Strike: The Silkworm (BBC adaptation) Part Two

16 Oct

Part two. At some point my commentary is probably going to dry up, because as you all know I never finished the book in detail so I won’t be able to judge how closely the show is following most of the ending. We’ll see how it goes. Also this is later than I had planned to do it because I have no motivation for this – it’s not awful the way the book was, just really, really dull.

As it turns out I was able to keep commenting until the end, since they cut just about everything that happened after I ragequit.

Robin’s watching an old Fancourt interview. In probably the stupidest falling anvil yet, he accidentally refers to his dead wife by the name given to her in Bombyx Mori (Effigy). She calls Strike to tell him, and we’re given another scene from Owen’s book just in case we hadn’t grasped that Fancourt didn’t like his wife very much. He brands her with a red-hot iron to improve her writing. Shame nobody did that to whoever thought we needed to see – and hear – this.

Strike’s friend Ilsa (Caitlin Innes Edwards), who’s been written out of any previous scenes so means nothing to the viewers, is acting as Leonora’s lawyer. There’s a pointless interview trying to cover plot points from the book – a suspicious purchase on the Quine’s joint credit card, for example – that won’t work in the show because they ran out of time and in some cases wrote out the characters involved. None of these were explained later.

Robin’s done watching TV and goes for a nice run in the countryside. Matthew gets stuck answering her phone, because he doesn’t have enough to deal with. The hire-car people are pissed that it was muddy, so this is how Matthew finds out she didn’t bother coming to help arrange his mother’s funeral. More plausible than the car crash from the book, but seriously, Robin is just an awful character now and I don’t understand why when she’s the love interest.

Oh good, they kept the part where Charlotte texts her ex out of the blue talking about a possibly-nonexistent former baby. I’m so glad.

Anstis and Strike are arguing because Strike says Leonora’s innocent and Anstis keeps trying to point out she hasn’t been charged yet. It’s stupid, but a lot more interesting and plausible than their book friendship. Anstis is also flat-out refusing to look at any other suspect now they’ve arrested someone, which – say it with me now – is not how the police work.

[Let’s clarify this a little: it’s not how the police ought to work, but things like this do happen. Maybe I notice that more living in the US, but there’s ample evidence of police misconduct leading to wrongful convictions (among other things), and prosecutors are often evaluated by their conviction rate which can lead to a certain indifference to whether the accused is actually guilty. This might be a stock detective story trope – “the police are blind and stubborn and won’t listen, so it’s up to the plucky independent detective to solve it in spite of them” – but I honestly can’t say it’s unrealistic.]

Matthew and Robin are arguing. He thought it was Strike not giving her time off and says he doesn’t want him at the wedding, and Robin has to admit no she’s actually just a selfish cow who chose to stay because she has always wanted to be an investigator and a single plot point in a job she already has was more important to her than her fiancé losing his mother. For reasons I don’t understand, he actually says it’s okay and lets her off. I certainly wouldn’t. [This almost sounds like they’re turning Robin into one of those “career woman” caricatures, who are characterised primarily by their utter disregard for everything else, and coded as cold and emotionless. Her weird fixation on Strike doesn’t fit with this stereotype, though.]

Strike has dinner with Ilsa and her husband Nick (Ian Attard). In the book this involved Strike’s sister and some random woman she’d invited who Strike assumed was a blind date, and also Nina. Happily none of those people are in this. Though I don’t know why the entire scene is here, since we learn nothing new.

Robin’s already gone back to London. Poor Matthew. Strike tries to look into someone’s back garden – I missed who; this scene is not here for plot reasons – and hurts himself/damages his false leg, so Robin takes him to the pub. Also it’s Strike’s birthday, Robin bought him a present (a Cornish-themed gift basket) and tells us his middle name is Blue. This would be quite a sweet scene except, you know, poor Matthew.

Strike, now on crutches, goes to meet Liz for lunch and hear more about Fancourt. This is more or less as it was in the book, as far as I remember, except for the early reveal that she and Fancourt used to have a thing. Until she breaks down crying because she’s such a sad, lonely, bitter spinster. Spelling it out early does not make it more acceptable, though I’m genuinely glad they didn’t cast a fat woman now.

