This review contains spoilers.
And breathe. Wow, that was intense. 2013 has hardly been short of dramatic television, but this week The Tunnel proved it could hang with the best of them, by providing a final fifteen minutes that were heart-stoppingly compelling.
Throughout episode seven there was a sense that The Tunnel was kicking up a gear, beginning with the details of the Truth Terrorist’s final “truth”. A mini bus load of school kids were happily speeding down a narrow country road when a set of traffic lights caused them to halt on an almost deserted road. This was a nice tribute to the urban legend of stopping to check something in the road while a maniac crawls into the back of your car. Clearly this P.E. teacher had never heard that story and received a clobbering from TT.
The involvement of children in mystery dramas can sometimes set a few alarm bells ringing. Some shows use children as a cheap way of being shocking (Utopia, I’m looking in your direction) but thankfully The Tunnel had the sense to realise that it doesn’t need to stoop to such levels. Certainly the idea of putting children in danger elevated the drama of this episode as Elise Wassermann notes “Children are just small people but it’s easier to feel enraged about them. Same as kittens”. TT’s intention this week was to manipulate the public through the use of showing children in danger to bring justice to companies that use child labour to manufacture goods.
The final truth seemed to take on a whole other meaning as this episode progressed. Although TT’s message was related to child exploitation, the real truth seemed to be just how easy it was to manipulate the public into doing what the Truth Terrorist wanted, and via the use of his internet side show, how cruel people could get when it came to the anonymous voicing of their opinions, when TT gave the public a choice between which child would live and die.
Like some unsettling version of X-Factor, The Tunnel shined the spotlight on the arm chair judgment that the internet allows everyone. “Why does everyone feel the need to comment on every single little thing these days?” wondered Karl Roebuck. The younger Elise Wassermann has no trouble understanding – “They want to be heard, they’re angry”, and TT was only too happy to exploit that.
On the subject of our cross channel cop duo, episode seven saw Karl at a pretty low ebb. It’s quite incredible how different Stephen Dillane made Karl appear here. He must have stayed awake for three days before filming because Karl looked grey. His hair and his skin look markedly dull and bleak, and his temper clearly running on a short fuse as he fired some rather snarky remarks at his French colleagues. Although we saw some good natured ribbing between the French and English police forces back in the debut episode, Karl’s been a picture of decorum since but now it seems recent events (his infidelity resultant homelessness) are taking their toll.
You can’t really blame Elise for looking rather perplexed when her superior told her to go easy on Karl. In Elise’s hyper-logical world, Karl brought all his troubles on himself, why should he now be given allowances? This led to one of the best Karl/Elise scenes of the series when they discuss the rules of monogamy. The scene was like a verbal tennis match of sizzling dialogue as Karl trotted out his usual “You wouldn’t understand” line to Elise before being floored by her sucker punch response of “I understand: You want to have your cake, eat it and fuck the baker too.”
Karl & Elise, when not watching children being held hostage on the internet, this week devoted their energy to the idea that TT may be a policeman. This took them in the direction of a police training facility run by a company called ZP Holdings. I think. This was the part of The Tunnel which seemed a bit hazy this week. In an episode that was full to the brim with detail, dialogue and drama, the pursuit of TT as an excommunicated copper got a bit lost in the shuffle.
Definitely not lost this week though was the chance for Angel Coulby to show us what she could do with her character Laura Roebuck. Coulby was excellent at conveying the strain Laura is now under juggling a job, three kids and an unhelpful teenager while Karl sleeps on a sofa in a French police station. When Karl and Laura did finally share a scene this week, both Coulby and Dillane were superb at getting over the loathing and awkwardness between them. I let out an audible sigh and shook my head when Karl thought he could fix everything with a self righteous “I love you”, particularly as all it seemed to achieve was to push Laura toward John Sumner, the charming stranger she met earlier.
Previously we’ve seen The Tunnel build its episodes to a dramatic climax but nothing could have prepared us for that last act of episode seven. Unable to track down the location where TT was holding the children and their teacher hostage, Karl, Elise, and indeed the world, could only look on as the timer reached zero with the promise that now a child would die. As one child’s mechanical arm band released them and the black clad figure of TT strode towards the chosen victim, the boy unable to realise what was about to happen, this was heart-hammering-in-chest television of the highest calibre. The momentary relief when TT released the boy was destroyed only seconds later by the execution of the teacher. Shown to us with little sound as Karl and Elise viewed it online, this was an expertly crafted sequence and one of the best I’ve witnessed on television this year.
And we weren’t done there. Episode seven closed with our favourite tyrant journalist Danny Hillier finally getting his comeuppance in a manner befitting just how dastardly he was. Earlier it seemed as if Hillier was suffering from an attack of conscience following TT’s disposal of his latest overnight conquest but Hiller did an about turn when a book deal was dangled in his face. Had Hillier not signed that deal, would TT have spared him? We may yet find that out but for now all we know is we won’t have to suffer any more of his Miami Vice-style suit-wearing, Nuts magazine swagger.
We will miss Tom Bateman’s presence in The Tunnel as Hillier though. He might not find his way into TV’s despicable rogue gallery but his portrayal of the obnoxious reporter was a highlight of this show.
Lots of questions now hang over the three remaining episodes of The Tunnel. Now that TT has completed his truths, is he done? Will he disappear completely before Karl and Elise catch him? Can the show top the emotional overload of this episode? I’d say this ride is far from over.
Read James’ review of the previous episode, here.
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