This review contains spoilers.
Einstein once said that coincidence was God’s way of remaining anonymous; but, when it comes to screenwriting, does too much use of coincidence end up drawing unwanted attention to the crafted nature of the story? Episode four of Requiem uses more than its fair share of chance encounters to move the plot along, and I found myself counting the amount, which is never a good sign in the middle of watching a television programme. Of course coincidences happen – but when there are more than a few in quick succession on screen, it’s hard not to see that as a problem with the writing.
One particular sequence saw Matilda (Lydia Wilson) beginning to disintegrate mentally under so much pressure. She attended a hospital appointment with a psychiatrist/GP and then spotted her possible brother (if she is indeed Carys, the child who went missing from the small Welsh town twenty years ago) by chance in a corridor. She worked out where her possible mother was from that, sneaked into the room, and then was interrupted by another chance encounter with PC Graves, who then happened to get a call at that moment to attend a disruption in A&E, down another corridor. Following along, Matilda then found yet another line of enquiry to pursue which involved having tea with a potentially psychic person who had created a handy folder of drawings explaining what had happened to Carys through her spirit guide. It was a lot to take in. The plot had been shifted along in fast but clunky style, and the cost was my suspension of disbelief. This wasn’t helped by a sudden and unlikely attraction between Trudy and Hal the accompanist, which seemed to come from nowhere except the occasional serving of a cooked breakfast.
Once you start finding holes in something like Requiem, they only seem to get bigger, perhaps because you start to look out for them rather than concentrating on being involved with the drama. Unfortunately, at the same time, the elements that I’ve liked the most got dialled down in the first half of the episode as the action concentrated on the emotional fallout and recriminations of the townspeople. Where had all the horror gone? Luckily, it did make a reappearance in the second half, as Matilda decided to try scrying with a black mirror, as per the habits of Elizabethan alchemist Jonathan Dee, and found a cave in the woods where spirits hide.
Haunted reflections, growing fear, things that move suddenly into shot: these are all gifts to horror, and director Mahalia Belo made good use of them yet again here. One of the strongest elements of Requiem has to be this commitment to classic spookiness, enhanced by great sound, and it was enough to reignite my interest, along with mention of Dee’s dastardly goings-on. The feeling is growing that children aren’t very safe in this town, and there was an interesting bit of foreshadowing with poor Davey, watching his dad sink pint after pint and then get into a fight, looking more vulnerable than ever and even moving himself into harm’s way to stop his father’s outburst. It made me wonder: is Carys the only child who’s ever gone missing here? How far back might such disappearances stretch? Surely that would be a difficult thing to keep secret?
These crumbs that might lead to a very dark conclusion will keep me watching, as will the continuing smaller mysteries, such as the field of dead sheep and the strange rash around Matilda’s neck. All of these things are far more interesting, to a horror lover, than the debt problems of the Australian inheritor of the grand old house, Nick (played with a slippery amiability by James Frecheville). Is he really going to fly back to Sydney? Why should that matter? So far his story feels as if it belongs in a very different television drama to do with solicitors and annoying relatives.
See what I mean? Once you start picking holes, it’s difficult to stop, and that’s a shame because Requiem had a good start and has set up some classic scary investigations. I wonder if part of my problem with this episode in particular might lie in the lack of Claire Rushbrook, who brought such reality and intensity to earlier episodes as Carys’ mother. As her character lay in the hospital in a coma after her suicide attempt, everything seemed a little less focused. Perhaps we need her, and Requiem, to wake back up in time to build towards a decent denouement. With two episodes to go, there are a lot of issues, big and small, that need satisfactory resolution to make this show a success, and using coincidence to make the necessary manoeuvres is not going to get the job done.
Read Aliya’s review of the previous episode here.