Robin is tailing Fancourt, very unsubtly. I don’t think they ever really bothered investigating him in the book, honestly. He goes to a cemetery and leaves something on a grave – turns out it was his wife’s grave and he left a copy of the spitefic she killed herself over. This is dumb. Robin and Strike end up needing the spitefic for plot reasons but that’s what the Internet is for.

They’re vilifying Fancourt a lot and tying him more explicitly to Liz. It would be nice to assume that in this version they’ll both turn out to be the villains, but given the earlier crying scene I’m sure they won’t have changed the horrible ending. (I was right.)

Matthew’s back in London as well and has been doing housework while Robin was out. He suggests a night in, but she’s got to go to a party with Strike (no longer on crutches), so once again, poor Matthew.

The party makes fractionally more sense – it’s to celebrate 100 years of Roper Chard, not because they’ve signed a new Fancourt book, though Chard does announce that later in the evening. Fancourt himself is in attendance, flirting with Robin and weirdly completely unsurprised when she mentions she’s read Bombyx Mori. The unpublished, embargoed Bombyx Mori that a total stranger shouldn’t have heard of, let alone read. She drags him off to talk to Strike, and I’m enjoying this version of the party so much more even if there is no point to any of the questions they’re asking except to show that Fancourt is a misogynistic asshole.

I’m amused by the party itself. They’re going for decadent luxury, but it’s a rooftop in London, so there’s not a lot of space and all the furnishings have had to be dragged up there so nothing really looks quite right. The bar looks like it’s made of plastic, all the lighting has been tinged blue for some reason, and there’s apparently only one type of champagne available that’s so generic it isn’t named. Given that this company own the entire building, they could have done better.

Next day our protagonists go to see Jerry. He spares us another depiction of Owen’s book by describing his role in it, so I like him. He’s also half-drunk and still drinking, which seems a perfectly reasonable reaction to all this, and has an actual personality beyond hating everyone. Unfortunately he also tells us that Liz made a pass at Fancourt, got nowhere and has hated him ever since. No, Jerry, I was liking you, don’t shore up the shitty plot. There’s nothing else worth mentioning here, it’s just more repetition, though he has divided up the manuscript into parts he thinks sound like Owen and parts that don’t.

Strike goes to see Kathryn, who is really irrelevant to this version of the plot and should probably have been cut. They only bother to confirm that she was Owen’s mistress at this point, more than half way through the final part. All she tells us is that Owen humiliated her and she burned the manuscript. She will play no further part in the story.

There’s a summing-up scene where Strike and Robin go over everything they’ve learned and remind us of all the different characters who have said either that they were expecting a different story or that they don’t think Owen wrote this one. We know all of this already. Instead of two hour-long episodes this could have been condensed into one 90-minute one, or possibly even a single hour. Strike says they need to find a literary analyst to go through the manuscript and separate the writing styles. Jerry did this literally two minutes ago, and explained that he’s been Owen’s editor for twenty years. Ordinarily as a suspect he wouldn’t be trusted, but it’s pretty obvious who Strike and Robin have pegged as actual suspects and they’ve decided Jerry’s innocent.

Strike meets up with Al Rokeby (Joey Batey), his half-brother whose existence in the books had literally zero point so I’m sure this scene will be equally pointless, and why wasn’t he cut? He’s also American for no reason. They’re having lunch in the restaurant where Liz and Owen argued about the manuscript; Al comes here a lot and knows most of the staff, and hails a waitress (Frankie, played by Aretha Ayeh) to come and talk to Strike about what she overheard. There is absolutely no reason why Strike couldn’t have come here on his own and asked to speak to whoever was waiting on them that day, and there is also absolutely no reason why anyone waiting tables in a busy city restaurant would remember one particular argument weeks after the fact. Besides, the rain of anvils throughout has made sure we all know Liz was the only one with concrete prior knowledge of the manuscript by now.

Robin goes to see Leonora’s neighbour and Orlando, and snoops around the house for some reason.

