Hathaway’s search for some kind of personal redemption comes to a head in this two-parter; his father’s health is deteriorating, it’s time to clean out the house, and his waspish sister is on hand to remind him that he was never there when the old man needed him.
More to the point, a college dean, Phillip Beskin (Martin Wenner) has been found dead in the woods after attending a fractious lecture on Charles Williams, the lesser-known of the Inklings group which included JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis. But why’s the corpse decorated with maggots, a dead raven, and alchemical poetry?
Even Maddox can make jokes about Tolkein – the argument was hardly the Battle of Helm’s Deep, she quips – but the alchemical bit is a bit deep even for Hathaway. The quote is from The Rosary of the Philosophers (Rosarium Philosophorum Sive Pretiosissimum Donum Dei), a 16th-century alchemical treatise, and like all this sort of stuff it seems to refer to some sort of death and rebirth.
Beskin was evidently lured to his death by a suicide threat text message from student Gina Doran (Isabella Laughland) , but his wife Grace (Serena Evans) and sister Carina (Honeysuckle Weeks) can’t shed any light, no more than can colleagues Dax and Annapurna Kinnison (Wil Johnson, Syreeta Kumar). But Carina’s involved with Beskin’s student Sam.
Gina Doran is found in a college room covered in blood and vomit, but as you can’t dust for vomit, that’s not much help. Beskin’s wayward student Nate Hedesan (Jaygann Ayeh) is clearly hiding something, though.
Hathaway reads up on Charles Williams’ doctrine of co-inherence, which states that believers can share experience through a sort of mystical possession, giving them the power of divine forgiveness; is this the meaning of the trinity tattoo on Beskin’s chest, and did he get it at the tattoo parlour where Gina works? Certainly tattooist Jay Fennell (Daniel Flynn) bears the same tattoo, as does Annapurna Kinnison, but why?
Beskin has argued with Wouter Eisler (Stephen Boxer), an expert on alchemy, who explains that the maggots and raven represent Nigredo, the first of four stages of the alchemical regeneration known as the Magnum Opus, or Great Work. So we suspect that there are further murders to come to complete the process. Eisler seems to know more about Beskin’s death than he lets on, and who is the mysterious Chen to whom his books are dedicated?
Hathaway figures out that the tattoo is the symbol of the Companions of Co-Inherence, a society set up by Charles Williams and referred to in Beskin’s e-mails, and Lewis theorises that the next step in the Magnum Opus is Albedo, some form of female sacrifice.
The shadowy Companions have indeed reformed, and are carrying out some form of ritual of forgiveness involving Annapurna Kinnison. She survives the process, and recommends it to Carina.
Hathaway and Maddox follow Nate to an S&M club, but lose him, and in the morning Annapurna is found drowned, with an alchemical poem nailed to the post to which she’s tied.
This being Oxford, it’s a surprise that we haven’t had a plot based on alchemy or Charles Williams before (the other Inklings have been done to death). Whatever the motivation for the murders, it is surely something to do with unexpiated guilt, and we sense that we haven’t yet been given the crucial history which will point to the murderer.
Whoever is guilty, Hathaway is going to feel the burden of his own guilt – and we can’t quite work out why he’s now so reluctant to see his obviously declining father.
With Lewis planning a six-month visit to Australia, Hathaway may be left alone to wallow – and we don’t think that the combined attractions of Maddox and Moody are going to pull him back this time. No, when Hathaway’s father pegs out, we reckon it will take him over the edge, or back to the seminary. Either way, there’s going to be some sort of alchemical transformation of the Oxford police force.
For our episode one review, go here
For our episode two review, go here