Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC adaptation) Part Two

16 Sep

All right, part two. Starting to lose patience, this took multiple sessions to get through. If it had been a two-parter, part one could have introduced us to everyone and picked out the most likely people, and part two would be actual detective work figuring out the answer, but as it is we’re an hour into a three-hour program and have no idea how most of the characters are remotely connected to the case. We know Ciara was with Lula earlier on the night she died, and we know Tansy and Freddie were at home when it happened and that Tansy initially claimed to have seen the fall.

Strike hasn’t managed to speak to any of them beyond Tansy refusing to talk to him, and we’ve also been given a list of other people Lula knew who don’t seem relevant to anything. We know no more about the plot at the beginning of part two than we did at the beginning of part one. Rochelle’s death has no impact since all we know is that she was friends with Lula; it’s not until later this episode that Strike tells us she was also with Lula that day.

Despite this, the episode synopsis assures me that Strike makes a breakthrough. We shall see.

Feel free to skim-read, by the way. This was boring to go through and will probably be boring to read; I just wanted to make sure the things I’m complaining about are clear.

The nice song playing over the opening credits is ‘I Walk Beside You’ by Adrian Johnston and Crispin Letts, performed by Beth Rowley. Bit of an unfortunate title, really.

Strike calls DI Wardle to lecture him about how to solve murders, which gets him precisely nowhere. Rochelle’s bloodwork showed she’d taken drugs, she had a history of drug use, she drowned in the bath, they’re probably ruling accidental death. The next shot is of him in his office soaking his hands in a bucket of cold water, which I don’t understand – yes, he fished Rochelle out of near-scalding water, but that was at least a day ago and his hands were fine in the previous shot (and during the CPR scene last episode) and cold water is only useful right after the burn.

Strike goes to see Ciara and Guy (Kadiff Kirwan) at a shoot. Thankfully Guy is not being shown as the gayest man to ever gay, unlike his lisping portrayal in the book. Strike tells them that Rochelle is dead and that he thinks it was suspicious because she has a history of drug use and somehow that means she wouldn’t make a mistake and drown when high on anything. Not the most compelling argument ever.

Ciara recognises his name, because she knows his half-brother (same father, different mothers) Al Rokeby. I don’t know if this is more or less irritating than if she’d recognised him because he’s famous. We don’t meet Al until the second book, where he serves no purpose and fails to make me care about Strike’s family, but I suppose the script writers were struggling for something to say since Rowling decided that Strike and Ciara should hook up but couldn’t provide anything to show why on earth they would.

Back at the office, an angry woman storms past Robin into Strike’s room and demands to know where he is. I thought for a moment it was Charlotte, but it’s actually his half-sister (same mother, different fathers; Strike’s family is complicated) Lucy, played by Sarah Sweeney. Robin makes her some tea, they talk a little about the case and she tells us that their mother supposedly committed suicide but that Strike never believed it. This is more realistic here than it was in the book, where Strike himself failed to ever think about this in any way, but it’s still unnecessary since it’s never going to be mentioned again.

[I still don’t understand why these books (and clearly also their adaptations) spend so much more time on Strike’s irrelevant family bullshit than they do on the ostensible mysteries they’re about.] It’s a common writing issue, though usually more in games than books. The author is so proud of their pet OC and demands that the audience be super invested as well.

Strike and Ciara are wandering around the set of the shoot. Ciara says none of Lula’s friends like John Bristow much, they nicknamed him ‘the accountant‘. They don’t like the mother, Lady Bristow, either – Ciara helpfully explains the title to us; Guy nicknamed Lula ‘Cuckoo‘ after learning how messed up her adoptive family was, saying she was in the wrong nest. Fair point, that reasoning honestly never occurred to me in the book and is somewhat clever as a nickname, though it’s a bit unfortunate considering she was black and her foster family are white.

