Dalgliesh Season 2 wraps up with the two-part finale, "The Murder Room." Adam Dalgliesh, elusive and enigmatic, is pretty much a mystery in his own right, and since it’s the end of the season, maybe we’ll learn more about his inner life. We know he still grieves his dead wife and child, and DS Kate Miskin is in love with him. There’s been awkwardness between them ever since she cried in his arms after killing a murderer in the last episode. There’s also the issue of whether he will have to choose between his burgeoning writing career and police work. His agent is very keen on expanding his career, particularly when he’s a finalist in a major poetry competition.
I have a vision of myself without this job, disappearing down emotional tunnels, writing myself into despair. I need something to hold me to the world.
"The Murder Room" represents a jump forward in material, as James wrote it in 2003, a good 15-20 years after Season 2's other stories, "Death of an Expert Witness" or "A Certain Justice." While its signatures of dark, gothic elements, a claustrophobic, intimate environment, and a host of details to keep us guessing matches James' other work. This story also bends the rules of the mystery genre more than the first two episodes, as Dalgliesh loses his usual coolness as he interviews suspects.
The family-owned Dupayne Museum, housed in a gloomy Victorian mansion, has three siblings trustees with very different visions for its future. Its most popular exhibit is the Murder Room, where creepy artifacts are on display from gruesome, sensational murders dating back to the earlier part of the twentieth century. The youngest, Neville (James Esler), an adopted sibling, is a hard-working, idealistic psychiatrist frustrated by his National Health Service workload. At the annual meeting with sister Caroline (Michelle Duncan) and brother Marcus (Nicholas Banks), he’s expected to to sign a lease to continue the Museum’s work for another year.
Receptionist Muriel Godby (Sylvestra Le Touzel) proudly shows an unimpressed Neville the new sticker system to keep track of museum visitors. He regards the family museum, particularly The Murder Room, as anachronistic and damaging. He has other ideas for the building, namely converting it to a private psychiatric clinic to run alongside and support his NHS work. Marcus is only interested in fulfilling their father’s mission. Caroline, who teaches at a nearby fancy girls’ school, sneers at Neville’s interest in private medicine after previously championing the NHS. His suggestion is received with contempt, and he storms out of the meeting.
Tour guide Marie Strickland (Anastasia Hille), currently showing visitors the delights of the Murder Room, hears the raised voices. She’s also annoyed by the presence of Ryan Archer (Nathaniel Christian), a young Black man who performs odd jobs around the building and grounds. He’s outside, lurking close to the window, she assumes he is listening to her presentation, and she waves him away. Ryan heads off with the housekeeper Tally Clutton (Sorcha Cusack), asking her where she would go if she couldn’t live there anymore, suggesting he was listening to the Dupaynes’ fight and not Marie.
Tally is hit by a careless driver biking home, and the two notice a fire in the distance as he helps her up. The following day, the fire is discovered to have been arson, set in a garage, where a car and the now-unrecognizable driver went up in flames. Dalgliesh and company arrive, and Adam checks on the museum staff for alibis: Tally left before everyone else, Marcus and Muriel left at five, and Caroline went on to an event at her school. Neville hasn’t been seen since he stormed out. Only Ryan, who had access to gasoline, has no one to account for his whereabouts, and though he claims he’d locked the shed, it is now unlocked, and Ryan has the key in his pocket.
The body is Neville, identified only by a bag in the car's boot. A search of his apartment reveals only one significant personal item, a note from a lover in his bedside drawer. When Adam interviews his secretary, Andrea Fox (Robinah Kirondé), she admits that she loves him, although she’s married to someone else. Neville didn’t love her; they just met for occasional sex. She also claims Neville’s reason for the meeting was to try to close the museum. Adam asks Caroline about the lease, and she shrugs it off, saying she figured it would be like every time, where she and Marcus would argue Neville out of it later, and he’d sign.
Daniel questions Marie and Tally, who says the staff knew about the annual trustee meeting and that the museum might close. The mystery driver who knocked down Tally might be a suspect, but she cannot describe him, as he was wearing a mask. She remembers his voice was cultured and familiar. It’s unclear if Neville was the target or if the arsonist meant to get Marcus. In London, Adam is summoned to a meeting in a park with Roger Denholm (Nick Dunning), who requests that he be informed first when Adam makes an arrest, as an MI-5 agent may be involved.
Ryan, meanwhile, is caught ransacking Major Arkwright’s desk for money, and Ryan knocks the elderly man down as he runs. The Major refuses to bring charges, saying Ryan was abused; Daniel asks him outright if they were lovers, much to Dalgliesh’s displeasure, telling him to back off. Kate interviews Tally and notices buckets in a closet when Tally answers Ryan’s phone call. It occurs to her the gasoline was transferred to another container for greater accuracy. Ryan is arrested, and he’s terrified, fearing racial violence.
