Now halfway through BBC One’s new five-part drama, this week’s episode of Doctor Foster catapults all the stories forward greatly, while providing startling revelations about life in the Foster household.
With Gemma now intent on divorce, her plan to bring her husband down has its own share of setbacks.
Suranne Jones continues to be excellent, but one has to worry about the road her character is taking. Her decision to sleep with Neil is a good move in terms of gaining collateral for blackmail and understanding the ‘pleasure’ in adultery (as explained by Neil) is eye opening yet it feels wildly out of character for a woman whose connection to the audience is sympathy over being cheated on.
That she then goes on to berate herself for cheating with her friend’s husband is tactical, not sympathetic. It’s one of many odd character choices that have plagued Doctor Foster since its first episode.
That said, we are still on Gemma’s side. She is vulnerable yet calculating and these elements, coupled with Jones’ subtle but powerful performance, make this a joy to watch, especially as she finally explains what she wants from all this:
“I want my son to stay living in the town he was born in. I want to keep the life that I choose, the job that I love…my dignity…my money and my house.”
Bertie Carvel is absolutely brilliant this week and put through the emotional wringer as the complicated, adulterous Simon. We continue to be assured that Simon is some sort of quietly duplicitous beast, especially as revelations surface of him liquidating Gemma’s assets to plough money into his building project. Going to so far as to re-mortgage the house (forging Gemma’s signature on the paperwork as he does so) might make Simon seem like a monster, but Carvel oozes pathos, so much so that we don’t outrightly hate Simon, which is a task in itself.
This is followed up by his mother’s tragic suicide though, which reduces Simon to a tearful, broken child. Carvel creates a character you can’t help but feel sympathy for. And though these events don’t justify his cheating, we are given the clearest rationale (in a beautifully theatrical monologue) for why he has been unfaithful:
“People say that the perfect story is that you meet this one person and fall completely in love and from that moment you don’t need anything else…despite the fact that the world keeps changing. People change as well.”
The final act ramps up many revelations. Aside from the death of Simon’s mother, Gemma is apparently slandered online, Anna has a hint of suspicion over Gemma and Neil, the complication of Kate’s baby is resolved as she terminates the child and Simon ends the affair. Gemma then decides, despite everything, not to go ahead with the divorce.
That everything is tied up so neatly by the episode’s end meant this could have been a three-part story of discovery and acceptance – but no, this is a revenge tale, by someone who needs to understand revenge first.
Hopefully the remaining two episodes will see Gemma less conflicted and going full steam ahead with her proposed divorce plans.
Aired at 9pm on Wednesday 23 September 2015 on BBC One.
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