[‘The accountant’ is weirdly tame for a pejorative nickname? Then again, Rowling might also just have some peculiar animus against them, considering the Weasleys’ forgotten cousin.]

Ciara says Rochelle had been helping Lula with her identity, which I assume means black culture? Lula was apparently obsessed with finding out about her roots and her father’s side. Ciara confirms that yes, Lula and Rochelle were hanging out the day Lula died, and Lula gave Rochelle money but would have given money to anyone. She gets called away to go do her job and Strike says he’d like to keep talking to her; she says she’s going out after the shoot, which won’t finish until late, but then invites him to tag along.

The scene is well done, she seems a little awkward about asking a guy out and it’s genuinely kind of sweet, but there’s no reason why she’d be interested. She’s only just met him, he’s told her that a second friend has died and that he thinks both deaths are suspicious and he’s interviewing her about them. They’re not exactly bonding over shared interests or showing off their sense of humour. He’s a very average-looking guy – in the books the narrative makes a point of emphasising that he’s downright ugly at every opportunity – and although he does technically have famous connections, if she does know his half-brother and his father she also knows he’s estranged from them.

Sadly we’ll find out later why she’s interested. Her reason wasn’t stated in the book, which I’m now pleased about.

Back at the office, Robin is laughing/bitching to Lucy about Matthew blaming her for something unspecified when they were out somewhere. This is not necessary, and also means that while the manly man was out pursuing serious plot (and sex) the woman was frivolously gossiping with another woman about boys over tea.

I assume someone realised they’d accidentally given themselves a chance to maybe pass the Bechdel test and had to rush to make sure that didn’t happen. I’m aware the Bechdel test doesn’t prove anything, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask as a bare minimum. Even Raiders of the Lost Ark managed to achieve that much. [Ugh. This is all too typical, but ugh.]

When Strike comes in, Lucy jumps on him and says Robin’s helpfully told her everything about the breakup with Charlotte (not that she knew anything except that it had happened) and that he’s going to come and stay with her and her family. He says no. She appeals to Robin for backup – I have never needed backup to tell my brother when he’s being an idiot; grow a spine – and he accurately says it has nothing to do with Robin and that he’s not stopping because he’s going out again. Though he doesn’t bother to tell the woman acting as his receptionist where he’s going or when he’ll be back, of course, and they leave her behind.

Lucy gives Strike a lift and congratulates him on leaving Charlotte at last, and there’s a clumsily shoehorned in reference to her having kids before he leaves to visit the Bristow household. The kids themselves don’t seem to feature, which means we won’t see Strike buying his nephew a toy soldier and having a PTSD episode as a result.

Lady Bristow (Siân Phillips) is your standard frail old lady, approaching senile but not quite there yet, talking about her children dying. (For those who’ve forgotten, Strike went to school with her other son Charlie, who was killed in an accident when he was ten.) She rambles that Lula was the clever one and it’s a shame she and Tony fought so much over ‘that lovely boy‘ – John explains Evan came to visit after Lula died. That’s very nice, but not remotely in the same universe as his book characterisation, and this is also an obvious red herring because the boy in question is blatantly not going to be Evan.

This part of the script was clearly written by Rowling. It’s the exact same trick she used with Petunia’s ‘that awful boy‘ James/Severus fakeout.

Lady Bristow goes on to talk about how awful it was that Lula was alone and feeling like that when they were at home watching silly movies with no idea. I assume this is just here to give her and John an alibi since it’s certainly not relevant to anything. A nurse comes and gives her some morphine, and just as Strike is leaving she says, “She was frightened of him,” but is conveniently unable to explain who she’s on about.

John shows Strike out. Strike says he really wants to find out why Tansy changed her statement, but John keeps pushing about the guy in the blurry CCTV photo that the police couldn’t identify because he’s sure that’s the answer. Credit for actual foreshadowing, he wasn’t this obvious in the book (because I don’t believe Rowling knew the ending until she was writing the last few pages), but I fail to see how he thinks Strike’s going to be able to figure that out when the police couldn’t.

