This review contains spoilers.
When one hand of a TV show gives you a mother howling over the corpse of her baby, its other hand needs to offer something worthy of the distress. Wretchedness of that kind demands an exchange—some dramatic insight or honesty that makes the pain feel worthwhile. Unpaid-for wretchedness is exploitation, and in episode three, that’s what The Cry started to resemble.
It was an hour of Big Acting Performances from leads Jenna Coleman and Ewen Leslie. Joanna and Alastair had been fused together by the secret revealed at the end of last week’s episode: they’d fabricated the abduction to cover up Noah’s manslaughter. Now in on their lie, we were also allowed in on all the highly charged arguments happening behind-the-scenes.
With the shift in perspective came a shift in focus. Despite early signs, The Cry showed this week that isn’t really about grief, or new motherhood, or the public thirst for tragedy, or even Joanna. It’s about Alastair – a cruel, deceitful manipulator now revealed unquestionably as the villain of the piece.
So, Joanna’s standing trial for his murder? Good on her. If the jury were screened episode three, they’d acquit her of all charges and send her on her way with a round of applause.
I’m being glib, but the tabloid twists in this unlikely story have started to erode its right to devout respect. Joanna and Alastair, despite strong performances from Coleman and Leslie, feel less like real people than what they are—characters in a thriller.
Specifically, they’re a victim and a villain. A prison guard and a prisoner. This week we saw Joanna agree to go along with Alastair’s plan in the fog of grief and tranquilisers, and have misgivings and an urge to confess ever since. His scheme trapped her in a lie that stole her right to grieve her dead child. She should be grateful, he tells her. After all, he’s doing all this to protect her, isn’t he?
Clearly not. Whether or not it was really him or Joanna who gave baby Noah that fateful dose of the wrong medicine (and why else would she kill her husband if not for the discovery of a lie?), Alastair’s actions are all about protecting Alastair. The Cry’s portrait of a controlling, mendacious manipulator skilled at turning situations to his advantage and bolstered by the implicit trust of his mother, friends and new wife, is frighteningly recognisable.
Alastair’s true nature leaked out throughout the episode, in his urgent asides while directing Joanna’s public performance and in their explosive arguments when alone. The mask truly fell though, in his visit to Alexandra. Armed with a bottle of wine and the arrogance to believe that nobody is hip to his tricks, he turned on the charm. It was like watching a stage hypnotist at work. He invoked early honeyed memories of their relationship, swerving objections with sentimental reminiscences and a rewriting of history that erased his adultery. (“Affairs” said Alexandra. Plural.) When Alexandra proved immune to the old treatment, his cruelty came out. He may not have deliberately framed his ex, but the destruction of her reputation works in his favour.
The Cry’s major storytelling achievement is its continuously shifting structure. Time and again, we revisit familiar scenes rendered new by some new piece of information. Viewers who pay due attention always know where they are and why they’re being asked to rewatch. The editing and construction has been stunning.
The drama though, doesn’t quite deliver on the depth it first promised. Through a committed performance by Coleman, episode three showed us the agonies of grief, but only as a function in an undoubtedly well-made thriller.
If The Cry has something real to say, it isn’t about losing a baby, it’s this: women, beware men who breathe in and out lies like air. And men, beware the women you betray.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.