REVIEW: Baghdad Central (S1 E3/6)

It’s been hectic again in the real world, so I’m taking the opportunity to catch up with this impactful and intelligent procedural set in Baghdad around the time of the second Gulf War in 2003.

Muhsin Kadr al-Khafaji has entered the dragon’s lair and committed to help Temple, even though his real motive is to find his daughter Sawsan.

At the end of episode two, Candy (or Zahra), was being kept under close watch in an American military hospital after attempting to ram her was inside the Green Zone with an SUV.

But the action in this episode really kicked off when al-Khafaji visited Professor Rashid at her residence. He remonstrated with her for information about Zahra, and when it was clear that she had something to do with Zahra, pleaded with her to let him know where his daughter was. He did not know, he said, why she would not help him.

Make no mistake, Rashid is playing a dangerous game, it’s just that we don’t know – at the moment – what her game is.

al-Khafaji then had to rush out into a back room, because Temple showed up, demanding to know more or less the same thing: who was Zahra? He told Rashid: “She was employed by me under your recommendation.”

As al-Khafaji was pondering this, he noticed a figure slinking about on the CCTV outside. It was Sawsan.

It’s interesting to see in series when a big reveal like this is staged, and here it happened slap-bang in the middle of the run.

Knowing that his daughter was alive, al-Khafaji intensified his efforts, which meant playing games of his own. He was prepared to play Parodi and Temple off against each other in order to interview Zahra. He wanted to do it along so he could ask questions about Sawsan, but the army fellas wanted to listen in. He had to be careful, very careful, so as not to give his game away.

al-Khafaji is a skilled detective and while he made sure his interview contained tidbits of what the occupiers wanted to hear, there was another, almost subliminal interview taking place – at the end, Zahra nodded to al-Khafaji, although what this confirmed I wasn’t sure. Perhaps that she confirmed that she knew his daughter?

Increasingly throughout this, Temple’s secretary Miss Ford was dropping information behind her boss’s back, and seemed to be working with Parodi… also behind her boss’s back. It’s a nest of politics, conflicting loyalties and power dynamics and it’s riveting to watch.

Caught in the middle, of course, is al-Khafaji, who, everywhere he went gets more and more confirmation that his daughter is alive and active, and was working alongside other girls. As ‘translators’? As prostitutes? As insurgents?

We don’t know yet, but al-Khafaji’s desperation was also giving him confidence, and there was a great scene where he wound up Temple like a coiled spring. It was hilarious, but also menacing – Temple is an interesting character, nervous, officious and arrogant, yes, but beneath it all, there’s something else lurking. Something quite dangerous.

Something else was indeed lurking: the final scene saw al-Khafaji steal into Temple’s lodging where he found a bag full of cash.

Not only does he find the cash, but he also walks off with it and uses some of it buy his gun back.

Bloody hell al-Khafaji!

Paul Hirons





REVIEW: The Outsider (S1 E5&6/10)


The Outsider continues to redefine the concept of slow-burning drama in these middle-season episodes, with a previously glacial pace drawn out ever further into almost somnambulistic territory.  Such a comatose narrative would normally wreck the viewer’s enjoyment of any other show, but here it strangely adds something tangible to the dream-like surrealism of proceedings. Not a lot may have happened in these two hours, but it sure felt like something was about to – an unseen force stalking both our characters and our nerves.

We left off the story with Holly Gibney drawing parallels with the inexplicable cases of Terry Maitland, Heath Hofstadter and Maria Caneles – a timeline of ‘doppelgänger’ murders that falls against each other like cursed dominoes. Gibney is convinced someone – or some thing – is orchestrating the behaviour of these individuals, unseen by others – a belief that is born out across three storylines that explore the past, present and future effects of the Grief Eater’s machinations.

