In each Hustle season there is one episode where all the components fall neatly into place, and like an impressive piece of Victorian engineering, it steams remorselessly to a better future. To my mind Lest Ye Be Judged, the third in this fifth season, was that episode this year.
It’s built on the circumstances presented in the season opener; Robert Vaughn’s Albert Stroller is stuck in prison, and it is this scenario that is used that as a panoramic backdrop to an almost Bolting Brothers contrived scam to outwit a corrupt Judge.
Tim McInnerny (Lord Percy in Blackadder) is the mark, as the viper-like Judge Anthony Kent. These days Tim McInnerny seems to have stopped his reputable line in idiots and instead launched a notable collection of bastards, of which Judge Kent is an especially vitriolic example.
His hustle revolves around a bullion heist that Kent presided over the prosecution of the two men responsible. The gold was never recovered, and he did a deal with one of the two, giving him a short sentence for a cut. Unfortunately, that man dies in prison before his two years are up. The other accomplice spends much longer in jail but shortly after he’s released he’s killed by a goods train, but before he recovers the gold.
What the crew set out to do is convince Judge Kent that the robber didn’t die under the train, and that, for a large sum, they’ll help the Judge find the millions in buried gold. There is more than a nod to the brilliant Peter Sellers film, Two Way Stretch (1960), in these proceedings, although they don’t actually spring Albert from jail to perform a robbery, as such.
His part in all this is cleverly clouded by his incarceration problem. At the start of the story the rest of the crew assumes that at the end of the week Albert will get parole and be released, although that seems much less likely when the story visits him. After spending some time ingratiating himself with the Governor, he’s replaced by an overly efficient woman who appears to have his number. How can he turn things around before Friday?
I’m not going to detail what happens, because it’s far too entertaining to spoil here, but a wonderful celestial alignment of conning the Judge and springing Albert is concocted that had me giggling for at least twenty minutes after it all ended.
The characters of Emma and Sean are starting to flesh out a bit, although Matt Di Angelo needs the writers to stop thinking ‘naïve’ every time they go to use him.
But the highlight of this story is surely Robert Vaughn, who’s quite brilliant as the poised and quintessential schemer Albert Stroller. Some of the faces he makes when being told of breaking prison rules are priceless.
My only disappointment is that we’ve now consumed half the season, and I’m not remotely half full!