What Remains episode 2 review

What Remains develops into a compassionate, insightful drama in its second episode...

This review contains spoilers.

At the end of last week’s opener, I wondered what could come to distinguish What Remains from every other corpse-fancying, revolving suspect-wheel murder mystery on TV. With its reflections on loneliness and friendship, episode two provided my answer. What Remains stands apart because of its compassion.

Now the morgue drawer has shut on that horrid decomposed-neighbour prop, the second hour of the series felt a great deal less sensationalised, and a great deal more humane.

The identity of DI Len Harper’s cliff-hanger assailant was revealed early on this week to be Mr Sellers’ curious house-guest, Liz Fletcher, trespassing in Melissa’s flat. “Bad things happen” when Liz goes to the top floor, Mr Sellers chastised her, a tease that will no doubt be explained in a future flashback. We also learnt that, amongst other items, Liz is in possession of Melissa’s laptop. Unlike Michael, we didn’t learn why Liz is living with Mr Sellers. Is her former teacher her jailor or protector?

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The set design certainly suggests the former. By giving Sellers the lower ground floor flat, his every return home is enacted like like a horror movie-descent into a creepy basement. Such early insistence on Sellers’ villainy though, is almost certainly leading us down the wrong path in the search for Melissa’s killer. TV teaches us to look for culprits where they’re least expected, by which logic, Steven Mackintosh’s everyman Kieron should be whom the smart money’s on at this point.  

A real comfort about What Remains’ many mysteries is that we’ll find out in just two episodes’ time. All things being well, DI Harper (whose somnolent drawl and dry sense of humour had a touch of Bill Nighy about it this week), Vidya and Michael’s vigilante investigations are going to bear fruit in just a couple of hours. Who doesn’t love a bit of low-commitment gratification in their whodunit?

What’s especially satisfying about What Remains is that its fashionable jiggering about with chronology (I think that’s the technical term) serves a real narrative purpose. It lets its story unfurl a section at a time, colouring our judgement and informing our understanding of the characters and their relationships. Back and forth we go, shuttling between the present day and Melissa’s past dealings with the residents of 8 Coulthard Street, or more properly, the suspects.

Speaking of whom, the cast continues to be solid. Episode two showcased the always reliable Indira Varma as nasty neighbour, Elaine, and introduced Victoria Hamilton as her girlfriend, Peggy, another character who, like young Liz, is under the power of a more forceful personality.

The drinks party was a classic Poirot trick, uniting the potential culprits to spot any guilty faces. The picture wasn’t complete of course, as two suspects – Liz and the Irish émigré – weren’t present. What was revealed neatly by that scene though, was how judgmental the residents were of one another. The neighbours judged one another for being too fat, too young, too geeky, too much of a loner, gay… No, none of them is particularly sympathetic, but their attitudes to one another were uncomfortably recognisable. Tell me they weren’t.

Labelled everywhere as a ‘state of the nation’ drama, the social themes What Remains chooses to present aren’t glamorous or photogenic. The murder-hook aside, it leaves sex, drugs and violence largely alone, instead focusing on isolation and mundane interactions. (Len’s spark plug and whisky disappointment brings up the real issue of male loneliness amongst a generation in which the tendency was for women to arrange a couple’s social diary). It prompts its audience to consider their own peripheral relationships with neighbours and acquaintances. We’re asked to reflect on our public and private faces, and what we mean to the lives of the people we pass on the stairs. It’s gently, surprisingly provocative stuff.

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Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.

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