Strike asks about Tony’s alibi for the day Lula died, though why he doesn’t ask Tony himself escapes me, and John can immediately provide full details of what someone who works in the same building as him was doing all day three months previously. Almost as though he was prepared for the question. Ease up a little, foreshadowing is nice but doesn’t need to be attached to an anvil.

Strike goes on his date. Ciara introduces him to Evan (Bronson Webb), who is slightly odd looking to say the least – wearing a wolf mask doesn’t help. Evan also knows Strike’s father, and is very defensive about Lula’s death and starts yelling about being harassed and accused as soon as Strike mentions that’s what he’s investigating. I see we’ve entered the very heavy-handed and exaggerated ‘but look at how many suspects there are, it could be anyone’ section of the plot. Might work better in a police procedural rather than a program where the police have already investigated and dismissed everyone.

Ciara and Strike leave. The press ask her who Strike is but don’t speak to him at all. They’ve also written out Strike’s moment of camera-triggered PTSD from the books, which I’m pleased by since it made no sense but also means they decided to remove every possible instance. That’s fair, since I don’t remember any trauma in Silkworm and Rowling just threw it in for no real reason in Cuckoo, but it’s so rare to see anything addressing actual trauma in ex-military characters that it’s a shame to lose another one even if it was badly done.

They go back to hers, they talk a bit – Ciara gets some characterisation, she has a deferred place at Cambridge studying modern languages and reads French literature; she also demonstrates loudly that hey look all handbags made by Guy Somé just happen to have detachable linings watch out for that anvil please. This wasn’t needed and it’s just driving home that Ciara, as love interest of the moment, is being given more personality and more screentime than Robin who’s meant to be joint protagonist.

Incidentally, there’s no sign of the dog we learned last episode that she apparently owns.

She takes drugs before they have sex, which has unfortunate implications. She also makes a point of saying she knows about his leg and is ‘amputee curious‘. A throwaway line that will never be thought of or mentioned again is not how you handle this. [Ugh. No. This is disgusting.] Agreed. I’m not kinkshaming but there are things that need to be addressed if this subject comes up and the effect it has on the character needs to be explored. Of course, in this case it has no effect because Strike’s false leg has more personality than he does.

Robin shows up at the office the next day and finds it empty. Until she turns around and finds Evan standing behind her, carrying his stupid wolf mask. I don’t know if this would be dramatic if I didn’t know the plot, but it’s dumb. How did he even get in, and he’s supposed to be a famous pop singer so where’s his security detail and why did nobody recognise him when he showed up? There’s a music store right next door to Strike’s office.

Strike wakes up to a note saying it was fun, let yourself out, and has another conversation with his false leg before putting it on and wandering half-naked around Ciara’s apartment poking through her stuff. In this alternate universe his mother was also a famous model and there’s a picture of her in one of Ciara’s fashion books. I like her not being just a drug-addled music groupie any more but I don’t like her being a heavy-handed clone of Lula.

Evan’s chatting to Robin about William Blake’s grave when Strike shows up and they leave her in the other room to go and discuss the plot in private. Evan says Freddie kept pestering Lula to appear in his films, but she hated him; he proposed a biopic and the family issued a cease and desist. If he was this much of a nuisance why was he still living in the same building as Lula? Evan made friends with one of his production assistants, Georgia, who said Freddie always tried to force Tansy to stop doing cocaine; she heard Tansy and Freddie arguing and Tansy told him to leave her alone unless he wanted her to tell the police where she really was when Lula died. Why didn’t Evan say this to the police? Why didn’t Georgia? That sounds pretty important.

As he’s leaving Strike comments that Evan’s wearing designer gloves made by Guy Somé. Strike buggers off to deal with plot again and Robin tells him she’s got a job interview later.