The past is represented by Heath’s friend Tracey, who is slowly revealed as an unwilling participant in the circumstances around the murders Heath supposedly committed. Whilst Heath might have escaped the madness around him by committing suicide in prison, Tracey is seen left in limbo – torn between the love of his friend and the grim control placed on him. It’s an invisible force that prevents him from taking his own life – but one that can’t stop him engineering a situation that results in his being gunned down after an armed siege.

Tracey’s demise echoes the grim fate that subsumes all of the Grief Eater’s peripheral victims, and it’s something we see brutally displayed in its present subject, Jack Hoskins. The detective is slowly going insane, and his actions become increasingly reckless as his host commands him to kill Holly before she can draw the case to a conclusion. Much like Tracey however, there is some residue of Jack still left in his corporeal form – and his resistance to the Grief Eater’s demands results in a gruesome beat-down into submission (with some wonderful physical acting by Marc Menchaca).

Hoskins might be the enabler in this current storyline, but his role is only to facilitate the creation of the Grief Eater’s next subject – which leads us to the future with ex-con bartender Claude Bolton (a solid performance from Paddy Considine), who was scratched by Terry’s doppelgänger way back in the first episode. He’s been largely off-screen since, but it’s clear something unusual is happening to him – something which he can’t articulate. We know the process of transformation – or in this case – transference – takes time, something Holly is able to calculate from the drawings Glory’s child made of the visitations from her father’s double.

The show continues to be very cautious about showing too much of its monster. Instead, most of its reach is shown through dreams – or a form of sleep paralysis – where it converses with its victims. Jeannie is warned to quell her husband’s obsession with the case, whilst Tomika’s baby is coddled by the creature as she looks on helplessly. Even Ralph – who’s reluctanct to accept the reality of his situation despite the evidence around him is becoming increasingly frustrating – is visited in the form of his deceased son. These dreams thread through the episodes’ narrative and are exceptionally creepy, reinforcing how little control the characters have over their actions in reality.

The story is really an exploration of free will and choice in many ways – the choices we make about belief, grief, love and understanding. Ralph personifies this in his vilification of Holly when she finally reveals to the team her theory about the Grief Eater. Here is a man who’s entire life has relied on the solid ground of factual content like evidence (“dumb cop shit” as he says), being asked to take a leap of faith into the unknown. It’s the reason why he can’t process his own son’s death as much as the reason why Holly accepts Jack’s offer to visit the barn where he was infected. Holly understands there is a large grey area in our human knowledge, one that cannot be explained – whereas Ralph’s world has a codified rigidity that cannot be expanded.

It’s fair to say The Outsider isn’t for everyone. Its pace alone is enough of a reason for that, but once you’ve synchronized with the rhythm of its narrative there’s a lot to enjoy here. There is even the semblance of a cliffhanger in the sixth episode, intimating a switch in gears to start bringing the story to a conclusion – and just how the show brings it’s characters to some form of resolution will be intriguing to see.

Andy D

The Outsider is currently showing on Sky Atlantic in the UK






ITV commissions new thriller from Blood writer Sophie Petzal

ITV has commissioned a four-part thriller, Hollington Drive, from acclaimed screenwriter Sophie Petzal, who wrote Channel 5’s Blood.

Hollington Drive focuses on the lives of two sisters, Theresa, and her older headteacher sibling, Helen.

Both women appear close and their families enjoy spending time together.  We open on a warm, balmy evening, barbecue sizzling on the patio, the perfect family setting. The atmosphere is chilled, as they lounge in Theresa and her partner Fraser’s perfectly manicured garden.  Apart from Fraser’s brother Eddie winding everyone up, there’s hardly a hint of tension, but this is the calm before storm.

When Theresa’s ten-year-old son, Ben, asks to play in the nearby park with his cousin Eva, the adults begin to niggle.  Fraser is relaxed and is fine for them to go, but this doesn’t help Theresa’s fears of foreboding and growing feelings of anxiety.

As expected the children don’t return on time, and Theresa goes in search.  Her suspicions are heightened when she finds the children on the edge of a woodland area and they appear to be fighting.  Immediately her instincts tell her something terrible has happened.

