And now we get to the real nitty gritty in Dark Heart, Chris Lang’s adaptation of Adam Creed’s Staffe novels.
After last week’s re-shoot of the pilot episode, this second two-part story was the first real ‘new’ episode, and I was interested to see how things had moved on since that original pilot. Hal was a bit older, but things were still more or less the same – it was perfunctory, by-the-numbers stuff, which followed a very well-worn trajectory and investigative path.
This week’s story revolved, initially, around a migrant nurse who was found poisoned on a tube station platform. Will and the team got to work, and soon found that this nurse had secrets – they found a stash of cash under her bed – and not only that, she was poisoned by a rare African seed, often used in ritual killings, which renders humans who ingest it into complete mush. A consultant at the hospital where the nurse worked…
… And so it all continued, following one lead after the next, joining the dots until a new lead was found and then the whole process started again. It’s the type of show where the main character receives a phone call just as one lead breaks down containing the words: “boss, I’ve found something…” I don’t mind this sort of standard kind of stuff, as long as there are some other interesting things to cling onto – a strong, charismatic lead character perhaps (not here, sorry), a lead character with extra-curricular things going on in his or her private life maybe (yes, he has those going on, and in these two episodes Tom began to look into why his parents were able to pay £80,000 in cash to buy their house outright), or entertaining periphery characters even (not really to be found here).
And yet, for all its mediocrity, you can see what Chris Lang – who’s excellent – is trying to get at: he’s trying to present characters that either represent or a encounter moral dilemma. We had victims in the first story that were unconvicted paedophiles with an avenging angel serial killer at work. Who were the bad guy and who were the good guys? Here, we had Tom himself, who was on a mission to rid Juliette and his nephew Hal of the wretched abuser, Paolo. He first offered him cash to go away, and then planted a sizeable stash of cocaine in his office to give him a prod. Later, it was inferred that Will had taken one of the deadly African seeds and poisoned a suspect with it in order to gain some serious leverage during a crucial interview.
And yet, I just don’t buy this moral ambiguity in Will – he’s just not flinty or unhinged enough, or even worn away at the edges enough. This Will Wagstaffe is too clean. He’s a designer version of Luther.
Still, we had a story. It revolved around two poisoned people and a race against time to stop an illegal kidney transplant operation – the two vics were found to be involved in the underground organ donor trade. Interestingly, Will and the team never quite got there soon enough and even though the crimelord queenpin – called Pain – was identified, she was long gone. Perhaps this is a nemesis-in-waiting?
So Dark Heart, then. For all its annoying selective soft focus, and its glossy version of London – even the police station was highly stylised – there was a very average story at play here. There were no real twists (perhaps the identity of the queenpin was, a little) and a very straightforward, well-worn narrative path. Which is fine, but with crime drama now displaying much more depth and invention on a regular basis, we’re now starting to expect and want more.