Time for the final episode. I am still not sure why this was three episodes long. Around half the first episode and almost all the second one could have been removed completely without changing the plot in any way.
Apparently, ‘long-buried secrets are revealed, putting Strike and Robin in danger as they close in the killer‘ [sic]. I don’t recall any actual peril in the book, but the typo amuses me.
Well, let’s see how badly they manage to mess this up.
Oh, goody, unnecessary Army flashbacks have been added. They’ve taken the backstory of Strike and his police buddy Anstis, and thus Anstis’ family, from Silkworm and shoved it in here. Even though they cut Anstis himself from this show and thus the viewers have no idea who this guy is right now and less reason to care.
For those of you who blocked it from your memories, Strike and two other guys were attacked. Strike (somehow) saved Anstis over the other guy at the cost of his own leg. The book chose to heavily imply that it was because Anstis was married with a child and the other guy, who does not get a name, did not. As a result Anstis’ wife loves Strike and he’s godfather to their son. None of them are in this show. I hope none of them are in the next one because the single scene featuring them was the dullest thing I have ever read in my life.
I do not think this show needed a shot of a white soldier lying wounded while an Afghan boy who looks about ten aims a gun at him and grins. [No, no it did not.]
We are then treated to three and a half solid minutes of camera tilting, shifting focus, and road-drill noises. Because Strike has a hangover, you see, and it’s vitally important that everyone has a lot of time to notice that while he stumbles around groaning. Then we get to watch him vomit.
Robin is still pretending there’s a plot and is waiting outside Vashti, the clothing store they’re meant to be investigating because Lula visited the day she died and someone there has been talking to the press. She texts Strike asking where he is, and he lies and says he’s nearly there when he’s still sitting in his office and not even dressed yet. I assume we’re meant to find it cute or amusing that he lies to her for no reason over really minor things. [This is a very healthy dynamic that will obviously in no way carry over if and when these characters become romantically involved! Bloody hell.] She decides to also pretend she’s a real character for once, and goes in to investigate on her own.
I want to take a minute to talk about this scene, because it’s easily one of the best moments in the show. In the show version, Robin is trying on pretty dresses and successfully winning over the shop assistant (Jenny, played by Alisha Bailey), and getting some good information out of her – apparently most of Lula’s circle were convinced she was cheating on Evan, and assumed it was with Deeby. There’s another shop assistant, Mel, who’s not working today; the implication is she’s the one who talked to the newspapers.
In the book, we had Strike standing in the corner like a cardboard cutout, openly drooling over how good Robin looked in the dresses, and his only contribution to the dialogue was to prompt her occasionally because she wasn’t even sure why they were there and had to figure it out as they went along. She didn’t get much information and there was no point to it.
This single scene is a glimpse of what the whole show could have been if they had made a serious effort to actually improve on the source material. It’s incredibly frustrating, and becomes more so when Strike then shows up to drool and stare and be completely unnecessary anyway. At least it ends quickly. [This does sound like a substantial improvement, though given they undid it immediately following I doubt it was intentional.]
They go back to the office to look at the CCTV footage again, and Robin continues to ride the wave of actual-character-hood and points out that the footage from the two cameras we’re looking at shows two different people. One is the thin black guy John had a still of, the one he keeps insisting must be the murderer, but the other is wearing a different hoodie with a designer logo and has gloves on. Strike reminds us Guy Somé delivered a hoodie and gloves to Deeby’s flat, so they go back to the fashion studio to get him to confirm that those are the clothes in the footage.
Guy has a really lovely coffee table in his office; it’s a whole tree stump complete with gnarled roots, all polished up. I was watching it during the whole scene because it’s prettier (and arguably more interesting) than the characters. Couldn’t get a good screenshot though.
He identifies the clothing; the hoodie is a limited edition, branded for Deeby Macc, and not even released yet. He also agrees Lula was probably cheating with Deeby, and tells us she was looking for her father – he was African, and her mother was ‘just some redneck from Canning Town‘. (Area of London.) ‘Redneck’ is not a British word, we would have said ‘chav’. Her nickname among this lovely bunch is ‘Mrs Methadone‘, though I can’t imagine any of them ever met her.
