So far in this engrossing and sickening four-part drama we’ve seen the hot flushes of lust in pious, manipulative Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan’s nascent, illicit affair twist into buckled, murderous actions. Now we got to see how these two damned souls try to move on with their lives. If they could at all.
It should be noted – and I mentioned this in last week’s review – that this drama is causing some controversy, and this week an MP raised the question in the House Of Commons whether a subject so sensitive and so raw should be made into a series so soon after the events unfolded. The Prime Minister, apparently, has instructed his Culture Secretary to look into it. ITV rebutted the criticisms, saying it had used a hugely respected book as its source material as well as undertaking extensive extra research to get it right. For me, I understand that the families must be going through an extraordinarily difficult time watching this and it’s easy to make an argument that this is too close time-wise to the real events, but as a viewer I think the programme makers have done as good a job as they could’ve done, and I’m only ever coming out of this experience with contempt for Colin Howell and Hazel Buchanan.
So to the episode.
The seeds of Colin and Hazel’s relationship disintegrating were sown at the end of last week’s instalment, but this week we saw what really happened. And if you thought murdering your spouses so your own relationship could flourish unhindered was screwed up, what they got up to post-murders escalated even further into the realms of madness.
Hazel has always been framed as the sympathetic character in this relationship, prey to Colin’s religiously-flavoured manipulations and heavy emotional and spiritual blackmail. After all they had done, the guilt began to gnaw away at her like a maggot on a cadaver. And yet she still continued her affair with Colin, despite everything she felt and the forgiveness that was being shown to her by Trevor’s family. Her level of complicity still made me scratch my head and repeatedly ask, “WHY?”
One night Colin, after not hearing from Hazel for days, pulled on his tracksuit for one of his night-time visits to Hazel’s house. He laid it on thick, and told her that God had told them wanted to be together and he was hoping that God would give Hazel to him to be the mother to his children. As the jury in court returned verdicts of suicide, the two had sex in Hazel and Trevor’s marital bed, and laid there afterwards in the warm afterglow. It looked as though they had gotten away with it.
It was one of a few jaw-dropping scenes in the episode: a tender, explicit sex scene inter-cut with a jury’s findings, the murdered families awaiting the verdict. Some may argue it was insensitive, but this technique and level of explicitness served to remind us how delusional the couple were – with everything swirling around them in the real world, they were still in their little bubble. They didn’t care about anything and anyone other than themselves.
Their lives began to intertwine again. There were shared family outings with the kids to the woods, Colin playing the playful and dutiful father figure. During one of them Hazel’s daughter told her mother that she was missing her dad and asked her why he wanted to die. Hazel, naturally, felt like it was a difficult question to answer.
The guilt stepped up a notch.
Colin whisked her away to a country retreat for a child-free dirty weekend. He was up for sex, sex and more sex but when he began to undress her on the bed she abstained and locked herself in the toilet, Colin incredulous and crest-fallen on the other side of the door, once again pulling out his tried and trusted “but God wanted us to be together and he will forgive us for his sins” and even quoting passages from the Bible.
The guilt, even more intense now.
Their relationship then took a turn for the even weirder and, frankly, incredible. They realised that Colin wanted sex, and Hazel didn’t (or at least she wanted sex but didn’t want to feel anything) so they came up with an astonishing compromise – in their bedroom, Colin injected Hazel with one of his dentist anaesthetics, which rendered her unconscious. He arranged her lifeless limbs on the bed to his liking, and had sex with her. It was almost a necrophiliac act, and she knew it, muttering after the act, “this is so wrong”. As he dressed, he tossed some house-keeping money onto the table. “I don’t want your money,” she said through offended, gritted teeth.
From that moment the relationship was over.
We then watched as their lives went off in different directions. Using clever montages and flash forwards we saw how Hazel had met another man and re-married, while Colin, using his Baptist church group to meet new people, had latched onto American woman Kyle Jorgensen, who he later married.
In yet another astonishing scene, as Colin brought Kyle back to the family home with a new baby, he chose to tell her at that moment that he had murdered Lesley and Trevor, and that now he had confessed his sins he was ready to provide and look after his new wife and baby (protection and provision are the two things Colin seems to be hooked on most). She couldn’t believe the words that he just spoken and was staggered (you would be too, right?) and with Kyle frantically trying to take everything in and not have a breakdown, he chirped away about the forgiveness of sins and cleverly told her that he could do with the information what she liked, but if she did go to the police she would have a lot of children to look after and get not a penny. Kyle chose to keep schtum.
Colin Buchanan is a piece of work, alright. We saw him sexually abuse one of patients as she was under anaesthetic in his dentist’s chair (if you read the reports this was a regular occurrence), his arrogance and selfishness knowing no bounds (as if we didn’t know that already). With nine children and a wife, it seems a leopard doesn’t change his spots.
As they greyed and grew older, both in their respective new worlds, Colin and Hazel bumped into each other randomly at a hotel. Colin’s reaction was to go back to his business; Hazel’s was to go upstairs and vomit in her hotel room toilet. We saw throughout the episode what Hazel’s breaking point was, and why it was, but throughout I was wondering what and when Colin’s would be and come. Both turned out to be close to home.
Attending university in Russia, his eldest son Matthew fell to his death down a stairwell in his dormitory. On returning home, Colin’s relationship with his cherished God began to turn into a tortured one. We last saw him wade into the sea, remonstrate with the heavens like a preacher about to baptise himself, asking his God that if He had punished him for his sins, it was now time to completely wash them away and form a new life within him.
It was another hugely powerful scene in a long list of hugely powerful scenes in this episode. I’m hugely sympathetic to members of the families who were caught up in this horrid case, but from a purely objective point of view this was seriously good stuff – from the direction and, particularly, the acting. James Nesbitt has never been better, but it’s Genevieve O’Reilly who has stolen the show here – her nuanced portrayal of a fractured, almost childlike woman has been an absolute winner and hugely affecting. In some ways I don’t want to see how this ends because it’s occasionally too difficult to watch, but in many others I do – because I want to see these two heinous creatures get their comeuppance.
For our episode one review, go here
For our episode two review, go here