The Frankenstein Chronicles episode 3 review: All The Lost Children

The Frankenstein Chronicles is a neatly stitched drama with a compelling, sympathetic lead in Sean Bean's John Marlott...

This review contains spoilers.

1.3 All The Lost Children

“What would we not do to defeat death, Mr Marlott? Might we not defy God’s laws in order to be reunited with those we love?” asks The Frankenstein Chronicles’ Mary Shelley this week, under some gentle interrogation regarding the murdered, mutilated and missing children in the capital. At this stage in his investigation, Marlott has an intriguing list of leads, taking in literary legends like Shelley – still a controversial figure in the nineteenth century, having been accused of blasphemy in the creation of Frankenstein (there’s thanks for you) – and lowly grave robbers like Pritty, still on the run after escaping the watch of deputy Mr Nightingale last week.

That Marlott has so much to pick through, so many pieces to puzzle over, is what’s bringing Chronicles’ mystery thriller aspects to pulsing life as the main suspects are lined up. Could the Hervey siblings be so charitably-minded that they’d take to corpse mutilation to make a point about the dangers of the coming Anatomy Act? Maybe. Are surgeons like Sir William Chester, part of a medical community excited by the Galvanism movement, this eager to act out the plot of Frankenstein for real? Perhaps. And has Shelley herself had a part in this case beyond providing inspiration for some science and/or religious nut(s) looking to make a killing – business, morality, or medical breakthrough-wise? It’s difficult to gauge at this point. None of the opposing tensions at play are too broadly drawn, each side of the Religion vs Science/Nature vs Technology debates are personalised with characters that aren’t too easy to peg as someone to be suspicious of, or someone to trust.

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Apart from the one we can trust. Interesting cases and suspects don’t make for worthwhile television without a special lead character, and the tormented but still striving copper John Marlott is pretty special. Not just because Bean was back in military garb (for the Sharpe fans) during a flashback sequence this week, either (though that was rather special – and pretty – too). Unsaddled with the shtick elements most TV dicks get – ‘1970s Ladies Man, Tough Guy’, ‘Cigar Smoker, Acts Confused’, ‘Nosy Old Lady, Has a Typewriter’ – Marlott is just a grafter, an everyman, the much-needed human(e) centre of a story filled with the monstrous and the cold-hearted. His interactions with witness Flora, for instance, are practical – placing her in the care of the Herveys gives him an ‘in’ to investigate them further – but also careful and considered – he wants to keep her and her unborn baby safe, probably not just for the case.

The syphilis, and the mercury-induced hallucinations he has of his dead wife and child, now that could be schlocky– if handled insensitively. Instead, Marlott’s ongoing guilt imbues the series with a certain sadness, and his infection, an ongoing reminder of flesh’s fragility, marked mortality in a canon where a bolt of electricity can undo death. Probably.

Not that the STD scars are just there to make Marlott maudlin and navel-gazey; that infection also adds some nice meat to the body horror that comes as part of any Frankenstein-themed package, the sores snaking across Marlott’s hands and back resembling decay, or the stitching of a body falling apart, perhaps… And Sir Daniel Hervey’s reveal of the patient in the final stages of the disease was a particularly nasty bit of horribleness, for Marlott, as well as the viewer. Along with the horror came more thrills in this week’s episode, which squeezed in not only a chase scene, but also a knife fight, and some Queensberry-rules boxing courtesy of Mr Nightingale (or ‘Joshua’, as he tenderly tells Flora), as well as a quick introduction to the most intimidating cake shop in town.

As we hit the midway point of The Frankenstein Chronicles, All The Lost Children added yet more threads to the series’ thorough stitching of its plot, and depth to its characters. Other bonuses of the episode – it passed the Bechdel Test; there was a snappy Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate done and dusted in less than 30 seconds; and Anna Maxwell Martin’s voiceover readings from Frankenstein highlighted just how engrossing the source material still is. So, some very neat and detailed stitching this week.