This review contains spoilers.
1.4 The Fortune Of War
Taking its title from where the series left us and Inspector John Marlott last week, episode four of The Frankenstein Chronicles took us right back to the grubby Fortune of War pub. The 19th century’s answer to Harvester isn’t somewhere many people would voluntarily return to, but Marlott had work to do, hoping to bump into snatcher, killer, stitcher n’ seller suspect number one “Billy the Child Catcher”. The leads that led Marlott here: deputy Joseph Nightingale knows that dead bodies are transported through the tunnels snaking underneath the Fortune of War; grave robber Pritty knows which locals are dealing in death to pay the rent; and witness Flora knows Billy was the one who snatched missing child, Alice. Unfortunately, those three pointers are taking our protagonist somewhere dark with no escape route, and we know there’s nobody high or low, religious or scientifically-minded, in Chronicles’ gritty locale who can be completely trusted.
It was a tense start this week, and things didn’t get easier on us or Marlott just because Billy didn’t show (yet). In an already very full suspect pool, episode four threw in even more dastardly wrong ‘uns. Cut-throat cult ‘The Bishops’ were the ones skulking around the tunnels in black lace and rags, making business deals at the end of a blade (and that was Game Of Thrones’ Kate Dickie–Lysa Arryn–under one of the veils, unsettlingly pitching her voice ‘Nancy from Oliver!: Nightmare Edition’ high). Looking like they’d stumbled in from a stock horror archetype convention, right down to their super-villain gang name and Goth get-ups, the new family on the block quickly became less fantastical. The Lady Gaga head gear? Well, the tunnels are dusty, aren’t they? ‘The Bishops’? Not a comic-booky gang with a religious bent, they’re just plain ol’ Mrs Bishop and her kids, supplementing their income with a bit of murder-to-order on the side. As with all the players we’d already been introduced to, there was extra character detail to find under the surface traits.
With more bad guys creeping out of the shadows week by week, it’s a good thing Marlott has got himself a couple of people who’ve proven their loyalty, number one being Nightingale. Richie Campbell’s work on the series is becoming a much-needed spot of kindness in such a harsh setting – Nightingale’s softer eyes a counter to Marlott’s haunted ones. Though, Joseph is just about bordering on becoming an old sop (some more boxing next week?!) when it comes to witness Flora.
Ah, Flora. Back on Marlott’s doorstep this week, the willing-to-help Flora made her return just when the plot required a young woman to serve as bait for some suspects – what good luck, in a series full of such bad luck, hmm? Like the ‘the red-headed lad’ from back in episode one – who was dead meat as soon as Marlott had him investigating where the missing children were disappearing off to – Flora is placed around proceedings at just the right points to get the plot moving where it needs to go. In other (lazier, not as quality) productions, she might have been sacrificed early on with no characterisation beyond ‘disposable sex worker is here to help the hero’, but so far she’s stuck around for more than ‘fridging’, and that’s a surprising relief. Especially considering she’s dodging the double-whammy of horror and thriller tropes that aren’t always so kind to more peripheral female characters. And she’s a fighter; as soon as Nightingale points out to Marlott – busy planning just how to use her as bait for Billy, etc. – that Flora can barely stand after losing her baby, she quickly straightens herself up, resolving to hide any hesitation or weakness. She’s great, and here’s hoping she’ll make it out of the series alive and un-reanimated.
But you never know, now that Billy is back on the scene. Missing the date at the Fortune, Billy was back to remind Flora “You’re mine, and I still got use for ‘ya […] I’ll slit you up, all the way down to you know where”. So here’s one we’re hoping doesn’t make it out of the series alive. His character touchstone – not the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, because Billy is worse – goes well with this ep’s Nightmare Nancy; we’re talking Bill Sikes. Though, Sikes wasn’t this intimidating (and that Bill was even scaring off his best buddy Bullseye by the end of Oliver!).
The tensions at the start brought us to a tense middle, a suspenseful sting putting Flora in trouble, culminating in a showdown with the Bishops at the brick kiln. We also got another visit with the much-nicer-than-The Bishops-and-less-stabby Hervey siblings, dining with Warburton (who had better have brought along a nice dessert from the Weird Cake Shop he disappeared into last week). During luncheon we learned that breathy Lady Hervey is still sweet on Marlott, or her brother Daniel should look into getting her an inhaler, and that Daniel totally helped Flora out with an abortion, him being less preachy than his sister and Warbs.
We also learned that scenes with Sean Bean and Ed Stoppard, who is playing Daniel Hervey, are really, really very good, and there should be more of that sort of thing (along with more of the afore-mentioned boxing stuff from Joseph).
Wrapping up the tense beginning and middle came the equally tense ending, courtesy of Boz and Mary Shelley, who had both been suspiciously absent for most of the episode. It turns out Boz has been busy, deciding to go after the story that Marlott had promised him and dubbing the case ‘The Frankenstein Murders’. Which is bad for poor Mary Shelley, who only just managed to get out of London before the controversy cycle started around her again. Poor, innocent, on-the-run Mary Shelley… who finished The Fortune Of War walking around what looked like a set from film adaptations of her book; strapped operating table, Galvanism equipment, et al. So maybe she can’t be trusted, either. It’s difficult to predict after an episode full of baiting and switching for the characters, and for the viewers watching them.
Read Phoebe-Jane’s review of the previous episode, All The Lost Children, here.