he has to, I want Steel to go out in a way that befits the four seasons of amazing work that Ben Daniels has given us. We'll find out next week - and I'll probably be crying like a baby, but so be it. I wouldn't be so moved if it wasn't worth being moved over.
Law & Order: UK has that knack for hitting home, cutting into the viewer's consciousness like a scalpel. This episode is a perfect example of that. The show compels us to think on issues and feel certain things, but we never get big emotional scenes or heavy-handed messages. We don't need those to get the point. The writers are very simple, subtle and restrained, the actors are dependable, and it's easy to see what they want us to see. It goes to show you that there's still a place for fundamentally good television on our airwaves.
For more Law & Order: UK, head over to DigitalAirwaves.net.