Prime Suspect: “Underwater”
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Prime Suspect: “Underwater”

O Prime Suspect, we hardly knew ye! Or did we know ye too well? Hard to say. The point is that the amount that we knew ye was not optimized, Pareto or otherwise. You were better than bad, better than mediocre even, but you never quite reached the sainted hallmark of good. Episodes in recent weeks have shown improvement, but “shown” and “improvement” are not the words that teachers write on the report cards of their best students. You generally strove hard for greatness, though, and there’s some honor in that. I say “generally,” though because this week’s episode was a stinker, shot through with clichés that undermined the tension it was so desperate to whip up. There are a few more episodes before the inevitable, and I hope that the remainder will stick with the realism of the series to date. I’ve been generally favorable of the show, and I’d hate to see it go out with this sort of indignity.

“Indigity?,” you might say indignantly, if you, Prime Suspect, were an entity with a single consciousness able to engage in a conversation with a critic rather than a TV show made by a lot of different people and thus unable to prevent yourself from being personified on this, the same date that NBC has announced that it has shut down your production. Right, indignity. This episode included city cops unhappy to be working out in the country, a corrupt small-town deputy, a killer chasing women down an unlikely darkened hallway, a kid in trouble who awakens the crusty old heart of Our Hero, lots of tinkly piano music when a Very Special Moment is on the make, a redneck cutting up an animal with a huge knife while demanding that the authorities get off of his land, and—well, fuck, do you want to know why Justified is a better show? I mean, after all, it is just a procedural, too, right? It plays around with some of these same hackneyed plot devices, right? But Justified doesn’t play them straight. It blows up clichés rather than reveling in them, and it’s funny, and it gives its characters enough definition so that even the ones who don’t appear in every episode have good lines, a clear backstory, and some individuality. Eight episodes in, and I’m still struggling to remember last names for Edvard and Augie and a first name for Calderon. I could look them up, but the point is that I should not have to. I’ve been here with you since the beginning! And I shouldn’t have to wonder why a show that started out being about a lady cop who is fighting against her coworkers’ ingrained sexism has stooped, only eight episodes in, to having her in the role of the hunted lady from slasher films. Raylan Givens doesn’t get hunted in darkened hospital hallways with flickering lights. His shoot-outs generally happen out in the broad daylight. I mean, seriously: You were trying to back away from the sexism angle, and you backed right into the most gendered hack role where you could set Timoney. Sure, you could say she shoots the guy, so she’s a tough lady in the scary situation like, say, Buffy Summers was. However, Jane Timoney is no fantasy gender-reversal tough kid fighting against metaphors in the ’90s. She is supposed to be a trained NYPD detective and a crack shot. She doesn’t belong in the Jamie Lee Curtis role from Halloween II. It’s only a minor relief that Duffy didn’t arrive to save the day by shooting the guy himself.

Rant over. Here’s what happened this week. In the opening scene, a girl is watching TV while Timoney and Duffy, all backlit in a nicely composed shot, try to talk to her gently. The background is swarming with police, so she is clearly the survivor of a killing. When they head over the murder scene where her slaughtered parents lay, the script nicely points out that this is not a good hotel with a little chat amongst the officers about bedbugs. Because the lobby is swarming with press, Duffy sneaks the girl out in a linen cart with Timoney also in there to keep her calm. There’s another good scene with Augie, Edvard, and Calderon trying to imagine how the killing came about and guessing that there may be gloves and a print in the stairway.

Timoney and Duffy are tapped to take the girl home to her remote village in the Appalachian part of upstate New York. They are surprised when the girl, who has said nothing so far, blesses her food in the diner. There are a few scenes of the lovely landscape they are driving through, and if you squint, you can see Tony Soprano strangling a rat in the background. Upon arriving, they learn that the girl’s family was quite poor, with the husband out of work for over a year, and that the sheriff has just foreclosed on them. Back in the city, the remaining detectives discover that the family was trying to contact a dealer to sell him a suitcase full of OxyContin. Just to be clear, what has happened to this fictional family is that they were so desperate that they turned to crime to try to prevent their home from foreclosure, but, as with the heartrbreaking story in the last episode of the mother who accidentally killed her little boy, the scripts creates a realistic tragedy and then sweeps it under the rug.

