Warning: This review contains spoilers.
This is more like it! No, episode two of Troubled Blood wasn’t any more generous with the Robin/Strike underpants progress, but it was several times more exciting than the opener by dint of having something happen in the present day. Double points for that thing being Holliday Grainger’s Robin wearing a disguise and doing a fake accent (tick that off your Strike bingo card).
It wasn’t just one fake accent this episode, but two. First there was the welcome return of fictional toff Venetia Hall (audio-only, sadly), then there was a cockney teenager in a baseball cap who infiltrated a nursing home with a chorus of innits and awrights. Robin’s Mr Ben selection of improv personas has always been one of Strike’s highlights, and this was no different. The scene in which the odious Luca Ricci was sniffing around our girl had tension, action and right-now peril, i.e. everything episode one lacked.
It was no accident that Luca vs Robin was this episode’s key scene, because Troubled Blood is shaping up to be about precisely that conflict: male violence vs female autonomy. The more we learned about Dr Margot Bamborough, the more she was painted as a kind of feminist fairy godmother. A march-going women’s rights activist GP who paid her way through medical college in the 1960s as a Playboy Bunny (or Carnival Club Kitty, or whatever it is they’re called here), the character could hardly have more fingers in more feminist pies.
Nor could her work touch more women’s issues. Margot counselled colleague Gloria to leave her violent boyfriend Luca, arranged abortions for others under her own (married, therefore more respectable) name, and out of hours, treated a young patient for an ectopic pregnancy that could have killed her. It’s as though the character was created as a hub of existential threats to women, from the misogyny of men like the Riccis, to their own biology.
(That last word may sound alarm bells to Strike fans aware of creator J.K. Rowling’s views on biological essentialism in relation to the transgender community. At the half-way point in this story, it’s too early to tell how this one’s been handled by the TV drama’s adapters writer Tom Edge, director Susan Tully, and the team of producers. We wait and see.)
Episode two ended with Robin facing the depressing truth that Nico Ricci would likely never pay for his crimes so she paid her own tribute to victim Kara Wolfson – the woman in the snuff film proven not to be Margot by dint of the scar on her torso – by leaving flowers outside her former workplace. Will that be enough for Robin? Her keen sense of injustice, combined with her own history of sexual assault (because women in stories are only sensitive about that once it’s happened to them) suggests that it won’t be. Robin’s already put herself in danger once. What might she try next?
She wants to keep an eye on Saul, for a start. Was that chauvinism from Jonas Armstrong’s surveillance-for-hire goon in the team meeting, or simply a difference of opinion? Either way, an employee with access to the petty cash who spends his time online gambling is not a recipe for success. If there’s any funny business that might put the agency at risk, let’s hope Pat the Efficient has his number. We like Pat. She’s efficient.
The rest of the episode was busy with a series of strange scenes, from the unusual choice to have two interviewees loudly pass wind like Pumbaa from The Lion King while discussing the abduction of their former colleague. Whatever that was, it wasn’t boring.
You could say the same for Cormoran and Robin’s visit to the Athorns, which left the uncomfortable sense that our heroes aren’t all that heroic. It’s fun when the old ‘can I use your toilet’ trick is played on a rich snob with bodies buried in the basement, but pressuring that vulnerable mother and son pair for information that could well put them in danger with the Ricci firm felt dicey on a moral scale. At least Strike got a swipe in at the horrible neighbour, to remind us that, as Gloria Conti said, these two are really on the side of the angels.
There was time too, among the endless replays of the 1974 Christmas party footage and bizarre occu, for a sweet and sad scene between Cormoran and his aunt and uncle. (Dying of ovarian cancer, Joan is another woman in this story whose biology proves a threat to her). All that, and the potential Rokseby family reunion, with all its promised drama, still looms.
With the case in full swing and the potential villains in the frame, and a classic cliffhanger entering from stage left, Troubled Blood finds itself on a surer footing at the halfway point.
Strike: Troubled Blood continues on Sunday the 18th and Monday the 19th of December on BBC One at 9pm. All episodes are available to stream now on BBC iPlayer.