Episode number three in the current series, in which I learn a new word and exit mightily confused.
Let me start by saying I love Inspector Lewis. It’s not hip, it’s rarely believable as a police procedural, but it’s literate and beautiful to watch. I find it soothing.
I can’t see Kevin Whately as anyone but Lewis: solid, sensible, sensitive. (That’s probably frustrating for him as an actor, I know.) Laurence Fox as Sergeant Hathaway is a master of the knowing smirk. Clare Holman as medical examiner Dr. Laura Hobson and Rebecca Front as Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent are great too—assuming they have something to do. In this episode they do not. And that’s not the only reason “Fearful Symmetry” was a clunker.
We begin, as usual, with the discovery of a murder victim. She’s delivered right on schedule—five minutes into the episode—Jessica Lake, eighteen-year-old babysitter, found lashed to a headboard with nautical rope and secured with what Sergeant Hathaway helpfully informs us is a Buntline Hitch, a knot favored by the “yachty” set.
We soon learn that the killer smothered her first, then tied her up and posed her. “This was planned. Symmetry. Each wrist tied with the rope six times. The neatness of it. He thought about this . . . a lot,” Hathaway surmises.
Sadly, poor beautiful Jessica turns out to be the only thing tied up neatly in this episode.
For starters there’s Nick and Honey Addams, the couple who hired Jessica to babysit their toddler; in whose home—in whose bed—the murdered girl was found. They come across as perversely unconcerned by the situation. Didn’t know her, she was called in to pinch hit when the regular babysitter couldn’t make it, can’t really tell you anything more than that. Turns out, Nick and Honey are preoccupied with personal problems, but even so . . . A girl was murdered in your house and your toddler was there with her when it happened! I don’t care if you are all posh and living in “the exclusive Arcadia Park estate” housing development, a shrug and an “oh well” are not an appropriate reaction in that situation.
(Special for ’80s music fans: Nick’s boss who also figures into things here is played by Gary Kemp, late of Spandau Ballet. Just thought you’d like to know.)
Jessica’s boyfriend, Gideon Massey, is also in the frame. At least her friends Kyle and Silas seem to think so. Gideon’s wealthy—his nervous wreck of a father works in an ethology lab “teaching monkeys to talk” and his estranged ice princess mother has some sort of museum-related job. He says Jessica’s friends dislike him because they think he’s privileged.
Jessica grew up “in care” at a place called Boxgrove (possibly named for an archaeological site where human remains from 500,000 BC were found). She has no family and she’s been squatting at Boxgrove—now vacant and shuttered—with Kyle and Silas. Silas clearly had a thing for her and is generally carrying around a lot of anger. We know that can’t be good.
Then we have Marion Hammond played by Lucy Cohu, whom you might recognize from Torchwood and/or from her small role in the “Pocket Full of Rye” episode of Miss Marple if you’ve watched it 12,000 times as I have.
“Professional iconoclast, social photo-anthropologist cum cultural pundit,” explains Hathaway.
“Oxford type,” nods Lewis.
“Oh yeah,” Hathaway concurs.
As Lewis soon quips, there’s “a good few bob in this iconoclasm lark.” Marion does very well for herself taking erstwhile artistic photos that would be tagged as smutty if they’d been shot by anyone other than a smooth-talking, chess-playing professional iconoclast. Jessica was one of her models and was featured in Marion’s latest exhibition, entitled “Fallen? A meditation on postlapsarian female gender identity.” (Postlapsarian. That’s my new word. More on that later.) In those photos, many of which have soft-core bondage motifs, Jessica is tied up with nautical rope. Thus we discover that whoever killed Jessica had some familiarity with the photos and possibly with Marion Hammond.
And that’s the last time things make sense. The characters are linked in an unexpectedly tight circle, yet we never have a clear sense of their individual stories or anything beyond their superficial relationship to each other. A second body turns up, also killed and posed in a gruesome manner that mirrors one of Marion’s photos. Yet when we finally learn the identity of the killer, it’s hard to imagine how or why that second—implicitly premeditated—murder was committed.
Writer/series creator Russell Lewis forgoes the usual highfalutin’ literary allusions that make Lewis so much fun. The episode title comes from William Blake’s poem “The Tyger”:
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The passage’s relation to the plot isn’t obvious, although there is a picture of a tiger hanging on Jessica’s bedroom wall.
Dr. Hobson barely registers here—all the more frustrating after last week’s episode in which she and Lewis were sparring and a little jealousy was brewing. And I do wish they’d give Superintendent Innocent something to do beyond “a scene which could accurately be entitled: Lewis’s boss gets out of a car.” (Someone else called it that, but I’m not telling who.)
And so I come away with an enhanced vocabulary—Postlapsarian: “Of, relating to, or characteristic of the time or state after the fall of humankind described in the Bible”—and not much else except hope for next week’s episode. It will be the last episode of this series and I know it’s going to bring surprises.
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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.