Last week’s opening episode of The Secret – based on a true story – was gripping, tense viewing. And that’s about the greatest compliment you can pay to a story where the ending is out in the public domain – even though we knew that the lustful affair between Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan was going to end badly, we couldn’t help watching to find out how they were going to get to that disastrous point. If the first episode was all about fire and sex and internecine attraction, this second episode was gruesomely detailed and equally as engrossing.
At the end of the last episode, the seeds were sown in the back of their car (possibly the wrong turn of phrase, there) after another secret tryst, and now, suddenly, those seeds had grown into something more tangible. As ever, Colin used religion to convince Hazel that murdering Lesley and Trevor was the right thing to do. “We’d do it humanely,” he said softly, slightly simpering. “It’s what God would have wanted,” he teased. “God meant for us to be together.”
Once they had decided that they were going to do it, they met, once again, in the back of the car, this time reciting their plan with shallow, short, panting breathes, the lust of their sexual relationship mingling with their murderous intentions until it burst into frenzied, clothes-ripping sex. These elements of sex, lust and murder have always seemed to go together through the ages, and in Colin and Hazel’s case that toxic brew had addled their minds to the point there was no going back. They were going to murder two people in an astonishing volte-face that contradicted their God-fearing existence and they were headed on an inexorable path to damnation. Or, in Colin’s mind, some sort of warped salvation.
The rest of the episode saw Colin – mainly Colin – carry out the couple’s ‘perfect murder’. It was a grim, hard watch. First he took care of his long-suffering wife, Lesley. Since his affair came out, she had taken to drink and sleeping on the sofa; since the death of her father her drinking and unstable behaviour had, naturally, increased. Colin played on her state of mind perfectly. First, he attached a hose to the exhaust of his car in the garage, led it through to the living room where he slipped Lesley some tranquilisers and left the pipe in the living while she slept, hissing carbon monoxide. Except he didn’t, quite. In a telling expression of impatience and teeth-grinding, murderous reverie he heard her cough as soon as the carbon monoxide hit her lungs. Initially scared she was going to wake up, he leapt into the room and smothered her with all his disgusting might.
My mind was reeling as I watched. What a despicable fucker this man was. He couldn’t wait until the gas had done its work. No. With his own children asleep in the same house, he murdered his wife with his own bare hands.
I read that Colin and Lesley’s daughter had come out in the press this week criticising the programme makers for their depiction of Lesley. What do I know what she had been through, but judging this portrayal from a purely viewer point of view, to me all the sympathy lay with Lesley and, latterly Trevor – two innocent, caring, loving people who were willing to, if not forgive, at least forget their partners’ indiscretions. It was just a terrible shame that they were caught up in the kinetic maelström of Colin and Hazel’s relationship.
Coming at this from a technical point of view once again, I was impressed by the details that director Nick Murphy managed to imbue into the proceedings. Little details, like Lesley’s Walkman still playing her song after she had been murdered, not only added a chilling edge to the crime, but also humanised her further. Laura Pyper, who played Lesley, deserves credit for portraying her as a loving mother and a woman who, after everything that had happened to her, was starting to rebuild her life again.
As for Colin, it was onto Trevor. This time there was Hazel on the scene. As Colin went about his business in determined fashion, she stood, rooted to the spot, moving only in short, robotic steps as if she was afraid to tread anywhere. She didn’t know where to look; she was terrified. It was supreme acting from Genevieve O’Reilly. And yet she had agreed to this, she had slipped Trevor the tranquilisers and she had, after a moment’s pause, let Colin in through the garage.
At this stage I was thinking: a) how can you do something like this when children are still in the house? and b) what are the police going to say when both of these spouses turned up dead on exactly the same way on exactly the same night? Colin had the answers. He moved both bodies to Lesley’s fathers old place down by the sea, and arranged them in the car to look as though they had taken their own lives in a suicide pact, leading a new pipe from the exhaust into the cockpit and turning on the engine. He made it look like they had both killed themselves together.
As the dawn broke, he jogged and cycled home, the sun climbing above the Atlantic ocean behind him.
We had reached the top of the hill with The Secret, and the final two episodes will no doubt show the journey back down to the bottom for these two. The wakes and funerals served to snap Hazel out of her trance-like state; guilt starting to stab at her to the point she told Pastor Hansford she wanted nothing to do with Colin ever again.
In fact Pastor Hansford, perturbed by Colin’s strange behaviour, excommunicated him from the parish. And just then Colin Howell unravelled and revealed his true self – a pathetic sociopath who cared more about wealth and status than did about human feelings.
For our episode one review, go here