[This sparked a bit of discussion between us, because there’s an interesting language gap here. While connotatively quite similar (e.g. pejoratively lower class, uneducated, possibly inbred), ‘redneck’ and ‘chav’ really don’t mean the same thing: redneck is specifically for rural poor and chav is definitely for urban poor, but it might still be as close as you can get. As far as we can tell, British English doesn’t really have an equivalent to ‘redneck’ and American English doesn’t have one for ‘chav’ unless you include racialised terms. This is vastly more interesting to me than the actual program we’re supposed to be discussing.]
Unlike the book, Lula’s mother actually does know who her father was: ‘some big-shot academic‘. Lula traced him to Russell Square, nearby, but Guy doesn’t know the details – like his name – because ‘everyone switched off‘ when the subject came up. Except Rochelle. Guy sees this as manipulation, rather than just listening to something your friend cares about because they’re your friend, which seems to be a foreign concept.
Guy also makes a point of demonstrating that he knows Strike slept with Ciara, and adds that she sleeps with just about everyone. Say it with me now, everyone: This is not relevant, and was not in the book. Looks like they changed ‘lisping’ for ‘bitching’ in the Gay Man Stereotype List. At least Robin is still grimly clinging to characterhood and just looks bored instead of appalled and jealous. [Why? Why is this here? Why did this need more slut shaming?] Because they were well below quota once they removed Strike’s internal monologue, obviously.
Our protagonists go back to Lula’s flat, picking up a bunch of flowers as a prop along the way, and reenact someone coming to her door hiding their face to be let in. They speculate – did Lula have the balcony door open already, since they lock when closed? No, Robin points out, it was snowing outside. Maybe she walked away from the argument and went onto the balcony in the hope that her unwanted visitor would leave, and didn’t realise Tansy was underneath.
He pantomimes pushing Robin over the edge, grabbing her arm, which freaks her out; it’s unclear whether she’s panicking over that or bothered by the fact that before he did it the shot was carefully framed to make them look about to kiss. [Seriously? Ugh.] Yeah, it was awkward because it was really well acted, there was genuine tension, it just doesn’t work with these characters.
Strike says the fall must have been sudden, that Tansy didn’t hear any cries for help. Really? She didn’t scream when she fell? And the rail is a bit above waist height; even catching someone off guard, you’d have to struggle a bit to heave them over it and they’d be able to yell, ‘Oh God, let go of me, stop, help,’ etc.
He goes on to describe the killer panicking and leaving the flowers behind. (Robin claims the prop ones.) They walk out along the route the CCTV cameras showed, and Robin provides a library card she found in Lula’s flat, for a library in Russell Square. Where her father apparently lives. I always like these scenes at the end of crime stories, where the characters start tying everything together. Even better, Robin gets to go and follow this lead on her own tomorrow, and Strike says she did well today. It’s patronising, yes, but it’s also true.
The show was doing so well. Robin was an actual character doing plot things. So of course we now have to cut to her and Matthew having a row. She’s putting her new flowers in a vase; Matthew asks where they came from and she says they were using them at a crime scene, which makes him scowl. She apologises (clearly not for the first time) about being late yesterday, because resurrecting an old fight is always a smart thing to do, and says she knows she should have called; Matthew interrupts to agree with her and makes a point of saying he’s not a control freak, just worried.
It’s meant to sound like he’s gaslighting her, but she was at least an hour late home and didn’t call to let him know and they live in a big city where almost anything could happen. I would have been worried too. And she clearly gave him a bullshit excuse, too, because he would have been a lot more annoyed if he’d known she was out drinking with her boss.
They make up, sort of, and Matthew talks about a meeting with a mortgage advisor and how they need to increase their income if they want to get a proper house near transport links and good schools. This is clearly a conversation they’ve had before, it’s obviously a long-term joint plan, and Robin could not look less enthusiastic. Once again, none of this was in the books, their only goal was the wedding and everything else was marked ‘maybe we’ll discuss it in a year or two’. She hasn’t accepted her new job yet. Matthew pouts.
Meanwhile, Strike’s getting drunk again.
Next morning he goes to see Lady Bristow, and she talks about his dead school friend, her son Charlie, and shows him lots of photos. Some of Lula, too, and Strike mentions he’s heard she took some keepsakes from Lula’s flat. First we’ve heard of it, John didn’t mention it onscreen.
