Every week, I say the same thing, more or less, about Prime Suspect. Every episode is a little better than before, but none are stellar. This episode is not that much better that the two prior ones, actually, but it is roughly as good. It is competent and satisfactory TV, but it is not brilliant. This is a journeyman show, made by smart people who are quite capable at their work, but the show rarely sparks. I have pointed out that multi-episode arcs and an overriding theme would help raise this show into the strata of greatness. Instead, little inessential plotlines are carrying over, but the show remains a murder-of-the-week procedural. It’s a little deflating to realize that, if this is as good as it gets, they have made a show with all the trappings of greatness, but they lack the vision to bring it out of mere adequacy. It reminds me of a steak I once had that the kitchen had apparently forgotten to salt before searing. As I bit into it, I thought about all of the talent that gone into that moment: the executive chef working his way up through kitchen after kitchen, the owner of the restaurant investing more money than I will ever see to provide a setting for the chef’s talent, the prep cooks who had trimmed this perfect cut of meat, the line staff with their hours of tutelage in just the right way to sear the crust while leaving the center pink and tender, the sous-chef who had manipulated the steak and vegetables just so for maximum visual appeal on my plate, and the waiter who had delivered it with professional courtesy and a friendly smile. All of that work and expertise gone to waste because the steak, unforgivably, lacked the simplest but most essential flavor for greatness.
After the obligatory Manhattan-from-a-helicopter porn, we cut right into a murder scene at a hotel. The deceased worked in hardware and is missing his laptop and cell phone. Timoney finds a tiny mystery bottle near a half-finished drink, and the investigation is on. We move immediately to the chief of security for the hotel, who is played, awesomely, by Robert Wisdom, an actor who will always to many of us be Bunny Colvin, the man behind Hamsterdam. (Those who don’t get that reference should stop hiding under their rocks and watch The Wire already.) Wisdom’s character here is named Reinholdt, I think, and he’s an old pal of Duffy’s. They chum it up a bit before Reinholdt suddenly throws out a pointed reference to Timoney’s old married boyfriend Costello. She’s annoyed, but before she goes, she gets a good picture of the hooker who drugged the deceased and she knocks Reinholdt’s breakfast onto the floor.
Then there’s a second guy who had a bad encounter with this hooker, a naval officer named Wells. Since Wells survived, I’m not entirely sure how the squad put it together that these were connected cases. But now they have another picture of her, and the second hotel security guy even tells Duffy off for being unprofessional when Duffy starts in about Timoney and Costello. Good for him. Timoney interviews Wells, who is a dignified man and rather ashamed of his actions. Not only did the hooker steal his dress blues, but he reported himself to naval security, which means that his career is probably over.
There’s a short scene with Timoney’s boyfriend and her dad at her dad’s bar. She’s upset about being razzed by the others over Costello, but her dad tells her that you cannot unmake a mistake. All you can do is atone. Good advice! But, unfortunately, Peter Gerety’s blarney Irish accent is even more pronounced now, so his good advice is delivered with a distracting and rather pushy lilt.
The squad learns that both the deceased and the naval officer were drugged with ketamine. Since Calderon and Augie both used to work narcotics, they come up with an informant who might be able to give them a name. This guy’s name is “Bugsy” (seriously), but I like this scene despite that name. It may be that I just like twitchy CIs. Augie and Calderon pretend to rough him up a bit in front of his friends, and then coax a phone number out of the guy with the suggestion that they might be able to slip him some of the ketamine after the bust. They then pretend that they’re going to beat him up a bit for realism, but it’s all a big joke. After they let him go, Augie gets a call: another dead man.
The third guy won big money at the races, and his friend who found him is devastated. This is my favorite part of the episode, because the friend really sells his tiny little part in a believable and memorable way. Unfortunately, IMDB has no listing for the friend and the actor doesn’t look familiar to me. Has he been in anything? His part was pretty juicy for a glorified extra.
The big money from the races is the fact that breaks the case. The veterinarian from the stables has a nephew, who has been stealing the ketamine, which is, after all, a horse tranquilizer, and selling it to his former cellmate. The cellmate gives it to his girlfriend, who is the murderous hooker. All three of them are going down. The good parts from this sequence include Timoney telling Duffy off for being a sad and lonely man who lives with his mother. There is an amazingly composed shot of the stable with beams of sunlight crossing the room that looks like it’s straight out of a Malick film. The nephew is not such a good actor, but I like how Timoney and Duffy stare him down when he tries to cut a deal. The scene where they nab the former cellmate is fun, although the guy’s headphones must be quite high-end to block out the sound of someone kicking in his door. The way that the detectives fake the polygraph test for the naval commander and the cellmate is also clever, even if a little reminiscent of the copier scene from The Wire and Homicide. The murderous hooker herself is a bit of a cipher, and the show dispatches her rather unceremoniously after giving the other actors plenty of time to show off. That’s a bit sexist. Someone should make a show about sexism.
I didn’t much care for the final scene between Timoney and the naval commander. It puts a neat little cap on her feelings about Costello that felt utterly artificial and unearned. I have more ambivalence about the shooting-gallery subplot. Of course she’s the best shot. Because of her relationship with guns and authority, that should go without saying. But the subtext there is that she is more man than Duffy, let alone the rest of the squad, because she’s a good shot. That seems to be the main reason she is repeating her shooting test at the same time as Duffy. This is kind of a bullshit point for Prime Suspect to make. Timoney doesn’t need to be more man than the other guys because she, first off, is not a man. What is important is that she is a good detective and a good cop, and the fact of her gender should not enter that equation. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to establish that she has poor rapport with children and does not much care for the touchy-feely aspects of her job. She doesn’t have the stereotypical female traits. But the show doesn’t need to give her stereotypical male traits in order to characterize her as non-feminine. What it needs to do is let her be a female cop on her own terms. It’s possible that I’m reading too much into this, which might have a lot to do with the lateness of the hour. Because of that, and because I am starting to ramble, this is where we’ll have to leave Prime Suspect for this week: with a Silver Jews song that earworms me whenever I hear the word “ketamine.” Hope the readers will love it like I do.
- One of the commenters complained last week about the episode numbers. Here’s the deal: the available information about which episode is going to air has been wrong pretty much every week. It’s difficult to get good information until the night of the show. For instance, most available sources listed this episode as “Gone To Pieces,” when it is “Shame,” which was supposed to air next week. I don’t have any inside information here, but it’s rarely a good sign when episodes air out of order and the publicity department is not keeping people notified.