The opening titles montage for ‘One for Sorrow’ ends with a dead animal stuffed and returned to the approximation of life, as a masked Magpie is placed by the grave of a squirrel.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to cynically claim this as an appropriate metaphor for Lewis, the improbable spin-off where a supporting character is returned to life once more. And doubly so now that we are at the start of Season 9, two years on from the definitively final, last ever season which saw Lewis (Kevin Whatley) retire from the force.
The trademark opening sequence presents us with such disparate elements as taxidermy-as-art, a college lecture on the Victorian obsession with freaks, and the discovery of a body down a well. As usual these apparently separate strands of story gradually merge as the episode progresses: the artist is found murdered in a flat she rented from the college lecturer, and he is also a taxidermist (a lovely guest performance by Tim Pigott-Smith).
While Hathaway and Maddox investigate this, Lewis himself takes on the rather duller case of the body in the well, using old-fashioned dogged determination to narrow down the identity of the victim.
It’s an episode steeped in death, in the decline of life, and not just in the obvious detail of two murders. Taxidermy is a creepy fakery of life; we meet Hathaway’s father moved into a residential home due to his dementia; and it’s even apparent when the cool new Chief Superintendent Moody (“Call me Joe”) contrives to edge out the (in his view) old and past-it Robbie Lewis.
The latter day decision to serialise each story as hour-long episodes over two weeks is a move that only really suits ITV, who get a six week run out of the show instead of the former three, and in general the midway ‘cliffhanger’ has felt a little arbitrary. But here, whether by accident or design, it comes at just the right point in the story.
As a savvy, switched-on, modern TV audience we know that the two separate investigations will be connected, even if we don’t know how. Offering to help Hathaway out by sifting through hours of performance art footage of the dead artist, Lewis suddenly sees the face of his body in the well, filmed being beaten and then apparently killed.
It’s a perfect moment to end on, the point at which the story changes – and it’s only enhanced by the fact that we saw just a moment of that self-same footage right at the top of the episode as part of (to quote the taxidermy artist) “taxidermy meets pop-art”.
There’s a comfortable familiarity to Lewis, it’s a measured and slow-burning production and the audience knows what it’s getting. And although Lewis himself isn’t as charismatic a lead character as Morse, this spin-off has wisely never tried to change that – it’s always been more of a ‘group effort’ and even more so since last year’s addition of a third detective to the mix.
The rumour is that this is the final season (although we have heard that before…) but even if it is, it’s nice to get one more run with the uniformly strong regulars: Hathaway (Lawrence Fox), Laura (Clare Holman), and Maddox (Angela Griffin), with Kevin Whatley as superb as ever in the unshowy lead role.
It’s a shame to have lost Rebecca Strong from the cast but her replacement (Steve Toussaint), with his first-name informality and hands-on involvement at ground level looks like he may well add some enjoyable friction to the mix.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 6 October 2015 on ITV.
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