If you subscribe to the old adage of not speaking ill of the dead, then part one of ‘What Lies Tangled’ may not be for you.
Its unusually long opening montage ends with the explosive death of one Professor Adam Capstone and almost before the good folk of the Oxfordshire Constabulary Pathology department have picked up all the pieces it becomes clear that he wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea.
His wife (Zoë Tapper) can just about spare time before her next lecture to enumerate his infidelities (his wedding ring, included in his effects, is engraved ‘Always’ – “Occasionally would have been more accurate” she remarks). His laptop includes emails from his brother threatening to kill him. And the otherwise lovely Sarah Alderwood (Mali Harries) gets straight to the point when she says, “[he] was a shit.”
Then we have an ex-student/assistant who was less than happy (she “went batshit in the atrium” apparently) when the Prof (allegedly) stole her research. Another ex-student/lover ultimately took her own life after being (again allegedly) raped by him.
In fact there seems so much lined up against the recently deceased Professor that it’s almost the opposite of another old saying, “Too good to be true”. In this case, surely, the reviews present a picture that’s too bad to be true?
The one dissenting voice, perhaps oddly, is the father-in-law, played by the superb David Warner – it’s a deftly subtle performance, just see how he takes care to play the character as less co-ordinated after the enforced socialising at an afternoon soiree, than when Lewis first meets him earlier in the episode.
Even though it is his daughter that Professor Capstone had been continually cheating on Warner’s Donald Lockston is very calm about it all, almost as though it were primarily an exercise in self-discovery and character-building for her.
A more concrete ‘defence’ of the otherwise pilloried Professor is the fact that he was happy to let his potentially cancer-defeating research be ‘given away’ for free. “Adam didn’t seem to think that money was the issue,” observes Hathaway, and the brother caustically observes, “You never do when you have it.”
After the grotesque world of taxidermy in the first story, and the obscure theology and alchemical works of the second, the third story in this series of Lewis is much more run-of-the-mill, pedestrian even.
With its opening shots of Oxford streets and of various characters turning up for another day at the office, it’s a far less striking start than a stuffed magpie or an S&M nightclub. And rather than a body dumped down a well or speared to a tattooist’s chair, it’s a letter-bomb that kills Adam Capstone.
It’s a shame that this final season of Lewis is so short because we just get used to having them around before they’ve gone again. It also means that the potentially interesting subplots of, for example, Hathaway’s relationship with his father, which has been unevenly handled across the first two stories, is paid little more than lip service here– we know there’s only one more episode next week and consequently we know that it’s not really going anywhere.
Likewise Lewis and Laura’s planned trip to her family in the antipodes (although by the sound of it Lewis is getting cold feet about the whole thing, so that really may not be going anywhere at all).
Even whatever’s going on with DS Maddox (Angela Griffin excellent as ever, if a little underused) and her long-distance boyfriend is unlikely to conclude with anything more than a passing comment.
Thankfully the detective side of things is more satisfying – arriving at the brother’s house Lewis and Hathaway find he has received a letter bomb himself, and shortly afterwards the episode ends with a bang. With one episode to go, let’s hope the series doesn’t end with a whimper.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 3 November 2015 on ITV.
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