The nurse (Marsha, played by Arinder Sadhra) comes in to put a film on for Lady Bristow, complete with a subtle anvil to the head about a password, because the TV is password protected for some reason and the nurse who is there and does this every single day doesn’t know it and needs Strike to read it aloud to her off a piece of paper she apparently can’t read herself. I can’t remember anything in the book that needed a password, but good grief is this painfully obvious. (This turns out to be a road to nowhere, actually, so I have no idea why it was here.)
John comes in, and Strike asks if he knew Lula was trying to trace her biological family. You know, her biological mother was actually part of her life in the book, they saw each other occasionally even if they didn’t get on very well. She was yet another terrible caricature of a poor person, so I’m not sorry she was written out, but it seems odd she’s not been named. Is she supposed to be dead? John says yes, he was vaguely aware of it, but obviously they didn’t talk about it.
There’s a good line here; Strike asks if John knew who the father was, and John says he likes to think it’s the man who brought her up. Good answer. [I like this sentiment but it’s a bit awkward it was put in the mouth of the actual murderer who is probably saying it for misdirection…] He repeats it again later; I think it’s meant to represent a vague attempt at characterisation. It just doesn’t add anything.
Lady Bristow says her husband Alec told her he was an African student, possibly Nigerian. It came up because they had to get an outside lawyer for the adoption paperwork – Tony refused because he didn’t want them to adopt her. He said they were trying to replace Charlie, and he and Alec had an argument and Tony was banned from the house.
The scene fizzles out vaguely at this point and we get to see Robin researching Lula’s biological family. That happened offscreen in the book, of course. If they’d cut the previous scene with Matthew I’d be happier, but she’s still acting like a real character. It turns out the library card is a pass for the London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)… which is a university, so how did Lula have a pass? And why wasn’t it deactivated when she died? Robin logs in as her and writes down a list of everything she was looking at.
Strike goes back to Vashti to speak to Mel. She’s not credited for some reason. Though she doesn’t get any dialogue, just stands there while Strike threatens her with legal trouble and demands the audio recording of her conversation with Lula that he magically knows she made on her phone. I don’t know where he got that from; all we were told onscreen was that someone had talked to the press, we weren’t given any details.
Back at the office Strike and Robin listen to the recording. Lula is talking to Rochelle; ‘they don’t need it, do they‘ and ‘I’m seeing him tonight, I can’t believe it‘. This is probably a lot more interesting if you don’t know how the story ends and who she’s talking about in advance. Robin guesses she means Deeby, who honestly should have been cut from the show completely because he has never appeared onscreen and (spoilers) never will and is completely unrelated to everything despite being a convincing choice of suspect. This is not how you use red herrings. Why did Robin even guess that when we’ve just had multiple conversations about Lula tracking down her father?
To emphasise my point, they go on to discuss what Robin found out when looking into Lula tracking down her father. She looked at lots of books on Ghanaian history and also repeatedly checked out a PhD thesis by a former student named Josiah Agyeman. Josiah very helpfully wrote a dedication (…is that a thing when writing a thesis?) naming his wife Ami, their son Jonah, and a pastor at a nearby church who helped ‘one who has so often strayed‘. Oops, there goes another anvil. Subtlety really is not in this show’s vocabulary.
[In my experience, no, academic theses typically don’t have dedications. Acknowledgment sections, yes, and while I’m pretty sure it isn’t unheard of for this kind of thing to make it into one of those, I think it would be atypical. It’s more common for them to stick to people who were involved with the actual work, or related work which is referenced, etc. There may be variation between fields and I won’t pretend to be any kind of expert on academia, but this doesn’t ring true to me.]
Robin has a meeting with Josiah’s PhD supervisor, Professor Enwright (John Albasiny). Josiah’s dead, but Lula visited him to ask after him. Robin also visits the pastor, offscreen, who knew the family well and helpfully provided photos; she shows Strike a picture of Josiah with Jonah wearing military uniform. He realises that maybe the person Lula was so excited to see was her brother, who is now a suspect, and goes to tell John – who throws another anvil by asking if Jonah’s the guy on the CCTV footage and maybe they should tell the police.
