REVIEW: The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (S3 E5/8)

As regular readers will know, I have a soft spot for The Bletchley Circle, which in its first two series, matched cosy crime amateur crime-solving with impeccable period detail and an intriguing premise: our four main (female) characters were ex-codebreakers at Bletchley during the war.

Losing two of its main cast members, the first four episodes of TBC: SF saw Jean (Julie Graham) and Millie (Rachael Stirling) transported to the West Coast and a new set pair of crime-solving buddies, Iris (Crystal Ballint) and Hailey (Chanelle Peloso), two ex-cryptographers.

The first four episodes of this series were paper-thin, by-the-numbers, story-of-the-week stuff, which was fine, but now in the 1950s, it only dipped its toes into the issues of the time – race and feminism being two key themes. But what I want from this series is Ellroy’s LA Confidential, dollops of Chandler and James M Cain. Chance’d be a fine thing.

But in this fifth episode, at least there was more of a hint of grit.

Millie’s English cousin Edward had met a young man, Rusty, in a diner. Afterwards, Rusty had been chased down and beaten up, seemingly randomly. He ended up at Millie and Jean’s (previously Edward’s gaff), bloodied and incoherent. Now at the hospital, the two women were left with his cigarette packet, which contained a reefer; which, in turn, contained a rolled piece of code. The rest of the cigarettes were filled with heroin.

The game was on, and soon Millie and Jean were asking the help of Iris and Hayley.

As ever TBC: SF reverted to type when approaching its procedural elements: the group split up, two going one way, and the other two going the other way. It was all about cracking the code and getting the drugs back to their owners, which they eventually did.

But the story wasn’t over – Edward was badly beaten up and told Millie about his homosexuality… the real reason he had met Rusty in the diner.

But why were drug running and illicit meetings between men linked? It seemed we were going to find out in episode six.

In between all of this, there was the usual clunky exposition and the join-the-dots transportation from one place to another. But at least it was stuffed with fun cultural references: Hayley had met Allan Ginsberg and was flirting with the beginnings of the Beat movement, there was much mention on police corruption and Jean revealed that she had worked for Alan Turing.

So it’s fun, extremely lightweight and, as crime drama goes, a very easy, undemanding watch.

I’d still like Ellroy to have a go at the scripts, though.

Paul Hirons

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