This is all too realised when later that evening distraught neighbour, Jean, calls on the family.  Her ten-year-old son Alex has gone missing…

In a plot thick with secrets, lies, twists and turns, Theresa can’t help thinking her son knows more than he is saying. Could Ben and his cousin Eva be implicated in Alex’s disappearance?  Why are they both so subdued and now behaving out of character? The neighbourhood is compelled to help with the search for Alex, but what if he’s been murdered and her own son is his killer?

More news as we get it.

REVIEW: Endeavour (S7 E3/3)

So is this the big one? Is this where we finally find out why the older Morse never spoke of his former boss Fred Thursday? Is this, in fact, the final scene of the opera, the one in which the tragic heroine dies and the hero’s heart is broken? All the signs point that way in Zenana, in which we must surely be delivered a solution to the riddle of the towpath murders, and a conclusion to the love triangle of Morse, Violetta and Ludo?

Following on from the Indian theme of last week’s Raga, this episode deals with dark doings in a women’s college – zenana is a perhaps less familiar word for a harem or women’s place.

The episode opens with a debate at Lady Matilda’s women’s college (previously mentioned both in Lewis and Endeavour, and actually filmed in Lady Margaret Hall), as to whether to admit men – to let the ‘wolf into the fold’.

Meanwhile, the third victim of the towpath murderer, bargirl Bridget, has been found, apparently the victim of attempted vampirism. Fred, doggedly clinging to his belief that first victim Molly’s boyfriend Carl was the perpetrator, has him arrested – but why would he be whistling music-hall standard ‘Oh, oh Antonio’ on the towpath, Morse asks?

Morse has got it into his mind that Dorothea Frazil’s series of deaths by misadventure are anything but – is someone bumping off isolated home-owners for their life insurance? – he’s determined to investigate despite Fred’s opposition.

Meanwhile, to our astonishment, Violetta has set herself up in a friend’s sex-pad in Oxford, and Morse is visiting her for regular rumpy-pumpy, or as the Italians say, la cavalcata selvaggia.

Once the wild ride is over Violetta announces that she and Ludo are planning to go to Cortina D’Ampezzo for Christmas – Morse immediately recognises it as a ski resort, which is very well-informed of him. He speaks blithely of telling Ludo about the affair – she says Ludo would be more upset at losing him than her. Somehow we don’t think so, and we’re pretty sure Ludo is the type to own duelling pistols.

When yet another young woman, Petra Cornwell, is murdered on the towpath (don’t any of them have the sense to stay away from the canal?) Fred’s suspicions of Carl Sturgis seem groundless; he and Morse have a blistering row, Morse accusing Fred of having no touch to have lost; Max and Strange both tear them off a strip, and Morse says he’ll put in for a transfer to McNutt’s department in Kidlington (we have previously met McNutt, played by Iain Cuthbertson, in Morse episode The Magic Flute. As this was the one in which Morse’s nemesis Hugo de Vries popped up, is this a hint about the identity of Ludo?)

Bright castigates Fred over his obsession with Carl Sturgis, who quite rightly threatens to sue; but is this some sort of set-up?

Petra’s tutor Maggie Byrne (Marianne Oldham), one of the main proponents of keeping Lady Matilda’s a women-only college, criticises the police’s inability to stop the towpath killings, and quite right too. Anywhere else, if four people had been murdered in the same place in the space of 11 months, the whole area would be swarming with coppers as far as the eye could see.

Morse’s first suspect is Dr Dai Ferman (Richard Harrington), Welsh chauvinist pig who we met in first episode Oracle; but despite Petra’s complaints of sexist behaviour against him he can’t be placed at the scene of her murder. Then Morse goes to see psychic Jenny Tate (Holli Dempsey) to see if she has had any visions of the latest murder; only to find her descending into a psychotic state haunted by demonic figures from her abusive childhood.

Bright’s wife is back from experimental treatment in America, feeling remarkably perky after treatment for her lung disease by a Dr Schneider; Fred’s trying to keep the cat away from his canaries (did we know the Thursdays had a cat?)

