If there's one thing I took away from this week's Law & Order: UK, it's that we really don't give its cast enough credit. The episode makes clear that it takes a lot to be so good for so long.
The actors have everything they should need in a well-crafted script by head writer Emilia di Girolamo (check out my recent interview with her here). She's been around long enough to know that it's not just about the case of the week, but those little moments scattered throughout that give us glimpses into who these characters are and why we should care about them.
This extends even to the one-shot characters, like the panicked mother who claims her child was abducted only to finally admit that she suffocated him. She'll be gone next week, but even so, the script makes sure that we grasp everything going through her head...even the parts we don't like. "Safe" is an even more uncomfortable episode given several recent cases of murder-suicides involving parents and their children. It's still something that is sadly within the realm of possibility.
Armed with that script, the veteran cast knows exactly what to do. For the most part, this is Bradley Walsh's episode, and he delivers a fantastic performance, keeping Ronnie Brooks on an even keel and allowing him a certain measure of empathy, rather than having him (and therefore the audience) pass judgment on the young mother outright. I am and always will be a huge fan of the legendary Jerry Orbach's work on the original Law & Order, and I'd venture to say that Walsh is to LOUK what Orbach was to the mothership: the most dependable actor in the room, the rare kind for whom there is no bad night. He's always on his game, feeling less like an actor playing a part and more like a familiar friend.
There's some solid supporting work from Jamie Bamber and Harriet Walter as well. The former displays one of the reasons I came to be a fan of his: he says so much when he's not saying anything at all. Watch his eyeroll, the raise of his brow, the expression on his face - we get what Matt is thinking without him having to put words to it, and it's entertaining to see those mental wheels turn. Even though Matt's largely in a supporting role this week, it still feels like he's a major player, because Jamie never lets him slip from our consciousness.
And one can never argue with more of Harriet Walter, who'd give any of her American counterparts a run for their money. In a role that could be thankless, she has given Natalie Chandler a full life.
The experience of four-plus series worth of cases shows this week, which unfortunately casts a harsher spotlight on the lack thereof in the newest addition. This is the last time I'll say this, because I don't want to constantly harp on the man, but it's clear that Dominic Rowan is not in the same class as his counterparts. Obviously, he can't simply conjure up all that experience, but he's not yet mastered one of LOUK's biggest strengths: creating something out of every moment. There's a beat at the end of one scene where he's adjusting his tie. His predecessor, Ben Daniels, would have taken that and showed us something, but for Rowan, it's a throwaway few seconds. Yet he's still so new that he needs to use those moments and get us on his side.
We still don't really have a sense of who Jacob Thorne is, unless you count that we learn this week he previously slept with opposing counsel. When we learned about Steel's affair in "Skeletons," it mattered because we knew what it would do to him and we cared what happened to him. Here, Rowan's past doesn't really have any relevance to the case, which strips it of any importance. We need to get into Thorne's head if we're ever going to care about what he does. Hopefully, over the course of the series, we'll get there.
"Safe" still surpasses the original episode (1995's "Angel"). Walsh's performance clearly outdoes that of Benjamin Bratt in the first incarnation, and the 'law' team shows how good they are throughout. It makes you realize that they've been this good for twenty-eight episodes over more than three years, and as we're seeing with the cast changes, that's no small feat. If nothing else, let's take this week and applaud them for their consistency.