As far as crime dramas go, this week's Law & Order: UK appears at first glance to be garden-variety: Brooks and Devlin catch the case of a couple stabbed to death in their home. Yet as this is LOUK, that's hardly all.
When they discover that the former owner of the house was a banker under fire for an apparent hedge fund scam, our heroes meet her husband (Cambridge Spies star Samuel West), who likes to drink and is prone to blackouts. One of those might explain how his bloody thumbprint was found at the crime scene. His recollections are murky, and no one's sure how liable he is for the murders. West acts the heck out of the role, seeming constantly bewildered by everything happening around him. Was he drunk? Was he pushed to the point of snapping? Was it both? He keeps you guessing.
There's some great banter between our two Detective-Sergeants - take a look at the scene in which Ronnie delegates the interview of the couple's grieving daughter to Matt, and Matt's reaction - but if you've been watching the show long enough, you know that's just business as usual for Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber. In fact, the entire first act reads like a classic whodunit, proving that these two could carry the likes of a Midsomer Murders on their shoulders easily. They have a rapport and they've disappeared into their characters.
Unfortunately - and I hate to sound like a broken record - the "Order" part of the show continues to spin its wheels a bit. The defense counsel is yet another of Jacob Thorne's conquests; this is the second episode in a row and third of the five in this series where we've had to hear something about his romantic past. How small is this legal world where Thorne keeps running into women he's slept with? Jack McCoy certainly did once or twice, but over several seasons, not over episodes in the same season.
Thorne gets a shot of personality this week as we see him working on the weekend, but said scene is double-edged because it's Alesha who does most of the legwork and makes the breakthrough that saves the case. In fact, it raises the question of how the show might be if Freema Agyeman had been promoted to fill Ben Daniels' spot and somebody else had taken her second chair.
"Intent" is written by Debbie O'Malley, who also penned the series opener "The Wrong Man" and previous stronger episodes like "Duty of Care." Her familiarity with the series and its characters is obvious, moreso than it was in the premiere. Lines of dialogue seem to flow easier for the actors.
Dominic Rowan gets his prosecutorial spiel, as Thorne moves their murder suspect to crack in court, and it's a good moment for him - but he can't quite punch it home. And compared to Bill Paterson, Peter Davison seems a bit underused; then again, he doesn't feel nearly as approachable - for the characters or the audience - as his predecessor. I wonder when George Castle will show his face again? He's certainly welcome to.
What makes this episode work is what made it when it was called "Priveleged" the first time: that what looks to be the most basic crime drama premise turns out to be more than that. There's some solid acting here, particularly from guest star West, and so it becomes a watchable hour of television.
Yet I miss the food for thought, the "a-ha!" moment that makes me excited about what happens next. It's still head and shoulders above the crowd, but LOUK could use that extra spark of energy to push it back over the top.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.