The first two episodes of The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco really weren’t up to much and just about as by-the-numbers as you can possibly make a crime drama. And yet I still watch it – I like the amateur detective element, I like the idea that a group of women who were ace codebreakers during the war are now putting their skills to good use and solving crimes and, this being the mid-1950s, I love the period and the aesthetics and the sociopolitical ferment. So despite the pacing, construction of the narrative and the bargain-basement dialogue and budget, there’s just enough here for me to keep on keeping on.
Episode three was better. Not in leaps and bounds, but better. This time the theme was ‘women and their place’. We’ve seen in series like Mad Men that the life of a suburban housewife in 1950s America was a tricksy one – expected to stay at home and look after the kids while the husband worked all day to provide for them, their existence was one of status envy, hidden anxieties and bitchy get-togethers. Now, I’m not suggesting that this episode of TBC:SF was anywhere near as nuanced or as well written as Mad Men (it wasn’t) but some of these themes were explored.
None more so than the central mystery, which involved a married woman who Iris and Hailey knew from their Presidio days and who ended up dead, found in the middle of the road. The victim – Charlotte – liked a drink and was considered a loose cannon. The police thought it was suicide, but the Circle… well, you can guess what they thought (especially after they determined Charlotte was 10 miles away from home). The investigation continued in a very TBC:SF way: Iris and Hailey followed one lead and found some stuff out, Millie and Jean continued along another line of enquiry and found stuff out, and then the whole group occasionally got together to discuss what they had found out.
The first prime suspect was Charlotte’s husband, Howard, a meek, neat and mild man who fell in love with Charlotte because of her energy but grew to despise it. The Circle soon found that Charlotte had been in an illicit relationship with someone called J, and had been pilfering jewellery from the neighbourhood to keep up with the Joneses. A lead brought the Circle to a posh country club – where women were denied entry, naturally – and a meeting with J himself, an unpleasant lothario named James Crawford, ensued.
As ever in TBC:SF suspects were being built up and then knocked down again. But that theme just kept on coming – an old Presidio colleague of Iris and Hailey’s – Lydia – was the archetypal lady of leisure: she hosted cocktail parties, was all smiles, lipstick and conviviality on the outside but underneath this patina of perfection was a different story. Poor Lydia had a recent brush with mental illness. Iris, meanwhile, was fuming that Marcus was being posted to Vietnam and hadn’t told her about it (he also had the gall to demand that Iris stopped prying into these cases).
It’s still pretty average fare, but at least here, in episode three, there were things to grab a hold of.
FOR OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW CLICK HERE
FOR OUR EPISODE TWO REVIEW CLICK HERE