This review contains spoilers.
I’ll say this before we start: crime drama absolutely needs more of dandy Matt King in a cravat airily making deductions about decomposed corpses, and winding up pig farmers. That’s a must. Give Philip the pathologist with a brain the size of a planet his own comedic spin-off in which he can go cottaging and summarily solve murders over bacon butties to his heart’s content.
But keep Phil far, far away from scenes in which MyAnna Buring brilliantly pulls herself inside out with raw pain. Matt King’s character may brighten up the place like a jazzy lamp, but his presence made for too distracting a shift in tone in episode two. Levity in crime fiction provides a much-needed break in the clouds, but heart-rending accounts of childhood abuse and gags about Sniffer-Pigs don’t sit well side-by-side.
Wisely, In The Dark writer Danny Brocklehurst didn’t put Phil’s scenes side-by-side with Helen’s emotional confession about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. His shenanigans were contained to the lighter first half of the episode.
I say lighter. With talk of a teenage corpse being charred just long enough to burst open like a tomato and then filled with maggots, episode two was no day at the fair. Helen agonising over telling Paul about the affair though, was far less harrowing than learning what had happened to Helen and Linda as children.
They’d been raped, serially, by a paedophile who sought out vulnerable girls and used blackmail and the cover of respectability as a local politician to abuse them. Solving the Polesford case and symbolically rescuing a fellow teenage victim from her own kidnapper gave Helen what she needed to report her historic abuser to the police.
Job done, to an oversimplified extent. So what are the next two episodes going to be about?
A new story, based on a different Mark Billingham novel, set in the same universe. (A universe, incidentally, from which key player DI Tom Thorne has been excised as the rights to him still presumably belong to Sky. Thorne wasn’t a part of the In The Dark novel, the plot of which starts in next week’s episode, but he did feature in Time Of Death, which provided the story for what we’ve just watched. Confused? I know I am.)
The Polesford case was all over a bit soon. Thriller audiences are used to a longer lead-up to the point at which the detective pursues the killer to his creepy lair and rescues the victim. We have the attention spans for at least another week or two of red herrings and spilled secrets before everything’s wrapped up. The moment of revelation too—Helen’s realisation that Trevor Hare was the killer—didn’t quite feel earned enough to be satisfying.
The case though, obviously wasn’t the main attraction here. It was a pantomime mimicking elements of the real story – Helen’s childhood abuse and its ongoing hold over her. Trevor declaring his ‘love’ for the child he’d kidnapped repeated the ‘loving’ euphemism used by Helen’s abuser. The missing schoolgirls were just a carpet rolled out to invite Weeks back to her hometown to confront past trauma.
The men of that hometown didn’t come out of it well. The abusive councillor. The child-murdering pub landlord. Even ‘innocent’ Stephen Bates had groomed an underage girl for sex. (Is it even worth asking who’s been illegally tattooing roses on the chests of under-18s?) Abhorrent male lust for young girls was the murky theme of the past two episodes.
It’s all change for next week, which sees Weeks much further along in her pregnancy and back in Manchester, dealing with a different case. Think of it as a cut and shut car, this four-part series, two different vehicles welded to form one.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.