This review contains spoilers.
The comments sections for articles about and reviews of The Tunnel’s debut episode all had the same theme running through them: how pointless the show seemed, being a remake of a television programme from only two years ago and following a recent US adaptation of the same. I could certainly see their point having made my only real criticism of The Tunnel that anyone who’d seen The Bridge might have felt it was all a bit familiar. While watching episode two, little seemed to be happening to dissuade that feeling. Then came the final two minutes.
Before we got there though, The Tunnel’s sophomore effort slowed the pace that had been set during the opener, and spent most of its run time filling in the gaps that finished setting up the story. The Bridge dubbed its protagonist “the truth terrorist”. That name hasn’t turned up for our tunnel murderer yet but his scary voice informs us, and the Police, that he is out to expose five truths of society. The two body halves found in the euro-tunnel were the first of these, sent to symbolise “inequality before the law”. Our perp does all this by running a video online via the UK Police server. Tech-savvy, highly organised, and a man with a mission – the profile of this killer begins to take shape. His use of online media and his involvement of journalist Danny Hillier show this is a person who knows how to get a message out and this is a show he/she is staging.
Last week’s focus was very much on the dynamic policing duo of Elise and Karl, whereas this week we saw much more of shady Stephen, the man who seemingly helps immigrants into the country. Perhaps the little we saw of Stephen, played with a brilliant untrustworthiness by Joseph Mawle, another Game of Thrones alumni in this series, led to falsely conclude that he was a pimp. It’s much clearer this week that he runs a hostel of some sort that helps the people he takes care of. And he has a sister; Suze, in the shape of Ashes to Ashes’ Keeley Hawes, who is engaged to a pimp and works as a carer at an old folks home, where she replaces their medication with paracetamol in order to fuel her own addiction.
Stephen is none to pleased about his sister’s romantic intentions and moves his latest charge to a remote farmhouse when his sibling’s fiancé comes sniffing around. We spent a lot of time with Stephen this episode but so far he’s seemed to evade the cop’s radar, despite having links to the prostitute whose lower half was found in the tunnel. He’s obviously being set up to be a potential suspect as he is a man with ideals and one who seems to see himself on a crusade to help others. Could he be on a crusade of a deadlier kind too?
Alain, the man with the connection to the French MP who made up the top half of the tunnel’s body, gets a rather quick pay-off to the amount of time devoted to him during episode one, doing little here apart from being harassed into the path of an oncoming train. He leaves behind an envelope full of money and a memory stick in his hotel room. Along with his wife, who gets a single, silent scene this week, this is the part of The Tunnel that’s currently throwing in more questions with zero answers. That’s usually not a problem except that there’s so little time devoted to this plot strand this week, it’s likely to be lost in what’s becoming a complex shuffle.
Episode one spent much time setting up the relationship between Karl and Elise and with more minutes devoted to Stephen and his sister this week, we don’t see as much of that partnership and the characters spend more time apart. Episode two does finish establishing their individual characters though. There are some nice glimpses of Karl’s home life, particularly his strained relationship with his son and a great line from his wife, played by Merlin’s Angel Coulby, when Elise phones in the middle of the night again.
Elise’s socially awkward behaviour grows as we’re treated to her idea of courtship with a friendly barman. Like most things to do with Elise, it’s simple, straight forward and incredibly direct. Once their “meeting” concludes, Elise leaves on the grounds that she cannot sleep next to someone. This is not that out of the ordinary, but most people get over that. The difference is that Elise doesn’t believe she has the ability to do that. Clemence Poesy continues to impress in this role.
A break through in the Karl/Elise relationship is achieved by the end of the episode when she finally succumbs to one of his terrible, dad jokes, which leads to an admission about her past. This seems a little bit quick for Karl’s charm to have worked on someone as frosty as Elise but Stephen Dillane’s disarming charm is so well done that we can believe it.
Investigation wise, Karl tracks down the diary of Gemma, the prostitute/lower half of the body, from one of her co-workers and the knowledge that she had a new, politically-minded boyfriend while Elise finds herself visiting the abattoir used to dismember the bodies. The abattoir scene was decidedly creepy. Although there’s been no shortage of police dramas that have strayed into the gory territories of horror, The Tunnel, thanks in no small part to its bleak lighting, plays this element up very well.
The Tunnel really delivered with its finish this week though, and the pay-off to Keeley Hawes’ part of the storyline. Earlier I mentioned that Stephen had evaded police attention despite having links to Gemma, but I think they’ll come calling after this. Hawes character was one that brought us mixed feelings. She seemed happy to steal from the elderly lady in her care one moment but yet felt sorry for her lack of visitors, chastising the woman’s family for never being there. The Tunnel is establishing itself as a show where characters aren’t easily defined as good or bad. Good characters can do bad things and vice versa. Suze believed all her Christmases had come at once when she takes charge of a medication delivery, able to help herself to her illegal gains.
The Tunnel nearly bungles its shock ending with some hurried exposition as Danny Hiller receives news of the second of our culprit’s “truths”. It’s done so quickly that we only just had time to grasp that it’s something to do with tax payer’s money being used to care for elderly people. At Suze’s nursing home, the inhabitants are dropping like flies while Stephen finds Suze in a bad way at home.
All apart from the lady whose been taking paracetamol for the last few weeks. Ironically, Suze has saved this lady from the poison supplied in the medication. While this act has similarities with the events that befell homeless people with poisoned wine in The Bridge, it’s the first time The Tunnel feels like it’s marking itself out as a show in its own right. It was an unexpected and deliciously shocking twist. Of course, this also means that Suze has seen our killer in the flesh, the man who delivered the medication. Should she survive, Karl and Elise are likely to want a word.
The Tunnel timed this just right. On the verge of losing those viewers that may have been finding it all a bit too similar to The Bridge, it’s given us a hope that there may be a great deal more surprises in store, and if they come with as shocking a jolt as this one, then the show firmly has our attention.
Read James’ review of the previous episode, here.
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