This Strike: Lethal White episode 3 review contains spoilers.
Robin’s out of one trap (BYE-EE, Matthew!) but has she jumped straight into another? That cab driver wasn’t played by just anybody – behind the wheel was Annette Badland, a British TV face as recognisable as they come. Names like Badland’s aren’t cast to deliver wry one-liners and then disappear, which suggests that Robin’s being driven away by someone of significance in this story, a latecomer with skin in the game.
It’s a complex game, with a growing cast of characters. The investigation into the Chiswells drew yet more players out of the woodwork in the form of Torquil and Fizzy (honestly, none of the names in Strike would be out of place in the sorting hat at Hogwarts), new players with their own agendas following the death of Jasper. Between Izzy and Raff and Kinvara and dead Freddie and the new arrivals, it’s becoming a headache to keep track of who everybody is, who they might want murdered, and why.
The Chiswells are not a happy family, and not only because their patriarch was suffocated to death just a fortnight ago. Between dead Freddie using beloved ponies for target practice (so the bones Robin discovered belonged to a horse?), Raff being cut out of the will and Jasper barking at everyone like a bad-tempered Doberman when he was alive, it’s a toxic mix. Not that the Knights, with cruel Jimmy, terrified Billy and a history of abuse from their father, are a more peaceable bunch. There’s dysfunction aplenty in this series’ supporting characters.
That Chiswell family gathering might have been set in the modern day, but it paid homage to a long history of Poirot and Marple mysteries. A monstrous family of back-stabbing aristos simmering with resentment over inheritance snubs and casting aspersions on deceased papa’s much younger second wife? It’s the very stuff of the cosy detective genre. Had a snooty butler walked in carrying a tray of bonbons, they wouldn’t have felt out of place.
The vibe was very different back in London, where Robin unveiled her second undercover persona of the series. Farewell to Venetia the snooty toff, hiya to Becca the friendly Goth. Robin’s sketch show characters are always good value, and Becca was fun. She was also efficient, sneaking around Flick’s flat under cover of party and finding the incriminating evidence that puts Flick and Jimmy Knight inside Jasper Chiswell’s house before his murder. So, is Flick the ‘Polish’ cleaner with the spare key, and is Jimmy having an affair with Kinvara, and did they plot the great orange juice swap together? Next week’s finale will reveal all.
As they’ve gone on, the Strike books have grown progressively longer, with larger casts of characters. Lethal White is the longest book by far, and this four-parter is the longest series. Thank heavens the BBC allowed the extra episode, because it’s packed to the gills as it is. Strike and Robin are no longer investigating just one murder, but two. There’s backstory upon backstory to keep straight, with dead characters like Rhiannon Winn and Freddie Chiswell as important as the living. Any less time to tell it and this story would have been incomprehensible instead of the Generation Game conveyor belt it is. (Key, horse, blackmail, Polish cleaner, orange juice, blanc de blanc, cuddly toy!)
With so much to cover, episode three struggled to balance the flurry of developments and new case theories with Cormoran and Robin’s more important personal business. In terms of romantic attachments, it’s all change: ta-ra Matthew, see-ya Lorelei, our two leads are newly single. The imminent danger of the case will doubtless eclipse any running-into-each-others’-arms moments those two are due, but it’s a big step forward.
It was an episode of wronged women telling their men where to stick it. Lorelei took Cormoran to task for taking her for granted, while Robin finally stumbled – literally – on a reason to walk out the door in the form of Sarah’s carefully planted diamond earring. Holliday Grainger did terrific work in that confrontation scene. She showed Robin’s strength and vulnerability in tandem, making the audience root for her every move and proving why hers is a TV character we’ve come to love. More than Strike’s, this has been Robin’s series. In the investigation and in her personal life, she’s been centre stage. Sidekick no longer.
Strike: Lethal White concludes on Sunday the 13th of September at 9pm on BBC One. The previous episodes are available on BBC iPlayer.