It's the ultimate rude awakening: discovering that your significant other has been shot to death in bed beside you. On that startling note, welcome to this week's Law & Order: UK - a sharp and startling potential goodbye to someone we love.
DS Brooks and DS Devlin initially suspect the victim's husband, but are taken aback when they realize that the fatal shot actually came from a window across the estate, where drug dealers and their buyers are known to congregate. A witness helps them locate Kaden Blake, a thirteen-year-old whose mother is an addict and so it's not a reach that he's fallen into the employ of a dealer. Ronnie and Matt are not impressed with Kaden's tough-guy schtick, and all it takes is one interview for Matt to know they've found their shooter. Seems Kaden was supposed to shoot one of his friends for trying to leave a local gang and missed - striking the victim instead.
"Deal" lets us chew momentarily on an age-old legal question: do you prosecute the person who committed the crime, or the one that put them up to it? However, just as we've begun to give that food for thought, we meet the drug dealer in question and are reminded that he is not a nice guy, when Matt finds Kaden chained up in the kitchen of his flat. From that moment on, we see Matt's previously established hot streak motivate and somewhat get the better of him, which I love. It's a real element of his personality - in that it's both a strength and a flaw, not just a trick for entertainment value. Jamie Bamber's performance has a particular nuance, as we can read what's going on in Matt's head just from his expressions, as we could in "Safe" (coincidentally, that episode and this one share the same writer). We know he's upset, and furthermore we know why he's upset, and that makes it believable and embraceable.
Matt's determined to nail the dealer for his myriad of sins, so much so that we see him talking to Alesha about how to do so and going with her for additional questioning, well past the part in the original series where everything would've been turned over to the Order team. There's an undercurrent of tension throughout that builds with an almost-dread as we know that this is going to change him somehow. And why shouldn't it? It's sickening to watch Kaden's mother sell him out, telling Thorne that he shot the victim and that she doesn't care what happens to him, because she's chosen her addiction over her child.
There's a trial that unfolds in the final six minutes, with Thorne doing his best to put away the dealer, and succeding - because it would be cruel to put the audience through this wringer and leave them empty-handed. Yet "Deal" is really Matt's story, and in those final minutes it's painfully beautiful, as he watches Kaden Blake go to pieces testifying and it clearly affects him. He's concerned not just with the final score but with what happens after for the young man, and that's why we love him. Being reminded of that makes it all the more painful to see him gunned down. I had that plot twist spoiled for me when the episode aired in the UK, so I knew that it was coming, but that didn't stop my stomach from twisting.
As a fan, I obviously want to see Matt survive, because I've come to care about him and would at least like the possibility that he could return someday; even if he never does, there's no small comfort in knowing he's still out there in the LOUK universe. If he should die, however, I'm glad that he went out in a way that befits him - saving someone else's life, once again putting himself on the line for the greater good. We've seen him do it emotionally time and time again, it's just that this time he did so physically.
If this should be Jamie Bamber's last episode, I want to take a step back and thank him for everything he's put into the show over the last five series. That's a long time in UK television and for all of it, Jamie was superb. The character of Matt Devlin could easily have been another "attractive single cop with a badge" type, but Jamie gave him depth, wit and backbone - an accomplishment made more notable by the fact that he did so in a franchise that isn't known for character development. His character was a smart (and smart-mouthed) guy who had a real bond with his partner and true passion for his career.
As LOUK went on, the writers smartly began to play to Jamie's endearing personality and chemistry with Bradley Walsh - intangible elements that screenwriters can only dream of when they're putting words on the page. Much like Ben Daniels, while whomever they could get to replace him may indeed be very capable, Jamie has something special that will be sorely missed. I've enjoyed every performance that he's put in, and I hope that others recognize just how well he's done and for how long he's done it. We're certainly all lucky to have seen him bring Matt Devlin to life in a way I don't think anyone else could have.
Let's also be thankful that this episode was written by talented head writer Emilia di Girolamo; if a beloved character must leave, I want them going out with a script written by someone who knows that character well, and there's no doubt that she knows this sandbox better than anyone. (Second would be the still much-missed Terry Cafolla.) She pens a script that not only takes Matt Devlin on a proper last journey that fits his character, but also serves up what makes LOUK different from its American counterparts - the little moments, separate from the whodunit, that allow us to get to know the characters as fully formed people. I am particularly fond of Ronnie and his bucket of chicken, even if it does clog one's arteries. And yay for a Dexter shout-out, besides.
The fifth series of LOUK has missed something at times, trying to re-establish itself in the absence of two main cast members. It's sadly ironic that the show lands its best success of series five as another exemplary player seems to be on his way out the door. Yet if it should be his swan song, this is the sterling episode that Jamie Bamber - and Matt Devlin, and Law & Order: UK fans - deserved.