The Bletchley Circle 2.03: “Uncustomed Goods”

Alice (Hattie Morahan) and Millie (Rachael Stirling) might be hatching a business scheme.

What’s a girl gotta do to pay the bills?

You’d think that being a gorgeous, vivacious smarty-pants fluent in multiple languages would make it a snap to find gainful employment. Millie (Rachael Stirling) would tell you otherwise. After the last Bletchley Circle caper left her with her government clearance rescinded, Millie has struggled to make ends meet and that’s not easy when you’re a girl who’s used to a certain standard of living. (The fact that Millie freely admits to her “sense of entitlement” makes me love her all the more.)

Now that Susan’s relocated to India, where her husband has taken a foreign posting, Millie has gravitated toward Alice (Hattie Morahan) for friendship. That was sort of inevitable, don’t you think? Besides being two smarties attracted to trouble, they currently have unemployment in common. Alice can’t find a job either. Seems no one wants to hire a secretary who’s done time for the sensational murder of her former lover. Go figure.

“I was acquitted,” Alice tells a prospective employer.

“Yes, but you were in prison,” he replies. “And in the newspapers.”

I don’t understand why Alice appears shocked by his reaction to her. Nor can I explain why she didn’t just change her name after the trial. What’s a simple alias compared with the murderous government cover-up she’s witnessed first-hand?

Anyhoo…

Millie’s found a way to pay the rent and keep herself in gorgeous clothes besides. She’s supplying fashionable ladies with luxury goods at reasonable prices. French perfume, fancy hosiery, fine wine; Millie can get it for you wholesale. Best not to ask how.

Jean (Julie Graham) and Lucy (Sophie Rundle) are more interested in facts than French perfume.

She lets Alice in on her secret and for a moment it seems as if Alice might join in the scheme. That moment doesn’t last long though. Minutes into the first episode of “Uncustomed Goods,” Millie’s abducted and her flat is ransacked. High jinks are about to become high stakes.

Millie discovers that luxury goods aren’t the only things being imported from foreign lands, but the who, how, what, where, and when are a bit of a blur.

As with “Blood on Their Hands,” the previous story in series 2, this episode feels rushed. Part of the appeal of The Bletchley Circle is watching the characters apply their intellects and powers of reasoning to a problem. A good puzzle takes its time to tease. When the characters draw conclusions too quickly, or when they’re always correct in their assumptions, we lose some of the challenge and a lot of dramatic tension.

Packing all the action into two episodes rather than letting the story unfold over three episodes, as it did in series 1, works to the show’s disadvantage I think. The breathless pacing left no time to take in what was happening (and a lot was happening!). 

Nevertheless, the women of The Bletchley Circle are a winning group. I want to spend more time with them, get to know them better, hear their stories. As you might have heard, we’re about to be denied that opportunity as The Bletchley Circle has not been picked up for a third series. Enjoy it while you can. Next week’s episode, the conclusion of “Uncustomed Goods,” might be all we have.


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.

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