The persecuted man desperate to prove his innocence. The father willing to do anything to protect his child. These are familiar setups, returned to time and again in crime fiction due to their simplicity and power. There are only so many ways these stories can end, and fans of the genre have no doubt seen them all; but when they’re executed well, few narratives are as engaging and satisfying. Prey, BBC America’s latest U.K. import, takes on these popular tropes in miniseries form, following Detective Sergeant Susan Reinhart (Rosie Cavaliero) as she spearheads two tense manhunts, first to find escaped murder suspect Detective Constable Marcus Farrow (John Simm) and then to find prison officer Dave Murdoch (Philip Glenister), who has gone on the run with an inmate.
Originally aired on ITV in 2014 and 2015, Prey benefits tremendously from its short episode order. While season-long crime serials are a popular genre, it’s rare to find one that doesn’t lose steam mid-season or take so many twists and turns it winds up a convoluted mess. With only a few episodes to fill per season, both mysteries remain tense throughout, each new wrinkle adding to the suspense before ultimately paying off nicely in the finale. Rather than a 10- to 22-episode marathon, these are three-episode sprints, and that pace is reflected in the energetic direction and performances.
From the opening moments of the first case, the camera follows DC Farrow closely, putting the viewer in his frantic shoes as he weighs his options and ultimately decides to run. Suspense reigns as Farrow struggles to uncover what has happened to him and how a vague threat made against him while working a cold case has led to his being framed for murder. While DS Reinhart is the connective tissue between the two manhunts, John Simm is very much the lead of the first three episodes, and he gives a powerful, affecting performance. There is a touch of the super-cop to Farrow, but on the whole Simm keeps him grounded and believable, his trauma palpable. Creator and writer Chris Lunt keeps a tight focus on Farrow, tying the narrative to him whenever possible and adding personal stakes throughout, making the climax feel like a culmination of events, rather than a mere escalation.
While Farrow is a traditional wrong-man hero, Reinhart breaks somewhat with convention, a smart and dedicated—but not superhuman—detective initially convinced of Farrow’s guilt. Unlike her uber-competent and often perfectly coiffed female counterparts, Reinhart is introduced as a mess, hung up on her ex-husband and constantly negotiating her relationship with junk food. She’s out of shape—adding a level of believability to the footchases—and gruff with her coworkers. She’s also dogged in her pursuit of Farrow, and that determination keeps the audience in her corner, rooting for her to work it out and unravel both mysteries. Cavaliero is fantastic in the role, bringing humanity and relatability to Reinhart’s most unlikable moments and making her a counterpoint, rather than antagonist, to the people she’s pursuing.
Sharing the second mystery with Reinhart is Dave Murdoch, a prison officer who spends his free time doing community theater and taking care of his daughter, who is eight months pregnant. When he gets a call that his daughter has been abducted, Murdoch follows the abductor’s order to break inmate Jules Hope out of custody. He evades Reinhart and the police with Hope (his only leverage) in tow, desperately searching for his daughter.
Prey’s second mystery has the difficult task of following the first and on the whole, it suffers in comparison. Lunt favors a more complicated and sprawling narrative for the Murdoch case, rather than the pared-down approach of the Farrow investigation, which makes it less impactful. Glenister is solid as Murdoch, but the character’s lack of agency and the decision to spend more time with Reinhart, who is the lead this time, rather than a supporting figure, leaves Murdoch somewhat under-explored. Despite this, the case is compelling and ultimately satisfying, and the shift to focusing on Reinhart gives the series a strong center to build from, should it continue.
These strong performances are matched with excellent direction from Nick Murphy, who directs the Farrow arc, and Lewis Arnold, who directs the Murdoch arc. Both directors let the quiet moments breathe and find easy humor in the scenes set before each case’s instigating incident. The scenes spent getting to know Farrow, Murdoch, and Reinhart outside of their manhunts pay significant dividends later on and both directors wisely take their time with them. Once the action starts, however, it propels forward, and Murphy’s direction in particular keeps the Farrow case breathless and intense, commanding the audience’s attention.
Despite its familiar premise, Prey is an engrossing, dynamic series, a testament to the sturdiness of the tropes it’s driven by as well as Lunt’s ability to play with and execute ideas so many have others explored. Writers are constantly looking for new stories, but there is a reason certain narratives return to the public consciousness time and again, an inner truth or fear they speak to that keeps them relevant and makes them all the more affecting—when told well. One need not throw out the rulebook to engage compellingly with universal themes. With its attention to character and visceral direction, Prey is a worthy addition to the wrong-man canon, and a series crime fans should seek out.