Acting like an actual detective for once, Strike finds Tansy saying goodbye to one of her friends and follows her, seeing her meet up with Tony Bristow – they kiss repeatedly and he near enough gropes her. Strike walks along behind them taking photos on his phone very conspicuously. This is interspersed with scenes of Robin looking nervous on the way to her interview and making a mess of answering questions, before she goes home to cook dinner for Matthew like a good little doormat.

Matthew can’t believe she’s considering not taking the job and hassles her about it, and when she won’t give in he declares he’s not going to eat the food she’s preparing and flounces off in a sulk. If they’d cast a slightly older actress to play Robin and told me this was her and her teenage son, I’d believe it, but this is stupid and unnecessary and once again not in the book.

It’s Robin’s turn to meet Strike in one of the many cafés he frequents. You both work in the same two rooms, why are you doing this. She gets the job offer as she walks in, and Strike almost seems interested, but she’s far more worried about telling him she’s not a gossip and hasn’t been talking about him to his sister. This is pointless. He shows her the photos and then once again leaves her behind to face the plot by himself.

He shows the photos to Tansy to force her to let him in to speak to him. I believe in the book Tony was indeed having an affair, but with someone from the office where he works, not with Tansy. It wasn’t relevant. I don’t understand why any of this has been added and why Tansy couldn’t have just wanted to tell someone the truth.

Strike wants to know why Tansy was shaking with the cold when she gave her statement at the crime scene. I want to know how he knew that and how the viewers were supposed to know, because it hasn’t been mentioned before and he’s just pulled it out of thin air; it wouldn’t have been recorded when she gave the statement (it was snowing when Lula died anyway). He would only know this was important if he had also read the book and already knew what was happening with Tansy and Freddie on that night.

In fact, he does know. He goes on to tell us that Freddie found drugs in Tansy’s handbag – Guy Somé of course, so another false lining, mind that anvil – and locked her outside on the balcony in the cold, which is how she heard Lula fall. How the fuck can he possibly know that? Tansy told him herself in the book after he pressed her about changing her statement. What the hell is going on? Somehow he’s added together ‘someone I don’t know might have told a weird guy I just met that someone else I don’t know didn’t like his wife snorting coke’ and ‘the doors on the balconies in these apartments are pretty soundproof’ and ended up here by the power of protagonist-Suedom. This is dumb. And not relevant since she didn’t see or hear who was with Lula when it happened, just raised voices and Lula saying ‘it’s too late, I’ve already done it‘.

For some reason Tansy starts crying about how she wanted children but Freddie didn’t and that’s why she takes drugs and now she’s lonely which is why she’s having the affair with Tony but she knows Tony will never leave his family for her. This is not relevant to anything and she’s not enough of a character to get this characterisation.

Strike and Robin talk about this and judge Tansy for not leaving her husband. Then we cut to another angsty night scene; Strike answers the phone to Charlotte, telling him to come back or he’ll lose her forever, and hangs up on her. Not. Relevant. Shut the hell up.

DI Wardle’s back for another café meeting. Strike’s lecture after Rochelle died got him to do his job and now he thinks she might have been killed as well, gosh Strike you’re so smart. Strike gloats about being right, and then gloats more about having magically worked out what was wrong with Tansy’s statement, before demanding access to CCTV footage and telling Wardle very patronisingly that it’s not too late for him to be on the right side of the investigation. I wish this wasn’t inevitably going to work.

Strike tells Robin that he’s leaving her behind for plot things again, but that tomorrow she can come with him to Lula’s favourite clothing shop – where Lula apparently visited the day she died – because someone there is talking to the press and he can’t possibly go to a clothing shop without a woman accompanying him.

The temp agency Robin still works for phone up at this point to ask where the hell she is and what’s going on; she puts on a (pretty good) Liverpool accent, gives them a false name and says Robin’s not there any more. Why are they chasing her? Their contract with Strike has ended and presumably she told them she couldn’t take another job for a couple of weeks. And why are they phoning Strike, has she been refusing to answer her own phone to them? This is dumb and unnecessary, which has basically become the tagline for this entire program.