Ludo turns up at Morse’s one evening – he at least has finished the wallpapering and even has net curtains up, but despite Strange’s warnings is still taking case files home. Ludo asks for advice about Violetta, who he thinks is having an affair – ‘I’m the last person you should ask about this’ says Morse – no kidding.

There’s another death of a ‘Matildabeast’ – a tutor, Dr Nancy Levine (Naomi Yang) falls from a library ladder – but was this one of Dorothea Frazil’s life insurance ‘accidents’?

As Morse investigates, Ludo and Violetta stroll past. What’s Ludo’s interest in the bursar of the college – or has he been up to something more sinister?

Morse helps Dorothea with the crossword (God knows how he got ‘misanthrope’ from that clue), and by another huge coincidence, Dai Ferman is in the pub, fondling students. Morse is more interested in investigating Jenny Tate’s childhood – might she be disturbed enough to have become a murderer?

Next full moon, the whistling attacker strikes again, but this time the Matildabeasts are out in full force, and chase him under a lorry; was David Clemons, who claimed to have found the body of the first victim, in fact the murderer, or a copycat? He wasn’t whistling the right tune, and Morse reminds Fred of this amid the celebrations.

Mrs Bright has asked for help from her faith healer to find Christmas decorations in the attic – oh dear, we can foresee an accident with a loft ladder. Are the faith healers in fact hastening people’s unfortunate ends?

Ludo invites Morse to lunch and confronts him and Violetta about their affair – he’s recognised the phone number of Violetta’s friend’s flat. But what would have possessed Morse to leave it as a contact number? It’s all very unconvincing. Wouldn’t it just have been easier for Ludo to say that as he had suspicions of Violetta, he had her followed?

Anyway, the secret is out, and if Morse expected Violetta to choose him over a luxurious lifestyle with Ludo, he’s soon disillusioned. Did she feel anything for him? She says not, but one suspects this is for Ludo’s benefit. It’s all done in a very civilized manner, in a restaurant that looks oddly like someone’s back parlour. But will Ludo actually be out for bloody revenge?

Dorothea, despite being editor of a paper with a massive office in Oxford, calls Fred from a phone box to break the news that Mrs Bright has been found dead, electrocuted while hanging Christmas decorations – how on earth has she found out before the cops? Fred breaks the news with customary lack of grace and Bright of course is in pieces.

Morse is chastised for airing his theory about the insurance accidents. Once again we hear the noise of the grinding of reviewers’ teeth as coincidence rears its abominable head – for Bright’s wife to have been the victim of a crime Morse is investigating just makes us fume.

Anyway, Morse has figured out the scam – someone’s buying up life insurance policies, then arranging accidents so they can cash them in. He visits a pub, the Wolf’s Head (nothing sinister there then) and learns about a terrible fire that killed the previous tenants – anything to do with Jenny Tate’s childhood trauma? He finds a link to the Sturgis family, as in towpath suspect Carl Sturgis.

And Sturgis it is who Strange finds ‘looking after’ the rambling Psycho-style house of one of the accident victims. Even more tellingly, tied up in a bedroom is Jenny Tate. Strange gets stabbed (by the wolf-head sword cane we saw the towpath murderer using) and Morse, in pursuit of Sturgis, knocks him down the stairs to his death.

By this point we’re fairly confused, as is Fred, so Morse has to explain everything to him and us. Carl Sturgis was actually Jenny’s brother, Johnny Linden – supposedly dead in a pub fire. His taste for cruelty to animals (Dorothea’s phantom cat mutilations) developed into child abduction (one of Fred’s old cases around the time of the pub fire) then serial murder. So were Jenny’s visions genuine, some sort of psychic connection to her brother, or purely products of her disturbed mind? We don’t know, and by this stage we’re not sure we care.