Frankie does in fact remember the argument, which was apparently a lot more dramatic than we were told, and has also already told the police about it since contrary to Strike’s insistence they are actually still investigating. Again, we already know the villain’s identity by now. I suppose I can’t complain too much since I spent so much of the books getting annoyed at Strike refusing to tell the readers anything at all, but going to the other extreme isn’t better. Frankie thinks Owen was faking the argument but that Liz wasn’t, for whatever that’s worth. (This whole scene also turns out to be meaningless.)

Robin talks to Orlando. It’s a nice enough scene but something is still rubbing me the wrong way about the way they’re showing Orlando, and I don’t know why. The point is that Orlando has stolen something plot-relevant and Robin ends up trading her gold necklace for it – it turns out to be part of Owen’s original Bombyx Mori manuscript, on typewriter ribbon (I think? Before my time, honestly.) Orlando and Robin have been getting on really well, so the next scene is Robin almost literally running away while Orlando screams and cries and begs her to stay. God fucking damn it, Robin.

An unnamed literary analyst (Jack Monaghan) tells us that Owen wrote this new find and parts of the offensive one, but not others. No shit. Please do keep telling us the same thing that three or four characters have already told us, this is a great way to fill the last ten minutes of the final episode. He does say he thinks Fancourt wrote some of the bad version (and the spitefic parody), though, so maybe they are going to change the ending after all?

I have no idea where Strike and Robin are now but they’ve just walked into a dinner party where Chard, Fancourt, Jerry and Liz are all present, plus a bunch of unnamed extras. Looks like we are getting a changed ending, then, though not one that makes sense because half these people hate each other. Strike takes Chard and Fancourt off to one side and tells them, yet again, that Bombyx Mori and the spitefic were written by the same person and that person wasn’t Owen. Liz interrupts, and Strike tells her the same thing again before telling all three of them that it was Liz and explaining how clever he is for finding out (including taking credit for the things Robin found out; I might care except she’s been an awful human being all through this so fuck it).

No, we’re not getting a changed ending. Liz was just trying to mimic Fancourt’s style because she’s such a shitty writer, you see. Sigh. (Also turns out the text analyst was wrong, so why was his scene included?)

Strike told the police where to search and they found the typewriter Owen used dumped in a pond at the house where Liz was staying with a friend at the time of Owen’s disappearance. Nice callback, but in the original they found it in Liz’s own house anyway so it doesn’t matter. It turns out Liz’s cough/flu/whatever is actually because the acid fumes damaged her throat. Interesting. That should have been in the book too, that’s a decent point. [That actually sounds like a decent sort of thing to include in a detective story! What’s just happened here?]

Liz makes a run for it. Robin tries to stop her and Liz smacks her in the head with a bottle and sends her flying. Turns out girls can have stupid slapstick fights with no consequences as well as boys. Liz gets out the door and races down the street, followed by Robin, while Strike hobbles along a long way behind shouting ineffectually; then Robin performs a lovely flying tackle and restrains Liz as the police arrive.

So we didn’t get the stupid bait and switch car chase from the book (Liz fled into a very convenient taxi, driven by Robin, who took her straight to the police station). Meaning there was no reason to foreshadow Robin’s driving skills earlier, meaning her entire fight with Matthew was utterly meaningless and just made her look terrible for no reason whatsoever. I do not understand the thought processes here.

In the epilogue scene, Robin opens the office mail to find Charlotte’s wedding photos, because this subplot (that is not actually a plot) just will not die. She’s a girl and doesn’t have plot armour so she actually has some injuries from her fight, though like all media wounds there’s no swelling and the scabs and bruises are very carefully placed to look as neat as possible. Strike gets a phone call and he and Robin take a taxi to meet Leonora as she’s released from prison (why the hell are they only releasing her now, it’s several days later, what the fuck). They take her home to Orlando and along the way tell her and the viewers how this ends – Liz in prison, Fancourt’s going to publish the original book because apparently that’s allowed without any agreement from Owen’s next of kin, everyone’s happy and Robin’s bruises look more and more healed in every shot. Leonora and Orlando reunite, triumphant music, happy ever after.

