Brooks and Devlin have their hands full this week on Law & Order: UK (when do they not, admittedly?) when they catch a double murder at a nightclub, followed within the half-hour by another shooting in a nearby convenience store and a fourth body in the trunk of a car - all the work of a trigger-happy, mask-wearing couple.
Ex-soldier, ex-con Andy Bishop and his ex-girlfriend Joanne have some issues, especially when she accidentally shoots him during a standoff with Ronnie and about a half-dozen SWAT cops. Andy dies, and that leaves Joanne to be prosecuted. Was she a willing participant or merely a captive of her crazed boyfriend? That's for a jury to decide.
There are quite a few things I enjoy about this episode. The first is Dame Harriet Walter, whose DI Natalie Chandler continues to be such a well-drawn character. This episode isn't the first time we've seen her outside of her office, something not usually afforded to supervisory characters in the L&O stable. Chandler isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, just like her detectives, and I love that about her in the same way that I loved how Bill Paterson's George Castle was shown in court. LOUK reminds us that these characters didn't stop being good at their jobs when they got promoted.
Also, Matt Devlin's recurring case of Oppositional Defiance Disorder rears its head again this week, as he gets tetchy with Andy's brother and his wife. I've always loved that Matt has that edge to him, but that it's a natural quality, not just a smart mouth for the sake of having one. It's easy to understand why he's mouthing off; in fact, we can even empathize a little.
This is one of those episodes, however, that has a somewhat ambiguous ending: Joanne is convicted, but we know that there's an appeal coming. Some people love open-ended conclusions, and others don't. In this particular case, I don't have any real feeling about the ending, and that's an issue for me. Earlier episodes gave us food for thought with their endings; they encouraged us to have an opinion. This time, I didn't feel that. In fact, I was thrown when I realized the episode was actually over.
Meanwhile, Law & Order: UK is moving its way through the history of the franchise's prosecutors - as James Steel clearly reminded me of Ben Stone, it's obvious this week that Jacob Thorne is inspired by Jack McCoy, as defense counsel Phyllis Gladstone (that's Lesley Manville, last seen in the series one finale "Alesha") tells Alesha that "all his assistants" fall for him.
(This raises some wishful thinking: if the show is still going by the time Rowan departs, are we going to get a character inspired by Linus Roache as Michael Cutter...or maybe we could just get Linus Roache as Michael Cutter? I have no idea how that would work, but it would be neat.)
Note, also, how Thorne refers to Ronnie as "Detective Brooks," when Steel would have called him "Ronnie." We find out later that the character is new to the beat just like the actor, so it makes sense, but it's also another note that reminds us of what isn't here anymore.
It reminds me of something that Suits star Gabriel Macht told me: in coming back to television from film, he had to learn to pace his character's arc over thirteen hours instead of two. It's my belief that Thorne has somewhat of the opposite problem. Four episodes in, people are still trying to feel him out. He's got to start an arc before the audience loses interest.
I've given the "new" Law & Order: UK as many chances now as I would with a new series coming on the air, and I have to be honest and admit that it's still in middling territory for me. You can very clearly see the newness of certain elements, be it new characters or a newish writer (this is only the second writing credit for producer Richard Stokes, who was also responsible for the superior "Masquerade").
The first four series fit together very well, and now it seems that the show is trying to find itself again - which, as a writer, I can completely understand. Losing two major characters (and soon to be a third) would throw me too. I'm not condemning the show for having some growing pains. Yet I also hope it can find its way back sooner rather than later - because there's still a lot to love here and I'd hate to see everything fall apart altogether.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.