Remember that fabulous life Will Burton was living in Episode 1 of The Escape Artist?
Right. Neither does he.
All it took was the smallest gesture toward the wrongest person to shatter Will’s world. The wrongest person being the skin-crawlingly icky murderer Liam Foyle.
“We may dislike Mr. Foyle, but we don’t have to like him to defend him,” Will pronounced with such objective certainty in the first episode.
Well, he’s not objective anymore, and he’s only certain about one thing: he wants someone to pay for the crime that has caused him such grief. That’s ironic, since Will has spent his whole professional life helping criminals avoid precisely the sort of justice he’s seeking now.
The proverbial shoe is on the other foot.
In fact, things have gone so topsy-turvy that Will Burton (David Tennant), who’s made his name as a formidable defense counsel, is now chief witness for the prosecution. Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), who’s typically a prosecutor, is now defending the accused. The rivals are squaring off again, only this time it’s Maggie seeking to poke holes in a case that the prosecution must make sure is watertight.
Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell) remains proudly and unrepentantly despicable, and now he has a confederate—a dim and trusting neighbor named Eileen Morris, who’s played to perfection by Monica Dolan.
And so begins the second half of The Escape Artist—the half that takes the jigsaw puzzle you thought you were building in Episode 1, breaks it apart, and rearranges the pieces to reveal a different picture.
Even when he’s playing a character you know you shouldn’t admire, David Tennant can’t help but be likeable. To me, that’s part of what makes The Escape Artist work. He’s charming without being smug, and behind his big brown eyes there’s a sternness that slowly turns to menace as his stress builds. As Will, he’s always bringing his A game. He wants to win his courtroom battles; even more so when he’s facing a worthy adversary.
Sophie Okonedo as Maggie could be that adversary. She’s someone you would not want to cross. (“What kind of tea is that?” Foyle asks her. “My tea,” she tells him.) She also conveys the frustration of a person perpetually striving to perform yet never quite reaching the standard she’s set for herself.
Now that the case is personal, will the adversaries fight the ultimate grudge match? Or could they become allies?
David Wolstencroft, who created and wrote The Escape Artist, excels at crafting roller coaster plots filled with zigzags and blind curves that keep you hanging on. Strap in and give yourself over to every twist, turn, and bump. The story might depart from real life from time to time, but who cares? It’s full of surprises right up to the end.
Photos courtesy of (C) Endor Productions Ltd MMXIII for MASTERPIECE.
Leslie Gilbert Elmanis 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.