Prime Suspect: Tennison continues this week with a pair of mysteries on separate tracks that have yet to intersect. Things have improved over the premiere, but there's something funny about the best parts of the episode.
John: Mum's at home... making you a cake.
Bentley: I ain't been punished enough.
After last week's rather tragic start to Prime Suspect's prequel revival, our second installment improved enormously. The choice to combine episodes to make the show into a three part miniseries instead of a six part regular series by PBS was the correct way to go. By speeding things along like this, we get to dive into the heavy stuff from both cases, which were lagging last week.
Releasing Cliff Bentley from jail helped enormously. Alun Armstrong is a fantastic character actor, and having him out of the slammer and in the thick of the bank robbery made for a meatier plot. The sons, John (Lex Shrapnel) and David (Jay Taylor), are also far more effective when working with (or against) their father, then as vaguely incompetant proxies he's directing from inside. And Ruth Sheen as his wife Renee even got some wonderful moments now that the man of the house is home. It made it easier to get invested in their side of the plot, both in the robbery proceedings, as well as the family drama, which included a side helping of stand off between Bentley and DI Bradfield at the estate.
As for Julie-Anne Collins, that started slow, while the Bentleys get their bearings, in order to have both cases come to a head at the same time next week. But the discovery of Eddie's body gets things moving along again. (It gave us another excuse for a scene with Ian Beattie, who's jaded port mortems are priceless.) The scene where they hunt down "Oz" (Aaron Pierre) and take him out was also highly effective. Making Oz's arrest about how cops cover for each other, and rampant police brutality that's still an issue today marks the first successful attempt at adding something socially relevent to the story.
There's only one major problem with both these storylines. What's missing from them: Tennison.
Jane: What hapens at the station *is* my business. But it's not yours.
I was struck how all the best scenes this week, with the exception of the Bentley homecoming party, were ones with all male characters. Whenever Jane turns up, it either feels superfluous, or separate from the case at hand. Worse, it feels like the show is trying to shoehorn her in, because they suddenly remembered supposed to be *her show*. Yes, she's in a lowly position at the station. But Miss Marple was never even an official detective, and yet that production never forget whose name is on the title card.
Part of this is due to the "romance" writing Tennison into a corner. Bradfield, her superior officier, kissed her, and the entire station knows. We're supposed to be into this romance. But it's hard, especially when we the audience are privy to the fact that it's already derailing her career. (Bradfield admits to the Sargent he's changed his mind, and we learn Morgan is the one being considered for CID instead. The Sargent approves, as otherwise it would "raise eyebrows.") Moreover, Bradfield isn't exactly doing a good job at hiding his feelings. He's not only trying to talk to her about their relationship in public view (like parking lots) but visiting her parent's house at midnight, where he mother can spy on them. Once she moves into her own flat, in a building that is basically a dorm filled with her co-workers, he takes to visiting her there too. Because that's going to quell the gossip. Riiiight.
(How long until we find out he has a wife?)
It puts Jane in a pickle, having to do the avoidance work for both of them. Logically, we would see her trying to transfer out of the station. (As is suggested at one point!) Her character is trying *not* to be in the same room as Bradfield. And he's trying *not* to bring her along as his WPC on home visits or raids. This means the show has to keep throwing them together, or forcing Tennison in rooms she shouldn't be in, so she can magically say the right thing and be the crux of breaking the impasse. Bradfield has to keep asking Morgan, who has to keep being busy, so Tennison is the only logical option. They have to have her where she has no business being, at just the right moment, so she can see things go down like DS Gibbs beating up Oz.
WPC Tennison: I'll be all right, won't I?
WPC Morgan: I'm kidding! You're one of the team now.
Ah yes, the heart of the second half of the episode, where Tennison learns to lie for her superiors to get ahead. This played well, in that we're not really sure if Tennison will take one for the team until she's in that room. But like all the other scenes involving her, it's less about her than everyone else around her. It's about her Sargent seeing he's chosen well in his probationary officer. It's about Gibbs being relieved and grateful enough to wear a red flouncey period shirt and play bad three-cord rock. And most irritatingly, it's about Bradfield, from who's perspective we watch the proceedings and her make the choice to lie. Just more reason for him to be all head over ears for Jane.
But it's not about Jane as a person. It's never really about Jane. Even when the Rube Goldberg machine plants her in the right place at the right tiem to overhear John pull David from the drug addiction clinic and she's the one who puts together the Bentley boys and the overheard "Eagle 1" transmission that will break the case wide open, it's not going to be about Jane. It's going to be about Bradfield's revenge. So why exactly is this called "Prime Suspect: Tennison" again?