Prime Suspect: “Bitch”
B+

Prime Suspect: “Bitch”

This was the kind of improvement that this show needs. The sexism angle is back, but it’s the more subtle 2011 flavor of sexism, rather than the blatant 1991 sexism of the first episode. The case of the week held some suspense.  It wasn’t hard to figure that the husband did it, but it was great seeing Timoney unravel how it happened. The case played into the theme of the story, with unspoken domestic violence against women representing the far side of the continuum from commonplace office sexism. The opening kicker of the bar robbery seemed a little false, but I freely admit that I have no experience with being held up in a bar and most likely have no idea what I’m talking about. Still, I was surprised that the hold-up guy made no attempt to mask his face, probably because I’m used to TV robberies where witnesses can identify any guy right away if they see his face. My main complaint about this episode is that the music cues still come on too strong. It would be nice if the producers would let their story unfold with less obvious or even diegetic music cues, but this is hardly a major complaint.

Let’s go back to the beginning. We open on Timoney in her dad’s bar, helpfully explaining that she is avoiding her boyfriend’s psycho ex. No knock on the actress, who is doing her best with the crappy material, but any episode without the one-note psycho ex is automatically going to pick up a partial letter grade. The barflies (and the camera) are drawn to a story on the TV about a missing woman with a butterfly tattoo, so even the least astute viewer will recognize that this is going to be a major part of this episode. As soon as I notice that one of the ladies in the bar is played by Louanne Stephens, who will always be Matt Saracen’s grandma, a guy pulls out a gun and robs the place. Timoney tells her dad that she’s not carrying her gun. The robber takes the till and then robs each patron, at one point roughly pulling a necklace from Mrs. Saracen’s neck and forever earning the beatdown he surely has coming in a future episode.  After the robber herds the patrons into the men’s room (amusingly, one of the patrons pauses to down her drink), they give Timoney crap about her uselessness. Timoney is characteristically self-righteous.

The sexism angle comes in with the robbery detective, one Detective Carolina Rivera, an attractive and flirty woman who plays up her looks, quite unlike the flinty and self-contained Timoney. Timoney hates her immediately. This is amplified when Rivera treats Timoney like any other witness rather than murder police. Later, when Rivera comes over to homicide to talk with Timoney, she is not only an old pal of Reg Duffy,Timoney’s sworn best frenemy!, but a hit with the wannabe alpha males in Timoney’s department. It is no wonder that when the younger woman reaches out to her, Timoney is uninterested in providing anything other than a minimal nod towards support.

The main story kicks in immediately after the bar scene when Timoney is summoned to the dump to investigate a body, one with the same butterfly tattoo as in the conspicuous news story from two minutes earlier. Did you catch that? The writers sure hope so. It’s easy to forgive the writers, though, when the next scene has the medical examiner pored over the badly beaten body of our victim of the week, repeating the phrase “you are more beautiful than the stars” along with her French language tape.

The case involves a much older husband who grieves a little too largely and publicly and an ex-lover who seems a little cagey. In past weeks, I have complained that the support cast from homicide have been written as incompetent fools who stand by while Timoney solves every case. This week, they have been rewritten as believably competent detectives who even have their own skill sets. In fact, Reg Duffy practically solves this case himself. The respect that her fellow detectives are willing to offer Timoney is far more realistic than their prior standoffishness, and it even feels somewhat earned. At one point, the detective who is most likely to be picked on by the rest of the squad (“Augie,” I think, but he’s their Jerry), tells her that she has the worst personality of anyone he’s ever met, and it is still a giant step forward from the mute contempt the squad had for her in previous episodes. There is a truly weird and wonderful scene where Timoney, Augie, and Detective Calderon (who might be her partner, although I am unsure) all try to figure out whether the husband could have run to SoHo and back in 25 minutes. This scene had that sense of risk that was missing last week. Her moment with her lieutenant, the thus-far underused Aidan Quinn, was quite strong, as he tells her to follow her gut and offers her a swig of “Jamestown” whiskey (can they not show Jameson on network TV?). Just about everything I know about police camaraderie comes from TV, but I suspect that the creators of this show have watched what I have watched, and this was quite a satisfying scene.

In short, despite my annoyance with the uneven writing in the previous two episodes, I find that am now pulling for Detective Jane Timoney, and that’s a sign of major improvement.  I’ve complained about the way that the show is playing too safe and too broad, but this episode broke that trend. Not completely, but enough. I’ve complained that the background players were too dumb and incompetent to be police in the big city, and this episode broke that trend. I’ve complained about the dullness of Timoney’s personal life, and this episode broke that trend. What I’m saying is that this was a pretty damn good episode, with the right mix of procedure and mystery and personal drama. If they keep making episodes like this, they may even earn the right to call this show Prime Suspect, and that is an excellent reason to watch this show. 

Stray observations: 

  • Another Justified actor in the ex-girlfriend, who played a small role in the most recent season.  Still, she was absolutely fantastic in her tiny role in this episode. Props to the casting director.
  • "Sometimes history doesn't exactly repeat itself, but it rhymes." Finally, a quotable line!

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