Things have settled down now that Silk has stopped trying to throw every trick in the one-hour TV drama handbook at us. (Martha doesn’t make even one unanswered call to her mother in this episode!)
The cases are slightly more interesting, too, although there’s a thing with dogs that I didn’t quite grasp in which the pupils, Nick and Niamh (Tom Hughes and Natalie Dormer), are sent into the courtroom without adult supervision and go bashing around like a couple of toddlers in pedal cars. Please, somebody reassure me that this is not really how the justice system works in the U.K. Tell me that precious, inexperienced “baby barristers” don’t sit in a courtroom frantically Googling information that they will use seconds later to exonerate their clients.
At least Nick has traded his wooly hat for a mass of curls that flop fetchingly over his sparkling blue eyes.
Martha’s hair looks cuter, too. She’s ditched the ponytail (apparently that’s only for court). She’s driving around in a shiny Alfa Romeo convertible. And she’s flirting with a judge. In other words, five minutes into this episode I hate her again.
Honestly, I’m beginning to believe I’m supposed to hate her. Otherwise, why would creator/writer Peter Moffat (not to be confused with Sherlock creator Steven Moffat) have made her such a mass of irritating clichés? Sorry Maxine Peake, I know you’re doing your best with the role, but Martha’s hopeless.
Her first case involves a young man named Mark Draper who’s been arrested for what is euphemistically called “cottaging”—engaging in or soliciting sex in a public lavatory. Mark’s in custody, but he wants to go to Stoke for his mom’s funeral. Martha wins his trust by telling him she drives a sports car and dropping the name of a star player from Stoke City F.C.
Pretty soon she’s going all maternal over Mark, whom the judge has released because Martha promised to provide supervision.
Now Martha… Sweetie… Stop and think: Maybe—just maybe—if a judge expresses concern that Mark is a flight risk the judge has reason for that concern. Sadly, stopping and thinking are not things Martha does well. Before you can say, “Rory Delap,” Mark’s bolted and Martha’s less embarrassed about that than she ought to be. But that’s Martha: all attitude; no common sense.
“There’s fearlessness and standing up to people; and then there’s just pig-headedness,” Nick tells her later on with regard to yet another case. He’s only been on the job five minutes and even he knows this. So, I’ll say it again: Martha has been a barrister for fifteen years. She’s in hot contention for a coveted promotion. Why does she keep making such novice errors? What we need here is the classic “show don’t tell.” Martha keeps telling us that she’s good at her job. I, for one, wish to see some tangible evidence of this.
Up to this point, the lawyering seems to be just glorified improv. Everyone enters the courtroom unprepared. Every bit of testimony takes them by surprise. Then, at some point, they must pray silently for a miracle—such as a colleague ambling into the men’s room and inadvertently witnessing something that blows the case wide open. A few minutes later, a bemused judge or a confused jury picks a winner.
More interesting is the stirring of mutiny in the chambers. As the senior clerk, Billy Lamb (played by Neil Stuke) runs the office and the careers of the barristers who work there. He’s loving yet ruthless, like Fagin in Oliver Twist.
Kate Brockman (played by Nina Sosanya), another barrister who is slightly less seasoned, though smarter, better organized, and more directed than Martha and Clive, is not at all pleased with Billy’s performance. She isn’t being paid on time (presumably she doesn’t drive an Alfa Romeo convertible) and she questions Billy’s commitment to her career. Together with a calculating younger clerk named John Bright, Kate is plotting to overthrow Billy and she’s actively recruiting Clive to her cause.
What can we say about Clive? (That would be Rupert Penry-Jones in legal garb.) He’s not really such a cad, is he? And so far he’s showing himself to be smarter than Martha, although that’s not saying much.
I am a bit confused about why Clive and the other barristers have so little control over their careers. I also wonder why, if they are all so sharp and ambitious—and in Niamh’s case so well-connected—they have pinned their futures to a chambers that is scrambling for work and can’t seem to collect what it’s owed. Then again, I’m also confused about why Martha locked her convertible if she was leaving it with the top down and uncovered in the parking lot.
More plot description would lead to spoilers and we don’t do that here. We’ll just have to wait and see if the silken threads tie together next week.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.