This review contains spoilers.
Seediness isn’t a sine qua non of murder detective TV. Bergerac and Miss Marple had corpses up the wazoo but neither was ever seedy. Marcella, on the other hand, feels sleazier than redeeming the free lap dance off a full Rhino Spearmint loyalty card you’ve found behind some bins.
Marcella isn’t nice crime TV. Not because nice is a foreign country to its lead, who behaves as though irritated by a permanently undislodgeable wedgie, but because it’s nasty. It wants to be. Series one was a nasty prime time serial killer tale, and series two is the even nastier prime time tale of an occultist, paedophilic child killer.
Episode two delighted in nastiness the way an obnoxious teen delights in holding down his little brother and gobbing in his mouth. It set out to upset us, and roundly succeeded. Fictional or not, seeing a terrified chained-up child screaming for help then being mutilated, a convicted child rapist disinterestedly cup the breasts and pregnant belly of his girlfriend, and a baby strapped to a man with a gun and anger issues, all feels pretty suspect as entertainment goes. Perhaps if series two had anything other to say than ‘Yuck! Look!’, then its child-exploitation theme might not feel quite so… exploitative.
By definition, crime drama treats upsetting subjects, but when the treatment is this sensationalist it all starts to feel like a liberty that shouldn’t have been taken. Even the barmiest pulp entertainment has responsibilities other than to ratings or notoriety.
The Juliet storyline is more of the same. Marcella’s baby died to kickstart this show’s blackout gimmick. The death was a tick against the ‘past trauma’ entry in the list of TV cop requirements. The telling of it has so far revealed nothing about losing a child other than: it’s sad. The storyline itself, though, isn’t sad. It isn’t anything. Every time Marcella pulls the string on that musical cot toy, she’s prompting the audience to feel something, but how can we when so little about these characters is identifiably real?
If you’re watching Marcella, it’s not for moral improvement, it’s for the game.
Round two gave us more corpses (three human, one mouse), another fugue state, and several frustrating conversations cut short by the necessity of this only being week two of eight. Marcella’s son Edward clearly knows something more about Leo’s disappearance but don’t expect to hear it just yet. The same goes for Reg Reynold’s conveniently timed panic attack. There are honestly fewer contrived ad-break cliff-hangers on Dance Moms. It’s bad enough that the score sounds as if it’s having a nervous breakdown anytime a character does so much as eat a biscuit.
The historical disappearance of a young female fan after a Swiss Coast concert is currently making Reg and Alan look fishier than Nemo. That said, keeping clues to a past crime in a scrapbook hardly points towards cunning of the highest order, so perhaps those two aren’t the masterminds behind this sorry state of affairs.
The affairs became sorrier with the discovery of last week’s young victim in the boot of the killer’s recently purchased car. As luck would have it, the murderer knocked down a cyclist on his way to disposing of the body, handily dropping his latest victim into the laps of the police. Now they know that Leo’s killer is still active. When little Adam’s disappearance is reported, Marcella is up against a ticking clock to rescue the boy before he too ends up in the boot of a car.
We did learn that not all of the abductor’s victims, however, end up dead. Angry Eric’s sister Gail cares for a paralysed man who appears to have undergone the same decidedly non-elective abdominal surgery as little Adam and Leo. If only that man could talk! And if only this series treated disability and psychological disorders as anything other than convenient plot devices.
Speaking of which, there was more from surly caricature Phil Dawkins, a man so sneery and irritated with the police wasting his time that you’d think they keep calling him in to the station to make up Pictionary teams, not to investigate a child murder. His girlfriend is an equally implausible creation. “People can change,” she says defiantly of her baby daddy’s fifteen-year prison sentence for child abduction and rape, “I love him.” Oh, just do one, love.
Phil’s girlfriend does at least exist to prove that Marcella’s love life could be worse. After husband Jason left Marcella for rich blonde Grace, it seems unfair that current boyfriend Tim seems to be having a flirtation with rich blonde Maya. (For maximum irony, Maya Whitman runs a Childline-clone charity to help poor kids, while her billionaire husband ensures they stay poor with unfair wage practices.)
We also received a couple of answers: first, it seems that Keith Allen’s band manager was the one who gave Marcella a kicking while retrieving Reg’s scrapbook from his flat that night.
Second, we also learned that it’s Techy Mark spying on Marcella via her webcam. I’ll have no nonsense spoken about Jack Doolan’s character under my roof. He’s the welcome drop of comedy water in this desert of perma-miffedness. Mark’s most likely spying on Marcella for some entirely benevolent reason, such as: she asked him to, or, to check her house plants don’t get too dry while she’s out running around children’s playgrounds, in pain, in the dark. We love you, Techy Mark. All hail Techy Mark.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.