Strike recognised the uniform in the photo and visits Jonah (Abubakar Salim). This is one new addition I can forgive; Jonah was only mentioned a couple of times near the end of the book and never showed up in person. They talk a bit about the military, then Jonah says it’s his fault Lula died. He couldn’t face meeting Lula – it was him on the cameras, he was walking around trying to get his courage up before he bailed out. He hadn’t wanted to talk to her in the first place because of how much it would have hurt his mother, but she persisted, and now he’s blaming himself. I like this scene – he’s only a peripheral character, but giving him some backstory makes sense because of his connection to Lula, and he’s not an overdone stereotype like literally everyone else; he’s just a regular guy with regular human emotions.
At one point she suggested she would leave him all her money just to piss Tony off, so Strike’s next stop is Tony, who is as friendly as ever. Strike knows Tony’s alibi for the day Lula died is false – he was supposed to be visiting his sick sister in Chelsea, but he used his credit card to pay for a hotel room that night. I don’t know how Strike knows this – even if he does have the clout to have a card traced, the police would want to know why they were doing it. Strike says Tony never wanted Lula around in the first place, but that he got very interested in protecting her wealth. Tony says he always had Lula’s best interests at heart and buggers off.
Strike goes to a bar and meets a guy named ‘Shanker‘ (Ben Crompton) who was apparently invented out of thin air because one of the script writers thinks Strike needs an informant or two to be a proper PI. He’s back to vagueing it up for no reason and preventing the audience knowing what he’s doing – he wants Shanker to break into a car, enter an address into the satnav and see if it comes up as a previously visited destination. We’re not permitted to know the car or the address because we wouldn’t want to spoil the shocking plot twist ending that absolutely hasn’t been foreshadowed by it raining anvils for two and a half episodes.
Robin shows up very briefly, once again exiled from the plot, to decline the job offer she received last episode. This is pretty stupid of her, because all we’ve seen onscreen is Strike agreeing she can work with him until the end of this case; there’s been nothing even hinting at the possibility of future employment. Naturally, this is followed by her having a row with Matthew, who feels he should have had a say in her life and her career.
In a very awkwardly written argument that jumps around all over the shop, we learn that Matthew was opposed to the war in Afghanistan, and Robin takes this as a personal dig at Strike and gets all pissy about it even though the vast majority of Britons were opposed to the war at the time and remain so now. (Fuck you, Tony Blair. Fuck you.) Robin then suggests she and Matthew meet Strike for a drink sometime, because we really are draining the next book of half its plot before we get there, which he is less than enthusiastic about because whether or not he likes the guy is not actually the issue here. She storms off in a huff.
Next day, Strike meets with DI Wardle and explains to him that Rochelle was blackmailing the murderer because she was the only other person who knows about the will Lula definitely made based on a brief comment to the brother she’d never met and that definitely exists. But he doesn’t know where the will is. In a sane universe of functional human beings, it would be in the office of the solicitor who drew it up, but that’s not how Rowling’s reality works.
[They would almost certainly at least have a copy, if not the actual signed document. I don’t think these hidden/missing will tropes work very well in a modern legal context. Unless it’s very specifically a case where the testator wrote their own will without legal assistance – which is legal, but not what it sounds like happened here.]
Come to think of it, the will would already have been read. Lula’s been dead for three months. The police investigation was closed with a verdict of suicide quite a while ago. In the absence of a legal, verifiable will, everything would default to her next of kin, and since her biological mother was written out of the show and Jonah hasn’t been officially recognised as a blood relative, that means Lady Bristow. But this isn’t the reality we’re dealing with, so let’s start the slow-motion slide into a gigantic plot hole that is the ending of this stupid story.
Strike goes back to see Lady Bristow and asks if she remembers Tony being in the house the night Lula died. She doesn’t know – her medication affects her short-term memory and everything gets muddled, but she proves her long-term memory is fine by talking about Strike’s mother. There’s a really bizarre line where she mentions that her husband had a lot of gay friends who all thought Strike’s father was ugly. [What? Why would someone say that?] I have no idea, and apparently nor does Strike, who smiles and nods and then excuses himself to ‘use the bathroom’ – accompanied by some sudden dramatic music.