Robin and Strike walk back to the office discussing how Liz was literally feeding Owen’s guts to her dog (they were in her freezer in the book as well so I feel like this was the original intent and Rowling just didn’t make it clear; even so, ew) and how Matthew didn’t like Robin’s bruises. They go their separate ways after Strike says he’ll pay to send her on a surveillance course; he kisses her hand as they say goodbye, which just looks weird, and she bounces off happily as the credits roll.

Well then. Final thoughts.

The changed timeline was a little confusing at first, giving us a lot of new characters with no context, but overall was an improvement.

Strike is a much better human being. He actually seems to care about people who aren’t him from time to time and isn’t a total moron. In other words, he’s a completely different character to the way he was shown in Cuckoo. Conversely, Robin is a much worse human being who seems selfish, stupid and deceitful, and also a completely different character to Cuckoo. Though none of her negative traits show in scenes with Strike, and their friendship is portrayed pretty well; it’s believable and not romantic (forced or otherwise).

Matthew also completely changed personality between the two, being vilified unnecessarily in Cuckoo and then treated really sympathetically here. Everyone involved who was senior enough to make it into the credits hasn’t changed between the two miniseries, so I don’t know what happened. It can’t be feedback because they were aired a week apart.

They got rid of a lot of the worst parts, but still could have done more. Both this and Cuckoo should have changed the endings. (Or just not existed so they could adapt something that isn’t trash instead.) The casting was mostly pretty good. The main problem is the repetition – in both adaptations there are a lot of very similar scenes where different characters constantly confirm or repeat things we’ve already been told. It’s either padding because they didn’t have enough material for the time available, or they think the viewers are morons who won’t get it unless it’s repeated endlessly, or both. Either way, it’s a bad choice.

If they’d cut out Matthew and made Robin single from the start, and reduced both miniseries by at least a third to strip out all the filler… they’d still have had to change the ending of both plots so it wouldn’t actually have helped all that much, but it would have improved all but the last ten minutes or so of both of them.

Overall, if you’re vaguely interested and haven’t read the books yet, these are much better than the written version. But I’d still hesitate to actually recommend them, and I’m still not going to be covering Career of Evil, Lethal White or however many other books Rowling intends to churn out. Apart from anything else I’ve been spoilered on a few details from Career of Evil, and there is not enough NOPE in the world to express my feelings about the prospect of covering it. This is done and now I never have to do anything involving Strike again. Hallelujah.

[I don’t have anything else to add, except that I’m glad Loten won’t be reading or watching any more of these because I don’t think it’s good for her.]


Posted by on October 16, 2017 in loten


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5 responses to “Strike: The Silkworm (BBC adaptation) Part Two

  1. Ymfon

    October 17, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    Because I apparently have no sense of self-preservation: What are the spoilery details from Career of Evil?

    • Loten

      October 17, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Robin’s tragic angsty backstory, mostly, and also she and Matthew continuing to be an item despite quite a lot of compelling reasons not to and neither of them seeming that keen. The actual plot is the usual nonsense. There’s a full synopsis on Wikipedia if you hate yourself enough and it’ll quickly become obvious why I didn’t want to see Rowling’s attempt to deal with it.

      I suppose we ought to keep the comments spoiler-free even though the chances of anyone who’s read my coverage of this crap continuing with the series of their own free will is very slim.

      • mcbender

        October 17, 2017 at 4:07 pm

        FWIW, the details you told me are so cringeworthily awful that I think you should share them specifically to dissuade people from reading further.

  2. janach

    October 21, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    I saw one of these “Strike” novels (I don’t remember which one) at a library used book sale last weekend. Hardback, in good shape, for one dollar. Thanks to your commentary, I didn’t buy it, and I will buy practically anything at a used book sale for a dollar. You may count this as one of your good deeds to benefit humanity.

    • Loten

      October 22, 2017 at 6:34 am

      I think I might need a few more good deeds than just this 😉 but you’re welcome nonetheless.


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