Strike goes back to Lula’s building and asks Derrick the doorman to show him the swimming pool again. He tells us it was Derrick who first said Tansy was cold when Lula died – he gave her a towel. It would have been nice if he’d said that onscreen last episode; stop hiding things from the audience. Strike comments that it’s odd Derrick had a towel, which he should also have mentioned at the time, and Derrick says his job is stressful and the long hours make it difficult to sleep sometimes so he uses the pool here to relax, which he’s not meant to do. So he was away from the desk when Lula fell.

This is stupid. Right now he’s panicking and saying he can’t afford to lose this job. So why would he risk it by using the pool during his working hours and not after his shift is over? Or better yet gone swimming somewhere else – leisure centres aren’t expensive. What did he think would happen if a resident showed up and he wasn’t there to let them in? Not to mention that his alibi must have been that he was at the desk, and the police would have reviewed the camera footage to check who came and went that day even if it wasn’t being treated as murder and would have seen that he lied to them. Once again, this wasn’t in the book and I don’t understand why nobody knows how the police work.

There was a reason to add this, at least. Strike’s using it as blackmail. He’s not going to tell anyone, if Derrick lets him into Deeby Macc’s flat. This is not a good enough reason; in the book he just talks to Deeby without a problem. Why try and make something of it in such a stupid and contrived way?

Charlotte calls the office and speaks to Robin, who seems to freak out over taking a message from her boss’ ex girlfriend. It’s apparently very important. No, no it isn’t. I do not want this spiteful, unnecessary storyline to continue. Please stop.

Strike wanders around Deeby’s flat. Apparently he hasn’t been here since Lula died, and someone else is going to take over the lease soon. Freddie sent Deeby some flowers the day Lula died, for some reason; Deeby also had deliveries of champagne, a hoodie, and some leather gloves inevitably made by Guy Somé who is apparently the only designer in existence in this universe.

Fun fact, I’ve had to go back and add his name every time this has been mentioned because it’s not until this scene that I’ve been able to understand the name everyone kept saying. Must have been the sound of all the falling anvils drowning it out.

I don’t see how Derrick remembers all this so clearly. It was three months ago and he’s not checking his records or anything. It was apparently a busy night, as well – a maintenance guy showed up to fix the alarm pad and the cleaner was around, even though in a place like this she would absolutely not set foot in the building until the residents were absent.

Strike arrives back at the office to a present from Wardle, a DVD labelled ‘CCTV’ and a postcard telling him he won’t find anything (no, I said he looked like a spotty teenager, I didn’t say he was one, what the hell). Robin conspicuously does not pass on the message from Charlotte. Don’t do this, Robin. Why are you even on Strike’s side when you saw Charlotte leaving visibly upset and with a black eye?

He tells her he does believe Lula was murdered, because there was a bunch of white roses in her flat just like the ones Freddie sent to Deeby. That’s some interesting logic there. Someone gave her some flowers that the doorman didn’t know about, therefore someone killed her. No, wait, it’s even weirder, he thinks the murderer took the flowers from Deeby’s flat to Lula’s. Um, what? Please stop being an idiot and explain this.

He doesn’t, of course.

I’m at a loss here. It had to be someone who was already inside the building, so they didn’t need the flowers as a pretext to get in. To persuade Lula to let them into her flat, maybe? How did they access Deeby’s flat first, though? And how did they know he had some flowers they could borrow? Okay, the show’s trying to hint it could be Deeby or Freddie who did it, but we haven’t actually met either of them yet and we’ve had several anvils’ worth of additional suspects already.

Robin asks whodunit, apparently wanting this mess to be over quickly. Strike doesn’t have a clue, but he’s certain it’s the same person who killed Rochelle even though he has no idea why they did that.