Timoney takes the little girl, whose name is Amanda, swimming at her pool, and the tinkly piano music announces that the little girl is about to talk about what happened. She saw the killer, to no one’s surprise. Meanwhile, Duffy engages in some great police work by facing down the pharmacist who Amanda’s mom worked for. The pharmacist finally admits that he received illegal Canadian OxyContin from a guy named Mark Plotdevice. Mark is the aforementioned redneck using an improbably large knife to slice up something dead in his front yard. He demands that the detectives get off his property, and Duffy is rather fearless and awesome with him. He sends a picture to Timoney, but the girl says that Mark is not the killer. Mark redneck-ishly storms to his truck and drives off. Later, back at the hotel, someone starts shooting at Amanda, Timoney, Duffy, and the sheriff. Amanda is hit, and yes, they shot a child on this show. Timoney sneaks out the back to try to flank the guy, but he gets the drop on her. Luckily, Duffy appears out of nowhere and takes the guy out. Again, no one is surprised when the shooter is Mark. Why Mark thought that he could shoot at trained police over and over again during a prolonged period is a mystery. What was his goal? To shoot all four of them? Why did he keep shooting once they were on the move? If only he were a little less of a plot device and more of a character, we could hazard a guess, but at this point, there is no telling.

They get Amanda to the hospital and there is a nice moment between Duffy and Timoney when the girl goes into the operating room. It reminds me a bit of the scene between Rawls and McNulty when Kima was shot on The Wire, but that show had done a lot more to establish the mutual hatred between those two than this show has done for Duffy and Timoney. Anyway, Duffy goes to search Mark Plotdevice’s house for evidence of an accomplice. I have decided at this point that the accomplice is the sheriff because he is the only other person who has spent any significant amount of time on-screen, but I was wrong. It is the sheriff’s deputy, who was in a single scene some time before and who has just arrived at the hospital with a shotgun. For some reason, the hospital decides to move post-surgical Amanda, who is already awake, into the Abandoned And Possibly Haunted Wing Where Cellphones Do Not Work, and the deputy goes along in the front, singing a little song about how lucky he is. Unfortunately for him, Amanda spots his face in a convenient mirror and cues Timoney that he is the killer. There is a short face off between the two but it is cut short by fast-closing and impregnable elevator doors.

The elevator doors stay closed for many minutes while Timoney, Amanda, and a nurse/orderly who does nothing but complain have time to escape. They hide. The orderly continues to bitch about being in this situation, pointing out that she wasn’t supposed to work this shift, and moreover, she’s three days from retirement, getting too old for this shit, and really resents the red shirt that the staff makes her wear. Despite all of this, nobody shoots her. Timoney, who is, remember, a crack shot, even hands the lady her gun while she carries Amanda. So, the hall is dark, the lights a-flickering, and the killer guy does a half-methodical search that includes completely vanishing into the ether for a little while. Oh, and the emergency exit is chained off, forcing the ladies and the hurt child to go back down through the hallway of doom twice. I’ve already mentioned my problems with this segment ad nauseum. One more point, though: the deputy's plan is idiotic. He’s going to shoot a little girl, a nurse, and a police detective with the only shotgun in the hospital when people know that he’s the guy in the hospital with a shotgun? How does he plan to get away with this?

Speaking of nauseam, after Timoney take the guy out and the sheriff tells Timoney and Duffy in so many words that they are assholes who should leave town as fast as possible, Timoney stops in to give the little girl an unhealthy dose of saccharine. She tells the girl about losing her own mother and tells the girl to call her any time, but it comes across as so much twinkly piano music. We’re supposed to be impressed about her growth, I guess, because she tells the girl that she doesn’t like many little people, but Amanda is okay by her. It comes across as the fakiest of fakey fake speech-making, and narcissistic as hell. I mean, this little girl found her family slaughtered, was chased through a stupid horror scenario by a clichè wrapped in an enigma and carrying a shotgun, and somehow it’s all about Timoney’s growth as a person? Blah. 

Filed Under: TV, Prime Suspect

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