Whitechapel series 4 episode 3 review

Review Becky Lea 19 Sep 2013 - 07:10

Steve Pemberton makes his writer's debut in Whitechapel this week with another surprising and grim tale. Here's Becky's review...

This review contains spoilers

Whitechapel moves on to its next two-parter this week, marking the first instalment to be written by Steve Pemberton and it's a witty blend of character moments, slow-burning tension and some grisly killings.

The killer this week marks a departure from the norm for serial murderers on television. Traditionally speaking, victims are usually women and so the cold open, in which a young woman returning from a night out across a graveyard, smacked of inevitability. There may have even been an eye-roll from yours truly. A job well done then as the sudden twist of the attacker becoming the attackee and being dragged off into the night took me completely by surprise. This serial murderer happens to be a killer of men and someone obsessed with new faces, specifically wearing them.

The antagonist of choice led to some particularly nasty scenes that, although not showing much, did enough to unsettle you and possibly your stomach. Descriptions of the ease with which you can peel off someone’s skin "like a satsuma" are not the most pleasant of things to hear, but there were others in which the ick factor was considerably higher. One such scene, the decaying body in the bed, was a little reminiscent of a similar death in Se7en, though in that case, the time taken to discover the body was intentional whereas in Whitechapel, it was an inconvenience. However, the most uncomfortable scene was not one of outright gore, but one of suggestion, in which the killer prepared the next victim by slowly cutting away his t-shirt and marking out the place to be flayed.

The episode may have lacked some of the creepy tension that the previous two successfully built up, but the connection continued with the decay of the Whitechapel station, Mansell keeps getting his prank calls and Miles is haunted by the echoing footsteps that seem to be following him around. A link I didn't make before was that of the mould infecting Buchan's archives, another form of infection that is slowly affecting the team. Now that the witchcraft plot is out of the way, it looks like there may be something else going on, possibly connected to the map left by the late MI6 agent Wingfield. Also, the little old lady from the book launch reappears at not one but, if I'm not mistaken, two crime scenes in this episode so she is perhaps connected to it some way. Either that or she just really likes showing up at murder spots.

While I am enjoying this new addition of an arc across the three two-parters, the scenes in which we see the characters dealing with them are starting to become a tad repetitive, a bit like the cutaway scenes to creepy woodcuttings and bloody imagery. There are only so many times you can see Rupert Penry-Jones take his shirt off at a sink, stare quizzically at the malfunctioning tap and have a bit of a meltdown or watch as Phil Davis stares frantically around for the source of the mysterious footsteps before it becomes meaningless. We know that Miles is questioning his perception and place within the team already, just like we know that Chandler continues to suffer with his anxieties. If the idea is to show that these characters are stuck in their neuroses, that’s all very well and good, but there needs to be some variety in the way this is presented.

The moment with Chandler's fortune cookie was one such moment and much better than his sink-related scream. It was subtle, yet excellent in highlighting his current worry about failing once again. The development of Chandler, Miles and Buchan has always been the central reason to Whitechapel's appeal and continues to be the show's major strength. Buchan gets a bit more time in the spotlight this week and treads the fine line between comical and tragic; the scene in which he discovers the email he thinks to be from Meg is heartbreaking. There is also more time spent with team member Kent, usually just the butt of Mansell's jokes, but here he becomes a crucial part of the investigation, constantly seeking Chandler's approval as he goes along.

All in all, it was a good first outing for Mr Pemberton as Whitechapel scribe and it provides a solid set-up for next week’s episode if not quite matching up to the tension and madness that made the first two-parter so memorable.

Read Becky's review of the previous episode, here, and read more of her writing at Assorted Buffery.

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