Twists are a funny thing.
They’re de rigueur in psychological thrillers on the page – so-called domestic noirs – where each one seems to try and out-twist the next. There was no doubt a major twist(s) was going to come in The Cry, the BBC One adaptation of Helen FitzGerald’s novel (more of her on The Killing Times later this week), but I was interested to see whether it would come at the expense of the human stories being told. Twists can be so outlandish, far-fetched even, that they tend to overshadow the characterisation. It has often seemed to me that The Twist is everything in the domestic noir sub-genre, to the extent that the striving for such a jump-out-of-your-seat, adrenaline-hit moment can overshadow everything else.
And this would have been a shame if this happened in The Cry because that first episode built up a convincing portrait of a new mother on the edge. By the end of that opening installment, you had huge sympathy for Joanna (Jenna Coleman) even though the structure of the piece – with all its narrative jumps backwards and forwards – made her out to be something of an enigma: ultimately we had no idea if she was a wrong ‘un or not.
So to this second episode. The SOMETHING BAD WAS GOING TO HAPPEN© happened. Little Noah had disappeared from the back of the car (although, as many have pointed out, what Joanna was doing leaving a baby on its own in the back of a car beggared belief a little bit).
This episode focused on the emotional fall-out from the kidnapping. Alistair’s ex-wife Alex was being fitted up good and proper – especially when Noah’s DNA was found in her daughter’s bedroom and her movements before the kidnapping were being called into question – but it was at Alistair’s mother’s home where the real action was developing. Jenna Coleman’s performance as a woman in shock – so disorientated, helpless and shattered – was pretty incredible for the first half an hour or so. It was heartbreaking to see her go to pieces, clinging on to every small thing that kept her close to her son (including a little bib she lifted from the holiday apartment, which was now sealed off by the police). She was going through the mill, but such is the modern world and her desperation for information, she found a mobile phone, stole a charger from a shop and created a false profile so she could see what people were saying on social media.
They brought to life the voices from the ether very well, I thought – as Jo was reading the ‘the mother did it’ and ‘I feel so bad for that poor child’ posts, the posters appeared in the room with her, like apparitions. Strangers but friends or foes, which is social media in a nutshell. FitzGerald has, in her recent novels, shown a canny knack of mixing contemporary technology and news ways of communication in with her complex whodunits (check out Viral, for instance), and is obviously keen to explore human interaction in the 21st century. We’ve seen the depths humanity goes to – the strange fascination and subsequent lather people get into – when a high-profile child kidnapping takes place in the real world: people are quick to judge, quick to comment, quick to argue their case. Social media in these circumstances becomes an online equivalent of gossiping over the garden fence to your neighbour.
The glare of the global media and social media were taking their toll on Jo and Alistair. But Alistair – remember, his job back in Scotland is a highfalutin PR who specialises in crisis management – got to work on presenting he and his wife as victims for the throng. He coached her expertly in the lead up to the press conference (“They need to see a good mother crushed, not a bad mother hiding”), knowing that if they could get the public onside they… well, what? Look good? Gain sympathy? Or something else.
Two minutes to go.
Jo told Alistair “the rules need to change”. The rules? What rules? He carted her off to the garden to a private spot where no one could hear. He told her to follow the plan. They had a plan. The police were clever, he said, (the female police officer, by the way, was excellent in this episode), and they needed to stick to it.
A flashback: there was no baby in the car. Jo counted as if her life depended on it while Alistair went into the supermarket. She had a mark to hit. Once she had counted to the correct number, she was to follow him inside. There was no baby in the car.
They had planned it all.
But why? My initial feeling is that they had set it all up so that they could fit up Alex, get her out of the way and take Chloe back without a fight. It was ingenious, but also perverse and extremely risky.
But what of baby Noah? Had they hidden him somewhere? Had they… killed him?
We’re half-way through the series, and it was a bold move to go twisty-twisty this early. This tells me there may be more to come, and with the odd flashback to the court case, I do wonder if their devious plan will come back to haunt them.
We’ll see, but for now, the twist was expertly delivered and didn’t get in the way of the human, emotional impact. Except now we have to reframe the way we look at Joanna, and certainly Alistair.
It’s good stuff.
FOR OUR EPISODE ONE REVIEW CLICK HERE