This review contains spoilers.
Hoo boy. You could cut the tension in that sandstone Victorian villa with a chic, designer knife. After Paula’s resigned “Fine, you win”, it wouldn’t have felt out of place for her to draw a sword, toss one to Ellen and leap onto the coffee table to have this out once and for all by clashing steel over the tasteful soft furnishings. That’s how powerful the animus is between these two.
They don’t need swords, of course. The laser beams shooting out from Vicky McClure’s limpid baby blues are weapon enough. The same goes for Morven Christie’s bright, false smile. Every flash of either this week took another slice off their already bruised relationship, which was left lacerated and bleeding out in those final moments.
The Replacement should capitalise on its popularity by releasing a tie-in fragrance: Rancour Pour Elle.
Episode two followed Ellen deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of her obsession with Paula, culminating in that tête à tête cliffhanger. What is Paula about to confess? That she’s insane, a murderer, adulteress and liar, or—even worse by society’s standards—a bad mother?
Ellen may well be right that there’s something going on with daughter Caris, but is it what she suspects—that the girl can contradict Paula’s alibi on the night of Kay’s death—or something more complicated and personal than that? It might be worth considering that Kieron’s clunking conversational segue to his ‘friend’ and their inability to convince a fantasist to seek psychological help could equally apply to Paula or her daughter. Again, “She’s not hurting anyone” could be self-defence from Paula, or defence of her child.
Whatever’s going on, we’ll soon find out (oh, the joy of a tight three-parter). Episode three should provide a definitive answer as to whether Paula really is a twenty-four carat monster, or whether Ellen’s mother-in-law is right and our girl’s the one with the problem.
Ellen certainly isn’t blameless here. Faced with those unusually hostile and sarcastic police officers (are they not trained against that sort of thing these days?), she may feel that she has no choice but to investigate Kay’s death alone, but her heroic motive has taken her down some dark paths. Trying to get to Paula through Caris was a decidedly dodgy tactic, and it’s becoming clear just how good Ellen is as a dissembler and manipulator. She staged that ‘accidental’ meeting with Kieron like a pro, then gave a star performance in front of social services. We’ve been by her side, and therefore on her side, since the beginning but shake that off for a second and there’s a different view to be had.
Ellen and Paula are equally matched in deviousness at least, both masters in veiled hostility and the art of the smile that never reaches your eyes.
That’s the real joy of this series; not the intrigue or melodrama but the performances. We already know from the teaser trailer that it won’t be, but if next week’s finale were an entire hour of McClure and Christie sitting opposite one another in those chairs and battling it out (with or without swords) I know I wouldn’t feel cheated.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.