And then, a second body is discovered in a trunk in the Murder Room by Muriel, a mystery woman, strangled, as Adam and medical examiner Miles Kynaston (David Pearse) confirm. She apparently came from an apartment directly above the Murder Room that no one saw fit to mention. Naturally, it can only be opened from the inside; both Caroline and Marcus have keys, but Neville lost his. Caroline used it mostly as a refuge from school. When Miles examines the body of the young woman he finds petals from African violets in her clothes and discovers she’s pregnant.
Kate and Daniel interview Ryan, with the Major as his guardian. Ryan says he wanted to talk to Neville about Tally's future should the museum close. But he saw Marie approach and hid, witnessing her give Neville a piece of paper before he exited. Ryan says he's afraid of Marie because she bullied him, and most recently, she’d shown him the trunk in the Murder Room, invited him to get in, and then closed the lid. There's no criminal record for Marie, but they do find her military record from World War II when she was in special ops, but much of it is classified.
Adam heads back to see Roger Denholm, who confirms Marie was undercover with MI-5 during the war, a hero of the resistance. When Adam and Kate interview her, she reveals Neville was her biological son, and she has recently learned she had terminal cancer. His father was Felix Dupayne, making him half-brother to Caroline and Marcus; the piece of paper she’d tried to give him was his birth certificate. She thought he might change his mind about closing the museum if he knew it was his heritage, but he didn’t believe her. However, when asked about Ryan, she said he wouldn’t have had the guts or brains to commit murder.
Kate notices a pot of African violets at Tully’s house, and analysis matches them to the body. But it’s when a photograph of the dead woman runs in the local paper, and a volunteer recognizes it as the same woman whose photo turned up in a jumble sale purse the team finally identifies her as Celia Mellock. She was Caroline’s former pupil, and her sister, Victoria (Rose Galbraith), is still attending the academy. Victoria says Celia knew a secret about Caroline, but she didn't know what.
Back at home, Tully jumps when the mystery driver’s voice suddenly comes over the radio. It’s well-known politician Lord Martlesham (Richard Goulding) who admits that he should have come forward, as he was having an affair with Celia; they were to meet in the parking lot, but she didn’t show up. He met her through Caroline, who though offended at the idea she'd introduced Celia to her brothers, had no problem bringing the girl to Martlesham. She runs the 98 Club, a sex club with powerful clients who communicate through PO Boxes. She even gave Martlesham and Ceila a key to the apartment. She claims she runs the club alone, but Kate doesn’t believe her.
Adam tells her Neville was adopted, but his parents were Marie Strickland and Felix Dupayne. “We loved him,” Caroline says, shocked, but Adam is losing patience. Kate and Daniel exchange a glance as he arrests her for the murders of Neville and Celia, demanding to know who else knew about the club. She confesses Muriel did; she started it back when they were at school together. Muriel’s meek, slightly daft demeanor hides a formidable mind and will.
Muriel, meanwhile, is having a nice cup of tea with Tully, tut-tutting genteelly together about the murders. Muriel says the police should look further afield, as everyone must know about the violets now, a detail Tully knows isn’t public. When Muriel leaves, she finds her phone line has been cut. She takes the museum keys and goes to the building to phone the police, but Muriel hits her over the head. When Kate and Adam find her, he successfully performs CPR while Kate calls an ambulance. Muriel is arrested but denies killing anyone, stating she’s merely been extorting money from club members. She’s shocked — shocked! — to hear Tully was attacked.
Adam and his team celebrate with a drink, but they’re realistic about the case never going to court. It’s all circumstantial evidence, and Muriel says even if he builds a case successfully, the courts will be reluctant to try her because she knows too much. Adam visits the Commissioner, saying he’d resign if Muriel didn’t go to court. He anticipates doing clean-up after Muriel’s trial and is the best person for damage control. Dalgliesh also admits to Kate he’d been planning to leave anyway because of the poetry but then changed his mind.
Despite Daniel showing Kate a newspaper article about Adam being shortlisted for a prestigious poetry award, Dalgliesh decided to turn away fame, accepting a promotion to Commander instead. Police work is a matter of survival for him; he fears the darkness he may encounter if he chooses poetry. He also negotiated a promotion for Kate to DI, and while she could stay, moving to another team with more responsibilities would advance her career, and she’s more than ready. It’s a bittersweet moment as Adam goes back into the office and gazes from a balcony at his team at work below before staring into the camera at us, the audience.