So was Sturgis’s job at the undertakers relevant to the insurance scam? How did he have an alibi for the first towpath killing? Is Fred’s gut instinct now entirely vindicated, or has he still missed something vital? If Sturgis was on remand when Petra Cornwell died, who killed her? (Our money’s on the warden of her college).

Is Morse completely off the rails making a connection with the death of Mrs Bright, the locations of the insurance scams and the name LUDO? Bright gives him short shrift (but what’s he doing in work, hours after the death of his wife?). Morse and Fred have another spat, Fred revealing that he knows about Violetta, and they part on the worst possible terms.

Christmas comes, Morse sends remorseful letters to Fred and Bright, and heads for Venice (note he has a gondola ornament on his writing desk). He leaves Fred the evidence of the insurance scam, and Bright admits that he and his wife had cashed in their life insurance – and Ludo’s name is all over the paperwork.

Morse intends to confront Violetta at the opera on New Year’s Eve – implausibly, and this is getting more and more like a bad pastiche of Sherlock Holmes, Fred follows Morse to Venice.

At the opera (La Sposa del Demonio o La Cura per l’Amore, as seen in episode 1, not we think a genuine opera but a composition by series composer Matthew Slater), Morse confronts Violetta, tells her he knows Ludo is behind the insurance murders and she is complicit, and that he’s there to take them in. Take them in? TAKE THEM IN? In what twisted version of international policing would a British policeman be allowed to arrest two (presumably Italian) citizens and shanghai them back to Oxford? It’s nutty beyond belief.

Anyway, Violetta promises to hand over Ludo in return for a head start, and she arranges a rendezvous at the Cimetero de San Michele (a Venetian island used as a cemetery since 1807 – Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev and Ezra Pound are buried there among others).

At least Morse has the sense to bring a gun (which we saw him loading at the start of Episode 1 – has he just merrily carted that through Customs? – for when he confronts Ludo. Perched saucily on a gravestone bearing the name he has evidently hijacked, ‘Ludo’ hardly seems surprised to see Morse, quotes As You Like It and Lenin, and explains that he masqueraded as Mrs Bright’s faith healer (and presumably as the handyman who did various jobs of sabotage to bring about the other convenient accidents).

In the final confrontation, Ludo shoots Violetta, who dies professing her love for Morse; Fred shoots Ludo, who plunges into the lagoon, and we feel like shooting ourselves, having sat through this overblown tripe to the detriment of our mental well-being.

Umpteen questions are left unanswered – had Ludo then actually been up at Oxford with Morse? Presumably not, since he wasn’t even actually Ludo. Is he Hugo de Vries? We probably won’t know until the end of Endeavour. Was the theft of Morse’s wallet last week staged to engineer an introduction, and if so had Ludo engineered the original meeting with Violetta? And if so, why? Was Ludo really living an international jet-set lifestyle on the proceeds of a few life insurance payouts? Who killed Petra Cornwell? And why did Morse put up nets, but not actual curtains?

While the last season of Endeavour seemed to be more about picking up ‘easter eggs’ than the actual cases, this season was all about the Morse/Ludo/Violetta triangle, and barely about the cases at all. Precious little deduction was done, with last week’s case essentially solved by fingerprint evidence. The towpath murders were so festooned with red herrings, random supernatural references and implausibility that one got completely fed up of the whole business long before its conclusion.

And there were some bizarre directorial slips, such as the scene where Morse, Thursday, Max and Strange all walk away from the towpath leaving the dead body of Petra lying on the ground, as if the production just couldn’t afford a couple of uniformed officers in the scene; and Dorothea Frazil making a call from a phone box rather than her comfortable office.

If we were hoping that this season would lay the groundwork for the transition to Inspector Morse, or at least explain some plot threads such as lack of mention of Fred Thursday in later years, we were to be disappointed; in fact, disappointment must be the only way to express what we feel about this season.

Rather than showing increased maturity, sophistication and psychological insight, Endeavour seems to be degenerating into cheap melodrama not even worthy of light opera. Time to bring down the curtain?

Chris Jenkins