Contains spoilers for Strike: Lethal White Episode 1
The last time we saw Cormoran Strike, he was barrelling up the M1 on a traditional rom-com mission, but with a certain vagueness of purpose. Was he rushing to Robin’s wedding to give her back her old job, or to declare his love and stop her from saying ‘I do’? Whichever it was, she tied the knot and we didn’t see what followed. Two years later, our invitation to the reception has arrived.
What followed was pretty flagrant on Robin’s part. Dancing the first dance at her wedding to the lyrics ‘If I could, then I would’ while locking eyes over her new husband’s shoulder with the man who really gets her, then abandoning that dance to run after the retreating figure of said man is almost enough to make you feel sorry for Matthew.
Except, it’s impossible to feel sorry for Matthew. He’s the All Bar One of people. He’s Fizz Friday and cash ISAs and European stag dos. He grades women like homework, makes fun of disabilities, cheated on Robin at her lowest point and almost certainly is the specific kind of prong who thinks you can’t spend less than two month’s salary on a new watch. Compared to Cormoran Strike, Matthew is… well, Matthew. What was Robin thinking?
Being a clever, practical sort, she was probably thinking that the throbbing will-they-won’t-they magnet-pull at the heart of Strike would stop dead if she and Cormoran were ever to actually get it on. Wedded to Matthew, this show’s an ongoing concern. If Robin had done what we all wanted and stopped that insipid first dance dead, torn off her veil and leapt into Strike’s strong Cornish arms, what would be left to watch? Yes, there are still the murders, but by this point they’re a secondary consideration – gruesome icing on the delicious cake that is Robin and Cormoran’s lip-gnawing rightness for each other. As long as these two are trying to tease out other people’s secrets while steadfastly ignoring their own, there’s a future for Strike.
Episode one of Lethal White divided its attention satisfyingly between the professional and the personal. The first hour established the new case while tracking the emotional aftermath of Robin’s wedding. In summary: Cormoran’s heart-broken, Robin’s in a bad way, and both are refusing to admit anything’s wrong.
Things are decidedly wrong. Robin’s having panic attacks and being forced to serve housewarming party chorizo to the braying, diamond-wearing Sloane Matthew cheated on her with. Cormoran rebounded straight from that wedding hug into a relationship with vintage dress shop owner Lorelei (Natalie Gumede) who seems great other than the major flaw of Not Being Robin.
(It’s little wonder Robin’s anxiety has spiked, by the way – that new place must come with a mortgage the size of Sweden. Given this show’s lurid stories about dismembered limbs arriving in the post and ritualistic entrails-removal, Strike’s most far-fetched event thus far was Robin’s mother kindly offering her £500 for a rental deposit on a London flat. And the rest, mum.)
Putting the interpersonal drama to one side, the new case comes with a brand new context for Strike. Previous series have taken the investigators to the worlds of high-fashion celebrity and literary publishing, this one’s set against the backdrop of Westminster politics and counter-culture activism. All the expected caricatures were present and correct, from the nose-ring Marxists to snobbish, sneering Tories named Arabella Cruelty and Jasper Chisel. That last one’s real, by the way, spelled ‘Chiswell’ but pronounced ‘Defund public services. Austerity was caused by Labour overspending’. Subtlety has never been Strike’s bag. When this show has a point to make, it does so with a sledge hammer rather than a scalpel, which is all part of the fun. This series’ point appears to be the cynical but not unpopular perspective that when it comes to politics, they’re all as bad as each other.
Cue some Mr Ben undercover work and another new accent for Robin (Holliday Grainger’s glorious regional repertoire now extends to a Pony Club RP as goddaughter to a Tory MP). She’s infiltrated the Houses of Parliament to dig up dirt on the Labour MP blackmailing the Right Hon. Chiswell about an unspecified matter, while Cormoran’s on the trail of an unhinged man who as a child says he witnessed a girl being strangled on the Uffington White Horse. Both are connected, as the next three episodes will untangle.
The new case is technically an old one – the decades-old murder of a young girl, as reported by a man who claims to have witnessed it aged six. The end-of-episode cliffhanger left us on the point of learning whether his account was reliable. Having followed his info to the purported location of the girl’s grave, Robin discovered bones. Who they belong to is for tomorrow night’s instalment to tell.
The mystery’s off to a promising start, with the show at a point where our investment in the characters’ personal drama is paying dramatic dividends.
Strike: Lethal White continues on Monday the 31st of August at 9pm on BBC One.