Full marks to Angela Griffin as DS Maddox when she almost gets away with the line, “It says here under occupation he was a Practicing Alchemist” in the concluding part of ‘Magnum Opus’.
Despite the absurdity of the comment she gives it the same lightness of touch that less convoluted police dramas would give to “Male caucasian, five two, brown hair, blue eyes” – and credit to all concerned, Lewis and Hathaway were almost out the door before I started giggling.
To be fair, Lewis looks and feels like such a class act that more often than not it gets away with the occasional lapse. Perhaps the real skill of the actor and the scriptwriter lies in those moments where the need to wrap up the plot, or clarify a detail, or just to hit the ad break on a high, calls for pragmatism over artistry. It’s not a criticism as such – if the viewer doesn’t spot it then the trick has worked.
Unquestionably more confident is the plotting, as last week’s various threads (alchemy, the tattoo parlour, the university, Charles Williams’ theology) begin to knot together. The key on which the plot turns is the ‘forgiveness ritual’ of the Williams acolytes, and with a skilled hand on the keyboard, the writer (Chris Murray) steers clear of putting flesh on the bones.
It’s unlikely that showing us the detail of the supposed ritual would make it seem anything less than absurd, but here by a simple shot of Hathaway poring over detailed pages of religious scribblings, we’re more or less sold on the concept of a ceremony that transfers sin and guilt from one person to another.
It’s important to the plot, and thus important that we believe it however nonsensical – and we do. The killer turns out to be motivated by the death of his father some years before, but in a neat variation on the theme these aren’t revenge killings per se. The killer’s objection is to those involved freeing themselves of their guilt: “It’s not for them to decide when they’re forgiven!” he cries when the detectives finally catch up with him.
The alchemy, given such significance last week, turns out to be largely a red herring with the killer having adopted it as a motif for his murders simply because his father was passionate about it (him being a practicing alchemist don’t you know).
Less satisfactory, alas, is the attempt to shoehorn in a bit of character development for the regulars – you can almost hear the negotiations for a ninth season, with a concession from the producers to let the characters of Lewis and Hathaway go on ‘a journey’.
So we have the bubbling-under promise-cum-threat of Lewis and Laura going off around the world; more to the fore we have Hathaway’s family problems. With only three stories, and some murderous goings on to resolve, there just isn’t the space to give time to these personal tales – and it’s a shame, as the season opener’s scenes between Hathaway and his Dad were very moving.
In ‘Magnum Opus’ Hathaway senior’s presence is reduced to a black and white photo, and the sister to a shrill voice on the end of the phone. The story ends, though, with perhaps a hint of sibling reconciliation as Hathaway plans to take his sister away for the weekend… to a silent theological retreat.
Given which, it’s entirely possible that the victim in next week’s final story could easily be Hathaway himself. Now that really would be absurd!
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 27 October 2015 on ITV.
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