This review contains spoilers.
Two years ago, Marcella came for the serial killers. Now, she’s back for the paedophiles. Armed with tried-and-true gut instinct and a sleek new mac in place of that trademark parka, Edgware’s finest and most problematic detective is out to catch a child murderer.
That’s if she can refrain from pulling a Sherlock and jumping off a roof in an elegant coat first.
Marcella series two starts with the same flashforward trick as series one. Instead of waking from a fugue state in a filthy bathtub and tracking back twelve hours, we see her primed to turn herself into a pavement Pollock, then track back to a grisly discovery made twelve days earlier. The corpse of nine-year-old Leo Priestley has been found inside a wall cavity. And, this being Marcella, nine-year-old Leo Priestley was narrowly entwined with a member of our hero’s family.
Five months have passed since Anna Friel’s troubled DI took down Henry Gibson, the serial-killing step-brother of her husband’s dead lover. This go around, she’s hunting the child-murdering abductor of her son’s dead schoolfriend. If this show is renewed many more times, there’ll be nobody left alive within a one-mile radius of the woman. They’ll soon start refusing to deliver her post.
At least this series, there’s no chance that Marcella was the murderer. Or is there? Probably not, but something terrible motivates her to climb up onto that ledge twelve days hence. Is it one of her blackouts, some very bad news, or some very, very bad news?
That’s the hook of the series two opener, which serves up a smorgasbord of child exploitation. There’s the wall-killer, a pair of seventies rockers known for entertaining underage guests at their parties, a billionaire businessman whose company profits from cheap youth labour, and one of his employees Angry Eric, whose little sister had a baby with a married older man who refuses to pay child support. We also meet self-declared non-practising paedophile ex-con Phil who keeps his deviant urges under control by paying sex workers to role-play in underage fantasies.
It’s like a tabloid newspaper come to life—sensationalist, voyeuristic and completely unscrupulous about manipulating its audience. All of which of course, makes it highly watchable.
Marcella isn’t underpinned by any high-minded themes or nuanced investigations of human frailty within the institution of the police. It’s cops and robbers. It’s about baddies being bad, then getting got. And Marcella, whose dime-novel psychiatric condition covers for all manner of plot-hole sins, is the one who gets them. It’s not improving to watch, but, like flicking through Chat Magazine (‘I attacked my husband’s fiancée and I can’t remember doing it!’) in a dentist waiting room, it’s irresistible.
A large part of that is down to Anna Friel’s performance as Marcella, which is permanently pissed off for obvious reasons including but not limited to the fact that a) her husband cheated on and left her, b) she regularly checks out of her conscious mind while her body goes about beating up nurses and burying corpses, c) her colleagues have yet to realise the series is named after her so maybe they should bloody listen for once, and d) all these bloody murderers bloody killing bloody people. That much glowering, snapping and sarcasm is cathartic. Marcella is every bad mood you’ve ever had, wrapped in a neat shirt-and-knitwear combo.
The rest of Marcella’s attraction is down to its throw-everything-at-the-wall plotting, which ensures the audience is always busily following five suspects at once, four of which are guaranteed to disappear midway through the series in a puff of smoke. Who, for instance, is spying on Marcella through her laptop webcam? 50p says it’s the wall-killer, a quid says it’s her boyfriend DCI Williamson (Jamie Bamber), and two quid says that somehow, it’s Marcella herself. The details can be worked out later.
What do we know about the wall-killer so far? The common presence of cheap toys suggests that Leo’s murderer is the same man who in episode one holds another boy captive before killing him and staging a creepy funeral parlour photo shoot with his corpse. And what’s the betting that the wall-killer’s young-looking victim was the missing role-play sex worker that paedophile Phil was so outraged not to see?
(Arrogant and lacking in remorse for his crimes, Phil has so clearly been created for viewers to hiss and throw rotten turnips at that he can’t possibly be our main baddie.)
We also met little Adam, a schoolboy showing sad signs of being an abuse victim, who’s pals with the son of Angry Eric’s enemy. Adam vomits at the thought of spending a weekend alone with his father and draws pictures of himself smiling down at the body of a stabbed man. We last saw Adam getting into a blue estate car. Is he next to be chained up in the killer’s lair?
And what of Marcella’s son Edward? He was seen this episode sinisterly letting a white mouse run over his hand like a mini Blofeld, suggesting that he too, like 70s rockers Reg and Alan (Nigel Planer and Keith Allen), is hiding something, but what?
To summarise, there’s a big tower of bastards hurting kids out there, and Marcella’s going to kick it down. Whatever the next seven weeks have in store for us, let’s just follow the advice she gave to Edward: disengage, and enjoy.