He snoops around a bit. Trying to find one piece of paper in a house this size ought to be impossible, though it shouldn’t be here in the first place because Lula didn’t live here and it’s only thanks to this plot being stupid that of course it’s going to be in the few things Lady Bristow received as keepsakes. He finds a safe and tries to crack it, while downstairs Tony shows up and the nurse tells him Strike’s snooping around. Nothing in the safe but he spots a handbag next to it with a pair of red mittens in it that Lady Bristow has mentioned as being Lula’s favourites when she was a child.
Can you guess who designed the handbag? Remember the multiple falling anvils reminding us constantly that they all have a double lining? Oh look, there’s an envelope. Egad. He hears Tony coming and manages to duck into the bathroom and flush the toilet, thus looking innocent. Surprisingly they did not take the opportunity to make us all watch him pee again.
Back in the bar, Shanker tells him that yes, the mystery satnav in the mystery car remembered the mystery address. He also found a bicycle bell in the car. Oh, come on now. We all guessed it was John hours ago; do we really need to try to believe that he keeps his dead brother’s bicycle bell in his car? Remember, Charlie was killed when riding his bike around a disused quarry, though I’m not sure we were even told that in the show so this is utterly meaningless. This is stupid.
I’m surprised that Strike calls the cops afterwards. Though I’m not remotely surprised that he then goes back to the office and tells Robin to go home and get away from his plot. She tells him she didn’t accept the job and he looks awkward and points out he won’t be able to afford to pay her much longer; she then calls Matthew to say she’ll be late and goes and gets drunk. God, they really couldn’t stand the fact that they made her an actual sensible smart character for a few scenes, could they.
Strike sits and broods in his office, treating us all to a montage of clips from the whole show thus far. It’s meant to represent him finally adding all the pieces up and realising who the murderer is, I think, and if so it should have happpened earlier because he has clearly known for quite a while. It’s also really obvious padding.
John arrives, bringing a bottle of whiskey to thank Strike for finding Jonah, and mentions that he heard Strike visited his mother again. John himself was off on a wild goose chase, meeting a client who didn’t exist – Strike says casually that he got Robin to do that to get John out of the way. This is also stupid. John has a full time job. He would have been out of the house anyway.
Strike says Tony knows John killed Lula. This wasn’t in the book either, for the record. Oh, wait, he doesn’t actually know, he just suspects deep down but won’t admit it. Stop talking and get to the end already.
He explains to us all exactly how it was done. I’ll spare you, since we already know it all. Strike casually adds that John killed his brother Charlie when they were younger and pushed him off his bike into the quarry, and thus completely destroys what semblance of characterisation there was. Either John is a cold murderer, in which case he would not have stopped at two victims in a couple of decades and would also not have been caught this easily, or he’s a mostly innocent guy who killed once out of wild impulse. You can’t have both. I blame Rowling for this one, it’s the kind of ham-fisted sudden plot point she loves shoving into a story and then never touching again. I bet she’s kicking herself that she didn’t think of it when writing the book. [This makes no sense. None.]
Strike shows John the will and talks about Rochelle – it was her address in the satnav. I’m trying to care, I really am, but there are too many holes for me to suspend disbelief and accept this plot, and also I know what’s coming.
The elephant in the room here is still the fact that John hired a guy to catch him. Strike says John hired him to frame Jonah, but there was no reason to do that. Lula died without a (known) will and Lady Bristow inherited everything, as I hypothesised above. It would all go to John anyway if he just kept his fucking mouth shut and let it lie. Are we supposed to believe he hated Jonah so much for existing that he wanted to frame him for murder just because? If Jonah had known anything, or had a will, or anything else, he would have come forward after she died. If a solicitor had the will they would have declared it after she died. Nobody would have listened to anything Rochelle said, and she didn’t even start blackmailing John until after Strike started sniffing around because she knew nobody would listen to her. All Lula’s possessions are Lady Bristow’s property, soon to be John’s (sooner than expected since apparently now he’s a serial killer), and he could look for a mystery will to his heart’s content. There is still no reason for John to have hired Strike.
If you’re going to adapt a story with a fucking stupid ending that doesn’t work, you change the damn story. Maybe Lady Bristow thought something wasn’t right and insisted John hire Strike, and he had no reason to refuse; maybe Tony backed her up to make sure he couldn’t refuse, especially since Strike claims he’s suspicious. Or hell, just make someone else the killer, it’s not like we don’t have enough suspects lying around.