After some squirming, Robin finally tells Strike that Charlotte rang, so at least I don’t have to hate her for that any longer. The message was to tell Strike that she’s engaged to Jago Ross. Fuck you, writers. This isn’t supposed to happen until half way through the next book, but they’ve forced it in here just to make Charlotte look worse for rebounding so quickly/for possibly having been cheating. For fuck’s sake, writers, why. Why do all of you hate women so much?

Strike flounces out dramatically. When Robin leaves work later she searches the pubs until she finds him, drunk. If I remember rightly he did this in the book because it was Charlotte’s birthday; giving him a more justifiable reason doesn’t make it any less pathetically stupid, particularly when said reason is at the expense of another character who seriously hasn’t done anything wrong.

He has no idea why Robin’s there, by the way, so I don’t know how she knew where he was. He’s wandered out without telling her where he was going every day since she first met him, after all. Rather than help him, or ignore him, she gets herself a drink and joins in with the stupid mess. He’s flirting with her a lot now he’s drunk, which isn’t fun to watch but is better than him doing so when sober, and at least she’s mocking him instead of joining in. It’s not the most convincing portrayal of being drunk I’ve ever seen, though. He starts trying to pick a fight with someone and she drags him home (well, to the office) via a takeaway, with lots of meaningful glances on both sides that I’m not happy about.

[Why am I not surprised that the narrative ships them and is starting to be so blatant about it this early? I predicted that as soon as you told me they were demonising the exes more.] This is a lot less blatant than the book was, actually. Or was, until this point.

Strike tells Robin that he lost his leg in an explosion, and there was a kid with a gun who could have shot him but looked at his leg and winked and left instead and he doesn’t know if it was cruelty or mercy. Yet again, this has nothing to do with anything. Robin seems a bit at a loss as well and quickly makes her escape.

He starts watching the CCTV footage, even though he’s so drunk he can barely speak and will just have to look at it again when he’s sober. It doesn’t show much, just a thin guy in a hoodie pacing around near Lula’s building, but Strike rewatches a bit of it repeatedly and seems to have some sort of epiphany that of course is not explained. He declares dramatically, ‘It was you. You killed Lula,’ and the episode ends. [Oh for fuck’s sake.]

That was painful.

Thoughts at this point: I think I’d be enjoying it more if I hadn’t read the book first – which somewhat defeats the point of adapting a book – and wasn’t getting irritated by finding all the things they unnecessarily made more difficult or more obscure for no reason.

But I would also still be impatient for the show to get to the point. You need a different tone if you’re going to have a relaxed and slow-paced investigation and Strike hasn’t even managed a single initial interview with everyone involved by this point. I’m not sure he ever will; despite the show attempting to point fingers at a lot of people we seem to be dismissing half the suspects for no reason without talking to them.

That said, I think the plot is easier to follow than it was in the book, if only because of the anvils raining down. So again, still a very slight improvement but could be a lot better.

I think they should have just written Robin out if they weren’t going to change her role to let her take part in the plot. She’s even less of a character than she was in the book and none of her scenes have been remotely relevant to anything or interesting to watch. It’s sexist and boring and a waste of a good actress.

Speaking of sexist and boring, why oh why oh why didn’t they also write Charlotte out? Who on earth read her unnecessary, toxic, misogynist-trope portrayal in the books and decided that it was a really good narrative and they should put her onscreen to show it off? It was bad enough when it was all in Strike’s head and I could just shout at him for imagining it all, but no, they had to go and make it real and then make it even worse.

One more to go. And then Silkworm is going to be utterly unbearable, isn’t it…


Posted by on September 16, 2017 in loten


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling (BBC adaptation) Part Two

  1. liminal fruitbat

    September 17, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Oh god, they put Sian Phillips in this? Was she at least able to overact like Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons?

    • Loten

      September 18, 2017 at 3:30 am

      Sadly no, but that would have massively improved matters.


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