So there's good news, and bad news for The Beast Must Die this week. Let's start with the good: George is still alive.
Frances: And if we leave early, we can avoid stowaways!
That may sound like a ridiculous statement, considering the show's title, The Beast Must Die, literally refers to George. It's also a rather startling one, considering the plot of the novel we're supposedly following requires George to die to get on with it. In the book's timeframe, George would have been dead about two episodes back, leaving the series to focus on Frances trying to keep herself out of the crosshairs of the police searching for his killer as her alibi and cover story collapse. Instead, here we are, two-thirds through the series, and George still stands.
But The Beast Must Die has a problem with that, namely that George's death would deprive us, the viewer, of the pleasure of watching Jared Harris' remarkable performance. It would also deflate the series as Cush Jumbo, who plays Frances, desperately needs a foil of the same caliber. Her scenes with Harris are electric; when the two of them are in the same room, be it the summer house, the gardens, or a sailboat, the screen fairly crackles with an energetic rage. He is the privileged clueless man who has gotten away with everything his whole life, utterly unaware that for the first time, he is the hunted. She is the woman of color everyone in the room underestimates due to her gender and race, quietly readying her trap.
But what's genuinely surprising is that, though there are many things about this series that currently aren't working, holding on to George long past the character's logical exit point is doing the series a massive favor. The script is doing it out of the perceived necessity of keeping Harris and Jumbo as a pair because, without them, the show flatlines. But it also upends the expected narrative. At this point, the series title is as much a question (The beast must die? But when?) as it is the expected outcome. it also keeps the thriller turning, as fans keep tuning in every week wondering if this, finally, will be when the beast must die.
That brings us to the bad news. As has been increasingly apparent over the first three installments, Episode 4 confirms that this show won't be worth much once the beast dies.
This week finally put Billy Howle's Strangeways in the thick of the investigation, reopening the case after an unnecessarily drawn-out reveal that his predecessor willfully compromised the investigation. It also promotes the so far underused Aasiya Shah's Asha James by having her take point on investigating the cover-up. Considering that these are supposed to be the show's characters after this first go-round, these scenes must be compelling. They need to feel like the reason one is tuning into The Beast Must Die as much as they are for Harris and Jumbo, neither of whom will be returning in Season 2.
Shah is pretty great as the other half of a detective pair with Strangeways. (It's a far better one than the usual choice, which here would be O'Brien.) In a show that never had more ambitions than to be a yet another British murder mystery in an already crowded landscape, the workhorse competence to their scenes would be fine. Some parts feel like they're trying to build to some more significant point about policing, like O'Brien's painful insistence that if his boss participated in a cover-up, he must have done it without knowing how bad it would be to cover something like this up. But like last week, everything involving the police feels pulled from a completely different show that refuses to integrate with this one.
However, the show does offer an interesting wrinkle. Since the series insists Strangeways is our hero, he cannot be blind to Frances' whereabouts and motives the longer things go on, and the more he digs into the case. Last week, the show had them accidentally meet at the ferry so that Strangeways knows she's here. This week took his discovery to the logical endpoint. As Strangeways tracks George as the suspect, he realized Frances is already there, three steps ahead of him, having already done the same investigation, leading him right to her choice to integrate herself into their family.
That leads to this week's turning point, where Strangeways tracks down Frances after her sailing trip with the family. He insists she leave the house, extradite herself from the family because her presence there is utterly jeopardizing any chance the police have to make a case against George. It is the series' pivotal scene, where Howle steps up and takes charge and proves he is the series' leading man. But his speech lands as deafly to us as it does to her. She doesn't believe he's going to bring her justice. And we don't think he will either, at least not before the beast is dead.