Anyway, let’s get this dumpster fire of a conclusion over with. Turns out Tony always suspected John killed Charlie, and tried to stop the Bristows adopting another child because he was worried John would kill again. God damnit can we not go one line now without giving me something else to complain about? Babies die really fucking easily. If John was the type of person they’re suddenly claiming he is, he could have killed his sister at any time. Or are we supposed to believe he magically knew she would become famous and he could kill her then for the money? And why the hell did Tony never actually do or say anything?
Why does John even need money? This is not a poor family, he already stands to inherit quite a bit, and he’s got a high-paying job.
Lots of threats, lots of Strike showing off how clever he is. He says he’s already told the police, and adds that since leather is porous the gloves didn’t help and John left lots of forensic evidence. Oh God, shut up. It was three fucking months ago. The police clearly didn’t find anything or they’d have investigated at the time and by now the world and his wife have paraded through that flat. And if he meant Rochelle’s flat, the police didn’t investigate that one either (and it flooded when she died in the bath), and she lived in a council tenement – as soon as someone said ‘accidental death’ they’d have found fifteen people to move in before the final paperwork was printed out.
I can’t even enjoy the fight scene. John hits Strike quite hard in the side of the head with a full bottle of whiskey and obviously it doesn’t slow him down for a second. Nor does the fact he only has one leg and they’re on a polished wooden floor. It’s stupidly one sided and oh my God the motion blur, I think the camera man had a seizure.
Then it devolves into slapstick. Robin walks in; John has been trying to drag Strike towards the stairs by his ankle; predictably it was the false leg, which detaches, sending John flying into the wall. John and Strike smack each other around a bit, breaking the glass in the office door in the process, and Robin reaches through the broken glass and takes John down with a fire extinguisher. Strike then proceeds to beat the ever-loving shit out of him even though he’s already unconscious, though thankfully not with the false leg. [I almost wish they’d kept the false leg bit, it might have been amusingly stupid to see onscreen, but I suppose whoever was directing this realised how ridiculous it would look?]
You know, that might even have been stupider than the book.
Last five minutes. Tony is supervising the clearing of Lula’s flat. Lady Bristow is dead. Jonah gets the money and Tony will pay Strike’s fees (and apparently all his outstanding debts, for no reason). Strike’s getting lots of clients, so he can afford to keep Robin on, and he bought her one of the dresses from Vashti as a thank you. Everyone’s happy. Except Matthew, poor bastard. And me; I’m definitely not happy.
Final thoughts: don’t bother. The storyline is easier to follow than it was in the book since they did cut out some of the unneeded side characters, the acting is all pretty good, and they did tie up one or two minor loose ends. It’s also less racist, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t racist at all.
Those are really the only positives I can come up with, and they’re not enough to save it. Especially given that ending.
The series ended up comprising just under an hour of vaguely okay content, and just over two hours of stupid, boring filler. Filler that could have been avoided had they bothered to include more of the plot – like, say, actually making an effort to interview all the possible suspects. Freddie needed to be questioned – maybe Lula knew how he treated his wife. Deeby certainly needed to be investigated; he was rumoured to be having an affair with the victim and lived in her building. If you’re not going to make him part of the investigation, write him out completely. Jonah needed to be questioned in more detail as well.
The plot is still implausible, to say the least; they didn’t attempt to fix any of the very shaky pillars of logic trying to hold it up. The characters are all still utterly unlikeable, and they chose not to clear up at least some of the tiresome sexism. Robin had a few great scenes in this final episode just to rub salt into the wound after two hours of being useless decoration, but that didn’t last long.
All of Matthew’s scenes needed to be cut, and in fact Matthew himself should have been cut. Why not make Robin single from the start? The only reason she was ever written as being in a relationship was so it can end at some point down the line as tiresomely, dramatically and angstily as possible. He was in literally one short scene in the book, just to show he exists; even Rowling didn’t demonise him until the second book.
Needless to say, Charlotte should also have been cut.
I suppose at least I’ll be spared some of the dreck from Silkworm since they added it in here for no real reason. But if they haven’t considerably toned down the offensive crap from it, I am fully prepared to ragequit, and earlier than I did with the book. (Though there probably won’t be much fat shaming, because that would require them to cast fat actors and actresses, and everyone knows that only happens in bad comedies.)
I can’t wait…